Monthly Archives: March 2016

82 of 366: City of Gold

city-of-gold-documentary.jpg
variety.com

It’s my dream, or one of them, to go to Los Angeles one day and see all the famous comedy venues, Largo, UCB, Comedy Store, Nerdist; and now, thanks to the documentary City of Gold, I know where to eat while I am there.

The documentary focuses on food critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Gold as he navigates his way through the different culinary neighborhoods of Los Angeles for the purpose of honoring good food from many regions while showing there is more to offer beyond Hollywood Boulevard; if you’re willing to search for it.

As food trucks become more and more popular, all you would have to do in LA is follow the owners and popular chefs like Roy Choi on Twitter to find their location and the hot menu item of the day.

Gold, writing for the Los Angeles Times and formerly LA Weekly, is known in the culinary world as a fair critic. Chefs want him to come to their restaurant, but deep down hope he doesn’t strictly to avoid the angst of knowing someone is judging their work. We’ve all been there, right?

At least the chefs, from all parts of the world and culinary influences, can rest assured Gold will visit a restaurant four to five times before writing a review; often why he misses his deadlines at the newspaper.

Gold discovers mom-and-pop restaurants, gourmet food trucks hidden on a corner downtown and world-class shops throughout the city. The documentary only skims the surface of the restaurateurs’ stories; perhaps that could be the sequel.

One year early in Gold’s career he “ate Pico Boulevard,” meaning he tried every restaurant along the 15 mile roadway.

I could try to hit a few of those hot spots when I go to LA, in hopes they are near a comedy club.

I would say City of Gold is more of a literary and storytelling achievement rather than one of high cinematic caliber because of how many threads of Gold’s life and work, as well as the city, filmmaker Laura Gabbert managed to fit into 90 minutes.

Gabbert, though interviews with Gold, his family, many other journalists and chefs, covered the definition of food criticism, how restaurant owners find their way to Los Angeles and the underlying character beneath Gold’s writing.

I recommend the film for its glimpse into the hidden treasures of the city of Los Angeles and people making their life there; and as I said for some tips about restaurants to try if you’re planning a comedic tour like me anytime soon.

Another plus of the film and Gold’s favorite eateries: it seems most of the restaurants and food trucks he tries are affordable. Just don’t leave your wallet in El Segundo.

 

 

 

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81 of 366: Listen Up Philip

philip
imdb.com

It didn’t take long for me to realize I had to look past the idea that Listen Up Philip would be a film centered on the title character (Jason Schwartzman) truly isolated at a cabin in upstate New York as he awaited publication of his second novel and did not interact with anyone else for most of the story.

I also had to look beyond Schwartzman’s impeccable ability to grow a beard and focus on the fact that, while the story does build to Philip knowing it’s best he stay alone, he doesn’t distance himself from other characters while getting to that point.

The plot of the film, written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, starts as Philip wants to focus on himself and he is invited to stay at the cabin of his literary hero Ike (Jonathan Pryce). However, what Philip really seems to do is embark on a character exploration that must include those close to him as a way to validate his self obsession — especially in scenes where he is convinced his girlfriend will take him back.

The story is told visually, often with jittery camera work focusing in on a character’s face, actions, or both, and in a literary tone as narrator (Eric Bogosian) describes inner monologues of the characters as they go about interacting with each other.

The narration brought the film to the level of Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums came to mind) and the neurotic points of the plot reflected an homage to Woody Allen.

It was an interesting style choice, especially to show how well-written the film is, but I thought it would be more effective for Philip to be truly alone for awhile before he went on a self discovery mission connecting with past ex-girlfriends and ultimately shutting out anyone close to him.

Philip’s presentation as a loner was almost too blatant and there wasn’t anything left to interpret or guess as far as his true goal in life or even the reasons he had that goal.

Schwartzman played Philip well, despite the shortcomings in the development of his character, and I found his scenes with Ashley  (Elisabeth Moss) during the course of their relationship to be the most telling of who he is besides a writer who wants to be alone.

Overall. Listen  Up Philip is a strong visual presentation about a writer’s life and quest to be alone, the path to get there was just a little disjointed for me.

“There’s many reasons we are what we’ve become. I’m going through changes, ripping out pages. I’m going through changes now.”

Langhorne Slim & The Law – Changes

 

 

 

80 of 366: The Housemaid (Hanyo)

housemaid
World Cinema Project

Manipulation, infidelity, desire and betrayal are all themes explored in Kim Ki-Young’s 1960 film from South Korea, The Housemaid (Hanyo.)

