Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Descendants

This was my favorite Alexander Payne film since 1999's Election. Granted, that doesn't mean that much considering he's only made two other films in that time - About Schmidt and Sideways. Still, almost everything about this film works for me.

I liked the tone of it. I liked Clooney and thought he pulled off being kind of a klutzy rich guy. Both of his daughters were great. I thought at first that maybe the boyfriend (or whoever he was supposed to be) was going to be annoying in a silly Little Miss Sunshine kind of way, but he turned out not to be. The movie was subtle when it needed to be, laugh out loud funny at others, and touching throughout.

I love how important the setting is to Payne's films. I liked the narration right from the beginning about how Hawaii is actually a real place where people have real problems. That doesn't change my mind though - I need to visit that place soon.

Directed by Alexander Payne
Chelsea Cinemas

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


There was a time (shall we say 2003?) where I would have ranked Lars Von Trier as one of my favorite directors. I really liked Dancer in the Dark, both parts of The Kingdom, Dogville, and The Five Obstructions. Breaking the Waves was interesting enough (if not a bit tedious) and I really enjoyed pretending to understand Zentropa while watching it at Grafton Stovall.

But I hadn't even seen one of his films since Dogville. I don't even think most of them even came out in the U.S. And I didn't have much interest in seeing Antichrist. When the glowing reviews of this film came rolling in, I was quite excited to see it.

I can't say that I disliked this film per se but I was definitely disappointed after the positive reviews. I liked the concept. I liked both Kirsten Dunst's performance and her (ahem) dazzling beauty. In fact, all of the acting performances were great. Kiefer Sutherland's character was so absurdly funny at times.

But with any Von Trier movie, I sort of felt like maybe the whole thing was a joke. And with his other films, they were so unique that the whole thing worked for me. This one seemed like a collection of other films which I'm assuming was intentional but I just don't know what to make of it.

As far as awkward wedding movies go, The Celebration and Rachel Getting Married are better. As far as end of the world movies go, I prefer the late 90's Canadian film Last Night. Hell, even this year's other sci-fi film about the discovery of another world and how it affects us Earthlings, Another Earth, had more ideas in it than this one. Granted, this is better than that movie. But still, I wanted this one to be better.

The absurd behavior of many of the characters just seemed so unrealistic. The sisters were well-written but most of the other characters were incredibly cartoonish to me.

That isn't to say I didn't like it. It was quite good. And quite claustrophobic in a good way. I liked the soundtrack from Tristan and Isolde. I liked some of the more surreal painterly touches. I loved the ending. It just didn't all come together for me like I was hoping it would to be the masterpiece I was hoping for.

Directed by Lars Von Trier
Brooklyn Heights Cinemas

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Muppets

My review: It was pretty good and a fun way to spend Thanksgiving morning.

Sujan's review: The songs were terrible but the bits that were reminiscent of the old Muppets stuff was good.

I asked Otis if he liked it. He said yes. I asked him what his favorite part was. He said, "The Muppets."

Sam said he didn't like the movie. But he did like leaving the theater for a few minutes to go to the bathroom with Mom.

Despite repeatedly saying he didn't like it, he did request that we watch this the next day. To be fair though, he did keep saying at the theater that he likes watching things at home - on the iPad.

Directed by James Bobin
34th St.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Orphanage

I had meant to see this when it first came out but somehow missed it. Then Jeremy raved about it a year or so later but it still took me awhile to actually get around to seeing it. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a rip-off of The Others.

This one has all the hallmarks of the genre. The ghosts, the freaky children, the masks, the scary old lady, etc, etc. But it all comes together quite beautifully. There aren't cheap scares in this either. It is shot in a non-horror film kind of way if that makes sense. No tricks. Just scariness.

Don't think of this as The Others, Spanish style. Perhaps it can be thought of as fun elements of that movie, The Shining, Coraline, The Devil's Backbone, Poltergeist, and Drag Me to Hell all mixed up in a fun stew. And those are just a few off the top of my head.

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last Train Home

This and Up the Yangtze are two great documentaries about the radically changing Chinese landscape and culture. This one is about a married couple (part of the 130 million people who live in big cities away from their families) who work in a factory in the city of Guangdong, far from home. Once a year, they make the long journey back home for the New Year.

It is an insane scene as people desperately try to secure tickets for the long train ride home. This film follows the couple over the course of a number of years. We get to see many different aspects of the journey and the arrival home over the course of a number of years.

Like the best documentaries, this film really gives a sense of what it's like for the millions of Chinese in a similar position (or any migrant separated from their families for most of the year) who only get to see their families once a year. It's heartbreaking enough to see the toll the whole endeavor has taken on the family. But it becomes almost unbearable to watch as their children become increasingly bitter at the parents' absence over the years. It sounds awful. And it is. But it makes for a compelling film.

