Short Film Saturday: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953)

Is the second Adventures in Music short produced by Disney and the first animated film ever presented in Cinemascope. It is a funny and didactic tour through the evolution of the sections of orchestration from pre-history through modern times. Enjoy!

Advertisements

Short Film Saturday: Demoni

I am not the audiophile my brother is so my lamentations of the lack of creativity in the music video is usually unfounded and based on a very ignorant familiarity with solely mainstream offerings. It’s usually on the independent scene in both film and music where the mavericks can be found. When they merge you get great things like Theodore Ushev’s short/video Demoni which highlights the eponymous single by Bulgarian folk band Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs.

Mini-Review- Bob Dylan: Revealed

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Bob Dylan: Revealed

Bob Dylan in Bob Dylan: Revealed (Music Video Distributors)

A documentary that tries to encompass a large part of Bob Dylan’s musical career.

This film is like an instructional on how not to construct a documentary. There’s little to no music in a film a bout a musician, interview subjects dominate entire portions of the film, there is insufficient editing of what they say, there is footage that’s described as we’re seeing it and the scope is gigantic. Ultimately, if the subject, Dylan, wasn’t as interesting as he is I’d have given this the lowest possible score but instead it gets by with a

2/10

Tarzan Thursday – Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Introduction

Last year the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Here is another case wherein I honestly am quite glad to be revisiting the series chronologically. In earlier viewings I not only skipped this film but saw later ones out of order. It’s hard for me to argue that this installment is better than its predecessor, but it is rather impressive.

It does take its time easing you in. Once again it makes its title character’s presence scarce in the first 20 minutes or so. Instead, what we are introduced to is an outside party’s trip into the jungle seeking a return to the elephant graveyard and a bounty of ivory. These two white men carry a torch for Jane and it’s her first contact with them in some time. This allows her to be rather conflicted between comforts of her old life and the happy simplicity she now enjoys.

It’s also great to find this film in this set, if not in its intended form, then closer to it than previously screened. The infamously altered skinny dip of O’Sullivan is in this cut, but overall there’s a very Pre-Code take to this tale that seems a step beyond “figuraitve literalness” to being very overt as both men make their plays for her affections quite openly.

So far as Tarzan’s character goes, while he is still written fairly monosyllabically there is an arcing toward a more vocal character and the words chosen for him are chosen well; “Always is gone” and the response at the end have a great significance and are wonderful touches.

There is the introduction of music to Tarzan’s character, but on the more visceral side the fights are better staged and the blend of actual trained animals, dummies and rear projection looks to be about as seamless as the era could produce.

The villainy sets itself up early and rears its head when it matters most and thankfully on the animal side of the equation, whereas later on Cheetah serves more as a prop, comic relief and/or distraction here his presence is vital, which is another nice touch. Most second installments to series are disappointments but the second MGM Tarzan is an exception.

Book Review- The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein

Eisenstein’s The Film Sense is a book I had never even seen in print anywhere before. I happened to find it when I was in Brazil searching through a rather large bookstore’s film section. You know a bookstore is good when you find many foreign language offerings, and I was able to pick up quite a few film texts in English there.

Sergei Eisenstein is likely the only filmmaker whose work as a theorist is of equal importance. Aside from spear-heading montage as the defining element of film, he wrote extensively about it and it’s all brilliant stuff. His angle in this book is tremendous. In it he seeks to create a “film sense” by drawing on elements of other art forms. Much of the writing actually does have to do with music as he is discussing how incorporating sound and music will co-exist with picture cutting.

There are many brilliant talking points. First, he touches on word and image, which is similar to a touched upon topic in Film Form, here he examines examples of montage in other artforms. Then he talks about synchronization of the senses, which is how film can, will and should play on all our senses, especially given this new development. In a perhaps revolutionary way he also discusses color in literature and in music and relates it to film, even though at this writing color was an abstract concept seen in shades of gray.

The writing flows beautifully and is just brilliant in terms of observation and the sources from which he draws. He illustrates how cinema must be the culmination of all other artforms and draw from them. I will admit it gets a bit dense with the both the in depth musical discussion, as I am more intuitive rather than well-versed there, and a bit with the montage flow diagrams and shots, having seen some of the films helps but the point does usually come across regardless.

Also, this is a rare book where the appendices are not only a must read but brilliant. They include: shot sheets, treatment sections of un-produced works, outlines and a very detailed bibliography for further reading.

All in all this is a fantastic book that is worth seeking out for serious aestheticians, filmmakers and film students. I found it endlessly fascinating such that I made many notes and underlined significantly and considered further analysis of the text but will leave it as this brief recommendation instead.

