Netflixed: The Big Clock

“The Big Clock (Universal Noir Collection)” (John Farrow)

Watched the Big Clock recently


Crime magazine publisher Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) tries to pin the murder of his own mistress on the magazine’s editor, George Stroud (Ray Milland), when he discovers George coming out of the woman’s apartment. Things fall into place as all the signs increasingly point to George as the killer, making it that much easier for Earl to set up the editor to take the fall. Based on the novel by Kenneth Fearing.

[Netflix: The Big Clock]

An enjoyable little noir film. Nothing too groundbreaking, and clunky occasionally, but still fun. Seems like I wrote a longer review somewhere, but don’t remember where. Probably on twitter, which means it was only 140 characters long anyway.

This has been another edition of “Reviews That Should Have Been Longer, But…”

Herzog and the forms of madness

I agree with Roger Ebert: there can never be enough discussion of Werner Herzog. As I’ve burbled before, not every Herzog film is great, but they are all interesting, worth watching, and worth thinking about.

I received an intriguing communication from a reader, the art critic Daniel Quiles, about Werner Herzog. Yes, there has been a lot about Herzog on the site recently, but in my mind there can never be too much. He and a few other directors keep the movies vibrating for me. Not every movie needs to vibrate, but unless a few do, the thrill is gone.

Herzog seems to react strongly to subjects he wants to make a film about. You never hear him saying someone “brought me a project,” or his agent sent him a screenplay. Every one of his films is in some sense autobiographical: It is about what consumed him at that moment. The form of the film might be fiction, might be fact, might be a hybrid. The material dictates the form, and often his presence in the film dictates the material: It would not exist if he were not there. In a way, that’s what Quiles is writing about in connection with “Encounters at the End of the World.”

[Click to read the rest of the discussion of Herzog and the forms of madness – Roger Ebert’s Journal]

I still haven’t seen either Rescue Dawn nor Wild Blue Yonder. Soon, soon. Looks like Herzog is filming a movie about New Orleans currently called Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

There’s also Encounters at the End of the World, which sounds intriguing:

Read the title of “Encounters at the End of the World” carefully, for it has two meanings. As he journeys to the South Pole, which is as far as you can get from everywhere, Werner Herzog also journeys to the prospect of man’s oblivion. Far under the eternal ice, he visits a curious tunnel whose walls have been decorated by various mementos, including a frozen fish that is far away from its home waters. What might travelers from another planet think of these souvenirs, he wonders, if they visit long after all other signs of our civilization have vanished?

Herzog has come to live for a while at the McMurdo Research Station, the largest habitation on Antarctica. He was attracted by underwater films taken by his friend Henry Kaiser, which show scientists exploring the ocean floor. They open a hole in the ice with a blasting device, then plunge in, collecting specimens, taking films, nosing around. They investigate an undersea world of horrifying carnage, inhabited by creatures so ferocious, we are relieved they are too small to be seen. And also by enormous seals who sing to one another. In order not to limit their range, Herzog observes, the divers do not use a tether line, so they must trust themselves to find the hole in the ice again. I am afraid to even think about that.

Herzog is a romantic wanderer, drawn to the extremes. He makes as many documentaries as fiction films, is prolific in the chronicles of his curiosity and here moseys about McMurdo, chatting with people who have chosen to live here in eternal day or night.

Looking forward to a visit from the Netflix fairy soon

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?

“Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (Documentary)” (Harry Moses)

What a great film1 . An epic culture clash between the mumble-frackers and the regular 18-wheeler-driving Janes (so to speak)

When brash trailer park resident Teri Horton bought a secondhand painting for five bucks, little did she know it could be a genuine Jackson Pollock worth millions. This film documents Horton’s volatile 15-year journey into the heart of the art world’s elitist establishment to have the painting authenticated. The clash between stuffy art dealers and the cussin’, beer-drinkin’ Horton is funny, eye-opening and utterly unforgettable. [From Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?]

Teri Horton, a truck driving, trailer park resident with a stubborn streak is annoyed by the stuffed shirts of the New York art world, and refuses to give up when they tell her the painting she owns is not authentic. To a non-member of the art gallery crowd, her evidence seems solid (for instance, a fingerprint smudged on the back of her canvas that matches a fingerprint found on a paint can in Jackson Pollack’s studio, and on the back of another authentic painting), but the various experts, such as Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, disagree. The film, released in 2006, doesn’t have a happy ending (she refuses the offer of $9,000,000 from a Saudi sheik), but doesn’t have an unhappy ending either.

