Posted by: kfugrip | January 15, 2010

Favorite films of the Aughts

Nobody is reading.  Why would I add my little list to the sea of meaningless chatter?  Because it’s fun to do this every year.  I have a fantasy that someone out there will read this blog/post and decide to watch one of these movies.  If that happens once the exercise will have been a success.  If you do watch a movie for having seen it on my list, then comment and I’ll dedicate my list to you next year (some people will not qualify for this… you know who you are).

I’m doing a top ten.   The criteria are simple.  It has to be a movie that I thought was 5 stars.  That shrinks the list to around thirty films.  The process after that point involves a desert island fantasy to rank them.  I think the understanding should be that the other twenty films that I haven’t listed here are in actuality 10a, 10b, 10c, etc…

While my love for cinema dates back to being a little boy, it is during the aughts that I pushed my passion to the cinephile level.  I went from a 22 year-old art school graduate with a degree in comic books whose favorite film was “The Professional” (Besson), into film school and deeper into the cinematic library.  With the invention of netflix I was able to delve deeper and develop my taste to the point that I would seek out a screening of a 450 minute, black-and-white, Hungarian film.  It doesn’t feel like a huge leap, but more like a natural progression.  For me the aughts were a fertile time where I looked down a lot of paths and found some wonderful films that I will watch time and again.  I hope that the next decade is even more fruitful.

You will notice the lack of documentaries on this list.  It is not a bias against them so much as it is a comment on how few of them I seek out.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps that should be my New Year’s Resolution; see more documentaries.

10. 28 Days Later - A masterpiece of modern horror that reinvented the zombie genre and used dv as an artistic choice, Garland and Boyle’s film holds me at attention whenever it comes on tv.  The rewatch-ability factor of this movie is right up there with Cool Hand Luke for me (which is good).

9. Monster’s Ball (Marc Forster) – After seeing this movie in the cultural wasteland of Savannah, I immediately told all of my coworkers to go and see it.  I never do that.  I was so moved by this story that I forget that Puff Daddy is in it.

8. No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers) – Saw this again on cable the other day and I had forgotten how damn good it is.  Who knew sliding a case full of money down a ventilation shaft was so cinematic.  The Coen Brothers are ultra-badass.

7. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis) – This movie made me start seeking out Claire Denis’ movies again.  I had sworn off her after seeing, and no liking, Trouble Every Day.  Seeing this one, even in the terrible anti-fat-guy seats at Film Forum, was an emotional experience.  The ‘Night Shift’ scene was moving like few scenes.  I put it up there with the final scene in Tender Mercies and the wall punching scene in Raging Bull.  I can’t get it out of my head.

6. Ballast (Lance Hammer) - I talked about this film when I was doing reviews, but it’s worth writing again that Hammer’s debut film is exactly the kind of film that I want to make.  Regional, intimate and universal.

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) – Charlie Kaufman is the voice of my generation (though he is decidedly older than me) and this movie changed Jim Carey from Fire Marshal Bill to an actual actor in my mind.  That is award worthy all by itself.

4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu) – Romania is churning out brilliant films every year now and this is my favorite.  Tension without the usual tricks, beautiful cinematography and realism at it’s best.

3. In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai) – No movie has developed and sustained a sense of mood and melancholy the way this one did for me.  It made my walk to the store heavy with the need for meaning.

2. Revanche (Gotz Spielmann) – Speaking of movies I would like to make, Revanche hit me like a few of these films, out of the blue.  I see a lot of movies based on reviews and that will give me a sense of what to expect, but Revanche moved at a pace that was exactly what I like.  From the opening image I was blown away.

1. There Will Be Blood (P. T. Anderson) – Moving up my list of favorite film makers (I put him just below Kubrick and Kieslowski), Anderson makes huge movies with heavy doses of music that work perfectly for me.  I tend to go towards a smaller story with as little music as possible, but There Will Be Blood with its opening image accompanied by swelling score broke through the bias and made me realize that it isn’t music that is the enemy, it’s poor choices.

One caveat:  This list was made without having seen the following movies that MIGHT be able to force their way onto the list.  Colossal Youth (Costa), Ne Touchez Pas le Hache (Rivette), Talk to Her (Almodovar), The World (Zhang Ke), Liverpool (Alonso), Man Push Cart (Bahrani), Syndromes and a Century (Weerasethakul), Songs from the Second Floor (Andersson), Regular Lovers (Garrel), Flight of the Red Balloon (Hsiao-hsien), In the Loop (Iannucci), Beau Travail (Denis), Best of Youth (Giordana), Birdsong (Serra), Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Schnabel), Time Out (Cantet)… and probably thousands more.  I would like to rewatch Cache (Haneke) too.

I also have a Top Ten for 2009 list over at The Auteurs.

