Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Screening Log: November

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009) (v) *** - Trippy.

Platform (Jia Zhang Ke, 2000) (v) **** - Time still changes everything.

House of Bamboo (Sam Fuller, 1955) (v) *** - Location, location, location.

The Box (Richard Kelly, 2009) *** - I.e., Richard Kelly's Eyes Wide Shut.

The Roaring Twenties (Raoul Walsh, 1939) (v) (r) **** - Time changes everything.

The Plow That Broke the Plains (Pare Lorentz, 1936) (v) ****

Humpday (Lynn Shelton, 2009) (v) * - Points for attempt to subvert Apatowian morality.

Little Odessa (James Gray, 1994) (v) ***

The Big Mouth (Jerry Lewis, 1967) ***

The Matrix Revolutions (The Wachowski Brothers, 2003) (v) (r) ** - I liked this much better on second viewing. I think it's rather ballsy of the Brothers to stage an elaborate James Cameron-style action sequence featuring characters that we've never really seen before and that no audience anywhere at anytime ever gave two shits about.

The Matrix Reloaded (The Wachowski Brothers, 2003) (v) (r) **

Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003) (v) ***

The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh, 2009) (v)

Everlasting Moments (Jan Troell, 2008) (v) *** - Subtle and moving.

Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, 2006) (v) **** - At this point, my favorite of Hong's movies. I think I'll have more to say about this later, when I compose my "best of the decade" comments.

Up (Pete Docter, 2009) (v) ** - Entertaining and, for the most, inventive, but the action-packed final Act hits all the familiar Pixar notes and the story itself grabs onto Spielberg-style emotional manipulation instead of reaching for its own kind of profundity à la Wall-E and Ratatouille.

Comedy of Power (Claude Chabrol, 2006) (v) **

Predator 2 (Stephen Hopkins, 1990) (v) (r) * - Enjoyable hodge-podge of 1980s action movie clichés.

Little Big Horn (Charles Marquis Warren, 1951) (v) *** - Trust Manny Farber.

Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009) (v) * - I'll have more to say about this later, but, for now all I have is: "Live by the stunt, die by the stunt."

Universal Soldiers (Roland Emmerich, 1992) (v) - See here.

Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990) (v) (r) ****

Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003) (v) (r) ** - As a take on an event - or as an "event" in its own right - it comes up short. As an experiment in perspective and long-take, though, it's effective and moving (if a bit slight). I do think, though, that the tracking shot through the cafeteria, following the three girls, is better than any of the similar moves Alfonso Cuaron pulls in Y Tu Mama Tambien.

A Serious Man (The Coen Bros., 2009) **** - This movie inspired my new blog. I think it's pretty great: the Coens have, in a way, made an "inside-out" version of the kind of movie they usually make. Their movies always ask their audiences to look for clues, patterns, webs of meaning (i.e., the importance placed on names and "nomenclature" in The Big Lebowski, the way P.O.V. shots work in No Country for Old Men), but A Serious Man is about that search for meaning and the (im)possibility that we can find any kind of answer in a story. Or, rather, the possibility that instead of an answer all we can ever hope for is mere surmise.

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another blog...

I started another blog for short, slightly more estoric posts on film criticism and related matters. I'm keeping my informal, off the cuff screening log entries here, though.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Screening Log: Halloween Weekend

Predator (John McTiernan, tktk) (v) (r) ** - Truly, a strange movie: the sci-fi actioner that pares itself down as it goes along, so that the last act - far from being an fx-extravaganza - is a nearly naked Schwarzenegger playing boy scout in the jungle.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Gavin Hood, 2009) (v) * - I really like the second string Marvel movies, especially when I catch them on cable TV: they tend to keep things simple and have the easy-going feel of solid B-movies. From that angle, the problem with Wolverine is that it tries to hard and too many moving parts (all those characters, all that mythology). From another angle, though, it doesn't try hard enough: more visually imaginative filmmakers could have gotten a lot out of Frank Miller's Lone Wolf and Cub-inspired take on the character as a modern samurai. The movie ends up being enjoyable to watch, but disappointing and depressing to think about afterwards (not unlike the recent Star Trek thing).

Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009) (v) (r) ***

Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson, 1945) (v) (r) ***

Return of the Living Dead (Dan O'Bannon, 1985) (v) (r) **** - My favorite 1980s splatterstick movie.

The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963) (v) (r) ** - Big-budget, big-production version of a Val Lewton movie shows that Wise hadn't forgotten everything that he learned. Cinephile that I am, I prefer the more subtle touch of the Lewton films, but appreciate that this one towers over most of the ghost movies that have come after.

Man in the Shadows (Kent Jones, 2007) (v) *** - A lot of the time, these filmmaker-centric documentaries will be informative, without ever really seeming necessary, but Kent Jones' look at Val Lewton's horror films is a great piece of criticism and a very good movie in its own right, particularly in the way Jones builds his argument more through how he orchestrates images from Lewton's films than through the voice-over narration.

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Friday, October 30, 2009

Screening Log: October


Jerichow (Christian Petzold, 2008) (v) *** - An exploration of the nuances and biases of viewer identification, in stripped-down B-movie drag. It would all be a bit too clinical, academic, and even pedantic, if it weren't for Himli Sözer's performance, which gives the movie an emotional depth to match its intellectual ambitions.

Still Walking (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008) (v) *** - If I had more free time for writing, I'd try to turn my thoughts on this and on 35 Shots of Rum into a longer post. For now though, all I have is a question: is there any other major director who had as narrow focus in terms of themes and subject matter as Yasujiro Ozu?

Scandal Sheet (Phil Karlson, 1952) (v) **

Night and Day (Hong Sang-soo, 2008) **** - My thoughts on this movie still are nowhere near fully-formed: I've been mulling it over since I saw it earlier this week and moments from it are haunting my waking life. Right now second only to Two Lovers as my film of the year.

Europa (Lars von Trier, 1991) (v) *** - I'm glad I finally caught up with this movie, which would make an interesting double bill with Inglourious Basterds. I've liked every von Trier movie I've seen, but, until now, I've managed to miss most of the "major" ones.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, 1975) (v) (r) *****

Spectres of the Spectrum (Craig Baldwin, 1999) (v) (r) **

E.T. (Steven Spielberg, 1982) (v) (r) *** - I used to say I preferred this to Spielberg's "later, stodgier, darker" work, but, on revisitation, the movie (or at least the first half) was creakier and stiffer than I remembered. Too often good, lively business - like the kids playing Dungeons & Dragons - stops dead for poetry-of-suburbia image-making. The young actors are all good - they're very cute and funny - but they seem to be trapped by Spielberg's compositions in a way that the more seasoned actors in Close Encounters and Jaws aren't. It isn't until everything is in place and things start to move that the movie starts working. (I had a similar problem with Ratatouille, and, watching E.T. this time I kept thinking "Pixar avant la lettre" - sharing Pixar's movies' usual problem of having a strong half and a weak half). I don't mean it as (much of) a dig to say that Spielberg makes a better action filmmaker than he does a poet. The chase on the bicycles at the end of the film is a masterful sequence: built off of a particular kind of suburban sub-development geography, it's rousing, suspenseful, and expressive of the characters (exactly how great action movies should work). The kids on bikes riding down those terraced hills? That's real poetry.

The Curse of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) (v) ****

City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) (v) ***** - To my shame as a cinephile, this is the first time I've watched City Lights from start to finish, though I've seen numerous excerpts from it over the years. I'm now inspired to come with a aphorism along the lines of: "An excerpt from a truly great movie will only mislead you as to the nature of its greatness."

35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2008) ****

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) (v) (r) ***** - 50 years later, Rear Window is still more audacious, more formally daring than just about any of the "entertainments" that have come out of Hollywood since.

Year One (Harold Ramis, 2009) (v) ** - Everything here feels tossed off (some scenes just end, there's very little in the way of elaborate gag-building), which is a little disappointing coming from the director of Groundhog Day and vacation, but turns out to be the perfect approach to this kind of movie. I generally don't like to praise movies (especially comedies) for their low ambitions, but I thought this was enjoyably old fashioned and down to earth in its approach to its "high concept".

The Signal (David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry , 2007) (v) * - Neat idea, hobbled by inconsistent/uneven execution.

High School Confidential (Jack Arnold, 1958) (v) *** - There's a mini-genre of movies that I like to think of as "The Kids Aren't Alright" movies that includes, well, Kids, River's Edge, and, going somewhat farther afield All About Lily Chou Chou and Afterschool. High School Confidential is, if not the "best" of them, then, at least, my favorite.

Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2009) * - Not a "real scary" movie, but, rather, a "fun scary" movie that is clever enough to get you to do most of its work for it. The ending is a misjudgment and the movie overall is no big deal, but it is made with thought and is a more than worthy diversion. The subtext - about finding out about the true extent of your romantic partner's psychological/emotional baggage only after you move in with them - gives the movie a little more substance, but it isn't explored or developed as similar material is in movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Brood.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005) (v) ** - I'm sure someone has already written an article/essay explaining exactly why we shouldn't lump these "New Romanian Cinema" movies together, because each director has their own style, concerns, but, from where I'm standing, they have enough in common in terms of what questions they're interested in (namely those about how personal life is shaped political systems) and how they go about answering those questions (through a symbol-heavy, realist approach to dramatic "everyday" events) that I'm comfortable talking about them as a group and comparing one against the others. In this case, though I liked Lazarescu, it's my least favorite of the RNC movies I've seen so far, because the symbolism here feels just a bit too generic - the specificity dissolves as the movie goes on and it turns into a more general anti-bureaucratic satire, rather than one that is rooted to its time and place.

Genesis of a Meal (Luc Moullet, 1978) (v) **** - Funny and insightful throughout, but the last movement - where he engages in self-reflection/analysis - really takes the movie to a deeper level: complicating what we've seen, but also clarifying the dilemma of what it means to be a good global citizen.

Anatomy of a Relationship (Luc Moullet, 1976) (v) **** - Moullet continues to impress. I described this to a friend as a Woody Allen movie for grown-ups, which really isn't fair to Woody. Maybe a better way to put it would have been: a Woody Allen movie that doesn't have to play by the rules of American commercial cinema.

The Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson, 1955) (v) *** - I thought it was somewhat appropriate that I watched this right after Capitalism.

Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, 2009) * - The first half of the movie is as good as anything Moore has done, with many black comic WTF? moments. Not coincidentally, Moore stays in the background during this part. He steps to the fore in the second half, and the movie takes a turn for the worse. His schtick is simply uninspired: he seems to be going through the motions (and the low level employees he's dealing with also seem to be going through the motions), which takes the edge off the righteous anger that has been building up. There are other problems, too (deliberately obscuring the difference between an economic system and a political system, glossing over Obama's role in the push for the bank bailouts), but it's the half-assed nature of his stunt that does the movie in.

Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette, 2009) *** - A work of a master: not a masterpiece, but a statement or summing up, not unlike A Prairie Home Companion.

Afterschool (Antonio Campos, 2008) (v) ** - When a film is this well made and this thoughtful, does it matter that it isn't very "likable"? That it keeps its distance and discourages the usual kind of emotional connection/response to its characters? I'd say that it probably shouldn't. Still, this works better when Campas seems to be observing (all the stuff with the kids) than when he seems to be making a point (a lot of the stuff with the adults). And speaking of making a point: I think reading the movie purely for its "message" does it a disservice. Moment-to-moment what's onscreen is too complicated, too unresolved, to be reduced in that way.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007) (v) *** - More on the theme "the personal is political" from the "New Romanian Cinema". For some reason, watching this movie - which I really loved - reminded me of a movie I don't much care for: Y Tu Mama Tambien. Maybe because I imagine that the relationship between the two friends here will fall apart like that of the two friends in Mama (even though there's really no other similarities between the pairs)? My favorite scene here is her conversation with her boyfriend following the extremely awkward dinner party.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates, 2009) *** - Truly magical.

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Screening Log: September

Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009) ***

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) (v) (r) ***** - Did I say On Dangerous Ground was my favorite Nicholas Ray movie? I hadn't seen this in years, and the image quality of the VHS tape I had first seen it on really did not do it justice. Also: most of the discussion of this movie talks up its unconventionality (less sympathetic viewers might phrase it as its near hysteria), but from a distance of 55 years, what strikes me is how classical it seems.

12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2006) (v) *** - A little movie on a big subject. It reminded me of Greil Marcus writing about Elvis Costello, re: the relationship of the personal to the political.

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009) ** - Ignore the conventional fx-driven ending, and you have a subversive, quick-witted, and surprisingly moving action-adventure movie. I am amazed that it's thoroughly South African-centric p.o.v. clicked with a relatively big audience here in the U.s.

The Miracle at St. Anna (Spike Lee, 2008) (v) ** - Spike Lee is our Sam Fuller.

Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004) (v) ***

Cloak and Dagger (Fritz Lang, 1946) (v) (r) ** - Watching something like this (or Man Hunt) makes me think that Fritz Lang has to have been one of the greatest "pure" filmmakers ever, in that he manages to get the greatest amount of "cinematic interest" out of any scenario he's given.

Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005) (v) (r) **** - I've written a little bit about the way that certain movies or directors have taught me how to watch other movies and directors. One of my big "aha" moments came when I found myself watching and really liking The Pink Panther (which I had always thought of as a prime example of a great performance trapped in a so-so movie) and realized that watching Jacques Tati's movie had trained my eye to the point where I could really appreciate what Edwards was doing. (Had I not grown up watching so many movies mutilated on tiny TV-screens, I'm not sure my eyes would have needed to be trained in that way, but that's a longer digression than I probably need to make here.) So, with Broken Flowers, which I had thought was pretty amateurish when I watched it when it was first released on video, having since seen and come to appreciate the films of Hong Sang-soo (and having even thought they were a bit "Jarmusch-esque") helped me get what Jarmusch was up to here. (Another way to put it might be that it helps to think of Jarmusch more as a "world cinema art house filmmaker" than as an "American Indie filmmaker").

Nickelodeon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1976) (v) * - To me, this is a good example of an "academic" movie that works on paper - conceptually it's all of a piece - but didn't quite come off. Ryan O'Neal seems comparatively uncomfortable and the slapstick is clumsy: I couldn't help thinking that Blake Edwards should have directed it and that John Ritter should have had O'Neal's role. Despite that, I liked it: the concept is strong, the supporting cast is good.

The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008) ***

Crank: High Voltage (Neveldine/Taylor, 2009) (v) ***

Park Row (Sam Fuller, 1952) (v) *** - For the first hour, mannered and stiff, but filled with interesting details about the 19thC newspaper business: then it explodes into brawls and beatings.

Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008) **

I'm Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira, 2002) (v) ***

Idiocracy (Mike Judge, 2006) (v) (r) *** - Mike Judge's genius is that every day the world looks more and more like his movies. So even if you, like me, thought they were good-but-not-great on first viewing, by the second or third time through, you've caught up with them and even the weaker stuff turns out to be funny because it's true.

How Green Was My Valley (John Ford, 1941) (v) (r) ***** - This isn't the only measure of a great director, but it is, IMO, a pretty good one: this is one of about a dozen John Ford movies that if you told me was "his best" I'd nod and say "I can see that." I mean, I think his best movie is Wagon Master, but who'd argue against this one? This time around, I ended up having to watch it with the volume way down and, though I like the score, the music cues are the only "dated" part of the movie. Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O'Hara's final kiss is one of those timeless moments, when you feel you could be watching a great movie from 1917, 1930, 1941, 1957, 1972 - well, you get the picture.

The Cloud-Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak, 1960) ***

Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009) (v) * - The major problems with Adventureland:
(1) It buys into its main character's stunted, limited worldview. (Mottola's actual worldview?) (See Kicking and Screaming for an example of a similar movie that calls its main characters' worldview into question in a number of ways, including: presenting characters with a reductio ad absurdum version of that worldview, validating the different worldview of other characters). (2) Partly because of that, the other characters are nothing more than obstacles/props for main character's "journey", with no meaning apart from what they mean to the main character. Any potential conflict is swept under the rug (notice how Martin Starr's character shows up at the end to support the main character, without any mention/resolution of his earlier criticism). All of that said... Mottola has a comparatively light touch and, moment-to-moment, there are nice details. And Jesse Eisenberg is good: he doesn't do schtick and is believable as an entitled-but-sensitive juvenile lead. Kristen Stewart, on the other hand, I couldn't watch without thinking of her performance in Twilight - which is unfair, sure, but every time she "uhh"'d or "umm"'d I started giggling.


Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Top 9 as of 9/9/09




I feel that I'm finally caught up enough with my movie-watching that I can throw out an interim "best list" that (a) doesn't have any filler and (b) took some thought/reflection about what didn't make the cut.

