Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blogging Hiatus (kind of)...

It looks like Ken Russell won the blog poll for my next director retrospective. I have loaded up the Netflix queue with Russell films, and I will begin viewing those shortly. However, when I actually post stuff will be sporadic at best. In fact, I have decided use this retrospective -- and the breadth of Russell's oeuvre -- as a way to get out of doing a second Italian horror-themed blogathon. For those of you that don't know, I am an educator; actually, I think of myself as more of a social worker considering the the type of students I felt a vocational calling to help ten years ago. I've worked with at-risk teenagers for at least five years now, in various arenas, but specifically in an options high school that is associated with a local community college where the students -- mostly teen moms, expelled students from public high schools, marginalized teens, or former gang members (and sometimes just super smart and ambitious students who think the public school system works too slowly for them) -- take a term's worth of classes in three weeks.

I mention all of this because I am in the midst of wrapping up my masters degree in education (I'm writing a research project and two work samples right now), and I'm teaching classes at night. So, I'm essentially working from 9am to 7:30pm. Needless to say I am tired, and I am going to anticipate being tired for a long while. Sadly this will come at the expense of the Italian horror blogathon (but I plan on doing it again next year) and some more recent movies I wanted to go see (I still have a slew of 2010 movies to catch up with); so, expect a lot of content when I'm on winter break (sometime in mid December) and random content until that time. There will be plenty of horror-themed content out there for you all to get your fix. I will continue writing blurbs for the Wonders in the Dark horror countdown, and it sounds like Bill of the wonderful The Kind of Face You Hate is returning with his great October series on horror literature (with the great theme name of The Kind of Face You SLASH).

So there ya have it. I will try my hardest* to continue posting brief thoughts on "Boardwalk Empire", and like I said, I'll get to work on the Ken Russell movies when I have time, but the plan is to step away from multiple posts during the week for my own sanity (and my wife's). See ya when I see ya.

*Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the school I teach at just started the school year off on the absolutely worst possible note: three students -- ages 16, 18, and 18 -- were standing on a sidewalk waiting for a bus outside of our school when a driver who was under the influence veered two lanes over and jumped the curb instantly killing one of the students, injuring another so badly that she died later that night in the hospital, and critically injuring the other one. I was the first teacher on the scene, and I noticed right away that the critically injured student was one of mine; three of my other students saw the entire thing happen, and I know what I I can't even imagine how they're dealing with what they saw. We're a close-knit school community (only about a 120 students total), and we're all extremely shaken-up by all of this. So, even though film and television is a positive and cathartic distraction for me right now, I think you can understand why I feel so ambivalent towards posting content: On one hand it helps to watch, read, and discuss about other stuff; on the other hand it just doesn't seem to matter at the moment.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Only one day left to vote!

On the right side of my blog you will see a poll. This poll was created to give you, my dear readers, the power to tell me what you want to read about for my next director retrospective. So...if you haven't voted yet all I can is this: What are you waiting for! The race is tight (I'm a little shocked there's no love for Hal Ashby), and it appears that right now Ken Russell is going to win this thing, but Peter Weir has caught up a bit, and Nicolas Roeg is starting to creep up there, too. Only 26 people have voted so get on it, people! Once the winner is revealed I'll start as soon as I can on catching up with their movies.*

*Sadly this may come at the expense of the Italian Horror Blogathon. I've acquiesced to the fact that I just don't think I can do it this year (too much school and work...which happens to be school, too); besides, there will be plenty of great blogathons and Halloween-themed posts out there for everyone to discover. I'm also participating in the Wonders in the Dark Halloween countdown, so I'll get my chance to write about Italian horror over there (I already have), and if you haven't checked out the content over there for the countdown, do so as soon as possible. It's a lot of fun, and there's usually great discussions about the films in the comments section.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Boardwalk Empire"...the best film of the year?

[I'm hoping to do these quick and dirty posts on what I liked most about each episode every Monday. For detailed episode recaps, which these posts of mine will not be, you should read Edward Copeland's wonderful blog. His summation of the pilot episode can be found here.

