12.26.2012

trailer tuesday

i am a day late since my computer died yesterday and the title is a day off, but what are you going to do? here is the post-holiday comedown, one of the best things i have seen in a long time, radu muntean's virtuosic tuesday, after christmas (2010).

12.18.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for bruce weber's excellent documentary about chet baker, let's get lost (1988).

12.11.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for the first thing that has me excited about next year, shane carruth's upstream color (2013).

12.07.2012

trailer tuesday

on a friday. yeah, i know.

this week's entry has some pretty big guns weighing in on the biggest seismic shift since talkies. for your consideration, christopher kenneally's side by side (2012).

11.28.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's (tardy) entry is for léos carax's holy motors (2012). in conjuction with the austin arrival of this film, the austin film society is hosting a carax retrospective 12.2.12 through 12.10.12. highly recommended.

11.20.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for michael cimino's unjustly maligned heaven's gate (1980). it is just out in a new restored director's cut on criterion blu-ray today. highly recommended.

11.13.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for bill and turner ross' tchoupitoulas (2012). i missed this when it was here for sxsw but, fortunately, it is going to see a theatrical release on 12.7.12. looking forward to it.

11.06.2012

trailer tuesday

happy election day! this week's entry might do a little to restore your faith in the human spirit. ladies and gentlemen, frank capra's mr. smith goes to washington (1939).

10.30.2012

trailer tuesday

the last of this year's halloween trailers is for giorgio ferroni's mill of the stone women (1960).

10.23.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for john d. hancock's let's scare jessica to death (1971).

10.16.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for peter jackson's dead alive (1992).

10.09.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry keeps the lycanthropic ball rolling with stuart walker's werewolf of london (1935).

10.08.2012

the queue de grace family hour

if you are a regular reader of vitagraph you may have noticed a decided lack of activity around here for a while. another post will be coming along some time soon to sort of explain that. today, though, we are going to have some action. meet the laszlos!

you may remember them from previous vitagraph appearances by henry, thomas and mae. these are some of my favorite people in the world and i'm sure they would be among yours, as well. they have been kind enough to step into the breach here and take on a queue de grâce assignment, family style. i have chosen seven films for them - a family classic or two and some anarchic comedy, bookended by a pair of halloween treats - to watch during the upcoming week and they are going to be checking in daily on their excellent blog, backyard university, to report back on whether or not they give my choices twelve thumbs up or down. you should really tune in there regularly and follow their exploits. they are hilarious and inspiring and i love them very much. it should be a grand time for all.

10.02.2012

trailer tuesday

the best time of the year is upon us once again. to kick off october this week's entry celebrates one of my favorite underrated horror directors, john brahm. ladies and gentlemen, i give you the undying monster (1942)!

9.25.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for the most recent film from one of my absolute favorite animators, michel ocelot. ladies and gentlemen, tales of the night (2011).

9.18.2012

trailer tuesday

the countdown is almost over. fantastic fest starts in less than forty-eight hours. this week's entry is for one of a number of films i hope to see this week, peter strickland's berberian sound studio (2012).

for the full schedule, click here. hope to see you there.

9.11.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for michael haneke's amour (2012).

9.04.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for joel schumacher's cousins (1989).

8.28.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for johnnie to and wai ka-fai's inspired bit of lunacy, mad detective (2007).

8.25.2012

the skuriels

as part of the aggregate of bloggers and critics that takes part in the muriel awards, i was invited to also cast a ballot in a new project that we did in conjunction with the fine folks that do a similar project over at the skandies. once every ten years, venerable british film magazine sight & sound releases their list of the top fifty films of all time. it's one of the few lists that i give any credence. we thought it might be fun to put together a response and, as it is a collaborative enterprise between our two groups, the result was christened the skuriels. we assembled a top twenty of our own and there are also tons of extras, including honorable mentions, orphan films that were sentimental favorites and a directors list. there is a lot of good writing about a lot of great films and i am very pleased to have been included. amidst all the opining, on this page you can find my brief appreciation of jean-pierre melville's army of shadows (1969).

on the surface, it's a simple assignment. one easy question - what twenty movies best represent to me the greatest that cinema has to offer? then you start making mental lists, then you start jotting notes, then you run out of paper, then you scrap it all and start all over. once you do all that, you realize that on any given day you would come up with a completely different result, rendering all of this moot. still, it's a fun exercise. if you don't feel like digging through all the stuff over at the skuriels page, here is my ballot (ranked, which wasn't required). for now, this is the best that i think cinema has to offer.

1. a woman under the influence (1974), john cassavetes
2. army of shadows (1969), jean-pierre melville
3. citizen kane (1941), orson welles
4. the testament of dr. mabuse (1933), fritz lang
5. the mirror (1975), andrei tarkovsky
6. aguirre, the wrath of god (1972), werner herzog
7. the third man (1949), carol reed
8. animal crackers (1930), victor heerman
9. the rules of the game (1939), jean renoir
10. there will be blood (2007), paul thomas anderson
11. the general (1926), clyde bruckman/buster keaton
12. contempt (1963), jean-luc godard
13. bride of frankenstein (1935), james whale
14. mccabe & mrs. miller (1971), robert altman
15. stardust memories (1980), woody allen
16. naked (1993), mike leigh
17. taxi driver (1976), martin scorsese
18. in cold blood (1967), richard brooks
19. it's a gift (1943), norman z. mcleod
20. beauty and the beast (1946), jean cocteau

there are some notable absences there, obviously. hitchcock, fellini, bergman, kurosawa and a lot of other favorites that didn't make this cut. check back in ten years and we'll see if that changes. in the meantime, if you'd like to play along, feel free to leave a ballot of your own in the comments section. i'm always eager and curious to see what makes up someone else's essentials.

8.21.2012

trailer tuesday

in case you guys haven't heard, spike lee is coming to town. he'll be at the paramount on 9.8.12 discussing his work followed by a screening of summer of sam (1999). this week's entry, though, is for my favorite film of his, the incendiary do the right thing (1989). click here for more info about the show.

8.14.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for a particular slice of italo-madness from franco prosperi called wild beasts (1984). if you've ever wondered what might happen if an entire zoo's water supply was dosed with pcp, here's your answer. many thanks to lee sparks, frequent contributor over at isle of cinema, for pointing the way to this one.

8.07.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for asghar farhadi's a separation (2011), coming to dvd on 8.21.12. highly recommended.

8.01.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for the utter madness that is lam ngai-choi's riki-oh: the story of ricky (1991). i promise you've never seen anything like it.

7.24.2012

trailer tuesday

once again, criterion steps in and saves one of my favorites from languishing in the vhs scrap heap. this week's entry is for louis malle's vanya on 42nd street (1994), one of my favorite cinematic experiences ever. now, will someone release betrayal (1983) on dvd, for christ's sake?

7.17.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for ingmar bergman's the magician (1958).

7.11.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry comes just a hair past tuesday, but we'll allow it since i just got home from seeing this one, nicholas ray's frightening and underappreciated bigger than life (1956). ripped from today's headlines!

7.03.2012

trailer tuesday

it is with a heavy heart that trailer tuesday marks the passing of a grand old man. this week's entry is for mervyn leroy's no time for sergeants (1958), the film adaptation of the play that first brought andy griffith to prominence and the first time he worked with don knotts. so long, andy. we will miss you.

6.27.2012

trailer tuesday

i've been a little under the weather so this week's entry is a little late. sorry about that. for your approval, i present michael r. roskam's bullhead (2011), freshly available on dvd/blu-ray yesterday.

6.19.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for alison klayman's ai weiwei: never sorry (2012).

