Thursday, May 31, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 19: Avengers: Infinity War

In general I strive to keep extratextual information from being a significant factor in evaluating the movies I'm watching.  If it isn't on the screen, then it shouldn't be relevant in judging the work.  Ignore the marketing and publicity campaigns as well as reviews.  Focus less on what a filmmaker may claim he or she intended and just interpret what you see.  Sounds good, right?

Of course, this is virtually impossible unless you can block out the media cacophony in a way that I can't comprehend.  Even then, I realize that I violate this rule of thumb all the time, especially when examining a new film in regard to how it fits in with a director's larger body of work.  Granted, recognizing patterns in a filmmaker's oeuvre is more valuable in reading a film's text than coming at it through the filters of trailers, talent interviews, box office receipts, and fan reactions.  The challenge is to make sure that the tools worth using don't become boilerplate supports.  In other words, just because there is a common theme running through a director's films doesn't mean that it makes them all good. 

Back to extratextual matters...they play a major role in how I experienced AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and are why I have a hard time buying what the film is selling.  If you've seen the film, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't and don't want the end of the movie revealed, then I suggest waiting until you watch it to listen to this episode.  A big part of the discussion is about our disagreement in whether or not to accept what happens in that part of the film.

In the recommendations segment I throw support to John Woo's MANHUNT.  I thought this was a lot of fun, especially if you're familiar with Woo's older and most popular films.  I also am not entirely sure that it's a good movie.  I realize that might seem like a contradiction in terms, but as I mention during the episode, seeing MANHUNT with a knowledgeable crowd numbering a couple thousand at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival heightened the experience even as I acknowledge that the film isn't as slick as his best work.  It's on Netflix if you're interested.

Upcoming episodes:

-June 13: LIFE OF THE PARTY and our recommendations segment
-June 20: DEADPOOL 2 and a discussion about film clichés we like and dislike
-June 27: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and our recommendations segment

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 18: You Were Never Really Here

It's been my experience that most people have no idea how film critics do what they do, and the general public probably assumes critics' opinions are carved in stone rather than written in a material more amenable to revision.  When I started as a critic in the late 1990s, I probably would have held a similar view about the endurance of the first impressions captured in an initial review.  A verdict has been rendered, and that settles that.  The need to assert authority on a subject can manifest in the form of more definitive statements, especially as a nascent critic and young adult.

As I've accumulated experience, I've come to realize how much I don't know and how works of art can transform depending on a variety of factors.  My mood, age, fellow audience members, life circumstances, and foreknowledge, among a number of other things, can have a greater impact on how I evaluate a film than I may realize or want to admit as a measured, independent-minded person.  I'm not suggesting no review is fixed or that altering one's opinions mean they were objectively wrong before.  Rather, in developing our judgments critics should strive to account for the elements that become the filter through which we see what is on the screen.  A negative review that becomes positive upon reconsideration, or vice versa, isn't a sign of critical failure or inconsistency but is indicative of the willingness to engage with the film at whenever the moment in time with it occurs.

The main focus of episode 18 of FILMBOUND is YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, the new film from writer-director Lynne Ramsay.  I enjoyed this dive into a grimy underworld--if enjoyed is the proper word for such an emotionally tough work--and left feeling as though perhaps I needed to reassess her previous feature, the 2011 drama WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.  I had a strong negative reaction to that film, and while I don't have any reason to distrust those feelings, I am also curious if I approached it from the wrong angle.

This happens occasionally.  After being thoroughly surprised by how much I liked THE NEON DEMON, I questioned if my first assessment of Nicolas Winding Refn's ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which I thought was excruciating, needed to be challenged.  Maybe it's merely my auteurist inclinations, a prescriptive framework that wishes to integrate and resolve the unfavored works with the favored.

Setting aside everything above, revisiting a film doesn't usually result in drastic reappraisals for me.  Although I have made dramatic flips, it's more typical for me to feel mild shifts in degrees of enthusiasm than huge swings.

The discussion topic on this episode is an attempt to identify who are the biggest new movie stars to emerge in about the last twenty years and what even defines a star in today's Hollywood.  I'm satisfied with the top two or three performers I name, but after that the task gets exponentially harder.  I proposed the topic based on a prior conversation with my co-host in which he asserted that Chris Pratt belonged in that elite group, which I disagreed with.  Maybe I convinced Paul otherwise because he didn't end up naming Pratt, and the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY star didn't even get mentioned on the podcast.  My main reason for denying Pratt a spot among the biggest new movie stars is that he has yet to transcend franchise film roles.  In the contemporary industry, that quality is probably the biggest factor in determining who is new to the A list.

