Wednesday, January 30

Palette Cleansers: Canyon Passage

I debut a new feature this week at Movie Mezzanine that elaborates on the use of color in a film in establishing mood, character, narrative, themes, and the like. The feature will be called Palette Cleansers, because puns. Anyway, our first selection is Jacques Tourneur's superb, somewhat neglected Canyon Passage, his first Western and first color film. The film has many qualities worthy of recommendation, from its sparse storytelling that belies a dense plot of character relationships and racial politics to the terrific performances it gets from its cast (especially Dana Andrews, who gives one of his finest here). What stands out most, though, is Tourneur's use of color, every bit as subtle but showy as his shadow work and capable of deftly delineating the multiple leaps in perspective and POV. The handful of stills featured are only a fraction of the aesthetically beautiful but meaningful shots in the film.

My full piece is up now at Movie Mezzanine.

Tuesday, January 29

Yossi (Eytan Fox, 2013)

Yossi starts so powerfully that the frustratingly stiff, unvarying approach of its camera makes the eventual slog all the more disappointing. In reconnecting with the older, flabbier and unhappier protagonist of his Yossi & Jagger, Fox instantly establishes a sense of quiet agony through his lead's soft expressions and hollowed eyes. But as Yossi inches toward self-liberation, the camera telegraphs his eventual retreats, robbing moments of suspense and, more importantly, the emotional connection of this man's dreams of acceptance and honesty of self.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Netflix Instant Picks 1/25/13—1/31/13

Apologies for the lateness of this post, but last Friday's Netflix picks can be found at Movie Mezzanine. For this installment, I promote the birthday of one of the great American independents, the densest work of another, and a crackerjack new French thriller that made my honorable mentions for 2012.

My full post is up at Movie Mezzanine.

Friday, January 25

Home on the Range: There + to Be

Animated movies are just great. This one is not an exception. I used this scene with beginners, practicing the use of THERE TO BE with farm animals and food items. I hope you like it.

I. Watch the segment. Read the items below and check the ones you managed to see during the scene.

( )  a black cow

( )  chickens

( ) chicks

( ) bananas

( ) apples

( ) a goat

( ) corn

( ) a dog

( ) a duck

( )  bees

( ) grapes

( )  pigs

( )   a rooster

( ) eggs

( )  a brown cow

III. Now write sentences about the items in exercise A, using There is (isn't) or There are (aren't). Remember that you may use Any and Some in your sentences

Ex: There is a black cow.
      There are some chickens



Answer key:

You won't see bananas, a dog, and grapes

Tuesday, January 22

The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, 1992)

This is my unforgivably late Blind Spots entry for last November. December's pick, Feuillade's Judex, will likely not receive a write-up until next month. However, this month's scheduled Blind Spots piece will appear on time.

The Long Day Closes opens like a classic movie, with the credits appearing before the picture instead of after and playing over a styled image. In this case, it is a still life of some flowers off to the left as credits appear in flowing cursive in the right two-thirds of the screen. When the movie proper begins, it is to the 20th Century Fox fanfare blared over a brick wall with a plaque announcing the film’s setting on Kensington Street. The juxtaposition deftly pre-summarizes the film, in which the still life recreations of postwar Liverpool are enlivened by the joys of cinema that not only give its child protagonist some kind of escape in a dreary community but are internalized and re-emitted to make that world livable.

The boy in question is Bud, an unassuming chap whom Davies regularly places directly in the center of the frame, surrounding him with symmetrical arrangements of people and objects. The dank, dirty brick walls of this industrial port town lend the film shades of neo-realism, but as with the more brutally forthright Distant Voices, Still Lives, such mise-en-scène adds a lyrical, formal quality to what might have been kitchen-sink aesthetics. The falsity of the image is blatant, but that also informs so much of the film’s deeply felt approach to memory.

Where so many films use a child’s perspective as an “out” for narrative and thematic responsibility, an excuse for perpetuating immature and facile understandings of the complexity of life by rooting them in immature characters, Davies’ semi-autobiographical reminiscence actually attempts to root the film’s aesthetic qualities in that same perspective. Instead reveling in “realistic” visions of horror and struggle while sidestepping their more complex implications, Davies reflects Bud’s cinematic escape fantasies into even the most straightforward frame. Flourishes of camera movement and vividly classical lighting setups serve not only as glimpses into a child’s compartmentalization of the traumas of restrictive British life but as signifiers of the subjective nature of memory, which exaggerates both the fond and not-so-fond events of one’s life.

