Fellini's major but overlooked "Roma" has received an excellent restoration by the Criterion Collection.
When I began as a film critic, Jean-Luc Godard was widely thought to have reinvented the cinema with "Breathless" (1960). Now he is almost 80 and has made what is said to be his last film, and he's still at the job, reinventing. If only he had stopped while he was ahead. That would have been sometime in the 1970s. Maybe the 1980s. For sure, the 1990s. Without a doubt, before he made his Cannes entry, "Film: Socialisme."
The thousands of seats in the Auditorium Debussy were jammed, and many were turned away. We lucky ones sat in devout attention to this film, such is the spell Godard still casts. There is an abiding belief that he has something radical and new to tell us. It is doubtful that anyone else could have made this film and found an audience for it.
Brian Doan wonders if Mark Cousins' "The Story of Film," showing over 15 weeks on TCM this fall, deserves all the praise it has received.
OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.
I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.
It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.
Marie writes: Did you know that the world's steepest roller-coaster is the Takabisha, which opened earlier this year at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Yamanash, Japan? The ride lasts just 112 seconds but is packed with exciting features including seven twists, blackened tunnels and a 43m-high peak. But the most impressive thing about Takabisha is the 121 degree free-fall, so steep that it's been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the steepest roller-coaster made from steel!
Marie writes: the ability to explore an image in 360 degrees is nothing new, but that doesn't make these pictures any less cool. In the first of a series, the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore introduces spectacular interactive 360-degree panoramic photographs of Britain's architectural wonders. "You are put in the middle of a space, and using your computer mouse or dragging your iPad screen - you can look in any direction you choose: up, down, sideways, diagonally, in any direction in full 360 degree turn, in three dimensions."
Go here to explore St Paul's Cathedral, London, built 1675-1711.
Marie writes: There's a glorified duck pond at the center of the complex where I live. And since moving in, my apartment has been an object of enduring fascination for Canadian geese - who arrive each Spring like a squadron of jet fighters returning from a mission in France, to run a sweeping aerial recon my little garden aka: playhouse for birds... (click to enlarge)
From the Grand Poobah: Netflix is great, but they don't have everything and seem to be weak on silent films. Here's a pay site streaming a large and useful selection of high-quality films, world-wide....
Marie writes: when Roger told me about this place, I signed-up to see if I could watch one their free movies? Yup! I can stream MUBI in Canada; though content will vary depending on where you live (that's also case with Netflix Canada) and so nothing new there. And after looking through their current catalog, I can report that they do indeed have some rare movies - stuff I've never found anywhere else. I even read that Martin Scorcese is a member.
The grand Poobah writes: I have been assured by many posters on my video games blog entry that it took decades for the cinema to gain recognition as an art form. Untrue. Among the first to admire it was Leo Tolstoy, and I reprinted his late 19th-century reaction in my Book of Film. In 1908, Tolstoy and his family appeared in an early motion picture, and if you saw The Last Station (2009) you may want to compare your memories with the real thing. Here is some information about those in the film.
The Last Station (2009) Director Michael Hoffman. Cast: James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti and Kerry Condon."The Last Station" focuses on the last year of Count Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), a full-bearded Shakespearian figure presiding over a household of intrigues. The chief schemer is Chertkov (Giamatti), his intense follower, who idealistically believes Tolstoy should leave his literary fortune to the Russian people. It's just the sort of idea that Tolstoy might seize upon in his utopian zeal. Sofya (Helen Mirren), on behalf of herself and her children, is livid." - Ebert. You can read Roger's full review HERE.
Marie writes: what do you get a man with a massive book collection who has artwork by Edward Lear and huge canvases by Gillian Ayres? What would a man with a Pulitzer and a Webby now renowned for the verbosity of his tweeting, like for his birthday? Much pondering went into answering that. Until suddenly a light-bulb went on above my head! (Click image.)Of course! It's so obvious - turn the Grand Poobah into a super hero! Super Critic: battling the forces of bad movies and championing the little guy, while tweeting where no critic has gone before! In the process, we'll get to see him wearing a red cape and blue tights. Perfect.Note: the artwork was done by Dave Fox of INTOON Productions. He makes personalized comic book covers and animation cels. Diane Kremmer, a long time friend and fellow artist, works and lives with Dave on Pender Island (one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of BC near Washington State.) I spent last weekend with them and took advantage of Dave's cartooning skills. I mention this because he did all the work. I just sat there and drank his wine. :-)
View image Looming large.
