Tag Archives: black and white movies

TIFF18: Roma

Roma is the kind of movie that births film criticism. It will be used as the golden example in so many future texts I ache to think how many words will eventually be written about it and can’t quite fathom it.

Mexico City, 1971, a young family is having a rough time. Mom and Dad were fighting a lot, before he left, and now they do it on the phone, when he remembers to call. Four young kids are feeling vulnerable and acting out. Two young servants are trying to keep it all from falling apart. But one of them, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), is going through her own private crisis as well. She’s pregnant, and the father has run off. Fearing for her job but unable to return home to her religious family, her current situation is tenuous and her future uncertain.

This is the semi-autobiographical work by Alfonso Cuaron about that crazy time in his MV5BNGEyMTgxZDYtOGUyZC00NDk5LWEwYjUtODcxYmZjNjFmZTFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTA2ODMzMDU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_childhood when his beloved maid’s unexpected pregnancy collided with his parents’ bitter divorce. It marked him for life, and all these years later he’s strung together the haunting images from that period and used his memory to paint in the rest. He’s only a minor character in the film, it’s really an ode to the women who raised him: his mother, the two servants, and Mexico herself.

Cuaron immerses us in Mexico circa 1971. Filmed in starkly beautiful black and white, you can’t help but drink it all in, everything from the airplanes overhead, to the geese in flagrante delicto, the muddy markets and the local cinemas, the grassfires and New Year’s Eve traditions, rooftop laundry and candlelit chores, every scene is packed with loving details to a time and place Cuaron clearly treasures. His camera moves slowly, soaking up detail, lingering lovingly in quiet places. His trademark long takes emphasize time and space – the big house compared to the servant’s quarters, and the time Cleo devotes to undoing the naughty work of busy children. The sound design is incredible. At times I was overwhelmed by the layers of noise in the city – hawkers, vendors, tradespeople, cars, trucks, buses, dogs barking, children playing, marching bands tooting their various horns in seemingly random parades.

Roma is of course shot in Spanish and subtitled with care. It is obviously composed with great care as well, with so many interesting angles and viewpoints (a Christmas party filmed at child height, for example) and depths of field. Lensed by Cuaron himself (Emmanuel Lubezki was unavailable, but his collaboration in pre-production means his DNA’s all over it, Cuaron assures us), he often keeps his entire shot in crisp focus, with as much going on in the background as the foreground – but when the focus goes soft, it’s for good reason. Take note.

This film brims with the kind of personal detail that makes it truly unique. I especially liked seeing the young boys clearly obsessed with outer space – posters, toys, and astronaut costumes – you can’t fail to think that these are the origins of Gravity. Indeed, Cuaron has left a little piece of his heart on the screen. It is not sentimental, but it is affectionate, made with love. And I think it will be received, by audiences and the Academy, with nothing but.

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Gook

I admit that I’ve kind of been avoiding this one. This movie and I have circled each other awkwardly at several film festivals. I’d heard the buzz, sure, but couldn’t repeat it. I mean, just look at that aggressively confrontational title. It makes me uncomfortable. Understand that’s not a criticism; I believe it is intentional, and I admire that, forcing us to sit with this glaring four-letter message of hate, a word used by white faces to make others feel small and less than.

Gook is a movie shot in glaring black and white about the tensions between Korean Americans and African Americans during the Rodney King riots. Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So) are Korean-American brothers struggling to keep their late father’s MV5BMjU5MDQ2NDY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcwODE5MDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_shoe store afloat even though its location in a predominantly poor and African-American neighbourhood is less than ideal. On this particular day, as the whole city awaits the King verdict, they get a visitor at the store. Kamilla (Simone Baker) is an unlikely friend and ally, being an African-American 11 year old girl, and yet she just won’t stay away, even though she should be in school, and she’s been expressly forbidden by her older brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.).

Aside from starring, Justin Chon wrote and directed as well, and you can immediately tell how many intimately personal details he’s incorporated. His choice to shoot in black and white only emphasizes the deeply emotional script, and allows simple but striking cinematography to transport. Rationally, I know the film wasn’t perfect, and there are even a couple of details I could nit-pick, but emotionally I felt hypnotized. I couldn’t take my eyes off the lovely Ms. Baker, which Chon must have known since he generously gives her top billing.There’s so much to praise here it almost has me tongue-tied, and I suppose I’d rather not give too much away. Gook is dense with beautiful observations and strong dialogue and aching insight.

