Friday, March 02, 2007

Revisit: Le Boucher

A Cinerama Releasing Corporation release 1971

Written & Directed by Claude Chabrol

Butcher Popaul (Jean Yanne) falls in love with schoolteacher Helene (Stéphane Audran). When a series of murders begin to disrupt the town, Helene begins to suspect Popaul.

An extremely simple yet highly effective thriller. The Hitchcockian story leaves much ambiguity; we never see the crimes, nor are they discussed at great length. Rather we are given a series of clues to link the Butcher to the murders, creating an undercurrent of tension leading to his confession. Helene's inability to confess her knowledge of the clues culminates in the final scene, in which she contemplates the events at the edge of a foggy river. It makes you wonder whether or not Helene took pleasure in the killings; a sort of bizzare quasi-sexual ambiguity linked with the violence. Not a second is wasted - each scene is rich with visual and verbal metaphors that further story while strengthing the bond between the two protagonists. Le Boucher is essentially a perfect film.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


This is a pretty good gauge of what it would look like if I made a movie.

Revisit: Day for Night

A Warner Brothers Picture 1973

Directed by François Truffaut

Writing credits:
Jean-Louis Richard
Suzanne Schiffman
François Truffaut

Tension builds as lives collide during the making of a film titled "Je vous presente Pamela"

Truffaut's cinema du cinema reminds me a lot of an Altman picture - huge ensemble cast, lots of over-lapping dialogue, short snippets of plot dragged across small scenes of character interaction. Truffaut generally works better with a smaller cast and more focused narrative, however; his cinematic tricks are few and far inbetween here, and most of what is unique about the film gets lost between moments that feel highly scripted. It's interesting, but only sustains momentum for an act or so.

Revisit: My Night at Maud's

A Pathé Contemporary Films 1970
Written & Directed by Eric Rohmer

Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a devout Catholic, moves to a provincial town and vows to marry Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), a pretty blond he notices at mass. Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old school friend, invites him to visit the recently divorced Maud (Françoise Fabian), and he ends up staying the night, having philosophical discussions in her bedroom. The events prompt Jean-Louis to persue his ideal lover.

My Night at Maud's was Rohmer's first big success and made him an international presence. The fourth installment of his Six Moral Tales, Maud's proves that long intellectual discussions can be just as cinematic as more obviously visual material. The film contains little physical action, but plenty of dialogue, contemplating mathematics, religion, and philosophy as related to Catholicism and 17th Century French Philosopher Blaise Pascal. A bit unsettling at first, the film really hits its stride midway as the characters take shape and become more than just platforms for Rohmer to spill his philosophical musings. We see them as real people, raw and conflicted, as their moral codes both hinder and dictate their movement. Witty, intelligent, and erotic, it's a film full of interesting ideas, in the least. If you can stomach the initial slow pace, it proves worth it in the end.

Revisit: All About Eve

A 20th Century Fox Production 1950
Written & Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

An ambitious wannabe actress (Anne Baxter) gets close to the great, but aging stage artist Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in a devious and manipulative attempt to blackmail her way to star billing.

Winner of 6 Oscars, including Best Picture, All About Eve is an irrefutable classic, the kind of film that actually lives up to the rock solid reputation its developed over the years. Bette Davis gives an iconic performance, but the real treat here is George Sanders, who plays an arrogant theater critic in the only Oscar winning performance. His deep voice and accent make him such an entertaining hoity member of the bourgeoisies. It’s interesting how films about Broadway so often glorify the live stage while denouncing their own medium – forget about TV. Keep an eye out for a young Marilyn Monroe, with razor sharp wit and looking hot as always.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Spielberg: 30 Years of Blockbusters part IV

Special effects play a large role in both War of the Worlds and Jaws. They reinforce the fear of the ‘other’ by revealing its physical characteristics in a spectacular fashion. In the case of War of the Worlds, these effects dominate the screen right from the beginning. From earth-shattering explosions to enormous alien ‘tripods’ to the Martians themselves, Worlds is an onslaught of big budget, state of the art wizardry. In fact, most of the excitement and thrills in War of the Worlds rely on the fantastic visuals. On the other hand, the special effects in Jaws appear sparingly, substituting shark POV shots for the actual beast. Part of this is due to budget restrictions (Jaws cost $10 mil., which even by today’s dollar would be significantly less than Worlds $132 mil.) and part to technical complications; according to Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls mechanical malfunctions forced Spielberg to scale down some of the intense shark scenes he had originally planned (Biskind 265). Regardless, the use special effects mark a severe difference in rhythm between the two films. War of the Worlds moves at breakneck speed, hardly stopping the effects extravaganza, while Jaws is punctuated, building the image of the shark piece by piece until the beast is revealed in the climactic final act.

