Thursday, December 30, 2010

Border Incident

What a great movie! Wow! All hail Anthony Mann! All hail Ricardo Montalban. All hail Western suspense noir films with a social commentary. Holy crap! The film is go good that it reminded me at times of such classics as Wages of Fear (in its suspense involving the working class and trucks) and Touch of Evil (in its seediness and the danger lurking in the shadows.)

Border Incident
is about undercover border agents trying to stop the smuggling of illegal Mexican immigrants into the U.S. The tagline on the American poster is "The Shame of Two Nations." There's a whole lot of violence, intrigue, and grittiness. There's a Canyon of Death. There's a murder by means of a huge plowing machine. And the climatic shootout in the quicksand at night is incredible. I love this movie!

This is one of the last films I watched during Double Trouble's naps while on stay-at-home dad duty. And it will be the last update of 2010 in this space. Happy New Year!

Directed by Anthony Mann
1949
TCM

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Messenger

I haven't seen too many of the fictional Iraq war movies. I liked In the Valley of Elah quite a bit but this might be better if no other reason Paul Haggis had nothing to do with it.

Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson play soldiers who break the news to "N.O.K's" (next of kin) that their loved ones have been killed in Iraq. These scenes are devastating and quite difficult to watch. I've never quite seen scenes like them before. Obviously, there's more to the film than these scenes but they shape everything about the characters.

I've never been a huge fan of Foster's but he was great in this - as was Harrelson. It's a good film and worth definitely worth seeing. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky yes but the acting was so great that I was able to overlook some of it.

I think a lot of the failed feature films of the past few years about Iraq haven't been sure how to make a political point while at the same entertain and enlighten. While this film isn't perfect by any stretch, it does a pretty good job of all three.

Directed by Owen Moverman
2009
Netflix Streaming

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Godfather Part II

I had seen The Godfather twice before re-watching it a few weeks ago. I think I had only seen the second part once so my memory of it was much more limited. I had forgotten how much more restrained it is compared to the first part. Sure there is a lot of violence but the suspense level is much lower. But who needs suspense when you have a character study as incredible as this one?

Pacino is unbelievably great in this and I don't even like him all that much. Every scene he's in is terrifying. That dude is intense. I love so many moments in this film. I love the court scenes. I love the scenes of the crumbling marriage of Pacino and Keaton. That last scene between the two of them where he closes the door in her face without saying a word was nuts. And right after her son refused to even kiss her goodbye! Damn!

I haven't even gotten into how great De Niro is as the young Brando. I love the Sicily scenes, the Ellis Island scenes, and the Lower East Side ones as well.

The colors are even more vibrant in this than the first film. And there's another stellar wedding scene to start the film.

And poor poor stupid Fredo.

As great as this film as, I'd still have to give a nod to the first one as being a bit better if no other reason, there's no Brando in this one. Still as sequels go, this is easily in the top five (if not higher) of all time.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
1974
Blu-ray

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Godfather

It's hard to believe just how great this film actually is. So much of it has been co-opted over the years by the culture that I sometimes forget how much was actually from this film. The soundtrack, the make him an offer he can't refuse, the Brando with the orange peel ... the list goes on and on.

That doesn't diminish just what an incredible piece of entertainment this is though. SHR had never seen it before. It was time she had seen it. In fact, this is the first part of the Gangster Movies that SHE Should Have Already Seen But Hasn't So I'm Correcting It series of Winter 2010/2011.

I hadn't seen this in years and couldn't quite remember when certain things happened or why. But once the build up of Pacino planning to have a gun in the bathroom, or Sonny tearing off to go beat up his brother-in-law (bad idea) or when Brando did anything, I completely remembered every little moment. Brilliant.

Speaking of brilliant - how great are those first scenes at the wedding? And the blu-ray looks fantastic. The dark interiors and the shadows look the way they should look as opposed to the crappy VHS versions I'm used to watching. And I never realized how awesome the blood splatter in that shot to the head by Pacino in the restaurant looked. Spectacular!

Bring on part 2!

