Herzog on Netflix

Werner Herzog is a legendary, innovative, original, and many would say, “Crazy!” German filmmaker. He is without a doubt one of the most prolific artists in the medium, having made more than fifty fiction and nonfiction features (often blurring the line between these distinctions), along with a couple dozen shorts. Just for fun, or just to make extra money for his independent productions, he has also appeared in some mass market, mainstream works. You might have seen him without realizing it as the big bad guy in Jack Reacher (2012), or as a random oddball in Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) and The Simpsons (1989-).

JACK REACHER

werner-herzog parks and reck

werner-herzog simpsons

Last year Netflix produced a new doc by Herzon about volcanos, Into the Inferno (2016), and I recently noticed that they now have several of his films available for streaming. They don’t have anything too out there, like Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), but they do have his most theatrically successful production, Grizzly Man (2005), and one of my all time favorite films, Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997). You really should check them out!

I first came across Herzog in graduate school, when one of my professors showed us Little Dieter. Granted, not all of his films live up to the same level of genius but in the end I admire the fact that he just keeps going, learning, and trying new things. He defines and lives by his own code.

Years ago a colleague of mine said that he went to a lecture Herzog gave at a college and someone asked if he regretted the fact that so many of his works were nearly impossible to find. Hertzon brushed off the questions by saying, in his creepy German accent,  “Film is fleeting.” At first I thought the answer was silly. Film is one of the most permanent art forms around, right? It preserves moments, or the light reflected off moments, for all time. But that isn’t true because nothing last forever. Not film. Not even the Internet (sorry to break that to you). The more I have watched of Herzog’s catalog the more I have realized that his worldview is about the impermanence of things; all things. Embrace the moment, and enjoy it, because the moment is all you have. I don’t think he sees this as a particularly bad or sad view of reality. I think he finds sadness in the way most of us tend to view the world; trying to holding onto what is already gone.

Have you heard of the MasterClass website? They have several interesting, or what look to be interesting, courses from high-profile people that I’d like to take. It looks like the standard price for each is $90, which isn’t bad but it could quickly odd up. The one that keeps coming up in my Facebook newsfeed is Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking.

Along with Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting, I think I’m going to have to check out Herzog’s class in the near future. Damn you Netflix and social media advertising for rekindling my passion for filmmaking!

Oscar Weekend

Oscar Statues on display at the Time War

The Oscars are this Sunday, February 26 at 7:30 CST. I’ve had the chance to see more of the films since the nominees were announced and, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the categories where I have thoughts worth sharing:

Note: Starred items * mark the ones I have watched.

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated *
OJ: Made in America *
13th *

Fire at Sea, about desperate migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa, looks interesting and Life, Animated about a fun-loving Autistic young man, was very nice, but I think this award is going to go to one of the three docs dealing with race in America. I wish I had seen I Am Not Your Negro, which looks at American History through the words of writer James Baldwin. In some ways it seems similar to 13th, which looks at the continued oppression of African Americans since the end of slavery. I think 13th is well done and something everyone should see but, judging just from my impression of the trailer, I feel like I Am Not Your Negro looks more personal and heartfelt.

OJ: Made in America is a very interesting look at the life of OJ Simpson and the wider context of the times in which he rose and fell in the public’s eye. Personally, however, I don’t feel like a five part, “film,” that is more than seven and a half hours in total running time, constitutes a, “feature.” I think it’s a TV series that was played in a few theaters to meet the technical qualifications for the Oscars but it should not be in the running here. That said, I would also encourage people to watch it.

BEST PICTURE

Arrival *
Hacksaw Ridge
Hidden Figures *
Fences
Hell or High Water
La La Land *
Lion *
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight *

I’m betting on Hidden Figures and I think it deserves to win. It’s a feel good movie that highlights an overlooked part of our history and makes you think about racism and sexism. Personally, however, I also think that it looks a lot like other feel good movies I have seen. Not that this is a bad thing, I’m just saying that part of me would like to see a more outside the box winner and the one that felt the most original to me was Moonlight. This story, of a young gay black man with a drug-addicted mother, and the way in which it is told seem very fresh to me; though not very happy.

