Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We now move on to part 2 of the "Two for the Price of One" Vincent Price double feature, which I guess means this one was free. Or were they both half off? I'm not sure. I didn't really think this title out very well.

Moving on, it turns out that Price isn't one of the leads in Laura, although he does have a very significant supporting role that's practically a lead any way, so good for him. He was only in his early 30's here, and fairly handsome looking.

is a sorta film-noir by Otto Preminger, whose Anatomy of a Murder I watched a while back for my K2K and totally gushed about it, and now find that it hasn't really stuck with me. How about that? I bet it would still be a great watch, but I guess maybe it's more like cinematic Chinese food.

Contrary to what I had heard, this wasn't a great movie, but I liked it. I love Preminger's visual style (deep focus, I believe you call it, and I especially dig the way long shots will turn into close-ups and vise versa), and there are a lot of interesting characters. The story and mystery elements, however, aren't very compelling, and this being a mystery/noir type of movie, it doesn't go over well. There's also a subplot involving the main character becoming obsessed with the murder victim he's investigating that feels half-assed. It's one of my favorite oft-used elements in detective stories, but it doesn't really go anywhere here and isn't developed enough. I'll stick with James Ellroy when I want detectives sporting wood for dead chicks.

The movie is helped by the quirky characters and some strange details. What really jumped out at me, although I suspect maybe it's just my imagination, was all the homosexual subtext. The three male leads are all in love with Laura, yet each one has a sort of gay vibe going on. Vincent Price, as I've already said, has mannerisms that suggest homosexuality. Clifton Webb plays a bitchy, catty author named Waldo Lydecker who seems almost like the proto-Capote. At one point, the main character sees Lydecker naked, coming out of his bathtub, and I swear they make a point of showing a slight smile cross his face. I have no idea what any of this means, or if it's even really there, but it added an unexpected layer to the movie.

And the real shock here is Price, doing something I've never seen before: playing a normal guy in a reasonably normal movie. And you know what? Compared to everything else I've seen him in, he's subdued and natural and lacking in his overt theatricality. He plays a regular, kinda good looking guy, and never once stands out as some weirdo, iconic camp figure. So there you go, Vincent Price can act.

The Baron of Arizona

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vincent Price has an interesting screen presence. It's hard to call him a good actor, but he's an incredibly memorable one. I guess we tend to think of him as a campy over-actor. Certainly, he's a theatrical one. He comes off as possibly homosexual, although he was not, and that adds some campiness. By the time I was watching cartoons, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo was on TV, and Price's persona or iconography was already familiar to me, despite not having even seen any of his movies. I've wondered for a while now, though, if Price was really a bad/campy actor, or if it's just the campy movies he showed up in.

So last night I did a double feature of non-horror movies starring Vincent Price, that I'm going to go ahead and right now name the "Two for the Price of One Double Feature." And yes, this is my second VP double feature in only 4 months. Before you know it, I'll have double-featured my way through his entire filmography.

Two Price movies, both dramatic roles, as a test to see if he is a better actor given different material. No haunted houses, no murders-by-pendulum, and certainly no killing yappy dogs, baking them into a pie and feeding them to their master.

Two things I learned about "the Veep" (as I call him) last night:

1) He is very tall. I mean, I think I knew he was tall, but goddamn, I didn't realize he was some towering gigantor with long monkey-arms. Maybe it was the monkey-arms that I hadn't noticed before.

2) When he was young and beardless, he was actually a decently attractive guy.

So first on the list was The Baron of Arizona, which is Sam Fuller's 2nd movie (I think), and the 3rd I've watched in the past few weeks, so this was really like a perfect storm for me. It's a shitload better than I Shot Jesse James, although it still has some serious flaws that keep it from realizing its full potential. I would say the worst part is that the movie has a useless wraparound story where some older rich dude is telling the story of the Baron of Arizona to a bunch of other guys. So for a while we get this really annoying, cheesy, obvious narration going on over the (far more interesting) story of the Baron, every now and then cutting back to the rich guys sipping scotch in their study or oppressing minorities or whatever it is the upper crust does. Oddly, by the end, the movie has slowly abandoned the narration, and the whole wraparound never comes back. Like they completely forgot it.

The story itself is pretty cool though, about an audacious con man in the late 1800's who sets up a complicated plot to try and claim all of Arizona for himself. He forges all sorts of documents and adopts a little girl for whom he invents a new identity as a Spanish Baroness with rightful claim to the land. When she grows up, he marries her, making himself the Baron.

OK, here it is. I'm going to come out in defense of Vincent Price. Because he's pretty good in this movie. He's still got that weird voice, that sexual ambiguity and some serious theatricality, but it works for the character. I mean, this guy is one ballsy con artist, creating a fictional royal position and persona for himself. It fits. It doesn't come off as hammy... in fact, in a movie that does have some accidentally hammy moments, V.P. comes off as the least corny, most nuanced character.

I'm not gonna give him a posthumous Oscar or nothing, but his demeanor and style of acting don't come off as overly campy in a non-campy movie. So, I'm thinking this means that his style lends well to camp, but that it more has to do with the movie he's in rather than his being a shitty actor. Good job, Vincent, you proved to me that you actually could act.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Horse Feathers

Monday, April 28, 2008

This one is funny, but probably my least favorite Marx Brothers movie I've seen so far. The pacing and timing seems off in places, and then the big football game finale is kind of mediocre when it really should be the great payoff. This and Monkey Business are the only 2 Marx Brothers movies that Netflix has for instant viewing, so I may not being seeing any more any time soon. I don't know why exactly, but I can't bring myself to actually put these movies on my queue. Like, I'm not willing to wait for them to ship or something, I need them now or never. Maybe I just have a hard time giving a spot on my queue to movies this short.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Not nearly as awesome as Yojimbo, but still pretty sweet. Toshiro Mifune is up to his old tricks again, including the one where he kills a bunch of guys and then convinces their boss that someone else did it. This time he has a whole gang of incompetent samurai in tow, and it gives the cranky ronin an excuse to always have people around to insult.

This one feels a little lighter than the first one, and maybe a little more straightforward and uncomplicated. Just some light fun. But then it builds up to an unexpected emotional payoff that fleshes the movie out a little more, maybe deepens the themes a bit. Has me excited to see more Kurosawa.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Saturday, April 26, 2008

We were talking and drinking a lot during this one, so I know it didn't have my full attention. But I think I paid enough attention that I can count it... It's a fine line. We watched Tree Dogs later on that night, but I don't remember much of it at all, so I'm not counting it.