As the movie lacks any real narrative, what sticks in the mind most are the moments in themselves. The imposing vastness of the Catholic church where Bud is dragged is made terrifyingly small in an intense sequence where the imposed guilt of Catholicism manifests itself via the Christ carved into the church’s crucifix becomes flesh once more before Bud’s terrified eyes. (As a vision of the lingering immediacy of Catholic dogma on the malleable mind and spirit of a child, this section recalls a similar sequence made more recently in the “God” episode of Louie.) At school, Bud finds ways to tune out bullying peers and abusive teachers, such as in one beautiful scene where Davies spotlights the boy (in center-frame, natch) and fades out the rest of the class into near-darkness as Bud daydreams a great ship rolling on the waves of the sea. Davies cuts to this ship, then back to Bud as ocean spray dots his face, dissolving the sudden leap in space and time in such a way that the stately compositions become as thrilling as the most acrobatic camerawork seen elsewhere. Of course, there are also moments that linger in the memory for their extreme banality, such as a static medium-long shot of boys lining up for a lice check, the sort of thing that not even the wildest imagination could make fantastical.

The word “impressionable” tends to be used only in a negative context, as in susceptible to whatever ills a socially conservative (or liberal) activist sees in pop culture. Yet Davies’ presents Bud’s impressionability to the films he sees with fondness and nostalgia. The beam that isolates Bud in the aforementioned classroom shot is soon matched by the projector beam flicking above his balcony seat at the theater, and it is important to note that, until the last shot of the film, Davies never privileges the audience with what Bud watches when he goes to the movies. Instead, the sounds of familiar music and dialogue filter through the audio track as Bud, like any cinephile, cannot help but think of his favorite movies in everyday life. For all the film’s stylistic beauty, nothing captures its approach to the movies and memory like a shot of a young couple whose conversation is replaced by dialogue from Meet Me in St. Louis, their spied-upon young love taking on decidedly cinematic overtones as their bashful, natural chat becomes florid romance capped by an opaque stained glass door closing on them, silhouetting their faces as they move in to each other. In a flash, real life and Minnelli are one and the same, and the joys of both are deepened in new and exciting ways.

Monday, January 21

Something Old, Something New: The End of Evangelion / It's Such a Beautiful Day

I watched Don Hertzfeldt's masterpiece and Hideaki Anno's nihilistic OAV within days of each other, and I could not help but be drawn by each. Not simply for their respective demonstrations of avant-garde, uncompromising animation, but for the cosmic sense imparted through mental illness in each. They are great films, among the greatest works of modern animation, and I jumped at the chance to write more about either.

My full piece is up now at Movie Mezzanine.

Sunday, January 20

Graveyard of Honor (Takashi Miike, 2002)

For this week's Shelf Life piece at Movie Mezzanine, I took a look at the Takashi Miike film that, more than the few others I've seen, makes me want to really explore his vast filmography. A stylish but muted yakuza thriller, Graveyard of Honor leaves the criminal element choking equally on its own blood and hypocrisy as they bring into their fold someone who shows just how absurd their codes of honor really are. One of the best gangster films ever. My full piece is up now.

Something Old, Something New: The Last Temptation of Christ / Lincoln

I knew I'd forgotten to link to something this week. Last Monday, my second Something Old, Something New piece went up, this time on the similarities that link Lincoln with another subversive, empathetic portrait of an abstracted icon, The Last Temptation of Christ. I'm quite happy with this piece, so I hope you read it. It can be found at Movie Mezzanine here.

My Top 25 Film Discoveries of 2012

I've been reading the blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks for a while now, and I was delighted when its operator, Brian Saur, sent a request for me to submit my favorite older films seen for the first time in 2012. I was actually planning a list like that for this site, so I needed little incentive to participate. I apologize for the briefness of some of my thoughts, but I submitted this list at the height of year-end madness and was just about burned out from blurbs. Nevertheless, I was happy to share the older movies that made the biggest impact on me last year. In fact, I might start doing monthly pieces here for what has grabbed my attention.

My full list is up here.

Saturday, January 19

Netflix Picks 1/18/13-1/24/13

It's that time of week again, where Corey Atad and I pick our favorite offerings on Netflix Instant. My own picks for the week are an Oscar-nominated documentary, the theatrical debut of one of our greatest modern directors, and one of the best and most influential TV series of the last two decades. Check 'em out over at Movie Mezzanine.

