Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Good Bye Lenin!

I had heard this movie was good for years so I finally got around to watching it. I should have waited even longer. It's not that great.

I mean, it's not bad or anything but it is super lightweight in a not that good kind of way. I'm all for light but this reminds me of the kind of movie that would have been on Bravo 4 times a day back in the mid 90's. Maybe if I was German, I would have thought that was uproariously funny. Instead, it was absurd in a eh kind of way.

The movie is about a guy who watches his very pro East Germany mom faint while he's being arrested in East Berlin on the night that the Berlin Wall fell. She falls into a coma and when she wakes up, she is in a fragile state. The doctor tells the son not to let his mom have any sudden surprises in her life because it might push her over the edge. So he spends the next three or so years trying to create a world for her that consists of the old world order.

Imagine the hijinks! Imagine the hilarity! How will the son explain the huge Coke sign on the building next door? One thing leads to another and ... eh, whatever.

I did like the Lenin statue being flown over the city though - very La Dolce Vita.

Watching this movie though made me realize that I need to see One, Two, Three again.

Directed by Wolfgang Becker
2003
DVD

Monday, June 29, 2009

He Walked by Night

Part Dragnet (LA cops, Jack Webb had a small role), part The Naked City (gritty documentary style), part The Third Man (great climax in the sewers), this movie is a fun little diversion.

The crook is a smart dude. He listens to the police radio and he also changes up his crimes each time so the cops don't realize it is all the handiwork of one guy. But then he kills a cop and all hell breaks loose.

Directed by Alfred L. Werker but really Anthony Mann
1948
TCM

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Up

I was expecting to like this but not as much as I did. I loved it.

Let me count the ways.

- I love the talking dogs. Squirrel!

- Ed Asner was great.

- Russell was hilarious. Small mailman!

- A lot of the surreal flying aspects reminded me of Miyazaki films, in particular, this one.

- The colors were incredible. I was completely in awe the entire time. The 3D was great as well.

- Loved that the Lindbergh character ended up being the bad guy. Nazi!

- The opening Citizen Kane like montage but in reverse was breathtaking - some of the best filmmaking I've seen in years.

- The movie is so enthralling that you kind of forget at times just how sad and full of loneliness it is. Brilliant.

- There were also elements of this that reminded me of Maurice Sendak. And I've got to admit that it didn't occur to me until I listened to a Terry Gross interview with Pete Docter (the director) that the pulling of the house through the jungle was quite reminiscent of Fitzcarraldo.

- I loved every minute of this movie. From the newsreel footage to the montage of a marriage to the high rises rising up around his lonely house to the flight scenes to the pulling scenes to the battle scenes. I loved everything about it. This is a great movie.

Check out Mitch's review.

Directed by Pete Docter
2009
Court St. 12

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Stratton Story

Based on a true story of a pitcher who made a comeback after losing his leg in a hunting accident, this movie is one big corny mess. It was hard to slog all the way through and it took me many sittings. SHR didn't make it all the way through.

Sample line from the movie: Stewart hears a cow (he lives on a farm) while practicing with a baseball scout and he says, "Better go - it looks like we have another kind of squeeze play."

The movie takes place over many years. It begins with Stewart playing a young buck on the farm. SHR asserted that Stewart looked older than his mom. Not quite though. At the time of the movie's release, Stewart was 41 and the actress who played his mom was 48.

This movie is not worth watching.

Directed by Sam Wood
1949
TCM

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The World's Greatest Sinner

Wow. Simply wow. I'm so glad that I finally saw this movie. Bart has been telling me about it for years and now I've finally seen it. It is easily one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. You must see this movie.

I first became enamored with Timothy Carey upon seeing him in The Killing and Paths of Glory. Apparently, he went on to be in Beach Blanket Bingo (what?), Head, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. He truly is a one of a kind presence and has to be seen to be believed.

The movie begins with him playing an insurance salesman named Clarence who decides that insurance is pointless. He leaves his family and decrees ,"There's only one God, and that's Man." He promptly goes onto to start a rock band and eventually starts a political movement around his cult. His spastic concerts lead to suicides and riots. He starts referring to himself as God. He sleeps with 70-year-olds as well as 14-year-old groupies. He is a dirty man.

Carey starts wearing a clearly fake goatee to make things even stranger. His rock performances are like a cross between Elvis, Nicholas Cage from Wild at Heart, Ford Fairlane, Gene Vincent, Dean Carter, Ian Svenonius, and Jack White playing Elvis. And maybe a little Buster Keaton thrown in during quieter moments. Completely brilliant.