As an added bonus for me, this was one of my grandfather's all time favorite movies so it added even more to my enjoyment of re-watching it as I thought about him.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
1972
Blu-ray

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Lost Weekend

A strange final showing in the Tuesdays with Bart series. I guess my 14 months as a stay-at-home dad can be seen as my lost year? Anyhoo, I like this movie enough but it must have made a stronger impact in the '40s than it does now.

Still it got a lot of little touches about alcoholics right - at least according to the barkeep on my couch.

My favorite part of the film is when Milland can't find the bottle he had hidden in the chandelier one night while drunk Then one night, on the verge of passing out on the couch, notices the reflection of the bottle on the ceiling. Brilliant.

Hopefully, Bart and I will be able to recommence on this series at a later date. For now, I have to work. Bah.

Directed by Billy Wilder
1945
DVD

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Double Indemnity

This has been one of my all time favorites since the first time I saw it in the mid 90's. At this point, I've probably seen it at least five times if not more.

Every line is perfect film noir speak or is it? It almost seems like an Airplane type parody of film noir at times. But who cares when the dialogue is as fun as it is?

This movie has everything. The femme fatale. The perfect murder or was it? Edward G. Robinson!

Bart and I watched this over the summer but for some reason, I didn't write about it until now.

Anyway ... some of my selected favorite lines ....

Walter Neff: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so, I usually am.
Neff: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Neff: I wonder if you wonder.

Walter Neff: Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money - and a woman - and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?

Phyllis: I think you're rotten.
Walter Neff: I think you're swell - so long as I'm not your husband.
Phyllis: Get out of here.
Walter Neff: You bet I'll get out of here, baby. I'll get out of here but quick.

Directed by Billy Wilder
1944
HBO

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

How the hell did I go so long without seeing this movie? Absolutely perfect. I hadn't really even seen that much footage of The Who live and that's pretty much what this entire documentary is. Plus - I knew Keith Moon was a madman but I had no idea.

Every minute of this movie is great. In particular, I love the first scene from the Smothers Brothers show where they do My Generation and the interview of Moon by Ringo. This is a perfect rock documentary and I can't wait to introduce it one day to Sam & Otis.

It also reminded me of the great performance of My Generation by some high school kids back in the day at Sherwood High's annual Rock & Roll Revival. Anyone else remember going to those as a kid growing up in MD?

Directed by Fred Stein
1979
DVD

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White Material

I have not seen nearly enough of Claire Denis' films. In fact, this is only the third one of hers that I've seen after 1999's brilliant Beau Travail and 2001's silly Vincent Gallo vampire movie Trouble Every Day. I need to see more and in particular need to seek out her best ones. She seems to be a bit hit or miss from what I've seen and read.

This apparently is her third film set in Africa (where she spent a large part of her childhood) after her debut, 1988's Chocolat and Beau Travail.

Isabelle Huppert stars as a stubborn French coffee plantation owner who refuses to leave despite the dangers she faces as the nameless African country she's in is collapsing into civil war. Land is being seized and people are getting murdered in the streets. Yet she won't leave. Her twentysomething son has gone nuts. Her husband implores her to leave but no dice. The whole thing is a bit silly at times but also quite beautifully shot. I wanted more of a reason to care about the characters but didn't quite get that.

Still, I'm glad I saw it. And any movie that has Isaach de Bankolé, (most recently seen as the Lone Man in The Limits of Control) is a-ok by me.

Directed by Claire Denis
2010
IFC Center

Monday, December 13, 2010

Please Give

I was so annoyed by this movie that I now doubt whether or not I actually really liked Lovely and Amazing back in the day. And I sure as hell am not going to give Friends with Money a chance now either.

Every character in this other than Rebecca Hall's character is incredibly annoying. I hated them all. Egocentric and all caricatures. Not funny either. I know they are supposed to be annoying but I found nothing engaging about them. There was no reason to watch this movie other than to watch a bunch of half-written characters and plot devices unfold. Ugh.

Directed by Nicole Holofcener
2010
Blu-ray

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Black Swan

Welcome back the Darren Aronofsky of my nightmares.

