trailer tuesday

in anticipation of the upcoming fantastic fest, this week's entry is for what i consider one of the real coups of the programming team this year, kim ki-young's the housemaid (1960).

you don't have to understand korean to get chills from that bit with the water glass. i cannot wait to see this tense and unpredictable little gem. fantastic fest runs at the alamo drafthouse on south lamar from 9.23.10 through 9.30.10. ifc is running a contest where you can enter to win two all-access passes to the festival and you can register for those here. i'll see you there.


queue de grâce

in what will, most likely, be a recurring feature here, for a week at a time i am turning over complete control of my netflix streaming queue to one of you fine folks. for one entire week (excluding visits to actual theaters) i will only watch content curated by you, fellow cinephiles and internet prowlers. i will then tell the world what it is like to see through your eyes for seven days.

first in the chute: miss chelsea maria george.

that's chelsea on the left. the indignity she is suffering in this photo is miniscule compared to what she has in store for me from 11.8.10 through 11.14.10. for one dark week in november i anticipate getting to know both romy and michelle far better than i ever wanted to. i imagine bette midler will be well represented also, as she and chelsea are apparently related.

chelsea, did you ever know that you're my hero?

you can follow chelsea's online exploits at the brilliantly named something terrible has happened. it is a fledgling enterprise, as her starting a blog was a condition for our little experiment, but soon i am sure it will be overflowing with all things baby bumpers (i'll let her explain it).

as soon as i am sufficiently recovered i will do this again sometime early in 2011. if you have any interest in being my guest programmer, let me know. maybe we'll have some sort of contest if there are enough hats in the ring. in the meantime, pray for me.


trailer tuesday

my love for the current wave of australian darkness is no secret and i am chomping at the bit to see this one. this week's entry is for david michôd's animal kingdom (2010).

it is seeing a limited release in the states as of 8.13.10 but, with any luck, it should turn up in austin before too long. if you would like to see his fine short film, netherland dwarf (2008), you can watch that here. i also recommend the short spider (2007), which he wrote, if you would like to see the last film that made me audibly gasp. twice.


starlite update

alright, september's installment of the starlite cinema series will take place on tuesday, 9.21.10 at 9 p.m. here is the event page for those of you on facebook. if you can't access this and would like to attend, just send me a message and i will make sure you get all the particulars. in the meantime, please avail yourself of these beautiful editions of verne's work published by pierre-jules hetzel.


starlite cinema series - verne-al equinox

another starlite installment is in the books. thanks to the folks that joined me this evening for our program of films from spain. we enjoyed rogue pixar animator rodrigo blaas' alma (2009). for those of you unable to attend, here's an excellent quality stream.

¿cómo se dice "the creeps"?

after that we viewed buñuel's simon of the desert (1965) and victor erice's golden-hued spirit of the beehive (1973). it was a lovely evening and, with any luck, the last one we'll have for a while where we have to deal with summertime temperatures.

september's program ramps up the humor and adventure a fair amount. in observance of the autumnal equinox we are celebrating with our own verne-al equinox.

yes sir, an evening of material adapted/descended from the father of science fiction, the one and only jules verne. we will begin the evening with my single favorite comic book adaptation ever - the amazing screw-on head (2006).

this is mike mignola's greatest achievement, in my estimation. at abraham lincoln's behest, the amazing screw-on head takes on the singularly vengeful emperor zombie (head's former manservant) and an interdimensional demigod who lives in a turnip. there's also a monkey named ricky. as great as that sounds, it's even better. archaic technology collides with supernatural hilarity and the world is made safe for western expansion.

following that we will have the mysterious geographic explorations of jasper morello (2005).

told with beautiful silhouette animation, jasper morello is the tale of a disgraced aerial navigator in search of redemption. clanking victorian airships, plague sweeping the countryside, a voyage into uncharted lands where fantastic dangers await you at every turn - jules verne would be right proud. this was australia's oscar entry for best animated short in 2005.