1. Two Lovers (James Gray)
2. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
3. Pontypool (Bruce McDonald)
4. Duplicity (Tony Gilroy)
5. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
6. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso)
7. Public Enemies (Michael Mann)
8. You, the Living (Roy Andersson)
9. World's Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait)

Number 10, right now, would be a tie between Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski) and Coraline (Henry Selick).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Screening Log: Late August

Halloween 2 (Rob Zombie, 2009) * - This is the first Rob Zombie movie where I haven't been shaking in anger, fear, or disgust when I left the theatre. In other words, a bit of a disappointment. Though many of his strengths are on display - the worlds in his movies feel lived in, there's a weight there that most Hollywood filmmaking (and I'm not just talking about horror/genre filmmaking) lacks that comes across through his attention to details; he has a gift for striking, expressionistic images that emerge from a more naturalistic surface - the entire movie doesn't quite seem to work the way I think he means it to work. I get the sense that Zombie wants the dream symbolism - the images of Michael's mother, the white horse, etc. - to work directly, intensely on the audience, but it has the opposite effect, creating a distance and, with that distance - with room to think about it rather than feel it - the symbolism seems half-baked. I should add, though, that I saw it under less than ideal circumstances: the sound was really off in the theatre (the Regal E-Walk on 42nd St) and the management did nothing to correct it despite numerous complaints. The dialogue was comprehensible, but muffled, which was quite distracting and it seemed to throw the audience off. It also didn't help that someone had brought several children to the screening, who were crying and making noise throughout. The fact that an adult could think that Halloween 2 is a good movie to take a bunch of kids to is scarier than anything in the movie itself.

On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1952) (v) (r) ***** - Probably my favorite Nicholas Ray movie. I love (a) how it keeps wandering outside of the boundaries of Hollywood convention (this is one of those movies that looks like it belongs to a particular genre but doesn't behave that way), (b) the shift from city to country, and (c) Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino's performances.

Terror in a Texas Town (Joesph H. Lewis, 1958) (v) **

Duplicity (Tony Gilroy, 2009) (v) ***

A Girl Is a Gun (Luc Moullet, 1971) (v) **** - I think I'll have more to say about both of these Luc Moullet movies after they've sat with me for a while. Right now, though, I'll just say that these movies spoke deeply to that part of me that is still a huge Greil Marcus fan.

Les contrebandières (Luc Moullet, 1967) (v) *****

Entre les murs (Laurent Cantet, 2008) (v) ** - Cantet really manages to capture the shifting dynamics of the classroom and the performances are all really strong. Considering that the cast is made up of (formerly) non-professional actors, this is an amazing technical feat of directing. I wouldn't want to make any larger claims for it, though, as it seems to shy away from - if not bury - the most interesting issue it raises: how the teacher's fear of losing control and shame at losing his cool turns into a passive-aggressive vendetta against a student. Andrew Bujalski should direct the American remake.

The International (Tom Tykwer, 2009) (v) **

I, Robot (Alex Proyas, 2004) (v) - This is the kind of big summer movie that depresses me more than something like Transformers, if only because there are bits and pieces of a good movie peeking out amid all the by-the-numbers blockbuster nonsense. Spielberg can sometimes get away with this, because he's a master of blockbuster nonsense, but Proyas' gifts lie elsewhere.

Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002) (v) ****

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) **** - Audacious, thrilling, exciting, maddening. On the one hand, I'm more sympathetic to the movie's harsher critics than I have been to those of any other movie I've liked this much since The Lady in the Water: you need to take a leap of faith over the gap between intention and execution. On the other hand, I think a lot of the movie's supporters are, if anything, guilty of hedging their bets. Me, I line up with Sean Collins (my favorite piece of writing on the movie so far) and Ed Howard (the most insightful comments from one of the movie's supporters so far) in thinking that this is a gen-u-ine masterpiece. And in the spirit of the hype and hyperbole that the movie seems to provoke, I'll call it an American Weekend, using a "warts and all" definition of "American". (As an aside: I think Eli Roth is just fine. He comes across as an overgrown boy, barely keeping it together, which seems to make perfect sense for that character. I can't imagine he'd be getting dissed like that if he hadn't directed Hostel, which - by the way haters - is one of the best Hollywood movies of the decade).

I Love You Man (John Hamburg, 2009) (v) - I didn't mind sitting through this, but it's an all around lazy movie. Paul Rudd is funny, as usual, but he's been funnier in better movies. All the big third act stuff that is meant to solve all the problems doesn't even rise to the level of being perfunctory.

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

JPL

After watching Luc Moullet's A Girl is a Gun last night, I started mulling over this question: exactly what kind of an actor is Jean-Pierre Léaud? I have someone's comment (was it a critic's, from one of my acting teachers, a film prof's?) to the effect that he isn't an actor stuck in my head. If I squint, I can see what that means - he's not a chameleon, he's not overtly theatrical, and he doesn't play off a star persona à la Belmondo - but obviously he's doing something: Billy le Kid is a different character than Tom in Last Tango in Paris who in turn is a different character than Alexandre in La maman et la putain.

Maybe it's because I'm still under the influence of the Moullet, but I want to say that what Léaud is doing is closer to what Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati do than it is to what Belmondo or Michel Piccoli do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Screening Log for July and part of August: Short Version

I've been too busy to keep up with this properly, so not much in the way of notes this time around - just ratings. However, I'm always happy to chat about movies, so questions and/or comments about the ratings are welcome. As always, anything that I've starred is recommended. Anything not starred I couldn't, in good faith, ask that anyone else sit through.

Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955) (v) ***** - Glad I saved this one for the proverbial rainy day, rather than rushing to check it off a list back when I was seeing movies just to say I had seen them.

The Inglorious Bastards (Enzo Castellari, 1978) (v) **

Kings and Queens (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004) (v) **** - I know: I'm a rube and a philistine for preferring this to Esther Kahn. (Or myabe I don't put such a high value on severity and perversity?)

Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski, 2009) ***

The Power of Kangwon Province (Hong Sang-soo, 1998) (v) ****

Momma's Man (Azazel Jacobs, 2007) (v) *

Hannah Takes the Stairs (Joe Swanberg, 2007) (v) **

Sleeping Dogs Lie (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2006) (v) ***

Brigham City (Richard Dutcher, 2001) (v) ***

In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009) (v) **

You, the Living (Roy Andersson, 2007) ***

La deuxieme souffle (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1966) (v) *****

World's Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009) (v) **

Esther Kahn (Arnaud Desplechin, 2000) (v) ***

Two Lovers (James Gray, 2009) (v) **** - My favorite movie of the year, so far.

The Number 23 (Joel Schumacher, 2007) (v)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Scott Derrickson, 2008) (v)

12 Rounds (Renny Harlin, 2009) (v)

Eagle Eye (D.J. Caruso, 2008) (v) - It's rare that I ever want to use the word "turgid", but this film did it for me.

Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009) ***


Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Screening Log: Vacation Catch-Up: Late June and (Very) Early July 2009

Knowing (Alex Proyas, 2009) (v) * - It loses points for having a hero who lost faith in a higher power after losing a spouse (exactly the same set up as in The Reaping), but gains some back for its look (lots of black, like a heavily inked comics page), an(other) Nicolas Cage-as-enjoyably-weird-version-of-himself performance, and for not trying to dumb things down too much for us. Proyas makes good use of his sense for creepy moments around the edges, but this still isn't going to satisfy those of us waiting for a new Dark City or Crow from him.

Hung "Pilot" (Alexander Payne, 2009) (v) *** - I don't usually list my TV viewing here, but the first episode of Hung shows off some genuine filmmaking from Alexander Payne. Though the premise is as gimmicky as that of Weeds, the details are spot on. This may be my favorite HBO "first episode" since David Chase's Sopranos pilot.

The Reaping (Stephen Hopkins, 2007) (v) - Not as terrible as the review lead me to believe. Still, after this and The Unborn, I'm tempted to write about how contempo horror filmmakers completely don't get what makes something like The Exorcist a great scary movie.

The Uninvited (Charles and Thomas Guard, 2009) (v) ** - A real surprise to me: I watched it mainly because I'm a fan of Elizabeth Banks' work in comedies and wanted to see what she'd do in a thriller, but the movie won me over. Despite being conventionally made, it's clever and well-acted and much more solidly put together than most scary movies of its type.

Bottle Shock (Randall Miller, 2008) (v) - I like loose, ambling movies, but this one was just a tad too sloppy. It needed Altmanesque diffusion, but instead it feels more like laid-back John Sayles. That said, I nearly gave it one star because the subject was interesting and Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman are both very good, but I can't recommend it in good faith.