See this movie if this description appeals to you. You will not be disappointed. Thanks SHR for letting me know that this was on!

Oh yeah, and a young Frank Zappa did the score.

Check it out.


Directed by Timothy Carey
1962
TCM

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Navigator

This has always been one of my favorite Buster Keaton movies. I saw it at Film Forum in the late 90's and have also shown it to my class a few times over the years. This year, a kid in my class brought it in because he is a big Buster Keaton fan. Nice.

Keaton plays a completely clueless richie rich who ends up stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean with his standoffish crush. Some amazing sight gags ensue. In fact, one of my all time favorite Keaton gags is in this movie. It involves a scary painting tossed over the edge of the boat, a storm at sea, and a freaked out Keaton. I never grow tired of that scene.

This isn't a classic in the sense that a movie like The General is, but for pure silliness and fun, this movie is pretty great.

Directed by Buster Keaton
1924
DVD

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Hustler

I saw this movie with my dad many many years ago. In my memories of it, the pool scenes with Jackie Gleason took up a much larger portion of the movie rather than just the beginning and end.

In fact, the first 1/3 is great. As is the last 1/3. The middle 1/3 drags a bit but I guess is necessary for full dramatic heft. The trifecta of Newman, Gleason, and George C. Scott really is quite impressive.

SHR and I were both struck by how much James Franco based his Daniel Desario character from Freaks and Geeks on Newman in this movie - in particular the Two Tracks speech he delivers after being accused of cheating on a math test.

SHR and I are contemplating renting The Color of Money now but are a little afraid.

Directed by Robert Rossen
1961
HBO

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Momma's Man

This film about a thirtysomething man with a wife and a kid in L.A. who decides to move back in with his parents in NYC has a lot going for it. For starters, I don't think I've ever seen a movie quite like it. The Manhattan loft/work space setting (where the filmmaker Azazel Jacbos grew up) was a great labyrinth like setting and needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. I really liked the themes it dealt with as well. Hell, I thought I'd be able to identify with some of it. But I didn't. In fact, I just wanted to beat some sense into the main character. Which is obviously what we are supposed to want to do.

The first problem I have with this movie is the casting. The main character is so unappealing that it is hard to believe that he was able to attain a beautiful wife and a good career on the West Coast. His old friends who he misses are big losers as well. It's not like we get to see him partying with all his single fun friends and missing the old days. Instead, we see his ex-con friend working out to the Indigo Girls. Funny, yes. Believable, no. Why would he remotely be tempted to come back to this life style? I wanted a realistic look at what would drive a man to leave his family in search of his lost youth instead of shooting fish in an existential barrel. It was all too easy and obvious.

Director Azazel Jacobs cast his parents as the parents of the main character. His father, Ken, is a well known experimental filmmaker and was a good actor. His mother on the other hand really made me feel icky - she was not good at all. On another note, I wonder if this movie would have gotten so many accolades without the family connections?

There were definitely very good moments in this movie like the falling down the stairs scene but after reading so many great things, I wanted more than I got.

Directed by Azazel Jacobs
2008
DVD

Monday, June 15, 2009

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

I liked the first Harold and Kumar quite a bit. This one - not so much. Granted, the title of this film is one of the best of 2008 by far. But other than that, this movie could easily be fit into a two minute highlight reel.

In fact, I started watching this over three months ago back when I was a Cinemax subscriber. I watched the first half before giving up. I canceled that channel back in March. When I saw that it was on HBO, I recorded it in order to finish it. The main reason I did this was because Jason told me that there was a funny scene near the end where the boys crash land and smoke weed with President Bush. That scene and the first five minutes were passable. The rest is pretty not funny. Although the "death" scene of Neil Patrick Harris made me almost smile.

Directed by Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz
2008
Cinemax and HBO

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

City of Ember

I read this book to my class last year and they loved it. If this movie had come out in June rather than in October, I probably would have taken them to see it on a field trip like I did with my class the year that Holes came out. Instead, I showed it to my class this year at the end of the school year.

The movie is decent enough but kind of a letdown after reading the book. There are definitely strong moments though. For starters, Bill Murray as the corrupt mayor of Ember is a lot of fun. Yeah, he kind of mailed in his performance but he was still good. He's Bill Murray.

I liked how the movie kind of felt like a Brazil for kids at times. The soviet style Singing Day in the square with the big statues was a nice touch.

The last 15 minutes were actually quite thrilling and very much like I envisioned they would be while reading the book.

