Film

Beau Travail and Britten’s Billy Budd

But the emotional effect of the music — on me, at least — is anything but ironic. In true Melvillian fashion, this is an epic battle of Drama and Meaning, the most epic battle, in fact, if we recall our fuzzy memories of the Christian symbolism that permeates Billy Budd. Granted, Denis strips away most of those symbols, but the central conflict of the film remains mostly unchanged.

You’re Tearing Me Apart!

Or, a few words about Nicholas Ray’s Born to be Bad (1950) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Five Spiritually Significant Films

The fine folks at the Arts and Faith discussion forum have cast their votes, crunched the numbers, and released their second annual list of the Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films. In honor of their fine work, I offer my own obvious and predictable Top 5 list.

In a Lonely Place (1950)

What she whispers to him is less important than the unexpected moment of silent intimacy shared between these two lovers in a crowded, noisy room. The whole film is in that image — Dix bowing his head to her as a gesture of trust; Laurel closing her eyes in hope of love, then opening them to the sight of a detective entering the room.

Diving Deep into Caveh Zahedi’s In the Bathtub of the World

This essay was presented at the 2005 conference of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association.

I Am a Sex Addict (2005)

In the opening shot, Zahedi addresses the camera directly, introduces himself as Caveh, and tells us that for many years he was a sex addict. His film is a frank, neatly-plotted, and curiously moving recreation of those years. It’s also incredibly transgressive and very, very funny. Quite a balancing act.

Fifteen for Fifteen

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, the IMDb has invited its editorial staff to submit their Top 15 Lists: 1990-2005. Never one to pass up an opportunity to obsess for a few days over such a challenge, I’ve put together a list of my own — a list joyfully free of editorial imposition, meaning that I can stretch and/or ignore even the most basic criteria/rules.

Boring Art Films

I just stumbled upon a review of Un Couple parfait that calls it the “quintessential Boring Art Film.” I have no qualms with this particular critic. In fact, he and I are often in agreement. All of which makes me wonder, Why do I love Boring Art Films?

Le Temps qui reste (2005)

I hadn’t planned to write about Le Temps qui reste, but then, while typing up notes this morning, I tripped over this line from E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel: “My sister and I can never inflict total damage — that is the saving grace. The right to offend irreparably is a blood right.”

Un Couple parfait (2005)

Look closely at the image above. It’s Un Couple parfait in miniature — a story told in body language.

And Then There Were None

A friend’s line last year was, “Thank God there are no more movies. I wish there were more movies.” That about sums it up, I’d say. A last batch of first impressions.

Movies, They’re Everywhere, Man. EVERYWHERE!

Last Thursday, Girish introduced me to a friend of his, a Toronto native who had just returned from Montreal, where he had seen 54 films at that festival. He had another 45 tickets in hand for TIFF. I don’t get it. I just left my 31st film (I think), and I’m exhausted. Completely.

Losing Touch with Reality

I haven’t decided if the quality of films is improving or if I’m simply developing calluses to sentimentality and failed ambitions, but I’ve seen several good films (though few great ones) since my last update — and not a dud in the lot.

The Very Best Intentions

After three days, 14 films, a brilliant Sufjan Stevens concert, several fantastic meals, and too little sleep, I’ve abandoned my ambitions of blogging a brief capsule review of everything I see. There’s too little time, and I don’t want my TIFF experience to be hampered by blog guilt. Instead, here are some brief comments — first impressions and unsupported opinions, mostly.

Blogging TIFF

I have tickets for 44 films this year, plus a ticket to Sufjan Stevens’ sold out concert at the St. Paul’s Centre. 44 tickets. It’s absurd. But with a 50-film festival pass, I decided to schedule as many as possible, knowing that I’ll end up skipping a handful along the way.

