[69 Series]

Guys, the 69 Series at the Northwest Film Forum was basically the cheapest intro to film class ever. I bought the series pass thinking, well. $69 is about seven movies. There would definitely be that many I wanted to see, and there would probably be more I would see if they were already paid for. Since that’s how my mind works. I saw 21, which works out to a little over $3 a film. Most worth it, in my opinion, and I finally joined the Film Forum while I was at it.

I saw a lot of great stuff, that I’ve talked about before, but the best surprises had to be The Rain People (very early Coppola) & Salesman (a documentary about door-to-door Bible salesmen).

Ones I’m kicking myself for missing: too many to list. Pretty much everything where I decided I was too busy or too sick or too tired or flat-out misread the calendar. I particularly regret missing Fellini’s Satyricon, thinking it was playing the full week. D’oh.

[The Men Who Stare at True Grit]

I had not been in a hurry to see The Men Who Stare at Goats, because I had heard such mixed buzz, but after a pretty difficult day at work we decided that Ewan MacGregor and George Clooney being goofy was just what we needed. And we were right.

They have great chemistry, the story is bizarre enough (and convoluted a bit with flashback) that I didn’t know where it was going, and it was exactly what we needed: a ridiculous movie about the New Earth Army, claiming that more of it is true than we’d think.


The last movie I saw in the 69 Series, True Grit, was also pretty darn entertaining. Kim Darby is a 14 year old girl who hires (a drunken, eye-patched) John Wayne to hunt down the killer of her father. One of the original reviews described Darby’s performance thus: “the supposedly 14-year old heroine delivers her campy archaic lines with all the aplomb of an elephant playing hopscotch”. How great an image is that? All the more so because it’s true.

Also tagging along is Glen Campbell, who wants to bring the killer back to Texas. Robert Duvall is the killer in question. Great fun, though the ending was a bit overlong.

I am astonished that it was rated G, though. You can kill heaps of people and it’s appropriate for general audiences? Film ratings are total crap, with pretty much zero consistency.

[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.

[Quick hits]

* Whip It is more or less your standard coming of age story. It’s a formula, but a formula that works, and this time came with a bonus: roller derby. Charming as hell, and much better than I expected it to be. If you’ve never been to derby, though, be advised that’s what derby was like when it started. Derby is changing fast, has been cleaned up a lot, and the odds are your local league is flat track. The passion for the the sport, though, you’ll recognize anywhere.

* Bright Star is a heartbreakingly beautiful film. Abbie Cornish is luminous, Ben Whishaw’s Keats is darned pretty himself, and Paul Schneider’s Brown is well aware of both of them. If this isn’t a Yuletide fandom I’ll eat my non-existent hat. Here’s the thing, though. As exquisitely crafted as it was, flawlessly written, acted, and shot, there was something missing, some note of why she chose to tell this story. It’s a hard thing to pin down when it’s there, and harder still when it isn’t, but when I can’t find it, it makes it a tough film for me to love. One thing I did particularly want to note, though, was the attention given to Fanny’s sewing. It’s the one area in her life where she could funnel her passion and creativity, and I am glad it got the screen time it deserved.

* Johnny Cash in San Quentin wasn’t quite what I expected, but that actually was an improvement. Part of the Film Forum’s 69 series, it included performance footage as well as interviews with inmates. It’s a BBC documentary, and it opens with some unexpected footage — a bit on the myth of the American West, with reenactments that leave much to be desired, but once it gets into the show (intercut with prisoner interviews) you wish it would keep going. 60 minutes was far too short!

* Toy Story & Toy Story 2 were recently rereleased in 3D. It was a lot of fun. The first is cleverer than I had remembered, and I had never seen the second one at all. I am coming round a little bit on 3D. It worked well here, unlike in Coraline where I found it distracting. I mentioned this last time I saw Toy Story, but I do love that it’s a single parent family and, in a rare feat for Disney, it’s a single mother. It doesn’t make up for their typically appalling record on female characters, but it helps. (Also, just because I thought to look it up now, according to Wikipedia, the font of True Facts, passenger side airbags were first offered as an option on the 95 model Volvo and were standard after that. For those who were concerned about the baby seat in the front. You know who you are.)

* Finally, Singin’ In the Rain was this week’s Metro Classics offering, so of course I had to go. My TV isn’t nearly as big as the theater screen, and it’s a little awkward in my living room when I’m the only one applauding for the “Make ’em Laugh” sequence. Fantastic, of course, and I have to say, if you don’t like this movie? I am quietly judging you. Also, I think this is the first time I’ve seen it since I watched the extras on Rififi and learned how kind and generous Kelly was to Jules Dassin, particularly when Dassin was being snubbed by the Hollywood community at Cannes. It makes it that much better to know that Kelly was a fantastic human being.

In the next week I’m seeing A Serious Man, two Hitchcocks, Where the Wild Things Are, and Precious. It’s fall movie season, kids, and I couldn’t be more excited. I should probably take a look at the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival schedule too, but so much gay film is crap I generally have trouble getting around to it.

In the world of things that are interesting only to me, this means that by the end of next week I’ll have met my film-in-the-theater record from 2007, and that with two and a half months of 2009 to go. Oh my giddy aunt!


Okay, this is ridiculous. I was doing so well, and then I went to a preview screening of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and had some sort of a meltdown. Do I write about it as a movie person? Do I write about it as a fan? Wah! So I will just say that I enjoyed the experience (Cinerama!), that I need to see how they’ll do the final two films before I can pass judgment on what was cut out, and that it ain’t no Prisoner of Azkaban. (This is where, if I was writing as a fan, I would draw hearts around Alfonso Cuaron. Don’t judge.)

What else since then?

I saw more 69 movies: Downhill Racer (Redford!), Topaz (spy thriller, and most un-Hitchcock Hitchcock since Mr & Mrs Smith), Dillinger is Dead (which was really upsetting — I am losing my edge in my old age — but one hell of a performance from Michel Piccoli), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (which is what you should see, if you see only one of these, and not just because it stars Maggie Smith), and If…. (which was a surreal satire, and an interesting double feature with Brodie).

Then, a few ostensibly kids movies: Up, which I had wanted to see all along (the teaser trailer was a perfectly formed short film), but apparently it took record breaking heat to get me into the theater. I liked it better than Wall-E, I think, because it was good all the way through and in Wall-E I stopped being interested once humans were involved. (And have we talked about the trans character already? Yes, probably.) And I got to see a free screening of Ponyo, which was adorable. More Totoro than Mononoke, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Metro started its classics series again, but I have only made it over there for The Informant! I nearly forgot, which I suppose is probably a sign. It was lower-key than I had expected, but I am quite curious how it’d play on second viewing. Really rewarding, I’d suspect. Another thing I forgot about: the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Hey, maybe it won’t suck this year. There’s a first time for everything.

Not that there’s any shortage of film. I have three-and-a-half more months of 69 movies coming up, SIFF Cinema is back from its summer break (oh, how I missed it!), and buzz from Toronto has me anxious for the big award season releases to start coming out. It was 80 this weekend but I am dreaming of fall, caramel lattes, and plenty of time at the theater.