What's to say here? I've seen this movie plenty of times and don't have any new thoughts on it.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

I never saw the first P, so I'm not sure I followed all of this one.

Just kidding, this isn't a sequel, it's just a terrible title for a pretty enjoyable horror movie. The trailer made it look rather skippable, but then I found out that the Hills Have Eyes remake guy cowrote it, and Roger Ebert gave it a good review, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

P2 actually aims to generate some real suspense, so it's more along the lines of a thriller, but with some definite slasher movie elements thrown in. On one hand, it's a little classier and better made that others of it's ilk, but it's still not afriad to throw in some extreme gore. I quite like that balance.

By far the film's biggest asset is Wes Bentley, who plays the killer. Like I was saying about Jonathan Tucker in The Ruins, it's nice seeing a good actor doing good work in this genre. Bentley is very effectively unnerving in this, but he also manages to avoid making his psycho into a one-dimensional Jason Vorhees, and instead fleshes him out into lonely, violent weirdo with recognizable motivations. He's at least 2 1/2 dimensional.

I didn't know this going in, but P2 has a Christmas theme to it. Not in a gimmicky way like Silent Night Deadly Night or the remake of Black Christmas. It's more like the old Black Christmas, where it does add a little atmosphere, but mostly is used as a plot device to explain why no one is around. It does get a little gimmicky here and there, most memorably during the end credits, which shows of montage of holiday-style snapshots of all the awful things that happened during the movie, set to Christmas movie. That was hilarious, but I'm glad that the rest of the movie didn't have that silly, darkly comic attitude to it (at least, not to that degree). The killer does briefly dress as Santa Claus (in one of the best, strangest scenes in the film), but he doesn't kill or stalk any body in the Santa costume or make bad puns about being on his naughty list. It's a classier movie than that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The first Harold and Kumar looked fucking terrible when it came out, and then turned out to be one of the funniest, most likable comedies of recent years. I was pretty excited for the sequel.

Overall, it's probably not as funny as the first, but it's a lot more ballsy and subversive. The title is an obvious clue, but this one aspires to have a certain degree of political and social commentary that the original didn't go for. Some of it really, painfully falls flat, but when this movie hits its target it scores a perfect shot, and delivers some of the funniest moments I've seen on film in a while. It's not a great comedy, but it's a good comedy with a lot of great moments.

A week after Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I've already, um, forgotten a lot of that movie, even though it made me laugh. I'm certainly not finding myself quoting any of the jokes. But with Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, I have a feeling that I'll still be fondly recalling and quoting scenes for a long time.

Point Break

Friday, April 25, 2008

Watched this Friday night at Patrick's request. Not that I had a problem with that, mind you, as this is one of my all time favorite action movies. I used to have a roommate who made fun of Point Break a lot... I guess he saw it as one of those "so bad it's good" movies. Asshole.

We were also supposed to watch Enter the Dragon this weekend, but never got around to it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The General

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I had a little to make up for on the K2K front after watching Stone Cold, so I thought watching some Buster Keaton would really go above and beyond the line of duty. I've very much enjoyed the Keaton I've seen in the past, but ultimately I'm largely ignorant of his work.

This didn't blow my mind right out my asshole quite as hard as I would have liked, but it still gets the thumbs up. A lot of it is brilliantly done... just not as funny as I was hoping. Actually, I would say it's a lot more exciting than it is funny. The action set pieces are huge... a lot more spectacular than something I'd expect from the 1920s. It's like some old timey version of Jerry Bruckheimer or something. Most of the movie is an extended chase sequence involving 2 trains, and one train even goes flying off a cliff Bridge On the River Kwai style. And there's a big Civil War battle sequence at the end!

So, I enjoyed it, much of it is awesome, but I can't recommend it as a great "comedy." I mean, I laughed more (and harder) during the 44 minutes of Keaton's Sherlock Jr. than I did in all 75 minutes of The General.

Stone Cold

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Getting this movie turned out to be a pain in the ass. I heard it favorably compared to Roadhouse as a ridiculous, over the top action movie that maybe delves into some self-parody. I put it to the top of my Netflix queue long ago. Netflix indicated that it would be available immediately. Only, instead of being shipped it would sit atop my queue and not go anywhere, delaying the shipments of the movies below it. After a few days, it would suddenly say "Long Wait" or "Very Long Wait." So I would move it down my queue until the wait went away, at which point I would move it back to the top, and the same thing would happen. Finally, after I don't know how many months of this, it actually shipped. I eagerly ripped open the Netflix envelope and pulled out the DVD... only to find that they had accidentally sent some movie with Tom Selleck that was also called Stone Cold.

So for a few months, I gave up. Finally, I decided to risk it again, and this time Netflix actually sent it.

Was it worth the wait? Yeah, but it's no classic. It actually reminded me a bit of Stallone's Cobra (dangerous gang of lunatics trying to assassinate people, rebel cop who is introduced foiling a grocery store robbery), only it succeeds in every way that movie fails. It's good fun, but more along the lines of Commando where there's a lot of great stuff, but it slows down too much in the middle and you get impatient waiting for the awesome shit to start up again. It just doesn't reach the transcendent brilliance of Roadhouse.

Still, I'd totally pick up a cheap copy of it and proudly display it on my shelf next to Knock Off and Commando and hypothetically Double Team if I ever find a copy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Against All Odds

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Here we are at part 2 of the first ever Robert Mitchum Sorta Kinda Convoluted Remake Double Feature. But this post also has another theme to it. Following in the tradition of my posts for Cop and The Falcon and the Snowman, Against All Odds is another 80's movie that was more or less forgotten yet somehow ended up on my radar.

Damn, I should have just stuck with Cape Fear, because this movie kinda sucked. I'm gonna blame it on the forgotten 80's-ness thing.

The 80's were not a good time for noir. I'm sure there were a few good ones (The Big Easy comes to mind), but the overall aesthetics of the 80's did not fit the genre. Too bright, too laid back, and the synthesizer music is a total mood killer. And shit, I normally like this decade and all it's cheesy bullshit, but it's wrong for this kind of movie. Maybe if they tried to make more noir in the 80's that looked like The Terminator or Demons or something like that, with dark foggy streets and neon lights, that could have worked. But mostly the 80's noirs just looked like Weekend at Bernie's.

OK, so there was no way in hell that this was going to be as good as the movie it is a remake of: Out of the Past, which is, you know, a classic. But it could have been way better than this. We have Jeff Bridges and James Woods filling in for Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas; terrible choices if you're trying to make an approximation, but interesting if you're going for something different.

