Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I can't figure out why my dad would Netflix this one. This is the kind of shit I watch, but not him.

It's a new school slasher movie, the kind like Wrong Turn 2 or Hatchet that seem to be made by guys who, like me, grew up watching all the 70's and 80's slasher movies, and maybe revere them a little and want to make a more respectable, well-made version of what they were going for.

This isn't a bad movie per se, but it doesn't really work, mainly due to constant and mostly unsuccessful attempts at humor. It also falls into the same trap that Wrong Turn 2 did, where it wants to be both a gory, over-the-top comic slasher and a dark, disturbing and genuinely frightening horror movie, and it never figures out how to reconcile the two sides. They end up canceling each other out. It's about a bunch of British business people and tries to work in some satirical humor, so it kind of feels like a cross between The Office and Wolf Creek. Not a good combo.

The direction is also very mixed. They find a nice look for the movie, and it seems like the director has a good idea of how to generate suspense. On the other hand, many of the important moments of violence/action/surprise are poorly staged or mishandled, and much of the impact is diminished.

Any shit, this was a weird choice to make, dad. But I respect you for sitting through the whole thing. And yeah, that part where they guy tries to jam that severed leg into the fridge was pretty funny.

In Bruges

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I guess much like you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge a movie by its trailer. In Bruges looked like another generic, post-Tarantino crime comedy. As it turns out, there's nothing generic about it, and it's only maybe 25% crime comedy. The rest mixes elements of character study, heavy drama, and whimsical fantasy. And does an admirable job of pulling them all off.

It also has one of those endings where everything comes together, a bunch of coincidences pile on top of each other, and seemingly innocuous details from earlier all converge in a big ending. But not in a way I've ever really seen before... it comes together in a very bizarre, very dark way. I suspect that if there is one element of this film that people would really dislike, this would be it, but I must say I thought it worked well.

Brendan Gleason pretty much steals every scene he's in, but the whole cast is great, and I'd like to give Colin Farrell a shout-out. I always want to write this dude off, but every now and then he shows up in something like this, or A Home at the End of the World, and really shows how tender, exposed and affecting he can be as an actor.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Midnight Express

Monday, February 25, 2008

I wasn't the biggest fan of Alan Parker. I thought he had talent, sure. But, Mississippi Burning and (especially) The Life of David Gale are offensive, condescending, over-the-top, liberal nightmare/fantasies about the evils of Republicans. Sadomasochistic misery-porn for left-wing loonies.

Midnight Express is just that, I suppose, only a lot more entertaining, and much less condescending and offensive. (Although still pretty offensive if you're a Turk). It plays fast and loose with the facts, but I knew that going in and watched the film as if it were fiction. It's basically a prison movie set in hell. And on that level, as a skillful exercise in audience manipulation, it works. It goes a little too far over the top here and there, and maybe there are a few unintentional corny moments, but mostly it is a captivating, exciting movie with some strong performances. I liked it.

Also, apparently my folks once met the guy this movie is based on. They didn't think to, but if I met him I would have asked if he really bit a dudes tongue out.

(Wikipedia tells me he in fact did not)

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is Audrey Hepburn considered attractive? Because, as an actress, I find her a charming and irresistible screen presence, etc etc, but she looks like a creepy, evil skelletized zombie or something. A charming zombie, sure, but still a zombie.

Anyway, did this one for my K2K. It's a pretty funny, charming, but not great movie that I'm glad I saw. It's also an accidentally fascinating cultural artifact, because Mickey Rooney plays an asian man with giant teeth who has a ridiculously exaggerated accent. The character is already an offensive stereotype, and then having a white man play the role (yellow face?) makes it an unforgettable experience. They still did this kind of shit in the early 60's? Hot damn.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Sunday, February 24, 2008

OK, a while back I was checking out some films by Jean-Pierre Melville, a french director who made some awesome crime films, most notably Le Samourai. I had heard great things about an early flick of his, Bob le Flambeur, and was disappointed to find that it was a boring and talky heist film where the heist never really happens.

That came out in 1955. That very same year, another French heist movie by the name of Rififi was released, and it turns out this is the movie I had imagined in my head when I saw Bob. It's an exciting, visually stylish, badass, cold-hearted tough guy movie with a fucking awesome heist sequence and classic noir ending. It felt more like a Melville film than Bob did. In fact, there is more than a passing similarity to one of Melville's later films, Le Cercle Rouge, especially the 30 minute, dialogue-free heist sequence smack dab in the middle of the film. So maybe Melville caught this one after Bob came out and thought "Fuck! That's the movie I should have made!"

Bottom line, this movie is pretty kickass, and the heist sequence pretty much set the template for every classic heist sequence to follow. It's so fucking good, it puts glossy bullshit like Brett Ratner's After the Sunset to shame, seeming infinitely smarter, more stylish and more exciting even though he did it over 50 years ago. However, give a little credit where it's due, this movie does owe a heavy debt to the Americon crime films that came before it. Especially John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, (maybe the first heist movie? Dunno.), so much so that it pretty much just steals the ending of that movie, what with the lead character speeding around in a car while bleeding to death. Although there are no horses in this version.

Gone Baby Gone

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Damn it, I like Ben Affleck. I know he's been in some pretty shitty movies, but the dude's got a bad rap. Maybe he's not a great actor like his buddy Damon, but he's a good one who maybe just doesn't always pick the best movies.

Anyway, fuck all that, because we are now entering a new era of Affleck, whereby he regains his dignity by proving himself as a talented director. I love Gone Baby Gone, it's the best detective film in a long time, maybe since L.A. Confidential. If I made a top 10 list for 2007, it would have a respectable showing on it. I dug it enough when it came out that I thought I'd check out the book series it was based on, by Dennis Lehane.

