[Metro Classics]

As I’ve rather obsessively discussed, one of the reasons I would find it difficult to leave Seattle is the sheer accessibility of film, including multiple revival series. One of my favorites is provided by Metro Classics, and my only criticism of them is that they don’t sell series passes; if I could buy a pass, I would be much more diligent about attending films.

I did make it to three out of this last series. First, Swing Time, because I felt the opportunity to see a Fred & Ginger movie on the big screen was not to be missed. I haven’t seen Swing Time since I was a child, obsessively watching AMC (back when they actually showed American Movie Classics), and it was great fun. There are a bunch of great numbers in that show, like “A Fine Romance” & “The Way You Look Tonight”, and of course the dancing is filmed flawlessly in long & sweeping takes. It does have a blackface number that takes one aback as a modern viewer, but to the film’s credit, it’s not a mockery or a caricature. It’s a tribute to Bill Robinson, a great dancer.

On a showbiz roll, I came back the next week for All That Jazz, Bob Fosse’s over-the-top musical about his own death. We went over parts of it in my college film class (the fucking brilliant opening scene in particular — name me another movie that delivers that much information about the main character in less than one minute) but I don’t think I’ve seen it in full since then.

Roy Scheider brings incredible energy to the role of Joe Gideon, Fosse’s stand-in, and it will forever be the primary project I associate with him (followed by SeaQuest DSV, lest ye think me some variety of snob.) There’s a magnificent use of sound, one of those things that when it’s good you don’t notice and when it’s amazing you do. The whole thing is deeply personal, incredibly dark, excessive, perfectly flawed, and beautiful. It’s definitely the film in this series I’m most glad I made the effort to see.

Barton Fink is an entirely different kind of showbiz movie, with John Turturro fighting writer’s block in a hellish hotel in Hollywood. It’s not the sort of film that you’d expect really needed to be seen in the theater, since it’s more of a character/allegorical piece, but on DVD I had never noticed how fantastic the sound design was. (No, seriously. It’s amazing.) And of course it’s lit by Roger Deakins, who is a genius. In the end Fink‘s not my favorite Coen brothers film, nor is it their most accessible, but it is exquisitely crafted.

[Weekend Roundup]

Apparently I spent the weekend at the movie theater. Here we go:

A Serious Man is the newest Coen Brothers film, a Job story set in the Minnesota town they grew up in, a Midwest Jewish suburban hell. As it ended, I couldn’t help but think of You, the Living. It has the same sort of grey-blue hope, in one full fable rather than a series of short ones. Michael Stuhlbarg is perfection in the lead (though not the title role), always amazed at what’s happening to him, wondering what he did to deserve it, what he can do to make things change, and what God might have to say about all of this. Ask the rabbi? Good luck with that.

Somehow it seemed to make perfect sense to follow it up with Salesman, a documentary in the 69 series by another set of brothers, David and Albert Maysles, who also filmed Grey Gardens. It follows a group of Bible salesmen as they travel their territories, and as one, Paul Brennan, tries to break his losing streak. Faith is being exploited everywhere — the company exploits the salesmen just as they exploit their customers — with the result that God is nowhere, but audience sympathy is everywhere. Rent & medical bills are due, and $50 for a Bible in the late 60s is an extraordinary amount of money, but as Brennan sucks down cigarettes in cramped hotel rooms and rented cars, you really want the poor guy to make a sale before the company sends him home to Boston and his wife who repeatedly reminds him not to drive too fast.

SIFF Cinema ran a mini Hitchcock festival all weekend, but I only made it over for one double feature: Strangers on a Train & Dial M For Murder which were a lot of fun to see with an audience, Robert Walker & Ray Milland making for a set of delicious villains.

[Holy Pajamas.]

I saw one movie a month for a while, which didn’t seem worth posting about, but now all of a sudden I have found my groove again. Let’s catch up. (Which is possibly the most-typed phrase on this blog. Oh well.)

* Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Exactly what you think it will be, and probably all the more effective because I got to see it with some of my favorite ladies in the world.

