Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb - it's all be said already. A+.
Superman II - maybe the best superhero movie ever, probably the best superman movie ever. from what i can remember this one has more humanity and soul than the others. when superman gives up his powers to be with lois lane and then gets beat up we almost shed a tear. when he restores order we cheer. music is solid, but not amazing. acting is where it needs to be. a fun film with heart and soul. B+.
A Christmas Story - one of a kind. the best christmas movie of all-time, unless you're counting die hard. A+.
Pi - brutal, intense and probing. memento owes a lot ot this film. it's sad this one hasn't gotten more noteriety. excellent soundtrack. A+.
Family Guy Presents: Stewie Griffin - The Untold Story - decent straight to video movie the focuses on stewie. same length as four episodes, but gets about as many good laughs as two. of course that still makes it better than most of the run-of-the-mill comedies that have a $30 million budget. B.
Syriana - a wannabe film for wannabes. it takes a certain amount of mental eye-squinting to accept what the filmmakers put forth. there is certainly an element of reality to some of the characters and events, but mostly it came off as topical and not very well researched. this was hidden a bit by the bad storytelling, but not all that well. it will certainly get its share of accolades, but that's more because of the topic and the people involved than because of any great storytelling, character development, etc. see traffic instead. C.
Eurotrip - slightly below average teen comedy. C.
King Kong - jessica lange is still the hottest of the three damsels in distress, though naomi watts gives her a run for her money. anyway...i like peter jackson, i've only missed one of his films (the frighteners) so i think i've got a pretty good grasp on his work. while characterization isn't one of his strong suits i think he does do a good job of telling a well-balanced story. as expected, jack black is the major source of comic relief in this one. as his character turns, though, this balance is mostly lost. unfortunately, once that happens the film begins to drag a bit. the lengthy rampage scene at the end certainly doesn't help. as an aside, notice the very beginning of dead alive and its clearly being influenced by king kong - hadn't noticed it until watching king kong, but it's there. at any rate, the film is well done popcorn fare. it's a step down from the solidly built lotr trilogy, but it's still got the jackson touch - it's watchable, mostly well-balanced and occasionally dark. good stuff. B.
Scary Movie 3 - these spoof films are a weakness of mine. this one is raunchy and stars anna farris, who i consider a good actress in her own way. B+.
Point Of Origin - figured this one out within the first three minutes. liotta is pretty good and the stylistic direction keeps things on the interesting side, but overall it's hampered by the reveal. C+.
Stuck On You- funny farrelly brothers film that's pretty indicative of their style - rife with freaks and offbeat humor. they build their characters, and cinematic universe, in such a way that even the most offbeat characters seem acceptable. B.
White Noise - pretty slow, not very well realized or conceived pseudo-thriller. there's some compelling material in here, but it's never fleshed out. C-.
Shattered Glass - good drama based upon the true story. christensen turns in his best performance. B+.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - most funny the first time, but still enjoyable. the best part starts when jack black makes his appearance and lasts for about 10-15 minutes. B.
Meet The Fockers - funny sequel. B.
Timeline - thinly realized film from a guy who's done better stuff. C-.
Enemy Mine - very good film about the relative nature of love, beauty and parenthood. a parable that acts as a meditation on those things as well as race issues, morality, etc. that said, it's not overly weighty. sometimes dated, but overall well-acted and realized drama. unique. same director as das boot and neverending story. B+.
Die Hard - best of the genre. watch it once with your eyes closed. A+.
Predator - mctiernan at the top of his game. great balance, characters and storytelling. A+.
Police Academy - like it or not it's a classic. i was five when it came out so it's just a bit before my time, but i remember watching it when i was young and enjoying it. the best part is the sound effects guy. it's funny to see steve guttenberg being marketed as a sex symbol. speaking of which, kim cattrall has a fairly big role as another sex symbol. the first couple in the series were good and then it just got ridiculous. more t and a than i remembered. something about the 80s that produced a lot of t and a flicks - from porky's to weird science. hmmm. B-.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - actually a bit better than i remembered it being. vaughn and stiller are both good, as is rip torn in a supporting role. the thing that makes it work is how self-referential and free-wheeling the writing is combined with a cast that executes it fairly well. certainly not a top tier comedy, but good enough to pass the time and generate a range of laughs (from chuckles to full-bodied laughs, from gutter humor to more cerebral stuff like the "deus ex machina" being printed on the treasure chest at the end). C+.
Broadcast News - well-written and acted comic romance with social commentary. definitely on the longish side and occasionally slow, but a well-crafted film overall. last sequence was the highlight from a cinematic point of view. B.
Imaginary Heroes - didn't get to see the end, but it's a pretty good dark comedy reminiscent of moonlight mile. weaver is good. C+.
Idiot - subpar kurosawa film based upon a dostoevsky book. really couldn't get into it and didn't even finish it. C+.
Dead Dog - semi-interesting, semi-funny film about a guy who becomes obsessed with the man who killed his dog in a hit and run. C+.
Thunderbolt - the always reliable jackie chan stars in this hong kong import. he plays a mechanic who helps the police stem the citywide street racing problem. the car chases, and extended race sequence at the end, are good, but take away from chan doing what he's really great at. there are some well-choreographed scenes, but the direction isn't all that special and the storyline is predictably simple. C+.
Easy - basically the same tag line and title as "easy sex" - "sex is, love isn't." this movie made me happy that i'm not a girl, because if i were then i'd probably be required to like this movie. it's not that it was complete crap, rather it's that it's an amalgamation of most of the clichés of the chick flick genre. there are some scenes that succeed and carry some weight, mostly because of some good acting, but most of the film is too trite to be as powerful as it intends. stars marguerite moreau who is good looking and does a good job. C-.
Orgazmo - about as good as i remembered. it's a funny film, but not a funny film that makes me laugh all that much. interesting for the cameos (mostly porn stars), but also one from lloyd kaufman (founder of troma). C+.
Wal-mart: The High Cost Of Low Prices - it's worth watching in spite of its many flaws. the production values are sometimes fairly amateurish, but this is forgivable because it adds to the grassroots feel of the documentary. what isn't forgivable, though, is the manipulation of facts and emotions that greenwald employs. the facts are generally solid, but, like most people, he will mold the facts to buttress his claims. this is expected, but i tend to hold leftist causes to a higher standard of intellectual honesty than the likes of fox news, rush limbaugh, etc. that said, the biggest disappointment of the documentary is the way it employs anti-chinese sentiments, religion and fear to make its case. each of these three has a sizable segment of the documentary which capitalizes on the viewers' potential fears/morals in these categories. none of these segments is fully without merit, but each segment made me cringe a bit at some point.
the segment on china was good because it addressed the real problem of chinese workers being mistreated because of the demand wal-mart places on chinese suppliers. however, it also stunk a bit of anti-chinese rhetoric. one might point out that this was predominately espoused by everyday americans in interview footage, but greenwald, through editing, is the one responsible for bringing the ideas to the film. that is, this is not simply a fly-on-the-wall documentary - it's a filmed essay much in the way michael moore made his last two films.
to me, the religion segment, though well-intentioned, smacked of contrivance. it just seemed like greenwald was trying so hard throughout the film to appeal to a new audience. early in the film when greenwald establishes his thesis, he uses interviews with small town folk who are affected by the arrival of wal-mart. during these sequences greenwald makes it a point to highlight the bush 2004 stickers on the wall and the american flag flying in front of the store and the picture of ronald reagan in the office...with the religious segment of the film, greenwald's pandering to a new audience reaches the absurd. people in inglewood talk about fighting wal-mart because it's the christian thing to do and greenwald intercuts footage of a priest talking about the lust for money being the root of all evil, etc.
another segment of the film focused on the many crimes that have taken place in wal-mart parking lots. greenwald asserts that wal-mart hasn't done enough to protect their customers once they leave the store, in spite of over-whelming evidence that a single security guard in a golf cart can reduce crime to near zero.
with all of the the above segments i felt that greenwald was stretching, either to appeal to a new audience or to appeal to a more base side of humanity. while this may be effective, i think the method (means) is more important than the outcome (ends). i also felt that some of these arguments are tantamount to telling teenagers to stay away from drugs so that they don't support al-qaeda. while it may hold some truth, and it may get the job done (keep them off drugs) it's sorta dishonest in some cases, and distracts from the real issues in others. that said, there is a good amount of time spent on the real issues: worker's rights, gender/racial equality, disposition of small businesses, government subsidies, etc. wal-mart is fucking evil and this documentary is inclusive and deep enough to expose this well-known fact. i certainly had a couple problems with the picture, but overall it's pretty good and definitely worth checking out because it's educational. B.
Buddy Boy - it's like bad boy bubby meets david lynch which means it's about half good. i honestly didn't understand what it was trying to do or what the details of the plot were. generally pictures that are murky like this one don't appeal to me very much. there were certainly some positive aspects of the film - the acting, the production design, the look - but, overall, i felt unfulfilled by the film's ending. C+.
Chase - not an entirely awful action/comedy starring charlie sheen and kristy swanson. there are moments of good humor that keep it good enough to watch. the anti-media commentary is a good idea, but, like the rest of the film, isn't very well executed. the plot is far-fetched, as is the love story. D+.
Knots - john stamos and the sometimes witty writing were the best parts of this comic drama about relationships. i never thought john stamos would be the best part of a movie, but i guess that's not that hard when the movie isn't all that good. the plot revolves around two couples going through some tough times mostly because of a femme fatale type of character who entices one member of each couple to cheat. i found her to be reprehensible and not entertaining, and i found the cheaters to be even more reprehensible. while it was slightly funny to watch all the characters squirm and fight, it wasn't funny enough because the film tried to be dramatic as well. the ending, in which one of the characters reveals she is pregnant, was a complete throw away. tara reid, who plays the good girl girlfriend of stamos is completely worthless. she was great in big lebowski because she played a dumb slut, which isn't far off from her everyday self. it's a smarter and more realistically drawn film than one might expect, but it wasn't at all special. C-.
Easy Sex - julian sands does a decent job, but there's not much to this film. i suppose there's a certain degree of potential to the story, but it wasn't particularly well-executed and the script was a bit flat. C-.
Plan B - seeing diane keaton stoop to this level was a bit depressing. i'm not really sure why they make movies like this. not completely horrible, but the acting was forgettable and the screenplay was amateurish. D.
Jarhead - next to film noir i think that war and prison films are the most consistently compelling for me; and jarhead is no exception. sam mendes (american beauty) directs and roger deakins (fargo, shawshank redemption lends his (considerable) talent behind the camera. in fact, this film is almost more deakins's than it is mendes's. deakins is about as perfect a choice as you can get for this sort of film - his cinematography suffocates the viewer as the desert and oil fires suffocate the subjects within the film. his other credits are full of similarly themed films: 1984, fargo, shawshank redemption, dead man walking, siege, hurricane, village, and the house of sand and fog top the list. all of these films have themes of isolation and confinement.
jarhead isn't just a film about isolation, it's a film about growth and complexity; namely the growth and complexity of the protagonist, played by jake gyllenhaal. jarhead refers, essentially, to the idea that each new marine is an empty vessel waiting to be filled by (presumably) the indoctrination of the marine core. one aspect of the film that fell a bit short is related to this filling... in full metal jacket, the ultimate film about the marine core, there is a clear dialectic between the recruits and the sergeant. in this film, this binary opposition is less prevalent. foxx, who plays the staff sergeant, is more "one of the guys" than a hard nosed leader. the conflict, therefore, is more an internal one. sometimes this manifests itself with intersquad squabbling and other times it's a man vs. himself situation. and even when the former is the case, it usually informs the latter. for example, when one of the other marines discovers one of his video tapes contains pornographic footage of his wife cheating on him, there is a minor squabble between sarsgaard and gyllenhaal (who wants to view the tape again). the real issue here isn't their disagreement on whether to view the tape again or not, rather it is gyllenhaal's own growing obsession with the possibility that his girlfriend is cheating on him. the first gulf war is the perfect setting for meting out this theme. because the only real significant american casualties came from "friendly fire" and the gulf war syndrome afterwards, it is a war that perfectly embodies the "man vs. himself" theme.
gyllenhaal does a very good job and will probably earn a golden globe or oscar nomination for his performance. sarsgaard is also dialed in very well. black (sling blade, friday night lights) is another up and comer. foxx does a good job, but i wasn't really sure how to read his character. was that his acting, my interpretation or the writing? perhaps the best thing about the characterization was its complexity. gyllenhaal isn't particularly easy to like. he's capable and occasionally sensitive, but he can also be stupid, callous, abrasive, and irresponsible. in the end, we like him because he perseveres through it all. sarsgaard and gyllenhaal clap and applaud the beach storming sequence in apocalypse now, which is chilling, sad and pathetic. but they also have empathy when they see actual death later in the film. conversely, evan jones' character (fowler) carries that same bravado throughout real and fictional war situations. as evan jones is one end of the spectrum and gyllenhaal and sarsgaard are the middle, brian geraghty (fergus) makes up the other end of the spectrum - he is the most sensitive of the group.
there were some stunning scenes in the film - the sequence with "something" by nirvana was a standout; the oil fires in the desert were great; gyllenhaal breaking, and then apologizing, was great; and the post-airstrike scenes were also memorable. all in all, it's a very good film that's a strange combination of the lyricism of "a walk in the sun" and the brutality of "full metal jacket," though it's not as good as either. i felt that sarsgaard's death at the end was more obligatory than it was symbolic or poetic. not as good as north country, better than the island, but not as enjoyable. the tight, efficient storytelling made it feel more epic than the run time would indicate. B+.
Good Night, And Good Luck - it's a respectable film, but it's very slow and doesn't do much in the character development department. it's style is very much in the cinema verite school - only diegetic music, shaky handhelds, out of focus shots, etc. it focuses almost entirely on the business end of murrow and his boys, and that detracts from the film. there is a throw-in attempt at incorporating some more personal elements, but it just seems superfluous and it surrounds two relatively minor characters. the lead was good, but not amazing. the dry, deadpan sense of humor didn't do much for me. i think this will get some nominations, but no wins. i really don't think it deserves that much praise. i think it has a certain appeal because it recalls a better time and because the subject matter (a culture of fear among dissenters) is relevant today. C.
Hijacking Catastrophe - pretty much the same post-9/11 stuff you've seen in a dozen other documentaries. it doesn't add much to the debate and doesn't present it in any new or interesting way. that said, it's not really that much worse than many of the other documentaries on the subject. C+.
Hotel - i have a theory that there are record store customers who want to feel important because of the money they spend, and there are record store customers who want to feel important because pretentious record store clerks (like those in high fidelity) actually accept them, which makes them cool by proxy. i think that the same dynamic applies to films as well, and this is one of those films. i don't want to spend much time on this film because that would give it more benefit than i think it deserves, but suffice it to say that this is the equivalent of concept albums that explore the sound of winter by recording the sounds of falling snow or some such crap. figgis did a good job with leaving las vegas, but this one, though ambitious in a way, is a complete dud. F+.
Bomb The System - surprisingly good picture about a tagger in nyc who is grappling with his past, present and future. past because of the death of his older brother/father figure who was also a tagger. present because he's at a crossroads in his life - being an artist, possibly going to college, a new girlfriend, and peer pressure to wage war on the system. webber (storytelling, boiler room, etc.) does a good job when he needs to and is good enough throughout. jaclyn desantis has a great turn in a supporting role as an admirer of webber's work and a political activist in her own way. she's good looking, well-spoken and strong in her limited screen time. it's actually with her appearance that the film turns from mediocre to quite good.
the soundtrack is another highlight. done mostly by el-p (though there's one radiohead tune that almost steals the show), it fits perfectly with the themes and scenery. it's not as overtly political as the title implies, and i think that turns out to be a good thing. by keeping the politics and reasons behind bombing (tagging, writing graffiti, whatever) less than clear, the film is able to skirt that iffy subject a bit. if it were overtly political or if it laid out a single, clear-cut reason for bombing, then i think it would have detracted from the film because those aspects would likely be half-baked, incomplete, or (even worse) juvenile.
the film isn't just a film about graffiti or graffiti culture, it's sort of a coming of age film and a film about love and artistic expression and plenty of other things. above all, it's engaging and worthwhile. B.
Melinda And Melinda - woody allen poses a fundamental, and very interesting, question with this picture: is life drama or comedy? is it just a matter of interpretation? he sets the scene with a group of people talking over dinner (my dinner with andre's wallace shawn makes an apt appearance in these scenes) about this very question. one of the people at the table lays down some basic plot points (which allen skips over) in a story and asks his friends to judge whether it's a comedy or a drama. shawn and his counterpart each tell the story in their vision - one comic and one dramatic - while keeping the basic plot the same. the rest of the film is allen's postmodern exercise.
the real problem with the picture is in the execution. the idea is great, but allen just doesn't do a great job with either storyline. the dramatic version isn't all that poignant and the comic version isn't all that comic. it's interesting to see how he changes minor things in each instance and it's interesting to see him flexing his storytelling muscles, but it just doesn't work that well. it would have been better realized if two directors had done the two versions and then allen cut them together. i think that this was the picture which prompted chloe sevigny to say that working with allen was underwhelming. while i'm not a huge woody allen fan, i can say that reading sevigny say that made me a bit defensive on his behalf - who the hell is she to slight one of the most singular filmmakers of the last 50 years? that said, beyond the concept, this picture didn't really do it for me. C+.
Mail Order Wife - film shot in a documentary style about a filmmaker following a man who seeks the company of a mail order bride. as the film unfolds it turns out that the man has less than pleasant intentions for his new bride and the filmmaker ends up falling in love with her. the film starts off looking and seeming a lot like a documentary and the comedy suffers because of this fact. as things get more absurd and the documentary facade becomes less and less deceiving the film becomes more and more humorous. it's a good little picture with some very solid acting and writing. i loved the exploration of the hypocrisy of humanity and the fundamental drive for companionship, and what that does to people. B-.
Weather Man - nicholas cage plays a "blue ribbon fuck up" weather man with two kids, an ex-wife and a pulitzer prize winning father. he's one more in a long line of cinematic/literary characters (from citizen kane and the gatsbys to benjamin braddock and tyler durden) who is economically full, but otherwise empty.
by the film's end you realize that it's just as much as a film about cage as it is a film about america. throughout his voice-over narration he discusses the fast food that people throw at him on the street. he wonders why people do this - why fast food? why him? fast food is disposable and replaceable. and he represents an aspect of american culture which they despise - he doesn't have real talent, yet he's very well paid.
the stark imagery, cage's performance and the writing are highlights. this is a rare instance where i'm tempted to watch the film in the theater a second time. B.
Saw II - does essentially the same thing that the first one did, but not as well. both films exhibited a fairly impressive use of red herrings. more to the point - both films distract you by intentionally placing plot holes which make you think that you are more intelligent than the film. fittingly, this is exactly what the protagonist in this film is going through.
donnie wahlberg (a poor man's mark wahlberg) is the protagonist - a cop who catches the jigsaw killer, but not before he sets into motion one more diabolical scheme of which wahlberg is a victim. his partner, who has studied the work of the jigsaw murderer, acts as the voice of reason while wahlberg plays the out of control cop with old school methods. all this is worsened by the fact that his son is another victim of the jigsaw murderer's latest scheme.
like the first one, it was occasionally over-directed. i'm not a huge fan of the rapid cuts accompanied by sound effects and crunching guitars. more than anything it comes off as a contrivance. that said, there is a gritty feel to the direction which works well with the material. perhaps the best part of the film, outside of the story, are the great set pieces. the various contraptions and puzzles that they come up with in the film are not only diabolically clever and evil, but also intellectually interesting. this is one reason why these films work so well - they appeal to both sides of the brain at the same time. you're scared and freaked out, but you're also thinking about how you would get out of the situation. this carries over to the very premise of the entire film - a terminally ill man setting up situations which force you to choose life or death. like tyler durden, the jigsaw killer makes you face death in order to make you appreciate life. while his ability to envision and carry out these schemes is scary, you also sorta appreciate what he is trying to do. like ghost dog the jigsaw killer feels that facing one's own mortality is an integral part of living life to the fullest; and i agree.
there are certainly some weaknesses to the film. i'm sure that upon careful inspection i would find some plot holes. i didn't especially care for some of the direction, dialogue and acting. but most of this is forgivable because the set pieces are creative, the story is good and the underlying philosophy is intriguing. B-.
North Country - powerful oscar contender that delivers. generally i'm turned off by pictures like this because they come off as entirely constructed to please the academy. it's a story of the underdog with several oscar winners/nominees and an up and coming director. judging by the producers, though, this seems more like a case of a group of people believing in the story.
essentially the film is a cross between norma rae and erin brokovich, and i think it's as good as both. as is usual, it all starts with the screenplay which is excellent from top to bottom. the dialogue, the settings, the storytelling, the characterization - all are just where they need to be. the settings echo and amplify the feelings of the characters. the characters are realistically drawn in that they have both positive and negative attributes. the storytelling is efficient and well-paced. caro's direction enhances the mood well. shots of the mine are either claustrophobic and dungy (when indoors) or agoraphobic and snow white (when outdoors). caro uses the exteriors in a similar way to the coens in fargo - to show the isolation and hopelessness of the characters. the court room sequences are shot with saturated sepia tones reminiscent more of documentary footage than a hollywood film. though the acting was quite good i think that the cinch here is in the screenplay which should get nominated for best adapted screenplay.
theron is very good, but mcdormand almost steals the show with one chilling stare that comes while she's in the courtroom. spacek, bean, harrelson and the rest are also solid. richard jenkins, who plays a lot of humorous roles, does a great job with a difficult role as theron's father. like many of the men at the mine jenkins is an enabler because he doesn't speak out against the abuse and harassment that takes place. spacek (jenkin's wife) is an enabler of another kind - by being the supportive wife she allows jenkins' views on women in (and out of) the mill to go unquestioned. it's only when she takes action that he steps up to support his daughter's fight. all these dynamics reinforce the theme that we're all in this together; a theme that was so powerfully represented in norma rae.
the film is definitely better than caro's other major picture - whale rider. while i like the island more in certain ways i think it's safe to say that this is the best film released this year that i've seen. B+.
Monster - a comedy from roberto benigni that is nothing short of brilliant. the laughs aren't as hearty as they were when i watched meet the parents or the 40 year old virgin the first time, and i can't tell yet if the laughs will have as much life as they have in my favorite comedy of all-time (planes, trains and automobiles); but the laughs in monster are good and plentiful. the humor is decidedly european, but really should translate to american audiences without trouble. on a related note - the film is in italian, but the audio is recorded in post-production so it looks dubbed (a look i've always disliked, but i understand the economics of the decision). that said, don't be tempted to watch the film with the english audio track - it looks even worse and the translation is shoddy. stick with the italian with subtitles.
the premise finds benigni as a hapless, unemployed man who is (wrongly) suspected of being the infamous "monster" - a rapist/murderer who is on the loose throughout italy. the comedy is mostly cabsurdist stuff, but a lot of it is relatively heady in its execution. there's a lot of setup that goes into the execution of some of the gags, and, in some cases there are gags which pay bigger dividends later in the film. in this regard, the construction of the film reminded me of meet the parents because both films were clearly written and re-written several times. it's only with several re-writes that a film acquires this level of depth and efficiency. much of the film's humor derives from cases of mistaken identity, changes of perspective, and benigni's unique path through life.
nicoletta braschi, who is married to benigni and starred across him in life is beautiful, is great in this film as well. she's sexy (which is required because of the film's far-fetched premise), funny, and complements benigni amazingly well. she plays an undercover cop who is charged with the task of luring benigni into showing his "true" self, thus providing the proof the police need to incarcerate him. as the film progresses we see braschi and benigni form a playful and fun relationship which adds a depth to the picture without bogging it down with trite sentimentality. add to this the fact that it pokes plenty of fun at shrinks and cops and you have a brilliantly drawn and realized comedy that should leave you wanting more. B+.
Lifeboat - one of the better hitchcock films, in my opinion. i really like this and the other two that make up what i call the claustrophobia trilogy - rope and dial m for murder. i just love the closed in feel and limited element of those pictures. in spite of this limitation hitchcock works with the camera quite well. the story is taut, the characters are well drawn and it's reminiscent of 12 angry men. other than the slightly soft ending, this is a wonderful little film which generally gets lost among the birds, vertigo, north by northwest, etc. A-.
Budo: The Art Of Killing - documentary that gives an overview of the different japanese fighting arts - judo, karate, akido, etc. it's a pretty well done and well shot picture that gives due respect to the various forms. definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of the martial arts, martial arts films, or samurai films. B.
Shadow Of A Doubt - of all of his films, this is hitchcock's favorite. hearing that was quite a surprise to me because i found the film to be fairly run-of-the-mill. i understand that it's one of his first american films and that the subject matter (a family member being a murderer) is horrifying, but i didn't feel that it had some of the artistic touches or filmic challenges that lifeboat or vertigo or some of his other greats had. i also didn't think that teresa wright was all that spectacular. i thought that cotten had the role pretty well nailed down and without his performance the film would not have been nearly as good. i liked the secondary characters - especially the little girl and the neighbor and the father who constantly talk about the perfect murder. i also liked the score and some of the more subtle visual touches. other than that it was a pretty average hitchcock film for me. B.
Red Cockroaches - very amateurish production with a story about a man who unwittingly falls in love with his sister, then, wittingly, has relations with her. all this is set amongst the backdrop of an undeveloped story about the world being taken over by acid rains and red cockroaches.
the most striking thing about the picture, unfortunately, is the poor production. from what i can tell it was made on an extremely small budget, and it shows. the odd thing is that it really wasn't necessary to make the film a pseudo-sci-fi. the story, which mostly revolves around the relationship between the protagonist and his sister, didn't need to take place in amongst the sci-fi backdrop. apparently the film is part of a trilogy, so perhaps there's something that happens in the other two pictures which illuminates the background elements of the film.
i should say, though, that the non-sci-fi portions of the picture were somewhat intriguing. the relationship between the two main characters, her performance, etc. had some potential that was prematurely truncated. coyula's direction featured some good composition and interesting storytelling devices, but was bogged down by the sfx. despite the bad production values i might actually watch the other two films if i find them. C.
Dallas 362 - scott caan is no james caan, that's both a critique and a compliment. a critique in that james caan is a pretty great actor and his son pales when compared to him. it's a compliment in that he's separated himself from his father. he's a different sort of actor and he's carved out his own place in hollywood. they both play tough guy roles, but scott adds a humor that james didn't really have in the majority of his roles. i haven't seen the only picture that james directed, but i can say that scott's directorial debut was better than i had anticipated. i think the important thing here is that he didn't ruin the story or the performances with his direction. it wasn't a particularly amazing film in any way - the story was good enough, there were some colorful characters, there were some strong performances and some that were less than strong, but nothing was hampered by his direction; and for a first time director i think that's an important thing.
the story follows two twenty-something guys who constantly find themselves in bar fights and generally getting into trouble. caan is the bad boy and hatosy plays the protagonist trying to figure out what to do with his life. in a way it's like a much more toned down, humorous version of menace II society with caan playing o-dog and goldblum playing charles s. dutton's character.
i liked the soundtrack which is mostly rootsy rock stuff like the soledad brothers. i think the worst part of the film is that it's not very original. the final scott caan sequence is derivative and the entire plot is old hat. that said, the goldblum character dynamic was interesting and the skitish character played by val lauren was a nice touch. C+.
Cronicas - john leguizamo plays an american reporter in ecuador who is after a serial killer. it has elements of natural born killers and tesis (thesis) because of the role of the media in murder cases. there were some solid performances amidst a compelling story. B.
My Cousin Vinny - it's a fish out of water film mixed with a comedy of misunderstandings. it's a very funny film at times and, at almost two hours, it goes by fairly quickly. like many comedies, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief. how likely is it that someone has the ignition timing of a 64 chevy memorized, how likely is it that a judge allowed pesci to argue a case without documentation of his credentials, etc? but that's the standard for comedies so if you haven't learned to look past that stuff by now then maybe you should stick to bergman and fassbinder.
pesci and tomei were both good, though i'm not so sure about the oscar for tomei for her performance here. i like her - i liked her in slums of beverly hills and i liked her here, but i just don't know that it's an oscar worthy performance. that said, i do think that comic performances are often overlooked by the academy so i applaud them for giving some props to a comic performance.
the direction did more in its shot setup than the typical comedy does. there were some angled/tilted shots that mixed up the look of the film and added a welcome flair to the picture. a fine comedy. B+.
Two For The Money - a pretty real look at the effects of gambling. i thought it did a good job of capturing both the highs and lows of sports betting, and it managed to do this without becoming didactic. the direction (caruso, who did salton sea) was decent enough - it had some weak moments and some strong moments, pretty average overall. pacino was the best thing about the picture. he brought his usual intensity, but it also had that vulnerabilty that he exhibits in stuff like serpico, dog day afternoon and scent of a woman. he also generates a few laughs here, which is out of the ordinary. the ending was fitting and powerful if you allow it to affect you. i don't know how well it pulled it off because i, quite frankly, had mixed feelings about it. on paper, though, it's a solid ending with a fair amount of emotion. B-.
Best Thief In The World - from the writer/director of office space clone Haiku Tunnel comes an urban drama following a young white boy who is trying to find his limits. it's not at all a comedy, which is what i was expecting because of his work on haiku tunnel. i'm not sure about the title - the kid goes around his apartment building sneaking into apartments through the fire escape. he gets caught once and generally doesn't take much so i think the title is more a catch title than a description. so far as i can tell it doesn't add depth to the experience as it does in a film like "saw." in that film the title refers to a hacksaw which plays heavily into the film and it turns out to be an indicator that the perpetrator of all the events sees everything unfold - as in "he saw it all."
it's more a coming of age film than anything else. his father has a stroke and his mother is forced to take care of the entire family by herself. meanwhile the boy is a minority in his neighborhood and is trying to find his place. he's good at mischievous things and so that's what he does. parker, who plays his mom, turns in a good performance with an unconventional character.
kornbluth uses video of two unrelated kids on the street rapping and posturing to the camera as chapter stops. it reminded me of the old man dancing with the mannequin shot that schaeffer uses in "mind the gap."
a good little film overall. prince paul does the music. B-.
Domino - i don't know that i've ever used the word "mess" to describe a film, but that's exactly what this film is - a mess. tony scott certainly isn't short of ambition on this one - he tries to make a heist/action film with equal amounts of comedy, love, and mysticism mixed in. unfortunately it turns out to just be one giant, sprawling mess without much bite.
in man on fire scott tried to carve out a new style for himself. it was gritty and ambitious and it (mostly) worked because the other elements of the film (namely the writing and acting) were in place. here, though, he tries to repeat the style, but with writing that is (at times) piss poor and acting which is often out of place. my grandfather always said that the screenplay was the cornerstone of a good film and it's easy to agree with that. without a well-drawn set of characters, an engaging plot, and a modicum of cohesiveness you have a film like this - a complete mess. there's a lot of writing here that is downright silly - some bad dialogue and some bad plot choices. in man on fire, scott benefited from a screenplay that understood the importance of establishing character. this film, on the other hand, jumps right into the action at the expense of character development. often it seemed as though scott was trying to tell the story with pure pastiche. he edits the crap out of this film and it often detracts from the most fundamental element of filmmaking - the storytelling. sure, it adds a vibrancy to the film and it makes for a unique style, but it comes at the cost of the story. sometimes less is more.
this idea is carried over into the acting as well. while it's not as expressionistic as the directorial style, it is certainly not where it needs to be. i think that, to a varying degree, this is a weakness in all of scott's films. it can certainly be said that much of the acting in films like top gun, crimson tide, true romance, and man on fire is a bit on the heavy side. domino is no exception to this trend. knightley is certainly the worst offender here. i think that part of it is definitely in the props scott gives her - in about 80% of the shots she's in for any length of time there's either chewing gum or a cigarette in her mouth. it's just such an easy prop to establish toughness that it had the opposite effect for me. he gives rourke a cigarette in several scenes as well, but rourke brings with him a bit more cred than knightley and his face is more befitting of a tough guy bounty hunter than knightley's. scott also gives knightley a pair of numchucks which she brandishes throughout the film. the reason that thurman was so brilliant and convincing in kill bill is that tarantino made it perfectly clear that she'd have to work in a gym for a full year to get into kung fu shape. she put in that work and was completely believable when she was handling weapons and throwing punches. knightley, on the other hand, is not believable in her role here.
scott's use of music is very integrated into the editing and flow of the picture. in a way it's the best part of the film because it matches the flow of the picture well. he uses two pieces that scorsese used in the casino - one an oldie and one an opera piece. for the most part, though, he uses hip-hop and electronic stuff that ranges from bad to pretty decent.
the ending is a poor rehash of the finale in true romance. in true romance he sets the scene much more thoroughly and shoots it in a more traditional (read: more logical and visible) fashion. filming action sequences with shaky handhelds and quick cutting has become an epidemic over the last 10 years or so. i don't really understand the appeal of such a style. the bourne supremacy is the first film that comes to mind when i think of a film which lost some of its impact because of the way the action sequences were cut and filmed. i think it's generally less of a stylistic decision and more a matter of not knowing how to film a good action sequence, so what you get is a director trying to cover it up with fast cutting and shaky handhelds. as an aside, one of the early shoot-outs takes place between the bounty hunters and the 18th street gang which is an actual gang in los angeles. when i was going to high school they were famous for feuding with sotel 13.
all in all i don't think it's been a good year for the scott brothers. ridley did kingdom of heaven and tony did this. there's a good film somewhere in this story, but it's buried underneath the bad writing and poor direction. kingdom of heaven was 145 minutes long and felt like it was 180+, domino was 120 minutes long and also felt like it was about 180. i'm not sure which scott brother made the worse film this year, so i'll just call it a tie. D.
Life - docu-drama about the world's oldest profession. about 80% of the film uses documentary footage taken from interviews with prostitutes from around the world. this is incorporated into a thin storyline featuring denise richards and daryl hannah. in this way it reminded me of the truly awful "what the bleep do we know?"
richards is an anthropology student (yeah right) and hannah is her neighbor who dabbles in prostitution to pay the bills. richards is conducting interviews with prostitutes as part of her school project and that's where the footage comes into play. it's an odd choice because the fictional part of the film is so weak in comparison to the actual footage. it's almost as if lidon (aka "luna" - the director) didn't have enough material to make a proper documentary; or perhaps she just wanted to try a new form. either way it doesn't work very well. richards has some good enough acting in the film, as does hannah, but the story is pretty weak. that said, it is strengthened a bit by the documentary footage which is parallels. essentially, the interviews are powerful but the richards/hannah storyline detracts and distracts from those interviews. fortunately that documentary footage is good enough to make the film worthwhile. it's filmed somewhat interestingly during the richards voice-over portions.
i think that footage from lidon's other film is incorporated into the film when hannah is watching tv, but i can't be sure since i've never seen that film. C+.
They Drive By Night - essentially a prelude to dassin's amazing film "thieves' highway." unfortunately it's less of a film in almost every regard. bogart is good, but he plays a rare supporting role. it's made more rare because of the fact that his character is not in a dominate role. even in early films where bogart wasn't a lead (dead end, petrified forest, etc.) he played a dominate character. in both those films he played an outlaw on the run, and while he didn't get as much screen time as joel mccrea, bette davis or leslie howard, he was still the leader of his crew. here he plays second fiddle to george raft.
the ending was definitely on the weak side. while it's a noir in the strictest sense, it doesn't have the same impact as thieves' highway, or the killing, or many other noirs because the protagonist gets such a raw deal in those.
sarris writes about the walshian hero not being concerned with the how or why of things, rather being more concerned with seeking adventure. i think that's more true in films like high sierra and white heat than it is here.
a pretty average noir so far as i'm concerned. C+.
Waiting... - it's like a mix of office space, clerks and animal house, but not as good as any of those. the opening minute or so has two great things going for it: the opening song is by lyrics born (who attended UC Davis with blackalicious and DJ Shadow) and luis guzman, while at a party, yells "well if this is going to be that kind of party i'm going to stick my dick in the mashed potatoes." the beastie boys sample this line on ill communication, but i'm not sure where they got it from. at any rate, it was a good way to start the film. it's got a pretty stacked cast from andy milonakis to ryan reynolds. it's full of juvenile humor, much of which surrounds male anatomy. some of the juvenile stuff works and some of it doesn't. the real laughs, for me at least, came from the representation of the service industry. i could empathize with working in the customer service industry and ways employees in the industry deal with the job. it's sort of an american rite of passage these days. everyone under 40 on this side of wall street has likely held a customer service job at some point and can understand the unique culture the industry creates. it's not a stellar film, but it's got a solid cast and its representation of the customer service industry is pretty spot on. a fun, cathartic comedy. C+.
Childstar - pretty good little canadian film about the film industry. it's about a 12 year old prima donna who is the star of a new film. he's a pain in everyone's ass, but a limo driver (played by the director) who is sleeping with the kid's mom (jennifer jason leigh) helps set him straight. the kid runs away in an elaborate plot (planned by leigh) to renegotiate his contract. twisted plot aside, the fun of the film is in the sarcastic look at the film industry. the kid's performance is quite good - he's equal parts sardonic, caustic and vulnerable. it's a fun little sleeper of a film. well-written, directed well enough and has a couple solid performances. C+.
Sophie's Choice - pretty standard drama in a lot of ways. meryl streep's performance was, without a doubt, the best aspect of the film. the dynamic between the three primary characters was interesting because you have the jew (kline) who is the most abusive of the three yet he refers to macnicol as a southern lyncher. then you have streep who is an actual victim of the holocaust yet she is not jewish (she's polish), but her father was actually an anti-Semite. then you have macnicol who, stereotype would dictate, is most likely to be a bigoted abuser because he's from the south, yet he's the most polite and level-headed of the three.
the first half of the film is just about the three of them living in nyc and developing their friendship. the second half of the film reveals kline as a certifiable nutcase and streep as a holocaust victim. from a storytelling point of view the second half takes quite the detour and it threw me off a bit. it's a big shift to go from a balanced film about three people in nyc to a film solely about streep in nazi germany. oddly, i felt it strengthened her performance, but weakened the film.
ultimately i think that that this is the kind of film that is hard for me to like. kramer vs. kramer, ordinary people, sophie's choice...there are certainly more, but these films stick out as late 70s, early 80s dramas that showcase their casts and are respectable, but not necessarily likable; at least for me. they're just a bit too weepy. C+.
High Tension - spoilers...french horror flick that isn't scary, but does have some thoughtful elements to it. it explores ideas of gender - the lead is an androgynous woman on the run from a murderous man, but it turns out, in the surprise ending, that she was in fact the murderer the whole time.
a man breaks into a house and kidnaps the protagonist's female friend after killing the friend's entire family in brutal fashion. the protagonist sneaks into the back of the truck in an attempt to save her friend. in reality, though, she is in front driving the truck. in this sense it resembles films like hide and seek or secret window - films where the protagonist is the victim of their own darker side. this film masks it a bit more because the murderer is represented by an actual person, rather than something we can't see. in secret window and hide and seek the perpetrator is unseen, in this film, though, we see the murderer in a male form. the implication is that the male side of the character is murderous and he female side is caring and loving. the finale sees the protagonist's male side chasing her female side through the forest. eventually the female side kills the male side and the female side frees her friend. the friend then kills her because she is responsible for the kidnapping and murder of her family. the give away comes early in the film when it actually shows the end sequence in a dream. the protagonist wakes up and tells her friend that she had another dream where she was chasing herself. surprisingly, this doesn't ruin the ending of the film. and, even if it does, it doesn't ruin the film because, even though it's not that scary, it's still interesting on a symbolic level. unfortunately the title of the film isn't that accurate - it's not that tense of a film and the chase wears on a little by the end. some of the scenes are pretty brutal, which is good, but the tension isn't sustained throughout. C+.