A listener who has already heard this episode suggested Bradley Cooper, who neither of us brought up.  As with a lot of the other names we kicked around, he probably merits consideration, but is he that big of a star?  I'm not sure.  In the time since recording this episode, I thought of a couple actors neither of us mentioned but probably should have:  Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.  Notice that it's harder to identify the big stars since a little before the turn of the century than it would seem.  In terms of social media fan intensity, Kristen Stewart would surely be fighting for a place as the biggest star of today, but that rabid support hasn't translated to robust box office totals for her non-TWILIGHT films.  Are the stars just smaller but more numerous these days?

Upcoming episodes:

-May 30: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and our recommendations segment
-June 6: TULLY and a discussion about sequels, cinematic universes, and crossovers we'd like to see
-June 13: LIFE OF THE PARTY and our recommendations segment
-June 20: DEADPOOL 2 and a to be determined discussion
-June 27: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and our recommendations segment

Thursday, May 17, 2018

April 2018 Film Log

Another month attending a film festival provides a boost to the overall numbers, with nearly half of what I saw coming in a five-day period at Roger Ebert's Film Festival.  The end of the semester and other pressures on time put a pinch on the usual amount I'd devote to watching movies, but I recognize that I still see way more than most people.

Dario Argento is one of those directors who I'm aware of but largely unfamiliar with, so I made the effort to catch a couple of his earlier films when they played in Columbus as part of a month-long series.  I wanted to see SUSPIRIA the most, but the only time available to me was a 12:15 a.m. screening before I had a 7:00 a.m. flight to Denver.  I gave serious consideration to going, but physical fatigue persuaded me that it would be extremely foolish to drag myself to a screening that I'd probably fall asleep during.

One note on a grade: I left a placeholder question mark for the Japanese silent film A PAGE OF MADNESS because I have no idea what to make of it, especially as the late afternoon festival drowsiness made this dream-like (or nightmarish) film even hazier.

-13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016): B

-American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003): B+ -- 35mm; 2nd viewing

-Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2018): C -- Cinemark XD

-Beirut (Brad Anderson, 2018): B

-Belle (Amma Asante, 2013): B -- 2nd viewing

-The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1998): A -- 35mm; repeat viewing

-The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) (Dario Argento, 1970): B- -- 4K restoration

-Blockers (Kay Cannon, 2018): B-

-Columbus (Kogonada, 2017): A -- 2nd viewing

-Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991): B -- 2nd viewing

-Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (Dario Argento, 1975): B- -- 4K restoration

-The Fugitive (Andrew Davis, 1993): B -- repeat viewing

-Gemini (Aaron Katz, 2017): B

-Goldstone (Ivan Sen, 2016): C-

-Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014): A -- 70mm; 3rd viewing (2nd in 70mm)

-Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018): B-

-Loveless (Nelyubov) (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017): B

-A Page of Madness (Kurutta ippêji) (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926): ? -- with Alloy Orchestra accompaniment

-A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018): B+

-Rambling Rose (Martha Coolidge, 1991): B+ -- 35mm

-Rampage (Brad Peyton, 2018): C-

-Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, 2017): B-

-Selena (Gregory Nava, 1997): C -- 35mm

-Truth or Dare (Jeff Wadlow, 2018): C-

-Where is Kyra? (Andrew Dosunmu, 2017): C

-You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017): B


-Aspirational (Matthew Frost, 2014): B

The top films new to me (current releases):

-A Quiet Place
-You Were Never Really Here
-Loveless (Nelyubov)

The top films new to me (repertory):

-Rambling Rose
-Deep Red (Profondo rosso)
-The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo)

Viewing locations & formats:

-Theatrical viewings: 26 (DCP: 21, 35mm: 4, 70mm: 1)
-Home viewings: 0
-Live accompaniment: 1

April Totals:

-# of screenings: 26
-# of unique films seen: 26 features and 1 short
-# of feature films new to me: 19

Year-to-date Totals:

-Theatrical viewings: 90 (DCP: 83, 35mm: 5, 70mm: 2) (includes one live performance & one live accompaniment)
-Home viewings: 8 (HD streams: 4, HD recordings: 2, Blu-ray: 1, DVD: 1)
-Live performances: 1
-Live accompaniment: 1

-# of screenings: 98
-Unique # of films seen: 93 features, 2 shorts compilation programs, and 4 shorts
-Unique # of feature films new to me: 83

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 17: I Feel Pretty

Although I FEEL PRETTY is too sluggishly paced and not funny enough to merit a positive review, I appreciate that co-writers/co-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein avoid one of the big pitfalls of romantic comedies, even if their film is more romantic-comedy-adjacent.  (It's primarily a self-empowerment film with a romantic comedy element.)

