Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Reisz, 1960)

A fascinating film, beautifully realizing themes of youthful anger, frustration, and confidence through the stunning physicality of a young Albert Finney. The black and white visuals are crisp and well composed, but your eye can’t leave Finney’s Arthur, a handsome, morally ambiguous blue collar worker whose desire to rebel from the status quo feels authentic and warranted, even if unwise to his health. Also, I love films shot entirely on location, and director Karel Reisz uses England’s industrial landscape as a conflicting frame to Finney’s need for freedom from society’s pressures.

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Pro-Life (Carpenter, 2006)

I know John Carpenter, a director I greatly admire for his early films, is capable of making trash; just look at the 1990’s. But his two episodes of Masters of Horror, last year’s atrocity known as Cigarette Burns and now this season’s Pro-Life, display a disturbing trend for Carpenter as a filmmaker. Not only has he abandoned all sense of mood and style, conforming instead to the Movie Of the Week visual look of all the Masters of Horror episodes, but he’s abandoned any semblance of subtext which made films like The Thing so amazing. I could barely make it through Cigarette Burns last year, a jumbled mess of film history and horror. Pro-Life, while improving on the narrative incoherence of Burns, still radiates stupidity with it’s dumbed down thematics and simplistic visions of violence. The story feels amateurish, and the performances are bad even for Masters of Horror. This film could have been made by any hack out there, it’s sad the name connected with this piece of shit is one of true missing masters of horror. Someone needs to write this guy a decent script with some tension and wit. I think I’ll try.

A Prairie Home Companion (Altman, 2006)

“The Death of an old man is not a tragedy.”

These galvanic words, spoken by Virginia Madsen’s white-clothed Dangerous Woman, beautifully signifies how A Prairie Home Companion marks a thoughtful and classy wave goodbye by one of the cinema’s greatest voices. Robert Altman exemplified fluidity, the ever changing movement of his zooms, overlapping dialogue, and layered mise-en-scene all flowing in the same cinematic universe, a raging river of words and images. A Prairie Home Companion celebrates all of these aesthetics, but separates itself from the rest of the Altman cannon through it’s kind and joyous representation of artistic collaboration, an ode to improvisational art and and the people that made and make radio a unique medium. The film is a shining example of Altman at his most playful, and if he was going to make a last film, I’m glad this was it.The performances of A Prairie Home Companion are all first rate, especially the tandem of Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, with Lindsey Lohan even getting a moment or two to shine. Watching all of these talents, from John C. Reilly to Woody Harrelson to L.Q. Jones in a short but stunning turn, makes me miss Altman even more. His films are definitely hit or miss, the hits thankfully outweighing the miscalculations (I still think The Gingerbread Man is one of the worst). But even in his worst moments, Altman wants to address a distinct parallel between voice, sound, and image no other director dared to visually discuss. Altman’s examples, whether it be the hypnotic blizzards of McCabe and Mrs. Miller or the silences of Gosford Park, all desired to facilitate time and space as a tight movement toward a narrative epiphany, characters beginning to realize strengths and weaknesses without judgement. All the talk, the camera movements, and set design, mesh together to cue the characters themselves to shifts in identity and progress, one of the reasons Altman’s actors create such distinct people on the screen. The actors were undoubtedly learning more about themselves as they worked.Robert Altman, one of the greats, will be missed, and I don’t think we’ll ever really know how much. Thankfully, A Prairie Home Companion will always remind us why.

For Your Consideration (Guest, 2006)

Christopher Guest’s obsession for the overly passionate marks his best films, the sublime competition of Best in Show and the sly sense of nostalgia in A Mighty Wind. Guest’s latest, a critique of awards show buzz and marketing called For Your Consideration displays a different, more disturbing disintegration of passion within moviemaking, which makes this venture both more saddening and ultimately less rewarding. Watching brilliant comedic actors like Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Ed Begley Jr., John Michael Higgins and the rest of the troupe unknowingly get wrapped up in an flurry of hope for success, then be turned away so quickly and without remorse, resonates discomfort. In his other film’s, Guest leaves us with some sort of tribute to these slightly manic characters who feel so much passion for who they think they are and what defines them as people. In For Your Consideration, there’s no such resolution, and by the final fade I was left both unsatisfied by the short duration of the film and the many moments of heartache the main characters feel, especially O’Hara’s Marilyn Hack, which seem to lead nowhere. If you’ve been around the movies for any length of time you’ve come to the realization that awards, buzz, and the excitement each can generate transcends the actors and films and filters down to the fans. Guest’s film never addresses this idea, and the film falters because it feels so intrigued with the talent (or lack thereof) who becomes so hopeful then disappointed (an character arc I just couldn’t get behind), instead of expanding the scope of the film to include how word of mouth works outside the inner circle of Hollywood. For Your Consideration is both funny at times and compelling (especially with the great Parker Posey), but compared to Guest’s best work, it feels slight and unimportant.

Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006)

Casino Royale, the new and definitely improved chapter in the James Bond universe (anything of substance would be), stars the new savior of the series, grizzled Daniel Craig as the titular 007, and feels like a warmup for greatness to come; as Dr. No was for From Russia With Love and the masterpiece of the series, Goldfinger. Martin Campbell, who returns to the franchise after giving Pierce Brosnan his best Bond performance in Goldeneye, has an eye for the nuances crucial in forming Bond as a legendary hero. The camera lingers on Craig’s chiseled bone structure, wearing a tuxedo for the first time, eyeing himself in the mirror and loving every second. The famous drink, the car, the charm, all adding up to a familiar but somehow different interpretation of Bond, really the most innovative since Sean Connery. And that’s saying something. The difference though, stems from Bond’s violent, often messy way of killing, more for survival than style. To me, this representation of violence is the most interesting thing about Casino Royale, a very ordinary exercise in plot, competent enough but lacking tension in scenes where crisis takes hold of the characters. Bond’s penchant for brutal killings takes a toll on him, and by the end of the film he’s human, willing to sail away with new Bond beauty Eva Green, and I can’t say I’d decline her either. Bond’s changes from here on out are crucial, and I won’t go into them, but they cause a rift in his personality which will provide ample amounts of compelling psychological material in the Craig films to come. Hope for future installments, which is more than you could say about all the other recent Bond film’s. Dig the opening as well.

49 Up (Apted, 2006)

I finally feel up to date with these characters and it’s surprisingly sad. Now I must wait seven years to see the next one like everybody else. For the first time we see extreme aging on many of them, an even more surreal realization than the other films. There’s so much material Apted has to work with now, and it ultimately makes the films longer but with regrettably less new material. Apted takes more screen-time to setup the lives of his subjects, now 49 years old, some growing visibly wary of the process. A few, especially Lynn and Suzy, seem to be on the brink of quitting the program out of respect for their families. “A little pill of poison” British barrister John calls the series, which visits him every seven years harkening back memories too painful to admit any other time. We can now see the full emotional toll of Apted’s brilliant series on his subjects, something a few of them had alluded to but never made the emphasis of their entire individual interviews.I feel 49 Up to be one of the less dynamic, more transitional works in the series, not to say it isn’t just as important. The Up children appear to be in stasis at the moment, happy with where they are in life, regrets fading into the background, their younger dreams slowly drifting into the night. There’s a distinct sadness in all of their eyes, even Nick, the physicist who had such high hopes for his research in nuclear fusion, only to find out his life long work wasn’t possible. Maybe it’s this sadness which scares me more than anything else. They all seem hopeful about the future, but on the other hand they feel some emptiness at lost loves, lost dreams, which they have now chosen to entirely push to the past. I guess these special people have to at some point. For most human beings, time and distance dissolve heartache slowly, allowing a sort of moving on process to emerge, but for these subjects, they’ll always have a vivid time capsule to remind them of their joys and sadness’.

Sounds Like (Anderson, 2006)

Highly pertinent subject matter; director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) excavates the layers upon layers of sound (technological and man-made) which could be driving us slowly insane. Larry Pearce (Chris Bauer), a middle-aged white man who has heightened hearing, ironically works as a manager for a Computer Support Center, monitoring calls and cutting them off if needed. The guy hears everything, for better or worse. Past this setup, Anderson does very little with plot, repeating variations on Pearce’s slow dissent into madness instead of pitting his character within a grander story. I admire this minimalist approach, which does provide ample amounts of brilliant sound design. There isn’t much else though, kind of a hollow narrative shell covered in complex audio cues. I couldn’t help cringe and feel sorry for Larry as his hearing gets stronger, becoming aware of so much bullshit in the world and not being able to do a damn thing.