Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): March 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Last Overlook

At the end of every month, I take a moment to highlight some of my posts which may have been passed over in the rush of blogging and blog-reading. This will be my last such attempt, for a couple reasons. One, I don't think it really works (though maybe I'm wrong about that) - when people revisit old posts it tends to be for different reasons. And two, more importantly, I anticipate the Overlook feature becoming unnecessary as The Dancing Image develops in a new direction. I will probably be posting fewer times a month, and leaving my posts atop the blog for longer periods of time (which seems to bring on more reader commentary) as I take a new approach to blogging. But I'll deal with that in a few days. For now, my last Overlook. Why one more? Well, firstly, there are a few posts I would like to bring to your attention. Only three this time, but a worthy - and mostly neglected - trio. Admittedly, however, my primary motivation was somewhat arbitrary. I simply can't close out my punning Overlook series without one last Shining still, probably the most famous image of the titular hotel. Anyway...

1. The Short Films of David Lynch
2. Two Weeks in Another Town
3. Goofy at the Gates of Dawn? (lost posts, great links, and spring cleaning...)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Funny Ha Ha

Not sure what to expect, I was presented with a pleasant surprise in Funny Ha Ha. Actually, that's too light a term, implying a kind of trivial but enjoyable experience. Funny Ha Ha is one of the best films of the decade, and as such it transcends its reputation as the "root" of mumblecore. Watching the movie, it's clear that writer/director/editor Andrew Bujalski did not set out to start a movement, but rather to capture something, an ineffable flavor of post-college life. Funny Ha Ha rings strange bells in 2009, seven years after it was released. I'm sorry, but I can't quite think of 2002, the year I graduated high school and entered college, a year after 9/11, a year before Iraq, as "the past." Yet seven years is a long time - for example, '95 was seven years before '02 and think of the distance between those dates. At times, Funny Ha Ha reveals this distance, but part of its unfamiliarity may have to due with its own idiosyncrasies, as well as the peculiar position it's been put in, as progenitor to a still-growing trend.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Greetings

When it comes to a wide-ranging body of work, it's hard to top Brian De Palma's oeuvre. Would any 1968 viewer of a proudly scrappy underground comedy like Greetings, anticipate that within a decade the same auteur - so clearly recreating Godard on the gritty streets of New York - would be directing baroque, elaborately formal horror films? Or that, within another twenty years Mr. De Palma would be lending his talents to a big-budget, straightforward adaptation of a 60s TV spy show? By now, we're used to directors introducing themselves with a rugged autobiographical indie, only to move on to more mainstream (and usually rather unfortunate) fare. But, putting aside the fact that De Palma was not selling out in his more expensive movies (at least the early ones), we also have to deal with the fact that his early work was not your run-of-the mill low-budget calling card. Greetings presents us with a fully-formed vision, however different from the vision De Palma later cultivated. It has its own forceful ethos, which is why that proverbial '68 audience could be forgiven for expecting De Palma to follow along the path he was cultivating in this early work, instead of virtually abandoning it for fresh ground in another field altogether.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Director's Chair: Cecil B. DeMille - The Cheat

I've been aware of The Cheat for a while, but never saw it until the other night. The massive coffee table tome "The Chronicle of Cinema" contained a brief write-up on the movie, accompanied by a lurid-looking still of a dissheveled Fannie Ward sitting on the edge of a bed where Sessue Hayakawa lay sprawled out, apparently slain by his illicit lover. I think this was my first exposure to the notion that DeMille made successful films outside of the epic genre, but in fact many of his teens and twenties movies were melodramas on the subject of "a wayward wife whose impulsive indiscretions propel her into public scandal, private shame and marital turmoil" (according to the Kino website). But his treatment of this theme is no less flamboyant and entertaining than his approach to the most lavish biblical spectacle and just as in Carmen, the potential misogyny of DeMille's penchant for cheating, manipulative woman is tempered by his complete identification with the female point of view.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City

