Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gates of Heaven finally opened up

I finally signed up for Blockbuster online so I could see all of the obscure movies for the blog, although I fear my commenting is what has chilled everyone else's posting. I sort of don't care about that; my self-esteem is kind of weak, but it would take some online criticism (probably).

So...Gates of Heaven. I guess it fit our goal, but as for considering it a masterpiece? No. Let me explain what Gates of Heaven was like to me. At the Museum of Art at BYU, there is currently a showing of Modern Art, and a theme throughout questioning whether the pieces are, in fact, art. In particular, the most expensive piece in the showing is of four- foursided cubes painted white on the outside and a purplish-blue on the inside. They are about 4 feet high. They cost 11 million dollars. I literally could reproduce them in a matter of days (mostly for the paint to dry) and for a cost of less than $1000; easily. There is no particular fashion in their arrangement. But they are worth $11 million. I asked my buddy Matt, who works there, and he let me put out a sign that I would be willing to make life-size replicas for 1/1000 of the cost. Nobody has yet called me. Gates of Heaven was kind of like that to me.

In fairness I did watch the movie with my two cats, a dog, and a small child, but I thought the documentary didn't have a very good running theme. On the one hand, it seemed to be about the different reactions people have towards the death of pets, but on the other it seemed to be about people's interactions with other people. The last half of the movie didn't have as much to do about the pet cemetary as it did with a washed up insurance salesmen (and veritable douchebag) understanding his third place in the pet cemetary venture behind his younger potsmoking guitar-playing brother (who had weed growing in the background).

All that said, the show reminded me of my visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. It's the most fun I've had being bored out of my mind.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Still Waiting for Guffman ...

by Jason Pyles

The film ends and we the viewers — and all the characters (save one) are still waiting for Mort Guffman. If nothing else, the movie is aptly named.

“Waiting for Guffman” is the only film I can recall that refers to Dairy Queen. Blaine, Missouri reminds me of Grinnell, Iowa. If you’re ever traveling along Interstate 80, be sure to stop at Grinnell’s Dairy Queen. When I was moving to Utah in 2002, like a siren or the mistaken Blaine Fabin, Grinnell almost abbreviated my trek west and convinced me to settle permanently in the Midwest.

In case you’re wondering, a place called Blaine, Missouri seems to exist, according to various Internet sources. But the movie was filmed in Texas and California.

Released in 1997, “Waiting for Guffman” has to be among the first few mockumentaries, as we know them today. “The Office,” particularly Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, is recognizable in some of these characters. Perhaps this film was one of the inspirations for both “Office” series.

But if I had to guess (and digress), I’d say the very first mockumentary was probably “Nanook of the North” (1922), where documentarian Robert Flaherty filmed an Inuit (Eskimo) man called “Nanook,” or Allakariallak. Flaherty intended to portray this man and his supposed family’s arctic lifestyle, but many of the shots are said to have been staged by the filmmaker.

Now this is where the nature of documentaries can be argued: Even though Flaherty wasn’t necessarily trying to be funny in his attempt to document these people, his overt influence of the documentary film doesn’t differ much from planning a fake documentary like “Guffman,” a mockumentary. Indeed, a filmmaker’s mere decision concerning where to position the camera can distill meaning, which is an argument that could be made about any documentary. (By the way, according to movie critic Pauline Kael, “Nanook of the North” was filmed in 1920 and 1921, and its subject, Nanook died of starvation two years later.)

This has little to do with “Waiting for Guffman,” which is a film that was obviously designed to be a comedy. It’s built well: “Guffman” begins with introducing us to the characters while simultaneously filling us in on the history of the town — facts that will enhance the humor and enjoyment of watching the musical.

But the film’s magnetic core is Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest), who also directed and co-wrote the film. Like the heavy kid on a trampoline, St. Clair pulls all the characters toward him into the middle. And we can see and feel his paramount presence when he temporarily quits the production.

I love any movie that gives us actors who are playing characters who are acting. In this way, we get complicated layers — a feat that requires significant concentration on the actor’s part. Christopher Guest did this well: He continued to give us his effeminate Corky St. Clair while filling in for the dropout Johnny Savage. (Other great examples of roles within a role are Robert Downey Jr.’s Kirk Lazarus in this year’s “Tropic Thunder,” and Ed Norton’s Aaron Stampler in “Primal Fear” (1996).

Bill Barnes chose “Waiting for Guffman.” I initially wondered why, but then I realized when I heard a woodblock making the clickety-clop of horses’ hooves and the musical performance at the nursing home. Bill thought Billy Joel used some sophisticated machinery to recreate the sound of a horse walking, but I always told him that Mr. Joel was doing it with his mouth, and when we saw him “Kohept,” indeed he was.

And Bill and I played not a few concerts for the shut-ins at Moundview Nursing Home in Moundsville, W.Va. I’m confident those poor people would have preferred to see a production of “Red, White and Blaine.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Delicatessen & Guffman, by Andy

Hi everybody. Nice choices for movies.

