Sunday, February 25, 2007

For Your Consideration

In my 2003 review of A Mighty Wind, I wrote, "I'd like to see a movie made about aging Second City actors reuniting for a big show and how ridiculous they are. This movie was quite enjoyable, but I wonder if Christopher Guest is just going to keep making the same format of a film over and over and over again."

Instead of making a movie about aging Second City actors, Guest made one about indie film actors. That is a step in the right direction, I suppose.

I was also happy to see that this film was a little different from the previous three in that this wasn't shot as a documentary. I liked the change. I also didn't feel like the film was as mean-spirited as his last three films.

This movie never made me roll on the floor with laughter but I did smile often. It isn't a laugh out loud movie as much as a "Ah, that was a clever moment" kind of movie. A mellow Sunday afternoon pre-Oscars kind of movie.

This makes me want to see Guest's first film, The Big Picture, again. That movie also was about the film industry. I remembered liking it back in 1989 or so but I would guess that the Martin Short bits that I thought were funny then, would drive me crazy now.

Directed by Christopher Guest
2006
DVD

The Black Dahlia

I liked the book a lot. I like Brian De Palma a lot even when he has seemingly gone off the deep end. The movie was fine. Nothing amazing but worth a watch if you are either a De Palma or a James Ellroy fan.

The first hour stayed true to the novel. The second hour changed things around a bit, not necessarily for the better. Things felt kind of stiff to me but that isn't necessarily De Palma's fault. I mean, one can only hope to get so much from Josh Hartnett. And Hillary Swank is really not attractive and it is kind of annoying that she's supposed to be playing such a seductress. Not to mention, one of the key elements of the plot is that her character is supposed to look just like the murdered Black Dahlia. But neither actress looks anything like the other so it is pretty ridiculous in that regard.

Still, there are many thrilling De Palmaisms visually throughout the film to make it worthwhile. And I'm always a fan of looking at Scarlett Johansson. I just was hoping for a more twisted take on the pretty twisted novel. Instead, De Palma seemingly played it a little safe with this film and it suffers as a result.

Directed by Brian De Palma
2006
DVD

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jesus Camp

Indoctrination never felt so good. I love how the woman in charge of the camp is basically saying that we need to get American kids so into Jesus that they are willing to blow themselves up for his glory.

I loved the kid with the rat tail. Top notch.

Not much else to say other than people do the darndest things, don't they?


Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
2006
DVD

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Infamous

This movie definitely ran into some bad luck. A year after Capote, no one had any interest in seeing this. That is too bad because it is a pretty good movie. I wish that I could remember Capote better so I could make a better comparison, but oh well. I remember enough about it to know that both films have almost exactly the same story structure, right down to both getting kind of boring at the same point - at the beginning of the second hour before rebounding at the end.

As good as Philip Seymour Hoffman was, he had one handicap - he was too damn big to play Capote. Toby Jones is so damn small, there is no danger that he will tower over anyone in the way that Hoffman's Capote often did. There are a lot more jokes in this film about Capote being mistaken for a woman than I recall from Capote.

This film has a much different tone than Capote by the end. That film had Capote clearly using Perry and not being all that upset when he was executed because he knew that it would make a better ending for his book. This film shows Capote clearly upset by Perry's execution and hints that the two were having an affair.

It is so hard to give this movie its proper respect because I felt like I'd just seen it. But in a lot of ways, this film is superior to Capote. I like the way that the film shows how Capote tested his material out on his friends before deciding which "truth" to write about. I don't think that Capote showed this crucial element to Capote's writing style as effectively or maybe I just don't remember it as well.

And if nothing else, you might want to see this movie to see James Bond kiss a man who looks like one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.

Directed by Douglas McGrath
2006
DVD

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

Judi Dench was great. Bill Nighy was great. They almost made me believe that this movie was worth watching. Almost. How ridiculous is this movie? As SHR commented, it felt like a made for Lifetime movie. It kind of felt like Single White Female but with Oscar cred. Or try to imagine Fatal Attraction with an old lesbian instead of Glenn Close and art teachers fucking a 15-year-old by the train tracks instead of boiling rabbits.

It was fun watching this movie and trying to figure out which scene will be shown during the Oscars when Dench and Blanchett's nominations are announced. My bet is the scene where Blanchett accuses Dench of the whole stealing a strand of her hair scene. Or it could be the one where Dench freaks out because Blanchett won't skip her son's (with Down Syndrome no less) middle school acting debut to console her about her dying cat.

