Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011's list of speakers

Since moving to Los Angeles in October, I've hit the mother load regarding the opportunity to hear directors, actors, critics and other people connected to movies speak about cinema. Being prone to lists, I promptly began to jot down every person I saw do a Q & A, introduction or was involved in talking about a film. There are also some folks I'm putting on the list that I saw participate in a live script read---they are marked by a red * after their names. Here's the list in order of when I saw them speak and what they are most known for. Over 50 speakers in three months! The one I was most excited about? Clint Eastwood.

John Hawkes--Actor
Sean Dirkin--Director
Elizabeth Olsen--Actress
Elvis Mitchell--Critic
Jason Reitman--Director
JK Simmons*--Actor
Jennifer Garner*--Actress
Aaron Paul*--Actor
Patton Oswalt*--Actor/Comedian
Mindy Kaling*--Actress
Michael Chiklis*--Actor
James Van Der Beek*--Actor
Dick Smith--Make-up artist
Clint Eastwood--Actor/Director
Leonardo DiCaprio--Actor
Armie Hammer--Actor
Dustin Lance Black--Screenwriter
Woody Harrelson--Actor
Robin Wright--Actress
Owen Moverman--Director
Ben Foster--Actor
Brie Larson--Actress
Panos Cosmatos--Director
Jeffrey Bloom--Director
John Saxon--Actor
Roger Corman--Producer/Director
Alex Stapleton--Director
Julie Corman--Producer
Werner Herzog--Director
Natalie Portman*--Actress
Steve Carell*--Actor
Pierce Brosnan*--Actor
Ken Jeong*--Actor
Nick Kroll*--Actor
Jake Johnson*--Actor
Collette Wolfe*--Actress
Paul Feig--Director
Gavin O'Connor--Director
Fred Lincoln--Actor
Marc Sheffler--Actor
Martin Kove--Actor
Jack O'Halloran--Actor
Marc McClure--Actor
Joe Dante--Director
Allan Arkush--Director
Eli Roth--Director
Edgar Wright--Director
Mary Elizabeth Winstead--Actress
Clifton Collins, Jr--Actor
Thomas Jane--Actor
Bryan Lee O'Malley--Writer
Michael Bacall--Actor/Screenwriter
Lewis Jackson--Director
John Landis--Director
Matthew Weiner--Writer
James Gunn--Director
Doug Benson--Comedian
Larry Karaszewski--Screenwriter
Leonard Maltin--Critic
Walter Hill--Director/Screenwriter

Monday, December 26, 2011

Movie tickets #27

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shame + The Artist

Film: Shame [2011, england]
Where I saw it: DVD at home in Los Angeles
Who with: Loner style
Rating: *1/2 

Shame. I hated this movie from English director Steve McQueen [Hunger] that is getting lauded for its unapologetic full frontal nudity [and performance] of lead actor Michael Fassbender, NC-17 rating and intense story. Shame is the most overrated, overwrought, overly-serious to-the-point-of-ridiculous movie I've seen all year. Shame is one of these kinds of films that likes to wallow in its misery and expects the audience to do the same as every single character is a self-loathing mess of various neurosis. At the forefront is the sex addiction of Fassbender's "Brandon Sullivan" which causes him to spend nights with pornography on his computer, call up prostitutes or troll the bars looking for anonymous alleyway sexual encounters with other desperate individuals.

For a film about sex, it's hard to think of something so unsexy as Shame. This is not an erotic movie, it's a tale about ugly people who live shallow lives despite having money and good jobs, and can't find anything to do except drag themselves down in the mire. It's never explained what screwed up this brother and sister [Carey Mulligan], but they are one messed up pair of siblings. "Brandon" cares only about trying to fill the bottomless hole of ache that sex is supposed to fill up. But, like every kind of addict, the hole can never be filled, no matter how many women [or men] he takes to bed [or to a bathroom, or alley, or wherever he can get them for sex]. I just found Shame to be uninteresting, unappealing and completely laughable in its bleakness. And the nudity of Fassbender? More hype. The full frontal stuff comes off as desperation by McQueen to garner attention for his film and nothing else. Fassbender wanders around his apartment with his business on full display a couple of times. It has nothing to do with the character's sex life, it's just a cheap tactic by McQueen that further cements the stench of phoniness and absolute tone of pretension that Shame has


Film: The Artist [2011, france]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles at Landmark
Who with: Sarah and David
Rating: Joshua ****; Sarah *****!; David ?

The Artist. Now for one I really liked. The Artist is a much-buzzed about film from French director Michel Hazanavicius that is a straight-up silent movie and I was completely charmed by it from the first moment, all the way to the terrific ending. Set in the waning days of silent cinema, The Artist tells the story of what happens "George Valentin" [Jean Dujardin] when the arrival of the "talkies" destroys his career as a popular silent movie actor. We see his downfall and his struggle to come to grips with his new status in the city that he was once so beloved in: Hollywood. This actually happened quite a bit during this transitional period in movie history. As sound technology rapidly changed filmmaking and what audiences wanted--many star directors and performers could not survive the switch to sound and were lost to the obscurity of history. The Artist delves into that while also unleashing a tender, hard to resist love story between "Valentin" and "Peppy Miller" [Berenice Bejo] as the pair meet, separate and then find their lives intermingling despite their different professional and personal directions they are going to.

Hazanavicius' film is a complete surprise in terms of subject matter and attention. Silent movies in 2011 wouldn't be the first thing that would pop into your head as a must see of the year [although, there are actually two films with silent movies in their story this year when you count Hugo]. Toss in the fact that Hazanavicius is known in France for making a goofy series of comedies such as OSS 117 and The Artist is truly an out-of-the-blue phenomenon. It's been so many decades since a silent film has had this much attention. I can only think of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times in 1936 to have so much attention in the post-talking era of films before this one. Am I missing anything since that? If true, that was 75 years ago. That's how out-of-fashion The Artist is and what makes it more remarkable that its found a place with both moviegoers and critics alike.

The Artist is a classy piece of movie making by Hazanavicius. Gorgeously shot in achingly lush black and white [obviously] by cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman, the film utilizes actual location shooting of Hollywood and Los Angeles as its backdrop for its story. I recognized the Bradbury Building, Orpheum Theatre and the Warner Brothers back lot during the film. The acting performances are also first rate with Dujardin and Bejo not only having undeniable chemistry, they both give wonderful performances. The same can be said for jack-of-all-trade actors John Goodman [what can't this man do as an actor?] and James Cromwell.

The Artist is only going to pick up more steam as word-of-mouth increases and nominations for awards get announced. It's 2011's surprise must-see for people wanting a sophisticated, old-fashioned [what's more old-fashioned than a silent melodrama?] romance. I'm a sucker for anything to do with this era of Hollywood, so I'm an easy target. What makes me especially happy that The Artist is picking up momentum with audiences is it might draw attention to an era of Hollywood that has been sort of forgotten by the masses: the era of silent films. There's a purity of cinema to silent films that was lost when sound took over and The Artist captures the era, style of filmmaking and tone perfectly while also being entertaining. Recommended.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Heart John Candy

The night before Thanksgiving, SJ and I saw Planes, Trains and Automobiles at the Nuart Theatre in Santa Monica. I hadn't seen this 1987 John Hughes film in a long, long time and was kind of blown away by how good it is. That movie is probably as good as it gets for John Candy fans. It's got everything about him that I love--the honest sweetness he had the ability to tap into, the gift of blessed comic timing, the act of physical comedy and the way he uses his girth in such a way that nearly makes it invisible while also drawing attention to it for humor.