6.13.2012

the forecast calls for thunder

speaking of the oklahoma city thunder, which i was yesterday, i must make a little change in our queue de grâce schedule.

like an idiot, i scheduled haylee's queue to run concurrently with the nba finals. that's just not going to fly. game seven of that series could potentially take place on 6.26.12 so i am moving haylee's queue to the week starting 7.9.12. that way we will have plenty of time to flip over cars and set things on fire. see you then.

6.12.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry comes hot on the heels of my beloved oklahoma city thunder's first step to bringing home the nba championship. ladies and gentlemen, steve james' excellent documentary, hoop dreams (1994).

6.05.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry coincides with the new essential cinema series that begins this evening, courtesy of the austin film society. beginning tonight at 7 p.m. at the alamo south lamar the austin film society kicks off their new program, cinesur: films of latin america, with juan carlos valdivia's zona sur (2009). screenings take place every tuesday running through 7.31.12 with the centerpiece being mikhail kalatozov's magnificent i am cuba (1964) on 7.3.12. my first chance to see it on the big screen!

6.04.2012

bloodless

the modern vampire should stay out of the club. dear lord, they do not know how to rock. invariably, when a vampire sets foot in a club/concert setting we are practically guaranteed the most flaccid, non-threatening musical experience imaginable, doubly so if the band is composed of the undead. you know how to make a goth not scary? turn on a light. pretty boys in fetish clothing playing nü-metal is not terrifying. exhibit A: this eyeliner tapioca from michael rymer's queen of the damned (2002).


absurd. the intro to tony scott's the hunger (1983) barely fares any better, and that's strictly on pedigree and eroticism. david bowie, bauhaus and catherine deneuve are a more interesting combination than anne rice, korn and whoever that male model was in the first clip. still, not exactly what i would call a menacing use of music. take out peter murphy and you're left with love and rockets. oooooooh. exhibit B (for breasts, don't watch the clip if you have an aversion to them):


it seems so simple and yet it has been screwed up again and again, for as long as there have been vampires, guitars and ladies nights. i'll tell you what i would like to see. i want to go into some shitty punk rock club and see this girl:

 come down off the stage and sing this song:


in john brannon's voice, not changing a single word, about two inches away from someone's face. this tiny, slavering, spitting thing giving you precisely 3:22 to find your coat and then the exit. that would be scary. get it right, saps.

5.29.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is appropriate, as i am posting this from the recording studio in marfa. ladies and gentlemen, jean-luc godard's sympathy for the devil (1968).

5.22.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is one i am very excited about. finally, five years on from there will be blood (2007), paul thomas anderson is back with the master (2012).

5.17.2012

curtain call

it is time to ring down the curtain on another edition of queue de grâce. everyone take a last parting glance at the ol' girl.

thanks again to paramount staffers jim ritts, jesse trussell, nick barbieri, brooklyn henson, stacey fellers, laura vilches, paige deegan, scott butler, ian pirie and aaron ward for selecting such a wildly diverse and interesting group of films for me. here's the full list, for posterity's sake:

chinatown (1974)
a clockwork orange (1971)
daisies (1966)
reprise (2006)
head-on (2004)
silverlake life: the view from here (1993)
 steel magnolias (1989)
due date (2010)
road house (1989)
an american in paris (1951)
machuca (2004)
black orpheus (1959)
a boy and his dog (1975)
hedwig and the angry inch (2001)
toy story (1995)
cars (2006)
starship troopers (1997)
the fifth element (1997)
confessions of a dangerous mind (2002)
innocent voices (2004)

i appreciate all the time and trouble they went to for this project and it was a great way to kick off the summer moviegoing season. now that we have this batch of paramount-selected double features under our belt we can transition into the big screened, air conditioned comfort of a summer's worth of double features downtown for the paramount's summer classic film series. follow the link to see the full schedule. it's a doozy. you can also take a gander at all the special events, including the summer kick-off party featuring to kill a mockingbird (1962) and pillow talk (1959) taking place a week from today! if you're going to spend all summer there, like me, do yourself a favor and become a paramount film fan. you will save yourself a few bucks and help make sure our favorite theatre is around to do it again next summer. to make sure you don't miss any paramount related film news, you can also follow film programmer jesse trussell's blog where he will keep you posted about all the cinematic happenings at the paramount. i'll see you in row q!

i also want to extend a special thanks to our brothers and sisters in arms at vulcan video. we couldn't have had this much fun this week without them. keep it local.

the queue returns in late june and the sins of the past may return to haunt me as my favorite sister, haylee roulain, will be in charge, gaining some measure of revenge for all the cruel and hilarious big brother tricks i have ever pulled. you should ask her about the time i convinced her i was a vampire and that i had flown up onto the roof of our house right after she had watched the lost boys (1987). what a great day. haylee strikes back 6.18.12 through 6.24.12. it's the day she's waited for for thirty-two years. don't miss it. as always, thanks for reading along. see you next time.

invasion of the paramount: day ten

hello and welcome to my tenth and final day of programming chosen by the fine folks of the paramount theatre. the anchor leg of this relay is being run by aaron ward, development associate at the paramount, and we start off with george clooney's directorial debut, confessions of a dangerous mind (2002).

it's based on game show magnate chuck barris' batshit crazy autobiography in which he claimed he was a covert CIA operative. in between developing game shows and lowering the overall IQ of the american television viewing public in the 1970s, he was, according to him, traveling the world at the CIA's behest, carrying out assassinations, thirty-three in all. he often used his television production role as cover, frequently rewarding contestants with trips to politically sensitive destinations on which he served as their chaperone. in between the murders and gene, gene, the dancing machine, he found himself torn between two women, one representing the stable domesticity that barris desired but couldn't commit to and one representing the cutthroat cloak-and-dagger world that a man of his peculiar talents would find irresistible. vitagraph favorite sam rockwell is excellent as barris, all his tics turned up a notch to capture the twitchy hustler energy that the real barris overflowed with. clooney's direction has kind of a first-timer feel to it, though. you can definitely see him lifting moves from the more prominent names he worked for previously as an actor. at times it is a bit junior varsity steven soderbergh. it could be worse, though, and i really enjoy what he and screenwriter charlie kaufmann mined out of the book. this is kind of a sad and desperate story and, appropriately, the self-aggrandizement and paranoia is never eclipsed by the black comedy. it's probably a lot more fascinating, in general, to kids like me that actually grew up with the dating game, the newlywed game and especially the gong show on their television regularly. on the gong show we got a daily dose of his zany schtick as he emceed the worst talent show you've ever seen, a parade of people who wanted nothing more than to be on television and be "famous" but had little to no discernible talent. as it turns out, the empire he built on his exploitation of these people had nothing on the kingdom he built in his own deluded mind where he was the most attention-starved of them all. or not, if it is all true. i almost don't want to know for sure.

and, finally, we have luis mandoki's innocent voices (2004).

