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an ideal look back (or is it?), 8 December 2016

I'm sure this movie is fine. It's got a terrific cast. It's from Oscar Wilde, so the wit is there even in the smallest moments (you can see that from the trailer). And it has excellent costumes and a decent score, but...

Once again I discover a movie that I KNOW I saw not only in 1999 but in a theater, and... I have practically no memory of it. ...

(2 minutes after typing this) Ah, just watched the trailer, I DID see this. I blame the blandness of Rupert Everett, who is not up to par exactly with the rest of the cast - and maybe a just everything I've done since the age of 15 has wiped this from my memories over the years - for this being a bit of a blur. But then again I saw a ton of movies in 1999, not to mention this came out right around end of June/beginning of July, and this one didn't quite stand out at the time. It may be worth another look since it's sophisticated and about the ways people do and definitely don't communicate, but considering it's not my kind of movie, it's okay.

Should I see it again? hmm... well, there's this, and Julianne Moore looking delightful and beautiful and Cate Blanchett too, but then there's also Love & Friendship to watch again, which this looks like practically the same thing but only from a guy's POV, so...

oh, and RIP Peter Vaughan, which is how I was reminded this exists.

Good Eeyore times (and memories, too), 5 December 2016

As a kid this short was important for two reasons: 1) Eeyore was a vital character and presence as a child because he was sad and, while told sometimes to try and cheer up, he wasn't forced out of his state (this kind of precedes Sadness from Inside/Out, but you get the idea). 2) I recognized the animation and the voices were different, subtly so, from the three shorts that made up the 'Many Adventures' feature, and this was the first time I realized that cartoons were not made at the same time (ie this was post Sterling Holloway's death). Small things, but I was a freak for Winnie the Pooh as a real little kid! (Hell, the first movie I ever saw and all) This is a wonderful short to watch and is a celebration of Eeyore as an essential part of the Pooh-verse: his dry sense of humor, his seriousness, and acceptance when surrounded by friends.

And yes, there are 'Pooh sticks'.

madcap early Disney fun, 5 December 2016

One of the first Oswald the Rabbit cartoons, written and directed by Walt Disney, has four minutes of gags involving Oswald trying to get his trolley going on the tracks only to his some obstacles - he has to give a cow a stern paying-his-mind to that won't get off the tracks - and then the last two minutes are sheer mayhem in the most enjoyable way from the era of 1920's cartoons.

There's little moments that stick out as being especially funny and cool, like when the train is going on its manic spring through its tunnels and then when Oswald takes off one of his legs to kiss himself goodbye, literally. The general pace of this is what keeps it entertaining, that there's something about to come every mother second. The gags are so fast that you may need to watch it a second time to catch the few good ones that you might have missed. It's mostly those final two minutes though that seals the deal for this being a fun sit as opposed to just an important but slight one. Already here Disney is primed for when he has to go forward with his own Mickey Mouse shorts.

Melies has fun for a minute, or two, 5 December 2016

In this two minute movie, we get a guy who takes a skeleton and creates a monster. For what purpose? Who cares? It's a monster! Time to do the MASH!

This is How to Make a Monster 101: add water. If no water available, throw on a white dress. Preferable if you have an Egyptian backdrop. Warning: the monster may do wild Muppety-dances and grow a giant neck and go tall and short at random moments because it's George Melies and he was the first delightful madman of the cinema. You'll have to get through the first minute of this two minute spectacle to get to the good stuff, but once you do it's a whole lot of frames of dancing mania and with an ending that is a genuine thrill and surprise (though all part of Melies' dated but wonderful magic tricks in general).

pretty + important, 5 December 2016

Cute and strange; oh, and it's the first animated thing put to film... ever. Impressive for that alone, AND it has a story! It may not be too deep, and may be a little confusing (what's with the guy that comes out of nowhere and steals the guy's ukulele or whatever it is, is he a ghost?) But it does have a beginning, middle and sort of an end, maybe, arguably. For what this french animator was able to accomplish - and did I mention in COLOR no less - and for the simple fact that this is one of the major accomplishments of that century, to get something with images moving, albeit jerkily, I say you should check out all four minutes on YouTube or wherever silent film shorts are sold.

