Friday, February 27, 2009

Midnight Express

I thought I had seen this with my dad when I was 12-years-old or so. But he insists that he started it and never finished it. So now I'm not sure. He probably recorded it, we started it together, he got bored, and I finished it.

Either way, I didn't remember much about this other than it seemed like it would really suck to be in a Turkish prison. I made a note to myself to never try to smuggle hash through the airport in Istanbul.

At first, SHR and I didn't feel very sorry for the idiot. Do the crime, do the time. But then things got a bit dicier in the second half. After an extended prison sentence, Randy Quaid going ballistic, more and more claustrophobic situations, biting tongues out, masturbation while the main character made his fiance press her breasts against the glass partition upon her visit, and an attempted rape by a guard - the shit had really hit the fan. By that time, SHR had long bailed out.

By the end, I had completely been won over by the movie. Stone Groove, give it another chance!

On another note, I loved the soundtrack - kind of a cross between Twin Peaks and Assault on Precinct 13. Mitch feels the same way.

Directed by Alan Parker
1978
Cinemax

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trouble In Paradise

I've been trying to rent some lighthearted films to watch with SHR as the date of Double Trouble's arrival inches closer. I like Lubitsch a lot. This is a classic. All things pointed to awesomeness. However, we both were a little disappointed in this. Chalk it up to having a hard time concentrating on movies right now. Or perhaps we had unrealistic expectations.

But whatever the reason, we weren't in love with this movie. Perhaps we keep hoping for a love story as charming as Lubitsch's later film The Shop Around the Corner? There were really fun moments in this tale of scam artists and pickpockets and high society but overall I did find the 80 minutes a bit slow. I'll blame it on Double Trouble.

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
1932
DVD

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coraline

I read this book to my class a few years back as a read aloud. They were enthralled but also a bit creeped out by it. It is scary! Especially for a third grader. Shit, to go into another world where your mom and dad are the same except crazy nice - except for the fact that they have buttons for eyes! What? Scary. I loved the book.

Fortunately, the movie didn't disappoint at all. It is excellent. And the 3D completely enhanced the experience. I can't say enough good things about this movie. Even the changes for the movie that are different from the book worked exceedingly well.

What kid hasn't felt like her parents are ignoring them and don't have time for them? What kid hasn't hoped to have different parents? But as the tagline suggests - be careful what you wish for.

What starts as a fun adventure and a possible dream that Coraline wishes was real turns into a scary nightmare that she desperately wishes was merely a dream. And when the dead kids appear and Coraline's Other Mother starts making threats about buttons for eyes, this film catapults itself into instant classic status.

Double Trouble will be at least 10 before I scare the living daylights out of them with this gem.

I want to see Henry Selick direct either The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore. The dreamlike reality of those two books would work really well with Selick's animation. Hell, there's even a talking cat in this movie. Perfect for Murakami.

Directed by Henry Selick
2009
Times Square 25

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Deer Hunter

I originally saw this in the early 90's at Richard Judy's house. Undoubtedly, we had just finished watching some Baseball Tonight and were settling onto Mrs. Judy's couch with a box of Peanut Butter Crunch and some sweet iced tea. Glory days!

Back then, I was disappointed in this film. I had had heard it was a war classic! What was up with all the long shots at a wedding and Meryl Streep being all pouty and shit? Give me some Russian Roulette, bitches!

Upon re-watching this film, I enjoyed it a bit more. Still, give me Apocolpyse Now any day.

A few thoughts --

1. For some reason, I had forgotten De Niro was in this. How could I have done that?
2. Christopher Walken sure has feminine features, don't he?
3. The first Russian Roulette scene is riveting. The later one near the end is a bit silly but necessary for dramatical purposes.
4. What was I thinking back in the early 90's? Those Pittsburgh scenes are faboo.

Directed by Michael Cimino
1978
Cinemax

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Times of Harvey Milk

I wish that I had seen this before seeing Milk. I definitely think that I would have enjoyed that film more if I had seen this one first. The documentary gives a much better depth of understanding to the events and, in particular, Dan White.

The doc is very 1980's and the narration by Harvey Fierstein occasionally distracted me, but overall this is a must see documentary.

Directed by Robert Epstein
1984
DVD

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Funny Games

Shawn and I saw the original at Film Forum back in the fall of '97. In fact, this was definitely one of the first films I saw there. I remember that Shawn didn't particularly care for it. I liked it a lot more than she did. It fit in so nicely with other movies from that era like Man Bites Dog in a "Let's make a completely sadistic movie but then have characters address how sadistic it is thus making you,the audience, feel guilty for enjoying the violence."

As a kid, I was terrified of the idea of a home invasion. So this film really resonated with me upon first viewing. I was completely caught up in the suspense of the fate of the family held hostage. I was riveted even if I thought Haneke's filmmaking kind of reeked of arrogant scolding.

I really like Haneke's movies. Even his slighter films lead to interesting discussions. His last film, Cache, was extremely divisive amongst my friends who saw it. I like movies that lead to such strong reactions.