Rewind Review- Rudo y Cursi (2008)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Rudo y Cursi is the feature length directorial debut of Carlos Cuarón, brother of Alfonso Cuarón. It tells the tale of two brothers who live in a rural economically depressed section of Mexico who are discovered by a talent scout and promised their chance at stardom in the Mexican soccer league with two fictitious teams.

The thing this film does best is incorporate a storytelling voice-over which draws parallels between soccer and life and also gives a little insight into the character of Batuta, played by the scene-stealing Guillermo Francella. Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna work together as if Y Tu Mama Tambien was completed yesterday and not eight years ago. Each is a bona fide star in his own right.

Both cinematically and as a soccer enthusiast one might be slightly disappointed by the in-game action. Very few of the game scenes shoot on field action but rather a reaction in stadium or around a TV or just the ball entering the net and people on the sideline.

The trajectory that each character takes to fame is quite different both as players and people – and that’s great. While their declines are also different they are equally predictable, however well-executed. Cursi (Bernal) offers a tremendously funny Spanish rendition of “I Want You to Want Me,” the music video thereof is undoubtedly the best scene of the movie and one of the best of the year, as he desperately wants to be a singer and shouldn’t be. Luna (Rudo) is spotted at a track and taken deeper into the gambling world.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with Rudo y Cursi. It’s a fine watchable film and even incorporates a decent subplot with Rudo’s wife looking for money and falling into a pyramid scheme but with such talent assembled on camera you kind of want it to do more. Things which get glossed over you want examined in more depth.

The ending ultimately, while you like Rudo and Cursi, was a bit too facile and I think as good as the voice over was, telling the tale from Batuta’s point of view might have been a mistake because it ultimately creates a distance. In the beginning we as an audience are wondering “Who is this guy?” If it was either Rudo or Cursi we might’ve been even more invested in the brothers’s plight even if all events played out the same.

6/10

Review- The Cabin in the Woods

Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchison in The Cabin in the Woods (Lionsgate)

My initial Twitter reaction to The Cabin in the Woods was to say that “it’s like every horror movie you’ve ever seen combined into the most awesome way imaginable.” After all the hullabaloo on the web about critics who had disliked the film and explained why by using spoilers I was afraid that even my exultation of glee was a bit too much. Having already seen the film I then proceeded to read Scott E. Weinberg’s review, which I’ll agree is spoiler-free so I feel better about myself and thus I can continue.

The more one watches films the more one becomes accustomed to genres and their tropes. Depending on how well or poorly said tropes are played, if they’re dealt with originally or lazily is usually what the quality of a genre-specific film hangs on. Typically, when a film breaks a mold, whether it works or it doesn’t, it’s applauded for the effort. What you get in this film is much more smart and far more daring in as much as it takes the set-up you’ve seen far too often: five teenage archetypes heading to a remote cabin in the woods, where you know they’ll meet their untimely demise (or come very close), and absolutely relishes every single horror staple it can lay its hands on. It packs them in at one point or another and this may all seem like too much of a good thing but it’s handled so cleverly it works. How you might ask? Ah, therein lie the spoilers and I won’t tell you that.

A great hint of what you might be in store for is to think on the films that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have written together. In both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz you have send-ups of very specific kinds of movies, namely zombie films and cop films. They are both funny and lampoon the genres they emulate but do it so brilliantly that they inherently evolve into a genre film. Now The Cabin in the Woods kind of reverse engineers this approach, in as much as you understand the basic horror premise and follow that and the mystery is really shrouded in the second part of the film, the comedy and commentary is coming from the B-plot, of which, the less you know about going in the better off you are.

Now as this film slowly unravels the layers of its mystery, and rewards the attentive viewer with every unfurling, essentially what you’re getting is a two-pronged prolonged set-up. Now, I recently wrote about how I like the set-up in films, but what’s amazing here is that there is some tension and mystery to it when there really shouldn’t be. Mainly because in one scenario you’re in on something the protagonists are not and in another you’re trying to figure out precisely what it is they’re doing. It makes the tropes work even better than they could hope to in a film that was playing it straight. It also makes the trope work in either functionality: horror or comedy.

The effects work in this film is absolutely fantastic and as the film progresses you will see why. Allow me to just say that it might single-handedly expunge all the bad horror CG you’ve seen from your mind with its sheer awesomeness.

As with any horror film the music is of paramount importance and believe me this film does not ignore that element of the equation, and is always playing up the genre. When there’s comedy it allows the visuals and the dialogue to deliver the jokes, it doesn’t try to deliver punchlines and that’s greatly appreciated.