Posted by: kfugrip | September 11, 2009

Production Diary #1: “Lorn” Day 1

Woke at the crack of dawn filled with nervous energy, and roused the crew.  After a delicious continental breakfast we headed out in a fog lifted directly from a Tarkovsky movie.  I couldn’t use it, otherwise I would have started shooting there in the hotel parking lot.  This was the start of a theme for this shoot; remember this for next time.  I now know that in late summer/early fall there can be a lot of fog in the mornings in Point Pleasant, WV.  Mark that down.

We set up the few interior shots first, taking over my dad’s house and sometimes forcing him to stand across the street with the dogs to keep them out of the shot.  The house is so small that there was nowhere for my dad and step mom to hang out that would have been out of the shot.  It didn’t help that I was shooting wide shots that would play with the claustrophobic nature of the space.  In all I really liked the beginning of the shoot.  I did make myself pick up the pace at one point, though in the end time was never an issue.

Break for lunch and start shooting exteriors in some of the most beautiful weather I’ve seen in the area, then drive to another location and shoot more walking shots.  Do it again.  Do it again.  Until the final shot at the river.

Without spoiling the movie, the final shot is the money shot and without it the piece doesn’t work.  I knew this and planned on ending both shooting days with a take.  This eventually morphed into it being shot at sunset, which made for a beautiful shot.  It’s fun to have this pressure packed moment and have no control.  Boats come into the shot, motorcycles zoom by, fishermen are jabbering… all we need is quiet.  I like it especially when it works.

I learned so much from this day.  I am planning on shooting another movie in the area this February, so part of this film was a location scout for the next one.  I also felt like my I let my energy get too low.  I know that directing a film can be an exhausting task, but I could see my concentration slipping as I got more and more tired.   Roger Corman said

…prioritize your shots; rehearse while the crew is lighting the set; chase the sun; use foreground objects to enliven a dialogue scene; bring in movement to stimulate the eye; wear comfortable shoes; and sit down a lot.

I put the last part in bold because I was doing neither and it would have helped me stay more alert.

So much of it was a learning experience, more so than my film school shoots, that I can’t wait to get on to day two and to the next film, and the next film, and the next film…

photograph by Josh Chaplinsky

the badass crew - photograph by Josh Chaplinsky

Posted by: kfugrip | September 1, 2009

Production Diary #xi: breaking the seal

Since leaving college all those years ago I have moved to New York City and scratched out a living in film production.  What I have not done is pursue what I want out of life (other than to live in New York City).  That changes this year.  I am shooting a short film this weekend.

The title of the film is “Lorn”.  It will be filmed in and around my hometown in West Virginia.  I (we) will shoot it over Labor Day weekend on the Panasonic AG-HVX200 and edited on Avid Media Composer (as soon as I get it working on my system).  I have a great crew on board and a pittance of my own money to use, so it’ll be fun.

The impetus for Lorn was my inability to get the money to make another short (called “Hunter Orange”) last winter.  Coming into the summer I got a job, a long job wherein I would make some money, so I figured now was the time.

The idea is that I shoot something that fits my aesthetic and leads into my next short and the feature that I’m trying to get made while still being its own entity.  It also needed to be cheap, really cheap.  Without stating a thesis for the film I will say this: it is a simple story about a people that are disappearing from this country.

This blog should get a few Production Diary posts in the near future.

I’m nervous and excited to be back at the helm.  It has been a long time coming and I hope it goes as smoothly as possible.

Wish me luck.

Last week I watched two movies that immediately blended with my ideas for Lorn (my forthcoming short film).  This isn’t an unfamiliar feeling, as art often influences me and anything creative I am doing – even a doodle at work.  Am I alone in this?  I think not.  I remember in college my friends would go through phases where they were influenced by specific artists and their comics would reflect the influences in massive ways (Egon Schiele was a big one).

The first film I saw was Import/Export directed by Ulrich Seidl (lookie).  I had seen the director’s work in Dog Days a few years ago and though I didn’t love that film I thought this new one looked interesting.  What became obvious as the film started was the power of the image.  The frame is static for the most part, symmetrical composition and presentational.  Look at the images below and notice how balanced the picture is, it could be bisected into equal parts.  It is not unlike Peter Greenaway, but I find Greenaway more theatrical, more baroque and more interested in filling the frame with the detritus of his artistic id (Drowning by Numbers anyone?).  That is not to say I don’t like Greenaway, I love him in fact, but the films I want to make are less like Greenaway and more like Siedl.  In fact during Import/Export I kept coming back to the idea that I had to make Lorn look like this movie.  It would work perfectly.  Locking off the camera in a beautiful composition and allowing the blocking to direct the eye and not a cut.  My mind was made up.