The Heartbreak Kid (The Farrelly Bros., 2008) (v) *** - In the universe I live in, the Farrelly Bros. are major filmmakers, but even I stayed away from this one when it was in theaters because (a) I have a lot of admiration/affection for Elaine May's Heartbreak Kid, (b) I have a developed a real aversion to Ben Stiller (There's Something About Mary isn't my favorite Farrelly Bros. movie, either), and (c) the reviews were bad across the board. I'll give myself a pass on (a) and (b), but I think I might need to stop reading anything about movies until after I see them. More and more, I'm coming to see film critics as herd animals, as if their takes on movies are mostly formed even before they see it. On the one hand, I can appreciate how this might be a more efficient way to work, but it makes for lousy film criticism. In this case, I think that the "storyline" for this movie was going to be about how it didn't live up to the original. What that particular storyline misses, though, is that while the Farrelly Bros. take the general premise from the Friedman story/Simon script, this is really a very different movie that needs to be seen on its own terms. The original was a dark comedy about ethnic identity, but this is a slapstick nightmare, playing off the fear that you'll find out your mate is a monster only after you're married to them. In some ways, this is the anti-Mary, and part of what makes the movie so good is that the Farrelly Bros. don't shy away from the Ben Stiller character's creepier side. One of my pet peeves about contempo comedies is that guy filmmakers tend to present pretty unpleasant behavior from their guy heroes as being cute and funny (see Wedding Crashers, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, etc.), but the Farrellys keep Stiller dangling on their hook. Also, as one of the only people I know who thought that Malin Akerman was good in Watchmen, I was glad to see her give a very funny and unself-conscious performance here. She's no Anna Faris, but she pulls off the gags here and is, as the say, a real sport. (Michelle Monaghan does nothing, as usual, but that doesn't stop the movie from working).

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Friday, June 26, 2009

Screening Log: June 2009

A bit early because I'm on vacation next week.

Whatever Works (Woody Allen, 2009) ** - Best when it's at it's stagiest: like all of Allen's recent films - with the exception of Vicky Cristina Barcelona - the filmmaking is sloppy. There are weird, seemingly mis-matched cuts to reaction shots that are jarring enough that I was reminded of the spatial dislocations in Alain Resnais' Couers, but with the sense that Allen wasn't doing it for any aesthetic purpose. All that said, as a peice of filmed quasi-theater, I liked it quite a bit.

Hitman (Xavier Gens, 2007) (v) - Standard contemporary action movie bullshit: layered-on style and solemnity instead of interesting action sequences and wit.

Highway 61 (Bruce McDonald, 1991) (v) ***

L'ami de mon amie (Eric Rohmer, 1987) (v) ** - The English title, Boyfriends & Girlfriends is dumb. I'll want to see it again after making my way through Rohmer, but my take now is: interesting from a formal perspective, but shallow.

A Canterbury Tale (Powell & Pressburger, tktk) (v) (r) **** - I love this mainly for how weird it is. Also - one of my favorite kinds of movies: "war movies without any battle scenes".

Transporter 3 (Oliver Megaton, 2008) (v) - I don't expect that every romantic comedy is going to have as good a screenplay as It Happened One Night, every thriller as good a screenplay as The Third Man, and every action movie as good a screenplay as Die Hard. But just compared to what Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen came up with for the other two Transporter movies, this is some dumb shit. A note to the people making Transporter movies: your fans were not waiting for you to give Frank Martin a cutesy romantic interest.

He's Just Not That Into You (Ken Kwapis, 2009) (v) *

Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009) - Tired and sloppy. Raimi, unlike, say, Martin Scorsese, has always been a director more suited to "small films", so I was looking forward to this. Maybe my expectations were too high, but even though this is better than a lot of current horror movies and Raimi doesn't make any stupid mistakes it pales in comparison to genuinely good horror movies, like, say, The Evil Dead or Dead Alive (both of which I kept wishing I were watching instead of this).

Transporter 2 (Louis Leterrier, 2005) (v) * - Not as good as the first one: Leterrier has about half the skill set necessary to be a great action movie director. He's good on invention and directing his actors to express their character through how they fight, but he still puts his sequences together rather haphazardly. Like most contemporary action filmmakers, he goes for impact over clarity almost every time. The bit with the firehose, though, is an instant classic.

Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2008) (v) *** - Lots of good things about this movie, but mainly: Stephen McHattie's performance. Also - with this and The Tracey Fragments, Bruce McDonald is becoming one of my favorite directors. I'm very happy that I have many more of his movies left to see.

Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) (v) (r) ***** - I think it's natural, normal, and overall a good thing that we movie buffs tend to champion a director's lesser-known works. There's a bit of the snob factor there, sure, but, really, if I'm not going to make the case for Wagon Master as one of John Ford's greatest movies, who will? All that said, watching Stagecoach again reminded me that "championing lesser-known works" doesn't have to be done at the expense of their most popular and best-loved movies. Stagecoach really is up there with the best American movies ever made.

Pauline at the Beach (Eric Rohmer, 1983) (v) ****

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Friday, June 5, 2009

Screening Log: May 2009

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008) *** - A melancholy equation? Memories + Stuff = Culture.

Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983) (v) (r) * - My approach to the Star Wars movies is to treat them like I would other movies - that is, through an auteurist lens as "George Lucas movies": not like sacred texts, as if George Lucas was merely an intercessor or high priest of a New Age-y Great Geek God. So, while I don't mind arguments that the prequels are bad movies, I don't have much patience for arguments that they're heretical or a betrayal of "our" collective childhood in some way. Star Wars is George Lucas's creation: he can do with it what he wants. If you don't like it - fine, but only George gets to decide what Star Wars is or is not. (It's a different case with something like the new Star Trek movie, where the original creator(s) have been replaced by a brand management team). All that said, the prequels are different beasts than the original trilogy and the six movies do not fit together seamlessly. Watching them this time around, what I noticed is how apolitical the original movies are compared to the new ones. I think a lot of fans see this as a downside and I know that some people (i.e. my wife) think that the senatorial maneuverings and double-crossing is needlessly convoluted. For me, though, it gives the movies a symbolic/allegorical power that the earlier ones lacked. And it gives them a bit of a backbone: watched in a row like this, the New Agey-ness of the originals sticks out a lot more.

Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980) (v) (r) ****

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) (v) (r) **** (v) (r)

Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005) (v) (r) *** (v) (r)

Attack of the Clones (George Lucas, 2002) (v) (r) *** (v) (r)

The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999) (v) (r) * (v) (r)

Angels and Demons (Ron Howard, 2009) * - Ron Howard handles the grisly hokum just about as well as he handles the majestic hokum. Ultimately, not as good as his Da Vinci Code movie, where the equally nutty storyline but larger historical and geographic scope gave him more to work with: this one ends up feeling a little bit cramped.

Role Models (David Wain, 2008) (v) ** - Reminds me of The House Bunny in that it's mainly notable for a great lead performance, but the surrounding stuff is done with just the right touch so that the whole experience comes off as being much more enjoyable than equally funny but more ambitious movies (e.g. Knocked Up). The LARP stuff is perfectly handled.

JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008) (v) **

The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 2008) (v) (r) *** - I'm not sure I have anything more to say about this, except that I think it really does hold together well and that my ideas about what Shyamalan is doing here seem to hold up, too.

Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009) * - Really about as enjoyable as National Treasure, which, because you don't expect National Treasure to be anything special, means that Star Trek actually felt a lot less enjoyable than it. I have a problem, too, in the way that Abrams et al. got rid of all of the things that really make Star Trek Star Trek - the ethical dilemmas, the sci-fi puzzles, the utopian vision of the future - and replaced it with standard, contemporary action movie shenanigans. This is part of a trend that includes the Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies where every element of the source material that can't be fit into the action/adventure-movie-for-14-year-old-boys template gets chucked out. So, for instance, we have young adult heroes instead of actual adult heroes (Frodo was 55 when he started his journey) and everyone is still working through their daddy issues. In other words, this is Star Wars dressed up in Star Fleet uniforms, with none of Gene Roddenberry's original vision remaining intact.

Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, 2008) (v) ** - Too many sports metaphors, but otherwise quite engaging. Neither of the leads is doing an impersonation: they're both giving real performances, which is nice.

Quarantine (John Erick Dowdle, 2008) (v) - More effective and more thoroughly conceived than, say, Cloverfield, but not nearly as original. Some good performances, though and the Blair Witch riff/rip-off at the end freaked me out righteously.

Woman Is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo, 2004) (v) *** - OK, so I believe the hype!

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dave Arneson Memorial Gameday in NYC

More information here:

Last month Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and the originator of the first fantasy campaign, passed away. On Saturday, May 9th the Complete Strategist will host an afternoon of gaming as a tribute to his memory. Dave's work has inspired three decades of roleplaying, from the original D&D to its 4th Edition, and from noon until 5 pm, we'll play games using both of these rules systems as well as some created just for the occasion. The common denominators will be fun, imagination, and heroic adventure!


