Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Roll Call: September

9/1- MUNICH (Steven Spielberg, 2005) 
        THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) 
        APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) 
9/2- GHOSTBUSTERS (Ivan Reitman, 1984) 
9/3- SORCERER (William Friedkin, 1977)* 
        FRENZY (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972) 
        8 MILE (Curtis Hanson, 2002)* 
9/4- DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS (Stacy Perotta, 2001)* 
9/5- SPELLBOUND (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945)* 
        IN THE COMPANY OF MEN (Neil LaBute, 1997)* 
        FRANK (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014)* 
9/6- HITCHCOCK (Sacha Gervasi, 2012)* 
         WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Lynn Ramsay, 2011)

9/8- ALL ABOUT EVE (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)* 
        POWAQQATSI (Godfrey Reggio, 1988)* 
9/9- STATE AND MAIN (David Mamet, 2000)* 
        CRUISING (William Friedkin, 1980)* 
9/10- CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (George Clooney, 2003)*
           BROKEN FLOWERS (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)*
           TREME (3 episodes)
9/11- SUSPICION (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941)*
           CITIZEN RUTH (Alexander Payne, 1996)*
           MAGIC MIKE (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)*
9/12- The Friedkin Connection by William Friedkin (2013)*
        BUG (William Friedkin, 2006)
        THE KNICK*
9/13- THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells, 1998)*
           ANASTASIA (Gary Goldman, Don Bluth, 1997)*
9/14- THE DEER HUNTER (Michael Cimino, 1978)

9/15- THE PLAYER (Robert Altman, 1992)
          THE ROVER (David Milchod, 2014)*
          CARLITO’S WAY (Brian DePalma, 1993)*
9/16- ONE HOUR PHOTO (Mark Romanek, 2002)*
           TREME (2 episodes)*
9/17- ENEMY (Denis Villeneuve, 2014)
         DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (Blake Edwards, 1962)*
         THE VERDICT (Sidney Lumet, 1982)*
9/18- TUSK (Kevin Smith, 2014)*

9/19- THE WESTLER (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
          FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold, 2009)*
          THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (Fred Zinneman, 1973)*
9/22- MORVERN CALLAR (Lynn Ramsey, 2002)*
9/23- THE GRADUATE (Mike Nichols, 1967)

         THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (Philip Kaufman, 1988)*
9/24- David Bowie- Hunky Dory
         CLOSER (Mike Nichols, 2004)*
         CLUE (Jonathan Lynn, 1985)
9/25- TUSK (Kevin Smith, 2014)
9/26- IDIOCRACY (Mike Judge, 2007)*
         THE BICYCLE THIEF (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
         L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (Curtis Hanson, 1997)
         BETTY BLUE (Jean Jacques Beneiux, 1986)*
9/28- TELL NO ONE (Guillame Canet, 2008)*
9/30- 12 ANGRY MEN (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
         THE LONG GOODBYE (Robert Altman, 1973)*

Movies You May Have Missed: The Day of the Jackal

Fred Zinneman's film adaptation of Frederick Forsyth's book counts as one of the great suspense thrillers/ procedurals of the 70's. Where some procedurals barely work with following the police investigation, this film juggles both the investigation and follows the Jackal as he uses smart tactics to elude his enemies. And succeeds admirably with both. The Jackal is portrayed by Edward Fox in an icy cool performance. Prone to casual violence and devilishly convincing as the cold blooded assassin hired by the OAS to eliminate Charles De Gaulle. While this narrative plays out, the French Secret Service put together a team led by Lebel (played by Michael Londsale).

The documentary like cinematography employed by Jean Tournier, Georges Delerue's propulsive score, and Zinneman's masterful direction all contribute to creating a constantly on the move style. Guided through the streets of shot on location Europe.

In his Pultizer Prize winning arrangement of words, Ebert said: "The Day of the Jackal is two and a half hours long and seems over in about fifteen minutes." Quite so. There is not a moment I was not invested in Zinneman's thriller. A tight script Seek it out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Top 20 Wrestlers

A majority of my favorite wrestlers are the ones who had both athletic ability and were natural storytellers in the ring. Here they are:

1. The Undertaker
2. Shawn Michaels
3. Triple H
4. Stone Cold Steve Austin
5. Mick Foley
6. Kurt Angle
7. Bret Hart
8. Chris Benoit*
9. Brock Lesnar
10. Eddie Guerrero
11. Chris Jericho
12. The Rock
13. Edge
14. Hayabusa
15. Ric Flair
16. Rey Mysterio
17. Trish Stratus
18. Randy Orton
19. Ricky Steamboat
20. Jushin Liger

*Though Chris Benoit is in the top 10, his actions in 2007 are inexcusable. This list reflects my favorite in ring performers. Not human beings.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blood! Blood!

