They Shoot Pictures #424 – THE LONG GOODBYE (1973) dir. Robert Altman

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“It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.” – Edgar Allan Poe

As meandering and bumbling as its chain-smoking protagonist, Robert Altman’s transplanted neo-noir adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s sixth novel chronicling the investigative exploits of Philip Marlowe serves up ample helpings of period style, palpable mood, and odd humor, but can’t help coming out a little light on substance. Clearly a notable influence on more recent exercises in the genre, primarily the LA set THE BIG LEBOWSKI, INHERENT VICE, and twin Shane Black films KISS KISS BANG BANG and last year’s THE NICE GUYS, it entertains with focus on character, setting, and absurdity of circumstance leaving the plot to amble along, checking in when necessary, less preoccupied with solving the crime than with the strange journey that entails. And while Altman’s attempts here are noble and quite fascinating, THE LONG GOODBYE can’t help but feel like it stops just short of being truly satisfying.

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Watchlist – A Handful of Miyazaki: SPIRITED AWAY (2001), CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986), NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984)

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Hailed by the late, great film critic Roger Ebert as perhaps the greatest animated filmmaker in film history, Japanese writer, director, producer, and animator Hayao Miyazaki has brought forth some of the most imaginative, astounding, and fantastical worlds and creatures to ever grace the screen. A pioneer and re-inventor of the art form during the course of his over forty years in animation, he announced his retirement back in 2013, but recently revealed his return for a feature film project that has been twenty years in the making, apparently to be released in 2019. It’s not surprising that his artistry was recognized with an Honorary Academy Award in 2014, only the second Japanese filmmaker to receive the recognition after the legendary Akira Kurosawa. His magic has captured the imaginations of people worldwide, children and adults alike. At a young age, an old VHS copy of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO was my introduction to his wondrous mind, one that inspired many repeated viewings over the years. Still, it has taken much longer for me to dive completely into the breadth of his filmography, only discovering some of his finest works now in adulthood. Thanks to a generous loan from a friend, I was able to finally watch two of his notable early works and one that may be his most widely beloved.

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Unexpected Oddities – RIVER’S EDGE (1986), dir. Tim Hunter

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“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.” – Helen Keller

A camera pans across the lifeless body of a young woman, stripped naked, lying in the grass beside the river, and rests on a hauntingly vacant look in her eyes. It’s a chilling, unsettling, and frightening image returned to frequently throughout Tim Hunter’s film partially inspired by real events that occurred  in California in 1981. Most disturbing, however, are the reactions of those who stand by, friends of the guy who murdered her and brought them out to the river to showcase the graphic results of his actions. Their silence at the sight is deafening, and they all walk away, leaving her cold corpse as it was before, unwilling to report the crime but content to move forward with their lives. Only one lingers behind, not to turn in his friend, but to help cover up his crime. Faced with such horrors, how can one respond with such indifference, with no sadness, empathy, or even repulsion or terror? How is that in real life a murder a young man bragged about, going as far as showing the dead body to at least thirteen individuals, went unreported for two days? RIVER’S EDGE paints a dark and twisted picture of these circumstances and a small town oblivious to its own self-destruction, making for a strange, disquieting, and riveting portrait.

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They Shoot Pictures #29 – ZERKALO, or THE MIRROR (1975), dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

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“I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

What is a filmmaker’s relationship to time? Within the span of a few hours they can explore everything from the history of the universe to the fleeting brevity of a moment. They may allow events to unfold in a linear fashion, straightforward, even in realistic time, or they may alter them, warp them, jump them, chop them up and re-arrange them. Time is a malleable tool in their hands, one with limitless possibilities that can be immediately present, stunningly transportive, or even both. In his 1975 masterpiece, Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky has created a powerful exploration of this relationship, a film that baffles and challenges the mind and arrests the eye. A reflection on the history of his homeland, the lives of his parents and ancestors, and our connection to our past, ZERKALO is at once enigmatic, personal, and quietly captivating. Still rich with mystery even today, it sheds a fascinating light on Tarkovsky himself and his understanding of the nature of the human experience.