I'll be running an Old-School D&D-style dungeon crawl:

- Game Name: The Fane of St. Toad
- Run By: Jon Hastings
- Maximum Players: 8
- Brief Blurb: We're going to try to answer the question of what kind of person would trek across a dismal swamp to loot an abandoned temple that was once dedicated to the worship of a sanity-shattering Toad god from beyond the stars. The Fane of St. Toad is a scenario written by Michael Curtis for the "Original Edition" of D&D. We'll be using the three "Little Brown Books" along with Supplement II: Blackmoor ('natch) (but no experience with that or any other particular version of D&D is necessary).
- Recommended For: Brave souls interested in dungeon crawling, problem solving, and traditional, non-nerfed adventure gaming.

Screening Log: March/April 2009

Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher, 1959) (v) (r) **** - Great opening shot - a landscape that turns into an extreme longshot of our hero that takes a surprise right turn into a potential ambush - and a great closing shot - poetic and devastating. Lots of good stuff in the middle, too.

Play Dirty (Andre De Toth, 1968) (v) **** - There's a focus on process here - with process: using a pulley system to get a truck up a too steep hill, changing tires, infiltrating a fuel depot, setting up an ambush - that makes this movie work very differently from movies with a similar set-up (The Dirty Dozen), not to mention other Andre De Toth movies. From today's p.o.v., these sequences seem like they're coming out of an "art" movie. And, in that way, reminiscent of both Rififi and The Wages of Fear.

American Violet (Tim Disney, 2008) (v)

The Night Stalker (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1972) (v) * - Not all that good, but I dig the grubbiness - maybe because it's a nice change from today's too-slick dumb mystery shows (Castle, Fringe, etc.).

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Eric Brevig, 2008) (v) * - Just a thrill ride, but a fun one and goofily old-fashioned in a lot of ways.

Dragonslayer (Matthew Robbins, 1981) (v) (r) *** - Not quite the gold standard of post-Harryhausen fantasy movies (that would be Excalibur), but pretty damn close.There's a lot of subtlety and nuance here - much more than I expected or remembered. (My favorite moment: the Dragon's grief on discovering its sluaghtered hatchlings). It's also probably the movie that comes closest to capturing the kind of fantasy in Lloyd Alexander's Prydian novels.

Tokyo Chorus (Yasujiro Ozu, 1931) (v) ****

The Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (Hong Sang-soo, 2000) (v) ***** - One of those movie-watching experiences - like seeing The Mother and the Whore for the first time - where the movie's initial, superficial resemblance to other movies (at first I was getting a real Jim Jarmusch vibe) is eventually overwhelmed by its strong, idiosyncratic identity.

White Dog (Samuel Fuller, 1982) (v) **** - There are definitely rough edges here, but it's a fascinating and powerful movie, nonetheless. I think it would make a great double-bill with De Palma's The Fury.

Shoot 'Em Up (Michael Davis, 2007) (v) - Thinking back on it, I'm not quite sure why I gave Crank one star and this no stars. I guess I like that Crank more thoroughly embraces the unpleasant bits and pieces of the male adolescent fantasy it indulges in. Clive Owen is too much "the good bad guy", whereas Jason Statham is a bad ass, straight up.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Peter Sollett, 2008) (v) - Too much Hollywood coincidence and bullshit to work as a Richard Linklater-like look at a specific kind of adolescent trapped in a specific scene. But too sloppily put together to work as a "clever", teen romantic comedy (like 10 Things I Hate About You or some other enjoyable-enough product).

The Fast and the Furious (Rob Cohen, 2001) (v) (r) ** - Pales in comparison to genuine exploitation flicks, but refreshingly modest when compared to contemporary prestige/event action movies.

The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 2006) (v) ** - This reminds me a bit of tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow: the story itself is a bit dumb, but the real show comes from how the directors' choices and techniques draw attention to how storytelling - and specifically telling mystery stories - works.

The Ruins (Carter Smith, 2008) (v) * - Effective enough, with some good moments, but it never really brings the A-game and fails to do justice to the book (which is the best 1980s Stephen King-style novel since Stephen King was writing novels in the 1980s). My "gut feeling" is that because the book spends so much time on the "inner life" of the characters, the movie should have done just the opposite: approached the story completely from the outside, with as little hand-holding as possible. But that's just me.

Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009) ** - As Sean points out, this is not The Godfather of super-hero movies. It's more like an "adult" version of the Spider-Man movies and, probably not coincidentally, falls as far short of the Moore/Gibbons graphic novel as Raimi's Spider-Man movies fall short of the original Ditko/Lee and Lee/Romita runs on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Five Underappreciated Hollywood Filmmakers

1. Andre De Toth - Day of the Outlaw alone means he belongs in the company of Mann, Boetticher, and Peckinpah.

2. Joe Dante - It's criminal that he doesn't make more movies. He should be the guy directing Transformers.

3. Allan Dwan-Made great (or at least very, very good) movies in five consecutive decades. Plus - that filmography! 423 director credits!

4. Blake Edwards - Arguably the greatest living American popular filmmaker. Unfortunately, not the greatest working popular filmmaker.

5. Philip Kaufman - Still underrated! Invasion of the Body Snatchers is The Grand Illusion of sci-fi/horror flicks.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Status Update

I didn't see enough movies last month to justify posting a new screening log, so I'll post one in a few weeks that will cover March and April.

Instead of watching movies and blogging, I've been (a) playing role-playing games (lots of Dungeons & Dragons) and (b) watching various TV shows (some great ones, like The Wire (from the beginning for the third time) and Lost, avant-garde weirdness like Tim and Eric and the new Celebrity Apprentice, and stupid/enjoyable stuff like Krod Mandoon and Nitro Circus).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Sword and Planet Hack for Spirit of the Century

I'm starting to write up some house rules for my Spirit of the Century-derived, FATE-based Sword & Planet role-playing game scenarios.

Until I sat down to do this, I really didn't realize how hard writing good, clear rules can be. I salute the Evil Hat guys and beg forgiveness for the clumsiness that follows. This is a rough, rough draft - I've written it up quickly to get something out there. At this point, a lot of it will only make sense in the context of SotC and FATE.

Inspirational Fiction:

Flash Gordon - the Alex Raymond comic strip, 'natch - of course, but filtered through the kind of sensibility that Grant Morrison brings to his super-hero projects. Also: Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure stories.

Inspirational Games:

I started with Spirit of the Century but found that though it did what I wanted, it also did some other stuff that I didn't necessarily want and was getting in the way. Luckily, the genius of the guys at Evil Hat is that SotC and it's underlying FATE system are endlessly and easily tweakable. Abilities are a Sorcerer-inspired paring-down of Skills from SotC. Descriptors are also adapted from Sorcerer. The "Brutal" Conflict rules are taken from The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System's Bringing Down the Pain. "Primed Aspects" are from a Story Games thread started by Paul Tevis.



Part 1 - Characters:

There are two major (mechanical) pieces to characters creation.

(1) Setting Abilities
(2) Choosing Aspects

(1) Setting Abilities:

A Character has three Abilities - Body, Will, Skill. Set one at +3, one at +2, and one at +1.

(2) Choosing Aspects:

A Character has room for 10 Aspects, but will probably start play with 6 or 7, leaving the other slots available to be chosen during play. Here are the guidelines for choosing Aspects:

-choose 2 Aspects based on and/or related to the Character's cultural origins. For the purposes of Sword & Planet gaming, there are three Cultures: Earthling, Alien - Primitive, and Alien - Decadent. These Aspects can answer a question like "Where did I come from?"

-choose 2 Aspects based on and/or related to the Character's profession/job/etc. Answering questions like "What do I do?" and "How do I do it?"

-If you haven't already written an Aspect that does this: (a) write an Aspect that acts as a descriptor to your Body ability, (b) write an Aspect that acts as a descriptor to your Will ability, (c) write an Aspect that acts as a descriptor to your Skill ability.

-Fill in a few more Aspects so you have around 6 or 7. Leave a few blanks to be filled in during play.

Special Effects:

You can choose to give your character a Special Effect. This is optional. In general, characters should be assumed to be (more-or-less) human, with normal capabilities within the limits of their culture and profession. A Special Effect gives them access to additional powers and capabilities, but also acts as a narrative constraint. In practice, this means that while characters with a Special Effect can do something out of the ordinary, they are subject to be limited by circumstances. A Special Effect must be directly linked to an Aspect that deals with it.

In my game, here are some examples:

Some characters are Dragon Riders. This Special Effect means that they can ride on the dragon (taking advantage of its flying ability) and they can use the Dragon's breath weapon to attack foes from a distance. And Consequences caused by a dragon's attack are likely to be pretty severe!

However, this leads to some limitations: dragons are big, they can't always be with their riders. A rider apart from their dragon might susceptible to being Stuck with an Aspect like: "No confidence when alone".

