Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Clueless

I've heard how good this movie is for years. For years! From everyone. What kind of a moviegoer am I to have never seen a classic film like this?

I was excited to see it pop up on cable. Now that I have HD, I'm willing to watch some of these movies that I've avoided for years on cable. SHR watched it with me and enjoyed it as much as ever.

But I just didn't get it. It was pretty annoying. I really didn't know what to expect but I wasn't expecting this. It was okay, I guess. It wasn't bad. But this is the movie that everyone speaks so highly of? Don't get me wrong. Alicia Silverstone is superbly dumb. Paul Rudd is as charming as ever, if not more so. And Dan Hedaya was hilarious. But why do people love this movie so much? Someone please explain it to me.

Directed by Amy Heckerling
1995
HBO

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Camden 28

This film might have escaped my attention if Matt Zoller Seitz hadn't raved about it this past summer. It is about 28 anti-war activists (most of them clergy members) who were busted (because of an informant within their midst) of breaking into the Camden NJ draft board with the intent of destroying documents in 1971.

The documentary tells the story of the ensuing trial, the anger at their friend who betrayed them, and eventual forgiveness. It is a standard documentary, no frills, but it was perfect for TV viewing. Not sure I would have been super happy to throw down 11 bucks for it but I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the subject.

Directed by Anthony Giacchino
2007
PBS

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Triad Election

I saw this and Election as a double feature two months ago. I loved them both and I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to write about them. They were perfect to see back-to-back but now the two movies kind of blend into one for me.

I do remember that this one had as many silly moments as the first and as many violent ones. But this one had even crazier scenarios like the interrogation scene complete with knives and rabid dogs. I also liked how this one played off the audience's knowledge of some of the gruesome moments from the first film to build up suspense. The one that comes immediately to mind is the murder while fishing scene from the first film that is slyly referenced to near the beginning of this one.

I really wish that I had written about these two months ago to be more specific about why I loved them so much. Trust me though - if you like gangster type movies, you can not go wrong with either of these movies. I also expect Martin Scorsese to remake them for Oscar purposes within the next few years.

Directed by Johnnie To
2006, Year of U.S. Release: 2007
BAM

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Election

I really never get sick of a well told gangster yarn. This movie was amazing! It had it all. Laughs. Amazing violence. Interesting characters. An amazing ending. I want to see it at least one more time to fully figure out all the ins and outs and double crosses.

The film is about the infighting among a gangster triad as they decide who will become the next leader. Oh man, this movie is good.

Directed by Johnnie To
2005
BAM

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Much smaller in scale than The Life Aquatic, a movie that felt like it was made simply to justify building a really awesome set. Wes Anderson's latest is fine enough though. I enjoyed it. But it sure as hell doesn't come close to the heights of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.

For starters, Jason Schwartzman, despite looking awesome in that 'stache just doesn't have the acting chops to pull off a role like this. And Owen Wilson, poor Owen Wilson just can't act. I like the guy. I feel bad for his breakdown and all but man was he not good in this movie. Chris Larry likened his performance to a bad parody of Owen Wilson on Saturday Night Live. I agree.

Only Adrien Brody could pull off the job needed amongst the three. Both he and Schwartzman were both trying to pull off a deadpan melancholy but only Brody could make it work. He was great in a Buster Keaton kind of way - saying a hell of a lot without many words.

And that might be the crux of it. Anderson and his entourage just don't have much to say apparently. Maybe he needs to adapt someone else's work. This is the third straight movie about the same thing. How about a genre piece in the way that the Coen Bros. do it. A Wes Anderson crime flick filtered through Godard's Breathless anyone?

The music felt forced compared to how much it carried his four previous films. I've had enough of slow motion montages set to the Kinks. Yes, they look good but it is the same damn thing everytime!

The movie did have some great moments though. The Wes Anderson universe set on a train was brilliant. The scene of each train car passing by was one of the more captivating moments I've seen all year. I loved a lot of the images of the movie especially the one of Schwartzman leaning out and noticing the Indian woman he fancied also leaning out.

Anderson said he was inspired by the films of Satyajit Ray during the making of this film. I didn't really get that. I get more of an American Francois Truffaut feel to Anderson's vibe. Small films that some deem a bit too precious. However, Truffaut really was able to capture a real emotional resonance with most of his films that I think both of his last two films have mostly failed at achieving. Was Rushmore Anderson's 400 Blows?

Is the Darjeeling short film prologue Hotel Chevalier Anderson's attempt to make an Antoine and Collette? Whatever it is, it was much better than the feature film that follows. It doesn't have much dialogue so Schwartzman's deadpan nature helps rather than hinders the whole thing. And Natalie Portman's extreme hotness doesn't hurt matters either.

And that reminds me of another problem with Darjeeling. Too many men. No major female characters. Anderson does a great job directing and writing parts for women. No dice in Darjeeling though.

Oh yeah, Hotel Chevalier was shot at Hotel Raphael in Paris. Maybe that's why I liked it so much. Download it for free on iTunes!

What did you think?

Directed by Wes Anderson
2007
BAM

Monday, October 15, 2007

51 Birch Street

This documentary achieved some amazing buzz last year. It was on the NY Times top ten list. And it played for many many months in Manhattan.

I liked this movie quite a bit but didn't love it. The film is about the director Doug Block's parents. He started filming his mom and shortly thereafter she died. Almost immediately, his father got remarried - to his old secretary. Sensing some fishiness, Block continued to interview his siblings, his father, and his father's new bride. He also found years worth of old journals that his mother had written that portrayed her inner anguish, her anger at her husband, and her suspecting of an affair with his secretary.

