Thursday, June 25, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 4

If nothing else, one can always count on movie lovers to know their Kubrick movies. And so it was with last week’s quote, which a number of you correctly pegged as the final two lines of Kubrick’s The Killing. Like Blood Simple, which ran in this space two weeks ago, The Killing is notable not only as a great thriller, but also a vivid calling card for a brilliant filmmaker who would soon become one of the world’s great filmmakers. It doesn’t have the grand ambition of Kubrick’s best-known films, but it contains more than a bit of his formal mastery and tight directorial control, and it cast a long shadow in the decades to come, notably influencing Reservoir Dogs, among many other titles. Congrats to those who guessed it.

This week, an exchange that’s rather more cheerful than those in the past few weeks. Here it is:

“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking how happy I am.”

Guess the film. Send your guesses to this e-Mail address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern on Wednesday. Good luck!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Criterion Watch, September 2009

But first, some news: over the next few weeks I’ll be moving into a new place with Angela, about whom you’ve heard so much. Because of this, I don’t anticipate that I’ll post much here until we’re all settled in, which should be around the first of July. In other words, don’t expect much content here for the next couple of weeks. I realize that doesn’t exactly sound like news, but this time I have an actual reason for it.

Also, once I’ve returned I hope to re-start Reviews by Request posts, beginning with a DVD that was graciously bought to me by one of my regular readers (take that as a hint- if you really want me to review a movie, send me the damn thing yourself). In addition, I’m going to begin a long-term project of transferring the bulk of my old Screengrab reviews over here, in particular the ones from the first incarnation of the ‘Grab, which are a pain to access nowadays. I’ll try to get these done within the next few months after my return, but I make no promises.

Anyway, this month’s Criterion Watch begins with an update from last month’s. Criterion settled on cover art for their much-anticipated release of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Here ya go:

It’s not inspired, but it works for this movie. A stylized collage or snazzy animation would feel all wrong, I think you’d agree. Moving on to the September stuff, which contains a good amount of stuff I’ve never seen. That’s good news for you Criterion Watching fans, and of course for me as well.

The first title I’ve never seen is this, a WW2-era British production which I mainly know as being Churchill’s favorite movie. I’m actually not a huge fan of either Leigh or Olivier, but its inclusion in the collection says a lot in its favor. Right? Right?

I have a somewhat better idea of what to expect from this, being a Mamet film and all, but it’s one of those movies I just never got around to watching. Now I won’t have any excuse to ignore it, and that’s fine by me.

Speaking of stuff I’ve never seen, the September Blu-Ray release is going to be this box set, which compiles several Pennebaker docs about Monterey. Should be fun.

And this was allegedly a replacement for the shelved Contempt Blu-Ray they had scheduled, but this should be pretty gorgeous too.

And it looks like the folks at Janus and HVE will be rolling out Essential Art House box sets at an increased pace in the future. This set is somewhat more impressive than the last one they announced, featuring three stone-cold classics from the Criterion vaults along with three that have yet to see a Criterion release. I’m especially looking forward to finally getting to see Carne’s Le Jour Se Leve, which has featured prominently on my list of as-yet-unseen films and was previously only available in the mammoth 100-DVD set they put out three years ago.

Finally, this month’s e-Mail clue:

That’s gotta be Che, which is awesome news. I know that some of you out there weren’t fans of it, but I was (I think it’s Soderbergh’s best since sex, lies and videotape). If nothing else, this is just the kind of recent release that Criterion should be championing- sure, Benjamin Button might bring in more money, but this will nonetheless sell more copies than, say, That Hamilton Woman, especially if it gets a Blu-Ray release. Likewise, it’s the kind of quixotic project that Criterion has always done well by, and Soderbergh usually gives good commentary. Mark me down for a copy this fall- that is, unless I’m wrong and this is The Motorcycle Diaries or the Omar Sharif version of Che’s life. In which case never mind.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 3

What’s in a name? Well, it’s impossible to say for sure, but had I included the name that was originally part of last week’s quote- “Marty”- some of you might had an easier time recognizing it. As it stands, only a handful of you were able to peg the final exchange from the Coen Brothers’ first feature, Blood Simple, which first appeared on the scene a quarter of the century ago and is just as cracking a suspense thriller now as it ever was. Quite an auspicious debut for a pair of brothers who’ve made a bit of an impression in the ensuing years, I’d say. Congrats to those who guessed it.