I first noticed Candy in the late 1970s when I came across the madcap series SCTV that starred Candy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and a bunch of other people. While Saturday Night Live gets most of the credit for changing the face of comedy, SCTV deserves some attention for the outlandish sketch comedy of the show that was a peer to the more celebrated Saturday Night Live. Candy was an original cast member in 1976 for three years before leaving and going into films.

Right off the bat, he popped up in two movies that I loved as a kid: Blues Brothers [1980] and Stripes [1981]. I still like them actually. I re-watched Blues Brothers a few weeks ago and lamented the fact that Candy only had a couple of scenes. The first half of Stripes is still comedy gold to me [before it goes all action in the second half] and it is the film that led to my discovery of the late, great Warren Oates. While the roles were small, Candy used his character actor style to steal nearly every scene that he was in. This would be a recurring element when he provided support to bigger stars throughout his career. In these films, Splash [1983] for example, I think of them as much as Candy vehicles as the higher billed actors. He was in some decent to forgettable films in the 1980s, but due to the larger than life personality of Candy, I actually like a lot of those films. Brewster's Millions, Summer Rental, Armed and Dangerous, Spaceballs, The Great Outdoors and Uncle Buck are all films from that decade that I've got a soft spot for. Mostly, it's because John Candy was in the film.

Check out part one of Candy being interviewed by Bob Costas in 1989 for Later. Candy talks about  Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Splash, dropping out of the Ghostbusters cast and other topics. Who knows what would have happened to Candy's career if he'd been in Ghostbusters. This is a three part interview on You Tube that I recommend for Candy fans as he discusses a myriad of topics related to his life and career up until 1989.


While I was happy to watch Candy in such low-aiming comedies, I always believed that he could do dramatic work if given the chance. In 1991, I was thrilled to see him in the cast of Oliver Stone's paranoid opus JFK as fast-talking, slang-tossing lawyer Dean Andrews. While his time on screen was brief, Candy nailed the smoking, sunglass wearing, hip, 1960s style of Andrews perfectly. A more unseen film also from 1991, Only the Lonely, saw Candy stretch out in the romantic comedy drama. I thought this was going to be the start of Candy's second act as a terrific character actor. That never happened. It was back to forgettable comedies until Candy died a few years later from a heart attack in his sleep. He was 43 years old. Check out Candy as Andrews in JFK in the video below.


***If you are reading this post via e-mail, the imbedded videos in this post might not work with your particular e-mail account. Click on the post title and you will be taken directly to CineRobot to view the video.***

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More nights with Edgar Wright at the New Beverly

I recently wrote about English director Edgar Wright's awesome eight night "take over" [his words] of the New Beverly cinema in a couple of earlier posts covering the epic binge of Los Angeles movies and movie related history a friend and I went on during his visit. Too fun a series to leave to just those posts, here's the details of the other four nights of the "Wright Stuff III" that I also attended. To refresh just what the "Wright Stuff III" is even though I wrote a description of it here, all eight nights of the series are double features that Wright has never seen. All shown with film prints and with guest speakers to announce and talk about the films with Edgar before and after they screen. It really was a terrific idea.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg/Chungking Express. The only bad thing about this double-bill was I forgot to get a photo of the marquee. Blame it on the rainy weather that inspired Sarah and I to head right to the ticket window instead of loitering outside. Having a crisp, rainy night was actually perfect weather for these two romance drenched films. First up was the 1964 French musical from director Jacques Demy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Introduced by Mad Men writer/producer Matthew Wiener, the former Jeopardy contestant [something I didn't know until he mentioned it] talked eloquently about not only the film, but about culture, the 1960s, the French and the undeniable star power of the female lead, Catherine Deneuve. Edgar mentioned that his parents saw this film while on a date and then had the horrible vision of his parents "doing it" which wasn't as bad for the rest of the audience since we've never met his mom and dad. If you aren't familiar with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, every line of dialogue is sung throughout the entire film. The moments where the movie is completely silent is so rare, when it happens, it is quite jarring on the viewer to have unexpected quiet in a film with non-stop music. The film is a celebration of romance and "French" essence and has a beautiful, bittersweet ending that rates up there with best endings in a French movie for me.

While I looked forward to seeing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with a film print and an audience, it was Chungking Express, a 1994 picture from Hong Kong's Wong Kar Wei that really got me to the New Beverly on this night. The last time I saw this was in the mid-1990s on a crappy 18" television. It might have even been on VHS. Not tonight. Introduced by Super director James Gunn [on a previous night John Landis commented that Gunn called his film Super just so he could place the title and the word "director" before any introduction of himself. Landis said he was going to make a movie called Handsome Genius for his future introductions.] in one of the shorter intros of the festival, I was ready to just get to the over-the-top, kinetic visuals of Wong Kar Wei and see Chungking Express again. I love this movie. Dazzling, romantic, saturated colors, repeated use of music--all of Wong Kar Wei's trademarks are here with dashes of comedy thrown into the mix. Non-stop fun.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance/Ride the High Country. I'm a western lover. It is the quintessential genre for "American" storytelling that is completely unique to us as a nation and people. It's the one and only genre that is instantly recognizable as "American" and its popularity in the Golden Age of Hollywood cemented its popularity with the masses. I'm one of those people who gets kind of depressed that I don't get to see new westerns every single year. Luckily, there are so many from the past, but new ones would sure be great from time to time. This night saw two of the genres best directors in a double bill with releases from the same year of 1962: John Ford and Sam Peckinpah. When you think about westerns, the names Ford and Peckinpah should be the first ones to pop out of your mouth, so this double bill was highly anticipated by me.

Writer/director Peter Bogdanovich held court for about 40 minutes before The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Who better than Bogdanovich to talk about Ford since he knew him well and made a documentary and wrote a book about him. A born racanteur, Bogdanovich told stories [which included spot-on impressions] that included Ford, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, James Cagney, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. I could have listened to more of those stories for another hour and still watched the two films that followed. Bogdanovich called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Ford's last great western and it sure is that. I've seen it before, but with an packed house, this film plays incredible. Funny, tense and darkly heroic, the crowd really ate this movie up. Lee Marvin plays a wonderful villain, brimming with the threat of violence. If you want to see a bad guy in a movie played to full-tilt with raging menace, check out Marvin's performance in this. Incredible.

Ride the High Country is Sam Peckinpah's second film as a director and another one that gets a lot better when you watch it on the screen with other people. This is the second time I've seen Ride the High Country and the same two things stood out to me while I watched it: I sure love Warren Oates and Randolph Scott is awesome in a western setting playing a bad guy. It's hard not to watch Scott on the screen as he just has that "it" that certain movie stars have. That makes it all the more surprising that Ride the High Country is Scott's last film. Sadly, as he retired from acting at the age of 64. How I wish I could see more westerns!