* The Pineapple Express. Loved it. Shut up, all of you. I can’t help it. Saul+Dale=BFFF.

* Burn After Reading. People have such short memories. When No Country For Old Men came out, people were surprised, as if there had never been Blood Simple. Then this year the Coens come out with this, and there’s, like, collective whiplash. Catch up, folks. It’s a wicked amount of fun, but it didn’t stick with me, which is totally fine.

* The Lucky Ones. Three clichés on a road trip, while on leave from the war in Iraq. Terrible, but not in an interesting way. I suspected as much going in, but Rachel McAdams is cute, the movie was free, and what else am I going to do on a Sunday morning?

* The Godfather. Recently restored & reissued, it played at the Cinerama, which is basically the best thing ever. Just as utterly captivating as always.

* Richard III. The Ian McKellen version. Fabulous. Obviously. I am not even close to a Shakespeare purist, so my toes curl for interesting updated. 1930s Fascist England? Why not? Also, the music is *fantastic*.

* Looking for Richard. Shown as part of a double feature with the above (and also in the same weekend that I saw The Godfather. Quite a lineup.) I love basically everything about Richard, from the high propaganda of Shakespeare to the back-to-the-source telling of The Daughter of Time, and in this piece, we get a peek on on actors approaching the text. Great fun.

* The Secret Life of Bees. Another free movie. I am ashamed to admit that its treacly sentimentality totally worked on me (hey, sometimes it happens) but oh MAN. Can we please, for the love of god, someday have this movie without the damn white people? Thanks.

* Ashes of Time Redux. Gorgeous. Can’t wait for the DVD. (Please, don’t bother with the original DVD. It is literally unwatchable.)

* Zack and Miri Make a Porno. One more for free. I love Kevin Smith, I love Seth Rogen, & I loved the surprising number of featured handknits. I also love that the couple sitting next to me got up and walked out a half-hour into it. I mean, seriously. Seriously. It’s not like *anything* in the movie was a surprise. I mean, come on. It is exactly what you think it will be.

[The Humanity-is-Fucked series, or, the 70s are back]

* The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This is a lot of movie. It is also a *beautiful* movie, which should be no surprise as it’s lit by Roger Deakins, one of the few cinematographers I manage to know the name of. The others include Christopher Doyle, of course, and Conrad Hall, who made Sam Mendes’s films look much better than they actually were. (Famously, when Hall passed away, I wondered who on earth Mendes would get next. Mendes is no fool. He now works with Deakins. Who, by the way, also works a lot with the Coens.) ANYWAY. This was a horribly mis-managed film from a marketing perspective. I mean, this is a Brad Pitt film fer crissakes, but it sat around for ages, and then when it was finally released, in many cities reviewers weren’t even given the chance to see it. It’s long, the pacing is a little weird, it’s clearly influenced by Malick (which for me is a good thing, but I am not normal), Mary-Louise Parker is desperately underused, but Pitt is excellent, and the film is carried on Casey Affleck’s surprisingly capable shoulders. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am really curious about a longer cut.

* Also lit by Deakins, No Country for Old Men is one freaky movie. I have two favorite moments. First, when Brolin & Macdonald are sitting on the couch early on in the film, both looking straight ahead, but in their demeanor & dialogue you can totally tell the depth & strength of their relationship. Second, when Bardem exits a house and checks the bottom of his shoes. Bardem, who I have long adored, and now? He terrifies me. THANKS, GUYS. Good thing Tommy Lee Jones was there being awesome. Also, it is probably worth noting that I had read the book a few weeks before seeing the film, and it was still totally engaging.

* I had really been looking forward to American Gangster, but it seemed to spend the whole time hanging on the edge of being a great film. It was good, well-cast, etc, but I couldn’t help comparing it to Zodiac which I loved. AG pales in comparison.

* I really enjoyed Michael Clayton, for Clooney, of course, but also for Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson & his touch of scenery-chewing. Satisfying!

* Finally, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead sort of destroyed me. I respect it, it was full of strong performances, but it was really draining to watch. Now I am looking for a film that will not make me want to slit my wrists. Suggestions?