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PostPosted: Fri Jan 01, 2016 3:11 am 
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The big one for me is James Gray's The Lost City of Z, mostly for Gray (who hasn't put a wrong foot forward, as far as I'm concerned) and Darius Khondji (who definitely hasn't put a wrong foot forward). The big worrying factor is that hunk of wood Charlie Hunnam in the lead, but here's hoping Gray is able to get something out of him, or at least the other performers (Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller) will make up for his deficiencies.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 1:23 pm 
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James Gray's The Lost City of Z


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 1:56 pm 
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The Narrator Returns wrote:


Outstanding. What a magical pairing Khondji and Gray has proven to be.


Last edited by big ticket on Fri Aug 05, 2016 10:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2016 11:14 am 
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Will close the New York Film Festival


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2016 4:32 pm 
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Amazon Studios has taken over as the film's production company, replacing Paramount


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 8:49 pm 
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And Bleecker Street will distribute it, release it in spring 2017


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 12:42 pm 
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I saw this on 35mm here in London at the weekend - I'd found my one viewing of The Immigrant rather ponderous so approached this with some trepidation but was pleasantly surprised. It never quite reaches deep enough to become a classic but it's good, solid, classical filmmaking, and Khondji shoots the hell out of it (as you'd expect).


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 07, 2017 3:09 am 
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Saw this tonight; it's very good. I knew little of the plot going in, and found the first third or so surprisingly rushed, but it turned out there was a far more epic scope than I had anticipated. The result is that it is a bit rushed at times, particularly in its condensation of emotional throughlines. But this is classical, confident, slightly old-fashioned moviemaking.

I hadn't seen Charlie Hunnam act since Undeclared, but found him convincing here, in the role of an ambitious man, looked down on by societal betters due to some shame in his family history. Robert Pattinson disappears behind some huge beards; he's really coming into his own as a talented character actor (not to diminish is very effective lead performance in Cronenberg's De Lillo movie). Sienna Miller seems to be channeling Kate Beckinsale at times.

There are unavoidable shadows here of other iconic jungle journeys, as you would expect: Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Apocalypse Now. Barry Lyndon is honored in the casting of a brief role and in one shot quote, and Paths of Glory is the clear touching point for one sequence; a moment of 2001 creeps in as well. It's largely shot with long lenses, isolating characters against the viney landscapes. It says here Darius Khondji has never won an Oscar and in fact has only been nominated for one(!), and this really is a movie that should end that -- but, if that were to come to pass, this wouldn't be coming out in April. His use of chiaroscuro is as effective and evocative as ever, and he pushes the film stock (yes, film) to the limit, employing lighting that feels both motivated in its sources while being dramatically expressive.

I didn't like it, on the whole, as much as I did The Immigrant, nor probably quite as much as Two Lovers, the only two other Grays I've seen. He was interviewed by Elvis Mitchell after the screening, and is a fabulously entertaining raconteur, dropping spot-on impressions of Sir Alec Guinness, Jimmy Stewart, and others.

One thing about it: I was sitting there as it wound down, thinking, "Well, there's no way he's going to be able to match the final shot of The Immigrant."

And then the SOB pretty much did.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:38 am 

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JamesF wrote:
I saw this on 35mm here in London at the weekend - I'd found my one viewing of The Immigrant rather ponderous so approached this with some trepidation but was pleasantly surprised. It never quite reaches deep enough to become a classic but it's good, solid, classical filmmaking, and Khondji shoots the hell out of it (as you'd expect).