The original negative of the film was restored by the World Cinema Project, an organization with the mission to preserve films with cultural and cinematic significance, and the Korean Film Archive.

The original negative was missing two reels and, after being combined with another print found in 1990,  was released two years after the restoration process started. There is also a remake of the film from 2010 with Kim Ki-Young as the writer working with a different director, Song-soo Im. Young both wrote and directed the original film, referenced in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as a marvelous discovery in film history.

The story centers on a couple in Korea in need of a maid to help care for their house and two children. The mother in the family, Mrs. Kim, is pregnant with their third child and is at first hesitant to have a maid there in fear it will be temptation for her husband, Dong-sik Kim to cheat.

Dong-sik is a piano teacher, often pursued by his female students, but the temptation of a younger woman doesn’t become real until they do hire a maid, Myong-sook, to help.

The temptation escalates solely because of Myong-sook’s obsessive and controlling behavior during the course of the film. It’s clear from the beginning she has deep desire to be more a part of the Kim family than a maid and will go to all lengths to take over the home and get what she wants.

The build to reveal her true character is slow in this suspense-thriller that uses its musical score to exemplify that something terrifying will happen at any moment.

The film’s visual style is complex with high angle and exterior shots through windows and doors that define the feeling you are looking in on a family’s secrets and struggles they don’t want anyone to know about. Dong-sik, at many points in the story, threatened to tell the police about Myong-sook’s obsessive and ultimately violent behavior toward the family but she, or even his own wife, influenced him not to act on his instincts.

The Housemaid is a haunting and beautiful story that delivers on the fact that something bad will happen, on many occasions, and goes full circle in exploring the idea of the problems temptation causes when put against people’s human instincts versus doing the right thing.

 

79 of 366: Hannah and Her Sisters

hannah
imdb.com

I am in desperate need of artwork for the walls in my apartment. Luckily, I just watched Hannah and Her Sisters and now have one of those lovely pieces with red yarn, thumbtacks and note cards I used to try and connect the characters and their ongoing love triangle.

It’s not that complex really, but I found myself obsessed with who was courting who as Woody Allen’s vignette about three sisters, Hannah, Holly and Lee and their romantic lives and careers played out.

Hannah (Mia Farrow) is married to Elliot (Michael Caine), who becomes interested in her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey).

“God, she is beautiful,” Elliot says of Holly in the intro of the film before a Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

Hannah is also divorced from Mickey (Woody Allen) who wants to rekindle his relationship with the third sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest.)

“Love is really unpredictable.” – Mickey

Allen’s film, an Oscar winner for best screenplay as well as supporting actor and actress for Wiest and Caine, is a wonderfully neurotic and poetic telling of romance and family relationships set against the backdrop of mid-1980s New York.

He uses music consistently in the film, often jazz, yet one of my favorite scenes starts with a 1980s rock concert date between Mickey and Holly.

They try to reconnect on the date, but it’s clear Mickey doesn’t fit in as Holly does just a little cocaine and chastises him for all his quirks.

“Why are you making those faces? … I cannot communicate with you, I never knew you were such a tight ass.” — Holly

Mickey takes Holly to a place a little more his tempo, a jazz concert, in the next scene. Of course she feels out of place, showing it by continuing to use cocaine, smoke and drink among people she says wouldn’t realize it because they’re embalmed.

“You don’t deserve Cole Porter, you should stay with those groups that look like they’re going to stab their mothers,” Mickey responds as they leave the concert.

It’s as much of a humorous moment as it is revealing of the characters, a theme throughout the scenes in the film. The scenes are split by one word or a quote as script on the screen, often connected to the character they focus on as they search for happiness in love and their careers as well.

“The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless,” Tolstoy.

Hannah and Her Sisters has the standards of a Woody Allen film with a bookend going back to the family’s Thanksgiving dinner and a reunion between the seemingly mismatched Mickey and Holly in a record store — often a location for love connections in film.

“I think it’s lucky I ran into you, maybe.”

I loved the ending and conclusion of all the separate stories in one final short scene showing the paths the characters went on weren’t all that bad and that, maybe, what’s meant to be will happen.

 

 

 

77 of 366: Your Sister’s Sister

Hey hey, happy Flashback Friday. Is that a thing or just for people who missed celebrating Throwback Thursday?

sistersIn any case, here is an old picture of my sister Carla and I from Spring of 1982 at our old house on Springdale Court.