I believe it was Gordon Gecko who proclaimed: "Ham is good!"
The "Wall Street" supervillain (superhero?) was not advocating violation of any dietary laws, of course, but simply stating a fact: Sometimes Big Acting can be quite enjoyable. Other times, of course, it can be cringe-worthy, irritating, risible, embarrassing. Only you can decide which is which. For you.
Take for example the story of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest" -- she of "No wire hangers!" and "Eat your meat!" (both precursors of "I drink your milkshake!"). Pre-release publicity reports claimed that Dunaway was giving a serious dramatic performance. But from the very first screenings it was painfully (yet fasciatingly) clear that somebody was going off her rocker -- but which actress was it: Crawford or Dunaway?
Performances pitched at the balcony, or the moon, always take the risk of falling somewhere between "tour-de-force" and "trying way too hard," virtuosity and showboating. And opinions may very about where they come down. (See "A Journey to the End of Taste," below.) You may wince at the Method nakedness displayed by Marlon Brando or James Dean in some of their most intense emotional moments ("You're tearing me apart!"). Or you may rejoice at even the most outré dramatic and/or comedic efforts of Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson, Klaus Kinski, Will Ferrell, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Nicolas Cage, Ben Stiller, Tyler Perry, Owen Wilson, Gene Wilder... while others find them excruciating, overwrought or unintentionally campy.
The bigger the performance, the bigger the risks. Or maybe not. Just look over the history of Oscar nominations for acting.
Barbie as Karen in "Superstar."
Maybe there should just be a category in the right column for "Lists." Here's one from the film and music writers of Time Out London (which will always be the only real Time Out) called "50 greatest music films ever except for 'Spinal Tap'." No, I added those last four words, but the editors explain in their intro that "we’re celebrating great films – dramas and documentaries – about real musicians."
As if David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls never actually toured in the flesh? As if they aren't at least as "real" as, say, KISS or the Monkees or Hootie and the Blowfish, which contained no one named "Hootie" and nobody named "Blowfish." (BTW, the Ramones weren't really "Ramones"! Those were just stage names!) Oh, and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" was about a guy named "Blake." Michael Pitt looked like Kurt Cobain, but it was only about Cobain in the sense that "Velvet Goldmine" is about Bowie or Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, or "Grace of My Heart" is about Carole King or Brian Wilson or any of the Brill Building writers (even though a lot of them wrote songs for the movie). Then there's "'Round Midnight" (which is on the list) with Dexter Gordon playing Dale Turner, a fictionalized version of Bud Powell...
View image Downey, CA: "What happened?" Third shot of "Superstar." Compare to second shot of "Zodiac" -- establishing a neighborhood, from a car on the street...
So, OK: No "Spinal Tap." But no "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco"? No "You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson"? No "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"? No "X: The Unheard Music"? No "The Girl Can't Help It"? No "Wattstax"? No "Woodstock"? No "The Kids are Alright"? No "No Direction Home"? No "The Buddy Holly Story"? No "Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey"? No "Heart of Gold"? No "The Filth and the Fury"? No "We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen"? No "La Bamba"? No "Kurt and Courtney"? See how much fun this is? Really, though, I'd substitute any of these for several of the selections on the list.
But, OK, many of my favorites are included: "24 Hour Party People," "Jazz on a Summer's Day," "Stop Making Sense," "DIG!," "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (his autobiography, "Straight Life," is the best account of addiction I've ever read), "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I and II (The Metal Years)"...
View image No one here gets out alive.
At the toppermost of the poppermost: Todd Haynes' 1987 "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," a 45-minute lo-fi "dramatization" that was never officially released because of music clearance troubles (that is, brother Richard wouldn't let Haynes use any Carpenters tunes). Still, after 20 years as an "underground" item, it's available from Google Video here. It's something you really need to see: a documentary-style biopic of Karen Carpenter performed mostly by Barbie dolls. Yes, its a parody (so are most musical biopics, including others on the list -- see the upcoming Jake Kasdan/Judd Apatow picture, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" for more on that score). But it presents straightforward facts about anorexia that could have been excerpted from any PBS or 16mm educational doc of the period. It's also a formula showbiz melodrama. But for all the layers of artifice, like Haynes' Sirk opera "Far from Heaven," it becomes strangely, hypnotically -- and genuinely -- moving. Prepare yourself for Haynes' Dylan fantasia, "I'm Not There," by watching "Superstar" and "Velvet Goldmine."
