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Essay-type things

Very Awkward and Weird Goings-On at the LAMB…

Posted by martinteller on August 26, 2012

You may have noticed a link for “The Large Association of Movie Blogs” on my page.  The LAMB is a collection of over 1000 different movie-related blogs, where people can discuss blogging on the forums, find blogs that they’re interested in, or participate in group events that are fun while promoting each other’s sites.  Two months ago, a new event was announced.  The “So You Think You Can Review?” Tournament.  32 competitors would be paired off in brackets, assigned a movie to review, and their reviews would be pitted each other.  Readers vote on which review they like more, and the winner moves on to the next round.  To avoid bias, reviews would be posted anonymously, under an alias.

I certainly don’t consider myself a great reviewer and I didn’t have hopes of getting far, but this sounded like fun to me.  And it would be a way to really challenge myself to see if I could compose a more professional review.  So I signed up.  I used “The Honorary Swede” as my alias, because of my love for Ingmar Bergman.  Not the greatest alias, but hey, it’s just a game.

The first two rounds went smoothly.  The films I drew were The Quick and the Dead and Grave of the Fireflies (which I’d seen before, but I was happy to see again and have a chance to write a proper review).  Although my opponents submitted very good reviews — I actually thought the other guy wrote a better GotF review than I did — I won the matchups fair and square, and so far I was enjoying it.  I was doing well!  It was a nice feeling. 

And then came round three.  The film was Far and Away.  And the moderator put this in the intro to the matchup:

(Also, if you’ve figured out one of these contestants’ identities in particular, and almost all of you have, you should know why today’s battle is such a big deal. I also don’t think I’m spoiling anything, because if you know why it’s a big deal, you’ve definitely figured out the identity already)
 

I was intrigued, and a little bit concerned.  I knew he wasn’t talking about me… I’m a relative newbie to the LAMB and not a prominent figure in the community.  I didn’t like that people knew who the other guy was (thus enticing his fans to vote for him, destroying the anonymity aspect) nor that the moderator was hyping his review.  I didn’t think it was cheating per se.  That would imply that the moderator has a significant amount of sway with the audience, and I didn’t think that was the case.  It just seemed unprofessional.  I was willing to let to let the chips fall where they may, but I was curious so I emailed the moderator for more information about what the “big deal” was.

[My opponent went by the alias “Dr. Richard Thornton” and that’s the name I will use for him.  If you want to find out who he is, follow The Lamb, his identity will be revealed at the end of this round.  You can also find the moderator’s name there.]

I was informed that Thornton has a unique style, and his prior reviews in the tournament made most Lammies guess his identity.  I was also informed that Far and Away was a running joke with Thornton for several years although he’s never seen it, meaning that an actual review of the movie by him was “something pretty greatly anticipated”.  Based on his comedic style, I made a guess at who it was (stupid me, I guessed someone who had already been eliminated in round 1, but I’d forgotten).  The moderator then told me Thornton’s true identity.

It’s a person I don’t really know.  I had glanced at his site before, but because he specializes in campy horror flicks and B-movies, I didn’t linger there very long.  What I think of his site or his writing is irrelevant.  His style is different than mine, that’s fine.  People prefer his review, fine.  But there was an element of favoritism going on here.  The moderator and Thornton are clearly pals, linking to each other’s sites, and there are earlier posts on the LAMB where the moderator showcased Thornton’s site.  And the fact that Thornton landed in a matchup that would allow him to present a “greatly anticipated” review was a little suspect.  But the moderator assured me it was randomly pulled from a cup, and I won’t accuse him of lying.  He also assured me that although Thornton has fans, he also has detractors who would probably vote against him.

At this point, I wasn’t really that bothered by any of it.  Also, I was winning, even with the odds seemingly tipped slightly in Thornton’s favor.  There were a couple of comments by voters stating why they thought Thornton’s review didn’t really work. 

And this is where the drama begins.  Late in the first day (the rounds are open to voting for two days), the moderator posted a comment leaping to Thornton’s defense.  In this comment he singled out part of his review as “probably the greatest paragraph I’ve seen ever”.  This struck me as highly unprofessional.  In the previous 25 matchups, only once had the moderator commented on the quality of either review, and it was for someone who had submitted a very unorthodox piece.  I was irked, but I kept my mouth shut.  I didn’t want to post anything that would be seen as sour grapes.  Besides, I didn’t think it would actually impact the voting.  I just thought it was unprofessional, a breach of protocol for a tournament like this.