To Be or Not to Be/The Bad News Bears. There were other nights I was happy to head over to the New Beverly to watch a double feature [when all was said and done, I was there for six of the eight nights], but this one was special for one reason: The Bad News Bears. While I enjoyed the screening of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 comedy To Be or Not to Be [and Joe Donte and Leonard Maltin's serious introduction--see photo of Maltin, Dante and Wright on left], I was here to see the beloved 1976 comedy with a film print and an eager audience. It did not disappoint me at all. Comedian Doug Bensen, screenwriter Larry Karaszewski and Wright were responsible for the intro [with some help from an e-mail from the Coen Brothers who say this is one of the influential films responsible for them that inspired them to make movies]. I think The Bad News Bears has gotten better with every passing year. As pointed out by Karaszewski, this is an adult movie about kids--real kids--and is not afraid to show the darker elements of human nature on display. This is a 1970s PG film with cursing, drinking, smoking, racial epitaphs and all kinds of things that were sanitized out of the horrendous remake a few years ago. PG in 1976 is a lot better than PG in 2011, that's for sure. I skipped the LACMA live read of The Princess Bride to see The Bad News Bears again and it was worth it. In fact, there is not a place on earth I'd rather have been on this night than watching this movie, with this audience, in Los Angeles, such is my love for The Bad News Bears. I honestly think that Michael Ritchie's film should go down as not only one of the best comedies of all time, this is one of the best movies of all time and it should get its due!

Hickey and Boggs. Tonight was the last night of the "Wright Stuff III" and while I'm a little sad its ending, I could use the rest. I was actually under the weather and only watched the first film of the double bill due to that. It will be nice to catch up on my sleep and take a few days off from eating Junior Mints and Red Vines [my candy of choice at the New Beverly]. I'd never seen Hickey and Boggs, which is kind of nuts because I really love Walter Hill and 1970s movies, so this was a good one to start off the last night. Introducing this one was the film's writer, Walter Hill himself. I'm a long-time fan of Hill's tough, lean, no-bullsh*t directing style [The Long Riders, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, plus many others], so it was a real treat to hear him talk about his writing spare writing style and tell some stories about the 1972 film Hickey and Boggs. Hill as a speaker is kind of like the scripts he's penned--unflowery, speckled with curse words, tough. Hill's just a cinematic bad-ass even at the age of 69. He's got a movie coming out next year called Bullet to the Head just to prove how bad-ass he is.


Hickey and Boggs is a bleak neo-noir set in sunny Los Angeles [I could write about this in my "Los Angeles Cinema" series as this is a quintessential Los Angeles movie] that stars Robert Culp [he also directs] and Bill Cosby. I'm so ruined by the image of Cosby due to the fact of his TV show from the 1980s and his image since then. In 1972, he was a cigar chomping, wisecracking, skinny actor who belongs as much in the dark material of this film as he would later destroy all competition as a mainstream sitcom juggernaut. I like this side of Cosby more. Here's a blurry photo of Edgar and Mr. Walter Hill to end the festivities that was the "Wright Stuff III." Even though it just ended, I'm ready for part IV!




Saturday, December 17, 2011

Save 35mm film petition

Julia Marchese, an employee of the New Beverly, has started up an online petition for individuals to sign and I'm urging everyone who reads this to add their name to it. I have. Go here to sign it. Julia's trying to get 10,000 signatures that will be sent to the studios who are threatening to stop letting rep cinemas use prints to exhibit to the public. If that happens, places like New Beverly will have to change the way they do things [they are film only at this point]. Even theatres that only dabble in rep cinema will have the prints barred from use, forcing everyone into screening every older film they show into a digital presentation.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how the major studios are attempting [well, they aren't attempting, they are actually doing] to faze out film prints for new films, if the studios have their way, even the old movies will be shown digital only. These studio hacks, a collection of brain dead, bottom line whores, think that EVERYONE is okay with watching a DVD or Blu-Ray of a beloved movie instead of a lovingly warm 35mm print. Well, those people are idiots. Do your good deed of the day, please go to the link above and sign the petition.

***Photo by Julia Wallmuller***

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

When a film geek visits me in Los Angeles, part two

Continuing my daily log of what David and I did on his recent visit to Los Angeles...

Day 4: We went into the hornet's nest of tourism: Hollywood Boulevard! If you don't know what this means, it is crowded sidewalks of gawkers from out of town, people trying to talk you into taking their half-rate tour of the city, people selling you their creative wares [I had a young hip hop guy try to sell me his self-made CD for $1. According to him, it had "nothin' but cussin'" on it, which is a selling point for some, but not me. I passed on it despite the fair price he offered.] and people dressed up as various famous characters from the world of cinema. I saw a sad looking Charlie Chaplin, Michael Jackson, Darth Vader and I even had a brief, hostile exchange with a surprisingly surly Spiderman. The actual stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame don't do a lot for me, but I really like the signatures in cement with hands and feet [and in the case of the image of Harold Lloyd's plot, his trademark glasses].

A funny thing related to one of the people dressed up happened. I was trying to take a photo of the square of cement square related to Star Trek when Spiderman stepped onto the signatures and didn't move. I politely asked, "Please move, Mr. Spiderman" as the man stared at me through his semi-filthy mask for a couple of seconds. "No one cares about you or what you are doing," this Spiderman informed me as he walked away. I said to David, "Spiderman is kind of rude today." Spiderman stopped on the sidewalk and yelled back to us, "Spiderman can say whatever he wants to say" and walked off. I don't recommend having your photo taken with Spiderman if he's going to have a bad attitude like that and yell at people who are simply trying to take a photo of Leonard Nimoy's finger imprints on cement.

We walked down Hollywood Boulevard to the point that it loses its family friendly vibe and takes on a scuzzier, seedier feeling as there are plenty of skanky lingerie and sex shops in you are the mood to unleash your kinkier side. We found our way to Larry Edmunds Bookshop and was struck full in the face with the mother load when it comes to movie related books and magazines. I could have spent a few hours in there just browsing the floor to ceiling shelves, but we had to go to another place that is chock full of goodies, Amoeba Records. Needing to get some rest before dinner and the night's upcoming triple feature, we made our way back to the apartment to recover from our tourist injection that is Hollywood Boulevard.

Edgar Wright [Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim] is holding an eight day festival of films he's never seen at the New Beverly and tonight was night one. I wrote about it recently here. We started the "Wright Stuff III" strong with three music related movies in The Girl Can't Help It, Get Crazy and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. Yes, a triple feature that had us at the New Beverly for nearly eight hours. The screenings were chock full of special guests to talk about the film and one of them, Joe Dante, sat directly in front of us during The Girl Can't Help It. Other speakers for the films were Allen Arkush, Eli Roth, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clifton Collins, Jr., Thomas Jane and obviously Wright [photo on left with Wright, Collins, Jane, Winstead, Michael Bacall and Bryan Lee O'Malley]. Get Crazy, a little seen film from 1983, was a fun blast of 1980s zaniness from Arkush involving music and hijinks that was filmed entirely in Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre. We arrived at New Beverly at 7pm, I got into bed at 3am and asleep sometime after that!

Day 5. It wasn't the best choice to get up from less than five hours sleep and head downtown for a three hour tour of the movie theatre district, but that's just what we did. The LA Conservancy offers a tremendous tour of the movie and theatre district every Saturday morning for only $10 [an amazing bargain for what you get to see/hear about on this tour--I should know as this is the second time I've taken it in three months]. You get to spend quality time inside multiple theatres in the tour [we were in both the Million Dollar Theatre and the amazing Orpheum Theatre the longest] and go in the Bradbury as well [Blade Runner!]. Included are a couple of photos of the Orpheum Theatre, an music and event theatre opened in 1926 as a vaudeville and movie theatre that is still going strong today. Wow, what a place.

