Sunday, July 13, 2014

Goodbye to Language 3D (2014) ✭✭✭✭

Goodbye to Language 3D is the latest installment in Jean-Luc Godard’s series of grumpy old man filmic essays. Here the 83 year old director addresses many contemporary first world time wasters; tossing casual sex, big screen TVs and texting into the same rubbish bin of cheap thrills. In a plea for a return to simpler times, much of the film follows Roxy, Godard’s beagle mix, on his daily forays into the familiar splendors of the natural world. The film’s 3D effects are creatively plotted and often used to emit a blinding visual swirl beyond the resolution of human optics. To call the film an experiment is not quite accurate, but it has the raw, improvised feel of recent Godard features. And, typical of Godard, it has several storylines that never pursue any type of traditional arc, but rather serve as platforms for the director’s abrasive opinions and observations.

Goodbye to Language features a few comforting tropes that have become mainstays in Godard’s post-new wave style. Noisy, color saturated video processing reminiscent of In Praise of Love (2002) graces several scenes while the scenic ferries of Lake Geneva offer picture postcard 3D vistas. There are also elements that have fascinated the director throughout his long career, such as circular conversations between shacked-up lovers and snippets of narration lifted from classic novels and philosophical tomes.

For an octogenarian filmmaker, Godard is surprisingly - if not ahead of - at least on the production curve with Goodbye to Language. Many of Roxy’s rambles appear to have been casually shot with an iPhone while the film’s concise 70 minute duration feels to be the perfect length for a distracted society engrossed in various multi-tasks. But for all humanity’s advances, Godard observes the clinging to ancient, childish tendencies as either a feature or a bug of life in the new millennium. Male lead Gédéon (Kamel Abdeli) reveals an endless fascination with his own poop, giving the film a dose of comic relief along with a symbolic summation of our era’s excessive introspection. Goodbye to Language manages to be entertaining - by Godard standards anyway - while remaining typically disorienting. And perhaps that’s the film’s thesis in simplest terms: despite the technology and connectedness of western society, no one really knows what the hell is going on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2007) ✭✭✭ 1/2

In the past decade, Wayne Wang has become a successful big-time Hollywood director and deservedly so. But here he takes a break from the formulaic, mainstream star vehicles of recent history and returns to his roots with the type of picture he does best; a gentle, quiet story of Asian-American culture shock. This family drama of almost entry-level simplicity features Henry O as Mr. Shi, a former communist party functionary, now reduced to plodding pensioner, who makes the journey from China to Spokane, Washington to visit his beautiful and mysterious daughter Yilan (Faye Yu), who some years ago fled Beijing for a new life and a new husband in America.

The husband is long gone, and now Yilan, intensely focused on her work, lives a single life that is far from swingin’. Despite his daughter’s claims to the contrary, the traditionally-minded Shi finds it impossible to believe that an unmarried young woman can live a happy life. He spends much time early in the film furtively rifling through Yilan’s possessions searching for clues as to her true nature, and he feels entirely justified in this intrusion.

After all, in Shi’s mind, as the father he has an undeniable right to know every aspect of her life, regardless of the fact that she is pushing 40. This cultural and generational clash lies at the heart of the film, and it is quite interesting to watch the subtle, yet poignant emotional tug-of war between Shi and Yilan, as seemingly every day he finds a new way to assault her personal boundaries.

Ultimately, Shi’s insistence forces a confrontation that shows us how deception is deeply ingrained in this family’s history. While this synopsis makes the film sound melodramatic, Wang’s special talent for creating believable family dynamics gives the film a low key, naturalistic edge and allows us to focus on the internals of this deeply human story

More Info

Friday, June 13, 2014

Extérieur, nuit (1980)****

One of the great things about Dish Network is the access to international television, particularly their package of French programming. Nestled amid TV5’s comedies and newsmagazines are some real cinematic gems. Yeah, you’ll sit through a few stinkers in the process of unearthing them, but the obscure finds make the effort worthwhile. One such film is Extérieur, nuit, a murky existentialist drama about three aimless, drifting lives in the unromantic Paris of 1980.

