Sunday, November 30, 2008

Notable film links--November 30, 2008

---Roger Ebert decries the decline of newspaper film criticism due to the gossipy CelebCult. I liked his definition of what a good critic should do:

"A newspaper film critic should encourage critical thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be heartened, be outraged."

---In Cinema Styles, Jonathan Lapper clearly had fun hearing Farley Granger speak after a viewing of Hitchock's Strangers on a Train at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. From his discussion of Rope:

he said was a chore. "You do eight minutes and something falls on the set and you gotta do the whole goddamn scene over." And "Jimmy (Stewart) wasn't right for the part and Hitch knew it and Jimmy knew it and Jimmy felt he had to struggle with it. The part is a snooty, elitist professor and Jimmy just doesn't project snooty elitism. Someone like James Mason would've been better suited for the part."

---With all of the references to Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz in Australia, why didn't Baz Luhrmann make any references to a true classic of Australian cinema--The Road Warrior? To make up for this lack, Alexander Coleman reviews the film. In terms of syntax alone, I admire his writing:

"Viewed through the prism of economics, of the issues of energy and industry, of self-sufficiency and the undeniably important role gasoline plays in the functionality and networking of modern society—afforded paradoxical weight by Max's vehicle having a super-charged car—The Road Warrior is altogether arresting. The Mad Max series, made in a post-'70s energy crisis time period, posits the shattering but familiar future reality of nuclear annihilation, cinematically pervasive from Chris Marker's La Jetee to James Cameron's The Terminator, as a testing-ground for man, his machines and the fuel without which those machines are useless. With the building blocks kicked over by irrationality, man must revert to sheer basics in all existential matters."

---For She Blogged by Night, Stacia appreciates the "languid cinematography," the "plot twists," and the "terrific" acting of J. T. Walsh in the neglected classic Red Rock West (1992).

---Writing for The Guardian, Richard Price celebrates Richard Yates, the writer of Revolutionary Road, "the poet laureate of the age of anxiety, a master purveyor of the crushed suburban life, of the great con known as the American Promise."

---For Film in Focus, English novelist Richard T. Kelly lists 5 cinematic "Turkeys" that he thinks are "unjustly maligned." I can see, perhaps, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate, but Waterworld and Hudson Hawk?

---Lastly, in Self-Styled Siren, Campaspe outlines "Ten Things I Love About Old Movies." It's time to return to an era of cinematic smoking, drinking, getting dressed for dinner, and nightclubs.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crikey: second thoughts about Australia

"Really expensive schlock."

"Emotionally manipulative."

"As Atlanta burns..."

"`And I will hear you, my darling!' Monstrous!"
--from my notes while watching Baz Lhurmann's Australia.

My initial reaction to sitting through the 2 hour and 45 minutes of Australia wasn't just negative, it was viscerally full of hate. As a fan of Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, I felt used. Even though I recognized the beauty of many of the film's shots and the epic sweep of the director's ambition, Australia struck me as emotionally manipulative, especially in the way it arranged to have characters seem to die off just so Luhrmann could stage later tearful reunions. And the film's structure seemed terminally wrong. The narrative reaches a happy conclusion within two hours, but then the story continues just to include the Japanese attack on Darwin. At first, my reaction squared reasonably well with Dana Steven's delightfully acerbic review for Slate:

"It's a mystery to me how Baz Luhrmann continues to be regarded as a director worth following. A long time has passed since I've regarded his lush, loud, defiantly unsubtle output with anything but dread. In Australia, his new romantic-epic-Western-protest-war drama, Luhrmann's dedication to cliché has become so absolute, it starts to verge on a kind of genius. There's not a single music cue that isn't obvious (swelling strings to indicate heartbreak, wailing didgeridoo to signal aboriginal nobility). Nary a line of dialogue is spoken that hasn't been boiled down, like condensed milk, from a huge vat of earlier Hollywood films (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Out of Africa, and various John Ford cattle-drive pictures being the most obvious referents). But to marvel at the purity of Australia's corniness isn't to imply that the movie functions as so-bad-it's-good camp, or guilty pleasure, or anything else involving aesthetic enjoyment. Audiences without a vast appetite for racial condescension, CGI cattle, and backlit smooches will sit through Australia with all the enthusiasm of the British convicts who were shipped to that continent against their will in the late 18th century."