Friday, January 18

Planet 51: Passive Voice with Present Perfect

This has been one of the animated movies that I have laughed most. Its humor is clever and extremely attractive to both adults and children. I strongly recommend it. I used this scene to practice the passive voice use with present perfect statements, because the astronaut day's hasn't ended yet, so we can contextualize the grammar point easily.

A. Watch the movie segment and check what has happened to the astronaut since he landed on Planet 51. Fill in the blanks with the present perfect tense of the given verbs. Decide if you will use affirmative or negative forms according to the segment.

1. The astronaut ______ (place) a flag on Planet 51.

2. A boy ______ (ask) him an autograph.

3. A strange pet _________ (attack) him.

4. The pet ______ (chase) him.

5. The astronaut ________ (scare) a boy and his mother at lunch time.

6. A boy on a bike _________ (run over) him.

7. He _________ (find) other humans.

8. He ________ (take off) his suit.

B. Now rewrite the sentences above using passive voice.

Ex: 1. A flag has been placed on Planet 51 (by the astronaut).



Answer key:
A. 1. has placed / 2. has asked / 3. has attacked / 4. has chased / 5. has run over / 6. hasn't found / 7. hasn't taken off
2. He has been asked for an autograph (by a boy).
3. He has been attacked by a strange pet.
4. He has been chased (by the pet).
5. He has been run over by a boy on a bike.
6. Other humans haven't been found.
7. His suit hasn't been taken off.

Luv (Sheldon Candis, 2013)

I got an early surprise this year with a festival holdover from Sheldon Candis, the remarkable, intimate drama Luv. Tracking a prepubescent boy's harrowing journey of maturation, Luv announces itself quickly by dissipating a magic realist opening for the hard realities of Baltimore, and from there he crafts an affecting look at how violence traps men (in this case, specifically African-American men) in a perpetual drive to prove one's masculinity. As I say in my full review, you could almost run it with Cronenberg's A History of Violence.

My full piece is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Thursday, January 17

Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944)

Over the weekend, I started a new column on Movie Mezzanine that picks a film a week for review, and my first selection was Robert Siodmak's dreamy noir Phantom Lady. Better, in my humble opinion, than Siodmak's later The Killers, Phantom Lady pushes Siodmak's use of shadow beyond the usual moral shadings of the genre and into an outright nightmare, where figures appear and disappear and a woman's quest to clear the name of the man she loves is gradually suggested to be the framework for what got him in trouble in the first place. Even its Hollywood ending takes on perverse, oneiric overtones, caught in a literal loop as the smiling face that closes the film starts to look leery rather than elated.

My full piece is up now at Movie Mezzanine.

The Tower (Kim Ji-hoon, 2013)

The Tower starts off agreeably enough, with shots of geometrically aligned staffers in an ostentatious but cheaply made high-rise apartment complex demonstrating that even the lowly workers are not allowed to be a hair out of place for the elite who will occupy the buildings. Once it turns into a disaster movie, however, The Tower loses much of its endearing character and begins to feel like a standard, American effects reel. This is shaping up to be a year in which some West-friendly Korean talent takes Hollywood by storm, yet movies like The Tower show how Hollywood's influence back on one of the most vital areas of contemporary world cinema may be a draining influence.

My full review is up at Spectrum Culture.

Friday, January 11

Netflix Picks 1/11/13-1/17/13

This week's Netflix picks are up at Movie Mezzanine. This week, I single out the unexpectedly rewarding fourth installment of an uneven spy-action franchise, the film that brought Ryan Gosling to my attention, and a stellar, heady comeback from Monte Hellman.

The full post (along with Corey Atad's Canadian Netflix choices) is up at Movie Mezzanine.

