Mini-Review Round-Up June 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Piranha 3DD

A film like Piranha 3DD always prompts the question: “Well, what did you expect?” Whether this question is asked in sincerity or sarcastically it is a valid one, as I always strive to judge a film on what it’s trying to be and whether or not it succeeds in that aim. Due to this fact, I have no problem giving disparate films the same grade without ever questioning whether one is better than the other. After all, if you think on it Jurassic Park and Citizen Kane might be two films you like, but no one will ever confuse them with regards to their aims.

So what did I expect from Piranha 3DD? It may be easier to explain what I didn’t expect first. I did not expect anything remotely like Piranha (1978). I didn’t expect to need to have seen the new incarnation of this series to follow this. I expected the film to be silly and strive to land in the so bad it’s good realm based on its premise. I did expect a passable horror story regardless of said fact. Considering that John Gulager was attached, and that I did like Feast, I had some hopes to see this film achieve these aims.

What unfolds instead is a film that you laugh at not with. It’s a film that wants badly to fall into an exploitation mold but it more frequently is an uneasy mix of attempts at such, mainly sex and star exploitation. Both aspects are so poorly handled the film more closely resembles a softcore porn/vanity press hybrid. Yes, the silly, poorly-animated piranha take a backseat in this film to implants, David Hasselhoff and sorry, lazy comedy, which works all too infrequently, especially considering some of the people they wrangled into being in this thing.

Speaking of the people they got in this thing: Christopher Lloyd deserves a medal for being the only redeeming quality this sorry excuse for a film has. In all honesty they would’ve been better served turning the camera on him for 83 minutes and allowing him to improvise, with no rehearsals and no editing. Lloyd is a truly gifted actor and why he ends up in films of this ilk these days baffles me to no end.

What I was expecting, in all honesty, was not nearly as bad as I got. As silly and ill-conceived as the oh-so-thin plot is it also lacks focus. It contains no flair or verve that gives me any cause to forgive it its sins. The key to good exploitation is that the subject matter is the only thing being exploited. This film also exploits its audience, and I was actually very surprised and disappointed that it was the worst thing I’ve seen this year to date.

2/10

Beautiful Wave

I quipped, with a lack of anything of real significance to say, after having seen Beautiful Wave that it was “neither beautiful nor a wave” in my best Linda Richman voice. However, the Mike Myers character-inspired jab may have been the most succinct way to put it. This is a film which seems like an excuse for a surfing film. I haven’t seen every surfing film, but I honestly can’t remember it being almost incidental to the story, as it is here.

Sadly, the protagonist is also rather incidental. Very little of her conflict is externalized and ultimately the film feels like it’s about everyone around her rather than her. I’d critique the pace if there was any discernible pace to criticize. The film telegraphs its climax and denouement very early on making much of the film transient.

As you can tell the issues are mainly structural but there are a few decent to good scenes along the way. I can’t fault the performances of the three main players Aimee Teegarden, Patricia Richardson and Lance Henriksen. It’s just so inconsequential.

Why she’s jettisoned to California just occurs as this forced inciting incident, which really has no impetus aside from the narrative necessity placed upon it by the makers. Somewhere in its running time there’s a perfectly innocuous, enjoyable albeit nebulous short film, but it really ought not be a feature. This is essentially Soul Surfer almost entirely devoid of pathos.

3/10

I’m Not Jesus Mommy

Here’s another one of those movies you just happen upon and then you look into it and you realize that the idea is so outlandish, and could end up being either brilliant or a disaster, and based on its premise that you absolutely have to see it.

Perhaps what’s most unfortunate about the film is that both in its title and in its synopsis it divulges what is truly revealed in the third act, however, intimations to the fact in question are made well before the revelation.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is despite a rather flat, blank performance by its lead actress and clearly video cinematography is that it has a strong first act. It mixes in some themes that I don’t necessarily expect to see touched upon at all and rather well. Then there’s a time jump, now this is where the excessive amount of restraint comes into the mix, where the plot really begins plodding. There’s some sort of plague about, the world is a really crazed place. However, vague allusions as to why are all that’s ever made. Similarly, visual motifs come into play that are also unclear, but the real issue is that the near cessation of incident.

Unlike some who have seen it, I have no issue with the fact that this film handles what is potentially such a polemic, sacrilegious premise with utmost seriousness of tone. The issue seems to stem from, at least in part, a bit of reticence to fully commit and it’s a shame.

The music, the lack of dialogue and the edit set the stage but there’s virtually no show upon it. I would see another work by Vaughan but what is most aggravating here is that it seems there was the courage and commitment to take a potentially ludicrous idea, treat it seriously and make it a film. However, the follow-through to make the film as shocking and effective as it could be doesn’t seem to be there. The film does become somewhat memorable for the previously alluded to fact but that’s rather dubious.

4/10

Playback

This is a film that has a formula shared by quite a few films in the horror genre: A town with a scarred past that comes back to haunt it anew. However, what this film attempts to is to double said formula. There is the now local-legend of a mass murder in a house but that fuses with a completely fictitious legend about the birth of cinema that borrows more than liberally from a few other films. I certainly cannot knock this film on the ambition front. However, where it does falter are in a few ways: first, the leads are very much in the dark about the famous case, which is an issue. We the audience don’t know the information and need it, but it seems unrealistic that most know nothing or care nothing about it. Second, I appreciate the attempted misdirection, however, the decisions about the paths the leads take also somewhat derails the story. Next, there’s a bit of inconsistency in the divulging of information. In certain cases it’s overly-expository and certain people know too much, yet in others certain aspects keep a little mystery. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s botched here I feel. Lastly, the ending does offer a resolution but it’s another one of those unsatisfactory shock cuts that puts a damper on the film when it had grown, just a bit in the last third.

The elements for Playback are all there for it to work in hindsight but they’re either mismatched or mishandled in some way such that the center doesn’t hold.