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2017 – FREE FIRE, dir. Ben Wheatley

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“I’m trying to make order out of chaos, trying to find some way of rationalising the horrific things that people do or the way the world is.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Starting with palpable fizzle and concluding with some delightful bangs, Ben Wheatley’s warehouse shootout flick is an unapologetic exercise in pure genre thrills and nothing more. There’s much fun to be had, thanks to kooky characters and plenty of game actors, quips flying as rapidly as the bullets, but the majority of the film feels like the equivalent of firing a whole clip into the air like Nick Frost’s POINT BREAK imitation in HOT FUZZ: it looks cool but none of the shots hit any target, the entire magazine emptied into nothingness. Wheatley has constructed something that wears its influences on its bloodied and torn sleeves, but where Tarantino understood the value of the buildup to a massacre carrying more storytelling weight than the cacophony of gunfire itself in RESERVOIR DOGS, or even the more recent THE HATEFUL EIGHT, here the firearms come out on quick draw, barely allowing us a chance to establish the circumstances or the environment. Thus, the proceedings quickly blend together for much of the run time, muddled and monotonous before finally settling into some gruesome and darkly comedic late game antics that feel welcome if not a little too late. 

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The Re-watch – THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988), dir. Martin Scorsese

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(The Re-watch is a series of posts dedicated to revisiting previously viewed films and analyzing the ways they change, alter and sometimes grow upon repeated viewings and further reflection)


“The dual substance of Christ – the yearning, so human, so superhuman, of man to attain God… has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. My principle anguish and source of all my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh… And my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met.” – Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

So reads the opening crawl of Martin Scorsese’s controversial film adaptation of Kazantzakis’ novel, a complex and challenging depiction of humanity’s relationship to the divine, and one that drew mass outrage, contempt, and ire upon its initial release. It’s a testament to the power and strength of cinema that we are able to experience it almost thirty years later, its bravery and daring untouched by the wrathful storm of those few who sought to literally erase it, calling loudly for its destruction without opening themselves to understanding its message and immense feeling. There’s a mirror to that, a reflection that echoes back through time, almost lending a greater weight to its story and subject, its history as telling of human nature as the film’s narrative itself.

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The Binge – Spring Television: THE YOUNG POPE, TABOO, LEGION, BIG LITTLE LIES

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(The Binge is a series of posts designed to reflect and review television seasons, or miniseries, as a whole, highlighting the qualities of this current state of peak television)

Once I’ve finally made my way through all of the films from a previous year that I’ve been meaning to see, I always begin to feel a little burnt out on film narratives for a while. Thankfully, the early months of the year are typically packed with unique and daring television as cinematic approaches to material become more and more accessible to us from the comfort of our own homes on a weekly episodic basis. The small screen has been blown larger than ever before, as all networks, platforms, and streaming services seem more than willing to indulge visionary contemporary showrunners in some of their best, and sometimes worst, creative impulses. Two particular networks, HBO and FX, are among the current leaders in compelling narratives and superior craftsmanship, and both provided some worthy additions to my weeknight viewing these past few months.  Continue reading

2016 in Review – Video Tribute, The Playlist

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So, we’ve reached the conclusion of my coverage of the films of 2016, almost four months past relevancy, but I’m proud to have completed something. To cap everything off and send it out on a high-note, I’ve finally finished something else I thought I’d give a try. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been assembling a video tribute/countdown to act as an accompanying piece to the blog entries, or, if you don’t feel like reading, perhaps it can act as a substitute. For those of you who are regular readers, you know I can get somewhat long-winded and verbose, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this video turned out to be twice as long as originally intended. That being said, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to create by cutting together soundtrack choices and footage from trailers, so I hope you’ll give it a watch. I’ve attempted to use rhythmic editing and specific music pairings to create a small story that ideally gives you a one-minute feeling of the whole. If anything, hopefully it might inspire you to re-watch some, or even take a chance on one you haven’t seen. Please enjoy:

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2016 in Review – The Top Films, 5-1

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And so we have arrived at the final five, the last installment in the countdown of my personal top 25 theatrical releases in 2016. Stunning achievements in filmmaking, storytelling, and emotional impact, they all instantly shot to the top of the list upon first viewing, and all continue to live on vividly in my mind, opening further upon reflection. One was an eagerly awaited critical darling whose distribution delayed its release for over a year, and another’s journey to the screen has been twenty-five years in the making, but both were worth the wait. Two characters experiencing great loss, and two stories paint inventive and honest portraits of grief, both aching and touching. And then there’s the crowning creation, a film crafted like music, one that tells a new story, an untold story, and one that hopefully paves the way for more. Here they are, my top 5 of 2016:

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2016 in Review – The Top Films: 10-6

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It’s the second to last installment in the countdown, and we’re coming ever closer to revealing my favorite film of 2016. But for now, here’s the next 5. All late year releases that premiered to early critical acclaim at Cannes and Venice, the wait for them seemed at times unbearable, but the results were so gratifying. One of them became the early favorite for most controversial, only to see another one of these claim that title once the target formed on its back. Two different cinematic poems, one in striking genre and another in subtle everyday, and a cross-country trek for the senses that moves at the speed of life round out the remainder of this entry. Here they are, 10-6:

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