Tuesday, January 1, 2013

JANUARY, 2013 / movies

Harry Edwards, 1926, Harry Langdon Productions, USA

          Although it completely falls apart in the final five minutes, nothing could mar the      experience of the previous fifty-five. I’m guessing they had to keep the runtime at 60,      and there was nothing you could possibly trim until the end. Langdon is an unathletic, fat,      very drunk Keaton, with an on-screen persona capable of rivaling The Great Stone Face.      The gags are hits, live-action cartoons grounded alternating between the realistic and      fantastic, both given equal care and weight (until the end, of course). Crazy baby Joan      Crawford makes a nice, hollow appearance. Langdon and the good guys are just so      charming and wonderful, and these are the moments that make life worth loving.

Raymond Bernard, 1932, Pathé-Natan, FR, Wooden Crosses

          The kind-of source material for Hawks’s ROAD TO GLORY (sharing context and      best scene) resonates in completely different ways. 17 years later, France is still dealing with      complete—and utterly senseless—loss of a generation. The Germans are almost entirely      faceless, just an overwhelming force of machine guns and explosions into which countless      lambs hurl their bodies. The superlatively rendered sets and lighting exist in space so      masterfully controlled and utilized, that all the necessary depth appears on the screen itself;      it’s THE BIG PARADE filmed by Dovzhenko.

GRAND HOTEL     ★★★★★
Edmund Goulding, 1932, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA

          The highs and lows of human experience fragmented in a clumsily pictorial escapade. Of      all the ensemble MGM extravaganzas, this manages the perfect personnel and emotional      balancing act, by focusing on the settings and the Clarence Brown ways to photograph      Garbo… all while Wally Beery struggles through his best Erich von Stroheim      impersonation // the extraordinary masquerading as banal.

Marcel Carné, 1938, Ciné-Alliance, FR, Port of Shadows

          What seems (to the uninitiated (me)) to be a career-long fascination with bad luck and      poor timing—at least in the hits—reaches its peak (so far) in this suffocating masterpiece.      The atmosphere reflects fate; everything is calculated, and actions have consequences. Well-      meaning conduct becomes an incriminating blunder. The idea of chance is overwhelmed by      something resembling destiny. It’s sad, probably the saddest, especially when acknow-      ledging the romantic ideal that it’s worth it, as long as you’re open to experience. I was      crushed by the weight of the fog—internal and external.

Max Ophüls, 1948, Rampart Productions, USA

          The emotion is less important than the capacity for emotion. When handled correctly,      sentimental pap becomes a force of nature. Ophüls has the finesse and patience for the      sappiest of fluff; he makes life on the plains hardly seems worth living.

LOLA MONTÈS     ★★★★★
Max Ophüls, 1955, Gamma Film, FR

          Ophüls frames spectacle with spectacle. A commercial Syberberg, 20 years prior.      Excess is a virtue.

Guru Dutt, 1959, Guru Dutt Films, IN, Paper Flowers

          I love these sprawling stylistic soups, handling the full spectrum of human emotion,      where anything is possible and nothing feels out of place.

LA LUTTE     ★★★★★
Michel Brault, Claude Jutra, et al., 1961, National Film Board of Canada, CA

          The francophone identity tested against overwhelming odds. Good and Evil caricatures,      every narrative cliché emboldened for the perfect story arch.

Marco Ferreri, 1969, Pegaso Cinematografica, IT, Dillinger Is Dead

          ...making everything out of nothing...

Marco Ferreri, 1969, Polifilm, IT, The Seed of Man

          Favorite Material ... vivid colors washed out by an overwhelming brightness on top of a      Birth of an Island caliber electronic score ... Taking the best approach to a social comment      -ary ... Seeing the trees in the forest.

PORCILE     ★★★★★
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969, I Film Dell'Orso, IT, Pigsty

          Parallel stories—tedious as stand-alones—intercut; foiled tie-ins interpolating greatness.      A flawlessly handsome reflection on myth-making set against perfectly cast landscapes.      An act of defiance is an act of magic.