So many contemporary romantic comedies force relationships that I don't believe because the would-be lovers are constantly snipping at one another or contrive exaggerated conflicts to set up the inevitable climactic reconciliations.  In I FEEL PRETTY the relationship between a newly confident Renee (Amy Schumer) and Ethan (Rory Scovel) makes a lot of sense.  While the event that signals trouble for them as a couple is very much a movie mechanism--Renee's second head injury undoes the optimistic self-perception the first one gave her--it strikes a more familiar note in what can cause problems in real relationships: the internal hang-ups and self-questioning of one or both people.  It would be nice if more screenwriters see that this common, relatable quality can be as, if not more, effective than the idiot plot trope of a simple misunderstanding that regular people would easily reconcile.

In the recommendations segment I praise--and hopefully pull off a credible title pronunciation of--Jacques Rivette's LA BELLE NOISEUSE, which is now available in a fantastic 2-disk Blu-ray set.  (It's also out on DVD and can be streamed in HD.)  At times the film evokes Henri-Georges Clouzot's THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO (LE MYSTÈRE PICASSO).  The similarity is not in the technique but in access to the process involved as a work of art takes shape.  I realize that a nearly four-hour French film with significant stretches in which the camera observes an artist's strokes of charcoal or a brush as he tries to get his visions on the page or canvas is not the easiest sell, but the experience of watching it is quite absorbing.  Inspiration isn't a flash that produces something in an instant, and I was fascinated in watching Rivette try to capture what it is like to make the intangible tangible.

Why make one recommendation when I can make two?  I also give the proverbial thumbs up to Roger Ebert's Film Festival and provide an overview of the event's 20th year.  (If you want more in-depth coverage of Ebertfest, click here.)

Upcoming episodes:

-May 23: YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and a discussion about who are the biggest new movie stars of the last twenty years and what defines a star in today's Hollywood
-May 30: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and our recommendations segment
-June 6: TULLY and a discussion about sequels, cinematic universes, and crossovers we'd like to see
-June 13: LIFE OF THE PARTY and our recommendations segment

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 16: Isle of Dogs

Episode 16 features a main review of Wes Anderson's ISLE OF DOGS as well as the creation of the FILMBOUND canon.  From time to time we’ll devote a segment in which Paul Markoff and I will induct a film into our personal collections of all-time greats. Our FILMBOUND canons are separate, so we do not have to agree on whether a film belongs. There’s also no requirement that what we pick conforms to critical consensus.

To make constructing our lists less predictable, we will be limited to films released beginning in 1995.  That year provides enough distance from today to search for important films during our lifetime and dig up forgotten gems. It’s also after PULP FICTION’s release in 1994, which seems like a watershed moment in film history, especially in helping to shape the tastes and willingness to look beyond the mainstream for our generation.

As a starting point 1995 is also shortly before the introduction of DVD.  Although there's the impression that everything made it to disk, arthouse and foreign films, particularly those released in the mid-1990s and a bit after DVD technology became available to consumers, sometimes fell through the cracks or, if they were published, have gone out of print.  CITIZEN KANE and VERTIGO don't need more critics championing them at this point in time to get burgeoning cinephiles to search for them; however, films in recent history may need a revival, especially as each year's flood of titles threatens to have us drowning in new films.

Although it wasn't planned, Paul and I each picked films by filmmaking brothers to establish our FILMBOUND canons.  I inducted THE KID WITH A BIKE (LE GAMIN AU VÉLO), the 2011 drama from directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, while Paul selected the love-and-baseball comedy FEVER PITCH from directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, which also made my 2005 Honorable Mentions list.  While my choice wouldn't be characterized as an obscure pick--it's available as an excellent special edition from The Criterion Collection--I thought this particular film made sense in representing what I value in cinema.  I also feel as though the remarkable consistency of the Dardennes also means that individual films don't necessarily stand out.  Consider this a good place to start if you're not familiar with their work.