Then I went to see another film a few nights later.  Lorna’s Silence, directed by the Dardenne Brothers, is a further evolution of their style and I am in love with it.  This film includes more visual breaks, with wide shots mixed heavily with the follow-a-character-in-medium-CU-as-they-navigate-their-world (that I adore).  This approach, to the naked eye, appears to be in direct opposition to the style described earlier, and it is partially.  For those who haven’t seen the brother’s films, they involve a sole protagonist whom we see in every shot.  Not only do we see them in every shot but the camera follows them like a ghost haunting them.  If you saw The Wrestler or Sugar, there are some “Dardenne shots” in those films and they work well.  Upon seeing Lorna’s Silence, and falling under the sway of the camerawork (again), I decided that Lorn would be shot with a mobile camera, stalking the main character as he experiences his day.  I would shoot it like this…

If I had a steadi-cam.

Instead I think that the approach will go back to it’s initial birthplace, Tarkovsky (specifically - Nostalghia)/Antonioni, before it reaches out and absorbs the techniques of Siedl and Dardenne.  At least until I see another visual potent film… then I’ll steal it’s form as well.

Import/Export1Import/Export2

Lornas-Silence-450lornas-silence-451

I’m changing my format.  Why?  Not only do I rarely post on this site anymore, but aim to do something that isn’t film criticism with this life.  While writing the reviews in the past was a way for me to feel like I was creative in a small way, since I had neither the resources nor the capital to make the films I want to make, the reviews should be an element of my creative life but not the lone element.

What will the new format be?  I am shooting a short film in a month’s time.  I want this blog to be a place where I can post random related thoughts about film (or art, or music, or whatever) as well as  a production diary of the shooting of my forthcoming short and every other film I make.    There will still be the occasional review, but those reviews will fold into a current project that I am working on.

The projects that will feature on this blog from now on will be:

  • - short films (mine)
  • - screenplays (mine)
  • - feature films (mine)
  • - anything else I can think of… (also mine)

Conversely, I will figure out a naming system as I go in case anyone actually reads this blog and wants to find out what I think about something.

Maybe, I will like this new format and will contribute often… maybe.  I found that I was unable to make myself write about film in the form of a straight review anymore.  Perhaps that will change, but in the meantime… Welcome to the new Stallion in pupa form.pupa

Posted by: kfugrip | February 12, 2009

Stallion Top Films of 2008

bestofmovies2008

2008 wasn’t a bad year for movie watching.  I told myself I would see more Hollywood pictures.  That lasted three months. Instead I watched a fistful of small movies made by director’s with a singular vision.

I’m doing a top ten list like the rest of the blogging world.  I would feel bad about it but I really want people to see some of these films.  Quite a few of my favorites this year were movies that aren’t playing at the mall in Akron, Ohio.  Many of these are movies that help us look at ourselves and that is what art is all about.  With one exception, all of them are the kinds of movies I would like to make as a writer and director.

Lets think of these movies as RECOMMENDED viewing.  I would recommend all of the movies below to anyone unless they refuse to watch a subtitled movie.  And away we go…

Top Ten (okay, eleven):

Ballast (Lance Hammer) – Not all of you are able to see this beauitful, powerful depiction of life in your local cinema, but seek it out because Hammer has created a film that stayed with me for a long time after I watched it.

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman) – A sprawling epic of the interior of one man, this movie read like rabid ID filmmaking.  It works for both the intellect and emotion, filled with pitch-perfect performances.

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt) – Another “small” movie made by people with an interest in exposing the struggle of regular people without making a polemic.

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky) – The final images of this film stuck with me for long after I left the theater.  Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei… two of the best performances of the year.

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan) – Simply the greatest movie based on a comic book superhero, ever and also one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen. Great performances abound, I was invested emotionally in an action movie for the first time since I saw The Professional (Besson).

Un Conte De Noël (Arnaud Desplechin) – I like domestic drama especially when the matriarch is as fantastic as Catherine Deneuve.  Great performances all around.

Frozen River (Courtney Hunt) – Melissa Leo is riveting in the powerful depiction of life at the edges.  Of the same ilk as Wendy and Lucy, and Ballast, if this is a film in a new movement then it would be great news for me as a cinephile.

Che (complete) (Steven Soderbergh) – Another epic about the revolutionary’s successes and eventual death.  I saw this when it was released as one film with an intermission.  I thought that Del Toro was fantastic and I was very involved in the story, so much I didn’t want it to end.  The shortest, long movie I’ve ever seen.

Blindness (Fernando Meirelles) – I went into this film expecting little and ended up loving it.  The ending in particular, was moving and beautiful.  Julianne Moore is great as the only woman who can see in an asylum for the blind.  Filled with great performances.

The Edge of Heaven (Faith Akin) – A powerful film that I still think about.  Inspite of an ending that I found unsatisfying, the film was great and tied with the film below, thus creating a top eleven.

Frownland (Ronald Bronstein) – I reviewed this here.  It was an important film.  Great.

