Saturday, December 19, 2015

2015 Television Shows (a handful)


To Watch or Not to Watch…

The best storytelling informs us and acknowledges some of life's harder truths in an entertaining way - it tells a tale with urgency and sincerity clothed in colors and hues that dazzle us and make us want to experience more.    
As I learned the past year about the subtle and not so subtle differences between television writing and feature film writing...I was assigned to catch up and get to know today’s often ‘binge’ serials of modern TV viewing (this includes Primetime, European/International Television, Netflix, Amazon and Cable channels).
Right now we are, supposedly, in the midst of the new Golden-Age of Television and now there is a lot of work (and good work) coming out of this medium. At UCLA, I  began to tackle television's story programming and methodology in order to better understand certain ideas and approaches to this medium.

With that said…
Here are, primarily, shows that I have watched or am watching. 
There is no ‘best of’ here…just mild spanking.

RATINGS:
5Watch it right now. Drop the assets investigation, your booty call, or your job app. It’s worth it because the writing, casting, directing and all above and below the line aspects are on spot. 
4Definitely check it out. Put it on your list...it's good...with only a couple of glitches.
3Intrigued but not spell bound. It's worth checking out but...There is something off about the show...could be a miscast role that takes away from the series, or a faulty or rushed storyline arc, or when character motivations are turned into plot devices because the story isn't coming together as planned. 
2Not for everyone…or I should say, not for me. You can watch it. Or not watch it. The Universe doesn’t care either way.
1You’re in a coma and the RN thinks that putting anything on in front of you is worthwhile… 
an
asterisk only "*" means I am currently watching the series.

Shows currently ‘on the air’ and with future seasons likely:
(Note: Because Fargo and True Detective feature a different cast and premise every season I will be looking at each season separately.)

Transparent
Amazon
4
Family Drama (I could say comedy-drama but isn't family that anyhow?)
Two Seasons
The writing for this show is on par with the best out there. Like The Wire it feels like you are listening in, invisible-like, to a world that is both familiar and foreign. This family’s attempt to find their identity is sparked by their father's admission of his/her gender truth and this truth leads all of them into a world of confusion in different ways.

Ash vs Evil Dead
Starz
4
Comedy Horror
One Season
Blood gore vomit and the genius stupidity of Bruce Campbell’s character, Ash, has provided what I can easily say is the most FUN I’ve had watching a series in forever. The casting is good...(with the exception of one actor I go back and forth on)...but the verve of the show is ecstatic. The ‘bro’ humor is smart and the characters are bad-ass. The season finale is this Sunday and I’m SO excited to see how it ends. *PostScript...I watched the finale...and I look forward to the 2nd Season.

With Bob & David
Netflix
*
Absurdist Surreal Dark Comedy
One Season
As a fan of their earlier monster called Mr. Show (HBO) I've been excited to watch this new series by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. As per usual there are better sketches/episodes than others but overall it’s a sharp and mental comedy program that is fun to watch.

Top of the Lake
BBC
*
Mystery / Crime Drama**
One Season
Slow burn but fascinating landscape and characters create a spin on the detective series by allowing us to examine “real” personalities as they clash through the investigation of a young girls pregnancy and possible violations. Holly Hunter is illuminating and Elisabeth Moss is solid alongside a menacing Peter Mullan.

Better Call Saul
AMC
4
Crime Drama / Black Comedy
One Season
I'm a fan. It's a different vibe, different pace than Breaking Bad...it's slower and focuses on the life of one character versus an ensemble...but that one is the fantastic Bob Odenkirk who gleefully carries the morphing soul of "Jimmy" McGill toward a new identity and a fiery future.  


Fargo
FX
3 season 1
* season 2
Crime Drama / Black Comedy 
Two Seasons
Season 1 was interesting but had some missteps in it’s storytelling that annoyed me. But Season 2, the first 5 episodes I’ve seen, is REALLY GOOD. Ted Danson is absolutely fantastic as he shows ability to play the humor and the drama without missing a step and the costume/set design is the tops alongside great casting, great characters and a fun story. They paid attention to detail in Season 2 and it shows.