After two super creepy films, the man made two very different films next. This one is a nice mix of all four of his previous films.

It's got the creepy claustrophobia of Pi, the terrifying insanity of Requiem for a Dream, the what-the-fuckitnis of The Fountain, and the punishing one's body for your art of The Wrestler. Throw in elements from the genre of Watching a Woman Descend into Madness like from Polanski's Repulsion and add in a dash of nonstop paranoia of Safe and now you're getting the idea. Maybe a touch of David Lynch's world, a smidgen of Cronenberg's The Fly type metamorphosis and a dash of Mean Girls queen bee stuff and you can begin to picture this film.

I was never quite sure what I was watching or what it all meant but I guarantee that there won't be many other movies from 2010 that will have left such an indelible mark on my psyche. Kind of unbelievable.

And oh yeah, there's some ballet in it too. And some Winona Ryder self-mutilation. And some Natalie Portman self-abuse. This movie has it all.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
2010
Chelsea Cinemas

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Winter's Bone

This movie is firmly entrenched right in the middle of the recent Downtrodden in Rural America trilogy of Frozen River, this, and Ballast. I would put this a bit ahead of Frozen River and slightly below Ballast.

In tone, it reminded me of the former though. Both deal with a woman (in this case - a 17-year-old girl) desperately trying to keep her family afloat despite the dangers she faces. The tension in this film becomes almost unbearable at points.

Taken together, these three films (all set in very different parts of the country) create a pretty scary picture of the problems still afflicting much of rural America. They also remind me a bit of some of the 60's documentaries I saw years ago about rural poverty - but now with meth! Scary but artful stuff.

Directed by Debra Granik
2010
Blu-ray

Sunday, December 05, 2010

127 Hours

I liked this a lot more than Slumdog Millionaire. A lot more. Sometimes I find that Boyle's flair for the dramatic overrides his storytelling. Not so here. Every moment is fun or (scary) to watch. James Franco is great. The 90 minutes fly by.

Hell, my only criticism is that I wanted more of the amputation scene to be shown! It wasn't gruesome enough. Then again, how do you even really show how awful that must have been without losing your entire audience? In particular, I thought the music in that scene was highly effective.

This could have been a high gloss I Shouldn't Be Alive (which I wouldn't have minded since I love that show) but it is definitely more than that. Not the best movie of the year by any stretch but a very entertaining one. I love survival story movies!

Directed by Danny Boyle
2010
Sunshine Cinemas

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Social Network

I expected to enjoy this film but was surprised by just how much I did. This was not only a huge improvement on both Fincher's and Sorkin's last films, but it has to be one of the year's best films.

I have been increasingly annoyed by Jesse Eisenberg ever since liking him a lot in The Squid and the Whale but I have new respect for him. This was the role he was born to play and he should retire now!

I loved the storytelling structure to keep things interesting. I loved the battle between the nerdy Jewish dude and the entitled blondie twins. I loved the dialogue throughout. I loved what an asshole Justin Timberlake made the Napster guy look like. I loved that by the end, you almost (almost) feel bad for Zuckerberg. That last scene has got to be one of the most quietly devastatingly sad moments of any film in years. Right?

I wonder how this film will play twenty years from now. I mean it is definitely the Citizen Kane of social network website movies. But will it have the staying power of a great movie like Citizen Kane or All the President's Men? Will it speak to the time we live in a good time capsule kind of way like those films or will it seem hopelessly dated in a bad way one day? Thoughts?

Directed by David Fincher
2010
Court St. 12

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

I knew a bit about the Pentagon Papers but this documentary definitely helped me fill in some gaps. The interviews with Ellsberg are fascinating to watch.

As I watched this, all I kept thinking about was how much one of my favorite history teachers, Mrs. Dixon at Springbrook High, would have loved this movie. She became utterly breathless with excitement when teaching this stuff as well as Watergate. I wonder what Mrs. Dixon is up to these days.

Directed by Rick Goldsmith and Judith Ehrlich
2009
PBS