Saturday, August 23, 2014

Can you stand it, more answers for the Good Professor

Once again, as is his tradition, the good professor--in the very real guise of Dennis Cozallio, author of the esteemed film blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule--poses questions for all film bloggers to ponder as the summer turns to autumn. His newest salvo, Professor Dewey Finn's Ostentaciously Odd, Scholastically Scattershot Back-to-School (of Rock?) Movie Quiz, posits 35 brain-jangling movie queries, all of which I, as a monk for the movies, am more than eager to answer:





1) Band without their own movie, from any era, you’d most like to see get the HARD DAY’S NIGHT or HEAD treatment
After considering The Bay City Rollers, The Beach Boys, Blondie, The Doors, The Geto Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, The Police, The Pretenders, The Runaways, The Ventures and most especially Public Enemy (who really should have had their own movie--what a bunch of characters they are; certainly my #2 choice, by a thin margin, and Spike Lee is the obvious choice to direct such a project, with Antoine Fuqua a close second), in the end  I had to settle on Devo. Just based on their unique videos ("Wonderful World" being my favorite of the bunch), it's evident they could have packed a full feature with enough wacked-out new wave oddness to make it both an instant classic and a visual banquet (how hilarious would it have been to have each member, each nearly unrecognizable from one another, be the steward of their own individual scenes?!). I tried to think of a current band that could fit the mold (other than GWAR or Slipknot, both of whom need to have done a horror movie by now), but I just couldn't come up with one (I tried to envision a Radiohead vehicle directed by, say, Anton Corbjin, but it seemed like it would just be a bunch of moping around). Don't even ask about Insane Clown Posse. 

2) Oliver Reed or Alan Bates?
Out of Oliver Reed's 45-year career, I've loved The Curse of the Werewolf, I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name, Oliver, Women in Love, The Devils, Tommy (my favorite movie as a kid, though I always thought Reed's hammy performance and bad singing were its one weak point), The Three Musketeers and. I guess, Gladiator.  With Alan Bates and a career that's going on 60 years, I adore The Entertainer, Whistle Down The Wind, Zorba the Greek, Georgy Girl, King of Hearts, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Fixer, Women in Love, The Go-Between, The Shout (my favorite of his performances), An Unmarried Woman, The Rose, Brittania Hospital, that HBO version of Separate Tables, and Gosford Park. So, just going by the numbers, Bates would have to win, even though he seems to be less hip--I mean, almost no one had the kind of strong streak he had in the 60s and 70s. That said, when Reed showed up in a movie, you knew there was a specific sort of dangerous energy lurking there. It's too bad the drink clearly did him in; the movies he chose have largely not stood time's test. 

3) Best thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video
The pure, nearly miraculous ease of it all. You can start one movie and, if its not fitting to your particular mood at the moment, go ahead and start another one without fear or regret. Depending on the streaming quality, you can see it in better condition than you've ever seen it before. And not having to buy or rent a movie reduces clutter, both physically and mentally, from your life. 

4) Worst thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video
The lack of a breadth of choices, and the idea that a film's very existence depends on the whims (or legal rights) of those doing the streaming. If a film isn't available to be seen in that venue, it simply disappears. This is why I still have a DVD and even a VHS player. VHS is particularly valuable because often when I'm shopping for tapes, I'll come across a title I haven't heard tell of in years and, upon watching it, wonder why more people do not know of it (this usually doesn't require much wondering). I should say here that I also find a certain amount of comfort in actually owning the movie in physical form. I'm not a nut about collecting things, but I am sentimental, and there is something about holding that original video box or whatever that is...powerful. I also find comfort in still being able to watch something in analog, without the notion that the image I'm taking in is composed of little tiny pixels. I can feel my brain take a little sigh of relief when it isn't requires to put all those little pixels together. The sigh grows louder when I watch things projected on film. 