Sherlock
BBC
4
Mystery / Crime Drama
This show is exciting and fun and smart and funny and sometimes a little to full of itself but gloriously entertaining.

Game of Thrones
HBO
4
Fantasy Drama
Five Seasons
What can I say…? I should give it a 5 not because it’s ‘perfect’ but because the challenge of what they are doing and the fact that they’ve handled it well - gives them a much deserved ‘how the HELL you pull this off?’ praise. But things haven't been perfect with pacing and casting. BUT overall they have deftly dealt with the writing, casting, directing pretty darn well and now starting with this upcoming season, they are on their own because they must further this story without a finished novel from GRR Martin...and I'm thrilled. 

Louie
FX
4
Dark Comedy / Satire
Five Seasons
His stand-up...hmm. But his show is fun and the satire is sharp with some heft behind it. 

Broadchurch
BBC
Mystery / Crime Drama** 
Two Seasons
David Tennant is a favorite of mine these days and his performance bleeds the conflicts that eat his character up, the lead detective, as he struggles to locate a murderer in a small coastal town with a police force who's officers want nothing to do with him. The music for the show is nicely atmospheric, it darkly aids the broken journey we take with the characters as they try and understand the chain of events that exposes their once private lives to the news hungry public. NOTE: I have only watched Season 1.
 
Bloodline
Netflix
*
Mystery / Family Drama
One Season
An amazing cast...(SISSY SPACEK!!!) in a modern murderous Shakespearean drama off the coast of Florida. I’ve only seen the first two episodes but it looks promising. Ben Mendelsohn brings the nervous fear and fatal ennui that he excels in. So good...so far.

Jessica Jones
Netflix
*
Marvel Universe – Mystery Supernatural Thriller Crime Drama
One Season
I’d like to note that I have ONLY watched the first two episodes so I’m intrigued by the characters and the theme but the pacing and plotting seem a bit…slow.

Daredevil
Netflix
*
Marvel Universe – Legal Crime Drama
Two Seasons
Another disclaimer…I’ve only watched the first 4 episodes. Well-written, smart and funny. I’m going to keep watching although their casting choice for Foggy Nelson feels off. 

Narcos
Netflix
3
Biopic
One Season
Overall i was impressed but the last few episodes felt like they weren't sure how to end the season...so it was a great run but they stumbled near the end. The casting...is good, really good but I'm not crazy about how Steve and Connie Murphy are played, it's too much and too little at times.

Ray Donovan
Showtime
3
Crime Drama / Family Drama
Three Seasons
You could probably call this show, "The West Coast Sopranos". I enjoy the characters but the showrunners seems to trip up the last three episodes of every season…rushing plot and turning the characters into plot devices just to make the story “work”.

The Man in the High Castle
Amazon
*
Alternative Reality Thriller
One Season
Only 2 episodes in but like True Detective (season 1) this show has created a mood that is catchy. The casting for the leads fail me though...They’re not bad, they’re just not good. Especially not as good as the thought and intensity that is behind this show’s morose theme: What if Hitler had won…? 
With the revelations about the NSA and our current political refugee and xenophobic attitudes led by a silver-spoon hair piece with lips…this show is a reflection of America that could have been…and worriedly can still be. 
“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”- Sinclair Lewis

True Detective
HBO
4 - season 1
1 - season 2
Crime Drama / Mystery
Two Seasons
As Rick James said on Chappelle…cocaine is a hell of a drug. The 2nd season of True Detective seemed heavily inspired by that white powder, as if the casting and the story were created and decided upon by the babbling brook of terrible thoughts that this drug can create.  
But Season 1 was inventive, challenging, engaging and darkly entertaining with the deft hand of Cary Fukunaga and McConaughey’s performance. 1st Season flirted with an inspired Lovecraftian atmosphere that was bewitching and seductive that the 2nd season was lacking. 

Twin Peaks
ABC
4 - season 1
3 - season 2
Mystery / Supernatural Thriller
Two Seasons
Today’s “golden age” of TV had a seed planted by Mark Frost and David Lynch’s story creation set in the Northwest revolving around the mysterious and dead Laura Palmer. A new season is in the works…which is why it's in this section.

Shows that are done...but I’d like to mention because WHY NOT?

