Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bunchie's List

We have recently started accepting classified advertising. Email us to respond to any of the ads below:

For Sale: 1994 Renault. Good car, considering it was made in France.

Lost: Near shopping mall. Grumpy old man with horrible flatulence. If found, please do not return.

Yard Sale: Saturday at 7am. Clothes, shoes, books and old smelly stuff covered in ick

Free to Good Home: Good Lord, my wife must have 200 freaking cats. Please come get some

Work Wanted: Man with tools and truck seeks work in international finance.

For Sale: Cowboy Hat, by man who has come to his senses.

Help Wanted: Work from home. If you have a computer and access to top secret government files, I can show you how to make a fortune!

For Rent: 4 bdrm house. A school, churches nearby, large snake in basement seems friendly.

Work Wanted: Shakespearean actor seeks gainful employment. Noble in reason, infinite in faculties, no votary to fond desire. Have own tights.

For Sale: Like new 6 person hot tub. Never peed or vomited in.

Public Notice: On Tuesday night, the City Council will vote to build a ridiculously expensive stadium that will house yet another mediocre, poorly run, suck-ass sports team. You and your children will be footing the bill for decades to come. The public is invited to attend.

Monday, September 27, 2010

For Ever Mozart (1996)****

For Ever Mozart by Jean-Luc Godard is, not surprisingly, complex and meditative and often feels like a mature, restrained version of the director’s absurdist classic Weekend. Here Godard deals with two of humanity’s diametrically opposed instincts – the desire to create versus the desire to destroy – and indirectly makes the case that the two impulses have, at least thus far in our history, fought to a stalemate.

As usual for Godard, the narrative only serves as a backdrop for his sometimes pointed, sometimes deeply obtuse observations on art’s struggle for relevancy in modern society. A Parisian couple (accompanied by their Algerian maid) decides to venture to war-torn Sarajevo to stage a version of Musset’s No Trifling with Love, an obscure French drawing room comedy from the 1800s. The idealistic trio goes about their plans and preparations with naïve earnestness; they genuinely believe this production will be a great help to a devastated city in dire need of basic food and fuel.

In a concurrent storyline, an aging filmmaker (Vicky Messica, a thinly disguised version of Godard) deals with competing agendas and public apathy while attempting to complete his latest project, an experimental film called The Fatal Bolero. As he struggles for financing and artistic control, he must deal with the whims of an egotistical writer (Harry Cleven) and a shady, debt-ridden producer (Michel Francini).

Eventually, the troupe departs for Sarajevo, but along the way their Renault peters out – broken cars and seedy auto repair shops are recurrent themes in Godard’s oeuvre – and they must proceed on foot, through forests, fields and muddy swamps. They take refuge in an isolated farmhouse only to find it’s the hideout of a renegade Army unit, who wield their tanks and rocket launchers with reckless abandon.

Godard draws distinct parallels between destruction and creativity, particularly how each can only exist in the proper context. An undisciplined pack of heavily armed soldiers can only make sense in a setting of anarchic devastation, while a performance of a Mozart sonata belongs in a rarefied air of stately decorum. The only place the twain can meet, according to Godard, is at the cinema, and only in a state of reluctant tension. At the premiere of Messica’s carefully crafted film, the majority of the patrons bolt from the theatre immediately upon hearing that the movie features an insufficient number of explosions.

And many viewers will be tempted to bolt from this DVD as well. But that urge is to be resisted, for along with its bewildering moments of impenetrability, For Ever Mozart features above all a great lyrical beauty. It’s a challenging, moody film that provokes without insult and gently encourages reflection instead of childishly demanding it.


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Saturday, September 25, 2010

News and Notes

Recently added links and other news...

Copyranter is a very funny blog devoted to some of the most egregious fails of the ad biz. Chock full of the weird and the check it out.

Kissing Suzy Kolber is a highly successful NFL humor site that hardly needs my endorsement, but gets it anyway. Their parodies, especially imaginary conversations in Dallas, feel more like reality than the pablum that passes for "Sports News". Occasionally NSFW.

