#Calgaryfilm Correspondent Film Review: The House That Jack Built

matt-dillon-the-house-that-jack-built-lars-von-trierLars Von Trier is a sadist, and I’m sure he would agree with me on that point. He is probably the leading provocateur in cinema today. He can manipulate his audience by going from one extreme to the next without hesitation, at one point you could be laughing, while soon after you could be turning away in disgust. “The House That Jack Built” is Von Trier’s latest attempt at provocation, but it is such a thinly veiled exercise in artistic self-reflection, I was turned off by its ego and lack of empathy.

The lack of empathy might be expected in the film, seeing how it’s about a serial killer. Jack(Matt Dillon) is the titular character going about murdering different people in different circumstances. At the beginning of the film he’s quite a compelling character even amusing. Von Trier lets us identify with Jack much like Hitchcock did with Norman Bates in “Psycho”, he comes off as rather sympathetic.

The film is broken up into five sections or as Jack puts it “Five incidents”, each one depicting one of his murders and the idea behind them. The first couple of incidents are rather abrupt, and Von Trier adds elements of dark humour and tension within them. By the time we get to the third incident, there is a switch to the nasty and depraved as we watch Jack toying with a woman and her two children before he sadistically does away with them. Things get even more unsavory from there.

There is a sub plot involving Jack trying to build a house. He’s usually able to get a skeleton of a house completed, before he realizes it’s not what he wants and he has to start all over again. There is also a constant voice over in dialogue happening throughout the film between Jack and a mysterious man known as Verge (Bruno Ganz). Jack explains to Verge his methods and how he sees his victims as works of art, and the men sometimes have debates as to what makes great art. Jack seems to find the beauty in the decay and death of humanity, and Von Trier emphasizes this point by juxtaposing it with images of the great monsters of history like Hitler or Mussolini showing their atrocities as works of art. It’s hard not to see this and not think back to the 2011 Cannes film festival where Von Trier made the tasteless joke of saying he sympathized with Hitler. Sometimes I felt this whole film was just him trying to explain what he meant by that comment.

It became abundantly clear that the character of Jack is a bit of a conduit to explain Von Trier’s cinema to us. Jack’s atrocities are like Von Trier’s aesthetic, shocking, violent and dehumanizing. Jack can’t finish his house because he can’t work with the conventional tools, his home is a world of rotting corpses which he can mold into whatever he wants, for him that’s where he finds his art. Von Trier is kind of doing the same thing with his films, he even makes it even blatantly clear when he inserts scenes from his own earlier films into this one as Jack is talking about his love for the grotesque and decay of the world. There is a sense that he’s aware of his misdeeds, but he’s careful not to condemn them. If anything he might show a need to move past these ideas as might be hinted in the film’s final moments and the cheeky use of the song “Hit the Road Jack” in the end credits.

The problem of this self-awareness is it lacks any real insight, Von Trier rejects any change, he would rather wallow in human misery. Take his treatment towards women in the film. At one point Verge calls out Jack that his murders tend to favor women and they are depicted as ignorant and stupid. Jack states that women are easier to manipulate and fool even though he says he murders men equally. This seemed to me the meanderings of an unapologetic misogynist and narcissist. Coming from the mouth of a serial killer, it could be taken in context of the character, but by this time it’s so obvious Jack is Von Trier’s mouthpiece, it feels more like a clear confession by the director on his own thoughts on women.

“The House That Jack Built” has few redeeming qualities save for a brilliant performance by Matt Dillon,  who, had he been given a real character to work with and not variations of the Von Trier psyche, one wonders what he could’ve done with it. Looking back at the film, I am reminded of some of the great depictions of serial killers of past films such as Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, and Patrick Bateman, all of whom were more interesting that Jack. The difference being they were real characters and not manifestations of the male ego of its creator.