4/10

Found Memories

This film is a perfect example of a translated title that doesn’t quite do the film in question justice. If you were to translate the Brazilian title of Found Memories literally it would be Stories That Only Exist When Remembered. Granted that is more of a mouthful but it gives you a better sense of the kind of film you’re getting I feel, because as I watched the film I realized there was perhaps one of the more subtle Magical Realism tales I’d seen, one with with extreme emphasis on the the realism. Yes, there is a rather mundane, repetitious nature to certain scenes but the equation is skewed as the film progresses by a newcomer. The framing of many shots is wonderfully precise and as the story unfolds you are taken in both by the stories being told by the characters themselves as well as the ones being told about them by the film, which in many cases are parallel but not identical. Found Memories is a tremendously subtle, yet at times rapturous, look at small town life in a Brazilian town that should still be able to play anywhere and I highly recommend it.

9/10

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Short Film Saturday- The Tragedy of Man & Sisyphus

OK, I will readily admit that this one is a cheat as it is not a short film per se but rather a trailer. However, oh what a trailer it is and on the heels of yesterday’s post regarding the general terribleness of the form I felt this was an appropriate antidote.

For below you will witness in about two-and-a-half minutes much of the tone, the concept behind Marcell Jankovics’ The Tragedy of Man and a lot of the story. However, what you don’t get in its entirety is the epic sweep of the 2 hour and 40 minute tale, the precise allusions and comparisons only intimations of what they are.

Here’s the article on Cartoon Brew that made me aware of it:

One of the most unique voices in animation, Marcell Jankovics, the Hungarian director of features like Fehérlófia and shorts like Sisyphus, has completed a new feature. And this is not any film, but a two-hour, forty-minute epic that was in production for nearly 25 years!

The film, Az ember tragédiája (The Tragedy of Man) was released in Hungary last December. It’s adapted from a famous Hungarian play of the same name written by Imre Madách. A film review by Vassilis Kroustallis suggests that it’s relentlessly bleak and somewhat repetitive, yet worth seeing:

Lucifer, the co-creator of the world (according to his statement) tests Adam and puts him to sleep to see his destiny through the ages. The trip is interesting, visually stimulating (but never pretty), and relentlessly repeating. Not a single note of happiness or laughter enters The Tragedy of Man, which proceeds from the Garden of Eden to Egypt and then to classical Greece, Rome, Christianity and beyond…The choice of the stories to tell is varied and remarkable. Along with the usual historical suspects (Danton and the French Revolution, Hitler and Stalin), the Miltiades story from Greece (a general who becomes a traitor), and the Tancred and Crusades segment—along with the battles on the Filioque—are a treat to watch in this context.

Jankovics’ work is always a unique visual experience, and one expects this to be no different. Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung described Jankovics’ style best when he wrote that Jankovics can “make the movement a primary aspect of the design. Every element—character & setting, foreground & background, color & shape, is integrated into a total composition in motion. It approaches the idea of animation as a visual equivalent to music, with analogs to melody, rhythm and harmony working in a non-literal evocation of ideas and feelings.

At last the trailer:

The Tragedy of Man (2011)

I know after having seen this I am going crazy with anticipation to get a chance to see this film. That’s just based on the trailer alone. You combine that with the fact that this is film is based on a play that spawned one of my favorite films, The Annunciation, and it’s a must-see in my book anyway.

Now, to make up for the above cheat, here’s an actual short of his entitled Sisyphus.

That Movie Sucked: Trailers That Give Too Much Away

I had a recent Twitter conversation with Larry Richman, after he had attended an advance screening of Someone Like Us, and he had some interesting thoughts on the film. I told him I was glad to hear some of them after having seen the trailer. When he watched the trailer he confirmed what I feared: The trailer essentially gives away the entire movie.

I am doing my best to forget the details of said trailer before seeing it and won’t link to it here, but it does raise the point about why trailers feel the need to be so spoiler-laden. Now, there are certain realities I know and acknowledge, such as: I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong) it’s mainly the marketing department (in a studio) in collaboration with the producers who select highlight type moments, good footage and shop them out to companies who specialize in cutting trailers together. They usually get two or three different versions and choose one. Essentially, it’s a sub-contractor relationship. However, this outsourcing of the job isn’t the only reason that over-sharing in trailers occurs, if you ask me. The first part is that some involved with the film select segments to supply the bidders. So the selection has to be a bit more guarded.

What is going to compel me to see a movie is not necessarily knowing the synopsis, not that synopses are innocent of giving away too much (far too often on the back of a film you are told not just the first act break but the second also). What will compel me is getting a sense of the tone of the film with some compelling images that make me wonder “What’s that about? I have to see that!”

Some notable examples of this for upcoming films are:

Les Miserables (Teaser)

The Road (2012)

Even way back when in the Golden Age and before when audiences were not as sophisticated in certain respects as they are now, trailers disseminated information through voice-over and text but not too much of the story was seen and heard through actual footage:

1930s

Dracula (1931)

When I went to YouTube I just typed in the very generic search of “1930s Trailer” and sure enough I got more or less what I expected. A presentational pitch with hyperbolic text, grandiose announcements and key images that intimate what the film is but give very little real information. A lot of times with older films you were allowed to see a piece (sometimes a large piece) of a scene play out but you had little context by which to understand it. It was all just supposed to be enticing.

1940s

Casablanca (1942)

Approximately a decade later the formula was still pretty much the same. The hard thing is watching trailers for films you’ve seen already, for some the edit seem to be giving away a lot of the story because you know it, but it’s really not. Think of the moments in Casablanca that became iconic and none of them are here the farewell, “Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship…”, “…shocked to find that there’s gambling going on in this establishment”, “As Time Goes By,” etc. Yes, this trailer is selling the adventure and danger much more than it is the romance but it’s not shying away from it either. The ethos is still similar in these two examples compelling images, backdrop, genre, stars but not the whole film.

