CATCHING UP WITH FILM - THE QUEST FOR A PERSONAL CANON

 

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Vincent Van Gogh - At Eternity's Gate (2018) & The Sunflowers!

It’s Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday! I’ve been celebrating by watching and reviewing movies featuring the artist’s life. I conclude with the latest incarnation, At Eternity’s Gate, directed by Julian Schnabel and starring Willem Dafoe as the artist, and I hand out rewards determined by a committee of one. Julian Schnabel seems to like making films about artists who face extraordinary circumstances. Before Night Falls is about Reinaldo Arenas who was imprisoned, and Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s protagonist is completely paralyzed except for his eyeballs. Van Gogh is the granddaddy of them all with his famously troubled existence. Indeed, Schnabel seems much more interested in exploring the ps

TV Wednesday - Alias Grace - American Psycho & Away from Her

Having finished up my monthly series on Alias Grace, I wanted to revisit the works of the show’s creators, Mary Harron (director) and Sarah Polley (writer). American Psycho (2000) I had been a fan of the original novel by Bret Easton Ellis, so when I first saw this movie, I felt it didn’t hold a candle to the original. Much of the allure of the book for me lay in its fragmented nature and how the different bits worked together to provide a portrait of an empty shell of a man who had filled himself with the godawful yuppie culture of fancy business cards and high-end restaurants. For me, Patrick Bateman remained an abstraction, a collection of tropes and stereotypes. Mary Harron’s greatest ac

Theme Tuesday - Vincent Van Gogh - Loving Vincent (2017)

In honor of his birthday on March 30th, I will be devoting March to exploring portrayals of the artist Vincent Van Gogh on film. If Loving Vincent hadn’t been about Vincent Van Gogh, it would still be no less of a grand technical accomplishment. Each of the 65,000 frames is an actual oil painting painted by 125 professional painters in Van Gogh’s distinctive style. The actors were shot against a green screen, using rotoscoping technology and then their performances were painted over by these artists. It took four years to complete this movie, and its nomination for best animated feature at the 2018 Academy Awards was richly deserved. Clearly, the filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman w

Uncaged - Trapped in Paradise (1994) & Kiss of Death (1995)

This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me. Trapped in Paradise (1994) Nicolas Cage is clearly a great comic actor, but he doesn’t get to show it much in this hybrid of a heist film and comedy. Cage plays a restaurant manager who has to manage his two brothers out on parole. Somehow, he gets roped into performing a big bank heist in the little town of Paradise, but, of course, everything that can go wrong, does. The movie aims to be a heartwarming comedy/holiday film but the product is ultimately too cynical and glossy. Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey are very specific comic talen

TV Wednesday - Alias Grace (5&6)

For March 2019, I will be watching Alias Grace, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel and directed by fellow Canadian artist Mary Harron (American Psycho) and written by Sarah Polley (Away from Her). Alias Grace is so many things - a character study of a fascinating woman, a murder mystery and procedural, an unromantic period piece. It’s this last element that came to the forefront in the last two episodes in a way that delighted me. Much is made of the difference between rich and poor in this movie, and how the servants/poor are valued merely for their functionality. Such functionality can range from backbreaking housework to sexual favors. It is this attitude towards the poor that drives the ri

Theme Tuesday - Vincent Van Gogh - Vincent & Theo (1990)

In honor of his birthday on March 30th, I will be devoting March to exploring portrayals of the artist Vincent Van Gogh on film. Vincent and Theo seems to be almost a direct rebuke to the shiny, lush Lust for Life, which was meant more to be a compilation of the artist’s greatest hits (the ear! Gauguin! Crows!) rather than any deep exploration of the artist’s personal demons and how his behavior affected those around him. The series (I watched the four-hour television version) starts off with documentary footage of an auction for his famous Sunflowers painting. The clip ends but the sound of the auctioneer calling out steadily higher and higher prices as we go back to the past and see Vincen

Uncaged - Guarding Tess (1994) & It Could Happen to You (1994)