Written and directed by Jacques Bral, a low profile filmmaker with an impressive resume – he wrote and produced Street of No Return, Sam Fuller’s last feature in 1989 - Extérieur, nuit combines the thematics of Jules et Jim with the atmospherics of Taxi Driver. A successful studio musician named Leo (Gerard Lanvin) forsakes his comfortable career to return to the rough, smoky jazz clubs of la rive gauche, where gigs and paychecks are uncertain at best. Leo shows up, saxophone and luggage in tow, at the bohemian doorstep of Bony (the impossibly young and dashing Andre Dussollier), an old friend from the hippie days, who now spends most of his time staring into space in a forlorn effort to become a famous novelist.

For a while, the two pals engage in what 30ish bachelors do best - trading sarcastic comments while drinking to oblivion in Paris’ wealth of neighborhood bars. One cold, damp night, Leo staggers into a cab driven by a mysterious woman of glistening liquid eyes and smoldering sensuality (Christine Boisson), who has discovered inventive ways of making chauffeuring profitable. The seductive Cora lives much as an over-age street urchin and her free spirited contours bewitch Leo into tender feelings he neither wants nor understands. But eventually, his passions for Cora are shared by the bemused Bony, and the stage is set for a thorough testing of the concepts of free love and open relationships.

Shot largely at night, the film is a celebration – albeit a brooding, at times painful one – of the possibilities of young adulthood in a time of aggressive sexuality and changing ideas of romance. Cora and Leo enter into a tortured form of courtship, as each party alternately asserts notions of love and independence; confusing terms that had little meaning in a sophisticated world that no longer valued monogomy. When Leo raises the thought of marriage as a way out of their shared misery, both he and Cora bristle at the idea of suburbs and children, and a bright light glares on the preposterousness of their love.

The acting in Extérieur, nuit is consistently wonderful, featuring a cast that has gone on to long and successful careers in the industry. Lanvin, who has become ruggedly handsome in his middle years and now largely plays cops and gangsters, comes off here as a sort of cuddly Robert DeNiro; a young man rife with angst and alienation but ultimately warm and empathetic. Christine Boisson’s notorious first screen appearance was as an oversexed teenager masturbating to a photo of Paul Newman in the moderately kinky classic Emmanuelle, but here she’s all business, honing a sharp edge of sexual and emotional danger that allows the narrative to cut through the lost meanderings of the male protagonists. And there’s the great Andre Dussollier, as our eyes, ears and heart, who shows an early mastery of the subtle physical timing that made him an international star.

Extérieur, nuit has yet to be released in North America on DVD, but that will likely change as the film has undergone a re-discovery in recent years. In 2009, it was prominently featured at the Lyon Film Festival and in 2010 it was released for a theatrical run throughout France. And director Bral is back in the saddle again, currently filming a new drama called Le Noir (Te) Vous Va Si Bien in Paris.

Despite its dark and bittersweet tonality, Extérieur, nuit almost seems like innocent nostalgia today. Hidden within its coarse folds is a world of thoughtful pauses and reflective self-evaluation; a world where people didn’t spend every spare moment fiddling with cell phones and telling Facebook they’d suffered hang nail. It was a world where idle navel gazing over a glass of scotch, neat, was not only tolerated, but encouraged. And following one’s heart - no matter how wrong-headed or dreadful the result - was infinitely more important than following Twitter.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Quickies for June 2014

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) ✭✭

I saw this a few weeks ago and either I have dementia or it was really blah. Either way, I don’t remember a thing about it. I hope it was the latter. So a man goes to the doctor and the doctor says I have bad news. You have AIDS and Alzheimer's. And the man says says Thank God I don’t have AIDS.

Sport de filles (2011) ✭✭✭1/2

I love Bruno Ganz; such an underrated actor. He and Marina Hands sort of make this work. Sport de filles is the story of behind the scenes tension at a riding school in rural France, where rustic yokels clash with the snooty dressage set. The final act of this equine version of Rocky is set at the Frankfurt Horse Show, which looks like great fun.