The next day — yesterday — voting was more heated.  Thornton had caught up and the lead kept switching back and forth.  More importantly, a reader who went only by the name “Alex” posted a comment in reply to the moderator:

With all due respect, [moderator]. It’s sort of weird that as the moderator you’re defending why one reviewer is “good”. Most of the reviews have had knocks against them in the comments, but you’ve most kept out from commenting on either side. It’s a kinda weird that you’re making a point of explaining what makes Thornton a candidate worth voting for.

Just my 2 cents, I guess.

 

It was a nice gesture, I appreciated someone sticking up for me a little.  So I posted this:

Thank you, Alex.

– The Honorary Swede

 
 

The moderator posted a more conciliatory comment, not exactly backing down but apologizing if it came off as preferential.  He also apologized to me via email.  But in this same email he chastised me for publicly thanking the guy who stood up for me, “which basically undermines me and makes me look like a complete idiot”.

Am I wrong, or is that weird?  Kind of overreact-y, no?  I mean, I kind of see his point but this was all getting to be too much drama for me.  Unfortunately, the drama doesn’t end there.  Late last night, I was one vote ahead and it looked like the voting had stopped (actually, a couple more votes for me came in at the last minute, but that’s not important).  With just about an hour left to go, Thornton posted this:

Alright so you are probably going to win this round and honestly, after all the trouble you and a few other people seem to be causing, I’m just glad it’s over with. Does this make you a better reviewer than me? No. Your review was boring and lifeless whereas I tried to have fun with the whole thing and bring some entertainment to this whole thing. Does that make me the best reviewer? No, it doesn’t. I just know I’m better than you but that’s ok.

And for now I have to be anonymous. When my identity is revealed, you are more then welcome to find me and we can hash this out or just let it die. I have now said my peace.
Sincerely,
Dr. Richard Thorton

 

I was stunned.  I felt like I was back in high school… no, grade school.  I emailed the moderator again.  Apparently Thornton also thought it was inappropriate for me to thank Alex, that it was tantamount to accusing Thornton and the moderator of cheating.  I didn’t want to be part of this madness anymore.  Clearly it meant a lot to Thornton to win… or maybe being a LAMB celebrity he felt entitled to it.  I had icky vibes about the whole thing now.  I emailed the moderator that I was dropping out, to let Thornton move on.  This morning when the next round was posted, I learned that Thornton had dropped out too.  I guess he didn’t want to win it that way.  I wouldn’t either.

I don’t want to prolong this silly internet drama, but I’m genuinely curious… do you think it was wrong of me to post “Thank you, Alex”?  I’m not sure anymore.  Wrong or right, if I could take it back I would.  It certainly wasn’t worth all this nonsense.

In the end, I’m mostly glad it’s all over.  What started out fun became uncomfortable.  I would have won the match and moved on to the semi-finals, but then I’d have had to rewatch Man on Wire and write a new review of it, which I wasn’t too interested in doing.  And had I won that round, the final would have been Napoleon Dynamite, which I’ve also already seen and reviewed (although both were very very brief reviews).  Hopefully all this will blow over and there will be no bad blood.  Someone may be upset with me for posting all this, but I wanted to give my side of the story, and my perspective on why all this was so odd and awkward for me.

I will be posting my tournament reviews on this site shortly.  You can decide for yourself if any of them are “boring and lifeless”.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 23 Comments »

Winning Streak: Satyajit Ray 1958-1964

Posted by martinteller on August 21, 2012

I was invited by The Movie Waffler to participate in this Blogathon, highlighting a particular director’s “winning streak” of great movies.  My first thought was Ming-liang Tsai’s entire career, but that would have felt like excessive fanboyism, and besides, he’s very much an acquired taste.  As is Bela Tarr, whose work from Damnation onwards is all stellar in my opinion, but a hard sell for non-believers.  Bergman’s career is spotted with misfires, leaving only a series of “streaks” that are numerous but very brief.  So I turn to my other favorite director, Satyajit Ray.

I could have started from the very beginning, but the lightweight Parash Pathar breaks that streak.  So we start with…

Jalsaghar (The Music Room) 1958 – Based on a novel by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, the story of an aging feudal Bengali landlord sometime in the 1930’s. Obsessed with one-upping his neighbor and trapped in a time that has passed, he throws a series of lavish parties that he is increasingly unable to afford. His commitment to these parties and his infatuation with music drives a wedge between him and his family. It’s an incredible study of the damaging effects of pride, a look at feudalism during colonial rule, and the folly of pursuing social status. Chhabi Biswas is superb in the lead role, a man slowly crumbling away. And Subrata Mitra’s cinematography is some of his best work.  The music is of course a major highlight of this film, with a score by Vilayat Khan and dazzling performances by Begum Akhtar, Roshan Kumari, Ustad Bismallah Khan, Waheed Khan and Salamat Ali Khan.  Sadly, as I write this, this remains the only Satyajit Ray film to get a decent DVD (and Blu-Ray) release here in the States.