It might be speculative of me to insert Von Trier in the role of Jack, perhaps too much so. He is after all an artist who can take liberties, but there is such an apparent knowing, and audience winking in this film I feel the idea of a meta commentary isn’t so far-fetched. Von Trier is celebrating himself in every frame, it’s not about Jack, or the people he butchers, it’s about him. Everyone in the film is just a product of his own narcissism and ego that he has created. It’s his rules, his world, and we are meant to suffer with him. I wasn’t going to play his game, I suffered, but it was the same kind of suffering I felt from watching a speech by Donald Trump or one of his minions going on about how great he is. It’s an inflated male ego steering the boat, and we are meant to recognize his greatness and complexities, give me a break.

This will probably be the last film by  Von Trier I see, unless I get a real film critic job some day and I’m actually paid to go see one. I don’t find what he says to be all that profound, he is disappointed in the world and he wallows in its decay. If that’s what he wants to do, he certainly has that right, I also have the right to not be impressed and raise myself up from his depravity. I hope some day he’s able to do the same.

Half a star out of 4

There will be an encore presentation of “The House That Jack Built” on Saturday Sept. 29th at 10:15pm at the Globe Cinema.

 

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#Calgaryfilm Correspondence Film Review: Climax

climaxIn Gaspar Noe’s “Climax”, there isn’t much difference between dancing and sex, or life and death for that matter. This is a film about living to the extreme in order to feel alive, and finding that extreme in any way possible whether it’s through dancing, sex, drugs, violence or a combination of all of these. It explores letting go of one’s inhibitions, and finding freedom in that moment, but is also asks if that’s a good thing. Can that sort of freedom come at a price?

“Climax” opens with a series of video interviews on what looks like an 80s throwback television and VCR as we are introduced to the principle cast of the film. They are all sexually promiscuous, multicultural dancers who seem to be auditioning for a dance troupe with a chance to tour America. In the interviews some of them open up about their feelings towards dance, and at times they talk about their sexual preferences holding nothing back.

We now cut to a rehearsal hall, with vibrant colors which for a moment reminded me of an MGM Technicolor musical from the 50s. The camera pans down to the same people in the video as they begin a choreographed dance number that is beautifully realized. The number is energetic and violent accompanied by pulsating beats which blare throughout the rest of the film. The dancers move like living pieces of art contorting their bodies in ways one might find difficult to think possible. It’s an aggressive number, but you get the sense this is what these people live for, even how they live.

Afterwards things slow down, as the camera (which at this point has moved seamlessly through the dance number without a single cut) weaves in and out like a voyeur listening in on everyone as the party begins to start. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves as they taste up the sangria which was prepared by the group’s dance leader Emmanuel (Romain Guilermic). We then settle in to some individual character scenes as Noe cuts back and forth between mostly two-hander conversations within the group. Here they talk and flirt with each other, with sex mostly the main topic of conversation. Everyone is pretty much all bi-curious so one could imagine anyone being fair game in the coupling up department. We do get the hint that a few people in the group have some violent tendencies which may be a precursor of things to come.

It’s about at the 45 minute mark when the gears begin to shift into an entirely different film.  It is revealed someone has spiked the sangria with some LSD and that’s when the small character moments are taken over by a psychedelic drug trip. There will be blood and not everyone will be spared, violence turns to depravity, which turns into tragedy, which then turns into torture and self-mutilation. Even some incest is thrown in as everyone is devolving into a more animalistic behavior. Everything is thrown in but the kitchen sink as the saying goes, however there is a bathroom sink, which someone uses when their hair catches fire.

Noe’s steadicam is unrelenting following the characters through their own versions of hell. Some of them might find solace in sex, while others will find pain in their own actions. There is shock value in this film, a woman who reveals she is pregnant is kicked in the stomach, while a small child gets locked in an electrical room which doesn’t end well. I mention these less as spoilers but more as warnings, this film wants to provoke you, at times its effective, but other times clumsy.

There’s quite a bit of lingering in the film, sometimes it’s with a scene, or a shot, or a certain sequence. I believe it’s Noe’s way of rubbing our noses in his excess, he wants us to look away, he wants to keep the camera on what makes us squirm for an uncomfortable amount of time. As I sat there in my seat,  I couldn’t help but think sometimes Noe looks to be in love with his own style. It’s as if he is so impressed with himself, he can’t help but keep the camera on his own magnificence. Noe has done so many of these films, I feel at this moment he is just feeding his own ego.

