Free-Talking on Cinema, Movies, and Film (January, 2011)

by HELEN GEIB

Free-Talking Series: Next Post

[Note: The monthly Free-Talking post is updated every five days, give or take a day every now and then.]

JANUARY 27, 2011- JANUARY, OR HOW I AVOIDED THE MULTIPLEX AND HAD A GREAT MONTH AT THE MOVIES

It’s hard to love Hollywood in January. There are lots of good movies still in theaters, but the operative word is “still.” Since I managed to see all the big December releases in December for a change, this year has made me acutely aware of what a lousy month January is for new Hollywood movies.

I haven’t avoided the multiplex entirely. Season of the Witch was just awful. The Green Hornet was indifferent.

I could not possibly have brought myself to see The Dilemma or No Strings Attached. Fortunately, movie deprivation was averted by…

1) The “Winter Nights” film series at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The theme for the IMA series is “noir and neo-noir.” The movies so far: Blood Simple, the Coen brothers’ debut feature and homage to noir; archetypal noir Criss Cross, directed by Robert Siodmak and starring a young Burt Lancaster as the doomed hero; and John Huston’s Key Largo, one of the cycle of films pairing Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

2) A double feature screening of the two-part Mesrine by the Ryder Film Series at IU. The excellent French film (the two parts are subtitled Killer Instinct and Public Enemy No. 1, respectively) is an episodic biopic of a notorious criminal. Vincent Cassel won a well-deserved Cesar- the French Oscar- for best actor for his performance as Mesrine.

3) Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance. Anime-focused Funimation finagled the second part of the “Evangelion” movie series into a one-week engagement at a local multiplex that occasionally programs off-beat movie fare from smaller distributors- it’s a chain theater, but it’s a tiny chain.

So, how was your January at the movies?

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JANUARY 22, 2011- (RANDOM) TRAILER OF THE MONTH

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JANUARY 17, 2011- STARTING WITH THE TITLE

I was reading a guide to writing about movies recently, hoping I might pick up a few tips. One of the suggestions was to do something I’ve always enjoyed doing: Start with the title.

The baseline for a good title? It should be descriptive. Not too long (colons are death- I’m looking at you, “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise). Easy to pronounce. Catchy if possible.

“127 Hours” is an example of a good, solid title. It introduces the survival story subject matter. It’s attention grabbing because it’s so unusual. It’s a little long to say out loud, but it reads well.

How a good a title is can have a lot to do with the quality of the movie it’s attached to. At first glance, “The Fighter” is your basic workmanlike title. It’s descriptive- you read it and say, “ah, a boxing movie”- and it’s pithy. But then after you see the movie you realize there’s a double meaning. The hero’s character arc is learning to fight for what he wants outside the ring, which in turn makes him a stronger fighter inside the ring. Turns out “The Fighter” is actually the perfect title for this movie.

Initially, I wasn’t much taken with “The Social Network” as a title. However, it’s really grown on me as I’ve thought more about the movie. For one thing, it’s probably the best possible title, by which I mean this is a tough movie to think of a good title for. If there’s a better title somewhere in the ether, I know I haven’t caught hold of it. For another, when you start parsing the title it becomes an excellent entry point to analysis. Look at how much you can do with just the “The!”

What do you think makes a good title? What are some recent movies with good (or bad) titles?

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JANUARY 12, 2010- A FEW GOOD BLOG POSTS

This beautifully written review of True Grit at Gateway Cinephiles situates the Coen brothers’ latest within the Western genre and their own body of work

The Movie Projector surveys the five Westerns that make up “The Budd Boetticher Collection”

Ferdy on Film’s loving appreciation should move even the steeliest-eyed skeptic to give Big Trouble in Little China a second chance

Commentary Track favorite The Bioscope reports on the films that recorded the 1910 “siege of Sidney Street” in London

Departing briefly from the blogosphere: This LA Times article on the hard times for arthouse distribution in Los Angeles is cold comfort for those of us who regularly lament how much worse it is here than there

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JANUARY 6, 2011- MOVIE OF THE MONTH SERIES AND THE THEME OF CONNECTIONS

Off-line I’m one of the organizers of the Indy Film Buffs, an Indianapolis movie club.