European Film Star Postcards has been focusing on Dutch actors this week in honor of The Netherlands Film Festival. European film buffs can learn a lot from this informative and well written blog. I always do.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post expressing my disappointment with the first 4 episodes of the new season of  Mad Men, but I predicted - or at least hoped - that the ship would be righted soon. It has, and the last 2 episodes have been among the strongest of the entire series. Matthew Weiner, I shan't doubt you again...

And finally, a tragic note. Despite my pleas, sinister forces have allowed an Original Pancake House franchise to open in my vicinity. It's all part of the ongoing cosmic conspiracy to make me fat..

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pigskin Parade (1936)****

Pigskin Parade is one of those silly musical comedies that helped Americans endure the Great Depression and it’s equally palliative today. The film is notable for marking Judy Garland’s first appearance in a feature, and although her role is minor, she pretty much steals the show.

The plot is absurdity on steroids: tiny Texas State University is accidently invited to New Haven to play big, snooty-toot Yale in a big, snooty-toot football game (Yale was once a football power?). As luck would have it, Texas State has just hired a new football coach (Jack Haley), a hapless slug named, appropriately enough, “Slug”. He is accompanied by his plucky wife Bessie (the hilarious Patsy Kelly) who turns out to be the real brains of the duo; she can draw up the Xs and Os with the best of them and administers plenty of acid-tongued sarcasm to boot.

Coach Slug and the school’s PR geek (Johnny Downs) eagerly accept the errant invitation, much to the Yalies' embarrassed chagrin, and soon Slug and Bessie have their charges learning gimmicky new plays and baffling formations. But all is not tacking dummies and wind sprints at TSU, as every night there seems to be a dance concert featuring the local talent, and Texas State shines in that department.

There are several songs by a quartet known as “The Yacht Club Boys”, who apparently were no small potatoes in those days. While the singers are clearly approaching middle age, it’s all justified by their clever song “We’d Rather be in College”, which touts the glories of being a professional student.

With the big game approaching, TSU’s burly star quarterback (Fred Kohler Jr.) is accidentally injured at one of these fetes (apparently the dances were more dangerous than the football games) and Bessie takes it on herself to find an emergency replacement.

Along the way, she and Downs stop at a roadside vegetable patch where they encounter a taciturn young hayseed (Stuart Erwin, who received an Oscar nomination for this role). Erwin can toss a watermelon 50 yards with impressive accuracy and before long he is enrolled and taking a full slate of classes and, of course, going to lots of dances.

Garland finally appears as Erwin’s kid sister Sairy, brought along to college as a sort of mascot. Judy would have been 14 when Pigskin was filmed, but her tight gingham blouses prove that she was both physically and vocally mature beyond her years, She starts to break into song a few times, but is interrupted by more pressing business, so when she finally cuts loose at yet another one of those student mixers, it’s quite cathartic. Although still a kid, Judy belts out the exotic “Balboa” with the power of a world weary 40 year-old. Garland has a few other star turns, including a rousing version of “Texas Tornado”. Amazingly, she made this tune a big hit despite being an awkwardly written song with – to paraphrase Antonio Salieri – too many words.

Eventually, after everyone has sung themselves blue in the face, the big day arrives and the Texas State eleven find they must confront not only the muscular Yalies, but a blinding snowstorm as well. The football sequences are a cut above most films of this era in terms of believability – there are some actual attempts at blocking and tackling – and young Erwin, despite nervous butterflies and an early benching, is given a final chance at redemption.

Ultimately, the game is dispensed with and the film gets back to its true stock-in-trade. Namely, a big production number complete with The Yacht Club Boys in ridiculous cowhide chaps and the all principals brandishing celebratory firearms.

And you’ll feel like celebrating as well, for while Pigskin Parade is hokum, it’s robustly entertaining hokum, and just the ticket for those seeking a nostalgic escape.


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

September Quickies

Swimming Pool (2003)***

Is Swimming Pool a tale of murder and revenge, or a clever parable about the creative process? Most critics agree this uneven film by Francois Ozon is about something….

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Moon (2009)***

Looks like 2001 and feels like Solaris, so if you liked either of those films you can probably make it through this one. At heart a mystery story, but you will likely figure out the solution long before the protagonists.

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Zift (2008)****

A black-and-white Bulgarian action film that’s violent, grungy and spews bodily fluids in all directions. Zift pays homage to classic Flim Noir by turning it into kitsch. Fun, in a vintage Coen Brothers sort of way.