Upcoming episodes:

-May 16: I FEEL PRETTY and our recommendations segment
-May 23: YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and a discussion about who are the biggest new movie stars of the last twenty years and what defines a star in today's Hollywood
-May 30: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and our recommendations segment
-June 6: TULLY and a discussion about sequels, cinematic universes, and crossovers we'd like to see

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 15: A Quiet Place

If you were to collect and analyze the complaints about going to the movies, you would probably reach the conclusion that other moviegoers are monsters.  People checking their phones, talking, and doing heaven knows what else are constant distractions from the main reason why everyone is supposedly at the movie theater.  A QUIET PLACE, the spotlight film on episode 15 of FILMBOUND, raises the stakes for watching a movie with a crowd.  More than most films, it requires a hushed viewing environment, so seeing it in public charges the the experience with an even higher expectation and need that everyone will be respectful.  A QUIET PLACE also pressures the most conscientious attendees not to create any noise, even inadvertently, by shifting in their seats or consuming their snacks of choice too loudly.  I don't know if this factor was taken into account when making the horror movie, but it certainly benefits from making all viewers keenly aware of the social contract in going to the movies.

I've witnessed enough impolite conduct at the movies to know that audience behavior can leave a lot to be desired, but in general the notion that movie theaters are packed with the unruly masses does not reflect my typical experience.  Yes, I've been frustrated by the people who can't avoid looking at their phones and those who are oblivious and unconcerned that they're providing an unwanted running commentary, but it's pretty rare to have a screening completely ruined by this.  Then again, I also tend to go at off-peak times and see some films that only attract a handful of people, although sometimes the smaller crowds invite the most irksome people to share a theater with.

I use my part of the recommendations segment to suggest director Andrew Haigh’s LEAN ON PETE and Chloé Zhao’s THE RIDER, two dramas about the powerful connections between people and horses.  Both films are currently in limited release.

Upcoming episodes:

-May 9: ISLE OF DOGS and the creation of the FILMBOUND canon
-May 16: I FEEL PRETTY and our recommendations segment
-May 23: YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and a discussion about who are the biggest new movie stars of the last twenty years and what defines a star in today's Hollywood
-May 30: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and our recommendations segment

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 14: Ready Player One

With the encouragement of Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and Paul Thomas Anderson, 70mm film projection is en vogue again.  For those in big cities, something may be showing in 70mm on a regular basis, whether it's a new release or an old film.  Here in Columbus the Gateway Film Center may not play a film in 70mm every week, but their schedule features screenings in the format often enough that attending one doesn't seem like trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of a comet.  If you live outside larger areas, chances are that seeing films in this format is unavailable to you unless you're dedicated to making a long drive.

The reemergence of 70mm film projection is a welcome development for those of us who still appreciate seeing movies from physical prints rather than digital sources.  If I'm on the fence about seeing an older movie in the theater, I'm more likely to go if it is being projected from film.  A physical print provides a different aesthetic experience that I can't duplicate at home.  Along that line, the renewed interest in and availability of 70mm prints surely stem from the mild pushback to the digital conversion of the nation's theaters.  Some makers, fans, and exhibitors wish to support the philosophical mission to preserve the native film experience. What had been normal for most of the art form's existence mostly went away in a relatively short period of time.  In 2002 I had to pay an upcharge to see STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES digitally projected.  Sixteen years later some places charge extra for 35mm and 70mm screenings.

On episode 14 of FILMBOUND we review READY PLAYER ONE, which I saw in 70mm.  While I'm glad that I was able to see Steven Spielberg's latest work in this format, the existence of the film in 70mm reflects some of my issues with READY PLAYER ONE's fetishization of the past.  I don't know what percentage of the film's scenes exist entirely as digital creations, but it's surely more than half and, if I'm guessing, probably close to 75%.  If most of it wasn't shot on film, is there real value in having 70mm prints available, or is this merely a marketing gimmick?

Paul Markoff and I also discuss the benefits and detriments of film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.  Increasingly I'm not persuaded that the site is of much use other than being a one-stop shop for finding links to several reviews at once, links that I suspect most visitors rarely click on because they're just looking for the Tomatometer percentage or the blurbs.

Upcoming episodes:

-May 2: A QUIET PLACE and our recommendations segment
-May 9: ISLE OF DOGS and the creation of the FILMBOUND canon
-May 16: I FEEL PRETTY and our recommendations segment
-May 23: YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and a discussion about who are the biggest new movie stars of the last twenty years and what defines a star in today's Hollywood