I’ve said on a number of occasions that horror films do not typically hinge on performance, as a matter of fact, some films excel in spite of performance, however, ascendant horror feature great acting, and when it comes to this film that has to be playfully comedic and also an effective genre piece it is an essential piece of the equation, and all the players contribute tremendously to the success of this film.

Very recently I was complaining about how paltry running list of the best horror films of 2012 was looking, even as it stands it’s only half-populated with decent films, however, as long as enough decent titles trickle in later on it could be a banner year because it is incredibly strong at the top because this film will be very hard to beat. It will likely not only go down as one of the best horror films of the year but as one of the best films of the year, period.

10/10

Review- Moon Child (La Permission de Minuit)

This is another example of a film that I am fortunate to have seen thanks to a film program, in this case it’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, which is presented in part by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Emerging Pictures. Much like films I saw last year in From Britain with Love this series presents new films from foreign countries that likely have little to no US distribution. It’s a great way to discover some hidden gems. If you see a new films series from a specific country playing near you I urge you to go out and see some selections.

I wanted to see many of the titles that were playing at a local art house but sadly my schedule only permitted one.

This film concerns a doctor/patient relationship between David (Vincent Lindon) and Romain (Quentin Challal). David is a dermatologist who specializes in X.D., a photosensitive skin disorder, which Romain has. Essentially he can’t be exposed to UV radiation and must cover up if out in daylight and must check lighting conditions. It’s a chronic condition which causes many growths, which may or may not be cancerous and he undergoes many procedures. The basic relationship conflict that exists in this film and a chronic illness, are things I can identify very closely with, though on a far less severe level.

However, there’s not merely a doctor patient struggle in this film. Yes, there is a the personal connection that a physician has with a patient he’s treated his whole life but they also each have their own conflicts they grapple with. David struggles with trying to transition to a position with the WHO, dealing with his successor where he is and making sure his patients are in good hands and how to break it to his current patients. While Romain struggles not only with his conditions but with adolescence and trying to find some sort of harmony between the two.

The film’s weakest point is perhaps the one it should’ve handled most easily. The rivalry that develops between David and Carlotta (Emmanuelle Devos) is a bit too infantile and trite, especially when contrasted to some of the naturalistic truths found in other aspects of the film. The arc seemingly takes a huge jump in their relationship also. Thankfully the film has so much else going for it that this is a minor complaint.

One of which is an aspect I love and that is the juxtaposition of high point and low point in the narrative. David takes Romain on a road trip as a pretext to telling him he’s leaving. There’s some great scenes, interactions and montage. It’s wonderful and you get swept away in the fun. Upon their return Romain’s mother (Caroline Proust) lets the cat out of the bag immediately. Overwhelming high to incredible low in a split-second that propels the film beautifully into its second half.

The acting in the film for the most part is very strong but it really is a two-man show both Vincent Lindon and Quentin Challal are absolutely wonderful playing their disparate characters. Moreover, they work very well and naturally with one another which really sells you on the fact that the characters have a history. It feels organic an not like an artifice created for the purposes of story-telling.

The music whether instrumental or an original song for the film is very well-spotted, always emotionally truthful and highlights the emotional resonance of all the scenes in which it’s present. It’s rare to see both incorporated in one film and even more rare still to see them both work so well.

Through all its interpersonal drama and life-and-death situations the film does find a lot of room for comedy, quite naturally too. It’s this mix that allows it to work so well. It doesn’t stay to dour and works enough ebbs and flows such that it can extend the story the necessary amount so as to tell things in their proper time without forcing things.

My one previous aversion aside this is a very strong film and I’m glad it’s getting this showcase and I’m saddened that my screening was so woefully empty. It’s rare to see a doctor’s and a patient’s tale told so well much less a man’s and a child’s but here it is and there’s a great synergy to it. It’s a film that’s grown on me since I’ve seen it and I hope more people get a chance to see it.

9/10

Short Film Saturday: Aqua

This post serves two purposes in essence: one it serves to highlight a great young talent in animation (Gints Zilbalodis) and second to steer you towards a great Twitter account. I would not have seen this if I didn’t follow @ShortOfTheWeek, which is a great resource if you want to discover shorts on your own time. The film was uploaded to Vimeo, the more cinematic video site and is accompanied by this text written by its creator:

My name is Gints Zilbalodis, I’m 17 years old and this has been my passion project for the last year an a half. It started as vague ideas of a cat, ocean and overcoming fear. Then through numerous battles with the script it shaped up to something similar you can see now. After seven drafts I felt that it was ready to start storyboarding, but the film kept evolving all the way until the sound mix was done. I kept learning about filmmaking everyday, going through all of the different processes.