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Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009)**

A few old Green Acres scripts get recycled here, as city-slickers Carrie Bradshaw and Hugh Grant hide from a bad guy in Wyoming. Wilford Brimley has a bit part as a grumpy old man, if you can imagine such a thing. A chuckle here and there, but that’s about it.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Cranes are Flying (1957)*****

A passionate love affair is torn apart by Hitler’s invasion of Russia in this Palme d’Or winner from director Mikhail Kalatozov. Veronica (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Alesky Batalov) are young Muscovites fully enthralled with each other, and in the opening scenes we see them happily skip and frolic along the river and through a surreally deserted Red Square. Their date ends at the foyer of Veronica’s apartment building, where the ecstatic couple agrees to meet again in a few days. But the distant rumbling of German tanks permanently alters the plans of Veronica and Boris, along with several million others.

Boris bravely volunteers for the front, and is rapidly shipped off to war. Veronica’s only opportunity to say goodbye is during a street rally where she and Boris, separated by an enormous cheering crowd, are unable to connect. Veronica can only watch helplessly while Boris and thousands of other new recruits march off to face the dire challenges that await them.

Story wise, The Cranes are Flying is a fairly standard wartime melodrama, filled with desolate heartbreak and inspiring heroics. But what separates this picture from the pack, and elevates it to the level of classic greatness is the sheer beauty of the images. From the very first scenes, we are treated to a visual feast of light and shadow, dynamic perspectives and shots so imaginatively composed and constructed they seem to burst from the screen.

Kalatazov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky were long time collaborators under the old Soviet film studio system and the two men complimented each other well. Kalatazov was gifted at visualizing long, complex shots, usually involving huge crowds of extras, and Urusevsky’s experience with hand-held filming as a wartime newsreel cameraman was invaluable in realizing these dreams. The two men accomplished shots that today would only be attempted through CGI.

Two scenes involving Veronica are absolutely stunning. In the first, she is seated on a moving bus which stops suddenly when it encounters a crowd of spectators watching a parade of tanks and solders marching down a Moscow road. The camera follows Veronica as she leaves her seat, exits the bus and literally forces herself through the mass of humanity and into the middle of the procession, while the camera rises high into the sky.

The second is a sequence featuring Veronica racing through a bombed out building. Kalatazov uses a fast paced montage to perfectly convey Veronica’s mounting sense of horror and panic, then ends abruptly with the opening of a door, revealing a smoldering tableau of utter destruction and despair.

The film manages to soft-peddle any faint murmurs of Soviet propaganda, favoring instead a universal message on the horrors of war. The film, in fact, strikes an almost subversive tone, as the flying cranes ultimately become a symbol of tortured souls fleeing earthly existence; a rather odd metaphor for an atheistic society.

The Cranes are Flying is a triumph of style over substance, indeed, elevating style to its own lofty perch beyond substance. And while the iron fist of Mosfilm may have granted artists a limited palette of subject matter, filmmakers like Kalatazov and Urusevsky found ways to express their extraordinary talents within the rigidity of that system. Artistically, they are as heroic as the freezing soldiers who fought and died to save Mother Russia.


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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Without a Trace (1983)****

Reagan era yuppies cope with one of humanity’s darkest fears – the sudden disappearance of a child – in this grueling emotional thriller set in gentrified Brooklyn Heights. Kate Nelligan brings a vital edge of empathy to the role of Susan Selky, a college professor raising her six-year-old son Alex (Danny Corkill) with the occasional help of her estranged, philandering husband (David Dukes). One chilly morning, Susan kisses Alex goodbye and he saunters off for a typical school day; a school day from which he will never return.

As darkness falls, Nelligan learns that her son never arrived at his class and in a helpless panic she turns to her friends and the authorities. We see Susan’s tidy and ordered life begin to spin out of control as the police, led by a veteran detective (Judd Hirsh) set up a command center in her fashionable brownstone. Tense hours are spent by the phone, waiting for a ransom call that never comes. These scenes are played in a quiet understatement, yet are nail-bitingly suspenseful. The ensuing silence becomes a haunting metaphor for the unseen malevolence that has stolen this woman’s dearest possession.

