Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Category: Film (page 1 of 14)

5 tips from 10 years of filmlogging

In July 2008, while on a 24-hour break from the summer camp I was working at, I saw The Dark Knight with some fellow camp counselors. The next day I cracked open the new 3-subject composition notebook I’d brought to camp, flipped to the back third, and wrote a few lines on what I thought of the movie:

I hope this gets some Oscar nods. It’s smashing B.O. records for good reason. Heath Ledger owns this movie. Very smart, very dark, and very good.

Thus began a routine that is now 10 years old. Except for a gap between January and July 2010, since then I’ve been writing my initial thoughts on all first viewings of movies I see, new and old.

It took a month or two before I settled on the now standard structure of 4 lines per movie. I didn’t bother with star ratings or other metadata as I wanted to make it as easy as possible for myself to keep up with the exercise. And they all have a similar tone to that first one, like succinct bulletins to myself.

That first notebook lasted until December 2014. Then I decided to give the film log its own notebook.

Though my Logbook captures all my viewing and reading, I still keep up the paper film log. Not only for tradition and continuity’s sake, but because I find it valuable to capture my first fresh thoughts on what I watch in a tangible record. To see the pages gradually fill gives me visual evidence of all the amazing (and not so amazing) movies I’ve been able to see.

With that in mind, here are some tips for starting and keeping a logbook:

Tips for logging

1. Keep it simple.

I knew if I added too much beyond the basics to the logging process—a star rating, specifically where and when I saw it, etc.—it would become too unwieldy and easy to give up. Each entry takes me less than a minute.

2. Log sooner rather than later.

Right after you watch the movie, if possible. The point of this is to capture your immediate, visceral, and concise thoughts, not write a New Yorker story. I often fail at this and have to catch up on a few movies at once, which is why I make sure to at least add them to the Logbook so I can refer to it later.

3. Structure it just enough.

My format of four lines per movie didn’t happen right away. It developed naturally based on how much I found myself writing about each one. It also meant each 24-line page would neatly hold six movies. Love me some consistency!

4. Don’t stop at the log.

Many times what I log about a film ends up being the basis of further writing about it, whether on Letterboxd or on this blog. On the flip side, I often just log it and forget it. I often surprise myself with a film I didn’t realize I’d already seen and logged but had no memory of.

5. Whatever you log, stick with it.

It’s really cool to have a handwritten record of something I love, a kind of cultural diary that I can match up to other life events and see what connects. Yours doesn’t have to be movies: log your reading, beer drinking, museum hopping, whatever. Heck, start an Austin Kleon-style logbook and log it all! Whatever it is, keep it up and enjoy seeing the pages multiply.

Top 5 films of 2018 so far

The Death of Stalin. I’m a sucker for dark and irreverent political satires.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?This documentary about Fred Rogers didn’t make me cry, but it did make me sad about the Kids These Days who don’t know of him and his anti-television TV show.

First Reformed. I’m also a sucker for “dark night of the soul” films made by atheists that take faith and doubt seriously, which this Paul Schrader film is.

Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Quite the one-two punchsplosion from Marvel. Haven’t rewatched either yet, but I think they’ll hold up.

The story of a star

This was a star that had left behind the fiery extravagances of its youth, had raced through the violets and blues and greens of the spectrum in a few fleeting billions of years, and now had settled down to a peaceful maturity of unimaginable length. All that had gone before was not a thousandth of what was yet to come; the story of this star had barely begun.

― Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey

I wish I’d read Clarke’s book before rewatching Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation (in 70mm at the Music Box in Chicago). It would have filled in a lot of context for the famously opaque film. For understanding how the film got made I highly recommend Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece.

For the records

Dan Cohen ponders why some recent sci-fi films prominently feature libraries, archives, and museums:

Ever since Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor extracted the Death Star plans from a digital repository on the planet Scarif in Rogue One, libraries, archives, and museums have played an important role in tentpole science fiction films. From Luke Skywalker’s library of Jedi wisdom books in The Last Jedi, to Blade Runner 2049’s multiple storage media for DNA sequences, to a fateful scene in an ethnographic museum in Black Panther, the imposing and evocative halls of cultural heritage organizations have been in the foreground of the imagined future. …

… At the same time that these movies portray an imagined future, they are also exploring our current anxiety about the past and how it is stored; how we simultaneously wish to leave the past behind, and how it may also be impossible to shake it. They indicate that we live in an age that has an extremely strained relationship with history itself. These films are processing that anxiety on Hollywood’s big screen at a time when our small screens, social media, and browser histories document and preserve so much of we do and say.

Ready Player One is another recent example. And let’s give some love to the historical society in Back to the Future Part III. Read the rest here.

The Post

Ready Player One took my esteem for Spielberg down a notch, but The Post—made after Ready Player One but released before it—has elements of his best work, even if it doesn’t rise above the sum of its parts. Generally it’s standard Spielberg, with old-school liberal and institutionalist views on the press, akin to Lincoln in its reverence for American mythologies. But cinematically it’s much more robust and limber than a lot of his recent stuff, with closely observed moments like the shot of Bob Odenkirk’s reporter character typing at his desk as the Washington Post‘s printing press rumbles to life in a climactic moment. I think the lack of prep time did him good.

Also, I am 99% sure Tom Hanks did this movie because of all the typewriters. Working with Spielberg and Meryl Streep was merely a bonus.

Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments

It’s been 15 years since Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was released, prompting Filmspotting to dedicate an entire episode to the trilogy. And it’s been 10 years since I wrote my own appreciation of the films and the fond memories surrounding them. My feelings haven’t changed since then. In fact I have two more memories to add, both involving my wife.

Upon meeting we quickly discovered our mutual appreciation of the trilogy. Ipso facto, one of our first dates was a marathon viewing of all three films—extended editions of course. This happened amidst a blizzard so we went for snowy walks between films. Probably because of this foundational event, we ended up infusing LOTR into our wedding ceremony a few years later. We used “Concerning Hobbits” on repeat for the processional, then transitioned into the first part of “The Breaking of the Fellowship” (see below) for Jenny’s entrance.

Reader, I cried. Whether due to my beautiful bride or the music or the combination of both, it was a peak moment on the best day of my life.

So yeah, Lord of the Rings still means a lot to me. (Watching Lindsay Ellis dissect the tragedy of The Hobbit movies reinforced this all the more.) I have no idea what to expect from Amazon’s forthcoming TV series dedicated to Middle-earth, but it won’t affect my regard for the books or Peter Jackson’s original trilogy.

Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments

Picking just five moments out of 11.5 hours of film is a fool of a Took’s errand, but here are mine, in chronological order through the series.

“You shall not pass!” / “Fly, you fools!”

This scene has been memed to death, but that doesn’t negate the sheer power of Gandalf’s last stand in Moria. For someone who knew nothing of the trilogy when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, this was a true gut punch.

“Forgive me, I did not see.”

Sean Bean, also a meme all-star and cinematic death champion, lends pathos and grace to the first true death in the fellowship. Boromir’s character arc might be the most interesting one in the first film.

“I wish the ring had never come to me.”

From the aforementioned “Breaking of the Fellowship” scene in which Frodo sets off with Samwise. The quote is originally from a scene in Moria with a vastly different tone, but it’s repurposed here to stunning effect. (See also: “Alas, that these evil days should be mine,” a quote by King Théoden in the books that didn’t make the movie but expresses a similar sentiment.)

Courage, Merry. Courage for our friends.”

Eowyn’s later “I am no man” line gets all the (deserved) love, but this moment sets that one up. The princess, eager to fight but finally aware of the gravity of battle, summons the strength for Merry and herself, who both fight for more than themselves.

“My friends, you bow to no one.”

This one made my “beautiful movie music moments” list for a reason. It’s the most triumphant of the several Return of the King endings, with Howard Shore’s main theme on full orchestral blast.

There’s always money in the Death Star

I don’t know who made this mashup of Arrested Development and Star Wars, but it captures the show’s tone so perfectly, and not only because Ron Howard himself provided the narration:

This might even make me want to see Solo: A Star Wars Story.

[*Ron Howard Arrested Development voice*] It won’t.

The Death of Stalin

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like The Death of Stalin, Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s new film about the farcical machinations of Stalin’s inner circle after the dictator’s sudden death in 1953. Don’t be fooled by the serious title: this is social and political satire at his sharpest, loosely based on real events but also exactly right about much more than its subject.

In the film, Stalin’s surprising death sets his cronies scrambling on how to appear to honor their beloved leader while also scheme to seize his power. One contender is future Premier Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), probably the most well-known name of the group. The other is Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the Soviet secret police and power-hungry instrument of the widespread purges, executions, and violent repression of that era. Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin are other highlights of the excellent cast, and Jason Isaacs nearly steals the movie as Georgy Zhukov, the brash Red Army commander.

Shot and lit almost like a stage play, the film is a black comedy of manners, with men trying to save face and save their own lives while jockeying for position. As all this happens in Stalin’s country dacha or palatial government buildings, when we do venture outside the halls of power we see the brutal reality of life in a totalitarian regime for regular people: being tortured in a gulag, say, or being forced to reenact an entire symphony for Stalin’s pleasure.