1950s

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

My favorite professor in film school, Max Simkovitch, was not only great at planning double and triple features but also at screening clips and trailers. Therefore, even if something didn’t quite make it on the syllabus, we were made aware of it and tempted to see it. His horror/Sci-Fi class was where I first got a glimpse of Suspiria and then I had to track it down. We also watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers there and while I can’t argue that this is a brilliant trailer, it is fragmentary enough in the ethos of its time to succeed. There is the frame of panicked reaction. First, you assume insanity then as images compound you think there’s more to it. The best part is the impact of the film is far greater than the trailer and the trailer doesn’t show it all, or intimate it all either. The bad part is that it doesn’t show you just how very good this movie is.

1960s

Psycho (1960)

Now, I will grant you that there are many things that allow this trailer to be as unique as it is. Firstly, you’re dealing with Alfred Hitchcock one of the greatest directors to ever walk the face of the Earth. However, he was also by this point a TV personality too. So his pitching his own film in an extended trailer is not so odd. However, what’s really brilliant about this Psycho trailer is how it seems to be telling you everything but there is so much misdirection and trickery afoot.

1970s

The Exorcist (1973)

Now, this is absolutely brilliant. There is next to now visual information revealed. There is one high contrast shot of Regan, no clear indication of what many of the shots mean and you don’t see the face of the exorcist. That creates the reaction you want. It gives you the emotional tenor of the film and compels you to want to see it. The voice-over works in conjunction with the images and scenes as opposed to presenting them. This is a clear indicator of the evolution of movie trailers. However, this sophisticated near artistry will in the course of the next forty years of film history will lose its restraint and start to give away too much information.

1980s

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Granted here’s another case where you’ve got a lot going for you as you set about creating a trailer: this is the follow-up to the most successful box-office smash of all-time as of this trailer’s debut, you have John Williams’ score and incredible visuals. Yet the temptation could exist to overplay your hand but it’s laid back. You have an exciting kinetic montage, with no information of any kind divulged really and the voice-over only comes in at the very end for one line. Perfect.

1990s

Jurassic Park (1993)

I tried to get a Spielberg film on for the 80s, I couldn’t because I thought of E.T. but the trailer I found had an incessant narrator who wanted to delineate every emotional beat in the whole film. With this short, if not brilliant Jurassic Park trailer, I think I re-affirm my point. Spielberg’s images are always strong. Here the story does a lot of the selling anyway, so just briefly touch upon what the chaos in the park is and make it a short, quick sell.

2000s

Peter Pan (2003)

For quite a bit of time I thought of Peter Pan as a standard-bearer of shorts. It had been some time since I had seen the trailer but I remembered how it had set the expectations very high for me, and then I saw the film it lived up to or exceeded practically every one of them. However, it also is a great illustration of how treacherous a game the cutting of trailers is. For above, what you have is the second version of the trailer. Multiple versions of trailers existing is nothing new, but what struck me as most interesting is that the minutest of changes could have such a drastic impact. When I found the #2 trailer I knew pretty quickly it was the one I liked for it seemed a more fragmentary and tonal presentation of this vision of the story whereas the #1 (below) felt a lot like a demonstration “Here’s this part of Neverland and this part and that part.”

The Present

As for the newer crop the trailer fo Dark Shadows is bad, but does contain a similar tonal dissonance to the actual end product. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent trailer.

Dark Shadows (2012)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

A recently compelling one, that convinced not only me, but many people to see the bad movie being hocked, was that of The Devil Inside.

It’s widely acknowledged that the marketing job done by Paramount to make this film a financial success while thudding with critics and audiences alike is astoundingly good. Another recent Paramount win was the viral marketing effort, the introduction of the “Demand It” concept prior to the release of the first Paranormal Activity film. However, regardless of whether you liked the film or not, the trailer is practically all the highlights of the film. Watch below…

Now, I will readily admit that I, as someone who frequents multiplexes and art houses alike and have a tendency to be quite early, such that I watch not only the trailer but the pre-show, will view these more times over than the average spectator. However, the success of the studios, the box-office both domestically and globally relies on everyone, and trailers are one of the best methods to repeat your business. You have a captive audience, a packed auditorium for the latest tentpole, all the big movies want to advertise in front of it. Whereas sometimes commercials work better because they can give less away, a trailer gives you anywhere from 90 to around 150 seconds to give your best pitch. So please try and tantalize not bore.

When a short film of mine Suffer the Little Children got into Shockerfest, we were afforded the opportunity to buy commercial time on local cable airwaves to advertise our screening. With only 30 seconds and my proclivity to tease rather than over inform, this is what I decided to do:

Here you’ve seen quite a few of the major plot points in the story, however, without knowing the Stephen King short story upon which the film is based you don’t necessarily know the context or the significance of the events. The shots come at you quickly, with juxtapositions that are apropos of nothing and little dialogue is heard. You are given the tone of the piece and some allusions as to what it’s about but you are not told everything. That’s as it should be I feel, even given more time to play around.

Far too often, after seeing a trailer, I will snidely say to myself “That movie sucked.” Now, of course, I’ve learned that the trailer is never a good indicator of what the film is. However, while I do want to be compelled to see the film by the trailer I don’t want to feel like I watched the movie. I felt John Carter, despite other marketing missteps at least attempted to compel with images first and not giveaway all the plot intricacies therein. The removal of the qualifier ‘of Mars’ from the title, the reticence to be upfront about the literary pedigree of the tale right off the bat likely had more to do with its failing, than a trailer that didn’t spoon-feed absolutely everything.

I think above there are plenty of examples of how to do it and how not to do it, and I hope that we get more good than bad in the future. However, in the meantime caveat emptor, buyer beware is definitely a motto to live by. Most recently I heard warnings to stay away from the trailer for Sinister. He is correct. The movie does look very good but there is much information in the trailers. So happy viewing but try and avoid spoilery trailers.