Christmas Morning

The plan is to spend the next few hours poring through the catalog, obsessing over the schedule, and checking titles off of my spreadsheet — yes, I created a spreadsheet — all in hopes of creating the most efficient and dud-free lineup of films possible. I then overnight my ticket requests back to Toronto and hope for the best.

A Few Words on . . .

Week in Review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, John Vanderslice, DeLillo, Hornby, Jarmusch, and The Battle of Algiers

Week in Review

With apologies to Nick Hornby. While reading The Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of his “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns from The Believer, two things occurred to me.

Dreaming of Movies

I had my first TIFF-related dream last night. It was kind of like that dream where you show up for a final exam after skipping class all semester, except that, instead of sliding into a strange classroom, I was wandering around Toronto with no tickets because I’d forgotten to submit my out-of-town form. I woke up feeling anxious.

What Are We Talking About?

I got the sense that this guy was accustomed to being the most knowledgeable (or at least the loudest) guy in the room, so I was content to let him talk until he ran out of steam, hoping all the while that Joanna would wander back in our direction or that a meteor would destroy the apartment complex across the street. Anything that would give us an excuse to change the subject.

The Great Films, Part 1

In a deliberate effort to beef up my cinephile cred, lately I’ve been loading my GreenCine queue with selections from the list of 1,000 Greatest Films compiled by the folks at They Shoot Pictures.

Feelin’ Tingly All Over

TIFF has released its new poster.

Some Favorite Moments

Nothing like a film meme to get the desiccated, blog-writing juices flowing again.

Short Takes

Some recent viewings: Notre Musique, The Best Years of Our Lives, Sunrise, Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)

How would the tone of the film change, for example, had she included reports from the crime scene or interviews with his wife’s surviving family? Instead, we are offered only one quick glance at a photo of the woman who later would be brutally murdered, and a few fond remembrances of her from Harvey’s friends.

SFIFF 2005

San Francisco, in case this hasn’t been said often enough, is a great city, and I spent most of my time there doing all of the touristy things one is obligated to do during a first visit — riding cable cars, walking through Muir Woods, taking pictures of the Golden Gate bridge, browsing through record and book shops, and eating to the point of exhaustion.

The Filmgoer’s Guide To God

A few interesting snippets from part 1 of Jonathan Hourigan’s interview with Tim Cawkwell, author of The Filmgoer’s Guide To God. . .

Slacker (1991)

Linklater, perhaps more than any other contemporary filmmaker, is alive to the potential and the basic human value of the men and women who walk in and out of his films. And he seems to have a particular fondness for the folks who live on the margins, whether by choice or necessity.

Cinephilia in a Digital Age

This a blog-length response to a book-length subject, but is it possible to underestimate how radically our relationship to cinema has been changed by technology in the last 8 years?

Chocolat (1988)

Reviewers who have deemed “unnecessary” the framing device involving the adult France have completely misread Chocolat, I think. While there is much to recommend in the film—Agnes Godard’s cinematography, the many fine performances, and Denis’s typically seductive pacing, to name just a few—Denis’s handling of the film’s subjective perspective is what differentiates this film from other earnest and well-intentioned examinations of racism and/or colonialism.

Fallen Creatures in a Fallen World: The Films of John Cassavetes

This essay was originally published at Sojourners.

On the Newsstand

When I was contacted by an editor at Sojourners a couple months ago and invited to contribute to their Culture Watch section, I felt some ambivalence about the offer.

The Skywalk is Gone (2002)

The Skywalk is Gone is like a little gift to all of us who have followed Tsai’s career, and I’m thrilled that Wellspring included it on the DVD release of Goodbye, Dragon Inn.

2005 Film Diary

A day-by-day viewing log of my filmwatching habits in 2005, beginning with Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Sizzou (2004) and ending with Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale (2005).

Best Films of 2004

I’m paralyzed by the process of ranking films, but Café Lumière was an easy choice for favorite of the year. A transcendent film about transcendence, Hou’s homage to Ozu is a beautifully human piece, full of silence and grace and, most of all, curiosity.

