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When we movie-lovers are useful

jeff-who-lives-at-home

This past Monday night, me and two friends – let’s call them Harvey and Wayne – hung out at my place and streamed Jeff Who Lives at Home. We all enjoyed it. Harvey mentioned something about how he had been meaning to watch Adaptation for a long time, but had never gotten around to buying it. Since I own the DVD, I lent it to him instead. I then let my eyes wander over my DVD shelves to scan for more stuff he might like. I knew he’s interested in the way people talk and interact with one another, so I picked out Roger Dodger for him – a movie all about a cynic trying to teach his nephew how to pick up women.

Last night, Harvey wrote on my Facebook wall about how much he had enjoyed all three films. Three films in three days that he in one way or another saw through me. It was very gratifying. A real spirit-booster, in fact. I was happy for him having seen great films, of course, but there was more to it than that. After thinking about it a while, it hit me just why this made me so glad.

It’s the one way my love of film benefits others.

Think about it. Many hobbies or pastimes can be applied for the purpose of helping people. My brother, for instance, is into computer stuff. Whenever our parents have some problem with their computers or router or something, they call him. His computer hobby is thus beneficial. Another friend of mine loves to tinker with cars, so he’s the one to talk to if one has automobile trouble. Others love pumping weights at the gym; they’re way more useful than I am when you need help moving. As far as hobbies go, being into movies is something that doesn’t offer much to others.

Through these three films, however, I served three different helpful roles: Scout, Curator, and Oracle.

SCOUT. We movie-lovers are always on the look-out for new things to see. We forge ahead into the unknown, keeping our eyes and ears open to find out what’s going to hit theaters in the future, what new projects have been green-lit, and what underappreciated gems have just hit Netflix or the DVD and Blu-ray market. Plenty of my fellow online film fanatics had had good things to say about Jeff Who Lives at Home, so it had been on my radar for a while. Flipping through Netflix trying to find something for us to watch, I highlighted that film and said I had heard good things about it. Bam, settled! We hit play. As a Scout, I had spotted that film. And it was good, said Harvey.

CURATOR. I may only have been into movies in a big way for 5 years, but in that time span, I have collected a fair amount of films on DVD and Blu-ray. Sometimes I worry that I’m collecting for the sake of filling out my shelves, but that’s not really the case. The reason I buy movies is so that I know they will be available if there is a need for them. Whenever I get the urge to see Lost in Translation, I need to have it at my beckoning. I don’t want to have to rely on Netflix to have it available on that particular month, or worry about the local rental store having gone out of business. I have movies available for my own needs, but also for others. If someone knows a film they want to see, I might have it and can lend it to them. If someone gets the idea to fill in some gaps on the IMDB Top 250 list, I can help them out by letting them borrow DVDs from me. As a Curator, I had put Adaptation in my collection so that Harvey could borrow it. And it was good, said Harvey.

ORACLE. Assuming this role is to dabble with the art of film recommendations. Strictly from the viewpoint as a movie fan, this is the most difficult role we serve as, because it requires knowledge not tied to movies: knowledge of what the person we’re recommending to likes and dislikes. What goes into a succesful movie recommendation could fill an entire blog post of its own, but suffice to say that it’s a tricky business. We do what we can with the information available to us. As an Oracle, I predicted that Roger Dodger would be to my friend’s liking. And it was good, said Harvey.

We don’t always fully succeed in playing these roles, of course. That Monday night I performed further tasks as an Oracle, for instance, and the results are still up in the air. To Harvey, I recommended and lent ensemble dramedy Beautiful Girls, on the basis of it having a similar feel to other films I know he likes. I don’t think he has watched it yet. To the other friend, Wayne, both me and Harvey recommended Before Sunrise. This is a risky pick as romance isn’t his preferred genre, but one of the key elements he enjoys in film is dialogue, and there’s certainly plenty of that in Before Sunrise. I also lent him Jack Goes Boating, which he had been meaning to see for some time – here I put on my Curator hat again – and Being John Malkovich, which was a combination of “not having seen but should have” and “you’re gonna dig it”. We can fill two roles at the same time occasionally.

Hopefully, both Harvey and Wayne like all the films they went home with. If they do, I’ll be at least as happy as them. I’ll be happy about having leveraged my “selfish” hobby into being of benefit to others, and happy about having done a good job in my roles.

