Thursday, January 31, 2008

Shampoo

I didn't particularly care for the first half of this film but by the end had finally gotten acclimated to the vibe of it all. SHR gave up after a third of it.

I had heard about this movie for so long that I think I was expecting something a little bit different. It was indeed a sex farce but filtered through the whole 70's downer thing. It took me a while to get used to that.

I liked Warren Beatty's look, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, and the political stuff. Plus it had one of my favorite lines I've seen in recent memory when Beatty gets caught cheating on his girlfriend while in the act and his response is, "Honey there you are - we've been looking all over for you!"

But I've got to say the best thing about this movie is Jack Warden. That dude is awesome.

I can't say that I particularly loved it or anything but I'm glad to have finally seen it. Plus it makes me want to re-watch a few episodes of Crazy Like a Fox (is that on DVD?) and Foul Play ASAP.

Directed by Hal Ashby
1975
DVD

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reds

Okay so apparently this movie isn't completely factual and maybe it airbrushes some stuff and maybe (despite the 195 minute running time) the second half feels a bit rushed as it tries to cover a lot of ground. But who cares? This is a good movie. And it is much better than I thought it would be.

After being disappointed with the other two movies from this era that I've recently seen (Ordinary People, Sophie's Choice) this does not feel dated at all except for the fact that a movie like this would never get made now. So I guess it feels dated in a good way. If it were made today, it would be 95 minutes shorter and it would be neutered so the "mainstream" would understand it. It would be written by Aaron Sorkin and star Tom Hanks and it would suck.

The cinematography is striking. I could watch the Finnish ice crossing scenes over and over again. Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton are great. And then there's Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman, Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill, and Richard Herrmann as Max Eastman.

I found the movie pretty illuminating. I didn't know anything about John Reed and Louise Bryant and was fascinated by their story. I also really liked all of the talking heads scenes of old socialists reminiscing that were interspersed generously throughout. I find it remarkable that at the beginning of the Reagan era, a movie about communism (even though it isn't all rah rah Russkies) would be such a cultural touchstone.

Directed by Warren Beatty
1981
Cinemax

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sophie's Choice

I'm glad I saw this but man was this slow. SHR and I watched this in many different installments over a number of weeks. For some reason, I always thought the whole film was set during the war. I didn't realize that most of it was set in Brooklyn. By the way, Brooklyn looks absolutely fantastic in this movie.

Meryl Streep hit all the right notes I suppose but am I a philistine for finding her a bit overrated in general? Kevin Kline cracked us up in the movie playing one crazy dude. SHR pointed out that the young Kline is a dead ringer for the guy in The Black Lips.

Check it out.
Kline

Check the dude to the far left

On another note, do all of these serious early 80's films take forever to get anywhere? So... so ... slow. Or is that just me?

Directed by Alan J. Pakula
1982
Cinemax

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Jackie Robinson Story

What a strange strange movie. Three years after Jackie Robinson's rookie year with the Dodgers, it was the right time to make a movie about Jackie. Why not, right? But the film is so clunky, it is ridiculous. Every scene is like 45 seconds or so long. We are brought quickly through Jackie's life all the way through his triumphant 1947 season with a little comic relief thrown in, in the guise of a Bugs Bunny-like hitter. Gotta have the comic relief to balance out the mean racists!

Despite all of this, I don't regret watching the movie because it stars Jackie Robinson as himself (not the worst actor by any stretch), Ruby Dee as his wife (she played his mother in another film 40 years later), and has great footage of Ebbets Field.

Plus it is just so odd to see a movie that does a decent job dealing with racism wrapped up in such hokey surroundings. All of these elements make this movie worth seeing as a curiosity.

Directed by Alfred E. Green
1950
YES Network (Who would have thought they put non-Yankees stuff on this channel EVER? Then again Yogi Berra introduced the movie and talk during the breaks about Jackie. I guess a player didn't really exist unless a Yankee gives his blessing.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Slap Shot

Sometimes it is a good thing to have completely missed seeing a movie years ago when you really should have seen it. Case in point, this movie. I'm surprised at myself for having never seen it before. But I bet you are jealous that I got to see it for the very first time in 2008 and you didn't!