5) Favorite Robin Williams performance
It's difficult for me to get away from the love I immediately felt for him as Technical Sergeant Garp. He's just so wonderful in George Roy Hill's movie--so early in his career, he really gets to portray the arc of a life, in a movie that should have never worked as well as it does (Steve Tesich's script is, after his Breaking Away Oscar-winner, the best work of his cut-short output, and the entire cast--Williams chief among them--surely transmit a sense of time passing and affecting each one of their characters; the film is a master class in casting). I watched The World According to Garp again the other night, in a sort of tribute to the actor, and it played like a trip back in time where I, like Garp, had so much hope for the future--hope for for having a loving family and for achieving as a writer. Now I'm a 47-year-old man--much older than Garp grew to be--and I am a childless amateur writer, so it maybe follows that I now see such superb value in many of Williams' other performances (I was never a fan of his stand-up, which was always too wackilly unstoppable for my taste). I love the intelligence and heart he displays in Good Will Hunting; the malevolence of his appearances in Dead Again, One Hour Photo, and Christopher Nolan's Insomnia; his supremely emotive desperation in What Dreams May Come and Bill Forsyth's Being Human (an unfairly maligned and ignored movie); his utter perfection in Robert Altman's Popeye (seriously...who ELSE could have played this part?); the wild comedy of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (where he really gets to let loose), The Fisher King (ditto), Michael Richie's The Survivors (where he maniacally screeches my favorite line of his career: "What kind of man gives cigarettes to trees?"), and of course Mork and Mindy; the sweet realness of Moscow on the Hudson and The Best of Times; the utter darkness of Jakob the Liar and Seize the Day (the latter is maybe his most chancy role). It's tempting for me to maybe give the edge to his emotionally crippled doctor in Penny Marshall's Awakenings--another movie I immediately revisited upon Mr. Williams' leave. But given that Robert De Niro also controls so much of that movie, I still have to stand with Garp. Man. What a time Williams had, bless his soul.  

6) Second favorite Carol Reed movie
My choice, 1948's The Fallen Idol, is incredibly tense and well-made, with such assured drama that it's hard to ignore. In these sorts of questions, I like to reveal my first favorite, and in this case, many might assume it's The Third Man. Nope. That's my third favorite (a great movie but a bit cold for me). Instead, I'm an unabashed fan of Oliver! It's a movie I find I can watch over and over, each time joyfully (and in equal parts soberly). soaking in so superlatively its terrific splendor and pacing (it didn't deserve the 1968 Best Picture Oscar, but it surely deserved to come in second). Full disclosure: just recently watched Night Train to Munich and further realized that Reed is a blind spot in my movie knowledge. I have lots more movies of his to see.  


7) Oddest moment/concept in rock music cinema
Perfect question for me. James Brown and the Famous Flames strangely dropping in decked in full winter garb to sing "I Got You" in 1965's Ski Party certainly qualifies, even if you haven't yet seen Get On Up. Jessie Pearson portraying the Elvis stand-in of the moment in 1963's Bye Bye Birdie is a casting concept I have a very hard time swallowing, since Pearson's a big zero in the charisma department--yet that's probably an effect of square studio execs not understanding rock n' roll yet. Meanwhile, Elvis himself had a heckuva time in so many movies, it's hard to narrow his nadir down to only a few mentions; I'd say his rendition of the execrable "Song of the Shrimp" in Girls! Girls! Girls! and most definitely his dance with his own Great Dane in Live a Little, Love a Little deserve recall. We should have Arch Hall Jr's guitaristic horrors in Eegah! as well as Ron Hayback's terrible score for Ray Dennis Steckler's Batman ripoff Rat Pfink A Boo Boo in the running. Much of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour is unbearably awful, but Paul McCartney's Give My Regards to Broad Street is equal nonsense, yet it's so much more horribly boring. I've always found it unusual (though perhaps not for the director) that Jean Luc-Godard focused his cameras on the recording of a single track in the Rolling Stones doc Sympathy for the Devil, so I suppose that should be checked. In the positive concept of oddness, we should consider Peter Watkins' trippy, well-framed portrait of a rock star, 1967's Privilege, which is unlike anything ever; Timothy Carey's The World's Greatest Sinner, which is also superbly unique; Barry Shear's Wild in the Streets, with its fantastic Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song score accompanying the ridiculous tale of a rock star president, played perfectly by Christopher Jones; and finally Animals veteran Alan Price's superbly utilized score for Lindsay Anderson's 1973 tour of all things difficult O Lucky Man!, which still remains the greatest original rock score in cinema history (only Isaac Hayes' Shaft and Stewart Copeland's Rumblefish come close). For me, though, there are only four finalists here. In fourth place, George Englund's 1971 film Zachariah, billed as the first rock n' roll western and certainly something to see (I'm tellin' ya, it's surprisingly entertaining, if you get a chance to see it). In third place Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from 1978, a notorious bomb with The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and just about everyone else in the music business embarrassing themselves with such aplomb, you feel sorry for 'em (the ending, with a chorus of 70s stars in full hopeful and dynamic form, is something to be seen). In second place, within a pubic hair's width of first, is Ken Russell's Lisztomania, his follow-up to the also weird Tommy, with The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman and Paul Nicolas performing work by classical composer Franz Liszt, sometimes accompanied by a phalanx of giant penises. But, for me, number one has to be not Phantom of the Paradise or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but the late Menahem Golan's The Apple. Take it from me and an impassioned cult following: set aside a night, invite all your nuttiest rock star friends, and sit and take in this amazing, nearly unbearably insane tale of a Eurovision contest gone horribly wrong. It's got the Devil and Adam and Eve and a big ol' oversized fruit in it, and it's unlike anything ever made. You won't have to imbibe even one drop of any substance and you'll be totally on board. The Apple it is. 




