Thursday, August 27, 2015

LIST: Top 40 Dance Videos (Part Four)

Here we are, at the top of the pyramid. The Top Ten. I hope you like all these as much as I do.

BUT! Before we move on to the business at hand, allow me to remind you up front that this is a list of the best dance videos, NOT the best video dance routines. If that were the case, then you would have seen a lot more from Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, and more. I had to draw the line somewhere, and I decided I couldn't classify something as a Dance Video if the dancing took up less than half the video. Believe me, it was HARD cutting "Beat It" from this list. It was in my top three until I actually went and watched the video again... and found that the dancing doesn't even start until almost two-thirds of the way through. And the more Michael videos I watched, the more I realized that even though what dancing there was is still stellar, there wasn't nearly as much dancing in them as I remembered. In fact, the one that had the most was the edited version of "Bad", which I... <runs for cover>... HATE (I just never bought that persona from Michael).

Anyway.

Rest assured, were this a list of greatest music videos of all time, or of the best dance routines, there would be a LOT more MJ (and Madonna) on this list. But as it is, this is how the list stands. At this point, most of the videos speak for themselves, but I will still try to articulate why I think they're the best of the best.

10. OK Go - Here It Goes Again
I wrestled with myself over whether this actually counted or not, and finally decided it did. This treadmill routine (choreographed by Trish Sie) is a gimmick, sure, but WHAT a gimmick. It's super clever, superbly executed (in ONE TAKE!), and still mind-blowing. I still watch it in a state of "What the... How did they... Oh. My. GOD! AWESOME!" every single time.

Thursday Movie Picks - All in the Family Edition: Stepfamilies

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You should join us - all you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and tell us about them!

This month's All in the Family edition of Thursday Movie Picks is the hardest yet... partially because I didn't plan. I already picked my favorite (evil) stepmother (Anjelica Huston in Ever After), and my favorite step-siblings (Patrick and Sam from Perks of Being a Wallflower) in previous weeks. So, that leaves me with...

Well, let's just say I had to get a LITTLE bit creative.

Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) In May 1944, Ofelia and her pregnant mother travel to the country to move in with her new stepfather... who just so happens to be one of the most ruthless Captains in Franco's army. Then she wanders into the labyrinth on the Captain's property, and... well... there's this... faun... who tell Ofelia that she is the Princess Moana, lost from home for years. But in order to prove it, Ofelia must complete three tasks, each more difficult than the last. Pan's Labyrinth is del Toro's masterpiece, a fantasmagoric wonder show seamlessly intertwining the childish world of fairy tales with the all-too-real adult world of the Spanish Civil War and uprising.

Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007) When teenager Juno asks her father and stepmother to sit down because she has something important to tell them, they thought it would be that she was expelled, or into hard drugs. But no, it turns out the idiot got pregnant (by Paulie Bleeker - didn't think he had it in him!), and now she's dealing with things way beyond her maturity level. There are many things I love about Juno, but the casting is probably my second favorite (after Diablo Cody's getting-even-better-as-it-ages script). They may be very staunchly middle American middle class, but wouldn't you want J.K. Simmons as your Dad and Allison Janney as your stepmom?

The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) Fraulein Maria is the worst nun ever in the history of nuns: She spends her time singing and twirling around on mountaintops when she should be inside praying, she engages in all sorts of activities outside that get her dirty and ruin her habit, and then when the Mother Abbess sends her out into the world to serve as governess to the seven children of Captain Georg von Trapp, what does the bitch do? She falls in love with the man... who is in a relationship with the stunningly fabulous Baroness Schrader. But, this being a musical (even if it does take place in Nazi Germany), the Baroness sees the writing on the wall and leaves so that the not-so-star-crossed lovers can get together and possibly add to their happy brood... although really. SEVEN children? Nobody needs that many. I wrote plenty about this a while back for Hit Me With Your Best Shot, but I will say this again: This is Julie Andrews's best performance and I always think she won an Oscar for it. She should have.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

LIST: Top 40 Dance Videos (Part Three)

Inching ever-closer to the top spot....