Some characters are initiates into the alchemical secrets of various desert powders. This allows them to act on characters in a variety of ways: Sticking them with Aspects like "Drugged and dazed" or "In love with the next person she sees..." But the limitation is that it requires time to gather the materials and create these concoctions.



Part 2 - Aspects:

See here for the SotC overview.

If you Invoke/Tag you have to say how that looks in the fiction. As a corollary, you can only Invoke/Tag if doing so would make sense in the fiction.

Invoking - after a roll, spend a Fate point to Invoke one of your Aspects. Invoking allows you to re-roll or add a +2 to the final roll. Mark that you have used the Aspect.

Tagging - after a roll, spend a Fate point to Tag an Aspect that is not on your sheet (i.e. an NPC Aspect or a Setting/Scene Aspect). Tagging an Aspect allows you to re-roll or add a +2 to the final roll. Fate points spent on Tagging go into the Pot. If you are Tagging an Aspect on an NPC or the Setting/Scene mark that you have Tagged it. (You do not mark another PC's Aspect when tagging).

Primed Aspects (PCs only):

If you Invoke an Aspect three times in one session it is "Primed". At that point, you can no longer Invoke that Aspect (although it can still be Tagged by other characters). However, you can choose to Burn that Aspect if you desire. A Burn is like a super compel: you get three Fate points, but you have to change that Aspect into something else. The new Aspect starts with no marks (fully unprimed).

Invoking/Tagging Sequence:

Invokes/Tags are not declared until after the initial roll. At that point, the current loser gets to say whether or not they want to spend a Fate point to alter their roll. (In the case of ties, the character with the lower Ability in conflict goes first. If this ties, the character with the least number of Fate points goes). They can choose to re-roll or gain a +2 bonus. If they do so, they have to say which Aspect they are Invoking/Tagging and what that would look like. Once they commit, they can't take it back. The other player gets a chance to respond with an Invocation/Tag of their own. This goes back and forth until one player or the other gives up or runs out of Fate points. For a given character, all re-rolls have to come before any +2 bonuses. (I.e. once you choose to take your +2 you have to let your dice stand).

Sticking - Certain kinds of successes allow you to Stick a New Aspect on the Setting/Scene or a Character. Whenever you Stick an Aspect you get a free Tag on that Aspect. "Stuck" Aspects can be Fragile (they go away after that Free tag), Sticky (they stay around for you or anyone else to use until they go away because of shifting circumstances and/or the Scene ends, or Session (they stay for the rest of the Session).



Part 3 - Conflicts:

Simple Conflicts:

For the most, only roll dice when there is a conflict of interest between two characters.

Players should state their intent. (This is a Free and Clear phase).

The higher roll is the Winning roll.

Check for Invocation/Tags.

Determine the final outcome: High Roll - Low Roll = Effect.

Any Effect of 1 or more is a success (i.e. the winner gets their intent).

In addition:

An Effect of 1 allows you to Stick a Fragile Aspect on the immediate Setting/Scene.

An Effect of 2 allows you to Stick a Sticky Aspect on the immediate Setting/Scene.

An Effect of 3+ allows you to Stick a Session Aspect on the immediate Setting/Scene.

You can only Stick an Aspect on another character through a Brutal Conflict.

Linked Conflicts:

Sometimes a conflict will lead to a natural follow-up conflict. In this case, use the success of the first conflict to Stick a temporary Aspect somewhere. This Aspect, like any Stuck Aspect, is eligible for a free Tag. The narrational trick is to make this Stuck Aspect relate to the follow-up conflict.

Helping:

One character will make the roll. Use their ability. Other characters may help. They do this by spending Fate points to Invoke or Tag Aspects just like the acting character. They should decalre they are helping before the roll, but if they didn't roll their own dice in the current conflict and it makes sense that they could "jump in" partway through, they can decide to help at any point afterwards. (Any Invocation/Tagging for re-rolls must happen before any +2 bonuses are taken by the side).

Assessments:

An Assessment is a special kind of Conflict where you try to uncover the Hidden Aspects of an NPC or the Setting/Scene. Vs. an NPC this is usually a Will vs. Will roll, but Skill could be substituted depending on the circumstances (i.e., using a police interrogation technique). Vs. the Setting/Scene you will usually be rolling Skill vs. an unmodified roll. If you lose vs. the NPC, the NPC gains a Free Tag on one of your Aspects in any follow up conflict. If you lose vs. the Setting/Scene, you gain a Fragile Temporary Aspect relating to somehow misreading the lay of the land/mood of the crowd/etc.

Declarations:

A Declaration is a special kind of conflict where you can Stick a new fact onto the Setting/Scene. This is usually a Skill vs. an unmodified roll. The "color" of the Declaration (i.e. what it looks like in the fiction) should be based around an area of expertise that makes sense in terms of the character's concept. The level of the Stuck Aspect is based on the Effect earned in the roll. The PC gets a free Tag (just like with any other Stuck Aspect). If the PC loses, they receive a Fragile Consequence that doesn't count against their limit. A Declaration cannot change the backstory or a character's history: it has to be something that applies to the unfolding situation.

Brutal Conflicts:

If you want to take a named character out of the game or if you want to Stick an Aspect on a PC or NPC you need to do so through a Brutal Conflict.

Brutal Conflict works in rounds.

Free & Clear - determine who is opposing whom and whether actions are parallel or perpendicular.

If you are just defending you get a +2 bonus and get the possibility of generating Spin.

Parallel Success = deliver harm equal to your Success level

Perpendicular Success = deliver harm equal to the difference of Success levels

Harm above the max leads to Consequences. Consequences are a special kind of Stuck Aspect.

Maneuvers = instead of doing harm, Stick an Aspect to the Setting/Scene as per the normal conflict rules



Part 4 - Fate Point Economy:

PCs start with 10 fate Points.

VIP NPCs start with 5.

Major NPCs start with 3.

Minor NPCs start with 1.

When PCs or NPCs Invoke the Fate Point is simply spent.

When PCs get Tagged they take the Fate Point used in the Tag.

When PCs Tag NPCs or the Setting/Scene they put the Fate Point in the Pot.

The GM has an unlimited number of Fate Points to use for Compels.

The Pot:

After the game, look at the Fate Points in the Pot. The group spends these points to add Aspects permanently to the Setting/Scene and/or to NPCs.

A totally new Aspect costs 3 points.

Making a Sticky Aspect permanent costs 2 points.

Making a Session Aspect permanent costs 1 point.

Making an NPC Consequence permanent costs 3 points.

Promoting an NPC from Minor to Major costs 1 point.

Promoting an NPC from Major to VIP costs 2 points.


Part 5 - NPCs and Setting:

NPC Notes:

VIP NPCs are created more or less like PCs. Major NPCs have one Ability at +2 and another at +1. Minor NPCs have one ability at +1.

VIP NPCs should have 5 or 6 Aspects. 3 must be Open and the others should be Hidden. Think of the Open Aspects as part of their description when introducing the character. (Two of the three Open Aspects might map onto the NPC's Culture/Profession).

Major NPCs should have 3 or 4 Aspects. 2 Must be Open and the others can be Hidden.

Minor NPCs should have one or two Aspects, both in the Open.

Setting/Scene Notes:

Follow the same breakdown for Setting/Scenes - they are either VIP, Major, or Minor, with the same number of Aspects and the same breakdown of Open/Hidden.

Still needed: Character Sheets, NPC sheets, Setting/Scene sheets, better names for a lot of this stuff (i.e. Stuck Aspects, abilities), more info on Compels, more info on scene framing, etc., etc.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ten RPGs I'd Like to Be Playing...

I'm having lots of fun playing in some Old School D&D games and running a few sessions of Spirit of the Century (Flash Gordon-flavored), but here are a few more games I'd like to add to the rotation...

1. The Burning Wheel - One of my all-time favorites! I don't get to play it nearly enough as I'd like.

2. Sorcerer - Ditto!

3. Agon - I've wanted to play this for a while now - the competitive aspect is really appealing.

4. 3:16 - I feel guilty that I haven't played this yet.

5. Spione - Not really an RPG, but close enough for the purposes of this blog post. I haven't played this since it was actually published (and the playtest version I used has been changed significantly, I believe).

6. D&D: Carcosa - I'm not quite sure what I would do with this - probably try to run the introductory adventure in the new issue of Fight On!

7. In a Wicked Age - This looks very, very neat, and its quick start/no prep nature makes it more attractive an option than most of the other games on this list.

8. Some Jeepform stuff - This is probably the "least likely to be actually played" of all the entries on the list, but I'm really interested in giving this a try.

