Monthly Archives: December 2014

Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes (2014). Stars Amy Adams, Christopher Waltz, Terence Stamp, and Jason Schwartzman. Based on a true story, Big Eyes is directed by Tim Burton, and his influence truly stands out in a couple of scenes. The story opens with Amy’s character in a frenzy driving off with her little daughter in a picturesque setting, a scene which will be echoed later in the film with a completely opposite feel to it. There’s a slowly building suspense with Danny Huston’s narration (Anjelica Huston’s brother) that you know and see and can easily anticipate – and while you may be taken in by a certain individual character, they soon show their true colors and your sympathies shift. He states in the beginning that Amy Adam’s character is doing something before it becomes fashionable. The many aspects of the latter coming into play in this fascinating story that fills in many blanks if you weren’t fully aware of it’s happening.

7.8 / 10

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Last week’s movies

Man on Wire (2008), James Marsh

Fallen Angels (1995), Wong Kar-wai

The World (2004), Jia Zhang-Ke

Home (2008), Ursula Meier

The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968), Les Blank

God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance (1968) , Les Blank

Spend It All (1971), Les Blank

A Well Spent Life (1971) , Les Blank

Movie of the week: A Well Spent Life

Les Blank. Four documentaries. I saw a post over at reddit’s r/criterion titled How to eat a crawfish and thought, hey, that may cool to see – a whole bunch of documentaries by this guy Les Blank. So on the last day of Barnes & Noble’s 50% off sale, when I found a 25% off cyber Monday coupon from criterionforum.org, I blind bought the set – Les Blank: Always for Pleasure. I’m on disc 2 of 5 so far, and there’s a scene in A Well Spent Life, first feature on disc 2, on Texas blues musician Mance Lipscomb, where the preacher is walking out of the water after a long continuous take showing the baptism of a man and girl, and is helped ashore as the camera pans left and up the bank as he joins the gathered crowd and you hear and see a freight train cross from left to right, and the conductor sounds his horn several times. You could not time that if you tried. Les’ camera is there but it’s not there. How does he film these scenes with people showing no reaction to being filmed? There’s a supplement to A Well Spent Life of a July 2014 interview with Chris Strachwitz (who discovered Mance and recorded his first album), and he gives you one of Les’ filming tricks, and he ties in the first documentary on Lightnin’ Hopkins as Les’ images show a sign of T. Moore’s building (Mr. Moore) and Hopkins’ first recording on how he mistreated the hands, which you’d never understand unless you watch all of the supplements (aka extras). And each doc has a few. One with an interview with Werner Herzog. You’ll recognize Mance in A Well Spent Life because you already saw him on the first doc on disc 1, jamming with Lightnin’ Hopkins in the back yard. Chris describes Mance as a catalog of blues music, and Lightnin’ as an improviser. This set is a treasure trove, and I haven’t even gotten to the bugs yet, but I can smell them.

Home. When it comes down to it, kids are just along for the ride when the adults have the wheel. The consequences of their decisions have to be worked out, lived out, and sometimes run to their conclusion. Stars Isabelle Huppert as the mom (The Piano Teacher, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) who has that Helen Mirren aura, and Olivier Gourmet as the dad (who is in most, if not all of the Dardenne brother’s films I’ve seen). The youngest son had an uncanny resemblance to the boy in The Mist (it isn’t him). But the parallel is there – young innocent being caught up in turbulent times.

The World. You’ll recognize Zhao Tao (Unknown Pleasures, Still Life, 24 City, A Touch of Sin). Also Han Sanming, the other main character in Still Life. The World reminds me of 24 City, with the focus on a specific location and the people in and around it. A scene with a famous metal structure comes into view on the right side, ending in a perfectly framed shot. You see a hint of A Touch of Sin in one of the sequences where a crime is committed. And you get the colors of Unknown Pleasures. Every now and then, while a particular scene is ending, or beginning, the subject is panned off to the side and the background takes your attention as it is framed – in once case, on top of a structure still being built, and from left to right a jet coming in for a landing passes by.

Fallen Angels. Stars Takeshi Kaneshiro, who is also in Chunking Express – which I now really want to see. Netflix dvd dropped it from the active dvd queue. I may have to buy it. One scene shows the girl in almost a full screen close up, taking a half a bite of ramen from a forkful, while the action in the background ensues, tying the two stories together. You have a sense that it’s a Wong Kar-wai film, until the blurred action scenes, or the one protagonist’s late night almost comedic money making scheme. But the night time Hong Kong locations, and night scene followed by night, grounds you to his world. Will stay on track and continue on through his filmography.

