Friday, May 30, 2008

Nights of Cabiria

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I still haven't seen the rest of Amarcord, but I think checking out Fellini's Nights of Cabiria makes up for last weekend's lameness.

This is a more realistic, down to Earth Fellini than I'm used to... no flights of fancy like in 8 1/2 and isn't even really comparable to Satyricon, which is about as out-there as movies get. And actually what surprised me here is that the greatness of this film centers more on the lead character/performance moreso than on Fellini's filmmaking. I mean, his directing is what gives life to 8 1/2, which could otherwise be too ponderous, and it's the only thing that helped me tolerate the insufferable characters in La Dolce Vita, and it's pretty much the whole show in Satyricon, since the story and the characters make no damn sense. What I'm saying is, I was surprised to see how much this one relied on the charms of Giulietta Masina, who plays Cabiria and was Fellini's wife.

And it works, because she's great in this. She's somewhat abraisive, but you can't help but love her character, and it's her charm and delight in the face of the tough realities of life that make this movie such wonderful entertainment. I was expecting this to be a much more bleak, dark movie, based on the description on the box, but a lot of it is actually a joy. It gets darker as it goes along, but Fellini somehoe manages to pull a happy ending out of it. The whole film rests on its final shot, a close up on Cabiria's face, and it's a magical moment.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

After The Assassination of Jesse James by the I'm Tired of Writing This Title, I pretty much had to see Andrew Dominik's other movie, Chopper, which I had heard for years was a good one. The two movies make for interesting comparison, because while they share some similar subject matter (celebrity status of vicious criminals), their style and attitudes couldn't be more different.

Chopper is a bombastic, disturbing dark comedy about a very bizarre individual; a criminal and vicious killer who's such a nice fellow that at one point he actually drives one victim to the hospital to save him. He's funny and kinda smart, and even a little charming, and mostly wants to get along with everybody, except sometimes he just kinda loses it and beats or kills someone. I mentioned that Dominik's take on Jesse James was that Jesse was your friend one minute, and your murderer the next. Here, Chopper is your friend one minute, your assailant the next, and then... well, hell, why can't you just go back to being friends? Why let a little attempted murder get in the way of a good friendship?

The movie is fast paced and at times visually flashy. In a few scenes, Dominik pulls a trick I'm a big sucker for, where the background is bathed in one stark color, and the foreground is bathed in another. There's a part where Chopper is sitting in a living room talking with a "friend," and the room around them is green, but the smoke coming off their cigarettes is blue. I'm not sure if this is just style for style's sake, or if maybe it's an illustration of Chopper's bi-polar nature, but it looks awesome.

Eric Bana is an actor I've consistently enjoyed, even when he shows up it horseshit like Troy. And he owns this movie. I usually think of him playing likable guys. Here, he plays a guy who might be likable if he weren't such a lunatic. I can see why Ang Lee cast him in Hulk, although he didn't really take advantage of the rage and propensity for violence that Bana displays here.

Another great movie. Dominik's only done the 2 so far, and they were 7 years apart, but count me as a new fan. I hope we don't have to wait another 7 years for the next one.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dean Koontz is Tree Dogs

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Told you I'd end up watching this one again soon.

This whole Tree Dogs concept is great, and has really taken on a life of its own with my friends. It's become a cult classic entirely of our own devising.

I think the appeal of Tree Dogs is its basic competence. The direction is mostly adequete for this kind of movie, and the cast is passable. And it seems like everyone's actually trying, not just phoning it in. But it's all in service of really stupid, unscary ideas and a terrible screenplay. Which I think just helps emphasize how bad everything is.

Phun Phact: Hill Harper, the token black guy in this movie, was like 40 when they made it even though he's playing a college student.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Tripper

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So I'm sensing that there is this new wave of lower budget slasher movies going on (nu-slasher?). Not sure if this is the direction the genre is heading, or if it's just a pit stop, or what, but we're getting a lot of these somewhat silly slasher-comedies that feel like they are made by guys with an affection for bad, ultraviolent 80's slashers. But instead of doing an accurate homage to these films, they've kinda created something new... slasher movies that are funnier in a goofier, intentional way. I didn't much care for Severence or Wrong Turn 2, but I have liked Hatchet and now The Tripper.

