Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Office: #23 -- "A Benihana Christmas"

23) "A Benihana Christmas"
Season 3, Episode 10

Every Thursday during the final season of The Office, I'll be counting down the best episodes of the series' previous eight seasons. Follow me on Twitter @StiglitzMovies to see my thoughts on the ninth and final season. Below are links to previous entries in this retrospective.

Pre-Title Sequence:

Dwight brings in a dead goose declaring it a “Christmas miracle.” Toby’s reaction (“Dwight, we’ve talked about this…”) is great, and I’m always a fan of Dwight when he’s trying to do something nice for the office but remains socially inept as he’s completely unaware of how ridiculous (or in this case, kind of disgusting) his nice gesture comes across as.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Master

Edited to add: After three different drafts, I finally settled on this one. Because of that, I probably didn't expand on some claims I made throughout this jumbled rumination. Some have pointed out questions they have for me in the comments; I suggest you look there for more (hopefully) lucid thoughts on the film and why I compare the editing to that of a Malick film and why even though I understand that the cyclical (what I call redundant) nature of the film is probably Anderson's point on a much larger theme, I still don't know if that's enough to clear up some of the murkiness of the film's thesis.

One of the most apt images of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master, occurs during its opening minutes. The man we come to know as Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) dry-humps and fingerbangs a sand-sculpted woman; he then goes and masturbates by the ocean. Two things: we laugh at the absurdity of these actions – bored sailors during World War II on what we assume is a short "R and R" on an island – and then as they continue we kind of groan at the aimlessness of it all. It’s a fitting metaphor for the effect the film had on me: it’s as fleeting as masturbation. Sure, I may have enjoyed it while it was on, but when it was over, I realized that what I had just seen really didn’t mean anything. In fact, I think Roger Ebert’s quote about the film sums it up nicely: “[The Master] is fabulously well-acted and crafted, but when I reach for it, my hand closes on air.”

Sydney Pollack: The Electric Horseman

If you follow this blog at all, then you probably know that I am not someone who favors plot or story over other elements in film. I don’t need a mind-bender to keep me interested; in fact, I have no use for movies like The Usual Suspects, Inception, and films of their ilk. Mostly it’s because I feel like a lot of those kinds of films (with the exception of Inception which had great stunts) use their twisty storylines as a way to mask their film’s deficiencies. Sometimes the actors can make it work, and sometimes the film just falls completely flat because I’m spending the entirety of the movie trying to figure out just what the hell is going on instead of getting invested in the characters. There are countless filmmakers that I don’t need to waste your time by listing their names that can balance this, but I generally don’t look for films with “interesting” storylines” to draw me in.

So what am I getting at? Well, by selecting Sydney Pollack as my director for this retrospective I have dug myself into a bit of a hole compared to the other two filmmakers I’ve previously covered in this projected (truncated retrospectives on Oliver Stone and Ken Russell) because of the fact that I love the simplicity of Pollack’s films so much (there really is nothing “twisty” about his plots; they’re simple, classic storylines) I often find myself lacking for content beyond the general plot synopsis. The Electric Horseman is no different: a film with all of Pollack’s favorite themes, two great lead performances, a storyline that is nothing new, and a small chase scene to break up the monotony. It’s not that it’s a bad movie (just like Bobby Deerfield wasn’t a bad movie), but it lacks the elegiac tone of something akin to it like Junior Bonner. Where Peckinpah’s film was an elegy to the Old West as the New West pervaded it, The Electric Horseman is similar in tone (Las Vegas artifice/corporate exploitation of an old cowboy’s morals is similar to the ever-changing rodeo circuit and quickly evolving New West Junior confronts in Junior Bonner)  but acts more as an adventure/buddy picture; a little more light-hearted than previous Pollack/Redford collaboration, Jeremiah Johnson, but very similar in tone (both films were shot at Zion National Park in Utah, so there is a similar feel in setting).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Office: #24 -- "The Deposition"

24) "The Deposition"
Season 4, Episode 12
Every Thursday during the final season of The Office, I'll be counting down the best episodes of the series' previous eight seasons. Follow me on Twitter @StiglitzMovies to see my thoughts on the ninth and final season. 

Pre-Title Sequence:

Pam explains that Michael once received a message while he was in a meeting and told Pam that he’d call them back. Since then, Michael has always wanted to relive that moment, so he tells Pam to interrupt him whenever he’s in a meeting with a note so he can say, “I’ll call them right back.” Pam explains that he doesn’t get that many calls, so we get a montage of her bringing Michael random messages on post-it notes (my favorite being the little impressed look Jan gives the camera) until we see the plan backfire when Michael is in a meeting with super jerkass, VP Ryan, and when he tells Pam he’ll call the fake person back (this time in the guise of hot dog saying “hi buddy”), Ryan insists he takes the call. Cold Opens often have nothing to do with the main storyline and feel like little bits the writers pitch and love but struggle to find a place for, and this was a perfect example of one those amusing bits. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Office: 50-25

My countdown of the 50 best episodes of The Office begins with a look at numbers 50-25. Starting Thursday, a new episode will be unveiled in conjunction with episodes from Season 9. Read the intro to this series here. This will just be a quick list with some quick thoughts on each episode listed. A more coherent format will begin on Thursday with individual selections. Enough yakkity yak yak, on with the list!

List after the jump...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Goodbye, The Office

Blog Note: It’s been hard tracking down a copy of The Electric Horseman since it’s no longer available on Netflix Instant. The Pollack Retrospective will return shortly once I’ve corralled a copy of the film and can continue on. For the three of you reading it, I haven’t given up on it.

When NBC decided to finally pull the plug on The Office and make this upcoming season its final one, I knew I wanted to do some kind of retrospective on the show. However – as you can no doubt tell with all of these blog “projects” I “do” – I don’t really have the time to go through and do a retrospective proper, so I figure I would fall back on the simple list. Since there are a lot of great episodes of The Office, I figured a top 50 would suffice. So, when the new (and final) season starts up on September 20, I will post an episode per week until the series’ final episode. Look for selections 50-25 to be grouped into one post and then I’ll post each subsequent selection in conjunction with the airdate of the new episodes from the final season.  More thoughts on the series after the jump…

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sydney Pollack: Bobby Deerfield

We last left this retrospective with one of Pollack’s best and most popular films, Three Days of the Condor, and we now come to one of his least popular and most maligned: Bobby Deerfield. Oh, there is so much to say here, but I suppose I should just get this out of the way right now: I don’t hate this movie. It’s nothing special, contains no memorable moment, has little of Pollack in it other than his languid pacing – and yet I can’t help but admire the film at arm’s length for its earnestness. This is one of the ones that Sydney Pollack loved the most, and it actually shows through quite plainly: Here, behind the camera, is a man that genuinely loves the film he’s making.  It left me with a feeling that is something akin to Jeremiah Johnson, another film I didn’t care all that much for but also appreciated for Pollack’s earnestness behind the camera.