What a crazy movie. This kind of movie would never be made now. So raunchy. So offensive at times in a Bad News Bears what the hell was going on in the 70's kind of way? So Paul Newman cool.So many 70's tits just hanging out. Okay, maybe there was just one scene but it was long. I also wasn't the one who referred to the scene as a 70's tit scene (SHR did) but it got me to thinking.

I really wish the Hanson Brothers had found a way to be in more movies. Those guys were funny.

Directed by George Roy Hill
1977
DVD

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Made

Chris Larry has been talking about this movie for years. For some reason, I didn't want to see it when it first came out. I think that I was way burned out about the whole Swingers thing so I avoided it. Luckily for me, 2001's loss was 2007's gain. This movie is pretty damn funny.

The comedic combo of Favreau and Vince Vaughn should really be considered one of the best in movie history. They should keep making comedies together and become the modern day Bob Hope and Bing Crosby or something. The cameos from three Sopranos cast members, a hilarious bit from Peter Falk, and Famke Janssen all add to the fun.

See this movie and you'll begin to understand why Chris Larry can't wait to see Fred Claus. Vaughn is that funny in this movie.

Directed by Jon Favreau
2001
Showtime

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Untouchables

I don't think I had seen this movie since I was sixteen-years-old. I can not believe how much of it I remembered and how much I still liked it. This is a really good movie.

Remember when Kevin Costner was good? Remember when Robert De Niro was good? Remember how many great lines Sean Connery has in this movie? Oh man, I loved every De Palma-rific moment of this.

And that scene on the stairs at the train station is just as brilliant as you remember.

Before seeing this again, I didn't realize that David Mamet had written the screenplay or that Ennio Morricone did the amazing score. Go watch this movie again right now.

Directed by Brian De Palma
1987
Cinemax

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone

I really liked the first four Tsai Ming-Liang films that I saw (Rebels of the Neon God, The River, The Hole, and my favorite 2002 film, What Time Is It There?)

Since that time, I haven't seen many due to limited American releases of his films. I didn't particularly know what to make of Goodbye, Dragon Inn and this recent one bored the hell out of me.

That being said, there are some of the most beautiful and interesting images I've seen all year in this film. And I had plenty of time to fully study them as well considering that each shot in the film is held for seemingly two hours each. Still, this film works as art. Put it on, do other things, take a look at the beauty of the images on screen ...

The classic Tsai Ming-Liang obsessions are all here - floods, bodily fluids, loneliness, and the feeling that city dwellers are always on the edge of some terrible Biblical type curse. But I just had a hard time getting into this film. Maybe it was because after the first fifteen minutes the film might as well have been silent for the amount of dialogue in it. Maybe it was because his earlier films had a sense of humor and this seemed completely humorless? Or maybe I'm just not as patient a moviegoer as I was in my younger days?

Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang
2006, U.S. Release: 2007
DVD

Monday, January 21, 2008

It's A Wonderful Life

What else is there to say about this movie? SHR had never seen it in its entirety so I was excited to watch it with her. I don't think I had seen it in well over twenty years so it felt pretty fresh to me.

Everything is perfect. There is a reason that people love this movie. The ending just keeps piling more tearjerking moment on top of tearjerking moment into one big sentimental crescendo. I couldn't get enough of it but it was almost too much. But it wasn't too much. It was perfect. Too many movies try to cheaply copy this formula of pouring it on for excruciating moment after excruciating minute. But there was only one Frank Capra and only one Jimmy Stewart.

How annoying is that Clash of the Choirs logo though? It was on screen during the entire show! NBC is on my list. They should be afraid.

Directed by Frank Capra
1946
NBC

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

I was disappointed with this movie. Definitely no Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In fact, a big problem with the movie was that Gary Cooper seems to be trying too hard to be like Jimmy Stewart. However this movie was made a full three years before Stewart had become a full fledged star.