Keeping in the spirit of what Jim Emerson has been proposing over at his blog (essentially that television is doing cinema better than cinema these days), "Boardwalk Empire" may just be the best "film" I see this year. I'm extremely excited to see where it goes from here.

A few notes about the pilot episode after the jump...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oliver Stone: Nixon

[This is the final installment of my look at the films of Oliver Stone from 1986-1995. I've placed a convenient little pole on the right side of the blog for you all to partake in. That's right, I'm giving you the power to decide what I watch and write about for the next director retrospective! Hehe. Exciting, I know. So, be democratic and vote!]

And so we come to the end of this "retrospective". Yes, retrospective is in quotes because I was only ever interested in covering the years when Stone's films were popular. I found that by looking at this output of films from 1986 – 1995, Oliver Stone was unlike any other American filmmaker during that time. He was a filmmaker, as Roger Ebert said, "that sought controversy" instead of running away from it; often explicating characters, real-life figures, and themes that always had a seething anger and disillusionment with the "system" running through them. Towards the end of his prolific run, Stone became a kind of loose cannon filmmaker; an artist who started to become more stylistic in approach, and where that style dominated substance. This caused his films to make less and less money as Stone was clearly losing touch with the audience who was paying to see Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July (by the time of Nixon's theatrical run was over, Stone's reputation and disconnect with his audience had gotten so bad that the film only made about 14 million of its 44 million budget back); however, box office success or failure isn't an appropriate barometer for how good or bad a film really is, and even though Stone was alienating his audience with films like JFK and Natural Born Killers, (causing him to become even more experimental after Nixon, and failing with films like U-Turn, Any Given Sunday, and Alexander) he was arguably making his most interesting pictures during that time, too. The perfect bit of final punctuation to this prolific era is Nixon; a film that is certainly one of Stone's most intense character studies, most stylistic (compounding upon the schizophrenic aesthetic of JFK, his other political picture), and certainly most surprising.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oliver Stone: Natural Born Killers

After the box office failure of Heaven and Earth Oliver Stone was crushed. His final entry into his Vietnam trilogy – his most impassioned labor of love – was met with resounding apathy from the critical and commercial masses, and all he wanted to do was make a straight-forward action film with an easy shooting schedule after the grueling experience of filming on location in Saigon for Heaven and Earth. What Stone found was a script by then-plucky up-and-comer Quentin Tarantino (who at the time of shopping his script around wasn't known for Pulp Fiction) called Natural Born Killers. Stone's initial idea was to make into an action film that "Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of"; however, O.J. Simpson and the onslaught of what is now known as "Reality TV" coverage changed the tone of the picture Stone intended to make.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

David Cronenberg Blog-a-thon: Videodrome

[This post is part of the David Cronenberg Blog-a-thon going on right now at Tony Dayoub's site Cinema Viewfinder. Check out the comments for this piece here]

What is probably one of the most unconventional horror films ever made, David Cronenberg's Videodrome is, perhaps, only matched by David Lynch's Blue Velvet as one of the oddest, most surreal horror experiences I've ever seen. Cronenberg's film is akin to Lynch's in the sense that both films sit on the fringes of horror (using the prototype of the genre to explicate darker, more postmodern themes that society marginalizes and deems taboo) and really ask us to consider what makes a horror film horrifying. It's not just the visceral nature of horror, and it's not just the getting-under-skin ideas at play – it's a mixture of both. On the surface both films seem to be something else entirely: Lynch's film is dark, yes, but it's also comical (mostly ironic in the way a lot of postmodern work is) in the same way Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (another film that stretches the genre) is darkly comical; whereas Videodrome is without laughs. There's nothing remotely comical about Cronenberg's exercise, an odd hybrid (as most of his movies are) of science fiction and horror; however, like Blue Velvet, there are deeper questions about sexuality and violence, and the effects those two things have (especially when combined) on society. Videodrome is as displacing a horror film that I've seen; a film that plunges the viewer into the depths of sexuality and violence to give us an otherworldly, uncomfortable experience that asks us not what we find objectionable about sex and violence, but how we consider platforms for these oft taboo subjects.