Delicatessen was fantastic. I was really sad about the professor when I found out he was an orangutan. I'm a terrible person in that sometimes I feel more for an animal's death than a human's. My favorite scene in the movie was the date where the butcher's daughter removes her glasses to try to be more appealing. The scene was comedic just for that reason, but also because the new tenant did not seem that appealing, and he had already seen her in glasses, so it begged the question of what was her point in losing the glasses to begin with.... By the way, what happens now? It's not as if the post-apocalyptic France will be any better once the butcher is gone. Right?

As for Guffman, I've liked everything that comedy troupe has done. "A Mighty Wind" is my favorite, although it's probably the least popular. I'm drawn to mockumentaries I guess (see also my love of "The Office"). I had not previously seen "Waiting for Guffman," so I experienced all of the funny moments for the first time for this week's assignment. I don't have much else to add, other than Eugene Levy is brilliant, and we had a look-a-like in our ward, right Jason? (a "ward" is a local LDS congregation, usually consisting of 200-500 members, for those who don't know).

As a side note, I love movies but I'm not a great writer. I hope my comments aren't "lame-ing" out the blog.... But thanks for suggesting such great movies everyone.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Open for Discussion:

Classifying a Movie as a “Rental”

by Jason Pyles

How often do I disagree with Roger Ebert? Not very often.

But in Ebert’s Oct. 23 Answer Man column, he said that recommending a movie as a rental (as opposed to seeing it in the theater) is terrible advice. Ebert said when someone tells you to “wait for the video,” that usually means don’t see it, but he thinks it should mean see the movie. After all, Ebert reasons, two hours of a person’s life are the same whether they’re spent in the theater or at home.

I submit that the deal-breaker between recommending a theater viewing and a video rental is whether a film is worth paying $8 to see, or is it only worth $3? (Yeah, yeah, I know, when considering matinee prices versus evening shows, exorbitant Blockbuster video prices, reasonable Netflix prices, etc., it all depends. Indeed, the cost of watching movies can vary wildly, but generally speaking, I hope we can agree that renting a movie is typically less expensive than seeing it in the theater, all things considered.)

Many people I know only make it out to the theater on special occasions, meaning, a few times a year. So if I encourage them to go to the theater and sit among texting, talking, seat-kicking strangers, instead of watching it in the comfort of their own homes, which also have surround sound and big-screen TVs, then it had better be worth it. My friend Andy Howell immediately comes to mind.

There are four reasons to see a film in the theater:
1.) The audio-visual experience and being part of that week’s big, pop-culture event
2.) For a date
3.) If it’s truly excellent or has big surprises that could be spoiled by overhearing too much buzz
4.) Simply because you like going to the theater

And if you’re a movie critic, 5.) Because you have to review the movie asap.

Of course, there are some films that should be seen in theaters first: The six “Star Wars” episodes are good examples, because of the spectacle, the event itself, and the monster speakers. (When I heard Jango Fett’s “depth charges” (or whatever those explosive devices were called) that he unleashed while being pursued by Obi-Wan in Episode II, it was unforgettable. In fact, I saw “Attack of the Clones” a second time in the theater, just to be enveloped again in those two overwhelming sounds.)

But there was no reason to catch “Dan in Real Life” in the theater (even though it’s a good movie), when it was cheaper and more comfortable to snuggle up with my sweetheart and watch it at home.

However, whenever going out to the theater is part of a date-night itinerary, then the theater’s a fine (albeit unsociable) choice.

I realize that box-office figures send production companies “messages” from the public, which means avoiding the theater could potentially hurt the making of future, similarly good films. But DVD rentals and sales also send a message.

And as a movie critic (or a friend giving an opinion about a movie to another friend), it seems like it’s my duty to be an advocate for my trusting inquirer’s “movie allowance.” After all, we only have so much money we can spend on seeing movies. In addition, I also realize that movie critics should also be advocates for great films, which brings me to my final point.

Besides experiencing an audio-visual extravaganza or seeing a fine flick on a date, the only other reason to invest in theater prices is because the movie is so good, you shouldn’t wait for it to hit video. A good example of this would be “The Sixth Sense,” which also has a big secret that you wouldn’t want to risk being spoiled for you in the passing months until it hits DVD.

And don’t forget the people who see movies at the theater just for the experience of going out to the movies. That’s OK, too, of course.

In my rating system — Masterpiece, Excellent, Good, OK, Mediocre, Avoid — oftentimes there’s a fine line between Excellent and Good, and Good and OK. But to be clear, when I say a film is Excellent, that means it’s worth seeing in the theater and will always be a good rental choice. But when I say a movie is a rental, that means it’s good — but not $8 good.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Jean de Florette; Manon of the Spring by Andy

Wow. I don't have much more to add than what Jason already said, other than "Jean de Florette" was obviously never meant to be a stand-alone movie. If you do not see "Manon of the Spring", you do not know the full extent of the story. I rented it from and the disk came with a movie on each side.