we examine the theme of rebellion and strife in latin america as seen from a child's point of view for the second time this week. unlike day six's machuca (2004), though, this one finds the kids much more directly in the line of fire. the setting is the salvadoran civil war of the early 1980s and the story is told from the point of view of chava, an eleven year-old boy who lives with his family in a village that seems to be ground zero in the conflict between the salvadoran army and the guerrillas. the salvadoran military at the time made it a practice to impress all boys into service once they reached the age of twelve, so chava is staring directly down the barrel of that if he manages to survive the daily/nightly firefights and bombings that are ripping his village to shreds. ultimately, chava and his friends elect to follow the guerrillas but are captured by the national army and marched to a remote spot to be executed. chava watches from his knees as two of his friends are shot in the back of the head. just as a soldier is about to pull the trigger on chava, however, guerrillas descend upon them and he is saved. as he escapes, he comes upon a rifle but finds himself unable to use it on one of his former classmates, the other child ultimately guilty of nothing more than having a birthday in the wrong place at the wrong time. chava's mother finally arranges to have him sent to the united states, which he does not want but accedes to because he finally realizes if he stays he will die. it is a heavy idea for a twelve year-old to deal with. though the film suffers from repetition occasionally and generally lacks the coming of age charms of machuca, it certainly makes you understand the attendant horrors and injustices of the use of children as soldiers in no uncertain terms. i am also comparing apples to oranges a little there, as these children literally live in a war zone. for them, growing up is a much more literal concern than a figurative one. they are lucky to see the next day, every day. it is a grim enough existence for adults. it must be infinitely more so for a child that has little grasp of the larger forces/ideologies at work and sees his family and that of his friends being rent asunder for reasons they can never hope to understand. equally chilling are the scenes of children as fully armed approximations of adult soldiers, exhibiting a childish pride at feeling grown up just because they have had a rifle shoved into their hands and a uniform on. it sort of underscores the fact that there may not be a great deal of difference between twelve and eighteen in a lot of ways and the horrible things that children and young adults are asked, or forced, to do in wartime effectively end childhood then and there. this would have made an excellent counterpoint to yesterday's viewing of starship troopers (1997). if you doubt that war is bad, watch this, not that. it leaves no room for misinterpretation.

and with that, we are done. thanks, aaron, it was a pleasure. it was a pleasure all the way around, in fact. i expected no less. i will be back tomorrow to wrap things up. for now, i am off to watch whatever i want for the first time in ten days. thanks for reading, everyone!

5.16.2012

invasion of the paramount: day nine

day nine is a science fiction extravaganza courtesy of ian pirie, paramount ticket systems administrator. ian, i just want to say i hope you know this is nothing personal, but you have picked two of my least favorite movies of all time. finally, the jackals out there may get the bloodletting they so look forward to during queue weeks. first out of the gate we have the wall-to-wall blood, explosions and nubs of paul verhoeven's starship troopers (1997).

it is verhoeven's adaptation of a robert a. heinlein's 1959 novel of the same name and takes place in a future where humans are at war with a species of humungous arachnids known as "the bugs". a group of high school friends enlist in the military just after graduation and go their separate ways, promoting fascism and militarism across the galaxy in the name of the federation. they engage in a series of escalating battles with an ever-expanding menagerie of arachnoid types until a final showdown in which the handsome hero saves the high school sweetheart from having her brain sucked out and the head bug is captured and abjectly paraded before thousands of hoorah-ing meatheads, preserving and promoting the federation (read: american) way of life. i get what verhoeven was trying to do here, trust me. i just don't think he does it particularly well. this satire of the fascist/militaristic mindset is executed with about as much grace and skill as an episode of beverly hills, 90210. when your firebomb-laden social commentary could just as easily double as a recruitment film for the, let's just say, more impressionable cannon fodder in the audience (and that is a huge section of this film's fanbase), then you may have gone a little too broad with it. in its favor, it follows the star trek/roddenberry model of a future that is culturally and ethnically diverse and has a fair balance of gender equality. not in its favor is just about everything else. it's ham-handed, is badly acted and looks television-cheap. let's not kid ourselves, though. we know why people watch this:

the gore is legendary. the landscape is strewn with body parts like they are confetti and balloons and this is a flaming lips show. people come for the blood. blood is compulsory. that, and the shower scene. i have heard all the arguments - verhoeven anticipated the global climate of 9/11, he made the most subversive anti-propaganda propaganda film of all time, blah, blah, blah. nope, don't buy it. if you haven't seen many movies, maybe. what he did was set out to mock the superficial and banal and made something...superficial and banal, about as nuanced and subtle as his opposite number, the knee-jerk jingoists who completely misunderstand it. for an added treat, check out the commentary track for two hours of verhoeven feverishly explaining the obvious ("war is bad") and screenwriter edward neumeier inadvertently exposing how much he obviously hates women. repeatedly. starship troopers? i say kill 'em all.

next, it's out of the frying pan into the fire with luc besson's the fifth element (1997).

or, as i like to call it, bruce willis cashes a check for 126 minutes. oh my god, i hate this movie. there is no filmmaker alive that i would less rather spend time picking their brain than luc besson. our sensibilities? never the twain shall meet, i'm afraid. there are about ten seconds in his entire filmography that i actually enjoy:

  and i actually attribute that more to gary oldman.

i had the fifth element in the queue once before. here's how that went. i always rewatch them, though, whenever they are assigned, if for no other reason than to see how the other films in the queue re-contextualize them and to see what new comes of it. well, one thing springs immediately to mind this time around: 1997 was apparently the worst year for science fiction cinema in the history of mankind. or colekind, anyway. cube (1997) and gattaca (1997) second my emotion. excess was in fashion and depth was in short supply. just not my thing. so it goes.

it's not all rough seas today, though. the cinematic gods have smiled on us (austinites, anyway) and the paramount has announced its summer classic film series schedule! the schedule is incredible and there are numerous special events throughout the summer to add to your moviegoing experience. i highly recommend joining the paramount's film fan club if you regularly attend the summer series. the various membership levels have all sorts of perks and they pay for themselves in no time. paramount programmer jesse trussell has really outdone himself this year. i am sure there will be a post coming soon where i ramble on at length about all the things i am looking forward to this summer.

for now, though, i will close. once again, ian, sorry about that. next time i come in you can throw popcorn at me while the movie is playing.

tomorrow we come to the end of our grand and glorious experiment, one last day to get our groove on.

come back and see us or i will personally gong you.

5.15.2012

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for jean-pierre and luc dardenne's the kid with a bike (2011), which is showing at the regal arbor for the next little while. just one more for the list of things that i am dying to see.

invasion of the paramount: day eight

day eight is all about pixar, courtesy of scott butler, paramount graphic designer. i assumed his choices were connected in some way to his design background but he assures me it was only because he has a three year-old and wanted to pass along the experience of being forced to watch these films. we start with john lasseter's toy story (1995).

tom hanks is woody, a cowboy action figure and leader of a group of toys that belong to andy, a little boy with a birthday on the horizon. tim allen voices buzz lightyear, the new toy on the block. buzz is a little on the arrogant, self-deluded side and woody is a little on the jealous, insecure side. in the back-and-forth to be andy's favorite toy, woody and buzz find themselves in a series of perilous misadventures. they end up in the sadistic clutches of sid, a neighbor boy that delights in destroying toys, pulling off a daring rocket-powered escape to be reunited safely with andy and all the other toys in the final reel. i hadn't seen this since it was in theaters in 1995. it has certainly held up well and deserves its reputation as a modern kids classic, one of the best of its kind. this movie really changed the whole world of animated film. it is hard to overstate its importance in that regard. it is pixar's very first full length feature and they really nailed it the first time out of the gate. it was also the very first film that was entirely CGI and as pure kids entertainment it couldn't get much better. it's funny, teaches great lessons that are basic and easily understood about compromise, trust, overcoming jealousy and the nature of friendship and is still beautiful to look at almost twenty years later. i am very much a traditionalist and will always love hand-drawn animation the best, but this is pretty spectacular work. their entire universe is beautifully rendered and is rich in detail in the way that only pixar films are. the cast is right on the money as well. in addition to hanks and allen, whose personalities are perfect complements to one another, you also have don rickles, wallace shawn and r. lee ermey, all in top form. this very first effort from pixar set the bar incredibly high. they still approach that mark occasionally - up (2009), for example - but nothing they've done has proven to be as timeless while maintaining the purity and fun of genuine kid's entertainment. it's a rare feat to make something so simultaneously revolutionary and pitch-perfect. a true american classic.

for an example of what pixar has grown into since then, we have lasseter's fourth effort for the studio, cars (2006).