ASIDE: From an interview with Haynes at The Reeler: I actually think that it's easier for people who know less about Dylan to go with it, if they're up for something different. Clearly, that's the first thing: Whether you know Dylan or not, you have to surrender to the movie to have a good time at all and get anything out of it. If you have a lot of Dylanisms in your head, it's kind of distracting, because you're sitting there with a whole second movie going on. You're annotating it as you go. It's kind of nice to sit back and let it take you. I think people get it: Even if you don't know which are the true facts and which are the fictional things, and when we're playing with fact and fiction, from the tone of it, you know that it's playing around with real life. In a way, that's what biopics always do. They just don't tell you that they're doing it, and they don't make it part of the fun. You have to follow the Johnny Cash story and just sort of think, "This is what really happened." Of course, you know it's being dramatized, but you're not in on the joke. You're not in on the game of that. In this movie, at least, you get tipped off to it.Oh yeah, but about that list. Here it is. Make of it what you will:
1 "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story" (Todd Haynes, 1987) 2 "Don't Look Back" (DA Pennebaker, 1967) -- Bob Dylan 3 "Gimme Shelter" (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) --Rolling Stones 4 "24 Hour Party People" (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) -- Manchester scene 5 "Topsy-Turvy" (Mike Leigh, 1999) -- Gilbert and Sullivan 6 "Monterey Pop" (DA Pennebaker, 1968) -- concert 7 "Be Here to Love Me" (Margaret Brown, 2004) -- Townes Van Zandt 8 "Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould" (Francois Girard, 1993) -- Glenn Gould 9 "Cocksucker Blues" (Robert Frank, 1972) -- Rolling Stones 10 "Bird" (Clint Eastwood, 1988) -- Charlie Parker 11 "The Last Waltz" (Martin Scorsese, 1978) -- The Band & Friends farewell concert 12 "Rude Boy" (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980) -- The Clash 13 "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" (Stephen Kijak, 2006) -- Scott Walker 14 "Bound for Glory" (Hal Ashby, 1976) -- Woody Guthrie 15 "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II" (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988) -- LA punk; '80s metal & hair bands 16 "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005) -- Daniel Johnston 17 "Sweet Dreams" (Karel Reisz, 1982) -- Patsy Cline 18 "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (Don McGlynn, 1982) -- Art Pepper 19 "Elgar" (Ken Russell, 1962) -- Edward Elgar 20 "Rust Never Sleeps" (Neil Young, 1979) -- Neil Young 21 "The Future is Unwritten" (Julien Temple, 2006) -- Joe Strummer 22 "DiG!" (Ondi Timoner, 2004) -- Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols 23 "Some Kind Of Monster" (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) -- Metallica 24 "A Hard Day's Night" (Richard Lester, 1964) -- The Beatles 25 "Jimi Hendrix" (Joe Boyd, 1973) -- Jimi Hendrix(more)
View image Three tales in "The Fountain": Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.
There's nothing tepid about Darren Aronofsky, and I love him for it. "The Fountain," his grand mythical fantasy that interweaves three tales about the fear of death and the quest for eternal life, is a terrifically ambitious spectacle that Aronofsky commits to completely. I have no idea how critics and audiences are going to receive it (I never do), but it's exhilarating to see somebody go this far out on a limb for his vision.
Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz appear as versions of the same characters in all three narratives. Dr. Tommy Creo is research doctor studying brain tumors while his wife Izzy (or "Iz," as in "is") is dying of one; as Spanish conquistador Tomas Creo, serving Queen Isabella during the 16th century terror of the Inquisition, who is sent on a quest for the Tree of Life in a story called "The Fountain," written by Izzy; and as some kind of monk/space traveller hurling toward a nebula with the ancient tree in what looks like an interstellar snowglobe, haunted by the ghost of Izzy.