This juxtaposition—“slapstick horror” as Manohla Dargis called it—is jarring but somehow sings. It’s like an extended episode of Veep if Selina Meyer had been a repressive dictator. The laughs don’t come at the expense of the true victims but in response to how the Committee members struggle with their darkly absurd circumstances, like what to do with Stalin’s soiled, unconscious body, or how to communicate with each other while standing guard during Stalin’s funeral and trying to appear stately while doing so.

Though Stalin himself isn’t a prominent character in the film, even in death he looms over everything and everyone, affecting every choice or non-choice these bureaucrats wrestle with, the way the paranoid authoritarian and his regime of senseless violence really did.

The real Khrushchev later reflected in his memoirs about the horrors of this time:

Stalin called everyone who didn’t agree with him an “enemy of the people.” He said that they wanted to restore the old order, and for this purpose, “the enemies of the people” had linked up with the forces of reaction internationally. As a result, several hundred thousand honest people perished. Everyone lived in fear in those days. Everyone expected that at any moment there would be a knock on the door in the middle of the night and that knock on the door would prove fatal … [P]eople not to Stalin’s liking were annihilated, honest party members, irreproachable people, loyal and hard workers for our cause who had gone through the school of revolutionary struggle under Lenin’s leadership. This was utter and complete arbitrariness. And now is all this to be forgiven and forgotten? Never!

We’ve heard about the banality of evil, but the capriciousness of evil, to me, is just as destructive, if not more so. Regimes that rule through fear and paranoia and unpredictability create a living nightmare for everyone, not just the people thrown in jail.

The Death of Stalin enters that nightmare and tries to expose it with the harsh light of humor. Iannucci does stretch his artistic license to the max, condensing the factual historical timeline and giving the main characters a variety of English accents. But by doing so he’s able to honor the absurdity of this true story and bring it into the 21st century in a seriously funny way.

Which movie changed you?

On Being—a top-5 podcast for me—has a new offshoot podcast called This Movie Changed Me, with “one fan talking about the transformative power of one movie.” So far they’ve featured Star Wars: A New HopeEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and You’ve Got Mail.

It made me think about what mine would be. The quick and easy answer would be Back to the Future, if only because of how much I’ve written about it on this site. But I think there are other candidates. Some that come to mind, all for different reasons, include It’s a Wonderful LifeHigh FidelityOnceToy Story, and Unbreakable.

I don’t know. I have to think about this. What’s yours?

Update: I want to include some of the replies I’ve gotten to this query:

  • “Oddly enough, Snowpiercer. While it’s a terribly chaotic movie, man, it haunts me every day. The ignorant frivolity of the front car compared to the ruthless survival of the back cars…way too real. I probably think about it every day. Because I’m one of the front car a**holes.”
  • “It’s A Wonderful Life. Each Christmas Eve we watch it I learn something from the movie that is applied to my life; courage through hardship, wisdom of God, love of family and friends, mystery of life. It’s amazing how this movie has been intertwined with me on a small yet profound level.”
  • “Cloud Atlas. I frankly had a spiritual experience in the theater. It articulated my worldview in a way I hadn’t really seen before (or at least to that extent). Uneven as it may be, it floored me.”
  • “While I look at it quite differently now, Chasing Amy had a huge impact on me. Her monologue about sexual freedom and independence is feminist AF and it was like finally having my thoughts and feelings validated.”
  • Do the Right Thing made me aware of how I process anger as a white person.”

Ace Ventura: Reader

“Fiction can be fun, but I find the reference section much more enlightening.” — Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

I was into the Ace Ventura movies to an embarrassing degree as a tween. They entered my consciousness and comic sensibility at the perfect time. I quoted them often. There’s even home video of me doing a pretty good imitation of his goofy cowboy strut.

But a recent rewatch exposed the painful truth that not a lot holds up about it, or, I suspect, in its sequel. The above quote and Jim Carrey’s bravura performance excepted. And really, the movie is his performance. It’s like watching a professional athlete in peak form: all you can do is marvel at the amazing things he can do with his face and body. The fact that he did Ace VenturaThe Mask, and Dumb and Dumber in the same year only adds to his legend.

For the Ace duology anyway, a supercut of the times Carrey is onscreen is all you need. This isn’t true of all of his early performances: Dumb and Dumber must be beheld in its entirety. But this would allow you to skip some atrocious acting from Courtney Cox and a plot that was concocted simply to showcase a future superstar.

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