it takes place in a world populated with anthropomorphic cars of every stripe. it's the story of lightning mcqueen, an arrogant hotshot of a racecar on his way to california for a championship race, sponsorships, riches and fame. a mishap on the highway ends up separating lightning from his transport truck and he wanders off the main road, eventually arrested and impounded for accidentally tearing up the street in the town of radiator springs. while he is stuck there making restitution for his crimes, he slowly but surely begins to learn that there is more to life than being self-serving and he slowly warms to the idyllic charms of this small town. he pays his debt to society and heads off to his race but he is leaving a little bit of himself behind in radiator springs. the race is going badly until all of his pals from radiator springs show up as his surprise pit crew. he pulls it together in time to win but realizes that winning isn't everything and sacrifices taking that checkered flag to help another car in need. all the requisite lessons are learned but this one didn't quite do it for me the same way that toy story did. this one belongs more to the current crop of pixar films that i posit are more for adults than kids. yes, it is full of bright colors and there are jokes aimed at kids but there is so much of this that kids couldn't fathom. the pixar films of late have just as much regret, melancholy and nostalgia for times that even the parents of an eight year-old kid today don't remember as they do lessons about how to treat your friends. it's smart on pixar's part, i suppose. it gives the parents that have to go see these something to latch onto, but these certainly aren't really kids films anymore. in cars the central message is "slow down and take it all in before life passes you by", using route 66's lost battle with the interstate highway system as metaphor. it means a lot to me because i am a forty-one year-old man that has made mistakes and i have actually traveled a good portion of the old mother road. i remember vacations where driving was the trip, but i don't see how it's going to encourage an eight year-old to stop and smell the roses, much the same way that same kid isn't going to even partially grasp the significance of a lifetime of devotion as presented in up. i thought cars was alright, and i loved up, but let's not kid ourselves that these are for children anymore. it's kind of a shame. watching these together made me long for more pixar work in the vein of toy story. the artistry is still there. i just wish more of the innocence was as well.

thanks, scott. i hope at least that little bit of commiseration was somewhat satisfying, although i am guessing you have a lot more viewings of these in your future than i do. good luck with that.

tomorrow we abandon the kid's stuff and head for the furthest reaches of space to reconnect with an old friend of the queue.

did i say friend? perhaps i misspoke.

5.14.2012

invasion of the paramount: day seven

it's day seven and i find myself at the mercy of the cinematic whims of paige deegan, grant writer for the paramount. to start things off, paige takes us far into the future for the post-apocalyptic madness that is l.q jones' a boy and his dog (1975).

adapted from a harlan ellison story, the movie finds us in the year 2024 and nuclear war has reduced the world to dust as far as the eye can see. among the groups of human jackals roaming the wasteland we have vic, a randy and reckless, just-post-pubescent don johnson, and his dog, blood. they scrounge for food and women, breaking frequently to argue telepathically about whether vic is dumber and hornier than blood is hungry. vic uses blood as his radar to sniff out potential mates and blood uses vic to stay fed. it's an arrangement that has kept them alive and satiated so far, if not particularly happy with one another. one evening, blood catches the scent of a lovely young lady, the wonderfully named quilla june holmes, who happens to be bait for vic, unbeknownst to our hero. she lures him into a subterranean world that is like some sort of norman rockwell tableau populated with fellini-esque grotesques. the plan is to kidnap vic and use him to inseminate the women that live in their underground society. it seems that when they abandoned the surface, their menfolk also lost the ability to procreate. they hook vic up to a vic-milking machine and begin an absurd ritual of marrying every girl in town to him, just to keep things proper. quilla june busts vic out, intent on using him to overthrow the committee that runs the show but it doesn't go in their favor, and vic seems more intent on getting back to the surface anyway, back to where you know what kind of backstabbing and skulduggery to expect from people. there may be no honor among scavengers but they're sure a lot more fun to hang out with than these orwellian underground loons. vic and quilla june escape to the surface to find blood starving, near death. food is in short supply, but our heroes are nothing if not resourceful and it isn't long before they are back on the road together, off to see what lies over the hill. i have a real spot for movies like this, movies that would have absolutely no hope of getting made today. yes, it's amateurish (even with jason robards (?(!))) and yes it is off its rocker, but enough people believed enough in this nutty idea that a full length feature film was made. this is truly auteur work on the part of l.q. jones, i think that it represents him about as well as could be. you know l.q. jones, right?

that's right. that tough old bastard. you take harlan ellison's utter lack of faith in humanity and you filter it through the bareknuckled, rip-roaring worldview of l.q. jones and you have a bleak, funny, ugly, completely cuckoo film unlike anything else you're likely to see. apparently, in world war four, feminists and mensa members were the first to perish. in his inimitable, no bullshit way, jones is reminding us that we shouldn't expect things to be pleasant when existence has been reduced to fulfilling the handful of survival instincts that are hardwired into our reptilian brain. i am glad i got this one in in the scant twelve years we have before 2024. at least i will be prepared now.

next up, we have the one man apocalypse that is john cameron mitchell's hedwig and the angry inch (2001).

it's the same old story - boy meets boy, boy becomes girl, boy leaves girl for boy, girl meets boy, boy leaves girl for superstardom, stealing all of her songs. hedwig is the titular transgendered punk singer (second time this week the queue seems to be following the week's headlines) whom has embarked on a u.s. tour of the worst restaurant chain you have ever seen so that she can stalk her former lover that has achieved success and riches with songs that are rightfully hers. along the way, we are treated to hedwig's life story. beginning life as hansel, a boy in east germany, he fell in love with a G.I., but to return to the states together they had to do so as a man and woman. to achieve this, hansel had sex reassignment surgery (slightly botched, resulting in the also titular angry inch) becoming hedwig. things weren't as rosy as anticipated in the heartland and hedwig is abandoned by her husband for another man. putting the pieces back together, hedwig meets tommy, a slightly backwards kid whom hedwig educates in the ways of love and rock, only to have tommy abandon her as well. tommy becomes rich and famous. hedwig becomes righteously indignant, stalking tommy until her career falls apart. they are briefly reconciled, resulting in a scandal that pulls tommy down and reignites hedwig's career. with the band back together, hedwig takes to the stage one last time for an epiphanic performance that finally leaves hedwig feeling like a whole person for the first time. i have seen mitchell's other work prior to this but this is one i just hadn't gotten around to for one reason or another. well, chalk one up for the queue again because hedwig kicked my ass. it is far and away mitchell's best work. it is funny, clever, moving and complex. talk about auteur work, this is no one but  mitchell's glorious vision from beginning to end. it's been a long time since i have seen work from a filmmaker at a point this early in their career so adept at weaving in their myriad influences and making it seem fresh and new. hedwig's monologues are hilarious and heartbreaking, the songs are fantastic and mitchell is an absolute natural, both in front of and behind the camera. i had always heard that this was kind of the successor to the rocky horror picture show (1975), as far as cult movies go, but i think that sells this incredibly short. much like rocky, it is appropriately outrageous and fun but hedwig gives you something more besides. this is all that and a rich experience, a true labor of love and it shows in every frame. there is a vulnerability, a wisdom and a sweetness that rocky doesn't come close to. you can keep your time warp, i'll take hedwig any day, the whole angry inch.

well, that was a pretty great day. telepathic dogs and transgendered rock stars. thanks, paige. you helped me find a movie i didn't even know i was missing. that's always a treat.

i'll leave you guys for now. i have to go check and make sure i have laid in enough cereal because tomorrow is all about cartoons.

see you then.

