Sunday, January 21, 2007

As promised...

I'm posting links to new film-related blogs as I create them. To your right I've added links to both Pomegranate Rickey and my new screening (b)log, as well as a plethora of sites I visit on a regular basis. More to come.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Good news, bad news

In most cases, when someone informs me that they have good news and bad news for me, I have him deliver the bad news first. The reason is twofold- it gets the bad news out of the way as soon as possible, and it generally leaves the conversation on a positive note. However, in this case I'll give you the good news first, since it's much shorter, and then move on to the bad news, which I think requires a bit more explanation.

The good news is that my computer is back up and running, and so I'll be able to update my blog when I see fit. If there's one thing a month or so without 24/7 computer access has taught me, it's that blogs are both more practical and easier to maintain than conventional web sites. I have to jump through a number of hoops to update my site, but I can tinker with my blog quickly and relatively painlessly from any computer connected to the Web. Because of this, I'm currently working on transferring the important stuff from my site to various blogs, with this one to be used as the main page. I'll keep you updated as the transition happens.

And now, the bad news. Aforementioned transfer aside, I can't make any promises for how often I'll update in the future. You may have noticed in the past few years that the number of posts here have gone down. Simply put, I'm just not motivated like I used to be. Back when I started writing about movies on the Internet, I had a pretty wide circle of friends on the 'Net, always asking me what I thought of new (and some old) movies. Originally I'd e-Mail reviews to them, but I figured it'd be just as easy to post them on a site, for them to read at their leisure, without cluttering up their Inboxes. As I wrote more reviews and got more positive feedback, I attempted to use my site as a kind of calling card, in the hope that I might be able to find a critic job.

But as the years have passed, I've become less interested in writing about film. Don't get me wrong- I'm as passionate about cinema as ever. However, there are many different ways to love movies, and compared to watching (and re-watching), discussing, and reading about film, writing just doesn't interest me as much. The truth is that it takes me longer than it used to to write reviews, time which I'd rather spend actually watching movies. Which is not to say that I'm flat-out not interested in writing, but I've had enough creative dry spells in my life that when I do find myself motivated to write, it's going to be something more substantial. This isn't just me talking out of my ass, mind you- just a few weeks ago I churned out a new short film screenplay, so it's not like I never do any writing. But when it comes to blogging pro bono about cinema, it's got to be a labor of love or else it just turns into labor.

Which brings me to my second problem. I've sort of resigned myself to the idea that I probably won't end up a film critic. With so many passionate bloggers out there, the market for paying critics has kinda plummeted lately, and I'll be the first to admit that there are many better and more prolific than I am. Because of this I've accepted the fact that my thoughts on movies are only of interest to a handful of people out there, most of whom (a) I see on a regular basis, or (b) I keep in touch with via e-Mail. For those of you who don't fall into either category, I apologize, and I hope you enjoy the old stuff and are patient enough to wait for whatever new stuff I end up posting. All I can say is that it's become too much work for not enough payoff, and if that's not reason enough for you, then see above.

I hope that you'll check back here every once in a while, though I'll understand if you don't. Perhaps in the future I'll be able to post more film-related pieces, but at present I just don't have it in me anymore. I do hope to post something on my favorite films of 2006 before the end of the month, but as usual, I make no promises.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New year, new ratings system

I’ve never been all that happy with using the 4-star system of rating films. Most of the time, the middle ratings tend to be overloaded with movies, stuff that’s pretty kind of OK but hardly spectacular. The trouble is that, especially since I’ve tried to be tougher with the higher star ratings, the ** and **1/2 star ratings have become my default for the middle-of-the-road stuff. So finally I’m making a change, not to the Retarded 100 Point Scale™ or back to letter grades, but to a 10-point scale. The added bonus is that the 10-point scale has always translated more naturally to conversation than star ratings- while you always sort of have to explain what the stars represent to people, when you say that a movie is 6 out of 10, most people have a pretty good idea what you mean.

Still, I should probably specify what I mean by each number rating. Because I’m such a nice guy, ya know.

10 => **** (Masterpieces)
9 => ***1/2 (Near-masterpieces)
8 => ***-***1/2 (Highly recommended)
7 => *** (Very good)
6 => **1/2 (Above average)
5 => **1/2 (Worth seeing)
4 => ** (Mediocre)
3 => *1/2-** (Has redeeming facet)
2 => *1/2 (Dire)
1 => * (Worthless)
0 => 0* (Vile, offensive garbage)

For the time being, I’ll try the numerical ratings with new releases only, continuing to rate classics on the 4-star scale, in order to make compiling my retroactive yearly lists easier and not quite so messy.

In the interest of (a) keeping my readership informed of what I’m watching, and (b) not falling behind on my screening log, here’s what I’ve watched in the last week or so.

