Thursday, February 28, 2008

To Have and Have Not

This film was based on an Ernest Hemingway story idea. It also had William Faulkner as a co-writer of the screenplay. Even with this strong pedigree, the movie disappointed me. It basically just felt like an attempt to recapture the magic of Casablanca, made just two years earlier.

This was also Lauren Bacall's first film role. She and Bogart met on set and got married soon after. I did love the famous scene when Bogart asks her if she knows how to whistle to which she replies, "You just put your lips together and blow." I didn't particularly care for the 700 times that Bogart referred to her as Slim though. Stupid.

Directed by Howard Hawks
1944
TCM

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jackass Number Two

Never watched the show. Saw the first movie in Maryland over Thanksgiving a couple years back. I loved it and so did Stone Groove even though he wouldn't admit it.

I didn't like this one as much. It almost felt like outtakes from the first one. There weren't as many funny things but there was a lot more poop.

I really liked half of this. Really liked. About half of it bored me. I still can't get over homoerotic the whole thing is though. Absolutely brilliant.

Directed by Jeff Tremaine
2006
HBO

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Woman is the Future of Man

I'd read a lot of good things about this was pretty unimpressed. Neither SHR or I had much idea what was going on most of the time. I don't think it was all that complicated though. I just don't know how engaged either one of us was by it. On a scene by scene basis I kind of liked it but a few weeks later, I can't really remember anything about it.

Simple summation: Love triangle

Directed by Hong Sang-soo
2004, U.S. Release: 2006
DVD

Monday, February 25, 2008

Xala

I'm a bit upset that I only caught one of the films at the Sembene retrospective at Film Forum last December. His 2004 film, Moolade, is one of my favorite films of the past ten years.

Sembene, who died last year, is considered the father of African cinema. He originally was a novelist but switched to film when he realized that a lot of the people that he wanted to read his books were illiterate so he could reach more people through film.

Both of the films of his that I've seen make pointed political and cultural statements but the movies are so entertaining that it doesn't matter if you pick up on them or not. Then again, his themes are laid out so clearly and forcefully that it would be impossible to miss them.

This film, is on the surface a simple story about a hapless government official who decides to add a fourth wife to the family. It turns out that not only is he useless on the job, but he also can't quite perform in the sack either. He chooses to try different potions to solve his problems. What starts as a silly premise ends with one of the most scathing and angry scenes I've ever seen in a movie.

The film somehow weaves statements on woman's rights, the corruption and lack of vision of the first post-colonial government in Senegal (who would rather just put on airs of being cultured like the French are than actually govern), the former colonial power, and the grab for money. All of this in a movie that's main plot is about a man who can't get it up. Completely brilliant.

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
1975
Film Forum

Sunday, February 24, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

What a crock of shit that this wasn't nominated for Best Foreign Film. Yes, the Best Picture nominations are pretty good (other than Juno) but this is such a travesty. How could this movie be overlooked? Do the people who nominate these movies even watch them or do they just read a brief synopsis of each film?

Anyway, the description of this movie as the "Romanian abortion film" doesn't exactly do it any favors. Yes, it is Romanian and ostensibly, it is about an abortion, but it is about a lot more than that.

Set in 1987, two years before the end of communism in Romania, the film is about a college student Otilia who helps her friend and roommate Gabita procure an illegal abortion. Otilia is level-headed while Gabita doesn't seem to make the best decisions in general. The film's events take place in the course of one day.

Obviously, the film isn't for everyone and it isn't for the faint of heart. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that there is a shot in this film that is the exact opposite of the surprising scene near the end of Knocked Up, a movie that didn't even think of seriously dealing with the idea of abortion.

The black market supplies everything from Kent cigarettes to illegal abortions and everything in between. The paranoia and suspicion mixes interestingly with the complacency and general air of acceptance of the lot everyone finds themselves in. The film feels as immediate as a cross between a Dardenne Brothers effort and a Bourne film. There are moments of this film where I was absolutely terrified and I felt like I was watching the most suspenseful and chilling movie of the year.

I saw this in a packed theater right after the NY Times review glowingly called it the best film of 2007. As the people left the theater (many of them senior citizens) I heard many complaints about how boring the film was. I couldn't disagree more. I was riveted. I would rank this as more of a thriller than a 2006 favorite (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) which was more of an absurd comedy.

In general, I'm struck how a country with pretty much no movie theaters (I recall hearing that there are only 40 theaters in the entire country) for a population of 22 million people can be producing such amazing films of late. I mean, who would think that a movie about an illegal abortion would feel like a thriller and a movie about a dying old man would be such an absurd comedy? Brilliant.