5.13.2012

invasion of the paramount: day six

day six features a pair of excellent south american imports chosen for us by laura vilches, the paramount's booking manager. first up is the chilean political coming of age film, andrés wood's machuca (2004).

it is a sharply observed period piece set in santiago on the cusp of the coup by the brutally oppressive augusto pinochet, as seen through the eyes of a pair of schoolboys from opposite sides of the cultural divide. gonzalo is a fair-haired, freckle faced kid, a little soft around the edges with a good heart and with little clear idea of exactly how privileged he is. he meets pedro when the latter is integrated into his private school as part of a progressive program to offer education to poorer students. gonzalo refuses to go along with a group of bullies determined to teach pedro ugly lessons about their perceptions of class, coming to his defense instead, and a bond between the two is formed. they navigate the minefields of adolescence against a backdrop of civil unrest that is so intense it turns everything into a political action. simple pleasures and childhood rites of passage are magnified so that everything from buying someone candy to accepting a ride home from school equates to choosing sides in the fierce battle that is looming. things grow progressively more violent and inflamed until finally pinochet ousts sitting president salvador allende and his military forces harshly clamp down on the entire city, including the boys' school. the priests that previously administrated the school, attempting to teach the children dignity and fair play, are replaced by jackbooted thugs and administrators willing to follow the party line. when pedro is the only person, child or adult, with the wherewithal to acknowledge his departing mentor, he is removed from the school and a distraught gonzalo hurries to the slums where pedro lives to find out what has become of his friend. what he finds is a horrifying and frightening scene, with soldiers brutally corralling men, women and children, forcing people out of their homes and burning their belongings. he stands by helpless as pedro and his family are rounded up and their friend silvana takes on the soldiers beating her father. she grows more fierce and things spiral further and further out of control until she is murdered by a soldier right before their very eyes. still in shock from what he has just seen, gonzalo is accosted by a soldier and plays the the class card as his only means of escaping arrest, exhorting the soldier to look at him, as he obviously doesn't belong there with his light complexion and nice clothes. the soldier lets him go and he runs back to safety on his side of the tracks, presumably to never see pedro again. growing up is tough enough as it is. growing up in the middle of violent revolution certainly raises the stakes. it is hard to fault someone for doing what he thinks it will take to not be killed. it is impossible to fault a rightly terrified eleven year-old boy. none of that makes what gonzalo will have to live with any easier, though, as he goes back to a life of relative ease. this was just a great film. it was beautifully shot, exemplifying that style of filmmaking that follows john ford's example of finding the best place to put the camera and not burdening the story with excessive artifice. the kids put in uniformly excellent performances, with an especially wonderful moment revolving around the amorous possibilities that lie within a can of condensed milk. the politics are overt, so if that's not your idea of a good time this might not do it for you, but when simple human dignity is a matter of life and death and carefree childhood innocence is a luxury no one can afford, we should pay attention to what filmmakers like wood are trying to tell us.

for our second feature we go from chile to brazil and from cognitive dissidence to mythic revelry with marcel camus' black orpheus (1959).

i just did this one in last month's queue, so you can read those impressions of it here. i decided to go ahead and keep it in this queue in the spirit of seeing what a new pairing would bring out of it. aside from the things i mentioned last month, machuca highlighted one particular idea for me this time around. in the wake of our first film, i found myself focused a lot more on the unspoken circumstances of the poor and how anything can be a tool for revolution. when you are part of a disenfranchised and marginalized underclass you use what is at your disposal. music is a way to push back, dancing is a way to push back. if you live in a slum, no matter how colorful, and you face peril and poverty on a daily basis, you savor small victories in ways the privileged can never hope to understand and to mount a celebration is to engage in an epic and joyous battle. people on the outside of that can try to exploit it all they want but it is still your triumph. today, black orpheus reminds me to value those things easily taken for granted.

thanks, laura, for an excellent trip to the other side of the equator!

tomorrow finds us in a land where the revolution is long since over.

don't forget to bring a canteen.

5.11.2012

invasion of the paramount: day five

day five brings us a pair of strange bedfellows courtesy of stacey fellers, the paramount's executive marketing director. we begin with rowdy, that's right - rowdy, herrington's road house (1989).

you know those cookbooks where they go into the lab and retroengineer name brand products so you can make them at home? well, i think i have cracked the code so you can whip up your own road house:

1 cup high noon (1952)
2 cups every which way but loose (1978)
10 pounds of explosive charges
6 cans of aquanet
1 throat, ripped
1 truck, monster
3 quarts of dirty dealing
1 teaspoon of dirty dancing (1987)
1 truckload of velveeta

stir together until messy, sprinkle liberally with bone crush'ns and overheat for 114 minutes. voila! don't bother saving ben gazzara any. there's no way he has any room left after all the scenery he chewed. holy cats! this movie is just nuts. it exists in a world where bouncers are spoken of in awed, hushed tones and people routinely spend their saturday nights heaving beer bottles at blind guys. patrick swayze plays a bouncer with advanced degrees in philosophy, hair feathering and kicking ass. he is tapped to clean up a small town beer joint that resembles the thunderdome more than a bar. in doing so, he runs afoul of ben gazzara, who has somehow managed to become incredibly wealthy by extorting a town that seems to have only about half a dozen businesses in it altogether. i guess the feed store does a brisk business. sam elliott shows up as swayze's mentor and is cool in that sam elliott way until gazzara's goons stick a knife in him. swayze is pushed to the breaking point, having watched gazzara and his minions take everything he cares about and stab it, blow it up or run over it with a monster truck, and he goes for the throat. hey-o! we get to the final showdown and, just as swayze is having his zen moment, the downtrodden townsfolk show up and blow gazzara full of holes, leaving swayze and the hot lady doctor, kelly lynch, to bone with clear consciences. did i mention this was BASED ON A TRUE STORY? this madhouse has rightfully slugged its way onto the mount rushmore of modern camp classics. it is a goldmine of lines-that-weren't-meant-to-be-funny and the unintentional(?) homoeroticism is nearly off the charts. it has no regard for its characters and rolls right over everything in its path on its way to valhalla. it really is the last gasp of a certain, very specific type of exploitation film and does it ever put that pedal to the floor. it's like the eighties were dying before their very eyes and everyone involved in this project was bound and determined to squeeze every last explosion and brawl from it before the bitter end. i stand in qualified awe of its dubious merits.

going from one of hollywood's favorite hoofers to another, we follow that, somehow, with vincente minnelli's an american in paris (1951).

it is a lithe and lively musical adaptation of george gershwin's tone poem of the same name from 1928. gene kelly plays the titular expatriate, trying to make a living as a painter in the city of light just after world war two. he is having little success, though, until his work is noticed on the street by a wealthy patron of arts who  apparently makes it a habit of falling for artistic types that leave her high and dry. well, she's not breaking that pattern any time soon, as kelly promptly interrupts their first date to fall in love at first sight with leslie caron. he doggedly pursues caron, winning her heart while ignoring his patron's overtures, but there is a fly in the ointment. that fly is one his best friends that caron is going to marry out of a sense of obligation for his protection during the war. don't worry. true love triumphs in the end. it's paris, don't be a maroon. plot-wise, it's standard issue musical melodrama. that's not why we're here. we're here for gershwin's music and the incredible dancing on display. it is among the best ever committed to film. interspersed throughout the movie are a handful of musical interludes featuring all of our principals, each one thoroughly entertaining, capped by an astounding sixteen minute finale. it is a ballet set to the title tune and even for people like me, not typically a fan of musicals, it is impressive, depicting kelly's ardor in a series of technicolor reveries that span the length and breadth of the city and his romantic imagination. kelly has always been my favorite of hollywood's classic musical leading men for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that just underneath the surface he is a bit of a bastard. fred astaire and donald o'connor could have never played the surrogate for h.l. mencken that kelly did in inherit the wind (1960). there's a versatility and darkness there that the others just didn't possess that made him leagues more interesting to me. he also took the grace the others displayed and added an athleticism to his work that they couldn't match. the guy is a powerhouse and incredibly fun to watch. you really should at least see the big finish of this, if nothing else. it is crazily ambitious, a polychromatic burst of rhythm and melody pretty much unmatched by anything in hollywood's golden age. plus, you get your happily ever after. perfect for a summertime saturday matinee.

