Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller has got to go. He is past the point of being able to make a good movie or be good in a movie. He was so irritating to me in this. Jack Black was pretty annoying as well except for the funny moments when he was supposed to be acting.

Nick Nolte was good. Danny McBride was good. I liked seeing Jay Baruchel of Undeclared fame in such a prominent role. Steve Coogen wasn't so great except for his exit scene. Matthew McConaughey was fine. Tom Cruise was embarrassingly bad. This was the role that was going to catapult him back into relevance?

Robert Downey was great of course. He was brilliant. If the movie had been more of him and less of Stiller maybe I would have liked this more.

The satire really wasn't that funny and the fart jokes weren't nearly as good as the ones in Step Brothers. I felt like it was a mediocre stretched out version of funny parodies that were on Mr. Show ten years ago like Coupon: The Movie.

The movie seemed endless. Maybe I was just too tired. I'm curious to see what others think about this but it just didn't do much for me. The film has gotten very good reviews so maybe I just didn't get it.

Directed by Ben Stiller
2008
Cobble Hill

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Winnipeg

I saw this movie at the beginning of the summer and for some reason hadn't written about it until now. Sometimes this happens to me when I really like a movie and am not quite sure how to explain how great it is because I know whatever I say will sound trite. Oh well, I've got to write about it at some point. So I'll say this - if you haven't seen any Guy Maddin movies, you should. And this one might be a good place to start. I like his movies with a bit of a structure, just a little bit to make it go down easier. This one had enough for me.

Ostensibly, this is a documentary about Maddin's hometown. But, of course, it is not nearly so simple. It is about the nostalgia of memories, not really fact, but what should have been fact. He has described it as a "docu-fantasia."

Hockey rinks, the glory and the destruction. Goons, players taking a last piss before the rink was destroyed. He moves into his old house and hires an actress to play his mother.

Later, the viewer is treated to images of numerous historical monuments in the city as well as learning about such events as the Winnipeg General Strike, the defeat of the Winnipeg Jets, and even the Golden Boy pageant scandal. Not to mention sleepwalkers and the racetrack tragedy that found numerous horses sent to an icy death only to become a tourist attraction for the rest of the season. And, oh yeah, how could I forget the fantasy train rides through the old Winnipeg of his dreams with the floating kielbasa hanging from the ceiling. So bizarre. So completely brilliant.

My Winnipeg touches on a lot of the usual Maddin touchstones: hockey, moms, life as an old silent film, dreams and it does it as well if not better than any of his previous films. This will be high on my year end list.

Directed by Guy Maddin
2007, U.S. Release: 2008
IFC Center

Monday, August 25, 2008

Diminished Capacity

I've been a big fan of Terry Kinney since Oz so I was excited to see that his directorial debut was coming out this summer. It is by far the funniest movie I've ever seen about Alzheimer's.

Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick make a good pair. The comedy is sentimental at times and other times quite broad. And a big part of the plot is about selling a rare baseball card. The inner baseball card geek in me got pumped up for discussions of mint and near mint and good and very good and how good really means bad. I haven't laughed so hard in a knowing way in a movie since that fantasy baseball scene in Knocked Up.

This was a nice, low key, charming movie. Nothing spectacular but fairly entertaining nonetheless.

Directed by Terry Kinney
2008
Cobble Hill Cinemas

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

From 1969's Take the Money and Run through 2001's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, I'd seen every single Woody Allen directed film except for one - Shadows and Fog. Starting with 2002's Hollywood Ending through last year's Cassandra's Dream, I'd only bothered to see one of his films - Match Point.

So I was excited to hear such positive reviews from my friends as well as reading many good reviews. Still, I was a bit apprehensive to get too caught up in the hype. 2005's Match Point was way overhyped. The movie is good enough but nothing spectacular.