Apu Sansar (The World of Apu) 1959 – The conclusion to Ray’s “Apu trilogy” and possibly the best film of the three, or at least very close to Pather Panchali. Although one feels that perhaps Apu has been through quite enough, the hardships are presented with compassion and insight. The scenes of Apu and Aparna in his tiny apartment are particularly striking. Ray establishes intimacy between them in a series of small details… without a single kiss or embrace. It’s an intensely powerful and heartfelt work, both soul-crushing and life-affirming, a tear-jerker that earns its tears instead going for easy sentimentality. Again, Ravi Shankar provides a wonderful score.  The first Ray film to star Soumitra Chatterjee, who would go on to do 14 more with the director.

Devi (The Goddess) 1960 – My #76 film of all time.  Ray would tackle religious fanaticism again in the comic Mahapurush but this is a far more complex and insightful study of it. It is not an all-out assault on Hinduism, but instead highlights a conflict between modern Hindus and traditional, more superstitious Hindus. The film is quite dark, not only in tone but in lighting. The household seems crowded with shadows, veils, curtains and window bars, suggesting unenlightenment, oppression and entrapment.  There isn’t a sour performance in the bunch, but special praise should be heaped on Sharmila Tagore, still a teenager at the time but delivering a subtle and multi-faceted characterization.

Teen Kanya (Three Daughters) 1961 – I’m cheating a little bit here.  This is a group of three 1-hour episodes, based on Rabindranath Tagore stories.  It was released internationally as “Two Daughters” with the weakest of three episodes excised, and that is the version I consider to be “great”.  With the ghost story “Monihara” included, the whole is merely “very good”.  But “The Postmaster” is a sublime piece of work, containing complex emotional beats that are conveyed with very little dialogue.  Economical filmmaking that works as both a heartbreaking drama and an incisive socio-political allegory.  And “Samapti” is a lightly comic, charming romance with a touch of social commentary and a satisfying resolution.  One of Ray’s most charming stories.

Kanchenjungha 1962 – At the foot of Mount Kanchenjungha in the Himalayas is a popular resort spot known as Darjeeling. Monisha is a young woman vacationing with her wealthy family, including her domineering father who is trying to persuade her to marry a “respectable” engineer he has chosen. When Monisha meets a less well-to-do young student named Ashoke, her feelings begin to unravel. The film also focuses on crises involving Monisha’s mother and her sister. The story plays out in real-time, mostly as a series of walking-and-talking conversations.  The multi-threaded narrative is very unusual for Ray.  Although it doesn’t have the emotional “punch” of Ray’s other films, it doesn’t need it.  The structure makes it interesting, and it’s supported by subtle performances , a very good script, and more of Ray’s terrific scoring.  I like how it explores three relationships in different stages of crisis.

Abhijan (The Expedition) 1962 – Probably the low point of this streak, but still a very good film.  The setting is northwest Bengal, roughly 1930. A taxi driver (who, as in Ritwik Ghatak’s 1958 Ajantrik, is oddly smitten with his vehicle) named Narasingh has his permit taken away for reckless driving, and holes up in a small town. He gets involved in opium smuggling, and a love triangle with a schoolteacher and a prostitute. Narasingh struggles with issues of good and evil, corruption and redemption.  The film touches on a lot of interesting themes, and in his home territory of Bengal, this was Ray’s biggest box office success.

Mahanagar (The Big City) 1963 – My #2 film of all time.  In this movie, Ray touches on so many facets of humanity… pride, shame, integrity, jealousy, family, the value of work. He takes a very simple domestic problem and makes it absolutely fascinating, relevant, touching and warm. The one criticism that I would level against it is that Arati is perhaps too saintly: efficient, generous, sympathetic, loyal, gracious, friendly, determined, and accommodating. It’s nonetheless a lovely, simple, understated work.  Roger Ebert calls it “One of the most rewarding screen experiences of our time.”  This is the first Ray film to star Madhabi Mukherjee, and she would do only two more, but she’s utterly transcendent in all of them.

Charulata (The Lonely Wife) 1964 – My #10 film of all time.  It’s a film loaded with detail and symbolism. The sets are meticulously researched in their period detail. In the opening scene, Charu prowls from window to window, gazing curiously at the banalities of the outside world through opera glasses. Her husband walks past without noticing her. In this scene free of dialogue, we immediately understand her place and her isolation.  It is, in my opinion, an elegant, perfectly executed melodrama. The camerawork is extraordinary, with some very graceful tracking shots. The performances are, across the board, brilliant, especially the three principals. Soumitra Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee are at their absolute finest here.

So what broke this amazing streak, culminating with what I consider two of the greatest films ever made?  Another anthology film, Kapurush o Mahapurush.  Two stories, the first of which is quite lovely, but the second a rather poorly executed farce about a cult charlatan.  Oh well.  There are very few duds in Ray’s career, in my humble opinion, and plenty of highlights to explore outside the reaches of this particular “streak.”

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 5 Comments »

Slowing down

Posted by martinteller on August 11, 2012

A few months ago, I took a week off reviewing.  Once again, I find myself wanting a little time away from the movie grind.  But this won’t be a complete departure.  I have some non-movie stuff I want to attend to, but every now and then I will squeeze in a film.  I have at least one en route from the library, one more I want to rewatch before putting together my top 100 (which I swear is coming soon) and a bunch of great Blu-Ray releases coming up.  But I figure the frequency of reviews is going to slow down to roughly 2 or 3 per week for a while.  I’ll be back in full swing eventually.  I still have a ton of movies I want to see, I’ve just been itching to do other things lately.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 4 Comments »

Movie Confessions Blogathon

Posted by martinteller on July 31, 2012

 

A little late to the party on this one, but Nostra over at My FilmViews has started a Blogathon involving bloggers making their cinematic “confessions.”  I thought I’d throw down my 2 cents.

 

Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?

There’s a lot of them.  One of the most popular answers here is Gone With the Wind, and I certainly belong to that group (another popular answer, 2001: A Space Odyssey, saddens me, but I understand it).  Most Godard leaves me utterly cold and I don’t really get what the big deal about Renoir is (although I do like him).  But probably the one that raises the most eyebrows/gets me the most grief is almost everything John Ford ever did.  Including The Searchers.  There are a few Ford movies I like (My Darling Clementine most of all) but in general I find his characterizations annoying, his penchant for myth-making off-putting and overall I’m just not impressed.

 

Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?

This is tough for me to answer.  In completing (sans The Art of Vision) the TSPDT 1000 list, I’ve seen almost everything that’s commonly considered a “classic”.  Two other blogs in this blogathon listed a significant number I haven’t seen.  I’ve only seen half of The Great Katharine Hepburn’s list (Jezebel and Stella Dallas are two I’m particularly keen on checking out).  Deep Red Rum lists only two that I have seen, the others appear to be fairly obscure horror flicks.  Among the other seventy-five blogs participating, there are exactly 10 films listed I haven’t seen.  So I’ll use those for my list:

1. The Way We Were
2. Safe in Hell
3. The Ten Commandments
4. Top Gun
5. Dirty Dancing
6. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
7. Dumb and Dumber
8. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
9. Guys and Dolls
10. Love Story

I question the “classic” status of some of these, but it’ll do.  I don’t think any of these appeared on more than one person’s list.

 

Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?

Oh yeah.  Back when I first started dating my ex-wife, we used do this all the time.  I would guess I’ve done approximately 40-50 of these “sneak double features”.  Not a very cool thing to do, although I’d be lying if I said I was torn up with guilt about it.

 

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?

Natalie Portman comes to mind, since I easily booted her out of the Top 10 Actresses Relay Race.  I think Michael Fassbender is getting too much love, although I do think he’s a perfectly fine actor.  But the one that stands out the most is Christian Bale.  With somewhat lukewarm reactions to The Dark Knight Rises, maybe the Bale hype will finally die down.  I just don’t think he’s that special.

 

From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?

I honestly can’t think of one.  Uwe Boll?  Paul W.S. Anderson?  Bimal Roy?

 

Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?

I tend to hate more films that are generally loved than love films that are generally hated.  The Beautiful Washing Machine is a movie I adore but has a shockingly low IMDb score, but I don’t think 97 votes counts as “generally hated”.  I guess I’d have to go with the guilty pleasure House Party.

 

Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?

No, but I tend to breathe loudly when I’m lost in concentration, I bet that annoys anyone within earshot.

 

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?

I usually don’t watch movies for specific performers, and if I do, I try to cherry-pick the good ones.  Off the top of my head the only one I can think of is Android, which I watched specifically for Klaus Kinski.  And it wasn’t really that bad.

 

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?

Good lord, no.

 

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?

No.  I’ve seen everything I own.  It’s extremely rare for me to buy a movie I haven’t seen, and I always watch it within a week or two.  I don’t understand people who buy scads of movies they’ve never seen and just let them accumulate on a shelf.  That’s madness as far as I’m concerned.  Give me your money if you have so much to waste!!!

 

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?

I don’t keep movies I don’t like unless they’re part of a box set containing movies I do like.  So things like The Godfather Part III or Lady in the Lake.

 

Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?

I don’t have, and have never had, a surround sound system… or any audio system, for that matter.  If my wife’s not home, I’ll listen through the TV speakers, but 99.9% of the time I listen through wireless headphones.

