Sunday, December 04, 2016

Song of the Week: "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #36. It's the first snow of the year today, and it's a whopper: it's certainly not a blizzard, but we're gradually going to get about 4 inches today. My anxiety is cranked up. Snow is such a trigger for me. But here's some nice music. It's kind of cheesy today, but what the hey.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

XMAS: Tumblr Finds

Still not really feeling Christmassy, but here are some images to get some spirit flowing.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The BBC's List of the 21st Century's Greatest Films So Far, Part Two

Continuing from part one.

50. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015) - A lot of critics' circles were calling this the best or one of the best films last year, and I'd very much like to see it.

49. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014) – I'm really hit or miss with Godard, so I haven't prioritized this one.

48. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015) – This one is floating around on HBO for a while now, and I usually see whatever's been nominated for Best Picture, but this one just doesn't seem appealing to me at all. I'll probably get to it eventually.

47. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014) – Don't think I know this.

46. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010) – I'd love to see this one, actually.

45. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013) – I really loved this movie so much. It's on Netflix, I think. I'd love to show it to my wife. On of the best films of the decade, and I'd have placed it higher.

44. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013) – It's a powerful movie, but it's so intense. I understand why it is, but I'll probably never watch it again. It made me sick and I felt bad for days afterwards. Abject cruelty is harder and harder for me to stomach as I get older, even when it's being used to make a point.

43. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) – As a depressed person, this was kind of a vindicating movie. An excellent movie, and Kirsten Dunst is very good in it.

42. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) - Another one I might never watch again, because it was so depressing but so well-made and well-acted.

41. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015) – I liked it, but I also think it's hugely overrated.

40. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) – A beautiful movie, one of my favorites. Honestly, I'd probably put it at number one on a list of my own. Back in 2011, when I made that list of my 100 Favorite Films of the Decade, I put it at number one. Having seen a lot more movies, I've been thinking of making a new version of that list... who knows? I wonder if this very moving film would still be number one.

39. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005) – Beautiful.

38. City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002) – I feel like I saw this not too long ago, but I've been realizing that "not too long ago" in my messed-up memory really means "within the last 5 to 7 years." I liked it a hell of a lot.

37. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) – I've heard of it (hard title to forget) but never seen it.

36. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014) – Don't know it.

35. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) – Stunning. I remember seeing this one in the theater with the most obnoxious old people who were basically making fun of Becca and I for staying through the end credits. Weird what stays with you.

34. Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015) – This is sitting on my TiVo right now, actually.

33. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) – Yes, Heath Ledger is excellent, but I like these Dark Knight movies less and less as times goes on. I wish Christopher Nolan was less of a "symbolism as text" guy and more of a "plot that makes sense" guy. Also, I don't like the fascist take on Batman that's become so popular over the last 15 years.

32. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006) – Excellent movie.

31. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) – Excellent movie; one of my favorites this decade.

30. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003) - I really need to see this. I've wanted to for a decade and haven't.

29. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008) – Although I don't necessarily think it's Pixar's best movie, it's probably my favorite.

28. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002) – I haven't seen this. I generally like Almodovar. Volver should be on this list.

27. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010) – I liked it, but I can't believe it's this high. Fincher is... not my favorite.

26. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) – Great movie. Nice to see it here.

25. ​Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) - I saw this in a class in college. I liked it, but I've not revisited it.

24. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) – Mesmerizing and very well-acted.

23. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005) – I want to see this.

22. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) – One of my favorite movies. There's something about loneliness that I relate to. Probably it's that I've gone to great trouble to isolate myself so much as an adult.

21. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) – Very likable movie; I love the way it feels like an old movie from Weimar-era Germany. Not a lot of American filmmakers understand this kind of heightened removal without becoming twee or cloying.

20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008) – I've always meant to see this a second time. I remember... not really liking it when I first saw it, but being weirdly fascinated by it. It didn't understand it, I think, and wanted to see it a second time to try and absorb it after the initial effects had worn off.

19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) – Love it. Just love this movie.

18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009) – Excellent.

17. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006) – Also excellent. I saw this in the theater and just fell in love with it.

16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012) – I still want to see this.

15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007) – It's very compelling, but hard. The desperation of the main character, trying to arrange an illegal abortion, is palpable.