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Posted by on 10 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: August 2012

August has been an eventful month to say the least. Not so much movie-wise, but my apartment move is largely complete, so hopefully things will return to normal here at the blog soon-ish. In the midst of all the moving mayhem, I still found time to watch a couple of films, most of which were solid experiences. One of those middle-of-the-road months, with no films earning scores of 1/5 or 5/5. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask for.

The Promotion (Steve Conrad, 2008)
A comedy starring Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly as supermarket employees competing for a promotion. This set-up easily leads to certain ideas of what kind of movie to expect. However, rather than a crude laugh-out-loud kind of film, this one tries for a somewhat more down-to-earth and relatable approach to its material. Perhaps the fact that writer-director Steve Conrad had previously written both The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness should have clued me in. The Promotion might not have much of a real point to it, but it moves around its plot with a certain surprising ease and presents some genuinely funny moments. Plus, you can always count on Reilly to deliver a strong performance.
3/5

This Is Not a Film (Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi, 2011)
If this is not a film, is it fair to judge it as one? Because as a film, I didn’t like it much. The parts where Panahi, forbidden from working as a director and stuck in house arrest, talks about his planned next movie are good, showing the passion and creativity within that he has been forced to put a lid on. For the most part, however, this is just a semi-dull documentation of a man stuck in his home. It doesn’t make for a compelling watch. That said, this is an important document for many reasons, and the more one knows about Panahi and his situation, the more one will get out of this one. I’m very glad This Is Not a Film exists, and the low rating should not make you think different.
2/5

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal (Boris Rodriguez, 2012)
Why is it that whenever a film has a really intriguing title, the film itself tends to end up below par? Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal is a slasher-ish movie with some sporadic attempts at comedy, but it’s never really scary, funny, or interesting. The question of whether human lives can be sacrificed for the sake of art is a good one, but it was handled far more compellingly in Stranger Than Fiction. Eddie isn’t a terrible movie, but I can’t think of any solid reason to reccomend it to anyone.
2/5

Art School Confidential (Terry Zwigoff, 2006)
Remember the scenes in Zwigoff’s Ghost World where Enid has to attend summer art class and battle with a teacher who sees hidden meaning in everything and students with no hidden motives to share? This film feels like a spin-off of those scenes. As a tale of one young man making his way through art school, this movie works quite well. Max Minghella is effective in the lead, and the blend between comedy, satire and coming-of-age works. The subplot about a serial killer is an unwelcome distraction, however, and the movie is peppered with great actors who aren’t being used to their fullest potential. Still, while it’s not as good as Zwigoff’s previous efforts, Art School Confidential remains an enjoyable watch.
3/5

Open Water (Chris Kentis, 2003)
If the idea of watching two persons float in the sea for over an hour tickles your fancy, this is the movie for you. Open Water doesn’t manage to create much tension, and the characters are not interesting enough to care about. As such, this while film feels quite flat. Things pick up a bit towards the end, but it’s too little too late.
2/5

OSS 117: Lost in Rio (Michel Hazanavicius, 2009)
Quite a step away from The Artist, that’s for sure. This Bond parody certainly has its charm, and a lot of it can be attributed to Jean Dujardin‘s effective performance. The gags are more hits than misses, it plays off the genre tropes in fun and clever ways, and great effort has been made to make the film look and feel like a Bond film from the 60s – 70s. It’s not a laugh riot like Austin Powers, but it’s still worth a look.
3/5

The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
I had a hard time following along with the details of this movie. The general premise was clear enough, but how the film moved from scene to scene threw me off a bit. Maybe the fact that I didn’t find the characters interesting or worth caring about had something to do with it. I could also have done with less soundtrack dissonance. At least the acting was decent.
2/5

Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
Like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in many ways, but much denser and more complex – for better or for worse. I was fascinated by the subjects discussed and covered, and enthralled by the way the film was shot. There’s a lot of impressive cinematography here for a movie that’s largely just two people talking to each other. Certified Copy is probably too much to be taken in entirely in just one viewing – at least for me – but I’m looking forward to revisiting it at some point. There is more to be had from this film, of this I’m sure.
4/5