Outside of a few superficial details taken from Out of the Past, Against All Odds is a new beast, and if I didn't know it was a remake I never would have guessed. So it's not really fair to criticize it for failing to capture what was great about the original movie. It is, however, perfectly fair to criticize it for not coming up with anything good on its own.

In this one, the lead character is a football player who gets canned after an injury. Alright, I'm thinking, this is fine. This could make a decent backstory. Maybe they'll allude to it once or twice, flesh out the character a bit. But it turns out that the football thing dominates the first 30 minutes or so and pretty much stays a major part of the plot throughout. And I'll be honest here, the politics of running a football team aren't too interesting to me, and they definitely don't fit in to the noir template.

Really, this movie isn't too concerned with the noir templete, it more fancies itself as a character drama with strong mystery elements than it fancies itself a neo-noir. Which might have worked except the characters aren't very interesting, and although the mystery is complex, it's half-assed and not particularly compelling. Then there is the seductress/femme fatale, and I won't bother to look up her name, but she's not very sexy, not very seductive and has a bad looking, short 80's haircut. And she's not all that deadly. Maybe she's not really supposed to be a femme fatale.

There's occasionally some pretty good dialogue, and most of the cast is good (or at least watchable) but this is a bore. So I think the score tonight is Robert Mitchum: 2, 1980's: 0.

Cape Fear

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to my first ever Robert Mitchum Sorta Kinda Convoluted Remake Double Feature. (It's not likely to be a repeat event... a little too specialized). It starts with Cape Fear, an early 60's horror/thriller movie in which Mitchum co-stars as the villain, which was later remade by Martin Scorsese starring Robert DeNiro in the Mitchum role. Next up is Against All Odds, a mid-80's remake of the classic Mitchum-starred film noir Out of the Past, with Jeff Bridges stepping into Mitchum's shoes.

So, you know, there's some sort of tangential, spritual connection going on between these films. Kinda. One's a Robert Mitchum movie that was later remade, and the other is a remake of a Robert Mitchum movie. So maybe they are like evil twins. Or one is the Bizarro version of the other, I don't know. The theme still works a little, I don't think it's too tenuous.

Let me start by noting that Cape Fear was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who 20 years later would make Happy Birthday to Me, a sometimes well made, near-miss slasher movie with a batshit crazy ending. (You can read my post about it here. When I saw it, I was all fucked up on cold medicine and the movie felt like some weird, 5 hour long dream about a slasher movie.) How Thompson went from directing a classic thriller with respectable cast members like Mitchum and Gregory Peck, to making a weirdo slasher picture where the killer impersonates the heroine by wearing some sort of futuristic, perfectly lifelike mask of her and by doing a fucking amazing impersonation of her voice... I don't understand. Later on, when he was 73, he did Death Wish 4: the Crackdown. Life is something, huh?

This is one of those movies that black and white was made for... it's so shadowy and sinister looking, dripping with atmosphere. It's a lot darker and more violent than I was expecting... I know 1962 wasn't some time of puritanical innocence, but I wouldn't have guessed that they would have the villain constantly threatening to rape the family of the hero. That's intense.

Any ways, really good thriller, great score, but I'm here to talk about Mitchum. And he's awesome. He's one of the creepiest, most intimidating villains ever here, even moreso than his performance in Night of the Hunter. I always thought Robert DeNiro did a great job of getting under your skin in the Scorsese version, but he doesn't hold a candle to Mitchum, and Mitchum doesn't even seem to be trying too hard. He just oozes some sort of insinuating evil. The way his character seems to be motivated by pure hate, yet never seems to become angry or worked up. Good shit.

Oh, one last thought. The movie has an anti-violence (perhaps anti-death penalty) message and does a good job of getting it across. It sets up Peck as an upstanding liberal citizen, but as Mitchum starts to threaten him more and more, Peck becomes more and more willing to resort to violence/vengenace to protect his family. So for a while it seems like there might be some sort of Death Wish-esque, let's be tougher on criminals sort of vibe. But in the end, Peck opts not to kill Mitchum when he has the chance, and instead makes sure he goes back to prison. No fancy speeches or nothing, it gets it's point across via the actions of the characters, just the way I like it.

All the President's Men

Monday, April 21, 2008

I'm not a journalist, so I'm not going to bother to confirm this, but I bet that All the President's Men was a huge influence on David Fincher's Zodiac. Both films are essentially about a couple of guys going around asking questions and looking through files and compiling information, and yet somehow present this in a way that is entertaining and compelling. Even though you would expect this to be tedious, and nothing really "happens" for a lot of the movie besides people doing research. Also, large chunks of both movies take place in a newsroom.

I don't think it's as good as Zodiac... it's not much more than a good yarn, lacking any real insight or meaning. But it's a damn good yarn, complex but clear, dense but fun. My biggest complaint is that since we already know how it turns out, there isn't much suspense, and then the ending feels oddly anticlimactic. It's kinda weird that Zodiac, which is a slightly longer movie, with a deliberately unsatisfying, non-definitive ending (they never figure out who the killer is for sure), feels way more dramatic and climactic than All the President's Men, which has a far more definitive ending where something is actually accomplished.

I was a little worried going in that this movie would be one of those ones that doesn't really have a point except to pat itself on the back for having an anti-Republican agenda. It's better than that, and doesn't shove its politics down your throat. In fact, I would say it's more about the politics of journalism than it is about the politics of our government. It's just an interesting story, worth telling and well told.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Apatow family hasn't steered me wrong so far, but this one and Walk Hard are definitely a drop in quality from the earlier works. My hopes for Pineapple Express are still pretty high, though. Get it, "high"? That was an accidental pun.

Besides the fact that this movie just isn't nearly as funny as 40-Year-Old Virgin or Superbad or Knocked Up, it feels too much like a typical, contrived romantic comedy at times. You know, a lot of manufactured conflict, and a romance that you're expected to care about despite the fact that the characters barely know each other.

Seriously, though, what the fuck? The lovebirds know each other for all of four days, right? And only one of those days was there any romance. And then the guy halfway hooks up with his ex, who he was with for five years, and backs out because he feels bad. Then he tells the girl, and she gets all angry and tells him to never talk to her again.

I repeat: they have known each other four days. And she acts like he completely betrayed her. And the movie seems to think this is a reasonable reaction. I'm sorry, did I miss the fucking part where they got married and pledged their undying eternal love for each other or something? I'm pretty sure knowing someone for four days and sleeping with them one time doesn't mean that you have committed yourself to them for all eternity. Man, I hate stupid bullshit like that.