Ingmar Bergman’s Best

Here is another list that is inspired by an idea I first saw on @bobfreelander‘s blog. The first filmmaker I thought of picking was inevitably Ingmar Bergman. He is one of my biggest sources of inspiration and I have seen many of his films, as evidenced below.

The dangers in any list like this is the potential of denigrating the work of a great, which is part of why I wanted to start with someone whose talent and filmography is unimpeachable. I also qualify the list by saying listing his films was a decision ratified by the fact that the films I would say I love encompass about half the list, which proves how a ranking can be misleading.

I have also noted below what I haven’t seen and discuss some of his written works also.

32. The Seventh Seal (1957)

This may be one of the few controversial rankings of my piece. I’ll readily admit I saw this film for the first time at far too young an age, but while I appreciated it more when I revisited it I just do not connect with this film as I do with the rest of his works.

31. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Herein commences the part of the list I’d mostly describe as “good but not great in general” but on a Bergmanesque curve they get downgraded a bit more. There’s nothing wrong with this film per see, again I just don’t feel it.

30. The Devil’s Eye (1960)

The quote on the opening title card is the most memorable portion.

29. The Magician (1958)

This is just a film I was left wanted a bit more from.

28. Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

This is one I often associate to Smiles of a Summer night with regards to the visceral reaction I had to it, tepid in comparison to his best.

27. Torment (Written by) (1944)

Here’s one that I saw because of the great Criterion Eclipse set and due to that I will count it, though he did not direct it. While it does suffer some from not having him helm it his voice writing-wise is there.

26. Port of Call (1948)

Here’s one of the few I’ve actually managed to see on the big screen, at Lincoln Center I believe. It’s a fairly light neorealist romance that has its moments.

25. Faithless (Written by) (2000)

As I was editing this list I was reminded of this, and if I include one written by and not directed by I should include another. This film was one that came along when Bergman was sort of semi-retired. It debuted in Sweden three years before his swan song and was directed by Liv Ullmann, his frequent star. I can’t say I recall much about it save that I did like it more than many who saw it and more than Torment above. It is worth seeking out.

24 The Making of Fanny and Alexander (1986)

I debated whether or not to include this one but considering that he is credited as director and it does chronicle one of his most epic productions I allow it. It’s a fairly engaging chronicle of a production.

23. Summer with Monika (1953)

Here’s the part of the list where the list picks up quality-wise. This dramatic romance has its rough patches but it connects emotionally and has really good performances.

22. The Passion of Anna (1969)

This is a film that definitely needs revisiting that I have only seen once. Based on my first impression I liked it and some of the simulacrum but I wasn’t enamored by it.

21. The Serpent’s Egg (1977)

This could perhaps be the most severely underrated of his films, based on what I’d read I was not expecting much from this one at all, but I really did enjoy this a great deal and love the concept.

20. The Silence (1963)

I would also say I need to see The Silence again. I most definitely enjoyed it but not as much as I thought I would. It definitely fits the trilogy. I just felt slightly let down.

19. Shame (1968)

This is the kind of film that doesn’t really hit you immediately but works on you over time. I’ve been fortunate enough to both read it and view it.

18. Crisis (1946)

I’d have to see this again to give you a detailed impression of my thoughts on this, but I do remember thinking that it was middling in his canon when I saw it.

17. Thirst (1949)

Similar comments to be made here as above. This is really a delineation point in the list. The more ascendant films start now.

16. Face to Face (1976)

This is a film I happened to read before I saw. It only got released on US home video last year and I was very glad to see it at last and also see a greatly executed visual interpretation of the text.

15. The Magic Flute (1975)

I haven’t the complaints of this one that opera snobs have with regards to the language in which the performers sing or the performances themselves. I’m not familiar with many and was introduced to this tale through this film, which I think is great. I also love the opening montage.

14. Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

Here’s a case where ranking can seemingly slight a film. This may be perhaps the most well-acted film he ever did. However, there is an intangibility that the film is hinting at that keeps it from being just at the upper crust. That being said it is very watchable all the way through many times over.

13. Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Here’s one I revisited and took many a note on, I may look over them and post a review for 61 Days of Halloween. It truly is a horror tale a la Bergman, he does the genre as he would, which makes it fascinating.

12. Summer Interlude (1951)

I had to delay the making of this list to watch this film, which was recently released by the Criterion Collection for the first time. I thought this was such a sensitive, slight and moving love story that really is a great transitional Bergman film. It really serves as a thematic bridge from his earlier works to his later ones. With that in mind I expected to plop it down somewhere in the middle of this list. However, I got past the middle and was able to move it up just a little bit further than I expected. It’s definitely one I’d want to revisit, but I am comfortable placing it here.

11. Cries and Whispers (1972)

One of the first of his films I remember seeing. Amazing use of color and tremendous drama.

10. Saraband (2003)

This was the film that not only sealed that I’d name the life achievement award in my personal awards after him but also won a few BAMs itself.

9. Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

One of his most haunting dramas.

8. Fanny and Alexander (Theatrical) (1982)

This is a film I happened upon in part once, then bought on a whim to discover I’d seen part of it before. It was here I fell in love with Bergman after The Seventh Seal nearly short circuited that for me. I was still rather young, maybe 15, and I was so glad to have given him another shot. It’s a film that resonates with people of all ages I feel. For I’ve grown with it and its grown with me.

7. Fanny and Alexander (TV) (1982)

I try and treat different edits of films on a case-by-case basis because they may or may not differ in how the film is affected. When you consider that this version of the film is about two hours longer (about five total) and I watched it straight through, I’d say that makes it bit better than the already fantastic theatrical cut.