Susan’s efforts at a brave veneer are belied by an ever deepening sense of gloom and dread and with each passing hour Alex’s sketchy trail grows colder. The media becomes involved and, as they usually do, begin to turn the proceedings into a circus of sensationalism and innuendo. But Susan has no choice but to cooperate, as the talking heads eventually represent the only hope of unearthing clues to her son’s fate.

Without a Trace marks the only feature film ever directed by Stanley Jaffe, a legendary Hollywood producer with an impressive portfolio of award-winning pictures. Here he exhibits impressive narrative skills as well, presenting a terrifying film that is at heart a detective story. And while the movie detours occasionally into 1970s touchy-feely speak, we remain riveted to Nelligan and her attempts to find peace with her grief while bravely clinging to her fading hope.

Jaffe is also not opposed to putting his audience through the emotional wringer, as a number of possible clues raise Susan’s spirits then cruelly and summarily dash them when those breaks turn into blind alleys. The arrest of a suspect on circumstantial evidence may satisfy Hirsh and company, but to Nelligan this turn of events creates more questions than answers. Then on a quiet autumn afternoon, a bit of seemingly insignificant evidence rises to the surface that sparks both skepticism and a fleeting glimmer of light in a blackened tunnel.

The film’s conclusion contains Jaffe’s only serious missteps in the entire production. He has built an intelligent and frighteningly plausible scenario, then in the final reel lays on the schmaltz with a spray gun; a paradox that costs the film a fifth star from this reviewer. Still, Without a Trace remains a well plotted, true-to-life drama that brims with exceptional performances. Yes it’s a manipulative emotional roller coaster, but what a ride.


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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Real Men Jump Over Chairs

Cooking shows are a dime-a-dozen these days. Entire networks are devoted to them. But in 1969, they were something of an oddity. And none were odder than The Galloping Gourmet.

It was a syndicated program, and how the hell it got on Channel 10 out of Roanoke I’ll never know. Its programming consisted mainly of professional wrestling, country music shows and Baptist church services.

But at noon, every Monday thru Friday, this smiling British chap named Graham Kerr came dashing out of wings of his darkened studio and, after a few seconds of shaking hands and slapping the backs of his audience, would dart behind a dining table, jump over a chair (sometimes two chairs, Evel Knevel-style) and wind up at his elegant padded bar where a glass of wine awaited him…all to tremendous applause.

Kerr would then segue to some rather blurry film footage of a restaurant he and his wife Treena had recently visited – usually in Paris or Rome or some other exotic place – where they had sampled the dish he would prepare on today’s show. Kerr would then go into one of those lengthy shaggy dog barroom stories that usually ended in some sort of groan-inducing corny pun (“The moral is: Don’t hatchet your counts before they chicken”).

He would then bolt behind his kitchen counter set and begin the preparation of the featured dish and, this being 1969, it was usually some kind of meat slathered with butter or bacon…sometimes both. But the food was secondary to Kerr’s antics, as he cooked with a nonstop stream of witty banter, silly voices and, when the show was running long, a sense of urgency that bordered on the manic.

When the finished dish was finally removed from the oven, Kerr would retreat to his darkened dining room area where he would sample a bite from his creation with the smug, satisfied look of a true sensualist, prompting orgasmic “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” from the audience.

I was a schoolboy when the show first aired so, truth be told, I probably never saw more than 4 or 5 episodes. And that was enough, for the vast majority of Kerr’s jokes and naughty references sailed way over my head. But 10 years later, as a college student tired of Big Macs and Whoppers, I bought an old, grease-stained Betty Crocker recipe book at a yard sale and decided I would teach myself to cook. 30 years later, I have shelves of cookbooks and cooking is still a favorite hobby. And I’m not opposed to taking a few sips from my favorite beverages in the process.

I have Graham Kerr to thank for that. Sometimes we don’t realize our role models until years later. Today’s legions of TV chefs are great at creating healthy and practical fare; some are even entertaining. But none capture the sheer hedonistic fun of cooking - its soaring successes and abysmal flops - like The Galloping Gourmet.

