In spite of its similarity to other recent musical biopics, Get On Up (2014, directed by Tate Taylor), a biography of James Brown, stands apart both for the intensity of its musical scenes and its cinematic invention. This is not a dry recitation of facts, nor is it any kind of redemptive narrative. This is a portrait of the artist as an egotistical asshole, one that skips around in time and breaks the fourth wall and generally throbs with a kind of staccato cinematic life. It's a film that lives and breathes as film, something that has eluded other projects of its type. As such, it's energizing, a quality augmented by an absolutely killer soundtrack. James Brown in life was a braggart and egotist who variously claimed to have invented funk and rap as new musical forms. Musicologists of late have come to think that Brown was entirely too modest. Brown was a musical titan, but, man, the Brown in this film decidedly has feet of clay.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
According to legend, To Have and Have Not (1944, directed by Howard Hawks) was made on a bet. Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway were hunting (and drinking) buddies. Hawks was a fan of the writer but not of To Have and Have Not. "A bunch of junk," he called it. He bet Hemingway that he could make a good movie out of it, or so the legend goes. Whether this is true or not doesn't really matter, I guess. It's Hollywood, after all, and when the legend becomes fact and all that. What we do know is that Hawks bought the rights from Howard Hughes and sold them to Warner Brothers, hired an out of work and out of print writer named William Faulkner to write the movie with Jules Furthman (a move that surely rankled Hemingway, given the rivalry between Faulkner and Hemingway), and discarded most of the second half of the book. He also cast an unknown actress in the lead. Her name was Lauren Bacall.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
After I saw the film, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, directed by James Gunn) that went something like this:
Me: I have no idea of how I'm going to write about this film. There's nothing there to write about!
Friend: Yeah...it's pretty lightweight.
Me: I suppose I could cobble something together about how it's got a queer subtext and it's about how people who are cast out of their own families are forced to form families of choice.
Friend: Hmm...I could see that.
Me: Man, this movie is shallow.
Upon reflection, I think that the formation of families of choice is exactly what the film is about, only in a painfully heterosexual way. I might even be offended by the appropriation if the movie were more interested in that theme rather than in blowing shit up real good. As it is, the pleasures of Guardians of the Galaxy are all on the surface. There's not really anything wrong with that, I guess.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, directed by Matt Reeves) is probably the best film in the franchise since the original item back in 1968. That it's made something from the leavings of Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the last and least regarded of the original series, is something completely unlooked-for. Dawn has formidable technical bona fides, including another astonishing mocap performance by Andy Serkis (who is top-billed!). It's a thoughtful sci fi apocalypse; yet another post-human speculation, no less. It's also not very much fun.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
The truth of the matter is this: I didn't particularly want to go see Lucy (2014, directed by Luc Besson). I'm not fond of Luc Besson's films. He's not quite on my black list because his films usually strike me as stupid rather than malign, but his films can be so very, very profoundly stupid. More, he tends to fetishize his heroines in a way that makes me uncomfortable. But here's the train of thought that put my butt in a theater seat on the first day it was in theaters. I've been bitching about the sorry lot of superhero women for a while. It galls me that a talking raccoon with a machine gun is going to get a movie before Wonder Woman. It galls me that they fobbed off the Catwoman movie on "talent" that had nothing invested in the character nor any respect for it either. It galls me that mealy-mouthed movie executives bleat prejudice as truth when they say that women can't open a tentpole movie while counting all that money from The Hunger Games and Maleficent. It galls me that I don't have a Black Widow movie yet. I want my damned Black Widow movie. And so: Lucy is a superhero movie of sorts starring the Black Widow her ownself, Scarlett Johannson. I better put my money where my mouth is if I want my Black Widow movie. So I ponied up to see Lucy.