Ultimately, these posts might come off as a bit biased. They talk a lot about the ways in which Jaws succeeds as a film and War of the Worlds fails. It’s crucial to keep in mind that, in terms of Spielberg’s career, Jaws remains the template for many of his subsequent films. The structural similarities between Jaws and his other movies are certainly present and, after all, Jaws was a tremendous hit, so it would only make sense for Spielberg to retain its mold. Clearly, differences influenced by budget cost, social issues, source text, and technology have effected the ways in which Spielberg makes movies. His increased use of special effects also reflects the current movie market, in which audiences look for new thrills in the form of new technology. However, one element strings all of Spielberg’s works together: excitement.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spielberg: 30 Years of Blockbusters part III

Politics play a large role in motivating the characters and events that occur in Jaws. Brody’s decision to leave the beach open after the first attack goes against his morals. Rather, he is motivated by pressure from the Mayor, who fears the town will “be on welfare the whole winter” if they close the beach. This results in a second attack involving a young child. However, the Mayor and local business owners yet again force Brody to keep the beach open. By the Forth of July, beach goers refuse to enter the water. An interesting scene unfolds between the Mayor and a local: worried about the fear stricken tourists, the Mayor assertively tells the man, “No one is going in! Please, go in the water!” The Mayor holds significant pull within the town, and though his plea sparks a rush of tourists into the ocean, his denial of the shark also results in another death, and endangers the life of Brody’s son. This vilification of the Mayor presents a post-Watergate assessment of corrupt authority, disdain towards the elected official, and reinforces the approval of the average American.

Politics are present throughout War of the Worlds as well; however, they do not function as character motivation. Rather, Spielberg uses the backdrop of an alien invasion to create a post-911 allegory. Images throughout the film recall the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center: mass destruction of buildings, raining clothing, people in large groups running down city streets, a destructive plane crash, clouds of dust comprised of human remains. In once scene, Ray Ferrier actually gets covered in thick layers of this dust, quite like those who witnessed the real attacks first hand. Later, a fence is erected with photos and memorials, signs searching for missing people, just like the ones established at Ground Zero. Blunt dialogue works to reinforce the post-911 themes as well:

Rachel Ferrier: Is it the terrorists?

Robbie Ferrier: What is it? Is it terrorists?

Perhaps Spielberg is attempting to counter balance the lack of audience alignment with the film’s characters by paralleling the effects of the invasion with 9-11. Following this logic, a sort of direct, “this could happen to you” form of horror similar to that of Jaws could be argued, particularly regarding the progression of imagery. As the characters move outward from city to suburbs to farmland, the violence and carnage of the attacks grows increasingly more graphic. For example, people simply burst into dust when attacked in Jersey City, while bloody dismembered bodies litter the rivers and farmland. This could be interpreted as an attack on the comfort of Middle America, dispelling the misconception that only cities are in danger by showing that even the heartland is not safe from destruction. However, these overt references to 9-11 do not add depth to the story or motivate characters, but rather justify the extravagant special effects that overrun the duration of the film.

Part IV Coming Soon!
Check out the rest of the article!

Revisit: Love Me If You Dare

A Paramount Classics release 2003

Directed by
Yann Samuell

Writing credits
Jacky Cukier
Yann Samuell

As adults, best friends Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) continue the odd game they started as children -- a fearless competition to outdo one another with daring and outrageous stunts. While they often act out to relieve one another's pain, their game might be a way to avoid the fact that they are truly meant for one another.

While at times wonderful to look at, Love Me If You Dare suffers from that sort of French cinematic whimsy that starts off sweet but ends in a dizzy spell. The protagonists are two of the most mean-spirited characters I've ever seen, and the events in their life represent nothing grounded in reality or truth. Rather, the film is carried along by this sort of lovesick current, a strand of illogical, emotionally driven beats. The effect makes certain scenes hard to swallow, while others seem fatastic and otherworldly. Not for the cynical or the black-hearted.

