Friday, February 24, 2006

A Gentle Portrait

by Errol Morris

Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida weaves together the story of some of the residents of a small town. They talk about various things and it somehow is all loosely connected. It has the control and precision of Morris’ later films in allowing the people to speak and showing the interview subjects in an environment that provides a context for what they are talking about. Not an earth-shaking documentary, but very interesting and quirky.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Perfect Documentary

by Errol Morris

The Thin Blue Line was the first film that I saw from Errol Morris and it changed the way that I thought about filmmaking, editing and perception. It’s carefully constructed and builds the story by establishing a context, presenting stories and arranging them in a compelling way. It’s about the murder of a police officer in Texas, but it’s also about the people connected to the events and the way that it’s difficult to know what really has happened. A compelling, horrifying and fascinating look at a crime and injustice connected with it. It’s an essential documentary for anyone interested in film or filmmaking.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A review of "Oh Heart - EP"

by Jill Barber

Jill Barber’s EP Oh Heart is a gentle collection of 6 songs that are close to perfect. They sound a bit nostalgic in a warm, familiar way. Filled with lovely wordplay and Barber’s voice, they tell stories of times gone by, love and metaphorically explore the world of the heart. The balance between the words and Barber’s voice reminds me of sitting beside a fire with friends, surrounded by warmth and gentle laughter. Listen to her now before she becomes the next big thing.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

A Gorgeous Civics Lesson

by George Clooney

George Clooney’s second directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck is a lusciously photographed black and white film that skillfully tells a story of journalistic confrontation. By weaving together actors and sets with archival footage the film becomes a bit more than a drama. While the film seemed a bit distant to me, it doesn’t focus on the personal lives of the characters in any depth, but on the work that they are doing and how it affects them. The distance isn’t accidental as the film is carefully shot and constructed with a journalistic tone that focuses on facts. I loved how it was constructed with no music except for music that comes from a television program in a studio. It’s a clever device that provides a nice jazz motif to break up the tension of the newsroom. There are also great touches with the details and bits of programs that now have radically different contexts. David Strathairn gives yet another perfect performance which is made even stronger in the way that it is shot. He can’t hide behind makeup or effects and the luxurious shooting style seems to bring out the best in the cast. An important film that is also a bold statement on the current state of journalism today.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cinematic Dreams and Nightmares

by Les Blank

Les Blank’s remarkable documentary Burden of Dreams follows Werner Herzog during the making of his film Fitzcarraldo which tells the story of a man who wants to bring opera to the jungle. Herzhog is a fearless filmmaker who sets almost impossible challenges for himself and with Fitzcarraldo he decided to shoot in the middle of the jungle and to also pull a boat over a mountain. A real boat over a real mountain. The documentary provides a fascinating glimpse into the process and the place where the filming happens. It’s much more than a “making of” documentary as we watch incredible human struggles that are built around the making of a film and Herzog’s remarkable vision for a film.
The special features on the DVD are great as well with an update with Herzog 20 years later as well as Les Blank’s short film “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe”, which happened as a result of a vow that Herzog made to Errol Morris. The vow was made when Morris told Herzog of a film that he wanted to make and Herzog said that if he made the film he would eat his shoe. Errol Morris made his first film, Gates of Heaven and Herzog cooked and ate his shoe. Herzog is a man of his word and a singular filmmaker.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Biography of a Chameleon

by Stephen Hopkins

The idea behind The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is great in that you can view Sellers’ life through the prism of the many roles that he has played. With acting roles as the framework and with a courageous performance by Geoffrey Rush, it’s a film that’s worth seeing. But while there are some fun technical touches and clever parts where Sellers is playing just about every character that shows up at some point, it starts to sag under the weight of the clever device. Maybe I’d like it more if I hadn’t seen something like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind which is a much more courageous film, but it had the benefit of the story being outlined by the main character himself. With The Life and Death of Peter Sellers it reminded me more of the films it referred to than giving a glimpse into the reasons for the remarkable acting skill of Peter Sellers.

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Pet Project

by Errol Morris

Errol Morris’ The Gates of Heaven tells the story of several pet cemetaries in California and through that device it allows us to meet several fascinating people. Morris precisely constructs the documentary out of a series of interviews with people who talk about the animals in their lives. But they’re not really talking about their animals, but themselves and what they believe in. The film is deceivingly simple but as it progresses you see more and more. Everything is significant in the frame and you start to notice where people are sitting, what is on the desk, the wall and their environment. People are fascinating to watch and Morris gives his interview subjects time to be themselves and draws the story out of them truthfully and with respect.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A review of "Rabbit Fur Coat"

by Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins

On the surface the songs have a country feel with a bit of a gospel feeling, but there is a great irony and fire in Jenny Lewis’ lyrics. I get sucked in by the beauty and the complexity in the writing and harmonies makes it so much fun to listen to. Rabbit Fur Coat is one of my favourite new discoveries and I’ve been listening to it a lot. The songs a clustered around personal relationships and seem to be incredibly personal at times, but I’m not sure how much of it is true and it doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture. It’s just great music with a wicked sense of humour.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Glimpses of Life

by Jim Jarmusch

Stranger Than Paradise is the first film by Jim Jarmusch that I saw and I saw it in a theatre, which was wonderful as the grainy black and white images are perfect for the big screen. Watching the film again made me realize again how the subtle character sketches made a strong impression precisely because of the contrast between interesting characters in mundane situations. It’s hard to explain, but the odd sense of humour and precisely framed images combine to create something that I love more each time I see it.
Technically it’s remarkable in that each scene is a single shot. This has the effect of making you pay attention more to what is going on between the characters and a less conscious effort to manipulate through the editing. It also shows a great deal of faith in the actors who rise to the occaision. Just about a perfect combination of the technical and the artistic.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Blurring the Line in Documentary

by Zak Penn

Zak Penn’s directorial debut, Incident at Loch Ness, has a very clever film within a film within a film and it’s all built around filmmaker Werner Herzog. While funny at times, there is a surprising degree of sophistication and truth that runs through the whole thing. Herzog’s reputation precedes him and he has fun with the myths and stories that surround him as he goes on an expedition to find the Loch Ness monster. Even if you haven’t seen a film by Herzog, it’s worth seeing, and if you have seen Herzog’s work or heard any stories, it’s a bit more fun.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

A review of "Band of Outsiders - Criterion Collection"

All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun.

Jean-Luc Godard is probably the most provocative of the French Nouvelle Vague directors and Bande √† Part (Band of Outsiders) is both challenging and fun in how he makes a film with the two prerequisites of a firearm and a female. The gun isn’t that interesting, but the girl, Anna Karina, is. Like most films by Godard, the plot isn’t the most significant or interesting part. It’s all about cinema (and Godard’s credit as director is JEAN LUC CINEMA GODARD) as a series of images and situations quote from films, novels and society. It’s fun if you’re a fan and interesting even if you’re not. Two men (gangsters, maybe) meet Odile in English class (where very little English is spoken) and convince her to rob the place where she is staying. Upon this thin narrative spine we follow the characters through Paris with some great sequences shot in a convertible, a mesmerizing dance sequence in a cafe, and the famous run through the Louvre where they make it in nine minutes and 43 seconds. Innovative both technically and in the way that it satirizes the conventions of films, it changed many things that we now take for granted. Just as we watch the film and have a crush on Anna Karina, Godard has a crush on cinema and wants to impress her with what he does.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Breathless Character Study

by Jacques Audiard

From the moment he comes on the screen Romain Durais is filled with an amazing, kinetic energy. He’s constantly moving and is mesmerizing to watch in Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped. I don’t know what it is about French filmmakers, but I love the stylish character studies from the New Wave to now, from Jacques Becker to Jacques Audiard. I loved, loved, loved this film. The music, the way it was shot and the acting. Subtle and wonderful.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Fascinating Thriller About Memory

by Omar Naim

The Final Cut is a fascinating science fiction thriller about the near future when people have implants that record their lives for use in “remembrances” that are like highlight reels of someone’s life. Robin Williams gives an understated and controlled performance as the troubled and emotionally closed “cutter” who edits the lives of others. It opens up all sorts of questions and ideas about our lives, memories and privacy. For me I loved the editing elements and the understated nature of the science fiction that focussed on the ideas and the characters instead of being driving by the technology. A very impressive debut feature by Omar Naim.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