8) Favorite movie about growing up
Forgive me if I chime in with the most obvious choice of the moment, but Richard Linklater's Boyhood cannot be denied. The fact that it truthfully portrays the process, not just for boys but for girls too (Lorelei Linklater nearly steals the movie), and does it in seemingly real time, without the trappings of plot, seals this choice for me. Before Boyhood, I would have picked Truffaut's The 400 Blows and maybe George Roy Hill's A Little Romance or Jacques Doillon's Ponette. But Linklater's movie is clearly something different. I now am sure it's the film to beat for the 2015 Oscar race. 

9) Most welcomed nudity, full or partial, in a movie 
I'll never forget sitting through the difficult scenes of Brokeback Mountain, right beside my good friend Brian Matson, and feeling so uncomfortable. We were both two straight guys bravely going to see such a movie together, sans girlfriends, and there they were, unexpectedly, in the middle of this absolutely fine film: Anne Hathaway's so-lovely, jiggly, soft breasts (not to mention Michelle Williams' more laconic flesh). Brian and I turned to each other, as Hathaway's fineries hovered over Jake Gyllenhaal for only seconds, and we said to each other, without words: "Oh my God! Totally worth the price of admission." I'm not one for Celebrity Skin or any sort of thing like that, but this was a moment that totally moved me. 

10) Least welcomed nudity, nude or partial, in a movie
My guess is that many will note Kathy Bates' hot tub scene in About Schmidt, and I think that's mean, because fat people get nude, too. y'know, and they're not so bad. For this query. I'm going to go for Harvey Keitel in both Bad Lieutenant and then in the The Piano because, dude, yeah. you show it all in one movie, but then in another? And one so soon? Gimme a break!



11) Last movie watched, in a theater, on DVD/Blu-ray, via streaming
The last movie I watched in a theater, all the way through, was Raymond St. Jean's A Chair Fit for an Angel. I sat down for this movie expecting a respectful but average tour through an ancient tradition, the Shakers.What I got was a movie that so moved me with its exacting images and music that I found myself wiping away tears of joy. I have never seen anything like A Chair Fit for an Angel. The director Raymond St. Jean deftly conflates so many art forms in its short running time, it's nearly impossible to put their collective power into words (I might compare it to Wim Wender's 3D masterpiece Pina but it moved me so much more than that wonderful film did). Yes, there are talking heads, but they are sparingly used. And yes, there is a narrator, also sparingly used. Sometimes what this film consists of is silent, radiant shots of American and European Shaker environments--often a shot of a chair and table, immaculately made, in an immaculate surrounding, with gorgeous natural light seeping in through a single perfect window pane, the camera moving ever so slowly through it all. And then sometimes the movie is a powerful look at choreographer Taro Saarinen's dichotomous and yet somehow harmonious modern dance, often set with a vocalist present, with the dancers out of focus in the background (how luminous is the direction here; it's so hard getting dance to play on screen and yet St. Jean and his cinematographer Jean-Francois Lord do it so brilliantly). And then, as if we needed more, it's a movie that explains the Shakers' spiritual perceptions and their worshipful, artisanal approach to building, say, a simple chair. It's a film that truly trips you into another world, all in 75 short minutes, and that is exactly what I look for in movies. On Blu-Ray, the last film I watched was David Lean's always stunning but somehow overlooked A Passage to India. Through streaming, aside from watching some very depressing documentaries from the Frontline crew (A Death in St. Augustine and the absolutely unbelievable The Confessions), I last watched Anthony Mann's still riveting Winchester '73. 

12) Second favorite Bertrand Blier movie

Beau Pere, with the late Patrick Dewaere falling for 14-year-old Ariel Besse. A movie that could not be made today. The first would be the Oscar-winning Get Out Your Hankerchiefs, also with Dewaere and with Gerard Depardieu, a movie that more deftly juggles the desire of adults and children. I hate it that children are now seen as people who have no sexual lives. They clearly do, and it seems so incredibly taboo to admit to such these days. Stranger danger, knowwhutimean? 