Needless to say, I was shocked to enjoy this film as much as I did. Where the hell did this come from? Wow! I guess Allen has used his last few films of movies with Scarlett Johanssen in Europe to hone his craft because this movie is downright great. Ok, maybe not great great but very very good. Granted, I haven't seen many of his movies the past few years but I'd say that this is my favorite Woody Allen film since 1992's Husbands and Wives. Although Mitch is partial to 1993's Manhattan Murder Mystery but I don't remember that one too well.

The film is unmistakably Woody Allen but it doesn't feel like one like almost all of his other ones do. Sure, Vicky is a bit neurotic and Cristina is a bit crazy but I've never seen characters like Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz in an Allen movie. Maybe I just can't remember all of his movies so maybe I'm overstating the originality of this film compared to his entire filmography. Even his last decent movie, Match Point, was built upon his ideas from a previous Allen movie, 1989's Crimes and Misdemeanors. This almost felt a bit like a Rohmer film to me but maybe I'm just thinking that because of the beautiful European locale? Either way, I was completely taken with the movie - with the characters, the situations, the settings. Everything.

If Allen used to make good movie after good movie, he might now be to the point that he only makes a good one every four or five tries. But I'm excited. This one was so good that I hope he's finally entering a brilliant late phase of his career after misfiring for so long.

Directed by Woody Allen
2008
Kips Bay

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Best of Youth

I'm so glad that I finally saw this. I missed it when it played at Film Forum three years ago and regretted it. It was on many Top 10 lists at the end of the year and Mitch raved about it.

Originally on Italian television, The Best of Youth is a sprawling 6 hour epic about two brothers. It takes place from 1966 through the early 2000's. It is heartbreaking at times, exhilarating at others, and always really good. Even though I didn't know much about Italian history (Who knew there was a big flood in Florence in '66?) or political strife but it didn't matter because the characters are so richly drawn.

I really liked this but it made me a little sad to think that I haven't seen a good film from Italy in a number of years. What's the deal with that? Is film dead there or are good films just not coming out here?

Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana
2003, U.S. Release: 2005
DVD

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Frantic

I remember being disappointed with this when I saw it on video 20 years ago. I thought I'd give it another chance. I shouldn't have.

Harrison Ford's flaws as an actor come way out in this film. He's so wooden and is a bit of a prick in the movie but not in a fun, charming roguish way. The pacing is slow. The fight scenes are not shot well. Even the Morricone score sucked - it suffers from late 80's glossy saxitude.

If this had been a Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant, it might have been a classic. Instead, it is a big fat dud.

Directed by Roman Polanski
1988
Universal HD

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Lady Vanishes

This was Hitchcock's next to last film before coming to the U.S. And it's a good one. Does he have any bad ones? Jeremy implored me to see this awhile ago and I finally got around to seeing it. I'm glad I did. Glorious fun. Margaret Lockwood was great. I love Michael Redgrave's moustache and the premise is fantastic.

It seems that a dear old governess is supposed to get whacked. There's a whole elaborate plan to do it. Margaret Lockwood becomes her friend but then the old lady vanishes, hence the title. No one believes her because they are all in on it or simply don't want the train to stop because they might miss an important cricket match! Of course, Michael Redgrave and his remarkable 'stache believe her and the plot is set in motion.

I love Hitchcock.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1938
TCM

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunshine

This movie seems like it was Danny Boyle's attempt to re-imagine the sci-fi genre in the way that he re-worked the zombie genre in 28 Days Later. Unfortunately, he didn't quite succeed like he did with 28 Days Later.

The first hour is good enough though. Shades of 2001 and Alien abound but it also reminded me of those silly 80's movies that I loved back in the day like DeepStar Six and even the Vin Diesel classic Pitch Black. However, I would gladly watch either one of those again than this one.

The premise is interesting - the sun is dying and Earth is doomed because of it. A mission is sent to detonate a nuclear explosion to reignite the sun. Bad stuff happens and a naked Freddy Krueger lookalike makes an appearance. Dumb.

Everything looked really cool though but for the most part it just made me sad that I don't get to watch Battlestar Galactica in HD.