  • Snow Angels
  • Married Life
  • Redbelt
  • Iron Man
  • Reprise
  • Savage Grace
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Religulous
  • Rachel Getting Married
  • Paranoid Park
  • Zack and Miri Make a Porno
  • Milk
  • Timecrimes
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Revolutionary Road

Ballast

synecdochenywendy-and-lucythe-wrestler_posterdark_knightconte-noel1frozen-river-movie-posterche_posterblindness-poster-0edge_of_heaven

Posted by: kfugrip | February 11, 2009

Have you ever… PART II: The Reveal

I’m at a loss for words at the prospect of tackling my first book review.  Lets call it a “book review”.

I’ll start again, at the beginning, but after the material in this post.  The reading, and subsequent reviewing, of Autumn Angels by Arthur Byron Cover, was a task taken with the best of intentions.  A stroll down memory lane, arriving on the firm ground of nostalgia.  I used to read science fiction/fantasy a lot.  In fact it was, with comic books, my reading material of choice, a long stream interrupted only by the assigned reading of the English Teacher.  I took a path which may have been typical amongst like-minded readers.  I began reading comic books.  I started reading fantasy/science fiction novels.   Specifically, I read books existing in the TSR world of fantasy.  For the uninitiated, TSR = Dungeons and Dragons.  I am not sure but the first novel I read may have been Dragonlance: Dragons of Winter Night (Hickman & Weis), a D&D book.

I moved on to a smattering of fantasy books, some mentioned in the previous post, and some Science Fiction.  I remember reading Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A. Heinlein) and Glory Lane (Alan Dean Foster), and one of those was my first Sci-Fi book.   I bounced back and forth between Sci-Fi and Fantasy, adding Horror to the mix, until sometime in college (I think) where I “graduated” to fiction that didn’t have a sword or a laser gun in it.  My first book, not required reading, might have been Red Dragon (Thomas Harris), but I can’t be sure.

I read this book, one chapter a night, for MONTHS... I have a better method now.

I read this book, one chapter a night, for MONTHS... I have a better method now.

These days I rarely read anything that would be located in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.  I now bounce back and forth from literary fiction to non-fiction books about film or politics.  The last Sci-Fi book I read was probably a Wildcards book.  Though I did try to read The Mucker (Burroughs).  I couldn’t get through it even though I wanted to love it.  It was in that Wildcards book that I first read Arthur Byron Cover.  I had no idea I was reading him.  I didn’t particularly like the story he was writing.  Wildcards is a series of books about superheroes in a realistic setting.  Here is a link if you are interested.  The books are interwoven stories by different authors.  Each author writes a character that leads to the final climax.  It is light reading and I believe I read it after something heavy.  Not sure.

strangerinastrangelandglorylane1reddragonwildcards5mucker

Buying a copy of Autumn Angels has reawakened my mind to the pleasures of a good science fiction story.

Autumn Angels is a story set millions of years in the future where man has been turned into godlike man.  Every being on the planet has powers that border on being all-powerful.  As the people are so changed, their names have been changed to aspects.  Example: our main characters, the demon, the fat man, the lawyer.  The aforementioned characters decide that life if too boring with the godlike man and that godlike man should learn depression.  With depression godlike man could learn to have hopes and dreams to counteract the depression.  The book concerns the character’s attempts to make their plan work.  The quest for depression takes them far across the universe, introducing a myriad of interesting characters.

What I liked: I found the mental gymnastics engaging.  All the characters in the book are fictional characters from another source.  Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse are characters, but they aren’t called that.  The Big Red Cheese is a character and not everyone will know that is Captain Marvel.  The flip side of this is that I don’t know who all the characters are and I miss some of the jokes.  There is a lot of humor in the book.  I would classify it as a comedy.

The concept is explored to it’s logical (and comedic) end, with a peek at characters that have nothing to do with the main plot.  My favorite section was the Donald Duck section.  The book is filled with inventive characters, my favorite being the Crawling Bird.  The poster child for depression, the Crawling Bird could star in his own book and I would read it.  The scene where the Crawling Bird is unveiled to godlike man at a fair was one of my favorite passages in the book.

The cover, like many of the science fiction books I bought as a teen, is a big selling point.  The art is by Ron Cobb, a noted illustrator and movie designer, and is superior to the edition now printed by Babbage Press.

What I didn’t like: The same elements that drew me into the book, pushed me away.  The way the book darted around with different characters stole momentum from the main characters.  Some of the adventures distracted more than supported the plot.  I wish that the book was insanely popular so that I could find a guidebook on the internet telling me whom the characters are supposed to be.  I find myself wondering who was who so much that it took me out of the story.

I would recommend this book to science fiction/fantasy readers, especially fans of Douglas Adams‘ work.