our feature presentation is journey to the center of the earth (1959).

the incomparable magic of cinemascope and gertrude the duck!

i will nail down a date some time this week and post the pertinent details here as soon as i do. we are looking at late september so the weather will be cooler. also, keep your eyes peeled for the halloween mini-festival coming in october. or we will peel them for you.


the american

you have to watch jean-luc godard's breathless (1960) at least twice because the entire first time through all you are doing is falling in love with jean seberg.


me versus scott pilgrim

i apologize to my comic-shopping brethren in advance. i know we are supposed to celebrate any instance of "the geek shall inherit the earth" that we can but not like this. never like this...

scott pilgrim vs. the world (2010) in a nutshell:

god, aren't video games and television awesome?

aren't relationships...wait, that word is a little intense. strike that. isn't "hanging out" difficult and confusing?

"what's the password?"

i just saved you nine dollars and two hours. you're welcome.

i'm obviously being glib but this movie gets right to the heart of pretty much everything i think is wrong with my generation on down. and before you start with your internal dialogue - "it's just a movie. in fact, it's just a comic book movie", et cetera - i'd like to make a couple of points clear.

one - no art is created in a vacuum. every creative act is, at the very least, a reflection of its creator and, more frequently than not, a direct reflection of the culture/era that spawned it. in addition to being a reflection, this movie doubles as an unintentional ringing indictment.

two - i have an abiding respect and affection for comics that aren't garbage. to make the "it's only a movie, and a comic book movie at that" argument discounts the potential of both media unfairly. comics, be they superhero or confessional/autobiographical (or somewhere in between), serve a number of functions for us. they are our mythology as well as the chronicle of the everyman. when done well, they are as honest, evocative, powerful and nuanced as any other creative endeavor. saying it's "just" a comic/movie only betrays a lack of understanding of the scope and potential of film and/or comics.

now, those things being understood, here are some of the things that i haven't been able to stop thinking about since i saw this thing 72 hours ago:

the lowering of the bar - sure, water seeks its own level but that doesn't mean because the average is so low that you get to start changing definitions. for example, and it's a mistake often made in this post-buffy world, having the snarky last word should not be allowed to pass for wit. tom stoppard is wit. there is a difference. you don't get to change that. times change but standards must remain. somewhere along the line, we have confused having pop culture with having a culture. we have confused knowing trivia with having wisdom.

this pathetic arrested adolescence - again, this started with my generation but has only gotten worse since. for instance, this epidemic of stating some version of "this is a thing of quality" (usually "awesome" occurs somewhere in the conversation. really? "awesome"? the goonies fills you with dread, veneration and wonder, either sacred or sublime?) when what you really mean is "this is a thing i remember fondly from my childhood, when i felt safe and my happiness was looked after" really needs to come to an end. the two aren't even remotely the same sentiment. you're obviously confused. yes, things can be both. how many times is that really the case, though? case in point, they are shooting a film version of the game battleship as we speak. $200 million budget. no joke. i'll bet it's going to be...awesome. and by awesome i mean a ridiculous travesty. look, it's the same argument i make over and over again - yes, green eggs and ham was incredible. when we were four. you're allowed to move on to something else. you're allowed to leave it behind.

you have a catch phrase. isn't that great? - this desperate childishness manifests itself practically everywhere, from the aforementioned inability to deal with relationships to the average white, middle class, vaguely hipsterish lexicon you will find if you spend more than twenty seconds online at a time:

blah blah blah? yes, please.
best. blank. ever.
definish, ridic, defs, bril, totes or any other bullshit like this.
and so on and so on.

here's an easy test - take the words you say, and the way you say them, and put them in someone else's mouth. imagine your grandmother saying it, imagine the president saying it, imagine samuel beckett saying it. if it sounds idiotic to you coming out of their mouths do you think that's unique to them? (the answer is no). all these phrases/devices can be retired. the sooner, the better. at best, they're lazy. at worst, they're infantile. you're adults, for christ's sake.

