Mineshaft Gap

It's a screening log, no more no less. Maybe I'll have something interesting to say one of these days...

Cassavetes' Jazz.

I finally saw a film by John Cassavetes about 3 hours ago. I'm still reeling. The film, appropriately, was Cassavetes first: Shadows. It is a breathtaking film about race relations, love and art and it is truly moving. The performances are all hyper-realistic in the Actor's Studio sense and the improvised dialog hits places most films of the era and even today fail to go.

The real revelation was Cassavetes. A brilliantly talented filmmaker that uses his camera in the manner of Godard and Truffaut at a distance and Welles in closeup. He shepherds his group of mostly amateur actors to brilliant, moving performances especially Leila Goldoni as a young woman who struggling with, well herself really, as well as Hugh Hurd her struggling jazz-singer older brother.

It is truly amazing that Godard's Breathless and Cassavetes' Shadows were made independently of each other. While completely different in terms of narrative, the style is remarkably similar. Both use this rough hewn, elliptical style and quickness of pace to approximate the young vibrant feelings of youth. The acting is used to "naturalistic" ends, though much more so in the Cassavetes film. In the end both films herald a New Wave with a borrowing of another style: they are films as the best jazz.

Shadows is the sort of film that makes me reevaluate my top 10 of all time.

Southerners are funny.

Phil Morrison's Junebug nearly derails itself in its first half hour. As the prodigal son with strong wife Madeleine returns to his quirky family in North Carolina, the southern stereotypes fly fast and low. Every simple laugh is trotted out, from the uneducated little brother to the disapproving-of-modern-women mother and put upon father. Brother Johnny's wife Ashley fawns over Madeline, and their religion is also seen as oddball.

After that first half hour, however, the film rights itself into an acutely observed set of moments from what quickly begin to feel like real people. Its as if Morrison want to get the perfunctory jokes out of the way before he can fill in those sketches as humans. Madeleine's trip reveals more to her about her husband in unguarded moments with his family than in all the passionate episodes that seem to make up the whole of their relationship.

Working as a wonderfully minor film, Junebug is as solid as an indie film seems to get these days. Even if film attendance is in steady decline this year, I hope good performances, strong writing and confident direction can get people in the theaters. At least, I pray they can.

Post-Junebug Top 10:
1. Broken Flowers
2. Last Days
3. Hustle & Flow
4. Kung Fu Hustle
5. Batman Begins
The 40 Year Old Virgin
7. Grizzly Man
8. Junebug
9. Happy Endings
10. March of the Penguins

Le Mepris.

Jean-Luc Godard is my second favorite filmmaker after Orson Welles. Band of Outsiders is one of my top ten films of all time, and Breathless, Alphaville, A Woman is a Woman are all close behind. I love his style, the roughness, the cinema-obsession, the romance, the politics. Contempt has hung out for a while on my DVDs to see list, and I bought it a few months ago blind because I had heard such good things. Watching 600 movies for the festival has pushed it back, but I finally caught up to it last night.

As much as I love the New Wave, Truffaut's Day for Night left me cold and I was worried about Godard's most explicit New Wave-era film about filmmaking. I watched Contempt and was shocked to see that it is really not about filmmaking hardly at all, and is instead an amazingly detailed look at a dissolving relationship, with moments so simply true that they are shocking.

In the end this is a minor note from Godard, one he clearly himself has issues with and one that doesn't come together as well as Breathless or Alphaville. Godard clearly demonstrates the axiom that bigger budgets don't mean better films. He needs the constraints of working on small films in order to say something large. Contempt is very good and very interesting but probably the least of the Godard films I have seen.

I hate Harvey Weinstein.

There is a good movie somewhere in The Brothers Grimm. You can see Gilliam's hands all over the film, even if it's clear that this is a "look ma I can make money too" effort. But, as is the film feels so choppy, so disjointed that it is like a collection of random scenes and not a cohesive effort. The Weinstein Brother's interference has killed this films chances of being good. Credit for that also goes to Ehren "Worst Writer in Hollywood" Krueger, whose script is not much more than a hodgepodge of Grimm fairy tale alluions and stilted set pieces.

The acting is actually fairly strong, with a nice turn by Heath Ledger, but the movie really aches for Samantha Morton, who was originally cast in the female lead. The woman Weinstein forced on Gilliam instead is a sub-Keira Knightley hot action chick. It kills me that Weinstein nixed Morton almost certainly because he wanted a "prettier" actress. Morton is one of the most beautiful actress in the world, which means that Harvey is an idiot.

In the end this is a failure of a film. It is still entertaining, sometimes frightening, but never engrossing. This rivals Jabberwocky for Gilliam's worst film, though that still makes it art compared to Dukes of Hazzard. Hopefully this will make money for the studio so that Gilliam can get some level of respect from the backers, and get more films made.

At least we have a real Gilliam project, Tideland, later in the year.

Bill Murray is God.