Anyways, there are enough laughs here to make it enjoyable, but I did not give shit-one about whether or not the couple got together at all. This movie lacked the insight and empathy of the other Apatow 'n' Co. movies. There's a lot of (attempts at) sentiment and emotion, but it feels less like they did it as an expression of true feeling, and more like they thought they had to put it in there.

Double Team

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In this movie, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman jump out of a plane and skydive inside some sort of giant basketball that slows their fall, then later they karate fight Mickey Rourke and a tiger in a coliseum covered in mines to save the life of Van Damme's baby son, while Rodman makes repeated basketball references despite his character being an arms dealer, not an athlete. This is after Van Damme escapes from a top secret, high security prison by cutting off his own thumb print and developing a complex series of weights and levers that place his severed thumb-skin on a sensor at the exact moment it is required to confirm his presence in a different location.

What I'm saying is that this movie is kind of incredible. It's by the same director as Van Damme's abstract, Salvidor Dali-esque masterpiece Knock Off. It's less surreal than that picture, but just as absurd and also a lot more fun. I am definitely picking this one up if I ever find a cheap copy.

Who knew Van Damme was so fucking avant-garde?

Waiting for Guffman

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sometimes I wonder if these Christopher Guest movies are a little condescending. This movie, probably my favorite unless you count This is Spinal Tap, does seem to get a lot of its laughs by making fun of ordinary people for not being able to act. But are we laughing at them? Or at the situation? I don't know. Guest and Co. do seem to genuinely want to mock, say, the members of Spinal Tap, or the yuppies in Best in Show.

My guess is that Guest and Eugene Levy like the characters, but more want to make fun of how seriously they take themselves. It's a fine line, but I think that's the running theme of their films. It's not funny that these people are all putting on a bad play, it's funny how unreasonably important it becomes to all of them.

Also, one character is really gay, and that's funny too. Ha ha!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Escape From New York

Saturday, April 19, 2008

This is a great movie for a lot of reasons. It's fun, atmospheric, exciting, contains a lot of creative low-budget filmmaking, it's ridiculous but with a straight face, it's got some political and social undertones, etc etc. But the main reason to love it is Snake Plissken, who has perhaps the worst attitude out of any action hero in film history. Which is exactly what makes him one of the best. He's bitter and flippant, and is only being "heroic" as a means of saving his own ass. The subtext of most of his dialogue is "fuck you." And then, in the end, he completely screws the government over.

Leave it to Carpenter to make this guy the hero of an action flick. Few directors are this good at making genre films with weird subversive touches, and not many would have had the balls to make their hero this antisocial. Definitely one of Carpenter's masterpieces.

The Gravedancers

Saturday, April 19, 2008

With some notable exceptions, I'm not too fond of haunting-themed horror movies. Too often, it's just a bunch of arbitrary "spooky" shit happening with no logic and no rules, and I just can't bring myself to give a shit what happens.

This is one of the worst ghost films I've ever seen, and we only really watched it as a joke. Shenan and I saw this is the video store long ago, and couldn't get over the description on the back of the box, which contains the phrase "after a drunken night of dancing on graves." As if that's an every day, normal activity that doesn't require any further explanation.

This went to theaters, but it feels direct-to-video. It's especially flat and bland looking, with wooden acting and mostly uninteresting special effects. We got a few laughs out of it, but it's no Tree Dogs.

Big Trouble in Little China

Saturday, April 19, 2008

This probably ties with Escape From L.A. for John Carpenter's silliest movie... it's not his best, but it is one of his most fun and therefore one of my favorites. It's not nearly as subversive as some of his other stuff, although he does slip in a little (very funny) pro-drug message.

We just put this one on to kill some time, I've seen it a bajillion times.

The Ruins

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Just goes to show you that too many folks in the critical establishment don't like horror movies. This is a good one, tense and grim, with a dab of dark humor and some very effective gore. It looks good, builds tension and has a decent cast, so I don't know what everyone else was looking for, but apparently it wasn't enough.

I bitched the other day about how The Birds had a silly plot that didn't fit the tone of the movie... but I realize now that my complaints aren't quite right. Because The Ruins has a pretty ridiculous plot too, and is equally self serious, and yet I found it to be far more effective. So really it's a matter of execution, not a matter of subject. Of course, whoever directed The Ruins is clearly no Hitchcock, but in this case makes a far more suspenseful, interesting movie.

This movie is dark, graphic and treats the material seriously, and even throws in some nudity to boot. God, it feels so good to see horror movies being made for adults again.

Also, Jonathan Tucker is in this one, and he's becoming something of a scream king now, always showing up in horror flicks and giving strong, fleshed out performances. For all I know, he hates these kinds of movies and feels that he's squandering his talents, but whatever, I always like seeing a good actor working frequently in the genre. He's the new Jeremy Sisto.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bonafide badass.

After the disappointment and disinterest I felt watching The Birds, this one picked my spirits right up. I'm gonna go ahead and say that this has become my favorite Kurosawa film (and it's got me stoked to see more), and not because of the beauty of it's images or the depth of emotions, but because it is one holy shit hot damn entertaining film. I might need to get myself a copy at some point.

Of course, A Fistful of Dollars was an unofficial remake of this, and I like it quite a bit, but this one is way better. This one is an action movie masterpiece. It came 3 years earlier, but it feels way more advanced, clever, fresh and funny. I'm thinking maybe Leone got better by exploring his own ideas, rather than rehashing what Kurosawa did here.

The best part of Yojimbo is its hero, a samurai who wanders aimlessly into a small town and decides, just for the hell of it, that he's going to completely destroy the two rival gans that control the town, all by himself. And the movie is all about the kind of crazy shenigans he pulls in order to escalate the gang war and get everyone to kill each other off. Like at one part, he runs into a house and kills 6 gang members in about 30 seconds. Then, after they are all dead, he trashes the place. When their companions show up, he says that he found them all their dead, and that the place is so badly damaged that it must have been the work of at least 15 or 16 men. What a badass.

So, this one has a sequel called Sanjuro, and you can bet I'll be watching it soon.

The Birds

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This is a little embarassing to admit, but I had never seen all of Alfred Hitchock's The Birds until last night. I know, right? WTF? It's been on my secret list-of-shame for many years now, right up there with It's a Wonderful Life. I try to change the subject when people bring these movies up. In fact, forget I said anything. Post over.

Just kidding. Actually, having now finally seen The Birds, I no longer feel embarassed about not having seen it sooner. Why? Because it turns out it's one of the very few Hitchcock movies that I didn't like.

That's right.