"The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema; the only thing they lacked was the sound of people talking and noises. But this slight imperfection did not warrant the major changes that sound brought in. In other words, since all that was missing was natural sound, there was no need to go to the other extreme and completely abandon the technique of the pure motion picture, the way they did when sound came in...In many of the films now being made, there is very little cinema: they are mostly what I call "photographs of people talking." When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it's impossible to do otherwise." Alfred Hitchcock

Today, Steven Soderbergh recently posted another experiment on his blog Extension 765. It is Raiders of the Lost Ark but without the sound and in black in white. In the blog entry he says the theory he operates under is that a film should work with the sound off. Upon reading the blog post, I was instantly reminded of the dialogue between Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut in which they discuss the pitfalls of the introduction of the talkies and contrast them against the pure cinema of the silent movies. Silent cinema peaked in 1928 and 1929 and was cut off by the knees with the introduction of talkies. Both Soderbergh and Hitch have a point: the director is, above all, a visual artist.

Another important notion Soderbergh talked about was staging. When staging a scene it is important to clearly separate the dialogue from the visual elements. Another thing Hitchcock and any really good director excels at. It is up to you as the director to hold the audience's attention.

The example below showcases pure cinema during the sound era. The dialogue "Mother, Oh God Mother! Blood! Blood!", the door closing, Bernard Hermann score, the sound of the shower going, the sound of Norman running to the bathroom, the painting being knocked over are all arranged through editing and staging in a way that suggests Norman is running to the scene of a murder and is frightened at what he sees. The resulting clean up of Marion Crane's body, the car slowly sinking in the lake and then stopping for a bit. All of this is done without that one line of dialogue being used. Other than that it's all carefully orchestrated sound and editing. It's one thing to have a scene as iconic as the shower scene in Psycho, an educational tool in itself as far as montage goes. But to have the following clean up sequence be a master class in silent cinema technique is unparalleled.

Link to the Soderbergh post: http://extension765.com/sdr/18-raiders

Sunday, September 14, 2014

To Kane or Not to Kane

Citizen Kane. The film to end all films. The greatest film ever made. Number one in…well, everything. Probably the worst thing to happen to Kane was for it to end up number 1 on the AFI Top 100 Films. There is just no way it can possibly live up to someones expectations with that kind of reputation. Ever since then, it has divided people into two camps. On one hand, you have the cinephiles who revere it and feel it necessary, no mandatory, to have it as part of one’s own top 100. Anyone who doesn’t is obviously lacking cinematic knowledge. There are varying degrees of this type of attitude that spill over to countless movie blogs where cinephiles proclaim their love to the next obscure foreign film while shitting on a genre movie of lower stature or disguising their love for a movie like Under Seige by adding the title ‘Guilty Pleasure’ to it. The horror and exploitation genre of the 70’s probably go under the microscope the most. It’s this type of cinephile elitism that tends to get under my skin.

On the other hand, you have the genre fans. Or the people who show adoration to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 21 Jump Street or Halloween: Season of the Witch without shame. And there’s nothing wrong with liking a genre picture with lower critical stature. While the passion is just as authentic as loving Chinatown or GoodFellas, there is something else going on that, ideologically speaking, is shared with the other camp- looking down on a movie for bizarre and nonsensical reasons. This brings us back to Citizen Kane. It’s become almost cool to knock the movie. Does anyone really like it? I mean really? Well, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. And if you think it’s not, you can get in contact with William Friedkin, Peter Bogdonavich, Spielberg, Scorsese and countless other directors and tell them they are faking it.

Still not good enough to sway your argument? Well let’s put it this way. When discussing any piece of art, one has to look at not just subjectivity but objectivity. Take Pulp Fiction for example. Does anyone really like that film? Or do they just say that because it is the beneficiary of cultural hypnosis? You can also make the same case for Raging Bull, Vertigo, City Lights, The Godfather, Casablanca, or any major movie that has received lots of critical acclaim over the years. All of these movies have contributed to the growth of cinema. Like it or not. It’s not that Kane is just considered greatest film of all time because of film elitism or cultural relevancy. It took all of what was aesthetically possible back in 1941 and added a few new tricks to the trade of the cinematic art form. The same way how a video store clerk wrote a script that changed the structure and the way people talk in movies. Or how a man, whose debut film was a B- horror movie, decided to adapt a book by Mario Puzo. These were major risk takers. Something that is in short supply in today’s industry.