The Wire
HBO
5
Crime Drama
Five Seasons
A contemporary Greek tragedy set in the streets of Baltimore, MA that dealt with individuals swallowed by the institutions that have been built to service our society. I will simply state this: The Wire is THE greatest show ever written and is one of the most important shows ever put together about America and it’s policies toward race, economics, politics and the Drug War, in particular. The acting, the dialogue, the motions of it all are overwhelmingly fantastic. The characters…Stringer Bell, Marlo, the Bunk, McNutty, Bubs, Kima, Bodie, Slim Charles, OMAR THE TERRIBLE (“I got the shotgun and you got the briefcase…it’s all in the game though, right?”)  are just a handful of amazing characters with strong performances and dialogue that sounds like they took put a microphone on real people and copied it verbatim (Seriously, season 4 and the kids…how they do that?) Each season had an arc that represented a different aspect of the drug trade/war with new and old characters weaving this rich tapestry.  

Curb Your Enthusiasm
HBO
5
Comedy
Eight Seasons
Seinfeld without the Network’s oversight…Larry David is amazing…His humor is based on  miscommunications and/or misreading of our emotions and desires, and these butterfly wings always fan bonfires that alight both friends and strangers. 

The Civil War 
PBS
5
History
Documentary Mini-Series
Anyone and everyone should watch this epic telling of a war that butchered the hearts of men and women and ended the practice of slavery but not the blight. 

Jazz
PBS
5
History
Documentary Mini-Series
And another Ken Burns film that explores the roots of America's glorious rhythm and blues alchemy.  

Oliver Stone’s: Untold History of the United States
Showtime
4
History
Documentary Mini-Series
A fascinating look at America narrated by the former Vietnam Vet who became a film director, Oliver Stone and co-written by the historian Peter J. Kuznick and Matt Graham. 

Cheers
NBC
4
Comedy
Nine Seasons
I am still blown away by how good this show is. S T I L L. It was a sly comedy with depth…aided by the outstanding performances of it’s cast.

The Bridge (American version)
FX
*
Crime Drama
Two Seasons
I loved it until I didn’t…they made a casting choice/story choice that RUINED IT for me later in the season. But…it's still worth watching and it’s background theme is very timely with our current state of affairs along the border. Demian Bicher is a standout and Diane Kruger takes on a very challenging role in a series where I have only watched the first season.

Homicide: Life on the Streets
NBC
3
Police Procedural
Seven Seasons
This series is a police procedural…but it is based on a book of the same name by David Simon, the creator of The Wire, who began his TV writing chops on this show. Star note: One episode from the 2nd Season, written by Simon, stars Robin Williams...and has Jake Gyllenhaal playing his 13 year old son. (I believe Gyllenhaal's dad directed that particular episode.)

Shows that are worth mentioning BUT I have not seen.
Bron/Broen (aka The Bridge-Denmark/Sweden)
Master of None
Mr. Robot
Borgen
The Fall
Steven Universe
Halt & Catch Fire
La Retourné
The Hour
Bojack Horsemen
Black Mirror
Southland
The Red Riding Trilogy


**
I noticed a splurge of shows starting in 2011 that are crime drama/mysteries that focus on the victim's family and friends...with the emphasis on how people react to violence and less about the whodunit sleuthing. Primarily from BBC and EU based broadcasting were the ones crafting these shows (although AMC picked up and remade The Killing for U.S. audiences.) and I think it's a smart choice.
. . .

A’ight.

FJP

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Monthly Dose: A Daily Prescription of Films. March 2011


My Monthly Dose: A Daily Prescription of Films. March 2011

This month I wanted to focus and completely dedicate to the Criterion Collection, a company that has done a remarkable job archiving/preserving/heralding a bevvy of films that are usually...amazing.
Good news for those who have Hulu-Plus because the Criterion Collection have made a deal with them to showcase a bulk of their films. (Netflix does have a good handful of Criterion films, FYI).
This month also gives a glance at mockumentaries, Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson.