I believe the cover wraps around.
Posted by: kfugrip | January 21, 2009

Have you ever… PART I

… looked for something… Wait.  The beginning.

My Uncle Donnie was a would-be writer and a great collector of things.  It is from his and my grandmother’s strain of the Greene genetic code that I get my love of reading and my want to collect. I would see my uncle pour through an entire table of books at a flea market, tiny list from his wallet in hand, and witness the excitement when he would find one of those books.

In my uncle’s house he had a library.  Everyone called it a “book room” for some reason.  In this room, lined to the ceiling with shelves, were books stacked two deep.  Some of the books were comic books, but most were novels and of those many were Science Fiction/Fantasy.  I spent many a summer visiting my uncle’s house across our tiny town and asking if I could go into the book room.  I wouldn’t touch anything usually, for fear of damaging something and getting yelled at, but I would pour over the shelves and wonder what was in those books.  Eventually my curiosity took over and I would tilt something out from the shelf to see the cover.  This is where I saw Frank Frazetta’s work for the first time.  The images of the majority of these books has been erased from my memory, but Frazetta’s images are the ones that have stayed.

My primary mission during the curious phase was to find out what the comics were.  My uncle had stopped buying comics before I

was born.  He sold his collection.  There were two shelves of comics left from that collection.  One was on a high shelf, second highest in the center of the largest wall.  The other shelf was in a low corner behind a piece of furniture (a chaise maybe?).  The high shelf was not easy to access and involved standing on the back of a worn out couch.  The low shelf was first and consisted of a bunch of Tarzan comics, and old Charlton comics like Captain Atom (with Ditko art) and Peacemaker.  I was blown away by these exotic comics.  I was a kid used to typical 80’s Marvel and DC, so seeing Peacemaker was weird.  The top shelf was underground comics.  I never took one out, as I did with the Tarzan/Charlton comics, because I knew if I was caught with one of those I would be in big trouble.  However one of the comics that I tilted out was Hup #1 which promptly seared itself to my retinas.

hup1

If I had actually had the balls to read the COVER (I put it back really fast) then maybe I would have laughed at the irony.

Things stayed this way through much of my youth.  My fantasy playground, a museum in my mind, unable to touch or read many of the things that seemed so amazing.  When I was in my teens I started to talk to my uncle about comic stories that I was concocting.  He and I would talk a lot about comics and these conversations reignited his interest.  I was also into Science Fiction, so he gave me some “doubles” he had.  He gave me a couple Conan books, some Edgar Rice Burroughs books and Almuric (Robert E. Howard), which was my favorite for a few years.  I read a few of them and at some point my uncle and I went into the book room and looked at some books.

almuric1lancers_conan_conan_fronttarzancastawayslancers_conan_isles_front

monstermenattheearthscorepellucidariamabarbarian

One of the books he showed me seemed really weird and maybe funny, but I had never seen anything like it.  Some of the details were burned into my brain but the rest was forgotten.  One of the things I forgot was the TITLE.  This happened when I was around 13 and since I have not been able to find out what that book was.  I have searched all over the internet, with little information.  Much like my search for that stupid skin flick, I was armed with a few random details and certainly not enough to find the book.

It has been at least four years since I’ve searched and I found it.  The only detail I had was “lonely hawkman”, which took me to the cover, which I remembered. It is called Autumn Angels, written by Arthur Byron Cover.

I believe the cover wraps around.

I ordered it via Amazon Marketplace.  It will be here in a few days.  When I’m done reading it I will publish PART II of this email.  I can’t wait.

Posted by: kfugrip | January 8, 2009

New (before) Christmas Toy

I had such grand plans.  I was going to take a bunch of pictures of my home town and of my family during the xmas holiday break.  I like the look of West Virginia during winter.  It is desolate, but beautiful.  I bought a Holga, new from B&H, some film and off I went.

I was ill before I left, which lead to my inability to test shoot a roll to see what the pictures would look like.  Of course there isn’t a place to develop 120 film locally in WV, which was fine.  I knew that I could get the pictures developed when I got back to New York.  I am familiar with the Holga and the kinds of pictures it takes.  That was the point actually.  To take lomo pictures to supplement the digital pictures that I was going to be taking.  I was thinking of making a blurb.com book for everyone next year.

I just got the pictures back last night and out of the 42 chromes that were developed (and scanned) only one is passable.  Here it is:

Yes, that is a car mirror in the lower right corner.

Yes, that is a car mirror in the lower right corner. Fuji Provia 100F, normal process

Why is this picture the only one to come out?  Well, there is a shutter problem.  When I depress the shutter it exposes the aperture, like it’s supposed to, but then it continues around and exposes a section again.  Most of my pictures have a diagonal slash through them, with the section on one side of the slash being overexposed.  If I held the button down it would continue to exposed that section as if I had it in bulb mode.  It’s a problem.