I'm curious to see where this genre goes. It strikes me as very much in this post-Scream reactionary phase we have going on. Scream is great, but it's problem is the legion of imitators it spawned... a whole bunch of shitty, tame, slasher/whodunits that had ironic air quotes over them, at first to attract the jaded teen crowd, and later to attract dipshit teenagers who can't handle more intense, violent horror films (this has close ties to the wave of pussified pg-13 horror movies we recently have gone through). For a while, this trend pretty much killed the slasher movie.

So then we had our first wave of reactionairies, with slashers like High Tension and Wolf Creek and The Hills Have Eyes remake, which were dark and violent and tried to remind us that slasher movies were once serious, scary and meant for adults. And now we have the second wave, this "nu-slasher" subgenre which wants to remind us that they can be fun but still violent and meant for adults.

The Tripper was directed by David Arquette, and the best thing about it is the cast he managed to rope in. It's a low budget little flick that would normally star a bunch of nobodies, or at best star a bunch of WB (CW now?) actors. But Arquette must have called in some favors, because we have some genuinely good and interesting actors sprinkled in the cast. Best of all is Thomas Jane, who I assumed would have little more than a cameo but turned out to more or less be the lead role. He is slowly but surely becoming my favorite genre-movie actor, he's like the new Kurt Russell or something.

This isn't a great horror comedy, and I for one could have used more excessive violence, but it's good fun. You got a good cast, lots of drug humor, a killer doing a Ronald Reagan impression, ample nudity (and it plays fair, we get some male full frontal) and Thomas Jane with an awful mustache. If you like this sort of crap, it's a good one.

A Mighty Wind

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This is easily my least favorite of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, although it's still a funny movie. I think the main problem with it is that it's overcrowded. There's too many characters fighting for screen time, and as a result few of them manage to make much of an impression. Most of them show up, say something funny and then aren't really seen again. It's like Guest and Levy wanted to cram in every actor they had ever worked with into one movie, regardless of whether or not there was any room for them. The result is that a lot of the supposedly major characters don't really register, and a lot of the best moments go to actors in cameos who have one scene and aren't heard from again. I think part of the reason that Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show are so great is that they set up a small group of memorable, distinct characters and give them time to develop. A Mighty Wind needs to either have 10 fewer characters, or be a half hour longer.

And my other problem with A Mighty Wind is Catherine O'Hara. Not because she's bad. Quite the opposite, she's too good in it. She's so good in the role that she's not funny, and it becomes a successful dramatic performance. She sticks out like a sore thumb in the movie, and brings a lot of the comedy to a halt. It's especially jarring how much she contrasts with Eugene Levy's over-the-top (and not as funny as he and Guest seem to think it is) performance. The payoff for their characters is genuinely touching... but what the hell is a genuinely touching moment doing in this film any way?

It seems like Guest is in a downslide now. This one is good but not great, and For Your Consideration was incredibly underwhelming. So fingers crossed he can recreate the magic next time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Monday, May 26, 2008

Well, neither my brother nor my girlfriend had any desire to watch this, probably because they are tools. Well I can laugh in their fucking tool faces now, because this was a pretty good one. Really entertaining, and a real charmer. And of course Jimmy Stewart is great.

Back in the day, I had always assumed that Frank Capra made really corny ass movies, because I hadn't seen any of them. Then I saw Arsenic and Old Lace, which turned out to be a dark comedy where two old ladies like to poison people and bury them in their basement, and Cary Grant is repeatedly under threat of being tortured to death with some very unsavory looking tools. A bit of a paradigm shift there for me.

Mr. Smith gets a little corny in places, especially this one montage of patriotic American images set to sickeningly triumphant music. But it's earnest, pro-America message actually works because of how upfront the movie is about how fucked up our political system is. It's nice to know that even back in 1939, people knew that politicians were a bunch of assholes.

The Triplets of Belleville

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hadn't watched this in a few years. Great, great, great animated movie. The director needs to make a new movie, stat.

