Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mad geniuses

I've picked out 3 films that almost killed their creators, either literally or figuratively so. And the directors who made them had to be quite mad, as they pushed their craft to the very extreme in one way or another.

The first one is Jacques Tati's Play Time. Now this is a movie that is unlike any I have ever seen in my life, and I don't know how much I even like it, but yet I find it fascinating to no end. In it, there is not much dialogue at all, no main characters, and just about every shot is wide-angle. I think Tati detested closeups. His sets were so elaborate and with so many things going on at the same time, you have to watch it several times from different parts of the theater to catch everything. Its very nature was sort of off-putting to many audiences, so maybe that's why I haven't seen very many immitators. It's like seeing the Grand Canyon, if you consider yourself a true cinephile, you must see this film at least once in your life. It's quite a spectacle. I think he even said it was like this film came from another planet. In such a way I think it's quite inspiring by showing us different possibilities with cinema. This film was a real budget-buster, too. Tati created this whole futuristic city for a set, outside of Paris, they called "Tativille", and this project ate up so much money that he even resorted to using cardboard cutouts for extras at times. Incidentally, this movie put Tati into financial ruin.

The second film I've chosen to mention is Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. He filmed this thing on the southern Alberta plains, and drove everybody up the wall during filming, I've heard. After shooting was over, he had to reshoot some scenes, and spent about two years editing the thing, which included overlaying a lot of the spoken dialogue with Linda Manz's voiceovers, and so forth. Two years of editing! I don't think he made the producers very happy, but the world should have no complaints because all that madness produced what I think is one of the most seamless and beautiful films I've ever seen in my life. I think this film comes as close to perfection as any film ever has. Incidentally, this film must have taken so much out of the director that he didn't make another film for the next 20 years. I guess that's called suffering for the cause. But I'll take one Days of Heaven over 20 Woody Allen films. And I like Woody Allen a lot.

And the final film I'll mention is.....can you guess it.....yeah, Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. Of course. This film was one of the most daring projects any director ever set out to make. I think Klaus Kinski almost murdered Mr. Herzog over it, or maybe I'm exaggerating, but it wouldn't have been a surprise if he did. I don't think any director in history has had more cahones than Herzog. He was quite demanding. There are no "special effects" in this film. They really did pull a ship up a mountain. He just had to do everything authentic, didn't he? There is a companion piece to this film, a documentary on the making-of, directed by Les Blank, that is equally as fascinating to watch, or moreso. Here is a clip I don't remember seeing before, but I'll use it because it really makes the point:

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Classics

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, Entertainment Weekly has posted several lists of "New Classics" -- that is, the best of everything that's debuted within the last 25 years.

Obviously, the movie list doesn't dare to be different. It's full of titles most people have seen and chatted about, and 94 out of 100 are English language films. Clearly, it's a list of broad popular tastes, and I'm not gonna waste energy criticizing EW for doing exactly what it always does. But I think we can do better.

There are nine contributors to this blog, so let's each list nine of our own New Classics. The only guidelines are: feature-length films released in 1983 and after. No need to create a new post, simply edit this one to add your titles.

As with any list, mine could completely change tomorrow depending on my mood. Here's what I feel the need to add right now:


After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)
Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)
Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou hsiao-hsien, 2007)
Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell, 1996)
The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)


Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
The Aviator (Martin Scorcese, 2004)
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2002)

Weepingsam's List (promoted from comments)
City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1989)
Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wei, 1995)
Yi Yi (Edwards Yang, 2000)
Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994)
Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000)
Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, 1986)
Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
O Brother Where Art Thou? (Les Freres Coens, 2000)

Erik's list
Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002)
The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)
Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)
GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)
Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003)
9/11 (Gedeon & Jules Naudet, James Hanlon, 2002)

Joseph B's List

(if nothing more than personal favorites.. I have such a damn hard time seperating 'favorite' from the abstract idea of 'important')

1. Casino
2. Magnolia
3. Heat
4. Laws of Gravity
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Goodfellas
7. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
8. The Double Life of Veronique
9. The Thin Red Line

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sports Post and Poll

It's been a tough couple weeks for baseball managers - John McLaren in Seattle, John Gibbons in Toronto, Willie Randolph of the Mets were all fired in the last couple weeks - and the trade rumors are starting: whither CC Sabathia? Matt Holliday? Jason Bay? And so Im putting u another poll, for you baseball fans: which of the dreadful underachievers are most likely to turn things around in the second half?

There have been some dreadful underachievers: The Mets, at least compared to their image of themselves; the Tigers and Indians, by pretty much any standard, have been huge disappointments; The Mariners wanted to think they were contenders, and acted like it,trading prospects for Eric Bedard; both the Rockies and Padres have been awful, after being in the playoffs last year... The Blue Jays, Dodgers, etc., all had dreams of contention, which aren't very likely now.

But - if I had posted this a couple weeks ago - I could have included the Yankees: a winning streak later, they're over .500 and only 5 out; The Brewers were mediocre for a long time - now - 6 1/2 out, but moving up on the Cubs; good lord - even the Orioles are over .500! So - who else can turn it around? I'm going to limit the choice to the teams that both have a shot at the post-season - so no Mariners, they won't come back from 18.5 out, and were supposed to be good, and were good last year, but have been lousy this year. Those teams are:

Detroit and Cleveland - both very good last year, supposed to fight for the top of their division, if not the league, this year - both very bad this year. Though lately the Tigers are hot - and both are still within range of contention, and both have bunches of established players who have not been performing - they are prime candidates to make a run.

Rockies and Padres - playoff teams (sort of) last year, awful this year - but close enough to make a run, and - maybe...

Throw the Dodgers in there too, since they fit the bill pretty well.

And finally - the NYMets - they're the ones getting the attention, of these sad underachievers. The joys and perils of being in one f the big media cities. And of spending a ton of money and playing to the tabloids every offseason - which seems to me to be a big part of their problem. They have been making the big splash almost every year of the Minaya era - signing Beltran, Martinez, trading for Santana and so on - all fine and good, except they haven't bothered to put a team around the stars. Take away Wright, Reyes and Beltran, and that is one sorry lineup. It's interesting to compare them to the Phils - what's the difference? comes down to this - the Phils' stars are playing at or above expectations (except for Rollins), while the Mets stars, while doing okay, have not been up to their standards; and the rest of the Phillies lineup is competent major leaguers who stat on the field - Victorino, Werth and Jenkins, Feliz - nothing special, but they give you something. The Mets? not so much...

Anyway: we'll see how this goes... maybe next we can ask about which of the overachievers (Tampa, Florida, the Pale Hose, those over .500 Orioles, etc.) can keep it up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Four Fathers

I Was Born, But... (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932)

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)

The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shared Items

This is an experiment. I don't know if anyone else cares about my Google Shared Items page - but I think it might be interesting to have a post with a bunch of these. So - if anyone else wants to link to shared posts - it looks like you just have to add the script here.