Still there is a good reason to fall in love with his style. In the moments the film works, we can tell we are in the hands of a master filmmaker and provocateur. There are so many wonderful fluid moments with the camera which are coupled with a dense sound scape, and highly expressive lighting they bring a boisterous cinematic quality to the proceedings. Then there are the performers who flow through the film as if their dancing never stopped. The standout for me was Sofia Boutella who plays the group’s choreographer. She gives a very unorthodox performance, but she is an actress so aware of her body, she moves as if she is floating through space or on a different plain. If the main purpose in film is to capture motion in real-time then Bouttella and her ensemble create little masterpieces of movement with their bodies which I would say are most compelling parts in this otherwise frenzied film. Had this been an all out musical like the opening number was setting it up to be, this could have been one of the best films of the year.

There is so much to admire with “Climax”, I wish it fully worked for me, but it becomes too repetitive and lost in its own excess. Still I am recommending it for the moments I mentioned above. It’s tempting to live a life in the mind of these dancers, where movement seems to possess us and take us out of our bodies unaware of our inhibitions. But “Climax” shows us that sort of freedom can cause chaos in our wake. However it might be in that chaos we can truly be alive. Do we stop dancing, or keep going till the music stops? Approach life and this film at your own risk.

3 stars out of 4

 

Calgary Film Correspondence #1: Opening Gala

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Calgary’s best, and brightest came out to shine last night to inaugurate the 19th annual Calgary Film Festival at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. The red carpet was laid out to welcome some local celebrities, political dignitaries, and  key figures who helped bring the festival together. The film chosen to open the festivities was the acclaimed western “The Sisters Brothers”, adapted from the novel of the same name by Canadian author Patrick DeWitt. The film is the English language debut by Cannes Palm D’Ore winning director Jacques Audiard (“Dheepan”)  and stars John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jake Gyllenhaal.  While it did receive its Canadian premier a few weeks ago at TIFF, this was the first time it was shown in Alberta.

Among the honored guests walking the red carpet of the evening were Calgary’s district legislative member of Assembly Sandra Jansen, two of the festivals key programmers Brenda Lieberman and Brennan Tilly, as well as Loose Moose alumni Andrew Phung who currently stars on the hit CBC sitcom “Kim’s convenience”. Other attendees included artists and filmmakers who worked on some of the films that will make their debut at the festival. The director Gillian McKercher appeared with her cast of the film “Circle of Steel” , a satire about life in the oil and gas industry. There was also representation of the short film “Painkillers” with director Matt Embry and producer Holly Dupej. Producer Paul Zimic was also on hand in support of his film, the documentary “The Woman who Loves Giraffes”.

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The night was glamorous with the lobby of The Jack Singer Concert Hall decked out in wonderful decorum and everyone in their best dressed to celebrate #Calgaryfilm. For the next 12 days, Calgary will be the epicenter for the best in films around the world. Regular festival showings will begin tonight with four features debuting at The Globe theatre, including the Andrew Garfield vehicle “Under the Silver Lake” and the genre busting horror/comedy “Assassination Nation”. Showtimes and tickets are available at calgaryfilm.com. Special events are scheduled throughout the festival’s run as well. There is definitely plenty to soak up for any film lover in Calgary.

Calgary International Film Festival 2018: Preview

Calgary-film_logo_red-01_0I have been given Media Accreditation to cover the Calgary Film Festival for this Site. Be sure to tune in for all the latest news and reviews coming from the Festival starting  Wednesday September 19th. For now, here is a sneak peak at what to expect.

The 19th Annual Calgary International Film Festival is about to hit the city this week with twelve days of films from around the world.  The festival will kick off with the Gala opening  of “The Sisters Brothers”, an acclaimed western based on the bestselling novel of the same name starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly. The Gala will take place at the Jack Singer Concert Hall with the screening happening at 7:30pm

For the rest of the festival run, attendees will be privy to a wide selection of films from across the Globe, many of which had showings in prior prestigious festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto. Among some of the more buzzed about titles include the controversial “The House that Jack Built” (A late entry), directed by Lars Von Trier and starring Matt Dillon, the recent Cannes Best Director film “Cold War” from Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, as well as the same festival’s best Screenplay winner “3 Faces” from Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi.