2009, Year of U.S. Release: 2010
Directed by Lixin Fan

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blue Valentine

This movie had all the indie darling press but it was only the second best breakup movie behind this one that came out last year.

I liked the structure of the film but it just didn't pack the emotional punch I wanted it to. The beginning of the relationship scenes just didn't resonate with me. So if those scenes aren't going to work, who really gives a crap about the relationship falling apart scenes?

Still, I always love Mr. Gosling and Ms. Williams.

And any movie that is able to introduce me to a song as good as You and Me by Penny & the Quarters can't be too bad, can't it? You can listen to the song as part of the trailer. And you should.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

Monday, November 14, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene

I am kind of shocked about the rapturous praise this movie has gotten in some parts. At the same time, I don't think I disliked it quite as much as Sir Balgavy.

While I was watching it, I had a number of thoughts.

- the movie looks good.
- that Olsen girl is easy in the eyes.
- cults are awesome.
- cults are creepy.
- Big Love should have been more like this.
- i like the pacing of the movie.
- this is getting a little boring.
- how much time is left?
- oh, i like the house break-in scenes
- this movie is trying so hard to be subtle that it isn't as good as it could be.
- there are so many things this movie could have done to be a bit better.
- John Hawkes is awesome though.
- ok, I liked that ending.

Then I met up with Marc later in the evening and got into a major negative loop.

A day or so after that, I listened to an Elvis Mitchell interview with the director. I spent the first 5 minutes thinking I had misjudged the movie and then spent the next 23 minutes realizing that I hadn't.

A number of days later, I'd like to officially proclaim that I'm solidly behind this movie as being okay. Perhaps even a solid B-. It will entertain you. It might annoy you. It will make you think a bit. But it sure as hell isn't close to being one of the year's best as way too many reviews make it out to be.

Directed by Sean Durkin
Time Sq. 25

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Underworld U.S.A.

So violent and so pulpy. So Sam Fuller.

Cliff Robertson plays a guy who watched his father get murdered in front of him as a child. Years later, he's out for blood. But there's so much more.

There's the steely cold killer who always put on his sunglasses before running over little girls. There's the salty older woman to help him. There's the love interest named Cuddles. There's the fat boss who sits around his indoor pool pulling the strings of his puppets. There's just a lot of fun.

While this isn't top top Sam Fuller, it's still pretty damn good. Some of the violent scenes don't pack enough of a punch but I guess you've got to tread carefully when you run over little girls in a movie. Some of the camerawork is incredible though. Very Sam Raimi, very Miller's Crossing era Coen Brothers. Perfect.

Directed by Sam Fuller

Thursday, November 10, 2011

House of Bamboo

I had thought I had seen this a number of years ago, back when I first moved to New York. But within the first minute of the film, I had realized that I had confused this with another Sam Fuller film, The Crimson Kimono. And then I was really excited to see a great Sam Fuller film that I had never seen.

As it turns out, this is probably one of my all time favorite Sam Fuller movies. It's got it all. It's got the tough guy Sam Fuller thing going on. It's got some great camera angles and shots. It's got Robert Ryan as a badass bad buy. It's got Robert Stack. It's got the World War II themes. It's got the anti-racist message.

Plus, the climax is one of the more memorable ones I've seen in awhile.

Directed by Sam Fuller
Film Forum

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Clash by Night

Pretty standard potboiler but Ryan, Barbara Stanwyck and Fritz Lang bring it to a higher level.

Ryan plays a swaggering hothead playboy who just can't get keep his paws to himself. Bad things happen. The fun is in the getting there. And in seeing a young, sizzling hot Marilyn Monroe in full-on ditz mode.

And I love that Robert Ryan is a film projectionist in this. Which leads to this great exchange between two other characters as they talk about him.

Jerry D'Amato: Earl, he's one of the smartest men I know. He's in the movie business.
Mae Doyle D'Amato: An actor?
Jerry D'Amato: No, but I bet Earl could be if he wanted to. He works at the Bijou theatre, in the projection booth.
Mae Doyle D'Amato: That's your idea of being in the movie business?
Jerry D'Amato: Running movies, what other business would you call it?

Directed by Fritz Lang
Film Forum

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Robert Ryan really is the best. Film Forum recently did a retrospective of his films and I was glad to see three that I hadn't seen before. First up - this one as part of a double feature.

Ryan plays a Howard Hughes type, drunk on power and completely batshit bonkers. You want to root for the guy but you are damn afraid of the guy too. He's so darn menacing under the placid surface.

He marries and then terrorizes Barbara Bel Geddes just for the fun of it. She eventually befriends a kind doctor played by James Mason but will he be able to free her from her crazy husband?

I'd love to see this in a double feature with Hangover Square as a study of tortured men and their attempts to bring the world down with them.

Directed by Max Ophuls
Film Forum