Mud (2012) ✭✭✭✭

Jeff Nichols just keeps on quietly making very good movies. He is one of the best American directors working today, and gets absolutely no credit for it. Also, I can now stand Matthew McConaughey. Truly alarming.

The Commitments (1991) ✭✭✭✭1/2

Sir Alan Parker's joyous comedy about a fledgling soul band in Dublin has the right mix of humor and poignant realism. If you’ve ever flailed away with a crappy guitar in the garage, you’ll fully relate.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Música Campesina (2011) ✭✭✭✭

Música Campesina, currently showing on HBO Signature, is a rough hewn marvel of a film. Made for $20,000 and shot on a Panasonic DSLR, Música Campesina (Country Music) is the story of a Chilean tourist named Alejandro (Pablo Cerda) who makes a poorly planned trip to America and eventually ends up in Nashville. Friendless and flat broke, Alejandro wanders the surreal landscape of cheap motels and country music dives that line bustling Interstate 40. As we learn more about this enigmatic figure, a comical and poignant backstory is revealed and Alejandro becomes a living symbol of the rustic romantic ideals found in many country music ballads.

Written and directed by Chilean filmmaker Alberto Fuget, at the time an Artist-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, the film has a mood similar to RIchard Linklater’s early work, with a few darker doses of Michael Haneke’s alienation thrown into the mix. Think Slacker meets Code Unknown and you’re in the ballpark. The editing is intentionally arrhythmic, giving viewers plenty of time to appreciate the film’s subtle eccentricities. The bulk of the film’s first act consists of telephone conversations that cleverly establish Alejandro’s lack of options, and give us the first hint that there’s more going on here than just a character study of an aimless drifter.

Along the way, Alejandro befriends two young hipsters (James Cathcart and Cole Kinnear) and their largely improvised conversations are often hilarious while having an undeniable ring of truth. These scenes, filmed on a ramshackle front porch where you can almost feel the global warming, are among the film’s best and presage an upward turn in Alejandro’s dour prospects. Fuget captures naturalist moments without a trace of that smug ironic stammering that passes for realist performances in so many recent Hollywood films. Perhaps it takes an outsider’s eye to truly appreciate the humidity laced quirks of post-millennial red state America.

If you enjoyed the somber yet amusing flavors of recent films like Inside Llewyn Davis and Nebraska, you’ll find Música Campesina cut from similar cloth. Its ending feels a bit removed from the real world - perhaps an evocation of a dream - yet it brings the film’s allegorical thesis full circle in a satisfying way. As Alejandro adjusts to his new world, and vice-versa, he learns an important lesson. None of life’s inevitable setbacks are ever wasted, especially on Country Western singers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

TCM for June 2014

TCM kicks off summer with a mix of the silly and the sublime. Bad sci-fi and a Rock Hudson - Doris Day festival stand along side such heavyweights as Night and Fog and Kieslowski's Colors trilogy. Truly something for everyone this month. My picks below. All times Eastern. Full schedule HERE


8:00 PM
A typical day in the life of the Beatles.
BW-87 mins, Letterbox Format

9:45 PM
This film looks at the British pop music scene in 1964, featuring performances by The Beatles, The Animals, and more.
C-70 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

The DC5 are Having a Wild Weekend

11:15 PM
Advertising executives turn a model's romance with a stunt man into a publicity stunt.
BW-92 mins,

1:00 AM
Rocket scientists consider naming a space ship after Herman's Hermits.
C-86 mins, Letterbox Format

2:45 AM
Herman's Hermits travel to England for a high-stakes greyhound race.
C-95 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Night and Fog. A tough watch but everyone should see it.


6:45 AM

Documentary cameras contrast the horrors of Auschwitz with the peaceful countryside surrounding it.
C-31 mins, CC,

7:15 AM
A college professor uses the crises in three lives to illustrate his theories about human behavior.
C-127 mins, Letterbox Format

6:15 PM
A swimming-pool salesman gets mixed up with beauty queens and bodybuilders when he falls in love.
C-97 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
Classic sci-fi epic about a mysterious monolith that seems to play a key role in human evolution.
C-149 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:45 PM
The crew of a broken down space ship accidentally picks up a deadly alien life form.
C-116 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Destination Moon was quite the deal in its day.