6. Autumn Sonata (1978)

One of the most intense viewing experiences of all his films and one I was able to see on the big screen also at The Film Forum.

5. To Joy (1950)

Without question the most incredible discovery of the Criterion Eclipse set. An astoundingly moving tear-jearker with an assist from Beethoven.

4. The Virgin Spring (1960)

Might be the kind of movie you only need to see once. Brutal and devastatingly brilliant.

3. Wild Strawberries

Death is one of my continual fears, I’ve reached peace with the notion from time to time, but it comes back as life is cyclical. Bergman dealt with death a lot (amongst other things) and I think that’s part of the kinship I feel to his work and no observation he made about life or death is perhaps as well-realized as this is.

2. Persona (1966)

The embodiment of his quote that he’d rather have his films understood emotionally rather than intellectually. A tremendous work that begs to be seen many times over.

1. Winter Light (1963)

Here’s where the list becomes truly personal. Many would likely list something like the above as their number one and I’d offer no argument. This was and is a film that personally affected me a great deal. It connected with where I was as a college student and feeling rather apocalyptic about life and the world. Yet, I also drew a lot of inspiration from it. In fact, a short I did (that I had to change for a number of reasons) owes its genesis to my thinking on this film.

Below you will find films of his I still need to see:

Need to See

The Touch
The Rite
All These Women
A Dream Play
Stormy Weather
Brink of Life
The Venetian
Dreams
Music in Darkness
A Ship Bound for India
It Rains on Our Love
After the Rehearsal

Bergman, however, is not only someone I’ve watched extensively. I’ve also read his work and about him.

Read

The Fifth Act

A collection of some shorter later works, which are all interesting. After the Rehearsal is perhaps the best.

A Project for the Theatre

A brilliant work, which I’d love to see realized on screen. Here Bergman creates a tale of progressive women through the ages that time travels from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Strindberg’s Miss Julie (this interpretation, I actually enjoyed more than the original) and a truncated treatment of Scenes from a Marriage.

Persona and Shame

When I saw this was being published I had to jump at it. I ended up reading Shame before I saw it.

Face to Face

I read this by chance well before I ever saw the film. I found a paperback and ran off a copy of it.

Autumn Sonata

Same story as above.

Scenes From a Marriage

Took it out from a library.

Sunday’s Children

A memoir-like novel by Bergman, which is a quick light read. I have yet to see the cinematic rendition.

The Films of Ingmar Bergman
(Kalin)

A great read. An essential for fans and neophytes alike.

Review- In the Family

It seems to me more often than not, whenever I see a good to great film that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to see there’s always at least a decent story to it. Somehow, in the barrage of year-end awards and best of lists, I missed noting the title In the Family, at the tail end of 2011. I guess I didn’t retain or read Slant’s list as carefully as I thought, either that or I hadn’t seen it anywhere near me so it was almost like it had yet to exist. However, that lack of availability kept it alive for this year’s BAMs. Now, oddly enough when I saw this month’s schedule at Theatre N, I saw it, it seemed like a likely view but it didn’t jump out not right away. Then the weekend it’s playing came, and thanks to an abysmal weekend of new summer releases it was the only game in town, so far as I was concerned. However, I was still under-informed. I read the synopsis, seemed good. However, I didn’t immediately note the running time.

In trying to schedule my day, I did. The film runs 2 hours and 49 minutes. I do not have hard and fast rules regarding running-times, as my commendations for Satantango and Berlin Alexanderplatz clearly indicate. Yes, I prefer comedies that run 90 minutes or less when speaking in generalities, that does not mean I’ve never liked one longer. The Avengers is only about 25 minutes shorter and I never heard anyone complain about how long it is. However, I do have to concede that it is a factor. So what I did was I started to read up on it, just a bit. Based on what I saw I wanted to give a go.

With this film, and my prior example, you have two instances that highlight the difference between running time and pace. Anyone can make a film this long, or longer, if they want to, and frequently early assemblies and cuts are. What matters is what you do with the running time you’ve allotted your story. I’ve seen films a third as long as this one that feel twice as long as it actually is. There are films that feel like they will never end and others you wish wouldn’t, and this one is much closer to the latter than the former.

The term deliberate pace is not, in my mind, a polite way of saying slow. There are scenes that don’t cut, but there are scenes that are rather quick, which add to the tone and help the film pace itself. It is by no means the test of endurance that The Turin Horse is, even though that film is shorter.

So preambles aside, the film works beautifully in large part due to the restraints is shows. The film tells the tale of of a custody battle following the death of one partner in a same sex relationship. That’s the film in its simplest terms, now the film could be handled differently and still work but then it would run the risk of pigeonholing itself as a gay film, or a racial film or a courtroom film, depending on how the plot unfolds. It could quickly become maudlin and melodramatic. However, in restraining its emotion, allowing it to build in its characters and its audience it creates a tremendously universal and human story that I’m sure many can relate to, whether it reflects anything in their life or not. One example of the restraint, and a litmus test of sorts for films with gay themes, is that the words “gay” or “homosexual,” or any pejorative variation thereof are not spoken. This is a clear choice it seems that underlines both the humanity of the story and the underlying hostilities and prejudices that exist.

Dave (Peter Hermann), Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), Jefferson (Eugene Brell), Joey (Patrick Wang), Paul (Brian Murray), Court Reporter (Marsha Waterbury) in In the Family (In the Family)

The drama in the film is always palpable because the film cloisters its characters. In certain scenes it just allows us to watch a few characters behave and interact, without dialogue but there is still much being said. There’s a lot of film theory banter about simply watching behavior, but like everything in this film it doesn’t push this aspect to the extreme either. There are small, delicate, wonderful scenes like this sprinkled throughout; a fantastic example is Chip (Sebastian Banes, credited in this film as Sebastian Brodziak) getting himself and Joey (Patrick Wang) a drink after the funeral.

