Sunday, September 28, 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Directors/writers/editors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
Photography: Neal Fredericks
Music: Tony Cora
Cast: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams
In its brief moment, The Blair Witch Project was such a many-tentacled phenomenon that even up front it requires a little sorting and unpacking. For your consideration: the over-the-top guerrilla marketing campaign, the extraordinary profit generated (nearly $250 million in revenue on a $25,000 production for a staggering return of 1,000,000%), its use of the so-called "found footage" narrative, the strategies of the filmmakers to elicit performances and create a unique look and feel, and last but not least the episodes of vertigo reported by viewers sickened by the shaky handheld style of shooting. There's also of course the question of whether it's even scary at all.
That last is an easy one for me. Yes, it's scary, not in the manner of outright shock and mayhem, but rather in exploiting an insidious, irresistible dread and hopelessness that feel like the last stop before complete despair, whether the sources are supernatural or it's just banal old death from exposure. The Blair Witch Project is loud, loose, messy, clumsy, aimless, and obvious. It's a stunt, with all manner of low-budget gaffes, no sense of tonal consistency, and numbing repetitions. Yet somehow it never fails to get inside my head and make my skin crawl. Likely spoilers ahead.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
In case it's not at the library.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Director/writer: Michael Haneke
Photography: Christian Berger
Editors: Michael Hudecek, Nadine Muse
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydès, Aïssa Maïga
Written and directed by Michael Haneke, released in the UK under the name Hidden, and formally taking on the qualities of a thriller, it can't come as much surprise that Caché is a bit of a puzzle-box movie. In fact, in its premise, it bears a remarkable resemblance to another puzzle-box movie of eight years earlier, David Lynch's Lost Highway. Georges and Anne Laurent (played by Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) are an upper middle class Parisian couple with an adolescent son—smug bourgeoisie, not to put too fine a point on it. They begin to experience a subtle form of harassment. Someone is leaving videotapes accompanied by grotesque and cryptic drawings on their doorstep. The videotapes show hours of the exterior of their home, a static image shot from a stationary camera, with occasional traffic and pedestrians passing across the frame—even Georges himself at one point, who can't remember ever seeing a camera. The pictures show figures with blood.
The mystery is mostly irrelevant in the strategy of the movie, but I will register the usual point about spoilers. It doesn't take long before Georges figures out what it's about, and what really lies at the center of this story: relations between his family of origin and an Algerian couple they hired as servants. The couple disappeared in a historical atrocity now known as the "Paris massacre of 1961." In the backstory of Caché the result is that Georges's family is left with the couple's orphaned son, Majid, who is about Georges's age. At first they make plans to take custody of him but a 6-year-old Georges resents the intrusion on his place in the family and makes up stories about Majid that may or may not have resulted in Majid being "sent away," to an obviously inferior fate.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
In case it's not at the library.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Director: Steve James
Writers: Steve James, Frederick Marx
Photography: Peter Gilbert
Music: Ben Sidran
Editors: William Haugse, Steve James, Frederick Marx
With: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Steve James, Emma Gates, Curtis Gates, Sheila Agee, Arthur "Bo" Agee, Earl Smith, Gene Pingatore
A couple of things about Hoop Dreams: First, perhaps most remarkably, it hasn't dated much for a documentary that somehow is already 20 years old. The story of two Chicago youths with a knack for playing basketball and dreams of turning that into their ticket to better lives remains, if anything, more poignant, compelling, and relevant than ever. This is accomplished partly by its willingness to slip into the syntax of classic Hollywood sports tales—for me, Breaking Away and Hoosiers come to mind immediately. Some of the best parts emerge directly out of the drama of important games with high stakes. Even more, it's accomplished by director and co-producer Steve James's willingness to settle on a story and follow it down its tortuous path. It's the story of any sports career. It's the story of any life.
Make that two stories: Arthur Agee and William Gates. The second remarkable point about Hoop Dreams is how short and incomplete it feels, even at nearly three hours. It focuses on Agee and Gates from when they are 14 and looking to use basketball as a leg up and a way in, both with talent enough to receive financial assistance from a Chicago private high school with a successful basketball program, St. Joseph. The picture follows the twists and turns of their high school careers and suddenly leaves us with only a few clues about their subsequent college careers. It's up to us to rush to Wikipedia to fill in what has happened with their lives since then, including whether or not they ever made it to the NBA. Hoop Dreams is so good at what it does it's virtually guaranteed most people seeing it will take the time to poke around for that information.
Friday, September 05, 2014
Director: Sergio Leone
Writers: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Mickey Knox
Photography: Tonino Delli Colli
Music: Ennio Morricone
Editors: Eugene Alabiso, Nino Baragli
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Luigi Pistilli, Rada Rassimov, Antonio Casas
Eli Wallach's teeth are too good—and that goes for Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef too. Gleaming white and straight and lined up just the way modern-day dentists like them. At some point—I think usually around the time Tuco (aka "the Ugly," Wallach) has brought Blondie (aka "the Good," Eastwood) to a monastery to recover from a bad time in the desert—I notice how well tended those teeth are and I am taken temporarily out of the action. My last complaint. That's the niggling level of my criticism about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is otherwise practically flawless.
It is, as the mystifying phrase we like to use now has it, what it is, and makes no bones about it. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a cartoon-level Western trafficking in existentialism, with extra fine shooting and a bone-simple story of revenge and greed animating the three principals, as the divertissement, cutting across history and causing it to fall away: the Civil War, the railroads, horses and guns and broad brim hats and brown liquor downed straight. All the familiar elements are here, but merely to serve as feeble context for these three gods striding through and defining the action, straight out of a deck of tarot cards—the two angels of heaven and hell, and the trickster fool with the sad, sad story.