Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Iraq in Fragments Presentation TONIGHT at Key Cinemas

Before I start anything let me just address the lack of posts. Nothing is more exciting than installing new software at teh job and creating cheat sheets and user manuals for the staff. Alt+Print Screen. Right click. Paste. Text. Repeat. This has been my life for the past two weeks. And will be for the next three. It's less than satisfying. But life goes on.

In the meantime I get to miss what looks to be a fantastic local event down at Key Cinemas this evening. Tonight only following the 7pm showing of Iraq in Fragments, John Clark, local scholar, and Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institue will be leading a discussion on the United States involvement in Iraq.

These are teh kind of events and kind of films that make Key Cinemas such a valuable part of Indianapolis. Granted I have not seen Iraq in Fragments due to my current work schedule. But I regret missing this chance. It was nomininated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, but really never stood a chance against An Inconvienient Truth and Al Gore regardless of how good a film it was.

Hopefully this event tonight gets a decent turnout and if anyone makes it please stop back and tell me how it went.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Denison Witmer tonight @ the Underground

Life has been exceptionally busy recently. I mean I only have had time to watch one movie in the past 5 days. That doesn't seem fair. And obviously I haven't written much on here in days.


I do feel the need to mention, for the cats in Indianapolis tonight, a friend is playing a show at The Underground which is located at 16th and Deleware at the Harrison Center for the Arts. His name is Denison Witmer. His music has been more or less on rotation for me for the past 3 years. The show is only $8 and starts at 8pm.

To hear a good bit of Denison yourself, check out Denison's Birtday celebration website where 30 songs of his were re-recorded and donations for the songs are being put towards charity.

Hopefully, I'll see someone I know out there. I've had a haircut and gotten new glasses since I've seen most you last, so I look fantastic. That's a bonus, above and beyond the music.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


"He went looking for love, but fate threw him a Detour to revelry...violence...mystery! So reads the tag line on the poster to the right for the film, Detour In Detour I found just about everything I love about the old noir genre. I find myself wishing now that I didn't send back the Netflix envelope this morning, so I could watch it again.

Tom Neal plays Al Roberts a down in the dumps musician who sets out to hitchike across the country to get to his girl, Sue, who left New York to become a celebrity in Los Angeles. Along the way he hitches a ride with Charles Haskell Jr. Shortly after though, Haskell dies and he decides to carry on with his car. He then picks up Vera (Ann Savage) and as luck would have it, she hitched a ride with Haskell earlier, so she uses Haskell's death as a way to use Al for her own ends.

The story is completely over the top unbelievable, yes. Al acts as our narrator from a stool in a diner as he recounts the story up to the point where we finally catch up. He even tells us, "If this was fiction, you'd find this completely unbelievable." But it's real life for Al. And you have the classic noir themes of fate looming large to kick our protaginists ass at any point. Al even alludes to this numerous times throughout the film. "That's life, whatever you do fate sticks out a foot to trip you up."

While shot almost entirely on the road, director Edward Ulmer brings us into a noir midset and setting. Whether it's a cut back to Al on the stool of the diner in the dark his face lit to show despair, or a pouring rain as Al attempts to figure out what to do with Haskell's body. And, then there is Vera. Ann Savage plays Vera so over the top it becomes impossible not to root for Al, even when you know he will be doomed. She's not a femme fatale in the normal noir way. She doesn't exactly oooze sensuality, but she does have the power over Al, and will do what it takes to keep him from getting to his girl.

Detour is only 67 minutes, and it feels even shorter than that. It just flies by. However, the only transfer available, at least through Netflix is terrible. Awful sound, it doesn't look to be a very clean print either. I find myself torn. I'd like to see it restored, and maybe be in a set like the excellently presented Warner Classic Noirs box sets. But, at the same time, the horrible transfer gives this B grade noir from 1945 a certain feel of authenticity.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

In the midst of a Blizzard, a glimmer of hope...