to be fair, at least the film was clever, but even that is almost a strike. "clever" is the zenith, this generation's epitaph. carve it on the great god eggers' tombstone and make your pilgrimage to it every year. i always think of pauline kael in cases like this (i am paraphrasing) and how the merely clever learn to write a parody of novels without ever learning to write novels. ultimately, it's empty. just like this movie. unless you think being twenty-odd years old but behaving as if you were perpetually fourteen is perfect. if being mumbly, precious and having an enviable 8-bit game collection is your highest ambition then you have found your citizen kane.



trailer tuesday

the ringling brothers circus train just pulled into austin and is sitting a block away from my house. i'll drive by it about a dozen times between now and sunday when they pull out of town to move on to their next stop. i am endlessly fascinated by what i imagine happens on that train. i know i romanticize it far beyond what is true, most likely, but if life isn't a whirlwind of love and laughter on a circus train that's a damned shame. this week's entry is for children of all ages! ladies and gentlemen, the greatest show on earth (1952)!


no sympathy for lady vengeance

the paramount theater summer film series is in the middle of their "art-house essentials" program right now and tonight's offering was akira kurosawa's last epic, the masterful ran (1985).

it's most often touted as the emperor's interpretation of king lear, but i think it's just as much autobiographical as anything else. the film is the story of the great lord hidetora, patriarch of the ichimonji clan, and the mayhem ("ran" translates as "chaos") that follows in the wake of his decision to turn ruling authority over to his three sons. taro, the eldest, is given the first castle and supreme authority. jiro and saburo are to be given the second and third castles with the proviso that they are to support taro unwaveringly. hidetora uses a sheaf of arrows to demonstrate the principle that three are much harder to break than one. saburo, wary of the dream that spurred this decision and his father's unaccustomed, highly emotional state, argues vehemently against dividing power and is banished for his trouble.

now, it was hidetora's dream and subsequent decision that was the catalyst for the action but we will soon meet the true driving wheel for everything that unfolds subsequently - taro's wife, lady kaede. she and the ichimonji clan have a history, shall we say. hidetora was responsible for the death of her family and she now resides in her ancestral home as the wife of his eldest son and she will stop at nothing to gain her revenge. adultery, murder, drinking blood from your wounds - all in a day's work.

matters soon reach an impasse as she exerts her will and hidetora is turned out by both his remaining sons. he and his escort take shelter in the vacant third castle and the combined forces of the two sons massacre his assembled guards and concubines. only hidetora survives the brutal attack and wanders from the burning ruins of the castle, his mind lost.

this battle sequence is simply stunning. the first half is accompanied only by the lush score and you don't even notice the absence of ambient sound until the report of the pivotal gunshot knocks you back in your seat. then you are immersed in the chaos of battle. fire, screaming, arrows flying, madness.

hidetora descends further and further into his shambling hell as the palace intrigue rolls on, accompanied by the royal fool, kyoami. as hidetora can no longer make sense, the fool (naturally) has to dispense most of the truth, and it is a bleak truth indeed. when hidetora mumbles that he is lost, kyoami replies "such is the human condition". and, summing up the worldview of the film quite succinctly, "man is born crying. when he has cried enough, he dies". not the jolliest harlequin you would ever want to meet.

saburo, the only one with enough foresight to have argued against the wretched plan in the first place, eventually attempts to come to his father's rescue with rival warlords waiting in the wings to feast on the scraps of the ichimonji clan. the inevitable final showdown (you don't outfit 1400 extras with armor and weapons to have them not fight) ends the way all shakespeare ought to - the bad, unhappily, the good, unluckily. and lady kaede? the fact that she thoroughly destroyed the house of ichimonji was probably of little comfort as she faced kurogane for the last time. there is no relief for anyone, in fact. in the final debate that occurs regarding man's place in the universe, the best-case scenario is that the gods weep at our inhumanity.