For those who have seen Dziga Vertov's manic masterpiece first, Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1926) will evoke inevitable comparisons to 1929's Man With a Movie Camera. And those comparisons may redound to Vertov's favor, but they are at least somewhat unfair. For one thing, quite obviously Berlin came first and so, in part, set the template for Movie Camera. Furthermore, the films have unique and divergent traits to offer: Berlin its own titular city, Movie Camera (if I'm not mistaken) both Moscow and Odessa. Berlin has a traditional structure, guiding us through a single day in its metropolis' life, while Movie Camera is not so clearly chronological - its journey leads deeper into the thickets of dizzying reflexivity rather than along any clear time map. Berlin offers a document of a capitalist society, Movie Camera a communist one. But of course, there are a great many similarities between the two, comparisons are inevitable, and yes, Movie Camera is the superior film.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LOL

There's a growing mumble in movieland. Though "mumblecore," the movement (genre? grab-bag?) of no-budget features crafted by twentysomething auteurs and usually dealing with relationships, has been around since 2002, it has mostly been under-the-radar. I myself first heard about these films (which have not been coming to a theater near you) a few years ago in a Village Voice article chronicling a retrospective of the mumblecore canon (these filmmakers work so fast that in the five or so years since Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha, a dozen or so mumblecore movies had already emerged). I did not attend the retro, but have been intrigued ever since, heightened by the slow-burning buzz which has been emerging up to now.

Then, lately, the mumble has turned into more of, well, a whisper at least. First there was Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running, devoting an increasing number of posts to the most self-promoting, and hence most controversial, member of the mumblecore mafia, Joe Swanberg. This led to probably the best comments thread I've ever read in the blogosphere (you can check it out here; please do). Then there was David Denby's excellent, sympathetic ruminations on the subject, which led to some more of Kenny's trademark snark. Meanwhile, in a bookstore the other day, I came across one of those arty little magazines, in this case called "Paste," which featured Swanberg and mumblecore starlet Greta Gerwig on its cover, accompanied by the caption "The Penny-Pinching Future of Indie Cinema." Penny-pinching certainly does sum up the spirit of the times, to the extent that I didn't buy the $5-plus publication, but I did peruse it in the store, and it got me thinking.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

When Steven Spielberg returned to filmmaking after a nearly 4-year break, he laid an egg. I have to regard this movie as an opportunity for Spielberg to find his sea legs again before he attacked the intimidating subject matter of slavery and World War II in his upcoming work. Even so, The Lost World is a cringingly bad movie. No, not in terms of technique - though the CGI has dated badly, the late Stan Winston's animatronics still impress. And Spielberg, even in his most craven hackery, is still a great filmmaker, so we get interesting ideas for shots rather than lots of standard-issue close-ups which most Hollywood movies market these days. But the story is forced (every turn of events a mechanical effort to take us from A to B to C), the action is often ludicrous, and the dialogue consists of stale bon mots sprinkled among wooden, straightforwardly-delivered lectures on the mating habits of various dinosaurs. But as if that wasn't bad enough, the movie sinks itself even further into the miasma of its own terribleness by forcing an unbecoming - and morally loathsome - animal-rights agenda down its audience's throats.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Director's Chair: Cecil B. DeMille - Carmen

This is a significant post for several reasons. It is my fifteenth entry for March, meaning that I have surpassed my output for January and February combined (in other words, The Dancing Image is humming along at full capacity again - though I see the comments have curiously dropped off, unfortunately). It is also my 200th post. And, as you can gather from the title, it is both the renewal and the kickoff of my retitled series, The Director's Chair (formerly known as "THE AUTEURS"). I left off with my conclusions on the work of D.W. Griffith, a logical choice for first auteur. And DeMille, it seems, is the logical second choice, so here we are. Five years after Griffith introduced new craftsmanship into the nascent film industry of New York, DeMille arrived in Los Angeles, future show-biz capital of the movie world, to introduce his brand of flamboyant showmanship into the lifeblood of American cinema.

