Archive for January, 2008


January 24, 2008

Warren Oates as Bennie.

Sam Peckinpah was one of the most widely revered Wild West filmmakers in his day, and although he went on to different depths of moviemaking later in his life, he will always be remembered most for the television series Gunsmoke, which launched his career, and also for the film The Wild Bunch. The normal route one would usually take when first diving into a legendary director’s work, in this case Peckinpah’s, would be to begin with the commercial successes, like the aformentioned pieces, and then ease into more obscure offerings from there. I chose to introduce myself to the director with his controversial 1974 picture, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. At first mention one would think that choosing a film so non-related to what made Peckinpah a name in the business as a starting point of getting to know his work would be pure insanity, but it turns out that there really is no better way to become truly familiar with the man. In fact, after reading into more of what he went through in his all-too short life (he died of a stroke in 1984, at the age of 59) I would guarantee that if you asked him which work he would most like to be considered entirely made his way, it would be Garcia.

Warren Oates gives a harrowing performance as lead character Bennie, who we are following on a strange ride in this hellbent piece of work that seeps into every part of your movie-going mind more and more, and long after it’s run its course. Peckinpah was told to be a hard abuser of alcohol and a frequently tedious director to work with. On many accounts actors have told stories related to this, and although many have said they would never work with him a second time around, the work they accomplished, being pushed to the edge, was worth it and culminated in a unique and distinctive time capsule. If everything Peckinpah created was as hard and wringing as I’ve heard it was, then Garcia had to be the most nerve-wracking experience of all, because it is a pure and evident labor of love. Nearly everything about Bennie mirrors what Peckinpah personally put himself through. The film’s premise is simple, but convention will not be found with its developing themes and metaphors. In the opening sequence we find a rich Mexican rancher discovering that his young daughter is pregnant, and although he is delighted in anticipation for a grandson, he denounces her, and even more so the absent man who seeded her. He is so powerful that he announces he will award $1 million to anyone that can bring him the head of this young man, named Alfredo Garcia. The manhunt begins from there, but it is only a side note to what Peckinpah is really trying to get to, which is Bennie. There are dozens of different hungry men suddenly turned bounty hunters in an effort to become instant millionaires, including a couple of Americans, who encounter Bennie as he is drinking himself away at a bar in Mexico, quietly playing some piano. They sort of contract him out to find Garcia because he mentions that he might have a connection with him through Garcia’s former girlfriend, Elita, who is now his fiancee. With a number of others tailing him through the rustic trails of Mexico, he and Elita embark on a journey that leads toward a dark hole of devastating, grimy consequences.

I do not want to dive into any other details from here, because to do that would be to say in writing what should be seen to be believed first. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is the kind of movie that you can find yourself getting lost inside of at first look, which can either be a good or bad thing. If you find yourself on the lost end that causes a feeling of emptiness, then please give it another chance. On the other hand, if you’ve lost yourself in the pure and deep paranoia and drunkenness that is poured all around the project, then you’re a Peckinpah lover and it’s cemented. There are haunting parallels to not only Bennie and Peckinpah, but also Oates, who died in his 50’s as well. I’ve never been affected by a film quite like I was with Garcia, which I think should get a re-release sometime down the road due to its unfair hatred upon its opening in ’74. Audiences in today’s movie-going world would take to the metaphoric madness and odd beauty of it all.

Rating: A+

113 minutes


Fashionably Late New Year’s Resolution

January 17, 2008

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions, but as 2008 stormed in just over two weeks ago, I felt that I had a good enough reason to make one for the first time in many a moon. I recalled just how many times (and especially in the last two years) that I had been angry at myself for not watching enough films created outside of this country. Nearly every time I watched a foreign film, (which was all too spread apart and rare) I was enchanted and floored far beyond most of the American stuff I see on a daily basis. So my new year’s resolution, which has been in effect since the turn of the year but is only now officially being announced, will be to dedicate myself to watching at least 50 foreign language films in 2008…and hopefully I will write about each one.

I feel good about this and am very optimistic that I can stay true to this promise to myself. Of course, that’s what everyone says about their resolutions in January, I’m sure. However, I do have proof that I’m off to a decent start. I have already viewed two of the foreign films, one Italian and the other Chinese, that I’ve been meaning to see for the longest time. Here they are…



Ang Lee's brilliant masterwork.