After we had lunch in the Grand Central Market [I had a terrific carne asada torta], we walked around downtown and came across a film shoot for a commercial. Something I'm not close to being used to is coming across some various film shoot or having to bypass a street due to it being shut down for filming. It happens all the time. After a couple hours rest at the apartment getting caught up on Work of Art and Top Chef, David  and I made our way to the Aero in Santa Monica for one of those special cinema experiences that anyone who likes movies should do once in their lives: 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm! Neither of us had seen it on a screen, much less 70mm, so when we started planning the films for David's visit, this one was circled in bright red from the moment we saw it. 2001 is the mind blowing science fiction epic from Stanley Kubrick that is just as jaw-droppingly magnificent today as it was when it was released 43 years ago in 1968. Seeing 2001 in 70mm is going to rank as one of the great moments of my life of film events, that's how special this film in this format is.



How overboard have we gone on this Los Angeles binge of movie sightseeing and film watching? Well, the answer was supplied on this night. We drove back from Santa Monica and went back to New Beverly to see a midnight screening of the 1980 horror/comedy Christmas Evil. Due to the second night of the "Wright Stuff III" festival it started late. How late? The film started around 1am. That means David and I stood outside in pretty cold weather for 45 minutes. Was it worth it? Probably not. I was so tired I dozed off a time or two for brief flashes and the film is kind of a below average oddball film about a guy obsessed with Christmas and Santa Claus. Had it started on time, maybe I would have liked it a little more, but Christmas Evil was still a stinker that is battling House on the Edge of the Park for the least enjoyable film of David's trip.

Day 6. After back-to-back nights of staying out until 3amish for films, we did not get an early jump on David's last day in Los Angeles. Thank goodness for that. We did catch a matinee screening of the 2011 French silent The Artist and it was the perfect film to watch for the trip as it is about the waning era of silent filmmaking in Hollywood. Shot in Los Angeles, we spotted numerous locations that we made it to in the past few days [Bradbury Building, Orpheum Theatre, Warner Brothers back lot]. The Artist is getting a lot of accolades at the moment and they are much deserved. It is a sweetly entertaining melodrama that revives the notion of silent films. Who would have thought that 2012 would have two releases [Hugo is the other] among my favorites of the year that include silent moviemaking as major plot points? Not me.

We made our way back to the New Beverly for our last double feature of director Edgar Wright's "Wright Stuff III" [not for me though--I have four more to go!]. This night was going to be a mad pairing of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T and Kwaidan. I hadn't seen either of the films, but the guest speakers for the night might be the most entertaining of the entire eight night run: John Landis, Joe Dante and Patton Oswalt. It seems that Oswalt came ready to do some stand-up comedy, as he went on a couple of lengthy riffs about 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T that were raucously received by the sell-out crowd. Dante was forced into playing the straight man, which he said he was fine doing. Wright even called them the "new comedy team of Dante and Oswalt" when mentioning them later in the evening. Landis talked about both films, but the only one of the two he liked was Kwaidan, a 1964 movie with four ghost related stories. I was pretty tired during it, so Kwaidan seemed really slow as it unfolded.  The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T was certainly not slow. Directed by Dr. Seuss himself [the only movie he made], it's a 1953 film that is a bizarre, technicolor musical fantasy involving a young boy and his mother in a piano instruction prison controlled by Dr. T. Unceasingly over-the-top, this was a kaleidoscope of color, song and weirdness that probably has messed with a lot of kid's minds over the decades.

As one last visual image to document our Los Angeles binge, here's a photo of us at the Warner Brothers studio as we come face to face with the world of Harry Potter. It's frightening as you can see by the look on my face. Also worth noting is the amazing handlebar mustache I'm sporting!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hugo

Film: Hugo [2011, usa]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles @ the Grove
Who with: loner style
Rating: ****1/2

I watch all of Martin Scorsese's movies because, come on, it's Martin Scorsese. If you aren't watching every movie that he directs, you are losing film geek street cred and I like to stay on top of that street cred if I can. As his films have gotten larger in every way [budget, scope, audience], I've actually liked his movies less. The personal element that made his films in the 1970s/1980s so raw is hard to find in recent films such as Shutter Island, The Departed and The Aviator. Yes, his films are still incredibly made by a man still in complete control of his craft, but they are lacking in an intimacy as Scorsese has gravitated to broader stories. 

The only thing I knew about Hugo going in was it was based on a kid's book [The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick] and that Scorsese had made a 3D picture. That element was lost on my since I paid to see the 2D version. I've given up on watching films in 3D due to the massive migraines I get every time I see a 3D film. Combine the headaches with the annoyance of having to put glasses on over the glasses I already wear, and I'm done with the fad that is already dying off in popularity [strike three 3D!]. Enough 3D talk, there are so many facets to the story that I love, I just sat back and let the story about an orphan living in a clock tower in a 1930s Paris train station was over me. Hugo has clocks, magic, early film history, literature, childhood romance and adventure, suspense and humor among the things coursing through it. Hugo unleashes the viewer's imagination and then runs wild with the kinetic motion of the story. It reminds me of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet due to its attention to detail and similar look and production design. I love Jeunet, so that's not a bad reference for Scorsese since he's setting the film in a Parisian train station. 

Obviously, I loved the unexpected journey Scorsese takes the audience on regards to cinema history. The discussion of the early days [including an incredible scene inside a theatre as people watch a Harold Lloyd silent comedy] of filmmaking are sneakily subversive by Scorsese. The last thing I thought this film would have would be conversations about the importance of film preservation! Long a proponent of such a thing, he's just never snuck in dialogue about the topic into one of his movies. This aspect of the story could have probably used some trimming, but as someone who loves film history, I enjoyed these scenes as much as the hard-to-resist story of the orphan "Hugo" as he tries to desperately unravel a mystery spawned by the automaton that he is trying to fix. 


Hugo is a very sweet movie. The story of an orphan surviving on his own wiles in a train station while being pursued by the station agent [Sasha Baren Cohen] provides plenty of adventure, but it is the heart and emotional heft of the film that gives it a weight that will make it appeal to adults and children alike. I would have liked just the mystery and adventure, but having all these "extras" in the story gives it a layered depth that a kid-orientated action film wouldn't have had. I was moved. Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz are both terrific in the lead roles. Support by Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone and others is also first-rate. 


A love letter to many things--cinema, magic, dreams, family and love--Hugo is a wildly entertaining and completely unexpected. This is a favorite of mine in 2011. In fact, it is my favorite Martin Scorsese movie since Casino in 1995. The name Scorsese might not seem a natural fit for PG rated kids movie, but Hugo is a triumphant bit of storytelling and technique that makes living in a train clock tower look like a lot of fun. Recommended in 2D [and probably 3D too!]. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

When a film geek visits me in Los Angeles

A variety of people will probably come visit us in Los Angeles. Each person will bring their own interests and things they want to do and see in the city while they are here. Certain individuals might be interested in food, architecture or museums. Yet, some, like my first visitor David, want to see movies. I can related to that. While I like doing other things when I'm in a large city, one of my favorite things to do is to watch movies. A lot of movies. Some people might think it strange to go to another city and watch movies when you can see them later on DVD, but that's one of the things I love to do when I go places. If I'm in a city where I can see things I wouldn't normally get a chance to see, I really go wild.

That just happened since my friend David is the same sort of person as me--he loves movie history, culture and film. He recently flew in from Tulsa for a visit and we went on an epic film geek binge that included film-related sightseeing during the day with nights were dedicated to the activity that film lovers like to do just about more than anything else: watch movies! Below is the detailed description of what we did on David's visit to Los Angeles.