Maybe I was expecting a bit more craziness with this film. Instead it is a sad but interesting investigation of a son's parents and the truth behind their marriage. If I had fully known what the film was going to be, I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more. Damn those incorrect expectations yet once again!

Directed by Doug Block
2006
Cinemax

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

For every step forward with this movie, it took a step back.

It looked great, yes. But the many scenes where director Andrew Dominik blurred the edges of the screen reminded me less of an old photo than it did of an old Nirvana video. The snowy scenes were cool, yes. But geez, how many times were we going to be hit over the head that we were supposed to like this movie because McCabe and Mrs. Miller was good?

Some of the scenes were riveting, yes. But it did not need to be 2 hours and 40 minutes long. Way way way too long. Somewhere in the editing room, this could have been made into a very good movie.

Who exactly is the audience for this movie? It is way too long and way too slow for this to appeal to the 3:10 to Yuma crowd. Yet, it just isn't nearly good enough to be Oscar material. This movie is destined to disappear soon.

That being said, the post Jesse James stuff is really riveting. I would have enjoyed more of the aftermath and how it affected Bob Ford over some of the two plus hours it took getting there. I liked the whole "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend," The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence angle of the last part of the movie.

And I did like the bathtub homage to Sam Fuller's I Shot Jesse James. Watching this movie made me realize that I should have gone to see 3:10 to Yuma when I had the chance and that I want to see I Shot Jesse James again.

Directed by Andrew Dominik
2007
Lincoln Square 12

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eastern Promises

I like Cronenberg's last three films a lot. Each one has become more realistic as well and I dig that. 2002's Spider was strange but based in reality. Plus it was smart of Cronenberg to jump into more reality based fare the easy way by making a movie about a crazy, paranoid guy and his flashbacks.

2005's excellent A History of Violence was very good and even more realistic yet it seemed more like a comic book to me than real life. Not that that is bad but it still didn't resonate as "real" to me in the way that his latest, Eastern Promises, does.

The violence feels more real, more direct, and less stylized than in A History of Violence. There are direct consequences to each act of brutality in this film in a way that I didn't feel like the violence was explored as well in A History of Violence.

Every act of violence in this film directly leads to another and impacts each character greatly. Like A History of Violence, Cronenberg is interested in exploring the effect the violence has on the perpetrators rather than the victims.

This is the kind of review I might be able to write well if I actually knew how to write about film. Instead, I don't feel like I've clearly explained my thoughts. I've been thinking about this film quite a bit since I saw it a couple of weeks ago and I like it more with each passing day. It is a very good companion piece to A History of Violence.

And that Viggo Mortenson naked fight scene is perhaps the most brutal fight scene I've ever seen.

Directed by David Cronenberg
2007
Cobble Hill

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Prestige

I liked this more than The Illusionist but that isn't saying much, now is it? Director Christopher Nolan jumbled everything all up a la Memento to the point that I wasn't ever really sure what the hell was going on nor did I really care to fully figure it out. Maybe it would have helped if I had watched this in one sitting rather than a number of viewings spread out over a few weeks.

Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, and Michael Caine were all good. I liked the twists and turns. I liked David Bowie. I liked looking at Scarlett. I liked the rivalry and the trickery and the water tricks. I just wish I had had the energy to figure out what was going on.

Directed by Christopher Nolan
2006
Starz

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Illusionist

Pluses: The cinematography was great. Paul Giamatti was good as usual.

Negatives: Ed Norton is a joke. I predicted the "surprise ending" an hour before the end.

Directed by Neil Burger
2006
Starz

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Aura

I liked Bielinsky's previous film, Nine Queens, more than this one. Both are heist films. The previous one was more about fun. This one was more about me taking 5 sittings to get through it on DVD. Not that this was bad, it just wasn't terribly good.

The main character, Espinosa, is an epileptic, mild-mannered taxidermist who fantasizes about pulling off the perfect heist. Luckily, for him, he accidentally shoots someone while hunting and takes all of the man's papers and cellphone. Luckily for Espinosa, the man was planning a heist! How fortunate! So Espinosa gets involved in the scheme a la another movie I didn't like all that much from 2006,
13 Tzameti. I did like this one more than that though.

Anyway, you'll never guess what happens? Yeah, that's right - Espinosa's epilepsy acts up at an inopportune moment. Oops.

Sadly, Bielinsky died of a heart attack in January 2006 at the age of 47. This was only his second feature film.

Directed by Fabián Bielinsky
2005, Year of U.S. Release: 2006
DVD

Monday, October 01, 2007

Days of Glory

This film very effectively demonstrates how France screwed the N. African soldiers that fought for them during World War II. The film is about four North African soldiers in a French unit that mixed native born French and their colonial subjects.

Early on, it is shown how proud the African soldiers are to fight for France against the Nazis. Much like African-Americans who thought that they would be treated as equals after the war because they were fighting for freedom in a foreign land, these soldiers thought they deserved better treatment as they served alongside French born citizens.

Despite not even being allowed to be served tomatoes along with the other soldiers, the Africans fight valiantly and to the death for the "homeland." Directed Rachid Bouchareb focuses on the Muslim soldiers in the film. In the aftermath of the Paris riots, this film clearly is about more than just World War II.

For a war film, there aren't many battle scenes but the final one at the end is pretty damn terrifying and grim. This was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar last year and I can clearly see why. It is a good film.

You can't tell that well from the movie poster but the guy on the far left had a real Jose Valentin of the New York Mets feel to him.

Directed by Rachid Bouchareb
2006
DVD