I cannot for the life of me understand why this is one his his best known films. The first half of the movie has to be the most boring thing Hitchcock ever put to film. It's a series of conversations between boring, unlikable, unfunny characters, stirring up some very mild drama that doesn't even really pay off later in the film. I mean, great characters aren't a must for a good thriller/horror movie, but Hitchcock almost always made them at least a little interesting.

Then, once the birds finally start attacking, I guess the movie gets more interesting, but I just found it ineffective and maybe a little silly. Birds aren't scary. And let me just get this out of the way... animals-gone-crazy movies are almost never actually scary. For one to be enjoyable, it usually has to be some violent, silly horror movie that's more fun than anything else. It should be like Slugs. It's a terrible, unscary movie, but there's a part where a naked teenage couple falls into a pile of slugs and are eaten alive. Then later, some guy accidentally eats a slug, and little tiny slugs grow in his body until eventually his face explodes and tiny slugs shoot out while he's in the middle of eating at a restaurant. That's what I go to the movies to see.

The Birds takes a frankly unscary premise and treats it as dark and serious as possible. Hitchcock movies aren't really ever realistic or anything, but man does he try to make a stupid idea seem terrifying. It even has a dark, unsettling, ambiguous ending. In a movie about stupid seagulls getting mad and pecking everybody. It doesn't help that some (a lot) of the special effects don't hold up today, and a lot of it looks corny.

There are probably isolated moments and shots that I admired, but when this movie wasn't boring me silly, it was making my eyes sore from how often I was rolling them. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood, I dunno. It's better than Tree Dogs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Monkey Business

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

OK, I am prone to giving older comedies a lot of shit for not actually being funny. I've popped on a lot of supposed classics, only to find that they barely make me crack a smile. I guess mostly it's a cultural/generational thing going on.

Or so I'd like to think. But then how come the Marx Brothers actually make me laugh? And I mean real laughter, not just a smile of recognition that says "Oh, I get what they were going for. How clever."

Here's one that's pretty funny, but has a really disappointing finale. It keeps a steady momentum of laughs throughout then film, but then it's like someone forgot to put a good joke in the last 5 minutes. So you leave a little unsatisfied, but on a whole it's a good one.


Tuesday, April 16, 2008

We have about a bajillion Hitchcock movies laying around my house, so I'm surprised it's taken me this long to realize that my K2K is a great excuse to catch up with the ones I haven't seen. Although frankly, it's a little shocking that I hadn't seen Marnie. It's a Hitchcock movie starring Sean Connery. For me, that's like the promise of receiving a blow job while eating mint chocolate chip ice cream. Each is great on its own, so why pass up the opportunity to do both at once? Yet, we've had this movie for years and I'd never gotten around to watching the whole thing.

This is not a typical Hitchcock film. There are his usual elements of thriller and mystery, but they take a back seat to a character piece/psychological drama with a strong Freudian bent and a little dark humor thrown in. It's not one of his classics I don't think, but it was still pretty good and in a lot of ways unique for him. There are numerous Hitchcockian elements, especially in the visual style, but the tone of the film feels different from anything else of his I've seen.

I think what I like most about Marnie is the audacity of it's bizarre plot. Tippi Hedren is Marnie, a con-woman/thief with several fake identities who is, for unknown reasons, deeply terrified of thunderstorms and of the color red. How she managed to function in society with a debilitating fear of red, I do not understand. She is caught by Sean Connery's character, and instead of turning her into the police, he tells her he loves her, blackmails Marnie into marrying him and sets about trying to cure her of her phobias and her propensity for crime.

Go back and read that again, because while the movie plays it all with a straight face, that is one fucking ludicrous plot, with a lot of weird dark undercurrents... not least of all the rape subtext. And it's no accident; Marnie is afraid of physical intimacy, and Hitchcock several times equates Connery's actions with rape. And it's also pointed out that although Connery's feelings for her are genuine, he also is something of an entomologist and may be studying her like an animal. There's a tension between his good looks, charm and desire to do right, and his darker, perhaps subconscious motivations that I think isn't uncommon to Hitchcock films. 20 years earlier, and this role would have gone to Cary Grant.

There's a lot of strange scenes and subplots as well. I think my favorite is when Marnie freaks out while horseback (one of the riders has a red jacket on) and she rides off and starts hopping fences, but one fence is too high and the horse crashes and breaks its legs. So Marnie forces her way into the house and demands a gun to shoot her horse. Man, this shit is intense.

So there's a lot of weird subtext to chew on, and two bizarre but fascinating leads. Hedren and Connery are both really quite good in this, although Hedren occasionally goes into over the top hysterics. Can't really blame her though, it's more the way the character is written.

Anyway, leave it to Hitchcock to take what could have been a low key romantic drama and turn it into some weird, intense psychological nightmare... but in a fun way! I couldn't watch this one all the time, but it's worth seeing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Shot Jesse James

Monday, April 14, 2008

We have something of a theme pick here, as I watched this one as a follow up to Sam Fuller's Pickup On South Street (he directed this one) and Walter Hill's The Long Riders (also about Jesse James).

Actually, this one isn't about Jesse James; he's dead before the 30 minute mark. It's more about the life of Robert Ford after he murders Jesse. Which, if this followed the facts at all, turns out to be pretty odd. Especially when he joins a stage show where he re-enacts the shooting of Jesse.

So, this is a completely different handling of the material compared to The Long Riders, as that was a violent, highly fictionalized, maybe somewhat romanticized, western action picture where Bob Ford was barely a footnote. Hell, Charles Ford even has a bigger role than Bob. I Shot Jesse James is more of a drama about Ford's life, how he's consumed with guilt and falls apart. There's a little action here and there, but mostly it's a character study.

I'm hoping to check out The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford soon, which I think would make for a nice trilogy of blog entries.

This is the fourth Sam Fuller film I've seen, and the only one I didn't like. It has it's moments, like when Ford buys a wandering minstrel a drink in exchange for a song, and the guy picks one he says everyone likes, which turns out to be about the murder of Jesse James. Needless to say, Ford doesn't take it too well. He storms outside, where someone starts taking shots at him from the dark... and it turns out to be a little kid, who wants to become famous by killing Robert Ford.

But too much of the movie is corny and flatly staged (although there are some nice visual touches), quite probably because this was Fuller's first film.

Like, early on there are a couple of scenes where Jesse keeps turning his back on Ford, and then really melodramatic music cues up to let you know that Ford might shoot him. It's a little much. (I did like that one of these scenes takes place while Jesse is in his bathtub, adding what I would like to think is an intentional homosexual undertone.)