Stewart would have been perfect in the role of the surly, eccentric small town poet with a heart of gold who inherits 20 million dollars and goes to the big city.

Cooper was kind of blah. The movie was kind of blah.

Has anyone seen the Adam Sandler remake?

Directed by Frank Capra
1936
TCM

Thursday, January 17, 2008

28 Weeks Later

There were genuinely excellent moments in this film both visually and storytelling wise. There were also embarrassingly bad plot developments (I hate when a person becomes a zombie or infected and then comes back as a zombie to haunt his family) and clunky scenes involving slow motion or too much herky jerky camera movement for my taste.

Still the scenes in the dark are really eerie. As are the overhead shots, the firebombing of London, the gray mist of the poison gas enveloping the city, running from the infected in the countryside, and an awesome helicopter as weapon scene. Also, the ending is a clever way to set up yet another sequel.

The movie is set during the reconstruction of England. The infected have all died out and people are returning back to their homes. However, when an infected survivor is found with no symptoms of the disease, all things inevitably go to hell quite quickly. The occupying American army can't control things and decide to exterminate everyone, the infected and non-infected. So the good guys have to run from the infected while also dodging bullets from the American army.

On another note, Harold Perrineau and Idris Elba (Stringer Bell on The Wire who once again has to hide his accent to play an American in a movie set in London no less!) are always welcome faces to see in any format.

This and The Host would be a good double feature of two genre pictures that are both highly critical of American involvement in a foreign country. Nice.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
2007
DVD

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

3:10 to Yuma

If only the movie was as good as the poster.

Oh well, this was passable. In fact, the second hour was better than the first. But there were so many completely implausible plot developments that I was constantly taken out of my enjoyment. SHR gave up halfway through.

Still, it looked really good. Christian Bale was good as usual and as SHR pointed out, his American accent was better than usual. Russell Crowe was fine and even the doofus ex-boyfriend of Claire from Six Feet Under wasn't too bad.

There were some really fun moments as well. Gun play is fun, you know.

All this remake really did for me though was make me want to see the 1957 original ... and quick.

Directed by James Mangold
2007
DVD

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I should have known better but I was curious. I don't dislike musicals per se but I just had a feeling that I wouldn't like a Stephen Sondheim musical. And I was right. I didn't. I didn't hate this or anything but I definitely liked the non song parts a lot more than the musical interruptions.

Visually, the film looked great and I dug the plot for the most part but those songs, those damn songs kept taking me out of it. And Sacha Baron Cohen was embarrassingly miscast - and I like him.

SHR said she was going to record a song in the style of Sweeney Todd as her review of the movie but unfortunately she changed her mind.

Directed by Tim Burton
2007
Court St.

Monday, January 14, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Holy Mother of God! Wow! What a movie!

I had high expectations for this movie and I was not disappointed. Daniel Day-Lewis with his best accent yet? I loved him in Gangs of New York but a slightly more restrained Day-Lewis is an ever better Day-Lewis. Wow.

I loved the opening first 15 minutes with pretty much no dialogue. I loved the simple visuals to explain the early developments in drilling for oil. I loved the way the scene with the big fire was shot. Day-Lewis looks like the devil incarnate in that scene. I love the bowling alley scene. I love the twin themes of capitalism and religion. I love the last scene between father and son.

I wonder how Scorsese feels now that he has been eclipsed. Anderson tried to outdo Altman with Magnolia and didn't succeed. Eight years later he is showing the old masters how it is done. Is it too early for Anderson to remake Gangs of New York?

Anderson proves he understands that epics don't have to be big sprawling messes. An epic story can be centered on one character and everything else can fall into place.

I dig that both this and No Country For Old Men are 2007 versions of what a modern Western can be.

The Oscar race for Best Picture will be an interesting one.

I know a lot of people disliked Punch Drunk Love but I really liked it. I should see it again. And I have also added Hard Eight to my Netflix queue.