Directed by Cristian Mungiu
2007
IFC Center

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Great World of Sound

I really liked this movie. I saw it last weekend and have been thinking about it a lot all week.

The film is about a recording scam that works this way: Place an ad in the paper that you are a producer looking for the next big thing. People come to audition. You tell them you like them and are ready to commit to them if they are ready to commit to you by giving you 30 percent of the eventual recording costs. The wannabe stars are so committed to making it big that they don't even notice that the audition is held in seedy hotel rooms and that the recordings are eventually done in ramshackle studios.

The two main characters, Clarence and Martin, make a good team but have conflicting emotions on scamming people and this conflict ends up being a key plot point of the film.

The filmmaking process itself is very interesting. Most of the people coming in to audition really thought that they were coming to audition. They had no idea that they were being filmed for a fiction movie. After each audition, they were told what was going on and invited to stay for the rest of the day of shooting, hidden behind two-way mirrors. Some of the amazing moments of this film could not have been scripted and the film is all the better for it.

It is remarkable for such an entertaining movie to make such interesting points about our obsession with making it big. At the end of the day, this doesn't leave you feeling good. It is quite a sad film actually. But the movie is so interesting and so much fun to watch that it is never a drag.

Director Craig Zobel has spent many years working with one of my favorites, David Gordon Green who is a producer of this film.

On a sidenote, I would not have predicted that my mom would love this as much as she did so I can't give this a Marilyn Would Love this tag, can I? Not to mention, she already did love it so I'm all sorts of confused. Do I create another Marilyn related tag? After everyone else went to bed, she stayed up watching all of the extras and bonus scenes and full footage of the auditions.

Directed by Craig Zobel
2007
DVD

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Way Home

A bratty seven-year-old city boy is dropped off by his mother to spend the summer with his mute grandmother in the countryside. And when I say brat, I mean brat. His grandmother is played by a resident of the area who had never watched TV let alone acted before.

All he wants to do is torment his grandmother, play his Game Boy, and eat Kentucky Fried Chicken. In fact, the Kentucky Fried Chicken outbursts are my favorite parts of the movie. He keeps crying out he wants "Kentucky chicken! Kentucky chicken!" Trust me - it plays better on film than my lame blog post about it.

The dynamic between the two is what the movie is all about. Sure, you know what's going to happen but it doesn't matter, you still get into it. Not much happens during the movie and the kid ends the movie still a brat but at least not as big a one and he now loves his grandma.

This was a huge hit in South Korea.

Directed by Lee Jung-hyang
2002
DVD

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Persepolis

This is the first Iranian movie that Chris Larry has ever expressed interest in seeing and it isn't even Iranian, it's French!

I wonder if he's seen it yet. I don't see how he could dislike it. It is really good. The film is based on the autobiographical graphic novel about a girl growing up right after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. She is so outspoken in her criticism of the hypocrisy of the government that her parents send her to Vienna for her own safety.

In France, she is seen as more of an oddity than a real person and has an even more difficult time really finding her place there than she did in the increasingly repressive Iran.

The black and white imagery is striking, the themes of alienation are universal, and more importantly punk is not ded.

I wonder if my Iranian eye doctor (a parent of a former student) who escaped from Iran in the early 80's has seen this yet.

This movie would get a "Marilyn would love this" tag if it wasn't animated. My moms don't dig on the animation. Too bad.

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
2007
BAM

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Exiled

This isn't as good as Election or Triad Election but who cares when this movie is so damn fun?

Fans of Kill Bill, spaghetti westerns, and The Killer should sign up for this one.

This film has some of the most violent, most fun shoot em up scenes I've ever seen.

I need to see more Johnny To movies. I've now seen three in the past six months and I need more! More!

Directed by Johnny To
2006, U.S. Release: 2007
DVD

Monday, February 18, 2008

Away From Her

The first 30 minutes or so of this movie were a bit too Lifetime movie of the week for me at times. But the last hour was really good.

The first 30 minutes shows Julie Christie's Alzheimer's getting worse and it is set to an annoying soundtrack and not very effective direction by first time director Sarah Polley.

The last hour is about Christie's character (Fiona) in a rest home and how her husband deals with the aftermath. The fact that Fiona falls in love with another patient in the home makes the film that much more interesting. The direction and the flashbacks and the soundtrack and everything about the movie got better after the very beginning.

Julie Christie was amazing. Gordon Pinsent who played her husband was understated and also quite good as he proves he will try to do anything he can to ensure his spouse is happy even if it causes him extreme personal pain.