the dark, nihilistic thread that runs throughout is uncommon for kurosawa. no other film of his, that i have seen, is so bereft of hope. this is where autobiography comes into play the most, i think. he was nearing the end of a long and storied career. there were rumblings from younger filmmakers that he was obsolete. he was nearly blind. his wife of thirty-nine years died during the production of the film. his personal tragedy fused inextricably with the shakespearean and ran is the end result. and it is a masterstroke, another valid argument for great suffering equating to great art. the colors are brilliant. the costumes are striking. the action is intense. the misery is palpable. it is utterly compelling, beautiful and bleak beyond measure. see it if you can.

the paramount's "art-house essentials" rolls on a little while longer with a double feature of the candy-colored the umbrellas of cherbourg (1964) and the young girls of rochefort (1967) on wednesday, 8.18.10 and the luminous fiftieth anniversary restoration of jean-luc godard's breathless (1960) on thursday, 8.19.10 and saturday, 8.21.10. if you are an austin film society member, you receive $2 off the price of admission for these particular screenings. do it!


gangsters and guilt

as part of the paramount theater's summer film series tonight they screened a pair of my favorite films noir from the UK, brighton rock (1947) and odd man out (1947). neither of these are in print on region 1 dvd, so it was quite the treat to get to experience them at all, much less on the big screen.

brighton rock was first on the bill and wasted no time in getting to the crime. after a whirlwind introduction to the seaside charms of brighton, we are thrown right into a deadly game of cat and mouse between a reporter and a gang of hoods led by pinkie brown. richard attenborough's performance as pinkie is one of the screen's great sociopaths. strangely free, and intolerant, of traditional vice, he does not balk at the violence necessary to run his grubby little mob.

there are two great forces at work in pinkie's life.

one - feelings of inadequacy that manifest themselves in the most napoleonic ways. he is small time. he knows it in his heart. he stinks of it. he is doomed to the purgatory of his reach forever exceeding his grasp. to call what he does overcompensation would be diplomatic.

funny i should mention purgatory because...

two - the ol' catholic church. it looms over this film like a crow. it is no accident that the pivotal crime takes place on an infernal (literally) carnival ride. crucifixes abound. the most profound conversation pinkie has with rose, the waitress he courts to keep out of the witness box, is instigated when she drops her rosary. the moral ambiguity that is the core of noir is even more troublesome when you inject this overwhelming dose of religion. typically in noir, no one is particularly innocent. now they need to go to confession as well.

pinkie tries, and fails, to keep his infinitesimal empire in order. the fear and (usually dormant) nobility of his cohorts impede him. the braying, insistent sleuthing of ida impedes him. most tellingly, he impedes himself by simply never knowing when to quit. he can't resist cutting a deal with a rival gangster that ends up getting him cut. he can't resist cutting a record that could be evidence when rose asks him to record his voice for her.

and, of course, he goes the way of all small time hoods. full circle. ah, the purifying waters.

and how about that denouement? rose sits on her bed, sobbing, roundly rejecting the notion of absolution. and what does the nun at her side say? "you or i cannot fathom the appalling strangeness of the mercy of god". you can say that again, sister! this is proven almost immediately, as god's grace shows up as a scratch on a phonograph record. the end. amen.

next up was carol reed's odd man out. james mason is excellent in this as the leader of a group very much like the IRA in a city very much like belfast, though neither is stated outright.

escaped from prison, and having been in hiding for several months, he organizes a raid on a mill to gather funds to finance the group's activities. things go awry, as they are wont to do, a man is killed and mason's character, johnny, is gravely wounded in the melee. in the chaos of the getaway, johnny is left behind by his cowardly, incompetent accomplices and thus begins the longest twelve hours of his life.