I am also celebrating Flashback Friday by going back to movie 77 of my quest to watch 366 this year, Your Sister’s Sister.

I am hurting a bit by not writing about the film after I saw it. Even though I take notes, my feelings about a film is hard to express days later.

sisterssister
imdb.com

What has continued to be on my mind about it, however, is the ending. There was one moment when I thought it was going to end and then one more short scene after that took it away from a predictable conclusion to the story.

I enjoyed the film up until that point anyway but the last addition to the plot was effective to conclude a story focused on character development, family relationships, love and loss.

There are only three main characters in the film, written and directed by Lynn Shelton, Iris and Hannah, who are sisters, and Jack.

Jack (Mark Duplass) is Iris’s (Emily Blunt) best friend and Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is her sister.

Jack, at the suggestion of Iris, decides to spend some time alone at her family’s cabin after his brother dies.

Hannah has the same plan, going to the cabin after a tough break up, leaving the two lost souls together in a time when they planned to be alone.

They have a drunken night together only to be visited the next day by Iris, who decides to go check on Jack, and possibly express her romantic feelings for him.

Each character went to the cabin for their own reasons, but they end up discovering as much about themselves as they do about their dynamic together with a good share of challenges along the way.

Having only three characters presented a solid platform for focusing on the individuals as much as their relationships together as their feelings and life decisions were tested in a concentrated environment.

I feel like I’m being a little vague here but there were some surprises in Your Sister’s Sister, in addition to the ending, that took the well-written and developed film to a more mysterious level open to interpretation by the viewer.

With that, here’s a quote for today from a randomly-selected page in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.

“We shall see what fate has in store for us, won’t we?

I thought you didn’t believe in fate.

She waved her hand. It’s not so much that I don’t believe in it. I don’t subscribed to its nomination. If fate is the law then is fate also subject to the law? At some point we cannot escape naming responsibility. It’s in our nature. Sometimes I think we are all like that myopic coiner at his press, taking the blind slugs one by one from the tray, all of us bent so jealously at our work, determined that not even chaos be outside of our own making.”

 

 

 

 

78 of 366: The Witch

thewitch
imdb.com

For fear of being truly haunted by the “witch of the wood,” and because I can’t get The Witch out of my brain, I am skipping ahead one post today. Hopefully my rewind blog on Your Sister’s Sister, movie 77, will push the remaining haunting images from The Witch out of my mind. I do apologize if there are any inadvertent mentions of the mumblecore movement or Mark Duplass here. For all I know, he and Jay Duplass are probably already coming up with a film like The Witch but set in a New York loft as some 20-somethings figure out their lives. I’ll watch it.

Back to the fear I was talking about, I at first didn’t think The Witch was that scary when the credits started rolling. There were a few moments I jumped in the theater, but in the end I was more focused on it being a well-done first feature film by Robert Eggers as he effectively used the mystery of the unknown to scare his audience rather than only loud noises and things that go bump in the night.

My walk to my car under the hazy moon on an otherwise dark street with silhouettes of people in their windows watching television (if they were in fact there) made how scary The Witch actually was set in. Of course the only parking when I got home was by the woods near my apartment building and I was sure I would be sucked in and possessed by something evil.

I could just have a wild imagination because I see a lot of movies and think about them even more, or I’m just a tad delusional, but I do measure the success of a scary film on the effect it has after the fact. The Witch is doing pretty well in that regard.

Eggers, known as a production designer on many short films, set The Witch in the 1630s with a family in New England slowly turning against each other as a supernatural being causes tragedy and cute babies to disappear into thin air (a terrifying scene early in the film.)

The slow burn style Eggers uses to tell the story, influenced by themes of New England folklore and witchcraft, with only glimpses of what is truly evil fits the bill for a horror film even if it doesn’t seem like one on the surface.

The use of the score and sound effects to instill fear was another strong point of the film. There was louder instrumentation even as nothing was really happening and then complete silence in the background of some of the more climatic moments resulting from the family’s strife and belief the children especially are turning into witches.

Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is really at the center of it all and her character truly exemplifies what the family is going through all in one person. She is the hero in some moments and shunned aside in others as Eggers keeps the mystery of her true identity at bay as long as possible.

My recommendation is to go into The Witch knowing things are not always at they seem and then try not to think too much about it afterward, if you have an imagination like I do. (Also park somewhere well-lit near theater.)