Watch this and The Savages back to back and vow to never get old.

Directed by Sarah Polley
2007
DVD

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Devil Came on Horseback

This is a depressing movie in all senses of the word. It tells the story of a former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle who went to Darfur as part of an African Union peacekeeping force. Which, of course, meant his hands were tied as far as actually helping anybody.

Instead, he took devastating picture after devastating picture of the aftermath of attack after attack in Darfur. Eventually, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times got in touch with Steidle and used his pictures to help draw attention to the atrocities.

And, of course, nothing changed. George (Not on my watch) Bush did nothing other than actually utter the word genocide which I guess is something.

The movie's second half is more interesting to me than the first. The first half lays out the genocide but is a bit clunky and a little too reliant on piped in old radio broadcasts to catch the viewer up. The second half where Steidle presents his case to the world and the leaders collectively yawn is damning and more interesting to watch.

I'm looking forward to the Justin Timberlake 2018 film, Motel Darfur, where he plays Steidle and all of us can feel bad that we didn't do anything but feel good about the fact that we will, of course, never let something like this happen again, now that we know about it and how to prevent future atrocities. Here here for Justin Timberlake, Best Actor of 2018!

Directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
2007
DVD

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Put this on your Netflix queue. This is one of those old movies that put a smile on my face from beginning to end.

This one is about a rough at the edges cop who punches a suspect after being attacked. It turns out that the suspect has a plate in his head or something and dies upon hitting the ground. The cop decides to dispose of the body and make it look like the real bad guys had done it. He falls in love with the dead man's wife and things get complicated.

Great film noir-like street scenes, tough gangsters, well meaning old coots, beautiful dames - these are the kinds of movies I can't get enough of.

On a side note, the fight scenes in this movie were pretty intense. Not Eastern Promises intense or anything but intense nonetheless. Nice job Otto Preminger.

Directed by Otto Preminger
1950
Film Forum

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Whirlpool

An odd little movie. Reminded me a bit of Preminger's earlier film, Laura, as well as Hitchcock's Spellbound. I love the whole genre of films from this era that delve into psychiatry and hypnosis. Because it always leads to some sort of framing someone for murder. In this case, it is the confused woman played by Gene Tierney.

Her character reminded me a bit of the January Jones character on Mad Men - a smart woman trapped by society having no real place for smart women.

This definitely isn't a must see but you could do worse - it is entertaining throughout.

Directed by Otto Preminger
1949
Film Forum

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Hitch-Hiker

A crazy murderer with a sleepy eye that never closes is on the loose. Two middle class friends on a fishing trip pick him up on the road. A gun is drawn. Problems ensue.

The movie isn't the best thing I've ever seen but I pretty much enjoy watching all movies like this from this era. It is low budget, shot well (reminded me of Detour), has some genuinely great moments (the hostages want to escape in the middle of the night but it is hard to tell if your captor is asleep or not when he has one eye that never CLOSES!), and is also notable for being directed by the only female director of the era.

Great poster too.

Directed by Ida Lupino
1953
TCM

Monday, February 11, 2008

Foreign Correspondent

I can't believe how many good to great movies Hitchcock made in his career. Sure, I've seen the well known films but I feel like that is just scratching the surface. Case in point - this movie. I barely knew anything about this film but I dug it a bit.

Joel McCrea plays a newspaper reporter sent to Europe to cover the coming war. He gets that but he gets a whole lot more! Double crosses, a leader of a peace organization who isn't what he appears to be, a love interest who is the daughter of the "peace" guy, car chases, plane crashes, a fake assassination, etc, etc. In particular the trickery involving windmills is the real highlight.

The movie is also a call-to-arms. Wake up America! The Nazis are coming! Get ready! The Star Spangled Banner plays over the end credits.

One thing I'm upset about though is that somehow I missed Hitchcock's cameo in the film. He always in his movies right? Or did he start that after 1940?

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1940
TCM

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Castle in the Sky

After choosing what we watched in my class during the occasional lunch and rainy day for the entire school year, I finally let a student bring a movie in. Not that she needed to twist my arm or anything. I love Miyazaki.

I didn't love this one though. I really liked the crazy flying ships and other such fun stuff that are evident in his other later movies like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle (in fact this film almost seems like an early rough draft for the later Howl's).

But a good portion of this was pure hokum. Not magical, just typical cartoon fare and bad dialogue. And James Van Der Beek does one of the voices. Need I say more? That being said, 25 percent of not good shouldn't ruin 75 percent really good. And overall it doesn't. I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more if I had watched it in Japanese rather than English recorded by Mandy Patinkin and Andy Dick, you know.