20. Paula Abdul - Straight Up
Have you ever seen the full video of this? Because I thought I had, but then I watched it for this, and.... PAULA TAP DANCES. A CAPELLA. WTF. She also lands a triple pirouette with no help from editing tricks. Figures, since David Fincher directed this chiaroscuro beauty. This video is also proof that a good teacher (Paula) doesn't teach her students (Janet Jackson) everything she knows (if you didn't know, Paula choreographed all of Janet's early videos, and was even in the video for "What Have You Done For Me Lately", which features the most amazing shoulder-ography from Ms. Jackson).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

BLIND SPOT #6: The French Connection


Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know this wasn't on my original list. But it was playing at Film Forum and I'm playing catch-up with this project as it is, so I decided to take it in and write it up.

It's my blog. I'll do what I want!

This one had me hooked right from the blaring score and quick zoom-in title card. It announces itself as an exciting thriller right from the start, and damn if it doesn't deliver on that promise. The beginning, though, plays a little uneasy now: Within the first five minutes, Gene Hackman's "Popeye" Doyle runs down and assaults a black man after a surprise raid on a bar in a black neighborhood. The "n word" is used. A lot. And with all that's been happening recently, it made me more that a little uncomfortable; it felt like something that couldn't be explained away with the old "oh, but it was a different time," excuse. Doyle's casual racism is only denounced by his partner (Roy Scheider! Why didn't I know he was in this movie?!?) long past the point where it loses its effectiveness with their perp. In a film that wasn't very good, it would be difficult to get over it. But thankfully, The French Connection is a VERY good film, and elsewhere... what riches!


Friedkin is a master of suspense, very nearly on par with Hitchcock. It's what gives Bug such a creepy-crawly feeling of inevitable tragedy, and what saves The Exorcist from some questionable acting. The two centerpiece scenes here are terrific edge-of-your-seat, sweaty-palmed mini-masterpieces. I'm talking, of course, about the two scenes involving the subway. One underground on a platform, where Doyle plays cat-and-mouse with the crime ring's mastermind (the great Fernando Rey), and the other, the film's famous car chase, in which Doyle isn't chasing a man in another car, but rather a man in a subway on elevated tracks. The platform scene ends with the above shot - Rey's perfect smirk and wave at Doyle, letting him know that he was onto the policeman the entire time (even better: it apparently happened just this way in real life). It's a thrilling moment at the same time as it's utterly depressing - how are they ever going to catch this guy?

But Doyle catches a break later when a sniper meant to assassinate him misses and goes on the run. Doyle misses him on the subway, but commandeers a car on the street (every single person in the screening laughed at this) and chases the train to its next stop. It's easily one of the best car chases ever filmed, looking like it's taking place on real city streets that haven't been blocked off (and in fact, some weren't - Hackman actually did almost hit one car and was sent spiraling into a pole). It's so good actually, that when Doyle finally catches up with the guy, as he's coming down the stairs, thinking he got away scot-free, I actually was still on the edge of my seat, convinced that he wasn't going to get his man. Of course he does, in memorable fashion.


The film also gets at the mundanity of being a police officer in subtle ways I've never seen before: Check Doyle's gloves when they're on stakeout, all tattered and hole-y... actually, check all of the scenes when they're on stakeout, doing nothing but watching and waiting, outside in a city where it's seemingly always winter. Even the scene where they strip a car looking for drugs feel more procedural than exciting. But in that mundanity, Friedkin somehow finds deep wells of suspense. He's helped, of course, by a ferocious performance from Hackman, who tears through just about every scene he's in even if he's standing silent. He's a jumpy bundle of pent-up angry energy, an absolute live-wire, and compulsively watchable despite his questionable morals. Pairing him with Scheider, always a thoughtful, grounding presence, was a brilliant choice.

The French Connection more than lives up to its reputation as a killer police thriller. It is full to bursting with fantastic location shots of New York City, and the grittiness those provide makes the film feel even more authentic. Since the police officers who investigated the original case were involved in all aspects of production (the real-life Doyle plays movie-Doyle's Chief), it had that authenticity going for it already, but the location shooting really adds so much to this. You almost feel like a fly on the wall of the entire city watching this investigation unfold, something that is even now all too rare in films. Unlike In The Heat of the Night, which was released only four years earlier and really shows its age, The French Connection still feels as fresh as the day it was released.
The French Connection
Year: 1971
Directed by: William Friedkin
Screenplay by: Ernest Tidyman
Starring: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco
Oscar: 5 WINS - Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hackman), Adapted Screenplay, and Editing. Nominations for Supporting Actor (Scheider lost to Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show), Cinematography (Owen Roizman lost to Fiddler on the Roof), and Sound (also lost to Fiddler on the Roof).
Rating: *****

LIST: Top 40 Dance Videos (Part Two)

Here we go, #30-21...