This remake more than held my attention but it didn't blow me away or anything. I'm sure that if I hadn't seen the original, I would have been more invested in where the story was heading. Instead, I just enjoyed the sadistic silliness. Usually Michael Pitt irks me but he's perfect in this film. Such well behaved murderous preppies! This movie makes me want to rewatch Hitchcock's Rope as well as Ozon's See the Sea. Rope for obvious reasons - preppies killing for the sake of it in an existential reverie kind of way. See the Sea for the upper class getting terrorized at their vacation homes by psychotics.

Directed by Michael Haneke
2008
Cinemax

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Waltz With Bashir

Based on the few Israeli war films I've seen (and I think this makes number three), they all are so meditative and trancelike. I'm not quite sure what that means exactly but it is what it is.

I really liked this film a lot. I saw it a couple of months ago and it has really stuck with me. There are brilliant images in this that beautifully illuminate some of the more surreal aspects of war. Some of the moments in this film, I will never forget.

The film is about the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia in Lebanon. The director of the film, Ari Folman, was an Israeli soldier who was there but years later had no recollection of the events. So he traveled around the world to interview other soldiers to help him remember what his role in the massacre might have been.

What he found, he decided to recreate in animated form. In fact, the entire thing (except for the harrowing last few seconds) including the interviews are animated. It was a great choice. A standard doc would undoubtedly have been good but it wouldn't have been the art that is this film.

Directed by Ari Folman
2008
Sunshine Cinemas

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Class

Not nearly as gentle as the French doc To Be and To Have, but just as good if not better. The film doesn't fall prey to the out of classroom silliness that Half Nelson devolved into. Instead, the film simply chronicles one year in a class of 12 and 13-year-olds.

The movie is based on a semi-autobiographical book that François Bégaudeau wrote and he plays himself in the movie. The students are all non-professional actors and most of the scenes are improvised - the kids were not given scripts. The bulk of the film is class time. Bégaudeau has a great approach with the kids. He challenges them. He respects them. He argues with them. The students often don't quite know what to make of him.

I could have watched the scenes in the classroom all day. But the parent teacher conferences were just as entertaining. The whole thing enthralled me. But Meryl Streep saving inner city children type film this is not. Sure, Bégaudeau makes some inroads with some of the kids but at the end of the day, it's hard to tell just how successful Bégaudeau has really been. It doesn't diminish the day-to-day effort that Bégaudeau and others like him make and there are many small moments of glory. But overall you don't necessarily leave the theater feeling uplifted.

But you will leave it feeling satisfied with having seen an excellent film.

Directed by Laurent Cantet
2008
Lincoln Plaza

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

War,Inc.

Guest Columnist - Chris Larry

This was not as bad as I feared it would be nor as a good as I hoped. Cusack basically revisits his Grosse Point Blank role as the assassin in the midst of an existential crisis. Here we find our heavy souled gun for hire being asked to kill off Turaqistan Oil Minister “Omar Sherif” while in deep cover as a trade show producer for Tamerlane, the company who has carried out an outsourced “Iraq like” occupation for the U.S. of A.

Obviously the satire is pointed right at the corporatization of wars of choice with Haliburon/KBR/Blackwater type companies being lampooned as Tamerlane. My problem is the satire is not scathing enough. Sure Golden Palace.com ads on a tank is funny but never does it feel biting. It never rips the scab off to really get deeper than what is now painfully obvious while watching the local news. Some people think Idiocracy was way over the top,but War Inc really fails in the kind of pummeling satire and disturbing sight gags that the Mike Judge movie employs. Where the Iraq satire works best is in the form of the Tamerlane appointed Viceroy of Turaqistan, which is a series of ubiquitous video monitors where the Max Headroom disembodied voice is an ever-morphing face of American icons from John Wayne to a dolphin to the Fonz. Ultimately the satire is so earnest and realistic that it ceases to be funny.

Two areas where the satire is more acute and funnier is in the lampooning of teen pop stars and liberal journalists. Hillary Duff, in an odd career turn, portrays Turaqistan’s teen pop tart singer Yonica Babyyeah. Her songs and the imagery of her music videos are hysterical. Think the Tracey Jordan movie clips on 30 Rock. Her sexuality is such an inappropriate commodity that it makes you feel guilty about every lewd thought you have had about any celebrity younger than Helen Mirren. Perhaps because the satire here is not message driven it actually works better. Marissa Tomei’s crusading liberal journalist Natalie Hegalhuzen (obviously based on The Nation editor/publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel is satirized, although perhaps judging from the point of view of the movie, lovingly so. However the ice bitch crusader character warmed by cute “good guy, bad actions” story arc is not what writers like Naomi Klein and Ms. Vanden Heuvel would be flattered by.

So does the movie work? Yes, I liked it, but perhaps because I agree with the premise. Would I like American Carol? Probably not. And maybe that is the problem with both movies, although I would never watch American Carol, so how would I know?