 

Any other confessions you want to make?

I used to frequently watch movies using the 1.5x speed option on the Playstation 3.  I look back on this period with great shame.   There’s no excuse.

I don’t think the theater experience is all that special.  It can be, but most of the time the annoyances outweigh the positives.  I prefer a home viewing experience, even though it means being late to the discussion on all recent releases.  I’ve been to the theater twice this year, and zero times last year.

 

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 9 Comments »

A Long Project Complete!

Posted by martinteller on July 6, 2012

It took me several months, but I’ve finally finished copying all my old reviews from my crappy barebones HTML site over to WordPress.  9 years of reviews, some 4000+ of them.   At last I can retire my old website and don’t have to update both every time I post a review.  Technically, I didn’t have to do that anyway, but I’m weird about the rules I make for myself.

The experience of seeing all those old reviews again has not been a fun one.  There were times when I wondered why I should bother.  I wouldn’t say my tastes have changed drastically since I was 31, but my ability to appreciate movies on different levels has evolved, as has my ability to articulate my thoughts.  My reviews aren’t amazing analytical explorations now, nor are they brilliantly witty or inspiring.  But they’re a damn sight better than they used to be.

But those old reviews are there for history, and because like I said, I’m weird about my rules.  Somehow it seems wrong to just discard them as if they never happened.  There were a few so bad or so wrong or so different from how I think now that I had to add an extra comment.  One or two lines were so ignorant that I deleted them, but for the most part, they’re all how I originally posted them.  Just please, don’t judge me based on my past writing.  The further back you go, the worse the reviews get, the less happy I am about them.  If I’m going to be completely honest, most everything I wrote before 2011 or even 2012 is pretty embarrassing.  But it is what it is, and now it’s time to move forward.

And since we’re moving forward, here’s a few things in the pipeline for the near and not-so-near future:

1) My Top 100.  I know I’ve mentioned it a lot lately, probably building up way too much hype for it.  It will be nothing special, and no one who reads my reviews regularly will be surprised by anything on it.  Coming within the next month.

2) A new feature.  This will also not be that special, in fact a lot of other movie blogs do it.  But it’ll be new for this website, and hopefully fun.

3) The TSPDT 1000 Update.  This usually happens in January.  Big changes are expected, as the 2012 Sight & Sound Poll is due.  When the updated roster of 1000 films is posted, there are a few things I’d like to do.  In order from most likely to least likely:

3a) Watching the new entries on the list I haven’t seen.  This is a given, I’m definitely doing this.  And if I’m lucky, The Art of Vision will finally drop off and I can achieve 100% completion.

3b) Rewatching the films I’ve never written a review of.  That is, the ones I saw before I started blogging.  I’d really like to do this, it’d be neat to have a review for every movie on the list.  There are some I’m not looking forward to revisiting, though.

3c) Revisiting the films I gave a crappy review to.  Not necessarily the ones I didn’t like, just the ones where I’m especially displeased with what I wrote.  Some of them deserve better than the few ridiculous sentences I’ve given them.  I will probably do at least of couple of these, but I’m not sure how far I’ll go.  I don’t want to spend too much time on rewatches.

4) The return of numerical scores?  I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  I’m happy with the Fair/Good/etc rating system I’ve adopted, but the truth is I do rate everything on IMDb (10-point scale) and Criticker (100-point scale) so I can’t pretend that the numbers don’t matter.  There is granularity in each of my rating tiers, and I’m thinking of showing the Criticker scores next to the textual rating.  An 82 “Very Good” is different from an 87 “Very Good” and I thought that might be something readers would like to see.  I don’t know yet, I’m still mulling it over.

 

EDIT: I knew I forgot a couple of things.  First of all, the maintenance is not entirely done around here.  I make a lot of typos and spelling mistakes in my posts, and have a horrible habit of dropping words when I type too fast.  So another thing I’ll be doing is correcting the old reviews.  Fortunately, I’ve got someone very smart and very generous to help me with that.  This doesn’t really affect anyone but me, but I’m just saying, if you spot a mistake, chances are it will be cleaned up eventually.

Also, I know a couple of you subscribe to this blog and I want to THANK YOU not only for subscribing, but for your endless patience with all the update notices you’ve been getting on the days I was copying over reviews.  The nightmare is over, you will now only get notified when there is new content.

I think there was something else I wanted to say, but I forgot it.  Oh well.

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 9 Comments »

New look!

Posted by martinteller on June 21, 2012

There were a couple of things bothering me about the WordPress theme I was using, so I browsed around for hours and finally hit on one I like.  Let me know what you think!