I've renamed the series "The Director's Chair" because as I look forward to the filmmakers I will (hopefully) cover, I note that many - like George Cukor, or even the highly individualistic John Huston - are not always considered "auteurs." Their projects are highly varied, it is often difficult to discern their artistic "voice" over the course of their career, and they have often been consigned to middling oblivion by prickly auteurists like Andrew Sarris. But I'd like to examine their projects too, and see if I can figure out how they develop over their careers, what consistencies are present throughout, and what the changes and fluctuations tell us about them.

Where does DeMille fit in this rubric? Superficially, he would seem to be the epitome of the auteur: a very definable image (in fact, it is beginning with him that we find many stereotypes of the director which continue to this day), a stardom rare for those behind the camera, and a sensibility which seems present from film to film (maligned as that sensibility may be from time to time). Yet in terms of film style, where the true measure of the auteur is taken, how does DeMille stack up? Commentary on him seems to dry up when it comes to the formal qualities of his work - it's his subject matter and the superficial decoration of his films which receives attention. How did he use the camera, the lights, the editing shears to mould his films? Was there a consistency there? A notable personal style? Or was he simply a glorified name with a run-of-the-mill approach to filmmaking? It's the intention of this series to find out, and I look forward to the task.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Though Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is usually cited as the first full-length animated feature, it is actually The Adventures of Prince Achmed which has a better case to make (excepting some possibly apocryphal Argentinian projects which have been lost). Yet one can see why it has been overlooked in the history books. Aside from the fact that it flopped on its premiere and took fifty years to recoup its cost, Prince Achmed was not a Disney film - in fact it was not even American (and was silent to boot!). The German feature (at sixty-seven minutes, it's longer than Dumbo) was also the brainchild of a woman, Lotte Reiniger, who worked into her eighties producing films in her own unique style - which brings us to the final point. The Adventures of Prince Achmed was not created using conventional cel animation but was instead meticulously assembled through the use of shadow puppets - the entire film takes place in intricate, astonishingly crafted silhouettes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Short Films of David Lynch


What exactly does "Lynchian" mean? Is it dark, surreal imagery, somehow mechanical and organic at the same time, variously gothic and industrial in its visual architecture? Or is it deadpan parody with a surreal edge, amping up the cliches until they become spoofs of themselves and then edge over into a kind of sublime dada kitsch? Does a "Lynchian" story entail multiple narratives which dip in and out of view, subverting and yet strengthening one another? Is it modern? Postmodern? Medieval? David Lynch seems to have the most singular vision of any living director, and yet when one stands back and looks at his entire career, at various moments that ubiquitous adjective "Lynchian" has meant any one of these descriptions, in combinations or in isolation. All that's remained constant is the uniqueness of the particular vision on display - something which the DVD collection "The Short Films of David Lynch" helps us appreciate.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Persepolis

Persepolis was a very 00s film for several reasons. Firstly, it was very strong, graphically speaking. Whatever its other aesthetic flaws, the decade has produced a great penchant for the powers of design...see the iPod and Wes Anderson for further examples. Of course, this graphic sense is no surprise, given that Persepolis is based on a graphic novel. And that's another reason it's so at home in the world circa 2007...comic books have never been hotter in mainstream cinema, and correspondingly, graphic novels could be the next big development in art films (which have been leaving the drab indie aesthetic of the 90s for something more chic). Like Waltz with Bashir (which began life as an animated film rather than a graphic novel, but whose aesthetic appears to be closer to the latter than the usual former), Persepolis uses the graphic form to tackle a culture and hence an "issue" close in spirit to the present day. In Bashir, it's the Israeli war in Lebanon, relevant again for obvious reasons, while Persepolis takes us to Iran which, aside from Pakistan and the countries in which America is at war (which just so happen to border Iran), is the nation most in the news these days. Not that there are any nukes in Persepolis - its concerns are more mundane, and hence more approachable, which seems to be the idea.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two Weeks in Another Town

