Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Watch

I caught a little bit of Days of Wine and Roses last night, a film that stars Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as an average sliced-white-bread American married couple slowly succumbing to horrific alcoholism. Of particular note is Lemmon's relapses, which are both built up and led into in a way such that you know they're going to occur, and yet they are no easier to watch. Lemmon is at his absolute best. He is unafraid to depict an alcoholic at his most desperate, portraying him as a creature who's lost all their humanity and truly lives for one thing - more booze. He pleads, rages, crawls, bawls, has a temper-tantrum, and utterly debases himself - it's truly more horrifying than most scary movies, and is a testament to the great actor's skill. The glimpse I saw of the movie reveals one that is not enjoyable to watch, but should be watched - because in the end, the purpose of some cinema is not to entertain. Lemmon claws at us, challenging us, and tearing apart the complacent and zombie-like attitude that we all too often adopt when we sit down to watch movies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Meaning of Life (2005)

Some movies leave little explanation and cry out for interpretation. The Meaning of Life, a 35 mm animated short film both directed and written by Don Hertzfeldt is one of those. The plot, if you could call it a plot, is quite simple.

We begin with grey and white abstract forms that immediately call to mind chaos, in the Genesis sense: 'tohu vavohu." The world begins. A stick figure of a supine man comes into the scene, bathed in white. He gently falls down to the bottom of the scene as his body withers and decays - life, into death, we are too think. The title of the film comes to mind - what is the meaning of life? All we are, after all, will simply rot and fester into nothing.

Meaning cannot be found in the nothingness that is death, so Hertzfeldt shows us life - perhaps we may find our answer here. But life, according to Hertzfeldt, is apparently empty, at least superficially. He depicts life in a magnificent way. Stick figures pace back and forth, muttering to themselves and each other the same phrases over and over again. A woman walks by, vapidly repeating, "I want it. I want it." People get in fights. People worry. People fret, people smile. Most people are distraught in some way. The ones that aren't seem to be either faking their joy or are too foolish to know differently. And recall - these are complicated emotions being portrayed magnificently with scribbles and stick figures.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shout out, Yo.

Our little blog got mentioned by a larger, more successful blog - and best of all, our name was properly translated in the comments (apparently, we mean "The Crazy Ones of Film." And I'm ok with that.).

So, in a little gesture of our appreciation, we're gonna give a shout out, yo, to the blog of Emily L. Hauser, who writes quite well on a large array of topics, her Middle East/Israel ones being quite passionate, illuminating, and interesting. Go on over, check her stuff out. It will not disappoint.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Une Femme est une femme (1961)

Whenever I begin watching a previously unseen Jean-Luc Godard movie, I always need a minute to adjust to Godard's unique style. In this, A Woman is a Woman is no exception. The movie begins jarringly, a quick flash of brightly colored title cards that fill the screen one word at a time, and from which we are supposed to deduce the nature of this particular movie, which is an homage to theatrical musical comedy. When character appears on screen, we're not really sure who's who, what they're doing, etc. The music stops and starts, as if to deliberately make us uncomfortable, but perhaps, seeing as how this is a Godardian take on musical comedy, it is just his version of the orchestra warming up.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Not Knowing When to Say When

Sometimes, we like to aphorize.

Don’t mess with a good thing, because you’ll probably fuck it up.

For god’s sake, don’t make simple successful things more complicated.

If it isn’t broke, then leave well the fuck alone.

The case that proves these points: The upcoming (already arrived?) Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has had some most heinous acts of content-vandalism committed on its plot. Now, a disclosure: I have not seen the movie. I have read a (one!) review on it, but that’s enough – it told me all I need to know. I don’t really intend to see the film until it pops up on television. Even then, I probably won’t go out of my way to see it – more likely, I’ll be flipping channels and see it on, and then go to see what else is on, but since there is nothing more interesting on I’ll check it out – and then, I fear, I’ll inevitably abandon it swiftly. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where Do the Delicious Flavors of the World Come From? Do You Even Have to Ask?

The answer, as all our savvy readers know, is that all amazing things, including deliciousness, come from New Jersey. Here's the trailer of what will be an awesome documentary on those flavors (the documentary is a bit less fawning over the flavors and presumably a bit more tongue in cheek):

The Spice Trade Expedition from anfw on Vimeo.

If you want to find out more, go here. The documentary (documentary? No. 'Tis a quest) is still in progress, but check out their websites for updates. It should be excellent insofar as it will provide a unique behind-the-scenes look at the flavor industry. To give you some idea as to the dogma the movie is trying to propagate, their ideals and motivations seem to be in line with Michael Pollan's, but perhaps not (my vote is that they are).