76 of 366: Hello, My Name is Doris

doris
imdb.com

Hello, My Name is Doris is a film I would say is not entirely what it seems. If you watch the trailer (I recommend you don’t because they often ruin the whole movie and/or create false expectations) it appears to be a quirky comedy about an older woman who pursues a younger man she works with and nothing beyond that. That is in fact a main plot point of the film, but director and writer Michael Showalter and writer Laura Terruso take that story to a deeper level to present a heartwarming, sad and yes sometimes comedic character study of Doris (Sally Field.)

According to an interview with Michael Showalter and Sally Field on Nerdist, he wanted her to star as the title character and her involvement in the film was critical to getting it made.

Doris lives on Staten Island and works in the city where one day she meets John, her company’s new art director from California. Having just lost her mother and continuing a lifetime of putting herself aside for other people, Doris meeting John (Max Greenfield) is an awakening that, while misdirected for a while, takes her to a new point in her life she has been wanting to get to for a long, long time.

It’s not just their meeting, but a friendship, that movies Doris forward even as she takes a few missteps along the way and misconstrues what is happening with John.

I think that had to happen for Doris and I also think, bridging the gap between cinema and real life for a second, most people will find some way to relate to Doris, and even John, as they experience love and loss all with a good share of social awkwardness in the background.

Hello, My Name Is Doris is a simple story that maybe has been done before in some form or another, but together Showalter, Terruso, Field and Greenfield take it to another level.

I think it’s how they used just enough restraint in the situations Doris faces with John combined with an imaginative look at the many facets of her character to balance who she was and who she becomes that makes this film and story work.

Field, as an established actress with an admirable library of work in her career, explores something new in Doris and didn’t let anything hold her back while showing the character during her high and low moments.

I really think anyone can appreciate this film, including scholars of the subject, comedy nerds and anyone in between.

It will also stand the test of time, I think, or as Doris says about her aged duck sauce in the fridge, “It keeps!”

For complete lack of a better phrase, don’t judge a book by its cover with Hello, My Name is Doris. It will surprise you, make you laugh and look at your own life through the eyes of Doris. If you don’t take away any life lessons from this story, at least consider a fashion tip or two from Doris.

She’s a baller.

 

 

 

75 of 366: That Touch of Mink

mink
imdb.com

Cary Grant is certainly the epitome of a leading man, and the moment he is introduced to Doris Day’s character, Cathy Timberlake, in That Touch of Mink proves why but I didn’t care for the dynamic of their relationship from that point on in the film much less its depiction of gender roles.

I should take into account the date of the film, 1962, but Cathy’s transition from meeting Philip Shane (Grant) for the purpose of confronting him about splashing her with his car as he drove by on the street in New York to being completely smitten and willing to do anything to win his heart just didn’t go over well with me.

Philip is a wealthy businessman who can give Cathy anything she wants and a taste of his lifestyle or “a touch of mink” as he buys her fancy clothes and takes her on a trip to Bermuda. But what she doesn’t get is respect or the acknowledgment that she is more than a side piece for Philip and even worse Cathy mostly gives into it.

Perhaps it was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek commentary about gender roles in society at the time, but I think things have changed so much it’s hard for me to see the film in that way.

Cathy is on her way to the unemployment office when she meets Philip and then was supposed to go to a job interview. Instead, she ends up chasing after him and he just strings her along with the promise of a marriage proposal.

I understand the film is supposed to be a comedy and Day even made a series of films with a similar premise and character, but the “humor” of it all only goes so far in my opinion.

Stylistically, I enjoy the theatrics of the classic films I’ve seen so far this year and That Touch of Mink does have strong points in that regard with its costumes and scenes in New York. It also has solid writing, despite the flaws in its themes and the actual dialogue between Cathy and Philip. Day and  Grant work well together, but their on-screen chemistry wasn’t enough to offset the imbalance in their relationship dynamic.

The film is built with undertones that you’re supposed to want Cathy and Philip to be together and that theme, even for the sake of comedy, doesn’t work when his character mostly degrades women and doesn’t see anything beyond a darling in need of being rescued.

Emily V. Gordon is back today:

“You do not have the responsibility to change yourself in order to meet your partner’s needs. You can make a choice to change if you are able and would like to. And note: this goes both ways. The person you are dating is not the perfected version you see in your head; the person you are dating is the person in front of you.”