Ben McGrath, of the New Yorker, wrote a small article on the topic2 recently, which begins:

The art world, we keep hearing, is in a fine mess, awash in money and bereft of direction, and a recent documentary, “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?,” seems to prove the point. In it, a retired truck driver in California named Teri Horton buys what she considers to be an ugly painting as a gag gift for five dollars at a thrift store, is later told that it looks like a Jackson Pollock (the title refers to her initial reaction), and then struggles to convince anyone who matters that it could be the real thing. The film pits old-fashioned art authenticators (Thomas Hoving, the former Met director, runs his fingers over the painting before declaring, “It’s dead on arrival”) against a forensic scientist in Montreal, Peter Paul Biro, who finds what he believes to be Pollock’s paint-stained fingerprints on the back of the canvas. Horton says she has turned down an offer of nine million dollars for the painting from a Saudi collector.

The other day, at Cipriani Dolci, in New York, Kevin Jamison, a graduate student in government and politics at St. John’s, and the co-founder of a fledgling art consultancy, flipped through a copy of Ellen Landau’s “Jackson Pollock,” comparing the reprints in the book with a pair of images stored on his iPhone. These were of paintings he’d bought, for twenty-five dollars apiece, at an antique shop in Norfolk, Virginia, this summer, and they looked, to an untrained eye, like plausible Pollocks, at least in the sense that they were abstract and drippy. “They were under a stack of paintings about this tall,” Jamison, who has a baby face masked by stubble, said, pointing at the tabletop. One is seventeen inches by twenty-one inches, and painted on rice paper, using only white and gray. The other is twenty-six by twenty-six, on canvas, and much more colorful: green, yellow, red, white, and black.

Jamison watched “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” upon returning from Virginia, and then set about finding what he hoped could be useful forensic details, which he also showed on his iPhone: a flake of gold paint, visible only under magnification (Pollock used gold spray paint in his studio); rusty vintage staples; and a peculiar screwlike indentation that he found on the left side of the larger painting, which he believes could match a similar mark that he spotted in Pollock’s “One: Number 31, 1950,” at MOMA. (A caveat: referring to the painting’s left side “depends on what someone considers the top or the bottom,” Jamison said. “I’ve been looking at it for a couple of months and hanging it different ways.”)

“As of now, what they’re worth is what I paid for them,” Jamison said. But Peter Paul Biro, the forensic expert, has agreed to examine the paintings in person early next month, and Jamison has also corresponded with Richard Taylor, a professor of physics at the University of Oregon, who examined fractal patterns in some of the contested Herbert Matter Pollocks (two dozen paintings discovered in a Long Island locker) currently on exhibit at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art.

“Jackson Pollock” (Ellen G. Landau)

great fun: essential viewing for anyone at all interested in the art world and/or forensic science.

  1. The film’s title is probably Who the Fuck is Jackson Pollack, but good luck finding a copy that prints the full title, even in our post-Carlin world []
  2. which is why I rented the film, duh. []

Netflixed: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Julian Schnabel)

Another film based on a book, though a true story this time.

In 1995, author and Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a stroke that put him in a coma; he awakened mute and completely paralyzed. Mathieu Amalric stars in this adaptation of Bauby’s autobiography, which he dictated by blinking. Julian Schnabel was nominated for the 2008 Best Director Oscar and won the Golden Globe in the same category for his poignant film about the strength of the human spirit.

[From Netflix: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly]

A powerful film. Not sure if it was the late night viewing, or other maudlin reasons, but was immensely engrossed by this film. A meditation of life, and death, family relations, and the wheel of samsara. Well, not really the rebirth thing, more a ‘life flashing before one’s eyes right before death‘, expanded over a years time, with one of the eye being sewn shut. I had hesitated viewing the movie, since the premise is a bit unnerving (and a real fear of mine – such a horrible thought to be cognizant, 42 years old, trapped in a body that no longer functions), yet couldn’t stop once I started. Innovative cinematically: the Point of View is nearly always through the blinking eye of the narrator (which some exceptions later on).