Man on Wire. After seeing the trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk (2015), I bumped this up the queue. The second half had great music, classical piano piece that I almost recognized (ending song credits were unreadable), and what I’m sure was Philip Glass, so it had that Errol Morris feel, which can’t be a bad thing. The first half music was way too loud. Had to turn it down, and then since I  have some hearing loss, and the disc had no subtitles (of course there is hard wired English subtitles for the French dialog), had to turn on the tv closed captioning. Zero political messages on it’s duel superstructure main character, which is amazing, given it’s 7 years after the fact release date. I’m hoping The Walk can do the same.

Last week’s movies

The Chess Players (1977) aka Shatranj Ke Khilari, Satyajit Ray

Persona (1966), Ingmar Bergman

The Ballad of Narayama (1984), Shohei Imamura

The Kid with a Bike (2011), Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Movie of the week: Persona.

The Kid with a Bike. Each of the Dardenne brother’s films never disappoint. A couple of actors recognized from his previous films; Jérémie Renier – Lorna’s Silence, and Fabrizio Rongione – Rosetta. As with their other films I’ve seen, a young person negotiates life in and around adults.

The Ballad of Narayama. I remember this film being the first one listed when you call up Roger Ebert’s [Great Movies]( http://www.rogerebert.com/great-movies) site. So after seeing Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine (1979), I thought I’d check this out next. It seems Imamura is the only Japanese director to win two Palme d’Or the Cannes; this film and The Eel (1997). Here’s to  hoping that Netflix dvd eventually gets The Eel. I like the modern Japanese films depicting ancient times. Yôji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai (2002), Koreeda Hirokazu’s Hana – the Tale of a Reluctant Samurai (2006), and Beat Takeshi’s (Takeshi Kitano) The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003), to name a few (Ballad of Narayama is not a samurai film). They seem totally authentic to historical living, dress, shelter, food. The Ballad of Narayama is truly a modern film, with its birds eye view tracking shots of the village. One scene reminded me of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964), with its group mentality acting out against the isolated. Next Imamura film up and working its way up the queue: Pigs and Battleships (1961).

Persona. I may have to purchase the Criterion Collection release for a better view, as Netflix has the MGM disc. For some reason, I thought of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, with the duality of characters, and of course, [the spider](/spoiler). Watched it the second time with Marc Gervais’ commentary. There’s a scene with Liv Ullmann where she’s reading a book with what looks like a compact letter opener, or pen knife. She seems to read a page after cutting it free – like the pages are folded over, and instead of needing a bookmark, you keep track of what you’ve read by the cut, separated pages. Pretty neat. I’m curious to know what kind of book binding this actually is, as I couldn’t find anything on it from a search. I would love to see this on the big screen. Regardless of how you interpret this Bergman masterpiece, you can’t help but sit in awe as you watch his beautiful images.

The Chess Players. Stars Richard Richard Attenborough as General Outram, Saeed Jaffrey (The Man Who Would Be King, Gandhi, A Passage to India), Victor Banerjee (also in A Passage to India). The inevitable question – which solo dance by an Indian girl – Jean Renoir’s The River, or The Chess Players? Both are so beautifully done it’s too close a call for me. I’m still brand new to Satyajit Ray’s filmography – only his Apu trilogy before this film. I can see his maturity and mastery at story telling with The Chess Players’ parallel storyline. In one scene, when Victor Banerjee (Prime Minister) is meeting with General Outram, instead of a simple cut, he does a slow pan from Richard Attenborough to the Prime Minister, who is obviously distraut. He pays equal attention to each story – especially apparent during one of the players row with his wife, since he pays more attention to the game than to her. The echos between each player and their wives were expertly done, leading to the neutral location. While the players are described as Gentry, they smoke their hookahs and their snacks are too interesting. One is in a covered container, folded into what looks like an origami like loose square, small as a bottle cap, and each attached by what looks like a gold chain with equal lengths. Like the pointy eared one would say: fascinating.

Whiplash Q & A podcast – Jeff Goldsmith and J.K. Simmons & Miles Teller

SPOILERS. Make sure you’ve seen this before listening.

Whiplash Q & A, theqandapodcast.com/, Friday, October 10, 2014

Host Jeff Goldsmith interviews actors J.K. Simmons & Miles Teller about Whiplash.

direct podcast:

Nightcrawler Q & A podcast – Jeff Goldsmith and writer-director Dan Gilroy

SPOILERS. Make sure you’ve seen this before listening.

Nightcrawler Q&A, theqandapodcast.com/, Friday, October 31, 2014

Host Jeff Goldsmith interviews writer-director Dan Gilroy about Nightcrawler.

direct podcast: