Mineshaft Gap

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

Stark life.

Cassavetes' Faces shook me to my core. It easily stands as one of the best acted films I have ever seen, as well as one of the finest scripts. The quick, documentary style camera work is also brilliantly effective creating a superb fly on the wall feeling that frequently makes the viewer feel perverse for watching.

Gena Rowlands, John Marley, Lynn Carlin, and Seymour Cassel all deserved Oscars for this film. Turning on a dime, these characters all act and more importantly interact closer to real humans than perhaps any other characters in the American cinema. For my viewing, the two centerpiece scenes are Marley and Carlin at the table and Carlin and Cassel in the bedroom. Anyone who has seen the film should be able to immediately identify those striking sequences. The repression and viciousness in the husband-wife scenes are handled with care that they don't become camp, and with an eye toward authenticity. The breeziness with which they assault each other all leads eventually to the later seen, where Carlin's wife character attempts suicide and the rather unfortunate boy brought into the mix must be her rescuer, but only to his own point.

The film is filled with glances, moments when the faces are caught without a role being played. Rowland's prostitute probably has the best handful of these perfect stolen instants, revealing more than even she might have known about the character. All in Faces play types, but Cassavetes' brilliant script doesn't allow them to rest in shallow territory long. By the end we feel that we know every major character in the film, simply by body language or the inflection on words. They feel like people.

With the two Cassavetes films I have seen, I already want to declare him the greatest American filmmaker post-Welles(well, post-major Welles). I had never seen Cassel outside Wes Anderson, and it is amazing to see the sexual danger he exudes here. Marley is both heart breaking and infuriating and Carlin is wrenching. Rowlands also tears you in two. The common denominator? Cassavetes must go down as the best actor's director ever. And his visuals dovetail so beautifully with the acting that he is brilliant there as well.

Faces is a landmark film, both in film history and for me personally.

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


Watched a really underappreciated little gem the other night. Neil Jordan's The Good Thief just worked on all the levels. Great heist caper, good characters, great acting and interesting visuals.

The real kicker was Nick Nolte, yes he of Bill the Cat-look alike fame. What an amazing performance from a guy who really seemed to be washed up. Plus the Russian actress that played Anne is incredibly attractive, and looks like my girlfriend(lucky me!).

Even though I am an avowed French New Wave obsessive, I've never seen Bob le flambeur, a touchstone film for the Cahiers crowd. I really need to now, if just to compare it to Jordan's excellent remake.

I really wish more people had seen this when it was out.

A Very Gothic Romance.

For no apparent reason, I really like Tim Burton. While he'll probably never hit the highs of Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood again, I still look forward to each of his films with anticipation.

And, yes, I did suffer through Planet of the Apes.

I thought that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had no real point to exist, but it wasn't a bad movie. Corpse Bride looked really good on the horizon, a return to more classical Burton.

And for the most part, it does seem a return to form. The German Expressionist set design, a more subdued Johnny Depp, the Goth kid in a candy store feel to the whole production. The film's wonderful opening song maybe set my expectations a little too high. For a moment it makes you think this might live up to Nightmare Before Christmas, but only for a moment. Quickly what we get is a fairly plain, predictable story with gorgeous set dressing. Through a series of misunderstandings, Vincent is pulled away from his budding romance with his betrothed. Quickly Vincent gets accidentally married to the Corpse Bride, and he is pulled into the underworld. Somewhere in the really awful exposition song in a skeleton bar, I drifted away. The movie meanders with no discernible point for most of this second act, though it does manage to pull itself back together for a solid finale. Somehow Burton manages a stirringly beautiful final image.

While the story really has little to recommend it, I still would urge people to go out for it. The artistry of the puppet design, and beauty of the sets, and some really fine camera work make the film a great piece of visual art, even if it falls short of great drama. And over some of the more glossy CG spectacles with little else to offer is the tactile beauty of a dying art. Practical animation, puppets, clay or even hand drawn cells, are dying out. I am a huge fan of Pixar, but I really would hope that there is still a place for this sort of art in the movies.

A Spinal Tap Review of The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

The Exorcism of Shitty Film.


After Martin Scorsese lost yet again in the Oscars this year, I was mad. Not Bill Murray loses to Sean Penn mad, but up there. So in protest I headed out and bought the first Scorsese boxset that had been released. It featured one of my favorite movies, Goodfellas as well as four that I had never seen before. Yes, somehow I got to 21 without seeing Mean Streets. It's taken me a while to work through them, but I finally got to After Hours the other night.