Aside from having well-tempered scene lengths, the film also structures itself well and interestingly. There are three flashbacks, which all occur post-mortem. The film begins in medias res, after Cody’s (Trevor St. John) death is where we start to get to know him and miss him as Joey does. There are also I believe four segments of the film that begin in black with some audio coming in to precede the scene, bringing us slowly into the current moment and visually dividing the story (the first occurs at the very beginning with a gorgeously languid fade in).

Dave (Peter Hermann) and Eileen (Kelly McAndrew) in In the Family (In the Family)

The acting in this film is quite nearly impeccable. It can be said that a running time such as this gives the actors more time to develop their character, hone their performance but that would be ignoring the fact that the work still does have to be done. Wang particularly has a lot of heavy lifting to do in the third act, his physicality is a lot of what takes us along but at the end it’s just him, speaking to his family and speaking to us and it’s nothing less than monumental that this “unedited” deposition scene works. It keeps with the cloistered aspect of the film but brings things full circle and is riveting. However, Kelly McAndrew’s reaction shots during this scene are breathtaking also. The real find of the film, however, may be Sebastian Banes. Actors around his age, he plays a character who is six, with as much natural talent and charisma are rare. A few scenes in I was already comparing him favorably to Drew Barrymore.

In the Family
is a revelation in many ways, not only for my story of not really having heard about it and then having it fall into my lap but also for revealing the tremendous budding auteur that is Patrick Wang. It’s a crime how under-seen this film is and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.

10/10

Review- Prometheus

I spent a good amount of time getting caught up on my reviewing. There’s no logical explanation as to why I get back-logged save for procrastination, but having said that I knew that I needed to have Prometheus last. Now, just the fact that I felt the need to stew on the film a bit longer is proof that there is a bit more to it than other films that just flat-out didn’t work at all. So in that regard, I do have to give it a grudging amount of respect, however, that was already there by the implication of its plot and the trappings. It’s not the aims of Prometheus that are so bothersome, but rather how it goes about trying to achieve said aims and fails.

As soon as you get aboard the Prometheus, the eponymous ship, you’re introduced to a rather different aim than in Alien, this is not strictly a cargo ship but a mission with a loftier goal, seeking the alien race that theoretically populated the earth. Essentially, seeking what we’ve come to call God. This is intimated visually with an archeological site, but we as an audience discover this when Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) memory is read. Granted this gives us some insight into both David (Michael Fassbender) and her but it’s an extremely clumsy way to introduce her theological views, especially when she’s not necessarily shy about sharing them with any and all who ask.

If a film wants to be a precursor to another film, inhabit its universe but not really have any drastic ties that bind it to the original film chronologically, I have no problem with that. I have been, on multiple occasions been surprised by a prequel or a remake, even when I saw the original product first, however, what confounds me about Prometheus is that it sets some pretty different aims in the beginning and then seems to spend much of the first and into the second act of the film doing a pale, sterilized impersonation of Alien, which makes you think maybe the God plot is a MacGuffin and you’re really going to get a rehash. It’s not the fact that it’s misdirection that bothers me, clearly films need to misdirect audiences for certain payoffs but it’s the amount of time dedicated to and the certain lack of follow-through and dispelling the other track that really gets to me.

There are more than a few rehashed tropes from the initial series of films that really don’t add that much drama or significance to this film. One of the most annoying ones is the character of David and his nature. This was a pretty huge reveal in the first film to both audience and characters involved, yet here it’s played blatantly and everyone knows. Well, why does an earlier crew know something a later crew doesn’t? Is it the nature of the manifest or something else?

I recognize that certain mysteries and certain tricks are harder to pull on multiple occasions, but it does sort of make you wonder why certain elements are even being reintroduced. If you’re wiping the slate clean, wipe it all the way clean. This way all the plot twists have impact. Instead, there are multiple sequences in this film that are just utterly hollow because I can already tell where a particular plot is going and there’s no real drama in its outcome. One of the more effective prequels in recent memory was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, simply because they rewound so far back in the narrative there was really no telling how you’d get from point A to B to C.

So there’s a major portion of the film that’s really just Alien Lite or Alien for Dummies, if you prefer but then there’s the part where something new is trying to be accomplished and the focus completely drifts away from it for rather significant stretches and when the film’s focus drifts what hope do we as an audience have or caring?

Is there more to this story than I’m giving credit for? Yes. However, part of the impetus for me (or almost anyone) to plunder the deeper depths of the film for meaning is a willingness to dig. What makes one willing to dig? Having something to latch onto in the first place, and there’s nothing that really gives you a handhold here. I’ve seen some commentary and read some reviews around that were rather interesting. Once cited Contact as a good double feature. The seeking some sort of greater meaning in the far reaches of the universe theme is there, but despite the surprise ending, the through-line of Contact is rather clear and never clouded. Many people disliked it for what it was or because of what they considered to be a deus ex machina in the story-line, but I’ve never seen anyone cite that it was confused about what it wanted to be. Relating back to the digging deeper comment I made above, A.O. Scott makes a fascinating comparison between the David of this film and the David in Artificial Intelligence: A.I., even as seemingly perplexed as I was walking out of that film for the first time there was something there I knew I liked it a lot, I just couldn’t put my finger on what. I’ve read some things and come to realize some things about Prometheus since I’ve seen it but none of it has illuminated it in my mind. It’s not a sense of revelation like I had after I walked out of The Turin Horse, it’s kind of like finding the occasional diamond in a pile of garbage; sure you have a diamond but you still feel dirty. The revelations do nothing because they’re not big enough and granted some films can get too grandiose, especially when failure is the more likely outcome but after a certain point there’s just an emotional flatline in this film that could’ve been at least jostled slightly by something pertaining to the purported point of this endeavor that could’ve helped.