I guess I would liken it somewhat to "The Count of Monte Cristo" (book, not the movie) in that you know there will be revenge, but you don't know how terrible it will be until the very end. For all who were pissed off at the old Soubeyran uncle, all I can say is he gets his comeupins, and then some.

Maybe everyone else saw both movies; it wasn't clear to me. I actually fell asleep in "Jean," but I was wide awake for "Manon." They made me a believer in French filmmaking. I'm hesitant to say anymore in case you haven't seen "Manon." It's too good and dark to spoil. The two films could quite possibly be the best "prequel and sequel" ever (and yes, I know that's probably not a correct phrase).

by Andy

Once - as seen by Andy

Hi everybody (mostly Jason, who seems to be the only one with an opinion worth sharing). Mostly I miss watching movies with Jason. It's nice to read about his comments, but I really prefer the times when I drove him home after our date (totally platonic, I swear) and we discussed the movie (at least the parts that I was awake for).

I agree with Jason that "Once" sort of brings out the aspiring musician in all of us. I'm an ok pianist, and a beginning guitarist, so the show obviously spoke to me musically. The brilliance of the film, I thought, was that we knew it was going to be a love story, and yet we were pleasantly surprised that the main characters never actually "hooked up." It would have been easy for the two to go out, even after she admits to being married to a guy she doesn't have a ton of interaction with, and I would have forgiven both of them for their indiscretion. But they don't; they stay very close, but never cross the boundary of propriety. He ends up chasing after his first love, which I thought was a mistake, although what else was he supposed to do. She apparently stays happily married.

But wow, wasn't the music brilliant? Here's my personal anecdote - my ward is putting on a talent show on Friday. I tried, albeit half-heartedly, to learn either "Falling Slowly" or "If You Want Me" (until I learned the lyrics on the latter), even to the point of having a professional show me how to play a couple of the cords (Collin Botts for those who know him) so I could perform at the talent show. It was a bust given some other stuff I have going on, but maybe next year... So yeah, I liked the film. I listened to the dialog on low volume on the tv, but blasted the songs on the theater when they started so my wife could hear.

Posted by Andy

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Delicate Delicacies

by Jason Pyles

I chose this week’s film, “Delicatessen,” and I’m somewhat proud to report that I selected it without having ever seen it before. Risky, I know, but who else in our film discussion group can say that? And I am prouder still that I have not picked amiss.

“Delicatessen” (1991) is an unusual blend of about 50 percent “Amélie” (2001) and 40 percent “The City of Lost Children” (1995), though it preceded both of those movies. (Perhaps the other 10 percent belongs to “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”)

Notably, all three of the French films were more or less influenced by the same men: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro and Gilles Adrien served in various capacities as directors and writers for “Delicatessen,” “Amélie” and “The City of Lost Children.”

Films like these are the stuff of circus workers’ bad dreams. “Delicatessen’s” post-apocalyptic, nowhere city’s setting looks like Tim Burton’s Gotham City (a la 1989) — after a fire — in the daytime. Indeed, the visual experience of “Delicatessen” is one of its greatest strengths. We immediately sense the uneasiness that accompanies this creepy world whose starving society has deteriorated to a moral complacency that accommodates cannibalism.

What intrigues me most about "Delicatessen" is its subtle theme of vampirism. In the daylight, danger lurks beneath the surface, but everyone is basically safe. Most of the "butcherings" typically happen in the stairwell at night, when a lone straggler wanders off to unwittingly meet his or her demise in the darkness, only to be consumed by hungry, formerly friendly feeders, who crave the victim's flesh for survival.

The beastly butcher unavoidably reminds us of Sweeney Todd — and yet he’s not the most troubling character. Perhaps it’s the frog man whose swampy dwelling yields many mini meals of escargot. Or scarier still, what about the cruel tenant who ruthlessly and relentlessly torments Aurore Interligator, the most creative and simultaneously least successful suicidal character I can think of. Anyone capable of that kind of psychological torture is nothing less than a monster.

“Delicatessen” has some memorably rhythmic scenes, most of which revolve around squeaky mattress springs. And speaking of music, any film that features a musical duet with a cello and a saw is a film for me.

Perhaps the most striking consideration of “Delicatessen,” to me, is the assignment of guilt and innocence among the characters: I found myself trying to attribute one or the other to each person. … I wonder why. Without a doubt, next to the late Dr. Livingstone (the monkey), Louison is probably the most innocent. Julie is not as innocent as she might seem, but she tries to atone and save Louison from her butchering father (though it is for her own selfish reasons).

Unfortunately, for delicate, good-hearted circus performers like Dr. Livingstone and Louison, they live in a world where the lions roam free and clowns are delicacies.