impressive for it's time as it is now, and just shy of a total masterwork (for me), 4 December 2016

The most remarkable thing about Intolerance while I was watching it was that I found myself engaging with it as I would a modern piece of movie-making. Sometimes, even often times, when watching silence cinema I try to take it on the context of when it was made: that the director and crew and actors were working back when storytelling was completely new with moving images, that the scenarios were a little rougher, and that the social mores and other things made it specific to that time and place. Or, to put it another way, at times it might be dated as far as the storytelling - in the worst case scenarios, in a word, creaky.

Intolerance begins in the first half hour sort of un-loading its four different scenarios - stories set in the modern day (of 1916) around the world of a company Jenkins and a feminist group; the Babylonians and Persians and their battles and quests for glory; the 16th century with turmoil in France; and the story of Jesus in Nazareth - but once the stories get going, Griffith's editing and storytelling work more like how one might see in a movie today. To say he was sophisticated in advancing the art of filmmaking is an understatement.

This does not necessarily mean that there aren't things about it that haven't dated; there are some beats that come off as sexist (one of the inter-titles actually says, "when women are no longer able to attract men they turn to reform as a second option," in the modern times story) and there are some points where Griffith ratchets up the melodrama so high that it becomes sort of hysterical. But that's something I just take as a given with his approach, and to be fair this isn't quite as hyper-WTF as Birth of a Nation... then again, what is? And what Griffith is after here is nothing short of creating storytelling as a kind of visual symphony, particularly in the last like 45 to 50 minutes as all of the stories reach their manic and highly dramatic climaxes all at one - all while that woman sitting by the crib (is that Lillian Gish, how about that) is there sort of like the unofficial God(dess) of these slices of the human condition.

There's a lot that can be dissected here, but I think what's telling, and what may actually be a slight (but only a slight) detriment to the filmmaking, is how much Griffith clearly prefers to tell more of two of the four stories: the modern day story and the Babylon epic. He gets to stage what I imagine were, with not much to compare to at the time (maybe aside from, uh, himself with BOTN and maybe Cabiria), the most spectacular battles recorded on film, and to bring together this story of "The Dear One" (Mae Marsh, gosh she's delightful and so ready to go full throttle with her acting) in a way that shows a sort of culmination of the melodramas he'd been making for years at Biograph. I didn't keep count of the minutes, but I'm pretty sure that these two tales - and by the way, the Babylon story also features a force of f***ing nature with Constance Talmadge as 'The Mountain Girl' - outnumber the French/Hugenot and Christ segments by quite a lot, and for the latter it almost seemed as if that was more allegorical to what was going on anyway in the other stories, especially the Boy's plight.

I wouldn't say those should've been cut down or taken out, despite the Babylon and modern time stories being stronger overall; it's more a question of pacing. A recent descendant of Intolerance's approach to multi-level storytelling is Cloud Atlas (and I'm sure Nolan is a fan of this as well, not a doubt in my mind), and while that film certain is more scattered and messy in the success of its segments, the pacing was actually an improvement at times as far as balancing all of the stories. But, again, this almost in an ironic way a compliment to Griffith, that I think of this epic in such a way that it's closer to what movies in the 21st century achieve as far as bringing a novelistic approach 100 years on. So while I might have wanted more of those stories in France and Nazareth, what I got was still very good.

I think the quality of Griffith's direction is what makes this so strong, along with some of the key performances and how he simply mounted such massive sets that, in their way, are more impressive than what you get today in CGI; your mind knows that all those figures are fake in modern films, no matter how much detail is put in here. In Intolerance, when I look at the people all in that Babylonian decadence, and then when the battle breaks out against the mighty Cyrus, it *feels* intense and sprawling.