30. Ed Sheeran - Don't
Phillip "Pacman" Chbeeb is positively dripping with charisma - has been since his very first audition on So You Think You Can Dance. So what a treat it is to just watch him do his thing in this video. I'm not really a fan of Ed Sheeran, so I will often watch this with the volume turned waaaaaay down, but it's still incredible to watch as he walks around a California neighborhood in his patented liquid-like popping style.

Monday, August 24, 2015

LIST: Top 40 Dance Videos (Part One)

Lists are, if you'll pardon my French, fucking DIFFICULT. I hate making them with a flaming passion. But I also LOVE them. They feel so representative, so orderly, so... SATISFYING. But compiling them? They're hard enough to order as it is outside of a few selections near the top usually, but then just when you think you're done you realize you completely forgot something and it screws up everything, or you realize that one thing dominates more than half the list, or you can't find a crucial piece of info or even proof of the existence of one of your entries, causing you to question your sanity... NIGHTMARE.

But sometimes, you just feel the need and come hell or high water or no sleep, you HAVE to make a list. And so here we are.

Because of that one episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot a few weeks back, music videos have been on my mind recently. Mainly in an "Are they still a thing?" way, but I felt a list coming on, so I decided not to fight it... only there were entirely too many videos to choose from when making a list of the greatest of them all. But then I went back to my roots and decided to do a list of the Best DANCE Videos, and everything fell into place. Kind of.

Granted, you could make a list that consisted entirely of Michael and Janet Jackson videos and it would arguably hold water, so dominant are they at creating dance-centric clips... but a list of dance videos without Madonna? Without Paula Abdul? Inconceivable!

But on the other hand, there are AT LEAST six Janet videos that could be considered definitive for her, compared to one for pretty much everybody else, and they all pretty much trounce the competition. Leave it to Janet to always bring the next level shit - the tilting dance floor in "Doesn't Really Matter", the mixture of Afro-Cuban dance, breakdance, and stepping in "Escapade" - and also to show the young-uns how it's done ("All For You" and "All Nite" are some of the most intricate, stylish dance videos of their respective eras). I mean, yes, "Rhythm Nation" is her best overall video, but can you really put it on a dance-centric list above the incredible solo in "Pleasure Principle" or the killer chair routine in "Miss You Much"?

Anyway, this has been on my brain for long enough. So I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and just publish the damn thing already.

I had only one criteria for this list: The dancing has to be the star. So any clips in which dance plays a supporting role ("Chasing Pavements") or in which the dance routine just doesn't get enough screen time ("Marry The Night" and pretty much anything else by Lady Gaga) had to go, unfortunately. Videos that were one-take wonders got extra consideration due to degree of difficulty. I decided to cap it at 40 because Top 40 is a big deal in music. If there's enough interest or if I feel like it, I'll post ten Honorable Mentions to bring it up to 50. I'll be posting 10 a day until it's done.

Let the countdown begin!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Against the Crowd Blogathon

Welcome to my post in the 2015 Against the Crowd Blogathon, hosted by Dell on Movies!

The blogathon's theme is pretty much what you'd expect: Pick a film that "everyone" loves (at least 75% on Rotten Tomatoes) that you hate, and a film that "everyone" hates (at most 35% on Rotten Tomatoes) that you love. Then say why.

This was far more difficult to do than I thought it would be, but the fact is: Since time is (unfortunately) a finite resource, I tend to only see films that I know I'm going to like, and there are very few cases in which I saw something despite terrible reviews. I almost didn't find films that fit the criteria Dell set up! Except in the case of a film that "everyone" loves but I hate. I kept trying to find another one, but I just couldn't do it.
I HATE THE DARK KNIGHT. I didn't want to step in it with this film AGAIN, but I don't think there's a film as universally loved as this that I dislike so much. In general, I prefer my comic-book adaptations to be true to their source material - i.e., FUN. The Dark Knight is not fun. Not that this is necessarily a problem; Batman has always been a "darker" superhero, and after the numerous terrible superhero movies we got before 2008, it was definitely time for someone to go there and put a superhero in the "real world", and deal with the real consequences of his actions. I was ready to like The Dark Knight. I really was.

BUT.