The Baytown Outlaws (Barry Battles, 2012)

I have no sensitivity to seeing the South depicted as a caricature, but the caricature in The Baytown Outlaws is so thin I kept wishing Billy Bob Thornton's drug lord would break character so the actor (also the scribe of several great films set in and tied to the South, most notably One False Move) could go behind the camera, do extensive rewrites, and start from the top. But then, who could be mad a film for failing to capture its milieu when it so quickly moves into a Road Warrior-esque travesty? Better to attack that plot development for its poor direction, lifeless action and insipid humor. Baytown slipped quietly through some festivals for a modest limited release, and it will be forgotten as quickly as it passed under everyone's radar.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Monday, January 7

Something Old, Something New: Lonesome / Girl Walk//All Day

I debuted a new weekly feature this morning at Movie Mezzanine called Something Old, Something New. In it, I take a film released within the last few years (and even more recent once the year gets underway some more and I have more to choose from than January offerings) and make it a double-feature of sorts with an older movie. My first post links Jacob Krupnick's infectious city symphony Girl Walk//All Day, with one of the first such movies New York received, Paul Fejos' sound-silent hybrid Lonesome. The two link up in a variety of ways, and I look forward to building out this feature.

My post is up at Movie Mezzanine.

Overtime (Matt Niehoff and Brian Cunningham, 2011)

Overtime starts as a vague Tarantino homage before turning into a silly pastiche of various clichés over the course of its 80 minutes. Ultra-low-budget, the movie has all the usual issues of a homemade film: bad sound, stiff acting and nonexistent effects. And yet, I kind of liked it; the movie is so off the wall ridiculous in its bounce from half-baked idea to half-baked idea that if it never adds up to more than (or even equal to) the sum of its parts, at least it has parts to be added.

My full review is up now at Movie Mezzanine.

Sunday, January 6

The Best Blu-Rays of 2012

To go with my favorite Criterions of the year, I put up my favorite Blu-Rays of the year over at Movie Mezzanine. Check 'em out.

Netflix Picks of the Week 1/4/13-1/10/13

Every week at Movie Mezzanine, Corey Atad and I pick three movies on Netflix Instant (me for the US, Corey for Canada). These posts will go up every Friday and include a newly added film, one set to expire, and then one we just want to highlight. Our first post can be found here.

Friday, January 4

Promised Land (Gus Van Sant, 2012)

All I gotta say is, when I get around to Elephant this year, it better undo a lot of the damage of Van Sant's last decade. I still haven't seen his largely ignored 2011 effort Restless, but it cannot possibly be worse than Promised Land, a smug liberal tract about going green financed in part by oil. For a brief time, it almost works, setting up the arrogant, manipulative natural gas company rep with an equally officious and pushy environmentalist, until a twist derails its vague hints of intelligence to set up a truly embarrassing, back-patting speech that may be the worst monologue of last year. Heinous.

My full review is up now at Movie Mezzanine.

Thursday, January 3

The Best Criterions of 2012

Up at Movie Mezzanine, I've put up a list of my 10 favorite Criterion releases from the past year. It was a bit of an off year for the company, but it still put out some of my favorite movies and introduced me to some stunning new discoveries.  So head on over and check out my article.

Wednesday, January 2

New Gig: Movie Mezzanine

This morning, Sam Fragoso of Duke and the Movies launched his new website, Movie Mezzanine. I'm proud to say that I will be serving as senior editor and the head of the site's DVD/streaming section. Sam is a great guy with a lot of passion, and the team he assembled is superb. Many of my favorite bloggers are taking part, and I cannot wait to really get underway with this incredible staff.

We've hit the ground running with some year-end reviews, including a staff feature of our aggregated picks for the best of the year. Check it out to see our picks and blurbs (I cover Bernie, The Color Wheel, The Day He Arrives, This Is Not a Film and Moonrise Kingdom), and take a look at our individual ballots here (note: mine is slightly different from the one I put on this site because I removed undistributed titles).

My activity on this blog may drop in the future as I devote more time to Movie Mezzanine, but a lot of what I will put there would likely have gone here anyway. I will update this blog with any exclusive content, as well as any links to new articles elsewhere. So set your bookmarks for this exciting new site, and I'll see you there!

Tuesday, January 1

Blindspots 2013

It may be presumptuous of me to plan for another year's worth of Blindspots posts when I still have two more from 2012 to complete (expect one for The Long Day Closes within a week and Judex...well, later). Still, these are some films I've meant to watch for some time, so perhaps writing them down here will prompt me to get to them. As with last year, I'll cover one a month at random (save for the horror film meant for October). The films are as follows:

All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
By the Bluest of Seas (Boris Barnet, 1936)
Duelle (Jacques Rivette, 1976)
Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
French Cancan (Jean Renoir, 1955)
Gertrud (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1964)
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Too Early, Too Late (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1982)
Trash (Paul Morrisey, 1970)
Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)