Although I’ve always known that gook is an ugly word, an angry slur, I’m ashamed that it wasn’t until this film that I learned that it’s actually the Korean word (guk) that simply means country. Hanguk is Korea; Miguk is America. Americans took this word full of pride and used it against them during the war because it’s easier to kill ‘gooks’ than to kill people. Gook is a powerful reminder that America has oppressed basically every minority during its nearly 242 years. And yet the immigrants still come – to the land of freedom, wealth, and opportunity. And maybe someday, with their help, even equality.

The Party

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is hosting a dinner party to celebrate her recent promotion (her husband Bill – Timothy Spall – is quite useless). The guests include a couple, Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer), who’ve just found out they’re expecting triplets, another couple, April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz) having one ‘last supper’ before they break up forever, and half of a couple, Tom (Cillian Murphy) who brought his own cocaine and gun. Are we having fun yet?

MV5BZTcxMmI2MzUtMWUyOC00NzNiLWFmN2YtNGNhNjBhZmQ5YTA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_Poor Janet. She’s just achieved a major career coup and every single guest at her party will make a thunder-stealing announcement. It’s really not her night. It’s REALLY not her night.

I love Patricia Clarkson, luminous Patricia Clarkson, and this is the script that she deserves – compact but with lots of punch. Serving as best friend to Kristin Scott Thomas, the two make a fine pair for this satire and I probably would have really loved this film had it just been their two glorious faces in black and white, conversing back and forth in their clipped and candid way.

The film is well-directed by Sally Potter. Basically told in real time, the editing is quick and fluid as we bounce between the various characters and their various bombshells. The Party feels and is a very small film but it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the very talented actors. It’s not very penetrating and at times it embraces its farcical nature; I’m not sure this is the kind of film to stick with you for any length of time. But for the performances alone, and Clarkson’s in particular, I’d say there are worse ways to waste 71 minutes.

The Eyes of My Mother

The horror is not what you’ll see on screen – it’s what you’ll see when you close your eyes in bed that night, if you’re able to close them at all.

I went into this film at the New Hampshire Film Festival having been warned by Anna at Film Grimoire – not warned against it, mind you, but warned that it screen-shot-2016-06-26-at-9-47-49-pmwas…unusual, intense, disturbing. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see it. You may know by now that Jay and horror don’t mix. But Sean was keen despite my own warnings, so we hunkered down in the same beautiful theatre where I barely survived watching The Witch last year and hoped for the best (ie, dry pants when all was said and done).

Anna felt that the less you knew about this film going in, the better, and I agree. But I do feel compelled to tell you that it is not a traditional horror film, by which I mean: I was completely fine, didn’t cover my face even once, but Sean, shaken and pale when we left the theatre, confessed to 0% when I asked how much he’d enjoyed the film. “Enjoy” is the wrong word.

It’s about a young girl living on a farm with her immigrant parents. She witnesses the brutal murder of her mother (at the hands of a super creepy serial killer played brilliantly by Will Brill) and in some ways the even more brutal response to the murder by her father. Basically, she’s warped. As a little girl with certain proclivities, this trauma pushes her over the deep end and she deals with it in ways that most of us only encounter in nightmares.

Shot in stark black and white, the cinematography can be disturbingly eyesmo2beautiful for such a twisted movie. The monochrome may lessen the impact of the gore but it only serves to heighten the intensity of the atmosphere, creating a world I was never sure of, never trusted. So while there’s little in the way of jump-scare, there’s plenty of hair-raising all the same.

Do I recommend it? It’s interesting. It’s unique. It’s creepy as fuck. I found it bearable, but the suspense is unrelenting. I had to buy Sean a Fred Flintstone nightlight, so I guess your “enjoyment” of this film will depend a lot on your tolerance for depravity.

TIFF: Blue Jay

For 16 glorious hours, Blue Jay was my favourite movie at TIFF. Then I watched La La Land and I was in cinematic, technicolour heaven. I’ll tell anyone who will listen every single day of my life that I’m a lucky, lucky girl. Getting to watch 2 astounding, knock-your-socks-off films? Frosting on my fucking cupcake.