Those are the more technical, narrative aspects. On the visceral front those shortcomings proved to make this my most boring moviegoing experience since Cowboys and Aliens. Note, I did not and will not say it’s that bad. This film does have a lot more going for it than that did, which I’ll get too but it’s by no stretch of the imagination enjoyable.

The film is unquestionably beautiful to look at, the effects work is pretty bullet-proof and while 3D isn’t amongst the very best I’ve seen it’s quite good and doesn’t distract or interfere with the experience at all. For more detail on the 3D from someone who appreciated that aspect a lot more than I did I refer you to CinemaBlend.

Most of the actors do what they can with the limited, usually one note characters they are given to work with. I wish Charlize Theron was given more range to work with, as her coldness in this does get a bit trite and it seems like she and Rapace are fighting over who gets to squeeze into the Weaver mold next. The slight power struggle is a bit enjoyable, but also a bit repetitive. However, some of the performances do fall a bit flat also namely Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris and Rafe Spall.

Sadly, Prometheus is an unmitigated mess. Some messy films can end up being lovely regardless of that fact, but this film never really has that chance. It’s pulled in different directions and slapped together with glue and scotch tape, as refined and brilliant as some of the images are, the construction and handling of the narrative is equally inelegant.

3/10

Review- Moonrise Kingdom

I remember that long ago I was suggested by a friend of mine that I should watch Bottle Rocket. I was told that it would be something I would like. I valued the friend’s opinion who told me this so many years on I still recall the recommendation and I always thought that’s where I’d start watching Wes Anderson. Yet, I have yet to follow through on that recommendation. It’s hard to discern why specifically, but I can state equivocally that it was likely due in part to my still somewhat rebellious nature in film school. I’d overheard certain people and think “Oh, they like him too. Maybe not then.” Another reason that Moonrise Kingdom was my first film of his is Anderson seems to me a filmmaker you just have to watch. His tone, his voice, the worlds he crafts can’t easily be disseminated in 90 to 150 seconds. His sense of humor is a bit on the drier side and trailers are geared toward broadness. Mea culpas aside, which really wasn’t the point of this long intro, I didn’t come into Moonrise Kingdom with massive expectations that normally are placed upon one who has a fanbase or is the basis of auteur criticism. I was a relatively blank slate just there to see this film, not the new Wes Anderson, which is a different mindset.

The film is a pretty insular tale about Sam and Suzy, who are two outcasts in their own way who seem to be the only ones who understand one another, thus they conspire to run off together. The charm, heart and warm nature of the film are responsible for its soaring success through two acts. One of the few bits of information I went in knowing was that Anderson cited Truffaut’s Small Change as a major influence on this film and that shows in the tonality more than anything else but there is a bit of episodic narrative to it that does also, however, this is a bit more linear.

The story of both Sam and Suzy as they break free, find each other and how they first met and then became pen pals are the strength of the film. However, the chase and the externalization of their struggle to be together takes up much of the third act and is where the few stumbles the film does have occur. There are several chase sequences, the Hullaballoo escape, the field and all that occurs there. Some of it is just funny as it happens, some is minimally tonally necessary, but as a whole very little of it is vital. It’s a film that’s moving rather well with minimal encumbrances up to this point, and then it just gets a bit bogged down and the pace suffers a bit because of it. There’s a necessary resolution to all this waiting at the end of the rat race we know this, but all that intervenes just seems an inconvenience.

What the film does almost unerringly is create characters that are quirky and odd but they’re not reflexively so, and their obliviousness to the fact is what makes them ring true, not any one given action or tendency that they may have. The film, in good comedic tradition, does give many of the characters their own obsession that drives them to function as they do, and rounds out the supporting players like Scout Master Ward, Captain Sharp and Social Services. Similarly, the handling of the narrator, which for a time is a bit presentational, an aspect that removes danger and adds levity, also has a twist to it.

The comedy of the film is for the most part organic, which is very refreshing. All too often you find people delivering punch-lines and they know it, here it flows from the action and if it works it’s a bonus, if not no great loss.

Moonrise Kingdom, despite its somewhat slippery, treacherous conclusion, is a charming, delightful film, which will likely win over both Anderson devotees and new fans alike, speaking as someone who belongs to the former grouping.

7/10

Short Film Saturday- Moonrise Kingdom Animated Shorts

Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom, which will be reviewed here shortly (Hint: I liked it), features six fictitious books that are Suzy’s (Kara Hayward) favorites and she reads from constantly. Aside from having a heroine who is an avid reader, thus encouraging reading in general, the film is also very creative in making these tales. Not only does Suzy read aloud from these imagined tomes but different artists were commissioned to create the covers and also animate this short film, which is not only entertaining, but gives you a glimpse into the world of this film without spoiling it.

Enjoy!

Review- Men in Black 3

To be entirely honest, I was not planning on watching it but circumstance conspired such that I did. I, like most people I believe, did enjoy Men in Black when it first rolled around. As this latest installment was coming down the pike I was hearing chatter about it compared to Part II, and count me in the camp of those who have no recollection of Part II whatsoever, and based on what I’ve heard that’s all for the best. This is all a very long way of saying that this film wasn’t playing with house money with my being a fan. Conversely, it was also coming sixteen years after the last Men in Black that I do have some recollection of, so I was pretty much an open book.

The only news items I heard that made up my pre-life with this film were the ridiculously overblown reports of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber being aliens, which constitutes their likenesses appearing on background monitors in the beginning.

Ah, the beginning, what an ungodly mess it is. Apparently one of the old screenwriting axioms doesn’t really apply here; there’s nothing easy about getting through this first act. It is slow, stilted and uncertain of itself until the mission is embarked upon. What’s perhaps even more perplexing is that the film does get better but the beginning is slow and bad such that it makes recovery difficult. Needless to say that when I discovered, after having seeing it, that principal photography began and the script had not been finalized, I was not surprised in the slightest.