Day 1: I picked David up at the LAX around 3pm and we make our way back to our apartment to rest and then go have a falafel at this Israeli place I like. Then it was off to see a double feature of The Last House on the Left and The House on the Edge of the Park at New Beverly as part of their Grindhouse film series. As we made our way past the line of people waiting to enter the theatre, David spotted Clu Gulager standing in line. Gulager, a character actor who got his start in 1950s television has a connection to us--he's from Oklahoma. David remembered selling him tickets to see movies at Eton Cinema when Gulager was living in Tulsa in the early 1990s. After we made our way through the lobby, we approached Gulager as fellow "Okies" and talked to him for about five minutes. David scored points with Gulager due to his being Cherokee as Gulager pointed out that "Clu" means "red bird" in Cherokee. I'm not sure if that is true or not. A very friendly man, he comes to the New Beverly a lot and sits in the center of the front row.

The reason these two films were chosen on the double bill was because both have David Hess as a menacing villain. Hess passed away recently and this night was a tribute to him. Before The Last House on the Left started, three actors from the film took the stage to tell stories of filming the movie and about Hess himself. Marc Sheffler, Martin Kove and Fred Lincoln talked about Hess in varying detail, with Sheffler being the closest to him through the years. Evidently, they remained very close. The film itself is a raw, violent, intense and infamous 1972 movie from Wes Craven [it was his first movie] notorious for its brutality on screen. I hadn't seen it since the early 1980s and it is indeed a nasty piece of work and is essential viewing for horror or genre fans. There was a remake recently, but I'm just guessing that the original is still the better.


The House on the Edge of the Park is a not-so-great 1980 Italian rip-off of The Last House on the Left with even more Hess screen time as he and a buddy go sadistic on some middle class party goers for no real reason other than its fun to rape, torture and abuse strangers. Filled with so much nudity and sexual violence, it was like those legendary Cinemax soft-core films they programmed in this era, except with way more sexual violence. Any male coming of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s know exactly what kind of Euro, sex-drenched movies that Cinemax put on the air late Friday and Saturday nights. This is that sort of movie. The House on the Edge of the Park isn't for the squeamish or easily offended and evidently had over ten minutes edited from it when it came out in the UK. We saw the unrated print with wall-to-wall nudity, grindhouse style.

Day 2: We got a fairly early start of it and drove to the Hollywood Forever cemetery that is only a few miles from my apartment. It's bigger than I expected and we didn't have a map of the graves so we just kind of wandered around on foot and in the car until we saw gravestones with names we recognized. I had a macabre photo taken standing next to the grave of Johnny Ramone, not because I'm a huge Ramones fan, but for the fact we were in a cemetery and thought I should have at least one photo of me and a tombstone. Douglas Fairbanks had one of the most amazing ones there with water, swans and his own private grounds [see photo on left]. Other people we came across: Fay Wray, Cecil B. DeMille [not as outlandish as we thought it might be considering the films DeMille produced] and Mel Blanc. Blanc had the best epitaph we saw with the simple and very appropriate: That's All Folks.

After a quick lunch at Village Pizzeria on Larchmont [where David spotted Nicholas Brendon ["Xander" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two days of David's visit and we've spotted two actors. David spotted them both so he's eagle-eye out here!] sitting a couple of tables over, we made our way up the winding Mulholland Drive to look at the stellar views of the Los Angeles sprawl and the Hollywood sign. The lovely haze of smog thinly covers the city and the Hollywood Bowl can be seen in the lower right of the photo I snapped with my iPhone. After our drive we went to Burbank to see a taping of Conan O'Brien. Guests were Michael Moore and Ellie Kemper. We had perfect seats right in front of Conan's spot on the monologue and a direct shot to the interview desk and chairs. Cameras are prohibited, so no photos of our taping. It's great to see how fast-paced the actual taping is in the studio. What you see on TV is pretty much what happens on the soundstage. We did get to walk across the Warner Brothers lot and it is huge! We are thinking of heading back to Burbank for a lot tour on Day 3.

After Conan, we sat in traffic for awhile, making our way downtown to watch a film print of the 1978 Richard Donner movie Superman. The screening was at the amazing Million Dollar Theatre [built in 1918 by Sid Grauman] and that's the first time I've gotten to see a film there. I'd been in it before, but no movie. The heat was not on, so let me say that the Million Dollar Theatre gets extremely cold on a December Los Angeles night. I bet it was in upper 50s. Jack O'Halloran and Marc McClure from Superman ["Non" and "Jimmy Olsen"] were there for a fun Q and A and the gist of their talk was very pro-Richard Donner and not-so-much Richard Lester. O'Halloran called Lester a "cartoon director" at one point. Ouch. I haven't seen Superman since I was nine years old when the film came out. It is a fun movie, but seems a bit long in places. Maybe that was due to the fact we'd been gone from the apartment for coming on twelve hours and my ears and nose were frigid from the lack of heat in the theatre?

Day 3: We started the day with a morning hike up to Griffith Observatory. It's a steep incline, but offers some great views of the city and that old Hollywood sign that is one of the most recognizable images in American film lore. I'm not big on hiking, but it's not that long a climb and the views of the sign, observatory and the urban sprawl make up for any exertion. I haven't yet gone to the observatory when it was open, for either the exhibits or the telescope, as I always find myself going there in the morning.

After a lunch at a Thai place called Jitlada where I had a spicy lamb jungle curry, we made our way to Burbank for the second day in a row to take a 2 1/2 hour studio lot tour of Warner Brothers. We got to see filming of a show on their "Anytown, USA" lot that can be made to resemble any midwestern small town. They were wetting down the street for a scene on a show I've never watched called Heart of Dixie. The coolest things that the tour guide pointed out for that spot was a faux bank that was robbed in Bonnie and Clyde and the parking meters on the street were used for Cool Hand Luke when he was jailed and then sent to prison. Both David and I wanted more film references, but the guide liked to point out television connections since the Warners Brothers lot is 80% television production. We got to see the soundstage of Two and a Half Men and spotted Johnny Galecki and Simon Helberg hanging around outside stage 27 as they rehearsed Big Bang Theory. One of my favorite things about the tour was seeing the prop department and how they reserve various items. David and I both got excited to see a couple of items that will be used in the upcoming Django Unchained movie directed by Quentin Tarantino. Check out their label in photo below for a stuffed bird that they want to use.

Our only screening of the day was at the Cinefamily for the documentary Corman's World. I'd seen this before a few weeks ago at LACMA and wrote a review of it here if you want to refresh your memory. This is a highly entertaining documentary that looks at Corman's life and his body of work in low-budget and exploitation cinema. Director Alex Stapleton was there for a lengthy Q & A to top off this great free event. Free!

That's it for part one, stay tuned for part two of this day-by-day detailed description of what happens when a film geek visits another film geek in Los Angeles! We've got lots of films left to watch, tours to take and sights to see.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Descendants + My Week with Marilyn

The tail end of November means it's award bait time for the studios as they unload films they hope will garner trophies, press and box office. The ultimate prize? Oscar. Last week I saw a couple of acclaimed films, The Descendants and My Week with Marilyn, one of them I liked, one of them I didn't care for at all. Read on for short reviews of both.

The Descendants. Alexander Payne, it's wonderful to have you back. The writer/director of such films as Citizen Ruth, Election and About Schmidt has not helmed a movie since 2004's critical darling Sideways [one of my favorites that year]. Seven years is a long time for Payne to spend time producing rather than directing. If he's wasting his time executive producing on the HBO dud Hung instead of directing movies, someone needs to shake some sense into Payne to get him back onto movie sets that he's directing and off of not-so-great TV programs. Thankfully, The Descendants comes to us in 2011 and deliver Payne's usual mix of intelligence, dark humor, sympathetic and well-crafted characters.