The flavor industry is one of the more ubiquitously experienced industries - but one of the most secretive and unknown. Manufacturers guard their recipes jealously, as they should, because they truly develop amazing things. I drive by a factory that produces, depending on the day, strawberries and cream flavors, maple syrup flavors, chocolate, etc. Most processed foods contain them. Check out Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser - he discusses them a little, visits a factory, and samples some flavors. As proof of how awesome and specific the flavorings can be, he relates smelling one that is identical in essence to a grilled hamburger. Crazy.

We can have any range of opinions on natural and artificial flavorings. As a cook, I am torn. For one, I understand the criticism - they are generally symptomatic and emblematic of America's over-processed and poor food habits. They exist, mostly, to make extremely, hyper-processed foods taste better, because the processing has killed all flavor. They make the unpalatable super palatable. And, they generally taste...cheap. Take fake maple syrup v. real maple syrup.

On the other hand, I have two things to say in favor of them. A) Beverages - while sugary beverages are clearly unhealthy, I have trouble seeing anything philosophically troubling with adding concentrated essences to water to make a drink - isn't this similar to the bitters that I use for cocktails? B) While some of these flavoring are made using chemistry and scientific processes...when I make a concentrated, delicious veal stock, what am I doing but using chemistry and heat to make veal flavoring?

These are not airtight arguments for or against. Personally, I think if we are to improve our food system, there are much more egregiously bad things to worry about than flavorings. But I hope I've provided...food for thought. Perhaps added some flavor to your opinions. Or at least...spiced up the arguments. 

So, check this flick out, and stay tuned for the completed product. It will be...delicious?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No More Projectionists

Slate has an interesting article on the dying art of the projectionist, what used to be a skilled, technical position.

"Before, you used to have to take a 100-question exam to become a licensed projectionist," Ramos says. "And you had to know electricity, you had to know your currents and your storage and so forth, and you also took a practical exam. But they dumbed it down to a 40-question exam, and the department of consumer affairs took over testing rather than the bureau of gas and electricity. So managers were able to get their license and run the theater, run the box office, run everything, for ten bucks an hour."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Weekend Cinema: Mondo Cane (1962) and Vivre Sa Vie: Film en Douze Tableaux (1962)

Somehow, I ended up watching two interesting, yet slightly off putting movies from 1962: Mondo Cane (A Dog's Life), an Italian movie that apparently spawned the 'shockumentary' genre and Vivre Sa Vie: Film en Douze Tableaux (My Life to Live: A Film in 12 Tableau), a Godard flick starring Anna Karina as a woman who turns to whoring.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blood Simple (1984)

Blood Simple is the debut movie of the Coen Brothers. How has time treated this movie from the Golden Age of Culture that was the 1980's?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent movie from 1928 has been referred to as one of the better movies ever made. And, now that I've watched, I have to confirm that assesment. This movie is absolutely fantastic. Easily one of the most powerful movies I have ever watched, with one of the most intense performances by an actress.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monsieur Hulot

Monsieur Hulot is the man. One thing that I like the best is the way Jacques Tati portrays the world, the modern world that is, as a cold, conforming mass, a world of schedules, norms, conventions, and 'how-it-should-be's'. And along comes Monsieur Hulot, who provides the warmth of comedy in this world gone bland, humanity through his numerous good intentions and actions as a true gentlemen. But he also provides heart-rending and touch moments. Monsieur Hulot is a child, in a way, but a child in the sense that he hasn't become embittered, he hasn't forgotten the joys in life that come from the little things, and he hasn't ever, ever bowed down before the wishes of the whole. When he dances with a beautiful young lady at a costume ball or entertains a small child, you feel the joy that he's provided - even though he's only made on-screen characters happy. That, to me, is one of the many reasons that Hulot is one of the best characters, certainly on par with The Little Tramp.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black Sunday (1960)

I have a weakness for monster films, especially those with slightly dubious effects. I get a huge kick, for instance, out of swamp monsters, mummies, and giant lizards that are, in reality, plastic and the size of an average human hand. And so I thought that Black Sunday, (La Maschera del Demonio in the original Italian, but I saw a decently dubbed version) would be one of those films.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Ah, Stroszek. The tale of the colorful outsider Bruno Stroszek, portrayed by the colorful outsider Bruno S. Bruno S. deserves his own story, so I won't go into it now (I've included the link to wiki in case any one is interested). It is worth noting, however, that Werner Herzog wrote the movie specifically for Bruno S. in four days. Very impressive to be able to come up with such a tale of sadness and melancholy alienation in such a short amount of time, let alone composing a film that plays so specifically and well to an actor's characteristics. But that was certainly one of Herzog's strengths, i.e. all of his films with Kinski.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Leviathan filmmaking.