Lost Highway

Monday, May 26, 2008

This must have been the inspiration for Michael Haneke's Cache, right? I mean, the set-up is the same: a couple starts receiving odd videotapes of someone watching their house. They feel weirded out, a little paranoid. Lost Highway really just breezes past that concept, and turns into your standard Lynchian film-noir-in-hell kinda movie, and the whole videotape subplot never exactly feels like it gets resolved, at least not clearly. So it's like maybe Haneke was fascinated with the story of the tapes, and wanted to develop that idea, resolve that plot. So of course he makes a strange, mysterious film that deliberately never explains where the tapes come from.

Some day, someone will adopt this premise again and actually explain who's sending the tapes. I hope. Although I guess it would be cool if directors kept returning to this idea, and each time deliberately don't answer the mystery.

This was my third or fourth time seeing Lost Highway, and I always hope I'm gonna like it more than I do, because I love Lynch. But it remains one of his worst, and though I enjoy it overall, it just pales compared to his best work. At least, after seeing Inland Empire, it's no longer my least favorite of his... I mean, I do actually like it. It looks great, has a number of really cool scenes, definitely a lot of neat ideas, a very funny performance by Robert Loggia, and liberal doses of Patricia Arquette nudity. But whereas most Lynch movies are wildly entertaining, this one has a lot of slow spots, and most of the characters aren't very interesting.

Gotta love that part where the guy gets killed by being cranially impaled on the corner of a coffee table, though. Classic.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gregory Hoblit is an auteur of competant, sometimes enjoyable and mostly generic Hollywood entertainments, often shot through some faux-artsy blue or green filter, desaturated colors, etc. Like last year's Fractured, or Hart's War.

I kinda dig movies like Untraceable, because for all their pretentions of being, I dunno, stylish, high concept thrillers or whatever, they are essentially big budget horror movies with an A-list cast. I mean, really this one is no more than a slightly classed-up version of Saw. But shift the focus more to the detectives than the victims, throw Diane Lane in there and it's no longer a horror movie, it's a thriller and somehow it's more respectable to some folk. You know, even though it's about a sadistic serial killer killing off people in bizarre ways, and is just as violent as a typical horror movie and with essentially the same story, it somehow plays bigger with middle aged couples.

Untraceable doesn't quite work, but I do have one bit of strong praise, and it has to do with the identity of the killer. Way back when, when I saw the trailer for Untraceable, I was convinced that the killer was going to turn out to be Colin Hanks' sidekick character. There were all these shots of a mysterious figure in a hood, so it seemed obvious to me that this was one of those movies with a mysterious killer who inevitably turns out to be someone the heroine knows. In fact, the killers pretty much always turn out to be a law enforcement official.

So I was a little surprised that about 30 minutes in, they flat out show you who the killer is, and he's not someone the heroine knows, living a double life. He's just a dude. So I figured, this can't be all. He's going to have a partner. Colin Hanks will turn out to be in cahoots with him. But then Colin Hanks gets abducted and the cops watch him get killed on the internet. Okay then, I thought, maybe he's just faking his death. But nope, he's dead. And no one else turns out to be the killer's cohort. There's no last minute twist.

So, kudos to you Untraceable, few serial killer movies outside of Se7en have the nerve to not have the killer turn out to be someone from the main cast. Even Saw withheld the killer's identity and made it a big twist ending even though it was completely arbitary. But not you. You're showing uncommon restraint.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

I was pretty sick and exhausted on Saturday, and mostly I just layed around in bed, and thought I could use the day as an excuse to cram in a bunch of movies, really just kommit my sick ass to klassiks. I watched The Assassination of Etc Etc and then I watched about half of Fellini's Amarcord, which I was greatly enjoying but stopped halfway through so I could take a nap. I had meant to finish it later on, but then Andy had to return it to the video store. I'll have to get it again soon, but it's a shame that I didn't just stick it out and watch the whole thing. Unfortunately it seems being sick and sleepy > my kommitment to klassiks.

I was happy to have Diva in from Netflix, because I thought it would make up for failing to complete Amarcord. It's been on my radar because of Roger Ebert's inclusion in his Great Movies column, and it sounded right up my alley. It's sorta like an arty French character movie crossed with an action-thriller.

