The joy of vituperation

May 23rd, 2005 § One comment § permalink

No critic pans a movie more effectively than the New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane. In last week’s issue, Lane savaged Return of the Sith with such unbridled glee that George Lucas may actually have shed a minuscule tear onto the enormous pile of cash that he uses as an armchair. An excerpt:

[T]he one who gets me is Yoda. May I take the opportunity to enter a brief plea in favor of his extermination? Any educated moviegoer would know what to do, having watched that helpful sequence in “Gremlins” when a small, sage-colored beastie is fed into an electric blender. A fittingly frantic end, I feel, for the faux-pensive stillness on which the Yoda legend has hung. At one point in the new film, he assumes the role of cosmic shrink—squatting opposite Anakin in a noirish room, where the light bleeds sideways through slatted blinds. Anakin keeps having problems with his dark side, in the way that you or I might suffer from tennis elbow, but Yoda, whose reptilian smugness we have been encouraged to mistake for wisdom, has the answer. “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose,” he says. Hold on, Kermit, run that past me one more time. If you ever got laid (admittedly a long shot, unless we can dig you up some undiscerning alien hottie with a name like Jar Jar Gabor), and spawned a brood of Yodettes, are you saying that you’d leave them behind at the first sniff of danger? Also, while we’re here, what’s with the screwy syntax? Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. “I hope right you are.” Break me a fucking give.

At least they’re not Rammstein fans

February 2nd, 2005 § Five comments § permalink

My upstairs neighbors enjoy playing country music and classic rock at rather loud volumes—not constantly, mind you, and not wall-shakingly loud; it’s a moderate, perhaps twice-weekly indulgence. A few months ago, they spent a happy Sunday morning listening to “Sweet Home Alabama” on endless repeat. Today, they’re rockin’ to Queen’s greatest hits. Apparently my neighbors are the champions of the world, in spite of their being under some sort of pressure.

In unrelated news, I was planning to write a list of the alleged nominees for Best Pornographic Picture at the 2005 Academy Awards. I quickly realized, though, that I was unlikely to top my first entry, A Very Long Engorgement.

A benevolent conspiracy

July 9th, 2004 § 15 comments § permalink

Yesterday, I found an apartment for myself in Oakland, an exquisite studio in a carefully restored Mission-style building. The sinks and paint will be new; the stove, a Wedgwood, will be old. The window in my living area looks out on a landscaped courtyard. I’ll live closer to most of my friends from school than I do now. To ask for anything better would be inexcusably greedy.

Tonight, I saw The Third Man at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. I knew I loved that film, but I had forgotten why. It was a joy to be reminded: Orson Welles, still elegant and young, cocky enough to own the world. The beautiful ruins of postwar Vienna, which must have summoned painful memories for the movie’s first audiences. Quick, tense cuts. That zither music.

On the way home, as my BART train emerged from the Transbay Tube, the conductor made an announcement, his voice like a showman’s. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have once again made it safely across the bay under the weight of millions of gallons of water.” We stopped at the West Oakland station, then departed. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll direct your attention to the window on the left side of the train–that’s my left–you’ll see…fire.” The Fire Arts Festival was in full swing. Flames shot out of elaborate metal contraptions and radiated from spinning wheels. “They must be having a barbecue down there or something.” Pause. “We take our barbecue seriously in West Oakland.” And after we pulled into the next station: “Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, ladies…and…gentlemen. This is the station I’ve been bragging about all night long. Twelfth Street/Oakland City Center, where you can transfer to the Richmond-bound train. It’s waiting on the opposite side of the platform. Its doors are wide open, and its seats are already warmed.”

I’ve been using the word “swimmingly” a lot lately. Everything is going just swimmingly.

The Fog of War

February 15th, 2004 § One comment § permalink

No matter how much you know about the Vietnam War; no matter what you think of Robert McNamara; no matter whether you normally watch documentaries, go see The Fog of War. It’s troubling, thought-provoking, and unfortunately, quite timely. The fact that the word “Berkeley” was misspelled in the credits in no way detracts from the film’s overall excellence.

Now I need to find time to watch the webcast of McNamara’s appearance at UC Berkeley with Errol Morris, which sold out long before I tried to get a ticket.