9. Dirty Secrets - I love, love, love crime fiction, and this game actually looks like it delivers.

10. D&D 4th Edition - I go back and forth on this: right now though it is very tempting!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Screening Log: February 2009

Coraline (3D) (Henry Selick, 2009) ** - Selick gets just the right Roald Dahl-like balance between whimsy and nastiness, while downplaying the weaker elements from Gaiman's material. (For me, that's mainly Gaiman's Stephen King-like tendency to use hand-wavey mubo-jumbo to get himself out of the corners he's written himself into.) I liked the design quite a bit, although I'm not sure that the 3D added anything integral to the movie.

The House Bunny (Fred Wolf, 2008) (v) ** - A great performance from Anna Faris, some good performances from the supporting cast, not too much time wasted on the idiotic perfunctory romantic comedy subplot.

Crank (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2006) (v) * - Effective and entertaining as a cheap, nasty, gonzo exploitation movie. But there's a line between ironic commentary on a cultural phenomenon (in this case Grand Theft Auto-style rampaging male adolescent id video games) and an example of that phenomenon made by people who feel they need to cover their asses/hedge their bets.

The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989) (v) (r) *** - Kind of like Titanic: big, dopey, and despite the (at the time) cutting edge effects, very old fashioned. Watched (almost) back-to-back with Aliens, I am more-and-more convinced that the seeds of post-"Golden Age" action filmmaking (Michael Bay and Peter Greengrass) are here in Cameron's movies.

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) (v) (r) *** - I'm not quite as impressed with this as I was when (a) I revisited Alien last year or (b) I've revisited other Camerons over the last few years. Lots of good stuff, of course, but a little bloated. As with T-2, there are scenes devoted to explicating the movie's themes that would have been better left out, because those themes - while powerful - aren't complex. Which is probably why I'd give John McTiernan's films from this period the edge: the themes there aren't necessarily any more complex, but they're worked out more fully within the boundaries of action/adventure.

Trafic (Jacques Tati, 1971) (v) (r) **** - It's not quite that self consciously artistic comic filmmaking is underrated in film buff circles as much as the necessary correction to the undervaluing of unselfconsciously artistic comic filmmaking that began several decades ago might have gone too far. Or (although this brings things close to the edge of meaninglessness) Keaton's gain in reputation often came at the expense of Chaplin's. But it's when watching a movie like Trafic that I become aware of what a self-conscious artist like Tati or Chaplin can do that someone like Keaton just really isn't interested in: provide along with a philosophical/temperamental take on the world and our place in it, an expansive and inclusive world view - a look at society, culture, etc. organized by a single, coherent sensibility.

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) (v) (r) **** - Two random observations. (1) So much of the movie's scariness/creepiness is tied up in how Kubrick uses music (see also: There Will Be Blood). (2) Heath Ledger's Joker was so different from Jack Nicholson's Joker that no one seemed to notice that Ledger's Joker was actually Nicholson's Jack Torrance.

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) (v) (r) *** - This was the Original Theatrical Cut. I used to prefer this cut because I thought the voice-over tied it in nicely to the noir tradition. But really, despite references to The Big Sleep and Sunset Boulevard, this isn't much of a "classic" noir. It's something else - and the voice-over really does just get in the way. And I have to say that the final moment of the 1992 director's cut (the only other version I've seen at this point) - the elevator slamming shut - is (just about) infinitely better than the tacked on B.S. we have here.

Big City (Frank Borzage, 1937) (v) ***

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Friday, February 6, 2009

Screening Log: January 2009

Screening Log

[Note: This is a new feature, inspired by similar things done here and here, but my version is much less ambitious (notes only when I feel like it, for example). Eventually, I'm going to set up a dedicated page for these (and my top ten lists), but for now a blog entry will have to do. The most recently watched movies are at the top. The star system is borrowed from the Chicago Reader (i.e. Jonathan Rosenbaum): anything that gets a star is recommended to one degree or another. Stuff without a star is not recommended. I'm more interested in differentiating between the very good and the great than between the mediocre and the horrible.]

January 2009

The Wackness (Jonathan Levine, 2008) (v) *

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008) ****

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Patricia Rozema, 2008) (v)

RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008) (v) * - It looks drab, there are some rough edges that get in the way of it feeling like a perfectly clockwork caper movie, Jeremy Piven phones in his performance, its gestures towards some kind of emotional resonance are overshadowed (for me) by In Bruges and The Bank Job, and it really bungles just about everything having to do with its single female character. But I still liked it: Mark Strong and Gerard Butler both give strong performances and Ritchie has an Elmore Leonard-esque flair for controlled chaos.

High and Dizzy (Hal Roach, 1920) (s) (v) *** - Harold Lloyd plays drunk for most of this movie.

Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, 2007) (v) *

Eye in the Sky (Nai-Hoi Yau, 2007) (v) **

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) (v) (r) *** - On home video, this lacks the intensity of the "IMAX Experience", but maybe because it isn't as overwhelming, the filmmaking seems tighter. A wash, in other words.

Baghead (The Duplass Bros., 2008) (v) **

The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald, 2007) (v) *

Stop-Loss (Kimberly Pierce, 2008) (v) - The underlying outrage - over why the soldiers are in Iraq in the first place and what they're doing there - never really comes into focus, so the surface outrage over the stop-loss order itself seems legalistic, the premise of an absurd, blackly comic joke that the movie is too earnest to tell.

The Unborn (David S. Goyer, 2009) - Doesn't survive the move from effective generalized creepiness to cliched specifities. Not everything needs to be explained. Especially the stuff that doesn't make any sense to begin with.

Street Kings (David Ayer, 2008) (v) ** - No surprises in this One Good Bad Cop movie: at this point I'm not even sure if any of the filmmakers even expect us to be surprised, despite the nominal twists. Still: good performances (esp. from the underrated Keanue Reeves and Chris Evans) and witty action editing.

Cleaner (Renny Harlin, 2007) (v) *

A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2007) (v) **** - After one viewing felt like I had taken a bite out of this meaty, sprawling family drama-comedy, but was already looking forward to going back for the leftovers. In other words: part of what I liked about it is that I don't have the sense that I figured it all out or connected all the dots - there's still more to go back for.

Ballast (Lance Hammer, 2008) (v) ***

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) (v) ***

Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot, 2007) (v) ***

The Witnesses (v) (Andre Techine, 2007) **

Wendy and Lucy (v) (Kelly Reichardt, 2008) **

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008) (v) - Kind of like the anti-Naked.

Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008) (v) * - McKay - a multiplex surrealist - is my favorite of Ferrell's collaborators, but the appealing ludicrousness of the first hour mostly evaporates after the obligatory aspirational storyline kicks in. Although the Billy Joel bit near the end is pretty great.

Cadillac Records (Darnell Martin, 2008) (v)

Traitor (Jeffrey Nachmanoff, 2008) (v)

I've Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel, 2008) (v)

Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008) (v) - Not necessarily terrible, but depressing in the way it plugs the Mel Brooks/Buck Henry concepts into a standard 2000s action/comedy, with a mostly-played-straight aspirational character arc and romantic interest for our hero.

Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008) (v) *

Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008) (v) *** - 10 years ago I thought that someone could make the perfect Batman movie by putting Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and turning it into a Clint Eastwood vehicle. Alas, those ships have sailed, but this will do just fine.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (Chris Carter, 2008) (v) * - Professionally done mystery movie: major gripe against it (with which I agree) is that nothing in it seems to demand the theatrical feature treatment.

Key:

(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Monday, January 26, 2009

Links: In the Shadow of the Seventies

Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay on the ideology behind The Godfather movies is provocative, interesting, and short (so you have no excuse not to go read it right now) (link via The House Next Door). Here are some of my thoughts from back when I last watched these movies.

I think Zach Campbell's riff on Rocky and Rocky II makes some excellent points about the absence of working class sensibilities in contempo Hollywood movies. (His follow up post is also worth a look). (The Wrestler makes interesting "art" movie stabs at bringing this to the screen, but a lot of that movie feels like it's putting quotation marks around Rocky.)

And I always like reading through the digression-filled discussions in Dave Kehr's comments section. This one, from a few weeks ago, starts with a proposal that we can look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as a Hatari/Donovan's Reef-like "late" movie. Lots of good point made, although the back-and-forth gets a little nasty in places: the main Spielberg defender seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulders. Towards the end, Blake Lucas writes:

Do you really feel [Spielberg] should in some way be exempt from any critical challenge? No one else is you know. And I don't think they should be–and I'm referring even to my own favorites among all directors. The people who love them should always feel it is on them to defend them and their works. It should never just be a given–he or she is great and we shouldn't question it.