The Dark Knight is two-and-a half hours of relentless darkness, with a murky, byzantine plot that on repeat viewings only shows more and more holes. It is a punishing film, not just because that amount of cynicism and darkness over that length of time would make anything a tough sit (and the film is far too long to sustain the mood effectively), but because there's not a single moment of levity in the whole damn thing. Heath Ledger gives a great performance as the Joker, no doubt about it, but he's not funny in a fun, belly-laugh way - he's funny in a queasy, sick-to-your-stomach way. He's insane, and he renders Bruce Wayne/Batman the biggest idiot in the world with his mere presence. The man was trained by the freaking League of Shadows... AND THEN BEAT THEM, and yet he's not smart enough to figure out that the freaking Joker is not exactly a man you can trust to tell any part of the truth. AND, despite their admirable ultimate choice in the ferry boat standoff, the citizens of Gotham are proven to be the ultimate sheep, blindly following whatever voice screams at them the loudest in the moment, blaming Batman for the Joker's reign of terror instead of the police, the federal government/policing agencies, or, ya know, the clearly crazy Joker himself (they get even worse in The Dark Knight Rises, BTW). Which wouldn't necessarily be a problem, except that it begs the question: These are the people Bruce Wayne is so intent on saving?

And despite the strength of the film's cinematography, the editing is all over the place, often resulting in action sequences that are very nearly incoherent. And if you haven't yet done so, I urge you to take a look at the video below, which goes into detail on this very topic.


But my biggest problem with The Dark Knight, the one that completely outweighs all my other problems with it as a film in its own right, is that it's basically the film that was responsible for the cult surrounding Christopher Nolan, a group of people who think that every thing he does is an instant work of genius solely because he deigned to touch it, and that the man himself is infallible. Nolan is clearly very talented, and I've been a fan since Memento, but after The Dark Knight, a film wholly unworthy of being called his best, he was put on a pedestal as The Greatest EVER by a squadron of comic book fanboys, and it has become impossible to get a word in edgewise or have even a slightly negative view of Nolan or any one of his films without getting ripped to shreds.

But hold off on the ripping of me to shreds for just a little bit, because...

...WAIT FOR IT...


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Asian Language Movies Set in East Asia (Non-Horror)

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

I debated with myself this week, East Asian Week: Should I pick two of my All-Time Favorites, both of which are, generally speaking, rather popular films? Or pick some pretty great lesser-known films that people should seek out? Or be completely crazy and pick ALL OF THEM?

Guess which route I picked...

In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000) It is the 60s in crowded Hong Kong. Neighbors Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan (although they might as well be called He and She) discover that their spouses are having an affair. Trying to understand, they start meeting and play-acting as their spouses (he as her husband, she as his wife) to see how the affair may have started, and their relationship grows. In the Mood for Love is one of the most beautiful movies ever filmed, one that enraptured me from practically its very first scene. That it stars Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, two of the most beautiful, charismatic movie stars in the world, certainly doesn't hurt, but it's the beautiful fluidity of cinematographer Christopher Doyle's camera, the incredibly smart music selections, and how director Wong brings everything together that really make this a stunner.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) Ang Lee's terrifically entertaining wuxia still holds up fifteen years later as a superb exercise in pure storytelling. Effortlessly entertaining and totally engrossing, this is a magical film - pure cinema at its finest. I get downright giddy during long stretches of this, for numerous reasons: Tan Dun's thrilling score, the inventive fight choreography of Yuen Wo-Ping, the pure bad-assery and beauty of Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh.... I love this movie so much, and it never gets old. Ever.

Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) A terrible crime has been committed, and we find out what happened from five different points of view... but can we ever know what truly happened? By now you've probably heard mention of Rashomon's structure, but that's only one part of the glory of Kurosawa's breakthrough film. To watch Rashomon is to watch a good director turn into a master over the course of one movie. This is another film that is just endlessly entertaining to watch, more than living up to its classic status.

Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959) The beloved Roger Ebert once said something along the lines of "sooner or later, all film lovers make their way to Ozu", and it's easy to see why. Ozu had an early mastery of staging and framing that marks him as almost a predecessor to Bergman - his camera almost never moves, preferring instead to be set up in one perfect place to watch a scene or moment play out. Floating Weeds is to Ozu what The Man Who Knew Too Much is to Hitchcock: the good early picture that was later remade by an artist at the height of his powers. The story is about a Japanese theater troupe that travels to a small coastal town where the troupe's master has a son... who thinks the man is his uncle (of course). The man tries to make up for lost time, but his current mistress (and leading actress... of course) gets jealous. I love it for many reasons, not the least of which is the insight into Japanese theater, some of the most stylized, complex theater in the world.