I love the Johny Greenwood soundtrack as well. Love love love it.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
2007
Lincoln Square

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Atonement

So meta. So meta. You can have your sweeping epic and still be an art film. Clever. I enjoyed this but wasn't blown away by it. I really don't have much to say about this one other than I know that Keira Knightley has been getting a lot of attention for looking stunning in that green dress but I prefer her in that old timey bathing suit she was in near the beginning. Scrumptious.

I'm a sucker for these kinds of movies to be honest - love stories set during wartime. Hell, I remember liking The English Patient back in '96 but have no idea if I'd still like it. Of the recent ones, I'd probably put this a little ahead of A Very Long Engagement but behind The End of the Affair.

I dug the soundtrack that was heavily based at times on the clicking of typewriter keys - all so very Matmos.

Also, in general give me more movies that have scenes set during the Battle of Dunkirk. Fascinating stuff.

Directed by Joe Wright
2007
Kips Bay

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I'm Not There

I definitely think your enjoyment of this movie will be in direct relation to how knowledgeable you are about Bob Dylan, his music, his life, and his myth. Jim and Mitch didn't like it as much as I did but I also know more about Dylan than they do. Then again, I don't know all that much so I didn't love this either.

I love the idea of seven different people playing Dylan at different eras of his life. I love the idea of taking a mishmash of song lyrics, film styles, old interviews, and facts and blending them into one big Zimmerman stew. But as a movie, I just couldn't fully get into it. The Cate Blanchett stuff was good but I'd rather just watch Don't Look Back. I liked casting a 12-year-old African-American boy as the young Woody Guthrie era Dylan and I also liked the wandering troubadour Richard Gere aspect. In fact, I liked all of the actors - that is, all except David Cross as Allen Ginsberg. Insufferable.

But there were too many elements that reminded me of outtakes from O Brother Where Art Thou, Stardust Memories, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller for my tastes. I know that Haynes was simply trying to piece together a pastiche of film styles to match the Dylan era he was portraying but it just didn't overall work for me. Then again, if I was a Dylan obsessive, I'm sure that I would have loved this movie.

Which brings me to the question - when is Haynes going to make Finally Found a Home, his love letter to Huey Lewis? That I know I'd love!

Directed by Todd Haynes
2007
Film Forum

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

My least favorite of the Judd Apatow productions in 2007 but when stacked up against Superbad and Knocked Up, that doesn't mean that I didn't like this movie. I did like it. But like the music biopics, it is aping, it kind of drags at times. And I hate to be a hater but I'm just not sure that John C. Reilly was the right choice for the role if only because he seemed to be trying way too hard to play the role in the way that Will Ferrell would have played it. I don't know. I do like Reilly so maybe my opinion on that will soften if I see this again.

There are really great moments in the movie. In fact, I laughed as hard at some of the moments in this film as I ever have in a movie. The songs are really good. The scene with the Beatles is hilarious. The Bob Dylan-like scene is better than any moment in I'm Not There. The complete lack of subtle dialogue cracked me up. But the father appearing over and over again saying the same thing got old. Yes, they do that in Ray and Walk the Line, but sometimes making fun of an obviously dumb plot device over and over again doesn't necessarily make comedy gold.

I guess I was hoping that this would be the Airplane of rock star biopics, instead I think I got Top Secret. That was a pretty good movie, right? If not, I've undersold this movie but I'm not quite sure I can bring this up to Naked Gun territory but maybe ...

Directed by Jake Kasdan
2007
Battery Park

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Stone Groove should not, I repeat, should NOT see this movie. I barely got through the first 1/3 of this movie myself. The reason he should not see this movie is because the filmmaking is so effective in making the viewer feel trapped like the protagonist Jean-Dominic Bauby is in his own body that Mr. Groove would most likely have a freakout in the theater if he saw it.

The movie is based on Bauby's memoir. He was a debonair playboy editor of Elle Paris who suffered a major stroke that left him unable to speak or to move anything other this his eyes. The first 1/3 of the film is told from Bauby's point of view which drove me absolutely bonkers but in a good way I guess. I felt tense but was so taken by the movie that I was able to forge ahead. I've seen other films use similar techniques but never as artfully filmed or for as long as this film uses it. It really is unrelenting. I loved being able to hear Bauby's thoughts making fun of some of his doctors, lusting for others, questioning his life, or getting lost in his imagination.

