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“We are driven back to the ‘blood’, the thriller”

I found this Graham Green quote in one of Pauline Kael’s reviews in The Age of Movies, my first encounter with Kael after I stumbled upon it in Powell’s Books in Portland:

“The cinema,” Greene said, “has always developed by means of a certain low cunning…. We are driven back to the ‘blood,’ the thriller…. We have to… dive below the polite level, to something nearer to the common life…. And when we have attained to a a more popular drama, even if it is in the simplest terms of blood on a garage floor (‘There lay Duncan laced in his golden blood’), the scream of cars in flight, all the old excitements at their simplest and most sure-fire, then we can begin–secretly, with low cunning–to develop our poetic drama.”

Kael is a wonderful writer, one of the best non-fiction writers I’ve read, and I enjoy her writing even when she writes about movies that I haven’t seen or haven’t even heard of. Besides adding a long list of movies to my already long list of movies I need to see, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about filmmaking in the process.

Graham Greene is one of my favorite novelists and I didn’t even know that he was also a screenwriter, and wrote The Third Man (!).

Some shorts that I loved from Portland Comedy Film Festival

Two weekends ago I attended the Portland Comedy Film Festival. I only saw shorts there, although there were a couple features that played before I arrived. Here are a few that I both enjoyed and are currently available online.

Cauliflower, directed by Natasha Straley


Groundhog Day for a Black Man
, directed by Cynthia Kao

Jihadi Street, directed by Yulia Fomenko

I still don’t know how I feel about this one but it’s so rare to see a comedy this risky and I really want to see what Yulia does next.

How to choose which movies to watch

Movie-picking advice from one of my favorite blogs, Marginal Revolution:

1. If the movie was shot for the big screen, you must see it on the big screen. Otherwise your response is not to be trusted.

2. Try not to discriminate by genre or topic, for instance “I don’t like war movies,” “I don’t like romantic comedies,” and so on. You’ll miss out on the very best of that genre or topic this way, and those are very likely very good indeed. (NB: In your spare time, you can debate whether there is a horror movies exception to the principle.)

3. In my view, the bad Oscar picks were evident right away. A five year wait will only elevate some other set of mediocre movies instead. Movie awards are designed to generate publicity for the industry, not to reward merit. Ignore them.

4. I use movie criticism in the following way: I read just enough to decide if I want to see the movie, and then no more. I also try to forget what I have read. But before a second viewing of a film, I try to read as much as possible about it.

5. On net, I find the best reviews are in Variety magazine, as they are written for movie professionals. And the market for reviews is largely efficient. That is, if you read six smart critics on a movie — usually just two or three in fact — you will have a good idea of the quality of the movie. But you must put aside movies that are politically correct or culturally iconic, as they tend to be overrated. Brokeback Mountain and The Graduate will make plenty of “best of” lists, and they are both interesting and extremely important for both cinematic and cultural reasons. Still, I would not say either is a great movie, though they have some wonderful scenes and themes.

6. Hardly anyone watches enough foreign movies, that means you too. Or you might not watch enough outside your favored cinematic area, such as French, Bollywood, etc. There is a switching cost due to different cinematic “languages,” but most of your additional rewards at the margin probably lie in this direction. Furthermore, the very best foreign movies are so excellent it is easy to find out which they are.

7. I still think Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski, while good, are overrated. Don’t always assume your second reaction is the correct one. In addition, a lot of movies are made to be seen only once, so don’t hold that against them. For instance, I am not sure I need to see the opening sequence of Private Ryan again, but I am very glad I saw it once. It made seeing the whole movie worthwhile, but since most of the rest is ordinary, albeit serviceable, seeing it again would be excruciating.

8. It is a mistake to smugly assume that television has surpassed movies. The best movies (mostly foreign) are better than the best TV, even today.

I especially agree with 1, 2, 6, and 8.

Tangerine

My friend Jae wrote on Letterboxd:

It’s pitiful that this will be marketed as the “iPhone film” or the movie with the the transsexuals – because I believe it offers so much more than this – though both aspects are important for different reasons.

I had the same thought watching it, that people would know or remember it as “the iPhone movie,” which makes me a little sad because I thought it was brilliant filmmaking that didn’t have much to do with what camera they shot it on. I think the budget was around $100,000 and you could easily make a film for a third or less the cost but with a much better camera.

What I loved was the editing, the sense of movement, the music and how it worked with the images, the performances, the writing, and above all the rhythm that makes it feel so alive. That feeling of “aliveness” is hard to define and even harder to create. To me, it’s a combination of playfulness, good camera work, great editing, and not giving a fuck (in a good way).

Kiarostami interview

He passed away earlier this week.

Here’s an interview with some of this thoughts on filmmaking. I admire him and his work a great deal, but don’t agree with everything he says:

A reasonable request

(NSFW for language)

I laughed so so so hard. I saw this last night at a screening in Chicago that was curated by Jim Vendiola.

I love this scene from A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting Existence

Victoria (2015)

 

My brother and his girlfriend were raving about this when I visited them in Germany in August and I’ve been dying to see it since then. Well, it’s at the Music Box this week and the local foreign film meetup group planned an outing. Man did I love this film. It grabs you by the throat and never let’s go, easing up only for a few minutes near the middle before taking off again.

It’s one that’s stayed with me too, at least over the past few days. I feel like I knew the characters intimately and it’s almost so much to process that only now is it sinking in emotionally.

A lot of the hype around the film was that it was shot all in one take. They did it three times and used the best one, working off of a “script” that was about 12 pages, so the dialogue was mostly improvised. I’m kind of on the fence about the one-take thing — maybe for an unexpected reason. It works brilliantly and never felt like a gimmick to me. I think if you didn’t know about it going in, then you probably wouldn’t think about it until after the movie was over or maybe midway though, wondering “wait, have they cut yet?” The story’s that good though, that you don’t check out to think about the technical stuff.

The reason I’m on the fence is that I think that it’s so good that it didn’t need to be in one take. Not that they shouldn’t have done it that way. Maybe what I’m saying is that I wish that didn’t have to be part of the marketing of it — I mean, it has to be part of the marketing because it’s a big deal and you want people to see it and the one-take thing helps. But I wish that people would just see it because it’s such a damn good film. Maybe you can’t separate them. I don’t know. I’m rambling.

I kept thinking throughout how spot on the acting was, and how well they captured a compressed courtship, when two people, both a little drunk, meet in a night and end up spending the night (or more) together. It wasn’t cutesy and compact. It was natural and tenuous and playful and really well done.

Left me with an aching feeling, in a good way. Just fucking see it, in a theater preferably.

Cronies

Another favorite from CIFF. I met the director, Michael Larnell, and he’s a really nice guy.

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party

One of my favorites from CIFF, by Chicago director Stephen Cone.

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