Saturday, December 24, 2011


I wanted to discuss this here because I know Alek loved the film and will probably have some insightful things to say about it. Maybe he can help me and you see the light, because I didn't see what all the fuss was about at all. I went into the film knowing it was directed by Martin Scorsese, and from everyone I talked to was saying, it sounded like he'd made the next Black Stallion, E.T., or Babe - you know... really intelligently made and magical live action children's films.

But if it hadn't said Scorsese on the film anywhere, I would have sworn this had been directed by Chris Columbus. And no the circa Home Alone Chris Columbus. I'm talking the circa Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone Chris Columbus. The thing was painful. The story dragged, was filled with all those annoying plot devices that could be dissolved with a single real conversation, the acting was forced, the attempts at humor fell flat, and there were way too many uninspired chase scenes.

For me the only reason I'd recommend the film is for the flashbacks of George Melies in the studio. That was pure magic. I could have watched a whole film of that. Too bad those parts only totalled about 10 minutes, with the rest of the movie filled with shots of the actors trying to look really upset.

What's interesting is that I took my three older kids along to see it, and all of them loved it, and the oldest pontificated for a while afterwards about the themes and how Hugo helped Melies to see the value in his life and all that. So maybe Scorsese really was just aiming for a younger audience and wanted to make sure they got it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Tree of Life

Ever since Malick returned to cinema with The Thin Red Line, I have been baffled by his films.  I'm sure this isn't a unique reaction.  I get the same feeling when I read T.S. Eliot.  I get the feeling that the mysteries of the universe are hidden in there, but I'm only catching glimpses.  Maybe this is how my students feel when I show them 2001 for the first time.  I remember Bergman writing that cinema is closer to music than any of the other arts.  This is especially true with Malick and in particular with The Tree of Life.  What is the film trying to say?  No idea.  I doubt Malick even knows.  But it's a breathtaking symphonic work.

Here's a question for you, Alek:

What's Sean Penn's character doing here?  Alls I remember is him kind of brooding in his office building.  Is it just showing his dissatisfaction with life despite having a seemingly envious high-power job?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Assistants to the 12 - According to Brandon

Can't argue much with Alek's list, at least as far as historically influential directors go.  Here's my alternate picks of personally influential directors, along with my favorite film from each one.  Same rules as Alek.

George Melies, The Black Imp
Buster Keaton, Sherlock Jr.
Walt Disney (I know, not really a director, but...) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Jean Renoir, Le Grande Illusion
Ernst Lubitsch, To Be or Not To Be
Yasujiro Ozu, Ohayo
Vittorio De Sica, Bicycle Thieves
Francois Truffaut, Small Change
Jean-Pierre Melville, Le Cercle Rouge
Martin Ritt, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Andrei Tarkovsky, Stalker
Woody Allen, Annie Hall
James Ivory, A Room with a View

Thursday, August 4, 2011

12 Apostles of Film - According to Alek

Alright! Here it is. My list of directors that have changed the world of cinema forever, and inspired the greatest directors today.This list of extraordinary people was very difficult to narrow down, but it's here. Just so everybody knows the rules (my rules at least) for the list.

-Their first film has to have come out before 1970
-They must have a steady career of many great films under their belt.
-They must have explored a wide array of themes and genres in their films.
-I judge not on my favorites, but who I believe has affected cinema the greatest (basically who has inspired and influenced the great directors after them), and who has the best cinematic form.

And now, in no particular order-

Carl Theodore Dreyer
Stanley Kubrick
Akira Kurosawa
Ingmar Bergman
Federico Fellini
John Ford
Alfred Hitchcock
Charlie Chaplin
Billy Wilder
Frank Capra
Orson Welles
F.W. Murnau
Howard Hawkes

Please tell me if I have made a huge oversight! (Though I doubt this will be read by anyone.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Alek's Top Ten Films of the 1920's

In my opinion, these are 10 fantastic and beautiful films that are well worth the time to watch.

1. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer) - This is the definitive spiritual film, told through a series of passionate images (each one could be a painting). It's a great one to get from Criterion Collection, it comes with a great 'Voices of Light' soundtrack that adds a nice touch to the film. But what really makes this such a powerful piece of cinema is that you can watch it as intended, without sound, and it still captures you every second...indeed, the ending is even more beautiful and haunting without sound. Just the buzz of your viewing device and your heart pounding as you watch the Maria Falconetti silently screaming through the flames. After it is all said and finished, you will sit and wait, maybe a minute, maybe an hour, but a moment of silence will come...and the spiritual experience you just had will hold you there...reflecting on film, life, and beauty.

2. Sunrise (Murnau) - There are very few films that have made me feel honest, true love between two individuals...Sunrise does it (and of course without the convenience of synced sound). A beautiful tale of true love vs. lust, and of two lovers rediscovering their devotion to each other. Murnau's greatest film is a great film about the seduction of vice, and how finding virtue in thine self and simplicity in your ambitions will guide you to happiness. Told through fantastically creative visual style (one that connects you to the film, rather than distracts you from the emotions), this is a refreshing film to watch when we live in a decade where teenagers are all fascinated by the idea that every human being is essentially evil to the core, and a lot of the 'art' is a reflection of this, and even worse, submissive to the idea.

3. Napoleon (Gance) - Griffith step aside, Abel Gance was the true master of the epic in the silent era, and Napoleon is his masterpiece. There are so many sweeping motions and camera movements that put these modern blockbusters to shame. Gance was an experimentalist of the greatest fashion. The perfect filmmaker for a medium so ripe for originality in the 20's. In fact, I've heard a lot of people talk about a lot of original indy films with such great, fresh techniques. I inquired further into what was so original, and every technique they said I saw used in Gance's Napoleon (among others, but firstly in Napoleon). But really, what's a bunch of technical razzle-dazzle without something interesting and familiar to connect to? Well, Napoleon certainly hits the high notes there too. It's easily the greatest cinematic portrait of a man who is hard to describe beyond one word: fateful. Gance films Napoleon's early life as though every small detail is painting the epic struggle that will take place in Bonaparte's later life. Every character motivation and series of actions are like paint strokes in a portrait, creating a picture of a man who rose to make his own destiny. These magnificent six hours end with a breath-taking climax that takes place over three screens...that's right...three. Maybe I am biased because Napoleon is one of the most interesting and inspiring historical figures in my eyes, but watch this film and try and tell me it isn't ingeniously couldn't.

4. The Kid (Chaplin)

5. Steamboat Bill Jr. (Reisner)

6. Metropolis (Lang)

7. Faust (Murnaugh)

8. The Battleship Potemkin

9. The Man Who Laughs (Leni)

10. The Gold Rush (Chaplin)

I'm currently only writing short reviews for the top 3, but I will write more/longer ones if anybody would like me to.