Sunday, January 31, 2010

January 2010 Screening Log

Since my annual viewing log breakdowns have been far and away my most popular entries, I decided from here on out to post all the films I watched in a given month on the last day of the month at hand.

So there's no confusion the chart reads like this:

Date the film was watched, title of the film, year and director, method of viewing (for theatre I specified the theatre where I watched it; for DV-R/TV, I specified the station that aired the film), amount of times I've watched this film (if a question mark follows this number, that means its based on my best recollection) and finally my grade on the A+ to F- scale.

1. 1/1: Monkey Business (1931, Norman McLeod)/DVD/1st: B
2. 1/2: Coraline (2009, Henry Selick)/DVD/1st: B
3. 1/4: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008, Kevin Rafferty)/Netflix Watch/1st: C+
4. 1/5: Fando y Lis (1968, Alejandro Jodoworsky)/DVD/1st: B
5. 1/6: The Last Detail (1973, Hal Ashby)/DV-R (Turner Classics)/2nd: A-
6. 1/7: Anti-Christ (2009, Lars Von Trier)/Theatre (New Beverly)/1st: C+
7. 1/7: Hour of the Wolf (1968, Ingmar Bergman)/Theatre (New Beverly)/1st: B+
8. 1/7: The U (2009, Barry Corben)/DV-R (ESPN)/1st: B-
9. 1/10: Julia (2009, Erick Zonka)/DVD/1st: B+
10. 1/11: Humpday (2009, Lynn Shelton)/Netflix Watch/1st: B+
11. 1/12: Spies Like Us (1985, John Landis)/DVD/2nd (?): B-
12. 1/15: Crazy Heart (2009, Scott Cooper)/Theatre (Pasadena Playhouse)/1st: B
13. 1/17: Pola X (2000, Leos Carax)/DVD/1st: B-
14. 1/18: Up in the Air (2009, Jason Reitman)/Theatre (Paseo)/1st: B-
15. 1/18: Mr. Mom (1983, Stan Dragoti)/DVD/4th (?): B-
16. 1/18: Deep End (1971, Jerzy Skolimowski)/DV-R (Turner Classics)/2nd : A
17. 1/19: Somers Town (2009, Shane Meadows)/Netflix Watch/1st: B
18. 1/20: The Road (2009, John Hillcoat)/Theatre (Beverly Center)/1st: B-
19. 1/22: In A Lonely Place (1950, Nicholas Ray)/DV-R (Turner Classics)/2nd: A
20. 1/23: The Magnificent Seven (1960, John Sturges)/DVD/2nd: B+
21. 1/24: Grand Illusion (1937, Jean Renoir)/DVD/2nd: A
22. 1/25: Into the Night (1985, John Landis)/DVD/2nd: B
23. 1/26: Dracula (Spanish Language Version) (1931. George Melford)/DVD/1st: B
24. 1/27: The Hit (1984, Stephen Frears)/DVD/1st: B+
25. 1/29: A Single Man (2009, Tom Ford)/Theatre (Pasadena Playhouse)/1st: C
26. 1/29: Indiscreet (1958, Stanley Donen)/DVD/1st: C+
27. 1/30: Jules and Jim (1962, Francois Truffaut)/DVD/2nd: A-
28. 1/31: Beyond the Mat (1999, Barry Blaustein)/DVD-1st V: B-

Watch did you watch in January?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Death Puts On His Red Hunting Cap

J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

As long as there are disaffected teenagers, Catcher in the Rye will continue to have a lasting and influential presence.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Anal Retentive's Delight: 2009, the Movies and Me

Fans of Obsessive Compulsion Disorder rejoice! It's a follow up to last year's popular movie journal stat sheet! (Here's the 2008 version)

Total Films Watched: 288

Down by five from last year, the decrease due to the fact that my wife and I purchased a house in January and moved in March. A lot of energy usually spent watching films was instead reserved for home repairs and gardening. Another effect was a longer work commute which changed sleep habits slightly (read: I go to bed a little earlier) and a lot more house guests than usual. And in July we adopted our beloved Cocker Spaniel, Lucky, who more often than not proved more entertaining than most films.

Films Watched Theatrically: 80
Films Watched via DVD: 177
Films Watched from Television broadcast/DV-R: 21
Films Watched via Netflix Streaming: 9
Films Watched on YouTube: 1

A slight shift in viewing habits as I became a DirectTV customer with a Digital Video Recorder which led to my scouring of Turner Classic Movies schedule for interesting programming. I'd say 90% of films watched via TV broadcast were presented in their original ratio aspect. Netflix really improved their streaming and selection quality and proved a valuable resource, especially considering a wealth of films currently out-of-print on DVD. For someone who spent the majority of the year incessantly bitching about people and corporations devaluing the theatrical going experience, I saw six less films at the theatre compared to last year.

Films Watched by Decade:

2000s: 129
1990s: 9
1980s: 47
1970s: 48
1960s: 18
1950s: 14
1940s: 11
1930s: 9
pre 1930s: 3

First film watched in 2009: The Magnificent Seven
First film watched theatrically in 2009: Doubt
Last film watched in 2009: Up!
Last film watched theatrically in 2009: Avatar

Number of films watched for the fist time in 2009: 214
Number of films watched for the second time in 2009: 37
Number of films watched for the third or more time in 2009: 37

Strange how that balanced out.

Filmmakers Who I saw Three or More Films by in the calendar year (not counting multiple viewings of the same film, ie Tarantino doesn't make the list even though I watched Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds twice):

Note: The list is presented in chronological order of my personal viewing.

Joe Dante: 5 (The Second Civil War, Small Soldiers, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Screwfly Solution, The 'burbs)

John Landis: 5 (Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, Into the Night, American Werewolf in London, Trading Places)

Werner Herzog: 5 (The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, Heart of Glass, Stroszek, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Woyzeck)

Woody Allen: 4 (Another Woman, Hollywood Ending, September, Whatever Works)

Brian DePalma: 3 (Carrie, Body Double, Obsession)

Sam Raimi: 3 (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Drag Me to Hell)

Fatih Akin: 3 (In July, Head-On, Crossing the Bridge)

Clint Eastwood: 3 (Gran Torino, Changeling, Blood Work)

Budd Boeticher: 3 (Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome)

Paul Schrader: 3 (Blue Collar, Cat People, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters)

John Huston: 3 (The Maltese Falcon, The Dead, Wise Blood)

Roger Corman: 3 (X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes, Bucket of Blood, Bloody Mama)

If you remember (or took another gander) at last year's entry, you will notice that once again Herzog and Dante topped this list, I am working through their collected works. Herzog will probably be on here next year still, but I have finished watching Dante's filmography. Also you may be asking why I watched those particular four Woody Allen films, well astute readers will notice that the first book I read this year was a biography of the Woodman, which prompted me to fill my holes in his directorial output (still haven't gotten around to Anything Else yet).

Number of Movies Watched per Month:

January: 35
February: 25
March: 22
April: 27
May: 22
June: 23
July: 19
August: 18
September: 25
October: 22
November: 23
December: 27

Started the year off with a bang but ultimately it was a pace that I couldn't keep up with. Lucky came into our lives in July and that coupled with having house guest pretty much every weekend during those months explains the paltry numbers for the end of summer.

Movies by Country of Origin:

United States: 238
United Kingdom: 20
France: 12
Italy: 10
Germany: 9
Spain: 3
China: 3
Australia: 3
Japan: 2
Israel: 2
India: 1
Mexico: 1
Korea: 1
Turkey: 1
South Africa: 1

Last year I stated that I should really watch more foreign films. What do I do: watch 16 more US productions than in 2008 is what I do. Ugly American alert! As mentioned last year, with so many films being international productions, it's difficult to ascertain a specific country, in those instance I just chose what made the most sense to me. And don't get too excited, the South African film I saw is the same one you did, District 9.

10 best pre-2000 films I saw for the first time in 2009:

Blue Collar (1978, Paul Schrader)
The Devils (1971, Ken Russell)
Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973, Peter Yates)
The Furies (1950, Anthony Mann)
Holiday (1938, George Cukor)
The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)
Lacombe Lucien (1974, Louis Malle)
Love in the Afternoon (Chloe in the Afternoon) (1972, Eric Rohmer)
Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau)
Violent City (1970, Sergio Sollima)

And finally, here are the seasons of Television series I watched to their completion this year (this list may be missing some stuff, its culled from my spotty memory):

Flight of the Conchords: Season 2
Lost: Season 5
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7
Mad Men: Season 1
Saxondale: Seasons 1 & 2

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Books Read in 2009

If I can impart any wisdom upon you when it comes to making your New Year's resolution, it's this: be specific. In 2008, I decided I would re-energize my reading habits by setting the goal of reading 52 books over a year's time, an average of one a week, the result: I read 54 (that list can be found here).

This year, my goal in terms of reading was more vague, something along the lines of "read some more classic literature". Well, mission unaccomplished. Not only did I read a paltry 23 books in the calendar year, less than half the amount I read last year, of those, only seven would really qualify for "classic" status. So this year, no goals other than I'll try to read more than 23. I have a pile of unread books that I've purchased from various flea markets and secondhand shops, if I can accomplish anything it would be to see that pile diminish before I can replenish it (a fool's errand to say the least).

For posterity's sake, here are the 23 books I did manage to finish this year:

1. Woody Allen: A Biography-Eric Lax
2. The Defense-Vladimir Nabokov
3. Watchmen-Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
4. The Goon: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker-Eric Powell
5. The Fugitive Pigeon-Donald Westlake
6. After the Banquet-Yukio Mishima

7. Turn of the Screw-Henry James
8. Daisy Miller-Henry James
9. Adverbs-Daniel Handler
10. The Complete Peanuts 65-66-Charles Schulz
11. The Wanting Seed-Anthony Burgess
12. Born Standing Up-Steve Martin

13. The Moviegoer-Walter Percy
14. The Hunter-Richard Stark
15. Cycle of the Werewolf-Stephen King
16. The Complete Peanuts 67-68-Charles Schulz
17. Madame Bovary-Gustave Flaubert
18. Just When You Thought It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion-Patrick Jankiewicz

19. A Swell Looking Babe-Jim Thompson
20. Hawks on Hawks-Jim McBride
21. 5 on the Outside-Vern
22. Dracula-Bram Stoker
23. Conquest of the Useless-Werner Herzog

Since this is a mainly film related blog, let me recommend two film related books.

Just When Thought It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion by Patrick Jankiewicz may not be the most comprehensive document of the making of Steven Spielberg's classic thriller, and by this point most of the behind the scene stories (hey Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss didn't get along! the umpteenth retelling of the origin of the Indianapolis monologue, etc.) have been told and retold ad inifinitum. But where Jankiewicz's tome diverges and proves itself as a valuable resource is not only discussing the first film but the stories about the development of the sequels and how they evolved, a well detailing of the endless parade of rip-offs the blockbuster spawned, and interviews with some of the locals of Martha's Vineyard who provide a different spin on the long production and it's effect on their small town.

Just as the story of the making of Jaws has been tapped repeatedly, so has the filming of Werner Herzog's epic Fitzscarraldo, most notably in Les Blank's documentary Burden of Dreams, but even Herzog himself devoted several minutes to the behind the scenes melodrama in regards to his relationship with leading man Klaus Kinski in My Best Fiend. Conquest of the Useless though takes you even further, if that was possible, by reprinting Herzog's diaries from the conception of the film, through scouting and casting (and recasting) and to the eventual making of the film itself. A sense of a sanity teetering on the edge is present in every adept and remarkably textured illustrated entry, written in the effusive and hyper-literate prose to which any viewer of his documentaries is well accustomed.

So what did you read in '09?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

M.I.A. on DVD Programming Alert

This Friday, January 15th at 11:30 pm Pacific Time (2:30 am Eastern), Turner Classic Movie is airing the film I named my favorite film watched for the first time ever in 2008, Jerzy Skolimowski's 1971 dark comedy cum sexual obsession exploration, Deep End, which despite a growing cult, has never been given a proper DVD release. The quickest way to summarize the film is to imagine Harold and Maude (both feature Cat Stevens on the soundtrack) if it were directed by Roman Polanski, with whom Skolimowski co-wrote Knife in the Water.

The film features one of the most insanely funny and bravado pieces of filmmaking in cinema history, a near ten minute sequence scored to Can's "Mother Sky" (one of my all-time favorite songs) set in London's Red Light district where our protagonist, a virgin teenage boy finds himself weaving through a bizarre cyclical tapestry whilst spying on, or more accurately, stalking the object of his affection which includes mass consumption of hot dogs, a one legged prostitute and the pilfering of the cut-out standee of a model; you really need to see it for yourself.

Here's a great review from TCM's Movie Morlocks blog that also touches on the wildly divisive reviews the film received during its theatrical release:

Directly following Deep End, TCM will be airing The Shout, a 1978 horror film written and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski starring Alan Bates, Susannah York, John Hurt and Tim Curry that has also never been released on a Region 1 DVD.

Set your DVRs.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best of the Aughties: Music

Out of all my predilections, my music listening habits changed the most from the start of the decade to its end. When the decade began I was finishing up college (hey, I was on the six year plan, shut up!) and still extremely entrenched in the independent college rock scene. As the years progressed I began to slowly but surely drift my attention and collecting tendencies towards artists from the past few decades and paid less and less attention to a lot of the new hip bands that came along.