Turns out that was a good call, because they are some highly entertaining, well-written detective books with some great characters. I'm already through the first three, Gone Baby Gone is the fourth and I plan on getting around to it soonish.

Thing is, though, I actually like Affleck's Gone Baby Gone better than any of the Lehane books I've read so far. He reigns in some of the more over-the-top elements of the book, and plays the story more intimate and realistic. Granted, I haven't read Gone Baby Gone yet, so it's possible that Lehane makes a few notable changes to the style in that one. But if I had to guess, I'd guess that it's more similar to the other books.

The problem with the books is the violence. The first book was also a little too self-consciously hip and badass, but I've noticed that happens to a lot of crime authors on their first book, and he seems to have cured himself of that for the other books.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like violence. Shit, love it. But once or twice in each book, the violence gets so over-the-top that it undermines the realism of the characters. Like at the end of the 2nd book, where the bad guy holds a baby hostage during a shootout. It's a little much. I mean, I know they are detective books with absurdly convoluted plots, but he does a great job of making the story feel plausible. Until he gets to a shootout or something, and suddenly everyone turns into the fucking Punisher, and maybe it tries a little too hard to seem cool and exciting.

There is violence in Affleck's film, but he saves it for choice moments and always makes it visceral and real, which gives it a lot more impact.

Affleck really gets the soul of Lehane's books perfectly, especially in how well he captures the moral complexity. I think the heart of most good detective fiction (that I'm familiar with, at least) is about characters having to take a hard look at who they are any what they believe. The story usually brings the hero to some moral line, and he either decides that it's the one line he won't cross, or sometimes when it's a more noir-ish tale, he crosses it and pays the consequences. Lehane does this as good as any other crime writer I've read, with his lead character making hard choices, and finding out surprising details about what he is capable of.

The movie is very much in that spirit, and perhaps halfway through the main character does something that, while shocking, we understand his motivations. But then the movie lingers on the implications, and shows his guilt and conflicted feelings. This would be a strong enough theme for a detective movie, but it turns out that it only sets the stage for an even bigger decision that he makes at the end of the film... and the movie has the balls to make it clear that it was very possibly the wrong decision, but is still so empathetic towards the hero that we understand exactly why he does what he does.

I guess I'm not shocked that this movie didn't get more love, but fuck. What more do you people want? This is a great detective film, I think perhaps a new classic.

I oughta pick this up on DVD at some point.

The TV Set

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The TV Set is a satire of the television industry, all about how an ambitious pilot is slowly turned into a generic, lame-ass comedy. A lot of the humor comes out of that style of studying awkward, embarrassing or manipulative behavior. This kind of humor can be great, like on say Seinfeld, but here it doesn't quite transcend into hilarity, and instead leaves the audience feeling genuinely uncomfortable. I mean that as both praise and criticism... it's a worthy accomplishment, but sort of prevents you from "enjoying" the movie in a traditional sense. There are some very real laughs, but not enough to break a lot of the tension.

Anyway, it's another thumbs up for director Jake Kasdan, who I really enjoy, although I'm not as enthusiastic with this one as I am some of his others. The cast is uniformly great, especially David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver and whoever the hell it was that played the lead actor. (He gets the biggest laughs as an actor who performs strongly but subtly in his rehearsals, only to go waaaaaaay over the top every time the cameras are on.) I think part of what keeps the movie from being better (aside from the uncomfortableness it causes) are its occasional attempts at seriousness... it's best when it sticks to satire and personality-observational humor.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Saturday, February 23, 2008

This movie suggests the possibility of an entirely different John Carpenter. One who, while possibly still doing genre films, would make films more concerned with characters and with genuine romances.

He didn't write Starman, and I don't think he could write a movie like it even if he tried, but he sure as shit proves that he can direct it. The emotions here, even though they are on the level of fantasy, are very genuine, and it's his only film that can be described as touching.

You'd think, based on his other movies, that he'd be totally lost making a love story and only really succeed at the sci-fi elements of Starman. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, he uses his great visual style to add a beauty and lyricism to the dramatic scenes, especially during the perfect final moment.

If I had to choose, I'm glad that Carpenter stuck with sci-fi action and horror movies. Still, it's fascinating to watch him try something different here and succeed so strongly.

Be Kind Rewind

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Attentive readers may recall that I have very mixed feelings about the films of Michel Gondry. The three I had seen before Be Kind Rewind all left the same impression on me: that they had taken a lot of energy and imagination to create, but that the final product was just ok. There are a lot of great little moments, but the films themselves weren't strong as a whole. Often times this was due to the characters... he seemed to strive hard to make his movie insightful, but had no idea how to actually pull it off.

However, my gut was right on this one, and Be Kind Rewind is easily his best movie. The plot best plays into his aesthetic of clever visual effects for the sake of visual effects. And he doesn't try so hard to make a movie about people, he just sets up some likable characters. The movie is more along the lines of a Purple Rose of Cairo style tribute to the magic of cinema (the casting of Mia Farrow doesn't seem like an accident). And while I may not trust Gondry to tell me a compelling story about relationships, I definitely trust him to tell me about why movies are cool.

Also, kudos for the Sigourney Weaver cameo.

The Brothers Solomon

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shenan and I have enjoyed Bob Odenkirk's Melvin Goes to Dinner and Let's Go to Prison, so we were looking forward to his latest. It looked kind of like a bad, dumbass comedy, but so did Prison and that movie still makes me laugh a lot, haters be damned.