Agreed. Showed in 35mm at the Metrograph tonight. Sterile DCPs will do this no favors. DK's cinematography is crucial for this film. Pattinson and Miller are given limited screen time but act the heck out of the lead actor, without being too "actorly". (Whoda thunk that "Twilight" would spawn two excellent actors.) Immigrant was a misstep. Gray is one of those directors that I appreciate existing, but don't always get around to seeing his films. Apparently his next film is set in outer space. Yay.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 5:08 pm 
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“You know, people assume that because I’m a director, I make tons of money. I am struggling financially,” Gray says. “Now, I’m very lucky I get to do what it is I want to do. I’ve made, good or bad, very uncompromising movies, the movies exactly that I wanted to make, and that’s a beautiful gift, so I’m not complaining about that. But I struggle. I have a hard time paying my bills. I’m 47 years old, I live in an apartment, I can’t buy a house."


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:33 pm 
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Is there no area where wages aren't declining? In all seriousness, it's depressing that such a serious talent like Gray has these problems.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:44 pm 
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There are few things sadder than learning the day jobs of some of your favorite artists (musicians, etc), though I guess I always assumed some level of financial security for a director as high profile as Gray. I wonder if he agrees to lower pay in return for more control, though-- I'm sure he could direct a Vin Diesel movie if he wanted


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:46 pm 
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Most directors pay the bills by shooting commercials, maybe he feels he's above that?


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:48 pm 
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A lot of indie filmmakers can probably relate to Gray's problem. I'm not a homeowner myself (mainly by choice - just not interested) so I don't know the process of buying a home too well, but I recall some individuals who do well as freelance crew members in the film business telling me how buying a home was a pain because of the wild fluctuations in their income. I can't really put all the details together correctly, but I do recall them pointing out that basically no one outside of the film business understands what their financial situation really is, and it's impossible to explain it to them, they just see that they made a good deal of money one year, then very little the next, and I imagine it messes up their ability to secure a loan.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:29 pm 
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Makes sense. When you apply for a mortgage you need to show two years of tax returns and current employment paycheck to verify employment. You also need to show where your down payment comes from, which hurts anyone working under the table.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 6:52 pm 

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Gray doesn't feel he's "above" doing commercials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfshhybJxqU.

In fact, in interviews, he has plainly stated that is how he makes money in between features. The current economic climate is just extremely difficult to operate in.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 1:31 am 

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There are very few James Grays left in the business. A few knives have already come out for "Z", regarding the real life of the lead character. Who cares? The film stands on its own.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 3:35 am 

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I'm looking forward to this very much. The Immigrant and The Yards are among the best American cinema of the past two decades, and Two Lovers is very, very good with some scenes that certainly have stayed with me. I liked We Own the Night alright, but found it a bit generic/bland. And I do think that's a flaw that Gray's cinema seems to inherently risk inviting on board -- just by nature of its simplicity, its modernist sincerity and belief in the power of old forms and old narratives presented unmediated by irony or gimmickry.

That isn't to say that Gray's films are regressive or stuck in the past, but (at least aesthetically) they really do often feel like they could've come straight from the New Hollywood cinema of '70 - '74 or so. And that's not a bad thing, as it's done genuinely and in service of genuinely great stories - simple stories which transcend cliche or run-of-the-mill-ness by virtue of the great emotive power of the acting and the great intelligence of the filmmaking. Indeed, Harris Savides and Gray helped give The Yards a specific kind of visual design, in terms of not only lighting but composition and editing and dynamics and attention paid to how each image fits the overall structure, which is pure 70s Gordon Willis-type brilliance. (It's hard to think of another contemporary director who's capable of so closely emulating Willis's style). A kind of elegant and thoughtful simplicity or minimalism, where -- as in all the best films -- form always is working in tandem with content.

(To explain why I said "editing" -- I feel like Gray is one of those filmmakers, increasingly rare now, who has the future editing process and structure of the shots and scenes, everything both macro and micro, always in mind while filming. This isn't necessarily the same thing as a more conventional Hollywood director who storyboards everything, semi-robotically, committing only to the idea they want rather than allowing room for unexpected ones. By contrast, it seems Gray is much more open to improvisation or on-the-spot changes and adaptations, or simply not pinning down what something must look or sound like until when the film is literally being given a final run-through before lock).

Anyway, I'm surprised a lot of Gray fans thought The Immigrant was a misfire (also just generally it seems to have been oddly rather divisive, as the IMDb reviews show). I think it's probably his best - more affecting and sure-handed overall than The Yards (which, as much as I love, probably doesn't have quite as much pathos as it aims for). I still haven't seen Little Odessa past the first 30-40 minutes but want to ASAP. Khondji's photography in Immigrant is especially impressive, not just for simple pictorial niceness but the way its use of wide shots (among other tactics) effectively calls to mind not just those gritty 70s films but silent cinema. And the way those wide shots also communicate so much and thus are surprisingly emotive in their stark simplicity.

From what I've heard it seems like Z may be at least a slight departure for Gray, and not just because of how much the setting/story differs from the previous films. But people also seem to be saying that it's a natural evolution and not an odd, total diversion or something. It looks quite good, even though if in some random hack's hands the same story wouldn't pique my interest at all really.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 26, 2017 4:36 pm 
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Having read David Grann's book, I wasn't sure what angle this film would take on the story, but I think the combination of character study and epic adventure Gray ends up balancing here works well enough in combination with the predictably strong visual work by Gray and Khondji to make The Lost City of Z very much worth seeing. The classical feel to both the unfolding of the narrative and the technical aspects make this seem like a film from 1975; Khondji's use of inky shadows and fire-lit interiors and exteriors made me think of Gordon Willis' and Vittorio Storaro's work from that era multiple times.

Probably my biggest reservation going in was the presence of Charlie Hunnam in the leading role, but after the first twenty minutes or so he wasn't a distraction at all and for the most part acquits himself quite well, as do Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson, who as noted above continues to surprise with his quality character work.

Like many, Gray is somewhat hit and miss for me, but this may be the most complete film I've seen of his (though I haven't caught Two Lovers yet, which seems to engender strong responses); his execution of the larger action scenes in the jungle and WWI trenches are just as strong and compelling as his typically careful handling of the smaller character moments. I'd love to see this film be successful enough to give him the opportunity to work at this scale again.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 28, 2017 6:07 am 
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I've had James Gray films recommended to me for a long time and finally over the past month I've been able to see his last three, culminating in this one. This has been one of the most disappointing cinematic experiences I've had in a while. I want to express some of my problems with these films in a way that may come across as overly hostile to Gray and his positive reception. But my point is that I would really like to know if I'm making serious mistakes re: what to expect (particularly about his style) or if I'm getting the bulk of what's there and I just don't care for it. I'm going to speak more at a level of generality about Gray than about this film in particular. If I'm posting this in the wrong thread, my apologies.

Part of what's inescapable about the conversation around these films is that they hearken back to a great era of cinema and the 1970s Hollywood Renaissance in particular. This is part of what had me so excited about his filmography, and in fact I had put off watching any of it to save it as a kind of treat for myself. Unlike a some significant number of cinephiles I didn't grow up on Hitchcock or other golden age directors but first came to love Hollywood through the films of Coppola, Scorsese, Lumet, Ashby, etc. And... maybe these are just the wrong reference points, but I don't think Gray's recent stuff comes anywhere near even the more immature works of these directors.

When I'm watching James Gray movies I feel that he doesn't know how to handle or build to or define "big moments." At my most suspicious, I feel that he has a shyness about playing big moments as big moments, or has an aversion to narrative definition itself, or avoids both of these things, confusing that avoidance for some kind of cinematic seriousness. But this wasn't the approach of the 1970s auteurs I name. Their films are bold, even when they are quiet. Those films are not great just because they are paced more patiently than the films of today and have well-developed characters. Their pacing is dynamic, defined, robust. Their characters are drawn, yes, with subtlety--but also with clarity. They deploy seemingly detached or disinterested camera styles at moments of extreme drama to create a kind of ironic, defamiliarizing effect that did not avoid narrative intensity, but crystallized it. So, to just run through a greatest hits of New Hollywood moments: when Sonny beats up Carlo, when Carlo beats up Connie, when Travis calls Besty, when Travis shoots Sport, when Harold floats in the pool, when cheery pop music plays over a bar fight, when the camera sits at the opposite end of the room while Ned Beatty bellows. These are all moments of sharply drawn drama which play on the rhetorical "disinterestedness" of the camera.