13) Googie Withers or Sally Gray?
This seems like a test question, and in this test I fail: I have no opinion either way. 



14) Name a piece of advice derived from a movie or movie character that you’ve heeded in real life
Such an astonishing question.  My immediate reaction is to site Martin Sheen's Willard (and Frederic Forrest's Hicks) from Apocalypse Now: "Never get out of the boat. Goddamn right." I also love Robert De Niro's advise to the young Henry Hill in GoodFellas: "Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut." I try to heroically follow the advise from The Shawshank Redemption as best as I can: "Get busy living or get busy dying," and I suspect this is many movie lovers' favorite aphorism. But ultimately that sound too much like a bumper sticker for me. I believe the one piece of advise that has done more for me than any other comes from Larry Gelbart's screenplay for Oh, God! In it, lowly grocery store manager Jerry Landers (John Denver) is faced with God Himself occupying his bathroom one morning. Jerry doesn't know what to do, and God (George Burns) advises that he shave. Jerry is nervous, and God is empathetic, so He advises: "Sometimes when you don't feel normal, doing a normal thing makes you feel normal." Having not felt normal many a time, on many a morning, I can't express to you how many instances this thought has come to my aid.  

15) Favorite movie about learning
There are so many movies that wrestle with the subject, one has to separate those that deal with learning about life from learning about a particular subject. For the purposes of this question, I'm going to separate the "life" thing from more specific knowledge (by the way, a movie about taking in more specific knowledge, whatever the subject, is infinitely more interesting than one that's more directed at "life"). My first thought goes towards James Bridges' The Paper Chase, which really gets the unrelenting yet somehow freeing pressure of law school down pat. Ramon Menendez's Stand and Deliver understands hammering down math, even under difficult circumstances, pretty correct. The French film from 2002, Nicholas Philibert's To Be and To Have is one of the most overwhelmingly emotional  films ever to be made about being both a elementary teacher and a student (a subject that is rarely touched upon). I l0ve Alan Parker's 1980 film Fame so much because it so finely and frantically gets the joys and frustrations of wildly unpredictable performing arts training. And Lewis Gilbert's Educating Rita, with those incredible leads from Julie Walters and Michael Caine, absolutely nails literary endeavors. However, ultimately, I have to settle wholly upon Ira Wohl's 1979 documentary Best Boy. Once you experience Philly, Mr. Wohl's dynamic 50-something-year-old cousin, as he finally learns to live on his own without the help of his aged but loving parents, you will get a new sense of what education is. Ira Wohl's Oscar-winning documentary is intimate and so real, and it's miraculously like nothing else photographed. It's one of my favorite movies ever. 

16) Program a double bill of movies that were announced but, for one reason or another, never made. These could be projects cancelled outright, or films that were made, but at one time had different directors, stars, etc., attached--and your "version" of the film might be the one with that lost director, for example
A complex question--one for a true movie geek. Of course, the one movie that stands out is Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon. Given that one could sit through such a double feature, I would pair it with Stanley Kubrick's Wartime Lies, his Holocaust nonstarter. I would go on to another double--just to be weird--Marilyn Monroe's Something's Got To Give with David Lynch's long-gestating Ronnie Rocket

17) Oddest mismatch of director and material
This is easy. Sidney Lumet with The Wiz. How did THAT happen???



18) Favorite performance by your favorite character actor
Without going though the entire history of character actors (which is a pretty rich bunch), I have to go with my first choice. M. Emmet Walsh is an astounding actor. When I see his jowly face, I sense an undeniable power. I remember him as the snarky coach in Ordinary People, the wild sniper in The Jerk, a desperate family man in Bound for Glory, a cop in Serpico and in What's Up Doc?, a bus driver in Micky and Nicky, a suspicious parole officer in Straight Time (he's so incredible in that role), Deckerd's boss in Blade Runner, a deadbeat in Cannery Row, a company man in Silkwood, a blustery politico in Reds, a doctor in Fletch, another coach in Back to School, a gum-chewing machine shop worker in Raising Arizona, a straight-talking alcoholic's sponsor in Clean and Sober (my second favorite of his performances), a detective in The Glass Shield and an elderly father in Youth in Revolt. My favorite performance from Mr. Walsh is from a "little movie" called Blood Simple, where he stands sweaty and tall in a yellow suit throughout, At turns nervous, confident, suspicious, vulgar and tough, his show in the Coen Brothers' breakthrough movie is something cut out of movie history, and it's up to us to recognize it. 

