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Saturday, December 31, 2011

First-Time Viewings: December 2011

The Christmas holiday and my rediscovery of the amazing Larry Sanders Show both kept me from watching too many films throughout December. The best films I watched were actually all mostly released this year, as you can see from the list below. Still I caught up with a few great older ones and already have several lined up for January that I am greatly anticipating.

Pre-2011 Films:

Around a Small Mountain ***1/2
C.H.U.D. ***1/2
Criminal Woman: Killing Melody ***1/2
Gainsbourg A Heroic Life ****1/2
I Am Loved *****
Insatiable 2 **1/2
Jackass 3 *****
People Will Talk ***1/2
Red Riding Trilogy: 1980 ****1/2
The Auteur **1/2
The Horde **
The Unholy Wife ***

2011 Films:

Hugo ****1/2
Pearl Jam 20 ****1/2
The Black Power Mix-Tape 1967-1975 *****
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo *****
Young Adult ****1/2


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron's The Last Holiday: A Memoir

The final literary work from the late Gil Scott-Heron is set to be released on January 10th and I wanted to supply a link here for its Amazon listing for those interested. I am still torn up over the loss of Gil and am grateful to CanonGate for releasing this very important work. I hope some of my readers here will support this upcoming release. More information can be found at their website.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Something Dead Inside My Hole: Young Adult (2011)

When I attempt to go home again all that awaits me is a great big hole. Let me explain...The only stretch of stability I had in my childhood was the period between sixth grade and graduating high school when I lived with my mom, and occasionally father, in a lovely two-story house next to the Ohio River in Newburgh, Indiana. Not all of the years there were good, most were probably bad, but in that seven year time frame I finally began to feel like I had a homebase, something I had never encountered before. When I graduated high school, and left for college, my parents moved back to Kentucky and the house was bought by a family who promptly had it picked-up and moved to a new location. So, when I try to go home again all I find is this lonely large hole in the ground...a hole that I often imagine leads further down than even I care to imagine.

I've been thinking a lot about that hole lately and it's become more than a little symbolic to me. As I am closing the corner on my fortieth birthday I am finding more and more that the anxiety and depression I have always had nagging at me is becoming more and more predominate and the only real solace I get is from my time with my wife and the music and movies that somehow never let me down. Most days I feel like that hole is getting larger and larger as I become blanker and blanker. I have successfully managed to cultivate a seemingly neutral every thing's okay persona but, secretly, I feel the pressure of 'too much' everyday....too much drink, too much debt, too much fear, too much rage...too many memories I would like to stop dwelling on. That hole has a lot of dark stuff in it and it has gotten so cluttered that I'm not even sure what I believe in anymore or even who I really am at this point.

Anyone reading might ask what any of this has to do with the new Diablo Cody scripted film Young Adult starring Charlize Theron, a work partially focused on a troubled 37 year old-writer named Mavis who returns to her hometown with the idea of getting an old flame back, despite the fact that he is married and has a newborn daughter. While most are viewing this film as a work about a truly despicable person that no one should care for, I found more of myself in Young Adult than any work I have seen in quite awhile. The cool, mostly silent, distress and rage that guides Theron's stunning performance was instantly recognizable to me and I felt like the film was holding, a sometimes hard to look at, mirror to me throughout. Of course, I can't completely speak as to Diablo Cody's intentions were with Young Adult, but I can say that while most of the audience around me was laughing at Charlize Theron in the film I was laughing with her.

Young Adult is the best film so far from Jason Reitman (a man who directed a film I loved, Juno, and one I didn't, Up in the Air). Reitman's direction here is beautifully understated, almost matter-of-fact, but his growth as a filmmmaker is quite remarkable. Diablo Cody's script for Young Adult is also the best work she has ever done and it captures something very honest and real about alcoholism and depression and it does so much better than most 'important' films on the subjects. The trailer for Young Adult sells Cody's smart and sneaky script way short. This isn't really a comedy about a selfish woman attempting to break up a marriage but is, instead, a devastating portrait of a horribly damaged person being sucked down a hole by a bored couple who view her sad life as a twisted reality show they secretly so much want to be a part of.

While Cody's script for Young Adult is quite incredible, the film is ultimately all about Charlize Theron's performance, which is an absolute force of nature. Theron has never been better and she captures Cody's fractured and tragic character with a stunning degree of authority and range. Theron's both funny and heartbreaking in the film and my recognition of many of her most despairing moments scared me but also made me feel not quite so alone. The film's final moment, featuring a haunting close-up of Theron, is both exhilarating and tragic and it's as brilliant and subtle of an ending as you'll find in any American film from the past decade.

2012 is shaping up to be banner year for me with several publishing opportunities, a big move, new-job and more time with my lovely-wife but I can't shake this increasingly terrible emptiness. Perhaps I should use the upcoming year to stop running away from it and face admit I am perhaps fucked, find some relief in that acknowledgement and then, finally, really do something about it.

... -Jeremy Richey, 2011-

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Truffaut for your Bookshelf

There have been many books written about the films and life of François Truffaut, as well as many volumes dedicated to his own writing. While quite a number of great books are out of print, quite a few are still fairly easy to snag here in the states. Here are a few of my favorites with links to their Amazon listings:

Truffaut's Writings:

The Films in My Life



Correspondence 1945-1984

Truffaut par Truffaut

Early Film Criticism

Books about Truffaut:

Truffaut: A Biography

Francois Truffaut

Taschen's Francois Truffaut


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Truffaut the Critic: On Jacques Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us (1960)

"Every month the death throes of the "nouvelle vague" are announced. But there are twenty-four 'first films' in'll become familiar with the names of these young filmmakers...Out of all of them we reserve special mention for Jacques Rivette. The release of Paris Belongs to Us, his first film, is a score for every member of the team-or of our Mafia, if you was Rivette who took the initiative, who thew himself into the task, who worked and made us work...Rivette was more of a cinema nut than any of us, and his film proves that he is more of a moviemaker than any of us as well...Rivette reminds us at the beginning of his film that Paris belongs to no one. But cinema belongs to everyone."

-Excerpts from Truffaut's 1961 piece on Paris Belongs to Us. The full-piece can be found in his The Films in My Life-

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Save the Children: François Truffaut's L'Argent de poche (Small Change)

While perhaps not as well known or as discussed as his other great works, L'Argent de poche (Small Change) is one of the finest films Francois Truffaut left us. A heartfelt and moving masterpiece from 1976, Small Change is a real miracle of a film and it has long deserved to be held in the same esteem as legendary works like The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim and Day for Night.

The idea for Small Change had been in Truffaut’s head since the mid-fifties when he shot his early short film The Mischief Makers. He would write in his marvelous novelization of Small Change that he originally planned it as a, “collection of short stories.” Thankfully that led to a screenplay but it took years for him to get it to the screen. The unforgettable moments that would finally make up Small Change had indeed been occupying Truffaut for two decades but he knew the shoot would be a difficult one (due to the majority of the cast being made up by children) and he had to find a way to script what could be just a purely episodic film into a narrative whole.

For those who haven’t seen it, Small Change focuses on, in Truffaut’s words, a group of children and “the events in Theirs during the last month of the school year.” He would go onto write that the film, “presents about ten youngsters, boys and girls, whose adventures illustrated-from the first feeding bottle to the first loving kiss-the different stages of passage from early childhood to adolescence.” Truffaut shot his funny and touching film almost exclusively with non-professional actors and the project feels perhaps more grounded and gritty than any of his other films. Truffaut would call the experience of shooting the film, “exhausting”, but it would turn out to be one of his biggest worldwide hits.

Truffaut knew that Small Change was going to be one of the trickiest films he had ever made as he began prepping shortly after he wrapped shooting on The Story of Adele H. Beyond the typical concern of just making a quality film, Truffaut would recall in 1979 that he felt, “the filmmaker’s responsibility is greater when he is filming children, because the public cannot keep itself from superimposing a symbolic meaning on everything a child does”. He would go onto state that he was aware of the fact that, “when we look at a particular child doing something on the screen, we are immediately projected back to our own childhood, and what that child is doing seems to us what childhood as a whole does”. Truffaut was more than aware that with Small Change he would be making a movie ultimately for adults but, at the same time, he wanted to make a genuine film about childhood or, in his own words, he was aware that, “children should be filmed only because you love them.”

After what seemed like an endless amount of preparation and auditioning, the filming of Small Change began and took well over two months in the summer of 1975. Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana would note in their excellent biography of Truffaut that his original cut was over three hours long and the exhausting shooting, as well as looming editing, would eventually cause his doctor to, “prescribe him a month of complete rest.”

Dedicating the film to Victor Hugo, Charles Trenet and Ernst Lubitsch, a still fatigued Truffaut nervously unleashed Small Change to theaters 1976 unsure about the film he had made. His doubts were soon displaced with joy though when the film became immediately embraced by huge crowds and mostly great critical plaudits. Pauline Kael, who had been so blown away by The Story of Adele H. had serious reservations before seeing Small Change but admitted that the film was, “a rarity-a poetic comedy that’s really funny.” And, while it didn’t perhaps has never gained the recognition granted to The 400 Blows, Small Change equaled the box-office success of that earlier masterwork in France, England and The United States.

I first saw Small Change in the mid-nineties via a VHS copy I rented at a local movie shop in Lexington, KY and it immediately became one of my favorite Truffaut films. The film provokes reaction and I can’t recall a work that caused me to both laugh and cry in equal measure quite as much a Small Change. I also can’t think of another film that deals with the jubilation and turmoil that go hand in hand with childhood like Truffaut’s film does. He really captured some striking universal truths with this film and it remains one of the most accurate, authentic and moving narrative works I have ever seen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Truffaut the Critic: On Vadim's And God Created Woman (1956)

"And God Created Woman is a sensitive and intelligent film with no trace of vulgarity. It's a film that belongs to this generation: simultaneously amoral (rejecting the current moral system but proposing no other) and puritanical (conscious of it amorality and disturbed by it). Far from being trivial, it is revealing and completely honest...only the young will side with Vadim, because he sees thing as they do...obviously the film isn't perfect...but what is good is really good. Brigitte Bardot is magnificent; for the first time she is completely herself...And God Created Woman, an intimate film, a notebook film, reveals a new French director who is more personal than Boisrond, Boissol, Carbonnaux, and Joffe-and just as gifted."

-Excerpts from Truffaut's 1957 review. The full piece can be found in his The Films in My Life-

Friday, December 9, 2011

Remaking Truffaut: Johnny Tough (1974)

Thankfully the films of Francois Truffaut have only been officially remade a handful of times although, sadly, rumors of more are on the horizon. The results so far have been mostly, and not surprisingly, disappointing with the most high profile pictures being the lackluster Burt Reynolds retread of The Man Who Loved Women and the horrendous Angelina Jolie Mississippi Mermaid redo Original Sin. Among the most interesting have been the underrated Jules and Jim remake Willie & Phil and the film this older post of mine focuses on, Horace Jackson's flawed but well meaning inner-city take on The 400 Blows, Johnny Tough. To go along with my month-long Truffaut celebration I thought a revisit was in order:

It is a real shame that the directorial debut from Horace Jackson, 1974’s Johnny Tough, isn’t a more consistent film. A shame because the idea behind it, to remake Francois Truffaut’s monumental masterpiece The 400 Blows as an inner city African American drama, is a fascinating and compelling one. Even though the film is ultimately a disappointment and a flawed feature it is still an interesting one and is deserving of a look if you can track it down.

Jackson only directed two features in his career, with the other being 1977’s Joey (a.k.a. Deliver Us From Evil), and he is probably best know as the screenwriter of the fascinating The Bus Is Coming (1971.
Jackson’s film career started in the mid sixties with Living Between Two Worlds (1963), a film he wrote, produced and even acted in. Johnny Tough shows him as an ambitious talent but, unfortunately, an inexperienced cast and budgetary problems damage the film and watching it today one can only sense the great-film it might have been.

Johnny Tough is indeed an almost straight remake of Truffaut’s legendary first Antoine Doinel film with young Dion Gossett (seen here in his only big screen appearance) as the troubled title character. Gossett is actually quite good in the film and, truth be told, he is more convincing than most of the adult actors that surround him.

The rest of the cast is almost entirely made up of actors with no film experience and it shows as almost everyone struggles with Jackson’s ambitious screenplay. Character actor Renny Roker is the only one featured of the major players who has more than a handful of credits on his resume and it is no surprise that he gives one of the better performances in the film. The rest of the cast, put simply, fail to sell the demanding material and the film has a hard time making up for this.

The film is also fairly visually flat and finally resembles a TV movie more than a big screen feature, although admittedly the faded full frame print I saw makes it hard to definitively judge the photography of Pets cinematographer Mark Rasmussen. Even in this print though it is clear that Johnny Tough lacks the urban finesse that typified the best of this period. It is a bland looking picture about an exciting subject and it simply never visually pops.

The score, by acclaimed Detroit musician Dennis Coffey, is also a bit of a let down as it suffers from a lot of needless repetition, which is more than likely due to the limited budget and short shooting schedule.

Despite all of the major problems the film has, it is still hard not to admire what Jackson was attempting here. The film has balls and I must admit by the closing scene (which does a fascinating turn on Truffaut’s famed closing still of Jean-Pierre Leaud’s Doinel) I was more than a little moved…even though my emotion was due more to the fact of what was behind the film rather than what was actually on the screen.

Johnny Tough was released in theaters in 1974 and failed to connect with audiences or critics. It floated around for awhile (sometimes under the title of just Tough) and reappeared in 1977 on a Drive In Bill as a companion piece to Jackson’s Joey. It can be found on a public domain, transferred from VHS, DVD usually for around a dollar around the country.

Johnny Tough is an undeniably flawed but really well meaning little film with a lot of heart and made with a lot of ambition. Wile not the great work it surely could have been, fans of African American cinema in the seventies and admirers of Truffaut’s film in general shouldn’t miss it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Truffaut the Critic: On Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It (1956)

"I'll make my praise brief. The Girl Can't Help It is more than a good film, more than a funny film, more than an excellent parody; it's a kind of masterpiece of the genre...Tashlin exaggerates Jayne Mansfield's statuesque figure with false breasts and the rest of it, but instead of ridiculing her, he makes her a likable and moving personality, like Marilyn Monroe in Bus's funny all the way through, and beautiful all the way through as well...I had the chance to see The Girl Can't Help It three times before I finished these notes. Like all great films, it's more beautiful and successful each time you see it. You laugh less, but you love it each more each time, and you feel increased emotion."

-excerpts from Truffaut's 1957 review. The full-text can be found in his The Films in my Life-

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Truffaut the Critic: On Kazan's A Face in the Crowd

"There's no denying that the film lacks consistency, but to hell with consistency! What's important is not its structure but its unassailable spirit, its power, and what I dare call its necessity. The usual fault with 'honest' films is their softness, timidity and anesthetic neutrality. This film is passionate, exalted, fierce, as inexorable as a 'mythology' of Roland Barthes-and, like it, a pleasure for the mind."

-François Truffaut on Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd (1957)-

***Truffaut's full-review can be found in his The Films in My Life.***

Moon in the Gutter (Month By Month)

BLOG CREATED, EDITED and WRITTEN BY JEREMY RICHEY: Began in DEC 2006. The written content of all posts (excepting quotes from reviews, books, other publications) COPYRIGHT JEREMY RICHEY.