thanks, stacey! that was a weird good time.

tomorrow finds us leaving the cozy confines of paris for a pair of treats from south america.

don't forget your passport.

invasion of the paramount: day four

day four finds us wrung out after yesterday's emotional hurricane. for relief, we turn to brooklyn henson, the paramount's associate director of marketing and PR. will she provide it? well, don't put those hankies away just yet, gang. we start with herbert ross' steel magnolias (1989).

i guess i am the only person in the free world that hasn't seen this before today, but just in case there are others of you living in a magnolia-free bubble for the last two decades, let's synopsize: it is about the lives, loves and bonding experiences of a group of southern women in a time and place that could only ever be the late 1980s. using dolly parton's beauty shop as a sort of base of operations, they gather to exchange wisecracks, plan julia roberts' wedding, exchange wisecracks, ponder the impenetrable male psyche and then exchange wisecracks. not long after the wedding, julia announces that she is with child. it's a mixed blessing, though, as she is severely diabetic and her pregnancy could endanger her life. the baby arrives, and is healthy, but the stress on her body was too much, causing kidney failure. she receives a kidney transplant but it turns out to be a stopgap measure, at best. she collapses at home one afternoon, entering into a coma that she never comes out of. the family eventually removes her from life support and after her funeral, left finally in the company of her other friends, sally field, julia's mother, finally reaches her breaking point. the tight-knit group sees her through it and, as we head toward the credits, daryl hannah announces that she is pregnant and asks to name the baby after roberts' character. the cycle of southern life begins anew.

maybe i have had it wrong all along. maybe this is the old, weird america, this place where god and hairdos reign supreme. they live in a world where traditions are so firmly rooted that no one bothers to check if they even make sense anymore and "what will the neighbors say?" still carries some inexplicable significance. where am i in my life that david lynch's blue velvet (1986) presents a vision of america that is less foreign to me than this? i am at a severe disadvantage with this one. maybe i am just more in the minority than i realize. i would be interested in hearing if the majority of you have/have had this type of dynamic (3-5 same gender friends that you see near constantly) in your lives? if you don't, do you long for it? do you frequently denigrate your significant other for comic purposes? am i missing out on something important here? i frequently think when i watch these things that it must be more prevalent than i realize. why else would it turn up as a storytelling device so often unless it was a near-universal experience? is the lack of it in my life a chicken-or-the-egg thing? is there an absence of it in my life because i have surrounded myself with other people who feel similarly or do they just keep it out of my sphere because they know that i will not participate in it? as soon as i drive away is this what is happening in my friends' houses all over town? that's a lot of questions, i know. i really would be interested in your feedback. feel free to leave it in the comments section here or over at the facebook page. if you read my ramblings very often (or know me well) you know that i just simply refuse to buy into the gender generalizations that people often use to cut their lives into digestible chunks. personally, i know that i do or appreciate enough things typically designated as the province of women to make the designation pointless. if you think about it, i am sure the women in the audience have a similar inventory of things/behaviors commonly understood to be "guy things" that are a regular part of their routines. once you establish and understand that, it just demolishes all these silly notions of "you're one way, we're another". i know why people insist on perpetuating it - it's easy and doesn't require us to think of each other as individuals - but i will never know why they think that is better. when you spend 50% of the time cracking jokes at your opposite gender's expense how silly is it to spend the other 50% of that time wringing your hands over "why don't we get along?!"? with their preoccupations and restlessness, these women are kind of the mature female flip side to the lads in reprise (2006) from day two. all that being said, i would still rather spend time with these women than any number of post/suspended-adolescent bropacks. these women have the advantage of accumulated wisdom on their side. dolly parton is an angel and if you can't find a way to like her then you're just kind of a jerk, shirley maclaine and olympia dukakis have been around long enough to know when to fight and when to retreat and sally field's monologue where she angrily questions the sense of her daughter's death is right on the money. i just wish, and i am well aware that this will most likely never come true, that we could finally stop underlining women and men and just get on with the business of underlining people. maybe if the neighbors did it first...

from there we hit the road with todd phillips' due date (2010).

it's one of the more recent entries in the hollywood canon of films about unlikely traveling companions, a lineage that stretches back practically to the beginning of film itself. robert downey, jr. is a slightly tense architect trying to get home to california in time for the birth of his first child. zach galifianakis is the unsophisticated rube who is on his way to hollywood to follow his dream of being on the t.v., french bulldog and coffee can full of his dad's ashes in tow. the movie wastes no time and i certainly appreciate that about it. in the first few minutes our protagonists are introduced to one another via an accident that rips off one of their car doors and from there on they are inextricably linked, the film continually upping the ante, becoming more and more outrageous and destructive with each passing scene. we are treated to non-lethal projectiles, car crashes, masturbating zach, masturbating french bulldog, drinking a hot cup of zach's dad over breakfast, assault with a wheelchair and collapsible baton, near-lethal projectiles, broken bones and more as the two of them make their way west. of course, they overcome their differences to become friends. that was a given. we've seen it time and time again in variations both romantic, like it happened one night (1934), and platonic, as seen in planes, trains and automobiles (1987). well, platonic except for the pillows scene. we knew the end before it even started. what matters is the getting there. the getting there was interesting to me this time more in terms of how it reflected the journey that american comedy is on. not to say it wasn't funny. it has its moments, though there should be more of them, considering the skill and charm of galifianakis and downey. it made me think a lot about how few places there are left to take this comedy of discomfort that is so prevalent these days. every journey has a terminal point. how soon until we reach it with this style? phiilips' output alone is responsible for taking a branch of comedy that was silly and sophomoric, but mostly good-natured, just a few years ago and raising the edgy awkwardness stakes until it is nearly unrecognizable to its antecedents. one thing downey said keeps ringing in my head while i mull this over. early in the film he is attempting to get galifianakis to improvise a scene as a coach whose job is on the line that needs to inspire his players to a big win. zach tells him it's a stupid idea, that it would never be in a movie. downey replies, "it's in a movie every two years". precisely. this is in a movie every two years. it makes me curious to see what will come in the two years that things can't be taken any further, profitably, and what the american comedic landscape will look like while we are watching the waters of unease recede for a while. i suppose we shall see. for now, we just keep driving. so quit kicking the back of my seat, brooklyn, and stop bugging your brother. i will pull this queue over if i have to.

in all seriousness brooklyn, thanks for those selections. they gave me some laughs and, more importantly, they raised some questions for me that i didn't expect and i always appreciate that.

tomorrow we reach the halfway point in our little experiment.

to celebrate maybe i'll let you guys be my regular saturday night thing.

