In the last few years, I’ve become enamored of the Italian cinema of the 1960’s, a New Wave unto itself and the originator of a genre that came to be known as commedia all’italiana, a mix of drama and comedy that embraces life in all its irony. As the bonus features on this new Criterion release say, I Knew Her Well is not a proper commedia all’italiana. I would say it has much more drama than comedy, but it still embraces the feeling of the movement.
The movie is a character study of aspiring actress Adriana Astarelli (Stefania Sandrelli, in a revelatory performance). Adriana seems to float through life, seducing men, listening to the radio — the movie has an awesome 60’s soundtrack — and doing small-potato modelling jobs.
But all is not as perfect as it may first appear. Adriana repeatedly brushes against the dark side of life, men who assault her or wish to pimp her out. Director Antonio Pietrangelli and co-screenwriters Ruggero Maccari (Scent of a Woman) and Etore Scola (Il Sorpasso) also show us how show business humiliates men as well as women, in an unforgettable party sequence worthy of Fellini.
The movie jumps from scene to scene with little context, and it is offscreen that Adriana finds out her kid sister has died. She had lost touch with her simple, Tuscan family for years. Instead of the sad scene where she hears this news, the scene the filmmakers show us is a bittersweet one instead. Continue reading
“I will always circle back to writing because I think writing is the most pure and joyful experience as far as creating stories go. There are no boundaries, there are no foreign sales estimates, there’s nothing that gets in your way. It’s really fun to problem solve.” —Slashfilm talks to Green Room writer/director Jeremy Saulnier
Many, however, are directed by Sirk’s contemporary Hollywood master filmmakers, people like Howard Hawks, Michael Curtiz and Nicholas Ray. There are also some decidedly non-Hollywood choices, like Pier Pasolini and Max Ophuls (also a favorite director of Stanley Kubrick). What ties all these films together, and the films of Douglas Sirk, is a heightened sense of drama, and real feel for the emotional inner lives of the characters…
10. Flamingo Road (1949)
A carnival dancer (Joan Crawford) and a businessman team up to get revenge on a crooked political boss in this Michael Curtiz-directed film noir. We’ll see more carnival dancing later on this list with the story of Lola Montès.
9. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
This notorious Pasolini-directed film is based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. It is reportedly nearly impossible to watch, depicting a series of atrocities that are meant as a critique of the culture surrounding the government of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
8. The Naked and the Dead (1958)
This adaptation of the Norman Mailer novel was directed by Raoul Walsh. It’s a study of men in war, but it’s a thoughtful study and perhaps that’s what attracted Fassbinder.
This new double-feature from The Criterion Collection is as epic a movie experience as I’ve ever witnessed. Over the course of two 3+ hour films, I experienced the sweep of years of history, with one, specific Swedish family somehow standing in for many American immigrant experiences.
Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann play a husband and wife, poor farmers who are struggling to survive in Sweden even before some turns of bad luck make them decide to emigrate to the United States. The story also has many side characters, including some fellow Swedish villagers who are persecuted for practicing their own brand of Christianity. In one of the bitterest ironies of the whole saga, we see that religious persecution isn’t always left behind in the land from which you escape.
The movies unfold at their own pace, but are never slow. Director/cinematographer/editor/co-writer Jan Troell, with his production designer, has a remarkable eye for historical detail. When von Sydow’s farmer plows his field using an ox, it is just as farmers of that time must have done. Likewise, we see the characters cook meals, mend shoes, build houses — all as naturally as if a documentary filmmaker had somehow been transported back to the 1840’s.
Each film has an intermission, so the whole experience can easily be broken into four separate viewings, which is pretty much how I experienced it. Because it is based on a series of connected novels — Troell and screenwriter Bengt Forslund adapt The Emigrants books by Vilhelm Moberg — the parts all feel like one organic whole, even as years pass, characters die, and new characters enter.
“Hollywood is overwhelmingly left. Perhaps there’s discrimination after the fact but creative areas are almost always heavily left. Police, military, engineering, there are certain things that are more conducive to minds predisposed to conservatism.” – Economist Tyler Cowen has a wide-ranging discussion with sociologist Jonathan Haidt, which touches on political attitudes in creative fields.
I hope it’s not just the contrarian in me, but I rather enjoyed Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice. I certainly entered with diminished expectations, and I was not surprised to find the movie crammed with vestigial appendages. The first thing I would excise are the dream sequences.
But I might keep the lyrical evocation of young Bruce Wayne’s childhood traumas. Yes, we’ve seen it before, but never quite like this. Director Zack Snyder has been unfavorably compared to Michael Bay, but I might favorably say that he matches Bay’s gift for glossy imagecraft. All those pearls dropping in oh-so-slow motion, you know.
There are films like Watchmen and 300 where Snyder’s imagery is nurtured by a well-balanced script (if not by assured acting). Here, writers Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Dark City, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) seem to struggle against what the title promises for too long, then brush through it too quickly, eager to arrive at a baffling CGI slugfest.
Perhaps that is what all these critics are throwing rotten tomatoes at. Well, physician, heal thyself. Star Trek Into Darkness had some equal preposterosities, but JJ Abrams still got the keys to the Star Wars franchise. I suspect the critics had out their knives, or kryptonite spears, from the start.
Let’s enter the spoiler zone to speak of plot points good and evil. Continue reading
Check out this creative use of stop-motion animation. Surreal, hilarious, and also a great reminder: I have to do some laundry!
One of the writer-directors, Daniel “Cloud” Campos, has a Wikipedia page. And so does the other, Spencer Susser. Susser is a member of the Australian film collective Blue Tongue films, hence the weird VHS-style car chase logo that opens the short. Campos has a pretty extensive dance and choreography career, which explains how the movement in this mini-musical got to be so well-choreographed.
I’m also a fan of the sound design, which helps sell the parts of this world we can’t even see.
The Verge has some background on the complaint system issues, which I don’t think would have been allowed to fester so long if YouTube’s strategy hadn’t been so star-focussed of late. At first it was old media stars. Then it shifted to homegrown stars. But either way, YouTube has moved away from its ‘long tail of video’ origins. From a short-term business point of view, it makes sense. They lose money hosting unpopular, un-monetized content. However, there is no emergence of viral hits from the masses without the masses. When you have kids who have spent years of their lives creating original content for peanuts, it would do well to respect them enough to keep them buying tickets in the internet fame lottery.
March 8, 2016 / J. Ott / Comments Off on Blu-ray Review: 2 Films by Agnès Varda starring Jane Birkin (Jane B. par Agnès V. & Kung-Fu Master!)
Agnès Varda has been overshadowed by other filmmakers of the French New Wave like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. This pair of films, rescued by the new label Cinelicious Pics, make a great argument for what a mistake that has been. Fans of beautifully-presented, groundbreaking movies — such as the US’s Criterion Collection or the UK’s Eureka! Masters of Cinema Series — will want to take a good look at this double-disc set.
Jane B. par Agnès V.
The first film, Jane B. par Agnès V. (1987), was Varda’s followup to her acclaimed Vagabond (1985). It’s a strange hybrid of documentary, short film, philosophy and feminist cultural criticism. I found it far more successful (and watchable) than any of Godard’s formalist experiments in the last several decades — and yet it was never released in the United States. Perhaps it was because it was ahead of its time. It still feels, in many ways, ahead of its time.
The project began when Varda struck up a friendship with the actress, model, singer and 60’s and 70’s icon Jane Birkin. Continue reading
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