I chose the cat as the main character mainly to save time with exposition, because people know that generally cats are afraid of water. So I could just jump right into action. Plus cat is a fairly small creature and the ocean seems even bigger to him. And of course cats are much easier to draw than humans.

The film’s music is by my friend Bertrams Pauls Purvišķis who helped a great deal to tell the story the way it was intended. Music had a lot of to convey in very little time and it came out much better than I could’ve ever expected.

I’ve been delaying the release for quite some time, because as I learned by making it, a lot of mistakes made earlier when I didn’t have the experience had to be remade from scratch. I’m glad it’s finally done and I can show it to the world.

I will only further comment by saying its very visual but the music is brilliant, enjoy!

Cinematic Battle of the Nutcrackers

Every year for the past 5 years Ovation TV has a Battle of the Nutcracker’s wherein they play 5 different versions (rotating some out annually) of the ballet based on Tchaikovsky’s most renowned work. While I definitely qualify myself as an enthusiast rather than a savant of dance, this is a piece I know well enough such that I find it interesting to watch the different versions and pick a favorite.

Now within the ballet there are many variations for while Tchaikovsky’s music is the standard each choreographer has their signature while it was Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov who originally choreographed it, it’s perhaps Balanchine’s that’s most well known.

What’s most interesting to me about this “competition” where the viewers are invited to vote for their favorites is that it gets me thinking about adaptation. One could do quite a lengthy case study on The Nutcracker alone. While there are many either “filmed ballets” or cinematic versions based on Tchaikovsky there are many based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Just the fact that you have these two available sources available to freely adapt makes this quite a notable story.

However, a narrative as flexible as this wouldn’t suffice for a post for one could argue that “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James and “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft are more malleable pieces of fiction based on the films they’ve spurned. What makes The Nutcracker a unique tale, is not only the fact that I personally would put it on a list of ‘The Great Stories’ meaning classic narratives I could watch re-interpreted any number of ways but also the fact that it does have two potential origins as a source material either in literature or in dance.

In honor of this great story and the novel idea by Ovation I thought it’d be good to have some suggested Nutcracker-related film viewing for the holiday season.

Here are perhaps the three most well-known (the ones I’ve seen) cinematic versions to get you started.

The Nutcracker in 3D (2010)

The Nutcracker in 3D (2009, Freestyle Releasing)

During its all too brief cinematic run it was referred to as The Nutcracker in 3D. Now with 3D being the cinematic boogeyman du jour home video is the way to check this film out. I won’t give too much away but this version is most definitely different and based on the story rather than the ballet. This allows the storytellers to have a lot of latitude and there are few if any safe decisions and this film will likely cause divisive reactions all around. Partially musical and very allegorical it’s a film that refuses to be ignored. It also features Elle Fanning (Super 8, We Bought a Zoo) and Charlie Rowe (Neverland).

Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia (Disney)

If you’re one who prefers your references and adaptations a bit more oblique then you need look no further than Disney’s pet project Fantasia. Along with many numbers from The Nutcracker you will of course see interpretations of may other classical pieces. This film is definitely all about Tchaikovsky’s music rather than the ballet though there is dancing too as you may well know.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (1993)

Macaulay Culkin and Jessica Lynn Cohen in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (Warner Bros.)

This was the first place I was able to complete viewing the complete story of The Nutcracker ballet. My first attempt to view it live at Lincoln Center was interrupted halfway through. There are a few things that are interesting about this film not the least of which is that you have within it an encapsulation of George Balanchine’s choreography. You also have the fine narration of Kevin Kline. However, of course, what most will note is that it features Macaulay Culkin in the lead. The only major alteration is that the choreography, which for the nephew/nutcracker is rather minimal is diminished further here. While some may not even know this film even exists you might be further surprised to learn that this film is really perhaps the biggest power play Kit Culkin, Macaulay’s father and perhaps the most notorious stage parent in modern times, ever pulled off. Macaulay’s participation in The Nutcracker was really a case of living vicariously through your child. Though he speaks of it earnestly now of his distaste for the project it really doesn’t translate very much on film. Furthermore, Kit tried to influence the final cut of the film removing said narration and when it wouldn’t happen Culkin didn’t publicize the film so it was another Nutcracker box office bomb.

The Ovation block certainly made me want to look for other versions on film and I hope you enjoy these as well as seeking out others.