I have conflicted feelings here. A lot of this movie made me laugh, but a lot of it didn't, and it was downright poorly made at times. The editing especially was awkward... I remember at one point there was clearly no punchline at the end of a scene, and suddenly it turned slo-mo and an 80's rock song cued up, like they tried to force a laugh in after the fact. I just watched The TV Set, and one of the big jokes at the end is that the TV show they make, which is a comedy drama, is re-edited to be more overtly comic by adding wacky music and sound effects. It's not that bad in The Brothers Solomon, but it does feel a little like it at times. Odenkirk was never exactly a master of cinematic language, but his movies at least felt competent before.

Still, enough made me laugh here that I have a soft spot for it. It was worth watching for the Plane Banner scene alone.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Fury

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

People accuse Brian DePalma of ripping off other directors, especially Hitchcock. I think it's more influence than theft, and that DePalma brings enough of himself to make his style feel original. No, the real person De Palma rips off is himself.

I love Brian DePalma, but the man is not shy about repeating himself. It's not uncommon for one of his movies to steal a plot point, or a set piece, or a major theme, or other story idea or structural element from an earlier movie. His movies cover a broader range of genres than, say, Dario Argento (who, don't get me wrong, I also love), but there is a strong sense of repetition or rehashing in a number of his films. Sisters, Dressed to Kill and Raising Cain all use the split-personality gimmick. Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, Raising Cain and Femme Fatale all have a big "it was only a dream" fakeout. Scarface and Carlito's Way both are about latino crime lords, both times played by Al Pacino. Blow Out and Body Double both have "movie within a movie" motifs. And his newest one, Redacted sounds like it reuses the same soldiers raping and murdering a civilian plot as his other war film, Casualties of War.

This list could go on and on.

I bring it up because The Fury turns out to be an early, particularly brazen example of De Palma ripping himself off, and my least favorite example of him doing so. Why? It's the only time where I feel like he's repeated himself solely to try to cash in on previous success.

You see, The Fury was his first film after Carrie. And the main character is a teenage girl with telekinetic powers. Yup. It's a little more of an action/intrigue movie than a horror film, but still. Jesus. It must have looked at the time like DePalma was going to become the auteur of psychic teenager movies.

Can you imagine if that's really how his career turned out? Like, if he kept making psychic teenager movies in different genres? If Casualties of War was about American soldiers raping and murdering a telekinetic Vietnamese girl? Or if Scarface was about a telekinetic Cuban taking over the drug trade? That actually sounds incredible, he should remake all his movies with psychics and telekinetics.

Enough of that. I'm sorry to report that The Fury turns out to be one of my least favorite DePalma movies. The story and writing is pretty lame and sometimes funny for the wrong reasons. He's usually great at messing around with a normal movie structure; making you think someone is the main character then killing them off, going off on tangents that take up a larger chunk of the film than you expect, major characters or plot elements disappearing for a while or being introduced later than expected. There's a little of that here, but it doesn't work. It just feels like the movie ignores one boring character for a while to go focus on another boring character for periods of time that feel distractingly long.

None of this would matter if this had some classic DePalmian set-pieces, but unfortunately there really isn't anything special here. The big car crash/shootout pales in comparison to even his average work. There were maybe a handful of little moments I like. Especially at the end where the girl uses her mind to make a guy explode, thereby one-upping David Cronenberg's Scanners like 3 years before it even came out. Take that, you canuck fuck. Two masters of the horror genre made psychic-themed movies around the same time, and they both sucked, but yours sucked more!

Well, I'm still slowly but surely working my way through the DePalma filmography, but I have a bad feeling that most of the ones left to see are more at the ass-end of the spectrum. Oh well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Bridge On the River Kwai

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fucking sweet. My K2K has yet again lead me to a great movie.

What I loved about The Bridge On the River Kwai was that while it is superficially a big, war epic type film, at it's heart it is really a quirky study of some surprising human qualities and moral complexity.

It's really only maybe 1 1/2 parts war-epic to the 3 parts character study, with an appreciated 1 part obsession-on-the-brink-of-madness tale. So basically right up my alley.

And all the shifting of moral viewpoints is great... a lot of big, epic, adventurous movies I think try to put a definitive right/wrong stamp on the story, but what works so well here is that there are at least four major character with varying, conflicting viewpoints, but some empathy is achieved for all of them. It all comes to a head during the (fucking awesome, suspenseful, bridge-exploding) climax, most of the characters end up dead, and the movie leaves you not exactly sure how to feel. This isn't deliberately unsatisfying like the end of Zodiac, but I love coming to the end of a 2hr 40 min movie and not being sure what the message was. It means I have to actually think about the movie, and determine for myself what's right/wrong, etc.

I'm largely ignorant of the films of Alec Guinness, save for Star Wars (duh), but he was so amazing here that I really must delve further into his filmography. I already knew that William Holden was great, but this still reinforced my love.

Also this David Lean fellow, the director. He knows his business, and I'm going to have to somewhere down the line check him out.

Oh, and the exploding bridge I mentioned? A fucking train goes flying off of it. You don't see shit this awesome in movies very often, even in straight up action flicks. Hawt.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Wizard of Gore

Sunday, February 17, 2008

OK, I need to stop it with this kind of shit. I mean, seriously. A while back I saw Hershel Gordon Lewis's 2000 Maniacs, and it was old, ultra-cheap, poorly shot, poorly acted, corny, but really offbeat and (for the time) really violent. So, I gave it three stars on Netflix... it was bad, but I found something about it's cheap-ass aesthetic effective. It created a weird tone that I liked.

Really, though, it's a shitty movie, and I think any atmosphere it created was accidental. The Wizard of Gore is the same way... bad, but also accidentally kind of funny, and so oddball and violent that it's strangely watchable.