This week I’ve got another “name-dropping” exchange, so to speak. See if you have better luck with this one:

“____, you’ve got to run.”
“Nah… what’s the difference?”

Send your guesses to this e-Mail address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern on Wednesday. Good luck!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The small mailman smells like chocolate!

Much has been written about how Pixar has become the surest thing in Hollywood. But with this level of consistency- even Cars, which was a low point only by Pixar’s lofty standards- has come a certain level of shrugging from the critical establishment. “Ho-hum,” we joke. “Another awesome Pixar release. What a shocker.” This is, to say the least, unfair, not least because although the element of surprise has long given way to an almost ironclad reliability, the movies have actually become more diverse in the past few years. The early Pixar releases stuck to a dependable formula- two buddies save the day, usually backed by a ragtag group of wacky misfits- ever since The Incredibles, Pixar’s features have grown increasingly unique. Incredibles’ colorful animation covered for the fact that it was a superior superhero movie, Ratatouille was a French-inflected foodie drama about an unlikely genius, and WALL*E was a cross between a silent film about a single-minded robot and the outer-space epic Jacques Tati never got around to making. And Pixar’s growth continues unabated with their latest, Up, which to these eyes may be their best film yet.

Criterion Watching: 17. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

This is the first entry in a new series I’m tentatively calling Criterion Watching, inspired by the name of my monthly Criterion Watch posts. I’ve decided to lead off the series with the Collection’s second-most-controversial title (after Armageddon, of course) not only because I wanted to begin with something that would be attention-grabbing, but also because I’ve been kind of putting off watching this and I figured this would be as good an excuse as any. Anyway, hope you enjoy. I’ll try to post one of these every few weeks or so, and if you have a recommendation for a better name, feel free to chime in in the Comments section.

Nearly every discussion of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom begins with its content. On the one hand, this is only natural. After all, when a movie is as notorious as Salo is, you don’t bury the lead. Yet on the other hand, doing so creates something of a mistaken impression among those who read reviews of the film. When the first thing someone hears about a movie is how “extreme” and “controversial” it is, too often one jumps to the conclusion that it’s some sort of geek show, something to be avoided by all but the most thrill-seeking of moviegoers. I know that the impression of Salo that I’d harbored for years was that it was some kind of high-toned exploitation classic. But now that I’ve seen the film, I realize how far off base my impression was. Make no mistake- Salo’s characters engage in some of the most terrible acts of brutality and degradation I’ve ever seen onscreen. But exploitation this isn’t.

Click here for the full review.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 2

I said that I wanted the first week of this round to be fairly easy, but I wasn’t about to give the game away. That’s why I deliberately began the quote after the line everyone remembers- "we can’t stop the dancing chicken." All the same, there were plenty of you who weren’t fooled by my trick, identifying the quote as the final line of Werner Herzog’s masterful Stroszek, the perfect capper to one of the strangest and best endings in all of cinema. Congrats to those who got it.

This week’s quote has been modified slightly in order to remove a character’s name- a name that would for many of you be a giveaway. Here’s the quote:

"I ain’t afraid of you no more, ____."
"Well, ma’am- if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message."

Name the film. Submit your responses to this e-Mail address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern on Wednesday. Good luck!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 1

Well folks, there’s no getting around it- Screengrab’s days are over. I think I’m taking it well under the circumstances- no wailing or gnashing of teeth, merely a kind of weary resignation on my part to the notion that my semi-pro writing days are probably over, and to the need to seek out a new part-time job to plug up the hole left in my finances by the loss of the paid critical gig. But needless to say, the shuttering of Screengrab has gotten me thinking a lot about endings lately.

In other words, it’s the perfect time to bring back your favorite movie game and mine, Famous Last Words, which I began here a few years ago before taking it to Screengrab. I posted the rules of the game last week, and now I’m back to kick off the first week of the twelve-week round of play. As usual, I’m starting off with an easy one, to encourage as many people as possible to compete for the prize of a $25 gift certificate from The Criterion Store. Hope to see plenty of responses to this week’s quote:

“Send us an electrician out here, we’ll be standing by. Over.”

Why is someone calling for an electrician? Name the film. I’ll be turning off comments for the purposes of the game, so send your responses to this e-Mail address- please note that it’s a different address than we used for the Screengrab game. And remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern next Wednesday. Good luck!