My fondness for - or at least fascination with - films whose sporadic artistic quality reflects (intentionally or not) the contours of their narratives, has already been well-established. Here is another film - well-known but unavailable on DVD, just like The Magnificent Ambersons - which echoes that film's structure, but inversely. The formal qualities of Ambersons decay while the narrative documents the decline of the titular family (Welles' style slowly being encroached upon by tasteless studio hacks just as the Ambersons' grandeur is swallowed up by the ugly modern world). Two Weeks in Another Town also travels a similar route with its protagonist - but this time, just as Jack Andrus (a washed-up movie star played by Kirk Douglas) progresses from pathetic depressive to manic auteur, and the film he's involved with goes from rickety to grandiose, so the real movie we're watching turns itself from a rather shoddy, muddled film into a flamboyant, thrilling melodrama in its final minutes. True, it never achieves the level of greatness which Ambersons attains, but unlike the Welles film, Two Weeks director Vincente Minnelli did not, to my knowledge, lose control of his production. Hence it seems extremely likely that he intended for the film's achievement to creep up on it, little by little.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Goofy at the Gates of Dawn? (lost posts, great links, and spring cleaning...)


"The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat."

- Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows"
This Mole has been doing some spring cleaning of his own lately, tidying up the blog to close out a sporadic winter blogging session and begin anew, spring in the air and Netflix in the DVD player. But as I reformatted the layout, re-read posts in preparation for an Overlook summary, and attempted to correct erroneous labels, a funny thing happened. I accidentally deleted one of my posts. Now, thankfully, it was the one post I can afford to lose - my republished essay on two chapters in The Wind in the Willows, which I can simply (if tediously) re-transcribe tomorrow. Nonetheless, the incident was disconcerting, so let this be a warning to all of you. See that harmless looking "delete" button, right next to the label dropbar? The one that looks like it applies only to the labels on the checked post? Well, it doesn't. Don't touch it.

Despite my frustration, the experience actually bore some unexpected and much appreciated fruit. While Googling the illustration of Rat, Mole, and the Piper which originally adorned my Willows post, I discovered a rather striking and humorous image, one which I had to reproduce here. The link led to a fascinating 5-year-old Salon article by Hilary Flower, "Abridged Too Far" which explores one facet of the Willows chapters I discussed - namely their deletion from newer editions of Grahame's classic. Furthermore, as Ms. Flower discovers, "updated" classics often rewrite the author's prose and dump lavish illustrations for newer, less evocative sketches. I can't imagine adaptor Malvina G. Vogel and the unnamed illustrator of the Great Illustrated Classics are especially pleased with Flower's take on their work, but for the rest of us, it's a marvellous read and I truly urge you to follow the link.*

The essay proceeds to delve into A.A. Milne's role in the streamlining of Grahame's work, the dumbing-down of childhood (insidiously facilitated by the Disney corporation - though not, as the amusing but misleading illustration implies, through this particular book series), and the possible bipolar implications of Toad's manias. (The latter point is especially ironic since I was only hours ago discussing "grandiosity" and prescription drug abuse - in relation to Rush Limbaugh, no less.) Finally, Flower's essay explores the perils and pitfalls of adaptation, a theme which I myself will tackle in my upcoming Willows series. Her work provides a good jumping-off point for that adventure, and a stirring encouragement to write it well. At any rate, if this is the sort of discovery to which deleted posts lead, then delete away! (No, I really, really don't mean that...)

As for my own spring cleaning, hang it! (To Vogel's credit, she does keep that marvellous phrase intact, albeit in the process of her own spring cleaning which sweeps away much of Grahame's delightfully bumbling and bubbling narration). I'll be back tomorrow with a refreshed Willows post and hopefully a kickoff for the coming season. Six weeks ago, the groundhog saw his shadow but today Mole is kicking open the trapdoor and exiting his burrow. Spring has arrived at The Dancing Image, so enjoy the weather and the writing. And remember, don't touch that "delete" button...