Compared to something like Pickup On South Street, this movie just isn't very entertaining, or energetic, or involving, not to mention the complete lack of badass-ness. I mean, there's a part in Pickup where a minor character gets executed by a bad guy, and it just rips your heart out. Here, you don't much give a shit when anyone dies, including Jesse James and Robert Ford.

Oh well. I'll still be checking out more Fuller down the line.

Seven Notes in Black

Monday, April 14, 2008

This movie was packaged under the title The Psychic, but Seven Notes in Black is the onscreen title, and it's frankly a much cooler one. The Psychic sounds like it could be any generic, crappy horror movie. Seven Notes in Black sounds like exactly what it is: a 70's giallo.

This is Fulci, but it's not one of his surreal, soft focus, gore heavy, illogical, batshit insane, gates to hell horror films. It's more along the lines of a (relatively subdued) giallo, a little more like his Don't Torture a Duckling or A Lizard in Woman's Skin (see what I mean about these titles) only maybe even more straightforward than those. And not nearly as violent.

Well, I'm gonna say it, this is probably Fulci's best movie. I don't mean it's my favorite; it lacks that weird, fascinating nightmarish quality of The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, etc. But it's probably his best made... it's an entertaining thriller with a number of memorable scenes. It has some bad acting here and there, and goes a little slow for a while, but that's true of a lot of giallo, even some of Dario Argento's best.

No orgies in this one, though. Shame. Any time a hippie shows up in a giallo (which is often), there's usually an orgy to follow. No hippies here, sadly.

The "seven notes" refers to the little tune that the lead character's watch plays when wound, and the tune kept nagging at me. I knew I had heard it somewhere before. For a while I was convinced that it was the music that the guy's watch played in For a Few Dollars More... until it hit me that Tarantino used the music in the first Kill Bill. Nice.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Sunday, April 13, 2008

I had queued this a while back, and decided to bump it up to the top after Jules Dassin's recent passing. His Rififi is a stellar crime movie from the 50's with one of the best heists I've seen in a movie. It's really dark and badass, especially for an older flick. Topkapi is a heist film too, but it couldn't be more different... it's a weird, sometimes trippy comic caper with a lot of weird flourishes.

I'll be honest, my interest wavered from time to time. Still, I liked it; there's some entertaining visual flair, and the great Peter Ustinov adds a lot of the film, and the heist itself is pretty sweet. Not as good as it could be, and certainly much worse than Rififi, but still fun enough to make a good distraction.

Street Kings

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Despite the bad reviews it was getting, I was still excited for Street Kings. I mean, look at the talent behind this one: we have an original story by crime fiction master James Ellroy (whose superb The Big Nowhere I recently read and loved), and it was directed and re-written by the writer of Training Day and Dark Blue, both of which are above average police procedurals. Then in the cast we have the awesome Forest Whittaker, charismatic up-and-comer Chris Evans, best man alive Hugh Laurie, small roles for Common and The Game, Jay Mohr not in a comedic role, and, most importantly, America's Most Underrated Actor Keanu Reeves in the lead role. I mean, come on, that's a pretty good combo.

Yeah, yeah, I know a lot of you don't think much of Keanu, and I wouldn't call him a great actor myself. But I would call him a good one, with a lot of good movies under his belt, and I think his low-key style of underplaying works well for the kind of cold, direct, stoic badass he plays here.

Anyway, fuck everyone else because I did like this flick quite a bit. I suppose I am sort of predisposed to this kind of crime drama/corrupt police procedural movie. The same way other folks have some intrinsic love of westerns and something stirs in side of them... that's how I feel seeing a couple of sleazy, tough-guy cops rolling up on some gang members in East L.A.

Now, there are problems, don't get me wrong. It's far from perfect. There's one part that got a big, unintentional laugh from the audience I saw it with, and that always hurts the overall product. The ending isn't very satisfying, and although I like its cynicism, it's a little too much to take.

Surprisingly, though, the worst part of the movie is Forest Whittaker. Now, I think Whittaker is normally a great actor; his work in Ghost Dog reaches the pinnacle of film acting as far as I'm concerned. But here, he starts out amusingly broad before overacting so hard that he actually becomes uncomfortable to watch and ruins some of the climactic scenes of the movie. I mean, damn, didn't anybody think to tell him to tone it down a little? (Maybe they were encouraging him to go bigger?) After Street Kings and Vantage Point, Whittaker is not having a good year.

So fine, it's not perfect, but what it does right it does great, especially if you're into this kind of macho, violent, corrupt LAPD type of story. The characters are well drawn (for tough guy stereotypes) and pull the requisite badass antics. The plot is entertainingly convoluted, there's some pretty snappy dialogue, and a handful of top notch, genuinely exciting action scenes. I especially dig the shootout in a very tiny apartment, and the fight Keanu has while he's handcuffed. That's good shit, and further proof of my theory that we are entering a new action movie renaissance. Oh, and even though it's an urban action movie, Ayer doesn't go overboard on the MTV editing, which should be a given but is becoming something of a special feat these days.

I found so much of this movie to be fun, badass, compelling and well-done that it's probably just a case of my own personal biases. Or that's what everyone else would say. But you're all assholes. I'm right, you're wrong, this is a pretty good movie.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's like someone specifically tailored this movie just so I'd buy a ticket. It's just a big knock-off of Escape From New York with a dollop of Mad Max thrown in for good measure.

Is it as good as those films? No. Is it a lot of fun? Yes. Does it manage to recapture any of the magic of those other films? Sometimes, but not enough to make it a classic. Does it add anything unique to the mix? Enough so that the movie doesn't feel stale or boring.

The director, Neil Marshall, has never been shy about borrowing heavily from other sources, although I never expected him to do anything this brazen. I mean, he practically lifts whole scenes from the movies of John Carpenter and George Miller. Hell, he even steals the font Carpenter uses on all his movies, and throws in an 80's-style electronic score to boot.

There's not an action scene as good as the best stuff from The Road Warrior, or a character as great as Snake Plisken, but I still had a big grin plastered on my face for most of the movie. It's just an exuberant work of nerdy fanboy nostalgia, a sloppy but eager blowjob to some movies that Marshall clearly loves, but done well. And I love those movies too, and I'm happy to share in his nostalgia.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Long Riders

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Once again employing my Christ-like, divine, unconditional gift of forgiveness and redemption, I decided to give Walter Hill another shot with his early 80s western, The Long Riders. Diligent readers may recall that I greatly enjoyed The Warriors, but didn't care much for 48 Hrs.

My appreciation for The Warriors grew once I noticed the subtle Sergio Leone vibe it has going through it... namely, really long, complex setups with sudden, unexpected payoffs that don't last very long, but are great and afterwards you realize that the setups are most of the fun any way.