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)
It’s the same kind of kinetic, impressive and grandiose action film that we’ve come to expect from Nolan in this franchise. Most of what was good in the past two films is good here too. It’s a fitting conclusion to the series, and it’s among the better films I’ve seen this summer. Still, with a movie like this it seems more important to explain why it’s not a 5/5 than why it’s a 4/5. It is the weakest film of the trilogy. It’s overcrowded, with screen time being spread to thin between the various characters. Some decisions with regards to the story feel unnecessary, and while there’s nothing wrong with the action scenes and set pieces, they don’t quite pack the oompf that feels required for the follow-up to The Dark Knight. These are relatively small complaints, though. It’s still a really good movie, as expected. Now I’m eager to see Nolan try something new.
4/5

Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, 2009)
Which film is more admirable: the one that does something new and intriguing, or the one that sticks to something familiar but does it so well that it still stands out from the pack? Sin Nombre belongs to the latter category. It’s a thriller about people from Honduras and Mexico trying to make it to the US. It’s also about street gangs: the threat they pose, and the allure with which they sway people to their ranks. The story may not present many surprises, but the movie is still a treat to behold thanks to Fukunaga’s more than capable directing, the tight pacing, and the fine performances, of which Edgar Flores‘ shines brightest.
4/5

Total # of new films seen: 10
Average score: 2.9 / 5
Best film of the month: The Dark Knight Rises
Worst film of the month: Eddie – The Sleepwalking Cannibal

 
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Posted by on 1 September, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1995

As usual, this goes by release year as listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: The City of Lost Children, Copycat, Heat, Senior Trip, Welcome to the Dollhouse

10 – CLOCKERS (Spike Lee)

“Who the fuck is Rosa Parks?”

The plot of Clockers may be about a murder mystery, but it has a wider scope than that. Not surprisingly when it comes to Spike Lee, the film deals with black people in New York. There’s tension going on between them and the white cops, but also under the microscope here are the crimes the African-Americans inflict upon each other. It’s an intriguing film thematically, but it’s also some of Lee’s best story-telling that I’ve seen, and it all comes together through his trademark audiovisual style, with bright colors and an effective use of music. There’s also a pretty great Harvey Keitel performance in here. Clockers is not the director’s best movie, but it definitely deserves to be talked about more than it is.

9 – GET SHORTY (Barry Sonnenfeld)

“Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest.”

There’s a lot to like about Get Shorty. The numerous movie-related references and meta-jokes are sure to tickle the fancy of most cinephiles, but the humor is still broad enough to appeal to anyone. Having wonderfully constructed dialogue lifted straight from the Elmore Leonard novel helps too. Throw in a twisting plot of a loan-shark trying to get his foot – and more – into the doorway of Hollywood, and you have one hell of a fun ride. Has John Travolta ever been cooler than in this one?

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Posted by on 14 June, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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9 director/actor team-ups that need to happen

The title for this blog post should be fairly self-explanatory, but to clarify, I’m talking specifically about directors and actors that (to the best of my knowledge) haven’t worked with one another before on film. I’m also limiting myself to pairings that could happen today, i.e. no dead or retired persons.

Woody Allen + Rosario Dawson

Considering the sheer volume of Allen’s cinematic output, it’s no surprise that he has crossed paths with tons of actors over the years. But not Rosario Dawson, which is a shame. Allen’s trademark humor would be a good fit for the actress. Remember Clerks II, another talky comedy? She was so great and charming in that one! Allen could get something even better out of her, I’m sure.

David Fincher + Viola Davis

I believe it was In Contention‘s Kristopher Tapley who mentioned in a podcast that he would love to see Viola Davis as the star of an action franchise. I can only agree. Fincher may lean closer to the thriller-side of things in general, but he has a good track record with female characters, from Alien 3 to Panic Room and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (not that I love all those films, but at least the protagonists are strong). This needs to happen sooner rather than later, as Davis’ star is currently brighter than ever.

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Posted by on 26 March, 2012 in Lists

 

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An introduction to the Flickchart world of ranking films

A while ago, I found myself staring at my computer screen, furrowing my brow, tilting my head from one side to the other. Flickchart.com had just told me to choose between Blue Valentine and Before Sunset. Two movies I really love, and I had to put one above the other. Do I go with all the wonderful conversations that are the core of Before Sunset? Or the powerful contrast between hope and dismay found in Blue Valentine? Should I take into account that Blue Valentine stands on its own better, whereas Before Sunset relies on its predecessor Before Sunrise to achieve its full impact? Or should Before Sunset be credited for achieving so much despite only being two people talking for 80 minutes? Should I just go with my gut-feeling? Which one would I rather watch right then and there? Reaching a decision took me a good five minutes, I reckon.