But you know what? I'm setting the bar too fucking low here. Anything I enjoyed about this movie, I was meeting it way more than halfway. It's more about my own fascination with horror movies than anything the movie itself did. And it's not accidentally funny enough to become a classic that way, although the ending is pretty fucking funny.

Still man, there's too many good fucking movies out there for me to be watching this shit. And too many good-bad movies, for that matter, not a bad-bad movie like this that I find inexplicably captivating.

I'm making a pledge here to cut down on this kind of shit... I'm not saying no bad horror movies, I just pledge to be more honest with myself. When they are bad-bad and not good-bad, I need to just admit that to myself instead of finding reasons to enjoy them. Finding good elements of bad movies is something I pride myself in, but that doesn't mean I should trick myself into liking the entire movie if it doesn't deserve it.

Club Dread

Friday, February 15, 2008

Just watched this one recently, didn't I? Well, Patrick hadn't seen it, and Shenan is like the biggest fan ever, and Chris seemed game if I recall, although I think both he and Shenan fell asleep.

Anyway, this is the extended edition, of which I once had a copy which has apparently fallen into whatever hole in the world took my copy of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. There is some good material in the new stuff, but mostly it just makes an already kinda too long movie become nearly epic length (for the genre). Like the untitled version of Almost Famous, it's more for fans and not so much recommended for first time viewing.

Weird that this one got a 2nd DVD release, considering how badly it bombed theatrically. Maybe the DVDs sold well. Or maybe it just cost way less than I imagine?

Also, the cover on this version I think highly suggests that you might possibly see Brittany Daniels tits in this version. You don't, but if you do want to get a good look at her in the buff, I recommend that Hillside Strangler movie she was in.

DISCLAIMER: I don't actually recommend the movie itself, just the parts with her ass and titties.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dean Koontz's Tree Dogs

Friday, February 15, 2008

You may insist that this film does not exist. You may say that you looked it up, and it's actually called The Breed and that Dean Koontz had absolutely nothing to do with the production. You may claim that the title Tree Dogs has little to nothing to do with the film itself.

Well, friend-o, all I can tell you is that I own this film, I have watched this film, and I know in my heart of hearts that it was written by Dean Koontz, and that it's about evil dogs that can somehow climb trees.

Patrick and I caught the 2nd half of this a few weeks back on TV at like 4:30 in the morning, and it kept us up laughing. Then we spent the next day trying and failing to explain to Shenan why it was the funniest movie we had seen in a long time.

By coincidence, Shenan and I found the movie at CD Cellar the following week, and in her infinite wisdom and graciousness, she bought it for me as a gift.

It was just as funny this time around, and I was happy to catch some details I had missed the first time, like the girl who gets bit by a dog and then inexplicably takes on some vaguely dog-like personality traits for some later scenes. This better explains the scene where she stares a dog down and screams to her friend "Don't you understand? If I break eye contact, we're dead!" Still doesn't explain why two people can't fight off one fucking dog. And it doesn't make the scene any less funny.

I won't be surprised if this one, K2K be damned, ends up being watched a few more times in the near-ish future. It's the best of its kind since House of the Dead.

Rescue Dawn

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Well, I've been trying to do more of a broad canvass during my K2K, but after watching Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God, I moved his Rescue Dawn up my queue. It's a newer one, so technically it's not part of my K2K... still, I said I'd try not to focus in on particular directors or genres until I felt my broader curiosity had been sated. Oh well.

This is not nearly as crazy or visionary as Aguirre, though it does have it's moments. I expected this to be a harrowing, disturbing tale of survival, but that's not really the case. After a weak first 20 minutes or so, the movie really picks up when Christian Bale's character ends up in a POW camp, where the film becomes a warm, surprisingly funny humanist tale about men bonding in harsh conditions. For an hour or so, then the movie does become something of a harrowing man vs. nature tale, but still told with a lot of humanity and warmth, and not quite the descent into madness I might have expected. And then it has an almost embarrassingly sappy happy ending.

There is a lot of great material in the middle, but the movie is hobbled somewhat by an uninvolving opening and a corny ending. And also, as good as the middle was, it lacks the insane vision of Aguirre and Nosferatu. Perhaps it's not appropriate to this material, but Herzog doesn't really put his unique, crazy stamp on the movie until near the end, and even then it's a bit half-assed compared to his other movies.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Across the Pacific

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When John Huston is on his game, he doesn't fuck around. For his directorial debut, he made The Maltese Falcon, which is not only my favorite detective movie of all time, but also probably my favorite tough-guy movie. The style and the character/performance of Sam Spade pretty much set the stage for every private eye movie to follow... almost all movie private eyes are either Spade clones, or deliberately unlike Spade. He is the epitome of the movie detective: a sleazy hardass with a personal moral code. Only Spade is way more of a bastard than other movies usually have the guts to make their lead.

So, following up on Falcon's success, he reunited with half the cast (Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet), and made a fun, relatively lightweight, sexist, racist spy-thriller about Bogart trying to stop an evil Japanese conspiracy while on a pleasure cruise.

Falcon is a pretty hard act to follow, so it's no surprise that this doesn't come close to living up to it. But I'm happy to report that it's still a pretty entertaining movie, maybe a little disposable, but the (obvious) chemistry of the cast goes a long way to helping it along.

I said it was racist, and I'm pretty sure it is, because every single damn Japanese person in the cast turns out to be part of the evil conspiracy, like it's The Wicker Man on a cruise ship. But at the same time, earlier scenes seem to make a genuine (if not an entirely insightful) attempt at showing respect to some Japanese customs and attitudes... maybe Huston is trying to show that he's not racist, I guess, but when all the Japanese turn out to be evil spies it kind of undercuts any earlier attempts at diplomacy.