Along with the International films in the line-up, there are many titles featuring big Hollywood names such as Keira Knightley (“Colette”), Chloe Grace Moretz (“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”), and Andrew Garfield (“Under the Silver Lake”) to name a few.

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The festival will also highlight their usual wide array of short film packages and host many special events throughout the week and a half of festivities. One of the most anticipated has to be “In Conversation With: Leonard Maltin and Jesse Maltin”. The legendary film critic will be in town with his daughter Jesse to discuss the roll of the film critic in the age of the Internet with sites like “Rotten Tomatoes” becoming more prominent in the world of film criticism.

The main festival venues will be at Eau Claire Market (200 Barclay Parade SW) and The Globe (617 8th Ave SW)

Tickets for films are $15 for Adults and $13 for students and seniors including GST. However tickets for the Opening Night Gala range from $27-$78.

Many of the special events including the Leonard and Jesse Maltin conversation are free with an RSVP.

For more information you can go to calgaryfilm.com

Be sure to stay tuned to Pillow Shots throughout the festival on updates and film reviews. I will also be posting news and events on other social media platforms. You can follow me on:

Twitter at jeremytwocities

And on INSTAGRAM at @jeremytwocities

 

The Naked Spur

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“The Naked Spur” is all about flawed people. It’s about people who have made mistakes in their life, or maybe have had a run of bad luck. It’s about people who are bitter at the world, and who have been burned too often to trust anyone else. It’s about redemption, but it’s the kind of redemption that only comes once blood has been spilled. By the end of the film, there’s hope, but there’s a tinge of sadness that carries over its hero, leaving to question if he’ll ever be happy.

We begin with Howard Kemp (Jimmy Stewart), a bounty hunter, trailing a killer named Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) for a reward of $5000. Kemp wants the money for himself to buy back his land which was lost to him by an unfaithful woman who left him for another man. The experience left Kemp a bitter and broken-hearted man. But it’s not going to be as cut and dry as he had hoped for. In order to apprehend Ben, Kemp will have to enlist the unwanted help of two other men. They are an elderly gold prospector named Jesse (Millard Mitchell) and a disgraced calvary officer named Roy (Ralph Meeker). What follows is an uneasy alliance, where the  men say they’ll split the reward money three ways, but as is usual in a case such as this, why split it three ways when one person could take the money all for himself?

Along for the ride is the one woman of the group, Lina (Janet Leigh). She is Ben’s companion, and the daughter of one of his friends. Lina is completely loyal to Ben, but she’s mostly the innocent in this greedy game. She believes Ben is not a killer and criticizes the others for bringing him in to hang over money. She specifically chides Kemp who is the most determined to finish the dirty job so he can get back what’s rightfully his. It could be easy to mistake Kemp for the real villain at the beginning of the film, the only thing that tips us off he’s not is that he’s played by Jimmy Stewart.

One might have the illusion of the old westerns being full of wide-spread open spaces, and heroes roaming through fields or desert country. “The Naked Spur” is in the wilderness full of trees, treacherous mountaintops, and raging rivers. It’s claustrophobic, it might have more things in common with an urban film noir than anything associated with John Ford’s vast landscapes. The land is unforgiving, and unrelenting, which especially comes into play at the climax when all of the pent-up rage of the film let’s loose in a shockingly violent finale.

Then there’s Jimmy Stewart, an actor with so much rage, so much emotion, so much inner turmoil, one should question what we mean when we call him the American every man. As directed by Anthony Mann who made eight films with Stewart, the actor is unhinged, even scary. In one moment in the film, a wounded Kemp wakes up from a nightmare and lets out a scream so disturbing, and so primal it’s as if it’s coming from a wounded unchecked portion of the soul.

“The Naked Spur” is a mean film in many ways. It’s what happens, when you focus on the lives of lonely and desperate people, whose humanity has been scorched by the hardness of the world.

