Film Brief: City of Gold

City of Gold is a fun film for foodies, and a refreshing chronicle of the ever-fascinating, eternal city of the angels.  A nice little follow-up to last year’s Tangerine, if you will.  From a documentary filmmaking point of view, no ground is broken, but the content is amply strong enough to propel the picture. Bethany Jean Clement for The Seattle Times:

It’s a testament to his (Jonathan Gold’s) prowess that the voice-overs of his writing are riveting; you may want to stop watching and just go read everything in his Los Angeles Times author archive. …While the film’s formula gets repetitive, little revelations peppered throughout keep it engaging. Gold’s the unlikely hero with the golden palate, but his work also involves obsessive scholarship and research, and if you don’t know about his background, surprises await.

I concur about this movie making you head over to LATimes.com to read his articles.  A great little character study, and a nice break in the otherwise vapid movie season we find ourselves in.  7/10

Film Brief: Midnight Special

Midnight Special is bad Sci-Fi, and worse narrative.  Put another way: YAWN.  A cynical effort with little value.  2/10

PS RogerEbert.com has a complete HACK writing reviews for it.  Ebert must be turning over in his grave.

Comparison Notes (All much better): Starman, Firestarter, ET, Close Encounters

Midnight Special - text block

French Highlights: La Cérémonie

La Cérémonie - poster

I lived in LA for three years, from 1995 through 1997, and caught what seems now an inordinate proportion of terrific films, among them a string of great French and Italian productions.  One of them was a compact little bulldog called La Cérémonie (1995), a later offering by French New Wave director Claude Chabrol.

In 2012, Roger Ebert rendered his highest rating, hailing it as a “Great Film”:

The French have a name for the events leading up to a death by guillotine. They call it “the ceremony.” Although Claude Chabrol’s “La Ceremonie” (1995) contains no guillotines, there is a relentless feeling to it, as if the characters are engaged in a performance that can have only one outcome. It comes as a surprise to all of them, and to us. But given these people in this situation, can we really say in hindsight that we’re surprised? …

The film implacably moves toward a horrifying conclusion.

Watch this one if you can find it.  Availability is limited to DVD rental from Netflix or purchase from Amazon, or VOD from British iTunes (purchase only £4.99!), but you’ll need an account for that store — which I am thinking of doing just for La Cérémonie — it’s worth it.

Breaking Bad Debrief

breaking_bad_amc-1600x1200

NOTE: Don’t let the post title scare you off.  There will be NO SPOILERS in this post.

In the second season of Breaking Bad, a pair of junkies who can barely put one foot in front of another supposedly are able to pull off the heist of an ATM from a convenience store and ferry the cash-laden machine back to their den.  This is the most extreme example of a loss of logic that occasionally drags on the series.  Those moments — often necessary to continue the story — usually occur amidst high-tension drama and are therefore fairly easily overlooked.  And these lapses are the only negative I can mention about Breaking Bad.

Wikipedia:

Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time… [and] entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.

I certainly don’t put Breaking Bad at the top of all television series ever — the aforementioned momentary lapses of reason are enough to knock it a peg below, say, Mad Men.  But it’s way up there, certainly in the top ten.  The series Breaking Bad - Sleepingstarts off a little roughly, but coincidentally once Saul Goodman enters as a recurring character half-way through Season 2, the show falls into a highly entertaining groove and never leaves it.  It is almost always riveting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

In other words, I highly recommend Breaking Bad.  Unlike Mad Men, make sure to watch starting with Season 1 Episode 1.  The entire series is available on Netflix (Yay!).

PBS Comes Alive

AGAIN THIS YEAR AS LAST, our local PBS station emerged from an endless tedium of run-on pledge breaks almost as if it had something to prove.  It’s very frustrating to me that PBS completely discards all normal programming in order to convince you to support the type of programming that only occurs during pledge breaks.  Great thinking there, KPBS.  If they found a way of soliciting contributions commensurate with the level of programming I highlight today, I’d return to membership.

So first up, premiering locally on Tuesday, March 29, (March 4th I imagine they were too busy with the month-long pledge break) was a two-hour American Masters biography of Loretta Lynn.

American Masters - Loretta Lynn

I learned a lot about her life and music, having for so many years eschewed country music.  I still think that most modern mainstream country music is like most popular rap: not worth listening to.  But Loretta Lynn: now there’s talent.  I was completely enveloped by this biography, and just as I felt it drag slightly in the second hour it swept me right back in with her more recent work, including collaborations with the likes of great rock star Jack White.  I think that’s the mark of an enduring icon: like Johnny Cash, David Bowie, or Leonard Cohen, continuing to produce ever-more profound work right to the end (not that Loretta Lynn is by any means at the end).

That first line of “Portland, Oregon” gives me goose bumps.  What an eternal voice.

Frontline - Saudi ArabiaKPBS followed up the Loretta Lynn show with a jarringly different Frontline, “Saudi Arabia Uncovered.”  It’s quite clear that Saudi Arabia is a completely corrupt, morally bankrupt nation governed by those who so lack confidence in their faith that they disallow any sort of non state-sponsored journalism, women from driving, or non-Muslims from entering the city limits of Mecca, as just a few examples.  You’re talking about a country — typical for the region — that is maybe one step above Syria, Afghanistan or North Korea.  A country that makes China look like a thriving democratic fun-zone by comparison.

This episode of Frontline was as compelling as any of this gem of broadcast journalism.  It and American Masters are available to watch online or via your streaming device.