Oliver Stone: Heaven and Earth

Sandwiched between Stone's two craziest and most manic films lay one of the auteur's more visually poetic and interesting films; Heaven and Earth isn't something so different that it stands out – although it's nice to see Stone stretch himself a bit here by having the film being told through the eyes of a female protagonist – and it falls too often into ridiculous melodrama to be emotionally memorable. But if you can get past some of the film's major flaws (the film, based on two books by the film's protagonist Le Ly Hayslip, feels incomplete as it really doesn't follow through with her story) you'll see a gem of a movie that lingers on moments of poetic filmmaking and voiceover narration that puts the viewer in a state of reverie; a shocking tonal shift from a director who would descend into self-parody with his ADD aesthetic a mere two films after making this one.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Winter’s Bone

Unlike Precious and Frozen River (the latter I enjoyed for its performances), Winter's Bone feels lived-in; it doesn't feel like the filmmakers are above the material judging it, smugly proud of the way their exploiting their marginalized, poverty stricken characters for the sake of impressing the Sundance crowds in the name of "understanding these characters" or "showing us a world we've never seen before because we're too concerned with our own lives to look worry about it." Meth is a driving force in this film, but it never makes an appearance; drug trafficking is the cause for a lot of the fear for the Dolly clan, yet, there are no chase scenes or moments where we follow the characters into the despair of drug use. No, that kind of mentality isn't on display here as writer-director Debra Granik, working off a novel by Daniel Woodrell, is too smart for that. She fashions her film, instead, in the style of the Dardenne brothers (the masters of minimalist cinema) where she relentlessly follows her lead character, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) as she searchers for her father Jessup, a meth dealer and "cooker", who has put their house up for bond, and if she doesn't find him in one week she will lose the house that she and her younger brother and sister and comatose mother are staying in (not to mention the timber land they own). The camera always stays on Ree, even when other characters enter a house, the film doesn't cut away to show another point of view. We watch the events of her life unfold as nuance after nuance of her odyssey seem to build and compound upon one another until before we even realize it we're knee deep in a thriller, and the film doesn't let us go of its grip until the final cut to black.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Oliver Stone: JFK

After the lukewarm reaction to The Doors, Oliver Stone needed to rejuvenate the quiescent angst that had been on display in his earlier films like Salvador and Born on the Fourth of July. Stone wanted to fashion a film – what he would call a "counter-myth" – about what he perceived as the conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy. Molding his screenplay in the style of Z and Rashomon, Stone created JFK; a procedural unlike any I've ever seen. Thanks to Stone's amazing ensemble cast (as Craig pointed out about a week ago in the Wall Street thread Stone is an underrated director with his actors, and reminds one of the way Altman always handled his large casts with ease) and the film's insanely kinetic aesthetic (once again shot by Robert Richardson, and edited by Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia), JFK is indeed another angry movie from Oliver Stone, and it's my favorite film from the controversial director.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Oliver Stone: The Doors

I remember seeing tons of shows as a teenager where I would gladly be packed shoulder to shoulder with other sweaty music fans – packed like sardines – waiting for a band or musician to come on stage and give us a show. I was always adamant about seeing bands that did something different live than what they would do on their albums; after all, if I wanted to hear the same thing I would save my money and just listen to the album. Standing there for hours with complete strangers, swaying back and forth and sometime getting rowdy in mosh pits or circle pits, and emulating the antics of the band's frontman was all part of the experience. I'm fond of those memories; memories that are likely never to fade, and memories that always arise when I spin a particular album. One thing is always clear when I remember those times when I had the stamina to hop from venue to venue in Portland, OR to see a variety of bands: I was feeding off the energy of the band, and most specifically the frontman (aka the lead singer). This person was the avatar for a scene, a niche or subculture that we all sought to assimilate with our band t-shirts and hightop Converse (or Vans). These frontmen could single-handily make a band watchable; they were all energetic, they could all belt a good tune, and they all had an undeniable hypnotic quality about them. The band needed to be good, too, and I'm not shallow enough to say that I didn't enjoy watching people jam, but it was always the frontman that kept me going back whenever that band would come through town. Fans became acolytes to these kinds of icons, and it dawned on me while I was watching Oliver Stone's flawed biopic:  there may have been no greater – or more influential – frontman than Jim Morrison.