After the first 1/3 when Bauby decides to stop pitying himself, you finally get to see what he has been reduced to and it isn't pretty. He is just a gnarled lump of a person. He can't control anything except for one eye - the other was stitched shut (because of an infection) in one of the more horrifying scenes I've ever seen.

The storytelling structure also serves the story well - flashbacks, rock songs, and dreamlike sequences are used sparingly and well. This is Schnabel's first film since 2000's Before Night Falls. I hope I don't have to wait until 2014 for his next effort.

This film makes me intrigued to read the autobiography (the dude wrote it by having his blinks translated into letters into words into a book!) on which this is based as well as the documentary on Bauby. I hope this film also leads to wider acclaim for one of my favorite actors of the last ten years, Mathieu Almaric, who I've really liked since first seeing him in My Sex Life (Or How I Got Into An Argument) which sadly is not available on Netflix.

Directed by Julian Schnabel
2007
BAM

Monday, January 07, 2008

Juno

This is a movie with an absolutely terrible first 15 minutes that screamed out "LOOK HOW QUIRKY WE ARE PEOPLE" in the worst kind of way (This ain't no etch a sketch, and this is one diddle that can't be undid, homeskillet.) But it also a movie that ended with a good last 15 minutes that felt just right and sincere.

The other 60 minutes were hit or miss. The acting was all around good. I still can't get enough Michael Cera. The interplay between Juno and her parents was excellent and quirky in a good way rather than in an obnoxious way.

If you can get over some really really really embarrassingly bad dialogue throughout the film, can ignore the idiotic problems like a 16-year-old girl who loves The Stooges and The Runaways but has never heard of Sonic Youth, and convenient plot twists that don't feel natural, then you'll like this movie. If you can't get over those aspects, stay away. Far far away. It also doesn't hurt if you like the Moldy Peaches.

At heart, it is a nice little movie that wins you over by the end if you let it. Just don't expect anything really good. Just an eh, that was enjoyable I suppose kind of good.

I'm interested to see what writer Diablo Cody does after this. Will she make an even more QUIRKY movie or will she tap into the warm feelings of the last 15 minutes and actually make a very good female version of a Judd Apatow production rather than simply a halfway good one?

Directed by Jason Reitman
2007
BAM

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I Am Legend

I was pumped to like this movie after sitting through the dreck of Charlie Wilson's War, this being the second half of a six dollar double feature for Jim, Mitch, and me.

I really liked the first 2/3 of the film for the most part (other than the hokey flashbacks) and was on the edge of my seat. Yeah, there was silly Hollywoody cliches but who cares? I was having a great time. I loved the images of New York completely empty other than Will Smith, his dog, and animals. The eerie aspect of knowing that some zombie like creatures were lurking out there waiting for nightfall made me tense.

But the last 1/3 or so is simply 28 Days Later but with implausible plot developments, stupid dialogue, and all around crappiness.

Skip the upcoming Jim and Mitch comments if you don't want to read any spoilers.

Jim weighs in by e-mail, "Another thing that bugged me about I Am Legend: That woman had really specific information about the colony in Vermont. It was in Bethel, it was in the mountains, and the virus couldn't survive in the cold. But then when he asked her how she knew it was there, she says God. She obviously must have heard about it on the radio or from another person or something, so why didn't she just say that? It's like they wanted to insert a stupid religious argument in there, because an American audience can't go 10 minutes without someone talking about their God or praising Jesus or whatever.

Also: how did she and the kid get into and out of Manhattan? I'm assuming the tunnels must have been blocked off or blown up, since the bridges were. Did they take a boat?"

To which Mitch replied, "I thought about part one, but not part two and you are so right - how DID she get there? And if he really was the big important Time magazine researcher that he was (and that she was so impressed by), how come no one from Vermont (or, perhaps more importantly, on their way to Vermont) heard his bombardment of the radio stations before she did?"