Mind The Gap - the title refers to a warning you would hear in the london underground - mind the gap between the subway and the platform. as it applies to the film the title is about the space between living life and watching it go by. minding the gap can mean being overly cautious or it can mean keep it in mind when you're boarding the subway car of life; as corny as that sounds.
the story follows five separate storylines. each storyline has a primary character at a different stage in their life - one just about to really start, one in the twilight, one in the middle, one who wants to end it prematurely, and one who is finally about to have her dream come true. on paper it's a film that could easily look fairly corny, but schaeffer (writer/director/star of the sleeper The Fall) does a good job of direction and cast selection. it's similar in its ambition and structure to magnolia, but the breadth and depth aren't as great. it's also not nearly as successful. it's a more accessible film, one that's more likely to please because it's easier to buy, but it's not as good. it's not played entirely straight, though. it does have some almost surreal moments and some unrealistic interactions and characters, but they're less "out there" than those in magnolia.
the soundtrack has some weak moments, but the krishna das stuff is good. i liked the balance of humor and drama. solid sleeper. B.
Saboteur - hitchcock is probably the most consistent and prolific of the pantheon directors. this is the first time i've seen this film, but i think i can say that this is the earliest (1942) film of his that i really like. blackmail (1929) is good and important, 39 steps (1935) is fun, and rebecca (1940) is overrated. it's a very hitchcockean film - the (stunning) final scene takes place on the statue of liberty and is reminiscent of north by northwest (mount rushmore) and vertigo (with the spiraling steps). saboteur is also similar to many of hitchcock's wrong man type pictures - wrong man (duh), 39 steps, spellbound, etc. a lot of those films are about a man trying to free himself from being wrongfully accused. in spellbound it's about a man trying to discover his own innocence - black angel (not a hitchcock film) does the opposite to stunning effect.
at any rate, saboteur is pure hitch and that's a good thing. there are a few holes, or leaps of faith, inherent in the plot, but they really are forgivable because he makes you want to forgive them. films like this rope, lifeboat and dial m for murder (the claustrophobia trilogy, as i call them) make me wonder why north by northwest, birds, and rebecca are so highly regarded. sure, those are very good films, but they're overrated and the claustrophobia trilogy is underrated.
priscilla lane and robert cummings are very good as the leads and otto kruger is great as the head villain. i love that hitchcock makes the saboteurs such mainstream americans. one is a rich socialite, another a well-to-do rancher with a granddaughter whom he loves. hitchcock doesn't draw the villains simply, he gives them a little more character and it makes them all the more sinister. this one is ripe for a remake, especially in today's socio-political climate. that said, i hope it doesn't happen.
this was hitchcock's first film with universal, it's part of the masterpiece collection - $120 for 14 films. you should buy it. B+.
Dirty Filthy Love - film about a man who has ocd and tourrette's syndrome. as a result of his inflictions his wife leaves him and thus begins his downward spiral. he joins a support group and meets a woman, but is too absorbed with the thought of getting back with his wife to see how perfect this new woman is. in this sense it's a familiar story, but the performances and subject matter really set the film apart. it has the ability to be moving and humorous, and i've always enjoyed that in a film. michael sheen does a stellar job as the lead. he was nominated for the bafta acting award for a tv performance, but rhys ifans won instead. ifans is a good actor, but i find it hard to believe that his performance was better than sheen's. definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. B.
Wet Hot American Summer - pokes fun at films of its kind, like scary movie only not as absurd. the comedy ranges from subtle to absurdist. overall funny enough, but not amazing. C+.
Flightplan - pretty standard hollywood thriller. jodie foster is solid, but not amazing. she reprises a role she's played since taxi driver - a strong, yet vulnerable woman under extreme circumstances. it works for her and she's good at it so that's not really a knock on her, it's just an observation. the plot seems to have a couple holes, but i've never been a stickler for that sort of thing. comic book lovers (notorious for getting stuck on plot inconsistencies) probably would. sean bean is decent and erika christensen doesn't do much with not much screen time, but she also doesn't play a psycho so it's a good move for her. peter sarsgaard gives another fine performance here. i'd like to see him play a more sympathetic, less intense, more textured character in the future. i think he's a great contemporary talent who elevates every project in which he's involved so i hope he gets the opportunity.
films like this and red eye lend themselves to readings as social commentary because both involve terrorism on a plane in the post 9-11 world. christensen plays the silent enabler and sarsgaard plays the bush character who says (roughly) - i'm in charge so people accept what i say as the truth. he's a bush character because he guides everyone's perception of reality and plays a character who is supposed to be our protector, but is ultimately the terrorist. B-.
40 Year Old Virgin - just as good the second time around. B+.
Say Anything - overrated early crowe flick which features john cusack in the rain (again). it's a fine film and i can understand (to a certain extent) why it's a classic, but i can't really say that it's great outside of its time. some films (ferris bueller, breakfast club) succeed outside of their time because they're well-constructed, timeless (often in spite of their soundtrack), and the characters are well-drawn. i felt that the characters in say anything were a little easy, but i did enjoy the angle with the shady father - it caught me offguard and darkened things up a bit. decent enough soundtrack and mostly good performances. C+.
History Of Violence - i've never been much of a cronenberg fan and this film didn't do much to help his case with me. some of his early stuff i find somewhat entertaining and intriguing, but a few of his post-1990 films have been truly awful. he seems fascinated by the relationship between sex and violence and that doesn't interest me at all.
the film starts off with a long, uncut shot that tracks two criminals who end up being the catalyst for the film's major conflicts. this scene may have been the most interesting in the film because it held the potential for many things: it could have been funny, shocking, artistic, etc. there's an uncomfortable silence in these opening minutes that could have been used in so many ways. it turns out that the characters are career criminals on a cross-country murder spree, but cronenberg leaves all of this very open. after the initial introduction to these characters who appear only one more time in the film's most pivotal scene, we are introduced to viggo mortensen's family. cronenberg presents the family in a very shallow and two-dimensional way. the sense one gets is that either he is setting the scene for a stark contrast after the violent act (which we've all seen in the previews by now), or he has an utter lack of talent when it comes to portraying a decent family with sincerity and subtlety. i gave him the benefit of the doubt, but wasn't rewarded. about 90% of the viewers around me did not give him the benefit of the doubt and had therefore become disengaged early on. in other words, for them the film was as good as sunk a mere 10 minutes in.
portrayals of the family and the town life are very cliché and simplistic. the young daughter has a nightmare and the entire family comes to her side to insure her that everything is okay. the teenage boy's high school troubles are drawn in an equally simple manner - the bully is wooden and not realistically drawn. it's a small town and everyone gets along, it's the kind of thing you've seen in a million films, but here it seems as though cronenberg isn't even trying to add character to his characters and settings. i assumed that this was all going to be for effect and, to a certain extent, i was right.
after mortensen kills the two criminals in a justifiable act of self-defense and heroism ed harris comes from the past to settle an old score. mortensen feigns ignorance, but we all know the truth - mortensen has a shady past. what's most interesting about the story (which is based upon a graphic novel) is the way violence affects people and relationships. it's quite interesting to see mortensen's character change from simple and nice to multi-faceted, dark and complex. sadly, cronenberg loses much of his audience in trying to establish mortensen as joe average early in the film. the characters and their relationships are drawn too simply and, conversely, the post-violence characters/relationships are too dark and complex. maria bello (who plays mortensen's wife) and mortensen change too much and neither is very sympathetic by film's end.
perhaps the best way to view the film is the way i did in retrospect: as a parable. these characters aren't supposed to breathe like they do in good dramas, they're supposed to be symbols for things in society. it's more a commentary on the role of violence in society than a portrait of a family forced to deal with the shady past of its patriarch. when viewed like this you don't have to think about the difficult elements of filmmaking like subtlety and character development. therefore, as a story it's quite good. but as a film, a few shots aside, it's less than stellar. C-.
PCU - bochner (ellis in die hard) directs this animal house style flick. it has most of the same cliche elements that you've seen in films like animal house, old school, etc. debauchary and jokes surrounding the college aesthetic abound and are driven by the familar plot of a house trying to avoid eviction by the campus chancellor. pcu separates itself a bit because a central element of the comedy is poking fun at the political correctness of the college campus. the funniest scenes are those that show the various campus groups picketing against their pet cause of the week. whether it's the "womynists" or the animal cruelty folks or the hippies, the theme is one of satrizing the extremists. the rest of the film is a bit flimsy and not nearly as funny, but the spot on mockery of extremists makes it worth while and quotable. C+.
Adventures Of Baron Munchausen - i don't know for sure, but i'd be willing to guess that andrew sarris is a fan of terry gilliam's. sarris is a leading writer in the field of cinema as an auteur movement, and as such he likes to see a director with a unique, identifiable and singular vision. gilliam certainly has that. brazil, 12 monkeys, adventures of baron munchausen and fear & loathing in las vegas all have similar themes and a unique visual style. he makes films about a rugged individual who is on the fringe of society. normally, though, this character (or group of characters - time bandits, and baron munchausen to an extent) is not a mcqueen type of outkast. normally these characters are on the fringe because of both an ideological difference and a slight insanity. hunter thompson is the perfect example of a gilliam character, but really all his characters (fictional or real) are like this. of course this makes gilliam the perfect candidate for the filmed adaptation of don quixote. my impression of gilliam in "lost in la mancha" is that he is a similar character himself. i get the impression that he's a producer's worst nightmare in many respects. he's gifted enough to want to fund, but enough of a disaster to make you hesitate. he's visionary, but not altogether realistic or practical.
but back to sarris - his primary shortcoming is that he gives too much credit to directors who have a singular vision and too little credit to directors like kubrick, wilder and wyler who don't seem to have unifying cinematic point of view/style. in gilliam's case it would be easy to give him a great deal of credit because he's carved out a unique style of his own. it's recognizable and imaginative. that said, he, in my opinion, has yet to make a masterpiece. he has a few good films, but nothing that is great. fear & loathing is the closest of his films, in my opinion. his set pieces are great, his humor is good (though not my taste), and he weaves a tapestry rather well. i certainly respect his body of work and his style, but it's not something that is particularly in line with my tastes. B-.
Oldboy - sort of a south korean version of the game. i don't want to give anything away, so i'll make it short.
the final ending was a bit long and weakens the initial ending, but it was forgivable. a very well shot film. i especially liked the tracking shot in the hallway which comes at the half point of the film. it's got a great score and features some strong acting by the entire cast. the ending is fucking raw as hell, but, like i said, is weakened a bit by the final scene. that's my major problem with the film. other than that it's a very compelling film which lends itself to a number of philosophical discussions. worthwhile. oh, and the pacing was kurosawa-esque. B+.
Alaska: Spirit Of The Wild - cool imax film narrated by charlton heston. it gives a good look at the wildlife of alaska and it's put together fairly well. B.
When Will I Be Loved - i've never seen anything by james toback and, after this film, i probably won't ever again. neve campbell's nudity aside, the first ten minutes is absolutely awful. the camera moves constantly, the story cuts back and forth between two storylines and the accompanying music is obnoxious. it's all an attempt, i think, to quickly establish the primary characters and hook the audience. it works in a sense, but left me so annoyed by the style that i was set against the film from the get go.
campbell plays a rich elitist student who is "discovering herself." her "boyfriend" is a pathetic, but upscale, hustler. a rich italian media magnate contacts the boyfriend and says that he can work for him if the boyfriend arranges a meeting between him and campbell. essentially, then, it's the same basic plot as indecent proposal, but it's $100K instead of $1 million and sex isn't explicit in the deal. anyway, campbell takes the offer and she sasses the rich guy enough to make him want her even more. he gives her $1 million bucks and she fucks him. then she plays the boyfriend by telling him that the rich guy didn't give her any money. boyfriend gets pissed and confronts rich guy, brings him back to campbell's NYC loft. confrontation ensues and boyfriend accidentally kills rich guy, gets hauled off to jail and campbell is proud of herself because now she knows what she's capable of; she's discovered herself. congratulations.
stylistically the film is very dialogue driven and camera happy; it attempts to be in the style of linklater's "slacker" in this way. the dialogue is snappy, eloquent and highbrow. that said, it's not good or endearing like linklater's or tarantino's, rather it's obnoxious and serves as another reason to despise every single character in the film.
i hate films that revolve around sex, so that was strike number one with this film. strike number two was the soundtrack which was exceptionally obnoxious. bach and beethoven comprised most of the score during the last 2/3, but it came off as obnoxious and pretentious when juxtaposed with neve campbell's presence. another unfortunate element of the film was the lack of sympathetic characters. there were characters who were less reprehensible, pretentious and highfalutin, but none who were at all likable. one might view campbell as a modern noir character. it's not really a noir picture because the style isn't noir and she gets away (a hallmark of noir is that "justice" [the bad guys get their due] is served in the end). she's a femme fatale more in the tradition of fiorentino in the last seduction. the big difference is that fiorentino had style and class, whereas campbell has none. the opening and closing scenes show campbell showering. in the first scene you know nothing about her and so her naked body is mildly intriguing. by the end, though, she's revealed herself as such an ugly character that that final shower scene just amplifies your disgust. one can look at a film like this in two ways - 1) it's successful because film is meant to inspire emotion and thought, and this film did some of that. the final shower scene is testament to this fact. or, 2) it's a failure because the characters were worthless and the filmgoing experience was more annoying than thought-provoking. i'm tending towards the latter. D+.
Desperate Hours - of the hostage films that i can think of right now (hostage, key largo, petrified forest, fight for your life, panic room, etc.) this one is the best. it has a little bit of everything and does it all quite well.
bogart, his brother and another convict have just broken out of jail. they manage to elude police detection and find a nice suburban household to infiltrate while they wait for bogart's woman to bring them his stash. fight for your life is remarkably similar to this film, but it takes a much harder course than this one, though that's expected since it's a 70s picture. bogart plays a similar character to the one he played in the petrified forest. bogart, by the way, does more acting with his hands than most actors do with their entire body - check it out and you'll know what i'm talking about.
it's an old-fashioned film with some old-fashioned values, but i'm an old-fashioned guy in some ways so i really liked it. the father (fredric march) was the center of all major the relationships in the film - him and his wife, his daughter, his son, bogart and, eventually, the police. the clash between march and bogart is great stuff. both are intense, intelligent, calculating and desperate. the dialogue, though great throughout, is best between the two of them. "clickity clack" says bogart, referring to march thinking about his predicament. wyler is able to ratchet up the tension in part because the characters are so well written. bogart and march, especially, are smartly written and it elevates the entire film knowing that both of them are street wise.
throw in a pinch of humor, some effective brutality, economic commentary, and solid supporting performances and you've got a very strong picture. B+.
ABC Africa - iranian filmmaker abbas kiarostami's foray into documentary filmmaking. the film is almost as much a travelogue as it is a documentary on a particular issue (orphans in uganda). in this sense it reminded me a bit of another filmmaker's foray into documentary film - agnes varda's "the gleaners and i." like varda, kiarostami has an inquisitive eye; he's curious, but not obtrusively so. more than anything the film gives you a good glimpse of life in uganda. it tends towards the orphan theme and what measures are being taken to ameliorate that problem, but all of it is really a window into life in uganda.
like kiarostami's features, ABC Africa is a slow film by most standards. a lot of time is spent being a fly on the wall rather than asking the subjects questions. most of his curiosity manifests itself in where he puts his camera and how long he leaves it there. he spends a lot of time conveying the everyday lives of his subjects through long takes of townspeople doing everyday things. of course the film is an exploration of the orphan epidemic so there is a good amount of time spent with people who are attempting to fix the problem. there scenes showing the programs for debt management and hospitals which are dealing with aids related issues. the scene in the hospital is one of the most impacting in the film. unfortunately, and strangely, the film didn't stay with me the same way his features have. i liked the style and i liked what i got out of it, but it was less than what i've come to expect from him. B-.
Ong-Bak - no wires or computer generated shots during the fight scenes were used, that's probably the most important thing to know when going into watching it. tony jaa is the potential heir to the jackie chan/jet li throne, but i think it's too early to tell. he's more along the lines of jackie chan, only not as funny. chan is still more impressive, but you can see that jaa has the talent to really wow audiences. hopefully he gets lucky and gets to work with a director as talented as yuen woo-ping (like chan did early in his career). yuen's choreography is unparalleled in my opinion, and i think chan benefited quite a bit from this fact.
the story is pretty standard fare: country boy (jaa) forced to go into the city and face the ills of society on his own. luckily he runs into a cousin who is from the same village. unluckily this same cousin has turned into a street hustler who is in constant debt. jaa navigates the city landscape in search of a religious artifact which is stolen in the first reel of the film. of course along the way he gets dragged into his cousin's fight with a local gangster and unwittingly falls into a boxing match at a local bar. the chase scenes are impressive and the fight scenes feature some uniquely thai fighting styles. lots of bent leg kicks and other unusual fighting forms. generally martial art films are more influenced by chinese or japanese styles, so it's nice to see something different here. it's directed well enough and the story has enough to keep things moving. worth checking out if you're a fan of martial arts films. B.
Norma Rae - it's a different kind of film from a different kind of era in film. it was a time when films were often about more ordinary people. films are more often about great people in extraordinary circumstances - from citizen kane and gone with the wind (there's actually a reference to ashley wilkes in this film) to schindler's list and lord of the rings. this is a film about an ordinary town and an ordinary and flawed woman who seizes an opportunity to make her and her community a better place.
the film begins with the line "ain't no miracle being born" from the opening/closing song. throughout the film this is fleshed out in various ways all of which contribute to the idea that just living isn't enough - you have to do something with yourself in order to be worthwhile. the first half of the film does very little to advance the major plot point (the unionization of the textile plant) of the film. rather, we see an exploration of the characters, their motivations, relationships to each other, etc., but very little time is spent on exploring the issues behind the proposed unionization. we briefly hear someone complain about not being able to take time off when they're sick, we see one man die of a heart attack while on the job, and we see how management pits its workers against each other, but there isn't much actual discussion of how the union will alleviate these problems. this element of the film is very underdeveloped and the film was a disappointment in that regard. none of this, though, takes away from the poignancy of sally field standing on the table silently holding up a sign which reads "UNION" and turning to her co-workers for solidarity. in this scene they all shut off their equipment and one can't help but feel good about the power of unity. it's the best scene in the film, but it may actually be reliant upon the film's inadequate exploration of the actual issues behind unionization.
sally field is perfect for the role and she nails it. her complexion and figure give her a young look, but the lines under her eyes show how tired her character is: she's a single mother in a dead end job, living with her parents in a small industrial town.
overall it's a compelling story about working class people. it's got a lot of strong performances headed up by field. it didn't explore the unionization issue with adequate depth, but you could also argue that it's much more a film about characters than workers' issues. B+.
Diary Of A Mad Black Woman - a sort of strange film. it's one of those quiet films that did really well. quiet because it's a "black" film and while it certainly didn't do $50 million in the box office solely on the back of black audiences, it does appeal primarily to african-americans. perry began as a playwright and worked his way into cinema later in his career. his films center around themes of urban reality, the black experience and a grandmother figure named madea who is sort of his version of eddie murphy's matriarch in the nutty professor. in this film perry plays three characters: madea, her husband and the cousin of the title figure. as is true with the nutty professor films, the funniest moments are those when the matriarch is allowed to take over. this film, though, doesn't revolve around madea and her over-the-top antics.
it's about madea's granddaughter whose husband recently threw her out of the house for another woman. it's this juxtaposition of serious drama and absurdist humor that represents both the best and worst of the film. it's the best because i think it does both fairly well and it's the worst because it's difficult to shift gears between the two extremes. i also really enjoyed the fact that it could make fun one moment and make an honest indictment of culture and provide a positive example the next. it addresses the realities of marital abuse, drug-use and relationship woes, but isn't above getting cheap laughs. frankly, i think it's a film that is potentially very positive in part because it keeps its sense of humor and realizes that its primary function is to entertain. it's like "mean girls" only the message is more poignant and more central to the film. i liked that mean girls had a positive message, and one that i felt was honest, but that message wasn't as central to the film as are those brought up in diary of a mad black woman. while it occasionally flirts with being cheesy i think it's mostly forgivable because its an ambitious film in a genre that is too populated with the likes of soul plane and king's ransom. B.
Dirty Dozen - a strong film all around. don siegel directs a fantastic cast including: lee marvin, john cassavetes, robert ryan, charles bronson, ernest borgnine, jim brown, donald sutherland, ralph meeker and telly savalas.
the setup shows marvin (a major) witnessing the execution of a prisoner who claims innocence (more accurately he claims it was a mistake) until his death. from here he is ushered into a room full of generals plotting his next assignment. marvin is a rebel amongst proper officers and is given the unenviable task of assembling 12 men on death row in what amounts to a suicide mission behind enemy lines to coincide with d-day. it's not until 12 minutes into the film that the title sequence begins and by then you're likely hooked.
siegel, rather un-conventionally, edits on camera movement. generally directors wait for the camera to stop a pan or track before making an edit, but siegel breaks that rule early. it establishes an energy that lasts carries you through the setup. from there it's mostly about characterization and themes of redemption. marvin must quickly establish himself as the leader of a group of misfits who have been unbroken by their previous officers. he's got to be stronger and smarter than all of them while earning enough respect to ensure his survival and the success of the mission. it's a great setup and the screenplay executes each character quite well. marvin's response to each situation is impressive in every sense. you, like the men in the film, get the sense that he is a father figure; a true leader of the unleadable. he's one of the more impressive leaders i can remember in cinema.
there's plenty of religious imagery in the film, but it's not used in the way you might expect from a war film. in the final scene before their mission, marvin is seen in the middle of a long table with six men on each side of him - a reference to the last supper. maggot (played by savalas) is a southern rapist/racist who speaks of god's will throughout the film. in the end jim brown, in a moment of poetic justice, sends him to the afterlife. similarly, the final sequence features marvin and his men trapping german officers in an underground bomb shelter. they pour gasoline and throw grenades into the air ducts of the shelter. jim brown again gets the job of executioner - a minority meting out poetic justice on the perpetrators of mass death by means of their gas chambers. a great film. B+.
A Different Loyalty - a waste of time. don't watch it unless you're seriously enamored with sharon stone or an insomniac. D.
Angel Heart - sleeper modern noir film with a dark edge to it. rourke plays a p.i. hired by deniro to find someone who is indebted to deniro. it starts and ends quite well, but sags a bit in the middle. the femme fatale is generally a necessary element in a noir, but i wasn't all that impressed by lisa bonet's presence. there are moments of really good photography most of which reinforce the dark themes and downward spiral of rourke's character. shots of spiral staircases, heavy shadows, bars, slowly spinning fans, etc. show up several times throughout the film. worth checking out. B.
Man - about as good/bad as i expected. levy was decent and jackson mailed in his performance. jackson's lieutenant is played by susie essman - the bitchy wife of jeff the agent in curb your enthusiasm. this film wasn't horrible, but it shows a definite lack of ingenuity and creativity; it contributes almost nothing to the genre and doesn't even function that well within the genre. D+.
11:14 - pretty cool little film told in the style of reservoir dogs, or, more accurately, the killing. 11:14 is the time at which all the intertwined stories take a turn for the worse. we follow one storyline at a time and each one makes more sense of the last. it's a dark comedy, but it's not intended to be hugely funny. it incites a decent number of chuckles, but what really drives the film is the plot unfolding the way it does. there's a solid cast holding the thing together as well.
it's possible that i'm reading too much into it, but there seemed to be an underlying cautionary tale. each of the unfortunate victims in the film is some sort of sinner - liar, cheater, thief, etc. all but a few of the characters have the best of intentions, but no one really emerges from the film unscathed. this, though, is a secondary element of the film. it's worth watching because it's a pretty fun and funny film, but don't expect anything amazing. B.
Dark Victory - the only other picture i've seen by goulding is nightmare alley and it had a similar emotional arc. they both start off interestingly enough only to become disarmingly prosaic, overly sentimental, and/or seemingly predictable; but, in the end, both are shockingly resonant. i'm not sure if this is a stroke of pure luck or if goulding has an uncanny (and unconventional) ability to disarm the audience's preconceptions only to turn them right on top of the audience later on. that is, goulding somehow brings your guard down in each instance by allowing you to think you know where the film is going and what you're going to feel in the end. i found myself very struck by the emotional power of the film's ending in spite of my earlier detachment from the emotional center of the film.
bette davis and george brent are quite good in the leading roles. i really don't see actresses of the same caliber as davis, stanwyck, bacall, k. hepburn, bergman, crawford, etc. these days. you could say meryl streep or glen close, some might throw in names like renee zellweger or nicole kidman, but contemporary great actresses aren't as great and aren't as many. it's odd, but it seems that women were getting better roles 40-70 years ago. bogart was so-so as an irish stable hand. his accent was poor and his character wasn't very well drawn. it was still an early role for him. the woman who played ann also did only a so-so job.
overall not the strongest film, but two performances and a great ending made it worth while. B+.
Cleo From 5 to 7 - french new wave picture that follows a singer (cleo) the two hours before she hears back from her doctor about her cancer biopsy. the film is 90 minutes long so it's not quite real time, but is close enough. one of the fringe benefits of the picture is getting a good look at paris. like before sunset, cleo from 5 to 7 tracks the character movements throughout a city over a short period of time. we get to see cleo as she travels throughout the city with three major characters - her maid/housekeeper, her female friend, and a male stranger. i didn't see a meaningful evolution of her character until she met the soldier late in the film and his unique character brought out a side of her that she probably didn't even know she had. it's an interesting film because it takes place basically in realtime and because it's about a character who is convinced she is going to receive the news of her death by the end of the picture. at the beginning of the film she's very superstitious, immature and capricious. by the end of the film she's more settled and grounded.
stylistically the film was very french new wave. lots of jump cuts, moving cameras, close-ups, etc. the opening sequence of a tarot card reading was in color when the shots were of the cards and in black and white other than that. varda's style is ambitious and it works to liven up the picture and give a better view of the city. though this is a good film i preferred her documentary "gleaners and i." B.
House On 92nd Street - similar to films like call northside 777 and he walked by night in that it's a docu-noir; this one is also similar to call northside 777 in that hathaway is the director. there aren't any stars in this one (call northside 777 had james stewart and lee j. cobb) and it's even more realistic and technical than cn 777. that's probably the greatest strength of the film - it's got a lot of coverage of forensics and espionage tools which give it a sense of authenticity. i was turned off by the unqualified praise it gave the fbi and hoover. it failed to acknowledge any of the downside of this level of surveillance, but i suppose that's expected given the time (1945) and the subject matter (german spies in america). call northside 777 is great, but this one isn't. C+.
Key Largo - bogart, bacall, lionel barrymore, edward g. robinson, and claire trevor make the up the bulk of a stacked cast. unfortunately bogey and bacall were the only ones i was really happy with. robinson was too over the top and maniacal, barrymore should have been replaced by brennan, and trevor was a bit too expressionistic for my taste. it's a shame, too, because the story has a lot of potential. huston does a fine job, but it's not one of his best efforts.
it's set in florida during a hurricane and it plays out as sort of an allegory of good versus evil on an island further isolated by the impending hurricane. bogart is a wwII vet (he was probably about 48 about the time of filming so he looked a bit old for the role) who comes to visit a deceased war buddy's family (barrymore is the father, bacall the widow). as an aside, bogart mentions the battle of san pietro which was actually documented by john huston in a documentary of the same name. bogey and bacall never have an explicit romance in this picture, but they clearly care for each other and it was enough to hold up their portion of the film. 20-30 mins into the film robinson and his gang take over the hotel and everyone becomes a hostage. meanwhile there's a secondary plot of native americans who are outside of the hotel and they become innocent victims of robinson's siege. barrymore comments on what a shame it is that they always seem to get the short end of the stick and trevor tells him it's because of men like robinson so barrymore shouldn't take on the responsibility himself.
i liked the character dynamics - bogart-robinson, bogart-bacall, robinson-trevor, robinson-barrymore, barrymore-the indians, robinson-nature, etc., but i just didn't feel like they were supported well enough by the disappointing performances. the script had some moments, as did the direction. B-.
Fire And Ice - the best part of this animated fantasy film is the way the movement of the characters is animated. the detail and coloring are relatively simplistic, but the movement looked pretty realistic and it's a film that came way before the computer animation tools that we have now. the story is pretty stock - evil mother and son want to take over the world and kidnap the opposing king's daughter. she's super hot and the hero saves her and the world in the process. it's really nothing especially interesting or novel. i watched it because it was free and blue underground generally puts together good dvd packages with good quality unknown films. not boring or poor, but not really my thing. C-.
Sideways - one of the better films of 2004 because of its strong characterization and balance of comedy and drama. one telling characterization was what giamatti titled his book: the day after yesterday. when madsen hears this she says "you mean today." and giamatti reluctantly says "yeah." this is a crucial moment because he views everything in the context of its relation to the past and she has a more immediate world view, a more healthy one as well. in this same conversation they have a thinly veiled conversation about wine and what it means to each - he likes pinot because it's a thin-skinned grape which requires constant care and just the right conditions to thrive. she likes wine because it's a time capsule, but a living one. it's an artistic capturing of a time - the laborers, the weather, the grapes, the tastes of the time, etc., but it evolves with time and eventually peaks, like giamatti's 1961 bottle of wine. again their differences become clear over this - giamatti says he's waiting for the right occasion to open the bottle and madsen says that opening the bottle is the occasion. her philosophy is one of seizing life and his is one of waiting for it to come to him. in the end, he reverses this trend.
the dynamic between giamatti and church is reminiscent of planes trains and automobiles; and both are very good in their roles. it's smartly written, but never pompous. the characters are well drawn and well-acted, but never above the audience. one telling moment is when they're watching a highfalutin lecture on the wine making process and sandra oh turns to madsen and rolls her eyes and give a tired look. the four of them then proceed to the back room where oh and church make out and madsen and giamatti get to know each other better. they're children, all of them, but they're grown. they're all flawed, but they remain likable. A-.
Breaking Away - one of the best sports movies of all-time. obviously the film is about more than sports, it's mostly about a post-high school group of townies trying to find their identity and worth in a college town that once was defined by its industry. like most great films the thing that sets it apart is its (oscar-winning) screenplay. the backdrop of a city in flux, the rounded, vibrant and human characters, the balance of action, drama and comedy, etc. all make for a more fulfilling experience. the performers, most of them relatively unknown at the time, are all up the the task.
one element that really put the film over the top was the score. it moved the film along very well and elevated the emotions of the picture without force. quite well done.
it's a film that can be funny and heartbreaking in equal measure and efficacy. when the optimistic protagonist says to his father "everybody cheats, i just didn't know that," we ache because it hammers home the loss of innocence that takes place in the previous scene. it's heartbreaking to be reminded of the fact that we all once felt the world was fair, equitable and just. in spite of this, though, the protagonists fight the good fight and we live vicariously through them in their victory. it's a good example of a common film done uncommonly well and that's often the best kind of film, but the hardest to write about. it's like watching joe montana - he's great because he just is. he does everything he's supposed to do, but he does it really really well and he does it consistently. there's not much flash to this film, it's easy to overlook, but you'd be remiss if you did. A-.
Quai Des Orfevres - french mystery by clouzot (the french hitchcock). it's a fairly fun little mystery with some fringe benefits, but it's not as good as his two masterpieces: wages of fear and diabolique. the inspector character is probably the highlight. he reminds me a bit of the inspector in hitchcock's "dial m for murder." he's very dry and columbo-esque in his technique. B-.
Fearless Freaks - documentary which charts the history of the flaming lips. i'm not a huge fan of their work so i wasn't swayed either way by that aspect of the film. it's well put together - beesley combines several sources well and does so in an artistic and informative way. there's a little too much meandering from time to time. paradoxically i didn't feel that the film really went into any great depth with any aspect of the band or the band members. the most harrowing and personal scene came when steve is taking heroin. beesley watches steve while he cooks up the heroin and talks about how he got into heroin and how it's ruined his life in some ways and how he can't get off it. after he's done talking about it he injects it and talks about how it feels - it starts in the stomach and washes all over his body and makes him feel like there isn't anything to worry about. by the end of the film he's off the stuff. it's certainly a fine documentary, but it's nothing revolutionary. B-.
Hustler - newman's performance is very good, but i don't know that it's as good as his more sympathetic performance in cool hand luke. i wonder if "sorry charlie" comes from this film.
one of the notable things about this film is how raw it is, especially for the time. the relationship between newman and laurie is one of mutual depravity and alcoholism.
the pool scenes are accurate enough for most viewers, though not entirely authentic. they did, however, do quite a good job of training newman and gleason. both of them pass as real pool players and that's essential to the film's success.
george c. scott is vicious and looks like johnny cash (mostly because of his slicked back black hair).
reminded me most of cincinnati kid. though this is a better film i think i liked the former more. B.
Hell Is For Heroes - i can't think of a more anti-war title off the top of my head. mcqueen plays an outsider who doesn't want to get close to any of the men in his company because he's clearly seen too many come and go in his time. the ending is the most memorable part of the film. B-.
Dead End - i think that this is the movie that started it off for the "dead end boys" who appeared in several noir/gangster type films during the 30/40s. there's good social commentary here and it's an important film, but it's not really my type of flick. bogart was good, but not great. i liked the juxtaposition of the rich and poor and the commentary, but nothing else really popped out for me. C+.
This Divided State - documentary focusing on the growing divide between the left and right in this country. the film looks specifically at the case of michael moore being hired to speak at a public college (utah valley state college) in utah. one side says he's an extremist and anti-american and the other says he represents an alternate point of view and should be allowed to speak. his fee ($40K) is an issue at one point, but the truth is that people of all beliefs have been paid just as much, and more, in the past. sean hannity also comes to town, just a week prior to moore, and waives his fee, but demands a private jet and the like which total to $50K. really, though, the money isn't an issue since so much of it is recouped by the ticket sales.
it's amazing to see what moore's visit does to the small utah town. the president and vice president are urged to resign, one local resident sues them at one point, he offers the college $25K to NOT bring moore into the town, etc. it's even more amazing to see the vitriolic intolerance exhibited by the crowd which goes to see sean hannity speak. he really riles them up into a froth. a funny moment comes when two nader supporters crash the moore speech and call him a sellout, etc. fucking crazy extremists. overall the film paints a portrait of a pretty fucked up culture. B.
Gay Republicans - another documentary about division within a community. in this case, though, the community is that of gay republicans, or republicans who are gay - depending on who you are. it certainly seems like a contradiction either way, but the more i thought about it the more it made sense. in 2000 gay republicans gave bush 1 million votes (45k in FL) and it's more understandable than you might think. simply put, these people don't define themselves solely by their sexual orientation; and i actually respect that. to me, it's sort of a pathetic state of affairs that so many people can define themselves so succinctly - i'm gay, i'm a vegetarian, i listen to punk, etc. certainly this isn't true for all, or even most who are/do these things, but when a person is so simple that they can be defined by the music they listen to or the people they fuck or the food they eat or fill in the blank, it's a bit pathetic.
the crux of the film is actually this very issue. are the log cabin republicans a gay group that votes republican, or are they a republican group comprised (mostly) of gays? the truth is that they're more republican than gay, but that "republican" has moved and bush, with his protection of marriage act, alienated the log cabin republicans. eventually they vote to not endorse bush in order to make a point, but the debate is highly divisive. one member makes the valid, and i think damning (for bush), point that republicans are using gays to incite hate in people in order to get more votes. it's a cold and calculated decision by bush and one that cost him the endorsement of the log cabin republicans.
the documentary follows four major characters who run from gay republicans to republican gays and one guy in the middle (steve may) who actually was an elected republican himself. despite being republican and a mormon, he seemed the most reasonable character of the four. two were just crazy republicans, and the other just didn't seem that bright. an interesting documentary about a segment of the population you wouldn't even think existed. B.
Ryan - short animated documentary on ryan larkin, who was also an animator. because it's such a short piece it doesn't have much substance revolving around larkin's life. you get to see his two most influential works and hear him talk about his spiral to homelessness; we also hear from an ex-girlfriend who sheds some light on his past. it had the potential to be a moving piece, but it was too short to really pull it off. the animation style is very interesting and reminiscent of waking life. it's done entirely on the computer and is very expressionistic. it's worth watching strictly for the artwork. B.
Z - reminded me of pontecorvo's "battle of algiers." it's the story of an assassination of a greek official and the revolutionaries involved in covering it up and uncovering the twisted plot. i think i enjoyed the battle of algiers more because it's paced better and does a better job of showing the details of both sides. the beginning and end are the most exciting. B.
Jezebel - the film takes place in new orleans circa 1850 during a yellow fever epidemic - pretty timely. it's quaint and historically interesting to see the antebellum south depicted here, but the real draw of this southern drama is bette davis' performance. she plays a headstrong firebrand whose object of affection is henry fonda. early in the film her stubborn ways drive fonda away. later in the film, when he returns - married, she attempts to win him back through a series of (mostly juvenile) tactics. by the end of the film she redeems herself as a martyr character. there's a bit of north/south rivalry thrown in, but i couldn't really read the film as an allegory for pre-civil war america. certainly there is that aspect to it, but that didn't seem to be the main thrust of the film.
other highlights were the music (steiner), the dialogue (co-written by john huston), the cinematography and the polite feuding that went on between (mostly) fonda and brent. B-.
Hustle & Flow - the film certainly has some effective moments, but overall i think it fell short for me.
for the first 40 minutes of the film i was obsessed with trying to place the time during which it's supposed to take place. there's an old school (70s) title sequence, isaac hayes is introduced as a pivotal character, the main character seems strangely separated from hip-hop which indicated to me that it was something new, almost all the cars during the first 40 minutes are on the old side, at one point a television program in the background mentions carl lewis (which made me think it was the 80s), CDs exist, but howard is working strictly with cassette tapes....that said, there was also at least one suv during this time which seemed either a mistake or a hint that the film takes place in contemporary times. it wasn't until one scene after the scene in which howard kicked out one of his whores (is "prostitute" better?) that we see a cell phone. and what made that scene odd was that a cell phone started ringing and everyone sort of stops what they're doing and looks at each other as if they don't know what's going on. anthony anderson finally pulls his phone out of his pocket and answers. within seconds of doing this, howard pulls out his cell phone and just starts playing with it a bit on the opposite end of the screen. all this was very surreal to me because typically a pimp/drug dealer is attached to his cell phone(s) and pager(s). the drug dealers at my high school typically had two or three pagers and we don't even see this guy's until the film is almost half done. this aspect of the film really screwed with me. it's either a major faux pas or a decision that is supposed to mirror howard's evolution as a person. er, something.
i enjoyed the film's sense of humor. anderson and qualls are both naturally funny and they offer a bit of comic relief, unfortunately they didn't pull off the more serious scenes quite as well. anderson's final scene wasn't bad, but he certainly didn't nail it. qualls doesn't seem to have the range or presence that's required for his (admittedly tough) role.
during the rap sequences i didn't like the lip synching. howard did a fine job rapping when he was just warming up so i wish they had just stuck with his vocals for the scenes when he was laying down the tracks for his demo. as for the soundtrack...i prefer pre-millienial gangsta rap like n.w.a., dr. dre, and tupac to the new school southern-based stuff.
i was a bit disappointed by the fact that the most inspirational moment is accompanied by a refrain of "whoop that trick;" and that is the essence of what i disliked about this film. the reason i like urban films like menace II society, kids and boyz in tha hood is because i feel they have a authenticity in their depiction of the struggles of the streets, and a conscience in the way they present them. each of these films ends with a similar sentiment: "what the fuck happened?" and the implied question that should follow is: "what are we going to do about it?" i didn't feel this film had that. it pulled its punches with regard to how gritty it was willing to get and it portrayed the pimp/dealer-turned-rapper as more hero than cautionary figure. at the same time he was in jail at the end of the film. that said, he was also a huge success and the guards doted over him when they discovered out that he was the man behind the most recent radio hit. his relationship with his whores and their relationship with him seemed to validate such an arrangement, rather than simply portray it. manning (the white whore) had one or two minor issues with her role as howard's bitch, but other than that was more than willing to do his bidding...especially after he went to jail. i know that this is exactly the arrangement that many people have (so you could make the argument that the filmmakers are just being real), but i also think there's something inherently demeaning about it, and that a film that almost glorifies it, should get a little flak as a result. that said, you could make a decent counter argument to this. she does get something out of this arrangement: food, clothes, shelter, feeling of security, etc. and, as far as pimps go, howard's a pretty decent guy. plus, what the fuck do i know? i've never been a pimp and i've never talked with one. i've never been paid for sex and never been viewed strictly as a sex object, so how much can i really comment on these things?
the beginning was better than the end. it rang more true for me, it was more artistically shot, and it felt more raw. about the time the cell phones came out the film took a turn for the worse. C+.
