31 January 2010


Between screenwriting books, film classes and pop culture I knew at least 80% of the film already, but somehow I'd never actually sat down and watched Jaws before. I was surprised how much it reminded me of John Carpenter's (later, 1980) film The Fog, in its scope and mood. Back when horror films were about a monster (puzzle) that a couple of experts had to find a way to conquer (solve). Back when movies were meant to scare you, not just make you jump.

The shark could absolutely pass for real, by the way.

29 January 2010

Lost (seasons 1 - 5)

Okay, it's TV and not a movie, but I've watched every single episode, 103 in total (five seasons so far), over the last 35 days. I guess that means I averaged 2.94 episodes a day. I had several epiphanies -- most notably understanding the thematic place Jack has in the show, and subsequently finding a rationale for his every action, at least on a thematic level (having a character who only makes sense as a symbol, and having him be part of the "heart" of your show... well, nobody said the show wasn't flawed). Now that I've caught up in time for the upcoming new season, I can say: one of my favorite things is that we've spent over a hundred hours of story with complicated, interweaving layers of adversaries, and we still really don't know who the "good guys" are. I don't know another show that's ever even tried that, let alone pulled it off.

A recent conversation(/debate) with my friend Dutch led me to realize I have a hierarchy in what I look for in drama: 1. Character, 2. Theme, and 3. Plot -- and in that order. Lost as a show strikes a gripping and nonstop back-and-forth between all three. I have so many hunches about what comes next, in the last 18 episodes of the show, although I know better than to make concrete guesses as to how it's going to turn out. No matter how it does, one thing is for sure: I've enjoyed the ride.

(This is a longer-than-average post, but it was a longer-than-average amount of story I watched to get here.)

27 January 2010

North By Northwest

I have a much more contentious relationship with Hitchcock than almost anyone else I know, in that I think he's a really pretty terrible director but an amazing filmmaker. But North By Northwest holds up maybe the best, because the script is so brilliant: fun, clever, surprising, and nonstop. Even Hitch's unique sense of pacing or Cary Grant's unique brand of acting can't unmake this masterpiece.

Buffalo '66

About half an hour in I described this film as "like Crispin Glover and John Waters had a baby, and that baby was bitter, and that baby made a bitter, weird, sad-funny black comedy," but then something happened, and the surreal artificiality grew on me, and I started caring. I have to go on record and say: I'm a big Christina Ricci fan, and this justifies it. You never really understand why she loves him, but you also never doubt that she does.

25 January 2010

In A Lonely Place

I fall in love with Gloria Grahame just about as quickly and recklessly as Bogart. But the real joy in this is the dialogue.


I have to admit, there's something all-over-the-place about this story that makes it feel unfocused and B-movie-ish, but it's got strange intricate layers and it's beautiful and acid-dreamy and fun to return to anyway.

23 January 2010

Inglourious Basterds

I always like Tarantino films a lot more the second time I view them, because his strength has always been in the beauty of the details, not the overall dramatic narrative.

21 January 2010


Everything I want a science fiction film to be, this is. Note to Duncan Jones: please keep making films of this caliber but please forgo your temptation to make a sequel.

18 January 2010

Pulp Fiction

Watched this with a focus on chronology and characterization. The charm here is making the bigger-than-life movieland crime-worlds feel lived in and dimensional, even when it's all stylized and "cool."

16 January 2010

Bande à part (Band of Outsiders)

Godard's early films make whimsy feel anything but sentimental, and a love of cinema feel anything but cheap, and postmodern criticism feel anything but gimmicky.

15 January 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus *

Sloppy in a familiar way -- think Munchausen and Time Bandits and, hell, parts of Brazil -- and told so earnestly you can't help but admire it. The world is appealing, the characters interesting, but the story feels weak and unfocused. None of which is because of (or improved by) Heath Ledger's midshoot recasting. This and Tideland would make an excellent and telling double-feature, for understanding Terry Gilliam's worldview/philosophy.

Seen at Cinema 21.

13 January 2010

District 9

Watching it again I was impressed with how seamless they take us from the staid mockumentary format of the exposition-heavy first act into the handheld fly-on-the-wall storytelling of act two. The story has enough momentum you barely even notice.

12 January 2010

The Informant! *

Had to see it a second time before it left theaters; I love this movie. Best use of voiceover in years, best Soderbergh film in years (and I've liked them all to varying degrees), best use of Scott Bakula since Quantum Leap. I wonder if he'd let me call him "Bry"?

Seen at Laurelhurst Theater.

11 January 2010

Y tu mamá también

I was looking for a road movie with a love triangle and you don't get more triangled than this. The novelistic approach to voiceover gives the story a historical/political layer, but it's still the characters and their desires that keep me enthralled. Especially the notion of chasing a paradise that nobody really believes in: the lie agreed upon. Heaven's Mouth, indeed.

10 January 2010

砂の女 (Suna no onna / Woman In The Dunes)

I'm a huge fan of the Abe/Teshigahara collaborations. This one's the sexy one, but it's actually a little mopey, very creepy and thought-provoking. Which is, actually, exactly how I like my sexy. Ask anyone. (Well, okay, you can go light on the creepy.)

08 January 2010


I think Brad Bird's stories are a head above the rest of Pixar, and I consider this their pinnacle work. I actually suspect the entire thing is a metaphor for the secret history of the company, but all that aside: everything it sets out to do it excels at, and that list is too big to get into. I might put it on a list of films I'd call "flawless." A film with no missteps.

03 January 2010

Monsters, Inc.

Many people cite this as their favorite Pixar movie, but I didn't get around to it until after more complex stories like Ratatouille, Up, Wall-E and even The Incredibles, so for me this was merely cute. Sorry, everyone.


Like Wall-E, it feels flawless for about 40 minutes, and then when our heroes get to the New World, they meet colorful, ridiculous goofy characters, and the story feels hijacked by broadly-painted hijinks and easy moral lessons. And like Wall-E, it's incredibly watchable despite this.

01 January 2010

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Reasonably well told with an interesting final act, and some really solid astronaut stuff, but it just can't escape the shadow of its trascendent predecessor.