1:00 AM
A crusading scientist defies the government to launch an expedition to the moon.
C-90 mins,

2:30 AM
Three U.S. astronauts face a slow death when their rockets fail during a space voyage.
C-129 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4:45 AM
A space mission to Venus discovers a society of Amazons.
C-80 mins, Letterbox Format

An early, silent version of Wizard of Oz


12:30 AM

In this silent film, a farm girl learns she is a princess and is swept away by a tornado to the land of Oz.
BW-72 mins,

2:00 AM
A streetcar conductor loses his true love during Brazil's carnival season.
C-108 mins,

4:00 AM
A poet follows his dead wife into the underworld, only to fall in love with Death.
BW-96 mins,


10:00 AM

A group of zanies tries to save a pretty girl's sanitarium.
BW-109 mins, CC,


Marilyn at her best in The Misfits

4:00 PM
A sensitive divorcee gets mixed up with modern cowboys roping mustangs in the desert.
BW-125 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


8:00 PM

A man and woman carry their feud over the telephone line they share into their real lives.
C-102 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
An ad exec in disguise courts his pretty female competitor.
C-107 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
When he mistakenly thinks he's dying, a hypochondriac tries to choose his wife's next husband.
C-100 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Come September with fun in the Italian sun.

1:45 AM
A womanizing tycoon ends up chaperoning a group of American girls who have rented his Italian villa.
C-113 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:45 AM
A sporting goods salesman who knows nothing about fishing must enter an angling contest.
C-120 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


5:30 AM

Celebrities reveal the classic movies that influenced their lives in interviews with acclaimed film critic/interviewer Elvis Mitchell.
C-29 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


Alan Bates and Charlotte Rampling in Georgy Girl

10:00 PM

A misfit fights for happiness in the world of swinging London.
BW-99 mins, CC,

12:00 AM
A photographer discovers a murder in the background of a candid photo.
C-111 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:00 AM
A woman struggles to find a way to live her life after the death of her husband and child.
C-98 mins,

3:45 AM
A Polish immigrant wants to get even with his former wife.
C-90 mins,

Jacob and Trintignant in Red

5:30 AM
An accident creates a relationship between a model and a retired judge who spies on his neighbors.
C-99 mins, Letterbox Format


2:00 PM
An adulterous couple discovers that their children are sexually involved.
C-130 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4:30 PM
A San Francisco couple travels to France in search of Pablo Picasso.
C-94 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


6:15 AM
The mob sets out to catch a child killer whose crimes are attracting too much police attention.
BW-111 mins,

Rock and Angie get friendly in Pretty Maids all in a Row

12:30 AM
A young man's first sexual explorations are threatened by a string of murders.
C-91 mins,

2:15 AM
A bored rich man buys a new life from a secret organization.
BW-106 mins, Letterbox Format


2:00 AM

A lonely widow turns to prostitution to make ends meet.
C-202 mins, Letterbox Format

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Results from Cannes 2014

Palme d’Or: "Winter Sleep," Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Grand Prix: "The Wonders," Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Prix de la Mise en Scene (best director): Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Prix du Scenario (best screenplay): "Leviathan," Writers: Andrey Zvyaginstev and Oleg Negin
Camera d’Or (best first feature): "Party Girl," Directors: Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis
Prix du Jury (jury prize): "Mommy," Director: Xavier Dolan; and "Goodbye to Language," Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Prix d’interpretation feminine (best actress): Julianne Moore, "Maps to the Stars"
Prix d’interpretation masculine (best actor):  Timothy Spall, "Mr. Turner"

Monday, May 19, 2014

Gordon Willis 1931 - 2014

The great cinematographer Gordon Willis has passed away at age 82. His images defined American filmmaking in the 1970s.

Klute (1971)

The Godfather (1972)

All the President's Men (1976)

Annie Hall (1976)

Interiors (1978)

Manhattan (1979)

 Radio interview with Willis from 2002