Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

I am ashamed to admit that I have never read any Hunter S. Thompson. I think that I thought his articles were too long back when I was reading Rolling Stone in 1984. Either that or I wasn't interested because his articles weren't about Huey Lewis. I still haven't read any of his books. Although I must admit I am enjoying his recent tweets.

This documentary was a good Cliff's Notes for what I missed out on. I need to rectify my lack of Thompson reading. The footage from '98's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas made me nostalgic for seeing the film with Chris Larry and Marc (was Mooney there too?) at a Manhattan theater that lacked AC during the sweltering summer heat.

My only complaint was the soundtrack. It reminded me of Forrest Gump in its super obvious choices kind of way.

Directed by Alex Gibney
2008
DVD

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

At the Death House Door

Decent enough doc but nothing stupendous. It is about a minister, Carroll Picket, who advises death row inmates in their last hours who has decided that he is strongly anti-death penalty. His pro death penalty stance changed over the years based on the case of a man who he believed to be innocent. After each one of the 95 inmates that he spent time with in their final hours were executed, Picket recorded his thoughts on cassette. The best scenes in the film are the one where he listens to portions of those cassettes.

Overall though, this was a fairly standard doc and not nearly as captivating as the last anti railroading innocent men doc I saw, The Trials of Darryl Hunt.

Directed by Steve James and Peter Gilbert
2008
IFC

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frost/Nixon

I think I would have liked this a lot more if I hadn't seen the play. The performances were good and the screenplay was good. But I'd heard the good lines before. And perhaps it was because I'd already seen the play but it just didn't feel as dramatic. I was riveted by the play and was a little bored by the movie at times. I don't think Ron Howard is that great of a director so maybe that had something to do with it? Or maybe I was just tired but for whatever reason, this movie didn't stick with me the way I wanted it to.

Nixon was such a tortured soul. He's an endless source of fascination to people years later. But the film did feel a bit irrelevant to me based on what's going on right now. It was a period piece in a way that the more insightful Good Night and Good Luck wasn't. Yes, that film was about the 50's but it also had a lot to say about current events. This film didn't have much to say about today's current events other than Bush is so much less interesting than Nixon. Yet another reason to hate the guy.

The Noiseboy agrees. His review:

Frost/Nixon was just okay, far from the great film I thought it may be based upon the subject matter and the trailer. Frank Langella, who plays Nixon, does a commendable job. But I had a hard time buying into Frost’s character. I just didn’t find him, or his struggles for credibility, to be all that compelling. Frost pulled off a near miracle in getting Nixon, who was backed by an army of shrewd politicos and media types and was himself a wise old man, to own up to Watergate.

But on the silver screen, Frost seems like a total hack who more or less lucked into Nixon’s confession, based upon a few nights of hard work. His character seems shallow and too transparent, and by film’s end I didn’t believe in his transformation. As for my ambivalence about the film, I blame the screenwriters, who focused too little time on the actual interviews themselves, missing a golden opportunity to follow their own conclusions — that the close-ups of the TV screen revealed more about Nixon’s character than a thousand words — to the logical end of concentrating more heavily on the heat of the moment.

Also, for a film whose protagonist continually battles to resist portraying Nixon in a sympathetic light, Frost/Nixon does just that. By the film’s end, I feel sorry for the guy. Overall, I just didn’t find the film to be that believable, which is sad since it’s not a work of fiction.


He brings up a good point about the television screen. The interviews were handled exceedingly well in the play. There were big TV screens set up on stage that transmitted live footage of the actors on screen during the interviews. It was quite effective. In the movie, we were already watching a screen so this staging was not necessary. It was missed.

Directed by Ron Howard
2008
Amc Loews 19th St.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Captain Blood

Watched this one with my class. One kid had already seen it and absolutely loved it. It was pretty good but not as action packed as I was hoping. Some of the girls were impressed with how pretty Olivia De Havilland was. And how.

This was Errol Flynn's first big movie. Another interesting fact about this movie is that apparently they used stock footage from old silent films to fill in some of the gaps. I love that.

Despite wanting this to be a little bit better, there are some great scenes including the great sword fight on the beach.

Regarding pirate movies, I much prefer the 1926 silent film The Black Pirate. Then again, it might simply be the difference between watching a movie at lunch with a bunch of fourth graders and watching a movie at Prospect Park with a live score on a beautiful summer night.