*(A quick aside before this once-brief, now lengthy vernal kickoff winds to a close. More Salon links - somewhere Glenn Kenny is gnashing his teeth. Proceed to Gary Kamiya's recent loving tribute to Willows on its 100th anniversary, taking up Flower's celebration of Grahame's rich language and proceeding to tie together the author's work and life...really it's as if Mr. Kamiya stepped into my mind, stole everything I was thinking, and gilded it up to read more smoothly. Also check out these letters to the editor regarding Flower's article. They contain some praise, a few defenses of Disney, and even - wait for it - some soulful pleading for the legitimacy of comic books, stemming from an aside buried in the essay. Most fascinatingly, there are a couple letters eviscerating Flower's writing - one calls her out for favoring autobiography and personal observation over journalism, while the other takes this line of criticism even further, castigating Flower for "obnoxiously [referring] to her children's father repeatedly as her 'partner'" and informing the reader that "she had different bedding in grad school than she does now." The angry reader concludes, "sadly, this seems to be one instance where the writing hasn't been abridged nearly enough." Hmmmm - opinion over journalism? Too much personal detail? Too little editing? Something tells me Ms. Flower was a blogger before her time.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Winter Overlook

As winter winds to a close (perhaps I'm optimistically jumping the gun here) so does my slow blogging season, at least for now. As I've indicated elsewhere, I may take another break in a month but first there's a lot to tackle.

Briefly, then, ten posts, five which have been overlooked, and five which haven't but which I'd like to highlight anyway (consider "overlook" to have a double meaning - or a triple, if you count the hotel).

Overlooked:

1. Say Hello to My Little Friends... (new and improved edition!)
2. The Kids Are Alright & Stop Making Sense
3. A Quick One: Theater fodder
4. Zelig
5. The Passion of The Passion of Joan of Arc

Look these over:

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas & It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown!
2. Obama: Premonitions of a New Epoch
3. Farewell, Updike
4. Gold Diggers of 1933
5. The Wind in the Willows

The Passion of The Passion of Joan of Arc

I have to tiptoe around discussing The Passion of Joan of Arc, because I'm planning a series on 150 of my favorite classics, and Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 masterpiece will almost certainly be included in that series. What can I say now that I won't say then (a commitment to review all the films I've bought or received as Christmas or birthday gifts holds me to this task)? The metaphor of Plato's cave has occasionally been used to describe the cinema: movies are the shadows on the wall, depicting a simplified version of the reality which lies outside the cavern in the bright sunlight. But sometimes I wonder if this interpretation doesn't have it backwards: do the greatest films allow us to penetrate reality in a way that mundane everyday experience often does not? Does this shadowplay actually allow us to go forth into the sunlight and see more clearly; is it a kind of preparation for the initially bright and overbearing sunlight? In other words: can cinema put us closer into contact with the spiritual, the overwhelming force of the universe, that Ground of All Being, which some in the past and some today have labelled "God"? If so, Passion is one of those films, and Dreyer may be the greatest director of all time.

Well, I'll leave the rest of my ostentatious pontifications for a later occasion and step aside for the remainder of this post. I often have doubts about historical writing in the blogosphere - why rehash what you've already read elsewhere? (Sometimes, though, a blogger steps up the plate and knocks historical writing out of the park - see the Self-Styled Siren's recent musings on George Sanders for an outstanding example.) But the history of The Passion of Joan of Arc is so extraordinary that it bares repeating, and luckily the Criterion Collection includes a remarkable essay called "The Many Incarnations of Joan" which documents this history. It does not seem to exist on the Internet so I hereby present, in its online debut, the essay in its entirety (save a few minor modifications), following the jump.

In the Mood for Love

Last summer I wrote, "2046 in its punch-drunk highs and disappointing lows serves to retroactively paint In the Mood for Love in a glowing light, actually improving the memory of its poetic romance." Indeed, watching In the Mood for Love again, this sentiment rang ever more true. 2046, Wong Kar-Wai's sorta-sequel, is a more overtly passionate, punch-drunk film, dizzying as it spans years and displays its character's imaginative approaches to remembering the quiet love affair which In the Mood presents. When reviewing 2046, I commented that In the Mood was the better film: more subtle, richer in its connotations. But it now seems to me that, while this may be true, 2046 is the film I prefer; or rather, I like the films more in conjunction with one another than separately. The romance seen onscreen in In the Mood is poignant, often sweet, and evocatively moody but its power becomes more apparent (to me at least, on this particular viewing) nearer the end of the movie, when the lovers part, and even more so in the follow-up, in which Tony Leung's character struggles to remember and re-connect with his memory, filtered now through the scrim of frustrated nostalgia and yearning romanticism. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for lost causes.