Kisses (Yasuzo Masumura, 1957) This sweet little film, the first film of future provocateur Masumura, is a touching little romance that deserves a wider audience. Kinchi and Akiko meet visiting their fathers in prison. They each need 100,000 yen to help their fathers. This has all the freshness and vibrancy of the French New Wave films, which were still a couple of years off. In the film's presentation of its two main characters as lost kids trying to do the best they can for their wayward parents, Kisses feels far more modern than other youth films of the period from other regions, which tended to patronize or moralize to their teen characters/audience. It's almost surprising this story was never adapted by the French or the Brits or even the Americans, given that the story could easily be transplanted just about anywhere. Anyway. It's a great little movie, and may or may not be available for free on YouTube with English subtitles...

BONUS PICK:
The Joy Luck Club (Wayne Wang, 1993) Okay, okay, so TECHNICALLY depending on how you look at it, either half or all of this one actually takes place in the US and is told in English, as the life stories of four Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters are told through flashback during the course of one party. But I don't care, and much of it uses Chinese dialogue. So there. The movie is rather unjustly forgotten today despite being based on a much-loved and popular novel. No, the movie isn't as good as Amy Tan's novel (the film somehow renders each story much more cliché than the novel), but it's still very respectable, and features some great cinematography and scoring, plus incredible performances from a cast of Asian actresses who so rarely get much, if anything, to do in Hollywood. With all the talk recently on actresses of color who should have better careers (thank you Dell and Drew!), this one was on my mind, as we sometimes forget that Asian Americans are "people of color", too - and they're even less well-served by Hollywood by African Americans.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Angels In America

Written as part of the series hosted by Nathaniel R. over at The Film Experience.

Tony Kushner's Angels in America is the greatest dramatic work of the twentieth century. Possibly of any century. The play is sterling, radical, moving - a tour de force of theater. So I mean it as the highest possible praise when I say that Mike Nichols's miniseries version of it for HBO is the film it deserved, in just about every possible way.

The performances are, to a one, superb: Justin Kirk as AIDS-stricken prophet Prior Walter and Ben Shenkman as his cowardly partner Louis Ironson; Patrick Wilson as closeted Mormon Joe Pitt and Mary Louise Parker as his Valium-addicted wife Harper (was there ever an actress so perfect for this part???); Jeffrey Wright and Emma Thompson in multiple roles but most notably as the nurse/former drag queen Belize and The Angel, respectively; and of course the headliners, Al Pacino (realizing for once in his late career that underplaying was the right way to go) as closeted Republican superlawyer/Devil Roy Cohn and Our Lady of Divine Actressing, Meryl Streep as both Joe Pitt's mother and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg taunting Roy on his deathbed (and also as the Rabbi who gives the opening monologue... FLAWLESSLY).

Everything about the production is perfect - the production design by Stuart Wurtzel, Thomas Newman's iconic score, the costumes by the legendary Ann Roth, Stephen Goldblatt's cinematography... and of course, the direction by the one and only Mike Nichols, who considered this his magnum opus. Every single directorial flourish - inserts of paintings and old photographs, select tracking shots which daringly push in to another scene happening at the same time in a different place or out to reveal an "angel's-eye view", the numerous Cocteau references - lands with a beauty and grace rarely seen on screen, be it big or small.

I could be ballsy and pick a best shot from each of the six episodes. I could be equally ballsy and go on and on about the brilliance of the text and then randomly plunk down a Best Shot at the end. Or I could just pick my favorite shot from my favorite scene from anything ever and call it a day.

Or I could do none of those things.

I didn't have time to rewatch all of Angels in preparation for this. I only made it through Millennium Approaches (or, for those of you unfamiliar with the plays, the first half: Parts 1-3), and I had intended to pick just one shot overall, but I got carried away and wanted to feature one from each part. Plus, I have one from Perestroika that I just love. So I now share with you my Best Shots from each part of the first half of Angels in America, and some of Kushner's gorgeous prose to go with them.

PART ONE
"Deep inside you, there's a part of you, the most inner part... entirely free from disease."
(This is my favorite scene of anything ever.)