Raúl Ruiz, 2010, Clap Filmes, PT, Mysteries of Lisbon

          It’s fitting that the pinnacle of storytelling is a work about telling stories. In my Silent      Film Adaptations of Novels class, we were told to buy this book, Film Adaptations and      Its Discontents, which we never had to open, so I never did, but I couldn’t stop thinking      of the title and how it would be irrelevant if every filmmaker had the patience and      confidence of Ruiz. It unfolds like a novel, but it is continuously grounds itself in theater;      however, the paper-cut-out proscenium is the only one Ruiz uses. While referencing other      media, Ruiz affirms the cinematic possibilities through shear force of style.

LONG PANTS     ★★★★☆
Frank Capra, 1927, Harry Langdon Corporation, USA

          A light-hearted Madame Bovary, condemning the corrupting power of reading books,      and it suits Langdon’s adult baby perfectly. Surprisingly dark in the first half, pathetically      naïve in the second. The Capra/Edwards/Langdon unit has an impressive amount      patience with and confidence in their gags. They devote 5 minutes of a 60 minute film to a      single gag, itself a by-product of another gag. The plot is dumb and threadbare, sacrificed      for laughs that are totally worth it.

MOCKERY     ★★★★☆
Benjamin Christenen, 1927, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA

          I always wondered what happened to the flailing waif from [b]LAST OF THE      MOHICANS[/b]. I assumed she disappeared because she couldn’t figure out what Sarah      Bernhardt did more than a decade prior. I was wrong; she continued making dumb      exaggerated movements throughout the silent era and at the studio with the largest stable      of actors. Christensen is certainly ill-fitted for MGM directing; there are no grand      structural experiments in a Chaney-caliber star vehicle. Hollywood’s reasonable (but      stupid) tendency to import talent and pin them to international works, sets them up for      obscure failure (Stiller and Mozzhukhin). It’s weak as a Chaney feature. The make-up is      perfect and uninteresting; the personality is non-existent and kinda offensive. The movie      works though; it is a polished work with stylistic flairs to compete in my memory with      Barbara Bedford's gesticulating.

MOROCCO     ★★★★☆
Josef von Sternberg, 1930, Paramount Pictures, USA

          Von Sternberg elevating otherwise offensive pap by proving beauty is only skin deep.      Everyone’s a caricature, handsome and brutish; rich, polite and charmless; sultry and empty      or animalistic and brown, but they exist and interact in a world framed by the most      talented cinematic photographer probably ever (there’s this great anecdote in The Parade’s      Gone By... where von Sternberg shows Kevin Brownlow how to film something perfectly      in a matter of minutes, going through his process as they’re staging it). The criss-crossed      shadows of the narrow streets and silhouetted characters outdoors, were overwhelming      and beautiful. The ending was devastating and perfect in spite of having no concern for the      future of the characters.

Jean Renoir, 1936, Films Obéron, FR

          Driving on Cruise Control is fine, when your car's a Renoir.

REMORQUES     ★★★★☆
Jean Grémillon, 1941, MAIC, FR, Stormy Waters

          Adolescent bath time, making due with civilian ships.

Michel Brault, Claude Jutra, 1962, National Film Board of Canada, CA

Claude Jutra, 1966, National Film Board of Canada, CA, The Devil's Toy

TEOREMA     ★★★★☆
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1970, Aetos Produzioni Cinematografiche, IT

          Too much no-cheese godbledygook woven into the fabric of the movie to push it into      favorite territory. I also thought the climax was kinda lacking because the whole time I      wanted it to be for a different movie, one where people are driven insane by sex. Religion is      just too easy and boring to acknowledge (unless it’s from a place of whole-hearted      sincerity), and it’s a testament to this movie, to be good as it is, overcoming the spiritual      sledgehammer and capturing me exclusively with images and sound grounded in nothing.

Marco Ferreri, 1973, Films 66, FR, Blow Out

          Career suicide as low comedy as high art. A leading man, supporting actor and 2      character faces getting together to see who falls the fastest. Ferreri just gets it. He takes the      Buñuelian tradition and filters out all the respectable canon fodder. After three features,      he’s the sharpest bourgeois comedian I can name, super-excited about exploring him      more.

LE TRAIN     ★★★★☆
Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1973, Lira Films, FR/IT

          The overwhelming paralysis of Simenon at his best...lackadaisically unfolding plot,      succumbing to emotion built on shared distraught. Actions need no justification without      a tomorrow.