19) Favorite chase scene
No contest. There is nothing like the 40-minute climax that tops H.B. Halicki's Gone in 60 Seconds, from 1974. You can name all the rest...Bullitt, The French Connection, The Seven-Ups. maybe even To Live and Die in L.A. and We Own The Night, and yes, even Return of the Jedi and The Matrix Reloaded. But nothing can top Halicki's remarkable, nearly homemade epic that seems like it was filmed without any pesky supervision. There's many a wicked slam there that seems totally unplanned, and that Halicki was the lead driver makes the film so much more stunning. A note: Halicki died performing a stunt for a later movie, The Junkman. What a legend he deserves to be. 

20) Movie most people might not have seen that you feel like proselytizing about right now
Quoting from my own website filmicabilty: "In Targets, Peter Bogdanovich’s sobering look at the varying distances between fantasy and modern horror, Boris Karloff portrays Byron Orlock, an embittered old screamfest idol who’s announced his retirement from Hollywood because he's sure the real world has become scarier than any of the cheapos he’s been making. While he’s in L.A. for the drive-in premiere of his last film, one of these worrisome true-life horrors is unveiling in another part of the city, as the all-American Thompson family is too busy with the daily grind to notice the breakdown going on inside the head of their Ken-doll son, Bobby (Tim O’Kelly). Byron’s and Bobby’s worlds collide, but not before Bogdanovich stages one startling act of violence after another. No movie, ever, has matched Targets for vile, matter-of-fact depictions of random gun violence (though there’s very little blood). We quiver, matching Bobby short-breath-by-short-breath at his every pull of the trigger. Adding salt to open wounds, the director shoots this berserking in an unforgettable quasi-documentary style (the scene with Bobby taking potshots at highway-bound cars while munching on a Baby Ruth will make you wince)." It's a movie about guns, made way before guns became a hot button issue. But really it's a movie that sees the drying up of personal relations--or maybe just a scary sort of soulessness lingering in the air--as the more serious problem. 


21) Favorite movie about high school
I'm not gonna get all John Hughes on ya. My single favorite movie about high school is Renee Daalder's Massacre at Central High, from 1976. It's surreal but yet feel so authentic. Derrel Maury plays a sallow-faced newcomer at school who finds that there's a brutal hierarchy he can barely surmount. When he bests the most popular at the school, he's left to discover that the new ruling party is worse than the old. Beautifully exploitational, surprisingly violent, and also shockingly gentle, it stands as the one high school movie that has cache way beyond its standing. It feels like a movie about life rather than one about a part of life. As that it's not readily available in America (it's a film without any adults in it, and one that concludes explosively), it also feels like a movie that has been repressed in the US. 

22) Favorite Lauren Bacall performance
An astounding output. To go from Howard Hawks to Lars Von Trier? How can that be done? She's obviously the person who taught us how to whistle (in Hawks' To Have and To Have Not), but I think her best moments came late in her career. Given her roles in Streisand's The Mirror Has Two Faces, Siegel's The Shootist, and Von Trier's Dogville, I have to go with her portrayal of Nicole Kidman's dazzled mother in Jonathan Glazer's Birth as her finest moment. Even so, you can surely put your lips together and blow, godammit. 

23) David Farrar or Roger Livesey?
Roger Livesay. I feel like I've gotten this question before.

24) Performance most likely to get overlooked during the upcoming awards season
Tilda Swinton in Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer.  What an amazing and ludicrously large performance!! Robin Wright in The Congress would be my second choice.



25) Rock musician who, with the right project, could have been a movie star
Many might say Jim Morrison, whom I find indescribably boring. I would instead go with Scott Walker, who has a better voice and a more appealing look, though many wouldn't be able to pick him out of a lineup. On another day, I might choose Queen's Freddie Mercury or The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. 

26) Second favorite Ted Post movie
He was mostly a TV director, but being pressed, I would have to say Magnum Force, the excellent second entry in the Dirty Harry series. My favorite of his films would have to be the now forgotten Vietnam film Go Tell The Spartans from 1978, with hawk Burt Lancaster commanding a reluctant Craig Wasson. I fully expect many votes, however, for Chuck Norris' Good Guys Wear Black, just 'cuz that's the world we live in now. 

27) Favorite odd couple
Harry, an old man played by Art Carney, and Tonto, an orange cat. (Paul Mazursky, 1974) 

28) Flicker or Zeroville?
I've read neither.  I get my fiction from movies. Neither have been made into movies. Thus I know nothing about either title. 