So, I figured this one, being a western, would have a Leone-ness to it. Actually, if anything, it's got a Sam Peckinpah vibe, with lots of slow motion shots of people getting blown to bits. Only it's a little crazier and more over-the-top than any of the Peckinpah I've seen.

It's a highly fictionalized telling of the James-Younger gang story, and Hill makes an interesting choice in casting real life brothers for all the related characters in the movie. So we have the Carradines, the Keaches, the Quaids and the Guests. It makes for some weird casting choices for a western. I mean, I can totally buy David Carradine as the Carradine to call in when you need a badass outlaw, but Robert and Keith? One's a nerd and one's a hippie. And yet, somehow it kinda works.

This isn't a great piece of writing, and considering the great cast the movie doesn't do much with the characters. But damn if this movie wasn't entertaining as hell. I was having a pretty good time throughout, but then the final action scene came along and completely blew my cock right out of my pants and into the toilet. And then flushed the toilet. It's gotta be one of the best action scenes I've ever seen in a western. And it's fucking crazy as hell. I mean, Leone and Peckinpah did some looney-toons shit in their movies, but I don't think they ever had a horse chase where the guys ride their horses right through a big glass window, like in a car chase or something. And it's not every day where you see a guy get shot in the cheek and the bullet goes through his mouth and out the other cheek.

So, OK, good job Walter Hill. Looks like I'll be checking out more of your stuff after all.

Raise the Red Lantern

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It's hard out here for a concubine. You're always fighting for attention, engaging in an underhanded battle with the other mistresses, you live in a big empty castle, and if you fool around they hang you. Not a good time.

This was a compelling, good looking period piece that was (unbeknownst to me when I watched it) directed by the same fellow that did Hero and House of Flying Daggers. There's no kung-fu in this one, though. Shame. I gave it 4 out of 5 on Netflix, but I think some kung-fu might have pushed it to a 5.

One thing that really surprised me here is that they make the main character out to be a horrible, selfish bitch. And I guess she becomes somewhat more sympathetic as the story progresses, but she doesn't really seem to learn anything or become a better person, and she does a lot of awful things. It's an interesting choice that I appreciated, although it does perhaps lessen the emotional impact of the movie, because you don't quite care about her as much as the movie would like you to.

Actually, with a better ending, this probably would have gotten my 5th star. But I think it goes on a beat or two too long, and it really doesn't earn it's final, left-field payoff. There's a perfectly suitable ending maybe 10 minutes earlier, but it keeps going and I think diminishes the overall impact of the film. But it's still a very good one.

Monday, April 7, 2008

In the Mood for Love

Monday, April 7, 2008

Wong Kar-Wai is a name that keeps popping up in best 10 lists from pretentious movie snobs such as myself, so I figured it was about time I gave him a shot.

I liked this one, didn't love it, not sure if I'd rush out to see another one of his movies, but it's good. It's about two neighbors, a man and a woman, who find out that their spouses are having an affair with each other. They form a friendship, and slowly fall in love, but refuse to act on their feelings because they don't want to be like their spouses, wonder what the neighbors would think, etc etc. So there's an Age of Innocence thing going on, and watching it you admire the characters for trying to take the high road, but figure that in the end it only makes them more miserable. It's very well shot, and well acted, and all that, but I didn't make me feel much or really engage my emotions. My appreciation of it was entirely intellectual or technical, which in a movie like this leaves you feeling a little empty at the end.

Bad Day at Black Rock

Sunday, April 6, 2008

I realized the other day that I'm not too familiar with Spencer Tracy, so I should work something of his into my K2K. And I figured what better movie to watch than one where he plays a one-armed karate master.

Directed by John Sturges, the fellow who did The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, it's a fairly enjoyable tough guy movie with a handful of strong action sequences, which are pretty badass for a 50's movie. Even at only 82 minutes, the plot seems stretched thin and can't really sustain the whole movie, but it's still entertaining, and aided by a good supporting cast including Lee Marvin.

And it's very satisfying to see a one-armed Spencer Tracy beat up Ernest Borgnine with karate chops. I'm just sayin', you don't see that every day.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

I know Robert Aldrich mainly for doing entertaining tough guy movies like Kiss Me Deadly and The Dirty Dozen. But here is a horror movie he did about an aging, former child star who is keeping her more famous, crippled sister trapped in her upstairs bedroom. It's weirdly poised somewhere between campy and grotesque.

The best part of the movie, and what I remembered most clearly from when I had seen this as a kid, is Bette Davis's performance as Baby Jane. She's over-the-top and often funny in the role, but also intense and convincing, so much so that she's uncomfortable to watch at times. And with her overly made-up face and weird baby doll clothes... Jesus, she gets under your skin.

I mean, this movie has some flaws, and it's a little too long, but damn if Baby Jane isn't one of the creepiest, most effective characters in a horror movie. Almost every moment with her puts you on edge. Even seemingly innocuous social situations turn uncomfortable, the way she's always announcing to completly clueless people that she is, in fact, Baby Jane Hudson. And then she descends completely into insanity; by the end she's dancing in front of a crowd of confused beach goers, apparently uner the impression that they are there to see her perform. It's some unnerving shit.

Her complete detachment from reality is a little tragic at times too, so even though she's a vicious looney you almost feel bad for her at times. So in that sense, this is a great horror movie because it constantly makes you feel awful. You're either creeped out or uncomfortable at all times.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

They Live

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Patrick and I, for whatever reason, ended up hell bent on watching a bad-ass movie late Saturday night. After a few minutes of arguing, we agreed that it had to be a John Carpenter movie. And that posed a tough question... which John Carpenter movie is the most badass? Clearly, it came down to They Live and Escape From New York.

So we actually called up a friend of Patrick's (who I am told is such a big Carpenter fan that he actually owns a copy of Memoirs of an Invisible Man) to have him settle the dispute. And the rest is history.

They Live is tied with probably 2 or 3 other movies as Carpenter's best, and hence earns a spot somewhere on the all time greatest list. It is the most accurate movie ever made about America. It was made in the mid 80's, and it's about how Republicans are all secretly alien monsters from another dimension that have taken over Earth. Rowdy Roddy Piper finds this out, and so he spends the last hour of the movie shooting everyone and eventually teams up with Keith David, who also shoots a bunch of people. If you haven't seen this movie, there is something wrong with you and fuck you go see it immediately. I'm outtie.