A LONDON FÉRFI     ★★★★☆
Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky, 2007, TT Filmmûhely, FR/DE/HU, The Man from London

          I don’t understand why this was widely considered a misstep for Tarr. I think Simenon      fits for Tarr’s sensibilities perfectly, and, even though Simenon is among the highest of      “low artists,” or whatever, it’s great to see any genre potboiler get the arthouse makeover.      The marriage of high and low is still hit-making concept. Tarr implicates the observer/      voyeur/viewer, in these stories where a happy ending isn’t ever possible.

Clarence Brown, 1936, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA

          The only moment of suspense (assuming you go in unspoiled), leads up to the      disappointment in discovering that Myrna Loy is, in fact, the wife. It’s certainly not      surprising—she is the perfect wife, four times divorced, and Harlow being Hollywood’s      most established home wrecker—, but one can always hold out hope. Way too      apologetically and wholesomely masculine; J. Stewart just vomits sexism every time he’s      on screen. However, it is an MGM star vehicle, therefore impeccably constructed. I could      probably enjoy these formerly-important-but-now-ignored vault-fillers forever.

STAGE DOOR     ★★★☆☆
Gregory La Cava, 1937, RKO Radio Pictures, USA

          The first half, and its rapid-fire screwball-isms, nails it; the second half is too eye-twinkly      dramatic and pathetic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a tonal and focus shifts, but      it’s certainly unwise when no one is as fun to watch or as interesting a Ginger Rogers. I      guess my total antipathy toward Broadway drama cripples my capacity for empathy; I’d      much rather watch waify babes in clown pants jangle their knees to make rent.

W.S. Van Dyke, 1939, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA

          Nora Charles is MGM's best serial character.

LE PLAISIR     ★★★☆☆
Max Ophüls, 1952, Stera Films, FR

          Not even the most elegant of camera work could save this from some glorified      turgidity, bogged down by the literary fluffiness inherent in adapting Maupassant—      whose work I enjoy—and adapting ideas of happiness. Single-View anthologies typically      suffer from the same hurried attention-span white wash. The first one’s too short; the      second’s too long, and the 3rd shouldn't exist. Drunk Gabin tries to save the day, but it’s      charm’s are too narrow for a scope so broad.

Michel Brault, Gilles Groulx, 1958, National Film Board of Canada, CA, The Snowshoers

NORMÉTAL     ★★★☆☆
Gilles Groulx, 1960, National Film Board of Canada, CA

Glauber Rocha, 1970, Mapa Filmes, BR, The Lion Has Seven Heads

          Pretty fun when it’s grooving in full-on Sublime Frequencies psych-freak-out mode, but      those jams are far too infrequent and smushed between overbearing, super-heavy-handed      metaphors. I don’t understand the deification of a colonizer (played ham-fistedly by JP      Léaud), and I don’t understand a lot other things, like why it needs straight-on,      straight-faced monologues about why colonialism is bad. Too many extended growling      scenes and too much dumb overwhelming religiosity saved by a handful of pretty rad      musical interjections—wallowing in amateurocity that somehow cultivates wonderful      moments of totally organic diy jammy fun.

LA PACIFISTA     ★★★☆☆
Miklós Jancsó, 1970, Cinematografica Lombarda, IT, The Pacifist

          Utterly bewildering… Jancsó takes full advantage of the post-dubbing process, with      super-elegant, seemingly-ceaseless tracking shots that meander all over the place, but it’s as      if someone far less talented was parodying his style. While the shots are clean and smooth,      the refusal to cut or trim the needlessly excessive, never-ever-ending chattering (v/o one-      sided conversations with mom (I think), grasping at interiority), makes it a befuddled      mess. Bonus points for insane opening song sequence… completely sets the tone for      such a bizarrely put together movie.

Don Siegel, 1979, Paramount Pictures, USA

          Not particularly fond of Eastwood’s talking-through-the-teeth brand of tough guy, but      it’s fine this Premium-Cable Sleeping Aid. Baby Fred Ward shows up too late, but at least      there’s a Fred Ward. There’s nothing really wrong with this, but it’s kinda one of those      things where the worst insult is that it’s totally fine, and I would like it better if it had      some charming shortcomings.