Skeleton Key - about as good as i expected it to be. i don't really like kate hudson, but i'm not entirely sure why. she doesn't strike me as particularly appalling in her interviews - clearly she's not someone i would befriend, but she's not vile either. sure, i dislike goldie hawn (her mom), but i don't dislike kurt russell (her dad), so that's a wash. she was in almost famous, which i thought was overrated, but i've never seen any of her other films. for some reason i just find that i'm reticent to watch her films. perhaps it's a combination of the fact that she chooses "chick flicks" and her mom's sort of a bimbo and the one movie i've seen her in sucked and she's married to a third rate musician. anyway, she's decent enough in this film.
though slowly paced at first, the pacing is decent enough overall. i felt that the slowness of the first 30 minutes could have been used to flesh out hudson's character a bit. instead softley chose to lay some rudimentary plot groundwork and establish normalcy. unfortunately this means hudson's character is just another archetype cut from the same fabric as most movie characters. ho hum. some of softley's artistic touches (the zoom revealing the brick dust at the base of the door near the end, the shaking objects effect, etc.) didn't quite work for me.
the ending was probably the best part of the film. it surprised me, wasn't too out of the blue and can't be considered a "happy ending." C.
Cave - not a very good movie. poor acting and a poor script were the biggest culprits, but really there wasn't much here that was worth while. despite being highly derivative (think alien/thing), it had a decent enough idea, but wasn't able to even copy those films effectively. the ending was predictable in large part because it was necessary. obviously the cave dwellers weren't averse to light so it was clear that they'd make it to the surface when given the opportunity. D.
Exit To Eden - penny marshall's brother directs here. his best picture is pretty woman, but other than that he seems to specialize in making bad movies geared towards female audiences. this one is based off of what i can only assume to be an awful novel by anne rice. so why did i watch it? my dad said it may be the worst film he's ever seen. it wasn't that bad. it was awful and a bore to watch, but it wasn't as offensive and to the senses and difficult to get through as xxx2: state of the union or gigli. the voice-over narration was trite, lazy and a poor artistic decision. the acting was bad. the script tried, but failed. and the pairing of the cops undercover with the bondage island getaway was neither comic nor compelling. dan aykroyd was bad and rosie o'donnell was worse. seeing her in dominatrix garb was unpleasant. she likely took the role for one of two reasons: 1) money, or 2) the last line: "so what did i learn from this case? true love is still the ultimate fantasy." knowing what we know now, maybe that supposed message of the story appealed to her. who knows. it's a fine message, but it's no excuse to be in a film this bad. as for dan aykroyd...i haven't the slightest clue as to why he would bother with this one. sad. D-. p.s. o'donnell won a razzie award in 1995 for her supporting role in this picture.
Street Trash - sort of like c.h.u.d. with the effects of basket case and some of the camera movement of evil dead. james muro directed and it's his only directorial effort for a reason. he's not very good at directing talent and cutting scenes. that said, he does have a good eye and the photography is pretty good, all things considered. he's done camerawork on films like t2, insider, heat, casino, falling down, jfk, field of dreams and many more. in other words - he's a good camera operator, but not a very good director. i actually wrote about him in my review of open range because i liked his work as cinematographer there; he also did the cinematography on crash. mostly, though, he's a stedicam operator.
this film is sorta fun, sorta gross and not all that fantastic. it gets the job done in a fairly weak genre, but it's not very noteworthy. some of the writing is really funny and some of it is really bad. an uneven effort which probably helped muro's career more than anything else. C. p.s. matt vogel did the special effects for this and c.h.u.d. bryan singer (apt pupil, x-men, usual suspects) was a grip on this film. it's crazy how many people started out working in horror. joel coen, johnny depp, renee zellweger, etc.
Aftermath: Unanswered Questions From 9/11 - short documentary that asks nine interviewees eleven questions about 9/11. some of it is pretty typical left-wing stuff that verges on conspiracy theory and some of it is more concrete in its sourcing and logic. a decent, bite-size reaction piece to the event, but not at all an in depth analysis. some cheesy production detracted from the picture aesthetically, but the selective subtitling is probably good reinforcement for those who learn better with text. a good conversation starter for a high school history class. C+.
40 Year Old Virgin - funniest movie released in quite some time. i had a pain in my jaw for much of the film and that's always a good sign. the thing that makes it that funny is that it has a round cast - it doesn't rely completely on steve carell for the humor. paul rudd, seth rogen and romany malco all do their fair share to buttress the comedy. beyond that there are even tertiary characters who provide laughs during the lulls or in between the bigger laughs. judd apatow (who co-wrote, produced and directed this picture) is on a bit of a roll nowadays. he has a new nascar-based film coming out with will ferrell, john c. reilly, ali g and it's directed by the same guy who did anchorman (adam mccay). now, this picture isn't for everyone - it's got toilet humor, some t&a, and plenty of sex-based comedy, but if you're a friend of mine then you're probably not averse to that so long as it's well done. there's even a bit of office space humor, but it's subtle and usually used as a background, or secondary, source of humor. i liked that about it. it wasn't being derivative, but it was still mining the (abundant) workplace humor. B+.
Maestro - while watching this film i discovered what it is about documentaries like this that i dislike: purist doctrines inevitably lead to failure. documentaries like this or step into liquid or better living through circuitry or rize always espouse a doctrine of inclusion and singular experience. that is, they say that surfing isn't discriminatory or that dancing, or certain clubs at a certain time were egalitarian, but it always turns out to be untrue. they talk about the purity or the beauty of an activity (in this film it's dancing in new york during the 1970s), but there is always some failure in the system. purist doctrines leave no room for the realities of humanity and this film is one of many that proves this point. in this film the purist doctrine is one of complete inclusion. the clubs which are a focus of this documentary were meant to be a place where everyone could be themselves and could do what they wanted. the dark side of this great idea was the drug use and unsafe sex that resulted. one interviewee remarked that it was rather sad to see 50-60 of his close friends fall victim to AIDS because they didn't pay attention to the warnings. sad is an understatement. another example of the darkside is that there came a time when straights and gays weren't getting along and they went so far as to have one night for gays (friday) and one night for straights (saturday); i'm not sure, but i think this was at the "garage" club (one of three clubs which were the main focus of the film).
the film raises all sorts of interesting questions if you're willing to scratch the surface a bit. many of those interviewed talk about the beauty of being able to blend in and be part of a larger group, at the same time they reveled in the fact that they were separate from the mainstream; especially in retrospect. this same phenomenon was even more marked in rize. being outside of the mainstream is attractive, but i think that most people still want to feel as if they're part of something.
david mancuso and larry levan were the two most popular innovators who were discussed during the film. for people in the know these were like the dj kool herc and grandmaster flash of the new york dance scene. it's not really my kind of music, though, so hearing about them didn't inspire me that much. on a related note, what role does the popularity of this movement have on how one should view the film? dance music is popular, but not as popular as it was 10 years ago. does that change the importance of this documentary? i can tell you that a film like scratch is more interesting to me, but is that because i like hip-hop more than dance, or is it because it's a more relevant film because hip-hop is a more relevant genre?
the technical discussions in the film were interesting because it lent a bit more credibility to the hagiographification (?) that went on. that is, the tendency during the film was to say something like "the loft was the best place to go for a great night of partying." or "larry levan was an innovator and just the best dj of all-time." however, when they got into a technical discussion of mancuso's friend getting the idea of pairing four tweeters together and adding acoustic treatment to the wood-framed loft to make the sound better, you get a more clear, objective picture of just how the loft was a better venue than the garage. the statements go from opinion to opinion based upon objective realities.
stylistically i didn't like the framing of the picture. often times it was obnoxious and contrived in its artistry. my philosophy is: it's a documentary - just frame it traditionally and tell a good, objective story and you'll be fine. had a pretty good soundtrack and the music was well integrated into the storyline. if i liked the subject more it would deserve a B, but i don't so it gets a B-.
Mandabi - i'm pretty sure this is the first african film i've seen in its entirety. on the one hand that's understandable, and on the other hand that's sorta pathetic.
the cover says it's supposed to be a comedy, but i didn't find much of it to be very funny. perhaps some of the humor was lost in translation, or maybe it's just a difference of opinion. it's more a scathing and sarcastic commentary on senegalese culture than it is a comedy, at least by american standards. in a way it might be construed as a comedy of errors, but the errors are those of the government and the leeches in society who take advantage of decent people. the plot follows a man whose nephew sends him a money order. throughout the entire film the man seeks to cash the money order, but in order to do that he needs to have ID, in order to acquire an ID he needs to have a birth certificate, in order to acquire a birth certificate he needs...you get the point. along the way people take advantage of his ignorance and generosity. sembene paints a portrait of a senegal supported by a vast network of those with money and those without. those without money are constantly borrowing from those with money; and those with money are constantly taking advantage of those without it. by the end our protagonist is completely exhausted and bled dry by the leeches of society (including his family). that said, the ending is uplifting and somewhat inspirational.
it reminded me of the third-world cinema of ray, specifically his apu trilogy. you get a great idea of a day in the life of a senegalese citizen. you see the pre and post-colonial worlds colliding. it's not as touching or well done as the apu trilogy, but it's a valuable film nonetheless. B.
Red Eye - the short, non-spoiler version is this: it's pretty good, check it out.
i was once told that it's a fact that horror films do better in times of war. my source on this isn't rock solid, but it makes enough sense so there it is. here is a horror/thriller that, like many horror films (invasion of the body snatchers, etc.), immerses its thrills in a cultural context. the plot follows a young hotel manager (mcadams) on her way back home after going to her grandmother's funeral. in the airport she meets charming cilliam murphy and they exchange niceties. after flight delays they board and find themselves sitting next to each other again. after the flight takes off murphy turns from mr. charming to airborne nightmare. he explains to her that her father (a dark-haired brian cox) will die if she doesn't remotely arrange for the director of homeland security (who is staying at her hotel) to be moved to another room. craven fills in some of the backstory with shots of a television broadcast introducing the director of h.s., and he comes off as a pupil of the school of real politick; in other words, his approach to security is to rule with an iron fist. when confronted with this ultimatum mcadams tells murphy she knows the director to be a kind, good man and that murphy shouldn't aid in his assassination. another subplot is that mcadams has trust issues because of a previous rape. in fact the best part of the film is when she tells murphy that the one thing she has been trying to convince herself of since it happened is that she'll never let it happen again. these elements (her rape, the target being the director of homeland security, and the setting - an airplane) all clearly make this a topical thriller.
what had me guessing, though, is what craven is trying to say with this piece. i don't think he is merely placing a thriller in a modern cultural context, i think he is trying to make a political statement. 1) mcadams says she'll never let herself be victimized again and she attacks her attacker. 2) mcadams stands up for the director of homeland security, saying he's a great guy, yet we know him to be Machiavellian. 3) in the end everyone survives and the good guys win, no sacrifice was necessary. craven invokes the memory of 9/11 and seems to fall in line with the administration, but leaves no martyr to strengthen the cause. why? he does, however, allow the actual assassins to escape. does he do this to reinforce the idea that the enemy is still out there? if so, this seems, again, to fall in line with the philosophy of the bush administration which uses fear as a device for control. i don't think craven is a republican, but the film does come off as slightly republican.
i enjoyed the thriller aspect of the film; it kept me interested and entertained throughout. i don't know how most will view the film, but i actually wanted the director of homeland security to be assassinated. not so much because i wanted to see mcadams fail in her quest, but more because i wanted to see murphy succeed in his. that and i didn't care at all for the director of homeland security.
interestingly, craven films mcadams at 3/4 (possibly indicating she has something to hide) through most of the first part of the film, whereas he films murphy head on and 3/4. it's interesting because it felt like it should have been the other way around. murphy, after all, was the one with something to hide. true, mcadams was hiding her past, but murphy was hiding the fact that he works for assassins - a somewhat larger secret. anyway, it's a minor point.
the very end was a complete throwaway, though you might be able to make some stretch of an argument that it was mcadams aligning herself with the proletariat and thus making her character less a symbol of a tool of the bush administration, and more a symbol of jane average making good. then again i could be reading FAR too much into this film. it made me think and it's fun enough to watch so... B-.
White Men Can't Jump - this came out when i was in jr. high and i remember being kinda pissed off by the title. in jr. high and high school i was a minority so seeing a popular movie title which belittles my race made me mad. i'm not saying that i suffered all that much as a result or that this is comparable to the plight of native americans or asians or blacks or middle easterners, but it still wasn't fun. i guarantee that people at my school would have raised hell if a film entitled "black people can't read/swim/fill-in-the-blank" did as well as this one did ($76 million at a time when that meant something, especially for a comedy). here's the thing though - it's a good film with a racial outlook vastly more complex than its title; and this is the nature of hollywood. often they'll take a film like this and market it as an urban comedy or they'll play up the action aspects of a film or...marketing isn't about giving an accurate portrayal of the film's themes or conflicts, rather it's about filling seats. but you know all this.
what you may not know is that "white men can't jump" could be the subject of a master's thesis on race and gender. it presents a vastly complex matrix of relations, mores and roles that belie its title. it has the potential, with the right viewer, to be as thoughtful as spike lee's jungle fever; and a hell of a lot more entertaining. this isn't to slight jungle fever, which is a fantastic film with a great stevie wonder soundtrack and a great performance from samuel jackson. rather, it's a compliment to white men can't jump.
harrelson plays snipes and others like malcolm x played whites - he knows they'll judge him by his appearance and he uses that to hustle them. harrelson and his puerto-rican girlfriend (rosie perez, in a career role) are the unemployed ones in financial trouble. snipes, meanwhile, has several jobs and his wife stays at home. he's saving to buy a house, harrelson and perez are saving to pay off mobsters. mobsters who, by the way, are complete fakes. after they get their money they pose harrelson on a mattress to look as if he's been killed while they take a polaroid, so that they can earn respect back home. there's the obvious point that harrelson and snipes need each other to hustle other players. a cynic would point out that the races only get along in order make money, but that would discount the amicable ending between harrelson and snipes; it would also neglect the relationship of harrelson and perez which, by film's end, looks to be back on the upswing.
there are still stereotypes in the film, but they're made fun of and generally overcome by the end of the film. harrelson is goofy, feckless with money and unable to dunk. by the end of the film those have either been ameliorated or eliminated. snipes is a braggart and showboat without compassion for anyone outside of himself, or, at best, anyone outside of his race. by the end of the film he's toned down and found some heart, but not in too mushy a way. perez makes good and goes on jeopardy and kicks some ass. she also does the right thing by putting her foot down with regards to harrelson and his gambling problems. throughout it all the film retains a great sense of humor (the opening sequence has great trash talking, the jimi hendrix conversation is great, snipes schooling harrelson ["listen to the woman"] at the end is priceless, etc.). A-.
Rize - when i saw david lachapelle on charlie rose he came off as a bit to enamored by his subjects. watching the documentary, though, it looks like he (consciously or not) did a decent job of presenting the good and the unrealistic elements of the people and the art form. for those not familiar - rize documents a dance movement in south los angeles which evolved from "clowning."
you can look at this film in a few different ways. you can take their word for it and see it as a great outlet in an urban area that has few constructive ones. in this vein you can choose to accept the artform as just as valid as tap or swing or whatever. you can also view it, as most of them do, as a wholly original artform that gets them in touch with their spirit. you can also view it as a natural progression. in the film's most interesting sequence, lachapelle intercuts archived footage of tribal dancing with the "krump" dancing done by some of the subjects.
to me it's more of a natural progression, somewhat original, but expected. it's more extreme and faster than previous dance styles, but that matches the contemporary music and culture. nothing is wholly original, and this is especially clear when you see the tribal footage cross-cut with the krumping. it's sad to see that the ideals of the group are inevitably smashed by reality about half way through the film. there's a big dance competition in which the clowns go up against the krumpers. the clowns win and the krumpers either feel cheated or as though the world just isn't ready for their advanced style yet. it's pretty typical bullshit and that's unfortunate since the artform seemed to hold the potential to be bigger than such pettiness. at the end of the competition tommy the clown (who is the godfather of clowning) gets a call telling him that his home was robbed during the competition. it's a sad commentary on the realities of the ghetto. here's a guy who, despite his failings, is at least trying to do something positive for his community and someone takes advantage of that by robbing him. pretty fucked up.
i don't see the artform as particularly interesting, beautiful or groundbreaking. i do see it as a valid artform and i do think it's a relatively positive outlet. one of the more ridiculous scenes comes when one of the performers talks about how some people think it's inappropriate to have their young daughters doing some of the dance moves. he says that it's not like they're doing anything sexual and it's not like they're dancing with anyone. the second part is true - a lot of the dancing is remarkably solo, but the first part is pretty silly. firstly, they call it "the stripper dance" because of the way they move their ass. lachapelle, to his credit, sees the absurdity of this subject's statement and intercuts a young girl (8, maybe?) doing the stripper dance. she's lifting up her shirt, shaking her ass, etc. she might not know it's sexual, and in the context of an 8 year old doing it, it's not sexual. but the 8 year old is just emulating older girls who are doing the same thing, and they're doing it with enough knowledge to know that these movements are sexual. you get the point. really, though, this is to be expected. you have a lot of young people doing something they feel strongly about and they're of varying degrees of intelligence with varying degrees of education. so you're bound to get statements ranging from the absurd to the thoughtful. it's all here and it's all a part of the complex meshwork that is the artform. there isn't a consensus on what it is, what it means, where it comes from, what its potential is, etc. but that's how every artform is - be it opera, film or pottery.
the photography wasn't as good as i expected given the cover artwork and lachapelle's background as a supposedly influential photographer. there's one sequence in the la river that is very artsy, but that's about it. B-.
For What It's Worth - it's not as good a routine as the one exhibited in "killing em softly," but what it lacks in humor it makes up for in social critique. he's always been socially conscious and his humor is usually tinged with commentary on the absurdity of our views on race, gender, etc. here, though, he ratchets up the commentary towards the level of a bill hicks, though still shy of a george carlin. for example, why do we view the 15 year old victim of r. kelly's as an innocent soul and at the same time we are willing to give a life sentence to a 15 year old boy for killing another kid while they're wrestling? at any rate, chappelle shows he's matured with this set and that's a good thing. hopefully he gets back to work. B.
Chain Camera - high school students are given a camera for a one week span and told to film their lives; 16 of these students are represented in the film. since it's a short documentary and there are so many people represented, there isn't a great deal of depth in any of the segments. sure, we get intimate portraits of some of them, but there simply isn't enough time to cover anywhere near a full range of emotions/experiences. the students are generally presented as kids who experience life with one archetypal identity. for example, the lesbian talks about not liking boys and being in love with her army shirt-wearing girlfriend. the ethiopian girl is seen talking almost exclusively about race and american culture's views on race. the nerdy asian (?) guy with braces and glasses talks about people being stupid and wanting a girlfriend, but not being able to get one. there are moments where the filmmakers allow us to see the kids outside of these identities, but those are few and far between; and greatly outweighed by those times when their archetype determines their image. because i'm not privy to all the raw footage i can't know whether the kids are truly one-dimensional or if it was simply a choice of kirby dick's. while i don't hold much hope for the future of america's youth, i do think they're more capable and textured than this film tends to portray. certainly part of this is a matter of time and economy, but i think that more of it can be attributed to dick's world view. in sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, dick portrays a man who is completely defined by his medical condition. in derrida, dick portrays a man defined by an idea. and in chain camera, dick portrays students who are defined by a singular attribute - whether it be their race, sexual preference or hobby. B-.
Friday Night Lights - explosions in the sky are the most important element of this film. i only have one of their albums, but they demonstrate here their power to set a tone. simply imagine this film with a rap-rock soundtrack featuring the talents of linkin park, or the like. it would instantly lose cred, at least to me. the soundtrack validated the rest of the film's serious tone and allowed for some wiggle room when it starts getting heavy. i understand this would normally be considered backwards, but since the film begins with a long musically driven introduction it doesn't seem all that much of a stretch. of course a great soundtrack doesn't make for a great movie. the film benefits a good deal from the solid acting and honest writing as well. i felt the direction was, at times, a bit overdone, but this was the exception, rather than the rule. for a great double feature watch this and then the documentary "go tigers!" B.
Four Brothers - a strong performance from mark wahlberg and a good script keep this one good. it has a good balance of action, comedy and drama. most of the actors do a serviceable job. good, fitting soundtrack. the hockey sequence is poorly directed, but that's expected since i doubt very much if singleton has watched many hockey games in his life. part of the ending is similar to that in the recruit.
overall a good film, but not one that's likely to stick with me very long. B-.
Van Wilder - very average riff on animal house. ryan reynolds is funny enough and so is kal penn (of harold and kumar fame). tara reid is stupid, unattractive and not worthy of a lead role. she's great in the big lebowski, but that's because she's playing a whore. the trick with a film like this is always ending it. animal house did it as well as any film like it, before or after. this one peters out just like this review... C.
Big Sleep - pretty great film, but not the best from hawks/bogey/bacall...that honor still belongs to "to have and have not." since it's pretty well known that this is a great film and a great story, i'll just talk about all the ways it's not as good as to have and to have not; that's more interesting to me. walter brennan. he's not in the big sleep and that's the first thing that's wrong with this picture. this film (in front of the camera, anyway) is about only two people - bogart and bacall. yes, elisha cook is on the screen for about 7 minutes, and he's great the entire time (i love that guy more and more every time i see him), but he's no walter brennan and he doesn't get the same screen time that brennan gets in to have and to have not. one reason i like far country more than the other mann/stewart collaborations is because of the balanced cast - from jay c. flippen, walter brennan and james stewart to john mcintire, ruth roman and corinne calvet; the cast is just plain stacked with characters who round out the film. the big sleep doesn't have that to the same degree as films which are better than it.
to have and to have not takes more time to establish the relationship between bogart and bacall than the big sleep does. most of the big sleep is spent developing the complex plot. it does this very well, especially considering all the twists and turns, but characters drive great cinema, not plot.
the setting of to have and to have not was more interesting and fresh than that of big sleep. certainly not to be overlooked.
big sleep does a good job of hooking the viewer right off the bat. the interaction with bogart and the young sister is quite funny and establishes both their characters very efficiently.
the script is witty and sharp, though not as good as the very elite of film-noir (like double indemnity, the killing, or even narrow margin). that said, the exchange between bogart and bacall while they're on the phone with the cops is priceless. A-.
Killing - my dad and sister were over and we were trying to decide what movie to watch. we were about to settle on rififi when my dad said it's one of the best heist movies ever. i immediately agreed and then asked sarah if she had seen the killing. she said no. it was settled. "kubrick! jim thompson! gerald fried!" i cried. "we gotta watch it." dad agreed, i continued. "sterling hayden! elisha cook jr.! timothy carey! marie windsor!" pretty good listing from memory, if i must say so myself, but i neglected to mention: james edwards (criminally underrated), vince edwards, jay c. flippen (a familiar role here), coleen gray, ted de corsia, james harris, and lucien ballard (cinematographer). i don't really need to say anymore, it's arguably kubrick's best film and certainly one of his most taut and important (for what it does with story structure/time). that said, it holds up to the test of time regardless of anything it did first or well for the time. it's a great story which is told perfectly, it's got great acting and an amazing script, the music is great (fried works on a leitmotif throughout the picture that explodes in the final scene...really pays dividends), the direction is great, the cinematography is lively, creative and emotive and it's a fun film. one of my favorites of all-time. A+.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism - a good indictment of the fox news network and their journalistic practices. it's put together well and is entertaining as well as informative. B+.
99 Women - it's a film that begs the question: artsy trash or trashy art? i think it's the latter, but you're entitled to your own opinion. jess franco (whom you've probably never heard of) was an independent spanish filmmaker who worked outside of the norms. like bunuel he had a lot of trouble with the establishment and the censors because of his themes and subject matter. i'm not saying franco was as talented, but they're similar filmmakers in this respect. the plot finds a new warden taking over a female prison and instating much more mild rules (eliminating corporal punishment and night watches) in an attempt to interject humanity in an inhumane institution. of course the prisoners run roughshod over her and a prison break and riot ensue. i suppose that on another level it's a statement on the nature of man or an indictment of the prison system. theme song was catchy. mercedes mccambridge, maria rohm, and maria schell were all good. B-.
Happiness - second best todd solondz movie. makes you feel better about yourself and worse about the world. solondz makes movies about losers and outcasts like no one else i can think of. actually, he makes movies like no one else i can think of. this one is funny and depressing and uncomfortable all in one, sprawling package. B.
Gunner Palace - iraq war told from the point of view of soldiers who occupy one of hussein's old palaces. it shows the good and the bad of the soldiers and that's commendable. i think it's a fairly moderate portrait of the situation over there from a soldier's standpoint. at one point in the documentary one of the soldiers remarks that people will probably watch the film and forget about their (the soldiers') condition after leaving the theater. i think he's probably right overall, but a bit cynical. i know i won't forget - just like i can't forget a film like dark days. it's not a particularly amazing film, it drags a bit here and there; the musical interludes, though nice, are a bit too frequent; and i would have like more probing questions to be asked. but overall it's the best documentary i've seen so far on the iraq war and its actual consequences on americans over there. it shows pretty clearly an obvious point - war fucking sucks, for everyone involved. B.
With God On Our Side - a balanced look at the rise of evangelism in american politics. it begins with jfk and concludes with bush II. the good thing about the film is that you alternate between thinking "this was made by a leftist" and "what crazy right winger made this?" it sticks to the facts and puts in context our latest president's relationship with the ultra-religious community. it's educational, but doesn't rip bush a new one (which is what i was expecting), and doesn't entertain like the greenwald documentaries. B-.
Legend Of Dolemite: Bigger And Badder - documentary about rudy ray moore and his work (music and movies). production values are low, but it's a good overview of the man and his impact on black culture. rappers (ice-t, snoop dogg, eazy-e, mike d, etc.) and comedians (eddie griffin, paul mooney, etc.) contribute the majority of the interviews. whether you've seen any of the dolemite movies or heard any of his albums or not, chances are you've been exposed to rudy ray moore either directly or indirectly. he's been sampled all over the place and the imitators are countless. his stand-up stuff didn't really crack me up, but his music stuff was good and i appreciate what i saw of the dolemite flicks. i'll have to check them out. B-. not as good as in the realms of the unreal, but more educational because of the subject.
In The Realms Of The Unreal - interesting documentary on a recluse man who died in the 70s. he left behind a 15,000 page story and thousands of photos to accompany the novel. the documentary tells his story while telling the story he left behind. he was a somewhat mentally disturbed janitor with only one friend; his outlet was his artwork. the documentary animates the drawings and splices in interviews with people who knew him. it's interestingly done and the man was one of those guys you see on the street and probably don't think twice about. documentaries like this and dark days demand that you change that perspective. not as engaging as dark days, but worth checking out. B-.
Coffy - a film worthy of its reputation. pam grier is very good looking and a good actress, well-matched for the material. hill's direction is good considering the level of production that this is. like malcolm x she takes advantage of peoples' low expectations of her. for example, when she goes on the war path and gets caught sid haig and gang assume someone sent her, thinking it's impossible that she's working for herself. one of the notable elements is the brutality of the picture. it's not the first film to be brutal and show the underbelly of the urban condition (film noir, warner gangster pictures and a streetcar named desire all helped change the type of film hollywood produced), but it does step up the brutality a bit and it mixes in elements of race and feminism. it's also an entertaining film and that's why it's as well-known as it is. high and low art. B+.
Coffy - hill's commentary is decent. offers some anecdotes and info on the production and its genesis. one more in a long line of 70s revenge flicks (i spit on your grave, fight for you life, last house on the left, etc. etc. etc.)
Tom Horn - each new mcqueen film i watch adds to the guy's legacy. i thought i knew the guy because i had seen great escape, blob, hell is for heroes, magnificent seven and bullitt, but i've gained a new appreciation for him after seeing this, cincinnati kid and papillion. he's much more than just a tough loner. there's a depth in his character that i saw in great escape, but discovered in the other three aforementioned films. for some reason i've always compared mcqueen and newman. until recently i thought i liked newman more, but that's not true anymore. i've seen 9 mcqueen films and 8 newman films (none of his pre-cool hand luke stuff) and at this point i definitely like mcqueen more.
william wiard, who directs, does a very fine job here. like schaffner with papillion, wiard makes an artistic picture without asserting his personality so much that it smothers the rest of the flimmakers. the artistry isn't highfalutin, either. there are moments in the film where the brutality of the west requires an unfettered touch, wiard channels the spirit of peckinpah. there are two particularly brutal head shots which, though brief, bring home the truth of the west pretty fucking well.
features some good bit performances from slim pickens and elisha cook jr.
tom horn is an unusual western hero. like shane or james stewart characters in the mann pictures, he has a dark past. he also has a wry sense of humor and a great respect for his adversary; included native americans. i don't know much about the the actual history of the man, but the picture portrays him as an uncompromising, unapologetic, but humble and likable character. mcqueen brings him to life brilliantly. when it comes to characters like this i think i agree with ford's conclusion in "the man who shot liberty valance:" "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
tom horn: "what's the difference between a u.s. marshal and an assassin?"
U.S. Marshal Joe Belle: "with a marshal the checks come on time."
Born To Kill - the film begins outside a city building where claire trevor's character just got a divorce and immediately you know you're in for something different. in many ways it's a typical noir, but at nearly every turn it's darker and uglier than even a dark noir like detour. darker and uglier in that the two main characters in this film aren't even remotely sympathetic. at least in a film like detour you felt bad for the guy's bad luck. in the dark warner gangster pictures of the 30s/40s you knew the characters were bad, but you were sorta disappointed to see their downfall. audiences pulled for those characters because they were interesting and capable. tierney and trevor are somewhat interesting, not very capable and not at all sympathetic. their victims aren't much more sympathetic, rather they come off as mostly pathetic. tierney's wife and trevor's fiancé are both fine people, but they're boring and seeing them victimized by their own ignorance and stupidity isn't all that sad.
the real appeal of this film is in the script. it's simply fantastic. there are plenty of great one-liners and pearls of wisdom. two characters are in a cafe talking about coffee and one says something like "coffee always smells better than it tastes, have you noticed that?" the other says "As you grow older, you'll discover that life is very much like coffee - the aroma is always better than the actuality."
Helen Brent: If you go to the police, you'll see Laurie [who is dead] sooner than you think.
Mrs. Kraft: Are you trying to scare me?
Helen Brent: I'm just warning you. Perhaps you don't realize - it's painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.
there's plenty more where that came from. just really great writing, the kind of writing you almost never hear anymore. performances were decent. elisha cook, jr. is his usual great self. he's definitely one of my favorite character actors. B.
Falling Down - as much a film about a man as it is a film about a city and the modern condition. in this way it reminds me of a serious version of office space. douglas plays a man at the edge of his rope. beaten down by the heat of the day, the rat race of life and the modern condition. if you don't know what that is then you're not likely to enjoy this film. for me the film has always been about living vicariously through douglas's character. it's like watching office space and seeing livingston's character shrug off work and telling his boss essentially to fuck off. of course this film is more serious than office space. it addresses more than just the minutiae of the workplace - it encompasses the breakdown of the family unit, issues of fitting in, class issues, urban decay, etc.
it's a well shot film. you feel the heat and there's good energy to it. the film is balanced with more comic relief than i remember and that's a good thing. it peters out a bit towards the end, but it ends the way it should; the only way it can, really. it's been twelve years since it was originally released and that's enough time to reflect upon how well it holds up. i think it holds up quite well and is a small modern classic.
sure, there are elements that i could have done without (for example, it being duvall's last day on the job is a bit cliché), but they're pretty minor points against the backdrop of a thoroughly entertaining and cathartic filmgoing experience.
note: the japanese cop plays frances mcdormand's old friend in fargo. A-.
Papillion - a remarkable prison film starring mcqueen and hoffman; goldsmith does the score and schaffner directs. with the exception of koyaanisqatsi every one of my favorite films has great characters. characters are more important than any other element of a film for me. for a film to be successful it has to have characters who are interesting, multi-faceted and compelling. this film oozes characters, beginning with mcqueen and hoffman. both turn in absolutely great performances here. it's not hoffman's best performance ever (midnight cowboy and the graduate probably tie for that honor), but it's high on the list of many great performances. this is probably mcqueen's best performance, though i haven't seen the sand pebbles (which is usually labeled his best).
it's a film the reminds me of "i am a fugitive from a chain gang" and "shawshank redemption." it takes place primarily inside of a french prison in the Caribbean and focuses on mcqueen's (who is wrongly jailed) struggle to gain freedom. in this way it's like many prison films. i really like films about prison and war. to me they feature the best and worst of humanity, the extremes of humanity and they do so in the most base circumstances. they strip away everything and reveal people for who they are. this film does that about as well as any other i can think of right now.
i saw schaffner's "patton" some years ago and don't remember much about it, but watching this film makes me think i need to revisit that one. schaffner's direction is exactly where it needs to be. they talk about drummers playing "in the pocket" and i think that that term could apply to schaffner's direction here. it doesn't mean that he has a lack of artistic flourish, rather it means that when those flourishes arise, they are perfectly timed and executed. schaffner's direction is always rooted in keeping the viewer engaged. he gives visual cues before something happens, he visually echoes the emotions of the characters and of the audience; and, at the same time, he doesn't bludgeon you. he shows you the edge of the cliff, but he doesn't push you over, as some are want to do.
i like direction that uses the medium of film in a creative way. most films are cut and covered in a fairly conservative, prosaic and typical fashion. they're cut and filmed in a way that is meant to be easy to read and leave as much to the acting and plot as possible. the same can be said for most scores - they're there enough to know they're there, but not to actually say anything. schaffner's direction and goldsmith's score, however are present. they make themselves known and it's never a bad thing. directors are often afraid of suffocating a film with their style, and sometimes rightfully so (because a lot of directors suck). schaffner, though, directed Papillion with confidence and style. he's never overbearing and his direction never asserts itself too much. likewise, goldsmith's score is present and assertive, but never overbearing or at all prone to detracting from the essential focus at the time (advancing the plot, establishing a character, etc.). B+.
"blame is for god and small children"
Narrow Margin - original version of the remake with gene hackman. i don't recall the remake too much. i remember it was decent enough, but nothing spectacular. this one, though, is.
it's almost entirely about the script (read these over, for starters) and the acting, both are remarkable. marie windsor (who plays elisha cook's wife in the killing) is as great as usual. she's caustic, sarcastic and an all around pain. charles mcgraw is great as the copy assigned to protect windsor. his voice is awesome and his delivery in exchanges like this are great:
Walter Brown: You're a pretty good judge of crooks, Mrs. Neall; the only place you slip up is with cops. I turned the deal down.
Mrs. Neall: Then you're a bigger idiot than I thought! When are you going to get it through your square head that this is big business? And we're right in the middle.
Walter Brown: Meaning you'd like to sell out?
Mrs. Neall: With pleasure and profit, and so would you. What are the odds if we don't? I sing my song for the grand jury, and spend the rest of my life dodging bullets---if I'm lucky!---while you grow old and gray on the police force. Oh, wake up, Brown. This train's headed straight for the cemetery. But there's another one coming along, a gravy train. Let's get on it.
Walter Brown: Mrs. Neall, I'd like to give you the same answer I gave that hood -- but it would mean stepping on your face.
Walter Brown: Sister, I've known some pretty hard cases in my time; you make 'em all look like putty.
note: there's a line spoken by marie windsor ("Well, use your own sink. And let me know when the target practice starts!") wherein she accentuates the "target practice" much in the same way that anders does in welles' "the lady from shanghai."
characterization is pretty great. especially between the two cops in the first reel of the film. the first exchange they have in the cab on the way to pick up windsor is great. the entire first reel is tightly constructed and effective. fleischer establishes the main characters and their relationships very efficiently. he jumps right into the action (unlike the remake) and this is part of the reason the film is so good, and short (71 minutes). writers/directors should be required to watch the first reel of this film for precisely this reason.
also notable is fleischer's use of a hand held camera in many of the sequences. since the majority of the film takes place on a train it made sense to use a hand-held camera. it adds a level of dynamism and movement that matches the subject matter. it looks good and was probably relatively new at the time.
man, this script is fucking great. B+.
4 Little Girls - overblown documentary about the tragic events in alabama, 1963. by now most have probably heard of the four girls killed in the bombing of a local church, what the film seeks to do is contextualize the event a bit and give the girls a personality. lee does both, and in this sense the documentary is a success. however, it's overblown and heavy handed, and that detracts from the overall feel. i just hate it when a filmmaker bludgeons you with sentimentality. some might call me heartless for not liking this film very much. sometimes it's a good thing to tell the audience what they should be feeling, others it's not. this was a case of the latter instance. C+.
Fog - not the best that carpenter has to offer. i still think that "the thing" is his best work, but that's based upon hawks' "the thing from outer space." fog has been remade and is slated for release later this year. i'm not entirely sure why you'd remake this film. it's a so-so horror flick overall. really it's more of a cautionary tale than it is a horror film. the story revolves around a small coastal town whose history is built on the murder of a leper colony; the fog is their comeuppance. C.
Fantastic Four - directed by the same guy who did barbershop. i can't comment on his other work, but this picture lacked subtlety, intelligence, good writing (not his fault), and good acting (partially his fault). there were moments where his direction was effective (the first scene where the fantastic four work together, and the scene where torch and thing get into a fight). he tried adding some artistic touches - the introduction of doom and the pull out-zoom in effect later in the film - but overall it lacked a strong directorial sense. he doesn't have a firm grasp of timing, story arc, subtlety, or characterization. the story was told well enough, but it wasn't a strong picture. D.
Guns, Germs, And Steel - great three hour documentary brought to by the folks at national geographic in conjunction with jared diamond, author of the book of the same name. diamond's work here essentially makes a case for geographic determinism. that is, a culture's fate is largely contingent upon the geographical location of said culture. why, for example, are the people of papua new guinea so much poorer than europeans? he posits that it boils down to the right/wrong combination of arable land, climate, and livestock. because of these larger causes, secondary causes - guns, germs and steel - are able to shape the fate of societies. by the end of the documentary he summarizes his work in a less deterministic way, saying that geography is essential in understanding how we've gotten to be where we are and how we should go about changing the fate of the less fortunate.
as a teaching tool this film is indispensable and absolutely essential. like anything else, it is important to remember that the work is just one potential truth, not the be all, end all. but diamond's work is so well-researched (especially if you read the book) that it's hard not to give great weight to his theory of cultural evolution. one problem i have with the documentary's presentation of his work is that it didn't address the potential role of humans in their own fate. what of the hitlers, the julius caesars, the eli whitneys, the buddhas of the world? politics and religion went essentially unaddressed. his new book, why civilizations fall, addresses some of the political reasons for a culture's failure - abuse of natural resources being one of those reasons.
diamond's work, i think rightly, assumes that humans, in the aggregate, always push forward with technology. europeans not only did better because of their geography, but also because they constantly wanted larger civilizations, harder steel, faster machines, better technology. i think it's an accurate representation of humanity, overall, but it's also a bit depressing because it seems to necessitate a constant pushing of the technological boundaries in order to avoid foreign conquerors.
the experts that diamond speaks with are uniformly great. they're all very knowledgeable and passionate about their field. interesting tidbit: malaria is now the #1 killer of africans under five years old because they live so close to each other. in the past tribes were spread out and away from water to avoid contact with the disease as much as possible. cities have changed that. B+.