Catch The Galloping Gourmet on Cooking Channel

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Legend is Gone

Le Beau Serge (1958) (Prix Jean Vigo)

Les Cousins (1959)

À double tour (1959)

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960)

Les Godelureaux (1961)

Les Sept péchés capitaux (short) (1962)

L'Œil du Malin (1962)

Ophelia (1963)

Landru (1963)

Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (short) (1964)

Le Tigre aime la chair fraiche (1964)

La Muette (short) (1965)

Marie-Chantal contre le docteur Kha (1965)

Le tigre se parfume à la dynamite (1965)

La Ligne de démarcation (1966)

Le Scandale (1967)

La Route de Corinthe (1967)

Les Biches (1968)

La Femme infidèle (1969)

Que la bête meure (1969)

Le Boucher (1970)

La Rupture (1970)

Juste avant la nuit (1971)

La Décade prodigieuse (1971) (based on Ten Days Wonder by Ellery Queen)

Dr. Popaul (1972)

Les Noces rouges (1973)

Nada also known as The Nada Gang (1974)

Une Partie de Plaisir (1975)

Les innocents aux mains sales (1975)

Les Magiciens (1976)

Folies bourgeoises (1976)

Alice ou la Dernière Fugue (1977)

Les Liens de sang (1978)

Violette Nozière (1978)

Le Cheval d'orgueil (1980)

Les Fantômes du chapelier (1982)

Le Sang des autres (1984)

Cop au Vin (1985)

Inspecteur Lavardin (1986)

Masques (1987)

Le Cri du hibou (1988, from a novel by Patricia Highsmith)

Une affaire de femmes (1989)

Jours tranquilles à Clichy (1990)

Docteur M (1990)

Madame Bovary (1991)

Betty (1992)

L'Œil de Vichy (1993)

L'Enfer (1994)

La Cérémonie (1995)

Rien ne va plus (1997)

Au cœur du mensonge (1999)

Merci pour le chocolat (2000), prix Louis-Delluc

The Flower of Evil (2002)

La Demoiselle d'honneur (The Bridesmaid) (2004)

L'ivresse du pouvoir also known as Comedy of Power (2006)

La Fille coupée en deux also known as A Girl Cut in Two (2007)

Bellamy (2009

Thursday, September 9, 2010

La Petite Lili (2003)****

La Petite Lili is one of those wonderful little movies only the French could make. A wealthy family descends on their magnificent riverfront home for a lengthy summer holiday, but instead of relaxing, they elect to spend the vacation making each other miserable. Mado (Nicole Garcia), a sought-after movie actress, has come to this idyllic mansion with her brooding teenage son Julien (Robinson Stevenin) and her elderly, wise-cracking dad Simon (Jean-Pierre Marielle).

The estate is cared for by a local family whose shy, bookish daughter Jeanne (Julie Depardieu) has a major crush on young Julien. But his attentions are consumed with the pursuit of artistic filmmaking; meanwhile, he is pursued by a young girl from a nearby town named Lili (Ludivine Sagnier), whose extreme sensuality evokes passions from every man she meets.

Mado’s boyfriend Brice (Bernard Giraudeau), a successful film producer, drops by for what he thinks will be a few days of sunny reverie, but instead serves as the catalyst for the eventual eruption of all the family tensions that have been simmering below the surface. At a garden shed screening of his experimental film, the tightly-wound Julian lashes out at his family’s confused and tepid response, while the scheming Lili decides that an affair with Brice could be her ticket out of this sleepy provincial village, and to an exciting life among the Parisian elite.

Director Claude Miller overcomes the story’s natural melodramatic tendencies by creating a unique and haunting atmosphere of sensual realism. He is able to craft a strong and enveloping sense of place, whether it’s the earthy confines of the family retreat, or the wet, vibrant streets of cosmopolitan Paris. The ensemble cast features a wide range of character types, and their interactions have an authentic ring of shifting alliances and quietly shared secrets. Indeed, virtually every character in La Petite Lili is harboring some dark and embarrassing circumstance. Some are revealed, while others are left to stew in their own guilt and regret.

Ultimately, the principles get just about everything they’ve wished for, including an older – but no wiser – Lili. When a business opportunity vividly reminds her of all she has forsaken, the remorse caused by her own self absorbed greed is palpable. But Miller does not judge her, or anyone else in this complex web of family and friends. It is this charitable view of humanity that lifts La Petite Lili beyond the realm of potboiler and into a work that’s both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.


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