Friday, July 25, 2014
I was in the wrong headspace for The Rover (2014, directed by David Michôd), a bleak, more naturalistic version of a Mad Max movie. The movie turns out to be a shaggy dog story, but the punchline of the film had a particular meaning to me when I saw it. I sat in my car for a few minutes after the film trying to process what I'd just seen. Films affect people differently, depending on all sorts of personal factors that vary from viewer to viewer. Some films are more personally relevant than others. For me, this was such a film. Your mileage, of course, will vary. The why of this requires me to reveal elements of the plot that likely should be surprises, so go watch the movie and come back later. I'll still be here.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
When I first heard the premise of Snowpiercer (2014, directed by Bong Joon-ho), I thought it sounded ridiculous. I thought, actually, that it sounded like something that would show up on the SyFi channel. Still, the director gave me pause. This is the man who made Memories of Murder and Mother, after all, to say nothing of The Host. He's proven his chops both as a gifted director and as a gifted purveyor of genre entertainments. And when you get right down to it, it's not a more ridiculous premise than, say, anything by Park Chan-Wook or Kim Ji-Woon. And then I heard that Harvey Weinstein wanted to slash twenty minutes out of it. Bong actually won that power struggle, but it limited the film's horizons. Seeing it at the earliest opportunity became for me a moral imperative. It turns out that my initial impression of the whole thing was correct: it's utterly ridiculous. It's also kind of awesome.
Note: here there be spoilers.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
It would be a mistake to think of Edge of Tomorrow (2014, directed by Doug Liman) as a mere rip-off of Groundhog Day filtered through Starship Troopers. I mean, sure. It is exactly that. Its just not only that. I'm probably going to regret saying this, but it seems to me that director Doug Liman is an auteur in the classic sense of the word, and that this film, one that plays around with both identity and cinematic chronology is very much of a piece with films like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Go. Oh, Liman is an entertainer first and foremost, but like other "entertainers" I could name, he seems drawn back to the same themes again and again, much like the hero in this film is drawn back to the start of his sojourn as an unwilling soldier over and over and over. Edge of Tomorrow might be Liman's magnum opus. Whatever it is, it's a lot of fun to watch, and not only for the dubious pleasure of watching Tom Cruise being horribly killed on repeat. Though that's fun, too.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
I'm at something of a disadvantage when it comes to writing about the British crime film, Honour (2014, directed by Shan Khan), because I don't want to step into the landmine of racial politics it engenders. It would be easy--poisonously easy--to deplore the cultural norms that give rise to honor killings in the Muslim world in a way that crosses into outright racism. The last thing I want to do is turn myself into Richard Dawkins, railing about the awfulness of Islam. The world isn't that simple and Islam is not monolithic. The film itself is intensely aware of its racial politics, but charges ahead with its story anyway.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
And we're almost to the end. There's been a lot of fabulous writing this week. The blogathon will be open for business for a while, though this is the last day I'll be posting updates, so if you're writing something that isn't quite finished, send me the link when you're done and I'll add it to this last post. Thanks to everyone who participated.
This morning brings us Lee Price's final essay on Wagon Master. Lee is an old friend and we're happy to have him. He concludes with a piece entitled "Portait of the Artist as a Hoochie Coochie Artist," and it's a doozy.
Girls Do Film get in under the wire with a sterling look at The Grapes of Wrath.
Longtime friend of the blog, Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear comes through with a clear-eyed look at The Prisoner of Shark Island.
Willow at Curtsies and Hand Grenades sees Young Mr. Lincoln as a superhero origin story.
Mayerson on Animation has a series on The Grapes of Wrath that breaks things down into its storytelling components.
Kellee at the marvelously named Outspoken and Freckled is roused to a fiery passion for The Quiet Man..
Stacia at She Blogged by Night looks at Fort Apache, a film that smuggles its politics past HUAC.
Mildred's Fatburgers chimes in with a look at The Lost Patrol, the only film Ford made with the great Boris Karloff.
Anna at Bemused and Non-plussed delves deeper into the Ford at Fox box and comes up with 3 Bad Men and Up the River, the latter being the screen debuts of both Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart.
Finally and belatedly, The Girl with the White Parasol delves into the enigmatic Henry Fonda and the cold thoughtfulness he brings to Young Mr. Lincoln.
Your humble bloginatrix offers a gushing assessment of her own favorite John Ford film, How Green Was My Valley.