There are at least three different movie ideas floating around in this one uneven film. Nighy was so damn good, I'd have been more interested in watching a movie about his and Blanchett's faltering marriage. Or how about focusing in on the aftermath of what happens to Blanchett's family after her affair is found out? Or even more about Dench's character? Instead, we got a 1991 by the numbers thriller playing dressup in Oscar's clothes.

And now annoying was that overbearing Philip Glass score? I kept thinking that the camera was going to pan back to a London nightscape, the film was going to speed up, and we were going to be treated to a 2006 version of Koyaanisqatsi.

Stone Groove said he liked the movie though because it reminded him of his affair with the hot teacher (who was dating Burt Reynolds at the time) at his school when he was 15.

Directed by Richard Eyre
2006
AFI Theater - Silver Spring

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

I'm sure most of you reading this aren't huge fans of two and a half hour Romanian films about a dying man. Well, consider changing your mind. This is a good movie. While the movie's events don't really take place during real time, it is close enough. So consider this the Romanian dying man version of 24. Instead of counting down to Kiefer figuring out a way to avert catastrophe yet once again, this film counts down the sad end of a lonely man.

The movie begins with Mr. Lazarescu alone in his apartment with his three beloved cats. He's not feeling well. So he self medicates with some whiskey. This is a bad decision because he ends up getting lectured for the rest of the film about his drinking habits. He calls a private ambulance service. The nurse who shows up ends up being his one true ally the rest of the evening.

She shuttles him from one hospital to another. No one wants to be bothered. They all are too busy with their own shit, too arrogant to listen to the nurse or the patient, too swamped with other cases, or too willing to pass the buck.

The film is an indictment on the Romanian healthcare system, something that I'm sure none of us are experts in. But the film doesn't play obscure. The themes are universal. If you aren't rich, you aren't going to get the best healthcare. Some of the hospital scenes are supposed to be shocking in how dirty and inept the whole endeavor is. However, having spent a little bit of time in two Brooklyn emergency rooms over the past few years, things aren't all that much different here. And as SHR commented, "At least they have curtains that close and give you some privacy at the hospitals in Romania."

If this film sounds sad, it is. But it is very entertaining. Lazarescu is an interesting character as are his neighbors, the nurse, the ambulance driver, and the all of the obnoxios medical staff. The 150 minutes go by pretty quickly. Granted, I watched it in two sittings but the movie never dragged for me. This film isn't for everyone but for the people who will give it a chance, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Directed by Cristi Puiu
2005, US Release: 2006
DVD

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers

I don't know what it is about this film but it suffers from Million Dollar Baby syndrome. Both are kind of good but nothing special. Both weave political messages into the entertainment somewhat successfully but not well enough to do either enough justice. However, there are many good aspects to this film.

For example, I like how it examines the way the military used the soliders who were in the flag raising Iwo Jima picture to raise money for war bonds and could care less about them or the truth.

I like the storytelling structure where the traumatized soldiers are constantly tormented by their memories. I like the scene where the original flag is taken down and another is put up just in time for the picture to be taken. I like the war scenes a lot.

But overall, this film didn't do nearly as much for me as the much superior Letters From Iwo Jima. That entire film is about the fight to the death. This one is more about the selling of the battle rather than the battle itself. That isn't a problem for me, but the screenplay just didn't pull it off for me as well as I would have wanted it to.

Letters was a nuanced film. Even though the film was told from the Japanese point of view, there are many Americans in the film as well. In this film, the Japanese are simply objects. They are never really filmed other than hiding in pillboxes or creeping up on the good guys in the dead of night. Granted, since the script had bigger domestic issues on its mind, it didn't have much time to delve too deeply into the other side.

I really liked the scene where American soldiers come upon the Japanese soldiers who have blown themselves with grenades. One of the more memorable scenes from Letters was when the soldiers blew themselves up one by one because they were ordered to.

I did really like how the impressive fleet surrounding the island is cause for celebration in this film. In Letters, it simply brings dread as the inevitable defeat encircles the doomed protagonists.

So as a bookend to Letters, this is a nice little film. As a stand alone film, I would have expected a little bit more.

Directed by Clint Eastwood
2006
DVD

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lady Vengeance

The third of Park's revenge trilogy and the most disturbing. The first Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was really bizarre. The second, Oldboy, was an amazing thriller. This one has its strange moments and its thrilling moments but at its core, it is really thought provoking and hard to watch. Unlike Oldboy that showed most of its violence onscreen, this one keeps a lot of it offscreen. But it is all the more disturbing because of it.

The movie is about a woman who is locked up for 13 years for kidnapping and murdering a young boy. The only problem? She didn't do it. The real murderer had kidnapped her baby daughter and blackmailed her into a confession. The film is about her time in prison and her quest for vengeance upon release.

I don't want to give too much away to people who haven't seen this but I will say that the video footage of young children pleading for their lives is obviously not for the squeamish. How far will a person go for revenge is the key question in all three of these films. This is the only one of three that tries to answer the question without resorting to cartoon violence and assorted fun hijinks. Viewed as the third of his trilogy, this film hits all the perfect notes. If this had been first, the other two might seem callous in comparison. Instead, he saves the more serious one for the finale and what a finale it is.

Directed by Chan-wook Park
2005, Year of US Release: 2006
DVD

Monday, February 12, 2007

Oldboy

I really regret that I missed this in the theaters. I loved this movie. I want to watch it again right now. The second of Chan-wook Park's revenge trilogy, it is also my favorite of the three.

A man is imprisoned in a small room for 15 years and he has no idea why. He is fed fried dumplings everyday. He has a TV in the room that he watches all of the time because what else is he going to do with his time? He sees a news report on television that his wife has been murdered. He tries to start digging an escape tunnel using chopsticks but then is inexplicably released. Upon release, he is out for vengeance against the people that have stolen 15 years of his life.

Crazy scene after crazy scene follows. This film is not for the faint of heart. But then again, SHR somehow made it through so sometimes great films supersede one's weak stomach. Every moment of the film looks stylish and amazing. The improbable fight scene in the hallway where the main character beats up over a dozen bad guys reminded me of the premise of Bart Decoursy's 20 Midgets. And the scene where a live octopus is eaten puts Nicholas Cage's eating a cockroach in Vampire's Kiss look like the mere child's play that it is.

This movie has everything. Surprise twists, memorable villains, tortured souls, a great soundtrack, everything! If I had seen this movie in 2005 when it was released in the US, it would definitely have been in my top five.

Directed by Chan-wook Park
2004
DVD

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Running With Scissors

I should have known better. This got really bad reviews. But I liked the book so much that I decided to give it a shot. I shouldn't have. This movie is really not very good. It isn't terrible or anything. It is just kind of boring. As SHR said, "The book had interesting, quirky characters. They euthanized them for the movie."

It is one of those movies that plays just the right song for the era it is trying to portray. Blinded by the Light? Check. Benny and the Jets? Check. Slow motion? Check. A 20-year-old actor playing a 13-year-old? Check.

After about 30 minutes, I made sure to be on the computer or reading the paper while watching this movie and I was still bored. And who the hell is Ryan Murphy? He wrote the script and directed the film. In the hands of a talented writer and director like Noah Baumbach, this movie might have been good. If you are even thinking of seeing this film, read the book instead and thank me later.

Bryan Cox was really good though.

Directed by Ryan Murphy
2006
DVD

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Adam's Rib

They definitely don't make them like this anymore. Tracy. Hepburn. Perfect. Penned by Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude), I'm cracking up just thinking about this movie. Plus, within the context of the entertainment, it also makes strong points for women's equality. And for 1949, that is no small achievement.

Hepburn and Tracy play married lawyers who are pitted against each other in court. The case revolves around a woman who in a moment of anger accidentally shot her cheating husband. Hepburn, of course, represents the woman while Tracy represents the man. This, of course, leads to marital strife between the two of them. Sparks fly, feelings are hurt, speeches are made, good times all around.

The only creepy part about this movie was the lecherous neighbor who kept trying to bed Hepburn. He was weird and made both SHR and me feel a little icky.

My favorite scenes: The ones where Hepburn and Tracy make kissy faces to each other underneath the table for the counsel. Brilliant brilliant stuff. Pretty much all of the court scenes with the two of them were amazing as they carried over their household strife into the public realm.

Directed by George Cukor
1949
TCM

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Escape From New York

I'd wanted to see this movie for years but had never gotten around to it. Jim rectified that situation this past Friday night by stealing away with Mike's copy and bringing it on over for my viewing pleasure.

I've got to say - I was a little disappointed. I was expecting it to be a little crazier and not quite so slow. It really dragged. That being said, there is plenty to like about the movie. I love the soundtrack even though it isn't nearly as memorable as his one for Assault on Precinct 13. And it has such an amazing cast: Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Isaac Hayes, that crazy henchmen dude whoever he is, Adrienne Barbeau's left breast, Adrienne Barbeau's right breast, and Kurt Russell as the one-eyed Snake Plissken.

The concept for the movie is so amazing. The year is the scary far off hell of 1997. The U.S. is so overrun by criminals that the entire island of Manhattan is now used as prison with no chance of parole or escape. Air Force One crashes into Manhattan and the president is taken hostage. Convict Snake is enlisted to help free the president.

How can you go wrong with such a premise? You really can't. So even though the 100 minutes dragged a little for me, I'm glad to have finally seen this film. It fits in quite nicely with the other films about NYC of the era that depict a crumbling, crimeridden, degenerate New York. God, I wish I had been in the market for real estate in those days rather than in 2007.

Directed by John Carpenter
1981
DVD

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

This was recorded in 2005, right after Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and right before he had surgery for it. The movie culls together the best moments from two shows Young played in Nashville at the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. I dug this movie. I wish I had heard the album Prairie Wind before seeing the movie because I think I would have liked the movie more if I had. Most of the film consists of Young playing the entire album. Still, he does do a few of his more familiar songs as well. All of the songs fit quite nicely into a mellow, melancholic mood. And I loved seeing the musical broom in action.

Overall, this is a really good concert film. Demme is amazing at the art form. Between Stop Making Sense, Storefront Hitchock, and this one, he has proven his talent. I wish he would make a concert film every year. They are so good. After being bombarded for years with seeing live performances with endless cutting and tight closeups where you can't really get a feel for the performance, this movie feels so damn fine. Demme lets the whole thing breathe, lets Young take center stage, do his thing, and god damn, if it doesn't feel good. The performers are allowed to tell the story, rather than the manufactured "craziness" of frenetic camerawork. Not to say that Demme's craft is invisible because it isn't. But it feels organic and natural, not forced. It is part of the whole performance, not an extra forced component.

The colors are fall warm, all oranges and yellows with a soft glow. In gentle tone and color, this film reminded me a lot of A Prairie Home Companion. For Young diehards, this film is indispensible. For Young novices, there is still plenty to like here. For film lovers in general, this film is damn worthwhile.

Directed by Jonathan Demme
2006
DVD

Monday, February 05, 2007

Shane

I'd heard that this was a classic for years but I'd never seen it. I'm also a sucker for a good Western. But I didn't really get into this movie. It seems like one of those films that must have been really good for the time it came out. But it just didn't translate well to my 2007 eyes.

Perhaps this was the first Western to have a former gunslinger determined to go straight although I doubt it. Perhaps the really annoying kid ("Come back Shaaaane") wasn't so annoying back in 1953. In fact, he seemed so 1950's to me, not 1800's. I kept thinking he was about to jump onto a skateboard and go play with Beaver and Lumpy. The two hour run time felt like an eternity. And what a melodrama this was. I prefer my Westerns a little grittier.

That being said, Alan Ladd, Jack Palance, and Elisha Cook, Jr were truly great. And the wide open space of Wyoming looked spectacular. I did like this movie well enough but I think it suffered from unwieldy expectations on my part.

Directed by George Stevens
1953
TCM

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Wattstax

I had already seen this on PBS about a year ago. It was even better the second time. What a great movie. Everything is perfect. The music, the interviews of regular people, the dancing kids, the short skirts, the Staples Singers eating ribs in a limo, Richard Pryor, Rufus Thomas, the umbrella dancer, everything.

Mooney brought this over on the night of our Japanese Shake & Bake feast. It was the perfect movie to watch while chowing down on all the good food. A great night, a perfect movie. If you haven't seen this film, how can you call yourself an American?

Directed by Mel Stuart
1972
DVD

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Three men go looking for gold in Mexico. Greediness happens. Bad stuff ensues.

I loved watching Humphrey Bogart be so snivelly and pathetic. There were elements of this film that I think Spielberg and Lucas took for Raiders of the Lost Ark which made me dig it even more.

And I had no idea that the "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges" line came from this movie. Good stuff.

Directed by John Huston
1948
TCM