 

Book Review: Ozu His Life and Films

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Yasujiro Ozu may not be a filmmaker who comes to mind right away to the casual movie goer. Roger Ebert wrote “sooner or later, everyone who loves movies comes to Ozu”. For most people I’m assuming he came later. Speaking for myself, I didn’t even hear of the name Ozu until I already had my taste of the foreign giants such as Bergman, Fellini, and Bunuel. At a young age, I had it in my head that every country only had one master filmmaker. Kurosawa was the Japanese master known throughout the western world with breakthrough films like “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai. Ozu’s films weren’t even shown outside of Japan until 12 years after his death when a film critic named Donald Richie brought a number of his films to Cannes that year. Richie, who was an American critic steeped in Japanese culture grew to admire and champion Ozu at the time.

In his defining book about the filmmaker titled “Ozu: His Life and Films”, which was published in 1983, Richie goes into great detail of Ozu’s unique technique, discussing how he would create his films. Richie focuses on the three different stages of an Ozu film starting with the script, leading into the shooting, than finally the editing. Once each process is examined, one will be able to get a fuller understanding of what Ozu’s philosophy to cinema was.

An interesting aspect to the approach of an Ozu film is how it differs from  the construction of a regular Hollywood film. Richie begins the exploration with how Ozu would begin: The script. Ozu (along with frequent collaborator Kogo Noda) would spend months constructing a perfectly balanced script full of character and theme. Richie states that Ozu “…took more pains with the ultimate placing of a scene or a line of dialogue in the growing script than with any of the other aspects of film-making”. He describes him as an “architect” and the script a “blueprint”. The analogy of a filmmaker being an architect has been used before, but Ozu’s approach, (or maybe I should say the Japanese approach) digresses from the usual western style of script writing. For one thing, plot was never the main driving force with his films. You can’t picture an Ozu film with the traditional dramatics of an inciting incident, rising action, and then a denouement. Structure such as that never interested Ozu. Instead, Richie states that he usually began with characters, and then a theme would rise from these characters that he would want to explore.

A classic example of theme and character over plot could be seen in Ozu’s most famous film “Tokyo Story”. The plot could be described simply as two elderly parents visit their children in Tokyo. That’s basically what happens, but if you break down the film you see  ideas of growing older, death, loneliness, and family separation. These are universal themes done by a man who was considered to be “too Japanese” for western audiences at the time.

When it came to shooting a film, Richie shows how Ozu was really a rebel who pushed back against convention to get the effect he wanted. Richie goes from the beginning of his career where he would use typical film devices such as the Fade-in and fade-out of a scene, or a dissolve which were common, until he dropped these tropes one by one with his later films to create his own refined style. Hollywood films are composed in a way to comment on action or characters, and filmmakers are usually rather intrusive in their point of view. Ozu didn’t want to use  his camera to comment, rather he used it as an observer. This would evolve into his most famous trademark, that of a low-angle camera, (mostly stationary), always three feet from the floor.  This angle gave the impression of a person sitting on a traditional tatami mat, with the architecture of a Japanese home being framed almost like a proscenium stage. The composition made for a very observational approach to the action. It’s as if the audience were invited into the lives of these people. Ozu has been criticized for this being a cold approach, but the idea of staying away and not putting his own judgement on the characters is a very warm and humanistic idea.

Once shooting was complete Richie moves on to editing, which, according to him, was maybe the least important aspect of filmmaking for someone like Ozu. For many filmmakers, a movie is made in the editing room, yet Ozu has already mapped out what the film is supposed to be from the very beginning, which is why the script is probably the most important aspect for him. However one important note on his editing style has to do with pacing. It can be said that many Ozu scenes go for a long time, deeming his tempo to be thought of as “too slow”. There are moments of emptiness or silence in his films, and for anyone who has seen one, they know what I’m talking about. The concept of these moments have been described as “mu”. Mu comes from a buddhist practice which could mean “nothingness” among other definitions. Ozu chooses to focus in on this nothingness in choice moments in his films. Richie describes this emphasis of mu  “in the silence which can give more meaning to the dialogue that went before, or the emptiness which gives more meaning to the action that went before. Richie believes these moments “become containers for our emotions”. He sees these feelings of emotion more than just empathy, but “we become aware of the universality of all emotion-in short we feel something of the texture of life itself and again know that we are a part of this universal fabric”. This idea could go towards the spiritual or zen aspect of Ozu’s films. Whether that is what he intended or not, it fills the fabric of his films and gives them a transcendence of emotion that we can all share and empathize with.