Or maybe, just maybe, all the earlier stuff is just so Huston can mock pussy liberals who would be offended by blatantly demonizing the Japanese. I dunno.

Either way, the racism actually makes the movie a little extra interesting.

So, not a classic, but it's got some good visuals, good action, good acting, good fun , and unsettling racism.

3:10 to Yuma

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nice to see a remake of a pretty good movie that actually surpasses the original.

This was my second time watching it, and I might have actually liked it a little bit more. Caught a little more nuance. It comes close to being a great movie, but I have to say, except for maybe the finale, the action is pretty disappointing here. The rest of the filmmaking/acting/writing is top notch, but when the action is such a key part of the story... it should be a little stronger than this.

I am somewhat amused by the opening action set piece, which seems to strike the attitude of a modern day car chase, but set in the old west, complete with an explosion and a big crash. But it's just not very well staged, and maybe a little too over the top.

Still, it's nice to see a modern Western that for once isn't revisionist or elegiac, but more old-fashioned and adventurous.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Escape From L.A.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The guy at the store actually made fun of me for buying this. Yeah, well, eff him. I dig this movie.

It's essentially a bigger budget remake of Escape From New York rather than a sequel, but with a more overt, tongue-in-check sense of humor. It rehashes the plot and a lot of the scenes from New York, only makes them bigger and more ridiculous. Almost as if it's a satire of the first movie, or of sequels. Only John Carpenter would pull this kind of silly, subversive nonsense, and I can't help but love him for it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Falcon and the Snowman

Monday, February 11, 2008

In the tradition of Cop, here's another mostly forgotten 80's movie that for reasons I do not recall has been on my Netflix queue for a very long time. I don't know what is going on with me lately... I wonder if this is becoming a habit?

This is an entertaining movie about two young American guys who find themselves in a position to sell US secrets to the Soviets. Based on a true story, although I'm guessing there's some serious dramatic license being taken. Any way, it's a good movie with an agreeably oddball Sean Penn performance.

First Cop, now The Falcon and the Snowman... I wonder what slightly above average forgotten 80's flick I can find next?

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Evil Dead

Sunday, February 10, 2008

You know what this movie is? Inspiring.

I've you've ever read about the making of The Evil Dead, it's amazing how much hard work a bunch of guys put in just to make a cheap horror film. And even more amazing that they made a great cheap horror film.

Sam Raimi started here, and now he's doing movies about Spiderman that cost more money than the GDP of some countries. Shit, dude. Dare to dream.

The French Connection

Sunday, February 10, 2008

This was a long time coming. The French Connection is not only widely regarded as an all-time classic action picture with one of the greatest chase scenes of all time, it's a winner of the fucking Academy Award for Best Picture. Try to think off the top of your heads how many action films are even nominated for Best Picture, let alone how many have won. Yeah. That's right. It doesn't happen. Ever. That makes it both a significant film in one of my most cherished genres, as well as a classic all-around. It's director, William Friedkin, is a talented fellow who I enjoy but I think tends to make mixed-bag movies. However, he made The Exorcist, which is one of the few horror films to get a Best Picture nod. Meaning he's gotten serious critical respect for movies in my two favorite genres that are almost never given any respect.

What I'm saying about The French Connection is this:

1) This is a movie I should have seen.

2) I had not, to my shame, ever seen it in its entirety.

3) I am now Kommitted to Klassiks, ensuring that I pretty much had to see it, or admit to a lack of kommittment.

4) Expectations were high.

Then to top it all off, co-star Roy Scheider up and dies the day I watch it, making my viewing into an inadvertent tribute. The pressure was on.

OK, let's cut it with this buildup shit. All said and done, The French Connection is a pretty good, probably not great, tough guy cop movie. I dug it. I am, however, a little mystified by the Best Picture win. I mean, it's not much more than a good genre film. Which is fine by me, great, give it an award, but the Academy doesn't tend to recognize these types of films. I was expecting something a little more... I don't know. Deep? Ambitious? Important? Pretentious? Something like that.

Also, there's Gene Hackman. He's good, as always, but Best Actor? There's not much range in the performance here, or development, or anything like that. He acts tough, and he gets mad a lot. That's it. Also, whats up with that stupid scene of him sleeping with the bicycle girl?

I'm thinking this movie must have seemed really gritty, fresh, and "real" at the time. That's the only way I can understand such acclaim. From my perspective, this movie is a little too far fetched and dramatized at times to be so serious/realistic, but it is certainly well made. I guess maybe people were blown away back in 1971 at how dark and gritty this one was, but after a million of these movies, it seems pretty tame and unrealistic by today's standards.

I did like the abrupt, mysterious, open ending... puts a weird, arty, ambiguous spin on an otherwise straightforward procedural. It sort of predicts Friedkin's Cruising, which if you go back through my posts you will see I didn't exactly like, but was fascinated by.

So there it is. Not the masterpiece it's been painted as, but a good one regardless.

Oh shit! There was something I liked that I forgot to mention. The main character is not only a pretty shitty human being, like a lot of drunken detective protagonists are in these movies, but a pretty shitty cop, too. He's a fascist, racist asshole who spends a lot of the movie fucking things up and putting people's lives at risk. Even though we follow things mainly from his perspective, the movie is critical of his behavior without making a point of it. He's more of an anti-hero (something I'm noticing is a common theme in Friedkin's flicks), and it adds a nice layer of moral ambiguity to the film.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Spartacus had been, for a while now, the notable gap in my knowledge of Stanley Kubrick. Having now seen it, it is a fairly entertaining, handsomely shot, mainstream epic costume drama / sword and sandals movie. It also doesn't feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie in any way shape or form.