  1. The Great Dictator (1938) Charlie Chaplin. - Chaplin takes on Hitler and Mussolini in a very funny film that also warned us of World War II, a year before it even happened. It deals with a barber who is mistaken for a very evil ruler.
  2. Something Wild (1986) Jonathan Demme. - If you’ve ever wondered why Melanie Griffith was ever worth talking about...then watch this film. Her, Jeff Daniels and Ray Liotta literally light up the screen in this wonderfully twisted film that begins as a comedy and ends as a thriller. Plus it shows us Manhattan in the the mid-80’s and has some David Byrne vox and John Waters for good measure.
  3. Silence of the Lambs (1991) Jonathan Demme. - Demme tackled “Lamb” with a lot of gusto and some ideal casting. This is an amazing film where all I feel I need to say is...watch it now.
  4. Bande à part. Band of Outsiders (1964) Jean-Luc Godard. - Quirky, funny, violent and sexy...as per usual Godard gives us a film that explodes with energy...and one that breaks the film conventions of it’s time in order to pave ground for “new storytelling”.
  5. Do the Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee. - Lee hits his mark with a film that sparkles with humor and anger, intensified by the validity of it’s vision and the wonderfully apt cast. Plus, John Turturro is always great to watch...even when he’s playing a racist fuck.
  6. Spoorloos. “The Vanishing” (1988) George Sluizer. - A dark and desperate film that gives us a view of what conscious “evil” is. I felt creeped out when the film ended and it’s bleakness left me hollow inside...But it’s a fascinating view of ethos and mores and how we interpret those views.
  7. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) Rob Reiner. - 11 anyone? This film doesn’t age...those bands still exist, they just have different distortion pedals or haircuts. Probably one of the greatest mockumentaries ever made.
  8. Videodrome (1983) David Cronenberg. - When you add James Woods and Cronenberg into a filmic mix the result is appropriately “uber” creepy.
  9. Stranger than Paradise (1984) Jim Jarmusch. - A charming and slowly paced black & white film that follows the lives of three lonely young adults who search, longingly, for “something more”. This was Jarmusch’s first feature and it set up the standard for the new independent film-making movement that was finding it’s way in the mid-80’s.
  10. The Harder They Come (1972) Perry Henzell. - Jimmy Cliff stars in this violent ‘realist’ film based on a real-life Jamaican criminal from the 1940’s. The story of a man who wants to make music his life but has to turn to selling drugs in order to get by (sound familiar?).
  11. Robocop (1987) Paul Verhoeven. - Verhoeven is one of the film worlds great satirist...he bites accordingly using future technology/sci-fi as a means of commenting on society’s brainwashing by the world’s not-so-invisible oligarchy. [The one time he tried to apply his wit using the “real world” in Showgirls (1995), most people missed the ironic commentary he so lovingly applies to his work.] I suppose his knives cut better in the Galaxy X42 than they do in Las Vegas, NV.
  12. 喋血雙雄. “The Killer” (1989) John Woo. - bang bang bang...then add some of the worst white jazz possible...andsomehow Woo still had a decent film. Probably because of Chow-Yun Fat, the coolest of all Hong Kong heroes, plays the role of a hit-man who accidentally blinds a pretty singer while doing a hit. The good guy that he is wants to make up for the accident...and that of course requires ONE MORE HIT to get the money for the eye surgery...
  13. C'est arrivé près de chez vous. “Man Bites Dog” (1992) Rémy Belvaux. André Bonzel. Benoit Poelvoorde. - This Belgian mockumentary is both funny and vicious. For those of you who can read French, the film’s English title is not a direct translation (It Happened in Your Neighborhood) but is an apt title for this film. The opening scene felt so real that it took me a while to shake off that this was only a movie...
  14. Night On Earth (1991) Jim Jarmusch. - Jarmusch tells the tale of 5 taxi’s around the world and what happens in those cabs. LA, NYC, Paris, Rome and Helsinki are the cities where the stories take place. My favorite is Roberto Benigni’s performance as the taxi driver in Rome who pretty much says all the wrong things you can say to a priest.
  15. Short Cuts (1993) Robert Altman. - America’s greatest short-story writer was Raymond Carver, a man who late in his life found success by honing his craft with razor precision...Altman, who also found success later in life with M.A.S.H. must have identified with Carver...not just as a late-bloomer but also as an artist who’s focus was on basic human desires and weaknesses. 
  16. My Own Private Idaho (1991) Gus Van Sant. - I didn’t realize this when i first saw this film but Van Sant adapted a novel called City of Night and Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1,2 and Henry the V into a contemporary tale of death, fellatio, loss and narcolepsy. River Phoenix and Keaunu Reeves play the hustling leads in a gorgeously photographed film.
  17. Nóż w wodzie. “Knife in the Water” (1962) Roman Polanski. - Polanksi had three actors and a boat...and he was able to delight and entertain me with this twisted tale of desire and societal standing. Mysterious and haunting visuals flow well with the minimal sounds and music.
  18. The Ice Storm (1997) Ang Lee. - I had read the book before I had seen the film...but I must say that this is a great adaptation and it is superb on every level including the casting, the cinematography, the directing and the production (the film, if you can believe it, was shot in summer...not winter...so look at how amazing the production was...)
  19. Lord of the Flies (1963) Peter Brook. - I saw this film for the first time in High School...Brutal, primal and haunting this film tackles the novel of the same name and (almost) does it justice.
  20. Time Bandits (1981) Terry Gilliam. - This film is fun. This film is funny. This film is great to look at. This is Terry Gilliam’s first feature and you can see all the years he did animation for Monty Python blossomed into a fertile world of cinematic wonderment. P.S the trailer is pretty funny.
  21. Schizopolis (1996) Steven Soderbergh. - A strange wacky wild and at times frustrating film...The story of the films inception, which I got first hand, is that Soderbergh wanted to break out of the rut he felt he was in and to let loose...Which he did. There are some absolutely golden moments in this film while there are some areas where you may want to fast forward...but be patient and let it play.
  22. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Wes Anderson. - I enjoy Wes Anderson and his brother’s inventive cinema. This particular film is the synergistic result of everything they must have learned about film making and story telling in their previous films (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket). The color palette the characters the costumes the story all fit in what I consider a too perfect film. Plus who can ignore a film in which Alec Baldwin narrates?
  23. Rushmore (1998) Wes Anderson. - This film was an amazing vehicle for Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzmann. It also showcases Anderson's ability to provide the dark angle of human desire into a comedic story of a child who wants to be a man and a man who wants to be a child. My main critique on this film is that I felt it should have ended when the remote control planes were flying...
  24. Bottle Rocket (1996) Wes Anderson. - I love the idea of robbing a book store. What can I say?
  25. The Darjeeling Limited (2007) Wes Anderson. - I love looking at this film. I’m happy to turn the volume off and look at the setting and the colors...oh, the colors! And yeah, the actors do a good job too.
  26. Burden of Dreams (1982) Les Blank. - Werner Herzog is a hero of mine and this documentary captures him when he was making Fitzcarraldo...a movie about a crazy guy who wanted to bring opera to South America...by sneaking a boat over a hill...which Herzog literally did. Watch it to see a true artist at work and the life threatening danger his art puts himself and everyone around him at.
  27. Ace in the Hole (1951) Billy Wilder. - Kirk Douglas plays bad (bad meaning asshole, not bad bad) along with Billy Wilder’s film that deals with what the media will do to have a story of their own. In regards to it's subject matter on truth in media and the twisted hunger our society has for disasters this film is just as important now as it was then.
  28. F For Fake (1973) Orson Welles. - Orson Welles takes us on a semi-documentary ride by questioning everything and everyone for every reason you’d think. And this is what Welles wants, for us to think about the information that we are given and to think about how we embrace or deny that information. Welles should know, he broke into the American consciousness by faking a news report about Martians attacking Earth.
  29. Harlan County, USA (1976) Barbara Kopple. - A documentary film that covers the story of how members of a coal mining group try to unionize in the South and how they were trounced upon by their companies violent reactions against them. Shocking to see the goon squads that openly threatened and attacked the union members...goes to show you how savvy they were not about cameras back then.
  30. Fishing With John (1991/1998) John Lurie. - There are some great episodes where the musician/actor John Lurie takes some of his friends fishing (Jim Jarmusch, Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe). My favorite episodes are with Jarmusch and Hopper.
  31. Mystery Train (1989) Jim Jarmusch. - Jarmusch weaves tales in the South...in Atlanta, Georgia. Several stories weaved together with an ensemble cast around a hotel, (whose night clerk is the one and only Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) this film has some great moments that lead up to an explosive finale featuring Joe Strummer (yes, from The Clash) and Steve Buscemi.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Banksy in LA.

I found out from the Wooster Collective that Banksy hit Hollywood!!!


Enjoy


FJP





Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Monthly Dose: A Daily Prescription of Films - February 2011


Days of Film – February 2011
This month, the shortest month of the year, will include a few days of...shorts (short films). I am also going to spend 9 days in the Seventies, one of my favorite decade for films.
I will not have a focus on a director this month but I do have my guest reviewer, TJ Marbois.
TJ has worked on and off in the world of film pre and post-production for 14 years. Check out his company, Ojingo Labs, and see how he is going to make the world literally look cooler. Check out his selections and thoughts from the 11th to the 13th.



So, enjoy these selects from this month and stay tuned for next month.

  1. City Lights (1931) Charlie Chaplin. – A moving and always funny Chaplin film where he falls in love with a blind flower girl and does everything he can to raise money for surgery that can give her sight. If the final scene doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, then you must be blind.
  2. Groundhog Day (1993) Harold Ramis. - I actually didn’t like this film for a while. I have to blame the casting of Andie “Get Outta My Face” MacDowell. It didn’t hit me, until repeated viewings, how dark this film is. Ramis’ direction probably lightened it up enough for that to slip by, but now I am truly impressed by this film (not that I wouldn’t have done a few things differently myself).
  3. Trees Lounge (1996) Steve Buscemi. – Steve Buscemi’s directorial debut featuring Chloe Sevigny. Buscemi stated that he had started writing the film and had to stop because he had lost all vision of where he wanted the story to go. Then, in desperation, he rented all of John Cassavettes films...and so Trees Lounge was written. A good film overall...with a great song by Hayden.
  4. Meet the Feebles (1989) Peter Jackson. – This film is disgusting and absolutely strange...but I’ve watched it 5 times...and I’m not sure why...except it has it’s boyish charm of gross kitsch. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
  5. The Apartment (1963) Billy Wilder. – A gem gem golden fucking crown jewel of Billy Wilder’s films...this film, starring a dazzling Shirley Maclaine and Jack Lemmon, is a masterpiece. It’s everything a “romcom” should be...a dark look into relationships and social hierarchy instigated by the need to climb up social ladders by whoring yourself...for love or for money.
  6. La Cité des Enfants Perdus. “City of Lost Children” (1995) Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro. – This film took 10 years of writingdesigning and massive set production planning before it got completed. An absolutely gorgeous piece of cinema with a wildly eccentric cast who help capture a world of vaudevillian fancy.
  7. Heaven Can Wait (1978) Warren Beatty & Buck Henry. – This film is charming (even the link that I found has that word as a description). Okay, get it. It’s funny and cute and playful and dreamy and weighty. Plus it’s got Jack Warden...and Julie Christie...Buck Henry...Dyan Cannon...Charles Grodin...James Mason and god damn they’re all good.
  8. Wordplay (2006) Patrick Creadon. – I have been addicted to playing the NY Times crosswords for the last 3 months...but that said, I really suck. This documentary follows, in parallel fashion, Will Shortz (the man responsible for editing the NYT crosswords)and four people who are the top contenders for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament that Shortz started in 1978. The film talks briefly with avid crossword fans like Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Ken Burns and former Senator Bob Dole alongside the history of crosswords and how they are created for us on a daily basis.
  9. The King of Kong (2007) Seth Gordon. – In the world of video games it appears that Donkey Kong is one of the most difficult. Now then, meet the people who spend their whole f’ing lives playing the god damn game (and other games) in competition. This film showcases an interesting group of heroes & villains all tied into a hippy-dippy world of arcade gaming.
  10. Breaking the Waves (1996) Lars von Trier. – A powerful, passionate film that is imbued with the cold calculation of death...via the sacrifice thru love. Shot in 16mm, this film has the debut of one of my favorite actress Emily Watson...alongside a great supporting cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard and a cold as ice Katrin Cartlidge (RIP).