A few quick hit observations:

- Dan Akroyd delivers a great Dick Cheney.
- Joan Cusack is brilliant but any movie where she acts along side John, and she isn’t playing his sister, just looks odd.
- Loved Ben Kingsly’s southern accent.
- War scenes were significantly scary.
- The third world art/film pseudo intellectuals posing as terrorists to promote their viral videos was classic.
- The Cusack is so tortured by his past that he drinks hot sauce is one of the dumbest gags in recent comedy history.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Searchers

The year before I moved to New York, I briefly worked at a video store in Laurel, MD. It was never busy during weekday afternoons. I often would put my feet up and put on a movie. During a two hour movie, I might be interrupted once or twice.

One of the movies I watched was this one. I remembered being a little disappointed in it but I chalked it up to hating my life at the time.

Upon seeing it for a second time, I liked it a lot more. For starters, it looked a whole hell of a lot better in HD than it did on the crap television I watched it on at the video store. Secondly, I had a lot more patience for it watching it on my couch rather than working at the store.

Wayne is a tortured man. A badass. A man whose catchphrase in this film, "That'll Be the Day" was said with such utter coolness that Buddy Holly named a song after it. The long shots of the beautiful landscape are a perfect backdrop for some great action scenes and make me that much more upset at how lame some of today's action movies are in the way that they are shot. The last scene with Wayne framed in the doorway is a classic.

So I definitely liked this movie a lot. But it isn't one of the best movies I've ever seen. It is ranked at number 12 in the most recent AFI rankings of all time. It is dark, yes, but not dark enough. I wanted it to be even darker. It definitely is a movie way ahead of its time - a movie I'd like to see in a theater. But it wouldn't be anywhere close to number 12 on my all time list.

Directed by John Ford
1956
PBS

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The French Connection

Marc and I watched this (if my memory serves correctly on laserdisc) in our first year of living together in New York. I remembered being a little disappointed in it at the time. For some reason, I thought it was going to be more of a faster paced thriller than it was. What the hell was I thinking? Because upon re-watching it, I couldn't have been more wrong. This movie kicks ass.

I loved the gritty New York streets. It makes me hopeful that the current economic climate will lead us back to streets that looked like they did in this movie. And, holy moly, that car chase scene was fabulous. It completely puts current action films like the Bourne films to shame. What a novel idea - an action movie where you can actually tell what's going on. The subway chase scene is a perfect comparison to the Bourne movies since one of those films (the second one?) has a long subway chase scene as well. All hail the 70's. All hail Gene Hackman.

Directed by William Friedkin
1971
Cinemax

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Flight of the Red Balloon

Somewhat of an homage to the children's classic, The Red Balloon, but those expecting anything like that film will be disappointed in this one. Yes, there is a cute French boy. And yes, there is a red balloon. But other than that, this film is only ostensibly connected to the 1956 film. It reminded me a bit of the 2002 film What Time is It There, another Taiwanese film with a main character way into a 1950's French film. In that movie, the object of the obsession was the Truffaut film The 400 Blows.

Both SHR and I enjoyed this more than we thought we would. We both liked it a lot more than the previous Hou Hsiao-Hsien film we had seen, Three Times. Not much happens but it all looks great. The film is about a boy, Simon, and his hyper mom played by Juliette Binoche, who is more caught up in her day-to-day neuroses to pay that much attention to her son. So that duty falls to his new babysitter, Song, a Chinese film student who is enamored with The Red Balloon, and filming Simon like he's in the film. And oh yeah, there's a red balloon that follows them around.

The film was interesting enough without the added drama of the balloon following them around. At times, the balloon aspect seemed almost a bit like overkill. But overall, I did like this movie a lot. I keep meaning to see some of his other films that are supposed to be great - especially Millennium Mambo.

Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien
2007, U.S. Release: 2008
DVD

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Still Life

I was pumped to see this after greatly enjoying Up the Yangtze. I liked this but was surprised that of the two films, I preferred the documentary to the feature.

The film tells two separate stories - one of a miner returning to the area for the first time in 16 years to find his wife and daughter that he had left behind. But all of the addresses he's looking for are now underwater. The other story is about a nurse seeking to reconcile with her estranged husband.

This is a good movie. But I was more fascinated with the real footage (of the demolition of buildings as progress moves forward on the ambitious Three Gorges Dam and the beautiful cinematography) than I was by the storytelling. I'm fully willing to admit that I wasn't in the mood to watch such a slow, meditative film though. I wouldn't be surprised if I loved this film if I watched it a second time.

The sadness of change permeates throughout the film. I should have waited until I was in the right mood to watch it but I'm too neurotic to keep a Netflix DVD at home for too long. And in the process, I might not have enjoyed this film as much as I should have.

Directed by Jia Zhang Ke
2006, Year of U.S. Release: 2008
DVD

Monday, February 02, 2009

In Bruges

I was very much against seeing this movie. I hated the preview. Hated it. It reminded me of a Guy Ritchie movie. I hate Guy Ritchie movies. Granted, I've never seen one but I don't think I have to see one to hate them.

But Mitch saw this and liked it a lot. So I gave it a chance. And, guess what? I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.

It's not great by any stretch of the imagination but it is clever, well-paced, shot well, and downright fun. Maybe I should give a Guy Ritchie movie a chance. Nah, those look stupid.

Directed by Martin McDonagh
2008
Cinemax