Donald Richie’s book came to me over ten years ago when I was deeply immersed into the work of Ozu. For me it was a sort of awakening on a personal and artistic level. I’ve written and directed one short film in my life entitled “Good Morning” (A title admittedly was deliberately taken from the Ozu film of the same name.) Although I was not fully successful, I tried to incorporate the filmmaking aspects of an Ozu film into mine. There was a time, when I thought his way of making movies was really the only way to depict real life. It’s a philosophy I’ve pushed back on, but I was much younger and impressionistic at the time.

Richie (who died in 2013) was the greatest authority of Ozu, and other masters of Japanese filmmaking. I learned a lot on how to read his films from this book. I would recommend this to film lovers who may think there is only one way to make a movie. Ozu obviously had his own style, and even though he was a big fan of Hollywood movies, which Richie points out, his filmmaking never fell into the same pattern. He was a visual stylist, a gentle humanist, and simple genius.

Book Review: Moments That Made the Movies

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The book “Moments that Made the Movies” is a wonderful easy read and highly recommended for film aficionados everywhere. In the introduction, author and film critic David Thompson asks the reader “Do you remember the movies you saw, like whole vessels serene on the sea of time? Or do you just retain moments from them, like shattered lifeboats?” It is with this book, Thompson decides to focus on those shattered life boats, which even though they remain fragments, they can leave a lasting impression on the viewer.

We are taken on a journey through some of these moments Thompson has handpicked himself, and more often than not, he gives us ones not commonly discussed. For instance, when he speaks of “Bonnie and Clyde”, he doesn’t go for the obvious analysis of the iconic shoot out that ends the picture, but rather he describes an early scene in a diner where Bonnie first decides to rob banks with Clyde. Thompson describes it as “a seductive little scene”. It’s a character moment, but it’s also a moment for the actors of the film Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. He describes movements and gestures, how Beatty’s Clyde is talking like a producer which was what he was for the actual film. Thompson takes this pocket of a scene and is able to fill it with context for the entire film itself.

Unlike most critic’s book, we are not just privy to deconstruction, but Thompson is giving us a look into his own tastes in movies, and some which might surprise a casual movie goer. One such case is a somewhat revisionist take on the work of Meg Ryan; an actress who, it could be argued had her best days behind her after her reign as romantic comedy queen came to an end. Thompson does focus on her most iconic scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where she fakes an orgasm, but maybe more importantly, he highlights her under seen Jane Campion directed film “In the Cut”. In this film, she plays largely against type, and is far more dangerous and sexual than is usually given credit for. After reading these two entries, one could get the impression that Ryan is one of our great Hollywood actresses who got a bad break when she no longer became bankable. You may have the urge to re-watch some of her work to see the talent Thompson eludes to with his two essays.

I was far more curious with the hidden gems highlighted in the book rather than the usual suspects commonly found in these types of retrospectives. Notably there is the Danny DeVito directed 90s film “Hoffa” which starred Jack Nicholson as the infamous teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa. There is also the foreign film “Celine and Julie Go Boating”, directed by French new wave icon Jacques Rivette which was a hit when released but has since been little seen in North America.

The book goes chronologically starting with a handful of early silent films moving into the modern era. You might be shocked to see some films left off his list such as “The Wizard of Oz” or “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Even “There Will be Blood” which Thompson chose to be the cover of his most recently published edition of his “Biographical Encyclopedia of Film”. But as he comments in the book’s introduction “Don’t be troubled about what is left out. The selection is, of course, personal.”