  11. Le grand bleu - “The Big Blue” (1988) Luc Besson. - A deep blue dream of love and love lost by Luc Besson.  Strangely comedic and simplistic glimpse of a world that only Besson can really explain...but be sure you watch the original European cut if you want the full effect.  One of Jean Reno's earlier roles that solidified his darkly unique character traits into a very successful acting career.  Besson has a fascinating filmic style in my opinion - over the top, larger than life characters and sequencing that occasionally lock together with visual and musical style that you forget you are watching a film - you feel more like you are reading your favorite comic book....it just takes a bit of letting go to really like Besson.
  12. Le locataire The Tenant” (1976) Roman Polanski. - Polanski in top form.  The perfect midnight lunch.  Polanski is like an abstract noir painter with film,  slowly guiding you into the same Hitchcockian ( yes its a word? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitchcockian ) story he loves to tell over and over again.  The first time I saw this film I had no idea who the main actor was... turns out Polanski can write, direct... and yes....even act. Recommended for anyone that likes Paris and staying up till 4am watching quietly disturbing things take place.
  13. Plein soleil Purple Noon” (1960) René Clement. - Alain Delon is one of my favorite French actors.  To me Delon is the definitive the cool, calm, criminal...he's what I imagine myself to be if i were to take up the dirty deed of murder.  He makes everything seem so easy and even classy. You may recognize the plot in this film - thats because they remade it years later and put Matt Damon into the role that Delon once filled.   Damon? Delon?....hrmmph...no comparison....Delon is a guy I would give my last cigarette to.  Damon? sorry not a chance...and I don't even smoke.
  14. Jean Luc Godard - short films
  1. Meeting Woody Allen (1986). Jean-Luc Godard
  2. Les sept péchés capitaux. “The Seven Deadly Sins”. Various directors. Only on VHS.  
  3. Paris vu par...”6 In Paris”(1965) Var Dir.   
I love Godard. But I can’t watch a lot of his films. He is a challenging man at best. But here are a few shorts you can take a bite at. The first is an interview he did with Woody Allen in 1986 and the other two are short films within films (think Paris, Je T’aime if you have to, it being Valentine’s Day and all).
  1. Werner Herzog - documentary shorts
  1. Große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner - The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner(1974)
  2. On the Ecstasy of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog in Conversation with Karen Beckman.(link below)
  3. La Soufriere :Warten Auf Eine Unausweichliche Katastrophe. (1977)
  4. Beobachtungen Zu Einer Neuen Sprache - “How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck” (1976)
Herzog is known for his violent “nature destroys all” films but he is not as well known for the many documentaries he has put together throughout his lifetime (his best known is Grizzly Man). I’ve picked three of his earlier documentaries, shot in the mid 70’s. Download the audio interview for On the Ecstasy of Ski-Flying by clicking here.
  1. La jetée + Sans Soliel (1963) Chris Marker - You can find this combination as a DVD, La Jetée being the short film and Sans Soliel the feature (you can also watch La Jetée on Netflix stream). La Jetée is a miraculously understated masterpiece at 28 minutes in length. The film itself is comprised of purely photographs...and a voice-over. Yet it tells the tale of time-travel and science fiction without the slightest special FX. Brilliant even for today, La Jetée will always beat Terry Gilliam’s remake of it, Twelve Monkeys.
  2. New York Stories (1989) Martin Scorcese + Francis Ford Coppola + Woody Allen. - Honestly, the only one of the three short films of New York Stories that I really care for is Woody Allen’s film, Oedipus Wrecks. Coppola got really 80’s and daddyish when he let Sofia “co-write” the script with him...thanks dad. But, Scorcese’s film has a violently engaging Nick Nolte and a seductive Rosanna Arquette. A bit of trivia, keep an eye out for Larry David and Kirsten Dunst in Oedipus Wrecks.
  3. Mike Judge - shorts
  1. Frog Baseball (1992) -found in B&B Vol.3 http://youtu.be/6uLHGfA0rOo
  2. Beavis & Butthead episodes:
  3. Peace Love and Understanding (1992). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhoQcxem7qY
  1. Catch 22 (1970) Mike Nichols. – From the haunting Joseph Heller book of the same name, Nichols is able to capture every horrific thing about war and turn it into an absurd nightmare...which is...funny. A surreal, vivid and drunken experience about madness which features a hilarious Alan Arkin, a daft Orson Welles, a creepy Charles Grodin, asleazy sleek Jon Voight and a quietly comic Anthony Perkins.