There are those who say that making ranked lists of movies is a pointless endeavor. Films should be judged by their own merits and not just in context of others, they might argue. My take on it is that context is something we always use when thinking about films. I saw The Gold Rush back in July, which was not only my first Charlie Chaplin film but also my first ever silent comedy. Did I like it? Yeah, I did. It was funny and charming. But it was very different from the types of films I had seen before. It took a while for me to get into its groove. It seems likely that my opinion of it will shift when I get around to seeing more Chaplin films, more 1920s films, and more silent films. As it is, I can still evaluate The Gold Rush strictly as a comedy and determine if I like it better or worse than, say, There’s Something About Mary. But as I haven’t seen anything quite like it, I can’t compare it to movies that are more closely related to it. Still, every movie we see, no matter what kind, gives us some degree of context against which to judge every other movie.

We rank movies all the time. Every time you give a film a review score of 8/10, you’re ranking it above every film you’ve given a 7/10 and below every film you’ve given a 9/10. When you call a movie the best of the year, you’re ranking it above all the other ones you saw that year. The issue people have with ranking, then, seems to be one more of degree than of concept. Any rating scale allows for a varying amount of ties. That 8/10 movie gets deemed to be in the same tier as all the other 8/10 movies. Are they all exactly equally good? Of course not. But the numerical rating is just a shorthand. If you write reviews, you hope that people will read the full text to find out what you thought about the film, which aspects worked for you and which didn’t. The score is just a quick summary. But when you go beyond these steps on your review scale to rank films, things can get very detailed. Too detailed for some.

Saying that Casablanca is better than Sucker Punch may be easy enough, but is it better than Pulp Fiction? “Oh, I couldn’t say. They’re so different.” Well, Casablanca is different from Sucker Punch too, and that didn’t stop you from proclaiming it superior. “Yeah, well, I can’t choose between Casablanca and Pulp Fiction. They’re both great. Ranking movies is stupid anyway.” Except when it’s easy, it seems.

This fictional conversation partner might have a point, however. Distilling all discussion on film to “good” or “bad” – and by extension “better” or “worse” – is reductive. I talked about this briefly in the opening of my blog post Noble Failures, where I argued that even overall bad films, or films we don’t like, can have parts or qualities that are worth discussing. “Good” and “bad”, like review scores, are just the sum total of everything we think about a movie. A useful shortcut in many cases, but we should be careful not to boil it down to this sum all the time. It’s a trap worth avoiding even when going into the specifics. The movie was “good”. Why? It had a “good” story and “good” acting. Why was the story good? Why was the acting good?

But for the purpose of ranking movies, we need these shorthands. Once you take everything about a movie into account, from technical merits and emotional impact to story, acting, how much it speaks to you as a person and everything else, you end up with your opinion of the film. Making a ranked list then becomes a matter of weighing this overall opinion against the opinion you have of other movies. Is your opinion of X stronger than your opinion of Y? If yes, is it stronger than your opinion of Z? And so on. Compiling a ranked list is to make a series of choices between different movies.

This is where Flickchart comes in.

Flickchart, the brainchild of Nathan Chase and Jeremy Thompson, is a website that presents you with two movies. Pick the one you like best. Now you get two more films. Pick again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you get a film you haven’t watched, you mark it as unseen and get another one instead. Eventually, you get recurring movies in new match-ups. If you like Trainspotting better than Fargo, and then Batman Begins better than Trainspotting, that means you like Batman Begins better than Fargo too. As you go along ranking on Flickchart – which can be devilishly addicting – the site compiles a list based on all your choices: your all-time list, from the very best to the very worst. Eventually, you will spot things that don’t look right. The first movie you pick to win a match-up will end up at the top of your list, and if that one doesn’t show up in match-ups for a while, it will sit at #1. Maybe it doesn’t belong there. You can then look up that film and re-rank it. This will pit it against the film at the center of your list. Is it better? Then it gets pitted against the film a quarter from the top. The halving process continues until the film has been placed at its opimal spot on your list. You can then go back to ranking films at random again, or keep fine-tuning your list by re-ranking individual movies.

A typical Flickchart match-up. Notice how your top 20 list is always staring you in the face as you rank? This is why most Flickcharters are obsessed with keeping their top 20 nice and tidy.