I currently have a roll of film loaded, so I can’t try to fix it.  I’m going to shoot out that roll, trying not to hold the button down at all and see if that fixes the problem.  If not then I’ll get in there and try to fix it manually.  Updates will follow.

I’ve also decided to get an inexpensive, all manual, TLR 6×6 camera on ebay.  I always regret not taking more pictures with my digital camera (consumer, point-and-shoot) but the difficulty in controlling exposure irritates me.   In order to underexpose a shot I have to go into a menu and go -1 EV, then back out of the menu.  It’s annoying.  I’d rather use a light meter and adjust a ring before taking a shot. Auto focus is equally irritating.

When I would shoot student films on 16mm, I hated shooting hand held.  I liked taking my time and composing shots from a static position.  If the camera was moving I wanted it on a dolly.  I look forward to taking the Lubitel, putting it on a tripod, and carefully composing a photograph.

I’m not turning this blog into a photo blog, because I’m only a hobbiest, but if I capture interesting images I would like to share them.

Posted by: kfugrip | August 5, 2008

Update… but not back, yet.

Since my last post, April 8th 2008, I have watch a pathetic number of movies and while some of them were really good, I haven’t felt like posting.  I’ve been working at my new job and getting into the Union, so my time to post would have been on the weekends, or evenings and I guess I’m not that committed.  However, the Stallion will never die, only rest periodically to catch his breath (seeing as how he is overweight and lacks the typical New York City active lifestyle).

Sadly this is going to be a lame post where I list the movies I’ve seen and their ranks.  I am sure I will forget something because my system for remembering what I’ve seen failed me.  (that system is Netflix and there seems to be a large gap in my ratings there)

12:08 East of Bucharest 3

Blue State 2

The Contender 3

The Dark Knight 5

Day watch 3

Deep Water 4

Demon Seed 2

DIG! 4

Eagle vs. Shark 3

The Happening 2

In Bruges 3

The Last Mistress 3

Lovely & Amazing 4

Married Life 3

My Blueberry Nights 3

My Kid Could Paint That 3

Night watch 3

Out of Sight 4

Reprise 4

Savage Grace 4

Semi Pro 2

Snow Angels 4

Step Brothers 2

The Edge of Heaven 4

The Leopard 4

The Namesake 3

The Ten 3

Variety 3

Walking and Talking 3

Wild Tigers I Have Known 3

There are so many good films in that bunch.

Of the group, The Dark Knight stands out as an acheivment in it’s genre.  It is without a doubt the best Superhero-movie ever and one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen.  Christopher Nolan is a great director and proves that just because you make a movie with the studio doesn’t mean it has to be watered down and terrible.

With any luck I will revisit this site with more posts in the near future.  Thanks for reading.

Adam Greene

If you make a film and you inject it with as much poetry as possible, use a narrator, long takes, and shoot fields of tall grass, then you are going to be compared to Terrance Malick. Is that a problem? For some people it may be, as the implication is that the film will be both slow and long. For this viewer it can work out well, as it did in the case of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, written and directed by Andrew Dominik.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, takes place during the last years of Jesse James’ life, when he met Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). Jesse is a paranoid, confused, and suicidal figure at this point and Robert Ford is a sycophant of the highest order, having obsessed over Jesse James (Brad Pitt) his entire life. The film tracks the men’s relationship with one another and with other members of the gang and leads to the aftermath of the infamous man’s death.

What I liked: The poetry of the image was the surface, the initial layer of the film with it’s long lenses and shallow focus combined with vast landscapes and rugged interiors. Everything in the film is sparse, stripped-down, in an effort not to distract from the story. I loved how the film was shot. Roger Deakins is the man and he flexes his cinematographer’s muscles in this film. Dominik has the sense to work to Deakin‘s strengths in the film, shooting some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in awhile. I should have seen this in the theater.

The next layer, the most important one, is the subtlety of the performances. Affleck, Pitt, Sam Rockwell, and Paul Schneider all deserve special mention and Affleck probably should have gotten an Oscar for this performance. While the character is detestable I couldn’t help but care for him. He is a tragic figure, mirroring Jesse James careening towards his demise. I thought this was the real powerhouse performance by Affleck of the year, not Gone Baby Gone. Pitt should also be noted for playing the icon himself and playing him as a man.

The shoot-out that occurs towards the end of the film was a favorite scene of mine. Played realistically with poor shooting and some real character moments, the scene stood out as a powerful example of how modern westerns can remain fresh by depicting the genre conventions as unromantic as possible.

What I didn’t like: The film dragged a bit in the middle, focusing too much on characters that, while interesting, detracted from the thrust of the narrative. I wanted to get back to Robert Ford and Jesse James.

4 stars

I have been ignoring the list of films that I wanted to see this year and instead I’ve watched some random movies on cable and the theater. Here are a couple of them.