Not to mention, how ridiculous was it that the woman had never heard of Bob Marley but knew who Damian Marley was? Give me a break.

And please, future filmmakers of the world - please don't ever make me watch any other film character recite scenes from Shrek again as a plot device.

I will say this though - that Will Smith sure is ripped! Just don't steal his prized bacon.

I now want to see the Vincent Price movie, The Last Man on Earth, to compare to this.

Directed by Francis Lawrence
2007
Kips Bay

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

The true story of Charlie Wilson is a fascinating one. Too bad Tom Hanks was cast in the role because then he had to become a saint. This movie is really stupid. The lovable Hanks can't be seen doing coke, saying bad things, or actually doing anything bad. As Mitch pointed out after the movie, anything obnoxious that he did or said was mentioned by another character rather than Hanks thus keeping him lovably charming. Even his womanizing is more of a "Golly gee, isn't Tom Hanks cute" kind of thing.

I know a lot of people who have been down on Tom Hanks for years. I never really was. But count me in now. But then again, is it really Hanks' fault that Aaron Sorkin and Mike Nichols felt like they had to take the fascinating, multifaceted true story of a womanizing, coke sniffing congressmen who led a secret operation to fund the Mujahideen and turn it into a Tom Hanks - Julia Roberts vehicle.

Mitch sums this up quite well with this zinger he e-mailed me, "The entire movie was dumbed down and spelled out to make it appeal to the 'average' Americans who love Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks yet are apparently too stupid to comprehend an average episode of The West Wing."

To that effect, we all knew we were in trouble within the first five minutes when Hanks is in a hot tub with some nekkid beauty queens (Don't worry Tom didn't ever touch them or look down or anything) but gets distracted by a television broadcasting Dan Rather's report from Afghanistan on the Mujahideen. The dialogue is painful as one woman pleads the fun loving Hanks to stop watching TV.

It went something like this: But darling, don't you know the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the freedom fighters are called the Mujahideen pronounced mu-jahi-deen. Dan Rather who is a newsman is wearing that funny hat on his head because he must ... be ... in Afghanistan! Honey, this is big news. I want to hear what he has to say! Barkeep, could you kindly turn that television volume up? Why thank you sir! Anyway, as I was saying, the Soviet Union is our number one enemy honey. We are in a thing called the Cold War. Pronounced cold ... war. Anyway darling, this war could be our chance to really stick it to the Russkies! A war is when two governments can't solve their differences using just words. Anyway, darling where was I? I'd really like to ogle your breasts right now but that wouldn't be becoming for a two-time Oscar winner, now would it?

Philip Seymour Hoffman was great though.

Directed by Mike Nichols
2007
Kips Bay

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Savages

There really isn't anything wrong with this movie that a better screenwriter couldn't have fixed with a little tweaking. I just don't think Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills) is that great of a writer. For starters, the Laura Linney character is so incredibly annoying that it kept distracting me from enjoying the movie. I know that this film is somewhat autobiographical so maybe Jenkins was being too hard on herself in the creation of the Linney character? This is why I think a second neutral writer in the editing process would have helped this movie a lot.

I also think that Jenkins was going for a dark comedy but instead ended up with a straight-up drama with an occasional funny bit. However the one scene where Jenkins fully succeeds on this front is the scene where Linney and Hoffman are arguing with each other in the parking lot of an upscale nursing home. An amazing scene.

All that being said, the movie is pretty good anyway. The story about a brother and sister with an uneasy relationship who have to team up to help their dementia suffering father who they haven't seen in years is an interesting one. Philip Seymour Hoffman, per usual, gives an excellent performance. I also really liked the interplay Linney had with her married boyfriend as well as with the male worker at the nursing home. Plus, the ending is really nice and sweet so you leave the theater feeling a lot happier than you were during most of the movie. It is difficult to pull off such a nice ending after such turmoil and have it feel as genuine as it does.

On a sidenote, this was the third movie I saw in the second half of 2007 where the picture was way way way too dark due to a screwup by the theater. What's up with that?

Directed by Tamara Jenkins
2007
Times Square 25