My fear (or “worry” might be a better word?) is that La La Land will have a wide appear to the Hollywood crowd and revive the hashtag #oscarsowhite. It’s a movie about the movie business and a throwback to classic musicals, which is bound to check a lot of boxes for many members of the Academy, but there are certainly far better films about the film business and far better musicals out there that never got fourteen nominations.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land *
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

From what I have read and heard, I’m guessing this one will go to Denzel, with Casey Affleck as a possible alternative. I certainly don’t see why Ryan Gosling is on this list. Not that he did a bad job in La La Land – he was good – I just don’t see it as award worthy or particularly special in any way. I’d say take Gosling off and add in Joel Edgerton for Loving.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving *
Natalie Portman, Jackie *
Emma Stone, La La Land *
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

I have the same feeling about Emma Stone’s La La Land performance as Gosling’s; it’s fine but it’s not all that. Loving was an good, interesting and touching story about the end of miscegenation laws in America but Ruth Negga’s part almost felt like a supporting role to me. By far, I think Natalie Portman deserves to be recognized for her very believable impression of Jackie-O. Overall the film is a reasonable portrait of that tragic weekend in which President Kennedy was murdered and buried, and the way in which his widow helped to solidify his legacy, but Portman’s efforts to imitate Jackie’s distinctive manner without crossing the line into comedy was the best thing about it.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival *
La La Land *
Lion *
Moonlight *
Silence *

I don’t have any strong feelings about the editing or cinematography for any of this year’s films but I would like to see Silence win something and this is the only category it is nominated in. This passion project from Martin Scorsese follows two 17th century Jesuit priests on a mission to Japan to spread the Gospel and find their old mentor, a priest who has apparently renounced his faith after Japanese authorities cracked down on Christianity and tried to stump it out completely from their empire. The film is a very interesting study in faith that raises questions about why people believe and how far they should go to spread, propagate, or defend their vision of what is true.

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Kubo and the Two Strings *
Moana *
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle *
Zootopia *

Zootopia and Moana were good but standard fare, while The Red Turtle, with its lack of dialogue was nice but too Arthouse. My Life as a Zucchini looks good in terms of the visuals and the story – I hope to see it sometime – but Kubo and the Two Strings was so different from anything I have seen before and I really enjoyed it. It’s a must see and I hope it wins.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book *
Kubo and the Two Strings *
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story *

Just to reinforce that fact that Kubo and the Two Strings is unlike anything I have seen before, I’d like to see it take home this award as well. It’s one of those rare animated features that I wish would be considered for Best Picture, overall, and not just as a work of animation.

 

 

 

You’re just wrong

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver returned for another season on HBO last Sunday and fans like me will tell you that it’s long overdue. Unfortunately, John is almost exclusively preaching to the choir and I fear that Red State, Middle America (the proud members of, “Trump Country”) will never get the message; nor will they bother to consider it if they happen upon it. Oliver can too easily be dismissed as just another “liberal” (to be said in a disparaging voice) who uses too many off-color jokes and too frequently curses. Granted, these same people managed to talk themselves into overlooking the President’s %^**#-grabbing, foul mouth and horrible behavior, but, as I’ve said before, people can talk themselves into anything. Lord knows that Trump certainly does.

The news and rumors coming out of the White House are disturbing enough – from the needless fear mongering and probably unConsitutional travel ban to the childish berating of Federal Judges and the entire Judiciary to the absurd talk of massive voter fraud on an impossible scale to the increasingly serious allegations of Russian collusion and the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – but the heart of the matter goes much deeper than this and it is far more troubling. Based on the examples John Oliver gives and others you can easily find, I honestly think that Trump does not believe in truth. I’m not saying that he simply disagrees with me or you about the facts on this or that issue; I’m saying that he doesn’t understand what a fact actually is and he doesn’t care to. When you look to the National Enquirer, Breitbart, and InfoWars as credible sources. When you’ve had compulsive liar Roger Stone working for you. When you compliment the work being done by conspiracy supernut Alex Jones (who thinks Sandy Hook was a, “false flag,” performed by actors) and then you turn around and call nearly every major news outlet, “fake news,” because they’re not friendly to you, you’re a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.

I know some of you voted for Trump because you hated Hillary or wanted a particular type of Supreme Court pick or wanted the repeal of Obamacare or any number of reasons, but I implore you to put that aside for a moment and think about the future of the country you love. Most of the hyperbolic rhetoric out there is ridiculous (e.g. “liberals are communists” and “conservatives are fascists”) but the dangers that the #NeverTrump Movement tried to warn you about are real! You’ve been had by this conman in the White House. I know it hurts to find out you are wrong and it’s much easier to avoid the possibility but facts are stubborn things and this needs to be said in no uncertain terms; you’re just wrong. The Donald does not deserve your support.