While hard to quantify here, I'd be remiss not to at least list the following artists who I spent the better part of 2000-09 discovering and whose work peppered my musical experience this past decade (in alphabetical order):

Big Star
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
John Cale
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Elvis Costello
Nick Drake
Alton Ellis
Brian Eno
The Feelies
Serge Gainsbourg
Gang of Four
Isaac Hayes
Lee Hazlewood
The Kinks
Ennio Morricone
Os Mutantes
Neutral Milk Hotel
Piero Piccioni
Public Image Limited
The Raincoats
Nina Simone
T. Rex
Television Personalities
Scott Walker
The Zombies

Okay now that that rather embarrassing list is out of the way, here are 20 albums actually made between 2000-09 that stood apart to my ears and the space between. I have limited this list to one album per artist, which provided some Sophie's Choice like decisions on my part. I apologize in advance for the general Pitchforkyness of this list, but at least the fucking Fiery Furnaces are nowhere to be found.

This list is presented in chronological order with an accompanied music video or live performance extra:


Clinic-Internal Wrangler
Compressing elements of pretty much every phase of low budget/garage rock history from its blues based genesis to punk rock, Clinic forged a sound that is as distinctive as their on stage costuming (doctors smocks with surgical masks covering their faces) is anonymous.

Godspeed You Black Emperor-Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!

A perfect soundtrack for the general confusion, anger, malaise, et cetera America experienced post September 11th, 2001. Eerily these four epic pieces foreshadowed that emotional state despite being released a year before (interesting side note: this album was released on September 12th, 2000).

Radiohead-Kid A To follow up one of the two most influential rock albums of the 90’s (Nevermind being the other), Radiohead ditched the guitars and subsequently the opportunity to become the world’s biggest band in favor of this more Brian Eno-esque atmospheric soundscape. The result was a rarity: an evolutionary step. Ironically, another result is that they became the world’s biggest band. Kid A’s sister album, 2001’s Amnesiac and 2007’s back to basics In Rainbows would’ve made the list were it not for my one artist per countdown limitation.

Elliott Smith-Figure 8
Upon its release in 2000, Figure 8 garnered shrugs in wake of Smith’s prior ambitious major label debut X/0 and his three independent, more introspective earlier albums. But the album is a slow burner, a sprawling 16 track discs whose charms, its Smith’s most expansive work, come to light during repeated listens. Tragically, it would be his last album to be released before his death.

Yo La Tengo-And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Consistency is one of our more undervalued commodities, especially in the blogger/hot new band of the moment climate of the 2000 music scene. In that respect, Yo La Tengo is as sexy as, well, the unassuming members of Yo La Tengo. 2006’s I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass and this year’s Popular Songs with their myriad of genre variety are worthy of note, but it’s their quietest and most personal work that makes my list.


Electrelane-Rock It to the Moon
I discovered these four British ladies at the Matt Groening curated All Tomorrow Parties in Long Beach (the only ATP I attended and sadly the last on the west coast) and their toe tapping Krautrock inspired (mostly) instrumental dirge has become the soundtrack for movies created in my head ever since. 2004’s The Power Out and 2007’s No Shouts, No Calls are more basic lyric/song rooted and recommended for newcomers.

The Shins-Oh, Inverted World
While I usually don’t feel the need to play the credibility game, I would like to mention I discovered the perfect 1960’s rooted pop stylings of The Shins a good three years before Natalie Portman informed the world of their life changing capabilities.


Interpol-Turn on the Bright Lights
Interpol came out of the gates with a fully formed sound on their moodily evocative debut album, albeit a sound that bares more than a passing resemblance to the Velvet Underground, the Cure and, yes, JOY DIVISION. Hey, wheel invention is the exception, not the rule.


The White Stripes-Elephant
Rock n roll stripped to its basic primal essences: guitar, vocals and drums that makes band with two to three times the amount of members and instrument sound lacking in scope. Jack White became one of the more interesting and eclectic rock stars discoveries of the decade. Also recommend 2001’s breakthrough White Blood Cells and 2007’s Icky Thump.


Arcade Fire-Funeral
A bombastic get your friends together and bang on whatever you can find to create music anthemic celebration of life in the face of death; an epic through the prism of lost childhood. Its scope sonically is large while never losing its intimate and personal charm.

Danger Mouse-The Grey Album
Chocolate and peanut butter. Sex and Violence. You can now add the Beatles’ self titled album (aka the White Album) and Jay Z’s The Black Album to the echelon of two great tastes that taste great together thanks to this remarkable, and never commercially released, concoction by producer Danger Mouse. While it may have briefly spawned the dreaded “mash-up” movement, its legacy can be felt now whenever I listen to a track from the source material and not only expectantly wait for the other artist to appear, but become disappointed when they do not.