5.10.2012

invasion of the paramount: day three

the selections for day three come to us courtesy of nick barbieri, web marketing associate at the paramount, and he warned me it was going to be somber. he is, quite obviously, a master of understatement. we begin things with fatih akin's fierce and staggering head-on (2004).

it is the story of two turkish immigrants on mutually self-destructive paths living in germany. cahit is in his forties, a whirlwind of furious depression that abuses whatever substance he can afford, who is essentially waiting around to die, as townes van zandt once put it. well, he's not so much waiting around as racing headlong toward it, ultimately driving his car straight into a wall in an intoxicated attempt to put himself out of his considerable misery. he fails at his attempt and while recovering he meets sibel, a beautiful twenty-something prone to implosion as well. in an effort to escape the clutches of her oppressive, traditional family she proposes marriage to cahit who demurs at first but later capitulates and they establish a marriage of convenience in which each is free to lead their own life. in more conventional love stories this would be the beginning of a familiar cycle of grudging affection and growing familiarity until the eventual happy ever after. these two are not that fortunate. faux domesticity isn't enough to eliminate the lesser angels of their natures. it tempers them somewhat, temporarily diverting those energies, but they still indulge in the behaviors that are taking their lives nowhere. the affection does grow, however, but unfortunately results in tragedy. cahit, still explosive, picks a fight one evening with an ex-lover of sibel's and accidentally kills the man. in the shadow of this tragic mistake, cahit and sibel come to the realization that they truly do love one another. it just took this terrible thing to make them understand it. then things get bad. with cahit languishing in prison, sibel returns to turkey, attempting to assuage her grief with more drugs and recklessness. she is raped and, later, viciously beaten. flash forward several years. cahit is released from prison and he travels to istanbul to find sibel, who has started her life over and has a son. she is stable and her sister tells cahit she no longer needs him. he persists and eventually sibel agrees to meet him. they finally consummate the marriage, now several years on, and make plans to leave together the following day. cahit waits for her at the appointed place and time but she does not come and when we last see him he is on the bus, finally returning to his hometown, alone. when you make a film like this you are treading a dangerous line. the slightest misstep and these characters teeter over into completely unsympathetic territory. there is nothing less interesting than one-dimensional reprobates indulging their appetites at everyone's expense. the leads in this, though, are incredibly charismatic and have such chemistry that you will forgive them terrible things.  they are not so inhuman as to be irredeemable. birol ünel as cahit was charged with a particularly difficult task. as an actor, i can imagine letting characters inhabit you is difficult enough, but how do you go about the task of thoroughly emptying yourself? when we find him he is a void, a thrashing husk, effectively dead already. to see him raise himself from unimaginable depths for the sake of love is a powerful thing. the difficulty of the turkish immigrant experience in germany only further compounds the difficulty. in the wake of the terrible fatal accident, when sibel returns to turkey, you get the feeling that the isolation and alienation of that experience is now hers to carry forever. no matter where she goes there will never be "home" ever again. appropriately enough for this film, there is no happy ending. while the two of them may have found a more serene existence without one another, they will never find solace. there is a price they will continue to pay for as long as they live. crushingly real, beautifully done.

we move from there even further into reality, love and desperation with peter friedman and tom joslin's silverlake life: the view from here (1993).

it is funny sometimes how the queue reflects/magnifies the world around me, but never so much as this film on this day. north carolina's heinous and hateful legislative blunder followed almost immediately by the first time the leader of the free world has ever spoken up for same sex marriage makes for an unforgettable climate in which to process this devastating and poignant film. it is a documentary that evolved from the video diaries being kept by tom joslin to document the battle he and his lover of twenty-two years, mark massi, were facing with AIDS. originally intended as joslin's project primarily, things took a turn as his health deteriorated much more rapidly than massi's. what follows is a tender and moving record of the ebb and flow of a terrible, unstoppable decay. the camera duties move from joslin to massi to friedman, a longtime friend and former student of joslin's, as the health of the two men enters a more steep decline. i am almost overwhelmed by how important a document this is. it is relentlessly honest and grants us total access to an issue that a good number of americans remain ignorant of some twenty years down the road. it should be required viewing. we watch these two men struggle with their disease, with their families and with their own fears and frustrations as they face what was, in 1993, a death sentence. i don't know that i have ever seen an american film deal so unflinchingly with death, to the point that we almost see the last breath escape joslin's body. massi trains the camera on his lover moments after he passes, singing "you are my sunshine", and it is just gutwrenching. the pain is almost unendurable. it may seem an odd thing to do, having the camera be so ever-present at these moments, but they seemed to innately know how vital it was that people see this. it was vital for them to fulfill these promises to one another and it was essential that someone tell the public at large the unvarnished truth about this disease and the heartbreaking circumstances of dying in america's margins, alienated even from your own family for simply living and loving as you choose. to temper the anguish somewhat, we also get to see the two men in much happier times. intercut with the family interviews and doctor visits, we get to see excerpts of a much older film featuring the two of them when they first met. as they stare into each other's eyes, we are witnessing the beginning of a great true love story. as we stare into tom joslin's eyes where the light has just gone out forever, we are witnessing a crucial and defiantly political piece of filmmaking. though it hurts, we should not look away.

whew. what a thorny, inspiring day. thanks, nick. you know i am happiest when being put through my paces. i appreciate you letting me see those, especially silverlake life, more than i can say.

does tomorrow hold a challenge or two as well?

you might say that. see you then!

5.08.2012

invasion of the paramount: day two

day two belongs to jesse trussell, the paramount's film programmer extraordinaire, so i knew i would be in for something good. i did not know, however, that i would be in for something transformative. we begin the day with věra chytilová's daisies (1966).

it is a film that steadfastly resists easy summation. basically, it follows the exploits of two oddly beautiful young girls who have decided, since the world itself is going bad, that they have nothing to lose by doing the same. what follows is a series of cacophonous, kaleidoscopic, anarchic vignettes in which they deflate and subvert every social norm that crosses their path. mirroring their exploration, the film itself is not bound by the rules of filmmaking as we know them. spastic cuts and a rainbow of filters make sure that form follows function. it's almost like children's programming, if the exclusive goal of children's programming was to raise a generation intent on smashing the state. filmmakers in eastern europe walked a fine line during this time. they had to be fluent in a carefully coded dual language that could be highly critical of the oppression they suffered while being sly enough to not make the obtuse ruling powers suspicious. chytilová pushes that to the extreme here, making something that, to the unimaginative bureaucrat, looks artless and inane. all the while, she is using these two manic avatars to shake all their societal constraints until they come crashing down hilariously around their ears. did i mention she did it using state-sanctioned funds and resources? brilliant. the key to the film's success on that front, i think, is an absolute lack of overt political malice on the part of our protagonists. these girls move through their world as complete innocents, intent only on devouring every experience. the fact that they find your rules of little use is but a happy coincidence. it is a dizzying, pioneering and fearless bit of work, notable as well for the significant strength of female characters. even in considerably more free cultures in 1966 you would be have been hard pressed to find two female characters who so fully dictated their own terms. even now, their freewheeling explosiveness and anarchic glee make thelma and louise (1991) look about as exciting as a couple of mail sorters. i know this is not going to be everyone's idea of a good time but i feel like i have just opened my eyes for the first time in years. this was one of those experiences that i chase the cinematic dragon in search of. i have never seen anything like it before, an experience in itself that is valuable, but it's more than that. it's a reminder that art is powerful and chaotic and fun and important. and it only took a forty-six year old film to do it. i can't believe i haven't seen it before now. actually, maybe it is coming to me just at the right time. if you would like to take a trip through this czech new wave looking glass, some kind soul has made it very simple to do so. for those of you in the mood for a funny, frenetic lightning bolt of subversive surrealism, here is the film in its entirety:


charged with the herculean task of following that, we have a norwegian import, joachim trier's reprise (2006).