But then, as the week has gone on, I've found myself brooding more and more about Australia. After watching the regurgitated, uninspired, and bland Luc Besson confection Transporter 3, I still kept parsing the various movie references in Australia. Even though Nicole Kidman appears to be working awfully hard to act as high-strung Lady Ashley, one can spend all day thinking of other film versions of neurotic citified women who are saved by living in the country (and/or by their encounters with strong, gruff men): Jane Fonda in The Electric Horseman, Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, and Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen.

Then, this morning, I found Bill Wyman's defense of Australia in his Hitsville blog. I especially liked his discussion of Australia's use of Gone with the Wind:

"As for GWTW, it’s programmed right into that barebones plot: The endangered homestead, the uptight rich woman who gets her hands dirty to save it…

… all set, of course, in a morally compromised world. Luhrmann is foregrounding race even while patterning his film on Hollywood’s most famous film not to do so. The way of life Scarlett and her world watch crumble before them is a notoriously romanticized one. Luhrmann knows there’s little talk of what the South was really fighting for in Gone With the Wind; here, with his focus on the way the Australian government handled the country’s Aboriginal population in general and half-caste kids in particular, he had to confront not just the practice itself, but the way pop culture became complicit.

Seen that way, Australia is a mirror film, both exploring and exploding the history of the movies. It is a western that isn’t set in the American West, a musical with no songs, a war movie to which war comes as an afterthought. As Nullah [the child narrator of the film] watches The Wizard of Oz, he goes through the mirror entirely, a half-caste kid forced to see it in blackface, a sobering reminder of how even movie theaters were complicit in our racist past."

So what do I think now? Can one in good conscience reconsider one's original dislike of a film? Or am I just enjoying the analysis so much that I'm forgetting the unpleasant experience of watching the movie itself? In the end, Australia is highly annoying, thought-provoking, and encyclopedic in its allusiveness all at once. It may be schmaltzy overblown balderdash, but it does linger in the mind.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rock star journalist: notes on Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

. . . the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is not accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.
--Hell's Angels: a Strange and Terrible Saga

1) After sitting through the endless dreary scenes of people sitting around campfires and reminiscing about the Clash in Joe Strummer: the Future is Unwritten, I had my concerns about Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the new documentary directed by Alex Gibney (of Taxi to the Dark Side). The internalized lives of writers often do not lend themselves to film treatment, and since his suicide by shooting himself in the head in 2005, Thompson would seem a particularly iffy already hyped-to-death subject. But thanks to much little-known footage of Thompson over the years, Ralph Steadman's drawings, and Gibney's specific emphasis on politics, this documentary proved surprisingly engaging. I didn't mind the baby boomer indulgences such as the repeated claim that the San Francisco scene in the early sixties was the best period ever, not even Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone tearing up when he talks of losing his old friend.

2) Before he became a cartoon version of himself, Thompson grew up in lower middle-class Louisville, KY. He worked as a straightforward freelance journalist for years before hitting upon the gonzo formula when collaborating with Ralph Steadman on "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" for Scanlan's Monthly magazine in 1970. By drinking enough bourbon, ignoring the horse race altogether, and focusing on the lewd, deranged antics of the crowd, Thompson found his metier. From then on, drugged misbehavior often became the story for Hunter, a form of self-mythologization, and he produced his masterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for Rolling Stone in 1971. Gibson was lucky to have the Johnny Depp/Terry Gilliam 1998 movie version of that book to borrow scenes from, and it's funny to see a little footage of Bill Murray duking it up in Where the Buffalo Roam way back in 1980.

3) I found myself analyzing the Gonzo uniform. Why a cigarette holder? Perhaps he was referring to the snotty rich folk back in Louisville? Why did he often wear shorts, even in the winter of Aspen, Colorado? The colored shades, I imagine, were to cover up the redness in his eyes. I also liked Thompson's hipster preference for white Converse sneakers, often without socks. His outfits often suggest a frat brat using a preppy look to disguise his drugged symptoms.

4) Who would've thought that George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, and Pat Buchanan, of all people, would have warm things to say about Thompson? I didn't realize that Thompson's massive support for Carter helped him gain the presidency. Gibson also draws parallels between the Iraq and the Vietnam war, with McGovern looking surprisingly relevent in this context.

5) Given all of his success as a journalist, Thompson remained a wannabe novelist. As the documentary points out, as a young man, Thompson would write scenes from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby over and over to get a sense of the rhythm of the language, and there's a certain pathos in his novel The Rum Diary not getting published until 1998. With his emphasis of hallucinations and derangement, Thompson still needed a measure of personal reality to build his books upon. Yet, it's funny how his coverage of political campaigns seem more accurate through his distorted, more personal lens.

6) Like watching a bloated Elvis work his way to his final visit to the bathroom, the Gonzo's later years have a sickly fascination. How can one tell he has reached a point of total drugged-out decadence? In one video taken by his second wife, we see an elderly Thompson staring at an electric typewriter while repeatedly playing Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" at top volume. He was visiting with Jimmy Buffet down in the Florida at the time. If that doesn't spell total depraved exhaustion, I don't know what does.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Notable film and media links---November 23, 2008

---Writing for 16:9, Matthew Flanagan celebrates the "cinema of slowness," which he claims "compels us to retreat from a culture of speed, modify our expectations of filmic narration and physically attune to a more deliberate rhythm. Liberated from the abundance of abrupt images and visual signifiers that comprise a sizeable amount of mass-market cinema, we are free to indulge in a relaxed form of panoramic perception; during long takes we are invited to let our eyes wander within the parameters of the frame, observing details that would remain veiled or merely implied by a swifter form of narration."

---For those interested in Hitchcock, check out Dan North's discussion of the Master's cameos in his excellent Spectacular Attractions. Also, Mystery Man found a real treat: Hitchcock's 1939 lecture concerning screenwriting and different forms of suspense. I especially enjoyed his dissection of subjective suspense:

"You see, I am a great believer in making the audience suffer, by which I mean that instead of doing it, say as Griffith used to do it, by cutting to the galloping feet of the horse and then going to the scaffold -- instead of showing both sides, I like to show only one side. In the French Revolution, probably someone said to Danton, "Will you please hurry on your horse," but never show him getting on the horse. Let the audience worry whether the horse has even started, you see. That is making the audience play its part."

---Dave Becker of Row Three found an insightful portion of a Paul Cronin interview with Werner Herzog about the rigors of filmmaking:

"Filmmakers should be taught about how things will go wrong, about how to deal with these problems, how to handle a crew that is getting out of hand, how to handle a producing partner who will not pay up or a distributor who won’t advertise properly, things like this. People who keep moaning about these kinds of problems are not really suited to this kind of business."

---Invisible Woman of Black Cinema at Large interviewed screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper about African American cinema of the 1990s and the perils of working in Hollywood:

"The Cinematic Black Renaissance of the 90s is a unique epoch: we may see a resurgence of Black film in the age of President Barack Obama, but not like what we experienced two decades ago. Check it: nineteen films between 1989 and 1992-3, that had either Black producers, directors, and screenwriters? Nah. I think it was a phenomenon that kind of dovetailed with what the great author and cultural critic Nelson George wrote about in his book Post Soul Nation: we found our voice and our gravity as Black people in the oppressive and dismissive years of the Reagan era."

---In part because the project brings together one of my favorite writers (Richard Yates) with a director (Sam Mendes) that I have extremely mixed feelings about, I keep fixating on the advance press of Revolutionary Road. Anne Thompson sheds more light on the soon-to-be-released film.

---At The New York Times, David Carr decries the stupid policy of firing top writers to save newspapers.

---Lastly, Peak Oil serves up a delicious sense of YouTube payback when it chronicles all of the chortling, hooting derision that Peter Schiff had to suffer when he accurately predicted today's economic realities on the Fox News channel.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Vampire angst, unsatisfied bloodlust, and a Volvo S60R: notes on the Gothic pleasures of Twilight

1) Having lost much of its bite transitioning to the big screen, Twilight will please its devoted fans, but do little for the uninitiated.

So sayeth the prevailing deity of the film critic summary, Rotten Tomatoes. Given its crummy 43% rating, Twilight can now suffer the indignity of a million smirking snarky snide reviews, but as one of the "uninitiated," I happened to enjoy the film, finding vampish humor in its Gothic excess.

2) When Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) finds herself adjusting Mean Girls-style to the rainy blue-filtered atmosphere of Forks, Washington, she becomes transfixed by the pale moody Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Edward has impressive cheekbones, a killer bouffant, and James Dean moments of angst that scrunches up his features in world-weary pain. When he is initially forced to sit with Bella in biology class lab, Edward writhes due to, what? snotty contempt (?), unsatisfied bloodlust (?) until he begs to be moved to another class. Then he disappears for several days, further piquing Bella's interest. Finally, they speak. He asks her what she thinks about the weather. She asks, “Are you asking what I think about the weather?” Then he saves her from getting run over by a van. When she asks how he did that, he’s evasive as the biology class looks over mulching techniques. After much romantic to and fro, Bella Googles a local Native American tribe that happens to have wolf ancestors, and through an elaborate investigation determines what the audience has known all along--that Edward and his family are actually a bunch of vampires! And, even though some “animal” keeps eating various local security guards and fishermen, Bella can’t stop herself from loving the mysterious Edward, who drives a small but sporty Volvo S60R when he isn’t climbing trees or spying on her in her sleep.

3) Adapted from the popular novel by Stephanie Meyer and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, Twilight does some things competently. The producers were smart to choose two unknowns for the leads. Given her rapid march toward “irrevocable” vampire infatuation, Kristen Stewart underplays her role well. Perhaps due to his many years as a glorified extra in Harry Potter films, Pattinson vamps it up as a tormented aristocratic hunk. In these over-populated trouble economic times, what better thing to be than a cultured vampire who would like to eat humans, but virtuously restrains himself by devouring deer instead, a diet that Edward likens to vegetarianism? In fact, Edward would like to drink Bella’s blood, but, dreary little mortal that she is, Bella transfixes him because he can’t read her mind. They can’t consummate their love for some complicated vampiric reason, and besides his flesh is cold, but what better way to keep the romance alive than enforced chastity?

4) Twilight flounders some when it uses special effects. Given the television show Heroes, the X-Men series, and an upcoming films like Push, teenage film audiences are rapidly getting used to characters who can fly, see the future, control things with their minds, infiltrate the minds of fellow characters, etc., etc. Accordingly, the vampires of Twilight possess a bewildering range of abilities. Edward, can, for instance, move very quickly, but if that means that he zips around his Volvo extra fast to open the door for Bella, the scene just looks laughably fast-forwarded. While I could enjoy Bella’s and Ed’s romantic scenes where they fly around tall Gothic forests, he sometimes looks just as if a pulley were yanking him up. I also liked the power-packed Cullen family baseball game even as it resembled an Americanized Harry Potter Quiditch match.

5) Twilight suggests that humans are disposable, dull, and temporary compared to the rock star glamour of Wayfarer shade-wearing vampires. The ultimate hunters, vampires view humans as little more than meat, and one can see the disdain on the faces of the Cullen family when they find Edward has lost his heart to a mere lowlife mortal. It’s this perhaps fascistic disdain for people, and by extension the audience, that makes the film so appealing. Humans are so passé. As Edward says, “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.” When the smitten Bella replies “What a stupid lamb,” he responds in resignation: “What a sick, masochistic lion.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Notable Film Links--November 16, 2008

---Writing for The Guardian, Wyatt Mason explores in "The Beautiful and Damned" how Tennessee Williams turned film into a "writer's medium."

---Phil Hall of Film Threat interviews Garry McGee about his biography Jean Seberg-- Breathless:

"Jean Seberg was the American girl in Paris, the symbol of the Free Spirit and part of the French New Wave which produced "Breathless," a groundbreaking film that changed filmmaking forever. She hasn't received the credit she is due for being part of that change, or for helping people in the film industry with their first film or granting seed money for a film project. Few "stars" do that.

She was perhaps the first American-born actress in the sound era to work on several European productions without the comforts and constraints of the Hollywood system. She popularized the short hairstyle years before Mia Farrow (who gets credit for the style).

She was sensitive and helped people in need. She could speak four languages, and dined with both presidents and revolutionaries. She was a unique and gifted performer. And for some very strange reason, she hasn't been embraced in her birth country – let alone her home state – as she has around the world."

---Krista Smith's Vanity Fair profile has Kate Winslett talking about everything from her former days as a "fat kid" to an "acne problem" on her chin, but I was most interested in her participation in Revolutionary Road and The Reader, two films to be released this December.