It ought to be documented that pitchers and Catchers for the Philadelphia Phillies had their first workout today, in Clearwater, Florida.

Spring training. Hope and Love, and God and Destiny and Faith Rewarded.

And inspite of 100 years of mostly failure, I sit here believing the Phillies could very well be the team to beat in the National League this year.

Hell, Jimmy Rollins said so.

Man on Fire

After sitting awestruck and patiently watching two great Ozu films, I completely changed gears while hunkered down in the midst of our one blizzard for the season and watched Tony Scott's Man on Fire. While watching it, not only was I pleasantly suprised that it was not terrible, but I actually found myself moved and on the edge of my seat nearly the whole time.

Denzel Washington plays Creasy. He's an ex-everything; military, bodyguard, undercover operative, and his friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken) persuades him to take a job as the bodyguard of a child in Mexico City. Creasy is a heavy drinker who has more or less calloused himself to everything. But, through this new found relationship with the child he will learn to open up again and live and love. It's formulaic as can be, but it's apparently based on a true story. And the movie would surely fall apart as straight to video schlock or a made for Spike TV movie if not so well moved along by Tony Scott, and if not for teh unlikely chemistry between Dakota Fanning and Denzel Washington.

The film uses slow motion, subtitles on screen (sometimes even when spoken the dialogue is spoken in English), and many quick cuts to give it a unique look and pace. During the time when Creasy and Pita (Dakota Fanning) are on screen together, there are none of these effects. The camera lingers long enough to see Fanning's reaction, and Washingtons as Creasy's wall's begin to be taken down.

Outside of some flashbacks Creasy has while drinking, it's only after Pita is kidnapped under Creasy's watch that Scott turns up the style and the second half of the film seems almost completely different from the first. It's now become a revenge and action picture, but one where there is a vested interest in the characters.

There are scenes in this second half that I almost felt guilty for liking. In his mission Creasy has no issues with torture. This is not normally my kind of film but I found myself so drawn in by Creasy's character in the first half I found myself rooting and watching through scenes I would normally turn off. Yes, it's your formulaic action movie, but it looks fantastic and Washington's performance elevate it enough to be more enjoyable that just that.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Early Summer

The main feeling I had taken away after any viewing of Yasijuro Ozu's movies is, I wish there was a way to bottle up his sincerity and give it to today's younger film makers. Before the weekend I had only seen Tokyo Story, Late Spring, and Good Morning. Over the weekend I viewed Early Summer and that feeling was just reinforced.

Early Spring tells the story of Noriko, a 28 year old girl who still lives with her family. She is getting to the age where her family is starting to become concerned and wants her to marry. Just when it seems that Noriko is to be set up with a man who has nearly her whole family's approval, she choses goes in an entirely different direction and choses to marry a childhood friend without first consulting her family. While the family's wishes for Noriko to be married have been met, there is also a feeling of betrayal as she has now made her decision without her family's knowledge.

In the essay that comes with the Criterion Collection release, David Bordwell talks of Ozu's ensamble casts, and compares them to some of today's films. Amores Perros and Traffic are mentioned and surely one could throw last year's best picture winner, Crash and this years best picture nominee, Babel in there as well. These films seem to go to great length to show how chance and fate interlock us all together. It could be said that another one of my favorite directors, Kieslowski, also was obsessed with this theme. But the most recent of these films seem to fall under the weight of their own self importance, politicking, and grandstanding.

Most the films I have seen of Ozu's are set in post war Japan. And in these films there is a constant theme of conflict between generations. These conflicts are not violent. They are just shifts in thinking though. In the films of Ozu however, there is no pretense whatsoever. When a member of the older generation sighs to another that they should not wish for too much, it isn't a posturing for an Oscar, or a commentary on the disparity of wealth between America and the third world. Instead, it's a reflection on the changing times in the family's life, and it's said with a thankfulness for the joy that the family has already brought. It's honesty and sincerity like this that make a family photo, or a father peeling peeling an apple alone, so much more poignant than the multilayered finales of todays films.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Three observations upon re-watching Birth