But there was plenty to be disappointed in as well. One of the two main characters, Doon Harrow, is quite the dullard in this movie. Completely boring. The film is too short. There is a lot going on in the book. Too much going on to make the movie only 95 minutes. The script also added some completely unnecessary elements that weren't in the book like the giant mole.

Also, the book expertly builds up the suspense. The big questions are: Where is Ember, why is it always dark there, and why are the food supplies dwindling? The book creates an eerie suffocating feeling at times because of the uncertainty of it all. The reader is not given the answers to these questions until the very end of the book. In the movie, the answers are given in the very first scene. Boo to that.

What could have been a modern children's classic is merely an amusing little trifle of a film.

Directed by Gil Kenan
2008
DVD

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

I have never seen a movie like this before yet it felt very familiar in a Smithereens or Suburbia kind of way. Meaning it is fun as hell and it made me wish that I was 8 years older so I could have been 17 in 1982.

A 15-year-old Diane Lane starts a punk band (The Stains) with her sister. She steals the best song from another band of the scene (The Looters) and creates a craze. Lane's fashion sense and defiant stance of "We don't put out" sends thousands of local girls into delirium. The band gets a big boost from a local female television reporter. In fact, the reporter's on-air debates about the merits of the band with a male colleague are hilarious.

The Looters feature Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols as well as Paul Simonon of the Clash. Ray Winstone is great as the lead singer.

I love this song.


Directed by Lou Adler
1982
DVD

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Star Trek

I wish that Abrams had directed the Star Wars prequels. Those films needed non geekboys or at the very least a non George Lucas. This film succeeded in every way in which those movies failed. Abrams didn't feel tied to having to live up to every little detail of the Star Trek minutiae. Instead, he took the legend, kept the major details but wasn't ruled by them. Lucas was too caught up in his own mind to create movies that were watchable.

There were truly thrilling sequences in this movie - especially the ones that took place on other worlds - that ice planet in particular was great. I also liked how one of the many climatic scenes was reminiscent, setting wise, of the I Am Your Father scene between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. The fight scene on top of the Romulan ship was also great.

The movie was not perfect though. As much as I liked seeing Leonard Nimoy, the whole two Spocks thing was a bit much for me. Plus, there were moments that dragged a bit - especially the endless spaceship battle scenes.

However, I did like the whole Spock Jungle Fever plot line. And that dude from Heroes who I don't like much on that show was very good as Spock. Bones is great. Simon Pegg as Scotty is fun. Kirk is entertaining as an arrogant reckless horndog.

All in all, this was a fun rebirth for a stagnant franchise. Hell, I hadn't even seen any Star Trek movies or shows since that one about saving the whales back in the mid '80's. I hope the next one has more exploring new worlds and less of the spaceship battle scenes.

Warning: Some people might consider this a spoiler but those people are silly.

How thrilling was the very end with the famous lines that begin each episode? I'm not even a huge Star Trek guy but it got me. It really really did.

Directed by J.J. Abrams
2009
Court St. 12

Monday, June 01, 2009

Adventureland

This movie has a lot going for it.

Let me count the ways.

1. Yo La Tengo did the score.
2. It was directed by Greg Mottola. His previous film was my favorite of 2007, Superbad.
3. A good portion of it was filmed in my favorite amusement park, Kennywood. My favorite ride in the movie was named after a Del Shannon song. Nice.
4. Martin Starr!
5. It reminded me of being 22 and being absolutely clueless in the art of wooing women.
6. I liked the character Frigo a lot.
7. I didn't dislike Bill Hader as much as I often do. In fact, I kind of liked him in this.
8. Kristin Stewart sure is easy on the eyes.
9. I liked the tone of the film.
10. And the way it looked.

But there were many things I didn't quite like.
1. The whole thing felt a bit off. I'm not quite sure what it was but there was something lacking
2. There was way too much lazy foreshadowing.
3. Jesse Eisenberg wasn't that good.
4. The music felt forced in a better get the Replacements song on RIGHT now type way.
5. I wanted more Martin Starr.
6. I didn't buy that Ryan Reynolds' character would listen to Nick Lowe or use Lou Reed stories to hit on women. Who cared about Lou Reed at the amusement parks of the U.S. in 1987? These sorts of music details have occasionally been known to ruin otherwise acceptable movies for me.

All told, I'm glad I saw this film but I didn't love it as much as I was hoping I would.

Directed by Greg Mottola
2009
Cobble Hill Cinemas