PART TWO
(This one gets no text, because it's the first time we really SEE Roy. We heard him before, when he told his physician "Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual who fucks around with men." And GOD is Pacino brilliant in this part.)

PART THREE
"Prepare for the parting of the air... The great work begins. GLORY TO-"

ALSO:
Emma Thompson once gave Meryl Streep an orgasm.
NEVER FORGET.
This is my favorite shot in all of Perestroika. It's a bit of a cliché shot, but it's such an unbelievably perfect way to end this scene. And the entire project is full of these visual punctuation marks at the end of scenes - very nearly as many as there are great lines that punctuate the scenes in the script, which is no mean feat. It's only real rival is this one:
Perfect reading of that monologue, and I love that it's a (mostly) unbroken shot of her from outside the airplane. Harper may have an "astonishing ability to see such things", but we have the ability to hear such astonishingly beautiful words thanks to Tony Kushner and Mike Nichols and, in this case, Mary Louise Parker.

I could go on and on about Angels and how brilliant it is all week. So I better stop now before I do.

Except to say that the play is just as timely now as it was when it premiered in 1993, in ways that are completely surprising. If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so. If you have seen it, you owe it to yourself to do it again.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies with Devastating Crushing Endings that Makes You Want to Weep

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme - it's fun and easy!

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm... Movies with devastating crushing endings that make you want to weep, huh? Well... I've already used Dancer In The Dark and Imitation of Life in other weeks... And to be honest, most movies with devastating crushing endings just make me feel depressed and/or angry, and most movies that make me want to weep do so from something that may be sad, but is also beautiful in a way. This topic calls for something beyond both of those. It took some digging and soul-searching, but I found three films that will give you the ugliest of ugly cry-faces:

West Side Story (Robert Wise, 1961) In my opinion, the best screen version of Shakespeare's immortal Romeo & Juliet. And it's even more devastating than its original source material, in part because it allows Juliet (in this case, Natalie Wood's Maria) to live. Watching Maria take her anger out on those who allowed the tragedy to happen, only to crumple to her knees in tears after she is unable to pull the trigger proves far more devastating than Shakespeare's original double-suicide ending. Add in the underscore, a mournful reprise of Tony and Maria's love theme (which was, let's be honest, already a pretty sad song), and it's definitely a recipe for weeping.

La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954) I love many things about La Strada, beginning with my beloved Giulietta Masina's great performance as the simple Gelsomina, a young woman who gets sold to a brutish strongman as replacement for her sister (who died while working for him). He teaches her to play instruments and clown a little to help him make money. Eventually she meets another street performer, a clown and high-wire artist, and a love triangle emerges. Anthony Quinn's primal wail by the water after learning the fate of his beloved Gelsomina is as heart-wrenching a sound as was ever put on film.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928) There are great films, and then there is Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. There are great performances, and then there is Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. There are films with devastating, crushing endings that make you want to weep, and then there is The Passion of Joan of Arc. Do yourself a favor and watch it with noise-cancelling headphones on. There isn't a more stunning silent experience in cinema.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Film Emotion Blogathon

Conman at the Movies started a blogathon (thanks as always to the ever-amazing Drew at A Fistful of Films for shining the light) that is just too good to not participate in. Inspired by the best film of 2015 thus far, Pixar's Inside Out, the Film Emotion blogathon is about finding a film that stands in for each of the main emotions in the film:
Joy: "A movie that makes you happy. The kind of movie that you put on whenever you’re in a bad mood that never fails to lighten your spirits."
Sadness: "The movie that made you cry the most."
Fear: "The movie that gave you the most nightmares."
Anger: "A movie that you flat out hated. Not a movie that was dull or boring, but a movie that fills you up with rage just thinking about it."
Disgust: "A film that makes you cringe."

So without further ado, here we go!

Joy - I have a number of go-to movies when I'm in a bad mood, but the one that I probably turn to the most is Singin' in the Rain. Not only is it my #1 All-Time Favorite Film, but it is by far the one that gives me the most pure, unadulterated joy. I could just put on Donald O'Connor's brilliant "Make 'Em Laugh" number, but why would I want to deny myself the joy of the opening "Fit As A Fiddle" segment? Or the first meeting between Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood and Debbie Reynolds's Kathy Seldin? Or the one-two punch of joyousness that is "Good Morning" into the title number? Whenever I'm feeling down, any second of this movie will instantly make me happy again.