Over the past two weeks I tried to introduce Jonathan Glazer's Birth to a film viewing group. I thought to myself that it would receive mixed reviews. There are people I know who absolutely have loved it. And there are those who I have tried to introduce it to that have hated it. There's been very little in between. But, I could not have expected the almost unanimous harsh reaction from members of the group I have introduced it to. And while some of the criticism was juvenile, "Nicole Kidman looks like an elf." some of the criticism made me more aware when I sat down to re-watch it. There was talk especially of the characters being unlikable, using Kubrick style direction as nothing more than an homage, and the plot being unbelievable at best absurdist at worst.

I remember being moved tremendously the first time I saw this film. I have watched it a few times since and was still moved. When it came time to watch it again I was wary that I might find enormous plot holes, that I would not care for the characters. When I watched it again though last night I was just as moved as I was when I had seen it before. I still have the feeling that this may be one of my favorite American films of the past 5 years, at least.

Here are three things I carried away most after this viewing.

1. The opening scene setting the stage for the entire film. The screen is black as we hear the professor speak. He talks of reincarnation. He says, if a bird showed up on his windowsill claiming to be his dead wife he'd "want to believe it." but he's a man of science and he could not. What follows is a beautiful shot of the professor running through the snow in Central Park. For 3-4 minutes we are either tracking behind and following, or ahead and moving away from the jogger. We never see his face, but we assume he is the man whom we heard speaking. When the man collapses under an overpass of sorts it does bring to mind a womb. We have the title card of Birth and we see a newborn baby.

It's easy to dismiss a film such as this. The idea of reincarnation is often to much for some who consider themselves learned to wrap their head around. A common reaction of viewers after seeing this film has been, "He didn't believe in reincarnation!Why should we believe or care about Sean!" One moment that sticks out to me that gets lost in that was the sincerity with which he mentions, when the screen is black, he'd want to believe the bird. He'd want to, but he's a man of science. To me that is a very key moment and truly gets into the mystery of memory and of the heart that the movie delves into from their on out.

Beyond that moment of course is the fact that we never see Sean clearly in these opening minutes. Much more could be written here on the intersection of memory and identity, but for me as a viewer, that was key to my viewing experience and giving myself over to the film.

2. The performance of Nicole Kidman. I enjoy Nicole Kidman as an actress. Some of her choices in roles puzzle me (Bewitched?) but there hasn't been any film I walked away from thinking she made it worse. And there are some, in my mind she where she was integral to the success of the film (Eyes Wide Shut for instance). I am not sure she has ever been better than she was here. Some find the wealth and the coldness of the film and characters extremely off-putting. During the first 25 minutes of the film, to the opera scene (more on that soon) Kidman is warm and spectacular. She shows to be possibly the warmest member of that family at dinner, and is walking around a party all smiles as Joseph announces the engagement. It is after she sees Sean faint, and at the Opera and afterwards where we see her character take a twist. This performance could have been a disaster, it isn't easy material. But Kidman pulls it off. The coldness that some complain about is nothing but a reserved temperment, necessary to be shown in that social stratus. Beyond that you see her torn. You see the respect she has for Joseph, and you see the love she had/has for Sean. It can be seen and felt. It's tearing her apart, and it tore me apart as a viewer as well. No matter how many Bewitcheds Kidman does, this is the role I will always remember her in.

3. The Kubrick-esque closeups. Were they art for arts sake or did they serve to move the story along? The bouncing ball scene is reminiscent of The Shining. The spanking, Barry Lyndon. The tracking shots throughout some hallways, perhaps reminded some of Eyes Wide Shut. And those closeups on the faces. To me, these all served the story. I will focus on the close up of Anna at the Opera and one of Joseph though as they are key.

It's clear even to me that the seen with Kidman at the opera, was the very start of Anna's transformation, the moment where she begins to believe that Sean may in fact even be who he says he was. And as the camera stays on her face for close to three minutes and her face reacts perfectly to the musical queues, it's only when Joseph touches her a few times in that sequence that she is absolutely shaken out of her thoughts.