  2. The French Connection (1971) William Friedkin. – Friedkin literally shot this film on the run...without permits and with Gene Hackman’s stunt guy driving like a mad man on city streets. But screw it, he made a great film with no real casualties. Oddly, in my eyes, this film was the first Rated R movie to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.
  3. Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes. “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” (1972) Werner Herzog.  – Man collides with nature...and it is death death and...yes, some more death. Klaus Kinski is cast as the lunatic commander (as per usual) in this intensely quiet and disquieting film. Watch Herzog’s documentary, My Best Fiend, if you want a glimpse as to how this film was put together...shot on location in the wilds of South America. This film also began the relationship between Herzog and Popol Vuh’s (a German Krautrock band) creator Florian Fricke, who did Herzog’s soundtracks for many many years until his untimely death in 2001.
  4. Badlands (1973) Terrence Malick. - Malick’s first film is based on a real life event where two young lovers kill the girl’s father and go on a killing spree...as per usual. Malick is known for his insistence on shooting during the “magic hour”, creating a beautiful portrait of it’s Midwestern landscape. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek work magic on the screen as the two young lovers who must run from the law as the corpses pile up.
  5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Tobe Hooper. – This film is awesome. If I remember correctly, Ridley Scott was so impressed by this film that he wanted to do a horror film like Chainsaw in his lifetime...and transferred it into: Alien. There is a strange humor that rolls along the horror of this film (like An American Werewolf in London, the humor make the horror oh so effective)...and it taps into fear...or should i say THE FEAR of man’s primal nature turned pure negative.
  6. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Sidney Lumet. – Only Sidney Lumet can make riveting films, both thrilling and funny, where the protagonists are locked into a space usually no bigger than 100 yards from one another. Inspired by a newspaper article on a real-life event, Al Pacino and John Cazale play foiled bank-robbers who take the bank staff hostage and have to endure the cops, the press, the people of Brooklyn and the main character’s transexual lover...whom he is robbing the bank for.
  7. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) John Cassavetes. – A gritty tale of double-cross and revenge, this film showcases Ben Gazzara’s weight as an actor. As per Cassavetes, this film jumps into the lives of everyday people and their internal life but unlike other Cassavetes this film has external influences that really push the plot forward.
  8. Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen. – What’s there to say about Annie Hall? Hmm. The “Prince of Darkness” cinematographer Gordon Willis lit this film which was penned by Allen and Marshall Brickman. This film was indeed Woody Allen’s turning point as a film-maker; the slapstick life was transformed into the slapped with a big stick allowing Allen to break into genuine human depth and darkness yet keep it funny and absurd...like life itself.
  9. Up in Smoke (1978) Lou Adler, Tommy Chong. - Stoner comedy, besides some earlier George Carlin, was truly built by the misanthropic adventures of Cheech and Chong. One of my first cassette tapes as a kid was Cheech and Chong’s Greatest Hits...which I listened to “Sister Mary Elephant” and “Dave’s Not Here” endlessly. Up in Smoke was their first feature film, comprising new material, bits of their most famous sketches and characters including the infamous, Sgt.Stedenko.

  1. 28.Alien (1979) Ridley Scott. - A tight, brilliant horror film in space. There is nothing like Alien and I fear there will never be anything like Alien again. It is the unlikely melding of studio desire (they wanted another Star Wars), director (Ridley Scott had only done one feature film prior...a costume drama),a top rate cast with a new face on film (Sigourney Weaver & Co), writing (from the creator of the space-comedy Dark Star) and ultimately the greatest monster creator ever, H.R. Giger. Alien became the biggest thing since sliced bread because it was able to tap into all our fears, all our nightmares and display it in a terrifyingly gorgeous and logical way.