12/26- % Three Godfathers (1948, John Ford) [***]
% /Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968, William Greaves)/ [***1/2]
12/28- % Vive l’Amour (1994, Tsai Ming-liang) [***]
% /Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)/ [****]
% Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 ½ (2005, William Greaves) [8]
12/29- % /M (1931, Fritz Lang)/ [****]
% Gabrielle (2005, Patrice Chereau) [8]
12/30- % /L’Enfant (2005, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)/ [8]
# Rocky Balboa (2006, Sylvester Stallone) [4]
# Dreamgirls (2006, Bill Condon) [4]
# Blood Diamond (2006, Edward Zwick) [2]
% /Inside Man (2006, Spike Lee)/ [8]
% /Bubble (2006, Steven Soderbergh)/ [7]
12/31- % Who’s Camus Anyway? (2005, Mitsuo Yanagimachi) [8]
# The History Boys (2006, Nicholas Hytner) [3]
% /Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005, Michael Winterbottom)/ [9]
% /United 93 (2006, Paul Greengrass)/ [8]
1/1- % /The Conformist (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci)/ [***1/2]
# /The Prestige (2006, Christopher Nolan)/ [10]
% /The Black Dahlia (2006, Brian DePalma)/ [8]
1/2- % The Great McGinty (1940, Preston Sturges) [***1/2]
1/3- % /Lorenzo’s Oil (1992, George Miller)/ [***1/2] {remember when this guy used to make awesome, underappreciated live-action films instead of silly animated dancing penguin movies? That was awesome)

More to come, if you're lucky and I'm motivated enough. But don't bet on it, at least not until I get my computer back.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Prestige (2006, Christopher Nolan)

(originally written for The Onion AV Club's end-of-2006 poll)

All of the great movies hold up to multiple viewings, but Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE practically demands it. In fact, watching the film twice is like watching one performance each by its two principal characters. The first viewing is like an Angier performance- you groove on the showmanship and the presentation, but you’re not sure how much substance is there. The second viewing, however, is pure Borden, in which you really see how intricate and thought-out the film is, which of course makes it all the more entertaining. In the end, THE PRESTIGE deals with men who would sacrifice everything (love, body parts, even their lives) for their passions, and more than that, the fallout that occurs when two of these men are at odds with each other- not just Borden vs. Angier, but also Nikola Tesla vs. Thomas Edison. Plus it’s just a ripping yarn with the cleverest screenplay to come along since Nolan’s breakout film, MEMENTO. For my money, THE PRESTIGE is even better.


(Originally posted to a certain movie nerd discussion group, all rights reserved)

> So: What's the ONE movie you loved this year that you wish everyone else would see? Maybe it's a tiny indie, foreign, or documentary that no one else here caught, or even heard of.

How about a tiny indie mockumentary that's largely in a foreign language? The point is, next to nobody saw it. Hell, it never even got a real commercial release, which is a shame, for if it did, it would certainly be one of my faves of '06. Ladies and gents, I give you Jim Finn's INTERKOSMOS.

If I could boil this down to a five-word pitch, it would go something like this: "Max Fischer Players in Space." Of course, if it was that simple, it would simply be a good time at the movies instead of the completely awesome original that it is. If anything, Finn's sense of humor is even drier and more obscure than Anderson's, and even more prone to random digressions, as when the film takes a break to explore the role of the guinea pig as a Communist children's symbol, or any of the strange musical interludes.

INTERKOSMOS tells the story of a collaboration between the Communist bloc nations to launch a (fictional) mission to explore and later colonize the moons of our solar system's outer planets. Much of the movie is in the style of an educational or industrial film- dry voiceover, "found" footage, models and diagrams of the proposed space colonies. But Finn isn't simply making a put-on, and with a short sequence of shots near the end, he re-configures the DNA of the entire film, turning a quirky comedy into a low-key but surprisingly poignant love story.

Supposedly INTERKOSMOS is coming out on DVD in the relatively near future, and I recommend that you guys check it out. If nothing else, you'll never think of that capitalist ditty "The Trolley Song" the same way ever again.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005, Cristi Puiu)

(Originally written for the Onion AV Club's end-of-2006 poll)

With a title like that, one does not go in expecting to have a good time, but while THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU is harrowing, it’s also essential viewing for anyone who takes world cinema seriously. Much of the credit for the film’s success can be attributed to Ion Fiscuteanu, who embodies the title character with a complete lack of guile, fearlessly venturing through the bowels of the Romanian health care system that, over the course of one night, will suck away his dignity and his humanity, leaving him naked, barely breathing, and waiting to die. Meanwhile, the system swirls around him, with hospitals sending him elsewhere, doctors taking him to task for his drinking and diet rather than dealing with the problem in front of them, and everyone trifling over paperwork and procedure, perhaps to cope with all the suffering. Director Cristi Puiu never allows his film to devolve into a wallow, leavening the story with sardonic humor borne out of exasperation and impotence in a way that hasn’t been done this well since Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL.

Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron)

(originally written for the Onion AV Club's end-of-2006 poll)

Like THE PRESTIGE, CHILDREN OF MEN demands multiple viewings, but for a different reason. Watching CHILDREN OF MEN for the first time reminded me of when I saw EYES WIDE SHUT on opening night- it made a strong impression, but it was difficult to grasp everything that the film was up to. I think that’s because Alfonso Cuaron, like Kubrick, refuses to stop and explain what he’s doing, trusting the audience to hold on and keep up, which of course is much easier to do when you know what’s in store for you. The film’s technical specs are impeccable, with three already-legendary extended camera shots raising the bar for such things. But Cuaron and D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki aren’t just dicking around with the camera, but using these bravura shots as a way of plunging the audience directly into the action, and it works beautifully- on both of my viewings of the film to date, I barely even noticed that one of these long takes was uninterrupted. The only question is, after throwing the “sex movie” for a loop, crafting the best (read: least slavish) movie adaptation of HARRY POTTER, and now this, what else could Cuaron possibly have up his sleeve?