Sunday, January 23, 2011

What to do?

I am off to another continent in a few days for a big trip. Total travel time both ways is roughly 40 hours. So... I need to get some goooood books.

Trick is, I read very quickly so I want to bring several, but I also don't want to travel too heavy, so I want to bring few.

If you have any sympathy for my sanity-- please help me choose from the following:

1. Let the Great World Spin
McCann's sweeping new novel hinges on Philippe Petit's illicit 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers. It is the aftermath, in which Petit appears in the courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg, that sets events into motion. ...  McCann's dogged, DeLillo-like ambition to show American magic and dread sometimes comes unfocused—John Corrigan in particular never seems real—but he succeeds in giving us a high-wire performance of style and heart.

2. Jane Eyre
...On the surface a fairly conventional Gothic romance (poor orphan governess is hired by rich, brooding Byronic hero-type), Jane Eyre hardly seems the stuff from which revolutions are made. But the story is very much about the nature of human freedom and equality, and if Jane was seen as something of a renegade in nineteenth-century England, it is because her story is that of a woman who struggles for self-definition and determination in a society that too often denies her that right. ... Jane Eyre is full of drama: fires, storms, attempted murder, and a mad wife conveniently stashed away in the attic. This is very sexy stuff - another reason Victorian critics weren't quite sure what to make of it.

3. Cleopatra: A Life
For those who think they know enough about Cleopatra or have the enigmatic Egyptian queen all figured out, think again. ... Rather than a devastatingly beautiful femme fatale, Cleopatra, according to Schiff, was a shrewd power broker who knew how to use her manifold gifts—wealth, power, and intelligence—to negotiate advantageous political deals and military alliances. Though long on facts and short on myth, this stellar biography is still a page-turner; in fact, because this portrait is grounded so thoroughly in historical context, it is even more extraordinary than the more fanciful legend. Cleopatra emerges as a groundbreaking female leader, relying on her wits, determination, and political acumen rather than sex appeal to astutely wield her power in order to get the job done. Ancient Egypt never goes out of style, and Cleopatra continues to captivate successive generations.

4. The Once and Future King
Quartet of novels by T.H. White, published in a single volume in 1958. The quartet comprises The Sword in the Stone (1938), The Queen of Air and Darkness--first published as The Witch in the Wood (1939)--The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and The Candle in the Wind (published in the composite volume, 1958). The series is a retelling of the Arthurian legend, from Arthur's birth to the end of his reign, and is based largely on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur. 

5. Volumes 4 and 5 of The Sandman Collection
In many ways, Season of Mists is the pinnacle of the Sandman experience. .... Here in volume 4, we find out about the rest of Dream's Endless family (Desire, Despair, Destiny, Delirium, Death, and a seventh missing sibling). We find out the story behind Nada, Dream's first love, whom we met only in passing during Dream's visit to hell in the first book. When Dream goes back to hell to resolve unfinished business with Nada, he finds her missing along with all of the other dead souls. The answer to this mystery lies in Lucifer's most uncharacteristic decision--a delicious surprise.
You may have heard somewhere that Neil Gaiman's Sandman series consisted of cool, hip, edgy, smart comic books. And you may have thought, "What the hell does that mean?" Enter A Game of You to confound the issue even more, while at the same time standing as a fine example of such a description. This is not an easy book. The characters are dense and unique, while their observations are, as always with Gaiman, refreshingly familiar. ... In almost every way this book sits at 180 degrees from the earlier four volumes of the Sandman series--although the less it seems to belong to the series, the more it shows its heart.

6. House of the Spirits
A best seller and critical success all over the world, The House of the Spirits is the magnificent epic of the Trueba family -- their loves, their ambitions, their spiritual quests, their relations with one another, and their participation in the history of their times, a history that becomes destiny and overtakes them all.
We begin -- at the turn of the century, in an unnamed South American country -- in the childhood home of the woman who will be the mother and grandmother of the clan, Clara del Valle. ... 

It is the supreme achievement of this splendid novel that we feel ourselves members of this large, passionate (and sometimes exasperating) family, that we become attached to them as if they were our own. ... 


Plus 3 issues of American Cinematographer and one issue of Savuer.

If you could only bring 3 of the books... what, oh what would you pick?

[each synopsis stolen from amazon.]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"That's Roman Polanski"

In the 1992 documentary "Visions of Light," William A. Fraker, ASC discusses his experience as DP on "Rosemary's Baby," a particular favorite of mine.

I found the following anecdote really instructive and entertaining.

“Most pictures were really breaking away from the Hollywood System [in the 1960s]. And you had the influence of the east coast, you had the influence of foreign markets now, and you had directors like Roman Polanski…. Roman had a magnificent background. He went to the Polish film school and he had a magnificent background in photography. He understood photography. He understood images—and also with people and emotions. He was tied with emotions.

There’s a shot in Rosemary’s Baby—[Ruth] says “Where’s the telephone?” And Mia says, “In the bedroom.” And Ruth says, “Oh, good,” and she exits
Roman says, “Billy, give me a POV of Ruth.” And I got them framed perfectly, beautifully—we see her on the phone talking. And I say, “Ok, Roman, we’re ready.”  He comes over and he looks and he says, “Billy, no no no, Billy move move move… move to the left.” So the camera moves and I look through and I see just the back of Ruth Gordon, seated on the bed and you can’t see her face or see the telephone. And I said, “But you can’t see her.” And Roman says… “Exactly.” And I said.. “Oh, ok?”

So now, we go to theater and 800 people in theater all go [mimics someone arching their neck to the right]… to see around the door jam. 

That’s Roman Polanski.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

Top 10, 2010... but not really 2010.

