Sunday, February 07, 2016

"Les quatre cent coupe" (The 400 Blows, Francois Truffaut, 1959), La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke, 2001)

For Francois Truffaut, who would have been 84 today, an old post:

Classical and neoclassical French cinema

Francois Truffaut's first feature film Les quatre cent coups (The 400 Blows, 1959) was mainly a reaction to what Truffaut witheringly called the "tradition of quality." Where "quality" films emphasized production value, Truffaut used everyday Parisian locations; where "quality" films used smooth-gliding camerawork and flawless lighting Truffaut used handheld equipment and available light; where "quality" films were mainly literary adaptations of known classics Truffaut drew from his own life and improvised dialogue on the set.

The result was anything but traditional. One gets the impression of a sketchbook filled with doodles by turns funny, tragic, provocative, sad. One gets the impression of quickly filled spaces, of scenes thought up on the spot, of setups executed on the sly and as quickly dismantled (because the director just thought it up, and possibly didn't have the proper permits ready).

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Brooklyn (John Crowley)

A borough'd life

John Crowley's Brooklyn is a beautifully gauzy dream of a movie where all the folks are helpful and friendly once you get to know them, Coney Island all bright sunshine blue waters and clean sand, and the worst problem a young girl named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) need suffer is a bad case of homesickness for the green green grass of Enniscorthy, Ireland. As for Ireland--

And so on and so on and so forth. The film (capably directed by Crowley out of a script Nick Hornby adapted from a novel by Colm Toibin) is layered nostalgia that as carefully as it can treads a line between sentiment and understatement, realism and stylized idealism, observational comedy and high drama. Is that really what Coney Island circa 1952 was like? Not quite; you only have to look at Abrashkin, Engel and Orkin's The Little Fugitive--released only a year later--to learn just what a raucous littered lively place the seaside resort really was (and still is in a grittier urban-ruin sort of way, with a better-than-even chance of being mugged at night). You wonder though: would that be what a young woman fresh from Ireland might imagine Coney Island to be like? Well--maybe; maybe we're supposed to be seeing the place through Eilis' dewy eyes--

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Big Short (Adam McKay)

The world go 'round

Adam McKay's The Big Short --adapted from Michael Lewis' book of the same name--is a disaster movie played for laughs, only in this case the disaster involves the entire US economy, and when the smoke clears and you have a chance to think about it there's really not a lot to laugh about.

McKay tries his best though. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

The good if not great films of 2015

The good if not great films of 2015

Participated in two End-of-the-Year surveys: Film Comment's and Sight and Sound's, the latter having the advantage of making every voter's list (mine included) available online. 

Two titles that impressed me the most--Aleksei German's Hard to be a God and Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya were released in their respective countries in 2013, on DVD in the USA in 2015; they're included in my 2014 tally. 

Good as the following may be I really haven't found anything that engaged and moved me as much as those two masters' final works (one died, the other retired)--hence my title.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A pair of Burnetts: 'Nightjohn' and 'Selma, Lord Selma'

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an old post:

I suppose Selma, Lord Selma (1999) might be called Burnett's take on the Civil Rights Movement. Easy to wish it had been produced by anyone besides Disney, but that wish is a double-edged sword: if Disney had not coughed up the money, would there be a film at all?

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Peanuts Movie (Steve Martino)


First you have that scribbled line of ink on paper--halfway between a fluid streak and a crabbed scrawl. It's an expressive line, able to describe a round head's frustrated brow or a small beagle's literary ambitions ("It was a dark and stormy night"), able to suggest a child's despair over a grounded kite or a flying ace's ongoing Walter Mitty-style battle with the Red Baron. 

Charles M. Schulz's graphic line, done with an Eastbrook 914 radio pen, managed to exploit its limitations to evoke a boy's titanic struggles with life, a fourlegged dreamer's titanic struggles with imagination. Peanuts was the most minimalist of comic strips--basically four panels, a few characters, some dialogue balloons, a punchline--that nevertheless sketched a moody, strangely melancholic world all its own.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Better films of 2015: The Duke of Burgundy, Force Majeure, The Kindergarten Teacher, Phoenix, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch, Tangerine

Fine wine

A Jess Franco-style pastiche about a lesbian relationship--what else is new? But Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy reminds one of Vladimir Nabokov's most famous novel--you go in expecting a healthy dose of prurience and come out more startled than unsatisfied. The erotica is middling sensual, the kinkiest act in the film performed disappointingly (or titillatingly) behind closed doors, gurgling splash choking gasp and all. Strickland (like Nabokov before him) apparently has other ideas: a precise charting of a relationship's fading glow; the growing sense of obligation, of dreary chore, in what should be sexual play; the encroaching claustrophobic panic as pleasure becomes more and more a dull pain. If Strickland (who wrote and directed) and his good-looking cast (Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D'Anna as the role-playing lovers) don't commit to making an all-out erotic picture they do commit to making a surprisingly supple poignant drama--which I suppose is all the commitment we need, really.