*begin ad* If you live in Indianapolis, you should check us out! The full calendar of upcoming events is on our website, but in a nutshell, we get together to watch movies and talk about them. There’s no membership fee, and the activity costs range from free to dinner-and-a-movie. *end ad*

I program a lot of our activities, but my hands-down favorite is the movie of the month discussion series. We just finished two years of films by great directors. It went pretty well, but for 2011 I wanted a theme that would tie the selections together more closely.

So, I came up with the idea of pairing recent films with classics that influenced or illuminate them. I’ve dubbed it the Connections theme.

The only place to start was with the Coen brothers, contemporary America’s most cine-literate filmmakers. I chose The Big Lebowski for The Dude. Since the film quotes Busby Berkeley, I’m pairing it with Footlight Parade. (Of course, I could have gone in several directions with the pairing, but in the spirit of the film I went with the most amusing one.)

Not all the connections are so direct. I’ve chosen the films with an eye to variety in the movie selections and the reasons for the pairings.

Starting with Lebowski in February, each month around this time I’ll circle back to the series. As a preview of coming attractions, the full list:

January: The Big Lebowski (1998)
February: Footlight Parade (1933)
March: The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)
April: Double Indemnity (1944)
May: The Killer (1989)
June: The Wild Bunch (1969)
July: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
August: Far From Heaven (2002)
September: All That Heaven Allows (1955)
October: Eastern Promises (2007)
November: The Roaring Twenties (1939)

(In deference to general holiday season busyness, the movie of the month series goes on hiatus in December. One movie had to have two pairings to fill out the odd number of months, and The Killer was the lucky winner.)

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JANUARY 1, 2011- NEW YEAR’S (MOVIE) RESOLUTIONS

My movie-related new year’s resolutions are to watch the DVDs in my to-be-watched stack and to write a couple or three more reviews per month.

What’s your movie resolution for 2011?

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Free-Talking Series: Prior Post

16 responses to “Free-Talking on Cinema, Movies, and Film (January, 2011)

  1. Well, I always have stacks of movies here and there (Criterion Collection included) and so I’ll always, eventually get through those but as for a New Year’s resolution… I never make plans and I don’t want to have a resolution but I want to stop watching movie trailers, cold turkey. And I want to not have to rely on great directors for great films. I don’t have much faith in Hollywood anymore, wholesale that is, and I will not even rely on the great filmmakers to deliver great films. I’ll just play it as it comes and keep my criticism to good vs bad, not liked vs disliked.
    It may seem cynical but I know what’s good and what’s bad, right/wrong so I’ll stick to that; maybe I’ll become like Truffaut or Godard were… O_<

  2. I’m with you. I want to dig into my ever expanding Netflix queue. I thinks it’s up past 250 and still growing. That and continue to push my comfort zone a bit more.

    • That does sound just like me, especially when I admit that many of the DVDs in my to-be-watched stack are still in there because they’re challenging films that I keep putting off watching.

      You’ve got me beat on the size of your Netflix queue though. 250, wow….

  3. Richard Winters

    I just saw ‘The Big Lebowski” this weekend for the first time. It is an absolutely hilarious movie and kinda reminded me of those crazy underground comedy movies from the 60’s and 70’s where it was anything goes and a free-form style that seems lost in today’s features. I liked the dream sequences and imagery connecting the bowling. The quirky dialogue was terrific and it was John Goodman’s best role to date. Like with most Coen Brother’s movies I felt the wrap-up left a little to be desired. Their endings always seem pretty week. I’m surprised you liked the movie Helen, usually you don’t seem to go for that wacky far-out stuff, but maybe I’m wrong. I also really like ‘Double Indemnity’. It has been awhile since I’ve seen it, so I will be sure to watch with you guys in April.

    • Really liking “Double Indemnity” is a like saying that “Casablanca” is a pretty good movie >_0. It’s one of the quintessential film noirs of all time (not just in my opinion) and most place it up there with “The Killers” (1946). :O)

      “The Big Lebowski” has, rightfully reached classic status (it’s no longer cult) throughout the last 16 years and it’s to do with the fact that the Coen’s films are terrific in general (with exceptions to “The Ladykillers” remake, “Intolerable Cruelty”, and True Grit”). And if you like John Goodman, watch him and a terrific Nicholas Cage in Martin Scorsese criminally underrated “Bringing Out the Dead”. :O)

    • Who doesn’t love the Dude? I don’t love the movie. It’s very funny and I enjoy all the cultural/movie references, but like Dude’s life it’s aimless and finally pointless (or maybe that is the point?). But I just love the Dude.

  4. Richard Winters

    I agree with you on the remake of ‘The Ladykillers’ it was terrible, especially when the original was so good. I will check out that Scorsese film you suggested. Another quintessential film noir is “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. Too bad John Garfield didn’t live longer. He was an underrated leading man.

    • He was a terrific leading man, and I’m glad that you mentioned the Garfield/Turner version and not the superfluous Jack Nicholson remake. *shudders*

      Bringing Out the Dead is actually my favourite of all Scorsese films, but I’m not claiming that it’s his best one; because even though there are Taxi Driver, Raging bull, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, The Departed, Gangs of New York, etc… I still have room for a favourite that I can watch repeatedly and love. It’s an audio/visual masterpiece all on its own. Let me know what you think of it whenever you get a chance to see it. :O)

      How about you, Helen? What’s your fave Scorsese film?

      • Richard Winters

        I must say my favorite Scorsese film is still ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ featuring Ellen Burstyn’s Academy Award winning performance. Another interesting one he did was ‘King of Comedy’ starring Jerry Lewis! ‘After Hours’ has some interesting quirky moments and I know my brother really loves it. I saw his first feature ‘Who’s That Knocking’ which came out in 1967 and is currently streaming on Netflix although I know Netflix isn’t available in Canada. It is alot rougher in quality and execution than we are familiar with Scorsese, but it still had some good memorable moments that I really liked (can I still use that phrase?). I was going to write a review on it and then got side tracked. Still worth seeking out for any Scorsese completist. It is also the film debut of Harvey Keitel.

  5. Would you believe John Garfield is my favorite American actor? It’s a shame he’s nearly forgotten, at least in the popular memory. Admittedly some of that has to do with the quality of his films; Warner Bros never did right by him. You’ve probably seen Force of Evil (made after his contract ended and he struck out on his own) as it’s been championed by Scorsese. If not, I highly recommend it as an excellent film noir. Nobody Lives Forcver is one of his best films and boasts very atmospheric noirish direction by Jean Negulesco.

    I wouldn’t say I have a favorite Scorsese film as he isn’t a director whose work I return to and re-watch (although I tremendously admire many of his films!). I really enjoyed Goodfellas and Bringing Out the Dead. I’ve seen BOtD in the theater and on DVD and thought it was great both times, but also that it seemed like a very different movie the second time. Watching it on a small screen- and with non-immersive sound- it seemed much more (blackly) comic and far less intensely dramatic than in the theater.

    • Richard Winters

      John Garfield is also really good in ‘Body and Soul’. Some people still say that is the best movie about boxing ever.

      • True, but I don’t know if anything can beat “Raging Bull”. The fact that Scorsese made the boxing scenes surreal because he hadn’t watched actual boxing matches before is masterful enough. And Pesci and De Niro it… need I say more? :O)

  6. Nir, whether or not it’s achieved classic status, I think the Big Lebowski can still be called a cult film because it inspires such devotion among its fans. Maybe there’s a better word than cult, but what would you call people who wear bathrobes to bowling alleys and call it a Fest (other than nuts)? Has anyone seen figures for White Russian consumption pre and post Lebowski? I remember when the early PBS series The Pallisers emptied liquor stores of the liqueur orange curacao.

  7. Jan. was a good month for catching up and for watching some old favorites at home. I saw The King’s Speech and Mesrine, excellent and wildly different. When the snow and cold have been too much to go out, I watched the new Criterion edition of Stagecoach and Jonnie To’s Running Out of Time. Those are the best of my month’s viewing.

  8. Thank you for the generous link, Helen!

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