The director, Julian Schnabel, who also directed Basquiat, filmed on location in Calais, France, using several actual hospital employees, and the movie is better for those choices. Seems authentic, non-Hollywood, as a result.

Johnny Depp chose to be in the dreck, Pirates of the Caribbean, instead of in the Diving Bell, his loss, as one film will be played for years, and one cartoon movie will just make Disney a lot of money. Mathieu Amalric was wonderful in the role, emoting without moving his face muscles at all. Max von Sydow was also magnificent as the dying father of Jean-Do.

From the book jacket:

We’ve all got our idiosyncrasies when it comes to writing–a special chair we have to sit in, a certain kind of yellow paper we absolutely must use. To create this tremendously affecting memoir, Jean-Dominique Bauby used the only tool available to him–his left eye–with which he blinked out its short chapters, letter by letter. Two years ago, Bauby, then the 43-year-old editor-in-chief of Elle France, suffered a rare stroke to the brain stem; only his left eye and brain escaped damage. Rather than accept his “locked in” situation as a kind of death, Bauby ignited a fire of the imagination under himself and lived his last days–he died two days after the French publication of this slim volume–spiritually unfettered. In these pages Bauby journeys to exotic places he has and has not been, serving himself delectable gourmet meals along the way (surprise: everything’s ripe and nothing burns). In the simplest of terms he describes how it feels to see reflected in a window “the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde.

Netflixed: No Country for Old Men

“No Country for Old Men” (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)

Finally got around to watching No Country for Old Men yesterday. Have never read the book it was based upon, so no comments about the faithfulness (or lack therof) to Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

Shipped on 06/23/08.

A hunter (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a dead body, $2 million and a stash of heroin in the woods. He absconds with the cash, but brutal thief Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) comes looking for it, with a local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) on his trail. The roles of hunter and prey blur as the violent pursuits of money and justice collide. Joel and Ethan Coen direct this dark morality tale, which won four Oscars in 2008, including Best Picture. [Netflix: No Country for Old Men]

A slightly atypical Cohen Brothers film, not very much cynical humor. A mashup of MacGyver1 and a drug deal/serial killer film, set outside of El Paso. D couldn’t watch it, too high of a body count. I thought it was enjoyable fun, however. Not this best film I’ve seen all year, but worth watching.

You wanted to fly without wings, you wanted to touch the sky, you wanted too much wealth, you wanted to play with fire.

Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem were both excellent, and Josh Brolin reminds me of a few dudes I knew back in Texas. Woody Harrelson played a smirking character we’ve seen a few times before, but wasn’t cringeworthy or anything.

  1. note: I’ve never actually seen MacGyver, I only know it from the Simpsons making fun of it. []

Netflixed: Baraka

“Baraka” (Ron Fricke)

Hope this film is interesting as it sounds.

The relationship between humans and their environment is the subject of this mesmerizing visual study from Ron Fricke, the cinematographer and editor of Koyaanisqatsi. The images — which Fricke gathered from 24 countries — range from the daily devotions of Tibetan monks and whirling dervishes to a cigarette factory and time-lapse views of the Hong Kong skyline. Diverse world music accompanies the visuals.
[From Baraka]

and from Larisa Moore

The word Baraka means “blessing” in several languages; watching this film, the viewer is blessed with a dazzling barrage of images that transcend language. Filmed in 24 countries and set to an ever-changing global soundtrack, the movie draws some surprising connections between various peoples and the spaces they inhabit, whether that space is a lonely mountaintop or a crowded cigarette factory. Some of these attempts at connection are more successful than others: for instance, an early sequence segues between the daily devotions of Tibetan monks, Orthodox Jews, and whirling dervishes, finding more similarity among these rituals than one might expect. And there are other amazing moments, as when sped-up footage of a busy Hong Kong intersection reveals a beautiful symmetry to urban life that could only be appreciated from the perspective of film. The lack of context is occasionally frustrating–not knowing where a section was filmed, or the meaning of the ritual taking place–and some of the transitions are puzzling. However, the DVD includes a short behind-the-scenes featurette in which cinematographer Ron Fricke (Koyaanisqatsi) explains that the effect was intentional: “It’s not where you are that’s important, it’s what’s there.” And what’s here, in Baraka, is a whole world summed up in 104 minutes

Netflixed: Logan’s Run

“Logan’s Run” (Michael Anderson, Ronald Saland)

For some reason, watched this film earlier today for the first time.