Directed by Michael Curtiz
1935
DVD

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Gunfighter

I saw this four years ago as part of a Film Forum Westerns series. It was one of my favorites of the series. I enjoyed it just as much the second time.

It isn't terribly original but it awesome nonetheless. Jimmy Ringo is a great character. Gregory Peck looks like Rafael Palmeiro. Karl Malden as the amiable barkeep is fun to watch. It is a crisp 80 minutes long.

It is the kind of movie that I imagine the average 7-year-old who went to double features every Saturday afternoon would have loved. I'd imagine David Milch loved it. There are some moments with the school teacher ex of Jimmy Ringo's that reminded me of Deadwood.

This is definitely one of my favorite Westerns.

Directed by Henry King
1950
Cinemax

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gunfight at the O.K. Coral

I love Kirk Douglas. I love Burt Lancaster. But I was a bit bored by this. I loved the last shootout though.

I don't know - maybe I'm just a bit burned out on Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp these days after watching this and this over the past year.

Directed by John Sturges
1957
Cinemax

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brazil

This is one of those movies that's fun to check in on every now and again. Re-watching this recently made me want to re-read 1984. Instead, I decided to read Brave New World. Apparently, I can't get enough of the future is going to be awfully fucked up type fiction. That reminds me - I haven't seen Blade Runner in awhile.

I don't really have that much to say about this movie other than it had been ten years since I'd seen it and the thing that stuck with me the most were some of the more spectacular visuals - in particular - the big operation/death scene. I had also forgotten about the brilliant propaganda posters peppered throughout the city.

Directed by Terry Gilliam
1985
Showtime

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Man Push Cart

Director Ramin Bahrani has his heart in the right place. However, his second feature Chop Shop was a bit better than this one though. Unfortunately, neither are as good as I wanted them to be.

This one is about a former Pakistani rock star living in New York City making a living selling food from a push cart. He gets help from a somewhat condescending fellow Pakistani immigrant and becomes friends with a pretty Spanish immigrant working at a newsstand. This is a world that I'd love to see their stories told in movies more. Enough Kevin James already.

I liked the first 30 minutes but then got a bit bored. There was a lot of this film that I liked as an idea but didn't think Bahrani pulled it off as a narrative. As SHR said, "I'd rather see a documentary about a push cart guy than this movie." Maybe this movie just needed a fat guy falling down though.

Directed by Ramin Bahrani
2006
DVD

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The World According to Garp

Nostalgia time. Another one of those movies that I hadn't seen in years and years but yet remembered almost every moment of. I must have seen this movie at least 6 or 7 times on video during the 80's. I loved it so much that I read the book in 5th or 6th grade and still can't believe that my dad let me read it. For comparison's sake, he wouldn't let me read Mike Hammer books.

I still remember all the descriptions of sex and not having any sort of reference point for it. In high school, I lent the book to some hot girl that pretended to flirt with me. I never got it back. If I could remember her name, maybe I'd track her down on Facebook and demand my book back.

This movie reminds me of hanging out with my best friend of my early elementary school years and stealing his sister's copy of Wifey and reading it. It reminds me of sleepovers at his house talking about sex and watching James Bond movies.

This movie was made way before Robin Williams was the joke that he was to become. I thought he was great in this movie. I loved watching it with SHR (it was her first time seeing it) and reminiscing. A good adaptation and still the best of any of Irving's books on screen - not that I've seen them all.

Directed by George Roy Hill
1982
Showtime

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Joy Division

I wish that I had seen this before I saw Control. It would have greatly added to my enjoyment of that film. I didn't really know much at all about the band before seeing Control. That film felt a bit like it was made for people who already knew a lot about the band. This very good documentary would have given me the necessary background to more fully judge Control on its merits.

My only complaint about this film was that it went really heavy on how the band perfectly encapsulated Manchester. But it never really explained how or touched on it otherwise.

All around though, this was entertaining and well worth seeing if you have any interest in the band.

Directed by Grant Gee
2008
DVD

Monday, January 12, 2009

Salesman

I've wanted to see this movie for ten years and over my winter break, I finally got around to actually seeing it. It was well worth the wait. I loved it. I want to watch it again right now. Rent this. It's perfect.