14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012) – I've not seen it.

13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) - One of those movies my wife and I vehemently disagreed on. I liked it, but she really did not.

12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007) – Probably one of about two Fincher movies I really do like. Reminded me of a mystery thriller from the 70s.

11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013) – Oscar Isaac is very good in this movie. I remember feeling a little ambiguous about it for a while, but I like this movie.

10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007) – Excellent. I thought this was just powerful. I've gotten into arguments about what the ending means, weirdly enough.

9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) – Great movie, very well-acted. A young friend of mine saw it and just did not get it, and I remember having very serious discussions with her about divorce.

8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000) – I've not seen it. I remember it by the title, but I don't remember what it's about.

7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011) – You know, the first time I saw this movie, I really hated it. Then I saw it a second time (after liking Malick's To the Wonder) and I thought it was gorgeous. I don't know, man.

6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) – There's so much I like about this movie. I have memory issues of my own, so I related a lot to Jim Carrey's character. A lot of it oddly reminded me of falling in love with Becca.

5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) – I liked this movie a lot. This seems to be one of those movies now where the people that praised it are re-evaluating and tempering their earlier praise.

4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) – I love this movie so much. It's either this or Brokeback Mountain that's my favorite movie on this list.

3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) – Masterful. I saw this in the theater and went in expecting not to like it at all. I remember someone walking out about 10 minutes before the ending yelling about how awful the movie was, and my wife yelling at him to go fuck himself.

2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000) – Haven't seen it, though I remember it getting great reviews when it came out. For whatever reason, I've never seen a Wong Kar-wai film, though I've had multiple people tell me I should.

1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001) – David Lynch fascinates me, as he fascinates many. I finally watched this movie in the last year or two, and it blew me away. It was so hyped up at the time that I avoided it forever, but I'm so glad I finally saw it.

Honestly, I'll probably see all of these at some time or another. I forget to keep track of how many of these movies I'd actually seen... Let's see... *counts quickly*... only 62. So now I've got 38 suggestions on films to watch, which makes me happy.

Definitely thinking about redoing my 100 Favorite Films of 2001-2010 now... or something similar. I miss the pointless lists.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

XMAS: "Purple Snowflakes"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #35. I like this psychedelic Christmas tune; it was recorded in 1965 but was unreleased until 1992 when it was released on a Motown Christmas compilation. Instead, he re-recorded it as the single "Pretty Little Baby," which just never sounded as good to me. I love the reverb in this song; it's one of those tracks that sounds like it's coming out of the darkness, which is good for a Christmas song, since we generally only have about five or six hours of overcast daylight in December...

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past month or so.

DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
I really enjoyed this one; this is a side of the MCU we haven't really seen before, and the whole thing was actually much more fun than I expected it to be. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine as Stephen Strange--let's be honest, he's never going to be surprising in anything at this point; even his casting seems de rigueur--but I particularly loved Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius. It's very in vogue right now to say "Marvel has a villain problem" just because they don't tend to have characters standing on hilltops, laughing maniacally and screaming "I WILL RULE THE WORLD!!!!" I really disagree with that, and a character like Kaecilius, who is driven by his past tragedy and thinks he's making the right decisions is so much more interesting than that, and Mikkelsen plays him with gentility and charisma at the edges of his fervency. I liked Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Benedict Wong as Wong. I wanted more and more of the cosmic stuff; the Steve Ditko-inspired visuals are exactly what I was hoping for. And it's nice to have these films that are breathers between the bigger pieces of the tapestry. Just... just a fun movie, man. ****

HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE (1980)
Slasher flick about a man stalking and killing young brides. Alternately interesting and ridiculous; fun to make fun of with your partner. And, of course, this is Tom Hanks' first role, though he really only has a couple of scenes. **

IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)
We are deep into the inconsequential phase of Woody Allen's career, and this movie--about a troubled professor (Joaquin Phoenix) who has an affair with a colleague's wife (Parker Posey) as well as his wide-eyed student (Emma Stone) is as inconsequential and overly familiar as it gets. Same Woody Allen tropes, without any nuance or insight. Stop arguing that every man needs some young muse to make sense of his life. We get it, you like little girls. Just... just shut up. *