74 of 366: Upstream Color

 

upstreamcolor_krisjeffbirds_3000x1277.jpg
erbpfilm.com

Upstream Color is a beautifully experimental film exploring man’s relationship with nature and at the same time human relationships and love. From there, the film honestly was difficult to understand and, from the brief commentaries I’ve read, it’s supposed to be that way.

Shane Carruth’s (Primer) film festival darling starts with a woman infected with a parasite in her blood stream and evolves from there to a story of survival, independence and the themes I mentioned above, if you choose to interpret it that way.

Carruth, in addition to writing and directing the film, stars in it as Jeff, who later falls in love with the infected woman, Kris.

The film takes a turn from the plot about Kris to their relationship and fight against the world, but there are many other subplots going on that I know fit, but again, didn’t comprehend.

It’s actually a film that I feel okay about not understanding because I think it’s meant to be experienced as a visual film as much as it is a literary exploration of some deep ideas bordering on science fiction.

Carruth effectively balances science fiction with a story about love and presents a project you can appreciate at any level. I think it’s a film worth watching again, for people who have the time (not me), to experience what other themes and meanings stand out without reading any of the analysis available in many places on the Internet first.

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden has a strong presence in the film, both in readings by Kris’ character and physical copies in many scenes. That, combined with many scenes in and about nature, presented the theme that exploring how humans fit into nature was one of Carruth’s ideas.

If you want to dig deeper, Indiewire has a cheat sheet on Upstream Color (I only skimmed it before writing this post) that would be worth reading as well whether you watch the film one or 10 times.

Overall, I like the choose your own adventure style of Upstream Color. Its story is piecemeal and, as I said, can be interpreted at any level of depth and intensity you like or just taken at face value as visually mesmerizing artwork expressing the magic of film and storytelling.

 

 

73 of 366: Southpaw

southpaw
imdb.com

I’m trying to decide if Southpaw is more than just another boxing movie or if I believe that it is because I really wanted it to break out of that mold and the standard plot points of sports movies focusing on themes of redemption and revenge.

My expectations were probably too high after seeing Creed, but Southpaw does have the selling point of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Billy Hope that I tried to focus on over its clichés, especially that scene leading up to the big fight, game, dance routine (for all you Step Up fans), etc.

Creed has them too: the slow motion shots of a boxer jumping rope, the obligatory scene of him running through the city streets in a hoodie, perhaps with rap music playing the background, taping up his hands … I could go on.

Creed is perhaps a better movie because of the back story of its main characters and connection to Rocky, but its plot and that of Southpaw really aren’t all that different.

Southpaw, however, does stray in its format a little bit as it presents a top dog to underdog back to top dog development of Hope’s character and career as a boxer while Adonis Johnson in Creed doesn’t have quite as many ups and downs.

I’ll stop comparing the two other than to say both films also feature and focus on their boxer trying to find a new trainer, in Hope’s case it’s Tick Wills (Forrest Whitaker) who is hesitant to take on a new protégé.

Before Hope and Wills meet, he loses almost everything he had going for him in his life and is seeking redemption to get back what is left of his family and career.

The trailer for the film unfortunately spoils what happens to Hope but I won’t here because I think not knowing would have added a little more to the viewing experience.

The pivotal scene that sends Hope on his redemption quest is one of the many in the film that exemplifies Gyllenhaal’s performance and acting skills.

Plain and simple, Gyllenhaal is a good crier and can bring the emotion to any scene effectively (maybe it’s those puppy dog eyes) and the showing of the loss he experiences early on in the film made me think of that moment where Brad Pitt’s character just loses it in Legends in the Fall. You know what I’m talking about, or I hope you do because I’m about to admit the fact that I used to rewind the movie and watch that scene over and over again like a total weirdo. Boy it feels good to get that off my chest after all these years although I really just want to delete this whole paragraph. Would the redeemed Billy Hope do that? No, I think he would say you just have to accept who you are and move on.

Which, thank goodness, brings me back to Southpaw. I’ve actually been watching the final fight scene as I type this (I need to watch four movies before I work today to catch up on my challenge), and it unfortunately takes away from how Gyllenhaal carried the film with his performance by delivering a completely expected ending.

The fight is redemption for Hope and his family life, but it’s mainly just a final cliché moment synonymous with boxing films that took Southpaw down a notch for me.

I didn’t have a fitting quote connected to Southpaw to end this, so I picked a book on my shelf and turned to the first page in the first chapter.

“A man’s alter ego is nothing more than his favorite image of himself.”

Catch Me If You Can.