Wayne's World

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Remember when Mike Myers was funny? Damn, that feels like such a long time ago.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Beautiful Laundrette

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Stephen Frears has directed such top notch movies as High Fidelity, The Queen, Dirty Pretty Things and The Grifters. I enjoy the dude very much so. Here we have an earlier effort of his, co-starring a young Daniel Day Lewis.

I do not know what to make of this movie. I was a bit tired and distracted when I watched it, so maybe that's to blame, but there was an oddness to it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It's both a laid back comedy/drama, yet oddly over the top in certain ways, with a weird sinister undercurrent in some sequences. It meanders around a bunch, not in a hard to follow way, but in a where the hell is this all going way. And the score for the film at times seems to sound like bubbles popping or liquid, I guess as a laundrette reference. Odd.

Well, I'm not really sure how much I liked it, but it's interesting and I guess there's some charm to its offbeat-ness. Hmm.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Short Night of Glass Dolls

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

That movie Awake (I think it was called) that came out earlier this year seemed to have a similar premise to this one. It's one of them stories where the main character appears to be dead, but he can still see and feel everything that happens to him, and he's trying to bring his body back to life and remember how he even got here in the first place, and every moment he's getting closer to his autopsy, etc. Short Night of Glass Dolls mostly takes place in the character's head, as he flashes back to the events leading up to this. I can't speak for what Awake's approach was to the material, but there is something about the odd, subjective, eerie tone of this one that I think is ripe for remaking. Imagine a horror movie version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Sometimes I toy with the idea of writing it, for shits.

This is not quite a giallo, but it's an Italian horror flick by the same director as Who Saw Her Die? and I like it, although it's a bit too talky in places. It strikes the right tone, has a lot of cool ideas, and a really great ending (although the last shot is a little corny).

I'm considering, maybe as a break from my K2K, doing a "Giallo Month" or "Italian Horror Movie-a-Thon" because there are just too damn many that I want to see. But I feel like a bitch about abandoning the K2K... still, if I did this as an interlude, maybe when the semester ends as a way to celebrate the start of summer, it wouldn't be so bad. We'll see.

Pickup On South Street

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I didn't realize this at the time, but it turns out that the lead actor from this movie, Richard Widmark, just died last week. Odd coincidence, considering I don't think I've even seen him in a movie before.

This is a 50's noir with a little spy movie thrown in for kicks, and Widmark is really quite good as Skip, a character who is may be more of a cold-hearted bastard than his name would suggest. The director is Sam Fuller, this is the 3rd film I've seen by him and I should see more because they've all been pretty good. His The Big Red One is a semi-autobiographical war film, probably the oddest WWII movie I've ever seen, it stars Lee Marvin and Luke Skywalker and the main nerd from Revenge of the Nerds, and contains a scene where a woman gives birth inside a tank. The Naked Kiss is a 60's melodrama with a tinge of noir and the main character murders her fiancee when she discovers that he's a pedophile. So, he makes pretty kick ass movies.

Pickup On South Street is a short, exciting little movie with a lot of good characters, dark humor and a real cold blooded attitude. It also has some rather blunt sexism (possibly misogyny?), including a part where the hero accidentally punches out the heroine in the dark. At the risk of sounding un-PC, this attitude is kinda shocking in a very entertaining way. And I'll give Fuller credit, I think the sexism is coming from his characters, not from his own worldview. After all, The Naked Kiss is a movie about a former prostitute trying to start a new life, and the message is clearly that she's a good person who deserves a second chance. And in this one, all the male characters are right bastards, and the only likable character is an older woman who sells information on local crooks to interested parties. She gets murdered in cold blood, but it's because she's trying to protect the main character, and it's just about the only stand up thing anyone does in the whole movie.

I had a few complaints here and there, but overall this is a really good one, and only 80 minutes long, so it's absolutely worth your time.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Key Largo

Sunday, March 30, 2008

If there's one thing I've really been fucking up on my K2K, it's been trying to watch a broad range of movies. Instead, I keep falling into my usual nerd trap of obsessing over one actor, or director or genre or whatever. So here's another John Huston / Humphrey Bogart collaboration.

It's another pretty good tough guy flick, although I saw it under less than ideal conditions and maybe I would have liked it more in other circumstances. This one has the benefit of featuring Edward G. Robinson playing an evil bastard. In a nice, odd detail, they introduce his character sitting in a bathtub with a fan blowing on him.

This one is less un-PC than some of the other Huston films I've seen, and it in fact tries to shed a positive light on the native American characters. But they are also kind of relegated to plot device and victim roles, and it comes off as a little condescending. But it's a huge step above Bogart slapping Petter Lorre around in The Maltese Falcon because he's gay.

I wonder if this one had a different ending originally. There's a lot of talk about risking one's life to save others, and Bogart's character is reluctant to do so until the very end. He gets plugged during the final shootout, so I figured it was going to end with him dying nobly to save all the others. But then the film ends with him wounded, but alive and steering his boat back to Key Largo. Feels a little like something the studio might have insisted upon.

Once Upon a Time in America

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My exploration of Sergio Leone culminated on Sunday by viewing his final film, a 3 hr 45 minute gangster epic spanning 50 years.

First off, this has to be one of the best looking movies I've ever seen. I've known that Leone was never one to waste a shot, but I'm a little blown away but just how complex and ornate every moment of this film feels.

This feels a lot different than his westerns, although some of his older style is detectable. Like there's this sequence involving a slow moving elevator that builds to a sudden, violent climax that feels like one of those big buildups to a shootout in one of the Dollars movies. Or, there's a set piece involving a mugging and a passing wagon that has the same kind of drawn out build-up leading to a fake-out that he's done before. And the storytelling is still pretty audacious, like when the Beatles' "Yesterday" suddenly cues on the soundtrack and the movie cuts to the 1960's. Didn't really see that coming.

Leone still will paint with broad strokes, but this film feels a lot more intimate, with better drawn characters than I've seen in any of his other movies. Makes me wonder if I should revisit Once Upon a Time in the West, which I had kind of felt slowed down too much for the "serious" stuff and didn't have enough payoff. Maybe I just saw that one in the wrong mindset.

The movie gets stranger but also more subdued as it goes along, and the finale is a bit enigmatic. I've seen it suggested that some of this movie is meant to be just an opium induced fantasy in Robert DeNiro's characters head, and I can kind of see that. That would explain a lot of the weird touches as the film progresses, like how one character doesn't seem to age at all after 30 years. And the final scene certainly seems to hint at this opium theory. But I'm not sure what this element adds to the movie, and it still leaves a lot unexplained. I'm not exactly sure what to take from the last chunk of this movie, and I mean that in a good way.