Clash By Night - great film noir featuring stanwyck and ryan. directed by fritz lang. the real meat of the film is in the script. it's just great writing, the kind you don't hear too often. stanwyck summarizing her life: "four words: big talk, small results." stanwyck talking to (marilyn) monroe: "you're very pretty." "well, the boys whistle a lot." stanwyck in response to monroe saying it must be good to be back home: "home is where you come when you run out of places." ryan talking to bartender who has just served up three shots of bourbon: "i thought i said four." "you said a couple." "well, how many is a couple?" "to me, three." this last one turns out to set the table for the rest of the picture. stanwyck marries douglas, but ryan constantly pursues stanwyck and eventually pries her from douglas. it's a film about the clash between two philosophies, between to parts of stanwyck. there's douglas who plays a harmless, weak, nice guy; and there's ryan who plays a strong, brutish, unstable character. stanwyck is the protagonist with the questionable past (think naked kiss). by the end of the film she has to choose between responsibility and stability or freedom and instability.
the film takes place in a fishing town, on the edge of the world. it echoes the feeling that everything is close to falling apart and floating away. stanwyck and ryan are great, douglas is serviceable. the ending was probably issued by the hayes code. that's not to say it was awful, it was okay, but i would have preferred the darker alternative. watch it for the performances and the writing. B+.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory - in my opinion every single work of tim burton's is overrated, with the possible exception of planet of the apes, which generally got the panning it deserved. that's not to say his stuff isn't good - nightmare before christmas is good, batman is good, ed wood is good, pee-wee's big adventure is very good, but i don't think any of them are as good as public seems to think they are. it's interesting that this film is titled "charlie and the chocolate factory" and the original is titled "willy wonka and the chocolate factory." interesting because the former focuses much more heavily on charlie and this one much more heavily on willy wonka. let me get this part out of the way - the original is way better, this one shouldn't have been made, johnny depp is no gene wilder, the songs in this one didn't compare, visually it wasn't as good, it didn't flow as well, etc.
depp played wonka much weirder than wilder. i haven't read the book in twenty years so i don't remember what he was like in the book, but it's a moot point anyway. depp vs. wilder, it's no contest - wilder was more likable, more funny, more sinister, more dynamic, more interesting and more entertaining. wilder is a better actor and the character he created for wonka was just better, no contest. as a quick aside - there were all these really obnoxious little girls in the back of the theater who laughed at about 90% of the lines (funny or not) in the film. the most funny line in the entire film went something like this: wonka was describing why he setup the contest. he was getting his hair cut when he discovered a single silver hair. he held it to the light and said that that's when he realized he needed an heir. so he set out to find one through the golden ticket contest. i laughed and the entire theater was silent. wtf? ...hair/heir, i thought it was a good one. that was the best part of the movie. anyway, back to depp. he played wonka as an almost sassy social outcast. the social outcast part was fine, i think wilder's portrayal as an eccentric was better, but...anyway, the sassy part was odd. it really catered to the young female population, apparently.
visually the picture was intriguing. the stark, bluish-white exterior contrasted well with the colorful interior of the factory. this is something that burton does consistently well. however, i still feel that the original did a better job in this department. the colors were more vibrant throughout the film. whereas the remake lost some of it's vibrancy in some of the scenes.
the oompaloompas in the original were cool looking. in this one it was just one oompaloompa copied over and over again. it was retarded. i don't understand the choice at all. in a related note, the special effects in this version were surprisingly opaque. the original didn't have many effects, but the ones it did have (mike teevee floating being teleported, violet turning into a blueberry, etc.) were well-executed and believable enough. in this version, though, they looked like effects; they just looked too digital.
the songs, a highlight in the original, seemed an after thought in this version. the lyrics are less memorable and the music less timeless.
i started this review thinking that the film was average. after writing this review i've realized just how utterly mediocre it is. i did laugh a few times. i liked the kid who played charlie (though he was lost because of depp's suffocating presence) and i liked the visuals, but, overall, the picture just has too much to measure up against. C.
Bewitched - it's funny that just yesterday i was espousing the potential greatness of a good hollywood film, and today i watched a good example of what hollywood is really about. capitalizing on past successes by repackaging them, adding some stars, some sfx and merchandising dollars. this movie was such crap. i think the best thing about this movie was that it wasn't another remake starring nicole kidman - namely the stepford wives, which is one of the worst remakes of all-time.
here's the thing - nicole kidman is a talented enough actress, but she picks some really bad/uninteresting roles. i've seen nine films of hers and i can only say that two of them (dead calm and to die for) are worth watching. i don't really feel like getting into all the ways in which this film fell short. i don't feel like reliving the flat writing, the dead acting, and the piss poor direction. the truth is that nora ephron hasn't written/directed in five years and she probably needed a paycheck. she churned this piece of crap out in a single day (seriously, in an interview on the charlie rose show she admitted that she conceived the idea in a single night at the behest of a producer).
to: hollywood producers
cc: nora ephron
subject: recent crap
we live in a postmodern age, yes, but that doesn't give you license to rip off past work for a quick buck. people don't want to see a rehash of the same old stuff. you've got to add something. i don't mean a bow and a card, you have to significantly alter the product, otherwise you're merely regifting; and people aren't going to like that in the long run. please stop. from good films to bad films, you guys just keeping making the same old stuff over and over: yours, mine and ours, batman, bewitched, charlie and the chocolate factory, stepford wives, rollerball, assault on precinct 13, war of the worlds, transporter 2, fog, king kong, xxx: state of the union, saw 2, attack of the clones, etc. please stop doing it. i know that hollywood has been making sequels and remakes for decades, but never at this clip and never at this poor a level. yes, some of those pictures are worthwhile, but please get away from relying on that formula. people want pictures with some creativity. yes, we're a bit stupid right now. yes, it's been working for a few years. but that time is coming to a close. the box office numbers this summer should prove that to you. try something new. and for the untalented among you (n.e.) - just stop making pictures altogether. i know that growing up in the sixties and watching auteur pictures from relative amateurs like dennis hopper gave you the confidence to make your own pictures without any talent or formal training, but that time is over. you're not doing enough drugs to mask your lack of skill. you're not creative enough to make an inspired picture. it's a different time. move on. clean your house and dress up your pet poodle.
Island - spoilers... this film embodies some of the definitive characteristics of a worthwhile hollywood film. many deride hollywood cinema as sweets for the masses - empty films without character, artistic merit or thoughtful plots. though i acknowledge the great deal of truth in this assessment, i think it's a bit simplistic and elitist. first, what's so wrong with film as pure entertainment? i enjoy decasia, koyaanisqatsi and un chien andalou as much as the next guy, but i also feel the need for a balance in my cinema; that's where hollywood films find their worth. secondly, there are some fine examples (die hard, kill bill, matrix, terminator, etc.) of hollywood pictures that rise above the stereotype and actually combine "low" entertainment with "high" art. the island is one of those pictures. i don't mean to group it in the same category as the aforementioned, but it's a solid film with plenty of fodder for those in the audience who choose to reflect. i'm also not saying that the message, or questions raised, are as refined, cohesive or synthesized as something like foucault's "discipline and punish," but we are talking about a multi-million dollar film, so i think the standards should be adjusted accordingly.
the island takes place 15 years in the future (a bit too soon, if you ask me) where cloning has been perfected and turned into big business. johansson and mcgregor play clones secluded from our world in a compound that ensures the clones are in good health in case the original humans need a donor organ or the like. clones are spawned at the same age as the original human and are mentally unsophisticated as a result. essentially the clones are treated as products and the compound acts as a farm. in order to keep the clones under control a metanarrative is constructed. the details are murky, but essentially it involves an apocalyptic contamination which prevents the clones from wanting to leave the compound. sex and love aren't taught to the clones, close personal contact is prohibited, and everyone is monitored at all times. when one of the clones leaves to provide their counterparts with an organ transplant the rest of the people in the compound are told that that person has won the lottery. when someone wins the lottery they supposedly go to an island free of contamination - it explains the person's disappearance and gives the clones something to hope for. think thx-1138 and you'll have an excellent idea of the atmosphere, both visually and psychologically. indeed, the entire film plays like a hybrid of thx-1138, the matrix, a clockwork orange and blade runner. one advantage is has over blade runner and thx-1138, though, is the presence of comic relief; that, and it's not directed by george lucas, which is generally a good thing. i digress...
let me use that slight of lucas as a segue to my opinion of bay. i haven't seen the bad boys films, but i have to admit that i enjoy the rock and armageddon for what they are. pearl harbor was syrupy and contrived. so, going into this picture, i wasn't too sure what to expect. i know he can make a good picture and i know he can make a bad picture. also, i generally i don't like johansson. she's a decent enough actress and has the ability to be good looking, but her "best roles" have either left me uninspired (lost in translation) or uninterested (girl with a pearl earring, horse whisperer, love song for bobby long). in other words, i didn't go into the picture with strong expectations in either direction.
philosophically it's not as ripe as the matrix, but it certainly is ready to be intellectually harvested. right to life issues, the existence of a soul, nature vs. nurture, the issue of identity, politically implications of cloning technology, the nature of memory, etc. it's the kind of film that you really should watch with someone. i liked that the island is initially portrayed as a desired location, like heaven. but as the film progresses the compound where the clones live turns out to be the true island; and in this sense it is an inversion of heaven and hell. the clones' compound is like the garden of eden with the head scientist as god. but it's inverted because god is evil and the clones are pure (remember, though they appear to be older, they're only 2-3 years old in most cases). what makes it even better is the message that curiosity (traditionally seen as sinful - pandora, "curiosity killed the cat," the garden of eden story, etc.) is something to be embraced - it ends up setting mcgregor and johansson free.
late in the film ewan mcgregor confronts his outside version and there's a standoff between the two of them and the person hired (played by Djimon Hounsou) to contain the mcgregor/johansson escape. ewan vs. ewan had me thinking about the nature of identity. each version competes to convince hounsou that he is the real version of mcgregor's character. we live in a world where the original has essentially lost its worth. every cd is equally important. with paintings we still value the original, but more and more we value the copy as much as the original because there isn't any practical difference between the two. will this trend continue to the point where a human clone has the same value as the original? if so, what's wrong with that? equal, but different? questions for the ages, but the interesting thing is that the film lends itself to these questions and interpretations - something many blockbusters don't do.
the minor stuff: the set design was quite good and the special effects were transparent. i didn't like the large number of product placements (from beer to cars to video game platforms to credit cards), but i guess that's what i meant when i said that this film embodies the definitive characteristics of a hollywood film.
when i watch a film i ask to be entertained, educated or otherwise moved on some level. when i watch a hollywood film i expect to be only entertained. occasionally a film like this comes along which has characters i can sympathize with (hounsou, mcgregor and johansson), an engaging plot, a message, the potential for intellectual readings, some comic relief (not completely reliant upon buscemi, by the way), and solid technical attributes. sure it's derivative at times and a little too long, but, from what i've seen, this is the best film of the year. B+.
Devil's Rejects - rob zombie makes decent music and decent films. there isn't anything that's spectacular about either, but the stuff he does is enjoyable enough. he's a bit like tarantino in that he knows a lot about what he likes and it shows in the films he makes. zombie's interests aren't as varied and he's no where near as good a technician or artist of film, but it's nice to see the love of the material come through in the work. there's a plethora of cameos from people all over the horror genre - sid haig (naturally), ken foree (yay), michael berryman, bill moseley (who is really good here), etc. zombie's two films are occasionally fun, scary and funny which makes them good enough to watch, but nothing to write home about. the ending took some liberties and i'm not sure if the artistry quite panned out the way he would have liked. had an oddly chosen soundtrack. C+.
Bad News Bears - linklater has two kinds of films - mainstream films and indie films. the indie films should have their own genre - the philosophy genre, because the major axis upon which those films turn is one of philosophical discussion and exploration. those films include slacker, waking life, before sunset and before sunrise. the mainstream films include this one, school of rock, and dazed and confused. i prefer the philosophy films, but i think that his other films do a decent enough job of entertaining. linklater apparently works pretty well with kids because the kid actors in this and school of rock are relatively decent. generally i think that kid actors aren't very good, but in those films they hold up their end of the bargain. that said, the girl who plays amanda (sammi kraft) was a bit disappointing in a key role. it turns out that she's a baseball player, not an actress, so that explains is. and since i've said in the past that i prefer directors pick athletes to play athletes, i guess i have to eat my words here. she was very believable as a pitcher, too bad she wasn't a very good actress.
thornton turns in a decently caustic performance. unfortunately greg kinnear wasn't quite up to task as his counterpart. towards the end kinnear was evil enough, but he came off as uninspired early in the film.
in a way i viewed the film as a statement of personal philosophy. the final shot, which shows the bad news bears celebrating their defeat on the diamond, pulls out and reveals a waving american flag. my first response was "ah, that's retarded." but i thought about it and the its source - linklater, who i consider a generally thoughtful person. perhaps it was meant to widen the scope of the picture. it made me reflect upon the rest of the film. the inability of the bears to get along with the other teams, the brash style, the lovable losers who embrace diversity and social outcasts and turn into winners as a result. and what of the inability of the all white yankees (winners of the championship) to accept the diversity of the bears? i enjoyed that aspect of the film, especially as manifested through the character of Ahmad Abdul Rahim (who wears #25 because mark mcguire is his favorite player). in him, and the bears in general, i saw a struggle between classes, races and lifestyles. i actually liked that the film poked fun at it while respecting it on the whole.
the film wasn't as funny as it could have been, but i laughed enough. i felt that i got to know all of the players, which is something that a film with this many "main" characters usually neglects. B-.
Assault On Precinct 13 - a rare instance where the remake is better than the original. it's not that this film is bad at all, it's more a testament to the merits of the remake. i must admit, however, that the remake didn't seem to have the same macro benefits as the original. that is, the carpenter version does a good job of portraying the story/characters as a foil for society, whereas the remake seems to be lacking this aspect. normally this goes far in my book, but in this case the film felt a bit dated and had some low production values that hampered the film's overall quality. i liked the film because of the inverted societal roles - the hero is a black cop and his wingman ends up being a white criminal; there's a bad ass chick who ends up being one of only two people who were shot and survive to the end; and of course the police station is under siege by gang members, rather than the inverse. in this way, and the brutality that is depicted, it's an interesting film. carpenter's soundtrack was also a highlight. B-.
House Of Bamboo - a not-very-good remake of street with no name. other than the fact that this takes place in japan, house of bamboo differs most strikingly in its choice to leave the audience out of the loop until about 30 minutes into the picture. street with no name begins with the murders and we see the police/fbi responding to those crimes by sending stevens in as an undercover agent. this film begins with the murder, but we don't see the law enforcement's response until about 30 minutes in when it's revealed that robert stack is an undercover MP.
fuller uses the camera in a very japanese style (long takes, good movement, good coverage), but the story sags and stack's acting is wooden. i liked the visual aspect of fuller's direction, particularly the use of high angle shots, however, the story wasn't very well crafted. robert ryan does his typically good job, but he's still not as good as richard widmark who played the same character in the original. C+.
Music Is The Weapon - short, but thorough documentary on the life of fela kuti. it covers a bit of his upbringing, his impact on nigeria, his politics, his music and his legend. it's a great introduction to fela, but it left me wondering how well he would hold up to further scrutiny. for example, he ran for president of nigeria and espoused ideas of equality and "africanism," but the documentary didn't really explore what that meant or what specific policies kuti had in mind. he also talks about his polygamous lifestyle as an african tradition. he points out that europeans have a wife and then go to the streets for their mistresses. he posits that it's better to have all your mistresses in your home, as wives. while i agree that it's more honest, both assume polygamy is a given. given his place and time, though, these are minor questions of mine; and they may have good answers. anyone who doesn't know who fela kuti is should be a bit embarrassed (i didn't until 2001), and anyone who likes him should watch this movie. B+.
Undertow - david gordon green is an overrated independent american director. you may know him for his first film - george washington (distributed on dvd by criterion). i think that green has a relatively distinct style, but that that, in these auteur-loving days, sometimes passes for artistic and technical aptitude. i love writer andrew sarris' work in "the american cinema," but i think he underrates filmmakers like stanley kubrick because they don't appear to have a singular style. in reality kubrick does have a set of stylistic/thematic consistencies in his work; norman kagan's "the cinema of stanley kubrick does a good job of citing and outlining these. but i digress. the point i'm trying to make here is that uniformity of style or consistency of filmic philosophy doesn't necessitate brilliance.
from what i can tell green's work revolves around a certain age (children 10/17) and economic range (the poor). in both george washington and undertow the main characters have to deal with the impact of a death near to them. it's like a film version of "from the mixed-up files of mrs. basil e. frankweiler" as realized by harmony corine. the acting in this one is better than it was in george washington, but overall i couldn't help but feel as though i was supposed to be blown away. in other words, there's a certain impact to the film, but it's not as powerful as green seems to have intended. C+.
Street With No Name - falls into the docu-noir genre of call northside 777 and he walked by night. though not as good as either, it's a pretty good flick overall. mark stevens plays an undercover fbi agent sent to find out who's behind the murder of two recent victims. in order to do this he goes through the same motions as the latest victim, hoping that this will give him some key clue. his backup man is ably played by john mcintire (far country, psycho, elmer gantry, tin star, asphalt jungle, winchester '73, call northside 777). stevens does a serviceable job with the lead, but the real star (as it often is when he's present) is richard widmark, who plays the crime boss stevens turns out to be pursuing. there's plenty of on location shooting and authentic technology in the mix to give the feel of a docu-drama. at the same time there's enough low-lighting (not to be confused with natural lighting) to retain the noir feel. the ending, of course, reaffirms the noir rules - those who do bad pay and those who fight it live to continue the fight. in this respect the film went a bit further than i would have liked. i love noir and they always end with the bad guys dying or getting caught, but the best ones make it a tragedy (killing) rather than a morality tale (this film). B.
Nightmare Alley - a strange noir, but i can't exactly say why. the subjects (carnival folk) of the film are certainly unconventional for noir, but that's not all that makes it a strange picture. the lead male sometimes acts like a femme fatale might (plotting, using sex to his advantage, etc.). that said, the true femme fatale of the picture trumps him in the end. the film also addresses the issues of demagoguery and alcoholism - issues that aren't generally associated with the noir genre. true, lost weekend (ray milland) was about alcoholism, but generally i think that noirs aren't associated with these issues.
the plot, roughly, follows a carnival worker who poses as a psychic and uses his gift of gab and ability to read people to his advantage. he rises from a minor position at the carnival to a national spiritual figure through his ability and deceptive, illegal tactics (which entail enlisting the help of a local shrink to get advantageous information on key figures). it reminded me a bit of elmer gantry or leap of faith in this way, but it predates both. in the end he gets his comeuppance in a fitting fashion.
the two things that separated this film were the different subjects it tackled, and the femme fatale reveal - which was pretty damned chilling. tyrone power was quite convincing at all points during his (d)evolution - as young upstart, confident demagogue, and lowly alcoholic wash-up. mike mazurki (night and the city) plays a brutish carnival hand and does his usual job with it. coleen gray (killing, red river, kiss of death) does a good job as the young wife-to-be of power's. she is vulnerable without being weak, young and good looking without being naive. B.
Dillinger - lawrence tierney, in an early role, stars as john dillinger. as legendary a character as dillinger is, it amazes me that this first filmed attempt at capturing his allure falls a bit flat. it's certainly not a bad film, but relative to something like scarface (either version) or bonnie and clyde, it just doesn't measure up. tierney does an adequate job, but i'd be more interested in seeing what ralph meeker does in the 1960 version. elisha cook jr. (killing, maltese falcon, big sleep, shane) and marc lawrence (asphalt jungle, key largo) play two of the gang members, but they aren't really allowed to shine because so much of the energy is expended on the relationship between dillinger and his mentor (played by silent era actor edmund lowe). to be fair, the film is only 70 minutes long so there isn't much room for secondary character development. i felt, though, that it would have benefited a great deal from another 15 minutes to flesh out some of the secondary characters and take a bit more time to get into dillinger's head.
besides the short running time and lack of true character development the film suffered a bit in the direction category. i should have taken notes because i can't recall some of the directorial lapses, but there were some illogical cuts and minor directorial miscues. there was also an inexcusable inclusion of a map of los angeles during a montage which was supposed to show the dillinger gang's heist spree in indiana.
if the film had been given the proper a-list treatment that it deserved i think it would have been more a classic in my mind, but, as is, it's a bit of a disappointment. C+.
Top Gun - if one is able to look past the fact that the film is completely worthless from a tactical standpoint (dog fights are all but gone in today's aerial warfare), and the fact that the soundtrack and acting are completely dated, and the fact that its a recruiting poster for the navy, and the homoeroticism (not that there's anything wrong with that), then one might be able to enjoy the pure camp of the picture. i think that liking it now requires either a strong sentimental attachment or an affinity for camp.
the action sequences are well done. anthony edwards's character is sympathetic (but useless as a sidekick - what did he do other than act as a rearview mirror?). "highway to the dangerzone" is dated, but decent. "take my breath away" was always a tad gayish for me. acting was fitting for the time and type of picture, but i wouldn't rate it as "good."
one last tidbit for anyone who thinks these guys are badass. at the beginning of the film tom skerritt brags about the top gun program and how it improved fighter kill counts during from 4:1 (our kills:their kills) to 12:1. the only real fight sequence in the film finds the top gun graduates right back at that 4:1 ratio. C.
Wedding Crashers - i've never really been sold on vince vaughn until now. it's quite an enjoyable picture and vaughn is the source of about 80% of the laughs. owen wilson is a good guy and plays one here. he doesn't produce a lot of laughs because he's basically there for the girls in the audience. vaughn is there for the guys and the crass, r-rated humor is a welcome relief from the pg-13 flicks that pull their punches. too often movies like this are hampered by the economic reality of an r vs. pg-13 rating. B.
Overnight - this guy is a total douche bag. troy duffy, writer/director of the boondock saints and band member of The Boondock Saints, is the subject of this documentary. we see his rise to hollywood boy wonder under the wing of harvey weinstein. then we see his fall to complete chode sucker; and nothing is sweeter. seriously, though, the guy is just a prick. he brags more than jay-z and has infinitely less talent. at several points in the film he says that never has anyone been under this pressure, never has anyone been this big in music and film at the same time. frank sinatra comes to mind - academy award winner and hall of fame musician. he also says that he's one of, if not THE, best indie directors around right now (filmed from 1997-2001). the guy barely made one picture in that time, and it was pretty good, but nothing near the level of another weinstein wonder boy - quentin tarantino. how about other indie directors like jim jarmusch, hal hartley, gus van zant, john sayles, etc.? all are better, more prolific and less obnoxious.
duffy's major problem is his solipsistic world-view combined with the rather large stick in his ass and his inability to have any self-perspective. i guess that's three problems, but with him it's hard to narrow it down to just one.
anyway, the film does good job of exposing his personality and manages to stay somewhat objective along the way. i'll never watch another movie by this guy again. troy gets an F- and the film gets a B-.
Bad Day At Black Rock - spencer tracy disembarks from a train in the california valley. immediately his presence is met with incredulous looks from the small town folk who haven't seen the train stop in black rock in four years. we're not sure why tracy is there, but he tells the porter that he'll only be there for a few hours. what follows is a story about racism, small town dynamics, redemption and more. the all-star cast (tracy, brennan, borgnine, marvin and robert ryan) is quite good and sturges's direction is better here than it was in magnificent seven. it's hard to say whose performance is best - brennan elevates every picture he's involved in, tracy's performance is quite powerful and ryan matches it on the opposite end of the spectrum. it's not a brilliant film, but it's the kind of solid picture you'd expect given the talent involved and it gets you thinking a bit so it's recommendable.
it's part of the controversial classics collection available through warner brothers. B.
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession - "i know that i know nothing" - socrates.
watching this film, and seeing a sampling of the great diversity of films that the z channel brought to its subscribers, cements this idea as well as anything. not to be conceited or anything, but people sometimes tell me that i know a lot about film and that i should parlay that into some sort of career. i always shoot back with: "i really don't know that much about film." they think it's humility, but it's really a mark of how much i know about film: enough to know that i know nothing.
the Z channel was the first paid channel in the nation (1974), the first movie cable channel. it was only available in LA and, at its height, it had only 100,000 subscribers, but its impact on cable and film is immeasurable. i'm lucky enough to have a vague memory of its existence. my dad was a subscriber, he got the monthly programs and he still talks about the channel to this day. this documentary addresses the rise and fall of the z channel, its impact and its program director - jerry harvey.
by 1982 the z channel had 80K subscribers in LA while HBO and showtime, which were fighting to get a decent subscriber base, had only 14K and 7K respectively. the z channel offered an eclectic selection of programming - the artsy fartsy, the neglected, the trashy t&a pics, etc.; they had it all. their programming was unlike anything i know of today because it gave such a wide view of "film" as to include classic american films like midnight cowboy or chinatown, as well as foreign classics by bergman and bertolucci and kurosawa, as well as late nite fare such as the emmanuelle films, and lost films like "bad timing," and cult classics, and blockbusters like "the empire strikes back," and over-looked masterpieces, and directors' cuts of otherwise watered-down pictures like heaven's gate and once upon a time in america. in this way jerry harvey and his staff encapsulated just about everything that cinema has to offer.
the documentary pieces together interviews with all sorts of industry folk - film critics like f.x. feeney, filmmakers like tarantino, altman, zsigmond, jarmusch, etc., as well as friends and co-workers of jerry harvey. one of the assistant programmers was actually a ucla student who worked at videotheque (where jerry discovered him) - a video store in westwood which my dad and i used to visit somewhat frequently. the documentary also splices in segments of the films that the z channel showed.
watching quentin tarantino talk about the impact z channel had on him was pretty fun. actually, hearing him talk about film in general is fun. it's a lot like seeing magic johnson talk about basketball - they both have a childlike enthusiasm for their respective loves and it translates very clearly in the way they talk about them. of course it helps that each are so gifted and knowledgeable that you can ride their enthusiasm without second-guessing their interpretation of a given item. it's one thing to be enthusiastic about a film like fantastic four, it's another to be excited about a film like the good, the bad, and ugly and be able to discuss it in a very impassioned, yet informed way.
it's impossible to guage the impact that the z channel had. clearly it had an impact on my father, who has said that the z channel kept his love alive for the many years between college and true cable/vhs. naturally, that likely means it had a residual effect on me. beyond the everyday nobodies like my dad and i, the z channel helped garner james woods an academy award nomination for his role in salvador (at least according to him). the film, which was in and out of theaters very quickly, was rediscovered by z channel subscribers because harvey pushed for a critic to interview woods at the same time that the z channel magazine was putting salvador on the front page and replaying the picture on tv. this, woods says, was the impetus behind his nomination for a best actor award that year.
sadly, the z channel didn't last because hbo and show time had more money to throw around, jerry harvey died, and they chose to bring on sports in order to bolster revenue a bit...which turned out to be a bad business/artisitc decision. harvey, who battled depression throughout his life, killed his wife and himself in the mid-80s and the z channel folded within a year. directed by the daughter of john cassavetes. B+
Call Me: Rise and Fall Of Heidi Fleiss - a bad film, but, all things considered, not a badly acted film. the major problem with this one is that it's over stylized and under-written. it also portrays heidi fleiss as a somewhat larger than life, tragic figure and she's neither. she's a minor celebrity, she was someone to know at the time and for those reasons she may have been important in certain circles, but she was never larger than life. as for the tragic figure portion...gimme a break. the film's dénouement heartbreakingly sappy - essentially fleiss says that doing time was rough, but that life is a great gift, blah blah blah. i'd recommend watching the nick broomfield documentary on her, if anything. that said, there is some decent acting here. the lead is decent given the material and there are some secondary characters who are well-played, again, given the material. D+.
Bad Boy Bubby - a really fun, offbeat, surprising picture. it's starts off as a very dark, very grim picture complete with incest, creepy sets, cat torture and the like. the story is about 35 year old bubby who has lived in his mother's dingy apartment his entire life. she's abusive and concocts a story that it's impossible to go outside the front door without a gas mask. clearly it's a fucked up set of circumstances for bubby. without going too much into the plot, bubby leaves the apartment and meets many colorful characters along the way. once he leaves the apartment the tone of the picture is much more on the humorous side. because bubby's life experience is so limited he often regurgitates things he's heard earlier in the film in response to a new experience. it makes for a funny effect and a possible commentary on the derivative nature of existence for all of us.
the film was a cult classic in norway and australia, but is basically unknown elsewhere. it's one of those films that has some potentially offensive elements and those elements are blown out of proportion and that kills small films like this. for people willing to give it a chance, though, i think it's a fairly rewarding picture. one of the more interesting technical elements of the film is the sound design which is completely relative to bubby. using binaural microphones placed on nicholas hope's (bubby) head the sound mixers were able to get a mix that was completely subjective. rather than mixing in several tracks, they had only one track with all the ambient elements and voice tracks included. it's a pretty interesting system because as bubby turns his head the sound mix spins with him so it places you with him in a way that few films do. the film also used a different cinematographer for each new scene/set. despite this the film doesn't seem to vary too radically visually. what it does do, though, is give each scene a slightly different look which makes sense since, for bubby, every new scene is a new experience.
it's not a film for the squeamish, but it's not a "henry: portrait of a serial killer" type of movie either. yes the imagery can be intense, but it's got such a different tone to it that those images don't have the same impact that they might in a different context. cult classic. B+.
Getaway - peckinpah is an action director, for me it's really that simple. outside of the title sequence - which is interesting for its use of time and editing - the best parts of the film are the two action sequences. the heist sequences is great for its building tension and cross-cutting and the final shootout sequence is also great. the space between is serviceable, but nothing fantastic. ali macgraw is dead sexy and kind of a katharine ross look alike. B-.
Cincinnati Kid - slim pickens was in getaway and terry southern wrote this film. both were associated with dr. strangelove. jewison's best picture is probably in the heat of the night with rollerball coming in second, but this one's quite good and certainly elevates my opinion of him. i guess i should see fiddler on the roof now.
edward g. robinson is well-chosen and very good, mcqueen is also very good. both exhibit a great deal of subtlety in the picture and that's especially important because their playing poker players. you somehow always know what they're thinking/feeling, but it's never so obvious that you cringe. B+.
Crossfire - roberts young, ryan and mitchum head up the cast and edward dmytryk does the direction. it's a good film, but i was a bit surprised to see it nominated for five academy awards. i think there are two reasons for this (the nominations, not my surprise): it's a picture that's friendly to the academy (the anti-hate [especially towards jews] agenda and the story revolves around soldiers in the recent post-war era); and it seems to be a kind of a weak year (1947). granted, i haven't seen bishop's wife or gentleman's agreement which had five and eight nominations respectively, but it still doesn't look like that strong of a year to me.
robert ryan has the toughest role and he does a good job with it. he plays a two-faced anti-semite who is affable one moment and hateful the next.
overall a good mystery with a really good script, good acting and a larger meaning that is timeless. B.
Sea Hawk - curtiz, flynn and rains team up again. though flynn and rains are both quite good, i think the star of the picture is curtiz and korngold. curtiz's direction is great, ambitious stuff and korngold's score elevates the film at every turn. for anyone who thinks soderbergh invented the use of the yellow filter to indicate a latin american setting...watch this film. of course curtiz wasn't the first to use different colors to indicate a change in location. griffith did it with intolerance, twenty plus years earlier and someone may have done it even before that.
there's a bit of a slow patch about an hour through the film, but it picks up again when flynn is captured.
it's a fun film that's shot really well. B.
Hiroshima Mon Amour - watched half of it and just couldn't get into it on any level. after that i watched it with the commentary for about 20 minutes and still couldn't get into it. i hate watching films like this because i know that there's something there to be appreciated, but, for whatever reason, they just don't appeal to me and so i miss out. there are plenty of fish in the sea, though, so i'm not too concerned. D.
Graveyard Of Honor - fukasaku, like suzuki before him, is a director who is seemingly without limits. both do things that are normally outside of the film language. this film is a fine example of this - fuakasaku's use of voice-over, color, widescreen and more all demonstrate just how ambitious and visionary he is.
graveyard of honor tells the story of rikio ishikawa, a real yakuza who emerged during the postwar chaos. he's basically an out of control, joe pesci type of gangster. he goes from clan to clan upsetting the order and disobeying the yakuza code. the story is about more than just ishikawa. we learn about the impact of the war and the realities of post-war japan. we see the intricacies of the occupation and the brutal realities of yakuza warfare. fukasaku presents it all in a nonjudgmental and entertaining manner. if you're at all interested in yakuza films you should certainly give fukasaku a look, and you could do worse than making this your starting point. B.
War Of The Worlds - i'm not a big spielberg or cruise fan, but i have to hand it to them here. it's a well-paced adventure flick with enough balance to keep it afloat throughout. cruise and fanning anchor a cast that's mostly solid. the sfx are good, but don't get in the way, as they do with some other blockbusters. spielberg proves here that he knows how to make a blockbuster as well as anyone. now, whether or not that's a good thing is a matter of debate. spielberg's blockbusters are smarter than some of the more typical hollywood fare, and that's a good thing. unfortunately, the success of his films pave the way for all sorts of crappy imitators.
early in the film cruise and his son are playing baseball and it becomes a microcosm of their relationship - cruise dominates with his power and the son acts out in response. this leads to cruise throwing the ball back to his son with increasing velocity. eventually the son steps aside and the ball flies through cruise's kitchen window. not only is it a telling scene, but it's funny. spielberg places the camera in the kitchen looking through the hole out to cruise, who is still in the yard starring at the hole in disbelief. what makes this scene even better is when the shot is echoed later in the film. this time the shot takes on a different meaning in a new context. watch for it and you'll see what i mean. these are the kind of touches that help separate the run-of-the-mill blockbusters from the genuinely well-made ones.
for me, films like die hard and the matrix are the films by which all blockbusters should be measured. war of the worlds isn't anywhere near this caliber, but it kept me interested the entire time and spielberg won back my confidence after the abysmal A.I. my only real complaint with the film is the soft ending, but, relative to the ending in A.I., the ending in war of the worlds is just fine. B.
Bullitt - a great piece of filmmaking. yates' direction picks up where the graduate and other films of its time left off and runs with it. this is one of those auteur era films that paved way for the style that became so prevalent in the 70s. the way yates moves the camera, racks the zoom lens, cuts the film, etc. all are just so much more fresh and lively than the studio pictures of the time.
mcqueen is, of course, excellent. he's the kind of hero who is easy to love because he's capable and confident without being cocky or brash. robert vaughn does a great job as DA chalmers, the villain of the picture. without a formidable villain, mcqueen's performance would have been lost, and would have brought the picture out of balance. great action films need great villains and even though vaughn isn't the direct enemy of mcqueen's, he is a major obstacle and the person the audience is rooting against most fervently.
naturally the car chase is among the best ever. this film paved the way for the french connection in many ways, but most of all because of the similar car chase scenes.
bullitt also has a certain throw back element to it. it harkens back to the noir detective films like call northside 777. one of the things i liked about it was the authentic locations and technological elements that were interwoven into the plot; both were elements call northside 777 used well. A-.
Land of the Dead - a real disappointment from the word 'action.' the leads were all fairly uninspiring, the zombies weren't any improvement on the first three films of the series, the writing - though occasionally funny - wasn't anything worth writing home about, and the parable element of the story wasn't particularly profound. the first two (night of the living dead and dawn of the dead) are clearly the best of the series and anyone who says otherwise loses all credibility. asia (ah-zee-uh) argento (daughter of dario - great italian horror director who co-wrote dawn of the dead and worked on the music as well) isn't as hot as everyone says and isn't a very good actress either.
from a story standpoint the film adds a class element to the commentary of the first three, but it's really not worth an entire film. this one lacks the style of the first, the pacing and humanity of the second, and the weird detachment of the third. it shouldn't have been made. C-.
Batman Begins - it's a fine film overall, but it really isn't as good as the hype it's gotten.
bale is a very good actor and he does all the bruce wayne scenes quite well. he captures the embattled, conflicted batman that we don't see in the other films. his anger is visible, but not completely out of control. his depression is known, but not pathetic. unfortunately he doesn't wear the batman suit well. there was just something about his voice and mouth that didn't quite sit right with me when he was batman. the anger and "badass" elements in these scenes weren't as believable as they were supposed to be. i like still bale for the role, he just didn't quite pull it off.
christopher nolan (following, memento, insomnia) is a good director, but is a bit out of his depth here. it's good of him to try something new, and i think the film's success will be good for him in the long run, but he's not an action director and the action sequences suffer a bit as a result. action is difficult to direct (tarantino even says it's the hardest genre for a director to be really good in) and nolan just doesn't have whatever it takes to put together a great action sequence. the action sequences in this film are better than those in star wars episode III, but they're just just not up to the level of something like spiderman or kill bill or even mr. and mrs. smith.
i liked the training sequences and the early part of the film which focused on bruce wayne becoming batman, but once he became batman i grew less interested. i felt the same way about the first spiderman, so perhaps it's just a preference of mine to see superheroes becoming superheroes. C+.
Mr. And Mrs. Smith - perhaps i'm growing more cynical with age, or maybe hollywood blockbusters have outgrown their welcome with me, or maybe this just wasn't that good a flick. doug liman (go, bourne identity, swingers) knows how to direct a picture, but he falls short on material here. the direction is mostly adequate, but the screenplay represents a major indictment of hollywood cinema today - it's a formulaic star vehicle.
what makes it worse is that there's a degree of potential in the screenplay. there's a subtext here that parallels that of american beauty, the graduate, and many more before it. a couple for whom the spark is lost, life is simply inertia, yet they are more similar than they know; deceit and a lack of communication have facilitated all this. if the characters were more roundly drawn it had a degree of potential to be a fun flick with an undercurrent of social commentary. instead we get a film that is (barely) buttressed by long, unbelievable action sequences and some successful comic relief.
this film is below the talent of liman and pitt and i've never thought that what's her face was very good as an action actor, even though she was in both tomb raider movies.
i watched this film at one of the cooler theaters i've ever been in - the alamo, just outside of austin texas. C-.
Step Into Liquid - bruce brown's (endless summer) son takes a stab at capturing the essence of surfing in this fairly straightforward documentary. the style is somewhat similar to the endless summer, but young brown's voice-over doesn't sound as good and isn't as well written. step into liquid serves as a good primer for those passingly interested in surfing culture. it touches a bit on the history, the spiritual, the competition and the more eccentric elements of surfing. C+.
Belly - hype williams is a talented visual artist and his direction is interesting to watch, however that alone doesn't make for a good film. this film is equal parts "never die alone" and "menace II society." all three employ voice-over narration and have a message of redemption and "going straight." this one's better than never die alone, but doesn't touch the humanity and realism of menace II society. dmx shouldn't be an actor, nas does a decent job and the females were generally bad. C+.
Grapes Of Wrath - ford, toland, steinbeck, and fonda - that's all you really need to say about this one. it's strange how time changes your perception/memory of a film. i remembered the film being about 20 minutes shorter and i remembered the final shot being one of cars on the horizon rather than of cars coming toward the camera with a danger sign in the foreground; there were also a few scenes that i had no memory of. to my knowledge there aren't any alternate cuts of the film so it can only be my memory.
ma and tom joad's speeches at the end are two of the more touching moments in cinema. A.