This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me. Guarding Tess (1994) Is this the first movie I have seen Cage play a straight man? I am looking over the past Cage movies I have seen, and he does not give a single normal performance (except for Fast Times, which he is either barely in or not in at all, depending on which version you see). It was pretty jarring seeing him play not just a relatively normal person, but a proverbial stick in the mud. Most of the comedy comes from the dynamic between Cage’s Secret Service agent and the former First Lady that Shirley MacLaine plays. Bot

TV Wednesday - Alias Grace (3&4)

For March 2019, I will be watching Alias Grace, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel and directed by fellow Canadian artist Mary Harron (American Psycho) and written by Sarah Polley (Away from Her). The middle two episodes places us in the household of Mr. Kinnear, the murdered man. Grace has fled her former household because of her friend’s death, and, despite warning from another maid, she accepts Nancy Montgomery’s request that she work for Mr. Kinnear, mainly because Nancy reminds Grace of her dead friend. However, some troubling developments come to the surface quite quickly in her short period of employment with the family. Nancy is having an affair with Mr. Kinnear, who is fond of sleepin

Theme Tuesday - Vincent Van Gogh - Dreams (1990)

In honor of his birthday on March 30th, I will be devoting March to exploring portrayals of the artist Vincent Van Gogh on film. Only one segment (Crows) of Kurosawa’s films is actually dedicated to Van Gogh, but the admiration that he had for the artist’s bold visual style and compositions is felt throughout this gorgeous film. I think when Kurosawa made his first color film with Dodes’ka-den, he just charged ahead with this new aspect of his artistry and never looked back. Ran and Kagemusha perhaps his most visually bold feasts of colors, but Dreams is truly Kurosawa at his most creatively unfettered. This was his first film in a long time of which he was the only author of the screenplay.

Uncaged - Red Rock West (1993) & Deadfall (1993)

This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me. Red Rock West (1993) Out of all the Nic Cage movies I hadn’t seen, I was probably looking forward to this one the most. This was mainly because John Dahl had directed one of my favorite postmodern noirs, The Last Seduction, with a crackling, sexy performance by Linda Fiorentino who plays femme fatale with a double dose of I don’t give a fuck. If anyone could give a male equivalent of what Fiorentino did...I would have said Dennis Hopper first to be honest. But Cage would have been a close second. However, when I finally watched this

TV Wednesday - Alias Grace (Parts 1 & 2)

For March 2019, I will be watching Alias Grace, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel and directed by fellow Canadian artist Mary Harron (American Psycho) and written by Sarah Polley (Away from Her). I will admit that Alias Grace did not register at all on my pop culture radar. The Handmaid’s Tale definitely did, and I think the genre element of a woman’s dystopia had a lot to do with why people were initially attracted to the show. Of course, they stayed for the excellent writing, brilliant direction and smart world-building as well as scathing commentary on the patriarchy. Alias Grace, about “celebrated murderess” and servant Grace Marks, who back in 1843, along with fellow servant James McDerm

Theme Tuesday - Vincent Van Gogh - Lust for Life (1956)

In honor of his birthday on March 30th, I will be devoting March to exploring portrayals of the artist Vincent Van Gogh on film. Lust for Life feels like a travelogue for much of its running time. Perhaps a real Van Gogh nut would get a thrill of seeing some of the places that inspired the artist’s greatest paintings, and I do have to give Minnelli and his location scouts and art consultants credit for going to great lengths to recreate the paintings (a long list of museums with Van Gogh paintings precedes the movie) and find places that were feasible inspirations for his work. But pretty locations do not make a great piece of drama. With some exceptions, Minnelli leaves a lot of the dramati

Uncaged - Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) & Amos & Andrew (1993)

This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me. Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) This comedy hasn’t aged well. The main premise is quite reprehensible. Nicolas Cage’s character plays a commitment-phobic private investigator who finally gives into his girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker)’s demands to take the next step. He suggests getting married in Vegas over the weekend, but once there, a wealthy gambler (James Caan) takes a shine to the girlfriend since she looks like his deceased wife and tricks Cage’s character into playing a losing poker game against him. Having no way to pay off the

 
 
 

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