No man is a failure who has friends

December 24th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Goddamn you, Frank Capra, for making me cry at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life every single time I watch it.

Let’s all go to the lobby

July 26th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Last night, I paid my first visit to the Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley’s motion picture collection. The archive screens classic films from around the world six nights a week. Many of them are too obscure for my taste—the archive devoted much of July to the work of Aki Kaurismäki, a Finnish director billed as the “dour master” of “the Helsinki-on-wheels road movie”—but Friday’s program of two restored American movies looked worthwhile.

Robert Gitt, the preservation officer at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, restored both films, and he was in Berkeley to introduce them. He was a bit apologetic about the first film, The Man on the Eiffel Tower, because the print was not up to his usual standards. It was hardly his fault. At the time it was made, most color films were shot on three-strip Technicolor—one strip for red, another for green, and another for blue—but The Man on the Eiffel Tower was shot on an experimental Ansco Color single-strip film stock. The results, apparently, were disappointing. The negatives were destroyed years ago, and only two color 35 mm prints survived, both of them heavily scratched and printed on deteriorating nitrate stock. With more time and money, he said, he and his team could clean up the film digitally. As it stands, it looks as though it were shot through a foot of mud.

Its technical heritage aside, The Man on the Eiffel Tower is a strange mess of a movie, rife with overacting and with plot twists that beggar belief. What kind of film finds it necessary to list “the city of Paris” as one of the actors but contains almost no written French, even less spoken French, and no actor who even tries to fake a French accent? And in what vanished Paris could one hail taxicabs—two of them—at five o’clock in the morning on a deserted street? Still, it’s almost worth seeing just for the chase scene on the Eiffel Tower, which really was shot on the tower and features the actors doing their own stunts, running across and dangling from the tower’s spans.

The second film, The Barefoot Contessa, was much better all around, especially the glorious Technicolor print. Humphrey Bogart looked especially cadaverous in this movie, which isn’t surprising when one considers that he died less than three years after it was released. My only complaint about The Barefoot Contessa is that it was 128 minutes long and had about 90 minutes worth of story to tell.

Robert Gitt answered questions from the audience after the first movie. I asked a dumb question about film restoration, which he answered very patiently. He is frightfully knowledgeable about film. After I walked away, I heard him mention to a friend of his that he wasn’t staying for The Barefoot Contessa, because although he loves it, he has seen it 40 times.

Bad timing

March 16th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Had I known that a mysterious respiratory illness was spreading across several continents, I probably would have been less eager to watch 12 Monkeys last night.

Hooray for Bollywood

April 7th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

I quite enjoyed Monsoon Wedding, except for the part where the old man behind me snored through 10 minutes of it.

In the film, the bride’s father called an out-of-town relative “the 100% most stupid duffer.” It’s my new favorite insult. I plan to use it constantly.

For the record, my boss is a Texan engineer

December 17th, 2001 § Comments off § permalink

It’s unfortunate but unsurprising that The Last Temptation of Christ met with so much controversy when it was released. The dual nature of Jesus raises a lot of difficult questions, and any honest attempt to answer them is bound to upset someone. For Christians, though, to be human is to sin; why shouldn’t someone who is both God and man sin in proportion to his divinity? Is it really so wrong to imagine a reluctant son of God attempting to anger his father by carving crucifixes for the Romans?

Although the film indulges in plenty of extrabiblical speculation, it also presumes the truth of Christianity’s most central beliefs. In particular, it never challenges the notion that Jesus was God made flesh. That notion is central to the film’s premise that Jesus must have struggled terribly between the secular and the sacred, and that his struggle, and its effect on his mission, is worth exploring.

The Powers of Ten

November 14th, 2001 § Comments off § permalink

Finished watching The Films of Charles & Ray Eames – The Powers of 10. If I taught a sixth-grade science class, I would definitely make my students watch The Powers of Ten.

The DVD also included a short film, made after Ray Eames died, that showed what was in the Eames studio before its contents were packed up and sent to museums. Unfortunately, the murky quality of the film doesn’t do justice to the Eames’ work, but it still gives a sense of the catholicity of their interests and the extent of their genius.

The Library of Congress has a great exhibition of their work (more photos). If you can recommend a particularly good book about Charles and Ray Eames, please do.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Cinema category at pinchy dot org.