Blue Jay is nearly an anti-La La Land. It’s a small, quiet, black and white film that’s not destined for the Oscars, or even really theatres (a small run in LA and NY, and then Netflix by the end of the year – lucky us!). But it is superb.

bluejay_03-h_2016It stars Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson, almost exclusively. They play high school sweethearts who bump into each other 20 years later. Agony and ecstasy, right there on the screen. And heaping spoonfuls of awkwardness, don’t forget that. Because they were in luuuuurv. The real deal. And now they don’t even know each other. It reminded me of a friend who had recently posted on Facebook that it was her ex-husband’s birthday, a date she can’t help but remember even if she no longer even knows if he’s alive. Isn’t it weird that we can lose track of people who used to be our whole worlds?

For Jim and Amanda (Duplass and Paulson), once they get over their initial weirdness, it’s almost like no time has elapsed at all. They’ve both moved on, new cities, big jobs, other lovers. And yet they can pick up where they left off, the magic reappearing in an instant. It’s like opening up a dorky little hole into time and space, hurtling these two pushing-40-year-olds back to their glory days in high school, when things were light and fun, thecaa09d60-5f6f-0134-3e92-0ad17316e277 sex was hot and heavy, and Annie Lennox was everything. Jim and Amanda will take you down your own worm hole, and if you don’t end the movie thinking about your own First Love, then you my friend have a cold, cold heart.

I picked this movie on two words alone: Mark Duplass. But Sarah Paulson is luminous; she fucking shoots starlight out of her face. The two together have incredible chemistry, and it’s obvious they work-shopped their characters together to perfection – the nostalgic backstory, their lovable eccentricities, the subtle hints to what caused their demise. Duplass and Paulson each deliver career-best performances. No kidding.

If you have ever loved and lost, this movie is for you. If you didn’t marry your high school sweetheart, this movie is for you. If you married him and left him, this movie is for you. If you appreciate things like smart dialogue, meticulous observation, authentic and vulnerable performances, and little bursts of spontaneity that are pure joy on celluloid, this movie is for you.

 

Oh fer fuck’s sake, just see it. It’s for everybody. It’s perfect.

AUFDRUCK (LABEL)

LABEL

Last month, we got a Facebook message from a very brave filmmaker. Jaschar L Marktanner invited us to watch and review his short film, voluntarily facing the wrath of not one but three admitted Assholes. How fun it would be to pan AUFDRUCK (LABEL in English), from a writer-director so boldly putting themself in the hot seat.

Imagine my disappointment when I actually enjoyed it. LABEL is only four minutes long so a spoiler-free description is a unique challenge for me as a reviewer. I think (and hope) that Jaschar won’t mind me telling you that it’s shot in black and white, which is an excellent choice, partly because it adds to the French New Wave feel. In their first IMDB credits, Kira Mathis and Mary Krasnoperova play two women in a coffee shop describing a mutual acquaintance as a “son of a bitch”. Labelling and complaining with a friend over coffee may seem like a pretty universal experience but it soon becomes clear that these women use the label pretty liberally, as the conversation becomes more and more absurd.

LABEL is funny, gradually upping the ridiculousness as it follows the structure of a really good comedy sketch. Marktanner’s film has more to offer than just laughs though with what I read as an effective critique of modern fatalism. I am happy to report, however, that he has generously given this Asshole one thing to grumble about. Speaking no German, I was forced to watch LABEL with English subtitles which were colour-coded depending on who was speaking.  I found the dark red to be difficult to read against the black and white background. Once or twice, I had to pause it to avoid missing a single word. There, I said it.

Overall, LABEL is well worth your time and I am grateful to Jaschar for sharing it with us.

Black and white films since 1970

TMPTime for more Thursday Movie Picks! All the Assholes have assembled Avengers-style to talk about their favourite black and white films made post-1970

Luc

Full disclosure. I hate black and white movies, especially if they were shot past 1917 when Technicolor was invented. Why would anyone want to even go that route? I find it distracting and somewhat pretentious (The Artist comes to mind), I recognize that this is my own personal bias and you may completely disagree with me. That’s fine. That being said, if I was forced to pick some of my favorites, I would have to start with Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

A true cult classic that any obsessive movie goer has surely seen more than once. There’s so clerks1many things to like about this movie! It was shot in black in white in order to save money. This might be the only acceptable reason to shoot in black & white. It’s much cheaper to make a movie this way since lighting issues are non-existent. Post production colour temperature problems? None. Lighting problems? Nope. There’s many advantages to shooting in black & white, but aesthetics is not one of them, in my opinion.

