Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oscar the Grouch

As much as I admire No Country for Old Men--perhaps the best (American?) movie since Raging Bull--and even as I write, "It describes evil perfectly," I wonder how much we needed it--and all right, maybe we do, if only to notice evil's bland advance, a cheap crook with a gimmick--two, if you count the flipping coin--who ruins everything for the rest of us. But like those kids at the end, we'll take the cash and grin in complicity, bare-chested in the giving, while the Bad Man rolls "further up the road." And something else, maybe more: I admit my eyes filled with tears as Ed Tom Bell/Tommy Lee Jones (and has Jones finally separated himself from his character by the merest slanting line?) tells his dream about his father in the mountain pass:
It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin'. Never said nothin' goin' by. He just rode on past ... and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin' fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. 'Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.*
I'm not sure which ached more, the thought of that fiery horn or the waking up. Any of you out there an orphan, father gone, can bawl along with me, in this "world more full of weeping than we can understand." And I thank the Coens for a good cry, and for reminding us--OK, reminding me--that much is taken, and much remains--and more will go. Jeez, even the last roaring moments of The Shining make me sad now, Father Jack losing himself, love turned upside-down "in all that dark and all that cold."

(But the brothers made it up to us Oscar night, with an image in their acceptance speech that made me laugh out loud: Ethan, eleven years old, down at the airport, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, Joel shooting their first movie: Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go.)

*Thanks, IMDb; I'll trust the accuracy of your quote.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Home-Made Film Festivals (5): Scorsese Without Tommyguns

Below: The last of the "home-made film festivals" from a THIRD site I'd tried to maintain. So, although I may want it not, I will waste not. (I'd like to continue these, but my other blog constantly calls.)

We tend to associate Martin Scorsese with crime films, but he has made a number of compelling movies that, while they avoid the Goodfellas crew, still explore his recurring themes of lost love, over-reaching ambition, and even the trials of the spiritual quest.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Based on Edith Wharton's novel, this film's social infighting is almost as ruthless as the business-as-usual mayhem of his wiseguys, as Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is forced to repress his love for the disgraced-by-divorce Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), amid the "useless beauty" of late-nineteenth-century New York.

The King of Comedy (1983)

Along with After Hours (1985), a pitch-perfect dark comedy. Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin ("often misspelled and mispronounced") is as hilarious as he is scary, while Jerry Lewis delivers his iciest performance since Buddy Love. And let's not forget Sandra Bernhard's voracious stalker-fan. Together, the three handle this tale of fifteen-minute fame like dynamite-jugglers, at once precise and reckless.

Kundun (1997)

A meditative-ecstatic biopic of the young Dalai Lama, as beautiful as it is heartbreaking, a genuinely transcendent movie that painstakingly builds then sweeps away its sand-painted mandalas, infinite sanctity and human impermanence finally reconciled.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rating Game Redux (25): I Heart These 3

Just in time for that most romantic day of the year--that's right, February 12, the birthday of not only Abraham Lincoln but Cotton Mather, Lorne Greene, and Forrest Tucker--yet another "top" three list submitted to our local paper. A quick Tom Waits quote: "Life is a path lit only by / The light of those you've loved."

Lost in Translation (2003)

John Keats gets it right:
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
For an audio version, check out the Trembling Blue Stars’ song, “The Ghost of an Unkissed Kiss.”

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Despite its aggressively UN-romantic title, Fassbinder’s remake of two Douglas Sirk movies quietly submerges us into the ecstasy and agony of romance, as a late-middle-aged German woman and her younger Arab boyfriend face race and class antagonisms—and their own weaknesses—in their struggle to hold on to each other.

“The May-Erwin Kiss” (1896)

Eighteen seconds of kissing, at the dawn of projected motion pictures. “An osculatory performance” that has been repeated thousands of times, but you can see it here first.

Rating Game Redux (24): I've Seen All Good Logos

Here's another list I submitted to our local paper that has nothing to do with film--and I think I'll stop apologizing. No one's reading, anyway--and that is not a plea for attention, but feel free. Besides, it was fun writing about "Best Band Logos."


Roger Dean, who also illustrated most of the band’s albums, designed a flowing, chunky, yin-yang-y lower-case logo that perfectly captured the bright-speck-in-a-big-universe vibe of the quintessential ‘70s art-rock band.

The Who

The target, perfect for a bull’s-eye band dead-on stuttering about their generation, part mod, part rocker—with that arrow shooting straight up, big and bouncy. And the simple lettering, evocative of The Beatles’ formal font, as if something were being passed along, from one magic bus to another.

The Cramps

Drippy monster-letters evoke The Cramps’ late-night blue-glow punkabilly jitters. No more disco, no more pogo, just the thump and gurgle of “bad music for bad people.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Home-Made Film Festivals (4): Kurosawa Without Swords

Filing under the Redundant Department of Redundancy, I'm simply continuing to empty a non-active website I started late last year. I've written about all of the following before, but someone's gotta satisfy my search for order ("the compulsion to repeat," as The Good Doktor Freud put it)--and in true OCD-fashion, that someone is me.

As influential as his samurai/historical epics may be, Akira Kurosawa mastered other genres, from noir to fantasy to social drama. But throughout his films he continued a conversation between Stoic acceptance and mystic transcendence of things as they are, resulting in films that look with sympathy on human weakness without ignoring the price we pay.

High and Low (1963)
While this sustains more than enough tension for any kidnapped child story, its focus is on personal loss and public responsibility, as well as class divides, as kidnappers mistake a chauffeur's son for his industrialist employer's boy, and the rich man has to gamble everything as he weighs the cost of doing the right thing.

Ikiru (1952)
Kanji Watanabe, a bureaucrat (played by Takashi Shimura with excruciating blankness/despair), learns he is dying of stomach cancer and feels he has wasted his life. Constantly pained, Watanabe follows a circuit, from fear to mercy to death to victory, that not only rescues him from hopelessness but ennobles those around him. A heroic triumph expressed in small gestures.

Red Beard (1965)
While there is an air of the samurai to this film--it stars Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's John Wayne, so to speak—it's actually a story of healing as well as honorable service, as the gruff doctor, nicknamed "Red Beard," urges his high-born intern to bow low to the poor he tends to. An "epic" of the transformative power of compassion.

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