The AFI lists are flawed. I get it. It still doesn’t discount the impact those individual movies have had on cinema. Film is an art form. Above all, it is a medium where one day you can watch Sunset Boulevard one day and follow it up with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Both can be enjoyed by the same person.  There is no 40, 50, 60 or 70 year rule for an acknowledged masterpiece. Films like Citizen Kane are without an expiration date. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Film Vs. Digital

"Bennett Miller clearly knows how to work a roomful of media types without acting like a showboater or coming off like a man undergoing a root canal. He's a low-key fellow who sweats the details of his projects. We talked for a bit last weekend, and what he really wanted to talk about wasn't "Foxcatcher" but the drastically limited avenues of shooting on film, and projecting it, in the digital age.
In Toronto Bennett Miller told me straightforwardly, "I think we were better off as filmmakers 100 years ago." He does not prefer shooting digitally. He doesn't like the postproduction process as much now. And the clinical crispness of digital projection bugs him.
Miller picked up his iPhone midconversation and started fishing around for some recent texts. Look here, he said. Read these. They were from Paul Thomas Anderson, whose latest film, "Inherent Vice," plays the New York Film Festival next month.
The texts picked up a conversation Miller and Anderson had earlier the same day, about the inferiority of digital. The vitriol came through in every unpunctuated word.
We really were, Miller told me. "We were better off before."
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/ct-talking-pictures-tiff-20140911-column.html

Friedkin's Pro- Digital discussion
These two articles are another card thrown in the long debate of film vs. digital. I've always enjoyed film. But I can't just overlook some of the visuals for some of my favorite films of the last 8 years.

The biggest problem with digital film for me is that is creates laziness on the part of the filmmaker. Also, with the advent of digital, everyone and their dog wants to be a filmmaker. It’s shouldn’t be a point and shoot, just let the camera roll medium. It should be a job that requires discipline, dedication and lots of hard work.

That being said, when it is used properly and with integrity, it can go far in terms of telling the story the filmmaker wants to tell. I am not one to dismiss digital entirely and call it the death knell of cinema. When given the choice, I will choose film over digital. The last thing I want to see is film disappear completely and thanks to the passion of Nolan and Tarantino, it is still being used.

Here are eight films, filmmakers & cinematographers who do it right.


Director: David Fincher
Cinematographer: Harris Savides
Camera used: Thompson Viper

Fincher’s best work has revolved around crime. Zodiac is the perfect argument for this. But along with it, is the color compositions allowed through digital photography. The yellows and browns of the first half contrasting with the sharper blues of the second. Harris Savides work has always impressed me. His team up with Fincher allowed for a sublime look of the 70’s crime picture. The ‘All the President’s Men’ type of investigation backed by the score by 70’s composer David Shire (The Conversation) only adds to the feel of the picture. Fincher shot this on the Viper Thompson. The same camera utilized by Mann for Miami Vice.

Savides would sadly pass away in 2012.

Inland Empire

Director: David Lynch
Cinematographer: David Lynch
Camera used: Sony DSR- PD150

The digital aesthetic Lynch used for this picture is married to the image so that his stream of consciousness visual grammar is now freer than ever. It is incredibly difficult to think of this being shot on 35mm. Which is probably the best reason why the filmmaker should turn to the format. Inland Empire is proof that when digital is needed to tell the story, or in this case, the experience, it should be handled in as much an artistic way possible.

What Lynch and his magical hand have to say:

Miami Vice

Director: Michael Mann
Cinematographer: Dion Beebe
Camera used: Thompson Viper

Nobody can shoot night time scenes quite like Michael Mann. This can be traced back all the way to Thief lights bounce beautifully off the hood of the car. Or how he wet down the streets in order to capture the shots more effectively. The man knows his stuff. Miami Vice sees Mann continue what he was doing on Collateral. Though not entirely shot on digital, Collateral showcased Mann’s love for the format and with subsequent work he would prove that it was not a one night stand. The boat scenes shot at night particularly stand out in Vice. As does the opening of the director’s cut. The camera submerged underwater and slowly rising out. 


Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cinematographer: Emmanuelle Lubezki
Camera used: Arri Alexa

What can I say about Gravity’s look that hasn’t been said time and time again by other people? Lubezki has an Oscar to show for it (an example of the Academy get it right).


