27 July 2010

Link Roundup

I thought today, as this is the first roundup of links and such, I'd just give a few road signs to places on the internet that I visit daily. Next week I'll start by linking to specific stories, pieces, trailers, etc. Some of the following links are already linked to on the side, but I thought I'd give them all a proper plug.

Dark Horizons- Updated most weekdays with the latest news, rumors, etc. Despite its sometimes focus on science fiction and fantasy genres, it does a good job of covering all the latest news. Plus it links to most all of the latest trailers to be released.

Awards Daily- If you want the latest Oscar news and a good place to join in discussions on upcoming movies with awards potential, this is the place. Things really heat up in the fall and when it gets closer to the show itself. You can also follow the editor, Sasha Stone, on Twitter: @AwardsDaily

Film Experience Blog- online journalist Nathaniel Rogers runs this blog which has a greater personal feel to it than the previous sites. I would be lying if I didn't say some of the things I'll be doing on here weren't inspired by his work. He's also on twitter: @nathanielr

Neal Reviews- Good friend of mine Neal Tucker reviews many things, and his film reviews are very insightful.

The Auteurs, or MUBI- It was once called The Auteurs and now it seems they're trying to switch the name to MUBI, though I'm not sure why. It's a social networking site, a la Facebook, for serious movie buffs. I'm a member. Shouldn't you be?

Those are the places I go the most often. Now a couple of things you should see:

Seriously, how fantastic is this trailer? When I first heard about the movie, I was skeptical, but the more I see the preview, the more excited I get. Hopefully the movie will live up to it.
The Social Network:

This movie, Howl is based on the publication of the titular poem by Allen Ginsburg. Looks promising, great cast. And of course, since it's set in mid-20th century America, it has Jon Hamm.

26 July 2010

Great Scenes- Fort Apache (1948)

Today's great scene comes from John Ford's Fort Apache. I was inspired to make my way through all the John Ford Westerns after watching Stagecoach the other evening (My Darling Clementine predates this one but I'll be going back to it tomorrow). The film depicts life within a frontier outpost, with its military hierarchy, formal and informal relationships, and some humor along the way. The Indian question comes into focus in the second half of the film, and the climax presents the American forces, led by Henry Fonda, riding against the Apache forces led by Cochise and Geronimo.

The scene, comprising the last ten minutes or so of the film, is notable for both its camerawork, showcasing Ford's familiar mastery with the Monument Valley location, and the way it brings most of the narrative questions of the film to a head all at once, as great climaxes are known to do. John Wayne's character, Captain York, is at odds with Colonel Thursday, played by Fonda. The regiment splits into two factions, following each officer, and Fonda's by-the-books approach becomes his downfall.

Without giving away each plot point, the moral ambiguity of the scene is central to the film's understanding of native American policy. It doesn't serve as a fully realized criticism of the government's treatment of the various tribes, as the film's final moments glorify the American troops who, within the story, still continue to fight to tame the West. However, it does stop short of imbuing the troops with moral certitude.

The final portion of the battle scene features a wonderful shot of Captain York standing tall against a cloud of dust kicked up by the Apache troops. He often serves as the film's moral center, but he is forced to make some concessions. When he is speaking with reporters a couple of years after the battle, we can see the conflict as he remembers his former commanding officer, and we get the sense that the way he glorifies his comrades may not be wholly sincere, but an act of public relations demanded by his new post.

25 July 2010

Salt (2010)

(Quick disclaimer. Yes, I've seen Inception. Yes, I really liked it. However, I am waiting to write about it until I've seen it a second time. It's the kind of movie that requires it. So expect some thoughts on it next weekend.)

It's easy to see why Salt was originally designed with Tom Cruise in mind. There's a lot of running. However, I'm not sure Cruise would have maintained the ambiguity that the main character requires in the way that Jolie does. For a significant portion of the film, you are unsure of whether Salt is a patriot or a traitor. Remembering that this is a big budget Hollywood movie will quickly dispel that confusion, however it is a tribute to Jolie that we find Salt potentially duplicitious in the least.

Much has been written by critics about the implausibility of the plot. Is it outlandish? Yes, at times. But I am confused as to why non-realism is being used as a way to critique a spy film. There have been some "realistic" spy movies in the past. The Bourne series is probably as realistic as any successful spy movies have ever been. However, audiences have never expected realism in this genre. They want false identities, double agents, cool gadgets, and outrageous stunts. Salt delivers those in spades.