George Clooney plays "Matt King", a lawyer who is a descendant of a 19th century queen of Hawaii, is head of the family trust that oversees 25,000 acres of gorgeous, pristine beachfront and forest property. Faced with the possibility of losing the land to the state, the large, extended family wants to sell the land for hundreds of millions of dollars. "King" grapples with whether or not the land should stay in the family while also dealing with his wife's coma. To further complicate his life, his angry 17 year-old daughter informs him that she's been having terrible arguments with her mom due to the affair that she was carrying on. Life should be great for him, but with all these complications, "King" goes on a quest with his daughters to locate the man his wife was having an affair with and to complicate his life in general.

There's a lot of good things in The Descendants. The script, the performances, the location of Hawaii. As usual with Payne, the script is sparkling. Co-written with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash [based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings], the film is chock full of wise, adult dialogue that capable actors handle with aplomb. Even the kids in this get to deliver non-kid type dialogue as they banter with the adults around them. Clooney will be nominated for a best-actor award. You can mark that down in stone. I'm not sure he deserves it, but this is the kind of role that will be impossible for nominating committee to ignore. Clooney carries the film, but the supporting cast is deep--Robert Forster, Beau Brigdes [channeling younger brother Jeff's "The Dude" a little bit!] and Shailene Woodley as the headstrong, teenage daughter.

Clooney carries the film like the movie star he is. Weightlessly. That's a good word to describe the acting style and screen presence of George Clooney. He just belongs on the movie screen. He's an old-school movie star in a culture where there aren't that many of those working in Hollywood. While the film has a few blips here and there, The Descendants is the welcome return of Payne and features one of the few bonafide, undisputed, old-fashioned movie stars in cinema at the very top of his game. Rating ***1/2

My Week with Marilyn. As I mentioned above, it's award season so, like clockwork, we have to have at least one Harvey Weinstein produced historically based picture that is created with seemingly the sole intention to get Harvey a close seat to the stage during the Oscar telecast. It's kind of sickening to me that these kinds of movies have become cliches in themselves. Go here to read a rant I gave about Weinstein earlier this year when he came up with the idea to release a censured version of The King's Speech to rake in some more cash. This is still the most despicable thing to happen to a movie in 2011 to me.

And, if ol' Harvey didn't produce it, someone else will ape his formula to the point it feels like he was involved. Yet, people seem to love the faux-art house flavor of these films. It's a gateway kind of cinema that makes people too turned off by the more dour foreign movies [subtitles!] to feel they are experiencing a bit of class and sophistication when sitting in the safety of their local multiplex. In many ways, these award-bait movies are just as predictable, just as formulaic and just as shameless as the movies they believe they are better than. The whiff of the self-congratulatory, heightened self-importance just reeks from these kinds of movies so much you can almost smell the stench of it as you sit in the darkened theatre.

Make no mistake about it--I want to see good movies, regardless of producer, director or star. I just find these biopics connected to some historical person tiresome, dull and not that engaging most of the time. When I reviewed J. Edgar a few weeks ago, I touched on why I have issues with films like this. In the comment section of that post, a reader and I [Eva] bantered back and forth about maybe they are better if we get a movie of just a tiny piece of celebrity's life. Well, this one is another failure. My Week with Marilyn strikes me just as cold as most of these sorts of movies have recently. It's a shallow, superficial, phony bit of silliness based around a damaged icon of Hollywood lore [Marilyn Monroe] as she spends a tumultuous few weeks in England filming a movie with Lawrence Olivier. The only thing that makes this a tiny bit watchable is Michelle Williams as Monroe. I'm not going to take that away from her, but, other than that, My Week with Marilyn is a phony, manufactured, manipulative piece of dross from beginning to end. Thanks for that Harvey, I can hardly wait to see what you've got planned for 2012! Rating **

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Ten images of Dead Cinema on display December 9-January 22

For any readers who live in the Oklahoma City/Norman area that wanted to make it to my Dead Cinema photo exhibit in Tulsa and didn't get to see the show, you will have a chance to see ten images in Norman from December 9 until January 22, 2012 at a gallery closer to you. I am part of a group exhibit called "Emerging Artists of 2011" at Norman Arts Council's MAINSITE Gallery. Go here for their website and the details. Opening night is from 6-9 at 122 S. Main St on December 9th.

Here's a new image of a theatre in Los Angeles I photographed a few weeks ago and will not be on display at the "Emerging Artists" show. The Westlake Theatre is now a flea market [or, as the locals say, swap meet].

Saturday, December 03, 2011

November movies

Moving to Los Angeles has definitely been good for CineRobot. I think this has been the best two months on CineRobot since I started it in 2005. I've had some good months, but the sheer variety and amount of posts have come in a flurry. I have written about so many cool events and screenings with special guests [Clint! Werner!] that it is hard to keep up with the list of people in film I've heard talk or seen in person. I've started up a new, long-running series ["Los Angeles Cinema"] and have gotten to review films before they get wide releases in theatres across America [J. Edgar, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Rampart, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Carre Blanc, Corman's World, Into the Abyss]. I don't think this is an anomaly, I expect to have these kinds of posts coming non-stop as long as I'm living here.

I'd really like to up my readership list, so, I am asking you to help me spread the word! If you have film-loving friends who might enjoy reading about movies, please enter their e-mail on the home page and every post will come to their e-mail to read. Send them a note to let them know that they will have to accept CineRobot before getting the posts. It's an easy, non-evasive way to read the blog. Thanks dear readers!

Here's the list of what I saw in the month of November.

Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World---2010---usa   ***1/2
Paranormal Activity 2---2010---usa   ***
Valley Girl---1983---usa   ***1/2
J. Edgar---2011---usa   ***
Beyond the Black Rainbow---2010---canada   ***1/2
Carre Blanc---2011---france    ****
Rampart---2011---usa   **
Blood Beach---1980---usa   ***
A Better Life---2011---usa   **1/2
The Other F Word---2011---usa   ***
Corman's World---2011---usa   ****
Into the Abyss---2011---usa   ****
Blues Brothers---1980---usa   ****
The Girl From Monaco---2008---france   **1/2
If a Tree Falls---2011---usa   ***1/2
Melancholia---2011---denmark   ***
Visual Acoustics---2008---usa   ****
Planes, Trains and Automobiles---1987---usa   ****1/2
My Week with Marilyn---2011---england    **
Woody Allen: A Documentary---2011---usa   ****
Love the Beast---2009---australia   ***
American Swing---2008---usa   ***
Hugo---2011---usa   ****1/2

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Spending time with Edgar Wright at the New Beverly

I've made no secret what my favorite movie theatre in Los Angeles is. It's the New Beverly. Repertory programming utilizing film prints in the format of double features for only $8. Let me say that again--double features on film for $8. In Los Angeles. How much do I love New Beverly? When SJ and I were on a whirlwind search for a new apartment, the main reason I wanted to live in the place we chose was because it was .4 miles from the New Beverly. How do I know it was .4 of a mile? I measured it in the car. Twice. I wasn't sure the math was correct on the first attempt, so, we repeated the route to make sure I was getting the accurate distance.