Zelig

Zelig is a marvellous non sequitur, much like its hero. Well, that's not true exactly - the film has a message of sorts ("be yourself," squarely enunciated by the titular protagonist before he falls off the wagon and begins chameleon-ing again). But just as Leonard Zelig the man becomes a fad for his relatively purposeless ability to transform, Zelig the movie is too busy creating a lovingly thorough pastiche of the documentary form (and paying parodic but affectionate tribute to the 20s and 30s) to be "about" much other than itself. Resultingly, the movie is enjoyable but slight - Woody in the minor key - which is not such a bad thing, after all. At the same time, Zelig is, unlike some of Allen's other slight work (and most of his work has been, at best, slight since his 70s zenith) remarkably clever and sophisticated.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Quick One: Theater fodder

As I indicated in my previous "quick one" I've seen few films in theaters over the past few months. What's more, the films I did see were not usually of the highest grade, in terms of being Oscar bait and the like...I tended to go out and spend when I was forced (i.e. with friends and family) hence I did not see the cream so much as the crop. But for all you completists out there, here are some quick rundowns on what I thought of what I saw.

Valkyrie - Entertaining enough, the way Hillary was likable enough. Brian Singer didn't goof up the inherently interesting (albeit not so inherently suspenseful) story, which has Tom Cruise attempting to kill Adolf Hitler and install L. Ron Hubbard as Chancellor of Germany. Tom Wilkinson gives the best performance as a slippery careerist trying to figure out which way the wind's blowing before aligning himself with any conspiracies. The film is a competent thriller, but I kept wondering what a Jean-Pierre Melville could have done with it.

Taken - A proudly straightforward thriller with one or two exceptional or unusual elements. Some of these are a consequence of its increasingly rare (and thus, increasingly refreshing), almost naive straightforwardness: the (perhaps unintentionally oddball) portrayal of notorious Ivy League Skull & Bones CIA agents as working-class schlubs, the un-ironic use of a career in bubblegum pop as desirable, the un-ironic use of U2 as the band which hip teenagers follow around Europe (hat tip to the local newspaper for pointing this out), the un-ironic use of the bratty girl from "Lost," as a rich kid who's good-hearted. But the film's trump card is its casting - Liam Neeson is perfect as the gentle giant of a father turned stone-cold professional. Not for he the teeth-gnashing of bereaved, vengeful parents most movies present: the moment his daughter is kidnapped, he turns totally pro, speaking calmly and forcefully as he takes control of the situation. It's a remarkable, well-played, subtle twist. Thus both major pitfalls of this sort of action movie - hip irony and sentimental sops to presumed audience desires - are generally avoided. However, there is one decision made by Neeson (or rather Luc Besson, the writer) which may go too far in the direction of unsentimental. Since the film had keyed me to expect a tough, admirably professional, but ultimately fair and just hero (he's dark but a good guy), I had some trouble accepting this particular decision. But it is memorable and in retrospect, perhaps the film's standout moment. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. We'll discuss in the comments section.

The Spirit - A friend of mine had a couple free movie passes, one of which he generously shared. Hence I saw this movie for free, and it was worth every penny. I did pay for the popcorn, however, and that was pretty good.