--Writing for The Cooler, Jason Bellamy wraps up his Politics and Movies Blog-a-thon with many excellent posts that range from "The Best Recent Political Documentaries" by The Moviezz Blog to Movieman0283's "Election Overlook."

---In Spectacular Attractions, Dan North skillfully analyzes the subtle mise en scene and sound effects of Jacques Tati's Playtime:

"Playtime could be a a dystopian vision of a world whose modern irritations are pestilential, maddening headaches of faulty gadgets and redundant babble. But [Tati's] too generous for that - instead he shows their absurdity, and then suggests how changes in perspective can defuse their power to confound."

---Lastly, some notable links related to the recent presidential election. Will Smith finds that action heroes should not weep with joy, but demonstrates for Oprah anyway. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. celebrates this "magical transformative" moment "in African American history." And lastly, Steve Brodner draws an election "Coda" for The New Yorker.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Leo don’t despair: notes on Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951)

We're coming, we're coming, Leo
Oh Leo don't despair. While
You are in the cave-in hopin'
We are up above you gropin'
And we soon will make an openin'.
We're closer, we're closer, Leo
And soon you'll breathe fresh air
While you are in the devil's prison,
Keep the spark of life a fizzin'
We'll soon have you out of prison, Leo.

Note: some spoilers.

1) When I first watched Ace in the Hole last year, I was stunned. I watched it again. I’ve been watching it with semi-obsessive interest ever since, and I’ve heard that it is one of the favorites of Sam Peckinpah, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen. Ace in the Hole is rare in that one never seems to get to the bottom of its cheerful cynicism, the ferocity of its unfunny Mad magazine ridicule of American emptiness, arrogance, cultural imperialism, and gullibility. Adapting the story of the media circus created around Floyd Collins, a man who got stuck in a cave in Kentucky in 1925, Billy Wilder trains his satire directly at the audience, the popcorn-crunching crowd eager for amusement, so naturally the film was a bomb (but not in Europe, of course).

2) Ace in the Hole concerns a down-on-his-luck big city journalist, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) who reluctantly takes a job as a reporter for the Albuquerque Sun Bulletin in New Mexico so that he can find one big story to connive his way back to New York. In a way reminiscent of Bridget’s attitude towards “cow country” in The Last Seduction (1994), Chuck endlessly disdains the empty provincialism of Albuquerque, but one day he stumbles across a man, Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) trapped inside of an Indian burial ground of a mountain. Enlisting the help of Leo’s peroxide blonde wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling), Chuck writes up Leo’s plight in the newspaper in such a way that the entire US takes an interest. Soon, crowds of people from all over visit the front of the mountain with Day of the Locust-like morbid fascination. When the media circus is in full swing, Chuck notices that his cynical plan to drag out the rescue effort by drilling down from above (thus increasing the value of his story) will lead tragically to Leo’s death. He could have arranged for men to shore up the walls and get Leo out much more quickly, but then he couldn’t have developed enough suspense to get America transfixed. Besides, the big drill has a sense of sexual potency, oil-pumping flair, and Biblical top-of-the-mountain drama that any regular rescue technique cannot compete with. The end of the film is not at all pretty or pleasant, but it is fascinatingly grim. Chuck releases forces that he cannot control, and he feels remorse for his attempt to capitalize on Leo after his death.

3) Why is the film hard to reach conclusions about? For one thing, the drill never does get to Leo. He dies several days when it is only (roughly) ten feet away. In the same way, I find it difficult to get to any final analysis. The film eludes us just as the final significance of death is difficult to pin down. Wilder skillfully juxtaposes the Leo's plight with blithe amusement park music going on outside, perpetually playing the ghastly melody of the trite “Leo” song quoted above, as people ride the Ferris wheels and buy balloons. He implies that Americans are so besotted with amusement, they cannot begin to recognize death even as it forms a basic staple of their entertainment. Leo’s suffering serves as a pretext for a party, not that anyone, except his relatives (and, to be fair, increasingly Chuck), gives a damn about him anyway.