I also admire Kevin Smith’s ambition as a filmmaker. The story goes like this, Kevin smith, who wanted nothing more than to shoot his first feature length, decided to max out his 30,000$ credit card and gave himself 21 days to accomplish this incredibly inspiring goal. How can you not support and admire this feat?

In regards to the movie itself, I find the writing absolutely brilliant, not much actually happens throughout the 122 minutes of conversations about movies, hockey, women, and blowjobs. Now that I think about it, it’s quite amazing that with a cast of friends and family members (hired to save money), this movie did so well.. It grossed over 3 million dollars, was critically acclaimed and really launched Jay & Silent Bob’s career.

This film is about the mundane, daily struggles of an apathetic convenience store clerk (Dante), who seems to have no real direction in life, and his best friend, Randal, a video store clerk, who’s in a similar predicament. Did I mention that Dante and Randall love hockey? Well, they love it so much that their sole purpose throughout the movie is to figure out how they can ditch work in order to play a quick game of pick up hockey on the rooftop of the convenience store and yes, I am talking about two grown men. We also get to meet two great characters, Jay and Silent Bob. Two pot smoking friends who sell marijuana, shoplift and give golden advice on women and relationships.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you might want to get out from under your rock and get on it! Seriously. Sean seconds this nomination and adds that it’s a movie he could really relate to at the age of 18 (and maybe still). “I remember always having similar conversations with my friends to those in the movie, just ridiculous things we threw at each other that led to hours of stupid discussions.”

Back to Luc. My second pick is no other than Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (might sincity03actually be my #1) but the movie was shot in 1948 and all the assholes agreed to choose movies post 1970, I’ll have to go with Frank Miller’s Sin City. I’m not sure this counts as a typical black and white film, considering that some scenes have bright red, yellow and green, but as I said before, I find it somewhat difficult to choose my “favorite” black and white movie since I generally don’t appreciate them. I love the themes that are explored in this movie: crime, corruption, loyalty. The graphics are also pretty stellar. I’ve never actually seen anything quite like it and if you’re familiar with Frank Miller’s graphic novels, you will surely recognize the artistry from beginning to end.

My third favourite black & white movie would have to be Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by no other than George Clooney. Frankly, I can’t remember all that much about the movie other than it being politically driven. You might say “dude, you write for a movie review site, can’t you at least take a couple of hours to watch the damn movie?” And the simplest answer is no. No, I can’t, it’s in black and white.

Matt

The pickings of great black and white movies aren’t as slim as Luc would have you believe. I don’t love black and white movies, I just don’t give a shit. If the filmmakers are telling a good story in an interesting way, I don’t care if it’s in black or white.

In fact, there’s lots of good reasons besides saving money to shoot in black and white. Actually, I would be tempted to argue that saving money is the worst reason. The Artist was a silent film about silent films so Michel Hazanavicius shot in the style of the classics he loved. Martin Scorsese wanted to avoid making a gratuitously bloody boxing movie so he shot Raging Bull in black and white to soften the blow.

Black and white films can feel timeless. Last year’s Ida didn’t feel like a new movie to me. It felt like a classic that had been around for years that I am only now just getting to see. Conversely, Schindler’s List doesn’t look nearly as dated as other films released in 1993.

Good Night, and Good Luck- I hate to say anything against George Clooney but, as a director, good-night-and-good-luck-original1he’s never really come close to living up to the promise he showed in one of the best movies of 2005. To refresh Luc’s memory, it tells the story of news anchor Edward R. Morrow and his fearless coverage of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunt. I don’t know if it needed to be in black and white but, because it recreates live television featuring real footage of McCarthy that would have originally been presented that way, it seems appropriate. It takes a smarter and less dramatic approach than most films that are based on real events and definitely a must-see.

schindlerslistSchindler’s List- Steven Spielberg’s 1993 passion project hasn’t seemed to age a day. I rewatched it for the fifth or sixth time yesterday and couldn’t help feeling that everyone involved from cast to crew to extras shared his passion. It’s a beautiful film from start to finish, with even the controversially sentimentality working for me. I feel a heart-wrenching sadness every time I watch it unlike anything else I’ve experienced at the movies and, when it’s over, I feel almost cleaned out.

