Take This Waltz

May 29, 2012

At its most basic level, the virtue of a good pop song is its immediacy.  It can swing you through a number of emotions by combining lyrics and melody and production, all in a quick and easy three minutes and twenty seconds.  There’s a kind of thoughtless joy to tapping into the basic emotions of happiness or heartbreak or love or loss.  This isn’t to say that pop songs can’t also have subtlety – most of the best ones do – but their broad appeal is still that surface-level aesthetic quality.  Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz gets its name from the titular Leonard Cohen song, and indeed it features during a crucial and technically accomplished – if a bit showy – montage towards the end of the film, but the real musical touchstone that features is The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”, and if the film had understood that the pop song aesthetic was better for this material then the woozy, intricate, and beautiful Cohen number, it would probably be a lot better. Read the rest of this entry »

This is my little contribution to the Hitchcock Blog-a-Thon in an effort to raise money for the National Film Preservation Foundation’s efforts to score and stream The White Shadow.  Please click the button to donate a few dollars towards a worthy cause.  And of course, please browse the many other entries in this blog-a-thon.  The quality of the contributions is staggering and the real fine minds of film should be appreciated by all.  You can find the other entries here, here, and here.

 

 

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As we mourn the tragic, too-soon (would it ever not have been?) loss of the multi-talented Adam Yauch (aka MCA) of the Beastie Boys, I think it’s important to remember what I hope to be his lasting legacy in the film world, Oscilloscope.  An independent film company with both production and distribution wings (amongst other areas), it has become in the last five years one of the most treasured imprints in American cinema.  In recent years, as major studios tighten their funding for their arthouse subsidiaries – championing mostly established names and (hopeful) crossover fare – it has come down to genuine independent companies like Oscilloscope to pick up the slack and give voice to unestablished or perhaps the more idiosyncratic works produced in the US and elsewhere.  This no small feat, considering the long list of short-lived and defunct independent companies the last two decades have witnessed.  Oscilloscope has become a haven for music (Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour) and political (the exquisite and important Burma V.J.) documentaries as well as a place for exciting talents like Kelly Reichardt.  None of it would have been possible without the love for the artform and the enthusiasm of Adam Yauch, a longtime cinema devotee who notably directed a number of the Beastie Boys videos under the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower.  Jumping early on the Theatrical Release VOD model, as well as streaming services like Netflix, Oscilloscope has allowed for a much broader audience to find these intriguing works.  I haven’t seen all of their releases, but whether it’s good or bad, I know when I watch a film they’ve produced or distributed it will certainly be interesting.  Here is a list of six of those ‘interesting’ films – some are magnificent, others merely intriguing, but all are worth your time.

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The Avengers

May 5, 2012

Despite being a ready-made blockbuster success, The Avengers had a pretty significant hurdle to clear if it wanted to be any good – a notion that is hardly necessary when the quality of a film like this is rarely important when it comes to being a “success”.  Ensemble films are tricky enough, but when four of the central characters have each had movies of their own, attempting to corral them all into something sensible without giving short-shrift to anyone is doubly (or, quadruply?) so.  This is all to say that anyone who says that writer/director Joss Whedon, who was given the task of putting this all together, merely has to “not screw it up,” they’re doing an extreme disservice to the sheer difficulty of the task at hand.  A surfeit of good, existing elements is probably harder to make into something even basically functional as a movie than starting from the ground up.  It’s a small wonder, then, that The Avengers is not only good, it is better than it probably needs to be and is certainly the best of this slate of Marvel films.

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Teen rom-coms have a built-in fantasy that serves them well in a way their adult counterparts have difficulty in addressing.  They are more likely to deal with the seeming temporary nature of whatever notion of “true love” the main characters find, either directly (all those conversations about “what are we going to do next year”) or indirectly (the audience knows this is a childish lark, but that instills in it a certain innocence – I’d argue that in some ways it’s the lack of a future that gives the genre its power).  This is partially why screenwriters tend to skip the college years and move onto the lonely, Type A personality workaholic female looking for love.  Her life is figured out, so the movie need only concern itself with slotting that one piece of the puzzle into place to get the “Happily Ever After”.  This is all broadly speaking, and I can think of several counter-examples that might be worth examining further, but on a whole, I think there is truth to it, and it is necessary to understand this when approaching the really good aspects of The Five-Year Engagement.    Read the rest of this entry »