While not being realistic, I think, is not a valid criticism, the way the movie handles its inherently unrealistic plot is a different matter. What the movie really needs is a sense of humor. It's not a problem to ask the audience to believe certain silly things. That's central to enjoying a lot of movies. However, to take it too seriously on top of that is dangerous, and that's where Salt gets into trouble.

I've been intentionally vague about the plot, because I'm assuming some degree of familiarity about the basic premise. Any other information on my part would fall into the realm of spoiler. Overall, I did enjoy myself to a certain extent. The movie has its thrills, yes, but is ultimately a slight affair. Though the ending promises sequels (rather heavy-handedly I must say), I can't say I'm dying to see them.

24 July 2010

Stagecoach (1939)

I picked up the Criterion blu-ray edition of John Ford's Stagecoach yesterday (I highly recommend it, great transfer). A bit of background if you're unaware: the first major Western by John Ford since the mid-20s, the first serious Western made by anyone in a good while, first star turn by John Wayne, first major collaboration between Wayne and Ford, nominee for Best Picture, winner of Best Supporting Actor for Thomas Mitchell (the inebriated doctor), and placed amidst one of the best years of American cinema ever (other films that year: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka).

The film tells the story of several strangers thrust together in a perilous stagecoach ride across the desert, with the constant threat of attack by Apache Indians, as well as the threat of sabotage from within. The group is a microcosm of society: an outlaw, a prostitute, a society lady, a doctor, a salesman that everyone mistakes for a reverend, a Southern gentleman/gambler/cad, and a couple of trusty cowboys.

Pauline Kael calls it "Grand Hotel on wheels" and David Thomson describes the characters as being dipped in a "marinade of cliche." Both of these statements make perfect sense, particularly the latter, as the film does have a nostalgic feel in hindsight, but it's difficult to gauge how audiences might have received it back at its release. Frank Nugent's original NYT review tells us: "He (Ford) prefers the broadest canvas, the brightest colors, the widest brush, and the boldest possible strokes. He hews to the straight narrative line with the well-reasoned confidence of a man who has seen that narrative succeed before. He takes no shadings from his characters: either they play it straight or they don't play at all."

One gets the sense that audiences had seen all of these characters before, but never in such an artistically satisfying form; up until this point, most Westerns were B-pictures. For our purposes, it's as classic as a classic Western gets. And as with many great movies, knowing exactly what's going to happen next isn't a detriment. And at a breezy 96 minutes, it's incredibly economical.

The movie has its famous flourishes: John Wayne (as The Ringo Kid) has one of the greatest entrances in one of the most exciting shots I've ever seen. It's such an appropriate first appearance for one of the greatest stars who ever lived. The chase sequence through Apache country is brilliant, with stunts that baffle you. It's one of those moments that makes you realize just how cheap CGI can be. And you can see some classic Ford touches, such as his doorway shots and appropriate balance of moving and static shots.

In all, it's a must-see if you haven't already. If you've never seen many films by John Ford, this is a good place to start. It's him at his most crowd-pleasing. Sometimes, because of his influence, it's hard for modern audiences to get what kind of style Ford worked in. His language has become so absorbed that it seems average at first glance, but there's something about Stagecoach that hooks you so quickly that you can't help falling in love and wanting to see more.

The blog returns...really. I mean it this time.

Some of the posts on the main page are a year old. I regret that. The past year has been probably the busiest ever. I took a lot of classes, directed two shows, and generally ran around like crazy. That, combined with the general lackluster nature of this year in film, has not exactly inspired me to write much. In general, my movie-watching habits have suffered. I do not watch as many older films as I used to. But I miss that, and I miss studying the films I watch and writing about them. So in order to be more regular with the blog, I'm establishing a schedule that I'm going to try to keep up with. It will be as follows:

Sundays: Review of a new or recent theatrical release
Mondays: Thoughts on a favorite scene in a great movie
Tuesdays: A roundup of links and pieces online that I recommend reading
Wednesdays: Some thoughts on a certain actor, writer, director, etc.
Thursdays: Wild Card!
Fridays: A fun list to generate thought and discussion
Saturdays: A review of an older or classic film

I am fully aware that I have lost any and all readers that I had. Hopefully people will be drawn to the blog again over time. However, at the end of the day, this is for me, not anyone else. That being said, if you do read the blog, comment often! This will help me stay motivated to continue this. I want this to be a forum for discussing movies, not just me talking about them at length. Let's have fun.