Life in the year 2274 is a carnival of pleasures — until you hit age 30. An all-powerful state kills those who reach their third decade, and cop Logan 5 (Michael York) is in charge of capturing “runners” who try to escape their fate. It’s a nice gig until he reaches the “golden age.” Logan’s Run offers an inventive vision of a dark paradise.

[From Netflix: Logan’s Run]

Moderately amusing, 1970s cocaine and free-love film. Not sure how Logan’s Run won any Oscars, must have been an off-year for special effects.

Farrah Fawcett-Majors is an absolutely horrible actress, at least in this film. I mean, embarrassingly bad. Yikes. Nobody’s performance is really good, but she is cringeworthy.

The censors at MGM cut out most of the orgy scene, and the Hallucimill sequence, subsequently Kirk Kerkorian threw out the footage.

As I sat through some of the more eye-rolling sequences, I thought Logan’s Run would be a good candidate for a modern update. The premise was sort of interesting, but the execution was weak. Current social mores wouldn’t have a problem with the free-love aspect, nudity, nor the drug use, if handled with precision and humor. Apparently, I don’t have to write a treatment, as the remake is already in the works. [IMDb entry]

In a future where the masses are systematically put to death upon reaching a certain age, those who attempt to cheat death are dubbed “runners” and pursued by formidable operatives known as Sandmen. Logan is a Sandman who is fast approaching that fateful age, and when he decides to run the stage is set for the ultimate chase. Former commercial filmmaker Joseph Kosinski makes his feature directorial debut with a low-tech sci-fi thriller written by Tim Sexton, and inspired more by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s 1967 novel than the 1976 feature starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter.

“Logan’s Run (Logan)” (William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson)

A YouTube preview (several minutes long)

Contains deleted and alternate footage. The primary audience for this long preview were theater owners.

Netflixed Caligula

“Caligula (Three-Disc Imperial Edition)” (Analysis Film Releasing Corporation)

Shipped on 01/09/08.

Malcolm McDowell portrays the infamous emperor who wielded godlike power over ancient Rome while at the same time sleeping with his sister (Teresa Ann Savoy). Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud co-star in this film produced by Penthouse Magazine editor Bob Guccione and written by Gore Vidal. Warning: This unrated edition contains explicit sex, nudity and violence as well as disturbing imagery. [From Netflixed: Caligula]

Yikes. Easily the worst movie I’ve seen in years. Not even good porn, unless you like late 70’s Penthouse Magazine lesbian porn, or scenes of group (male) masturbation. I couldn’t make myself watch the whole thing, apparently there was even more over-the-top action to follow.

My two word review: cocaine-inspired megalomania. Apparently, Bob Guccione locked everyone except for sycophants out of the editing room, and cut and pasted footage so it is even more confusing. Gore Vidal sued to get the title changed from “Gore Vidal’s Caligula” to “Caligula”, though his name is still on the credits. Even as straight-out camp fun, this film wasn’t fun.

Roger Ebert’s review is classic:

“Caligula” is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty. Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film after two hours of its 170-minute length. That was on Saturday night, as a line of hundreds of people stretched down Lincoln Ave., waiting to pay $7.50 apiece to become eyewitnesses to shame.

I wanted to tell them … what did I want to tell them? What I’m telling you now. That this film is not only garbage on an artistic level, but that it is also garbage on the crude and base level where it no doubt hopes to find its audience. “Caligula” is not good art, It is not good cinema, and it is not good porn. [snip]

You have heard that this is a violent film. But who could have suspected how violent, and to what vile purpose, it really is? In this film, there are scenes depicting a man whose urinary tract is closed, and who has gallons of wine poured down his throat. His bursting stomach is punctured with a sword. There is a scene in which a man is emasculated, and his genitals thrown to dogs, who eagerly eat them on the screen. There are scenes of decapitation, evisceration, rape, bestiality, sadomasochism, necrophilia.
“This movie,” said the lady in front of me at the drinking fountain, “is the worst piece of shit I have ever seen.”