Posted in Bloggy stuff | 2 Comments »

Catching up with the Best Actresses of All Time Relay Race

Posted by martinteller on June 12, 2012

I thought I’d post my comments on where this relay race has gone since it left my hands.  Why?  I dunno, because I can and because I’m bored.

I passed it along to Bondo at The Movie Review Warehouse.  Bondo removed Tilda Swinton.  Swinton got a pass from me because of her performance in Orlando, and I also just find her really interesting in general, although I’m not terribly familiar with her body of work.  Bonus points for Bela Tarr (The Man from London).  He added Emma Thompson.  I don’t know a lot about Thompson.  She seems good, but I have no strong feelings about her.  Her performances in the Harry Potter movies are goofy and memorable, but not very substantial.  I liked her in An EducationBetter or worse?  I’m leaning towards Worse, but I’ll call this a wash.

Next up was Alex at Benefits of a Classical Education.  He took out Julie Delpy.  Again, don’t know a lot.  She’s great in White and the Before movies.  I’ve seen a few other things, never had a problem with her.  She is an incredibly beautiful woman, but she’s also got talent.  Alex added Viola Davis.  I’m really at a loss here.  I’ve only seen her in small roles.  She’s good in Solaris, one of my favorite Soderberghs, and also Antwone Fisher.  I watched Doubt based on Alex’s recommendation and she was really good in that too.  Still, I have to plead ignorance, but it was definitely nice to have a non-Caucasian in the mix.  Better or worse?  Need more data.

Then it came to Steve at Just Another Movie Blog.  Steve gave the boot to Emma.  Given the roster at this point, I’m inclined to agree.  Steve’s addition was Juliette Binoche.  Fantastic.  Blue alone makes Binoche a worthwhile choice, and she never disappoints.  She can even save dreck like The English Patient (or at least be the best thing in it).  Better or worse?  Better.

Steve handed the baton to squasher88 at Film Actually, who squashed Liv Ullmann.  This killed me, especially because squasher88 had never seen any of her work.  If you’re in one of these relay race things, and you’re thinking of eliminating someone totally unknown to you… don’t do it.  At least watch one movie before making that decision.  Ullmann may well have been my choice if Jessica hadn’t already added her.  Who was added to replace my precious Liv?  Judy Garland.  Now, I like Judy.  The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis are amazing, and Miss Garland always brings the charm.  But as a replacement for Ullmann?  Not even close to the same league.  Better or worse?  Way, way worse.

Next up was Dan at Public Transportation Snob, who waved goodbye to Frances McDormand.  Despite being in my top 100 performances for Fargo, I’m totally on board with that.  She’s hit or miss, largely because I don’t like a lot of the movies she’s been in.  And her replacement is a great one: Ingrid Bergman.  Gaslight, Notorious, Autumn Sonata, Casablanca… that’s an impressive batch of performances, despite a couple of duds.  Better or worse?  Definitely better.

Ruth over at FlixChatter took down Garland and replaced her with Judi Dench.  Besides the 007 movies, I’ve only seen Dench in a few things and most of those I don’t remember her in.  I get the feeling that she’s a more talented actress than Garland, but those British accents can be so impressive, you know?  No strong feelings either way, although if I was making, say, a top 100 actresses list, Garland might have a shot and Dench (based on what I’ve seen) wouldn’t.  Better or worse?  I’ll call this one a draw too.

Anna at Defiant Success was up next.  She took out Viola Davis and put in Audrey Hepburn, making the list once again a whites-only establishment.  Now, let’s get this straight.  I adore Audrey Hepburn.  She may the most adorable person who ever walked this planet of ours.  But I don’t think of her as a great actress.  Not a bad actress by any means, but rarely a great one.  I’d say Two for the Road is the highlight for me.  However, since I still don’t know much about Davis, I can’t really judge this one.  Better or worse?  Need more data.

Alex at And So It Begins… took up the baton.  He removed Dench and added Gena Rowlands.  My #1 performance of all time for A Woman Under the Influence, and pretty much always great.  I strongly, strongly approve.  Love Streams and Faces are astonishing as well.  Better or worse?  Better, no question.

Tyler at Southern Vision bid adieu to Kate Winslet.  I like Winslet, and I think of the contemporary actresses on the list she was one of the more deserving ones.  I don’t get terribly excited about her, though.  Tyler teased me by considering Ingrid Thulin as his addition, which would have been AMAZING even if few others would have appreciated it.  Instead he went for Isabelle Huppert.  She’s definitely an interesting actress who has chosen some challenging roles.  I like the ballsiness of this move, because undoubtedly someone will eventually eliminate her out of sheer unfamiliarity.  Better or worse?  Slightly better.

