Monday, November 30, 2015

Cinepoem: Emily Dickinson's After Great Pain (video coming soon)

Due in large part to a weeklong out-of-town Thanksgiving vacation, I've fallen way behind on my videos. The Side-by-Side analysis of two weeks ago remains a work-in-progress (which really should be ready within a day, I swear!) and as a result I haven't even begun work yet on what was to be today's video - my second Cinepoem, cutting images to Julie Harris' reading of "After Great Pain." I'm very excited about the project, and already have a lot of ideas for it, but it will have to wait for a later date, probably this week.

Meanwhile, watch this space - I will update both for the Side by Side video when it appears, and also this Cinepoem. Hope your Thanksgiving was as enjoyable as mine!

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Favorites - The Wizard of Oz (#79)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Wizard of Oz (1939/USA/dir. Victor Fleming & King Vidor) appeared at #79 on my original list.

What it is • In early 1939, it was MGM Production #1060, just another job for the many professional actors, technicians, and businessmen involved with its making. That August, released six days before the outbreak of World War II in Europe, it was a lavish family film, touched by vaudevillian comedy, screen-musical , and adventure/fantasy influences - an escapist treat for parents and children, whose half-cost and/or matinee tickets made it difficult for the studio to recoup its considerable investment. The following year, on Leap Day, the film's respectable nominations (including one for Best Picture) yielded two wins (both musical) plus a special award for Judy Garland. In 1949, when Frank Morgan - the wizard himself - passed away, this role was not mentioned in his filmography. Within a decade, broadcast in black-and-white on early television sets - so that even the candy-coated world of Oz took on the dusty shades of the Kansas sequence - the movie finally became the pop culture phenomenon it remains to this day. Since then, it has inspired in-depth psychoanalytic analyses, sync-ups with Pink Floyd records, and endless parodies and references and analogies from editorial cartoons to everyday speech. By sheer coincidence, as I wrote the previous sentence, another person in the room opened a backpack and discovered a Barnes & Noble bag featured the curled-up feet of the Wicked Witch of the East with text from L. Frank Baum's book (and while the original story remains a classic, it's unlikely it would be remembered nearly so universally today if not the film version which has long ago supplanted the literary images and phrases). The Wizard of Oz is truly inescapable; quite likely it is the most referenced motion picture in history, and certainly it is one of the most viewed. Yet at its core is a simple story, presented straightforwardly for all of its resonance and associations. A young girl, lonely and frustrated in her native Kansas, is apparently transported by a twister to a faraway land, where she must defeat the Wicked Witch of the West, befriend the lovably incomplete Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, and discover the truth about the fearsome Wizard in Emerald City before learning that "there's no place like home."

Why I like it •

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 3.33

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

And so my Neon Genesis Evangelion coverage finally comes to a close...for now. This is the only remaining Evangelion film or episode, at least until the release of Evangelion 4.0 (or 1.0 + 3.0, which is possibly going to be the title, whatever that means). This is also the first piece of Evangelion I have watched fresh for this series. In fact, by the time I tuned up 3.33 for this review I'd seen the the entire series run at least three or four times (some episodes five or six times), watched The End of Evangelion at least four times (three of them in the last few weeks), and watched the two earlier Rebuild films at least twice. Though I did not know much lore or history when I began this endeavor, this year I explored the world of Evangelion more deeply, learning about various theories, interpretations, and opinions. How exciting, then, to plunge into new (to me) Evangelion for the first time in four years! That's ultimately the pleasure and promise that the Rebuilds hold: the opportunity to experience this familiar world through new eyes. On that front, Evangelion 3.33 delivered more than any of the other Rebuilds, and I think it would be fair to call it my favorite of the three films.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thoughts on Cooper, Windom, and Bob

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

The following meta-analysis was originally posted on my Tumblr in October, and I thought it would be worth sharing here as well. Major spoilers for Twin Peaks follow the jump.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Favorites - The Adventures of Robin Hood (#80)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938/USA/dir. Michael Curtiz & William Keighley) appeared at #80 on my original list.

What it is • Welcome to Sherwood Forest, cloaked in lush green and lit by brilliant sunlight. Through these trees parade Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) and his merry men, fomenting unrest and having a jolly time of it. Many Robin Hood adaptations, especially today, look to darken the story or give it a more naturalistic texture, but Adventures revels in its heightened artifice and sense of fun, with the emphasis on swashbuckling, colorful costumes, and the cheerful romance between Robin and Marian (Flynn's frequent onscreen partner Olivia de Havilland, who is simply luminous here). Similarly, the structure is casually episodic, collecting famous moments from the Robin legend rather than forcing everything into a streamlined narrative structure. This is a proudly traditional take on the classic story, and as such it may be the most archetypal Robin Hood. However, the film does contain several elements that mark it as a film of its time, displaying a concern for social/historical context than even many of the more "realistic" latter-day interpretations avoid. The Adventures of Robin Hood very much emphasizes the importance of ethnic strife and state persecution, continually hammering home the idea that the aristocratic Normans are oppressing the common, salt-of-the-earth Saxons (Robin, himself a nobleman but also a Saxon, sides with clan over class). The film even offers Robin Hood a solemn refugee camp to run amidst all the derring-do! As such, it's hard not to see the looming war in Europe casting a shadow over the sunny swashbuckler of 1938.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 2.22