29) Favorite movie about college
From at least seven years before I actually entered college in 1984, the single best movie about the institution has been National Lampoon's Animal House. Yes, I could be all high and mighty and mention The Social Network (which is pretty dour stuff), The Paper Chase (very bright but also very serious), Horse Feathers, Harold Lloyd's The Freshman, Frederic Wiseman's At Berkeley, A Small Circle of Friends, Love Story, Revenge of the Nerds, or Wonder Boys. But Animal House stands as exactly the same sex-laden, booze-sodden experience everyone is trying to recreate in their college years. No one's trying to study all the time, but everyone is sure as fuck trying to party all the time, and that's where the real connections occur, and you know it's true. John Landis' movie is like no other--it's the perfect distillation of the Lampoon mentality, dripped down from the steps leading up to each Harvard building that housed the greatest comedy minds of the 70s and 80s. Ask someone if they've ever been put on double secret probation and see what they say. National Lampoon's Animal House is and probably always will be the college movie to measure all others by. However, if you're a parent, you might wanna skip showing this one to your kids (although I have no viable alternative to screen for them in its place). 

30) In a specific movie full of memorable turns, your favorite underappreciated performance
It seems fair to say that, in a movie like Network, for which Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, William Holden, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Strait were all nominated for Oscars,it's a shame that Robert Duvall, as the greasy and aggressive UBS exec out for a "big-titted" hit, was left behind. 

31) Favorite movie about parenting
It's an unpopular choice, I guess, but I have to stick with Kramer Vs. Kramer, which I think changed the nature of American parenting from top to bottom. Before Robert Benton's movie--which was the biggest hit of 1979-- no one gave a crap about how they raised their dang kid or how in what manner their adult lives were wafting onto their progeny. After Kramer Vs, Kramer, everyone was like "How does this affect my kid?" and "Am I gonna have enough time for them?" and "Am I doing the right thing?" and "I know I'm a mpyher or a father, but what more can I do?" I don't necessarily think this sort of foofaraw was right for parenting as a whole (I'm not a parent so what do I know?). But I do see Kramer Vs. Kramer as being a sort of pre-Reagan-era ground zero for Parenting 101, and as such, I can't find much fault with it. I see it as a movie that changed the world.



32) Susannah York or Sarah Miles?
I love Sarah Miles in Ryan's Daughter; she makes me weep with her longing. But Susannah York brings so many more emotions with her performance in Robert Altman's Images (not to mention her showings in They Shoot Horses, Don't They and The Silent Partner). Her so vividly-played emotional breakdown (what screams she has!!) in Altman's movie, paired with her writing of the children's novel portrayed in the film, ensures her victory here.

33) Movie which best evokes the sense of place in a region with which you are well familiar
Eric Weston's Marvin and Tige is still the best movie that capture my hometown of Atlanta, Ga. In it, we see downtown Atlanta as it once was. We see the lighting of the Rich's Christmas tree. We see Six Flags Over Georgia, with leads John Cassavetes (only a few months before he passed away) and newcomer Gilbran Brown riding the Scream Machine together. We see the Atlanta Fish Market, and we see Peachtree Center. We see the Fairlie-Poplar district, which would later be portrayed in the opening segments of The Walking Dead. We see the midtown district before it was razed for more upscale concerns, we see Piedmont Park as it still remains, and we see Central City Park before it was redesigned. We see co-star Billy Dee Williams, shortly after portraying Lando Calrissian, sharing the frame with Cassavetes both at the Omni and at Grady Hospital. This movie was nearly the last film Cassavetes shot before his death, and you can feel that ghost that over its every frame (it's the actor's finest performance). That he shared it all with newcomer Brown is something that I will always treasure as one of Atlanta's great victories. I love that Cassavetes' Shadows--one of the very first truly independent movies, made in the late 50s--was about race relations, and that one of Cassavetes' final films--shot in Atlanta--was about a old white man forging a gentle friendship with a young black boy (whom, as an actor, he must have transmitted much, given the power seen here). Marvin and Tige is a movie I discovered as an Atlanta teen, and it's one that which I have passed on to my family and to anyone else, particularly those who loves this city as I do. 