Go back, not even 10 minutes in the movie you have Joseph refer to little Shaun as "your husband" after he speaks with him on the phone. This was the first moment Joseph or any of the characters said "your husband" while referring to Sean if I am correct. Then look at the confrontation in the hall way when Anna asks Sean to stop, "I can't." "You're hurting me" she says, he still says he won't stop. As they are leaving Anna, but not Joseph, turns around to see Sean faint or collapse, much in the same fashion her husband did before death in the opening scenes. In the elevator ride down, Joseph says good job, and Anna is silent and shaken. What she has seen has already transformed her and the opera scene is visual manifestation of that.

And then there was the moment we saw Joseph lose his mind and transform. What's interesting about the spanking scene is that moments before you have Joseph in an apartment alone except for the realtor, and embarrassed as he has been stood up. This was already during a full day in which Anna had spent with Sean. An idea that Joseph could not have been to keen on. But out of respect for Anna's wishes he allows this. Now, Anna has stood him up at the house viewing. We go from Anna on the phone at a playground telling Sean's mom that she wants Sean at the rehearsal, that it would be good for him to hear the music. After this we go back to Joseph, the scene is not as long as Anna's in the opera, but it is a similar scene. We are looking in on his face and we zoom in on it through the window, and we see his face change and contort with the music as well. He has been stood up and humiliated by his fiance and it's hitting him that this has gone to far. Joseph's transformation began there and then was fully manifested in the spanking scene.

Both moments used extreme closeups of the characters faces, reminding some viewers of Kubrick, but it was more than a nod to Kubrick. Both moved the story along so well.

There is so much more I can say about this movie, but I will tip a hat to three writings that really enhanced appreciation for this film. First, Jim Emerson at Scanners talking about the Bunel influence on this film. Next we have Dennis at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule giving more justice to the opening minutes than I ever could. And finally, Robert at 24 Lies a Second giving one of the most indepth essays on the film one could hope for.

IMOCA Projected Series to Continue @ Radio Radio

Here comes more great news from the always good people at Radio Radio and IMOCA.

The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA) is pleased to present Projected, a series of highly-regarded contemporary films rarely seen in Indianapolis. These cutting-edge movies will be shown at Radio Radio, 1119 Prospect Street in Fountain Square. The series will begin Thursday, February 8, 2007 and take place every other Thursday continuing through May 10, 2007. The cost of admission is $5 per film or $20 for all film screenings. Attendees must be 21 years or older to enter Radio Radio

Here is the web page for Projected showing the schedule of films. It all starts tonight with my very own second favorite Woody Allen film, Everyone Says I Love You at 730pm.

I was able to get down to Radio Radio for about half of the films last series that IMOCA showed down there. Tufty and Roni were cordial hosts as always, the bar was open, and there was good company to be had and good films to be seeen.

Sadly, it doesn't look like I will be able to make the first two films, but hope to get down there for the rest of them. If you have a chance, please go down and support this series. It should prove to be worth your time.

USA 2 - Mexico 0 . Again!

The United States Soccer Team has once again beaten Mexico 2-0. The latest win was yesterday evening in Glendale, AZ before 63,000 fans. It is a decent estimate that of the 63,000 fans that maybe 65% of them were cheering for Mexico, in the good ole USofA. That's fine with me. If Mexican fans want to pay all this money to see their team lose, it's just more money in US Soccer's bank. Thanks guys!

Three Things I liked about the game

1. Jimmy Conrad. I have liked this guy in MLS for a long time. I remember he had a very poor game in one of the lead up matches to the World Cup, and my ex-girlfriend said, "I never want to see Jimmy Conrad in a US uniform again." I told her to calm down and stated how he'd been the most consistent defender in MLS for a few years now. He played fantastic last night, even if you don't count the goal. It's great to see him play like this. While I am not sure he will be the go to guy in 3 years at the World Cup, he will be very valuable in qualifying.

2. Tim Howard. After some shakiness in the first 10-15 minutes he seemed to own the box. I never got the impression that Mexcico would score.

3. The US resolve and calm over the last 20 minutes. When Sanchez had three out and out forwards on the field for Mexico, and many of the USA players were getting their first taste of this rivalry, the US looked like the calmer veteran team. They patiently waited for the counter attack, and did not get drawn into ths slam dance that Mexican players always invite us to after they go down a goal and frustration takes hold.

And one thing I really did not like about the game

1. The refusal of Mexican players to shake hands again after the defeat. It's become a tradition of sorts where after a defeat the Mexican players will walk of the field defiantly. While, this is something that is common in some fiercer Eastern European rivalries such as Croatia vs Serbia, their has not been any ethnic clensing recently between the USA and Mexico. Only 2 or 3 US players remained on the team from the last time these two teams met. There is two brand new coaches. One would have hoped, or at least imagined that these circumstances would allow for some sportsmanship after the game, but the Mexican team had other ideas. It was a classless move. It's a rivalry, yes, and a very heated one. Still...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Current Read : David Mamet - Bambi vs Godzilla

While unloading some books at Barnes and Noble a few nights back, a hideous neon cover appeared at the top of the box. I noticed the name David Mamet and decided to look a bit further. Mamet has writetn a more than his fair share of plays and screen plays that have made the silver screen. And while I liked some more than others, I at least have always found the dialogue thoughtful so I decided to pick up a copy of Bambi vs Godzilla

I've only read about 40 pages into the book, but expect to be finished it in rather short time. Mamet tackles his topics in brief 8-10 page chapters or sections, and does not waste any words. He is tackling subjects far and wide throughout Hollywood.

Dark Comedy and Politics - Perhaps the success of Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 is due to its excellence not as a documentary but as a comedy. A comedy is teh form in which the unsayable is said, and that, thus, breaks the corrosive cycle of repression.

Victims and Villains - The film The Sum of All Fears discreetly brings the world to the brink of disaster because the Israelis have thoughtlessly misplaced one of their nuclear bombs...I predict a growth of the Jew as monster in the next few years' films. Well, why not? Bedoya and Huston inagurated a few years of the vicious Mexican...Jeremy Kemp et al made the British accent the tocsin of evil effectively for quite a while. So I shall naively opine that perhaps turnabout is fair play and it is merely the Jews' turn in the barrell.

Mamet, born into a Jewish family himself, has a lot to say about the Jewish role in Hollywood, at least in this first 40 pages. And he pulls no punches making it at times uncomfortable and eye opening. Perhaps, it's only that way for me because it is simply stuff I had not thought about before.

In a brief chapter titled An American Tragedy Mamet discusses the films The Jazz Singer and The Jolson Story. He uses them to discuss a tight little problem in American films where "the whites teach the blacks how to play jazz" and where "Gregory Peck, a Christian, impersonates a Jew (The Gentlemans Agreement 1947) and lectures his Jewish secretary on her lack of racial pride."

There are planty more moments just in the first 40 pages where Mamet makes ya sit back, pause, and think. And really, that's what I would expect from Mamet in my experiences watching his screenplays on film. I'm hoping the rest of the book lives up to the first 40 pages.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tony Takatani

This movie shoulda been a slam dunk for me. It had all the elements in place. It's based on a short story by one of my favorite authors. The story itself was intriguing. It's set in modern day Japan. The visuals all look great. Yet I hated it.

Tony Takatani tells the story of a man who had lived an ordinary and lonely life. He was extremely proficient at mechanical drawings, but he never really understood the abstract. It could be said, probably that he was an empirical thinker and thus had never fallen in love either.In the beginning of the film we learn his family situation, and that is supposed to give us a brief background on the man that we meet at age 40 something after the opening credits. To move the story along Tony eventually sees a woman and falls in love. The love affair unfortunately ends tragically after Tony attempts to confront her on her addiction to purhasing clothes, something that was mentioned all the way back at the beginning of the relationship. After the tragic ending Tony deals with his memories in a unique way, and the ending of the story is even interesting. Still, I was gritting my teeth through this.