The Other Boleyn Girl, directed by Justin Chadwick, is the story of Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary Boleyn and their affairs with Henry VIII. Some of this ground has been covered in Anne of the Thousand Days, which I’ve seen, but I don’t remember Mary being involved in that movie.

What I liked: The costuming was beautiful, if a little silly on the men. I’m sure it’s period specific and, if the painting of Anne Boleyn is any indication, accurate to what they know of the time. The three leads are all beautiful people, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana, and they glamor-it-up in this one. It’s very “old Hollywood” that way, which has it’s appeal.

What I didn’t like: I didn’t care about anyone in this film and found their stories to be laden with melodrama. The three leads are all good actors but they die in these roles, and it’s not for lack of effort. The story is probably an interesting one but it feels like it was written by a committee, and that is the death of film if you ask me. The more I think about it the less I like it.

1 star

I Think I Love My Wife, directed by and starring Chris Rock, is the story of a married man who harmlessly fantasizes about other women. When a former friend’s ex-girlfriend shows up all that harmless fantasizing turns bad and his marriage in in trouble.

What I liked: The movie has some good laughs, which is important for a comedy.

What I didn’t like: The biggest problem for this film is that Chris Rock has trouble carrying a movie. He’s funny, hilarious in his stand-up, but I don’t believe him as a romantic lead. Combine that with a mannered performance by Kerry Washington and a directing sensibility that leans too heavily on tricks to cover performance, and you have a failure. I really wanted to like this.

2 stars

Posted by: kfugrip | April 8, 2008

Doc Day

Here are some encapsulated reviews. I watched the following Documentaries awhile ago and I find it difficult to write about them. I like documentaries, and I read a lot of non-fiction, however I’ve yet to be able to penetrate the surface of the films for a review any deeper than “I learned a lot”. In the future I will make a stronger effort (or avoid them entirely). Without delay, on to the show…

638 Ways to Kill Castro, directed by Dollan Cannell, is the story of the United States’ relationship with the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, focusing on the many times that Castro‘s assassination has been attempted. It is an interesting film about a figure that, for Americans, is shrouded in mystery and embarrassment. The CIA has tried to kill Castro through many intermediaries, some of whom are terrorists. This is the type of information typically covered up and saying it in a public place would get one branded as a “conspiracy theorist”. These things happened however, and this film illustrates them in a way that detracts from the information. Set as an examination of suspects, complete with found footage of an actual police lineup, the film veers too far into trying to entertain and misses an opportunity to delve deeper into the subject matter.

3 stars

Manufacturing Dissent, directed by Debbie Melnyk, is a story about a Canadian journalist’s attempts to interview Michael Moore, while simultaneously picking apart the man’s films and attempting to expose him as a fraud. An interesting attack on a filmmaker. The film is most interesting when exposing the mistakes of Michael Moore‘s films, but fails to back up many of the claims. The weakest elements of the movie are the filmmaker’s attempt to smear Moore as a “bad person”, like that has anything to do with the man’s films. This reeks of a right-wing-hatchet-job but also contains some interesting facts about Moore‘s films.

2 stars

Brother’s Keeper, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, a brilliant documentary about the Wards, a family of reclusive, ill-educated, brothers who are launched into the national spotlight when one of them dies. The death happens overnight in the bed that the brother shares with his younger brother, Delbert. Delbert is then arrested and charged with his brother’s murder. He signs a confession, which he cannot even read. The documentary penetrates the bizarre lives of these illiterate farmers and the small town they live in.

My initial reaction to the movie relates to what I felt last year during a murder trial in which I was a juror. During the trial there were many police who testified, some of them detectives and the impression I got was that even the highest ranking police officer wasn’t that smart. I’m not saying that they aren’t capable of protecting and serving, I’m saying that one would like to believe that detectives are intelligent (not Sherlock Holmes but close) but after seeing the testimony of a few my suspicions have been confirmed. They aren’t that bright*. The police involved in Brother’s Keeper, did what anyone would do, they looked for the easiest answer. This answer just happened to be one that ignited a community.

I won’t spoil it but the film is emotional and kept me involved throughout.

4 stars

* My cousin is a police officer and, while he’s a great guy and I love him, he isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Posted by: kfugrip | March 31, 2008

Movie Review: Ballast

Every year the magazines and websites I read produce a rundown of the film festivals. I can’t go to (m)any of these so this is my only way of getting news about the small films. Anyone reading this blog knows that I like the small film, the “Independent” films, and I seek them out. How does one learn about these films if they don’t read about the great films playing at the festivals? I don’t know how you people do it but I read Film Comment or Cinemascope and make mental notes.
mjs.jpg             ballast_05.jpg             james.jpg

Sundance ’08 was written as a return to form and Film Comment mentioned that a few films stood out. One of those films was Ballast, written and directed by Lance Hammer. Upon reading the synopsis, I immediately searched for information on the Hammer and found a number of interviews, all short. See, Ballast won the “Directing Award: Dramatic” for his work on this film and in reading one of his interviews he mentions the Dardenne Brothers as an influence. This is the cinematic version of a blue-light-special to me. It screams “Go there, Adam. You must see it.”