Wow. That's all I can say. Playing like an essay in favor of the auteur theory, Scorsese's dark, bitter, funny film bears his fingerprints on every frame. From the long, painstaking tracking shots to the locations in SoHo to the cosmically doomed characters this is a SCORCESE FILM in all caps. It also, however plays like a breath of fresh air from a man who had taken maybe one to many steps towards Hollywood. After the debacle of the first attempt at The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese needed to refind himself. He did that by expanding on his oevrue at the same time.

Who knew Marty could be this funny. Credit also goes to a wicked little screenplay, but Scorsese's own impeccable visual timing is what really clicks. His tracking shot reveals show the same mastery of the camera as comedy as Woody Allen.

After Goodfellas and tied with Raging Bull, this is my second favorite Scorsese film.

Ahead of their time.

Sadly enough, I used to love the TV series Just Shoot Me. Not a great show in retrospect, but there will always be a line from it that will stick with me. The George Segal character once said, "There's a Marx Brothers movie on TV. I love the Marx Brothers, they make me laugh." Never have a truer words been spoken on a TV series.

The Marx Brothers are just plain funny. No matter what else is going on in their films, there is only one intention: they want you to laugh until it hurts. Played over an over on television, it seems that it would be impossible to live in this country and not seen one of their films, yet a quick survey of my friends, a fairly well read and knowledgeable group, showed none had seen even one of their movies. I decided this just couldn't continue, saw a couple days ago several of us attended a screening of the 1932 Marx Brothers vehicle, Horse Feathers.

The fourth film of the Brothers early Paramount period, Horse Feathers exists in that wonderful time known as pre-Code. Before Will Hayes and his Production Code reigned in all the sex and violence of 1920s Hollywood, there were a brief handful of sound years in which artists didn't have to conform to a set of standards. Coming in at he beginning of sound, the Marx Brothers early comedies stuck much closer to their vaudeville roots than did the later MGM period, which retained all the anarchy without most of the sexuality(though Groucho could always get a couple of lines through the cracks). It is amazing how hilariously dirty their movies can be.

It is amazing how well a film like Horse Feathers holds up today. The plots are always razor thin, Horse Feathers has to do with a college and the big football game, but telling a story isn't anyone's goal here. And sure the musical interludes play a little longer than they should and some of the references have dated, but the underlying weirdness of the setpieces are the obvious forefathers of even the current Frat Pack actors. How about this exchange between Chico and a man he is trying to kidnap:

You gotta brother?
Mullen: No.
Chico: You gotta sister?
Mullen: Yeah.
Well-a, you sister, she's a very sick man, you better come with us.
Yeah? What happened to her?
She hadda accident in her automobile. Mullen: Ah, she has no automobile.
Well-a, maybe she's-a fall off-a horse. I don't-a look very close. Come on, we take you in our car.

It's all just so amazingly odd, in a way that you can try to quote to others without ever being able to grasp the exact inflections that made it funny in the first place.

If it's at all possible, try and see any Marx Brothers film with an audience. They were meant to be see with people rolling in the aisles, and the best thing is that people still will. The Marx Brothers were so ahead of their time they may never lose their luster.

I can't finish this without one Groucho quote, so here's my favorite from Horse Feathers:

"I married your mother because I wanted children, imagine my disappointment when you arrived."

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.

Just got out of my first 30s Cinema History screening, we watched a Burns and Allen short and What Price, Hollywood? which basically defines the prototypical "well made film". Mary Evans is a lowly strugguling actress trying to make it big into pictures. Somehow she lucked into a job at the legendary Brown Derby as a waitress, and she gets her golden opportunity when the legendary, and currently drunk, film director Max Carey walks in before his big premiere. They hit it off, he puts her in his next picture, producers loves her and makes her a star. It's all standard stuff, easily producible and marketable (which is probably why it was made into A Star is Born with Judy Holiday and again with Barbara Streisand).

What sets this apart, however, is overall quality of every aspect of the production. This was George Cukor's eight film in his first three years in Hollywood. As the wave of the talkies came in Broadway talent came with it, Cukor was a successful Broadway director who eventually would become one of the great old Hollywood directors. Not much of a visual stylist, Cukor had an amazing touch with his actors. In What Price, Hollywood? Cukor had his second major production and his first that really established him as a "woman's director", shorthand for the fact that he was gay. Constance Bennet had a long career, but was never better than playing Mary here. She brings enough innocence that is perfunctory for the part, but it is her strength that sets her apart. The repartee with Lowell Sherman's Max shows that this woman is no one to be taken lightly, and the film actually manages of avoid the pitfall of making Mary into a martyr. When life begins to crumble in the third act, it is all natural, sympathetic stuff and not a cliche of debauchery that would so soon be established for films like this.