Apparently, Kubrick was more of a hired gun on this one, brought in after the original director was fired, and therefore didn't develop it as closely as he did his other films. The studio had most of the control. So that explains that. Unlike what Scorsese did with The Aviator, and what Kubrick himself would later do with Barry Lyndon, Kubrick makes a genre film competently, but fails to make it his own, or feel of a piece with his body of work.

Still, it's interesting to know that he's capable of successfully making a mainstream genre film. There are plenty of directors, good ones, who I think would fail to make both a personal/auteur-theory-confirming film or a competent genre entry. And more directors that would make a film with their stamp on it, but that still sucks. Yeah, I'm glad the vast majority of Kubrick's films were ones he had a tighter control on, but regardless I find it interesting to watch him work within the boundries of a genre, within the studio system, and at least succeed in making an OK movie.

I like directors working outside of their private zone on occassion. It gives the viewer/fan a better sense of their particular skills and attributes outside of the director's normal style and obsessions. IE: I love Richard Linklater's smaller passion projects, but I also love that he did School of Rock. Starman may not be John Carpenter's best film, but it's a really good, very different film for him that may be the most emotionally resonant of his filmography. And half of Robert Altman's career was him taking on genres he was less familiar with. They aren't always great, but they're pretty much always interesting.

And so on.

Brokeback Mountain

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Saturday evening unintentionally turned into a Jake Gyllenhaal double feature when I bought a cheap copy of Brokeback Mountain, which Shenan had never seen. I hadn't seen it since it was out in the theaters, although I had seen it twice during its run.

The second time I saw it, I went with Patrick and Monica, after Monica and I had been doing some serious drinking. In fact, I'm pretty sure we snuck a flask in with us. So, the point I'm trying to get across here is that I was bombed out of my skull. More bombed than the time I went to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning and laughed for ten minutes when that cow exploded. So bombed that somewhere in the middle of the movie I started crying like a little baby bitch.

OK, yeah, this movie gets to me. I cried a little the other two times I've seen it sober. So sue me.

This is the first time I've watched a Heath Ledger movie since he died, and I thought maybe it was going to be a little weird. But it wasn't. I stopped thinking about his death within the first 20 minutes, and really was (yet again) swept into how great a performance he gives. It's sad to reflect now, judging by how strong he is in this movie, as he was finally coming into his own as an actor, how much potential he had. I suspect we've lost a lot of great performances with his passing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Saturday, February 9, 2008

I waited until the director's cut came out to buy this one. I had heard that the changes were minimal, and I trusted that it wouldn't be radically changed in any way. So, you know, if it's basically the same, why not own the director's preferred version? Also this version has a shitload of awesome special features.

Like I said about Ratatouille the other day, I feel like by the time the end of the year rolled around, everybody forgot what a great movie this is. I mean, I don't expect everybody to love a 2 1/2 hour movie that has a deliberately unsatisfying ending, but come on guys. I mean, fuck the Oscars, I don't care about the lack of Oscar love, but this could have been on some more of the best 10 lists. Let's not count this one out just because it came out earlier in 2007. Not all the best movies come out in the Fall.

Oh P.S., let's hope this film ushers in a new era of artistic maturity for David Fincher, a prodigiously talented filmmaker who made some damn good movies but I don't think until now truly found his voice. Fingers crossed.

The Aviator

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Today I watched Spartacus, and it got me thinking about when beloved directors make bigger, studio/genre films, and not the more personal films we love them for. It's interesting to see their unique style etched onto a generic template.

Spartacus is clearly a case where Kubrick didn't have much of a personal connection to the material, and as a result it feels more like a typical genre entry than it does a Kubrick film. The Aviator, however, is a great success. Scorsese takes the standard template of an expensive studio biopic and he tailgates it on the freeway, cuts it off, pulls it out of its car and beats the living shit out of it until it submits. He owns it. Hell, after he's done beating on it, he throws it in the trunk of his car, brings it home, chains it up in his basement, tattoos his name on it and makes it his sex slave.

I think I'm in the minority, but I think it's one of his best. It doesn't have many of his usual themes and obsessions, sure. He's working a little outside of his box here, but I like that. It's something different for him, a challenge. And he proves what a born filmmaker he is by taking what could have been a good but generic Oscar-grab movie and making it undeniably a Scorsese film. The Aviator would be a masterpiece alone just taken on a technical level... it is such a big, expensive, visually complex epic that never once seems to make a wrong move in the staging, or fail to create the appropriate atmosphere. But it is also, to me, one of Scorsese's most moving and insightful films. We know that great acting in one of his movies is a given, but I think we rarely care this much about the characters.

I've seen this one 4 or 5 times now, and it honestly gets better every time. Although well-liked, it was unfairly dismissed by the critical establishment as not being as personal or intimate of a film. (I guess because it lacks his usual catholic guilt). Give it a little more time, though, and I think people will remember it as one of the best biopics ever made.

Death Sentence

Friday, February 8, 2008

I watched this with Shenan as a sort of follow-up to watching Death Wish a few weeks back. It's based on the book that was a sequel to the original book Death Wish, but the movie itself is not a sequel, it's just a revenge movie in a similar vein. This time with Kevin Bacon in the Charles Bronson role, a choice that works well because he's not at all a badass, and therefore is more believable than Bronson as a regular guy pushed to the edge. Bronson is great in Death Wish, but you never really believe him as some liberal pussy in the early scenes.

Death Sentence makes an earnest but failed attempt at being a serious, anti-violence picture. It makes the same mistake most of these films do, which is to subvert it's own anti-violence message by having the violence be the most entertaining part of the film. Also, pretty much all the dramatic scenes don't work.