Maybe cinema is the medium through which artists most acutely express their vantage of the world. A conglomerate of skills and mediums exploding with vibrant images, probing narratives, and tightly honed technical prowess, film IS art. To view a film is to act as an detective, noting the subtle, often transparent, techniques used in its creation and in its presentation. A slight alteration in lighting or camera angle can shift the mood or message of an entire scene. A good director or filmmaker, if nothing else, is deliberate. A choice is not a whim for these few. Do you think there is anything in an Orson Wells movie that he did not mandate to be there? Not likely. When Fellini constructs a vast, multi-layered scene with seemingly endless scope, he does so meticulously. Each layer carefully planned and contemplated for a reason. After all, this is how you create a masterpiece.
This task, overbearing scrutiny, is falling to the wayside in the contemporary film industry. So seldom is a film created that represents a filmmaker’s desires and his desires alone. I believe that the formula for success is not having a skilled team of experts each responsible for a piece of the puzzle, but one leviathan manifesting his own mind. This separates the wheat from the chaff. A shit director can skate by because his special effects team is tremendous or she hired good writers only to result in an average movie. A movie that might make some money, might be talked about for about eight minutes and then quickly forgotten. This is fine and provides pockets of entertainment here and there. Lord knows I need the breaks from everyday life. In the end, there are good movies and there are bad movies, they each requires a vision of some kind, but the great movies are those which emerge from the mind of a sole creator. A diabolical mastermind churning up thematic depth and projecting it thirty feet wide and luminous. This is how Antonioni did it. The Cohen Brothers, Di Sica, all of the greats. They made movies that baffle us in their complexity. Too much for more than one mind to handle.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Finally saw Invictus this weekend, and I gotta say that opinion-wise, I’m torn. On the one hand, the acting was fantastic. Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela is probably the best match-up of actor-historical character, and must’ve been the easiest casting call to make. Hell, you don’t have to put makeup on Freeman, and Mandela, a man of quiet dignity that radiates awe is exactly the type of character that Freeman has consistently excelled at playing. Also, Matt Damon was pretty good – his South African accent was declared by a South African acquaintance of mine as perfect. The story is also quite nice, and its refreshing to see a sport other than football, baseball, or basketball depicted in a widely distributed movie, and one that clearly had Oscarian aspirations.

On the other hand…The movie was about the racial bonding that this game enabled. Obviously, this isn't a problem in-itself. The problem was how this theme was depicted and developed - it was done in  such a run-of-the-mill Hollywood way that was boring and sometimes annoying. I can’t even tell you how many times an Afrikaaner, who formerly talked disparagingly about the blacks, looks over a black man or woman with a disarming and knowing smile, as if to say ‘Hey, no worries…I’ve learned better. All that racial shit before…nah....I’ve grown. So, let’s go watch rugby.” RRRR. RRR. I know. The movie’s plot dwelt on that point, and it was important that the audience came out of the movie really realizing just how bad things were before, and how helpful the game really was. But at the same time…I feel that moments such as that are just cheap ways of demonstrating the point, tugging at the heartstrings almost in a wishy-washy, non-confrontational way (not that those adjectives apply, per se to that scene - the scene just gives of that sort of vibe). And yet the happened again and again.

Furthermore, the rugby scenes weren’t especially good. Again, a South African acquaintance, “All the Americans thought there was too much rugby in the movie, all the Africans thought there wasn’t enough.” He also said that the rugby scenes weren’t well done, because they used actors, not rugby players. I don’t know anything about rugby, and to me it did look like they were playing pretty hard. But rugby is a hell of a sport, and I can believe that it gets tougher, rougher, and more violent than depicted. I didn’t think there was too much rugby though. I thought what rugby there was was A) incredibly difficult to understand. The scoreboard was rarely shown, which was obviously a poor move, considering it’s a sport that so few Americans understand. Show us the scoreboard, because any audience will at least understand points.