Bill Murray is the greatest screen comic actor of the sound era. He's in two of my top five movies of all time (#3 Royal Tennenbaums and #6 Ghostbusters). Even now with the laconic, underplayed persona he invented with Wes Anderson Murray can make you laugh till it hurts.

Which is why it's so funny that even though the new Jim Jarmusch film is being sold as a comedy, and it is funny, this is the most straight-forward dramatic part Murray has played since The Razor's Edge(a great flick by the way). Broken Flowers in the minimalist's minimalist romantic drama. It just happens to be funny so that it isn't so opressivly sad, and because the audience is condidtioned to laugh at Bill Murray.

And Murray is great in this film, if not quite at Rushmore levels. A viewer has to take a leap to buy into his underplaying, but once you are there you see that the blankness isn't that at all, it's canvas for his director.

Jarmusch shines in the film. He's not the American Ozu or Hsien, but something more his own. Let's face it, Ozu would never be called a hipster, but then again I think that might piss Jarmusch off as well. I think Broken Flowers is a plea. It is begging the world to find human connection and to see ironic detachment for what it is: childish insecurity.

Post-Broken Flowers Top 10:
1. Broken Flowers
2. Last Days
3. Hustle & Flow
4. Kung Fu Hustle
5. Batman Begins
6. Grizzly Man
7. Happy Endings
8. Layer Cake
9. The 40 Year Old Virgin
10. March of the Penguins

Apatow is better than McKay.

40 Year Old Vigin is the best of all the frat pack movies for a simple reason, and his name is Judd Apatow. Yeah I know that Freak and Geeks was amazing and that Undeclared was too, but his days on broadcast are done with, folks. Judd is now a movie director.

This film is so much better than the utterly disapointing Wedding Crashers (which had about 15 minutes of funny dispersed into a 100 minute film), mostly because the writing from Carell and Apatow is just so damned likable. You have to have the character arcs of Wedding Crashers to even begin to stand Vaughn and Wilson, but this set of guys comes off as sweet even if they aren't boyscouts.

So can Steve Carell carry movies now? I'd like to think so, but you can't tell from 40 Year Old Virgin. This is the height of goofy ensemble comedy, with probably your best improvising cast this side of Christopher Guest. It actually manages to be genuinely
affecting and of course, the best ending of any comedy this year.

Post-The 40 Year Old Virgin Top 10:
1. Last Days
2. Hustle & Flow
3. Kung Fu Hustle
4. Batman Begins
5. Grizzly Man
6. Happy Endings
7. Layer Cake
8. The 40 Year Old Virgin
9. Sin City
10. March of the Penguins

Kevin Costner doesn't care.

So Stacey was watching The Bodyguard this morning, and it just hit me. Kevin Costner just doesn't care about anything he has ever done. Look at him in this movie, it's like he's doing someone a favor every second he's on-screen. And it pisses him off.

"I have to sleep with pre-crack Whitney in this scene, damn it, how did I get talked into this?"

Costner only works well in films specifically tailored to that personality trait, i.e. he could give a shit all the time. Watch Fandango(still his best movie) or Bull Durham and then it makes sense. But in anything where he should really be proactive, not the loser he's best at, is just painful to watch.

And the fact he has a Best Director Oscar while Welles, Altman, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Kubrick don't should make us all cry a little on the inside.

Timothy Treadwell was batshit insane.

So I saw Grizzly Man last night at the Dobie. We did it as an AFF screening and it was packed. Sat on the front row, which I usually hate, but it's not so bad at Dobie 2.

The film was fantastic. Herzog might get an Oscar for this, he deserves to. Better than March of the Penguins, though still a little slow in the middle, the best part of the film was Herzog's own ideas about Treadwell. His examination of Treadwell as a filmmaker was great, and the two scene sequence of Herzog listening to the audio of Treadwell's death and then an extended, silent bear-fight was bravara filmmaking.

In an odd way I totally respect Treadwell, even though he was a crazy bear fetishist. I feel very sad for his girlfriend that also died, but not at all for Treadwell himself. This was literally the way he would have prefered to have gone.

Post-Grizzly Man Top Ten:
1. Last Days
2. Hustle & Flow
3. Kung Fu Hustle
4. Batman Begins
5. Grizzly Man
6. Happy Endings
7. Layer Cake
8. Sin City
9. March of the Penguins
10. Ong Bak

So It Goes...

I'm starting a screening log.

So to begin things, two top ten lists. They change all the time, but anyway...

First, favorite films of all time:
1. Citizen Kane
2. Rashoman
3. The Royal Tennenbaums
4. Dr. Strangelove
5. Playtime
6. Ghostbusters
7. Band of Outsiders
8. Breaking the Waves
9. Lawrence of Arabia
10. Hannah and Her Sisters

Next, favorite movies of 2005, so far:
1. Last Days
2. Hustle & Flow
3. Kung Fu Hustle
4. Batman Begins
5. Happy Endings
6. Layer Cake
7. Sin City
8. March of the Penguins
9. Ong Bak
10. The Devil's Rejects