A Quick One: Slumdog Millionaire

So now that the show's over, the Academy Awards have been handed out, and the movie is (presumably) running down its last few weeks in theaters (reaping the rewards of its post-Oscar glow) what do I think of The Best Picture of 2008? Well, firstly, I didn't see any "Best Picture of 2008" (in part due to the weakness of the years' release, in much larger part due to the fact that I saw about two and half new movies in the past year - I exaggerate, but not by much). Synecdoche, NY was certainly the most interesting film I saw in theaters last year, but I'm inclined to think it was more folly than masterpiece (though follies are not bad things, and can often be masterpieces too). Still, if we must play this game, I suppose Slumdog Millionaire will do. Don't get me wrong: while entertained for most of the movie, I was rather dismayed by the ending - by the time it got to the Bollywood dance I had already stopped taking the film seriously. And I thoroughly enjoyed the backlash bashings which served as a necessary corrective (the nastiest and most entertaining being Brandon Colvin's). But you know what? For all its flaws, Slumdog Millionaire is an appropriate and pleasing choice to be "film of the year," at least for the moment. As I already indicated, it's enjoyable. It isn't narcissistically focused on the uber-rich and trendy as so many Hollywood films are (not that those always or even mostly win Best Picture, but still...). OK, all the talk of "little film that could" is vaguely absurd (this was a Danny Boyle film, for the love of insert Hindu diety for corny joke). But compared to the elephantine productions the industry often trots out for public consumption and tepid, forced critical praise, it is a little film and more importantly, it has the charm and energy to match that image. So, hooray for Slumdog! It fits the beleagured but hopeful spirit of the times, it was entertaining and inventive, and the girl was incredibly hot.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Kids Are Alright & Stop Making Sense

Are concert films musicals? In a sense, sure. Woodstock usually gets classified as such. A Hard Day's Night, which combines more conventional musical numbers (and I use the term "conventional" advisedly) with a concert finale is easier to peg in that category. What about Gimme Shelter (which is possibly my favorite documentary of all time)? Doesn't it feel strange to classify a movie featuring a real stabbing as a "musical" with all the cheerful connotations that implies (however unfairly)? And is music really the focus of the Maysles' Stones documentary anyway? In a sense, though, concert films like The Kids Are Alright and Stop Making Sense can be considered more musical than most musicals. After all, they both contain wall-to-wall music accompanied by little else - about 90% music in the former case and 99% in the latter. Or maybe 100%. But they're both quite different from one another.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Say Hello to My Little Friends...

(This is a - very late - response to Dean Treadway's 20 Favorite Actors meme at filmicability. Also check out his post on Reds, which was incorrectly linked up on my year-end round-up.)

After weeks of delay, er, deliberation [by now it's been months!], I've finally tackled Dean Treadway's 20 actors challenge. This list feels even more arbitrary than the last; but for whatever reason, when the dust settled, this dozen and a half (plus two) were left standing. Those at the top were always destined to be there. Some others in the top ten surprised me, emerging triumphant from recent viewings to become new favorites (by "new" I mean new to me; both actors were at the peak in the 1930s). All in all, these are not necessarily the greatest actors of all time (though many of them are) but rather the ones I most enjoy watching. As with the previous list, I've included You Tube clips highlighting a favorite performance (not necessarily the favorite, but a favorite). If you are concerned with spoilers, you may want to avoid some of these. It is not a very diverse list - all old white guys (at least they're old by now - the five who are still alive, that is). Unlike the actress list, everyone is either British or American - with one exception (and even he worked in America for decades). The names and videos follow after the jump, in ascending order.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Red Balloon

My earliest memory is of my third birthday in 1986. I don't remember holding the balloon, or even particularly the moment when it slipped out my grasp and danced away. But I distinctly remember standing in the driveway, bursting into tears as I watched it disappear further and further into the sky, higher and higher until it was just a little dot and then nothing at all. I've never forgotten it, and so moments in The Red Balloon when the playful crimson sprite appears especially fragile or evasive resonate with me, as I suspect they do for all ex-kids who had similar experiences. Balloons are lighter than air, colorful, and - given the proper gust of wind - remarkably ebullient, yet some of these same qualities make them the most mortal of childhood playthings. As such, the balloon, red or otherwise, is an inherently tragic, poignant figure, and an obvious metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence.