Magical Scene: The Pinot Noir Speech in “Sideways”

My life at the moment has been a bit overwhelming. I won’t get into the details of it– let’s just say that I am taking on a lot in my professional life– but that has prevented me from watching movies or writing about them as much as I’d like. I hope to write something this week about Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Nostalghia,” which I was able to see at Film Forum last week. But for now, I thought I’d share another one of my favorite scenes…

In Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” our main character, Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is depressed as his life has been unbearably hard. He wrote a long novel, which will never be published; his ex-wife, whom he still loves, remarried. To deal with it all, he goes to therapy and takes xanax and drinks wine. One night, while out with his friend, Jack Cole, in Santa Barbara wine country, Miles meets Maya, a pretty waitress and ex-divorcee. At one point Maya asks Miles about his obsession with Pinot Noir, a grape that can be notoriously difficult to grow: Continue reading

Magical Scene: The “I Believe” Speech in “Bull Durham”

The other day over a fancy ramen dinner, my friend and I discussed great baseball movies. The conversation inevitably lead to Ron Shelton’s “Bull Durham,” which many consider not only the best baseball movie ever made but the best sports movie ever made. While I’m not on board with “Bull Durham” as the best baseball movie– I prefer the sentimental schlock and new-aged spirituality of “Field of Dreams”– the conversation led me back to some of the movie’s great scenes, including the speech below:
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Quick Hits: “Shoah,” The Greatest Documentary of All-Time, available on Youtube

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Director: Claude Lanzmann

Writer: Claude Lanzmann

Stars: Simon SrebnikMichael PodchlebnikMotke Zaidl |See full cast and crew »

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” 
― Elie Wiesel

“Shoah” begins with a man in his 50s floating on a boat down a calm creek, singing a quiet tune in Yiddish.  He has a beautiful, cherubic voice, one that puts the viewer at ease. Later we find out that as a 13-year-old Jewish boy in Poland, this man was beloved and kept alive by his SS guards for his lovely voice, while everyone around him was brutally murdered. The boy becomes one of just a few dozen Jews of the 100,000s living in Poland at the time to survive.

There are many more stories like this in the 9 1/2 hour running of “Shoah,” which chronicles the Holocaust through the interviews of its survivors. It is widely considered by most to be the greatest documentary ever made (In 1985, the year “Shoah” was released, Roger Ebert refused to even rank it in his top 10 list, saying he felt it was in a class by itself and it wouldn’t be appropriate to rank ordinary movies against it.) What is truly remarkable about Shoah is that the director, Claude Lanzmann, refused to use any footage from the 1930s or 40s concerning the Holocaust, as he felt it to be obscene and offensive to recreate the horrors of the concentration camp for a film. Instead what we get is talk and reflection from survivors and witnesses about the greatest genocide in human history.

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The Empires of the Future are the Empires of the Mind: Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville”

Alphaville

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Writer: Jean-Luc Godard

“Sometimes reality is too complex, for oral communication. But legend embodies it in a form which enables it to spread all over the world” -Jorge Luis Borges, and the opening words of “Alphaville”

At the midpoint of Jean-Luc Godard’s brilliantly weird “Alphaville,” our hero, the craggy special agent, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), who is  a James Bond-type except with the personality of a cantankerous  uncle, is interviewed by a supercomputer, known as Alpha 5.  In the world of “Alphaville,” Alpha 5  helps rule society through probabilities and rational logic, thus eliminating useless human fallibilities like emotions and love. During the interview, Alpha 5′s questions become increasingly odder and diffuse, but Caution always has just the right answer for Alpha 5: 

“Alpha 5: Do you know what illuminates the night?

Caution: Poetry

Alpha 5: What is your religion?

Caution: I believe in the inspirations of conscience.”

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Memories and What Makes Us Human: Alain Resnais’s “Je t’aime, Je t’aime”

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Director: Alain Resnais

Writer: Jacques Sternberg

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.- Vladmir Nabokov

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.- Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”

Memory seems to me to be a uniquely human phenomenon. All animals can remember, but no other species can recall specific moments of emotional joy or pain and bring them alive in their own heads or through the use of language. It is of course a curse and a blessing all at once. In my own life, I am happy I can remember what my grandmother’s wizened face and bent fingers just before she passed. But I can also remember the pain of seeing her lifeless body just before we put her into the incinerator for cremation.
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Magical Scene: From Flying Bone to Spaceship in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a divisive film. Some think it’s terrible; others think it is one of the greatest films ever made. I’m certainly in the latter camp especially after seeing it on the big screen this past summer in Brooklyn. The visuals blew me a way like very few movies ever have on the big screen.

The number of great scenes in the movie are, which made it difficult to chose a scene to discuss, but I eventually decided on this one: Continue reading

The Auteurs: 5 Essential Federico Fellini Films

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Federico Fellini has always been one of my favorite directors for two simple reasons: 1) even in his worst movies, he seems incapable of filming a dull scene; 2) in his best films, he has so much to say about a meaningful life in an increasingly discordant, consumerist world. Recently I watched almost the entire oeuvre of Fellini’s films and reviewed many of his films. Here is a list of 5 films that I think any newcomer to his films should see. 

1) I Vitelloni (1953)

Despite being it being his first film, Fellini’s “I Vitelloni” has been very influential to a number of great directors, including Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorese and Francis Ford Coppola. It is the story of 5 young, aimless young men who live in a small Italian town and spend their nights drinking and carousing with women. It lacks the panache of Fellini’s later style but is still an interesting character study of the young searching for direction in post-war Italy. Here’s what I wrote about Moraldo, one of the main characters of the film: Continue reading