It’s also a bit like that half-baked ethos carried through post-production in regards to the edit. There are two neuralyzer scenes that make little to no sense, add no humor and do not really advance the plot in anyway. In fact, they’re so dubious that even Will Smith seems as if he’s just going through the motions in these sections. Whereas that doesn’t necessarily really ring true for the rest of the film. In a film that has such issues getting off the ground any other extraneous material’s impact is multiplied. Not even to mention the fact that there is a severe shortage of humor in this particular installment, there are chuckles to be had but there’s nowhere near the level of fun that these films are supposed to engender.

The more enjoyable moments in the film are provided by Josh Brolin’s hilariously deadpan take on Tommy Lee Jones and Michael Stuhlbarg’s wonderfully quirky Griffin. Jemaine Clement, who is usually hilarious here is more intent on being creepy as Boris the Animal, and while that succeeds the film could’ve benefitted from a bit more levity, especially given the ending.

When your film already has its issues and is only minimally interesting things like the nearly unavoidable time traveling paradoxes that arise are allowed to occupy more of your attention than they really ought to.

Given the fact that portions of the second and third did work on an intermittent basis, it’s really unfortunate that this film proceeded full speed ahead instead of righting the ship before they got rolling. As it stands, the film is an unfortunate mess that’s a waste of time and talent.

5/10

The 2012 Embarrassed To Say Festival

The 2012 Embarrassed to Say Festival

This is a project I likely should’ve undertaken sooner, but now more than ever it is easier to tackle a lot of the massive films I’ve yet to see. I can likely continue doing it every year and hopefully (eventually) the titles will become more and more arcane to the common filmgoer but no less bothersome for the film buff and/or filmmaker.

However, Edgar Wright the very talented director and great film enthusiast has said something quite true on his Twitter, in response to apologetic fans having seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, only on video, “It’s never too late to watch a movie.” That’s the spirit in which I’m undertaking this venture.

In spite of that sentiment there will be films on this list that I have to grin and bear admitting only now having seen so I offer you this explanation in preamble:

My conscious desire to be in film blossomed much later for me than with most, the pure love of it was always there. Therefore, what I want to see has always been a strong impulse as it is with many. However, once one becomes a student of film you quickly learn there are those titles you ought to see and if you haven’t already seen them watching them on your own, later on, can seem like homework. Whereas in school screenings were the best class assignments you were given, homework is a bothersome thing, no one liked homework, not entirely, and the assignation of necessity to something that ought to be a pleasurable and visceral experience alone can make one reticent to watch certain films. In fact, in the schools I attended I saw the disillusion many students felt as they could no longer enjoy films for they analyzed them to much.

I remained steadfast and can control hyper-analysis during viewing and do that legwork after the fact. This is an elongated and roundabout way of saying that some films I have avoided in part because of their stature, for fear that watching them would be more like work than pleasure or conversely for as important as they might be in a historical or technical context I’d not be moved by it in a narrative sense.

Well, the time has come and the access to some is so ready that I’ll bite the bullet on many titles this year (ideally at least 52) and I hope you the reader either get a chuckle of what I’ve deprived myself of thus far or find something new to look for, ideally both. And who knows maybe even undertake this challenge yourself.

Without further ado the films…

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (United Artists)

Reasons I Hadn’t Seen It:

War stories are tough to watch.
Running time.
Rather informed by a making of and needed to distance myself from that viewing.


Expectation Going In:

I had forgotten much I’d learned about the plot so all I really expected were a few scenes I knew of and brilliance.

Reactions:

At times mesmerized, others horrified and befuddled. A film that works brilliantly on an intellectual and visceral plane and as much as I wanted to see the theatrical and “Redux” cuts before they left Netflix I could not deal with seeing it twice in two days.

10/10

It’s been far too long since I updated this post but I figured when I do it had better be a doozie. So how does a Hitchcock film strike you. Now, I did add a new Hitchcock both during 31 Days of Oscar and since, but this one is a big one that is a worthy successor to the aforementioned film.

2. The Birds (1963)

Reason(s) I Hadn’t Seen It:

I have seen bits and pieces of The Birds, and like any Hitchcock film (any good film) it’s not an experience meant to be fragmentary. My avoidance of The Birds always came back to a philosophical quandary: How effective can it be when the film openly acknowledges there’s no real catalyst, at least not one blatantly indicated in the story, as to why the birds are attacking? In a B-Film (This is not one, I’m merely contrasting) that deals with animal attacks there will be the discussion as to why, perhaps too much and perhaps the explanation satisfies and perhaps it doesn’t, but it’s there. I was never sure how well it’d work for me, especially stacked up against other Hitchcock films.


Expectation(s) Going In:

Guarded, to say the least, yet hopeful that it’d be the best rendition of the story at hand, and potentially bulldoze my reservations.

Reactions:

The first thing that really struck me is the importance of the MacGuffin in this film especially. The MacGuffin is really just a device that is used as an excuse to tell the story, but in The Birds, without the flirtation and the new-found connection the two protagonists share, without her coming to Bodega Bay, meeting people; essentially introducing herself into a new family, it’s hardly different than many animals attack movies. However, you do spend that time building characters, relationships and attachments, the story is about them, and the attacks of the birds mount incrementally. They come intermittently and with growing intensity.

The lack of scoring was something I knew about going in but I must say that it really does contribute to making this film as good as it is. It’s not going to work for every film but a certain intimacy and terror are built in just by hearing the flapping of wings.

I am a bird-lover, member of Audubon and all that but I take no issue with this film in that regard particularly because of how Hitchcock executes it cinematically. Birds aren’t usually a feared animal, so to transform the sound of a flock of flapping wings into something fearful is quite a feat.

Hitchcock’s is a filmography with so many greats, and so many personal favorites that many overlook, that it’s hard to gauge this film, even in the context of his canon, but it is undeniably solid and effective.

8/10