the film chronicles the intertwined lives and fortunes of phillip and erik, a pair of aspiring young novelists. we start with them together at a mailbox, dropping their manuscripts in together which kicks off a clever montage of imagined events for which these manuscripts are the catalyst. it is a striking way to begin the film because it makes you hyper-aware that every action we undertake, every decision we make is a junction. each one is the starting point for an infinite number of new universes, each working for, against and beside everyone else's. boldly underlining this theme, the film then settles into a more subtle exploration of the idea as we see the reality of the boys' efforts play out. phillip's novel is actually published and is moderately successful. erik's is rejected, as it should be, for it seems to me he lacks gravitas. success does not insure happiness however, as the next time we see phillip he is being picked up from the hospital after recovering from a suicide attempt. we follow the boys as they engage in the pursuit of women, literary success and contentment. it's a coming of age story of sorts, which, if you're a regular around here, you know doesn't do a lot for me in most cases. this one suffers from some of those pitfalls. the biggest impediment to me (always) is the amount of bullshit masculine energy that is expended by almost every pack of twenty-something males put on screen that i am supposed to relate to. granted, these guys are mostly more erudite than average, but that still doesn't stop the group dynamic from occasionally veering dangerously close to swingers (1996), just with guys that have better libraries. i would assume, unfortunately, based on how much i see it portrayed in popular culture, that this is standard operating procedure for men/dudes hanging out? i have never been part of a pack of "bros", so i don't know. didn't want it then, don't want it now, will never understand why someone does. god help you if you try to pitch it to me as some sort of universal touchstone. fortunately, there is much more to the film than that. anders danielsen lie really shines as phillip, the odd one out of the group, truly talented and honestly pained. where erik would adopt a tortured artist persona because he read somewhere that writers are supposed to do that, phillip is truly mildly mentally ill. it's manageable, yes, but there is an imbalance there that makes his suffering very real, rather than a shopworn cliche to be put on, and lie imparts a real believability to the highs and lows that beset the struggling kid. it is him that you come to care about the most and it is his arc that comes to the most satisfying conclusion, finding love with a girl who learns to manage, and assist with, his instability, devoted but wary enough to not kid herself. they are worth watching for and they close it down with just the right note of resignation mixed with hope. with all their friends getting married, getting jobs, having kids or having careers all around them, they are the two who are actually quietly growing up.

it could be that i am being too harsh about it. that might not have been the case if i had reversed the order of the two films. it's just that daisies was so wildly inventive and so aggressively, smartly feminine that reprise probably didn't stand a chance today. again, not that reprise is bad. it is very good. but even very good pales next to revolutionary. it was a nice, clever bit of programming, though. i would expect no less from jesse. it is his job, after all. it was a deft blend of personal/political, social/temporal, literary/visual and male/female. chalk one up for the girls today. daisies really undid me in the best way. it confounded my every expectation. it was a true gift. thanks, jesse!

if you guys want to keep up with what jesse has in store for paramount film fans year 'round, you should check out film at the paramount. all the news that's fit to print.

rumor has it that tomorrow things may get a little dark.

but i say where there is love, there is light.

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for the film i look forward to more than any other this summer, benh zeitlin's beasts of the southern wild (2012).

5.07.2012

invasion of the paramount: day one

we kick off this special expanded edition of queue de grâce, appropriately enough, with a double feature of iconic films. jim ritts, executive director at the paramount theatre, starts us off in fine fashion with roman polanski's chinatown (1974).

polanski's nod to noir just gets better every time i see it. jack nicholson is jake gittes, a gumshoe who has built a tawdry, tiny empire on the backs of untold cases of infidelity. into his office strolls one more wealthy dame whose husband has gone astray. this time, though, that husband is the chief engineer of los angeles water and power. he conducts surveillance, snaps a few pictures of his quarry meeting with a young lady and before you can say "hooray for hollywood" the news hits the papers. enter faye dunaway, the actual wife of the philanderer in question. turns out, jack and the husband were set up. in short order, the husband turns up drowned and jack finds himself trying to tread water, racing to untangle a labyrinthine, multi-million dollar scheme to control los angeles' water supply that could prove fatal for him as well. complicating matters, he finds himself involved with dunaway, who knows more than she lets on and who practically has to shout for the bones rattling in her closet. ultimately, all paths lead to john huston, dunaway's father and water kingpin from way back, and jake learns that there are some fights you cannot win, a lesson you get the feeling he is not unfamiliar with. it's one of the best screenplays ever committed to film - lean, efficient, teasing out just enough information to keep pulling you forward. textbook stuff and yet no one has been able to replicate its blunt grace since. i think the reason for that is that polanski plays it absolutely straight. there are no winks, no gimmicks to make what is basically a forties-era movie more palatable for a contemporary audience. nicholson is great as a detective whose primary motivation, regardless of what he might say, is his wounded pride. no private eye worth his salt could sit idly by after being played for such a sap and he and his bruised ego are determined to keep running until he finally catches up with the forces that have been two steps ahead of him from the beginning. there's always going to be a part of a private eye (especially one who's an ex-cop) that questions whether or not he's nothing but a two-bit transom peeper. that bitter sting and sour dissatisfaction might as well be a fedora, nicholson wears it so well. dunaway is perfectly lost, broken by a horrible secret that has been her burden for perhaps as long as she can remember and only seems to be getting heavier geometrically. she's like a ghost haunting her own life. huston is the towering performance here, though. one of cinema's greatest villains. i am lucky my skin is so well attached or he would make it crawl right off. you can practically smell the sickly mixture of witch hazel and baby powder that i just know he smells like coming right off of the screen. he is truly lawless, accepting no blame nor expressing any true regret for what must be a lifetime of violating everything and everyone in his path to satisfy his desires. he is an abomination. all these disparate threads are pulled taut by such a nerve jangling conclusion that you're just left feeling sick and powerless in the face of its inevitability. all that running, all that work, any good intentions, all made completely void in the space it takes for a scream to pierce the los angeles night. "forget it, jake. it's chinatown" - perhaps the best and most impossible to follow advice ever given in the movies. some things you can never forget.

from the seamy, sepia-toned past we leap into an equally unsetlling future with stanley kubrick's a clockwork orange (1971).

kubrick's adaptation of anthony burgess' novel is a picture of a grim dystopia. malcolm mcdowell plays alex, the beethoven-loving leader of a group of delinquents delighting in ultra-violence, rape and a tall glass of milk. tensions within his gang erupt in the wake of a crime spree gone too far and he finds himself incarcerated. seizing upon what he thinks is an easy way out, he volunteers for a rehabilitation program which could be construed as destructive and dehumanizing as the vicious crimes he once perpetrated upon others when he was on the outside. this is a hard film to get a foothold in. i first saw this when i was eleven years old, staying up late watching cable when everyone else was asleep. i didn't know what hit me. it has only since become more perplexing as i have grown. there is no single character that can be described as sympathetic. the ideological forces on the left and right ends of this argument are both equally repugnant. the totalitarian administration that favors this method of rehabilitation are essentially sanctioning a form of chemical castration that not only demolishes your libido, but your very soul. the liberals who are advocating for alex turn out to be nothing more than vile, self-serving grotesques, content to manipulate alex when he serves their needs and torture him when he doesn't. before we get all weepy for alex, though, we mustn't forget that he is a complete sociopath, a vicious rapist and callous murderer. true, he is terribly charismatic - a huge triumph for mcdowell - but a stain of a human being. he turns the tables, the snake that charms you, and as a result you are left with a perilous internal struggle. you cast about, looking for something you can recognize as human to relate to, but kubrick is not about to let you off the hook that easy. the exaggerated wide angle compositions lend a slightly freakish air to the proceedings, wendy/walter carlos' score punctures the film like kubrick is milking venom from it and the trademark kubrick alienating sterility is in full effect. i get a certain, very specific feeling when i watch his films, but never more so than when i watch this one. it's like watching kubrick reacting against something the rest of us cannot see, something he has to defeat, and the process is a clinical, deadly serious one. it leaves me feeling numb and agitated simultaneously. it's fascinating, real horrorshow.

you will have the opportunity to find out just how it affects you and see it the way it was meant to be seen, on the big screen, later this summer. a clockwork orange is scheduled to be part of the paramount's summer film series during the weekend of 8.18.12 and 8.19.12. look for me in row q, we can compare notes. the milk is on me.

well, that was great! day one gets us off to a rousing, morally complicated start. thanks, jim! excellent choices! tune in tomorrow. i have it on good authority that we will be swinging from the chandeliers.

literally.