The action, on the other hand, is another matter. I wish there was more of it, but I must say that I enjoyed the high style and energy the director brought to the action scenes. So, from that point of view, if you like this kind of crap, then Death Sentence is a good one. An unremarkable revenge film punched-up by some strong action scenes.

In retrospect, 2007 was a pretty good year for action movies. When even an otherwise mediocre film like this has 3 or 4 memorable action sequences, perhaps the genre is having a mini-renaissance.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I wouldn't really be Kommitted to Klassiks at all if I didn't try to see some more Werner Herzog. I had only seen Nosferatu and Grizzly Man before this, both of which I enjoyed but neither of which I could quite call great.

If I was actually reviewing movies and not just briefly posting, I might try to draw out some suspense here about how Aguirre stacked up. But fuck that noise. I'm not a professional. I thought this was a great movie.

Madness, that's the running theme I'm seeing in Herzog's films. Not just in the characters, per se. The movies them selves seem a little crazy. And this here one goes fucking nuts. Not in some wacky, up is down, omg the dog is talking sort of way. Just, the movie and all the characters slowly lose their grip on rationality. It doesn't get all zany or fast paced or intense or action packed. Although there is a part where a guy is counting and someone cuts his head off and it rolls across the ground, lands upright and counts one more number.

The visuals in this movie are astounding, although not in that well lit, perfectly framed, saturated color kind of way. It's shot straightforward, but what we see is incredible. It's more like Herzog is tapping us on the shoulder, pointing, and saying, "Look at that! It's a bunch of explorers on some weird rickety raft travelling down a river in the jungle and they have a horse on the raft walking around. Can you believe this shit?"

I will certainly have to see more by this crazy German bastard.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Did everyone forget about Ratatouille?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but everyone loves this movie, right? It's great... absolutely the most magical movie of the past several years, likely to get a spot my all-time magical list.

It also seemed to me that the critics agreed with this assessment about it, and that they all gushed and raved about it. Then, come the end of the year, it didn't seem to register on any of their best 10 lists. Or at least not as much as I had expected. It's like they all became Anton Egos.

This movie is less jokey but way more charming and delightful than all the other computer animated movies of late. Something I love that I don't think is noted much, but was clear to me watching it last night, is that it's also something of a secret action movie. There are a large number of chase scenes in this movie, and I think that final one with the scooter is one of the best action scenes of the year.

So chew on that next time you watch it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Even I will admit that this was an odd, obscure choice of a movie for me to Netflix. It is not a treasured classic, so it's not part of my K2K. It's not some cult genre film that I wanted to catch up with. It's a mostly forgotten and dismissed hard-boiled neo-noir detective movie from the 80's, which is not a decade known for making a lot of memorable noir-ish films. I'm not sure how I even heard of it, but I put it on my queue a long, long time ago. I know I must have been tempted by the idea of James Woods in a dark, noirish thriller.

I had this bad vibe going into it that it was going to be terrible. It wasn't, it was actually kinda good, but in a weird way where some of it is awesome and some of it is really shitty.

It's based on a James Ellroy book, and I'm going to go ahead and assume without researching that the better dialogue and the crazy-insane plot comes from the book. And I'll go ahead and blame the terrible synthesizer music and some of the more inexplicably bad scenes on the writer/director.

James Woods is great in this, and I did love the very abrupt ending that skips all the boring, obligatory wrap-up shit movies usually feel the need to have. And... you know what? This is an OK movie, but it's a minor pleasure, it's 20 years old and has probably been forgotten for a good reason. I have more stuff I could say about it, but who cares? We all have more important shit to do.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Conversation

Monday, February 4, 2008

I feel guilty. It's time for a confession.

On Sunday, I had started watching On the Waterfront as part of my Kommittment to Klassiks, being all charitable and Jesus-esque in giving Elia Kazan another shot even though I'm a little lukewarm on his films. So I get like, shit I don't even know how far into it an I realize that I'm not paying much attention, and I'm not sure I'm in the mood to watch it, and really I had wanted to watch it with Shenan because she has a crush on Marlon Brando but we didn't get a chance, and I don't know let's for the sake of argument say that I was pretty drunk at the time. I turned it off, sealed it up in it's Netflix envelope and sent it back from whence it came.

I know, I know. That doesn't show much Kommitment.

So, to make up for it, I decided that Monday night I would have to watch a legit masterpiece, so I pulled out my copy of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. It's my favorite of his, although in the spirit of confession, I don't really think The Godfather is anything special and I haven't even seen all of part 2. Probably an avenue I should explore this year with my K2K.

Anyways, it's still a great movie.

On an unrelated note, if I can maintain the (so far fairly consistant) rate of movie watching for an entire year, I will watch something like 547 movies, which comes to something like 38 days worth. Assuming my hastily done math is correct.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Femme Fatale

Saturday, February 2, 2008

As I recall, this was not a successful or well-liked movie when it was released in 2002. I was a Brian DePalma fan, and I liked it, but I mostly dismissed it as good fun.

I can see why people wouldn't like this movie. It's strange, there isn't much character development (the main character doesn't have any substantive dialogue until the last 30 minutes or so, and actually it's not always clear which character is the main one), and the plot is silly and has a weird cop-out ending.

It's taken almost 5 years, but I now clearly see this film as the sort of weird, unique masterpiece that it is. And the trick is, you have to have seen a lot of DePalma movies. Otherwise, it doesn't make much sense. Having, since I first saw Femme Fatale, watched the DePalma thrillers Sisters, Obsession, Raising Cain, and more significantly repeat viewings of Dressed to Kill, Carrie and Body Double, I "get" this film more.