And most recently, Andy at The Film Emporium put Winslet right back in… at the expense of Gena Rowlands, who he’s never seen a film by.  Fuck.  Look, I know this type of project isn’t about actually creating a definitive list.  It’s the journey, not the destination.  The fun is watching different bloggers wrestle with these decisions and showcase their favorites.  But it is frustrating to see someone you loved get knocked out just because another blogger lacks knowledge.  Better or worse?  Much worse, and for dumb reasons.

The list currently resides in the hands of Bonjour Tristesse, where it has lingered for 2 weeks with no sign of an update.  Is it dead in the water?  Time will tell.  [update: I’ve been informed in the comments that B.T. has only recently been handed the baton]  In the meantime, some names I’d like to see considered:

Madhabi Mukherjee (who was almost my choice)
Setsuko Hara
Ingrid Thulin
Gunnel Lindblom
Harriet Andersson
Michelle Williams (surprised she hasn’t come up yet)
Sharmila Tagore
Jeanne Moreau
Catherine Deneuve
Ruby Dee
Elizabeth Taylor (for Virginia Woolf if nothing else)
Kati Outinen
Thelma Ritter
Gloria Grahame
Giulietta Masina

…and more that I’m surely forgetting.

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Takin’ a Break

Posted by martinteller on May 13, 2012

It happens every now and then… cinematic burnout.  Sometimes I just get to a point where I don’t want to watch movies, or write about movies, or have opinions about movies.  So I’m going to take an indeterminate amount of time off.  Might be a couple of days, might be a week.  If something happens to come in via Netflix or the library, I might watch that.  Or I might not.  But I won’t be actively seeking out more movies to watch for a little while.  Just playing it by ear, I’m sure I’ll be back before too long.

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The Ten: Best Actresses of all time “relay race”

Posted by martinteller on May 1, 2012

Jessica over at Velvet Café was kind enough to include me in on this blogging “relay race.”  The rules are as follows:

“I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actresses of all time. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one actress (that is an obligation) and add his/her own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actress. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actresses. It will also mean that those who follow this relay race will get to know new blogs as well!”

The previous entries:

 

The actresses (as they were handed to me):

Julie Delpy

 

Katharine Hepburn

 

Natalie Portman

 

Meryl Streep

 

Julianne Moore

 

Frances McDormand

 

Tilda Swinton

 

Cate Blanchett

Liv Ullmann

 

Kate Winslet

 

The removal:

First off, let me say that I’m not entirely in agreement with Jessica’s choice to remove Marilyn Monroe.  Her persona is that of a dimbulb, but she really was a terrific actress at times.  Her work in Don’t Bother to Knock, Niagara and Some Like It Hot is wonderful.  However, Jessica’s selection of Liv Ullmann forgives everything.  Heck, that might have been my choice if she hadn’t already been picked.

Now, who to eliminate?  This is remarkably easy.  Guaranteed a slot for appearing in my top 100 performances are Ullmann (Scenes from a Marriage), McDormand (Fargo), Swinton (Orlando), Hepburn (Holiday) and Moore (Safe).  Delpy stays on for her work in White and the Linklater films.  Winslet is marvelous in Eternal Sunshine and Heavenly Creatures.  Streep isn’t really a favorite of mine but I have to admit she’s usually rock solid and often the best thing about whatever she’s in.  Cate Blanchett, well, she’s Galadriel so that’s pretty cool.  I liked her in Heaven and The Aviator too.

Who’s left?  That’s right, goodbye to you, Natalie Portman.  As a child actress she was fine in Léon and I kinda liked her in Black Swan but otherwise she’s been a total dud to me.  A pretty face, sure.  But a bland and boring actress with a vocal delivery that always irks me.

 

The addition:

This is tough.  I could go with my all-time #1 performance, Gena Rowlands for A Woman Under the Influence.  She’s great in other films too, especially Love Streams.  But I dunno, I’m not feeling passionate about that choice.  I really really wanted to go with Madhabi Mukherjee, who has two spots in my top 100 (Charulata and Mahanagar) and has been great in everything else I’ve seen.  But she’s too obscure and likely to just bumped off in a round or two by someone not familiar with her work.

I need someone iconic, who I always look forward to seeing, who has depth and power and stature.  I need Barbara Stanwyck.

Just look at these credits:

Double Indemnity
The Furies
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Witness to Murder
Forty Guns
The Lady Eve
No Man of Her Own
There’s Always Tomorrow
Baby Face
The File on Thelma Jordon
Clash By Night
All I Desire
Ball of Fire

…and more.  They’re not all great films, but Stanwyck is great in all of them.  Few people command your attention like Barbara.  She looks fantastic in that trashy blonde wig, too!