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015)
Biopic of N.W.A is well-acted, but suffers from the same problem as most music business biopics: the first half is high energy and compelling as Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre overcome obstacles and achieve success and make political statements, but becomes static in the second half as N.W.A gradually breaks up and the three rappers go on with their careers. There's too much plot to pack in, so none of the arcs are really satisfying, because the focus has to keep moving around. Overall it's a good movie, but it's long. Fantastic soundtrack, obviously. ***

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)
The third film in the series is a prequel focusing on Lin Shaye's character and how she and her paranormal investigator partners came together while trying to stop a possession. It's not as fun as the first two movies, or as focused. This story wasn't really crying out to be told, and seems like a placeholder until a fourth film happens. **1/2

BLACK MASS (2015)
You know, I guess I really don't care about organized crime movies anymore. They're all the same movie, terrible regional accents optional. This one's about Whitey Bulger, a personage whom we're always told is endlessly fascinating. Turns out no. And this movie feels about three hours longer than it actually is. Johnny Depp is actually fine--his accent's not any more egregious or self-indulgent than any of his castmates. But the whole movie is just somewhat well-shot nothing. **1/2

BY THE SEA (2015)
The critics trashed this one, but I actually really loved it. Angelina Jolie is interesting as director and writer here; she didn't make a movie influenced by the French New Wave, she just made a French New Wave movie. It's not apologetic about it, nor is it showy, though it looks great. She and Brad Pitt play an American couple on vacation in Malta in the early sixties. They're trying to save their marriage, attempting to recover from some tragedy that isn't explained until late into the movie. They discover a hole in the wall of their hotel room and become fascinated with the newlywed couple staying in the room next door. A lot of critics seemed to feel that the movie was morose and inert, but I didn't feel that way. Jolie's character is morose and inert, but that felt true to what PTSD can be like. It's been that way for me at times. She has a numbness that she's felt so long, she's using it as a security blanket and fears losing it, even going as far as to attempt to sabotage her marriage. I found it fascinating and well-made. ****

COP CAR (2015)
I was absolutely not prepared for the weight and intensity of this movie. Two young kids--we're talking under 10--run away from home and find a seemingly abandoned police cruiser. They decide to steal it, but find themselves pursued by the desperate cop (Kevin Bacon) who wants it back. The way this movie keeps escalating is almost brutal as the children find themselves bystanders to the adult chaos they become witnesses to. Director Jon Watts understands just how much tension an audience can take, but keeps pushing the limit in a way that's provocative and, sometimes, creepy. ***1/2

HARAKIRI (1962)
Excellent samurai film that I was completely riveted to. Masaki Kobayashi's film about a poor ronin who asks to commit harakiri in the palace courtyard, and spins a tale that examines the disparity of the samurai code of honor, weighing it against ethical conduct, human cruelty, and human tragedy. I want to steal/quote Roger Ebert's description here: the film "is about an older wandering samurai who takes his time to create an unanswerable dilemma for the elder of a powerful clan. By playing strictly within the rules of Bushido Code which governs the conduct of all samurai, he lures the powerful leader into a situation where sheer naked logic leaves him humiliated before his retainers." It's a controlled, measured film, very thoughtful and totally compelling. ****

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)
I don't even want to talk about it. I mean, I could write an entire post about how terrible this movie is, but it's not worth it. First, because I don't want to invite discussion, because this movie is so stupidly polarizing. And second, because it's not worth the effort. It's shit. It's somehow too long and too short, breezing through scenes that have no beginning and no end, only brief middles with sophomoric dialogue and something vaguely resembling a plot. It's not even about Superman or Batman, it's about a self-loathing symbol and a hypocritical murderer wearing Superman and Batman costumes and struggling with their misguided savior complexes while Jesse Eisenberg flounces around being annoying and everyone else has what I can only describe as extended, inconsequential cameos. This movie is incomprehensible and poorly made and has no redeeming factor. Not even Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman has such little bearing on the plot that I actually forgot she was in it; her whole role is a teaser for a movie that looks like a more dour version of Captain America: The First Avenger. I don't know who this movie is made for, but it wasn't made for me. I love Superman and Batman. This movie doesn't understand them. I hated this movie. I feel like this movie hated me back. Fuck this movie. Zero stars.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

XMAS: Peanuts, 1979

Sparky seems to have been in more of a Christmas mood than usual this year.