Directed by Danny Boyle
2007
Cinemax

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunrise

Hell, yeah! I loved this movie. Absolutely loved it. Granted, the live score wasn't quite as good as I had hoped but no matter - nothing could take away from the brilliance of this film. I saw it over a month ago and I still am replaying scenes from the film in my head.

I loved the superimposed carnival of sorts type effects. I loved how scary some of the storm scenes were and how creepy some of the "I'm gonna murder my wife" parts were. Visually, there were elements that reminded me of Metropolis. And in the freakiness, I was reminded a bit of M.

The cityscapes were astounding. The cinematography floored me. The vixen was great. The drunk pig was funny. It also had many sweet and tender moments as well. Really, this movie has it all.

Mitch took a nap.

Directed by F.W. Murnau
1927
BAM

Friday, August 15, 2008

That's Entertainment

I admit - I kind of like a good musical now and again. I'd wanted to see this for years and when it was on PBS the other night, I decided to give it a shot. Basically, it is a movie made up of clips of old musicals from 1928- 1958. The old ones were pretty boring. The Judy Garland ones were pretty boring. But the Fred Astaire clips were astounding. As were the Gene Kelly ones. I could do without Seven Brides for Seven Brothers though. I read while this was on and only gave my full attention to it about half of the time.

I think I'm kind of obsessed with Esther Williams now. I couldn't find the clip that they showed but I did fine one close enough.
Other interesting aspects: I really liked the 15 minute segments that each narrator received. Each was decked out in their best 70's regalia. Sinatra's tie was humongous, Elizabeth Taylor was a freak, Mickey Rooney is a nutjob. There was also Gene Kelly looking dapper and Bing Crosby as well. The movie came out right after Watergate and America needed some good 'ol nostalgia. This movie was a big hit and spawned an immediate sequel.

I don't think I'll ever get over that completely bizarre clip from a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie that featured an entire chorus of dancing men done up in blackface. This was presented in 1974 with nary a commment from the narrators.

Directed by Jack Haley, Jr.
1974
PBS

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Step Brothers

I liked this a whole hell of a lot more than I expected. It is so utterly ridiculous in a good way. Not every joke works but enough do and enough do really well. The first third is definitely my favorite but the fun times last throughout the entire movie. Don't question the Apatow.

How much you like this movie kind of depends on how much you still enjoy the same old silly Will Ferrell thing. Personally, I haven't grown tired of it. Jim and I snuck into this after The Pineapple Express so the price was definitely right.

And if nothing else, the a capella version of Sweet Child O' Mine was incredible.

Directed by Adam McKay
2008
Lincoln Square

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pineapple Express

Completely silly but so much fun. So many funny lines. So many absurd situations. I don't care how many Apatow Factory movies I see - I like them all. This is no Superbad or anything even if it shares a very similar story structure of male bonding but I still liked it a lot.

James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen are all so good in this. Plus the Ed Begley scene was hilarious. Would I have wanted a little more comedy and a little less sprawling action scenes? I guess, but the action scenes are part of the silliness. I loved the stoner wrap up at the end so they could remind themselves of what actually happened. Danny McBride is friggin' hilarious and makes me want to see All the Real Girls again. I loved the Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the Shins line. And I've fully come around to being a big fan of the Huey Lewis song.

Directed by David Gordon Green
2008
Lincoln Square

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Giant

You know what? F George Stevens. I've only seen two of his movies now -this and Shane. And neither one is very good. And this one was long, long, long - 3 hours and 20 minutes. But I stuck it out. I wanted to see it after having been in Marfa, TX (where this was filmed) earlier in the month. And, believe it or not, I've never actually seen a James Dean movie.

The first hour was slow, the last hour not so good. But there definitely were pleasures to be had in the other 80 minutes. The rise of James Dean's character Jett Rink from a nobody to a rich bastard is pretty great. The five minute sequence of Dean striking oil and fighting Rock Hudson after hitting on Elizabeth Taylor on the porch is amazing. The acting throughout was great. Dennis Hopper, Hudson, Taylor, Dean. Dean was pretty damn smoldering as the young Jett. The older Jett though didn't even look good in a moustache and SHR loves most 'staches.