With his selections, Thompson challenges the reader into viewing films the way he sees them. Sometimes all people care about in a movie is the plot or the story, which is all fine and good if that’s what you’re looking for. But films can work on another level as well, as Thompson points out. They are moments caught on film, literal motion pictures, edited together with sound, music, and performance. Once viewed they can leave indelible marks on us that can last forever. Sometimes we don’t have to remember a whole movie,  it only takes one shot to stay with us. Thompson makes this idea most apparent with his  selection that ends the book. It’s not a shot from a film at all, but a photograph. It was taken in 2014 in Vancouver Canada after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup. For those who don’t remember, there were massive amounts of damage, riots, and injuries throughout the city that night. Yet among the chaos, an iconic photo was taken of two young people spread out in the middle of the street embracing each other and kissing. As Thompson mentions “A moment can be an instant” and confesses how he was “struck by how movie-like it was….It could be the first shot of a movie, or the last”.

His statement is a testament to the ever-changing medium of film. It started out as a something that was fed through a projector and illuminated onto a giant screen. But since then it has transformed into digital media, YouTube, and streaming services. Film is basically anything you can imagine it to be and is now available for anyone to use.

Thompson is a realist, he doesn’t waiver to the nostalgia of 35mm projection, even though it’s a nice thought. He sees it as a tool which is ever-evolving, but one constant his book illustrates is how the images can remain memorable and even life changing. They can reflect memories of time, or waking dreams. It speaks to the power of film as an art form, and how it can become a personal and profound experience. You’ll want to think of your own moments in movies after reading this book.

 

 

Glow Season Two

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I was a bit skeptical coming into the new season of “GLOW”. When the show premiered last summer on Netflix it was a sensational crowd pleaser. Loosely based on the actual 80s wrestling program of the same name, “GLOW” used its backdrop as a clever gimmick to incorporate women’s empowerment ideas within the plotlines. I was afraid the concept wouldn’t stretch any further and the series would end up being one of those “one season wonders”. I was wrong to doubt, as I’m delighted to say this new batch of episodes is even more fun and innovative than the first.

We pick up where we left off from last season, with the “GLOW” wrestling show being sold off to a small local television network and the ladies now under contract. Their jobs seem more secure but there is some uncertainty in the air concerning their new bosses. Some things haven’t changed however, as the heart of the show Ruth (Alison Brie) still brings her passion and support to the team, contrasting with the sometimes crabby, burned out director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron in a role he was born to play). One of the beautiful things about season 2 is how the prickly relationship between Sam and Ruth grow from mutual appreciation to a real friendship.

Among the new developments, Debbie (Betty Gilpin) makes a power play and becomes a new producer. This might feel like a set up to make her a villain character, but “Glow” is smarter than that. Instead it focuses on Debbie’s struggle to prove herself in a male dominated world, making a rather subtle comment that in a wrestling show containing all women, the men are the ones who are calling the shots.

In the era of #MeToo and “TimesUp, “GLOW” becomes even more relevant than ever. There is one episode where a character has to deal with her own Harvey Weinstein situation, and you can’t help but see the real life parallels at play. Still when the moment happens it doesn’t feel heavy handed or preachy. It’s a credit to the material which refuses to spell out the struggles and the sacrifices these women go through. The show resists the temptation to dip into melodrama choosing instead to remain fresh, fun and light on its feet.

All of this has to do with tone, which the series isn’t afraid to play with. Two episodes come to mind that illustrate just how freely “GLOW” can go from one extreme to another. The first, entitled “The Mother of all Matches” is a strong character driven piece concentrating on the lives of Debbie and Tamme (Kia Stevens). Both are single mothers dealing with their own strife as they prepare to face each other in the ring. The second called “The Good Twin” is an off the wall look into what an actual episode of the show within the show looks like. It’s brimming with fun gags, clever parodies, and a brisk pace that is worthy of its own spinoff.

It’s a bit of a cheat to only give us ten episodes of the new season of “GLOW” as it has proven just how rich the stories and characters have become. Part of me wishes the series was given a regular network television run of 22 episodes, which may seem like overkill in these days of binge watching. But “GLOW” is so infectious, and full of good will, it’s hard to get tired of these lovable wrestling misfits.

 

Favorite Films of the Year so far…

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Since it’s the mid-year, a lot of people have been giving their best films of the year so far. So I figured I just put my list out there. Here they are in no particular ranking order.

Black Panther: The best super hero ever put out by the Marvel banner.