4) Not only are Americans ridiculed for their endless quest for distraction, they also thrive on exploiting each other. Thus, aside from Chuck’s cynical use of Leo, the local sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) proves easily corrupted to join Chuck’s scheme to help with his reelection. The head of the rescue team gives in to Chuck’s and Kretzer’s bullying to keep his job. For her part, the delightfully cynical and noir-bitchy Lorraine recognizes that there’s money to be made at her and Leo’s nearby hamburger restaurant and hotel, not to mention the S & M Amusement Corp who works out a deal to bring the fair to the mountain. Why does Wilder call it S & M? Perhaps because everyone sadistically takes pleasure in Leo’s suffering. Also, there’s a S & M quality to Lorraine’s and Chuck’s relationship, since she’s sexually attracted to his macho manipulations, and his disdainful use of her gets increasingly violent until she stabs him with some scissors.

5) In the excellent Criterion Collection DVD commentary, film scholar Neil Sinyard points out how one can interpret the Leo song in sexual terms. The song ironically celebrates Chuck’s and Lorraine’s sordid adulterous “gropin’” as he hopes for release. One could make the argument, however, that everyone at the circus is more in “the devil’s prison” than Leo. At least Leo can face the fundamentals of life and death. Like the boys at Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island amusement park, the crowd of the media circus are too distracted to face anything.

6) I enjoy Kirk Douglas’ performance too much to think him as a simple villain, especially since he shows major signs of remorse as the film goes on, and he partially redeems himself by bringing a priest to Leo for his last rites. Oddly, the real villains of the movie are the quintessential American family couple, the Federbers. They are ordinary tourists who show up first to park their mobile home by the mountain. Their son wears an Indian headdress. They eat hot dogs and ride the Ferris wheel. When getting interviewed on the radio, Mr. Federber insists that they were there first, and he also tries to sell insurance. They mean well, but their quest for amusement amidst Leo's entombment makes them perhaps the most responsible for his death. When the story breaks down with Leo’s death, they all go away in despair.

7) When one considers the satire on American cultural imperialism within Wilder’s Austrian vision, one can dwell on how Chuck rudely says “How” to a Native American working in the newspaper offices. The Native American responds with “How do you do, sir,” but all too often, everyone (except for Leo) ignores any notion of an alternate older culture in the area, or the sacredness of the Native American burial ground except when it suits Chuck’s angle for his articles. Americans come off as arrogant cowboys quite happy to befoul, pollute, and drill into the New Mexico desert. Little wonder that the spirits reply by killing Leo off.

8) In the end, I don't why I like this film so much. It is desert-bleak, savagely sardonic, and full of contempt, and yet Ace in the Hole still seems truer to the underside of the American spirit, even today, than any other 1950s film.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Alphabet meme: The Film Doctor’s top film list

Anders at Cut, Print, Review challenged me to list my favorite films alphabetically. Leaving out films such as Bonnie and Clyde, On The Waterfront, and The Killing proved extraordinarily painful, but I enjoyed selecting the rest.

Here they are:

Ace in the Hole


Children of Men

Donnie Darko

Eight and a Half

La Femme Nikita

The Godfather

The Hustler

It Happened One Night

Jules et Jim

Kind Hearts and Coronets

The Last Seduction


Night of the Living Dead

Out of the Past



The Road Warrior

Sweet Smell of Success

Taxi Driver

Used Cars


White Heat




Thoughts on this selection?

Would . . .

Jason Bellamy of The Cooler

Ed Howard of Only the Cinema

Ibetolis of Film for the Soul

care to take the challenge?

Thanks also to Fletch of Blog Cabins for starting the meme.


"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

--President-Elect Barack Obama

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Notes from a relatively new film blogger

1) Having been laid off by the local newspaper due to budget cutbacks (and having been replaced by some young vain goon who likes Adam Sandler), the local film critic reluctantly decides to start up a blog. He has never liked the word “blog.” It sounds like a cross between a bog, log, and blah, a source of verbal diarrhea, a place where people blurt out overly personal confessions, and a forum where old unsuccessful writers go to die. The film critic decides that this time, though, things will be different, even though Samuel Johnson’s ominous words keep running through his mind: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

2) For a time, and after hitting upon the pretentious moniker of The Film Doctor, the new critic drops many reviews on to his new blog. During this early, naïve period, he also greatly enjoys tinkering with the font, design, and background color of his blog until he realizes that some of the best film critics don’t care a whit about the look of their blogs, but instead rely upon good writing instead. Also, in his innocence, the film critic writes several severe, extravagant posts making fun of other established critics in his quest to suddenly attain worldwide renown.