34) Name a favorite actor from classic movies and the contemporary performer who most evokes their presence/stature/talent
James Stewart and Tom Hanks


35) Your favorite hot streak of any director
Leaving out any directors that I don't think have had any sort of a "cold streak" (see this article), I have settled on a streak of ten films:  
M*A*S*H* (1970) 
Brewster McCloud (1970) 
McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) 
Images (1972) 
The Long Goodbye (1973) 
Thieves Like Us (1974) 
California Split (1974) 
Nashville (1975) 
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) 
3 Women (1977) 
A Wedding (1978) 
Director: Robert Altman



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014 Atlanta Film Festival: 6 short films directed by women

Last night at the Atlanta Film Festival, I caught one of the finest block of short films I've ever seen at any film festival (usually there are one or two offerings in a shorts program I don't care for). I had agreed to attend the program without knowing that its focus was attuned to the work of female film directors and that, thematically, the films were all about young girls. As I say on MOVIE GEEKS UNITED! all the time, 9 times out of 10, a movie directed by a woman is going to impress me, simply because their voices are yearning to be heard--and you can intrinsically feel this in their films. I believe women directors have a better (or at least more novel) handle on nuance, emotion, character development, and pacing, while sporting a unique take on humor and drama that just always feels immanently fresh and exciting to me. These six short films prove my point.


Thirteen Blue (Jacqueline Lentzou, Greece) 
On the verge of womanhood, Ellie (an expressive Emmanuela Sfyridi) spends her summer mornings silently assessing her image in the mirror, trying to reconcile the girlish body she once had with the more curvy one she's getting. Waiting impatiently for the birth of a family friend's baby, this only child  finds herself alternately engaged with and alienated from her family, and when some tough news comes her way, she reacts with both horror (in one superb close-up of Sfyridi's stunned face) and a wandering introspection. Lentzou frames her films images impeccably in widescreen, with a masterful sense of composition that often cleverly obscures the action in inventive ways. The film's color palette is memorably vibrant (Owen Laird's cinematography--the film was shot on Super 16mm film--is filled with warm yellows and pale pinks), and the always sharp editing reminded me of the best of the Dogma 95 movies. In 18 minutes, Lentzou's THIRTEEN BLUE really impresses us with its depth of feeling and its gentle but arresting visage. 



Damn Girl (Kira Richards Hansen, Denmark) 
In this terrific character study, Hansen trains her camera on Alex (Rosalina Kroyer), a young girl who spends her days with her all-boy crew doing boyish things. But this can't last forever and it's not long before one of the guys starts seeing Alex in a different light. Bathed in industrial browns and blacks, Hansen's film really gets the life of young boys correct with their tough talk and rough play. But, through the excellent scripting by Signe Soby Bech (this is a really funny film), it also effectively trains in on what it's like to be a young woman trying to figure out in which direction to go next. In a lightning-quick 13 minutes, DAMN GIRL (which I think was originally called FUCKING GIRL, and I can see where that might be a more problematic title, but I think it's a better one) gives us generous doses of realism and, yet, more sparing but still exceptional tastes of powerful sentiment and romance.


So You've Grown Attached (Kate Tsang, US)
Tsang captures our eyes from her very first black-and-white image: a grey-suited man with an inky face, glowing eyes, and spiders on his lapel. We find that this is Ex (Simon Pearl), and the film withholds from us only a short time the knowledge that he is Izzy's imaginary friend. Izzy--in a wonderfully acerbic performance by Madeleine Conner--is a kid that hates everything. Her reaction to a mere slice of pizza is to begin stabbing it over and over again with a plastic knife. Ex is her only way to engage with the world, and he's happy about that. But when other concerns begin to catch her eye (more specifically, the boy next door), Ex has to come to the realization that his days with his best friend are numbered. On a pure craft level, this was perhaps the best film of the bunch. The art direction, costume design, animation, scoring, editing, sound and widescreen photography are all absolutely brilliant, worthy of comparison to Tim Burton. But Tsang never lets these elements overtake the heart and humor of her story, as evidenced by the inevitable ending, which still remains ridiculously moving. A really energetic short film. SO YOU'VE GROWN ATTACHED is 15 minutes of sweet, vigorous intelligence matched with equally solid optical confections.  


Without Fire (Eliza McNitt, US)
Wonderfully shot with a you-are-there documentary feel by Hunter Baker, McNitt's forceful 20-minute film follows a Navajo girl (Magdelena Begay) struggling to survive brutal desert conditions and abject poverty while dealing with her stern, asthma-afflicted mother (Misty Upham, who's quite splendid). Working with disguarded junk, the daughter finds an inventive way to help ease their survival blues while proving her worth to her demanding mother. A quiet film with a measured pace and sure sense of location (the filmmakers spent three torturous weeks in the desert making the film, and the director even contracted dysentery when she drank the available tap water), WITHOUT FIRE is devastating and yet supremely hopeful throughout.  


