Friday, July 22, 2011

What I've Been Watching: 2nd Edition, Part 2

What's Good In The Hood?

      First order of business: You can find Part I of my "What I've Been Watching" segment here and my inaugural edition here. Of course, my newest edition can be found below.
      My current mood: an inextricable combination of heat wave desperation and heat wave desperation. I can't recall CT EVER being this hot. Recordings touched 105 degrees earlier today, but, because of the heat index, temperatures felt closer to 115 degrees. This blistering heat has me feeling like a baked meatball. Not because I'm Italian. It's just so damn hot, my sweat is sweating. But I digress; back to the movie talk. 
      It takes a cool guy to cool you off. And no blogger is cooler than Craig over @ Let's Get Out Of Here!  Beyond an idiosyncratic taste in film and an arsenal of wit that would make James Bond cower, Craig writes informative, engaging and hilarious posts concerning all-things movies; not the minutiae, the merry. The guy's got an exceptional ear and eye for the most straight-outta-left-field topical discussions. Inevitably, he can entertain the most cynical of film-centric personalities. And most recently, as de facto proof, Craig wrote a terrific "Documentary" piece regarding Blue Velvet (Can I get a shout out for David Lynch!). There's a lot of information to digest, but it's all unique and authentic. It can be found here! Forewarning: If you have a phobia of ears, well, whatever, confront your irrational fear.  
      In honor of Craig's exemplary "Movie About Making Movies" post, I've decided to highlight one of my favorite films, which depicts that very style, in my newest segment. I urge all of my film obsessed followers and readers to stop by Craig's blog. And I apologize in advance because I realize some of you may find it hard to resist perusing his entire postography. On my behalf, and Mr. Movie (formally known as Craig Edwards), I thank you all for your support.
Man On Wire (2008) - James Marsh

Amidst the high-rise vistas of Lower Manhattan, on a hazy morning sky some 37 years ago, an intrepid Frenchman confronted his immortality. His name was Philippe Petit. The object of his fearless affection: the foremost beacon of American prosperity. Petit's courageous undertaking (some would call it foolhardy) involved a highwire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It will live in perpetuity, not because he reminded us of what once proudly stood highest in the New York City skyline, but because he challenged the utmost limits of mankind's yearning for self-fulfillment. Only one man with an inventive proclivity for adventure could dream up such daredevilry. Petit stepped foot onto a narrow metal cable, 110 stories high, and the visceral sensation I grasped, surprisingly, mirrored the inherent beauty of a Fellini film. For Petit's exhibition, according to onlookers, didn't embody the outward thoughts of an insane thrill-seeker. To the amazement and amusement of everyone, it appeared as if Petit had choreographed his own personal, graceful dance. Movies often require a heightened suspension of disbelief. Documentaries, however, operate more rigidly within the constructs of conventionality. An authentic suspension of disbelief requires a real-life skywalker. Well, the force is strong with James Marsh and Philippe Petit. For James Marsh's probing documentary, Petit's miraculous account, and the uncanny revelations from his partners-in-crime, colored the backdrop of an unprecedented feat of human achievement. 9 out of 10

The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jue, 1939) - Jean Renoir

For me the director without whom there could not be a definitive standard of film criticism is Jean Renoir, and the film without, which film criticism is inconceivable is The Rules of the Game. If Shakespeare inspires literary ruminations, then Renoir inspires cinematic meditations. TROTG is a breathless study of the manners and morals of prewar France. Loosely based on a modernized play by Alfred de Musset, Renoir examines the disintegrating social conformation of France. Through a photographic, and what turns out to be prescient style, Renoir subverts the social hierarchy of French society, prior to the onset of WWII, by introducing modernistic flourishes: notably, dynamic camera movement and deep focus (through lighting and lenses), which involves greater depth of field. Furthermore, Renoir meanders through a mixture of genres, satirical and realist, by adopting a more advanced cinematographic scale. He expands the attention of the viewer—focusing on foreground and background—which underscores pertinent off screen activity.  Initially condemned by the French ruling class (because of Renoir's honest assault against the French Upper Class stratum), The Game has gained considerable acclaim. Ebert writes, "[TROTG] is so simple and so labyrinthine, so guileless and so angry, so innocent and so dangerous, that you can't simply watch it, you have to absorb it." Here's what Ebert is intimating: The Game is about a world, not a plot. Through a minimalist structure, save for some fancy foreshadowing, The Game functions as a complex study of the human condition. That's precisely why Renoir considers the film's final shot—a close-up of Robert's face—the best shot he ever filmed. Not only does it illustrate the ambiguities of Robert's turbulent emotional condition, but, according to Ebert, it captures the buried theme of the film. For those who have not seen it, I will not spoil the surprise.  10 out of 10