I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang - a simply great film. early noir style and themes, but before "noir" was a style. muni has a very good performance, but the star here is leroy who directs a tightly packed film. he tells the story sympathetically while keeping the pace quick. the last minute is excellent. watch this one yesterday. A-.
Fade To Black - documentary that centers around the sold out jay-z show at madison square garden. it's not strictly a concert video, but most of the footage does center around the event; footage of him working with producers is sprinkled throughout. this is sorta like watching any band documentary - from "meeting people is easy" (radiohead) to "i'm trying to break your heart" (wilco) - if you like the artist in question then you'll like the film. i think some of jay-z's stuff is good, but i wouldn't call myself a fan.
a concert documentary is unlike other documentaries where it is possible to separate the film form from the subject. because so much of the film's content is reliant upon your enjoyment of the performance it had better be an act you appreciate, or like, on some level. some of the concert footage in fade to black is semi-interesting, but most of it is pretty stock. at times it's tedious either because of jay-z's proclivity towards self-aggrandization or because of his lesser co-acts (memphis bleek, mary j. blige, r. kelly, etc.). i don't mind a bit of boasting, especially in hip-hop because the genre finds its roots in rap battles, but there's only so much i can take. when jay-z talks about the rap game needing him or being "pound for pound the best to ever come around here, excluding nobody" or that he's "supposed to be number one on everybody's list"...well, that just takes it a bit far; and what's more is that the first couple songs continue in this vein which, to me, is the wrong foot to start off on. as an aside, if we really want to talk about the best pound for pound hip-hop mc (which is what i assume he meant by "to ever come around here")...well, i guess it's a matter of opinion, but i think that the gift of gab, saul williams, and sage francis all employ better word play and the beastie boys, chuck d, dr. dre, puff daddy and eminem have had more impact on hip-hop and popular culture. i guess, though, that i'm just splitting hairs - jay-z is a big, talented artist so maybe he should be allowed to brag a bit. in general, though, i'm opposed to bragging unless your name is mohammad ali.
as a film it's fairly well done. i'd have preferred more out of concert footage and less of the aforementioned, weaker acts. i enjoy insight into the creative process more than seeing a live show covered on several high-definition concert cameras. regarding the creative process that is shown...it seems that at this stage in his career he (mostly) surrounds himself with talented producers (rick rubin, timbaland, kanye west, pharrell, etc.) and let's them throw beats his way until he finds what he likes. i guess when you're jay-z you get the pick of the litter.
i think that i just don't like documentaries like this in general. i didn't like 'meeting people is easy' or 'don't look back' or 'i'm trying to break your heart'...all of them failed to entertain me as much as the average, non-music-centered, documentary. C.
Lady Eve - funny preston sturges comedy starring fonda and stanwyck. the word play is great and the humor is subtle, so you have to be on your toes when you watch this one. plot-wise it's nothing really new, though maybe it was for the time. mistaken intentions of two potential lovers leads to a break, but everything works itself out in the end. a million teen-flicks have used this premise with less spectacular results. B+.
Palindromes - todd solondz isn't for everyone, this is obvious. i think each of his pictures finds him getting more controversial, more focused, more experimental and less funny. i think that happiness and welcome to the dollhouse were his masterpieces - they balanced commentary and humor quite well. storytelling was good, but wasn't as funny as dollhouse and happiness. palindromes begins with the death of dawn weiner, though we never see her we start in the church at her funeral. it's done in a documentary style and we see her brother giving his eulogy. the story is about a young girl who was dawn's cousin. the girl (aviva) is played by eight different actresses throughout the film. i don't really know what the purpose of this is - the actresses change between segments which are marked by intertitles denoting a person's name. usually the person is a character the girl meets in the following segment. most of the film finds this girl meeting interesting characters and having some sort of sexual interaction with them. early in the film she states that she wants to have a lot of children because then she'll always have someone who loves her. throughout the film she quests to get pregnant despite the fact (unknown to her) that she is unable to have a baby because of a botched abortion (which leads to a hysterectomy) that her mother forces her into earlier in the film.
solondz is more explicit in his commentary here than i think he normally is, or, rather, he is more specific. usually his films speak in general terms about social outcasts, but in this film he seems to take on abortion and hypocrisy more pointedly than past topics in his previous films. really, though, his theme is the same - it's a fucked up, cruel world without any respite. C+.
American Movie: The Making Of Northwestern - i've seen this film more than any other in the last five years. having seen this and hoop dreams again, i think i might need to reconsider which is my favorite documentary. i find that this one is always great because it's so easy to watch. it's got a great soundtrack, is well-constructed and covers the entire range of human emotions - from all out laughter to crying at the end. like hoop dreams, it gets to the very core of our life drive - the desire to be better than we are. joan puts it best: "mark wants to be somewhere that he isn't, but doesn't everyone want to be somewhere they're not?" yes. that's the very thing that makes us better with time. for me, seeing the ups and downs of mark's pursuit of the american dream is like visiting an old friend. his struggle reminds me of mine and watching him go through it the way he does strengthens my resolve to continue with mine. of course, it's done with such a degree of humor that it makes life not only seem surmountable, but potentially fun as well; or at least less earth-shattering when things go awry. this lesson isn't learnt and forgotten with mark, though, we see it in the failed potential and isolated existence of uncle bill and the small victories and innocence of mike schank. hoop dreams takes me on many of the same emotional rides as american movie, but it's a far more strenuous film to undertake. it's an hour longer and the ups and downs are so impactful that it's an emotionally draining picture. in a way, american movie is like the bite-sized, humorous version of hoop dreams and i love it for that. A+.
Hoop Dreams - i suppose it's a question you have to ask, but it's really impossible to answer...what is the best film of 1994 - pulp fiction or hoop dreams? i give the edge to pulp fiction because it's influenced culture more, is more quotable and has stood up to more viewings. that said, hoop dreams moves me to tears every time i see it because it reaches a level of humanity that only about a dozen films ever have.
with the kid stays in the picture and tarnation i remarked that judging the film has to be somewhat separated from judging the subject. this film not only makes that task impossible, it makes it unnecessary. the film is so well done and the subjects are so sympathetic that my feelings for them merged into one. james' light, but present, directorial touch makes the documentary a film, but never sullies the pure nature of the form. he slows time, develops stories, builds drama and enhances reality, but it never comes off as contrived, didactic or disingenuous. he deftly weaves together the stories of the two boys, their parents, friends, coaches, economic realities, and social circumstances into one tapestry of american inner-city life that really is as good as any two or three films put together (think menace II society meets aka don bonus meets he got game).
on 11/17/04 i wrote: "there's a good chance that hoop dreams is going to come to dvd thanks to criterion. i want that film on dvd probably more than anything else i can think of." when i bought this film on dvd i half-jokingly remarked that i could die a happy person. that said, this isn't my favorite film of all-time. it's probably in the top ten, but it'll always hold a special place in a my heart because synthesizes so many of my interests in such a profound, entertaining, and emotional way. it combines the best and worst of sports, family, politics, and society in one work that, from a filmmaking perspective, has very few flaws. there's certainly an opinion behind the film - you can tell in the way it is edited more than anything else. unlike wiseman's work, though, the film doesn't necessarily present a thesis on the workings/failings of a system. yes, there is a filmmaker's point of view, but i don't think that james makes the same type of docu-essay that wiseman did with something like "high school" or "hospital." besides, only the most pessimistic or heartless viewer could watch this film and fault it for any sentimentality or supposedly leftist viewpoint.
lastly, if the 170 minute runtime keeps you away from the film then you probably don't deserve to have this kind of filmgoing experience anyway. if that is the case you're probably better off wasting four hours reading a danielle steele novel or something. A+.
Shenandoah - another james stewart western, but this one is a lot different than those of the anthony mann era. stewart plays the sole parent of nine children in virginia during the civil war. his character is begrudgingly religious (it was his wife's last wish that they always attend church) and aloof in regards to the war. both make for an interesting philosophical discussion, as well as providing some good laughs. his rationale is that the war doesn't concern him and so he won't participate. regarding religion stewart summarizes his beliefs in his nightly prayer over the dinner table which goes something like this: lord, we sit here before you with this fantastic food which we planted, grew and reaped ourselves. the land was nothing before we came, but through our hard work we cleared the land and were able to make the land produce this bountiful meal which we will now enjoy. thanks.
whereas the first half of the film finds the family avoiding the war and subsisting on their own terms, the second half sees them dragged into the war with the kidnapping of the youngest son (same kid who played jem in to kill a mockingbird). union troops mistake him for a rebel and he becomes a prisoner of war. stewart and his family leave their homestead in search of the youngest son and what unfolds is a somewhat sappy, somewhat didactic tale on the importance of morality and participation. we also see the relative nature of truth and the power of perspective in war situations. this aspect of the film comes off as less didactic and is thus more successful. i don't think it was a symbol for the vietnam situation, though this is a possible interpretation.
overall it was a nice enough picture with a good performance from stewart, but it lacked some of the heart it strived for and that was unfortunate. none of the characters really resonated with me and, other than stewart, we didn't get to know anyone all that well. C+.
Big Lebowski - some (like john) would have you believe this is the best the coen brothers have to offer. i'll agree that it may be their most funny film, it may even have some of the best performances, or the best soundtrack, but i really can't say that it's their best complete film. i think that fargo and blood simple are better films. raising arizona may be just as funny, o brother where art thou has a better title and a better soundtrack, and miller's crossing has better cinematography and is more powerful. that said, it's a moot point. these guys are great and they make great films, arguing over which is their best is like arguing over which is better: chocolate or vanilla. the answer is vanilla, by the way.
jeff bridges and john goodman both have great performances, this is clear. the writing is great, layered stuff that encapsulates the high and low art that the coen brothers do so well. i felt that bridges' landlord was an excessive character and the sam elliot narration, bookends element is quizzical. i think it works, but i don't know that there's a really good reason to introduce/end the film that way. actually, i suppose it feeds the cinematic, self-aware feel that the rest of the film has. just as there is ccr playing as non-source music in one scene and it becomes diegetic, source music in the next scene without missing a beat. i don't know that i've ever noticed that before. on occasion you'll hear some music in a film and you'll think it's non-source music and then someone will close a door or turn a knob and the music will get lower, but i can't recall having seen it before where the music continues from one scene where it was non-source music to the next where it is source music. it's an interesting, albeit minor, element to that sequence.
the key here, though, is that the film is extremely enjoyable viewing after viewing. A.
Boogie Nights - one of the 10/15 best pictures of the last 20 years. it's an epic similar to the godfather in that it's ostensibly about a business (porn vs. the mob) but is really about a family. it's a story of broken families and how those parts make up a new family that is more stable and workable than that which they left behind. to me it had in spades what the godfather lacked - humanity without bravado and humor; all that and it's not pretentious. i think that a good sense of humor goes a long way, and this picture illustrates that as well as anything else i can think of right now. it's hard for humor to be pretentious, it's hard to dislike a human drama that acknowledges the humor in life and it's hard to not enjoy a film whose humor agrees with yours.
anderson moves the camera, uses music and intercuts characterizing shots very well. i love the little one-two second shots of a room which introduce you to a new space. he films his subjects in an equally efficient manner. we immediately know who/what characters are. if you compare the characterization in a film as vast as this to almost any other film released in the last ten years you get a very good idea of the limitations of hollywood film.
if you charted my emotions during the viewing of this film it might look like this \/\/\/\/\/\/\/. most filmmakers prefer a steady incline or decline, but anderson likes to alternate the funny and the depressing. it's never taxing or forced, rather it somehow it feels like the natural ebb and flow we know as life. A+.
The Kid Stays In The Picture - documentary about robert evans, businessman/actor turned hollywood producer of the 1970s-90s. evans narrates the picture as it is based on his autobiography of the same name. with films like this i don't know whether to judge the man or the film. the guy lived life, you can't say he didn't, but he's not always exactly a sympathetic or likable person. when he shows his vulnerabilities, though, he is a fairly likable person in spite of his associations with the likes of henry kissinger et al.
the picture does a good job of combining evans' narrative with stock footage, enlivened (camera pans and sfx) photos and other primary material. it's an enjoyable and entertaining film which tells evans' story fairly well. it also includes good information on the film industry during the 70s. B.
Tarnation - experimental documentary that reminds me of a cross between the experimentation of decasia, the music and lost childhood themes of boards of canada and a "normal" personal documentary like sherman's march. that said, in many ways the film is more a film than a documentary because of its stylistic impressions which convey mood more than story and because of its obvious creation of scenes such as the final image of the filmmaker laying his head next to his mother's. this, though, has been a question in documentary cinema since its beginning - with nanook of the north during the filming of which flaherty asked nanook to alter his everyday routine for the sake of the film. flaherty did this to an even greater extent in man of aran which was more a recreation of fact mixed with myth, than a documentary.
what's important isn't the definition of the film's genre, rather it's the impact of said film; and tarnation carries plenty of impact. the narrative takes us back to the meeting of the filmmaker's grandparents, walks us through their marriage, the birth of his mother, his birth, his father leaving without knowing of him, his mother's rape and his many troubles with mental illness. during this portion of the film text on the screen gives us the history in a third person point of view while using pictures, video and music to match the plot. it's a harrowing and intense piece of filmmaking and it's one that you don't see in documentary and usually don't like to see in a conventionally narrated picture because it might come off as lazy or simple. but in this case it works because we need to get the history to understand the present and the only way this history can be recapped is if someone tells it to us. generally documentaries will try to fill in this sort of information through interviews and intertitles, but i felt this method worked rather well and was more intense than the conventional.
when people say a film is a "human" portrait, i'm not quite sure what they mean. there are a lot of attributes that seem uniquely human, and many of them aren't very flattering. usually, though, the adjective has a positive connotation. we think of a human portrait as an emotional, sensitive, multi-faceted, sympathetic look at an individual. i think that's what this film is. that said, jonathan caouette isn't the most sympathetic of filmmakers/subjects, but given the history he shows in this picture, it's not easy to to slight him for who he is and what he's done. in some ways i thought him weak, confused, self-indulgent or too prone to self-pity. however, he is, ultimately, the epitome of humanity - flawed, disturbed, selfish, ugly, beautiful, kind, and (nonsensically) hopeful. B+.
p.s. a pretty good soundtrack featuring (among others) iron & wine, low and magnetic fields.
Fall Of The House Of Usher - B-.
Traffic - great, sprawling film about the impact of drugs and drug culture on society and individuals of all walks of life. stylistically it's an ambitious, and successful, film. the yellow filters for the scenes in mexico, blue for those in washington, etc. all work well in spite of how they have become cliché in other films. the cast is well-rounded and uniformly excellent. the score is understated and quite complementary. the storytelling is well done considering its intertwined and confusing nature.
one minor, but welcome, gripe i have is that the ending is unrealistically pleasant and optimistic. i don't know if i could have handled it if it were brutally realistic so i'm happy it ends the way it does, but we must remember what miguel ferrer's character says: none of this matters one bit - the drugs are still going to get in and people are still going to get high. it's the same noir-esque conclusion that the insurance adjuster comes to in siodmak's 1946 version of the killers: you went through all this trouble to uncover the mysterious death of burt lancaster and all the difference you made in the world is that the policy holders will see their premiums decrease by one quarter of a cent, congratulations. A.
Pulp Fiction - a great film in every way.
one of the things i noticed most in this viewing is how tarantino uses the camera in a similar way to that of leone's the good, the bad and the ugly. the film is very aware of itself, this is obvious. tarantino's use of the camera is often either about what the characters are not seeing or what the audience is not seeing. the zed scene is a great example. at one point we see the gimp being unlocked and let out of the box. rhames and willis are trying to look at what is happening, but can't see. we see them straining to listen to what's going on and we see the wheels turning in their heads; it's both comical and painful. later in that scene willis abandons his chainsaw for another weapon which we don't see for a moment. the camera pans up to reveal the samurai sword. in both instances tarantino is using the camera to heighten the mood or provide a comic moment. no matter what the purpose, tarantino is the master of ceremonies.
chronologically the final scene is of willis riding off into the horizon on a motorcycle with a twilight zone type of theme playing. A+.
Opposite Of Sex - christina ricci plays a jaded sixteen year old who narrates this dark, postmodern comedy. plotwise it's a little bit twisted and difficult to summarize succinctly here. the broad strokes have ricci leaving her house, moving in with her gay half-brother, stealing his lover, getting pregnant, and using a couple other guys along the way. meanwhile lisa kudrow (in a surprisingly good performance) plays the always-just-a-friend of the gay half-brother who tags along while he tries to help ricci and get back his lover.
the plot, though, is really secondary to the method of the film. it's interesting because ricci, while filling in the blanks with her voice-over, will add pithy comments and remark on how sappy the story is becoming or tell the audience to notice certain things because they'll be important to remember later in the film. most of her comments are snide or sarcastic and this creates a blase, or disinterested, tone. to me it invalidated the (few) impactful moments of the film because it gets the audience in an almost antagonistic mood. perhaps the two best examples come when we think that ricci may be dead. in the first example we hear a gunshot off camera and slowly pan towards her and the man who struggled over a pistol. they're both lying still and he is on top of her. both are motionless until his arm moves slowly, but it turns out that it's her arm moving his arm because she's under him. ricci says something like "bet you thought i was dead, huh. i can't die, though, i'm the narrator - remember? try to keep up." i actually didn't fall for it, but it created an author versus audience type of dynamic which i carried throughout the rest of the film. it happens again later after she's given birth. there are complications and we see her brother and friends grieving over her death. i did fall for it this time, but the tone was different. she says "bet you thought i couldn't die, huh. well look how sad all these people are...and i bet you may even have started to like me a bit in spite of my bitchy antics." after a bit of this it turns out she isn't dead, she was just fucking with us. in this instance i believed that she was dead, but i didn't care like she thought i might. she was a worthless manipulator. sure she's young, but i never warmed up to her, so in both instances the postmodern manipulation backfired - once because i didn't fall for it and once because i didn't care.
at the beginning of the film she exclaims "this isn't going to be the kind of film where i grow a heart of gold in the end, or say 'i learned a lot that summer,' so if that's what you're looking for you won't like this movie..." but in the end she doubles back on this. it's clear she has learned something and she says "i won't say that i grew a heart of gold, but i will say this: i sure learned a lot that summer." she says it sarcastically, yes, but it still contributed to the feeling that she, and the filmmakers, wanted to have it both ways. they want to entertain you and claim that this film is different, but it really isn't - it has many of the same conclusions that those kinds coming-of-age films always have.
i'm not sure if that makes the film better or worse. it's worse because the film takes a holier-than-thou approach to the genre, but still sells out in the end. and it's better because it acknowledges what the genre is about and makes fun of it. i can say that it didn't work for me, but i can see it working for others. it's not a film that i particularly enjoyed, but it'll stick with me longer than a slightly more enjoyable genre picture.
christina ricci is consistently in some of the more interesting independent-type pictures. C+.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith - what an enormous waste. i'll get the good stuff out of the way first: hearing the opening theme always gives me goose bumps. hearing darth vader breathe for the first time also gave me goose bumps. the special effects were some of the best and most transparent that i've ever seen. everything else was a varying degree of awful. lucas's directing, especially during the many action sequences, was just plain bad. he doesn't understand subtlety, he doesn't know how to direct actors, he doesn't know how to edit or film a good action sequence, he doesn't know how to choreograph a good fight scene, he...just sucks.
the acting, from top to bottom, was bad. the script (with the exception of the line (roughly) "so this is how liberty dies - with tremendous applause") was flat, simple and, frankly, piss poor. obviously the story was known beforehand so nothing really held my interest in that respect. that said, for a 140 minute long movie there was a remarkable lack of plot. character or theme development usually take the place of plot in good films which are thin on plot, but that wasn't the case here. anakin becomes darth vader and that's about it. thematically it's pretty much the same old mumbo jumbo - balance, avoid being selfish, the dark side is tempting, etc. all of it was better done in episodes 4 and 5.
the most remarkable thing about the film is that it actually detracts from episodes 4 and 5. watching this film i couldn't help but feel that the emperor and darth vader lost some of their mysterious, dark allure. they're both much bigger badasses in the original films. similarly, obi-wan comes off as a whiny, sorta average jedi in episodes 2 and 3. this movie is a great example of exactly why prequels shouldn't be made. of course, i bought a ticket so i just contributed to the problem, hopefully this review will deter you from doing the same.
oh, and there were more corny and uncomfortably bad moments in this movie than there were in the fast and the furious so...D-.
King Kong - sort of a blockbuster before the official age of the blockbuster. i'll admit that i've never seen the original version so i can't compare it to that...
overall it's a pretty fun flick, though it runs a bit long for my taste. grodin provides some good comic relief, but isn't given enough screentime. jessica lange is quite foxy in the picture (her first) and there's nothing wrong with that. jeff bridges is pretty decent in the most boring of the three major roles.
the sfx and set design were pretty opaque and actually detracted from the enjoyment of the film.
the film's music, done by john barry (bond films), was quite enjoyable and, at times, reminiscent of some of glass' minimalist stuff.
i suppose the king kong story could be a cautionary tale or a parable of sorts. grodin, who works for an oil company, chances upon king kong while in search of oil. he only shows an interest in kong after the oil turns out to be unusable. bridges, a stowaway scientist, cautions against such a misuse of nature and lives through the end of the picture. kong lusts for lange so perhaps there is a freudian element to the film. i think there may be something to the environmental angle, but the other stuff didn't seem to be supported in the film. really, though, it's just meant to entertain and it apparently did at the time. i'm looking forward to peter jackson's version. C+.
Never Die Alone - it's not a very good film, but (other than some cheesy dialogue) it's a really good screenplay. it tells a raw story and does it in a fairly efficient and entertaining way. the performances were generally overdone or poorly directed. mike ealy's performance started off unbelievable, but got better as the story wore on. dmx is a good example of a rapper who shouldn't be in films. it's not that he's an awful actor, it's more that we can tell he wouldn't be an actor if he wasn't a rapper first. he came off as falsely tough and his anger seemed strangely unbelievable; strange because his music is authentically angry. i felt the film lacked authenticity in other facets as well. the opening scenes where we are introduced to the major players in moon's gang came off as forced and TV-like.
one area where the film was entirely successful was in its raw representation of the gritty, unsavory side of the streets. the unchecked cruelty of dmx, in particular, helped contribute to this rawness.
one unexplainable part of the film comes early in the film - dmx turns for the better within the first stanza of the film and we never get a good reason for his turn around.
ernest dickerson (cinematographer for spike lee) does a decent job with the look of the picture, but i felt that some of the camera moves were ill-advised. dickerson seems like a capable enough cinematographer, but he didn't come off as wise enough to make some of the artistic decisions that a director is responsible for. C.
Drop Dead Gorgeous - mockumentary detailing the minnesota teen america pageant. it's basically a "best in show" film with a darker humor and has teenagers as the subject, instead of dogs. surprisingly there were some good comic performances from kirstie alley, denise richards, kristen dunst, ellen barkin, and more. the end of the film peters out a bit as the story moves outside of the small town setting. C+.
Railroaded! - another non-western by anthony mann. this one's a film noir similar to hitchcock's "wrong man." stylistically and plotwise it's a pretty stock film noir. there are some well shot sequences, especially those involving the villain - john ireland (red river, my darling clementine, a walk in the sun, gunfight at the ok corral, spartacus, etc.). sheila ryan plays the femme fatale and turns in a particularly caustic performance. ed kelly is the fall guy and, though he's well cast, doesn't do anything near what richard conte (call northside 777) or henry fonda (wrong man) did in their own "wrong man" type pictures. overall it's a pretty decent noir, it's got some good lines, some corny moments, some good cinematography and some good acting. B-.
Unbreakable - the cinematography is probably the best part of the picture. everything (from costumes and set design to lighting) seems to contribute to the look of the picture. this is shyamalan's second best picture behind sixth sense. samuel jackson, bruce willis and penn all turn in good performances. B-.
Glenn Miller Story - anthony mann is a great director, but the guy should have just made westerns. his westerns are all amazing and his other pictures (this, el cid, strange impersonation, etc.) are sorta hit and miss. this one tells a decent story about a good guy and stewart turns in an average (for him) performance. the star of the film is actually june allyson, who plays glenn miller's strong, encouraging wife. C+.
A Decade Under The Influence - a short version of "raging bulls and easy riders" (or is it easy riders and raging bulls?). doesn't really add much to the discussion, lists the same movies, interviews mostly the same people, cites the same systemic issues as leading to the auteur movement, but doesn't address the aftermath of the 70s - the blockbuster. camera work was actually a bit annoying (too many slow zooms), but that's me just nitpicking. C+.
Kicking & Screaming - pretty typical comic fare. will ferrell doesn't advance his career in any meaningful way here. he should take a page out of steve martin's book - martin seemed to add some wrinkle to his resume fairly deep into his career. sadly he has petered out lately, but if you look at his progression: the jerk in 1979, man with two brains 1983, ptaa 1987, parenthood 1989, la story 1991, spanish prisoner 1997, bowfinger 1999, novocaine 2001 you get a sense that with each major film he was expanding his career in some way. this is what the greats do. if will ferrell would rather end up like chevy chase, that's fine, but i just think he'd be wise to stay on the choosy side. that said, he was in woody allen's latest film, so maybe kicking and screaming was just a money movie. i think the guy has talent and i'd hate to see it wasted on a bunch of standard films like this.
all this isn't to say that k&s is worthless, it's not. there are some laughs and some decent secondary performances (including one by 14 year old steven anthony lawrence), but the screenplay left something to be desired and it's nothing hampered by the genre conventions we all know so well. C+.
Vision Quest - dated, but fairly well-done picture about a teenager trying to make his mark on the world. it seems like there were a lot of films like this during the 80s. at any rate, matthew modine is a standout and linda fiorentino shows us a bit of what we will see more fully realized in films like last seduction and dogma. the music was funny because that's just the nature of the 80s, and tangerine dream. unfortunately i saw a boom mic at a couple different points in the film, that's always a detractor. B-.
Joy Ride - one of the better thriller type pictures to come out in the last few years. it's directed by john dahl who, in my estimation, is one of the more underrated directors right now. it's not that he makes amazing films, it's that he takes decent genre scripts and makes them work in spite (or sometimes even because) of some of the conventions. red rock west and last seduction are both great genre pics that, sadly, have gone mostly unnoticed. this film, and rounders, are john dahl's most commercially known pictures but they don't sacrifice anything in terms of quality.
his direction of the establishing reel is absolutely packed. everything flows on top of that which preceded it. dahl establishes the protagonist and his character very quickly and moves the story along so that the road trip portion of the film begins as quickly as possible. there's an admirable degree of economy of storytelling in this first 10/15 minutes and i think the film benefits greatly from it. dahl uses props, good writing and efficient editing to set everything up quickly. images and sound cascade over each other to make a logical and coherent collage of storytelling which is remarkable because you're seeing it in a picture of this type and because it's such a simple thing that he's doing.
dahl even gets the most out of his actors. paul walker, who was amazingly bad in the fast and the furious, comes off as capable and affable. leelee sobieski does a good job in what is possibly the hardest of the three primary roles. and steve zahn nails his performance as instigator, comic sidekick, scared victim and hero. every great picture i can think of has some sense of humor and though this isn't a great picture, it does stand as a testament to the power of a few well-placed laughs.
the film doesn't rewrite the book on thrillers, but it is a well done piece of lighter fare for those who want to turn off their brains without stooping to the lowest levels of hollywood teen-schlock. i've seen it three times and it's still good fun. B+.
Boogeyman - subtlety is important in film and this one demonstrates that about as well as anything i've seen recently. boogeyman bludgeons the viewer with quick, abrupt spurts of action followed by ebbs of anticipation. what results is a trite, style-over-substance film that contributes nothing to the genre and doesn't even entertain along the way. its plot is thin to non-existent, its characters are underdrawn, flat and uninteresting and it has one half laugh. D-.
Crash - short cuts and magnolia-esque in its storytelling, cast-type, and ending, but nowhere near the tour-de-force that magnolia is. it begins just after a car crash and this, along with mark isham's (who also did short cuts) ethereal score, sets the dream-like tone for the rest of the picture; to view the film as a realistic set of events would mean a less enjoyable experience. the film ends with another car crash as the camera tracks along the street and eventually ascends to give larger meaning to the picture. it's certainly an ambitious film, but one that falls short several times.
matt dillion and don cheadle were stand-outs in the packed cast, but matt dillion's character was one of the least well-drawn in the film. it was either too easy to hate him or too easy to forgive him. either way it came off as simple, lazy or cliché. already the film is in imdb.com's top #250 (though i'm sure it won't last) and this is testament to the ease with which some people are manipulated. clearly this film lacks subtlety from time to time, and yet people were sucked in. all this isn't to say that the picture was without redeeming qualities, it's just that the picture is too neat and when dealing with a subject matter as unsavory, complex and faceted as racism, neat shouldn't be the desired effect. on the positive side were some good performances, a good, complementary score and some good dialogue. paul haggis also wrote million dollar baby. C+.
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - a witty comedy that seemed to do a good job of relaying the language and style of the original source material into the film form. it's a fun, engaging film with well-drawn characters, good dialogue and a cerebral humor that never comes off as highfalutin. B.
Femi Kuti: Live At The Shrine - combines live footage with behind-the-scenes type footage of femi kuti and his band. it's a well put together film. there's a nice balance of live footage, discussion of kuti's philosophy (musically and politically), and background on fela (femi's legendary father) and the shrine in nigeria. certainly worth checking out for anyone who is moderately interested in world music. B-.
Monster-in-Law - another painful film. the romance portion of the film is done so traditionally and quickly that it comes off as a joke, but there is no self-awareness or sense of humor built into the film so i wasn't able to give it the benefit of the doubt in this regard. when jane fonda is introduced she comes off as a mildly likable celebrity (she plays a kathy lee type of character). after she finds out that her show is being canceled she has a britney spears type of pop icon on her show for a performance and interview. during the interview fonda laments the fact that the pop princess doesn't read the newspaper and thinks that roe v. wade was a boxing match. she has a nervous breakdown presumably because of the injustice of being replaced by a bimbo and the fact that young barbie doll types are able to sell 5 million records and are looked at as role models. sadly fonda's character never again shows this level of awareness or care for humanity.
the film quickly devolves into a poorly written string of clichés topped off with uniformly poor acting. fonda is unable to elevate the material, lopez is constantly stretching and straining and the lead guy is dense and nothing more than a pretty face. that said, there was some girl a few seats over who loved the film and couldn't stop laughing so maybe i just didn't "get" it. seriously though the film is targeted for idiots who know nothing about good storytelling, character development or any of the other elements that make for a reasonably well-drawn picture. D-.
Freestyle: The Art Of Rhyme - pretty good documentary about freestyling, its origins and its major contemporary players. worth checking out to those interested in hip-hop. B-.
Trauma - reminded me a bit of the nameless in terms of its feel and lack of satisfying resolution. this movie has less style and less intrigue than the nameless, though, and was therefore less entertaining. mena suvari is good looking, but no one cares. C-.
Fargo - probably m>A.
Man On Fire - pretty good thriller from tony scott (brother of ridley). denzel really is the film, but precocious dakota fanning does a fine job as well. the direction is certainly worthy of note as well. scott edits the shit out of this film, cuts are fast and done in the middle of camera moves/zooms (you can thank die hard for this), colors are exaggerated or forced to blue depending on the mood, subtitles appear on the screen as they might if it were a karaoke and sometimes these subtitles won't even be translation - they'll pop up just to visually reinforce an idea or phrase. it's certainly a bold stylistic move for scott and i think that it's mostly successful. my major problem with the overall style is that he overuses these ideas. just as ridley scott overused the technique of dropping frames in kingdom of heaven (review below) tony scott overdoes it a bit here. add to that the fact that the film is longish (140 minutes) and you have a film that wears a bit by the end. that said, i liked the film, and washington's performance, enough to give it a B.
To Kill A Mockingbird - i've never read the book, but i would venture a guess that it's better than the film. the film is good, don't get me wrong, but, other than peck's performance, it doesn't seem to elevate the story in any meaningful way. the visual style and score don't really build upon the story or the characters, so far as i could tell. "purists" might be put off by the voice-over narration and the fact that the film doesn't do much more than retell the story. B.
Kingdom Of Heaven - a dull, boring, expansive opus which may be the perfect example of the latest threat to hollywood. in the early 60s a series of bad, very large productions severely damaged the studio system in hollywood, creating the perfect environment for the auteur movement of the 70s. if hollywood has many more films like this, alexander, troy, etc. then we might have a similar problem on our hands soon enough. it's not that the production is bad - the sets, the on location shooting, and the costumes are all good. it's just that the fundamentals of filmmaking aren't there. to start, it's basically a more religious version of El Cid. to compound the unoriginality of it is the fact that it's not very well acted, the story is fairly boring and not told in a particularly interesting way. D.
Red River - montgomery clift is a good actor, but this film took a dive as soon as john wayne left and clift took over the majority of the screen time. the ending was strangely saccharine and simple, and the inclusion of the romantic interest was unfortunate. also, there seemed a red herring in john ireland's character - he was introduced as a gunslinger who was clift's only match and they refer to the potential for a showdown between the two, but he is later dispatched (rather quickly) by wayne. my favorite moments in the film were those of the crew driving the cattle - the film seemed very accurate in this regard. hawks shows the cattle drive in great detail - from them picking a place along the river to ford to a climactic stampede.
wayne's character was layered and complex, as was clift's. brennan offered his usual sidekick/comic relief performance and did a good job with it (again, as usual). B.
Brown Sugar - stock romance film in most ways - the ending, the type of romance, the archetypal characters, etc. it does, however, separate itself from the usual dreck in one very important way - the music. the film's main characters both love hip-hop and this love of hip-hop becomes a major theme in the film. the soundtrack is peppered with classics (including three blackalicious cuts), the characters reminisce over the old-school greats and discuss their new school favorites. if the film were about two people who loved opera, rather than hip-hop, it would be a C- movie, but i like hip-hop more and could keep up with their conversations more easily so i found it more enjoyable. again, the film is very predictable and doesn't offer much new material when it comes to the relationship between the two protagonists, but the inclusion of the hip-hop storyline made it enjoyable enough. C+.
Street Smart - early morgan freeman film which has him playing a different type of character. christopher reeve plays an eager reporter and freeman plays a pimp in trouble with the law. as the film progresses we find that they need each other to a certain extent and so they enter into a mutually beneficial relationship. freeman, though, has the street smarts that reeve lacks and is able to control the relationship to a greater degree. the heart of the film is in the performances. freeman and reeve both give good performances that (mostly) show a good deal of realism and restraint. there were some isolated moments where the writing or direction get a bit corny, but it's almost expected from an 80s urban drama. i'm not sure what to make of the ending which was abrupt and unexpected. i suppose that was the point - life in the streets is fragile and scores are settled quickly and without much ado. C+.
XXX: State Of The Union - there are only a few films that are as truly awful as this one. gigli (obviously) kangaroo jack, glitter, battlefield earth, and from justin to kelly are the company this film keeps. director lee tamahori directed another massive piece of shit film in 2001's along came a spider. unlike that film, though, this film has no redeeming qualities. that said, though the grade is the same, this film wasn't as bad as gigli. that is because gigli made me uncomfortable more often than this film. yes, this film did make me physically and mentally uncomfortable. it was hard to sit still while i watched samuel jackson flush his career down the toilet. it was hard to see the conventions of a genre be used with such little fervor or interest. generally when a film uses genre conventions it is to buttress a weak script, but the use of those conventions generally provides a decent enough template that even the unimaginative can copy a style or plot with some success; that is, after all, the point of such conventions - they are methods/elements within a film that are proven to entertain or excite. while die hard defines and maximizes action genre conventions this film does the opposite. it uses those tried and true conventions and applies them in the worst way possible; this film is the exact opposite of die hard. at this point you might think that the film is intended to be tongue in cheek and that, maybe, i just didn't get it. i'll say that this is remotely possible, but rather unlikely. nothing in the acting, direction or writing indicated a willful camp style.
i'm generally able to find good things to say about a movie, but i really can't think of anything here. the lead actress had nice juggs, i guess that's a good thing. the special effects were amazingly opaque and ineffective. the acting was uniformly bad. the "comic relief" (a nerdy white guy, who would have guessed that?) fell flat at every turn. the action sequences were poorly directed (usually to cover the bad choreography and sfx), unimaginative and unexciting. the ending leaves us wondering if there will be a XXX part 3, and that's about as scary a moment as i can remember in recent cinema. F-.
p.s. i did not pay to watch this film. i had free tickets to king's ransom and snuck into this film instead. thank god.
Last Round: Chuvalo vs. Ali - semi-interesting story of the canadian boxer who went 15 rounds with ali early in his career. it doesn't have the built-in drama and storytelling that "when we were kings" has, but it does show ali at another time and it also gives equal weight to the challenger. the film characterizes chuvalo as a formidable force and one a good boxing fan should be aware of. he fought for several years and never once hit the mat. in seeing the fight between him and ali it was clear to me that he had more natural stamina than anything else. he lacked true boxing skills and quickness, but was able to take all of ali's best shots, which is pretty amazing in itself. C+.
Nest - from the director of 'hostage' comes a film that is actually very similar to assault on precinct 13, which i mentioned earlier is very similar to the hostage; so, in a circular way, it makes sense that it is directed by the same guy. there are some interesting camera moves and some flourishes of style, but overall the picture lacks the comic relief and round characterization that hostage had. like hostage, the nest has a fairly enticing opening sequence, but unlike the hostage, this film doesn't capitalize on that momentum. style over substance is the phrase here, and sometimes that just means the director is a good script away from making a film as good as the hostage is. C.
Underground - noteworthy more because of what it's about, and when it came out, than because of any artistic or technical achievements. it's about the underground movement in germany during the height of the nazi reign. the story finds two brothers (one a wounded soldier, the other an underground rebel) pitted against each other as symbols of their respective philosophies. of course it wouldn't be a movie without a woman in the mix, and her role is to make the nazi brother realize the err of his ways. it's a fairly entertaining flick with some battle of algiers type elements. C+.
Strange Impersonation - a strange film by anthony mann standards. it has some noir elements, but i wouldn't qualify it as a noir, especially considering the ending. it's about a woman doctor who is working on a new anesthetic, during her experimentation something goes wrong and her face is severely injured. her best friend betrays her and steals her man. later a woman who has a grudge against the chemist robs her, but is killed by the chemist accidentally. people mistake the robber for the chemist and the chemist escapes and takes on the robber's identity. it gets even more twisted than that down the line, but i don't want to give away too much. it's definitely an interesting film because in some ways it's far ahead of its time. there are a few moments of corny direction, but those are outweighed by mann's storytelling ability and camera movement/placement. honestly, i was disappointed by the picture because it was anthony mann and i was expecting great things, but, in absolute terms, it's not a bad picture at all. the ending seemed tacked on or put their to please some producer. that said, it did have an impact on me, though i'm ashamed to admit that i fell prey to it. B-.