Should you pick the films you consider your favorites, or the ones you think are the best? This is a hot debate topic among Flickcharters. Some like to focus on a film’s objective qualities. Others favor a subjective line of thinking, going strictly for the films they enjoy more. A third group thinks that good films and films they like are one and the same. Flickchart doesn’t force you into either way of thinking, but lets you create your list according to your own parameters.

Choosing between two films can be hard. I’ve already mentioned Blue Valentine vs Before Sunset. What about Back to the Future vs Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or The Empire Strikes Back vs The Shawshank Redemption? The Breakfast Club vs Groundhog Day? How about a more unorthodox battle, like The Devil Wears Prada vs Saw? It can be equally tricky to decide between two so-so films, such as Charlie’s Angels vs Dan in Real Life. And just which is worse: Street Fighter or Super Mario Bros? Flickchart doesn’t allow for ties; there’s no Skip button (reloading the page will bring up a new match-up, but that’s not in the spirit of things.) One must always choose.

When you get tired of ranking random films, you can employ some of Flickchart’s various filters. You can choose to rank only films from the 1970s, or specify it further to 1977. Maybe you just want to rank action movies. Or Pixar films. Or Best Picture Oscar winners. If you just want to get new stuff on your chart, you can use the Unranked filter and only be presented with films you haven’t ranked yet. And if fine-tuning the top 20 on your chart is what you want to do, you can restrict your match-ups to just those 20 films as well.

A snippet of Flickchart's global chart

Flickchart offers plenty of other features too. Every match-up has a discussion page where you can leave a comment on your reasoning for your choice and see what other users have had to say. Then there’s the global charts, where the win percentages of all films are compared against each other to produce a list of Flickchart’s favorite films. Here too you can use filters to get specific information. You can also get recommendations on the best films you haven’t seen of various types. If you’ve added other users as your friends, Flickchart allows you to combine the rankings of you and them to find out what your combined favorite films are, or what the best films neither of you have seen yet are. New features are added frequently; the Flickchart of today has more bells and whistles than the one I joined a few years ago, and more is always on the horizon. But the core essence of pitting one film against another remains the same.

Is Flickchart a useful tool for making ranked lists? It can be, but you have to work at it. If you just rank random movies, getting anything fully accurate will take a very long time as a lot will hinge on getting “the right” match-ups. If you use the re-rank feature diligently, you can get something good going. That said, I don’t tend to look at Flickchart when I make my Top 10 lists here on the blog. The main reason is that my Flickchart isn’t in perfect order. During my time as a Flickchart member, I’ve picked winners in over 14000 match-ups, but there are still oddities on my list. Some films are way higher or lower than what feels right. Plus, I’m very fickle. From discussions with fellow Flickcharters, I know there are people who feel there is a perfect order for the movies they’ve seen. I’m of the mindset that my opinions can sway daily. I might pick the black comedy of The War of the Roses over One Hour Photo one day, only to find that the latter’s creepy atmosphere speaks more to me the day after. Movies drift in and out of my top 20 with ease, whereas other users keep a tight lock on their top spots. Different strokes.

Why do I keep using Flickchart then? Primarily, because it’s fun. It’s fun to just think about random films I’ve seen and discover what it is I really like about them, and seeing my list change and transform is oddly satisfying. It can also be a source of revelations about my viewing preferences. I might file a movie away as a 3/5 after first seeing it, only to later realize that I keep choosing it over films I thought I liked more. There are also more general observations to be made. For instance, I’ve never considered romance to be one of my favorite movie genres, and yet my Flickchart top 20 has a pretty high amount of them, all films I truly adore. Apparently, I do love me some well-made romances after all.

As you might gleam, there are many aspects, features and uses when it comes to Flickchart. Some use it as their primary way of keeping track of films they’ve seen. Others employ it to calculate their accurate ranking list of movies. Others still, like me, see it as an entertaining time-killer. Either way, it’s a site well worth checking out. You might just learn something about yourself. It made me realize I had a new favorite movie a while ago.

So go to Flickchart and start ranking. If you do, feel free to add me as your Flickchart friend at my profile page there.

Oh, and for the record:

Blue Valentine > Before Sunset
Casablanca > Pulp Fiction
Back to the Future > Raiders of the Lost Ark
Shawshank Redemption > Empire Strikes Back
Groundhog Day > The Breakfast Club
Saw > The Devil Wears Prada
Dan in Real Life > Charlie’s Angels
Street Fighter > Super Mario Bros

 
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Posted by on 2 March, 2012 in Links

 

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