Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Life of Oharu (1952) d. Kenzo Mizoguchi

Kinuyo Tanaka plays Oharu in The Life of Oharu d. Kenzo Mizoguchi (1952)

Movie Review
The Life of Oharu (1952)
 d. Kenzo Mizoguchi
Criterion Collection #664
Criterion Collection released July 9th, 2013

  Another classic Japanese film from the 1950s, another total bummer night.  The Life of Oharu is about the fall and fall of a 16th century Japanese courtesan/prostitute. The director is Kenzo Mizoguchi, a contemporary of Kurosawa in the great Japanese art house break out period of the early 1950s.  Mizoguchi's next film, Ugetsu (1953) won at the Venice film festival.  Unlike Kurosawa, Mizoguchi was in the twilight of his career in the post-war period.  His filmography reveals dozens of films from the 20s all the way through and during World War II.  During the 1920s, he was averaging over five titles a year.

 The Life of Oharu, in addition to being a player in the growth of the international audience for Japanese film, was also what the film maker considered his finest work.  If Kurosawa rose to prominence by combining Japanese traits with insights garnered from Western films, Mizoguchi is an example of a more purely "Japanese" film sensibility.

 There are none of the quick cuts or innovative framing techniques of 50s Kurosawa.  Instead there are tons of very long takes and a mastery of what is called 'mise en scene': the design elements of film production.  Telling a story that takes place in the 16th century, Mizoguchi convincingly depicts that era down to the details on the human carried carriages that were used for elite travel during the period.

 Even knowing how well The Life of Oharu went over with the international film crowd, and taking into account its positive attribute; The Life of Oharu is what I would call a tough watch.  Black and white, slow paced editing, two hours plus run time, and utterly depressing subject matter with little or no redemption at the end.  Mizoguchi obviously sympathizes with poor Oharu, but his sympathy doesn't earn her much within the film.  The Life of Oharu has no rise, just a steady fall from beginning to end.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Wings of the Dove (1902) by Henry James

Helena Bonham Carter played Kate Croy in the film version of The Wings of a Dove

Book Review
The Wings of the Dove (1902)
by Henry James

  It looks like I'm reading on a consistent basis, but basically I went through a period this summer where I didn't have much going on socially and just pre-wrote reviews up until the last one.  Then I got something going anddd.... long story short it took me about six weeks to finish The Wings of the Dove because I just didn't give a fuck.

  I thought I had a pretty decent handle on Henry James from Portrait of a Lady and What Maisle Knew but I found The Wings of the Dove to be difficult to comprehend, even though the story is, in the end, fairly straight forward.  James is in high form in The Wings of a the Dove, sentences stretch on for entire pages.   It is common to see sentences like this:
   Opening clause, second clause, third clause: fourth clause, fifth clause - sixth clause, seventh clause, eighth clause.
   This is like every page.  Certainly there is insight a plenty to be gleaned, but a fun read The Wings of the Dove is not.  The story of The Wings of the Dove is quintessentially Jamesian in its moral ambiguity.  Milly Theale is a wealthy heiress stricken with an incurable disease.  Kate Croy is her penniless BFF, and Merton Densher is Croy's equally penniless betrothed.  Croy convinces Densher to woo Milly under false pretenses in the hopes that she will leave him her fortune and enable them to marry.  Long winded, morally ambiguous conversations ensue.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Show Review: Passion Pit, Maria Minerva & Cherushii

Maria Minerva showed steady Artistic/Performance development.

Show Review:
Passion Pit
@ SDSU Open Air Theater

Maria Minerva & Cherushii 
@ The Void San Diego

 Oh gosh what do I say about the Passion Pit show at SDSU Open Air Theater that doesn't make me sound like a snobby dick?  I got nothing.  Passion Pit has a ton of fans in the coveted 18-24 demographic.  My favorite moment of the show was when the college age guy in front of me, who was aggressively dancing and fist pumping in his seat, made "challenging" eye contact with me as I sat immediately behind him with my head leaning against my hand in typical "bored" posture.  His look seemed to say, "What- how can you be at this AMAZING Passion Pit and NOT be moved to dance."  Looking back at him, I tried to say, "Go for it, bro."  Then he turned back around and the moment was broken.
Passion Pit guy

  The SDSU Open Air Theater is a nice venue though. Would go back.