See it I did, at the New Directors/New Films Festival sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art. Ballast was the first film I looked for in the program because not only did I want to see the film but I love Walter Reade. It’s my favorite theater in the city. So, off Kelly and I went.

Ballast is about three people and how their lives are affected by the suicide of one of their family members. The film takes place in the Mississippi delta region and features non-actors.

What I liked: The story was haunting and beautiful. It’s the type of story that I like, one about people dealing with a crisis and trying to live the best they know how. Lawrence Batiste (Michael J. Smith Sr.) is found sitting, nearly catatonic, in his living room while the body of his twin brother Darius lies in the bedroom. After Lawrence’s suicide attempt we get a glimpse at his nephew James (JimMyron Ross) and James’ mother, Marlee (Tarra Riggs) as they get the news. I love the realist style with the character living below or near the poverty line. So many people live this way and they are rarely represented on screen. When I see a sensitive portrait of people like that, played without sensationalism, it inspires me more than the most of my favorite films.

The performances, by people with no acting experience, were thoughtful and natural. I was amazed at how effective they were. The film was organized through improvisation with the actors and their performances were better than similar work done in Bubble. Hammer has a future with actors, if nothing else.

The film won the “Excellency in Cinematography Award: Dramatic” at Sundance ’08, and it’s obvious why. The film is beautiful, shot with a constant gray sky, often in rain, the film’s use of long lenses is exactly to my taste. The decaying landscape and the diffused light create a layer of poetry that lifts the material above it’s realist intentions. The camerawork goes from stylized and self-conscious to invisible in the first few shots, as I became wrapped up in the drama. That is powerful filmmaking. I can’t wait for Hammer’s next effort.

See this film.

What I didn’t like: I found little fault with this film. It lost some momentum towards the end, due to the heightened drama in one particular scene. My biggest issue was the opening shot. It’s hand-held and extremely so, following James as he runs into a field of geese. It’s a beautiful shot and deserves a smooth rendering. The shot was blissfully short and followed by a static shot of James watching the geese, but I was worried I was in for one of “those” movies. Lucky for me I couldn’t have been more wrong.

5 stars

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Posted by: kfugrip | March 27, 2008

Movie Review: The Holy Mountain

 

The Holy Mountain, written and directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, is replete with allegory, sacrilegious imagery, psychedelic imagery, cultural and social critique.  Currently a staple of the midnight movie rotation at IFC Center the film betrays it’s roots when you google a synopsis.  Being a fan of El Topo, The Holy Mountain was next in line for experiencing Jodorowsky‘s potent images.

I have read a few of Jodorowsky‘s comics and The Eyes of a Cat, with art by Moebius, is an excellent indicator of what you are getting with this storyteller.  Seek out the comic if you can.

The Holy Mountain is about a Thief (Horatio Salinius), looking Christlike, who  meets The Alchemist (Alejandro Jodorowsky) and joins a group of wealthy, powerful, mystic beings who go in search of The Holy Mountain in an attempt to become immortal.  Along the way the group are indoctrinated in the ways of the Alchemist through a series of sacrilegious tasks.

What I liked:  The imagery that Jodorowsky commits to film is a work of art unto itself.  From the opening image (see above) of the Alchemist in his black hat shaving the heads of two women, we are presented with a director’s  world view that is unlike anything else in the world.  The story is a bizarre mythological tale that resembles video games more than it does anything else I’ve seen.  This is in part due to my lack of knowledge of Jodorowsky‘s inspiration (a lack that will be remedied when I watch the commentary).

Without giving anything away, the ending makes the film.  Part of me has outgrown (poor choice of words) this esoteric subject matter but the final scene in this film was a master stroke.  I loved it and found it to be totally unexpected.  I would give a recommendation on the ending alone.

What I didn’t like:  My general distaste for anything purposefully weird and “quirky” pushes me away from movies like this but The Holy Mountain isn’t so easily put into that box.  While the music was weird and the film includes a terrible fight scene, it was the film’s use of bad actors that turned me off.  The performances are intentional in their theatricality but it isn’t working and it distracts me from the plot.  I also didn’t care about anyone.  The Thief should have been my entry point but the movie features more about The Alchemist than it does the Thief and the Salinus’ attempt to make this character real fell short.

I think that my rating doesn’t reflect how I would recommend this film.  Sure it’s weird but many of the artists I know would love the pictures that Jodorowsky has made with this film.

3 stars

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