3) The worldwide renown does not happen right away. The film critic begins to notice that every time he writes about a contemporary release shown at the local Cineplex, about 500,000 other bloggers do the exact same thing. This sense of massive competition and redundancy gives the man pause. Every day, an exponentially growing batch of new film blogs appear, many of them writing about newly released movies. So much commentary, so few readers. One day, he learns from a blog expert, everyone will have his or her own website. Is this a good thing?

4) The new blogger also tries his hand at writing some comments. His first comment elicits an amused guffaw from the other readers of that particular post. The new blogger resolves to be more careful in the future.

5) As time goes on, the new blogger realizes that when he mentions another blogger’s post, the other blogger might respond in kind, creating a sense of being noticed. For a moment, the new blogger feels a sense of achievement.

6) That sense of achievement begins to fade as the new blogger realizes that some of his competition are not only very good writers, they also seem to have massive amounts of time to theorize about every frame of every great film. The influence of these other writers, however, remains one of the truly positive things about the film blogging universe. This constellation of critics challenges the new blogger to write better than he ever felt obliged to when working for the newspapers. Of course, he can only try, but the intimidating fact of the surrounding excellence proves one of the best, enduring benefits of blogging. In this respect, he feels particularly honored when he gets his blog listed on the blog roll of a critic he admires.

7) After six months, Google starts to include more of the new film blogger’s posts on various people’s searches. Ironically, a lightly dashed-off review of a minor horror film proves by far his most popular post according to Google. Also, just when the new blogger really gets busy with his job in the fall, that’s when his blog suddenly gets the most notice. His wife, by this point, would prefer that he never bring up his blog again in civil conversation.

8) Now, seven months later, the new blogger finds himself with enough positive reinforcement to continue, even though he still has moments of doubt. He knows more than ever the terrible truth of Samuel Johnson’s words: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.

Notable film and media links: November 1, 2008

I have been too busy directing a play to get much writing done, but here are some of the better posts I've seen of late:

---Writing for Slate, Dana Stevens celebrates the Peanuts holiday specials, including, as she puts it, "A Charlie Brown Christmas (in which Charlie tries, and fails, to direct a single rehearsal of a Christmas play)." I can relate.

---As part of his 31 Screams series, Arbogast skillfully analyzes the shower scene of Psycho: "Janet Leigh's murder 48 minutes into Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) changed the fright game forever - more than 60 years after the creation of cinema (and horror movies), PSYCHO achieved instant "first principles" status. It is a seminal text. It is Chapter and Verse. So many of us under the age of 50 knew that going into our first viewing of it, born as we were in the first post-PSYCHO wave (does that make us Psycho Boomers?) that it's almost impossible for us to fully appreciate the suckerpunch Hitch threw at audiences of the time."

---Whatever happened to Debra Winger? I remember Pauline Kael proclaiming her a better actress than Meryl Streep. Now, thanks to Rachel Getting Married, she may be back.

---Who are the Manic Pixie Dream Girls? Neda Ulaby of NPR seeks to explain.

---Writing for Time, James Snyder reviews Scorsese by Ebert. Here's a sample from the book concerning Goodfellas: "[Henry Hill] loves it when the head waiters know his name, but he doesn't really have the stuff to be a great villain ... he wants the prizes, but he doesn't want to pay for the tickets. And it's there, on the crux of that paradox, that the movie becomes Scorsese's metaphor for so many modern lives. ... He simply uses organized crime as an arena for a story about a man who likes material things so much that he sells his own soul to buy them."

---Wait a second, I just wrote that Snyder published his review in Time magazine. Does that mean there are still writers working for magazines and newspapers? The New York Times' David Carr laments the decline of print media: "Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web." Unfortunately, most of the money is made from the print product.

---Writing for Culture Snob, Jeff Ignatius decries the "bad writing" of David Thomson's "Have You Seen . . . ?" As he notes, the book "reads as a collection primarily composed of lightly revised first drafts; some entries look like little more than transcribed notes. Thomson pays little attention to his leads or his closings or the shape of the essay or argument, instead skating by on his frequent bursts of brilliance.

There is greatness here, buried in bland."

---Lastly, I liked A. O. Scott's video appreciation of Night of the Living Dead.