Director: Sam Mendes
Cinematographer: Roger Deakins
Camera used: Arri Alexa

One of the best looking Bond film at the moment. One of my favorite things about the James Bond franchise was visiting all the exotic locales around the world. Deakins does all of us Bond fans a favor and uses compelling scenic imagery along with lush interior scenes.


Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cinematographer: Peter Andrews
Camera used: Red One M

“I don’t wait for the tool. I have the tool wait for me.” This Welles quote was used by Soderbergh on the enlightening documentary Side By Side. In it, he uses that quote as a means to tell us how he shot his most difficult project yet- Che. With Che, Soderbergh got his hands on the RED camera. Hot off the production line. The RED camera has evolved from RED EPIC (used by Fincher on Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) to RED Dragon (used for the first time on a feature for Fincher’s Gone Girl). Soderbergh’s features have been shot on digital for a while. With The Knick being the peak of his shooting on digital, Che is a reflection of his better photographed digital films.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Director: Sidney Lumet
Cinematographer: Ron Fortunato
Camera used: Panavision Genesis

What if a cinematic legend decided to go to digital? What if Hitchcock or even Kubrick was around during digital editing and camerawork? We’ll never know those two possibilities, but what we did get was another master who used the format- Sidney Lumet.


Director: Martin Scorsese
Cinematographer: Robert Richardson
Camera used: Arri Alexa

I’m not a huge fan of this film. But it is also one of the best looking Scorsese films. Thanks to the master of hot light, Robert Richardson.

For more information on digital vs. film seek out the documentary Side By Side.
It is available via streaming on NetFlix.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy now, bitch?

The cast of Boardwalk Empire

Find me a show that is currently on the air that has a better ensemble than Boardwalk Empire. I dare you. In lieu of its final season, I have decided to name my favorite performance from each major character in the show. As well as highlighting characters who only had a handful of episodes but were played by big name character actors. Boardwalk Empire has an enormous cast so I should point out that I don't highlight all the players involved. That in itself is saying a lot. Special recognition goes to Anthony Lacura, Vincent Piazza, Charlie Cox, Paul Sparks, Margot Bingham, Dabney Coleman, and several others.

Steve Buscemi
Plays the role of Nucky Thompson
Favorite performance:
Other favorite roles: Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, Donny in Big Lebowski, Seymour from Ghost World, Tony Blundetto in The Sopranos

Stephen Graham
Plays the role of Al Capone
Favorite role:

Michael Shannon
Plays the role of Nelson Van Alden
Favorite performance:

Michael K. Williams
Plays the role of Chalky White
Favorite role: Omar Little in The Wire

Michael Pitt
Plays the role of Jimmy Darmondy
Favorite role: Paul in Funny Games

Kelly MacDonald
Plays the role of Margaret Schroeder
Favorite role: Carla Jean Moss in No Country For Old Men

Shea Whigham
Plays the role of Eli Thompson
Favorite role: Justin in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Gretchen Mol
Plays the role of Sally Darmondy
Favorite role: Betty Page in The Notorious Betty Page

Jack Huston
Plays the role of Richard Harrow
Favorite role: Peter Musane in American Hustle

Michael Stuhlbarg
Plays the role of Arnold Rothstein
Favorite role:

Jeffrey Wright
Plays the role of Valentin Narcisse
Favorite role: Bennett Holiday in Syriana

Bobby Cannavale
Plays the role of Gyp Rosetti
Favorite role: Joe Oramas in The Station Agent

Stephen Root
Plays the role of Gaston Means
Favorite role:
Other roles: Fernand Gudge in The Ladykillers, Sheriff Wynan in Red State

Patricia Arquette
Plays the role of Sally Wheat
Favorite role: Mom in Boyhood

William Forsythe
Plays Manny Horvitz
Favorite role: Sheriff Wydell in The Devils Rejects

Ron Livingston
Plays the role of Roy Phillips
Favorite role: Michael in Office Space

Robert Klohessy
Plays the role of Alderman Jim Neary
Favorite role:

Domenick Lombardozzi
Plays the role of Ralph Capone
Favorite role: Sgt. Thomas 'Herc' Hauk in The Wire

Christopher MacDonald
Plays the role of Harry Daugherty
Favorite role: Shooter McGavin in Billy Madison

James Cromwell
Plays the role of Andrew Mellon

Favorite role: I would post a video of a clip from this film but all I really have to say is “I wouldn’t trade places with Edmond Exley for all the whiskey in Ireland” and you should know what I’m talking about.