Detour - great, very low budget film noir. this is easily one of the darkest - both stylistically and thematically - films noir that i can think of. the fog on the streets, the shadows, the ending, the femme fatale are all quintessentially, and extremely, noir. both the leads are fairly good considering the level of production that the film is. the female lead is especially caustic and venomous which adds to the relentless, dark feeling of the film. the use of music in the film is fairly interesting. the lead is a jazz musician and the first scene change comes from a music bridge - he's listening to a song on the jukebox which reminds him of his days as a musician and the image dissolves into him playing the same song in a jazz club. B+
Left Of The Dial - documentary which follows the launch of air america radio. it's very reminiscent of startup.com because of the business side of the documentary which shows the air america radio station struggling with cash flow, investors, technical hiccups, etc. like end of the century this film doesn't require that you like the subjects in order to enjoy the film. randi rhodes, one of the djs, is absolutely obnoxious and self-centered, yet i enjoyed the film because it shows everything that goes into launching a new radio station and part of that is dealing with different personalities. in rhodes air america has a true answer to rush limbaugh - she's just as inflammatory, plays loose with the facts, exaggerates just as much (if not more) and comes off as just as self-absorbed. some love her for just this reason, but i think it's unfortunate that you have to fight right wing, stupid, lying fat guys with the left wing female equivalent.
watching it i couldn't help but think what a right winger might think of the whole enterprise. at times, it definitely felt like it was a left wing experiment gone horribly wrong...sort of like san francisco which is a left wing paradise, but has as many homeless people as almost any city in the country. in the end, though, the business plan comes together. air america seems to be doing fairly well nowadays (even though it requires them selling a bunch of erectile dysfunction commercials) and they're getting an alternate point of view out there in (usually) just as an outrageous way as the right wing talk radio shows. B.
End Of The Century - well-constructed and honest documentary which centers on the story of the ramones. though the film revolves around the ramones, it explores the music culture of the time as well. it touches on the ramones' contemporaries like the new york dolls, blondie, the sex pistols and the clash. good documentaries of this kind are able to present the subjects in a personal, realistic and honest manner while still giving a good indication the subjects' great influence on music and culture. this film does that. there is no hagiography here, but the ramones were real innovators and creators and they get the respect they deserve. at the same time, guys like johnny and dee dee come off as either completely out of it or as assholes. hearing johnny talk about joey's death and seeing the utter lack of remorse or feeling is one of the more harrowing moments in the film.
end of the century also does a good job of incorporating interview footage with all of the ramones, critics, other musicians and other people who knew the band; there's even some live footage and home video type stuff in here. what you end up with is a very round, full picture of a band, a type of music, and a time. B+.
Captain Blood- pretty great film. thinking back about it i realize how epic it is, despite being under two hours long. it tells the story of a youngish doctor, errol flynn, who is caught up in a rebellion and sold into slavery in a british colony in the carribbean. he starts a revolt, flees and becomes a pirate. in the end he protects his native country from the french during a time of war. mixed in are some good battle scenes, some comic moments and a romance. my only problem with the film is the lack of black people represented in the slave population and the conclusion which borders on flynn becoming a sellout, though, to the film's credit, it is open-ended.
i especially enjoyed curtiz's direction during the first 30 minutes of the film. it was very dark and expressionistic, almost noirish. certain shots reminded me of german expressionism of the time, including one shot of flynn's housekeeper with a candlestick in hand, which was reminiscent of nosferatu. all this led to a more liberating feeling when the open seas were shown. the bars and shadows in the courtroom were also quite fun to observe. the romantic element of the film wasn't as well-executed as it was in adventures of robin hood, which had the same three leads (flynn, de havilland and curtiz directing). overall a fun adventure picture with some genuinely artistic elements. B.
Un Chien Andalou - bunuel and dali explore the link between sex and death in this surrealistic 16 minute short. it's a film that every lover of film should probably see, in part because it has two of the great artists of the century and in part because it's so short that there isn't any excuse not to (plus, it's now on dvd). i don't pretend to really understand the film, i can understand the broad brush strokes, but i wouldn't claim to understand why he puts armpit hair on a man's mouth, for example. the edits are one of the more interesting elements of the film. not only are they pretty good for the time, but they also provide some linkage between one scene and another. B.
Un Chien Andalou - B.
Kung Fu Hustle - fairly good kung-fu comedy in the tradition of early yuen woo-ping/jackie chan stuff. the comedy is a little more western and the fighting is unreal. yuen woo-ping seems to have an unlimited creativity when it comes to fight choreography. unfortunately i felt that the direction sometimes detracted from the effectiveness and flow of the fight scenes. sometimes chow would use too much slow motion or would cut a scene in a way that wouldn't quite capture the energy. B-.
No Vacancy - the first fifteen minutes of the film uses sex to try and grab your attention. the next 75 minutes uses active cross-cutting and un-funny humor to entertain you. i'd probably get more laughs from watching a dog take a crap next to a starbucks. actually, even writing about it makes me laugh more than this film did. that said, they did succeed in putting in some good eye candy. this movie sucks. D.
Happy, Texas - riffs on 'some like it hot' in that it finds two men who are fleeing from the law by going undercover - this time as gay designers, instead of cross dressing singers (or whatever they were in some like it hot). zahn's performance is the only thing that's really worthy of notation here. once again he plays a sidekick more than a dominate screen presence. ostensibly the film is about zahn and the other guy, but zahn seems to get less screen time and a less important/weighty role. zahn is one of the underrated comic talents around these days, hopefully he gets a breakout role sometime. who knows, maybe sahara was it. C+.
Uncle Buck - absolutely spectacular film. john hughes was at his best in 87 with planes trains and automobiles, but his filmmaking and writing are nearly as good in this film. trouble is that he has only one great talent in this film, in john candy, and that's the major difference between ptaa and uncle buck. his use of music and sound are nearly as good here as they are in ptaa. actually i hadn't noticed some of the touches he adds in the sound category until i watched the film this time around. the scene with the nosy neighbor who finds buck fighting with the washing machine is an illustration of the subtle use of sound that adds an energy to the scene, and to the film. john candy is brilliant in another tough, very comic role. he shows here and in ptaa that he could nail the great roles, and of course he also elevated the shitty roles, but that's another story. the supporting cast is all good because, like the farrelly brothers after him, hughes knows talent and (apparently) works well with actors. hughes was a master auteur for about five years, but when he stopped directing his work suffered quite a bit. A.
A Lot Like Love - i don't like ashton kutcher - i think he's a tool. that said, i've liked his work in the last two romantic comedies of his that i've seen - this and guess who. he's able to be cheesy, boisterous, and deadpan with a sufficient level of humor. i don't like saying it, but i have to acknowledge it. amanda peet, who is hot, but too skinny, is also pretty good here. unfortunately the film is poorly written. there is some good back and forth between the two characters, but mostly it's cliché and doesn't give the audience, or the characters, much credit. it sticks too much to the formula. it's written by first time writer colin patrick lynch, who probably wrote his own bio on imdb.com. the narrative choice of beginning seven years in the past and having titles which separate the film in five acts (seven years ago. 3 years later. 2 years later. 1 year later. 6 months later.) was an odd one. why not just start the film with a title that said 1998? it's not a film noir, it doesn't have a narrator (as fever pitch does), the choice didn't seem to reinforce any themes of the film, so why do it that way? i don't know. it's a minor point anyway. telling the story over that period of time did allow the filmmakers to have some fun making fun of recent history. the dotcom bust and 90s style are used to keep time and add some humor. it also makes for a fun challenge for the production/costume designers. C.
Fever Pitch - it's a farrelly brothers movie, but it's not a farrelly brothers script; and it shows. it's not because the film is a "date movie," because they've done romantically driven films before (there's something about mary, shallow hal, me myself and irene, etc.) it's different for them because it's the first time i remember watching a film of theirs and thinking that they pulled their punches. i'm not sure if felt this way because i knew it wasn't written by them or because it's not being marketed as a farrelly brothers film, but there were a couple times when i felt they didn't go as far with a joke as they had in the past. then again, it could just be chalked up as "maturation."
don't get me wrong - the film still has the farrelly brothers touch (for better or worse, depending on your views) - it still has a fair share of gross humor and freakish secondary characters, both of which are staples of the farrelly filmography. good performances are another staple of their work - greg kinner, matt damon, eva mendes (stuck on you) all over-performed. harrelson, randy quaid (kingpin) had better than normal performances there. jack black and jason alexander were both good in shallow hal. cameron diaz did her best work in there's something about mary; and matt dillon had a revitalizing performance in that film as well. drew barrymore, who wasn't anything special in duplex, did a very fine job here, and jimmy fallon, who i can only assume sucked in taxi, did a really great job with the comic portions of his performance.
it's not a film that is going to leave you laughing for days, like there's something about mary, but the comedy is varied and effective. also, the summation of the sox's last four games in the 04 series is goose bump inducing, if you have any love for the game or the sox. likely the greatest comeback in sports history. just stunning. B-.
Above The Rim - urban drama with basketball as its backdrop. it's not as good as he got game or menace to society, but it captures the spirit of those sorts of films fairly well. further, the mother figure in the film is one of the more inspired role models i've seen in a film like this. more fleshed out and powerful than charles s dutton's character from menace II society. tupac does a good job playing the neighborhood gangster with to much power and not enough guidance. the basketball scenes were done well enough. what's most important for a film like this is that it doesn't turn into a didactic piece of mtv-produced, saturday morning garbage. B-.
Before Sunset - it's a romantic version of my dinner with andre, but what would you expect from a love story done by richard linklater? i never saw the original, but you get plenty of the story through the conversation between delpy and hawke. the camera follows them as they walk throughout the city and linklater uses cuts to add punctuation to their conversation. other than that, though, the filmic part of the film is little. it's more of a mediatation on certain ideas and two characters grappling with those ideas in a mature, but impassioned, way. it's a good film for anyone who thinks or is, or has been, in a relationship. hawke is excellent and delpy is mostly very good. B.
Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill - documentary about a jobless (not homeless) guy (bittner) who looks after a bunch of "wild" parrots in san francisco. it's supposed to be a touching picture about an eccentric, but very human, older man who finds peace and blah blah blah. elements of the film are certainly touching, but it reeks of bad filmmaking and an overly sweet treatment of nearly every subject in the film. bittner's observations of the birds and the stories he tells are sometimes interesting, but are often overly sentimental and lose some effect because of this fact. his observations are draped in an anthropomorphism that only the most forgiving viewer can overlook. yes, they are interesting, but you must view them simply as stories a man is telling, rather than a true narrative of the birds' nature. his declaration that he felt the spirit of a bird calling for him the night before it died is far-fetched and easily rationalized away; hence it is up to the viewer to decide how they feel about the entire idea. personally, i thought he was a lonely old man who wanted there to be something more than a jobless, girlfriendless existence. i understand it, but i don't think that the bird's spirit energy was talking to him. sorry.
the music was simply awful. amateurish guitar based new agey film music. overly obvious and only effective in the most simple ways. it would have been better off unscored. choosing to use slow-motion and freeze frame effects was unfortunate. it just felt so contrived and shocked me out of the documentary-watching mode. surely a documentary can take license in this way (moore does it in fahrenheit 9/11, reggio does it in koyaanisqatsi), but it just did not work in this context. this is indicative of the film's primary problem - its author. she just inserted herself too much; i couldn't help but think how good the film would have been if she had taken the fly-on-the-wall approach of a pennebaker, smith or hegedus.
in the end it's revealed that irving fell in love with her subject and her and bittner are going out. that's the surprise ending, sorry if i ruined it for you. D+.
Call Northside 777 - watched again, this time with commentary. same guys who did the commentary for call panic in the streets did the commentary here and they talk about a lot of the same things. they talk about the docu-noir/docu-drama genre - its trademarks, seminal films and influences. they rightly point out the film's central placement of technology - from the lie detector, to the mini-camera, to the primitive photo-fax machine the film is made more believable and interesting through its use of these (at the time) novel technologies. B+.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls - a sweeping overview of 70s film and what it meant for the studio system. the quick version is that the studio system, as we knew it in the 40s, died in 1963 because of a series of big-budget flops. but because of the influence of independent films (cassavetes, corman, etc. which they barely talked about), foreign films (french new wave, especially), and a few talented auteurs the studio system survived and evolved. the auteurs, and their lifestyle, is the main focus of the documentary. i felt it segued too frequently into the personal lives (read: drama) of certain players like bogdanovich, beatty, and polanski, but i suppose that that was an integral part of the creative output at the time. they also either omitted or glossed over the contributions of cassavetes, russ meyer, 70s indie horror flicks from craven, carpenter, etc., exploitation pictures, and more - all of which had an effect on 70s cinema, 70s audiences and the directors who were mentioned in the film. i think that the biggest untold element of the transformation of hollywood at this time was the explosion of independent films that pushed the boundaries - exploitation stuff that built on the 60s flicks, revenge flicks like last house, fight for your life, i spit on your grave, etc., which were amazingly gruesome, etc. the 70s were a very interesting time in cinema. also, while it got into the directors' personal lives, it didn't look very much at the social context. in other words, it's a film that's too ambitious for its sub-two hour running time. but there are worse things that being ambitious. it's got so much information that you're bound to learn something about 70s film or those involved in it. B.
Panic In The Streets - watched again, this time with commentary. same guys who did the commentary for call northside 777 did the commentary here and they talk about a lot of the same things. they talk about the docu-noir/docu-drama genre - its trademarks, seminal films and influences.
one of the more interesting elements of this film is that it's a film about a potential outbreak of the plague and yet it isn't a horror film like 28 days later - it's a detective picture, closer to outbreak. i can't think of many films that feature biohazards as prominently, or as well. what's also interesting is that the film could easily be read as a "murderers are among us"/red scare type picture, but they didn't even mention that possible interpretation in the commentary. considering it was filmed at the height of the black list and was directed by elia kazan, who named names, i find that pretty surprising.
i've never been a fan of kazan's work, but this film is undeniably well-done and entertaining as well (an attribute his other "great" works lack). he uses a lot of long takes, works well with on location stuff and tells a compelling story. B+.
Last Life In The Universe - a well photographed picture (thanks to christopher doyle, who did "hero," among others), but i'm not sure about anything beyond the photography. the story follows a man who is on the verge of suicide, but is "saved" by his nagging brother ringing on the door bell. our protagonist plays a ed norton (in fight club) type of character - life is too easy for him, everything is in its right place, but life is without passion or bliss. in fight club the character discovers these things through destruction, creation and finally (possibly) love. in last life in the universe the protagonist discovers love as his reason for living in the form of a thai girl who is very unlike him.
it's a tough film to follow in some ways and i fell asleep in the middle of it so i didn't really help the cause by doing that. C+.
Night And The City - the second time i've seen this film this week; watched with the commentary this time. the commentary looks mostly at the differences between the several stages/permutations of the story - the book, the shooting script, the british version and the american version. as is the usual with criterion commentaries, this one was well-researched, thorough, informative and never felt dry. the film is my favorite of dassin's in large part because of widmark's performance. the commentator reads widmark's character as a bottom-feeding social parasite, but i view him more as a manifestation of a failed society. i also think that widmark, though despicable, is a sympathetic character if not for the simple reason that he's good at what he does - even if it is lying, cheating and stealing. in a lot of ways gregorious the great is the central, tragic figure of the film. he represents the purity of art and dies literally fighting for his cause. one of the more interesting elements was the use of diegetic music in one scene in the film. widmark and sullivan are discussing widmark's recent ascension in the wrestling world. widmark is giddy and is beating on the drums located in sullivan's club. sullivan tears widmark down stating that it appears as though widmark has everything in place, but that it's all going to fall apart because he (sullivan) isn't going to bankroll widmark anymore. he concludes this news by hitting a cymbal on the drum set which widmark was just playing. i've found that noir employs the use of source music quite a bit, but i've never seen it done quite like that. it feeds my theory that noir characters are pawns in a game they have no control over, but know they are in. sullivan knows he's dealt a deadly blow to widmark and accentuates that fact with a cymbal crash. at another juncture in the film sullivan's wife leaves him and he knows she'll come crawling back and says "you'll come back and i'll want to take you back." as if he knows he shouldn't, but knows that he'll have to because he needs her despite his better judgment. A.
Woodsman- a rough film. kevin bacon plays an ex-con out of jail after 12 years. he gets a job working at a saw mill and tries to go on with his life. mos def does a very good job playing a cop who is keeping bacon in check and kyra sedgwick plays bacon's co-worker/girlfriend. it's a tough film because the subject matter is so heavy and the characters are difficult and multi-faceted. bacon's character is given a bit of an out with the audience because of his redemption late in the film, and i'm not so sure i liked it because it was too easy, but overall his character is a difficult one. kyra sedgwick also plays a character who isn't easily grasped - like bacon, she is conflicted and does things that are seemingly out of character. this, though, is one of the strongest elements of the film. in this way the film is more realistic, and impactful as a result, than films that deal strictly with archetypes. B.
Blackball - british comedy that's pretty similar to happy gilmore or dodgeball, only for lawn bowling instead of golf/dodgeball. vince vaughn plays a slick, seedy agent for the up and coming bowler. i don't really love vaughn all that much, but even those who do will admit that this isn't one of his better performances. to his credit it's not a very good role. the film starts off well enough and putters down the stretch. the final game sequence is longer than it needs to be and doesn't produce many laughs. a throwaway. C.
La Bête - strange french film about sex and hidden desires. the film opens with two horses having sex which is an odd way to open a film that has been described as 'one of the most erotic movies ever made.' it's intended to show the base nature of sex and that people are like animals in this regard. the film surrounds this all with catholic puritanism. it's about a woman who is coming to a french country chateau in order to marry the son of a rich man. the son hasn't been baptized which presents some problems. meanwhile the woman whom he is supposed to marry is sleeping in her bedroom fantasizing about an erotic encounter with a beast in the woods. the beast turns out to be her husband to be. it's sort of a surreal which is why my synopsis doesn't make all that much sense. it's a strange film that's not very erotic or even all that interesting. C-.
Asphalt Jungle - the commentary focuses on the history of noir and huston's work as an auteur. it's sometimes dry and sometimes non-existent, but the guy knows a lot about huston's work so the material that revolves around him and his work is fairly interesting and revealing. at times the commentary overshoots a bit - the commentator (some usc professor) overextends his analysis of particular shots, but this kind of analysis isn't where his strengths lie. he's very passionate which is sometimes good and sometimes annoying. the commentary offers some decent history and good insight into john huston's work, but doesn't do much to deepen our understanding of how huston does what he does. C+ for the commentary. A- for the film.
Battle Of San Pietro- half hour documentary on a single battle during world war II which was directed and narrated by john huston. the narration is well-written and spoken. the material is unbeatable. it does a good job of relaying the real costs and rewards of war in a small, unaffected document. huston does a good job of constructing an understandable and relateable story from footage before, during and after the battles at san pietro. B+.
Thieves' Highway - i overlooked jack oakie's performance in my first review. he strikes a good balance between comedy and drama. as it turns out he's deaf too. the commentary focuses mostly on how dassin tells the story - visually and structurally. overall the commentary is well-planned, thorough and educational. the film itself is fantastic. dassin's direction deepens our understanding and enjoyment of the story and the characters. A-.
Born Rich - sort of a documentary version of tart, which is a rich version of kids. the film documents the lives and views of about 15 insanely rich kids (aged 18-22). it's made by an heir to the johnson & johnson fortune. three of the kids (the filmmaker and two others) demonstrate any semblance of introspection or perspective and the rest demonstrate varying degrees of denial, ignorance, stupidity or solipsism. one euro-trash rich kid is very eloquent and well-read, so much so that he is able to justify his pathetic world view. he derives pleasure from such cultured endeavors as choosing exactly what he wants his suit to look like. he calls the encyclopedia britannica for the masses "total crap" and derides bill clinton's suit choices as simple and too proletarian. trump's daughter derives pride from being part of a family that lifted itself out of the gutter. she recalls a moment when she was young when her father, donald trump, pointed at a homeless man and said "that man is $8 billion richer than i am." later in life she understood the great gravity of this statement - trump was in such debt at the time that presumably he had negative $8 billion. of course she and her father overlook the fact that the they have a roof over their heads, cars, food and resources far beyond that of the homeless man. it's a simple-minded assessment to plainly state that a person without money is richer than donald trump when he was in debt. like i said, though, there are a few redeeming people in the film. the filmmaker (johnson) at least asks the question: what effect has this amazing degree of wealth had on my life and the life of those like me? a couple of his friends are somewhat introspective and have dealt with the wealth in relatively healthy ways, but the vast majority are simple and solipsistic. normally that's obnoxious and repulsive, but somewhat forgivable, but when you have the resources of education and comfort that these kids have, it is simply unacceptable.
the camerawork (done by the boyfriend who is part of the focus in "always a bridesmaid") is amateurish, but the content of this film cannot be matched or beaten. B.
Sahara - a pastiche of national treasure, indiana jones and every other adventure film ever made. steve zahn is one of the more enjoyable comic actors making films right now. the film is fairly enjoyable overall, but does lose some momentum about two-thirds of the way through the film because it adds a couple layers of plot. generally i'm in favor of plot, but in a film like this it's sometimes better to keep things simple. clint mansell does the music, but it didn't really sound like his stuff from the aronofsky films (requiem and pi) or anything he did with pop will eat itself. the soundtrack actually features more classic rock than anything else, but it does offer up some west african music, presumably by clint mansell. if so that would place him in with company like peter gabriel, damon albarn and david byrne - members of a group who struck out on their own and were inspired by world music. penelope cruz is hot, but was surprisingly comfortable in the desert wearing more than either zahn or mcconaughey. oh well. some of the more fantastic elements of the film were hard to believe even in the context of an action/adventure film. armor piercing bullets going through two feet of steel, while cannonballs bounce off without making a mark, for example, is a bit hard to swallow. also, at 124 minutes it could have used some trimming. C+.
Bartleby - based on a melville short story, bartleby is about a records worker who slowly starts refusing to do work by simply stating that he'd "prefer not to." i've never read the short story so i can't compare the two works. the film is offbeat and generally funny. colors are bright and garish, as are the supporting characters. is bartleby a posterchild for the proletariat? a beaming example of passive resistance? he doesn't refuse to work, he merely states that he'd prefer not to. he doesn't object to his firing, but he doesn't take his final pay, or even leave the building. once a good worker, bartleby slowly comes to have enough of the entire enterprise. is he dead because he has no passion for living, or is he more alive than his co-workers because he recognizes the mundane nature of life and work? his co-workers are either stupid, brutish, oversexed or aware of life's futility, but unwilling to do anything about it. what to make of bartleby's obsession with the air vent - his only link to the outside world? if the story is supposed to be about larger meaning - bartleby as leader of the proletariat, his co-workers as symbols of the lazy masses - then why is the building in which they work on an island, separated from the rest of the city? i can't say that i was able to make much sense of the film on the whole, but bits of it are thought-provoking, compelling or funny and so the film is recommendable. also, crispin glover turns in a performance that only he could. B-.
Night And The City - this is a great film. it stars richard widmark as a "two bit hustler" who's always on the brink of something big; and it's directed by jules dassin (rififi, thieves' highway), who is rapidly rising in my book. widmark's latest scheme would have him running all the wrestling in london if he could just get the money and talent in place without allowing the whole thing to fall apart in the process.
widmark is great in the role. his big forehead and toothy smile add to his character's seedy methodology and personality. on one level the film is about a desperate man with great talent, but without a proper trade. on another level it's about the struggle between art, entertainment and money. the art is represented by old-school wrestler gregorious the great (zbyszko), the entertainment is represented by the new school wrestler "the strangler (mazurki)," and pitting the two against each other is widmark - the capitalistic promoter. which brings me to the score... there are two versions of the film - one is a british cut and the other is american. franz waxman scores the american cut and that's the one that i saw and dassin approved. the other is done by some european guy named frankel who was fairly prolific at the time. waxman's score is big, bold, powerful and dynamic. frankel's is much more subdued, small and sometimes almost whimsical or mysterious. frankel chooses to not score such scenes as the final chase which gives the film a more docu-drama feel to it - like kansas city confidential or he walked by night. in this chase scene waxman uses fast, repetitive brass to indicate the urgency of the situation, followed by deep, slower brass to indicate the seemingly impending capture. i think that waxman's score is better for the film since it lends the film a larger meaning which is fitting when you consider the art vs. entertainment motif.
also during that chase sequence we see widmark descending several sets of staircases, which obviously indicates the character's descent...the chase also occurs on the outskirts of town which further indicates widmark's exile. one of the more clever shots, though, is when widmark is actually ascending a staircase later in the pursuit. dassin does a brilliant, but simple thing. while widmark ascends the staircase from right to left, dassin slowly turns the camera counterclockwise by 90 degrees so that it looks like widmark is looking down at the ground and is going down the stairs, rather than up.
the film is also filled with interesting, vibrant secondary characters from phil, the club owner, and his wife who tries to use widmark to get away from her husband, to gregorious the great and his sellout son. it's a fun film to watch, but it's also full of typically fateful noir themes. actually, it's fun to watch in part because it's so fateful, not in spite of that fact. when the club owner's wife leaves him she tells him not to worry - "a week will go by and then a month..." the implication being that time treads on and he'll have gotten over her. he replies by saying something like: "no, you'll come back and i'll want to take you back." as if he knows he shouldn't, but knows that he'll have to because he needs her despite his better judgment.
there are some slower moments, but overall the picture has a good flow to it which is buoyed by a solid, deep cast, a vibrant score and a compelling visual style. B++.
Panic In The Streets - the fourth fox film noir i've seen in the last two weeks. this one also stars richard widmark, but he plays a government health official here, instead of a two bit hustler. this one's not as great as night and the city, but it is a fun film to watch. here we find widmark trying to find the killers of a recent immigrant, not because justice must be dispensed, but because the victim was carrying a strain of the plague which must be quarantined immediately. i'm a fan of pictures like this (dawn of the dead, outbreak, 28 days later..., etc.) because i like to think about what would happen if the shit really hit the fan. widmark is almost as good here as he is in night and the city. he hides his toothy grin and downplays his more desperate looking features which worked so well for him in night and the city. instead he plays it straight - an upright family man eager to stop an international epidemic. this is actually the first elia kazan feature that i've liked - on the waterfront and a streetcar named desire are both overrated in my opinion. the setting here is the same - much of the film takes place in the streets, and they appear to be actual locations. it takes place in new orleans and the waterfront figures prominently into the film. but this picture wasn't bogged down with the melodramatics of waterfront and streetcar; plus, widmark is a better actor than brando. the villains, played by some guy i've never seen, zero mostel and jack palance, are pretty good as well. a solid picture. the last line is: "what a mushy dame." ah, the 50s. B.
Nameless - a story that probably works better as a novel than it does as a film, at least in the form it took here. it's not that the film is bad, it's more that the story is better than the film revealed. it's about a group that wants to achieve a higher plane by becoming completely evil. the theory is that by being extremely evil you can end up in the same place that the extremely pious person ends up. so they concoct a devious, intricate plan to torture a mother by kidnapping her daughter, turning her into one of them and slowly revealing all of this to the mother. the score was one of the weaker elements of the film because it was a bit too present and a bit too obvious about its intentions. it's not that i always prefer a subtle score, but in this case i felt it was too much. it joins a fairly decent sized contingent of spanish horror films. C+.
American Jobs - by no means is this documentary sweeping, novel or amazingly deep, but it does a fairly good job of addressing the exportation of manufacturing jobs in a small (60 minutes) package. the main thesis of the film is that american jobs are being lost to countries like mexico and china and that this is not a good thing. the dominate proposed solution to the problem is more government regulation on free trade. it's a film that's typically biased in its views on free trade. it'll include statistics on mexican wages (they've gone down since nafta - a bad thing), but excludes figures on unemployment (which has probably gone down - a good thing). i'm not defending nafta by any stretch, i think it's one of clinton's more egregious errors, but i'm merely pointing out that the film should be viewed as one, informed opinion, instead of a bipartisan, unbiased piece. then again, that's how you should probably view all films - documentaries included. it does offer some new info and a couple interviews which offer somewhat unique perspectives. C+.
Last Shot - filled with stars (baldwin, broderick, flockhart, liotta, collette, shaloub, joan cusack, etc.) but sort of a b picture in that it didn't get any advertising or wide release. it's a film based on a true story about an fbi agent (baldwin) who produces a film in order to get to some organized crime bosses. i think i actually heard this story somewhere, but i'm not sure if it was on the news or what. i don't know if this is actually a true story, or if it's a true story like fargo and the blair witch project. either way it's a funny premise and the poking fun of the film industry, and those who are a part of it, is fairly funny. jeff nathanson also wrote rush hour 2, terminal and catch me if you can so it seems like the guy has a modicum of talent (although the terminal sucked). it's a decent movie which you shouldn't avoid or seek out. C+.
Guess Who - clearly the film borrows quite a bit from meet the parents and guess who's coming to dinner. but you don't generally go to a film like this to watch something original. the chemistry between kutcher and mac is actually pretty good...something i never thought i'd say. it certainly has some weak moments in the writing and in the directing. when the sister comes home, for example, and sees kutcher for the first time we get a long shot of her reaction: "ooh, are we being audited or something?!" in the preview, though, we get a close up of her reaction, which works much better because the actress does a good job with it. errors of judgment like that and in some of the music choices and elsewhere do detract from the film. really, though, you have to expect those sorts of things considering the fact that it's a weak genre film designed mostly to cater to a younger demographic. all things considered, i found it to be an enjoyable enough film with a few really funny moments. it's hard to grade a film like this because it's has to be judged on a different scale. B-.
Kagemusha - i think of this as ran version .5. they're both shakespearean (ran is based on king lear, this is an original story). the film is partially told through the eyes of three spies which is somewhat similar to hidden fortress which is told through the eyes of two peasants (an element lucas stole for star wars). i honestly didn't really love this film, which is too bad since i like kurosawa so much. it certainly has some interesting elements and some good moments, but i felt it was a bit long and the story it told just wasn't as compelling as some of his other long features. though i found the double to be a sympathetic character, i didn't have the same sympathy as i did with shimura's character in ikiru or mifune's character in yojimbo or either character in dersu uzala. ran is a better film in almost every way that you just may as well watch that instead. B-.
Rivers And Tides - the documentary itself isn't all that impressive, but the artist's (goldsworthy) work is. part of the film's problem is that it gives the artist too much of a soapbox. i think that the film would have been far better if it was about 30 minutes shorter and took a koyaanisqatsi/mystery of picasso approach - no, or very few, words and lots of music. i found goldsworthy's explanations of his work to be quite obnoxious, pretentious and sometimes full of bullshit. the art, however, is quite good and the documentary succeeds in capturing it fairly well; too bad it wasn't the sole focus of the film. C.
Tokyo Godfathers - anime that reminded me of grave of the fireflies because of the emotional feel/tone. the film follows three homeless people who find a baby abandoned in the trash on xmas eve. they search tokyo to find the parents of the abandoned baby, each for their own reason. the film is really about fractured family life in modern tokyo. the youngest character is a runaway, the transvestite was abandoned himself and "geezer" was a father who abandoned his daughter because of mounting gambling debts. the story and feelings are universal and the characters are easy to relate to and sympathize with. it may not be as funny, or exciting, as the incredibles, but it's certainly more poignant and should have done better in the box office. then again, it does have words at the bottom of the screen because it's a japanese film. so nevermind. B.
Sin City - it's a film with plenty of potential, but it didn't quite do it for me.
the most striking element of the film is clearly the film's look. like sky captain and the world of tomorrow, the entire film was shot in front of a green scream which means more post-production, but it also saves a lot on crew costs - grips, carpenters, etc. were probably all but completely absent during the (short) filming. it allows the director(s) to do all sorts of interesting things with lighting and color in post, and the film does a good job of using this potential to create a fairly fresh look. to me the film took the look of sky captain and the use of color in hero (2002) and combined them. one of the better uses of color is the way the color of a dress pops out against the otherwise black and white landscape. this same device was used in a cheap, not very good film, called nirvana (1997). what i'm getting at here is that sin city isn't as original as people will have you believe.
i didn't like the narrative structure very much. i understand that the comic novels jumped around from storyline to storyline, but it didn't work very well in the film. in the first 20 minutes or so we are introduced to three separate storylines and we don't get back to the second one until about an hour into the film, and the first one until the last five minutes. it disrupts the flow of the film and didn't seem to add very much to the film. if it was necessary to have several storylines, then i would have strung them together end on end, rather than fracture them the way the film did.
sin city's main character is the city. i think that everything is done towards this end. transit shots are included, not just to allow time for narration, but also to give a sense of the city's geography. we get a clear idea of what the city is about. oddly, the film reminded me of who framed roger rabbit, in this regard. in both films the sense of reality is stretched in a fictional city. each city is its own world with its own laws and norms.
i felt that the acting style, overall, should have been a bit more stylized in order to match the narration and visual style. rourke, wood, and willis were good but the rest were either average or less than that. jessica alba is kinda ugly and not a very good actress. rosario dawson is hot, but miscast and not very successful as the madam of the whore army.
i liked the mickey rourke storyline the most. i would guess that tarantino directed the opening scene with willis because it is reminiscent of kill bill vol. 2 (in the car, narrating, looking at the camera), it has bruce willis (pulp fiction) and it features the loss of an ear (reservoir dogs). B-.
How Harry Became A Tree - a charming irish film that succeeds in both its humorous and affecting moments. this was probably the most noteworthy element of the film because so many films like this might succeed in the drama or in the comedy, but not in both. colm meany heads up a solid cast as he plays the borderline psychotic father of cillian murphy. meany's sworn enemy has recently hired a maid who murphy acquires a liking for. meany and his enemy work out a deal which hands over part of meany's crop in exchange for the maid's hand in marriage. the film also does a good job of capturing the time and place (1924, ireland). B-.
Napoleon Dynamite - definitely better the second time around. it might have been better because of the company i was with; or it might have been funnier because i had already been exposed to the characters and the storyline which allowed me to react to the humor, more than the story or instead of having to adjust to the characters. it still wasn't hilarious, but i can say that i honestly enjoyed it this time around, whereas i did not the first time. B-.
Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself - typically dry british fare. it's overly sentimental and the humor, though decent, didn't do enough to lift it out of the drab tar pit of drama that the rest of the film puts itself in. all the performances were fine, but the writing and direction just didn't draw me into the story. disappointing since mads mikkelson is in it and it's co-written by jensen, who wrote/directed green butchers. C-.
Storytelling - like tom green's work, todd solondz certainly isn't for everyone. his work is purposely taboo, but is always funny rather than merely shocking. this film consists of two major sets of characters - one entitled "fiction" and one "non-fiction." the first revolves around a college writing class and the second around a family which is the subject of a documentary.
solondz is sorta like douglas sirk. sirk's films would slowly peel away the outside layers of americana to reveal the seedy underbelly of society. solondz dives straight into revealing his view of our sordid society. his method of social commentary is far more straight-forward, biting, sarcastic and humorous than sirk's. this film is solondz's weakest of the three i've seen. that said, it's still a funny film. B-.
Freddy Got Fingered - it certainly isn't a comedy for everyone, but i like this film a lot. i find tom green's brand of over-the-top humor hilarious. B.
Green Butchers - sort of similar to jeunet's delicatessen because of the cannibalism element. it's a fairly funny film starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas who was also in reconstruction, another good, recent danish film. he actually plays two roles in this film - one as the co-owner of the butcher shop and one as his twin brother. Mads Mikkelsen is the other co-owner and his performance is even better than Kaas's. he plays a mentally disturbed, but quite funny, butcher in constant search for the perfect meat marinade.
visually the film belies some of the dark humor - much of the film is stark and wintry. it's a very blue-white film which might be expected from a danish film, but i can't remember any snow in the picture so weather didn't really add to the cold feeling of the film. the color scheme of the film reminded me of "songs from the second floor." the camera, though, moves quite a bit more than it did in that picture. there are a lot of slow sweeps and high angle shots that sweep down to eye level. i don't know if it was merely a stylistic choice or if it was supposed to echo the descent of the characters.
though it's a dark comedy it does have some heavy moments. there's a love interest between kaas and the main female character. there's also a secondary storyline which follows the falling out between kaas's main character and his retarded twin brother. the drama never gets in the way of the humor and the film's end demonstrates this as clearly as anything else. a good film that you're not likely to see. B.
King Of New York - abel ferrara's best work. cinematography is good. it's a raw film. B.
Nirvana - a poor man's hybrid of the matrix, total recall and blade runner. it's not nearly as good or inventive as any of them, but it does predate the matrix so i guess you can give it some props for that. it's in italian, but it's dubbed so that definitely took away from the film a bit. it's a fairly predictable and simple picture, but some of the ideas do have larger implications. unfortunately the film doesn't expand on these ideas the way that the matrix trilogy does. the production values are quite low and that detracts from the film. the sets are serviceable, the sfx are bad and it just looks like a second rate production overall. none of the acting is truly awful, but all of the music is. in sum, it's a film with some redeeming qualities, but it doesn't really add much to the genre. also, since sci-fi is so reliant on production and since that's the film's major weak point, the film just doesn't succeed. D.
Destry Rides Again - one of the things that made far country such a strong film is its abundance of interesting secondary characters. i think that the same is true for this film. mischa auer plays a russian immigrant/deputy who provides comic relief and some unique dialogue. charles winniger plays the town drunk turned sheriff and is, more or less, a poor man's walter brennan. samuel hinds plays the corrupted tobacco chewing mayor/judge of the town. he was also in scarlet street and call northside 777. marlene dietrich is super hot, but not as sexy as lauren bacall in to have and have not. she plays a saloon owner who is also a singer/dancer/poker player and basically one of the guys. in one extended sequence she gets in a huge brawl with the wife of mischa auer because she won auer's pants in a game of poker. you get the idea. jimmy stewart is as young here as i've ever seen him (it came out the same year as mr. smith goes to washington). he plays a deputy who sticks to the rules and likes to keep guns out of the equation. his character reminded me of a more capable anthony perkins in tin star. stewart, though, can get tough when he needs to - and he does in the end.
one interesting element of the film is that stewart and dietrich start at opposite ends of the spectrum - she's a swashbuckling hellraiser and he's a calm peacemaker (how's that for a turn?). as the film progresses each move towards the other's original position until they have swapped roles. he leads the charge on the saloon to take the bad guys down, guns blazing. and she leads the women of the town, armed with garden tools, to the same saloon to restore peace - without guns. in this way it turns the usual roles on their head.
the film is fun and well rounded and stands out, to me anyway, as one of the better films of a very strong year (1939) for hollywood. A-.
Call Northside 777 - based on real life events, the story follows a newspaper reporter (stewart) who seeks to find the truth behind an 11 year old murder case. the wrongly accused's mother puts out an ad for a reward of $5000 for any information leading to the actual murderer in her son's case. stewart is skeptical at first, but pursues the case at his editor's behest.
the film has a realistic look to it, in part because of hathaway using real locations (the prison, in particular, was impressive). in fact, imdb.com says it was the first film to be shot on location in chicago. the film also uses the actual inventor of the lie detector test during the filming of the scene where the wrongly accused man takes the test. there's another scene in the film which involves a primitive photo fax machine which is pretty nifty even looking back on it now. any time a film shows the process of something like that it makes it more realistic, and interesting, for me. mann does this in his heist films and i think they benefit from it.
stewart worked with three major directors (capra, mann and hitchcock) and had (at least) three major personalities. it's a tough call to say who the greatest american actor is, but i think you have to take a hard look at stewart as one of the best. bogart, of course, belongs there as well.
call northside 777 falls into the docu-noir genre along with films like he walked by night and kansas city confidential which take real life cases and dramatically recreate them. toward the end call northside plunges into the noir aesthetic, but it only does this when stewart is forced underground to look for a key witness. during these scenes the cinematography is quite good - ceilings look lower because only the bottom 6.5 feet of a room are lighted, shadows are heavy, boris (the witness' boyfriend) is shown only in slivers of light, etc. it's your typical noir stuff and that's a good thing. the end of the film is typical noir in that "justice" is served, but atypical in that most noir follows the criminal as a sympathetic character; in this film the sympathetic character starts as a wrongly accused criminal and is set free in the end. in this sense it's a happy ending which, again, is atypical of much film noir. though the ending is a good one, it is not saccharine or overdone. hathaway plays it fairly straight and lets the audience fill in the emotional blanks rather than having the music swell and ending with a crane shot. worth watching if you're a stewart or film noir fan. i'm both. B+.
Thieves' Highway - only the second dassin film i've seen (the other was the great rififi), but i think i like his work. he reminds me of h.g. clouzot especially because of this film's similarities to wages of fear. but this film also has similarities to the film i saw just before it - call northside 777. they were made within a year of each other and are both fox productions. both have alfred newman doing the music and both feature the acting talents of richard conte and lee cobb (also in 12 angry men). conte and cobb are both better here than they were in call northside 777, but they also have much better roles. cobb is more in character here as a shady produce seller, versus the upright editor he played in call northside 777. conte, though good in call northside 777, is even better here as a returning veteran who finds life isn't as good as he expected. his father is without his legs - which you know instantly from the fine acting of morris carnovsky. the family business isn't doing well and the family truck has been sold to stay afloat. conte goes to reclaim the truck since payments have not been made on it, but runs into a tough produce trucker (millard mitchell) who needs it for one last haul of golden delicious apples. conte agrees to go 50/50 with mitchell for a double haul of apples which should turn a tidy profit for the both of them. of course things don't go quite as planned and we see a dark side of the produce trade.
dassin creates a seedy world where the only way to get by is through deceit and by screwing over whomever it is you are dealing with. i thought the lead female (Valentina Cortesa) did a decent job, but a young (she was 48 when this movie was released) marlene dietrich would have been better. the ending is strong and makes up for the small slowdown that comes with conte's fiancee. B.
Weather Underground - extremists really piss me off. here you have a documentary which follows the history of the weathermen, a group of hippies who, during the 60s and 70s, sought to overthrow the paradigm because they disagreed with american aggression abroad (especially the vietnam war). they rationalized their extreme point of view by contending that inaction against violence is its own violence and that means violence against the state is justified. they eventually did all the stereotypical extremist hippie stuff - lots of drugs, free sex, and bombing institutions of power. after an accident with a bomb which killed several of their own members, they determined that bombing innocent civilians was not morally acceptable and that they should, henceforth, take measures to clear the area of civilians before the bombs were detonated. much of their philosophy is extremely flawed and misguided and represents, to me anyway, the very worst of moral superiority. one SDS (students for a democratic society - the group from which the radical weathermen split) member compared them to the hitlers and stalins of the world, an apt analogy in that both hitler and the weathermen had grand schemes for the world which involved the violent overthrow of a certain group. the film does a pretty good job of showing all sides of the thinking that went into forming the philosophy of the weathermen (they weren't that progressive, apparently, because if they were they would have called themselves the weatherpeople, but i digress...).
the film overused the first track on aphex twin's selected ambient vol. 2, a track which was also used on another documentary called devil's playground. fitting. fucking extremists should just be killed. B-.
Machinist - i don't remember much about session 9 other than the fact that it was sort of a trippy, psychological horror film; and that it was well done. anderson one ups himself here, making a film that is at once reminiscent of others and still a film of its own. christian bale, too, is at the top of his game here. he takes method acting to the physical extreme by going from about 180 to 120 pounds in order to play the part.
ultimately the film is about a man who is racked with guilt and punishes himself because of his past. there are elements of lynch, fight club, macbeth and memento and some of it is easy to figure it out, but even so it's never uninteresting because it's impossible to know exactly where anderson is going with all this. of course it certainly helps that, outside of the mystery, there is a compelling story being told about a man teetering on the edge of sanity. the camera portrays bale's point of view, but we know early on that he's likely a bit out of touch with reality.
one element of the film that was pretty creative is a running game of hangman that bale plays. there's a six letter word that ends with "er." at one point in the film it spells mother which takes on its own meaning, later he discovers it could spell "miller" and it takes on a different meaning at that point in the story, and in the end it spells something different. it reminds me of another film that did something different - some element in that film changed as the story unfolded, but i can't remember what the film is. dammit. the only thing i can think of is the "to serve man" episode of the twilight zone. a disturbing and welldone picture. B.
Coach Carter - i'm a sucker for this kind of movie and i'm not really sure why. sure samuel l. jackson does a good job, but the film isn't really that great.; a lot of the times it's actually rather stock. the slow motion, the inspirational underdogs banding together to make a great team and, in the process, becoming better people. it's cut from the same cloth as miracle, lean on me, dangerous minds and hoosiers. one reason i liked it is because i like basketball movies, but, more than that, i liked it because i like the idea of people bettering themselves through discipline and intelligent choices. jackson is a great choice for the type of coach who can both inspire, and relate to, lost youths. i think i also liked it because carter's view of basketball, and its place in life, is similar to mine. basketball is great and you should work hard to be good at it, but it should be a tool - to get you into college, to teach you discipline and teamwork, or to make you more fit. it's not the central part of life that many wishful youths might think of it as.
like i said - this isn't a film that's all that well-made - it's predictable and stock, but i liked it in spite of those flaws. it's a bit on the long side and i noticed a few scenes that could have been cut, but, again, i'm willing to overlook that fact. B-.
p.s. i've just read one review (Ebert) and one summary of this film which both get the amount that carter gets paid as coach incorrect. ebert says it was an unpaid position and the other summary says it was a $900 position. both are wrong. it was $1500 for four months of work.
A Red Bear - pretty good little argentinean film about a guy who comes out of prison and tries to get to know his young daughter. the main character (bear) reminds me a bit of eric bana in "chopper" - he has the same sort of build and is just as much of a bad ass, but not as much of a prick. one interesting note on the film is that it uses an unusual number of sound bridges. one scene will be winding down and another will starting winding up by introducing the sound of that scene before the images. you might have a guy driving in his car thinking and then a woman starts reading a children's story as a voice over. then, after a few seconds, the images will catch up and we'll see the woman in bed with her daughter, reading the story. it's a device that's pretty commonplace, but this film used it more and the overlap was longer than is usual. perhaps this was to strengthen the link between the characters in the first scene and those in the scene that follows/overlaps.
i liked the film because it was balanced and low-tech. it never got saccharine, it didn't rely on the action sequences, it never got bogged down with the dramatic elements and it had some comic relief. in the end, when the film is at its most sad, it doesn't linger too much. it allows us to sympathize and understand what everyone is feeling, but it doesn't beat it into us. a sleeper foreign film which should be checked out, but probably won't. B. p.s. i have the vhs if you want to borrow it.
El Cid - great people are usually only great to those outside of their immediate family. a man like el cid may change his country, but it seems, to me at least, that it would suck to be his wife or one of his daughters. i think a lot of great people follow in this way. their genius or dedication come at a great personal cost. granted it means movies might one day be made about you, and you may be a martyr for all time, but it stinks for those you who should care about the most. this is one reason why the stories of great people are often off-putting for me - i generally empathize more with their family than with their followers. a film like malcolm x is the first that i can think of that bucks this trend, but it's the exception.
michael mann is a great director, but i think he's out of his element here. he's still making a picture about a capable man on the outskirts of society, but here he's dealing with a man who is not a jimmy stewart - not an everyman. i don't know why heston got all these roles (ben-hur, el cid, the ten commandments). he does fairly well with all of them because they require a certain degree of pompous overacting, but what makes him so suitable? he doesn't look like a Spaniard or an egyptian. give me kirk douglas in spartacus any day. rozsa's score loses some of its power as the film wears on towards three hours, but it starts strong. if mann made winchester '73 and far country 20 times i would have been happy. i don't need a director to stretch his wings or try different things. oh well.
sophia loren is hot and is the best actor in the film. not a film i'm likely to watch again. C.
Sasquatch Hunters (aka Primeval)- really nothing of note here. there's one hot chick with big hooters, plenty of bad acting and some bad sfx, but none of those things really add to the art/enjoyment of the film. it's not camp and it's not all that entertaining. that said, it's not a painful movie to watch. it's under 90 minutes and has some bearable parts early in the film. D+.
You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train - hagiography of howard zinn. he's been a more active activist (hmmm) than i thought. i always thought of him as more of a scholar than an actual leader in practice. apparently, though, he has been fairly active in politics since he was a young professor at spelman college in georgia. he was also in the air force during wwII. with documentaries like this the tendency is towards over-laudation, but that's expected. it's a decent portrait of an important figure in america, i just wish it had done more to flesh out his major ideas and contributions to our view of history. C+.
Fighting Elegy - suzuki. the guy could direct movies, there's just no way around it. here he deals, again, with rebellion. the story follows a young student as he gradually turns towards rebellion in order to impress a girl. he trains to become a fighter and joins a gang towards this end. after several scraps he finds himself in a small, foreign town which suits him even less. he rails against the establishment and eventually joins a larger rebellion in tokyo. the film has a definite sense of humor, more so than most suzuki films. there is also a repressed sexuality motif that is developed rather strongly throughout the film. it's a visually stimulating film (as is always the case with suzuki), but in a different way. rather than playing with editing, time, color or light, he splits the screen a lot. large portions of the screen are filled by objects in the foreground or by split screen shots. maybe it's all to indicate the fractured psyche of the youth the film follows. i don't know. what i do know is that suzuki has a flair about his films that make them eminently watchable. B.
DiG! - ahhh, tales of troubled genius. there are a billion and one stories about people like anton newcombe (lead singer/songwriter of brian jonestown massacre) who are brilliant and really could have been great if only they were able to pull it together and stop the cycle of self-destruction. ultimately it comes down to this: if you have the opportunity and you take a step down then you don't have what it takes. i've seen documentaries on great street basketball players who "could have been better than jordan" if they ever made it to the nba. people who had the opportunity to get into the nba, but invariably fell victim to their own addiction to crack or didn't have their priorities straight or any number of things. ad anton newcombe to this list. a musician with great talent, an indie record deal (with TVT) that garnered him attention and plenty of money to work with, but he just couldn't pull it together. he had to engage in the endless prima donna-ism that (unfortunately) so often exists in talents like these.
on the other side of the coin you have courtney taylor (of the dandy warhols) an (admittedly) less talented singer/songwriter in a band that has some semblance of rationale and self-control. a group that also got a break (with the larger capitol records). they were able to parlay that opportunity into pretty sizable success. personally, i think that "13 tales from urban bohemia" is a great record - better than the stuff i've heard from brian jonestown massacre, but that's a moot point really. the film is about what it takes to make it in the industry and in life. anton newcombe clearly does not have it, whatever it is. he has no self-perspective, no self-control, no real goals and no real plans to achieve his half-goals. one interviewee remarked that brian jonestown massacre is a group that'll likely be mined by a later generation - a group destined to be undiscovered in its own generation, but one with immense talent. despite all of anton's sophistry, one thing must be said - they can make records and in the long run that's probably all that'll matter. B.
Riding The Rails - documentary about kids who, during the depression, left home and rode the rails in search of employment, adventure, or something else. it's an interesting piece of american history and one that most don't know about. apparently, though, it was quite a problem at the time and several local governments enacted laws in order to thwart the influx of teenage transients. california even (illegally) closed its arizona border for six weeks because so many people (teenagers among them) were flooding into the state. it occurred to me that FDR, as much as he is thought of as a lefty president, probably did a great deal to thwart the rise of socialism because his new deal programs were successful enough to appease the socialist movement which was gaining significant strength at the time. good little documentary. B-.
24 Hour Party People - films about film (state and main, get shorty, player) seem to generally be better than those about music (this, high fidelity, be cool, almost famous), not sure why that is. there's not much about the film that isbad, but i can't say that i really fell in love with it either. it's an interesting film because the structure is so "postmodern" - the main character is narrating the story, he looks into the camera, he points out cameos within the film, etc. this element certainly does make the film more intellectually noteworthy, and a bit more stimulating. perhaps it was an attempt to emulate its subject and be experimental and novel. one problem i had with the film is that pretty much all the music that it praised was stuff that i'm not into. joy division were okay, sex pistols were fine...but i just don't like them that much. if it was the same film about the who and led zeppelin i would have liked it a lot more. steve coogan certainly had a fine performance, but, again, i just didn't like him that much so i wasn't rooting for him as much as the filmmakers would have liked. C+.
T-Men - as much as i love anthony mann and would like to heap praise on him at every turn, i think that john alton's cinematography should get a good deal of this film's credit. it's a particularly stylish noir in the tradition of kansas city confidential and he walked by night (co-directed by anthony mann). all three of these films begin with a narrator introducing the film as a piece of fictionalized reality, a form made popular by dragnet. it's interesting to note that though these films are representations of actual cases (or a composite thereof), they are still very stylish - they use exaggerated shadows, overly drawn characters and generally blow the story up for the sake of cinema. consequently they shouldn't be called realistic films, though they are a striking comparison to some of the glossy studio pictures of the time.
this film follows dennis o'keefe, who plays a treasury agent, as he infiltrates the underground in an attempt to uncover a massive counterfeiting operation. i've never seen o'keefe in anything before, but i liked him here. he reminded me a bit of a sterling hayden type figure. tall and tough looking, but still sympathetic and intelligent; not just a muscle man. overall an engaging and well-styled noir from one of the best directors of the time. B.
Hostage - a film that certainly was made for bruce willis. there are so many elements that reference his career, especially the die hard films - from set pieces like the fountain amongst a fiery shit storm to the estranged family life. but the film is plenty more than just a willis vehicle. the opening sequence reminded me of the first sequence in Assault on Precinct 13 in its ability to set a strong tone for the rest of the film. and, really, it's a pretty apt comparison because there are more similar elements between the two films. both are directed by frenchmen directing their first american picture. both films feature characters who have to deal with an early mistake throughout the rest of the film. and both films were surprisingly refreshing compared to the usual hollywood fare (xxx, bruckheimer, etc.).
i'm going to write about the opening sequence because that's all i really needed to see to know how i was going to feel about the film. it begins with a close-up of a perp who is holding two people hostage in a locked up house and the camera pulls out to reveal the police presence and the los angeles skyline. then we see willis - scruffy, bearded, sweaty, lying down with a cellphone in one hand and a comb at his beard in his other. it's a comic moment that relieves a bit of the tension already created by the few earlier shots. willis' lightly comic, lackadaisical demeanor in this sequence is just perfect - he exudes confidence and feeds off the success of his previous film characters (john mcclaine, butch, etc.) here while adding a new, over-the-hill, wrinkle to it. but the situation quickly grows out of control and the hostage taker spirals out of control and resolves to kill his hostages. willis runs from the rooftop where he was perched and tries to intervene, but by the time he makes it to the house it's too late - the deed is done. it's not just what happens or willis' performance, it's the way siri captures and presents it all. he cuts to the hostages briefly to make sure we know what is at stake, he's willing to show the brutality of the kidnapper (who hits a young boy with a telephone), he employs comic relief in a tasteful way, and the slo-motion sequence wherein willis makes a dash to save the hostages is well-filmed. he uses a few different camera angles including one where the camera is attached to willis' chest and is pointed towards his face. it's one of my favorite types of shots, but it must be used in the right situation and in a measured way (think of how aronofsky uses it in pi).
i'm not going to say the film is perfect, but it restores your confidence in hollywood's ability to entertain in an artful and intelligent manner. worth checking out. B.
Touching The Void - pretty well done documentary about two climbers who have some trouble in the andes while on a climb. the strength of the human spirit and the endurance that are exhibited in this story shouldn't really be the focus of any review of this film because both are greater than anything we are likely to ever face. that said, i'd like to say that shackleton's expedition to the south pole was ten times more impressive than this story. watch "endurance" if you don't believe me. onto the film...it uses reenactments and first hand accounts to retell the story and this is an interesting choice. it grants slightly less credence to the story because you always have in the back of your mind: "are these guys exaggerating their own exploits?" but they do come off as fairly candid so i didn't worry about that too much. the other interesting result of telling the story in this way is that you know they're both going to survive. usually a survival story has as its umbrella the question: "ARE these guys going to get out alive?" but in this film the overriding question was "HOW are they going to get out alive?" the reenactments are done rather well and there is some expressionistic direction towards the end which serves as a visual echo of the joe's dementia. if you're going to watch one "survival" documentary let it be endurance, if you're going to watch two then watch this and then endurance. B.
Man From Laramie - fourth collaboration between stewart/mann that i've seen, and the last they ever had. it's certainly not their best work, but anything they do is pretty top notch so there's no shame in being less of a film than far country or winchester '73. i felt that this film left a bit of a loose end in that it didn't make clear who exactly set up the guns deal to the apaches. i suppose that both vic (arthur kennedy) and dave get their due in the end so it doesn't really matter, but i felt that it was still unresolved. also, stewart's sidekick early in the film is sort of ditched and not heard from at some point. these are rather minor points, though.
arthur kennedy plays a similar character to the one he plays in bend in the river, but his transformation in this film is actually a bit more believable. stewart is always great and he's nothing less than that here. B.
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb - non source music appears only at the beginning, end and during the plane sequences - interesting. A+.
Jacket - keira knightley's accent felt forced. it reminded me of a cross between the butterfly effect and jacob's ladder, in more ways than just the plot. at different times while i was watching the picture i felt that it had the potential to be as good as jacob's ladder or as bad as the butterfly effect. in the end, it is somewhere in between. i think that overall adrian brody's performance, and the idea of changing a person's life in a moment, sold me on the picture - but just barely. stylistically the film was mostly successful. quick edits and low light painted a decent picture of the isolation brody experienced while in the jacket. C+.
Scary Movie 2 - i think it's the best of the series and a funny enough film to watch twice, apparently. the humor is crass and simple, but it does the job. the weinstein brothers seem to produce just about everything in hollywood. the ensemble is well-rounded...sometimes in the chest and other times in terms of the humor they provide. everyone contributes a laugh here or there and that's more than can be said about most comedies these days. B.
Thief - very similar to heat, this, earlier, michael mann picture is nearly as good as its 1995 relative. one of the things that makes michael mann's heist films so fun to watch is the authenticity and detail with which he portrays the job. he treats the preparation with as much care and detail as he does the actual heist and that's not only cool to see, but it also serves the authenticity of the entire film rather well.
this film, though related to heat, is definitely a separate entity. for starters, the score, done by tangerine dream, places the film squarely in the eighties yet doesn't sound cheesy by today's standards. tangerine dream and vangelis (blade runner) are two music acts of the time which could score a film without dating it like many of the other synth soundtracks of the time. the dynamics of the picture are also different from those in heat. caan plays a deniro like character, but he's more eager to settle down than deniro initially is in heat. on the flipside the cops in thief are far from the professionals that pacino and his crew are in heat; thief is a bit less balanced in this regard. the police in thief repeatedly attempt to shake down caan in cheap, lazy attempts to extort a cut of his next job.
the film has a solid sense of humor which certainly adds to the film's enjoyment, but it's not merely a comic heist film. the dramatic element of the film is as strong as we've come to expect from a michael mann film. it doesn't have the balance, brilliant acting and epic feel that heat does, but, on its own, the film is quite strong and certainly worth watching. B+.
Scarlet Street - fritz lang produced this 1945 noir. it features edward g. robinson and dan duryea and both turn in solid performances. robinson plays a character similar to that played by ernest borgnine in marty - a socially awkward sympathetic middle-aged chubby guy. along comes a femme fatale and so begins the downward spiral which, inevitably, leads to murder. again, i think that the good film noirs are able to give the audience some hope that things will turn out well. this film does that. towards the end robinson's character collapses because of the deceit of the femme fatale and it seems he's destined for a life behind bars, but, through some luck and a twist of fate, dan duryea ends up taking the fall. from there the film becomes a morality tale about living with one's bad deeds. robinson sells the character well through every change - he's perfectly average at the beginning, he's hopeful and sympathetic in the middle, and he's dark and troubled in the end. it's not amazing as a film noir, but it's a solid film. B.
Cursed - it really depends how you watch this film. if you expect a serious thriller/horror flick then you'll no doubt be disappointed by some of the seemingly cheesy moments in this film. if, however, you are willing to be scared at times and laugh at the camp portions, then you might find yourself enjoying the film a bit. it's no evil dead or re-animator - films which i think define this genre - but it does have successful moments. it's a werewolf story without much fanfare - the effects aren't great and it doesn't really add to the mythology of werewolves, but the film isn't about forging new ground. it clearly is more about homage and fun than anything else. the cast does a generally good job with the exception of joshua jackson from dawson's creek. michael rosenbaum (roger dodger) is a pretty good young actor, look for him in the future. kristina anapau is amazingly hot. C+.
Ten - not the best kiarostami film i've seen, but it does add to his mystique; for me at least. the entire film is made within a single car and is compose of two camera angles. the fact that it takes place in a car indicates that it's a film about transition which makes sense since the film revolves around women in modern iran. the title of the film refers the the number of chapters in the film which are delineated by marker numbers between said chapters. despite the static camera angles and style, the film is engaging because of the acting and the dialogue which inform the theme of women in a new society. kiarostami is one of my favorite contemporary directors, but his work is always a bit enigmatic to me. this film is no exception to that and, as is true with his other works, i should reserve final judgment for a later viewing. B.
Petrified Forest - part of warner's gangster collection this film is most well-known for its introducing humphrey bogart to more prominent roles. the most striking thing about the picture is the setting - the arizona desert (filmed near mojave). it gives such a confined feel to the picture and that adds to the major theme of the film - the frozen, petrified nature of the situation and the characters. bette davis plays the most "alive" of the characters because she, at least, has dreams and aspirations of leaving the desert. the old man, his son and the football player are all characters who are living in the past, resting on their laurels, petrified and preserved in the middle of the desert. it takes a wanderer and a criminal to shake things up, hmmm. the film reminds me of another bogart film i've actually never seen - key largo, because of the hostage angle. bette davis really makes the film worthwhile because her character is the most important, and her performance is quite good. B.
Petrified Forest - the commentary focused mostly on factual information - background information on bette davis, bogart and leslie howard.
Ordinary People - pretty similar in feel and theme to the many pictures which decry the dissolution of the american family - films like those of douglas sirk, american beauty, and rebel without a cause; throw in a little good will hunting and kramer vs. kramer and you get the picture. i think that the opening is the strongest portion of the film - it's lyrical and measured at first, but quickly changes. through a series of edits we are brought into hutton's world of fragmented dreams and guilt. all the performances are good, but redford's direction was sometimes saccharine or overly emotional, even cheesy. overall, though, it's a good work in a genre that's got plenty of good films already. really, this film, though good, doesn't add anything to the body of work before, or after it. as a result it should be mostly forgotten. C+.
Blob - b picture that is both indicative of the genre and responsible for launching steve mcqueen's career. the subtext of the film speaks to the same fears that the invasion of the body snatchers addresses, namely the infiltration of communist thought. the leading lady, aneta corsaut, though unknown and unheralded, did a good job by my standards. it's a short, fun picture with good color. a good time passer. B.
Ice Maker - a truly stupid film. the style was way too self-conscious and the production values certainly didn't help this fact. it's filled with dried up actors like tippi hedren, bronson pinchot and richard moll. i laughed once or twice and it wasn't offensive, but it also wasn't very humorous or entertaining. D.
A Perfect Candidate - documentary in the style and tradition of the war room, but this one follows oliver north instead of bill clinton. in 1994 ollie north ran for senate in virginia and the film details the campaign from beginning to end. it's a remarkable documentary for a couple reasons: 1) because of its intimate access behind the scenes 2) because of its subject - one of the more infamous men in american politics. the documentary doesn't attempt to paint north in any particular light, rather, like the war room, it seeks to be a fly on the wall and merely capture a moment and a process. towards the end of the film we see north's advisors open up a bit and they are frank and truthful about their role in the political process and about the lessons they learn from the outcome of the election. these moments are among the most noteworthy because they are so candid. one campaign manager remarks that they are in the business of packaging a candidate which has nothing to do with solving any political problems. it's a moment that runs contrary to the usual stuff a campaign manager might say about trying to get the right guy to win so that the world will be a better place.B.
Always A Bridesmaid - a female version of sherman's march, and davenport, who wrote, edited and directed the film, acknowledges as much in the credits wherein she thanks ross mcelwee. like sherman's march it's a very intimate film that focuses on the relationships of the filmmaker. in this film davenport is obsessed with the idea of marriage, whereas mcelwee is more obsessed with women in general. at times davenport is a pathetic character because her obsession is unattractive and illogical, but by the end of the film she's imparted enough of her personality through the film that we can't help but understand where she's coming from. she seems to have matured by the film's end and that helps, but she's also humanized her worries and obsessions effectively enough that we can sympathize with her. it's a well edited and constructed documentary and it never gets boring so it's worth watching for those reasons alone. really, though, the payoff of this film is its ability to raise questions and bring in alternate viewpoints which help the viewer work through his/her own questions about relationships and marriage. recommended. B.
Be Cool - this movie is just plain bad. get shorty was funny in part because it made fun of the film industry so effectively; it was always tongue in cheek. this one seeks to make fun of the music industry, but, more often than not, it becomes the very thing it should be making fun of. it's an mgm (owned by sony/bmg) feature and it doesn't pass up any opportunities to help sell albums distributed by sony/bmg - outkast, bob dylan and aerosmith are all worked into the film. very little of the humor hits the mark. vince vaughn is funny at times, but he wears on the nerves eventually. stylistically it lacks the panache that get shorty had and frequently tries to make up for this with trite mtv camera moves and edits. uma thurman is extremely good looking in the film, but that really shouldn't be the highlight of a film. disappointing. D.
Yes Men - from chris smith and sarah price (american movie). this documentary is thoroughly enjoyable and somewhat informative as well. smith (american movie, american job, home movie) has a way of making films that somehow restore my faith in humanity. or, maybe it's more that he finds subjects who are sympathetic, compelling and human. all of smith's films are also imbued with a good sense of humor. B.
Scary Movie - it's heavy on fart jokes and crass humor and that's why i like it. i think that once you become too self-important to laugh at silly shit like this then you're a lost soul. i'm not saying you have to like this movie, but losing the childhood innocence that would have loved this kind of humor is a sad thing to me. riffs primarily on scream, but has nods to other horror flicks as well. B-.
Smiles Of A Summer Night - bergman actually has a sense of humor and this film is proof. granted it's not strictly a comedy, but it does have funny moments and is more funny than it is depressing or dramatic. as is the norm with his films the cinematography is great. in a way it actually takes away from sven nykvist's legacy because the cinematography is great despite his absence (bergman and he worked on a great deal of films together including seventh seal and wild strawberries). the last portion of the film reminded me of renoir's "rules of the game" because you've got a group of upper crust people engaged in a dinner of humorous chaos and sexual comedy. there are some heavy moments, but they're usually washed away with some stroke of humor. B.
Novocaine - in a lot of ways this film reminds me of election. both are about older professionals with seemingly good lives who hit a snag in their lives...and in both cases the snags are a result of their reaction to a girl. both films are also capable of humor and drama. further, both are quite well directed when you look at them closely and listen to the director commentary. i don't think that novocaine is as good as election, but it's a capable and entertaining film nonetheless. atkins' commentary deals mostly with his creative process - why he shot the film the way he did, how he came up with certain scenes or ideas, etc. overall it's a well put together picture, it's thoughtfully done and it's entertaining so you can't really ask for much more than that. B. also, laura dern is an underrated actress.
Roaring Twenties- darker and more poignant than public enemy, which is another warner gangster film of the time. cagney is more believable as a gangster than the young edward g. robinson and the evolution of cagney's character draws the viewer in more effectively. the film begins in 1918 in france where cagney and bogart are soldiers in world war one. in one of the darker, more telling scenes we see cagney, bogart and jeffrey lynn behind a wall firing on the enemy while talking to each other about the war. lynn takes aim on an enemy soldier and elects to not fire upon him because he "doesn't look a day older than 15." bogart takes aim on the same soldier, fires, and says "he'll never see 16 now." a few seconds later a fellow soldier runs by in a hurry and tells them to cease fire because the armistice had been signed. it's a devastating scene, but is dealt with in a rather passing manner. indeed, much of the film seemed directed like this. it isn't until the end that i saw a real filmic statement judgment made on any of the characters. the time of the film is compressed (it covers about 15 years) which gives the film a larger, almost epic feel despite being only 100 minutes long. worth a look. B.
Endless Summer - a really charming and fun picture. it's completely narrated by bruce brown which separates the audience from the principal surfers and i think that's a good thing. the only personality of the film is brown's and his narration is impassioned and funny, but never overbearing or hyperbolic like it is in dogtown and z-boys or riding giants. the film's narrative allows you to enjoy the experience and the trip rather than focusing on the accomplishments or personalities of the surfers. of course it doesn't hurt that the scenery is beautiful and the locals provide some good smiles. the film also has a good soundtrack that both matches the surfing and the locations in which they are surfing. B+.
Doctor Doolittle - not sure why i decided to watch this movie. robert surtees (ben-hur, the graduate, etc.) does the cinematography, but i didn't know that until i got the movie and saw the credit so i don't think that was the original reason for my adding it to my queue. at any rate, the film just isn't my style. it's a musical comedy and neither the music, nor the comedy, are all that appealing. it's a far-fetched and not very charming plot, though it does make the valid point that animals are oft-neglected slaves which should get more respect than they normally do. rex harrison is good in the part, but i didn't like the part. the cinematography was oscar-nominated because the colors are so lush and beautiful. C-.
Get Shorty - it's a fun film with a swagger similar to that seen in ocean's eleven. gene hackman is great in an unconventional role for him - he plays an incapable film producer who also happens to be a wannabe tough guy. it's a funny role and he plays it to perfection. travolta is convincing as chili palmer, an ex-tough guy turned film producer. one of the better aspects of the film is the soundtrack which acts well as the funky pulse to this slick, fun film. it's interesting to compare this to jackie brown (both based on elmore leonard stories). this one is fun and jackie brown has a darker element and some romance. they're both well-written and feature some good comedy, but jackie brown isn't strictly a comedy and get shorty is. get shorty is also similar to the player and state & main which are industry pictures. get shorty makes fun of hollywood and the personalities that are found therein. it's all good stuff. B.
Midnight Cowboy - it's a classic with two great performances and some inspired direction. dustin hoffman really does belong in the pantheon of great american actors. funnier than i remembered. A+.
Dogtown And Z-Boys - a good documentary for a lot of reasons. it's well put together, it highlights a small, but important segment of the population, it educates the viewer on a little known part of our history, it's a good document of a certain part of l.a. at a certain point in time, and it's also partly a cautionary tale. i felt that the film did dip into hagiography and unrealistic hero making at times, but i've come to expect that from films like these and peralta was pretty good about framing opinions as such. ultimately the major contribution of the z-boys was their half-pipe (vertical) skateboarding. their surf style boarding never really caught on and is more an interesting artistic note than it is a contribution to skating. also, some of the z-boys helped popularize the sport, but they weren't single-handedly responsible for the popularity of the sport, as the film sometimes might imply. B.
Graduate- amazing every time. this time i tried to convince my dad that it wasn't merely a "dated cult film at best," as he had previously told me. after watching it with him and giving him a running commentary on everything from the framing of the shots to the editing and emotional power of the film i convinced him that it was a little more relevant than he had previously given it credit for. mission accomplished A+.
Hitch - typical date fair...perfect for valentine's day. i saw it with my old track buddy, james, which was a bit gay, but it's a funny film and we're secure in our manhood so it was all good. eva mendes is hot. considering the genre... B-
My Bodyguard - a classic. there were quite a few bully films that came out in the 80s...karate kid, 3 o'clock high and neverending story are two that come to mind immediately, but there are plenty more. i love adam baldwin's character because i love the idea of latent power...a force that is just waiting to impose justice if the need be. the score is understated and serves the film well. effective direction. B+.
Maria Full Of Grace - sort of similar to dirty pretty things, but with less style. as a result the film, to me at least, had a greater emotional resonance. the lead in this is worthy of the academy nomination and did a great job with a heavy role. this is a film that shows the power of simplicity in story, style and theme. B.
Second Woman - it's a hitchcockean film without as much talent. it reminded me of spellbound and suspicion because you, and the female lead, are not sure whether the male lead is indeed the villain or not. this rendition of the familiar story is pretty well done because it sells the red herring fairly well. the more the story is able to teeter you between believing in the male lead and then doubting him, the better this kind of film is. acting could have been better. the score recycles some classic classical pieces, surely a b picture. C+.
Constantine - when is smoking going to cease to be cool? this film grabs you right away and generally doesn't do anything to let you go too much. there's a definite style to the beginning of the film which is very comic book-esque - long shots, odd angles, shots from roof tops and from the ground looking up. the film really begins with an exorcism performed by keanu reeves. it's a make or break sequence because it comes so early in the film and because it features some of the fantastic (as in fantasy) themes you're going to see through the rest of the film. if you don't buy into this scene then you'd probably be better off leaving the theater. i liked the direction and, like the matrix, the story did a good job of combining myths, the occult, and religious themes. the film doesn't get too much into the mythology behind the story, and i never read the comic book so i didn't catch everything the film had to offer in that sense. but that's okay because knowing the exact motivation of characters and the logistics of some of the characters' movements, isn't required. it's a fairly fun film that touches on enough mythology to keep you occupied when the action and well done sfx aren't on the screen. C+.
Escape From New York - it's a classic, but i think it's dated by now. the production design and sfx are too opaque and some of the acting could have used some work. the music is also very much stuck in the 80s, but that's the trouble with the 80s - it seems everyone thought it would be a great idea to use synths in all their films. sometimes it works better (blade runner) than others (this). other than that, it's a good story and kurt russell and isaac hayes are fun to watch. B-.
Citizen Ruth - alexander payne makes films. he tells a story with images the way a real filmmaker should. there are just so many touches in his films - the button on kurtwood smith's vest, his clip on tie, his watch, dern tapping on the 2 inch doll which is supposed to represent her baby at 10 weeks old, etc. all the minor characters are well-drawn and casted and the major characters do a great job overall. laura dern is fantastic as a childish, selfish woman who is caught between pro-choice and pro-life extremists. laura dern didn't deserve an oscar (frances mcdormand won, rightly) for her performance, but she definitely should have been nominated. the writing is really good, though not as good as it is in election. i'm tired, but take my word for it...the film is well-crafted from top to bottom, it's well-layered with drama, acting, direction, social commentary, comedy, etc. B.
Kansas City Confidential - a lot of filmmaking is not doing what might normally be done. there's a scene in this film where the protagonist needs to get rid of a woman for her own safety...she doesn't get the hint so he needs to berate her so that she'll leave. the director doesn't cut to the protagonist when he does this, though, and i think it's a good decision because it keeps the protagonist sympathetic. nevelle brand plays a criminal and does so to good effect. i like that guy. the lead, however, could have been better.
the greatest strength of the film is the story. it's about a heist whose patsy is an ex-con/ex-serviceman turned flower delivery man. the patsy, having lost his job because of the bad publicity that comes with being accused of burglary, takes it upon himself to find the perpetrators of the heist and get a cut of the action. it's a cool idea. the ending was soft for my taste...when i watch film noir i want the protagonist to get as screwed as possible and that didn't happen here. B-.
If You Were Young: Rage - another fukasaku film that sorta reminded me of suzuki's style. like "blackmail is my life," this film focuses on the younger generation. it tells the story of four young men who can't quite stay out of trouble. eventually the get the idea of putting together some money in order to buy a dump truck and work for themselves. the story is told in a jumbled time structure - retelling the story of how they came to buy the truck and how two of them ended up dropping out of their business venture. really it's the story of japan and the potential the country had in the years following the american occupation. as kurosawa's High And Low showed the best and worst of japanese society in the early 60s, this film shows the potential of a country that was newly industrialized, but still coping with the changes of capitalism and being humiliated by world war II. fukasaku successfully shows hope and fatalism, optimism and pessimism, the power of the group and the importance of finding one's own path. the ending reaffirms these themes and adds a poignancy and power that the rest of the film only skirts. B.
In Good Company- let me start the review by getting two things cleared up: scarlett johansson is decent looking, but not hot; and she's not hollywood's hot new talent. she's a serviceable actress who uses her lips too much, and that's about it. onto the review. the film has two major focuses: the indictment of corporate american culture and generational differences. that said, the film revolves around topher grace more than anything else. the critique of corporate america was fairly prosaic - a sanitized version of anything resembling a real assault on the fundamental flaws of corporate thinking. it did brush up against some of the more obvious weak points of corporate america, and it usually did so to comic effect, which is about as much as you can expect from a film of this type. the exploration of generational differences also lacked great depth, but did get the mental wheels turning a bit and provided even more laughs. quaid and grace were both good in their roles and they had a chemistry that exceeded some of the direction. that is, the director (weitz) had more of a good thing than he knew and under-edited as a result. weitz, though, did use music fairly well. byrne's opening track to his newest album opens the film and sets the somewhat somber tone of the picture rather well. it's not that the film is somber or maudlin overall, but it certainly does explore some darker regions of grace's psyche - his failed marriage, his sense of inertia, his lack of a real home, etc. it's not a great film, but it has some touching moments, is consistently humorous and is, overall, well-constructed. B-.
A Day Without A Mexican - a good idea that could have been executed quite a bit better. it failed to generate any real laughs and since the point it was making was already obvious to me, it didn't affect me in that way either. let's face it, any time a state loses 30% of its population the state is going to be screwed, and that's no more, or less, the case with california and mexicans. wish it had been done better. C.
Wicker Man - it's a different kind of horror film. it's a film that i think could be very effective for certain people, but didn't frighten me a bit. the story follows a detective from the mainland of ireland who is searching for a lost girl. it turns out that the whole missing person thing is a ruse to get a christian on the island to be sacrificed to the sun god. it's successful in that it conceals, until the last moment, exactly what the nature of the town is. we know that things aren't quite right, but we're not really sure where everything is going. christopher lee and the lead are good. C+.
Hide And Seek - superficial stuff out of the way first: famke janssen is good looking, but elisabeth shue is straight up hot. she also drives a vw (1967, i think) in the movie so i had a boner for her the entire time. onto the review...with spoilers....
like secret window, it's not a hard film to figure out. there are a couple red herrings, but they weren't quite believable enough to really distract my attention from what was going on. deniro hardly ever picks characters with just one layer to them, and most of the way through this film his character was pretty one-sided so it was easy to see something coming. that, and the fact that the best explanation was a duality of character in deniro led me to figure this one out even more quickly than i did with secret window. there seems to be a trend in films where the sympathetic protagonist ends up being his own worst enemy - both the hero and the villain in one.
deniro's acting was good, but not amazing. dakota fanning did a good job of selling both sides of her character - happy, precocious kid and dark, disturbed potential psychopath. elisabeth shue also did a very good job. all her acting is derived from her eyes and mouth, it's quite a wonder to watch. i think she should get more roles.
the direction was pretty balanced - some artful shots in between the 'scary moments' and a good balance of scares - some derived from the music/sound, others from a sudden jump, others from a more cerebral place, but all of them were effective. it's a pretty creepy movie to watch once, and it's got some good acting, but the ending dragged a bit and was too predictable for my tastes. C+.
p.s. even the credit sequence at the beginning hints towards the ending by copying the names in a scrawled, childish font. sorta like this:
Drawing Flies - semi-entertaining kevin smith-produced canadian film about a guy (jason lee) who takes his friends into the woods to look for bigfoot. it's pretty similar to some of richard linklater's work because of the witty philosophy-laced banter. it's definitely an independent film, as evidenced by the (sometimes too) lo-fi production. jason lee does a good job and there's one hot chick in the film. i didn't really see the point of the film and it wasn't particularly well done in any single area so i can't say i'd recommend it, but it passed the time. C.
Reconstruction - quite a joy to watch. this danish film is hard to describe - it's part lynch, part post-modern, part greek mythology (orpheus), and part something all its own. all the acting is good and the film's style strengthens themes and moods quite well. it's a bit of an enigma for me so i'd like to see it again, but one thing that's certain is that i liked it. recommendable.B.
