Monday, November 29, 2010

UTW review of Morning Glory

Here's my review of Morning Glory that appeared in a recent Urban Tulsa Weekly. I didn't like it all that much and in fact, worried that my critique of morning television programming might have been a little too scathing. But, too late now. Go here to read it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Xanadu, Whip It and Sweetgrass

Xanadu. Each November at Circle Cinema, I try to pick something for the midnight movie that fits the following sentence: come watch a turkey before you eat turkey. For 2010 it was the 1980 musical/science fiction romance Xanadu. I'd actually never seen it, but knew about it and even owned the soundtrack thanks to my love of Electric Light Orchestra. So, Saturday night at midnight I watched it and think it's deserving of his reputation as a kitschy, campy smorgasbord of silliness in the late '70s/early '80s vibe. The film is way more serious than I expected. Sure, the story about a romance between an artist and the roller skating muse (Olivia Newton John) from another world is absurd. The dialogue is terrible. The effects are laughable. But, the songs are super melodic and catchy. There's something kind of wrong watching Gene Kelly skating around to a pounding disco beat (which would be his last appearance in film).  Xanadu's a train wreck, but it's charming in just enough ways to make it worth watching late in the middle of the night in true cult cinema fashion.

Whip It. I didn't see Whip It when it came out in 2009, but I didn't miss much. Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is set in the roller derby world of Austin, texas, as a bunch of tattooed women skate, beat the crap out of each other in the name of sports and find some kind of elusive female empowerment via the shared bond regarding these things. At least that's what Ellan Page's 17 year old character "Babe Ruthless" discovers on her journey of self-discovery, all because of roller derby. The coming of age elements to Whip It are pretty mediocre and covers all the usual bases--fights with Mom/Dad, boy trouble and feuds with the best friend. That leaves the roller derby action to save the film and while it was crisp, fast paced and full of action, unless you actually know what the heck is going on in a roller derby match, these scenes lacked suspense. I'm out of the loop on this re-birth of the sport I watched before professional wrestling as a kid. Now, it's serious business from those involved. That doesn't make Whip It any better than it is--a predictable, lightweight, coming of age story.

Sweetgrass. If you like your documentaries no-frills then I've got just the one for you: Sweetgrass. It's so no-frills that a little bit of explanation would have greatly added to the viewing experience as I watched its story unfold. We see a huge of herd of sheep being driven over a mountain range by two sheepherders. It appears to be a dangerous trek with one of the herders visibly shaking by the event, calling his mother and complaining about what has happened. The men have to fight off bears, predators, personal injury and extreme isolation as they move the sheep. But, a big mark against the film is we never know why these men are doing this. Have the animals been sold? Do they drive them over this mountain range every year?  We never know how long that the trip is taking them either. It could be one month, could be six, who knows. Any little bit of text or voiceover at the start of the film would have simply answered these questions and made the rest of the film more enjoyable. Watching sheep roam the countryside for 90+ minutes isn't the most thrilling of topics either, so a little help from the filmmakers sure would have been appreciated. There are some beautiful scenes of nature in this documentary though. The sheep are driven through fields and mountains that are gorgeous, awe-inspiring and wonderful to see. It felt as if you are on the drive, but you aren't really welcomed in to understand why this is happening. You are just watching. Sweetgrass could have been even better had the directors chosen to teach us a little bit as the film unfolded.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hiroshi Sugimoto theatre photographs

I've been photographing historic movie theatres for a long time. I'm drawn to the architecture, the colors, the glowing neon marquees and the sadness of an empty, unused theatre. I've been compiling photos of run down, abandoned theatres for a project I've dubbed "Dead Cinema" (some of these might appear on Blevins Fotografic from time to time). I have taken interior photographs, but the bulk of what I've done has been exteriors due mainly to the fact that I've been unable to go inside if I'm just driving around towns and cities hunting for that marquee that pulls me in like a magnet.

Recently I stumbled across the work of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto and have been blown away by his large-format, extremely long exposures that capture an entire movie in a single frame. The expertise to be able to craft these long exposures on 8x10 cameras, as Sugimoto does, is the work of a master technician in complete control of his craft. Folks, if you are a digital photography person, bow down and admit the error of your ways, as these remarkable images could only be made by someone working within the world of film.

Sugimoto, born in 1948 in Tokyo--we actually share February 23rd as a birthday,  has been taking movie theatre photographs since 1978 and they range from famous palaces, lesser known palaces, regular theatres and even the drive-ins that dot the American landscape. How it works for Sugimoto is he sets up his camera, prepares and formulates light, space and the room, opens the shutter and records the entire film in a single frame. What is left is a magical, glowing white screen and every small detail of the theatre/drive-in captured. There are no people which leaves an eerie, surreal element to the images. It's as if time has forgotten to exist in these Sugimoto photographs.

Here's Sugimoto describing where the idea for the photographs came from.

One night I had an idea while I was at the movies: to photograph the film itself. I tried to imagine photographing an entire feature film with my camera. I could already picture the projection screen making itself visible as a white rectangle. In my imagination, this would appear as a glowing, white rectangle; it would come forward from the projection surface and illuminate the entire theater. This idea struck me as being very interesting, mysterious, and even religious. [Time Exposed, 1995]
I've been looking at a bunch of these images online, but it's not enough, I want to be able to see prints, up close and personal, to soak in all the minute details captured in these images. Since they are drawn from large-format cameras I can only dream about the details a giant print would unveil.

All images on this post are by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

UTW review of Nowhere Boy

Go here if you want to read my recent review in Urban Tulsa Weekly of the English film Nowhere Boy. It's about the early years of John Lennon, before the Beatles, when he was just a troublemaking teenager in Liverpool. I wasn't blown away by it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

UTW review of Conviction

Sorry for the time away, dear readers, been kind of swamped with outside commitments. I will try to be more punctual for those of you who expect better of me. Go here to read my review of Conviction. It's one of those "true" story inspirational films that come out like clockwork. I'm lukewarm on it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

October movies

October was a light month, but did have some NY, NY screenings--always a good thing. Plus, I re-watched a couple of films I absolutely love, love, love (high scores below should give it away).

The Social Network---2010---usa   ****
Blood Simple---1984---usa    ****1/2
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop---2010---china   **
Inside Job---2010---usa   ***
Waiting for a "Superman"---2010---usa   ***
A Fish Called Wanda---1988---england   *****!
Marwencol---2010---usa   ***1/2
Red---2010---usa   ***
Repulsion---1965---england   ***1/2
Hereafter---2010---usa   ***1/2
The Town---2010---usa   ***1/2
Conviction---2010---usa   ***

Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween festivities

Here's some photos of the White City Halloween Spectacle a group of us engaged in last night in lieu of a film article--I've been lazy lately with inspiration for posts! There's a group shot of the entire cast going for kind of a Victorian era mish-mash of characters ranging from hunchback, gravedigger, mad scientist, zombies, witch, gatekeeper of souls and two sisters in an eternal slumber.

I was Dr. Florian von Herzog (a nod to both Kraftwerk AND Werner!), a scientist lost in the grips of mathematic insanity looking for the bones of young children to use in his laboratory. You can gaze at Dr. Herzog in a lucid moment in the photo to the right. SJ played Rachel, one of the pair of Rothschild sisters who were in some kind of unexplained sleep-state who were dangerous and hungry for flesh if woken. Photo below is Rachel in some kind of Salemesque graveyard setting. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and this is why...