  At The Void the crowd was sparse but it was the right 20 people, as they say.  The discovery of the night was Cherushii, a Bay Area dance music producer who performed with an array of drum machines, synths and other devices.  It was pretty organic, and it seems like she is right in tune with what Pitchfork is feeling.  She has a 12" coming out on November 3rd on 100% Silk.  She could have a national/international career with her retro/contemporary/classic EDM sound. I almost want to say it's "tech/house."

  Maria Minerva showed much improvement from her last performance- she answered many of the questions her last show raised.  Would have been better to tour with an album out- which I hear is coming next year on Not Not Fun.  I'm like "Soooo Maria- happy with Not Not Fun?" Trying to be all casual.  She stayed at my house and I bought flowers and fucking scented candles because I want a Maria Minvera record so bad but it went NOWHERE.  She is a fucking cool woman though. So smart. So smart. Very interesting.  

Safety Last! (1923) d. Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor

This iconic image is of Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock mounted to the outside of the building he is scaling during the climax of Safety Last!

Movie Review
Safety Last! (1923)
 d. Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor
Criterion Collection #662

  The silent film era is another huge blind-spot for me. Silent films are one area of cinema where the Criterion Collection is of particular value.  I've made intermittent attempts to watch silent film era movies on Netflix or DVD at various times, and I'm always disappointed by the degraded quality of the film.  Of course, it goes without saying that when you watch a silent film within the Criterion Collection it has been restored.

  Safety Last! is billed as a good introduction to Harold Lloyd, the third of the "big three" of Silent film era comedy (Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are the other two.  I haven't watched enough of any of them to make comparisons.  Before Safety Last! I hadn't seen a single Harold Lloyd film.  Safety Last! is an enjoyable romp, with brisk pacing and an accompanying soundtrack (from 1989) that really levels up the watch-ability quotient.

  Also, Safety Last! is only 73 minutes long, so it isn't a huge time commitment.  The final scene, where Lloyd scales the outside of a 12 story building, delivers multiple 'how did they do that' moments when you see Lloyd's stunt double (?) actually on the outside of a twelve story building with an assembled crowd below.  It's a true gee whiz moment that I do not typically associate with silent films, let alone silent comedies.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some Experiences of an Irish RM by Somervile & Ross

Book Review
Some Experiences of an Irish RM
by Somervile & Ross
p. 1899

   Some Experiences of an Irish RM is so unpopular that it doesn't even have it's own Wikipedia page.  Some Experiences was the first in a trilogy of novels about a Resident Magistrate, a Judge appointed by the English to administer justice upon the Irish during their centuries long occupation of that Nation.  The case can be made that Irish literature was the first example of colonial literature, though that position is undercut by the repeated presence of Anglo-Irish writers in 19th century fiction representing the "Irish" point of view.

   At this point, I'm so close to the 20th century, literary modernism and the birth of the movie that is hard to even concentrate on such a retro feeling piece of lit.  I had trouble paying attention, and I wouldn't be able to tell you the names of any of the characters without going back to my Kindle. It's hard for me to imagine a world where Some Experiences of an Irish RM would be on my own personal list of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, but I was not consulted.

  I have no idea who the Audience is for Some Experiences in 2013.  Not me.

Everything About CrazySexyCool the VH1 TLC Movie is Amazing

VH1 TLC Movie  CrazySexyCool

Everything About the VH1 TLC Movie is Amazing
Movie Review

  If you are one of these reviewers NOT liking CrazySexyCool, the VH1 TLC movies, you are a moron.  Seriously this movie is so great you totally need to watch it for real.  The contract signing scene alone, where "Pebbles" tells the girls they get 25 bucks a week "for expenses." Is, itself,  almost the greatest scene in the history of filmed cinema. True Greatness.
Perri "Pebbles" Reid is unfairly maligned in CrazySexyCool

  Also, Perri "Pebbles" Reid is unfairly maligned! Those girls knew what they were getting into.  They signed for 25 bucks a week- no questions asked.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ballad of A Soldier (1959) d.Grigori Chukhrai

Zhanna Prokhorenko plays the love interest Shura in Ballad of a Soldier, the 1959 Russian film directed by Grigori Chukhrai

Movie Review
Ballad of A Soldier (1959)
d.Grigori Chukhrai
Criterion Collection #148