Aviator - though i wouldn't call it a full redemption for scorsese, this film is a step in right direction for him.
first the man: eccentric is too obvious a word, but it fits. he was gifted, but disturbed, had great ideas and great ambition, but sometimes too much power. luckily he had enough money to help him through his many mistakes. certainly worth making a movie about since he was both great and interesting. it's really that simple.
the oscars: this is going to be scorsese best shot at an oscar since everyone knows how important he is by now and they know he deserves one. million dollar baby is better overall and has better performances, but aviator could pull it out because the academy likes epics and knows it owes scorsese. dicaprio was good, but he wasn't as good as eastwood and eastwood wasn't as good as foxx so sorry leo, but it ain't happening this year. cate blanchett over-acted as katherine hepburn, hopefully virginia madsen pulls it out instead. i like alan alda, and he was good in this picture, but morgan freeman and thomas church were better; hell even alec baldwin was better and he didn't even get nominated. screenplay...it could win here, but eternal sunshine was more ambitious, more original and was better so, really, it should win here. cinematography...the cinematography was probably the strongest point of the film - scorsese made everything in the first half of the film seem big - sweeping crane shots, lots of movement, etc. to make the man and the picture seem big. later the camera settles down as the man begins his mental descent. colors were used well and in (mostly) subtle ways to enhance the feel of a scene. he'd drop some color out of a sequence to indicate an emotional drain, or amplify the color to emphasize the beginning of a friendship. well done in this category. the only other film in this category that i've seen is house of flying daggers which has good cinematography, but it was just an imitation of "hero." editing: million dollar baby has it here, it's a film that's more ripe for this category and it's executed well, as i state below. art direction: the sets were grand, though not as impressive as those in gangs of new york. lemony snicket's did a bit more for me, but aviator will probably win here. the same goes for costume design. sound: the sound of the spruce goose was the only thing that struck me as impressive. i didn't notice any great layering or inventive use of sound, it'll probably go to ray. the music, however, was quite good and was a good part of the reason that i was able to be engaged by the film. it's not a fantastic film, but it's an oscar friendly one. it's a good story about a very interesting guy, but it's not best picture material. B.
things to check: july
8, 1946 la times
highways built in what year in la?
Hellraiser - genuinely disturbing film mostly because of the character design. i think it was a wise decision to be a bit cryptic with regards to the mythology. C+.
Red House - i'll take robinson's performance in this film over his performance in little caesar any day of the week. here he is complex and conflicted, his character is deep, dark and troubled and the performance seems to roll off more easily. the film is ultimately about the secrets we hold, the taboo and confronting our fears. it's a good little film that you're not likely to hear about since it's not one of those a-list noirs like big sleep, double indemnity, etc. B.
Blackmail Is My Life - stylistic yakuza film from kinji fukasaku (battle royale, tora! tora! tora!, fall guy, etc.). it's about four young japanese people (three men, one woman) who basically fall into the blackmail business. slowly the jobs they pull off get bigger and bigger and, in the end, they are out of their depth. editing, use of color and use of zoom lenses were strong points of the film. fukasaku, from my experience of his films, seems a flashier, less artistic version of suzuki. this film had artistic elements, but i just felt that it was a little forced. really, though, this is just me being nit-picky - being compared to suzuki is high praise, and the artistry of this film, though it may have been a little more than fukasaku could handle, is quite refreshing and enjoyable to watch. films like this are such a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the modern films that try to be the same thing (think snatch and other 'style over substance' gangster films whose style is forced or unappealing). B+.
Bend Of The River - not the best mann/stewart collaboration, but that's not saying much. this film is quite good and would be the best film on the resume of most directors. very good outdoor photography, solid acting from stewart and flippen and the usual elements of a mann film combine for a fun, sometimes humorous voyage. i could have done without the stereotypical black character, but everything else was good. B+. far country is my favorite anthony mann film.
Princesa- catholics are messed up. my only problem with this film is that the protagonist was too fickle for my taste. one minute she wants an operation, the next she doesn't, one minute she never wants to see a person, then she wants to live with him, and then she doesn't want to see him again, one minute she doesn't want to see a friend and the next she's on her front doorstep asking to move in...it was a bit obnoxious. other than that the film was quite good. the performances were uniformly good and the human drama was natural and meaningful. i didn't like some of the musical decisions, but you can't win them all. a good film. B.
C.H.U.D.- as a horror film the movie doesn't do much, but as a tale laced with social commentary it does. it's basically about how society deals with the homeless by ignoring them. it also becomes about another problem society has chosen to ignore - toxic waste. combining the two we get c.h.u.d. (cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers). the effects weren't very good, but it's got a pretty good cast (one of john goodman's first appearances) and the story is decent. C+.
Million Dollar Baby - i think i'm getting pretty cynical in my old age music, because i had to fight the urge within me to deflate the film while i was watching it. i kept thinking about other films that have done it better, about how elements of this film were derivative, about how it's got everything that the academy looks for (an underdog, some death, a retard, some triumph, some defeat...), etc. but in between my cynical inner thoughts were moments of being mostly moved and/or impressed by the film in one way or another. it really isn't a staggering film, and in a better year it wouldn't have garnered the best picture/director nominations, but this is 2004 and so it deserves it...and it may even deserve to win (i haven't seen finding neverland or the aviator yet).
the first element of the film that struck me was the narrative. morgan freeman really is axis on which the film turns. his character is not only the narrator and primary observer, but is also a cross between swank and eastwood's characters. as is usually the case with him, freeman turns in a great performance and could definitely take home an oscar for best supporting actor.
the bigger cinch for the film, though, is the editing oscar. sure, ray, was well-edited and the way hackford told the story of ray's early life in segmented flashbacks was nice, but million dollar baby's editing did even more. the montages were just as good and it had going for it the fact that it had fight scenes which immediately raise the bar for editing. that said, i felt that the fight scenes were one of the weak points of the film. when compared the fight scene in the set-up (1949) the fight scenes in this film are downright primitive. another element of the fight scenes which bothered me was something that all boxing movies tend to do - they depict a movie style boxing match. there is very little actual boxing or strategy, there is just fighting and slugging. no one plays defense, or wears down their opponent, they merely knock them out with an unwieldy right hook. anyone who knows anything about boxing knows that this is uncommon. most boxing films are good about getting the training and "talk" of boxing correct, but when it comes to filming the actual fight, they tend to do a fairly inaccurate job, and this film is no exception. then again the academys aren't about determining the best, rather they determine the best of the most popular.
really, though, the film isn't about boxing, it's about telling a compelling story with round, engaging characters; and here it is unequivocally successful. eastwood, freeman and swank all do excellent jobs playing their characters in believable and sympathetic ways. it's not always easy to like eastwood, but through of his sense of humor and reluctant, yet heartfelt interaction with swank the audience warms up to him. freeman and swank play less difficult roles in that they are liked by the audience throughout. swank's role is probably more trying, though, because she plays the widest range of emotions. in my review of eternal sunshine i said: "jim carrey had his best performance, but kate winslet was just as good, in a more mercurial role." and that's why she was nominated and he wasn't. i think that this is the same reason that swank will win and eastwood will not. her role covers a wider range of emotions and is likable throughout, and likable characters generally get the nod. one exception i can think of off the top of my head is rod steiger who wasn't always likable in "in the heat of the night," yet he won best actor that year (1967), despite being up against some very stiff competition (beatty, hoffman, tracy, newman).
ultimately it's a very fine picture. it's moving, it's funny, it's got some exciting moments, eastwood gets his digs in on catholicism and does a little pandering to the oscar audience. but the difference between eastwood and scorsese, late in their careers, is that eastwood panders with his heart and scorsese panders with his mind. he's a great filmmaker, but the guy does everything with his head and nothing with his gut or his heart anymore. man he bugs me. B+.
Return of the Living Dead - fairly funny horror flick that pokes fun at society just as much as it pokes fun at horror genre. it's not really scary, but it has some good gore. a fun little flick. B-.
Little Caesar - i know it's an important film that made way for stuff like angels with dirty faces, godfather, goodfellas, and the sopranos, but i just didn't dig it. it's a dated film and robinson's performance, though adequate, just didn't impress me. C.
Assault On Precinct 13 - pretty well done action thriller. it's interesting that in the original the plot involves a gang infiltrating a police station, but in the remake it's corrupt cops doing the raiding. at any rate, the direction was surprisingly artistic, fresh and balanced. i think that much of the film's success is also due to the writing (not sure how much of this is due to john carpenter's original script) which doesn't pull punches and knows the importance of comic relief. the beginning of the film embodied very well and, as such, provided a good hook for the rest of the film. it had a gritty look, some funny moments, yet maintained an edgy feeling. there's one pretty cool shot where hawke has his back to the camera and is walking towards a mirror. he ducks down over the sink to splash some water on his face and then comes back up to look at himself in the mirror. the interesting thing is that you don't see the camera in the mirror and when hawke comes back up from being over the sink we see him as he would see himself - straight ahead without any edit between the time when he starts walking towards the mirror and when the scene ends. B.
He Walked By Night - great film noir that you don't normally hear about. the story follows two plotlines - one is the lone criminal and the other is the police officers who are chasing him. i found myself rooting for both sides (like i did when watching "heat") - for the criminal because he's capable and the audience generally like capable characters, and for the cops because the criminal was a bad guy. there's some really good cinematography in the final portion of the film wherein the criminal runs from the cops in an underground maze of sewers. the lead did a good job. overall it's like a really good, stylized episode of dragnet or law and order. speaking of dragnet...jack webb plays a forensics detective who helps break the case. B+.
Call It Murder - early bogart film that isn't really a bogart film because he's got such a small role. it was made in 1934 so sound was still in its early stages and this film looks much more like a silent feature. all the music is diegetic, the camera doesn't move very much and much of the emotional story is told through editing. it's also a pretty interesting film from a social perspective because it addresses issues of justice, responsibility and the death penalty. a fascinating film that i'd like to watch again. B+.
D.O.A. - i've heard of this film noir several times so i was eager to finally check it out. it begins with edmond o'brien's character walking into a police station while the credits roll. as the credits end he walks into the homicide division to report a murder. the detective asks who has been murdered and o'brien says "me." it's the ultimate noir beginning...the guy who tells the sad story is already dead while he's telling it. double indemnity comes close to this (macmurray is running from the cops and has been shot), but d.o.a. improves upon it. as is the familiar way with noir, o'brien goes searching for his killer, has some romantic issues along the way and, in the end, dies. it's interesting to note that he is poisoned the very moment that he is hitting on a girl at a bar - truly a morality tale in this regard. overall, i was a bit disappointed since i had heard so much about the film and since the beginning was so damn good - the opening sequence is so noir and features such perfect music that i had rather high hopes for the rest of the film. B.
Eye - another in a wave of recent japanese horror films. this one is most interesting because of its societal subtext, but isn't as scary or good as ringu. it's about a blind girl who gets a cornea transplant to correct her eyesight. it turns out that the new cornea allows her to see dead people because she is essentially seeing the world through the eyes of the donor. in this way the film is sorta like "body parts." socially it's interesting because once she is able to see, she is afraid of what she sees. death is all around her, blah blah blah. in the end she discovers that being blind isn't so bad, but, also, that the world is a beautiful place. there's some good music, but it's sorta cheesy and not all that scary. C.
Capricorn One - storytelling and editing, that's what made this film. the film opens in the dark, with a voice-over which serves as a good way of focusing the audience's attention on the film. quickly the film jumps into the story - a launch to mars, political forces very interested in the success of the space program, a last minute change of plans, a mystery, a conspiracy...and so the film unfolds throughout. it's always moving, always evolving, cross-cutting, building steam, yet balanced (sam waterson provides comic relief). it's a sci-fi film, an adventure film, and a suspense thriller all in one. the ending left a bit to be desired, but everything else was exciting and worthwhile. B+.
Hotel Rwanda - another good oscar contender that didn't blow me away. it's a fine film, there are some inspired(ing) moments and cheadle does a solid job with his character, but the style and overall impact of the film were underwhelming. perhaps i'm getting harder to please, perhaps i'm just an old man, but i feel like movies were so much better in the old days. it's not an american production (clearly canada had a production role since the main U.N. figure (played by nolte) was a canadian), and that's probably a good thing. certainly the world dropped the ball on this situation, and most aware people know this fact. the film does an okay job of conveying the scope and magnitude of the events, but the real success of the film is in telling a specific story about a specific man's struggle. surely there is an effort to make the story larger, in fact much energy is expended to this end, but what always remains is the story of don cheadle's character. nolte also turns in a good performance in a supporting role. B.
Borderline - solid film noir from some guy i've never heard of (seiter). actually, though it's in a film noir boxset, it's not that noir. the protagonists are both good characters, nothing really bad happens in the end and the look of the film isn't all that dark. it's more fun and mysterious than dark and depressing. failed expectations aside, the film is good (nice camerawork, good dialogue, good acting from the leads) and fun. definitely worth watching. B.
Kramer vs. Kramer - this is a film that is ripe for a trite, over-blown treatment, but avoids doing it; and i think this is a credit primarily to the direction and acting (as it usually is). hoffman, of course, is quite extraordinary in a rather tough role. his character begins as an almost vapid businessman and evolves into an inspiring human being with his priorities in the right place. conversely, streep begins as a sympathetic character, but devolves into what almost becomes a psychotic villain. i'm not sure if this was the intention, or if it was just an oddly angled performance, but streep's character came off as quite unstable. i think the film would have been better served if her character was played a little more straight, but, really, it's only a minor point overall.
details within the frame were well handled by benton. for example, a simple static shot of hoffman taking his son to the bathroom is enhanced not only by the camera's distance and position (at the end of a hallway), but also by the placement of a small picture of streep on a table in the foreground. details in the direction like this make for a more realistic and poignant film. i think the decision to tell the story from hoffman's point of view is the easiest to second-guess. since the upshot of the film is supposed to be that the child suffers the most, it might have made more sense to tell the story from his point of view. telling it from hoffman's point of view demonizes streep and neglects most of what happened before the divorce. B+.
Angels With Dirty Faces - a fine all-around film. it's an early gangster/noir that functions well on several different levels. it's a good human level drama (with comic relief) - the story of two boys - each with a similar starting point, but very different lives. one becomes a priest and the other becomes an infamous gangster. on another level it's about the potential of individuals, fate, and circumstance. it's a picture that incites laughter, pity, sympathy and thought, and for this reason it's a classic. B+.
Dumb And Dumber - a good diversion from the tedium of life. B+.
Tootsie - not the first, but maybe the best drag comedy. some like it hot is overrated, mrs. doubtfire is pretty good, but tootsie is probably a bit better. actually, afi has some like it hot as the best comedy of all-time and tootsie comes in second. it's worthless list overall since it neglects films like big lebowski, planes, trains and automobiles, ferris bueller, uncle buck, rushmore, etc. at any rate, tootsie is a good, layered film with some honest laughs, but far more laughs that didn't develop. there were moments where i knew something was funny and was attempting to generate a laugh, but it just didn't do it for me. if this film was completely unknown it would be noteworthy, but since it's widely touted it's not really worth talking about too much. hoffman, of course, is great, but i felt too much of the film rested on him. some of the script was weak, the direction was serviceable and there should have been some more aggressive editing. all that said, it was an enjoyable picture. B.
Sideways - it's part road trip/american pie for middle-aged single people, part swingers, and part somber mid-life crisis film. paul giamatti, who first made a memorable impression upon me in a bit role in howard stern's Private Parts, is the cornerstone of a fine ensemble cast here. his role is the most difficult because it covers the widest range of emotions and is supposed to remain sympathetic despite doing some downright childish, albeit funny, things. before i go any further, let me first get off my chest the fact that, though this is certainly a very fine film, and a step above payne's last effort (about schmidt), it's not the masterpiece that election is. sideways is a lot more conventionally pitched and is geared more towards the older audience than election is, and i think that those are the reasons that it has garnered the attention that election never did. election is a better film visually, narrative-wise, and in terms of sheer number of laughs.
sideways does operate well on the figurative level - it's ostensibly about wine, but wine comes to represent people, life, passion, etc. i think one thing that this film has over election is its embrace of life. it's a passionate film and the protagonist, though beaten down by life, is a passionate person. he loves good wine, he is moved in his relationships and he's very much a man of his emotions - though it's not always obvious. giamatti's character is extremely sympathetic and that's important because most academy voters want to have someone to root for in a film; and that's an element that some might say election lacked. i don't think that sideways was an attempt on payne's part to pander to the academy, but this is his most oscar-friendly film to date. this film certainly did take me on an emotional ride and in that way it was an unmitigated success, but i didn't feel that there was enough style in the film and these days i'm a fiend for style. B+.
Runaway Train - originally penned by Kurosawa, the film ended up being made in america by a russian. i don't know when Kurosawa wrote the screenplay, but i'd guess it was sometime in the mid-70s, around the time he did dersu uzala. the first thing that struck me was eric roberts' acting - it pretty much sucks. but here's the thing, if Kurosawa had done the picture i think that roberts' character would have worked well. Kurosawa just has a knack for filming buffoons in an uncorny way. and that's exactly what roberts is here - an over-acting buffoon up against a capable jon voight. i could easily see Kurosawa directing this picture because his pictures typical exhibit this very dynamic - think yojimbo. as it was, though, eric roberts' acting came off as a bit over-the-top, though it did settle down as the film progressed.
the score was a bit dated, but also had some rather good, powerful moments. it was done by trevor jones who is still scoring films today and has worked on some relatively good pictures, including a version of richard III which is interesting because this film ends with a quote from richard III (something along the lines of "all beasts have a certain measure of pity, but i'm not a beast").
i liked the choice of director because having a russian film the picture brings a gritty artistry and a greater ability to film the alaskan landscape. despite the films shortcomings, it delivers in the end and has some good themes. B.
Bad Santa- directed by terry zwigoff (crumb) so i knew right away it was going to be an odd sort of humor, and i turned out to be right. it's a crass, no-holds barred comedy but it's the kind of crass that is more cruel than gross. in other words, the humor is less fart jokes and more drunken santa calling a kid stupid. that said, it's a funny film and it does have a conscience, in the end. also, the fat kid in the film (played by some unknown who will soon be in sandlot 2) is one of the more sympathetic characters of the year (2003). B.
Limbo - sometimes sayles reminds me of altman. part of this may be because they're both highly regarded independent american directors, but this film was more altmanian (?) because, in the beginning, it juggles several different character lines. after about half an hour the film settles into three main characters and we mostly follow them through to the end. there's a great degree of symbolism in the film which makes it all the more engaging and interesting. the film as a whole takes on the feeling of a parable. sayles makes the film bigger in a couple, fairly obvious, ways. the film takes place in alaska and it opens with a voice-over narrative on the fishing industry of the region. the narrator discusses the beauties of the area and talks about the salmon runs that make the area thrive. as the credit sequence ends we see that the narrator is in fact a factory worker responsible for processing the salmon after they've been caught. in this way sayles immediately draws a wide picture and brings us into the personal reality of this larger image. he does this throughout by integrating symbols relating to salmon and correlating them to the characters that the film follows. there is also a peripheral set of characters who are in the business of developing alaska - this serves as a way of again making the story larger than just the three main characters.
in the first 30 minutes when characters are being established the editing is quick and fragmented. sayles will drop out of a scene with the sound blaring or, seemingly, in the middle of a cinematic thought. i thought of this primarily as a way of strengthening the limbo theme...it's like running from one end of a see-saw to the other, never really committed to either side. it was an interesting method, but not altogether aesthetically pleasing. another minor quibble i had with the first portion of the film was that there seemed to be an excessive amount of exposition. there's really no way around it since there's a lot of backstory to be told, but i found sayles' storytelling in this regard a bit simple.
after about 30 minutes i didn't think that there was any way i was going to bond with the female lead in the film, but, through a combination of good acting and a sympathetic male counterpart, i found myself more bonded to her than i thought. the other major characters were more sympathetic and i didn't have a problem understanding them at all.
i think that this is my favorite sayles film so far. as for the ending...B+.
High School Boot Camp - documentary that follows a large group of high school-aged boys in a voluntary boot camp style reform program. i think the element of the film that made it different from an episode of maury povich is the fact that the program was voluntary. also, the program was about more than discipline - there was a concerted effort to involve the family, build confidence and provide support to the the kids. a good documentary. B-.
Bottle Rocket - a more funny and more touching wes anderson film than the life aquatic. i actually didn't remember that this film had some degree of poignancy to it. perhaps it was the failed attempt to interject these feelings in the life aquatic that made me realize that all of wes anderson's films have this element. before life aquatic, though, that element of his films went largely unnoticed, and that's a good thing because it never felt like i was being led, rather it was a natural reaction to a very odd, but natural set of films. this one isn't nearly the masterpiece that rushmore is, but it's a solid freshman effort. B.
Lady Snowblood - one of the major influences of the kill bill films (kill bill volume one ends with lady snowblood's theme song), this is also another 70s revenge film (last house on the left, i spit on your grave, thriller, fight for your life, etc.). one of the more interesting caveats of this film is the fact that the person seeking the revenge (yuki, aka lady snowblood) is not the direct victim of the rape and murder that she is avenging. yuki's mother and her mother's husband were the victims of the crime, and the mother gives birth to yuki while in prison so that yuki can mete out the revenge against the perpetrators. as you can tell it's a pretty raw film, but it definitely rises above the usual 70s revenge film because it is a film. it's shot well and there is a sense of empathy with the character, rather than there being a detached feeling. if you've seen kill bill you owe it to tarantino and fujita to check this one out. B+.
Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy - the second time around it remained a funny film, but it wasn't as hilarious as i had remembered. it peters out towards the end, but the middle part of the film, wherein jack black makes his cameo, was great. look for (at least) two cameos from former freaks and geeks tv show cast members. B.
Intolerance - an impressive film by almost any measure, but even more impressive considering it was released in 1916. i never really made too much of birth of a nation as a racist film, but even if i did, i would have to point to this, later, griffith film as a sort of redemption. the film follows four different stories throughout time whose common theme is intolerance. griffith spells it all out quite clearly with the intertitles and it was probably a good idea considering film was in its nascent stages at the time. in a significant way this film is ahead of its time, and i would expect that the film had a weak reception from the masses at the time. and this is the major problem with the film - it's too ahead of its time. the sets, the size of the production, the length of the picture, etc. are all bigger than anything at the time. from a historic point of view it's impossible to deny this film, as a piece of entertainment, though, it was longish and tough to get through since i'm so accustomed to a different look and narrative feel. B.
House Of Flying Daggers - it occurred to me while i was watching this latest zhang (hero) feature that his films, and many martial arts films in general, are just international versions of american musicals. there's a certain lyricism to the fight sequences and an emphasis on the fight choreography as a dance, more than as a fight. there is also a definite suspension of reality that occurs in both musicals and these types of martial arts films - clearly no one can fly through the air like they do in this film, and no group of people breaks out into song and dance the way they do in an american in paris. unfortunately this film was a bit on the slow side and without christopher doyle the cinematography just wasn't as good as it was in hero. C+.
Wicker Park - directed by the same guy who did the decent 2003 film, the reckoning. this film, though, is pretty much a piece of skunk turd. it tries really hard, and with some serious alterations to the ending, some good actors, and a different director, the film may have been successful. the idea is seemingly nice enough - weave together different influences from shakespeare to fatal attraction and make an unoriginal, but entertaining film about love and obsession. unfortunately what results is a film that tries hard, but never gets airborne. it's weighed down by bad acting, some bad soundtrack choices, some trite direction and some bad writing. a little sense of humor probably would have gone a long way with this film since it would have lifted some of the feeling that everything within the film is so important. but without any sense of humor it comes off as overly self-important. it's not an incredible piece of shit, but it's also not ever going to be confused with something resembling quality. D.
Wrong Turn - below.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) - it's nice that i watched these two films on the same day because they're both an homage to the same film and genre. wrong turn is deliverance meets texas chainsaw massacre; and texas chainsaw massacre 2003 is a loose remaking of the 1974 original. as is true with most genre films the key is in the execution. wrong turn executed well and texas chainsaw massacre didn't quite as well (though texas chainsaw massacre did have wrong turn beat in the t and a category). wrong turn, though 20 minutes shorter than tcm, takes time to establish atmosphere when necessary. another success of wrong turn, relative to tcm, is its superior villains. the original tcm had great villains - leather face, the extremely old patriarch, etc. but this version doesn't create the villains quite as well (though r. lee ermey was effective). wrong turn, thanks to stan winston (aliens, thing, terminator 2), did a great job of creating truly awful villains. some similar details went into creating the atmosphere - both had record players playing at the end of the record, both were big on rusted, old cars, and both used glass jars filled with body parts, etc. to create a creepy atmosphere. another interesting similarity between the two is the way they used sfx. wrong turn used sfx more frequently and most of the time it was done well. actually the worst effects shots were the most basic ones - the process shots. some of the more creative effects shots were the arrow impaling the sheriff in the eye and the axe to the dome of one of the female characters. in tcm the most notable effects shot was extremely subtle - jessica biel jumped through a hole in the wall to hide from leather face. the hole in the wall had digitally inserted splinters to make it safe for biel to dive through, while making it look imposing. tcm seemed to have a social subtext. it took place in texas and pitted the hippie victims against the traditional values villains. tcm had a blair witch ending which didn't seem to really add much to the film. wrong turn B. texas chainsaw massacre. C+.
Noi - icelandic film about an intelligent high schooler who's loner in his small community. it has shades of donnie darko because he's smart and sort of an outcast. i think that one of the larger successes of the picture is its atmosphere and much of that is due to the icelandic setting. large expanses of snow and frigidity help heighten the feeling of isolation. it's a good picture, but i can't think of much to say about it right now. B.
Original Movie (1922) - early animated film about film. interesting in that it comments on the artform so early in its life. it was probably entertaining at the time, but is mostly lost on this audience.
Blacksmithing Scene (1893) - first publicly exhibited film. for a long time i thought it was also the first documentary since it just shows three blacksmiths doing their job, stopping for a beer, and going back to work. it turns out, though, that the three men were hired actors who weren't actual blacksmiths so it's not a documentary.
Gay Shoe Clerk(1903) - three shot short which follows a shoe clerk helping a woman with a shoe. she seduces him by lifting her dress thereby exposing her ankle, he kisses her and her friend beats him up. funny.
Three American Beauties (1906) - first color film that i know about. it's colorized using a stencil process which i gather entails coloring it frame by frame. the color looks good, but the film is kinda dumb.
Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy (1909) - really cool short that uses some pretty revolutionary (for the time) special effects. entertaining enough.
Confederate Ironclad (1912) - much more of a motion picture than any of the shorts. it has a story, uses close-ups, inserts and more advanced filmmaking to tell its story.
Far Country - may be the best stewart/mann collaboration, and that's saying a lot. i think that winchester '73 is generally more highly regarded, but i like this one better because i think it's got a more round cast than winchester '73. the plot follows stewart and brennan who are taking a herd of cattle into the yukon region in the late winter/early spring. they figure on making a bundle on the cattle and retiring in utah afterwards, but stewart's strong-willed personality gets them in trouble along the way with john mcintire (who plays a sheriff and selfish entrepreneur).
j.c flippen, walter brennan, ruth roman, john mcintire and corinne calvet are all fantastic in supporting roles; and of course stewart is fantastic in the lead. flippen plays a drunk, as usual, and, as usual, does a great job of being sympathetic without being overly pathetic. walter brennan plays stewart's sidekick and their onscreen relationship is fantastic. brennan, along with calvet, act as stewart's conscience. stewart is the type who does the right thing only when it benefits him. after witnessing a robbery he shoots one of the bandits and remarks later that he killed the bandit because he shot at him, rather than because he was a thief. such is the essence of stewart's solipsistic character. unlike the characters of brennan and calvet, the characters of roman and mcintire represent stewart's darker potential. they're both utterly selfish, capable and capitalistic. i found myself respecting the capability of these two characters, but liking the less capable, but more moral, characters of calvet and brennan.
brennan and stewart are almost like an old couple. they plan on retiring in utah together and stewart always carries a bell on his horse which was given to him by brennan before the film picks up their story. this bell was to be placed on the front door of their future home in utah, and as such it becomes a symbol of the hope that stewart carries with him despite his cold exterior. it's a great symbol and the one that mann ends the film with.
as is true with most westerns, the setting itself is a great vehicle for the themes of the story. far country takes place on the extreme frontier - alaska - during a gold rush; it's a great setting because the law is in its nascent stages and money is plentiful, or, as one character puts it: "gold means stealing, and stealing leads to murder." among all this is stewart who just wants to stroll through life without having to touch, or be touched by, the rest of the world. in the end he comes to terms with the reality of the world. what's strange, though, is that things aren't completely cut and dry. yes, he learns that he must be a part of the environment.... in the final sequence he kills mcintire, the film ends on the ringing bell, and he is standing next to calvet (the female embodiment of his conscience)...but at the same time his association with brennan is what gets him shot. that is, if stewart had gone on his own he probably would have been free and clear. perhaps this makes stewart's decision to change his philosophy all the more powerful. A.
King Solomon's Mines - good allan quartermain adventure film. the lead is solid and the shots of the african wild were probably pretty groundbreaking at the time. B.
Youth Of The Beast - another enjoyable seijun suzuki film. i wouldn't call this a masterpiece, but it's still a fine film. visually suzuki is less ambitious and inventive here, but the film still has the suzuki signature. he still plays with color and he has some interesting shots (one inside an office where the back wall is a one-sided mirror that looks into a night club and a similar shot where the protagonist is forced up against another one-sided mirror so we get to see his face squished up against the glass). the final fight sequence is pretty inventive - the protagonist is being held hostage and his hung upside down from a chandelier which forces him to fend off his captors while hanging and swinging by his feet. this one has a plot that's a little tougher to follow, but things are well wrapped up by the end. the lead was the lead in branded to kill as well. B+.
Iceman Cometh - a four hour filmed play. should have been called "washed up dipsomaniacs wax philosophic." lee marvin was good, but robert ryan had a tougher role (his final). fine as a play i'm sure, but it's not a film. fine performances and dialogue, but it's also four hours long. C-.
Fantasm - Australian film that's part skin-e-max feature and part freudian documentary. in between vignettes of sexual fantasies there's a doctor who analyzes what hidden desires spur these fantasies. in this way it's a mockumentary. it's funny, sexy and enlightening because in mocking the intellectualization of sexuality they actually bring up real issues. the 70s were crazy. C+..
Richard III - the first 40 minutes of this olivier rendition of shakespeare's richard III are great, but i found it to sort of fall off after that. i don't know nearly enough to really comment on olivier's translation of the classic, but i can say that his performance is good and the cinematography is great...it reminded me of ran because of its use of color. one of my gripes with the iceman cometh is that the artifice that is so present in most plays was almost amplified in that film. this film doesn't have that at all. it's a good film, but shakespearean epics aren't generally my bag. B-.
Kill Bill Vol. 1-
Kill Bill Vol. 2 - i think i still enjoyed the first volume more this time around. there are a lot of interesting notes to make about these films and that's mostly due to the fact that tarantino is a film sampler here. he borrows music, shots, and styles from all over the place and it's fun to try to keep up. the black and white photography is beautiful. i counted only one positive male (hanzo) character in the entire film. i agree with ebert and roeper who say carradine is worthy of a best supporting actor award. he really does do a lot with not much screen time and a rather difficult character. also, check him out playing the flute like he does in "circle of iron." tarantino's action direction is quite good, but he's still at his best when he's writing dialogue. the second volume does slow down, but it wasn't as noticeable this time around because i knew what to expect. also, notice that the bride's name is revealed when elle driver claims that the bride is dead and buried. why do we discover her name at this point? something to do with the assumption of death giving life...perhaps an echo of four years earlier when bill assumed the bride was dead and how that gave rise to a vengeful bride; a new life. it's also important to note that the bride's name is kiddo so what was once assumed to be an endearing name the bill uses, is actually just her last name. there is a lot of misdirection and playing on one's assumptions in the film, surely this ties in with some larger theme. the fight in tokyo with the crazy 88s is the highlight of the film, from a directorial point of view. it's an epic battle scene with great fight choreography (thanks to yuen woo-ping), great camerawork and editing, some nice musical cues (including a sample from the master of the flying guillotine), and a segment that is shot in black and white. tarantino shifts gears in this picture like few are able to. p.t. anderson can do it and nichols did it in the graduate, but it's not generally as effortless as they make it seem. at least two people (gordon liu and michael parks) have dual roles. for me, one of the biggest weaknesses of the film is that it makes me want to stop watching and just turn on the numerous films that he samples. B++.
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle - one of the better comedies of the year, it's also one of the more ambitious. ambitious because it's clearly a silly film which relies heavily on gutter humor, but it still has some ambitious directorial decisions and some biting social commentary. it's also a film that rises above simply relying on stoner humor. i'm about as far from a stoner as is possible, but i still found the film to be eminently enjoyable. it made fun of stoners and anti-drug commercials alike and i enjoy that because the truth is that both sides can be pretty damned ridiculous and worthy of mockery. B+.
How Arnold Won The West - overall it's an entertaining, informative and fairly cohesive look at california's recall of governor davis, and subsequent election of arnold schwarzenegger, in 2003. i think it's important to note that alex cooke is a british filmmaker and she definitely approaches the film as an outsider. as a californian this can sometimes be frustrating because there is some mild america-bashing (which i understand, but wish would come another american) and she sometimes paints a stereotypical picture of californians. also, i think that the film went a bit far in painting arnold as visionless and his campaign as reclusive. cooke makes a big point of showing the campaign as a PR/marketing campaign more than a political one. she points out (rightly) that arnold's campaign was extraordinarily inaccessible to most reporters and ducked many of the tougher, or more specific, questions. arnold did do a lot of "i'll have more specific plans when i get there" type of dodging and she was certainly right to call him on it. but, to be fair, there were deleted scenes (available on the dvd) that showed arnold on the campaign trail taking unrehearsed questions from people in the crowd. also, not included on the dvd, were the specific programs and policy decisions he proposed during the debate. cooke included that debate footage which bolstered her view that the recall/election situation was a circus - like him and huffington going back and forth - but she left out the substantive material that she claimed arnold lacked. i found this to be dishonest and misleading to anyone who isn't as versed on the subject as i happen to be.
all that said, the film does a good job of espousing a fairly informed and right(as in correct)-minded opinion of the recall. sure it leaves out some of the more balancing information, but i've come to expect that from documentaries of this sort. cooke gets a pretty good sampling of opinions, so the truth is in there, it's just that sometimes it's buried a bit by her opinion as manifested in the amount of time she'll give to certain footage. it's sort of a poor english man's version of fahrenheit 9/11 in california and as such should be viewed more as a documentary essay than as fact. B.
Fight For Your Life - probably the best of the 70s revenge films that i've seen so far. it's well shot and relatively well acted, but what really separates it from something like i spit on your grave or thriller is that the explicit nature of the film is in service of the film's feel and themes, rather than as a simple, exploitative gimmick. the dvd cover quotes the all movie guide which calls it the most politically incorrect film ever seen in american theaters. it really didn't strike that chord with me B.
My Architect: A Son's Journey - documentary that follows one man's quest to discover more about his famous architect father, Louis Kahn. taking a wide view of the picture you have all the right pieces for a great film - it's got a good internal drama (kahn had three families), it has a bit of mystery, it's a point of view picture somewhat similar to the jaundiced eye or capturing the friedmans, and it captures the left brain with the architecture subplot. one of the more impressive aspects of the documentary is its good editing. simple interviews with louis kahn's friends and family are cut in a less traditional documentary fashion. normally in documentaries, there is one camera and edits are made to show the back and forth of a conversation without too much panning. other times the camera will be fixed on an interviewee for an extended period of time which often makes for a dry filmgoing experience. in fog of war morris intercuts historical footage to make things more interesting and flesh out, or comment on, what mcnamara is discussing. in this film the filmmaker (kahn jr.) sometimes does the same thing and, more frequently, intercuts extra coverage into a conversation. that is, he'll be talking with an interviewee about his father's other family and he'll cut in footage of a long shot of them talking about something completely different. since it's a long shot you can't tell that they're talking about something different, and it breaks up the pacing of the film a bit. then he'll cut in a reaction shot to something the person is saying, but it won't necessarily be a real-time reaction...he just makes it seem that way through editing. this is done all the time in news programs where they have two cameras, but in this case there was only one camera. it's a small thing, but he did it well and it contributed a great deal to the flow of the picture.
beyond the (large) human element of the film was the added benefit of getting to learn about kahn's architecture. though i didn't like all of kahn's buildings (although the national assembly building in bangladesh is fucking brilliant), it did make me want to learn more about architecture. i saw a documentary on the work of i.m. pei and, though it was very interesting, it was this film and kahn's work that made me realized how great architecture is. the moving shots inside the building in dacca made me see architecture as a living art - as you move the art of the building changes and it also changes over time - as the building ages and as buildings around it change. film, music and now architecture are my favorite art forms. B+
Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou - the worst wes anderson film ever, but then again there are worse things in life than that. i didn't really laugh until about 20 minutes in and the laughs throughout the film were less hearty than they were in other anderson films. the visual style and story were certainly andersonian, but this lacked some of the panache and laughs that his rushmore had in spades. the ending did an okay job of being sentimental, but it didn't succeed the way i felt he had hoped. a disappointment overall. C++.
Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events - a fun family adventure film. it's hard to be objective about such things, but i really don't think that kids growing up now have the equivalent of "the princess bride," which was the adventure film of my childhood. a series of unfortunate events sort of tries to be like the neverending story or the princess bride, but just doesn't quite get there for me. it's a charming and funny film, no doubt, but it doesn't have whatever the princess bride has - magic, or whatever you want to call it. B.
Master Of The Flying Guillotine - there aren't many movies that completely change your view on an entire genre, but this one has done it for me and my views of kung-fu films. i'm not saying this is the first "real" kung-fu film i ever saw or that i didn't respect the genre before seeing this, but when i saw this film for the first time (11/21/03) it was a sort of revolution. never before had i seen a kung-fu film like this. overall i think that i still prefer yuen woo ping's later kung-fu films to this style of kung-fu film, but this is the best kung-fu film i've ever seen. i prefer yuen's films because the fight choreography is more inventive and exciting and he incorporates humor really well. master of the flying guillotine, though, is a kung-fu film and that's why it's special - because it's the first kung-fu film that i really saw. for me, before this there was some bruce lee stuff which was good a small sampling of yuen's work and a glut of stereotypical kung-fu films.
one of the more exciting elements of this film is the sound design. the folley work is great (though to some it might seem over-the-top), the music is really ahead of its time and the soundtrack complements the characters quite well. A.
Gunga Din - sam jaffe steals the show here. it's a fun adventure film made in the most famous year of hollywood cinema (1939). it's a sort of mix between the three stooges and indiana jones. by today's standards i think that the film is less exciting than it's given credit for. B-.
Off The Charts - this is what documentaries should be about - exposing you to a little known segment of society in an interesting and engaging way. in this case the subject is song-poems seen through the eyes of those who create, collect and request them. essentially a song poem is a song that is made from a person's poetry or lyrics. person a finds an ad in the newspaper or a trade magazine and pays person b to turn their poetry into music. needless to say the documentary filmmakers introduce us to some eccentric individuals and, in the process, we learn a good deal about this little known aspect of society. strangely enough there were actually two songs in the film that i had actually heard before; i must have heard them on kdvs or on an npr story about the documentary. at any rate, the film is worth the 60 minute run time if you're at all interested this kind of documentary. B.
An American In Paris - this is the kind of movie that i hate having to review. i have to acknowledge this film's artistic vision, the set design, the choreography, the music and the direction; but i have to end the review with "but i just didn't like it." willy wonka, south park, my fair lady and music man are the only musicals i can really get into. if you're into musicals, though, this is where it's at. C-.