Blow Out (1981) - Brian De Palma

When most people hear the name John Travolta, immediately, they think of Tony Manero and Danny Zuko; full of bravado, connoisseur of dance, and, if thrust into his Saturday Night Fever, Grease heyday, would totally own American Idol. And, for good measure, he'd throw in an over-dramatized "I'm Vinnie Barbarino!" quip. When they hear the name Brian De Palma, they think about crime: Tony Montana (Scarface) and Elliot Ness (The Untouchables) spring to mind. What people ought to think about is Blow Out. There's no song and dance. And, in partnership for a Drug-Free America, no one, and by no one, I mean You-Know-Who, can be seen swimming in a sea of coke. What separates sensationalized entertainment from authentic art is the subsumption of character and intent. Blow Out is a "movie about making movies" where the artist's vision supersedes the aesthetic and theatrical histrionics of the story. The mechanics of movie making, in which style is content, reign supreme in De Palma's vision. His mise-en-scène depicts the interplay between sound and image, and the methodology in which they are furnished. De Palma's intention is to divulge truth objectively. To accomplish this, he unleashes his signature styling cues: the use of split-screen and the elaborate tracking shot. Ebert writes: "[Blow Out] is inhabited by a real cinematic intelligence. The audience isn't condescended to...We share the excitement of figuring out how things develop and unfold, when so often the movies only need us as passive witnesses." I don't think I've ever read more pertinent, less matter-of-fact praise for a film. Ebert's contention is this: Blow Out does not patronize, manipulate or provoke us. Instead, it transcends, encourages, and engages us; De Palma's purpose is to inspire reasoned judgments. Creativity is best served when it is interactive. Few directors have ever refined that principle more sincerely and earnestly than Brian De Palma. The entire film, after all, is about creating and recording the perfect scream, for art is a collaborative process. Subtleties in technique, style and theme are ascertained, not individually, but collectively. De Palma reaches for an approach that is both utilitarian and egalitarian; details that may seem minor and trivial (such as perfecting a woman's scream) are, in fact, vital to the visceral totality of the filmmaking experience. And Jack Terry was arguably Travolta's greatest performance. Without doubt, it was his most underrated. 9 out of 10

      In honor of Craig's trademark retort, "You Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!" Literally, it's too hot outside and I'm sizzling. :)


  1. We've been sizzling in Chi Town, too. I can't stand it. And as we say in my hood..."Mas cerveza fria, por favor."

    These are all really great films and ones I have not seen a while, but now will be on the lookout for. I wish De Palma would return to form. I love The Untouchables and Scarface, but I think my favorite two are Carlito's Way and Casualties of War. Casualties really touched me on a visceral level as it focuses on the one of the darkest sides of war, that of war crimes against civilians. It really shook me and I believe that Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox delivered two of their finest performances. It stayed pretty true to the amazing book by Daniel Lang.

    Stay cool, my friend. :)