Somehow, in the new Hollywood, Steven Spielberg actually has this cachet, maybe not on this list but with most people who just take it as an article of faith that this is a great director.

Yet the complaints we have are real. He never wants us to forget that he is the director, and that he possesses directorial virtuosity. The quieter scenes that good directors (and great directors especially) give so much skill and subtlety to between the set pieces of theirs that play in anthologies and tributes (Minnelli is a great example, but in fact Hitchcock is as well) are scenes that always seem to try his patience, as if somehow in the way of the game he wants always to be seen as playing and winning. Please don't doubt the sincerity of those of us who are actively annoyed at this and the attitude and sensibility that do seem to underlie it, and the truly damaging effect some of us believe this has had on Hollywood filmmaking.

I don't go negative on Spielberg to rain on anyone's parade. I do actively dislike him, and I'm someone who likes so many directors and wouldn't for a moment claim they are all great. Most of the films I've enjoyed in my life are probably more easily defended as entertainment than great art, whatever artistic qualities they do have–and I'm not talking about someone like John Ford, who even when most out of fashion, was probably perceived as an artist by most people who had given any thought at all to cinema.

Again, what's ironic is that Spielberg fans act so wounded when he's criticized, but has there ever been anyone less affected in the wider consciousness by the perceptions of those who don't embrace him. He just goes on and on, seemingly immune to the deeper critical perspectives about his work which at least ought to be seriously addressed.


I agree with the general points he makes here - although not on the specifics: I'm a Spielberg fan. However, I do have to say that 10 years ago, I was laughed at (literally and on multiple occasions) when I'd try to talk with other cinema studies folks/film buffs about Spielberg's work in a serious fashion. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Spielberg defenders on that thread had found themselves in similar situations and were reacting partly to an attitude towards Spielberg that doesn't seem to exist anymore (and certainly doesn't exist on that thread: the people "going negative" on Spielberg are all taking him fairly seriously). I think a lot of conversations on the internet are fouled up because one or more of the parties involved is acting from assumptions formed in completely different contexts. I've been reading a film buff message board where there are a lot of "So and So Is Overrated" or "So and So Is Underrated" threads and I often get the sense that the people starting them are reacting to some specific context that they're not spelling out.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Links: Slumming

Jim Emerson hate-hate-hated Slumdog Millionaire. I enjoyed watching it, but had a number of reservations - like how it hits that yucky "sweet" spot between wallowing in misery and providing feel-good uplift - which have grown over the past few weeks. But here's how honest backlash works: my reservations aren't growing simply because the movie is winning awards and being praised all out of proportion to its actual (modest) merits, but it is because the movie has been winning awards and getting praise from all over the place that I've kept thinking about it. I liked Zack and Miri Make a Porno and My Brother Is an Only Child about as much as I liked Slumdog Millionaire, but those movies haven't collapsed under any great claims made for them. I saw them, I enjoyed them, I mostly forgot about them*. If I spent twenty minutes thinking about their problems, I might start liking them a lot less than I did when I left the theater right after seeing them, which is essentially what has happened to me with Slumdog. (I mean, without even getting into the movies that I really liked from last year, there are about twenty that I saw that are better than Slumdog**.)

I also liked Steve Sailer's suggestion that Slumdog would have been better if it hadn't been edited in such an "on the nose" manner. Steve proposes a cut of the movie where we see all of the questions in rapid succession at the start of the film and then, instead of cutting back-and-forth between the game show and Jamal's story, we just see the story and have to try to find the answers in there ourselves. A little more interactivity definitely would not have hurt.

And while I (obviously) don't agree with everything Ross Douthat writes here, I do agree that the Academy Awards would be a lot better if the voters weren't so "risk averse". I don't think The Dark Knight was the best picture of the year and I don't think it should get a slot just because it made so much money, but still... It's a very strong (if flawed) movie that resonated with audiences and critics and it would have been exciting to see that kind of movie go up against the more usual kinds of Oscar fare like Slumdog Millionaire. (Also: they should have given Clint Eastwood an acting nomination and Danny McBride a supporting actor nomination for Pineapple Express.)

(I should also note that after seeing and being relatively underwhelmed by Slumdog Millionaire my brothers accuses me of not really liking it only because it was popular and critically acclaimed. In my defense, I pointed out that among my favorite movies of the year were Wall-E, The Dark Knight, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona - hardly minority tastes. While it's true that I go out of my way to defend movies when I feel the fix was in on them - as with Speed Racer and The Happening - I never let other people's enthusiasm for a movie get in the way of my appreciation for it.)

*I've remembered a couple of performances, especially Elio Germano's in Brother.

**Wendy and Lucy, Baghead, The Tracey Fragments, Iron Man, Tell No One, Mad Detective, Be Kind Rewind, The Visitor, Changeling, Pineapple Express, Man on Wire, Reprise, It's a Free World..., Punisher: War Zone, Diary of the Dead, Leatherheads, Ghost Town, Charlie Bartlett, Sukiyaki Western Django and Definitely, Maybe.

Mechanism vs. Art

I really like what Dan Sallitt says here in his piece on a "Late Hawks" series:

Film critics... tend to favor the paradigm of filmmakers hitting their artistic peak in early or mid-career, and thereafter laboring in vain to capture the flair of their youth. It's a natural attitude for the reviewer on the beat, deluged with mediocre contemporary product and doomed to wistful fantasy about golden ages. Implicit in the myth of decline is a vision of movies as mechanisms: uncanny objects that somehow "work" or not because of the confluence of ineffable forces. And the late films of many directors seemed often not to "work."

Auteur critics set out to substitute for the mechanism model an artist-oriented aesthetic that was borrowed from older art forms that had clearer claims to being the expression of individuals. Instead of working or not working, movies partook of the creative personality of their directors, and a valuable personality almost inevitably imparted value to individual works. Part of the auteurist agenda was to find a new mythology for the late periods of directors: where most critics saw the pitiable flailings of age, auteurists often saw the mature work of artists who had become too serene and wise for their public to keep up with. The paradigm of the early peak is still pervasive, and if auteurists courted ridicule by playing the "late period" card too freely, they often enough succeeded in installing late works in the canon.


I don't think you need to fully embrace auteurism to appreciate that the "work"/"doesn't work" model of looking at movies (or arts & culture stuff in general) is extremely limiting.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Links: Directors/Choices

There's an interesting discussion on the religious/Christian elements of auteurism in the comments to Dave Kehr's post on (appropriately enough) the new Magnificent Obsession Criterion set. For what it's worth, the less I approach auteurism as a religion, the more comfortable I am as an auteurist. To use Kent Jones' words, I find it to be "a fairly simple but useful way of looking at movies". (Which might mean that from a hard core auteurist's perspective that I don't really have what it takes!) But the question of faith vs. evidence is interesting. For me, evidence comes first, but faith plays a part. I mean: it's the greatness of Wagon Master and Going My Way (evidence) that makes me willing to jump into the deep end with Donovan's Reef and Satan Never Sleeps (faith).

There's also some back-and-forth over what "Sirkian" means. One of the issues that commenters seem to be skirting around is that the renewed interest in Sirk is partly due to a convergence of auteurist interests with camp aficionado interests. While the auteurist impulse is to take in the whole body of work and find the underlying connections, the camp aficionado focuses on the most extreme expressions of Sirk's aesthetic.

Via Tom Spurgeon, some outrage over the casting of M. Night Shyamalan's live-action Avatar adaptation. I'm a little surprised that these casting decisions were so boneheaded. I wonder if the commercial failure of Lady in the Water - which had a Utopian multi-cult vibe - made M. Night shy away from fighting for a more diverse cast. Also, I'm not very familiar with Avatar - I've half-watched an episode or two and have always meant to go through the DVDs at some point - but it does not strike me as material that is particular suited to Shyamalan's sensibilities/strengths*. A fun game: (1) Name an adaptation where a seemingly bad director/material pairing made for a good movie. (2) Name an adaptation where a seemingly good director/material pairing made for a bad movie. A bit depressing that question (2) is probably a lot easier to answer than question (1).

Via Richard Modiano at a_film_by: I liked this interview with Bertrand Tavernier. FWIW, I agree with him about John Ford, not so much about George Lucas. I had seen a few Tavernier movies over the years, but none made an impact until Safe Conduct, which I watched on DVD last year. I really loved it and am now looking forward to catching up with the rest of his movies.

And, if you haven't already, be sure to check back through all the posts that came out of Ed Howard's "Early Hawks Blog-a-Thon" which wrapped up yesterday. Lots of interesting posts, but I especially liked Glenn Kenny's on Walter Brennan's proto-Stumpy performances.

*Which I say as a huge Shyamalan fan.