In the first five minutes of the film, before opening credits, when we are getting background on Tony's childhood there is a voice-over narration. This did not seem out of the ordinary for me. But it did become impossibly grating when the voice-over narration continued throughout the 75 minute film. There were unique storytelling devices like the characters on screen finishing the sentences of the narrator, which only amplified my frustration. It almost felt demeaning to me. As if I, the viewer, needed my hand held and walked through the story to understand what was going on. From what I understand this sort of narration is what turned people off to Little Children when it came out in theaters last year. I have not seen the film, but I can imagine why that would be grating now after watching this last night.

There are numerous literary adaptations of great stories where this sort of device is not used. Haruki Murakami is an author that seems to always throw his characters into an existential crisis of some sort, so maybe it's possible that the screenwriter here felt that the nararator was needed to explain these moments. My biggest frustration was the film was so beautifully shot and paced, that it wasn't needed. The pauses, the city landscapes, the isolation and the mise en scene that Ichikawa created here got the story across without the need of these voice overs. I said to my roomate, it almost could have even worked as a silent film. Though, that was likely overstated due to my frustration.

Should another Murakami story be adapted for the screen I will likely see it, but this first experience didn't hold up to expectations.

Friday, February 02, 2007


The story of Howard Hughes and his meddling with films at RKO Pictures is legendary. Many very good films were made though in the time that Hughes was in charge and some stars were born. Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum were two key RKO players and they teamed up in Macao.

Like many of the films made at RKO during that time Macao had an interesting backstory. One that included Robert Mitchum and director Josef von Sternberg butting heads to the point where von Sternberg was removed from the picture, and Nicolas Ray was brought in to finish and re-shoot scenes for the picture. Josef still gets the dirceting credit, and Nicolas Ray's name is nowhere to be seen on the opening credits. Many who are more familiar with the work of both directors will go back to this film and analyze which director shot which scene. Until I see more of both of their works, my efforts at this would be futile.

Macao is an entertaining, if very frustrating film. Much like anither RKO Mitchum/Russell pic, His Kind of Woman it's a noirish film shot almost entirely in a sunny locale. Jane Russell's Julie get's a job singing at a nightclub owned by Vince Halloran (played by Brad Dexter). Halloran is a bigshot criminal in Macao and makes money at his casino and by selling stolen jewels in Hong Kong. Halloran thinks that Nick Cochran (Mitchum) is a undercover cop out to expose him. Halloran and Cochran both have eyes for Julie. Halloran has the money and power, Mitchum is just a loner on the run from a crime he committed in America.

At only 82 minutes the film moves very briskly. Mitchum and Russell have some very snappy dialogue as can be expected. Russell, as in His Kind of Woman is a perfect lady to put aside Mitchum here. In both body proportions and wit she stands up as Mitchum's equal and their chemistry is undeniable. But, my goodness, has Gloria Grahame ever been more unerutilized. Grahame plays Margie, Halloran's mistress and aside from one crack at Mitchum and a scene in the casino has nothing to work with. It's a shame as she is definitely an actress that deserves better. There are solid performances all around in this film, and I have yet to see a performance from Mitchum in this era that did not entertain me, but overall the film never quite reaches the level that other RKO pics from that era did. Though it is watchable and entertaining, it never seems to be a classic.

On the DVD though there is a great commentary track from film noir expert Eddie Muller, and screenwriter Stanley Rubin. For me this was more entertaining even than the movie. Muller's admiration for Runin is evident throughout the commentary, and vice versa. They may even spend more time talking about RKO and other films and actors of the era as they do talking about Macao. It's a highly informative and entertaining gossip session of a past era. I laughed out loud numerous times throughout.

More on Macao can be found here at the always terrific Noir of the Week.