  Can we talk for a second about the other blogs that are also watching the Criterion Collection in a comprehensive fashion?  Criterion Reflections is doing it chronologically.  He's been at it since 2009 and he writes ridiculously comprehensive reviews that I can barely get through myself.  Here's his intro for this movie, Ballad of A Soldier- a 1959 Russian film about a soldier coming home for a brief leave during World War II to see his beloved Mother:

Ok so this is just the first paragraph:

Ballad of a Soldier is a pleasantly accessible and emotionally powerful meditation on the effects of war on a society's common folk that probably earns its status as an "important classic and contemporary film" (i.e. part of the Criterion Collection) as much for the circumstances of its original release and historic significance as for it's cinematic achievements. It's a handsome production, skillfully rendered and performed with impeccable sincerity by a very photogenic cast - even the rough-hewn peasants, tragic victims and a small number of unsympathetic characters, presented to us as examples of weakness and faltering integrity, have a noble glow to them. A few scenes show technical prowess, most memorably an early overhead shot of tanks pursuing a running soldier that flips upside down as the action passes directly underneath the camera, and a dreamy montage reverie later in the film in which two would-be lovers, now parted by circumstance and ever-increasing miles, speak tenderly to each other in their own thoughts words of affection that they never dared speak to each other. But these effects, as moving and genteel as they unquestionably are, might not in themselves have won the enduring respect and admiration that they have if the film itself hadn't emerged at a particularly critical time - the late 1950s "thaw" in Soviet media censorship and US-USSR relations that took place after the passing of Stalin but before the Cold War ramped up again in the early 1960s with the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the entry of the USA into the Vietnamese conflict. (Criterion Reflections)

   Holeee shit- he goes on like that for the equivalent of another four or five paragraphs, leaving one with the existential question of what there is left to say.  I'm just come out and say it- it's an enjoyable movie, but there can't be more then 500 people in the whole world who would actually sit down and watch this bad boy.  Maybe I'm wrong, but the Criterion Collection page for Ballad of a Soldier has 67 "Likes".  67.  Out of everyone on Facebook.

  Here's another example of a serial Criterion Collection blogger, reviewing this same film:

Russia, historically speaking, has cemented themselves as a stark contradiction to the American film style. Whether it be the prolific Man With A Movie camera, or the entirety of Eisenstein's ouevre, narrative dissonance and non-linear editing are their thing, so when I approached Ballad of a Solider, I assumed these would be traits of the film, however, within only moments of viewing the clearly melodramatic film, I was baffled to find its clearly American composition. Between long reaction shots, use of music to emphasize emotion and the focus of redemption within the narrative, Ballad of A Soldier is not entirely Russian in its composition. Now that by no means makes this a terrible piece of cinema, in fact, it is quite great and clocking it at just under ninety minutes, the film is accessible and earnest. Furthermore, the films is neither a clear condemnation of war efforts, nor is it set out in praising the validity of warfare. The narrative of Grigoriy Chukhray's film, which he both wrote and directed, is as the title suggests about a soldier and is certainly a ballad at that, considering its lyrical nature. It focuses on one character and his vision of a slowly eroding nation, one that evolves from foolish youthful ignorance to adult disillusionment. If it were not for films like Forbidden Games and Ivan's Childhood, I would define this as one of the greatest coming of age tales ever composed, but mind you if I ever were to make a list of the top ten, it would certainly make the list.  (Cinemalacrum)

 Seriously though, again that's a single paragraph.  In my experience, people reading on the web are comfortable with paragraphs that are maybe four, five six sentences long, and they want a picture on top.  I also disagree with the actual opinion ventured by the second guy.  If you watch When Cranes Fly- which is like two number removed in sequence from Ballad of A Soldier, it's obvious that Russian Cinema isn't simply the silent films of Eisenstein.  For that matter, if you watch Ivan the Terrible it is clear that one of the main influences on his work is Walt Disney and you can't get more American then that.

  It's also worth mentioning that Chukhrai is a one hit wonder- there is a huge difference in the Criterion Collection directors who have upwards of ten or more titles, vs. the one hit wonders of world cinema who make a single appearance and vanish.