i actually enjoyed this film more, overall. it was just as fraught with the ambiguities of the catholic x/y axis of good and evil, but added to that was a much more intriguing and complicated question of loyalty and allegiance raised by the day to day realities of the IRA and their struggle. as johnny goes on his bizarre odyssey, there are a number of characters with a vested interest in his fate. first and foremost, there is kathleen, the woman who loves him. she is told more than once to remember that johnny does not belong to her. he belongs to the glorious cause, the law and to god, but not to her. father tom simply wants to hear his confession and offer him comfort. the police want their pound of flesh. shell, the bird-fancying reprobate is working the reward angle. lukey wants to paint him, as he imagines he will find something in a dying man's eyes that no ordinary model can offer. he runs across all these characters, and more, and not a single one finds his situation to be black and white. he has committed murder - accidentally, granted - but not one civilian is willing to condemn him.

ultimately, he finds his way into kathleen's arms again and she proves to everyone just exactly how much they were wrong in claiming that johnny didn't belong to her. the beautiful, inescapably bleak ending made me think of james joyce. "...he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead". shattering.

these are definitely worth your time, especially if you are a noir fan. UK noir has a tone you don't find in its US counterparts. over here, we are used to the knight errant and his isolation. we are accustomed to little man who made a huge mistake. these films are something else entirely. these films are bursting with people and activity. they take the usual moral quandaries of the hardboiled and expand them to find room for god amidst the gangsters. they add politics so tangled that one hundred raymond chandlers at one hundred typewriters would still be working it out.

austinites, you still have thursday to catch these. i highly recommend you do. you won't get the chance to see them, especially this way, very often. odd man out starts at 7 p.m., brighton rock follows at 9:20.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for harlan county u.s.a. (1976). solidarity, brothers and sisters.


summer tour - santa fe

there seems to be no more frontier, a fact i lament often. as we have crisscrossed the western united states these last two weeks, there were few places that didn't have cell phone service. you can imagine how few truly open spaces are left - no fences, no powerlines, nothing but starlight at night. while there may be nowhere to find the genuine article, the eaves movie ranch is at least devoted to maintaining a beautiful illusion of the old west.

productions took place here as early as 1962 but really began to hit their stride with the cheyenne social club (1970). ranch owner j.w. eaves struck a deal with gene kelly to split the cost of construction of a full scale western town for that movie and it has been a hub of western film activity ever since. it has a main street (either bustling or inhabited only by tumbleweeds, as need be), a hotel, a saloon, a jail, homesteads, a church and a good deal more. everything a cowboy might need.

it is a fully functioning film set but is also open to the public for tours or to book events and provides an amazing backdrop for the thirsty ear festival every year. so, if you pine for the 1860s like i do, and you're ever in santa fe, you can take a look back in time thanks to the fine work these folks do.

this is our last stop before we're back in texas. it has been great fun and we have met some truly wonderful people along the way. thanks, everyone!


trailer tuesday: summer tour - fort collins

this week's entry is from my favorite product of fort collins, colorado, herk harvey. harvey was a prolific filmmaker in the documentary/educational/industrial film field, turning out countless films while serving in various capacities for the centron corporation in lawrence, kansas. today, though, we are here to celebrate his one and only feature film, carnival of souls (1962).

short on budget but long on atmosphere, this $33,000 wonder has managed to dig into the consciousness of midnight moviegoers for over four decades now and has influenced everyone from george a. romero to david lynch. the oddly unsympathetic candace hilligoss icily navigating her way through this maddening limbo is one of the great B-movie performances of all time. and, in keeping with our travelogue theme, it provides a nice segue from salt lake city, where we were yesterday, as key scenes were also shot in the magnificent decay of the crumbling saltair pavilion on the shores of the great salt lake. the pavilion was later razed by arsonists in november of 1970. fortunately, harvey and company had the good sense/luck to take advantage of the stately old beauty before she tumbled into the lake for good.

i am not sure how much time i will have for more tour entries. we are making the turn for home now and time will be tight in most places. hope you have enjoyed being on the road with us for a little while. texas, we'll see you soon.