Check back throughout the day and beyond as more posts are added.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
This is my principle entry into The John Ford Blogathon. I sometimes spill out my entire head when writing about my favorite films. I hope you'll indulge me.
How Green Was My Valley (1941, directed by John Ford) is a film that one should not approach with a cynical eye. It's far, far too earnest a film to reward such a viewer. It's a film so drenched in nostalgia and sentiment that the fact that it's a really dark, really disillusioned film isn't immediately obvious. But it is. It's a film about loss: lost innocence, lost loves, lost loved ones, a lost place, a lost era. It appeared at a point in time where the hinges of history were turning, and it's very much of its zeitgeist.
The air conditioning here at Stately Krell Laboratories had crapped out for the weekend, so your humble bloginatrix is going to be spending the day in the comforting coolness of a movie house. Meanwhile, the Blogathon rolls on.
Michaël the Cinephiliaque looks at Ford's last film, 7 Women, and finds it enjoyable and intriguing.
My partner in crime, Anna, over at Bemused and Non-Plussed looks at the role of children in Ford, particularly in Just Pals, Wee Willie Winkie, and How Green Was My Valley.
Aurora at Once Upon a Screen takes a close look at Rio Grande, the price Ford paid in order to make The Quiet Man. All such compromises should come out so well.
Jon over at Contemplations on Classic Movies expands on his piece on Donovan's Reef today.
The Vintage Cameo looks at the legend of Wyatt Earp--who Ford actually met once upon a time--as filmed in My Darling Clementine.
Check back throughout the day for more entries.
Friday, July 11, 2014
We're entering the home stretch now. Hopefully the weekend will bring the fireworks.
We start off again with Lee Price at 21 Essays, who speculates about how his grandmother would have received Wagon Master before looking at some of the animal stars of the film.
Anna at Bemused and Non-plussed takes on the collaboration between Ford and Will Rogers in Judge Priest and Steamboat Round the Bend as she continues to mine the Ford at Fox box.
Your humble bloginatrix wrote a long essay about Stagecoach some years ago that seems appropriate here. Taking you "Along the Scenic Route."
Portaits by Jenni has a terrific look at Sergeant Rutledge, in which Woody Strode steps into the starring role.
Marilyn Ferdinand of the excellent Ferdy on Films sends us an older piece on The Quiet Man that's so thorough that it drops the mic.
Check back throughout the day as new entries roll in.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
We're rounding the bend today. I hope you've been reading along, because the quality of work being posted by everyone is outstanding. I'll post my own entries near the end. In the meantime, here are today's offerings.
Lee Price at 21 Essays continues his examination of Ford by way of Wagon Master, this time looking at the role of Native Americans--particularly Ford's stock company of Navajo--in both the film and in Ford's life. As usual, it's a complex relationship.
W. B. Kelso at Micro-brewed Reviews takes a long look at The Searchers--a film that deserves a long look I might add--and puts it into context with both Ford's career as a filmmaker and with the Western itself.
The Public Transportation Snob includes some gorgeous screen caps in his write-up of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.
The wonderfully named Cary Grant Won't Eat You chimes in with an assessment of the debacle that is Mister Roberts, a film whose ills are largely the result of John Ford.
Make sure to check back later as new posts roll in.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
Day three of the blogathon sees your humble bloginatrix procrastinating her own entries, but fear not! I'll get a couple of somethings up by the week's end.
Meanwhile, groove on the work of our other excellent participants:
Lee Price at 21 Essays kicks things off again today with the third entry of his epic examination of Wagon Master. Today, he looks at the geography of "The Promised Land," and the film's view of Mormonism.
Caftan Woman joins us this morning, too, with an excellent piece of Ford biography through the lens of The Informer.
Movies Silently goes all the way back to "Jack" Ford's first year of directing for a look at Bucking Broadway and a portrait of Ford's early career in silents. Lots of stills!
Christy Putnam looks at Maureen O'Hara and Ford's way with women in a post that spans their entire collaboration.
Be sure to check back as other entries roll in. I have a feeling this event is going to end with a bang.