The key strength is the film's Oscar nominated screenplay by Jane Murfin and Ben Markson. Godard once said that Hollywood had all the best writers, and this is a great example. Murfin was a veteran Hollywood writer, dating from the silents of the late teens. Markson was new on the scene, a Broadway writer with this as only his fourth credit. Together they crafted a script that really prefigured the screwball comedies that would come about in 1934. In fact, Constance Bennet turned down a role in It Happened One Night, usually considered to be the first of the genre. Filled with witty one liners from Mary and Max as well as your typical oddball comic relief in producer Julius Saxe, these lines would feel just as at home with William Powell or Myrna Loy.

The film just holds up so incredibly well. If I put on my Socialist hat for a moment I have issues with this sort of film being made at the height of the depression, what with its opulence and worship of capitalism. And the pro-feminist side of me balks at a scene in which the debonair playboy forces Mary to eat with him, but those criticisms fall aside because the whole endeavor is just so damned fun.

In a room full of 40 film majors, all ready to rip this apart, it won it's audience over the old fashioned way, with strong acting, directing and writing. If only Hollywood still made movies that way.

The Most Disturbing Screening of Any Film I Have Ever Been To.

I went to see Gone With the Wind today at the Paramount. I am now profoundly disturbed. Unbeknownst to me the screening was heavily attended by a group of pathetic rednecks who decided to hoot and holler every time anything vaguely anti-Northern came on. I nearly vomited when the crowd cheered Scarlett shooting the union deserter. They weren't cheering her killing a potential attacker, they were cheering her killing a Yankee. I was born and raised in Texas yet this outlook still baffles me. What is it that makes southerners hold onto their Civil War heritage? To me this is a blight on the history of the south, not something that should be held up as a positive.

I wasn't much happier with the film itself. Shockingly I had never seen wind before, and it's blatant and pervasive racism caught me off guard. To me the idea that any aspect of the so-called genteel ante-bellum life should be held onto is disgusting. This society has nothing worth reminiscing over.

The film is actually fairly weak in my opinion. Strong performances from Gable and Leigh and great cinematography make it watchable, but it is little more than 3 and a half hours of melodrama. I really think that the only reason that the film is still watched is by the klan crowd and for its ability to maintain itself over its running time.

Gable, however, is a God of cool.

Heart of Darkness.

It takes a Brazilian to make Hollywood's best British thriller in years. Let's get the accolades out of the way up front. The Constant Gardener is a great film, one of the best of the year as well as its most politically conscious. Though it works first as another entry into the "white people in darkest Africa" genre, it is Meirelles that takes it into new places. His work in City of God was revelatory, and here he brings true knowledge of the third world into a thriller with a "civilized" first world view. He knows where the story is here, and it's not with the white aid workers. Its the Africans, and we shouldn't forget it.

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz both give their finest performances of their careers. That's not saying much for Weisz who is wonderful here but has been quite bad in some other films (Confidence anyone?) but Ralph Fiennes turns in one for the ages. He is a master of repression during disaster, and his face acting brings an audience into his pain as well as any actor alive. Plus, Bill Nighy is good in everything I have ever seen him in

Liberal filmmaking is such an inherently difficult genre to work in successfully. To make a film like this you have to feel it so deeply that you want to shout from the rooftops. The only problem is when that exuberance for the message completely overshadows the storytelling. For 2/3 of the film, Meirelles completely avoids this pitfall, his story is taut and does not pause for proselytizing. The third act walks much closer to the edge than it should, but to its credit only falls over on a couple of occasions. That Meirelles has managed to make a film that exists first to tell a message and then to tell a story, yet make it utterly compelling and tension filled at all times is amazing. This officially puts him on the map of great world directors.

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

Lars von Trier's favorite Godard.

Godard can be such a bipolar filmmaker, especially in the New Wave period. His films bounce from joviality to pain, from heightened romance to observed realism. Even within many of his films the mood can change without notice.

My Life to Live has little to none of the lightness of A Bout de Souffle or Bande a Parte. Both of those films were melancholy, in a way Wes Anderson would later base his career on, but Vivire sa Vie is just plain sad. But in doing so it also speaks much more deeply to human disconnection than his other films had hinted at.

Though he was often called a misogynist, in this film Godard seems to be playing with the virgin/whore dichotomy. Anna Karina's performance, drawn from Dreyer's Joan of Arc, is the clear midpoint between the silent film and von Trier's female martyrdom explorations. Though the paternalism can still be seen on the edges, this is definitely on of Godard's more sensitive efforts.

A word about the last scene. In a word it is one of the most unexpected powerful moments I have ever seen on film. Breathtaking.