Sin City- Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 film is almost a panel-for-panel adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. The comics were black and white (mostly) so the film had to be too. It works mostly thanks to Miller, whose writing ranges from as pulpy as it gets to almost poetic. “When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19 year-old, I’m about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench” is my personal favourite. Moments like that are almost enough to make me forgive last year’s disappointing sequel.

Jay

I like wondering  why directors choose to shoot in black or white – what are they trying to tell me paper_moonby presenting their movie in this way? One of Sean’s picks, Paper Moon (Sean says: it’s fun to see Tatum O’Neal as a little grifter, with her real life father helping out while thinking he’s in charge) is a great example of a careful choice. Set in the depression era, the black and white adds an evocative nostalgia factor. As Matt might point out, it’s a movie that refuses to age because it was purposely dated when released. It means to take you back to a “simpler” time, and then make you question what exactly was so simple about people trying so hard not to starve. Cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs uses black and white to great advantage, with a deep focus that keeps everything razor-sharp.

Pleasantville, in my opinion, uses black and white very wisely. It doesn’t just demarcate “old” pleasantville3422and “new” but comes to symbolize enlightenment. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play teenaged siblings who get thrown into a 1950s sitcom, again, the “simpler” times that turn out to be not-so-simple. Although everything is superficially pleasant in grayscale, the two rapidly come to miss the highs and lows of life back home. As they influence the sitcom’s residents to challenge their notions and beliefs, the characters are engulfed in colour. They are set ablaze with their newfound edification but some are ashamed of their obvious (colourful) sophistication and seek to cover it up. Now the black and white is a symbol of repression and shame.

Sean chose Frankenweenie as his third and final film. It’s an animated and touching story of a boy scientist and his resurrected dog that’s sweeter than it has any right to be. Director Tim Burton has said “I find black and white very beautiful. It gives a real sense of emotion. I was FRANKENWEENIEreally excited about seeing this in black and white because there’s a depth to it that I love. It’s not right for every project but when you take the colour out of something, sometimes you start looking at other things, such as textures and characters. I was very happy that the studio [Disney] went along with the idea. If they’d wanted it in colour, I wouldn’t have done it.”

I’m happy to report that this week’s theme made me seek out movies I hadn’t seen before. I following_stills_04watched Chris Nolan’s first feature-length film, Following, and enjoyed trying to pick out early hints of his trademarks. Why did he shoot in black and white? Perhaps to enhance the stylistic look of a film noir, but also, I suspect, like Kevin Smith, because he was shooting on a tight budget. Clerks was big-budget compared to Nolan’s six grand and he made the choice to get the biggest bang for his buck.

Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, seemed to be more in camp Scorsese. He directed a Canadian film called Polytechnique that’s about the Montreal Massacre – the day a gunman polytechniquedecided to target women and killed 14 of them while they were in school, dismissing their male classmates while voicing his hatred of feminism. It’s a bloody day in Canadian history but Villeneuve seemed to want to minimize the impact of the blood, allowing the audience to think about the killing spree in perhaps a slightly more abstract way. The film rises above the tragedy and is quite cool in its presentation, some might even call it dispassionate.

Joss Whedon made a Shakespeare adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing shot in black and white – maybe to highlight the sexiness that’s supposed to be in the movie, or to make the comedy’s dark side come alive, maybe to help mask and mistake California for Italy, and maybe it’s because it’s as far as he could possibly get from his simultaneous project, The Avengers.

The hardest movie you’ll ever watch is almost certainly Man Bites Dog. A mockumentary that man_bites_dog6shadows a serial killer who engages in increasingly graphic crime, you can’t look away but you’ll want to. It’s hard to swallow but carries an important message. It was shot in gritty black and white, a tip of the hat to cinema verite style, which is falsely considered more objective. In this case, the medium is just as stark as the message.

 

We look forward to hearing all of your picks – be sure to let us know your favourite black and white in the comments!

p.s. You might want to check out last week’s theme, father-son movies.