Show Review: Festival Supreme Was A Total Fucking Triumph

Jack Black: marketing genius for the success of Festival Supreme

Show Review:
 Festival Supreme Was A Total Fucking Triumph

   First and foremost, let it be said that the first edition of Festival Supreme, the "music/comedy" Festival created by actor/singer/apparently brilliant business person Jack Black, was a total fucking triumph.  I'm just saying this from the perspective of a fan of Mighty Boosh and Tim & Eric, and someone who likes some of Jack Black's movies but not others, and who is not a Tenacious D fan.  The underlying concept of combining music and comedy in a music festival format was simply genius.  It was EASILY the freshest festival concept/actual experience that I've been to since the first time I went to Coachella.   Furthermore, Fesival Supreme was sold the fuck out.

  How sold the fuck out was Festival Supreme?  Well, before I made it inside I spent 15 minutes standing next to John C. Reilly and a woman someone told me was Jack Black's actual wife, and they had trouble getting a ticket for John C. Reilly, before he was actually physically led inside by one of the ticket distributors.  Because they "ran out" of tickets.  I'm not complaining about this, I'm saying this is evidence of how successful this event was.

 Inside it was a standard situation where there were levels of access.  At least four different badge categories ranging from general admission, to purchasable VIP, to a not for sale GUEST as well as "WORKING" for the help, and "ARTIST" for the performers and their entourages.  I'm merely describing the badges.   Assuming you had a GUEST/WORKING/ARTIST badge, there was ALSO an accompanying wrist band that was either red, blue or yellow.  Red was the lowest level, with blue being next and then yellow being the highest level.  Again, I'm not making this observation in order to complain, but simply to demonstrate the facts of the situation because I find them personally interesting.

  Aside from being a witness to the triumph, I was there specifically to watch The Mighty Boosh.  I watched their 30 minute set standing in between a couple that had driven from Sacramento for the occasion. Said she, "We were driving near San Francisco and they said something about it on the radio, then I looked it up and I said, "PULL OVER- WE MUST BUY TICKETS TO SEE THE MIGHTY BOOSH."  On the the other side was a guy sporting a Mighty Boosh tattoo on his thigh.  This was near the back of the crowd- so who knows what it was like up front.   Boosh showed up with Naboo and Bob Fossil (resplendent in his blue leisure wear.) Boosh delivered a crowd pleasing 30 minute set- better then what I saw at Comic Con a few years back.   People were mad for it.  Afterwards, I overheard a staffer tell another staffer say that the performers had to be ushered to the Artist reserved area outside of the festival for fear that "they wouldn't be able to move in the crowd."

  Zach Galifianakis was next up.  He did ten minutes of material.  Seemed short, but to be fair if you looked at the schedule his slot just had a starting time.  I missed Will Forte and Hannibal Buress.  Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was passable, didn't watch Adam Sandler, but he seemed like a real normal cat.

  Tim & Eric were hilarious- they performed as a band with bassist, two drummers and a keyboardist- with Tim and Eric both on guitar.  They managed to turn in a set that was both funny AND musical, and also managed to be funny without telling jokes, which is maybe the most impressive part of what Tim Heidecker is accomplishing as a mature artist. His humor is character driven and appreciating it doesn't necessarily mean that you "like" Tim Heidecker in the way that Adam Sandler fans "like" Adam Sandler.  In fact, I think you can appreciate Tim Heidecker as an Artist and not like him one bit.  I liked the film he acted in (The Comedy), I liked the Tim & Eric movie, like the show, liked his stand-up set.  I think he's a comic genius, but he also seems like a total dick.  Some of that is probably why he is a great artist.

  Tenacious D played and were joined on-stage by Lonely Island.  The Audience LOVED Tenacious D- again- I stood next to two hardened "Crust Punk" types- they had patched jackets etc.  I watched them demonstrate that they had interlocking Tenacious D hand tattoos, to the bemusement of the middle aged "industry" type woman they were talking to.  She immediately began trying to figure out who was the "top" and who was the "bottom," and it was actually as funny a moment as any of the many funny moments on stage.

  Besides missing Hannibal Burress and Will Forte, I also missed Sarah Silverman and Craig Robinson.  The only dud of the day was the Maya Rudolph Prince cover band.  They did not do any of the Prince hits. It was not an all woman band.  I don't see why you would do a comedy female Prince cover band and not play Prince songs.  Were they playing originals? I couldn't tell.  It didn't play.  There was also some band from the internet that did songs about Internet Memes like "Run Tell Dat" and "Double Rainbow."

  It's worth mentioning that Lonely Island was excellent.  It's a shame that they haven't played life more often- I would totally go see them do a full show.  Annnd... way to go Jack Black- you nailed it.

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