  2. HOLY OH GOLLY! What an incredibly nice review and shout out for my collection of pop culture natterings! Matty, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the amazingly nice words. I had a lot of fun with that blog challenge back in April - but I had no idea when I started it that I would come out the other side with two great new movie pals - you and Mel B, and here's the three of us hanging out in the Blogosphere even now! (Hey MB!)
    I have not seen Man on Wire - but I am looking out for it now! Rules of the Game was one of my film school musts - watched in a class with film professor Tony Williams, who is at least somewhat known out in the world of serious film criticism. Renoir's stuff impressed me, both with the tone and dramatics, but even more so with the prescience you mentioned, as he managed in all of his films (that I've seen, anyway) to speak with such Universal Truth that his movies still have an impact that many films from the same time frame never had. Excellent movie. And gotta throw out a NICE! for some Blow Out love - De Palma was certainly inspired by Antonioni's Blow Up and his neverending fascination with Hitchcock - but building onto that framework an outstanding thriller that takes the 2-D McGuffin from Blow Up (a flat photograph) and turns it into a 3-D McGuffin (the inherent three dimensions of a sound mix, especially as it relates to film production). I agree that it is also an underrated Travolta performance, certainly one of his last really good ones from his first career ;) I also want to mention De Palma and his jawdropping split screen work, always some incredibly cinematic sequences in his movies. And let's throw a little namecheck for Nancy Allen - maybe not an actress destined for legend - but a very attractive leading lady who held up her side of things very well. Spot-on post, Mr. Vanacore. Top of the line down the line. No way? Yes way. Big way? All the way!
    I'm going to go off and blush now - thanks again!

  3. I thought that you hunks from tropical states take heat better than us who live in the middle of a continent :) Here in Central Europe we've also been having around 110*F and it's crazy.

    MAN ON THE WIRE seems quite interesting and unique!

  4. Haven't see all these impressively reviewed movies! You really got an amazing knowledge about movies and have seen a lot of great ones too, my friend.

  5. @ Melissa

    All I can say about this heat is I wish I had an indoor pool because I would never leave it. I'd turn into the Aquaman from Entourage.

    De Palma needs to get back to his old form. In my book, he is such an underrated director. Without blowing any smoke, he's one of the ten best American directors over the last 40 years. I feel like he never gets the widespread acclaim he so deserves.

    I love Carlito's Way, but I've never seen Casualties of War. Since I greatly value your film taste, I'll have to procure a copy. Thanks for the sterling recommendation!

  6. @ Craig

    You're welcome. I am glad to have you as a regular reader and commenter on my blog. Your opinions and thoughts are always so thoughtful and compelling. From now on, I'll refer to you as The Great Commentator.

    Do watch Man on Wire as soon as you sneak an opportunity. It is a wonderful documentary. Touching and powerful. Rules of the Game is Film School 101. Everyone who aspires to engage in serious discussion about film ought to study it carefully. It is a MUST, as you rightly put it.

    And so glad you are piggybacking my thoughts on De Palma. The whole 3-D McGuffin was a marvelous idea. The film really explored the rigors of the creative process, particularly as it relates to the essentials of filmmaking. And the multi-layered themes made the film infinitely interesting. And you're a better man than me for praising Nancy Allen.

    Antonioni's Blow Up is fantastic; definitely a film I need to revisit. It helped usher in the "New Hollywood" movement.

  7. @ Dezmond

    Thanks amigo, but I can't bare scorching heat. My skin may not be averse to the sun, but excessive heat (i.e. 115 degrees) will have me yearning for the Arctic. I sympathize with you as well. 110 is just as unbearable.

    And do watch Man on Wire. You won't regret it.

  8. @ Jaccstev

    Thanks! You are the coolest in my book for bestowing me with such high caliber praise. I am honored!

  9. I'm just here to sneak into your house and steal the money while you're not here, Matty ;PP Oh, and while I'm here I'll water your plants and clean away the cobwebs :)

    Hope all is fine in the Mattyland.

  10. @ Dezmond

    Thanks, buddy! And I appreciate the thoughtful gesture. All is "FINE" and dandy in "Mattyland." I like that term. I'm going to have to steal it, hehe.

    And I'll expect the money returned once I return back to regular blogging. But for now, I've been very busy. I have not had any free time to indulge my movie watching and blogging interests. But you'll be one of the first to know when FilmMattic is back in action.

    Thanks :)

  11. Great blog. I found you through the Movie 411 contest. Looking forward to more posts.

  12. @ Lola

    Thank you!

    @ S.L. Hennessy

    Thanks so much! I'm honored to be nominated in theMovie411 contest and even more honored you visited my blog. I hope I can keep you coming back :)

    P.S. Love your last name :)