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

If Evangelion 1.11 is the pop song cover that tries to hit all the same notes (while upping the production value), then Evangelion 2.22 is the jazz version, following the same rough structure but unafraid to cut loose and go off on wild riffs and tangents. Approached in the right spirit, this can be a whole lot of fun. Anno mostly seems to be using events and images from the series as touchstones to shoot off in new directions. The first time I watched 2.22 I was mostly frustrated and disappointed by these departures. True, the film corresponds to the more light-hearted monster-of-the-week episodes of the series (roughly episodes 7 - 13) but it also overlaps with the darker, deeper episodes 14 - 19. The more playful tone of 2.22's first half didn't seem suitable as buildup for the drama; I had been expecting a big-screen version of the Evangelion series (not necessarily in plot, but in "feel"). Knowing what to expect this time, I still wasn't entirely sure what the point of the film was, but I enjoyed it much more.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Side by Side: Rear Window and Dial M For Murder (video) - coming soon

Update 11/19: This video will not be available until Thanksgiving weekend.

Due to a busy schedule this weekend, including the creation of an upcoming Fandor video, I had to delay my Side by Side video analysis of the similarities and differences between two Hitchcock classics: Rear Window and Dial M For Murder. However, the video should be completed in the next few days and when it is I will update this post to share it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Favorites - The Civil War (#81)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Civil War (1990/USA/dir. Ken Burns) appeared at #81 on my original list.

What it is • As a commentator notes very late in the documentary, the American Civil War is an immeasurable gulf separating the "before" and "after." Remarkably, Ken Burns' 11-hour PBS opus attempts to bridge that gulf and if the ambition of this attempt is awe-inspiring, the extent to which he succeeds is even more so. Burns evokes this bygone world by employing striking contemporaneous photographs (a new medium at the time of the war), modern-day battlefield cinematography (given a meditative air by the emptiness of the locations), a few fleeting newsreels from veterans' reunions in the early twentieth century (which are among the most arresting artifacts of the series), and especially the stirring soundtrack (cycling various motifs from the 19th century and coupling them with the gorgeous, mournful "Ashokan Farewell" theme, which was actually composed in 1982). He also sprinkles the series with interviews, but not as much as we might expect (maybe a half-dozen subjects, whose input is mostly limited) - allowing David McCullough's soothing narration to do most of the historical heavy-lifting while historian Shelby Foote is given the lion's share of talking-head screentime, mostly to contributing colorful anecdotes to the film's texture. The Civil War was a rather shocking hit in 1990, racking up numbers that would have been breathtaking for a major network, let alone public television. That success is undoubtedly due in large part not just to the subject, but to Burns' treatment: creating an all-encompassing format that allowed viewers to immerse themselves in a zeitgeist.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 1.11

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

We're back at the beginning. Sort of. Almost everything about the early part of Evangelion 1.11, the "rebuild" feature film released in 2008, is identical to the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The same Angel attack, the same appearance of Rei in the abandoned city streets, the same Misato-Shinji rendezvous. But there are subtle differences. The first deviation is that the sea from which the Angel emerges is red, like the LCL concluding The End of Evangelion (one of the first clues for a favorite fan theory, that the Rebuilds actually take place after the original series, in a kind of reincarnated alternate universe). There are other subtle detours form the first two episodes: Sachiel the Angel (who is referred to as the "fourth" rather than the "third" Angel) reformulates in a different, more textured fashion; the Eva does not deflect debris from Shinji by releasing its hand; the berserker attack occurs in real-time rather than flashback. As the film continues, it will stray further from the original script but overall this is very much like a recap, gorgeously animated but suffering from some of the limitations inherent in the digest approach.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Talking Mulholland Drive with Twin Peaks Unwrapped

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

This month's Twin Peaks post is actually more about another David Lynch work, although it touches on Peaks as well. The folks at the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast recently invited me back for a second appearance (well, third technically - but the "killer's reveal" discussion is still a few weeks away, and this discussion was bumped up on the schedule in honor of the Criterion relase). The conversation lasts about 10-15 minutes and accompanies conversations amongst the hosts and with fellow guests Mya McBriar of Twin Peaks Fanatic and John Thorne, editor of Wrapped in Plastic (and of an upcoming compilation book). We discuss the genesis of the film, different interpretations, and also its links to Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me. Enjoy!

(Check out my earlier appearance on the podcast, discussing the first season)

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Favorites - The End of Evangelion (#82)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The End of Evangelion (1997/Japan/dir. Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki) appeared at #82 on my original list.

What it is • Welcome to the end of the world. This animated masterpiece begins in a flooded wasteland, introducing us to an array of characters who are completely isolated from one another, buried in their own grief, guilt, depression, and loneliness. We are fifteen years after a cataclysmic event that wiped out most of the earth's population, and mere days after the last of many battles with monstrous creatures (called Angels, ironically) who laid waste to this particular city and destroyed the psyches of the teenage warriors forced to fight them. (The battles with the Angels are depicted in the television show Neon Genesis Evangelion, to which this film is a follow-up.) So the scenario is already post-apocalyptic...but we ain't seen nothing yet. At least half the film is consumed by "The Human Instrumentality Project," in which the physical bodies of humanity are dissolved and their souls are fused together in a vast sea of consciousness, dissolving pain and suffering alongside individuality and agency. Shinji, the 14-year-old mecha pilot who is placed at the center of Instrumentality, must decide if he wants relief from his loneliness by dissolving his identity, or if he should seek love and acceptance the hard way, as a separate but active person. The film depicts this process through a gorgeous swirl of rich animation (mixing sci-fi action, spiritual symbolism, and psychological allegory), live-action footage, children's drawings, and other raw material.

Why I like it •