 

And now I hand it over to Bondo at The Movie Review Warehouse.  I often disagree with Bondo’s opinions, but his feminist slant should make his post a very interesting one!

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FOAMing at the Mouth: What Makes a Review?

Posted by martinteller on April 10, 2012

As I laboriously copy over all the old reviews over from my previous website, I cringe at how barren most of them are.  Never mind that some of them include pretty dumb remarks, what’s most striking is their brevity.  I’m not the type of person to ramble on and on about a movie, but I do make some effort nowadays to make them a little meatier.  2-4 paragraphs is the length I’m now comfortable with.  Most of these old ones are barely 2-4 sentences… and some add up to fewer than 30 words.

In thinking about what goes or can go into a review, I’ve come up with a way of breaking it down into four categories of content.  And to use a snazzy acronym: FOAM

Fact – What do I know?

My old reviews don’t have much in the way of facts.  Plot summaries, cast biographies, running times, production trivia, historical background.  My feeling was always, “If they can look it up on IMDb or Wikipedia, why do they need me to tell them?”  I still hold on to that feeling a bit, but now I’m more likely to include some data in there.  It might be something that provides an illuminating bit of context, or just some interesting trivia.  And if it’s a movie that isn’t well-known, it’s nice for the reader to have a basic idea of what the movie’s about without having to click on the IMDb link.

However, I hope I never turn into the guy whose review is 90% facts.  I don’t like a review that spends four paragraphs to describe the plot of the film.  If that’s your style, well then I guess that works for you.  I find it to be unnecessary padding.

Opinion – What do I feel?

This is what makes up the vast majority of my old reviews, and is still very prominent in the new ones.  Opinions are easy to write.  What do I like, what do I dislike.  That’s not very interesting stuff.  Everyone likes different things, why should you care what I like or dislike?  It’s better if you can elaborate on it, and that’s something I’ve been working on.  If I can tell you why I feel the way I do, or be specific about what I like/dislike, that gives the reader something to work with.  You can either make a better decision about whether you want to watch the film, or if you’ve already seen it, you can engage me in the comments (Hey guys, did you know you can leave comments?  Anyone?  Anyone?).

The important thing is elaboration.  Sometimes I fall into traps like “dull” or “funny” or “interesting” without expanding on what makes those adjectives appropriate.  I’m working on it.  Sometimes you don’t have time to write much, or you don’t feel like it, so you spill out some opinions and hope they speak for themselves.

Analysis – What do I think?

I envy those who can do a really in-depth analysis, I truly do.  I respect those who can really pick apart a film and find things I never considered, tie it into ideas that aren’t readily apparent, understand symbols and metaphors.  I know there’s something inherently narcissistic and arrogant about writing a blog, but the truth is I don’t consider myself a very smart fellow.  Once in a while I can look at a film and have some kind of insightful observation, but it’s rare.  At best, my readings are very surface.  And the funny thing is, I love movies that have obscure, difficult to read meanings.  Maybe because then I feel no obligation to expound upon them.  I can just say “There are so many layers of meaning!” and leave it at that.  Bad!  Bad lazy reviewer, bad!

But maybe the problem is more one of articulation.  I have a sense of what these films mean to me, but have trouble putting it into words.  Or I fear being called out on a particularly inept reading.  But my confidence as a reviewer (and more importantly, a consumer of film) is slowly growing.  I need to work on getting my thoughts straightened out and into coherent sentences, and that probably means spending more time writing my reviews.  To be honest, I’m not sure I’m up to the task, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a thing I want to spend a whole lot of effort on.  Analysis can be interesting, but it can also be very dry and come off as pompous.  Food for thought, anyway.

Meta – What do I be?

This category is for those parts of a review that comment on the reviewer him/herself.  How many times have I seen the movie before?  What were my preconceptions going into it?  What mood was I in?  Where and how did I watch it?  What did I eat for breakfast?  These personal touches can add a lot to a review, even when they say little about the film itself.

When I think of meta-heavy reviews, I think of Jessica over at The Velvet Café.  Jessica has earned a devoted following by adding so much of herself to her reviews.  In reading her work, we get to know her as much (or even more) than we get to know the movies she writes about.  And in understanding the reviewer, we better understand the movie through the reviewer’s eyes.  We may not agree, but we get insight nonetheless.  I enjoy putting these tidbits about myself into my writing, although often I succumb to feelings of “No one cares about you, stupid, just write about the film.” 

So what about you?  What do you enjoy reading in a review?  Maybe all you want is an opinion and a score, or maybe you’re a “Just the facts, ma’am” reader, or maybe you like a little bit of everything.  In a veritable ocean of movie review blogs, there are all kinds of writers and all kinds of readers… just as there are all kinds of films and all kinds of opinions about each one.

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