Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday, Monday

It can all be a bit much. 2012 is looking to be an apocalyptic year indeed for cinema - the death of 35mm film exhibition is reported to be imminent, with even so active a proponent of classic film as Eddie Muller talking as if this year's Noir City festival will be the last in its current form.

I'm somewhere between the rabid 35mm diehards and those longing for the death of it and the dawning of a new, digital age. Actually, the embrace of digital filmmaking technology by some of my favorite filmmakers speaks well at least to the future of moviegoing (mine at least). And the huge number of rep cinemas in my area ensures that I'll probably be enjoying classic film in its original format for a little while longer than most. But I realize that this is a privileged position, and that the nature of the marketplace means that most filmgoers are having this choice made for them. And I can't help but feel like we're going to lose much in this transition, and that much of our cinematic history will simply be lost in the shuffle.

Add to this brew of uncertainty the far-from-welcome news that San Francisco Film Society director Bingham Ray has died while attending the Sundance Film Festival. The man had brought some fantastic films to American screens, and that he should die so young (and soon after accepting the mantle of the SFFS) is insanely cruel (compounded by the fact that he was hired to replace the fondly remembered Graham Leggat, who died mere months ago). One can't put the sadness of those who never knew him over that of his family and friends, of course, but the fact remains the cinema has lost one of its real champions. I never knew the man personally, but reading lovely tributes like this make me wish I had, and make me mourn his passing all the more.

And I notice a feeling of restlessness as I look at the local film schedules - the various rep houses and film festivals are engaging in fantastic programming, and there are the usual conflicts (the Castro Theatre screens 35mm prints of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and YEAR OF THE DRAGON the same day that the Mostly British festival shows GUMSHOE and STORMY MONDAY, for example). Already a difficult choice for some cinephiles, but made more so with questions of the future of 35mm looming over our heads. All of these films exist on video, of course, but the choice of which movie to see is strongly colored by the knowledge that this may be the last shot at any of them in a theatre.

But even those who don't live and die by their local rep schedules are going to be affected by the imminent changes to our cinemascape. And so we wait.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel are intriguing casting choices for this, Joseph Conrad's tale of a pair of forever-fighting French soldiers. A mild spat over soldierly duty turns into an ongoing feud that the men take across numerous Napoleonic battlefields and through three decades, eventually achieving notoriety among their countrymen even as they observe the strict protocols governing such feuds.

Casting a pair of Americans was a savvy move on director Ridley Scott's part: perhaps there's some subtle commentary on American militarism intended, or perhaps their Americanness serves as an alienness that sets our heroes (heh) apart from their countrymen (who, in turn, are played mostly by British thespians). In any event, the story of the conflict waged by these two men is absolutely engrossing; the characters that surround them are uniformly well-played (Tom Conti stands out as a gentle physician all too familiar with the toll of warfare on men's bodies and spirits); the combat scenes are suspenseful (including a bizarre interlude in which Carradine and Keitel must fight side-by-side); and it ends with what is surely one of the most gloriously ambiguous sunrises in film history. This is a favorite of many of my peers; after finally seeing it theatrically it may well be one of mine.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


(Many of my online friends were posting about the season premiere of DOWNTON ABBEY with an online fervor usually only seen on Super Bowl Sunday. I haven't had the pleasure of ever seeing the series, though I hope to rectify that one day, since I've enjoyed other work by DA creator Julian Fellowes in the past. Many saw GOSFORD PARK, but few, I suspect, took in his film SEPARATE LIES, about which I wrote the following clumsy but heartfelt appraisal over six years ago.)

Beautifully realized domestic drama/whodunit by Julian Fellowes (writer of GOSFORD PARK). Quiet and intimate, with Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson delivering powerhouse performances as completely ordinary people. A pair of performances with absolute clarity and honesty - we totally understand why these people can't stay married, and why, despite some flagrant infidelity, they can't hate one another, either. Wilkinson and Watson lay their souls bare with a minimum of histrionics.

The film could never have been made in America. Not without our heroes shouting at each other or sweaty love scenes between our heroes and their flings. We just don't appreciate acting that isn't showy.

Anyway, Fellowes is great with details and dialogue - if there was a director born to give us a perfect film adaptation of a Pinter play, it is Fellowes.

2012 afterword: My good friend Aaron Luk, when talking about this film post-screening, gently observed "There are no small problems." Which neatly encapsulates the gentleness and the urgency of this film in addition to so much else beyond cinema. I'm pleased that the film elicited such a strong, sage response, an aphorism that has continued to reverberate over the ensuing years. This, among other things, is what the movies are for.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


It is a vindictive and unpleasant film, representing Jean-Luc Godard at his angriest and least playful. It starts as gentle as it's ever going to get, with an unhappily married couple travelling out of town to care for a sick relative (mainly to ensure their presence in his will). They encounter increasingly violent and chaotic conflict en route (including a memorable traffic jam that seems to stretch for miles), until they wind up in the middle of several revolutions from which their material comforts are no longer any defense.

A friend I saw it with said that it was the closest Godard's come to making a horror film, and I can't disagree. It's as pissed off a response to capitalism as anything this side of von Trier - it's like Godard imagined his fellow Frenchmen becoming Americans, and pursued the fancy to its logical ends. Perhaps to one observing the French middle class in the mid- to late-1960s such a notion wasn't too much of a stretch. Sadly, Godard's misanthropy extends to the revolutionaries who take over the final reels of the film, who are depicted as assholes at best and cannibalistic rapists at worst. Such vivid anti-humanism only dilutes his polemics - you can feel Godard's contempt for not being able to name the authors of the texts that his characters read from, word for word.

It's a film that makes Pasolini's Salò seem optimistic by comparison. At least there some sort of perverse love bloomed from the wreckage of the film (even if just two soldiers dancing in a clumsy embrace). Here a wife devours her husband's flesh and asks for seconds. Godard offers no comfort here, or any solutions. The film, in the end, comes off as petulant and childish as his fight choreography.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Picking up apparently seconds after the end of the first film, a Barcelona SWAT team gears up to enter a quarantined building. Recording their incursion with video cameras, the team captures both the escalating horror within the building and the unusual actions of a doctor ordered to accompany them. Also entering the building are a trio of kids whose own video footage captures still more horror, including the startling arrival of a survivor of the plague's previous onslaught.

It's always a bold move to begin a sequel right where its predecessor left off, and the makers of the [REC] series move quickly to keep us engaged. This, happily, is no mere rehash of the previous film; though the SWAT team offer new viewers a perfect anchor to the carnage, there's quite a lot of callbacks to the previous film. This includes a moment that effectively upends [REC]'s brilliant closing image. Happily none of these reveals completely undermines what we've previously experienced.

I couldn't imagine a sequel to the previous film, which ended its story so beautifully. Though I can't imagine where a sequel to this one would go either (two are planned), I gotta say I'm eager to see what they cook up next.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: The House of Sparrows Top 20


The 20 (in order seen):


Underseen, Undervalued, Underetc.:


and a Happy New Year

Your proprietor wishes you nothing but goodness for 2012. There are a couple of posts percolating, but I'm happy to say I'm too enmeshed in goings-on with family and friends to really sit down and generate them. At least one end of 2011 list is forthcoming, and should hit by the time people are well and truly sick of 2011 best-ofs.

I'm not sorry to see this year end by any stretch (dig back in the archives to late September if you wanna see why), but I'm eager to share the bounties of 2012 (be they cinematic or otherwise) with you. I hope you're well!