The kids (other than Bumblebee Girl who worked on her Obama posters) enjoyed this quite a bit. Although Girl Who Loves Sparkly Clothes but Hates Hillary Clinton said she hated it but she did watch every second and was quite into it. She truly does hate when we watch episodes of Planet Earth though.

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
1986
DVD

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Adventures of Robin Hood

I saw this at Prospect Park a few years ago and fell in love with it. The swashbucklingness of it all dazzled me. Errol Flynn is such a prettyboy badass, you know. And there's the Cowardly Lion. And there's the foxy Olivia de Havilland. And there's also this guy who played Friar Tuck. And there's the skeevy Prince John. And there's great sword fight after great sword fight. What a movie this is!

I showed it to my class. They dug it but some of the Saxons vs. the Normans stuff and the complicated language confused them a bit. But they dug the sword fights.

Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
1938
DVD

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Seven Chances

Back in the summer of 1993, a guy I worked with a guy at a summer camp who introduced me to Buster Keaton. He lent me a videotape that had this movie on it. So I've always had a soft spot for this movie that introduced me to the world of silent films.

I hadn't seen it since that summer but I thought it would be a good choice to show my class. It was.

While the first half is a bit slow, the second half keeps getting crazier and crazier and the finale has to be one of the best of any silent film.

The premise of the film is that Keaton has to get married by 7 pm of his 27th birthday (which just so happens to be today!!) to inherit 7 million dollars. Once the women in the town figure this out, they all want a piece of Buster. But he just wants to find his way back to his true love by 7 pm in one piece.

I'm cracking up just thinking about the chase scene that showcases Buster being chased by hundreds of women through the streets, across creeks and falling trees, down a mountain as he dodges dozens of huge boulders.

I've had a request from one student to show the class The General next. I think I can do that at some point! Girl Who Loves Sparkly Clothes But Hates Hillary Clinton said she thought that Keaton looked like Hugh Grant. What?

Did anybody see the remake of this - 1999's The Bachelor? How bad was it?

Directed by Buster Keaton
1925
DVD

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

City Lights

I've seen this movie many times. I first saw it at Film Forum about ten years ago or so. Since then I've shown it to my class on video the past few years. I love this movie. But I might be ready for a break from it for awhile.

Then again, this film has so many great bits - from the first scene of Chaplin asleep on the statue to the saving the drunk millionaire from committing suicide by drowning to the boxing scenes to the dogs ruining the party to the final moments with the used-to-be blind flower girl, this movie always gets to me.

However, after having seen this and The Kid so recently, I definitely think that The Kid is a better introduction of Chaplin to kids and will plan accordingly in what I show my classes from now on.

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
1931
Film Forum

Monday, February 04, 2008

Three Kings

This was good. Just not as good as I thought it would be after having not seen it in over eight years.

It seems odd that enough time has passed for a movie from 1999 to feel dated but this film does feel a bit dated. It definitely has a '99 Run Lola Run, Go, Fight Club type vibe to it. Not that that is bad necessarily but it definitely feels like a certain time and place.

Clooney is as good as ever and it is always a pleasure to see Ice Cube. But the film tries too hard in its politics - even if the politics are completely right.

All of this being said, I did enjoy watching it again. There are some real highlights to this movie - the scene of the first standoff between the Americans and the Iraqi soliders in front of the bunker, the scene where the Americans get fired upon and have to get rescued in a cloud of poison fog, and some of the driving in the desert scenes set to easy listening and the Beach Boys.

I just wasn't expecting to feel so old while watching a movie from the fairly recent past.

Directed by David O. Russell
1999
Cinemax

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Independence Day

I was smart to have avoided this movie for so long. Not sure what my excuse is for sitting through it at this point though. This movie is so bad. No drama, no suspense, this is a blockbuster by the numbers. Blah.

There were a fun few characters I guess. Judd Hirsch as the wise old Jew, Harvey Fierstein as the crazy gay Jew, and Jeff Goldblum as the bad T-shirt wearing Jew.

But this movie is so so so bland and dull. Give me V anyday. Or any other aliens attacking the world movie.

I have to admit though that I was very amused by something that occurred during the movie. SHR was brought to tears when Bill Pullman's (perhaps the blandest screen President ever) wife dies. What? Who could even remotely get invested in characters in such a stupidly written movie? Oh SHR ...

This movie needed more camp and less crappiness.

Directed by Roland Emmerich
1996
Starz