B) Slow motion. The last play of the game, the great one, the monumental and historical game, was played in slow motion. And it slo-moed for quite a while. Ten minutes, it seemed. I have to say that at one point in my brief life, slow motion in sports movies worked for me. It built the dramatic tension, emphasized how hard the game was, etc. Now, I’m done. It’s another cheap trick that has lost much luster. I can’t take it seriously. I hear slow motion grunts, I see everything slow motion…I get bored. Honestly, what should have been a climactic scene failed to move me and truthfully bored me. Perhaps they could have used the slo-mo sparingly, and that would have worked. But they blocked out everything at quarter speed, or whatever slow down they did. And then, of course, because of all the slow motion power, they win (well, not really. But its very easy to say that, considering they weren't winning until the play-speed was slowed down drastically. So maybe they had more time to push? I don't know. Never played slow motion rugby). Anyway I can’t begrudge the movie that they won – it’s a true story, and they did win (that’s just a gripe of mine about sports movies – teams always win. Except for Friday Night Lights, which also used a bunch of slo-mo. But that seemed to work there, I think, because it flowed seamlessly with the soundtrack provided by Explosions in the Sky, that drony, electronic violin sounding stuff. And I know that teams need to win in sports movies, because otherwise, who cares. Just a gripe.)

Another annoying thing about Invictus. When Freeman, as Mandela descends via helicopter to wish the team good luck, some song that is remarkably corny comes on. My god. They couldn’t have chosen a worse song. Something about overcoming odds, or ignoring black and white…I don’t know. Awful. I was embarrassed for the movie. Samantha, who watched the movie with me, stated, “Someone really wanted to get that song in this movie.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. If anyone has seen Prince Caspian, and recalls the song that plays right before the credits…well, it was like that. Perhaps a producer thought this song could be the next Celine Dion Titanic song. Well, producer, you were wrong. It was a crap choice.

This review makes it seem as though I really didn’t like the movie. Not at all. The reason I’m laying out these complaints is because it was a good movie that could have been really, really great, if not for these simple mistakes that stand out so loudly. At times, the movie just was too…Hollywoody? Let me explain one more instance. The two bodyguards, white guy and black guy are watching the game (these are the more ‘second in command’ bodyguards. Also, what follows has nothing to do with whether they are black or white- this is just the easiest way to differentiate the  two). First, the white guy, who is a huge rugby fan explains to the black guy that the game is going to OT. The black guy says, in predictable Hollywood fashion, “I can’t look” or something of that ilk. Yeah, yeah, a little humor. But that is the humorless humor, the obligatory Hollywood humor that exists to draw chuckles, because it inevitably does, to break tension, to, to, to accomplish nothing as regards the plot, to contribute nothing significant to the history of humor, and for god’s sake its been done so many times before. And then, the worst!! This pair of bodyguards, as everyone is cheering, the team won, awesome, turn to each other, happy, about to hug, and then back off. The “Bros gone almost too far because they got caught up in the moment” moment. Seriously!? I hate that. It was funny the first time it was done. Then, it turned into a capital offense to cinema. Come on, really?

There are many other instances I could relate (the odd asides of story line, like with the little black boy who listens to the white cops’ radio, the twice done trick of "where you think something bad is going to happen, and then poof! its benign!" [newspaper delivery truck, airplane with “Go Bokkes” written on the bottom], the corny [again with the corny, I’m sorry] scene in the jail cell where Damon pictures Freeman reading the poem [that scene could have been much more powerful] and lastly, when Damon tells Freeman “Thank you Mr. President, for what you’ve done for the country,” right after Freeman tells Damon the same thing. That line was the worst acting of the movie and seemed so forced – Damon didn’t say it so much as push it out of his mouth in a wave of aural reluctance).

That little bit above typifies my reaction to Invictus. It was a good movie. But there were just so many of these scenes that I couldn’t focus on the main story of the film – the empowering figure of Nelson Mandela who strove to unite a country that didn’t want to unite, and managed to do it using a powerful symbol of the previously repressive Afrikaaner majority and by using Jesusesque (maybe Gandhish) forgiveness.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Le Million

I just watched an interesting movie from 1931, René Clair's Le Million. I'd have to classify it as a slapdash French comedy that is in the same vein as Looney Tunes, albeit with an operatic twist (it's demi-musical, where sometimes the plot is advance through speech, sometimes through song). 

The plot is simple. A down on his luck Bohemian artiste, who juggles two women and a roommate/friend who is apt to stab him in the back to perform self-interested acts of loyal friendship, is in severe debt to his grocer, butcher, landlord, etc., who have had enough of his constant skirting his bills. Just as the hammer is about to fall, the young artiste finds that he's won the lottery. Unfortunately, one of the two women who happens to be his fiancee has given away his jacket to a burglar on the run from the police. The jacket, of course, has the ticket in the pocket, and our young artiste sets out to reclaim his ticket. Hilarity, song, and French ensues. 