Am I the only one who thinks that Gray's films feel downright amorphously boring in comparison? That perhaps Gray watched all these moments and only saw the stylistic detachment but not the focusing clarity of that detachment as part of an overall cinematic strategy? A strategy which relies upon the larger film's texture which should also include significant moments of more direct, openly loud techniques as well? In a way I feel at a loss to describe what I find unsatisfactory about his films at the level of detail because I don't know how to point to specific examples in his films because I, for the most part, find his filmmaking totally unmemorable. Meanwhile all the moments in the New Hollywood films I mention above were seared into my memory when I first saw them and stayed with me for months until I could see each of them again, anticipating each moment. I guess that's my complaint about the comparison to Great 1970s American Cinema in general: I have a pretty specific idea of what I like about that decade of cinema, and it's not present in Gray's films (as far as I can tell).

And maybe this is too far afield and a little paranoid: but I also slightly sense (not necessarily here, but in film criticism and film social media in general) that there is almost a taboo on criticizing Gray's films too strongly simply because there is apparently nobody else doing mid-budget films of this kind of seriousness in America. I also think that the article, posted above, that Gray lives in an apartment is sometimes being implicitly gestured towards as a way to try and shield him from criticism. "We the cinephiles need to be on board with supporting Gray's films because even if they are all missing that special something, they are at least trying to be a type of thing we are supposed to like." But it's hard for me to take this pressure (which I admit I may be exaggerating) seriously when so many people feel free to dismiss Joe Swanberg's Win It All (which I watched a day after Two Lovers and found infinitely more interesting) with the m-word. It's almost if Joe Swanberg living in an apartment should be understandable because he makes contemporary films about people who live in apartments... but because James Gray wants to have big period sets he deserves to live in a house?

I realize I may just be coming to his films with too much baggage. But if I am, I haven't seen any positive reviews (even those of Brody, who can usually make me understand the appeal of something I don't get) that really explain what makes Gray's films exceptional pieces of film craft. If one of his defenders could single out a particular scene and explain why it's so great, what's so apparently delicate about it, (in a way that's an encapsulation of why Gray's such a big deal) I would greatly appreciate that.

(For the record, I agree with the comment above that The Immigrant may be his best film. It flounders in the last act for me, but redeems itself with that magnificent final shot.)


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 28, 2017 2:42 pm 
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Speaking as someone who only liked The Immigrant among Gray's films (but really liked that one exception), I can only say that the '70s comparison as you describe it would baffle me as well. But there are other elements of '70s American cinema that I think you pass over, perhaps best seen in a director like Altman, in which period films are not conspicuous setpieces for high drama with "big moments," but rather settings that allow the people occupying these spaces lost to time to produce a cumulative effect on the viewer that is often deeply melancholy, wherein the viewer feels at once immersed in a different time and compelled to experience it with a contemporary sense of loss that can easily relate to, for example, a stagnation of idealism in the wake of the '60s. In this way, it would make more sense to compare The Immigrant to films like McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Days of Heaven, or Bound for Glory than Taxi Driver.

As for the we-must-defend-the-apartment-dwelling-auteur theory, I think this trivializes the genuine love for Gray's films in their own right among people who simply want to encourage his work, given that there are so few directors like him. (I would argue that there are many more directors like Swanberg today than there are directors like Gray, and it's not just a difference in budget that distinguishes them.) Critics and fans have enthusiastically supported Kenneth Lonergan for the same reason, and while I don't personally understand the passion for his work in particular, I can certainly understand a movement that wants to facilitate a rarer kind of cinema that is not regularly supported and underwritten by bigger studios.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 28, 2017 2:48 pm 
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I'm not one of Gray's biggest defenders, so I can't argue too vigorously against what you're saying, but it seems that if you went into his work looking to compare him (or pretty much anyone else) to Scorsese, Coppola, and other giants of "Great 1970s American Cinema", you were setting yourself up to be disappointed.