The film is about traveling Bible salesman in the late 60's. Some are simply hard working blokes. Some are real shady like. But it's all about making a buck so all's fair in a sales pitch. The movie alternates between the guys shooting the shit while playing cards, attending salesman conventions, driving around looking for sales, and many scenes of trying to close the deal. I couldn't get enough of watching these guy try to convince people to lay out a lot of money for the new edition of a brand spanking new illustrated bible. Illustrated! What home wouldn't be enriched?

I can't stop thinking about this movie. Every single moment is entertaining as hell. The 85 minutes were way too short. I wanted more.

Check out the trailer.



Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Mitchell Zwerin
1969
DVD

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Annie Hall

I can't believe that SHR had never seen this until we watched it recently. After watching it with her, I couldn't believe that she didn't love it. Although she did say that maybe it was because she just didn't like the L.A. parts. To be honest, the first time I saw this, I also felt disappointed by the L.A. scenes. But L.A. is supposed to look dumb. That's kind of the point.

I hadn't seen this movie in maybe ten years but I remembered every line. The movie seems very dated yet utterly timeless. The dated aspect makes it an even more enjoyable view. I'm not sure if this is even my favorite Woody Allen film of this era, Manhattan probably is, but this film definitely meant quite a bit to me in my formative years. Hell, I even used the whole "Let's kiss right now so we don't have to worry about it at the end of the date" line to good effect.

Some of my favorite parts:

- Woody blowing cocaine all over the place with his sneeze.

- Woody as a kid and the weirdos in his classroom.

- Woody afraid of the universe expanding.

- Making fun of Bob Dylan while on a date with Shelley Duvall.

- La dee da, la dee da, la la

- The subtitles while Woody and Keaton converse upon their first meeting.

- Christopher Walken's creepiness

- The opening monologue

- Pulling Marshall McLuhan out of the crowd to tell off an obnoxious know-it-all.

- Woody's parents arguing whether or not it is okay if the black housekeeper steals from them.

- Joey Nickels

- The house under the Thunderbolt

- Woody's frozen smile while listening to the horrible stand up.

- Paul Simon's sleaziness.

Hell, these are just the first few things that come to mind. I love the whole damn thing.

This movie reminded me that I still haven't seen The Sorrow and the Pity. I have to rectify that soon.

Directed by Woody Allen
1977
PBS

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Operation Filmmaker

What a brilliant train wreck! Not the movie itself but rather what it documents. I loved it.

A year after the invasion of Iraq, liberal do gooder Liev Schreiber saw a feature on MTV about an aspiring Iraqi filmmaker named Muthana Mohmed whose film school and favorite screening room were now in rubble because of the war. Schreiber was about to head to Prague to direct his first feature film, Everything Is Illuminated. Schreiber thought it would be a great and benevolent gesture on his part to pay for Mohmed's way to Prague so he could intern on the set and learn how to make movies.

Almost from the beginning, Mohmed is a problem. He resents having to be an intern and doesn't really do much of anything. It also becomes increasingly clear that Mohmed really doesn't want to be a filmmaker - he is simply an opportunist. He consistently wants to freeload and ask for money from his benefactors at a dizzying rate. After awhile, he completely had worn out his welcome.

But that's when The Rock comes to the rescue. The Rock? Say what? I don't want to get too much into the twists and turns of the movie because then I'll ruin it for those who have not seen it. See it to see how it all went down. You won't be disappointed.

Directed by Nina Davenport
2008
PBS

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Let the Right One In

You can keep your Twilight and its ilk. I'll take Let the Right One In. Granted, I really don't know anything about Twilight but I am completely apathetic about it. This Swedish film is pretty damn creepy.

There's just something about Sweden in the winter that's scary. Mix in preteen vampires, bloodletting, a killer pool scene, a main character who looks like a kid in my class this year, and you end up with one of my favorite films this year.

I love how it weaves the sad sack story of a boy getting mercilessly bullied in school with the eternal outsider story that is a vampire's life. This is a good movie - a movie that will be referenced in horror circles for years to come.

Imagine Show Me Love meets Nosferatu and you kind of end up with this movie.