Unlike Birth of a Nation, which has such an unpleasant and virulent 2nd half that makes me never want to see it again on principle alone, I could find myself coming back to Intolerance, perhaps getting into it a little quicker than I found on a first time (that first half hour takes a little time as I mentioned), and just to marvel at some of the acting which is both big AND small in equal measure. By this I should say that you can't help but see when actors really are milking the emotion for all its worth - Brown Eyes in the French scenes, or that female killer in the modern day story, where Griffith really gets to use his close-ups in such a way that must have changed movies forever - but there's subtlety when called for also. The more I think about it hours after watching it, the more it feels like a monumental (if imperfect) achievement. 9.5/10

good and at times shocking, 3 December 2016

McCay's animation is hypnotic and the realism is shocking. It's all on the same horizontal plane of action, but that makes it so strong and potent to look at, since the point of view doesn't change too much, except to show people falling off the boat. The intertitles don't help so much; they break up the flow of the images and even down to seeing the names and faces and bios on certain 'famous' people of the period (major figures I'm sure but still a distraction), and I wanted to get more Windsor McKay drawings. Showing his process was fascinating too, as the short begins with McKay getting his drawing-marching orders, and you see how he starts with the water, and then lays in everything else. The most shocking part comes with those little figures falling off the ship in droves, but each one has enough detail that they can be distinguished as human beings.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find a Compelling Plot?, 3 December 2016

A charitable rating because I like the beasts very much (albeit it'd be nice if this was the era of Jim Henson's Creature Shop instead of ALL CGI), and I even didn't actively dislike Eddie Redmayne here like in his performances last year (though he still has certain little tics and a wide-eyed profile that's not enormously likable). Basically anything to do with Newt Scamander's adventures along with Jacob the would-be baker (a funny if one and a half note Dan Fogler) and Kathleen Waterson is a fun time, and there's an element of Doctor Who I appreciated as far as a character going off into some new place with his police box (err, suitcase here), facing off with some gnarly creatures, and humans who are a variety of helpful and disastrous.

But when it gets into the actual *plot* it becomes trickier to handle for Rowling as a (first-time?) screenwriter: there's darkness here that sometimes, not all the time, gets to be too dark, at least for what is being set up as a "franchise" or whatever. In the Potter films there was a more gradual build up to darker themes and tones and scenes and kills. Here, it's just there, and despite finding Samantha Morton to be terrifying in a convincing way as the head of an anti-witch cult, and despite finding Colin Farrel to be sturdy as a villain, I didn't much care for the conflicts around the uh, Obscurus-what-have-you (sorry if I'm not good with names, it's a late-night review), and ultimately it's a lack of heart that makes me not care as much. To put it into perspective, I found more to engage in emotionally with Fogler than Redmayne, by a mile, and only hints (but not enough) with Waterson's backstory.

What makes me want to give it an even lower rating is that the final act turns into what so many Hollywood movies from these studios out to be Legacyquel-McFranchise-villes is that it has to be some massive threat tearing ass through the city and the (super)heroes have to face off to stop it. There's actually one interesting facet to this that kinda-sorta is happening, where it's compassion or even something close to empathy, that Newt uses against the villainous force, however this gets put on the wayside for more action and special effects that are surface-cool but deep down empty and it all leads up to a reveal for an actor to come that made me throw out my hands like "WHY!?!" There's derivative things to this movie that Rowling may have made intentional or not; aside from Doctor Who, I also thought of Men in Black with it featuring a Magic-Police-Special-Agency force, and X-Men in large part with Farrel's character (tell me you don't see Magneto there, especially near the end).

I found a lot of creativity and some clever things to this - hell, a platypus obsessed with thievery is a highlight of any movie this *year* let alone this one - and just the idea that this is a hero not unlike a, uh, Charles Darwin but with magic. I went in with a lot of goodwill towards this, but didn't leave as satisfied as I had hoped given this writer and the world to work in. It's the sort of blockbuster that would have me, then lose me, have me then lose me, and so on (i.e. on one hand Ron Perlman cameo, and you'll know it when you see it; on the other hand... Ezra Miller).

a story of lovers in life, 3 December 2016

Something I thought about, and felt more deeply, near the end of Make Way for Tomorrow, is that people who are married and have had the immeasurable luck to have been married for many years and have been happy, will take more from this film than those who haven't. This doesn't mean that it's not for anyone - everyone, really - looking for a moving story of life in all of its simplicity and at the same time aching and bittersweet complexity, but the couple at the center of this story, Barkley and Lucy, are apart for two-thirds of this story and find one another again after months apart, and they couldn't be happier. It's something that lasts, despite everything. Actually, *because* of everything, that their happiness together can weather whatever comes, and they are, in their simple presence in the lives of others, something to behold.