Sadness - I'm sure I've written this story a million times on the internet, but I don't think I've ever done so here. When I first saw Toy Story 3, I was in tears from the incinerator scene onward. And not polite little tears welling up in my eyes and dripping down my cheeks, either. I'm talking a goddamn RIVER of tears streaming down my face and great, loud, heaving SOBS in a completely packed movie theater. Every little thing about the last fifteen minutes of this beautiful film just hit me like a ton of bricks in different ways. I won't go into it all here, but this movie was one of a few that actually made me look at my life, assess it, and make a change. Even now, just thinking about that PERFECT final scene makes me choke up a little bit.

Fear - Oddly enough, the film that cost me the most hours of sleep is one that I haven't even seen, but one that I've only seen little bits of: Poltergeist. It's all about the TV. The one recurring nightmare I've ever had is one where I turn a TV off but it keeps turning on by itself, sometimes to static and sometimes to something that I don't know what it is. I've traced it to seeing the previews for this on TV when I was REALLY young. Thankfully, The Ring came out when I was much older, so even though those dreams started up again after seeing it, I was able to handle them much better.

Anger - SIGH. I've never been so offended by a film's quality that thinking about it actually fills me with rage. I've come close precisely once - Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones - but mostly I didn't actively hate it, rather I was just bored by it. HOWEVER, I truly detest The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies for the mere act of EXISTING. So much so that I haven't even seen it yet. There is simply no good goddamned reason to make that book into three movies. NONE. And given the padding present in both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, I just don't have the patience to sit through another one of these movies. Which pains me so much, because I am a full-on fanboy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And then Peter Jackson went entirely up his own ass and turned my favorite book into a slog (Benedict Cumberbatch's AWESOME Smaug notwithstanding).

Disgust - There are plenty of films that I've seen that I don't feel the need to watch ever again, but only a select few that are so difficult to watch that I specifically don't WANT to watch ever again. The big kahuna of those is easily Requiem for a Dream, a film that makes me cringe so much that I just want to curl up into a little ball and die. I'm not sure exactly when that pit in my stomach opens up, but by the time Jennifer Connelly... I can't even write about it here it's so awful. Given that the film's subject matter is drugs and drug addiction, I have no doubt that that's the feeling the film was meant to leave us with. So job well done, everyone, but... I can't watch your film again. EVER.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Alien Invasion of Earth

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Play along by picking three films that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

The alien invasion subgenre of sci-fi got some seriously good play when I was growing up in the 90s. Even though I don't generally LOVE this kind of story, these three films are some of my all-time favorites.

Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1996) But of the three, this one is probably my favorite. Tim Burton's masterfully silly send-up of old-school B-movies has an incredible All-Star Cast (Annette Bening, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Sylvia Sidney, Pam Grier) and plenty of delightfully absurd moments (what ends up defeating the aliens? Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual", which makes their heads explode). The martians themselves are perfectly designed, and memorably voiced ("ACK ACK ACK!"). Plus, Burton cast perhaps the greatest First Family of all time: President Jack Nicholson, First Lady Glenn Close (in PERFECT Nancy Regan drag), and sarcastic First Daughter Natalie Portman.

Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996) The prototypical Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich blockbuster is still their best, largely thanks to an incredibly charismatic lead performance by Will Smith in the first of his string of July 4th hits. Bill Pullman's classic climactic monologue has been spoofed a lot recently, but it's still pretty damn inspiring in the context of the film, which has held up surprisingly well despite its 90s-ness  - Jeff Goldblum as a master computer hacker, anyone?

Men In Black (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997) The glory of this comic adaptation is two-fold: The crackling, surprisingly perfect chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, and the fantastic alien designs by master makeup artist Rick Baker. It's also REALLY funny - again, mostly thanks to the dynamic duo that leads the film. Jones's deadpan is a perfect foil for Smith's looseness as the veteran, seen-it-all agent showing the newbie the ropes as they police Earth's hidden alien population and protect "the galaxy" from an alien bug.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Shut Up and Dance (With the Movies)

BIG hat-tip to Ryan at Sorta That Guy, because this compilation vid to Walk The Moon's "Shut Up And Dance" is all kinds of amazing. It's pretty much only recent movies, so no Gene Kelly or Fred & Ginger, but it seems churlish to complain.


Enjoy everyone! I have something rather exciting coming up very soon, so stay tuned!