A story about "Two Zombies Later"

by Comfort Stand

How can you not love great, free music like Two Zombies Later from the netlabel Comfort Stand. It’s a double-cd length compilation that even features artwork and instructions for printing out the artwork and assembling cds if you are so inclined. It’s all Creative Commons licensed, so you can share it with all of your cool friends. The music is drawn from discussions on the exotica mailing list and Alan Zweig says in the liner notes:

I once heard about an abandoned train station filled with records no one wanted and that image fueled a thousand waking dreams.

These recordings are obscure, loungy, and wonderful. I think that if you like that sort of thing, you’ll love listening to these songs that seem like soundtracks from films from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. They’re oddly familiar and new at the same time. I found this recording as well as Comfort Stand thanks to the CC365 project where Grant Robertson is sharing a Creative Commons track every day for the whole year. He chose “Wah Factor” which is my favourite track from this compilation.

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Amoral Comedy With Great Performances

by Richard Shepard

On the surface The Matador seems like a fairly formulaic buddy thriller with comedic elements, but the performances by the leads, especially Peirce Brosnan, bring a comedic element to it, so overall it’s a dark comedy about the characters. Skillfully directed by Richard Shepard, it dives straight into a delightfully amoral world as it tells the story of an unlikely friendship. It took a few scenes for me to get into the film as it has a fairly unique rhythm and once you figure it out, it’s a lot of fun.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Beautiful Look at Sound

by Thomas Riedelsheimer

The documentary Touch the Sound is remarkable for the subject matter as well as the execution. While it is about a remarkable musician, Evelyn Glennie, and the “sound journey” that is taken is fascinating, what surprised me the most was the visual beauty in how the film was shot and edited by Thomas Riedelsheimer. Evenlyn Glennie is deaf and that has enabled her to increase her sensitivity to the sounds in the world that you can feel. My perception of sound and how it affects people was changed by the film and through was Glennie said and did. An important and entertaining story for anyone who is interested in either sound, music or humanity.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Poetic Meditation on Love

by Kar Wai Wong

Wong Kar Wai makes visually stunning and poetic films. 2046 is a sequel of sorts (WKW calls it an “echo”) to In the Mood for Love that explores similar territory from slightly different perspectives. It’s all about love and loss and there is a melancholy tone and sad beauty to everything that happens. While it may seem to be a bit of a science fiction film, the sf elements are a story that the protagonist is writing which is his way of dealing with his past. There is a repetion of themes, images and actions that build as the film progresses and viewing In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild can add a bit more meaning to the film. While the plot is relatively simple, the film is built around moments and decisions made by the characters as they search for love and meaning in the world of Hong Kong in the 1960s. I enjoyed being within this world again, but it may not be for everyone.

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Love Letter to Cinema

Truffaut’s Day for Night (La Nuit Am√©ricain) is his declaration of love to cinema. The process of filmmaking is lovingly shown as well as the people who work in the business. I love this film because it explains and explores the characters and characteristics the field that Truffaut dedicated his life to. Filled with great moments that at times feel documentary-like, there are wonderful lines such as,

I might quit a guy for a movie, but I’d never quit a movie for a guy!
Within the film the entire range of life is represented with the old, the young, birth, death, jealousy and love. The overriding tone is of sheer joy as we watch the unlikely and magical combination of elements that results in a film being made. Every time I see this film it makes me fall in love with filmmaking again and reminds me of the genetic presdisposition that some of us have to tell stories on the screen.

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