I've already seen some great things there, but starting on December 9th will be eight nights programmed by English director Edgar Wright. Dubbed "The Wright Stuff III", Wright [Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World] is choosing sixteen movies that he's never seen as the theme of this festival. Wright got suggestions from famous friends over what to show ranging from Quentin Tarantino [the New Beverly's landlord], Joe Dante, John Landis and even fellow Okie Bill Hader. Go here to read why he chose the scheduled films and who tipped him to watch them. All the movies will, of course, be film prints and Wright plus guests will appear each night to host the particular screening.

I'm going to seriously nerd out and go to see eight films over four nights. Actually, I might toss in a midnight movie in there too, but that's undecided. Plus, a film geek friend from Tulsa [David] will be visiting and we might go see something on one of the early nights [The Girl Can't Help It/Get Crazy?] Maybe!]. My double features: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg/Chungking Express, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance/Ride the High Country, To Be or Not to Be/The Bad News Bears, Hickey & Boggs/Cutter's Way. It's hard to choose which night I'm most excited about. At first glance, the pairing of John Ford and Sam Peckinpah westerns would clearly be the night I would have a quickening pulse for. But, for those of you who really know me see a beloved movie on that list that I can not miss: The Bad News Bears.

I had a real quandary on the night of December 15th. When I first saw the schedule, I was thinking of passing on The Bad News Bears, even though it is a favorite movie of all-time for me. I've wanted to see it in a theatre again since I saw it as a seven year old in Muskogee. Problem is, that same night is the third live script read at LACMA [The Princess Bride]. I've been writing about Jason Reitman's live read series on CineRobot and those posts have been generating a fair amount of traffic to the blog. Then the more I thought about how much I love The Bad News Bears and how I truly believe it is one of the greatest films ever made, I changed my mind and bought my ticket for that night too. I can not miss The Bad News Bears in that lively, festive atmosphere that will be in the New Beverly.

***Post-script: I did get tickets to see The Girl Can't Help It/Get Crazy with David. Midnight screenings look likely too.***

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Los Angeles Cinema: A Better Life, Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Schulman

A Better Life. This drama from 2011 is a flawed, but well-intentioned, film from director Chris Weitz [About A Boy, American Pie] that attempts to tell about a less-glamourous part of Los Angeles--the margins of society that illegal immigrants from Mexico exist in. Weitz tries his darndest to move us with the plight of his main characters, but the film lacks enough gritty desperation and dangerous choices that the father and son must face to truly move us as an audience.

The script from Eric Eason borrows heavily in story from the 1948 Italian neo-realistic classic Bicycle Thieves, as father and son band together to search for something they both need to make it the harsh city. Geez, guys, at least try not to steal from a far superior movie without giving it some kind of shout-out. I didn't sit through the end credits, so, maybe they give a nod to Vittorio De Sica? They should at least put in a "thank you" at the tail end as there were some major elements to A Better Life's story that was unmistakeable in their origin. I did enjoy the performance of Demian Bichir [Weeds, Che] as the hard-working father trying to do what he can to make his son's life better. He's an honest man who only wants his son to learn right from wrong, yet realizes the path to adulthood for his teenage son is fraught with dangers. A Better Life is just a little too earnest and a little too heartfelt for me. Those are things I generally don't respond to in a movie. Wietz is trying hard, but that's part of the problem--he's trying too hard. The film feels too forced, too fabricated to move me with their story.
Rating **1/2


Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Schulman. Los Angeles seems to be a never ending treasure trove for the architecture that I am most fond of. People who say that the city is an urban blight really are misguided when it comes to architecture. Sure, it's a sprawling metropolis of streets, concrete, congestion and people. There's also some lovely architecture if you want to find it. Spanish mission? Check. I'm living in a building from the 1920s in that particular style. Art Deco? Check. Los Angeles is rife with examples of Art Deco from the 1920s and 1930s. Modernism? Check. Many people feel that modern architecture best sums up the soul of Los Angeles culture.

The man who is chiefly responsible in capturing the look and feel of modernist architecture, in both Los Angeles and the world, is undoubtedly Julius Schulman. Not only is he considered the most well-known photographer for modern architecture, many consider him to be the pre-eminent architecture photographer of all-time. Being a photographer and a big fan of this style of architecture, it's needless to say how much I enjoyed this documentary. Visual Acoustics looks into Schulman's career, influence and importance during his nearly seven decades as a working photographer and makes me want to go take some city tours and see some of the houses and buildings that Schulman photographed.

I admire Schulman's photographs and anyone who has spent anytime with my work [go here to see my photo blog!] can see that his style relates to my own. I love to take photos of buildings and architecture and feel much more comfortable when that is my subject rather than humans. Schulman believes in the power of the simplicity of the image and that's something that I believe in as well. When photographing architecture, the structure is the most important element of the image, why try to jazz it up or make the image about something else? Beautiful, powerful architectural photography must have that simplicity to it that Schulman made a career of. It looks easy, but I can promise you, it is not. Achieving simplicity, or directness, in photography takes as much skill and thought as so-called "fine art" photography.

Visual Acoustics is appealing on many fronts. It has photography, architecture, design, modernism, Los Angeles and a host of other things that come up during the documentary. Pretty much all of those things are topics I like to learn about and watch. How wonderful are Schulman's photographs in Visual Acoustics? Even if you think you don't like modern architecture, after you see this, you might have a new appreciation for it. After watching Visual Acoustics, I want to get out my Hasselblad and walk in Schulman's footsteps and photograph some of these places for myself. Rating ****

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Melancholia

Film: Melancholia [2011, denmark]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles @ Nuart Theatre
Who with: SJ
Rating: ***
Rating for Los Angeles rainstorm during viewing: *****!

Los Angeles cooperated weather-wise as we drove to the Nuart to watch Melancholia, Danish director Lars von Trier's latest opus to depressing cinema. Black clouds crept over the city and a tremendous downpour  began shortly before we made it to the theatre. Perfect. How can you be expected to watch a movie about a woman's battle with depression and the end of the world if the sky is blue and wisps of fluffy clouds hover above the theatre? You can't. Melancholia, an art film meditation on the hopelessness of life, needs gloomy storms to help drive home the point. A rainy, cold day provides the perfect backdrop to watch a movie such as this. Even the rain couldn't make me love the film though, but imagine my reaction to it if I'd walked out of the Nuart blinded by the bright as diamond-glare Southern California sun? That would have been a painful experience. I'll take those comforting grey skies any day, even if I wasn't watching a movie such as this.

Melancholia opens with a jaw-dropping, amazing sequence of various slow-motion and freeze frame images backed by a glorious, swelling score of strings from composer Richard Wagner [1865's "Tristan und Isolde"]. I wasn't expecting something so breathtaking, immediate, colorful and in-your-face stunning from von Trier. This opening salvo is the best moments in the film for me and it seems as if von Trier has watched Terrence Malick's Tree of Life and decided to one-up Malick in regards to filming beautiful shots of nature and the universe. It's a shame this uber-art style of the first sequence didn't carry over into the rest of the movie, as von Trier quickly reverts back to the style and look that comprises the majority of his films--hand-held cameras and photography with washed-out hue.

Kirsten Dunst plays "Justine" and we first meet her as she is sharing a limo with her new husband "Michael" [Alexander Skarskgard] as they head to the post-wedding shindig in a remote, gorgeous hotel owned by her sister and brother-in-law. "Justine" is all smiles and laughter when we first meet her, but things are going to change as we begin to see that the smiles are not authentic. The true "Justine" is lost in a haze of never-ending depression and this wedding? Just an attempt to knock her out of her crippling malaise. She's got a supportive sister in "Claire" [Charlotte Gainsbourg], a dashing groom, a good job, but it's not enough. She'd rather slump off to have a hot bath in private than mingle with the guests, or the sister, or the newly christened husband.