Directed by Thomas Alfredson
2008
BAM

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky is an interesting one. I liked Pi but was a bit confused by it. I really liked Requiem for a Dream and all of its dirtiness. Whatever you do, don't bother with The Fountain. Aronofsky's 4th feature is damn entertaining. It might not have the most inventive plot, at it's heart it is an old school melodrama. But who cares? Mickey Rourke kicks so much ass. I wish that I hadn't seen any of the previews before seeing this because I loved how Aronofsky didn't show Rourke's face for the first few minutes. The look on the face of the fan getting his autograph when he looks at Rourke up close is quite telling - he's looking at a freakshow.

The wrestling scenes are fascinating to watch. The grocery store scenes are funny as hell. The whole movie is incredibly sad. I loved Rourke's speech in the ring before his big rematch. I loved the last shot. I loved the camaraderie amongst the wrestlers. I loved seeing some of the tricks of the trade. I really like the Springsteen song. The Evan Rachel Wood stuff was a bit overblown but necessary for the story. The Marisa Tomei stuff was good enough but the whole stripper equals wrestler plot line wasn't as subtle as Aronofsky thinks that it is. Between this and another recent movie of hers, is Tomei on a mission to show her breasts on screen as much as possible?

This movie will get at least two Oscar nominations - Rourke and Springsteen and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets more. Perhaps a Best Director nod? Would a Best Picture nomination be too farfetched?

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
2008
Sunshine Cinemas

Monday, January 05, 2009

Milk

Even though this film doesn't fall into standard biopic format of cramming a person's entire life into one film, it still felt a bit rushed. Two hours is not nearly long enough to tell this story with the depth that it needs. It felt like an excellent starting point for a 9th grade history class to watch. I was left with many questions after seeing the film and am excited to see the 1984 documentary on Milk. I also wanted to know a lot more about Dan White and what made him tick.

That being said, Sean Penn was pretty darn great. And the murder scene was one of the most memorable scenes of the year. And I did get a lump in my throat about the whole hope monologue near the end. All in all, a good film. An important film to have in the public eye. Just not a great film.

Directed by Gus Van Sant
2008
BAM

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Heaven Can Wait

I've been trying to find good movies to watch with a pregnant SHR. She really has no attention span. This movie shows me that maybe we need to have a bit of an Ernst Lubitsch fest over the next couple of months. His movies are smart, fun, and easy to follow. Perfect.

This movie is about a man, Henry Van Cleve who upon his death heads to the place where so many people have told him to go - to hell. So he obliges and asks Mr. Satan for admittance. But the incredibly polite Satan isn't so sure and wants to hear Van Cleve's story before agreeing to send him to hell.

This film fits in nicely with the Lubitsch canon. And it has my new favorite actor in the world - Laird Cregar who plays Satan in this. And it also has Eugene Pallette - the frog-voiced actor who played Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Not to mention the scrumptious Gene Tierney, and the dapper Don Ameche. Both SHR and I agreed that he kind of looked like a mixture of Brad Pitt and Gary Cooper as a young man and a combination of Brad Pitt and Jon Stewart as an older man.

There's a kooky grandpa, there's the gay 1890's, there's glorious Technicolor, there's excellent facial hair. This movie has everything. I'd seen this a few years back at Film Forum. I loved it as much the second time as I did the first time. I should re-watch the Warren Beatty version as well. I have fond memories of seeing that in the theater with my mom. Plus the gay 90's have been updated to the raunchy 70's with Beatty as a Rams quarterback. Can it possibly be as good as I remember it? Perhaps even better?

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
1943
Cinemax

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I saw this a few years back at Film Forum and recorded it because SHR loves Jimmy Stewart so much. She gave it about 3 minutes before calling it quits. Apparently, she only likes a younger James.

I really like this movie. Sure, it starts a little hokey. And sure, you keep hoping to hear the Gene Pitney song to no avail. But this is a very good movie - a very good Western. Stewart and Wayne are both very good.

Wayne's gunslinging character is a relic making way for the future - the way of the law as personified by the city slicker lawyer Stewart. They both rally against the uncouth bully, Liberty Valance, played by the stellar (as usual) Lee Marvin.

This is the movie where John Wayne calls everyone "pilgrim" and you don't mind. This is the movie with the gorgeous cinematography. This is the movie where the legend is better than the truth, so dammit, print the damn legend. The vanishing mythical West.

Who needs the Pitney song in the movie when you have the magic of You Tube?


Directed by John Ford
1962
Cinemax