Painted Lady (Brittany Shyne, US)
Anchored by an eloquently precocious and largely silent lead performance by Sumayah Chappelle (Dave Chappelle's niece), Shyne's PAINTED LADY finds quiet drama in a subject rarely touched on in films. The concept is refreshingly simple: Bree is a nine-year-old dealing with her first menstrual period. With this, director Shyne reaches a high level of frank intimacy that is tasteful and yet poetically real (impressively, the bounces from slightly discomfiting moments to ones of serene beauty). Visually, her film's major asset is Chappelle who, with her beautiful eyes and rather melancholy manner, says everything we need to know without ever having her voice heard.  She's an exceptional young actress who deserves to have a promising career, and Shyne was perfectly brilliant in casting her. 


Crystal (Chell Stephen, US/Canada)
Though I loved all of the films in this shorts program, I'd be lying if I didn't say I had a favorite, and Chell Stephen's tremendously funny character study CRYSTAL easily won out in this regard. It had me cackling loudly and literally throughout--from the moment where Crystal takes a slap in the opening shot, I was hooked. The director has a confident and raucous filmmaking style that's an attraction unto itself (visually, the movie is as wildly bold as the character its portraying). But, for me, most of the laughs stemmed from Kate Stephen (the director's sister) as the title character, an ass-kickin' country girl with a rich fantasy life (heavily influenced by her favorite music videos) and absolutely no patience with anything or anyone she encounters. She's hilariously tough, whether telling her diner co-workers to fuck off or punching out a dude trying to appeal to her softer side. By the end of this 16-minute nuttiness, I was clamoring for about 80 minutes more with this riotous riot grrrl with the delicate bangs, the short-cut pink-t, and the stern face. Light the countryside on fire with Crystal's name, folks, because once you see this film you won't be able to forget its maker or its incredibly vivacious star--a one-two-punch of a sister team. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: LIMO RIDE (2014 Atlanta Film Festival)


We all have stories from our youth--wild stories of fun-havin', trouble-makin', sex-rompin' near-death experiences that inspire ranting and raving sessions of storytelling for years afterwards. And, inevitably, when telling these tales of our lives, we think "You know, this would make a great movie."  Yet, often, these films never get beyond the storytelling phase.  But filmmakers Gideon C. Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater have given energetic and unnerving vision to a hilariously stressful tale from ten Alabama friends, all of whom excitedly recount their most raucous night in the new documentary Limo Ride.

After a stunning credits sequence (seriously, one of the best I've ever seen for an indie film), Kennedy and Rosentrater throw us head first into this ridonkulously entertaining tour of debauchery. Throughout, the film's soundtrack is commandeered by the real life participants, all of whom vie for mic time while telling their side of the story, which begins with them all "recovering" from your typically over-the-top, liquor-fueled New Year's Eve. The filmmakers rely almost solely on recreations to provide the images for the movie (making it seem sort of like a southern-fried Errol Morris epic, though there are no soul-searching talking heads here--the participants only make appearances on-screen at the very end). This nutty and frankly sort of scary band of friends--ready to fight with each other and anyone else at a moment's notice--decide to ignore their need for sleep and instead contract a stretch limo to take them around Mobile, Alabama, while they snort, drink and smoke up everything they can get their hands on. First stop is a beach-side event called Flora-Bama, where legions of crazy people brave the freezing gulf waters in a polar-bear-like show of cheek (and I mean "cheek" literally, since two of our participants here end up completely nude, leading to some big laughs with a curious photographer who's a little too enthusiastic about taking candid snaps of these guys).

From here, it's on to some contentious karaoke and a violent run-in with some skeevy jerks at The Keg, a top Mobile dive bar. Thus truly begins the most amazing downward spiral ever, a drunken descent into a freezing hell of a night, with a sketchy limo driver and his possibly crack-addled cohort leading these ten friends (and one girlfriend) into a no-man's-land where they each start to wonder whether they're gonna survive all this so-called fun. Limo Ride is vibrantly shot by Jeanne Tyson and edited with tremendous care by Rosentrater (I tell ya, this movie speeds right by, so much so that it leaves you wanting so much more time with these dudes). An experimental documentary if there ever was one, Limo Ride is a real hoot, and one of the best movies I've seen at this year's Atlanta Film Festival.  LIMO RIDE has its world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival on Sunday, March 30 at 6:30 pm at the 7 Stages Theater in Little Five Points.