Feeling Sick

That, my friends, is the CSI: Forensic Facial Reconstruction Kit: Case #2 Blue Eyes, available for the holidays from Toys R Us.

Tarnation (2004)

Look closely at the image I’ve posted above. Mother and son. Finally at rest. Finally at peace. It’s one of Tarnation’s closing images and also one of its most poignant. A glimmer of hope. Love among the ruins. But here’s the thing: the scene is staged.

Friday Night (2002)

Joanna tells me — and she’s told me this many times over the years — that she fell in love the first time we held hands. I couldn’t imagine what she meant. Men, in my experience at least, seldom consider hands. Or, we consider them only when they’re noticeable — scarred, chewed, ornamented by loudly painted nails. Even then, though, we offer only a passing glance and a quick, rarely-conscious judgment. To really consider a hand demands a certain intimacy, I think. We’re allowed to stare at faces, encouraged even to maintain eye contact during public conversations, but to really look at a hand (or the place where a neck meets a shoulder or the back of a knee) is taboo outside of a bedroom (metaphorically speaking).

They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?

The fine folks at They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? have done some more tweaking to their list of The 1,000 Greatest Films. You’ve got to admire their initiative. It’s like the movie fanatic’s Holy Grail.

TIFF By the Numbers

Films, meals, friends, and so on.

Quick Update

The real highlight, though, has been discovering Toronto, which, especially this week, is possibly the most international city in North America. I’m introverted by nature but have really enjoyed striking up conversations with strangers in line and in the theaters. So many interesting lives intersecting here.

9 Songs (2004)

“It’s claustrophobia and agoraphobia in the same place, like two people in a bed.” Matt (Kieran O’Brien) delivers this line in voice-over after the fact — after his ex-girlfriend Lisa (Margot Stilley) has returned home to America and after he has returned to Antarctica, where he is researching glaciers.

Little Sky (2004)

Like a Frank Norris or Theodore Dreiser novel, Little Sky drives steadily toward its inevitable, and inevitably dark, conclusion.

Moolaade (2004)

Sembene introduced his film by reminding his mostly white, mostly Western audience that Africa — the entire continent, its nations, its governments, and its people — is experiencing a period of unprecedented transition. There was no moralizing or condemnation in his tone, not even a suggestion of the catastrophic crises and genocides that fill the back pages of our newspapers. Africa is in transition, he told us, and this film is about that transition.

Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (2004)

Angelopoulos introduced his latest with very few words. It is to be the first of three films about the life of a Greek woman who manages to survive the 20th century, and its concern is “the human condition.”

Schizo (2004)

Omarova’s debut takes its title from a nickname given to the main character. Schizo (Olzhas Nusuppaev) is 15 years old and a bit slow; his classmates abuse him and exploit his gullibility. He is soon hired by his mother’s thug boyfriend (Eduard Tabyschev) to recruit unemployed laborers for illegal boxing matches.

Tell Them Who You Are (2004)

Tell Them Who You Are has the best opening scene of any film I saw at this year’s festival. Haskell Wexler is standing in his camera equipment room, taking stock of his inventory for an upcoming sale.

Earth and Ashes (2004)

Days after his village is destroyed in a bombing raid, Dastaguir (Abdul Ghani) and his five-year-old grandson Yacine (Jawan Mard Homayoun) jump from the back of a pickup truck and take their seats at a desert crossroads, where they wait and wait for a ride to a nearby mine.

10e Chambre, instants d’audiences (2004)

During the screening of 10e Chambre, instants d’audiences, I was quite disappointed by the film, but even then I knew that my disappointment was with the audience rather than with the film itself.

3-Iron (2004)

Jae Hee plays Tae-suk, a young man who breaks into homes, prepares meals, bathes and naps, then repays the homeowner’s generosity by performing small acts of kindness: washing clothes, repairing broken electronics, and the like.