Ever since starting to work 9-5 I don't see as many movies in the theater as I used to... or would like to---especially because I can no longer attend mid-day free screenings like I used to. They are the single biggest thing that I miss from my free-lance life. 

Luckily, Netflix is making my life wonderful, especially with instant play. And since I actually got to see a lot of older movies via streaming this year, as well as things in theaters-- I thought I'd mix it up and throw out the top then things I'd seen overall in 2010... instead of just the top ten new movies that I saw. I mean-- the old stuff was new to me anyway, wasn't it?

So- Top 10ish movies (etc) that I saw this year:

1. Metropolis - This movie blew my mind. I saw the new recently discovered "original" extended edition. Holy Fritz Lang. It was unbelievable. The flood sequence literally had me on the edge of my chair. And! This movie, from 1929, still got cheers at the end. That, my friends, is great cinema.

2. 127 Hours - I walked out of this flick and my friend turned me and asked, "Is your heart racing?" Well, yes, it was. Another movie where the last 30 minutes totally took me on a ride-- in a way that no film ever has before. Somehow-- even though I closed my eyes for the actually cutting off of the arm bit--Danny Boyle made my adrenaline rush, while I sat in a chair and did nothing. That's an accomplishment, I say. If I could write another thesis, it might be on this.

3. Toy Story 3 - I'm not going to lie, I thoroughly enjoy Pixar movies. So much so, that I do my best not to find out anything about the film before going to see it or I try to see it early. I don't watch trailers, I don't read reviews, and I walk out of the room when someone starts to speak of the movie. So when I walked into Toy Story 3 with only the understanding that it was "brilliant..." I may or may not have been a little too prone to suspend my disbelief. What I mean here is that in the moment where they all grab hands and.... I'll stop because if you saw it then you know... I actually thought that Pixar was just that brilliant and I started to sob. And, ok... maybe they aren't that brilliant, but the cleverness of the deus ex machina totally made up for it.

4. Double Feature: F is for Fake/Exit Through the Gift Shop: I decided to watch these two films on the same day, which was a stroke of curatorial genius on my part [ok... maybe it's pretty obvious]. First-- Orson Welles does more with a still image of Picasso than most filmmakers do with 120 minutes of moving images. Second-- "The Banksy doc"was really remarkable to watch. Great, unique footage-- and, in the end, left me really thinking about art and artists. It was one of those movies where I walked out of the theater and couldn't really talk to anyone for a while because my head was swimming.

5. I am Love/The American - I put these two films together because in my mind, they feel kind of the same and, frankly, I loved them both and couldn't choose. Both feature a well know star from American movies in a film set in Europe and made by a European. While they both look very different-- they are both mesmerizing in their pacing. Really-- they both put you into a trance, in a way. And they're both about a repressed adult discovering or embracing passion/real emotion. So they are both #5.

6. Umbrellas of Cherbourg - What more can you ask for than Technicolor, a hummable melody and a bittersweet ending? ... Well... the ever amazingly fashioned Catherine Deneuve.
oh... but have I mentioned the colors?
And the music?
Just watch:

7. The Curse of the Cat Woman - I'm not too embarrassed to admit that I got this from netflix in 2009 and finally watched in in March of 2010. My screenwriting professor had mentioned this movie once and I was curious, but I was never in the mood. But the boring Friday night on which I did, finally, watch it was totally incredible. Really clever and suspenseful and deliciously cheesy in only the way that a great b-horror movie can be.

8. The Lost Finale - This was, overall, my favorite "viewing experience" of the year. I went to a bar where there were "Lost" drinks with coconut and liquor and fun. And I made friends with the random people who joined my "Lost" Trivia team before the show. And then, when it finally started-- the room was silent... until the commercials-- when everyone collectively mused over how amazing this experience was. There was just a vibe in the room.
(And I totally loved the ending. I was a big fan and refuse to call it a cop-out.)

9. District 9 -I first saw District 9 at about 3 in the morning last March, during a 24-hour marathon of all 10 best picture nominees. And, after seeing it against 10 other movies, I was totally prepared to walk out of the theater and declare it the best picture of 2009. I went home and watched it again-- much more awake-- and still, was astounded. I loved the effects-- they felt seamlessly woven into the world and not too showy. I loved loved the main character and his transformation. It felt really fresh and bold, even though the story was of a type we'd seen before. This film deserved every moment of hype that it got [and their marketing campaign was pretty brilliant, to boot].

10. The Kids are All Right - Out of all of the "Oscar Contender" movies that I saw, I have to say that The Kids are All Right was the one that I thought about most after I left the theater. I thought this film was understated in a really beautiful way-- and that the performances were incredible. It was really solid, and felt like it was of our time-- which is an accomplishment that is highly underrated.

10b. Sita Sings the Blues -This movie was impressive if only for the story behind it. After running into huge music licensing problems, Nina Paley decided to go completely creative-commons and offer up her film to the masses-- see more here. You can also watch the film on this website. And definately, definately watch it!
I saw this film with a q&a with Nina Paley after and it was really inspiring to hear her speak about her experience and frustrations. I also thought that the paring of the Ramayana with Annette Hanshaw's music is really clever and that Nina's humor really shines throughout the film.

Notable absences that I just didn't think were great/had an issue while viewing: The Social Network, Black Swan, In the Loop (I couldn't hear it well).

Other Awesome Things that I Saw--
Voices of Liberty Exhibit - A sound-scape exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage that explores the immigrant experience. I visited on some research for work. Totally transporting and impeccably designed. Go check it out. 
The Barnes Museum - This was the most overwhelming experience of my existence. The largest post-impressionst art collection in the states. I was particularly struck by the groupings-- arranged for teaching and lecturing-- Barnes put things together based on color and form and s-curves. If there is a perfect collection of art... this is it.