Maybe they both know things will never be the same again; the wife, and mother of their five children, knows that Barkley could never take it if he knew what she plans to do, to put herself into a retirement home, and as she notes to her son this will be the one secret in her life. But they have their day and evening together, walking around New York City (which, by design at times due to the rear-screen-projection, has an abstract quality reminding me a tiny bit of Murnau's Sunrise), and have what could be called 'adventures'; with a car dealer thinking, from afar, that this elderly couple are full of dough; they stop off at the hotel they spent their honeymoon; they have cocktails and talk tongue-twisters; they go into the ballroom and dance to the big band playing which, perhaps sensing organically how different the mood is, change from something fast to something slow (it was this point, I should add readers, that I started to tear up, I can't explain why).

This makes up the last third of the movie, and it may be what people remember most about the film. I think Leo McCarey knows this and directs this in a way that everything is building up to this. The story is set in the depression-era, so the socio-economic context doesn't have to be said, it's simply there and people know what's up (or down), and the Coopers have not been able to make payments (Barkley tells the children this and they act indignant that they weren't told sooner - it's clear from the father and mothers' expressions that they were too embarrassed, the generation keeping things unsaid that should be coming back around).

So the parents are split between the children since none of them can house them both, and the despair sets in that grows over time: Barkley gets sick, Lucy becomes something of a nuisance (unintentionally of course) to her daughter-in-law's bridge club, and there's lies forged between grandmother Lucy and granddaughter Rhoda, and a foreign shopkeeper trying to help Barkley a little bit is met with scorn by his daughter. It's been said that this inspired Ozu with Tokyo Story, and it's easy to see why because everything is laid out simply and no one is out to be really *bad* per-say, but things get misspoken, little lies form, personality and behavior build over time and the small pressures surrounding people who do care and love for one another becomes greater.

I have to wonder if this story would work in today's world, and I think it could up to a point (there's probably better programs to assist the elderly, or perhaps more distractions in other ways like TV), but the time it was made makes it very much a product of the depression, not unlike The Grapes of Wrath though that was more starkly political. If there's any politics to this it's at the familial level and subliminal; McCarey and the actors are out to express things emotionally, and everything builds up to something whether we think it will or not. His compositions also are simple and direct enough, giving us editing that gets to a reaction from Lucy or Barkley just when needed, the time to see their emotions rise or fall, listening or not listening as case may be. In its small way it's monumental, if that makes sense. While Ozu shows his influence from here, I might slightly prefer this film's take on this subject matter.

But despite it being about people who are beyond my years, I kept thinking about my wife and I and what is in store for us years from now. We're living in a completely uncertain and chaotic world, and yet by the end, for all the sadness that is likely to come in some form or another, but love is what holds up people just as much as it can break them down in the most horrible circumstances. Barkley and Lucy love another, and their strength is in that. I loved this movie so much.

"My father... MY FATHER!! MY FATHER!!!!", 1 December 2016

Ninjas. Cocaine. Drug dealers. Rock & Rollers. Bikers. Tae kwon-do. Put all those together and you got Miami Connection, simply one of those awesomely stupid/bad movies that was made with an innocence to things like college (and who is young enough to look college-aged), what rock & roll looks like on stage, -reuninting with parental figures for supporting characters (or just one) we don't know about really otherwise; and yeah, cocaine, though not snorted as much as you might expect.Oh, and this was the Rifftrax cut, so there was a bit of Kevin Murphy singing "I'm a tough guy!" minutes after the song played to the unnecessary biker montage.

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