There I go again, preaching to the choir. I mean, honestly, is anyone who disagrees with me going to consider what I am saying? Is anyone open to being a convert? I doubt it, and yet I keep soldiering on, “fighting the good fight” (as I keep telling myself). Maybe the problem here is with people, in general, who seem to be driven more by their emotions than reason. Even if this is true, however, it still brings me back to the same point: How do you get through to them when they are wrong?

In more depressing news, yesterday, Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Robert De Niro held a press conference to push their anti-vaccination nonsense. These two men of the left, and very vocal Trump critic in De Niro’s case, nevertheless share this irrational belief with the new President, and they are all putting us in greater danger. Kennedy and De Niro have gone so far as to offer $100,000 to anyone who can prove that vaccines are safe. This is like offering to pay for proof that Oswald wasn’t framed or the Holocaust wasn’t faked. You can always deny any proof and dismiss any facts you like if you live under a conspiratorial worldview.

One more thing that further depressed me this week is that I started listening to Michael Lewis’s latest book, The Undoing Project (he also wrote Moneyball and The Big Short). It’s about a couple of Israeli psychologists who spawned the field of Behavior Economics and demonstrated that people are not as rational as they like to believe they are. For example: Take a room full of people and ask everyone to write down the last two digits of his/her phone number. Then have everyone write down their best guess how many African Nations there are in the United Nations. What you will find is that the people with the higher phone numbers will also make higher guesses. Yes, we are that easily manipulated and thrown off by things that are seemingly irrelevant.

Any husker du, I don’t know what the conclusion is to this stream of consciousness. What I do know is that it’s making me think about my own work, refuting conspiracy theories and how I should or should not be going about it. For now, I guess I’ll have to just keep telling people, “You’re just wrong,” and coming off like an arrogant jerk they’re not interested in listening to. :(

The Oscar

the-oscars-2017-betting-odds

The Oscars don’t air until Sunday, February 26, but the nominees were announced this morning at 7:18am CST (I guess they figure odd times get noticed). As usual I haven’t found the time to see nearly as many as I hoped to but I still have some thoughts to share.

I suspected that there would be a conscious effort to make this #oscarsalittlelesswhite, which it is, but no Lead Actress or Song nomination for Hidden Figures? Really? That feels like a big snub. It’s one, “must see film,” that actually is a must see and I thought it would be all over this list. I also suspected that Birth of a Nation was going to be shutout, just as it was at the Globes, because of the controversy surrounding the director’s past, but I was still hoping I might be wrong and it would get some, small recognition. It certainly deserves to be judged on it’s own merits and it was powerful. It’s stuck with me.

Honestly, what’s up with all the love for La La Land? Sure, I enjoyed it, particularly the ending sequence, and I know movie people love to see movies about movies, but it doesn’t live up to the hype, people.

I am ashamed to say that I haven’t see any of the documentaries but at least 13th is on Netflix because they can be hard to come by.

Lastly, if you’re wondering, my favorite film of 2016 was, Kubo and the Two Strings, which at least got nominated for Animated Feature. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

In case you missed it, here’s the complete list:

BEST PICTURE

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hidden Figures
Fences
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

COSTUME DESIGN

Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

DIRECTING

Arrival, Denis Villenuve
Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Monergan
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America
13th

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

FILM EDITING

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

ORIGINAL SONG

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls
“City of Stars,” La La Land
“The Empty Chair,” Jim, The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

ORIGINAL SCORE

Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

Ennemis Interieurs
La femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

SOUND EDITING

Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

SOUND MIXING

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

VISUAL EFFECTS

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Arrival, Eric Heisserer
Fences, August Wilson
Hidden Figures, Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion, Luke Davies
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women, Mike Mills

 

 

22, A Million

Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) has been one of my favorite artists since I first heard “Blood Bank” on The Current, in what must have been 2009. This morning he (technically, the band, but really, it’s mostly him) released 22, A Million and I’m listening to it for the third time on Spotify as I write this.

22-a-million

This new album has the familiar, hauntingly beautiful feeling of his other works, but it also strikes me as very much, an album, rather than a collection of singles, as most “albums” are. It’s not quite, Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon, but it does work well from start to finish; like you’re going on a journey with him.

Did you see/do you remember, back in 2012, when Bon Iver won Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards? He gave one of the best, most heartfelt acceptance speeches you’ll ever see at an awards program. He’s so non-Hollywood, so unpolished and awkward in look and manner, so Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He is the a great representative for all the talented artists who don’t fit into an easily marketable mold and will never have their moment on such a stage.

Any husker du, you should check out his new album and then go back and listen to his previous work, if you haven’t already.