Let's Get This Over With...

And the Oscar goes to:

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Helen Mirren in “The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls” (DreamWorks and Paramount)

Best animated feature film of the year
“Happy Feet” (Warner Bros.) George Miller

Achievement in art direction
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse)
Art Direction: Eugenio Caballero
Set Decoration: Pilar Revuelta

Achievement in cinematography
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse) Guillermo Navarro

Achievement in costume design
“Marie Antoinette” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Milena Canonero

Achievement in directing
“The Departed” (Warner Bros.) Martin Scorsese

Best documentary feature
“An Inconvenient Truth” (Paramount Classics and Participant Productions)
A Lawrence Bender/Laurie David Production
Davis Guggenheim

Best documentary short subject
“The Blood of Yingzhou District”
A Thomas Lennon Films Production
Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Achievement in film editing
“The Departed” (Warner Bros.)
Thelma Schoonmaker

Best foreign language film of the year
“The Lives of Others” A Wiedemann & Berg Production

Achievement in makeup
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse) David Martí and Montse Ribé

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
“I Need to Wake Up” from “An Inconvenient Truth”
(Paramount Classics and Participant Productions)
Music and Lyric by Melissa Etheridge

Best motion picture of the year
“The Departed” (Warner Bros.)
A Warner Bros. Pictures Production
Graham King, Producer

Best animated short film
“The Danish Poet” (National Film Board of Canada)
A Mikrofilm and National Film Board of Canada Production
Torill Kove

Best live action short film
“West Bank Story”
An Ari Sandel, Pascal Vaguelsy, Amy Kim, Ravi Malhotra and Ashley Jordan Production
Ari Sandel

Achievement in sound editing
“Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.)
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Achievement in visual effects
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (Buena Vista)
John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall

Adapted screenplay
“The Departed” (Warner Bros.)
Screenplay by William Monahan

Original screenplay
“Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight)
Written by Michael Arndt

All in all a pretty inoffensive night. Not too many surprises this year, the biggest probably being Pans Lab losing over The Lives of Others, which I hear may be the best movie of last year so my fault for not getting on top of that. Congrats to Lab's three wins - that film truly deserves the recognition.

Alan Arkin's win was an interesting choice, but not exactly an upset. Sunshine won in all the right places, focusing on the performances and the writing. In terms of Marty, I'm glad to see the man finally get some due, but The Departed? Best Picture? Seriously? I guess it's cool that he's going to be remembered as the guy who directed that sweet gangster movie they show ad nauseum on TNT. The Departed is the perfect movie for cable TV - fast, loud, and nasty without ever being offensive. It's bittersweet to see such an iconic figure (as much as I hate to admit it) as Marty win for such a minor picture. I rather would have seen him go without best director and just get the lifetime achievement.

Ellen did an all right job as host; she butchered the monlogues, but did a good job interacting with the crowd. Very warm. The whole 'international'/'gone green' thing was a nice theme. No complaints there. They need to cut out a lot of that montage/interpretive dance crap though. No one cares about any of it, it's not entertaining, and it just makes the show that much longer. Get rid of it!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

2007 Indie Spirit Awards Winners

Well the Spirit Awards aired tonight on IFC and the results are in.

Best Feature: Little Miss Sunshine
Best Female Lead: Shareeka Epps (Half Nelson)
Best Male Lead: Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
Best Female Supporting: Frances McDormand (Friends with Money)
Best Male Supporting: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Best Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine)
Best Screenplay: Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking)
Best First Screenplay: Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
Best Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro (Pans Labyrinth)
Best First Feature: Sweet Land
Best Documentary: The Road to Guantanamo
Best Foriegn Film: The Lives of Others
John Cassavettes Award: Quinceañera
Truer Than Fiction Award: P.O.V.: The Tailenders (#19.5)

I'm glad to see that many of the films I voted for won awards, although I am disappointed at Little Miss Sunshine's semi-sweep. Sarah Silverman hosted again this year, and the vibe was pretty much the same - a bit dirty, a bit sexy, and a lot more informal than most other award shows. Here's a clip from last year, to give you an idea.