Friday, July 21, 2006

My Neighbor Totoro


I'm not quite sure what to say about this movie other than wow. I can't stop thinking about it. While not as intricate as Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle, it definitely rivals those two for its crazy fun. I was a little disappointed with the last Hayao Miyazaki film I saw, Princess Mononoke, but this one blew me away. I'm dying to see all of his movies now and am wondering why I've only seen four of them so far.

The cute creatures, the adorable kids, the strange looking old women, the clueless adults ... the whole Miyazaki template is here. The plot centers on a dad and his two daughters (the mom is sick in the hospital) who move to a house in the woods popluated by magical creatures called Totoros. Of course, right?

I can not wait to go to the Ghibli Museum when I'm in Japan - an offshoot musem of Miyazaki's Ghibli Studio.

TCM
1988

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Overlord


Before heading to Asia for over four weeks, I decided to do something that up until this year I used to do a lot of - go to a double feature. After seeing Gabrielle before lunch, I decided to see this in the early evening. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood to see two movies in one day? Maybe this just wasn't as good as I'd hoped? Either way, I didn't leave the theater thinking that I needed to see more double features in the near future.

The movie was pretty good but after hearing such amazing things about it, I was expecting more. This 1975 film had fallen into complete obscurity until the Z Channel rescued it from oblivion in the early 80's. The recent documentary about the Z Channel brought new attention to this film and led to the hype of this re-release.

It traces one soldier's war experience from deployment through training for D-Day all the way through to the bitter end. It uses a lot of documentary footage that seamlessly blends into the fictional aspect. It had some very memorable moments but overall I can't quite recommend this as a must war film to see.

Cinema Village
1975

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gabrielle

I'm not quite sure what to make of this film. I read many great reviews of it so I gave it a shot at one of the most comfortable theaters in Manhattan for a Monday matinee. The last Patrice Chereau directed film I'd seen was 1998's Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train and I liked that. The film is based on a Joseph Conrad short story, not that it was the impetus for me going to see it.

I liked parts of this film a lot. The occasional freeze frame for a title card was innovative and effective. The going back and forth between color and B & W wasn't as effective and was somewhat jarring. But the story held my attention so I can't be too hard on it.

Set in 1912, the movie traces the dissolution of a fraud of a marriage between two members of the bourgeoisie in a world of servants and dinner parties. Displaying any kind of motion is considered abhorrent by the husband/narrator played by Pascal Greggory. Isabelle Huppert plays his wife and utters one of the most vicious lines of the film, "The thought of your sperm inside me is unbearable."

This wasn't as good as the reviews would have had me believe but it was a pleasant enough diversion amongst a New York heat wave.

IFC Center
2005, Year of U.S. Release - 2006

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ace in the Hole


I had read that this film was cynical but I still wasn't prepared for just how cynical it was. Wow. From the opening minutes when the blacklisted journalist played by Kirk Douglas scoffs at the small town ethics of an Albuquerque newspaper to the last shot (easily one of the most memorable I've ever seen) this film is unrelenting.

Imagine Network twenty-five years earlier with a dash of Sweet Smell of Success snarkiness sprinkled with a healthy dose of The Lost Weekend drunkenness and you can begin to imagine this movie.

Douglas is a big city writer dying for a big story to send him back to the top of the media world. He gets it when he stumbles upon a man trapped under debris in a mountain and promptly turns it into a media circus. Hordes of people camp out while the excitement is happening including a carnival company who sets up shop called "The S & M Amusement Co." or something along those lines. While the poor guy is trapped, the rest of the world marvels at the spectacle. Douglas even makes sure that the whole thing will last longer than it should so can draw out the brilliance of the story and keep the inside scoop over the late arriving reporters from around the country.

With every successive Wilder film I see, I am further reminded that he is my favorite director. This film is also known as The Big Carnival

Film Forum
1951

Friday, July 14, 2006

Army of Shadows

This amazing French film was never officially released in the U.S. until 2006. Not that I was waiting for it for 37 years, but it was well worth the wait regardless.

Jean-Pierre Melville's (Le Samourai, Bob le Flambeur) film about the French Resistance during World War II is astounding. Everytime I think that I've had enough of World War II films, I'll see one like this and realize that there are so many stories to tell about the experience that I'll never get sick of watching good ones. The two and a half hours breeze by in a flash. I was riveted the entire time. Sometimes with movies like this, I find that I just don't have all that much to say because what else is there to say other than make sure you see it? If you want in-depth coverage, um, check my Superman Returns review!

Film Forum
1969

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Superman Returns

I wanted to like this movie. Honest, I did. But, wow what a stinker. Balgavy and I had a couple hours to kill in Kansas City on a Saturday afternoon. We had had some bad luck aimlessly driving around the area looking in vain for an American Legion baseball tournament. So we decided the sweet relief of an air-conditioned theater with a huge summer hit was just the ticket for relief.

We were wrong.

Truth be told, we should have known better. Superman is just inherently a bore. So damn wholesome. So damn free of any moral dilemmas. And every single plot line has to revolve around kryptonite, don't it not? I mean, how else to combat the Man of Steel without that sinister green substance?

As I was watching this, I found myself yearning for Batman Begins which I didn't even like that much. I suppose that this film looked okay enough but as Balgavy said, "There was absolutely no suspense in this film." I did like the homage to the 1978 film version with the opening credits and the John Williams score. But nostalgia isn't enough to carry the day with this one. I just didn't care at all. Kate Bosworth stunk. Superman was boring. Lois Lane's son was an idiotic plot device. Her husband was even more bland than Superman.

As a three-year-old, my favorite superhero was Superman. By the time, I was five, I think I had moved onto Batman. Even then, I liked his more conflicted nature and the fact that he was a mere mortal rather than a a guy with superpowers. Either that or I just dug Adam West a whole hell of a lot - not sure which is the real reason why I gravitated to Batman at such a young age. Then again, my mom might correct me on this and let me know that Superman was my favorite. Either way, by the age of 33, I've figured it out - Superman is sure not where it's at.

That being said, if Zad, Ursa, and Non from Superman II show up in the next installment, I'll gladly go see it.

Did anyone else notice that in the scene when Lois Lane surprised Lex Luthor on his boat when he was eating yogurt or something that Kevin Spacey did an amazing impersonation of Dr. Evil? And when it is all said and done, I can't get over the fact how stupid it is that no one recognizes Clark Kent or puts two and two together that both he and Superman reappeared at the exact same time after both being gone for four years or something. I know this isn't Singer's fault but the absolute silliness of it all does distract. I know it is just a superhero movie but I'd like a little more plausibility - at least to the point that they didn't need to have Superman return after a long hiatus as a plot point. But I suppose that it made a snazzy title for this movie to let moviegoers know that Superman has indeed returned.

The Independence 20, Independence, MO
2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Desperate

A hard working newly wed mechanic with a pregnant wife gets forced into being part of a heist. But before it even gets off the ground, a cop is killed, and the mastermind's brother is caught. Said mechanic is told that he better turn himself into the cops and take one for the team that he wasn't really part of. Hell no, he says and promptly escapes. He is DESPERATE to get his wife to safety and flees both the cops and the robbers. A private eye is hired by the bad guys to find him. Completely silly and the dialogue doesn't really sparkle either. Definitely not a must see for film noir fans. The script is contrived and implausible even by film noir standards.

So why is this movie worth watching anyway? It only runs 73 minutes so you can get through it easily. A young Raymond Burr plays the main bad guy. But the real reason to watch it is how damn good it looks. Anthony Mann made do with the low budget and bad script and created many memorable moments. The fight scene illuminated by a swinging light hanging from the ceiling is one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen. The tight close-ups, the chase scene up four flights of stairs, and the general darkness and shadows aspect of the whole thing makes this a worthwhile 73 minutes despite the crackpot script.

TCM
1947

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Side Street

I love Farley Granger. I love Anthony Mann. I love bumbling mailmen who steal a large package of money when they think it is only a small amount and then end up in big fucking trouble with some bad guys. I love this line delivered by a cop to an ambulance driver about the carnage in the middle of the street - "This one is D.O.A., this one over here is your customer, and the rest of are for the meat market." I love that TCM has film noir on every Saturday morning.

TCM
1950