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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- La Cité des Enfants Perdus. “City of Lost Children” (1995) Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro. – This film took 10 years of writing, designing 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jean Luc Godard - short films
- Meeting Woody Allen (1986). Jean-Luc Godard
- Les sept péchés capitaux. “The Seven Deadly Sins”. Various directors. Only on VHS.
- 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).
- Werner Herzog - documentary shorts
- Große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner - “The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner”(1974)
- On the Ecstasy of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog in Conversation with Karen Beckman.(link below)
- La Soufriere :Warten Auf Eine Unausweichliche Katastrophe. (1977)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mike Judge - shorts
- Frog Baseball (1992) -found in B&B Vol.3 http://youtu.be/6uLHGfA0rOo
- Beavis & Butthead episodes:
- Peace Love and Understanding (1992). http://www.youtube.com/watch?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.