Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Defense of Michael Bay (Sort Of)

I’ll try to keep this short: I like Michael Bay. I do. Really. I think.

Yes, I hated Transformers 2 (or whatever the hell it was called) – as did most sane people, since it was awful. (It now seems clear that Bay himself didn’t care for it much either.) And yes, I hated The Island. And yes, I hated Pearl Harbor. And I mean really, really hated them. So what is it about Bay that keeps me coming back? I'm not sure. He’s made one great movie (The Rock) and he seems capable of making another one, too, one of these days. I haven’t seen the new Transformers movie yet. I did mostly like the first one.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Return of the Ugly King: Yilmaz Guney

A friend alerts me to the fact that there is a Yilmaz Guney film series making its way through North America (with its very own blog!). Eight films, all-new 35mm prints, English subtitles, the works. They’ve apparently already screened at the Harvard Film Archive. Next up is the Cleveland Cinematheque. And then a journey through Canada. Looks like they’ll finish up at Lincoln Center in May of next year. (You can actually download the full schedule of venues and films here.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

SEE THIS MOVIE: General Orders No. 9

A couple of years ago, while covering Sundance, I got an email from a friend, an industry professional and festival regular, who implored me to see an obscure film called General Orders No. 9 that was playing at Slamdance. He said it was the best movie he’d seen at Park City in all the (many) years he’d been coming there. It had one final screening on my last day in town, so after I checked out of my hotel I dutifully trudged over to Main Street. I’d gotten maybe an hour of sleep the night before (thanks to midnight screenings and writing deadlines) so I wasn’t in the best of moods when I settled in for what turned out to be a difficult, dense experimental documentary-cum-essay film. And yet this bewildering fantasia -- of almost abstracted still lives, transcendent landscapes, and incantatory narration -- enthralled me. When its director Robert Persons – a quiet, 40-something-ish fellow who’d never made a film before in his life and looked pretty uncomfortable – took the stage, my hand immediately went up for the first question: “Who the hell are you?” I asked. He wouldn’t answer me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Two (More) Tree of Life Things

Believe it or not, this blog was never meant to be All Tree of Life, All the Time, but bear along with me for a little while. I'm actually working on a new, longer piece on the film, expanding and building on some of the observations in my original review. In the meantime, here are two things that may be of interest:

Monday, June 20, 2011

When Smart Writers Say Not-So-Smart Things

I know for a fact that Sam Wasson is an excellent journalist (his terrific book, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. made me appreciate the importance of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a film I actually kind of hate), and he may even be a nice guy, for all I know. But he is now also the author of one of the most misguided pieces I’ve read in quite some time: this article in LA Weekly about Terrence Malick entitled “The Too Quiet American.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

All That Will Be Left Is Us: Revisiting A.I.

I cannot overstate my complicated emotions when I first saw A.I. Artificial Intelligence back in 2001. Here was a film that I’d anticipated for nearly a decade: First when it was to be directed by Stanley Kubrick; then during that somewhat confusing period when Kubrick was making Eyes Wide Shut, with A.I. supposedly to follow, either directed by him or produced by him with someone else directing; and finally, of course, that sad time after Kubrick’s passing, when the prospect of Steven Spielberg directing the film tore up many a Kubrick fan.

Monday, June 13, 2011

“Well Gentlemen, I Think This Calls for Champagne All Round.”

Everybody should read this tribute by Christopher Hitchens to the recently deceased Patrick Leigh Fermor, an adventurer, “scholar-warrior,” and travel writer who was one of the heroes of an amazing feat of WWII derring-do on the island of Crete in 1944 – an event immortalized in Ill Met by Moonlight, a terrific (and terrifically underseen, sadly) Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger film. Dirk Bogarde played him, lucky sod.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

And While We’re at It: What if the Movie’s Good, but the *Music* Stinks?

That previous post about great scores to bad movies made me realize that a perhaps harder list to compile would be one of good movies with lousy scores. Indeed, it’s difficult to do a list like this without taking into account changing musical tastes – most of the examples I thought of were from the ‘80s, for example. And I’m sure that in a less generous mood I could probably find fault with all sorts of classical Hollywood soundtracks that now sound a bit too bombastic or whatever. But in creating this list of six examples, I’ve tried to avoid retroactive anachronisms – those Harold Faltermeyer scores to Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch may sound a bit dinky now, but they seemed pretty awesome back then. Rather, a number of these scores seemed out of place or misguided right out of the starting gate.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

When the Music’s Great, But the Movie Stinks

I still argue about movies and directors with my father, but there was a time when we really used to argue. Back then, one of his chief debating tactics was to tell me that I only really liked certain films because I liked the music. (Spaghetti Westerns, I seem to recall, were the chief targets of this accusation, which was kind of ironic since he’d been the one to turn me on to Spaghetti Westerns in the first place, by giving me an LP of Morricone’s scores for the first two Dollars films, and then watching A Fistful of Dollars with me when I was, what, nine?)

He had a point, sort of: I do tend to be partial to a movie with a great score. I’ve never felt guilty about this, because I’ve always felt that the music in a film is as much a part of it as, say, the performances, or the dialogue, or the imagery. It’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why a great performance can be said to dramatically enhance an otherwise mediocre film but a great score can’t. Is it just because you can buy a soundtrack album and thus “separate” the music from the film, in a way you can’t with a performance?

But I digress. Like everyone else, I do have my limits. There are some amazing soundtracks – scores I listen to over and over again, almost obsessively – that nevertheless belong to some genuinely dreadful films. Here, in ascending order, are the seven that come most prominently to my mind. I’d be curious to hear other readers’, uh, “favorites.”