Cinema in 2007: A Healing Year

January 12, 2008

For me personally, 2007 was the strangest year that I’ve lived to this point in my existence. Filled with regrets, surprises, disappointments,  and even more regrets, I had more than a handful of moments that brought me so down that I seriously questioned my sanity.

Ever since I began gathering a healthy obsession with cinema, music, and the unbelievable marriage of both of these art forms – which was back in 1999 – I have looked to them more and more as an escape. Film and music have proven to be the ultimate escape, but in 2007 it seemed like they were excelling beyond recent year’s comparisons.

As the year began, it just looked to be another nice but normal time for American cinema, with the few works of mastery, clouded over by massive amounts of sequels and Hollywood re-treads. Sure enough, in the first half of the year, we were plowed over with the most sequels (in particular the “three-quels”) than any other year I can recall.

As the summer came to a close, nothing was new. We had an abundance of moneymaking franchise mediocrity, among them only a few actual stand-outs, like David Fincher’s Zodiac, Brad Bird’s Ratatouille, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum, and Greg Mottola’s Superbad. There certainly weren’t enough terrific films to prime us, or prepare us, for what was going to happen in the final months of the year – which was what I like to label the “rebirth of original American cinema”.

September started the fall season with a deceiving bang, featuring several action pictures, from the zany (Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘Em Up), to the political (Peter Berg’s The Kingdom), to the old-fashioned (James Mangold’s 3:10 To Yuma). Throughout much of September, I still found myself waiting for that stretch of films that hit the viewer deep, constantly making us think.

The moment I knew that I’d be in for a special two months at the theater was when I went for a back-to-back double feature at the Keystone Art Cinema, in late September. I first saw David Cronenberg’s mysterious Eastern Promises, then ended my afternoon with Paul Haggis’ devastating In the Valley of Elah. To this day I have still never written a review for either of those films, and I think mostly it was because they left me speechless, but also because I’d rather not recall that time in my life. The day I made that matinee double feature visit to the Art Cinema was the worst day in recent memory, and possibly of my life. I made some awful decisions in 2007.

So just as the things in my life were changing, so was American cinema. From the beginning of October until the end of December, it was a marvelous time to be a movie-goer. There was a geat movie to be found no matter what type you were in the mood for. Whether it be a mystery (Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone), a good-hearted comedy (Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl), a sprawling epic (Ridley Scott’s American Gangster), a documentary (Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight), a musical (Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), an adult comedy (Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages), a confronting drama (Gavin Hood’s Rendition), a long-awaited adaptation (Sean Penn’s Into the Wild), or an intriguing biopic) Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There).  Everyone was going to come out of the theater happy.

It was not only a season of diversity, but consistently impressive and engrossing diversity. Unlike recent years, to be awarded among the few stand-out films, yours had to be not only great, but masterful. So for me, choosing the ones left standing above the best of the best should have been an extremely difficult thing to do. It wasn’t. The pure magic and brilliance that I uncovered when watching films like Tony Gilroy’s  Michael Clayton, Jason Reitman’s Juno, and the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men left me floored, and on numerous occasions.

I have said many times before that becoming immersed in the art of truly brilliant cinema has acted as a medicine, or even savior, to me. That statement had become especially real and true in 2007.

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2007.

January 11, 2008

It was just a dinstinct and beautiful year for music. It was rather tough, but here are my final choices for the 50 best albums in 2007…

number 50

by Lily Allen

number 49

by Taken By Trees

number 48

by Arctic Monkeys

number 47

by Jay-Z

number 46

by Wilco

number 45

by Handsome Furs

number 44

by Magnolia Electric Co.