Unsane: Steven Sodebergh’s thriller filmed by an iphone 7 about a young woman trapped in an insane asylum with her stalker.

A Quiet Place: Horror/sci-fi of a family who must remain quiet to hide away from monsters with super sensitive hearing.

Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson’s latest, a stop-motion wonder with the typical Anderson dry humor. Not as good as “Fantastic Mr. Fox” but the animation is a step up.

Won’t you be my Neighbor: Documentary about Mr. Rogers, is heartwarming, and surprisingly spiritual.

Hereditary: Disturbing horror film of a family with a dark past dealing with recent tragedies, until everything goes batshit crazy.

First Reformed: A pastor struggling with his own despair tries to find grace amidst a crumbling world.

Honorable Mention: Glow Season 2 episode 8 entitled “The Good Twin”: One of the funniest most inventive episodes of television I have ever seen.

Day for Night

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I’m not sure if there was ever a filmmaker that lived who was more in love with movies than Francois Truffaut. Starting out as a film critic for the famed film magazine cahier du cinema, only then to transition to one of the most influential directors of the French New Wave, Truffaut was a romantic when it came to movies. He was the type of director who poured a lot of himself into his films, but his love of cinema was no more prevalent than in his 1973 masterpiece “Day for Night”.

“Day for Night” chronicles the lives and loves of the cast and crew during the filming of a fictional tragic melodrama entitled “Meet Pamela”. The film within the film isn’t really what matters here, it’s more or less a macguffin in order to bring the audience into the movie world these people live and breathe.

Truffaut himself plays one of the principle leads, as the director named Ferrand who is more or less a rather transparent Truffaut alter ego. He is fixated on the making of the film , whilst also dealing with the minor and major hiccups that come throughout the production.

The lives of the other characters come into play and at times cause disruption with the film. Among them are the lead actress Julie Baker (Jaqueline Bisset) who is recovering from a recent nervous breakdown, Alphonse (Truffaut regular Jean-Pierre Leaud), the young lead who is in love with an unfaithful script supervisor, and then there’s Severine (Valentina Cortez) an aging actress who turns to drinking to cope with the thought of her son’s leukemia. There is also Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont), the dashing older matinée idol who begins a relationship with a younger man he meets regularly at the local airport, a minor plot device which turns tragic later on. As these personal dramas unfold, the crew of “Meet Pamela” soldier on to finish the film on time and under budget.

The wonderful thing about “Day for Night” is how Truffaut brings his sense of humanity and naturalism to the film. He moves his camera around effortlessly capturing small pieces of character moments, as if the audience was eavesdropping on an actual film being made. I don’t think Truffaut received enough credit for his later more refined films, he is mostly remembered for his early more innovative new wave films like “The 400 Blows” and “Jules and Jim”. But Truffaut here takes a page from one of his idols Jean Renoir with how he catches his actors weaving in and out of scenes, and concentrating both on the foreground and background of the scenes. It’s something we mostly associate with someone like Altman, but Truffaut did it just as well.

Above all, “Day for Night” is a film for film lovers. One of the main questions it asks is if making a film is more important than life. It certainly is for the people of “Meet Pamela”, for them, the film is all that matters. By the end, there are delays, there are affairs between crew members, there is even a death, but none of that gets in the way of completing the film. For these people it’s what keeps them going, and what gives their life meaning.

As a life long film fan, I instantly feel a kinship to “Day for Night”. There have been all kinds of movies made about making movies, but “Day for Night” is the most romantic. Truffaut has created a love story about film. For him this affair began at a young age as a young boy stealing still pictures of “Citizen Kane” outside a movie house, a memory the film depicts through a series of dreams Ferrand has.

When I was in Paris a few years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was visit Truffaut’s grave site. He was buried inside a large cemetery near the Moulin Rouge.  When I found it, something there made me smile. On the tombstone where one might normally find roses left by a loved one, there were instead small rolls of film left no doubt by admirers and fans. I thought there could be no finer tribute to a filmmaker who lived and breathed film as much as Truffaut did. For someone like Truffaut, I don’t think there was ever a difference between film and life, for him they were one and the same.