The potent duo of inventive beat creator Madlib and distinct rhyme purveyor MF Doom, who is channeling an amalgam persona of Saturday Morning cartoon and comic book villain, resulted in my favorite hip hop/rap album of the decade, a genre in which my collection is admittedly sparse.


Cat Power-The Greatest
What happens when the shy introspective introvert singer-songwriter embraces her inner soul diva and finds the backing band that allows for that transformation.

TV on the Radio-Return to Cookie Mountain
Blistering. Fiery. Ferocious. TV on the Radio’s sophomore album finds the Brooklyn band at their best, combining elements from pretty much every musical genre no matter how disparate (examples: blues, punk, glam, math rock, soul to name but a few) and forming an ambitious hybrid that mercilessly addresses the state of the world in the middle of Bush’s second term.


Blonde Redhead-23
The Japanese/Italian trio’s best album comes 13 years into their career, long after the initial “next big thing” sheen as worn off. While 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly, their first for the 4AD label, was beautiful and evocative, it was also so different than their prior work that it sounded like an audition for their new label (sound similar to the bands historically on 4AD). Here they find the perfect balance of the more lushful elements of Misery and the art rock dissonance of their prior decade’s work.


Who would’ve known that the combination of a Clash sample, a Wrecks-N-Effects sample, the chinging of a cash register and gun fire would serve as the foundation for the most infectious pop song of the decade? M.I.A. (or Maya Arulprgasm if you’re nasty) is who. The media spent the better part of the 2000s pontificating on the impending multi-culturism of the new millennium. M.I.A. provided its soundtrack.

Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga
Another hard decision for me, both 2001’s emotive Girls Can Tell and 2002’s eclectic Kill the Moonlight are strong candidates, but my heart lies with this, their latest, leanest, meanest and most soulful collection of songs.


Beach House-Devotion
Haunting and beautiful. Ideally, music to listen to on your porch on a winter morning while sipping from a strong mug of coffee and breathing in the morning air. Though I find it sounds just as good under other, less specific, circumstances as well.

After two wonderful darkly ambient and cinematic records that help propel the trip-hop genre into the spotlight in the mid 90’s Portishead vanished. Eleven years later they reemerged, the sound was a little grimier and messier, but the rawness displayed a band that has rediscovered their love of the form looking towards the next step instead of resting on their past laurels.


Grizzly Bear-Veckatimist
2006’s Yellow House is a worthy candidate, but their third album is the perfect culmination of their wall of sound and vocal harmonizing style. A completely specific (and often times beautiful) work, one whose ambitious design rewards multiple listens yet weirdly has some tangible pop crossover appeal.

Honorable Mentions:

Animal Collective-Feels
Beck-Sea Change
Beirut-The Gulag Orkestar
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-No More Shall We Part
Modest Mouse-The Moon and Antartica
Joanna Newsom-The Milk-Eyed Mender
Sonic Youth-Murray Street
Sufjan Stevens-Illinois
Wilco-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wolf Parade-Apologies to Queen Mary

Friday, January 1, 2010

Trailer of the Moment: The Year We Make Contact

In honor of the arrival of the year 2010, here is the trailer for the movie that shares it's title, Peter Hyams ill conceived folow-up to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When Arthur Clarke died I posted a quote of his concerning the 1968 masterpiece, which I consider one of the crowning achievements in cinematic history, that to paraphrase noted that if you didn't leave that film with more questions than answers then Clarke felt that he and Kubrick failed. I received a comment from a stranger accusing me of confusing obfuscation with quality. Well, thanks buddy, but why I respond to 2001 so powerfully is the masterful way cinematic tools are used to highlight serious spiritual questions through the prism of technical evolution. Clearly, whatever your thoughts on the original film is, and I propose you haven't truly "seen it" if your mode of viewing was via DVD or Blu-Ray (no matter the quality of your home system), this is a movie that requires total immersion, get thee to a 70mm screening whenever available, we can all agree that Hyams film which attempts to replicate the ingredients of the original film whilst trying to answer some of the "questions" that certain plot elements arises is a bore, and in fact, any attempt at explanations to the questions that Clarke and Kubrick raised is antithetical to the concept of 2001.

Anyway, sorry for the brief rant. Here's the trailer for 2010: The Year We Make Contact, if you haven't seen 2001 again instead. Hopefully this year we be better than this film.

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