Terence Davies, 1988, British Film Institute, UK

          When Pialat makes an autobiographical movie, he demonstrates how much he hates      himself; when Davies does it, it’s about how much he hates everyone else. The pathetic      impulses of the film really wore me down. The only happiness these people feel is when      they’re the most utterly despicable pub patrons imaginable, glorifying the moment pop      songs turn to folk songs. The through-the-looking-glass structure works wonderfully for      shot-centric cinema, all you have to do is make your cardboard cut-outs not be insuffer-      able. However, as annoying and wretched as the people are, it still managed to capture      my interest through some very handsome shots and wonderful camera movements.

THE HOLE     ★★★☆☆
Joe Dante, 2009, Bold Films, USA

          The Hole makes the same mistake (cardinal sin) as Cigarette Burns when it showed      images from La Fin absolue du monde, but it doesn’t make up for it with Udo Kier making a      movie of his own. The characters’ darkest fears parrot expressionist carnival rides with a      baby-food color palette. It’s also kind of sad to see old people trying to engage counter-      culture teens by making them inarticulate Hot Topic mannequins. The brooding-idiot      protagonist is balanced by the babe and baby well enough, and Dante keeps the energy      focused and moving. While it feels like an extended episode of the “Are You Afraid of the      Dark” that exists in my imagination, it’s easy to apologize for something that exists      completely outside macro-trends, even if it means we’re pretending it’s the 90s.

EROTIKON     ★★☆☆☆
Mauritz Stiller, 1920, Svensk Filmindustri, SE

          A severe misstep for Stiller after HERR ARNES PENGAR. Delicate proto-Lubitsch      flourishes squandered by a rigidity in form and flow. This flat-footed ballet is clumsy and      silly. The over-long opera sequence serves only as a benchmark in the development of the      most erotically-tinged sequences of lecherous voyeurism. METROPOLIS is also a stupid      movie, but there are two exhilarating scenes, one of which is Maria’s dance sequence, which      intercuts the mouth-breathing satyrs, and at least acknowledges the cinematic male gaze in      an aesthetically riveting way. It’s movies before and after the syntax of film language      became interesting (or as Cocteau would say, LA ROUE).

NO MAN OF HER OWN     ★★☆☆☆
Mitchell Leisen, 1950, Paramount Pictures, USA

          To tolerate cowards and idiots, I can’t dwell on them, and I need some movement.      There’s a structural torpor that an action director wouldn't stomach. Housewife film noir      sounds like great high concept, but it’s more concerned with completely unnecessary      stylistic tropes (spotlight interiority/anti-climatic bookends/the worst v/o narration) than      really punching you in gut. It isn’t without merit, of course. The train wreck set has some      awesome proto-Royal Wedding chaos, and the photography is, at times, top-notch      (particularly walking onto the catwalk in the steam), but I think I was too overwhelmed by      the disappointment of greatness not crossing over (at first glance, of course). I think it's      something I could appreciate revisiting once I'm more familiar with Leisen's body of work.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, USA

          It’s like there’s a lifeboat, and it’s Cary Grant’s chin; then there’s obv. a sinking ship,      and it’s this movie. When they aren’t showing the lifeboat, you get nothing but      muddled gasps for air in an omnipresent lifelessness. Clumsy in its homo-baiting and      colossally uninteresting when it bails, the labored mystery unfolds way too painfully for      a drowning death. But, y’know, Cary Grant…

L'ANGE ET LA FEMME     ★★☆☆☆
Gilles Carle, 1977, Films RSL, CA

          Apologetically on board until I was subjected to the dumbest philosophical parody.      Heaven is the complacent detachment from earthly things / Hell is boredom. Would this      be remembered with a less attractive female? An argument to dwell on the beauty in life      because there’s none in this film.

Vittorio Caprioli, 1968, Produzioni Europee Associati, IT/FR, Listen, Let's Make Love

          Morricone's title song almost fooled me into thinking this was a movie.

Joe Dante, Monte Hellman, et al., 2006, Independent Film Fund, USA

          It’s certainly an accomplishment for so many hit-makers to come together and produce      something so overwhelmingly awful.

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