number 43

by Marissa Nadler

number 42

by Trans Am

number 41

by Little Wings

number 40

by The Besnard Lakes

number 39

by Rufus Wainwright

number 38

by The Sea and Cake

number 37

by The White Stripes

number 36

by Dan Deacon

number 35

by Bruce Springsteen

number 34

by Battles

number 33

by Beirut

number 32

by Neil Young

number 31

by Black Moth Super Rainbow

number 30

by The Shins

number 29

motion picture soundtrack

number 28

by Spoon

number 27

by Animal Collective

number 26

by Lucinda Williams

number 25

by John Vanderslice

number 24

by Modest Mouse

number 23

by Caribou

number 22

by Panda Bear

number 21

ONCE motion picture soundtrack
by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

number 20

by Deerhoof

number 19

by Andrew Bird

number 18

by LCD Soundsystem

number 17

by Thurston Moore

number 16

by The Mary Onettes

number 15

by Arbouretum

number 14

by Iron and Wine

number 13

by Bloc Party

number 12

by Eluvium

number 11

by M.I.A.

number 10

by Arcade Fire

number 09

by Patrick Wolf

number 08

by Feist

number 07

by Dinosaur Jr.

number 06

by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

and finally, the top 5…

number 05

number 04

number 03

number 02

my number 01 favorite album of 2007

It was truly a remarkable year to be alive and able to witness just how much inspired art from all facets was poured out for our eyes and ears. Lovely. I hope I can experience many more like it, if I should be so lucky.


January 10, 2008

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as John and Wendy Savage

Apparently Tamara Jenkins’ first full-length feature, The Slums of Beverly Hills, didn’t pack enough star power for it to garner her enough recognition and get some notoriety for the outstanding debut. That movie sort of fell though the cracks, and although it has gained some quiet acclaim and more justice in the near decade since it’s release, the fresh talent and original voice that came from Jenkins’ work was not fully known to a more wide audience. It took nine years for us to finally receive a sophomore effort from the writer/director, and this time a bigger chunk of the movie-going world will not be able to go without noticing her gift of creating an outstanding balance between mundane comic environments and deeply familiar family situations. The reason her new film will bring her to a higher pedestal, called The Savages, is simply because audiences are naturally more and more attracted to credible star names, especially names that are on a roll at the time. In independent film, it is hard to argue against Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the most go-to for solid performances and most of the time outstanding choices of projects. And even though Slums might not have gotten the commercial recognition it deserved, it was obvious that Jenkins’ work was well-loved and respected by actors everywhere. I’m sure the parts of John and Wendy Savage were sought after by more names than just Linney’s and Hoffman’s. Once you see this film, you’d never be able to picture anyone else playing these terrifically written and performed characters.

It is apparent in the opening scene, featuring Philip Bosco as the aging Savage father, that Jenkins has not lost her trademark style of making us laugh in the strangest of situations. When their father is basically run out of his girlfriend’s house by her kids after she passes away, John and Wendy Savage must travel across the country from New York to Arizona to find a place for him to live. They have little to no relationship with each other, but it is far more close than that of what they have with their dad, who they haven’t spoken to in a very long time. They are the kind of adults that lack that little something that you get only if you were parented in any decent kind of way growing up. Wendy is the more caring of the Savage siblings, but is in total denial of everything that is crumling in her personal and professional life. She has to do some major persuading to even get her brother to come with her to Arizona. John is a university professor that has problems as well, just in a slightly different manner than that of his sibling. Linney and Hoffman are remarkable as usual, and their chemistry together works even better than one would assume going into the film, for they seem like they could easily be brother and sister in real life. I believe that Hoffman is one of the five greatest actors working today, and will most likely beone of the best to ever live by the time his days end, and he is simply brilliant as John. What is most impressive about this film, however, is the performance of Linney as Wendy, which is really the heart and soul of The Savages. She holds her ground so well opposite Hoffman, which is certainly a tough thing to do, and nearly steals the show with several scenes to display her talents. It is her best performance since You Can Count On Me, in my opinion, and should earn her some independent nominations across the board.

What really makes this a different, special and near-masterpiece of the downtrodden comedy genre is Jenkins’ knack for slightly disfigured, distinctive characters and dialogue that could only come from her pen. It is a more than welcome and overdue sophomore film, which I only consider overdue because I loved Slums to such a high level that nine days was going to be too long to wait for the next work, let alone nine years. Both of her films have extremely similar themes, focusing on the strange bond a family can experience when they’re least expecting to. Although each of her first two films do not reach the level of perfection, I can easily say that they are two treasures of mine personally, and will be singled out as poignant labors of love by an underrated filmmaker.

Rating: A
1 hour 53 minutes
Fox Searchlight