It's almost like he deliberately set out to make a film that could only be analyzed via the auteur theory. There is not a frame of this movie that could have been conceived by anyone but Brian DePalma. Every single shot sticks a megaphone right in your ear and screams "DePalma!" at the top of its lungs. It's a film seemingly made to reference his own filmography. It has all his touches. The cockeyed structural experiments. The extended slow motion sequences. The reappropriated Hitchcockian touches. The ornate suspense set-pieces. Audacity on every level of storytelling. A dream-like feel. A mishmash of supreme confidence and batshit insanity. This is a masterpiece of style-as-substance.

It's every one of his Hitchcock on drugs, weird-ass, DePalmian thrillers distilled into their ultimate form. It is DePalma analyzing and deconstructing his own style, then building it back up again and pumping it full of steroids.

He tried this once before with Raising Cain, but where that is a bizarre, fascinating failure, this is a bizarre, fascinating success.

I can't really call this one his "best," and Dressed to Kill will probably remain my "favorite" in that it's the one I would watch the most. But few directors have ever made a film that so clearly pinpoints their own unique style in every possible way.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Hoax

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I only really watched this one because my parents had Netflixed it.

I'm not a Lasse Hallstrom fan, and I doubt I ever will be. He's not untalented as a film maker, but I think I just reject his entire aesthetic and worldview. This isn't a terrible film by any means, but the early scenes are never as fun or as entertaining as they should be, and the later scene try to bring in some emotion/drama that the film hasn't earned. Skip it.


Friday, February 1, 2008

This is my favorite Spielberg film, and it's a little amazing to me that he made it back-to-back with by far my least favorite of his films.

You know the one I mean. It's the one where silly looking aliens shoot their ray-guns at everyone, yet the tone of the film is dead serious and it constantly appropriates 9/11 imagery to lend a sense of dread and terror. You know, in a stupid fucking movie about spacemen shooting lasers. Totally comparable to 9/11.

It's the one where the world's most famous Scientologist is imprisoned in a giant robot testicle, inside of which a giant tongue crawls out of a giant butthole and tries to eat him and I paid $8 to see it happen.

That one.

The spectre of 9/11 haunts both films. One is a smart, powerful, brilliantly made film that inspires you to really consider a variety of issues on the matter, while still being a masterpiece of the action-thriller genre. The other one is a generic summer blockbuster with really corny dialogue and bad acting that figures it can elicit some sort of default audience response by exploiting disaster imagery and not at all commenting on it.

Wildly different approaches from the same man, is my point.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Red River

Thursday, January 31, 2008

I think I can count myself as a Howard Hawks fan. He makes movies that are essentially just entertainment, but his craft and visual style are so brilliant that the films become art. I can see why John Carpenter is such a big fan, they share this similar sensibility. Hawks I think is a little more skilled with his actors/writing/characters/etc. (I like Carpenter more, though... he's more subversive, he's sly in his social commentary, and most importantly he knows how to make a great horror film).

Well, when I credit the character work in the Hawks films I've seen, it's not exactly that he creates works of unparalleled empathy and insight to the human spirit... he just knows good dialogue, and how to get his actors to make it snappy and seem like god damned movie stars. When it's done this well, I love that kind of shit.

Well any way, I'm watching Red River, which is a late 40's John Wayne western that Hawks did. And I'm realizing that not only is this film as entertaining as his best stuff, but the story, characters and themes are a lot more complex. This is great. This could be a masterpiece. It has his great sense of fun and humor, it's got his great adventure. But it also has multi-faceted character relationships, and it's a genuinely dark journey into madness and obsession. It's like a cross between Hawks's El Dorado and John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I am loving this fucker.

Which is why it's pretty damned heartbreaking that it flies off the rails on the last 30 minutes or so. To paraphrase Charlie Wilson, Hawks fucked up the endgame.

If you've seen a few Hawks movies, you know that there is this sort of Hawksian female lead character type in a lot of them. The women are these smart, sassy, willful, quick-witted types who tend to spew awesome one-liners at the male lead to throw him off his game/as foreplay. This has worked well in, I think, all the other Hawks movies I saw.

Red River, for it's first 100 minutes or so, is almost entirely about men. There is one female character at the very beginning, and she has one brief scene and then dies off screen.

Then, in this last act of the movie, almost at random we are introduced to one of those Hawksian women, who talks fast, wittily and shamelessly flirts with Montgomery Clift's character... right in the middle of a deadly Indian attack where everyone is fighting for their lives. She is, in fact, so caught up in her banter that she scarcely notices when she gets shot through the shoulder with a fucking arrow. Instead of, you know, screaming in pain or fainting, she just continues on with the blather. This scene is so out of place that the effect is surreal.

The rest of the film becomes a weird tug of rope between the darker themes and this weird, lighthearted, sassy comedy and unfortunately the bullshit wins. The movie builds to what we expect to be a dark, intense fight between two main characters, and then that's all more or less dismissed with a joke and then the woman acts all sassy and then everyone forgives each other. Already that's like "what the fuck?" but even weirder is that John Wayne coldbloodedly kills somebody right before the ending, but then the movie immediately forgets that and has this silly, happy finale.

I can't wrap my brain around any of this. Did Hawks not realize how dark the rest of the film was? Did he not think audiences would accept a darker ending? Or maybe was this some fucking brilliant avant garde thing where we follow John Wayne's madness and obsession so deep that the movie itself descends into lunacy? Maybe the surrealism was intentional.

(It's not.)

Fuck, man. This was like an inch shy of being a great film.

Final note: Despite hearing that Clash song a million times, I was completely unfamiliar with this Montgomery Clift fellow until now. I will have to check some more of his films out.