But it was too damn slow, too melodramatic. I will give credit though to the message of tolerance for those with darker skin. For 1956, an interracial couple must have been something else.

SHR kept commenting that different actors looked like a variety of today's stars. Some were plausible - Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Thompson... But James Dean as Ichiro. Really? Ichiro?


What do you think?
Directed by George Stevens
1956
HD Net Movies

Friday, August 08, 2008

Empire of the Sun

I still am surprised that I had never seen this movie before. I remember when it came out, Stone Groove said that it got bad reviews and seemed boring. So I took his word for it at the time and never saw it.

I loved the first hour set in 1941. I was completely enthralled by it. But the last 90 minutes (set in 1945) weren't nearly as good. They weren't bad but they didn't have the same energy and thrilling filmmaking of the 1941 sequences. Not to mention, Christian Bale plays the kid in '41 and '45 but he looks exactly the same. I'm not sure what the solution is besides having a different actor play the later years or perhaps better makeup - not sure but that was a bit silly. But nothing was as silly as Bale lipsynching with his angelic voice that clearly wasn't his.

Overall, I'm glad I saw this. There were an innumerable amount of beautiful images and exciting scenes. But this wasn't the great film that I was hoping for.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
1987
HD Net Movies

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Sugarland Express

This was Spielberg's first theatrical release. The movie is based on a true story of a Texas couple on the lam who took a police officer hostage on the way to steal back their son from a foster family. They became heroes in the process. Unfortunately for Spielberg, the movie flopped. It is the only Spielberg movie that I can think of that doesn't really feel like a Spielberg movie. He was just figuring his shit out in this one.

A lot of the Spielberg elements were in play here though. Adventure, comic relief, perfect camera work. Overall though, the movie never really came together. It reminded me a bit of a lightweight Badlands with a whole lot of the climatic police car chase with dozens of vehicles in hot pursuit from the later The Blues Brothers.

The film almost felt a bit like Spielberg was trying to make a more serious type film like Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde, but really just wanted to make a fun adventure comedy. With the following year's Jaws, Spielberg became Spielberg. Even the John Williams score didn't sound like John Williams.

Goldie Hawn was funny I guess but it seemed like she spent the whole movie screaming.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
1974
HD Net Movies

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Remember the Titans

This is one of those movies that I wouldn't have minded seeing on cable for a number of years but I refused to watch it pan and scan style every time SHR watched it on TNT. When I saw that it was on in HD, I jumped at the chance to finally see one of SHR's favorite sports movies of recent years.

Eh, whatever. This movie was good enough I guess but it sure was no The Rookie. I'd love to see the documentary about the team rather than the hokeyness of this endeavor. Still, it was fun enough despite the Forrest Gumpness of all the period music to fit every scene. Blacks and whites begin to get along - let's play Peace Train, etc, etc. Most of the songs were from like 5 years before 1971 anyway. How many hip black high school kids were grooving to the Temptations by 1971 anyway? And if I had to hear Ain't No Mountain High Enough one more time, I would have gone mad.

It was great seeing Avon Barksdale again though.

Directed by Boaz Yakin
2000
Starz

Friday, August 01, 2008

Once Upon a Time in the West

Is this one of the best movies ever or what? The movie is perfect. Absolutely perfect. The cinematography is perfect. The landscape is perfect. The fight scenes are perfect. The Ennio Morricone score is perfect. The harmonica playing is perfect. Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, and Jason Robards are all perfect. The eye candy is perfect. The story is perfect. The dialogue is perfect.

Perhaps my favorite line in the movie is Jason Robards to Claudia Cardinale, "You remind me of my mother - she was the biggest whore in Alameda but the finest woman who ever lived."

If you haven't seen this movie, rectify that right now. This was my second time and I'm ready for a third.

Directed by Sergio Leone
1968
Cinemax