The movie is quite enjoyable. Its not hysterical, by any means, but there are certainly some funny parts. By far the funniest scene is in the police station. The artiste struggles to explain his true identity to an older policeman who clearly has heard this story before. To emphasize this point is an older gentleman who consistently interrupts the gendarme and the artiste to ask, very politely, if he may now go. He is reprimanded time and time again and told that he may not, and must go back and sit on the bench. In the background, if you continue to watch him, he continually puts on his hat, while a gendarme next to him removes it and places it on his lap. Undeterred, he picks it up, and innocently places it on his head as though nothing has happened. This sort of repetitious, innocently confused humor can be seen in The Life of Brian. Brian gives away a gourd to a scruffy bum who keeps interjecting himself into Brian's frantic conversation to haggle over the price, despite the fact that Brian has given it to him (see video). 

As I mentioned before, the movie is reminiscent of the best parts of Looney Tunes, which I clearly am conditioned too, because as I was watching Le Million, I kept expecting Bugs Bunny style things to occur. For instance, people are chasing each other (this happens constantly in the movie). They run by a fire hose. Conditioned to the 'Tunes as I am, I expect one of the characters to grab the hose, spray the other, and then run away. This does not happen. However, true to its comedic slapstick type form, other tropes do occur - slapping someone instead of explaining yourself, then turning tail and running, police who clamp down on the nearest person a la Venus flytraps, regardless of who they are. 

All in all, the movie was quite pleasant, blending a stage musical with a filmed one. Things go wrong, sometimes quite wrong for various characters, but you never feel a sense of dread or unhappiness. Certainly an interesting example of comedy in the '30s (although it doesn't hold a candle to Chaplin or the Marx bros.).

Not Cool, Man

Yet another threat to old film: mold. A venerable British film archive, the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University  is being infected with the mold, which eats the gelatin that coats that film, rendering it permanently useless. The full article can be found here.

Its a real shame. Time and time again we are reminded of the frailty of this medium that we use to immortalize ourselves. Film of course, isn't completely immortal. Think of the incredibly flammable nitrate film bases (for a cinematic moment, recall Cinema Paradiso, when the projector catches fire - not an uncommon occurrence in those days). Luckily we've moved beyond that to mediums that are much more stable, and we have vast digital storage facilities. So we don't have to worry about our  contemporary movies disappearing completely (although maybe some should...{cough..Juwanna Man}), just older film stocks. People are, however, going to great lengths to preserve them, as well they should.

Notably, to me at least, many of the films in the British archives are recordings of daily life - newsreels, home videos, etc., not features. Admittedly, the loss of feature films is a great loss indeed. But these unplanned shots offer us a true look into what life was really like back then - unscripted and messy, aka real. These shots are truly priceless.

Two bits of good news from the article, or at least tepid news  - the mold has so far only affected about 100  out of 20,000 films, and the archives are constructing deep freeze with low humidity to prevent the mold from spreading.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Two 'must see' movies...or at least two that I'm going to make it a point to see

 Movie #1: Machete

Seriously,  this flick is going to be awesome. Highbrow? No. But gory glory? Yes. What else would we want from this faux trailer-turned-feature? By the way, if you read the NYTimes preview of it, which is a glowing a pre-review as you could ever want, look for Stephen Holden's awesome, oh-so-allusional description of Danny Trejo's head as reminiscent of a buffalo nickel. 

Movie #2:  A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop

Apparently Zhang Yimou (director of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) has remade the Coen Brother's debut movie, Blood Simple. A.O. Scott, the Times' chief movie critic par excellence (who displays a remarkable sense of judgment and objectivity. I applaud and admire the way that he is able to review movies that are so obviously terrible or that belong to categories not traditionally known for producing the most haute or well thought out films in the same manner that he'd review a Truffaut or Godard. See, por ejemplo, his most recent review of Going the Distance, which he actually concedes just isn't half bad at all) has set for us a challenge: "Let us leave, at least for now, the pleasures of side-by-side comparison to budding cineastes, who will learn a lot from studying the decisive difference that specific technical choices — having to do with editing, shot selection and sound design — can make with respect to the mood and meaning of a single story." (Here's a link to the Scott article).

So, with that in mind, I intend to take up his challenge and claim the prestigious title (yeah...prestigious) of 'budding cineaste.' Stay tuned for the review. Either way, the Coen's are just fantastic, really, really brilliant directors, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the Zhang Yimou movies mentioned above. I'm certain these movies will deliver, and I look forward to sharing my views on them with you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


This site shall be a venue of cinematic critiques, those of the highest caliber (although the movies might, at times, not live up to that standard). Nevertheless, we strive to edify and educate, and of course illuminate through criticism, that nasty, vile, and all too enjoyable medium.