If we think that "Justine" is depressed in the first segment of Melancholia, just wait until we get to the second when we all know that the end of the world is nigh. There's a rogue planet dubbed Melancholia that's making a pass through our solar system and it is on a collision course with this little planet called Earth. Faced with only a few days to live, people react differently. For "Justine", it's time to sink further into the abyss of the quagmire of her depression and considering the ramifications of impending death, that depression is understandable. Who wouldn't be just a little down-in-the-dumps if there was a large planet about to crush the planet we all live on?

Lars von Trier has been a filmmaker that hasn't given a damn about the audience's discomfort since the mid-1980s with Element of Crime. He's repeatedly made films that challenge, punish, annoy and exasperate as much as they enthrall, move and intrigue. His films often explore heavy themes such as suffering and abuse, and while I would hesitate to label von Trier an entertaining director, I would call him an important filmmaker. He's probably the best example of what the term "auteur" means for well-known, global directors making movies in 2011. A controversial figure [his rant about Hitler and Nazis at the Cannes film festival earlier this year got him banned from Cannes and criminally charged by French authorities], but a talented one, whose films are hard to watch and then be passive about it when they are over.

Melancholia is another of those kinds of movies from Lars von Trier. Not a lot of fun to sit through, it dazzles, frustrates, irritates, enraptures and pulls you in while keeping you at an arm's length at the same time. I found the wedding segment of "Justine" kind of a pointless part of the film that pales to the intimate, emotional wrenching second part. Had the entire film been set among just the few characters that comprise the "Claire" portion of the film, I would have liked Melancholia more. There's genuine dread conjured up in the film's waning moments as a small group of people face certain death in different ways. The wedding sequence comes off as pale and inconsequential when paired with the raw sadness that is exposed as the film unfolds. Dunst is being lauded for awards and she is different than we've seen her as an adult. She gets to play happy [not often] and gets to play miserable. Those who hand out awards love this kind of role.

I'm certainly glad I saw Melancholia, but I couldn't help disappointed as I walked the wet Los Angeles streets. It is just the usual kind of film from von Trier: uneven, provocative for the sake of provocation, ponderous and, yes, thrilling. It's Lars von Trier. I'm not sure why I was expecting anything other than that when I bought my ticket.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The end of film is nigh

If you haven't noticed, theatres have rapidly been converting to digital over the past few years. The recent overdose on 3D has only heightened exhibitors frenzy to go digital and foist the latest bloated blockbuster onto the gullible public for as much as they can fleece some sucker of. If you held out an assemblance of hope that film would somehow prevail in the end--think again, dear reader. As painful as it is for me to admit, it looks like the distribution of film prints in theatres will die sooner than I thought.

I believe movies will still be made using film, so that's not ending anytime soon. Maybe I'm being optimistically naive about this too? Digital just doesn't have the naturalistic warmth of tone that film has. Did you see Michael Mann's 2009 release Public Enemies? That should be the pinnacle of just how awful digital moviemaking looks, as that was truly one of the worst looking movies I've ever sat through. No, after a movie has been shot in film, it will be given washes of digital treatment and then projected digitally into your favorite cinema. There will be no more flickering light from a projector. There will be no more scratchy reel changes. The prints you see in the future will be sterilized of all its quirks and flaws and possibly its life.

To make sure that theatre owners get on board with studios cost-cutting ways [it's cheaper for all involved to not have those bulky film prints to ship out to thousands of theatres], a recent missive was sent out from Twentieth Century Fox with gentle reminders that exhibitors need to convert to digital sooner rather than later. It's a sad day reckoning for those of us who truly love the look of film. My question to Fox and all the movie theatres that will continue to raise prices even after the conversion to digital: Shouldn't prices be lowered since by going all digital you are saving millions of dollars by not transporting film prints to and from studios? I think we all know the answer to that question, don't we? Audiences will keep getting stiffed as the prices will continue to inflate. Read the letter from Fox yourself below.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Into the Abyss

Film: Into the Abyss [2011, usa]
Where: Los Angeles @ Arclight Hollywood
Who with: SJ
In attendance: Werner Herzog
Rating when I saw it: ***
Rating after a few days of contemplation: ****

Werner Herzog. Just his name alone shoots rapture into the heart of any self-respecting film geek. Who would have thought when SJ and I drove into Hollywood to see Into the Abyss, I would soon find myself standing next to Mr. Herzog, carrying on a conversation with him? Not me. We knew he was going to make an appearance at the screening, but didn't know if it would be a quick intro or a Q and A or what. In classic, populist Werner fashion, he gave a 30 minute, unmoderated Q and A after the movie that was better than any of the post-screening Q and A sessions we've been watching that have been getting a lot more press. I think Werner would have answered questions all night long if there wasn't another film to show.

My first thoughts about Into the Abyss were that Werner has made just an average movie, but as the hours went by and I thought more and more about the film, it got more powerful to me. There is definitely a lot of philosophical ideas being broached on the screen and the conversations between Herzog and his subjects. Into the Abyss is something that stays with you long after it ends. The film is a meditation on violence and the after effects of the senseless, unexplainable acts that occur, based around a triple homicide in texas. The murders, perpetrated by a couple of teenagers for nothing more than so they could have a car for a few days, destroys everyone connected to the violent act. The guilty party are serving life in prison or about to be executed, family members have entered a waking state of never-ending emotional turmoil. Herzog talks to a death row chaplain and correction officer as well to further delve into the topic of violence, redemption, God and the death penalty. He tries to make sense of it.

Or does he? What gives Into the Abyss its power is that Herzog can't make sense of it. No one can. This crime, heinous and despicable, is so beyond figuring out guilt or innocence that Herzog dispenses of all that and just concentrates on the numbing after-effects of violence. There's a lot of psychological damage done to survivors of such mindless violence and Herzog hones in that with his usual individual style of questions and narration [in his usual thick, Bavarian accent that is the trademark for all his documentaries] as we get to view the collection of shattered lives on display. Below the surface is where the weight of Into the Abyss lies, all the small moments of torment and suffering being vocalized by person after person. Into the Abyss is an intense, sad, powerful exploration of the horror of violence.

After the film, Herzog handled his own Q and A without a moderator. He said that the film had played at some festivals, but that he doesn't "care about festivals, I care about real people watching my films." The funniest moment in the Q and A was Herzog's confession that bank robberies look like a lot of fun and if he could get away with it, Herzog claims he'd like to rob a few banks. Awesome.

When the Q and A was finished, SJ and I happened to be exiting the theatre near Herzog so I just told him who I was a programmer at Circle Cinema in Tulsa, Oklahoma and how I'd love to arrange a Skype interview with him when we show Into the Abyss. He politely said he was about to head off to Venezuela and where he was staying, there would be no electricity, it would have to be after he got back from that. Fine with me. After I mentioned Oklahoma, he told me, "I love Norman, Oklahoma and my daughter has been telling me how much she loves Omaha, Nebraska." Well, I went to OU so thought that was wonderful to hear. Werner likes Norman? Well, Boomer Sooner! This post-screening conversation certainly was more positive than the downer of a documentary that I had just seen. But, that's Werner Herzog for you--part weirdly comic, part seriously intense, all original.