When I like his work, it's less about how he sells big moments or even his much-celebrated use of matching shots and other cinematographic techniques than about being enveloped by the worlds he depicts in much the same way his characters are. It's not among his best for me, but I'd be curious what you thought of We Own the Night, which has a couple of moments that are perhaps more strongly emphasized in the way you describe than are comparable moments in his other films.

And yes, I think you're reading a little too much into the Gray-Swanberg housing situation vs. critical appraisal dynamic.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 28, 2017 2:52 pm 
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As someone who doesn't like Gray, I am a bit confused at the '70s r reference. Unlike any other big author now I see him very consistently compared to the studio era filmmakers like Borzage.


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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2017 3:04 am 
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Thanks for the responses!

I realize that I am overemphasizing a particular tendency in Hollywood Renaissance filmmaking and downplaying others. For me some of the films you mention, gcg, are ones which don't work for me entirely and that I like for reasons that are more superficial than the ones you give. It's difficult for me to tell how much of what I'm appreciating in McCabe is due to LC's songs, and how much of my appreciation for Days of Heaven is merely for its pictorial beauty and not its larger texture. I was probably too young and impatient to fully appreciate them at the time, though, and will have to revisit them.

Having read your posts I'm interested also in (...eventually) returning to Gray's films with these ideas emphasizing the relationship to the larger world in mind. It's at least bound to serve the films more than my own expectations.

I haven't seen We Own the Night, but if it changes my mind about Gray I'll be sure to write something here about it.


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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2017 3:35 am 

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I think your post deserves an in-depth response, but just for now I'd say that maybe I and others are going too far in emphasizing the 70s/New Hollywood similarities with Gray so much. Or, also, Gray just doesn't quite fit the mold of a lot of the directors and films you discuss; his films are in some sense melodramas, but they are very low-key, and Big Dramatic Moments are either under-emphasized or not even present at all (or not present in the usual form you'd expect).

Put another way, I'd compare Gray's style (in a few of his films, at least) more to, say, Klute than to The Godfather or anything by Lumet or Scorsese or Coppola. Honestly, like I was hinting at above, it's almost as if Gray's style reminds me more of Gordon Willis (if we can consider Willis as a sort of cinematographer-auteur) than any specific director or director(s) from that era. This is especially evident in The Yards, but all the Gray films I've seen basically seem to be heavily influenced by that minimalist, downplayed, detached visual sense of Willis -- the Willis of Klute more than Godfather. Then Gray goes and puts his own mark on top of these formal flourishes.

Indeed Gray's films do kind of lack the Dramatic, stage-influenced grittiness of someone like Lumet -- films like The Yards or even We Own the Night are operatic without truly reaching the opera like Coppola did. It's like Gray is trying to revive certain modernist, 1930s-1970s modes of filmmaking, and this can come across as more of a pastiche or simple homage than a genuine dramatic gesture. He's completely sincere in his interest in these forms and narratives, though - no matter how ostensibly "cliche" they may be - so that can make the films difficult to parse. His films are pretty langorous; they more drift than run, they don't have great narrative urgency, not really. I'm trying to mark the ways in which he departs from the New Hollywood aesthetic but I do find Gray's style simply difficult to put into words, besides saying that (as much as I love some of his work) I'd say he relies more on form and structure and composition and editing than on story, typical Hollywood narration. And that includes even a lot of the more atypical New Hollywood films. Thus. at his weakest, Gray's films can feel a bit empty, if the characters aren't interesting enough.Sorry, I'm probably not making much sense here - lots of rambling with little point in sight.


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