There are a number of things I did like about Diva, but mostly I was disappointed. It wasn't as energetic or as visually intense as I had been expecting, and really meandered too much for my liking. It's got some interesting characters, but I wasn't nearly as interested in them as the director must have been. I kept waiting for the plot to take off, but instead was treated more scenes of the characters not doing anything. The much ballyhooed chase sequence was OK, but not really the all-time great that I had heard it was.

This movie is strange and memorable, but I just didn't think it worked.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Two days after watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, here's another movie with an absurdly long title.

This is the third and best James Gang themed movie I've watched in the last few months, after Walter Hill's The Long Riders and Samuel Fuller's I Shot Jesse James. Long Riders was really a highly fictionalized, slightly romanticized version that is basically an action movie, where Robert Ford is barely a footnote (in fact, Charlie Ford gets probably 4 times the dialogue Robert does). I Shot Jesse James, however, covers a lot of the same material as Assassination (god, even typing just the first word seems long), so it's worth comparing, because the movies could hardly be more different.

Both focus on Robert Ford as the lead character, and the build up to his murder of Jesse, and how his life subsequently falls apart. Shot is a brisk hour and twenty minutes, while Assassination is a hearty two hours and forty. Both have scenes where Ford is in a bar and someone sings a song about "the Coward Robert Ford" and he does not react well. Both movies show Ford joining a stage show where he re-enacts Jesse's murder every night, although Assassination has his brother Charlie playing the role of Jesse on-stage. But even though they tell the same stories, they aren't much alike. Shot has Jesse get killed within the first 20 minutes, and the rest of the movie is about Ford's decent into guilt. Assassination doesn't get to the shooting until about two hours in, and more focuses on the relationship between Ford and James.

The main difference in films is the treatment of Ford and James' characters. In Shot, I think Ford is maybe a little more sympathetic... he kills Jesse in a cowardly way, but he thinks he's doing it for the right reasons, and then spends the rest of his life feeling guilty. Jesse James isn't in it long, but comes off as a nice guy. In Assassination, Ford is a bizarre, awkward creep who is infatuated with James (maybe in love with him?) and tries to insinuate himself in James' life... he's the wild west version of a celebrity stalker. And James is seen as a violent, paranoid sociopath, prone to weird mood swings where one minute he's your best friend, and the next he's leading you out into the woods to shoot you. But what's really weird here is that the movie suggests that James is suicidal, or at least attracted to danger. It's clear that he sees through Ford, sees his obsession and the danger he presents, yet keeps him around any way. And then, in a subtle but unmistakable way, he more or less invites Ford to shoot him while his back is turned.

I don't want to mince words here: I thought Assassination was a great movie. It is easily the greatest western since Unforgiven, although it doesn't feel much like a western. It's dark, brooding and complex, and possibly the best looking movie that came out last year. Sure, pretty looking open landscapes are a staple in westerns, but I don't think we've ever seen a train robbery scene like the one here, where mysterious figures slowly crawl out of the dark of night, and the steam rolls out of the engine like smoke coming out of the gates of hell.

I've always liked Brad Pitt, and he gives one his best performances here, and I think we'd all be fawning over his work if it wasn't for just how great Casey Affleck is. Affleck steals the movie, and given the strength of Pitt's work, that's no mean feat. Affleck is just so unnerving and pathetic here... he has this deliberate way of speaking where you realize that Ford must practice in his head what he wants to say to Jesse ahead of time, trying to attain some sort of fantasy ideal of their life together. He's awful and creepy, but like Travis Bickle he's so helpless and pathetic that you have a sick kind of pity for him, even if he is the 1800's Mark David Chapman.

If I have one complaint, the movie may overuse its narration, which I'm guessing comes from the book. A few times the narrator basically describes things that we can clearly understand from the visuals. For the most part it works... it's even necessary, for example, during the ending, when Ford is unceremoniously murdered by a man he never met. Still, they could have cut it down in a few places, and trusted the images to tell the story. It reminded me a bit of Terrence Mallick with The New World or The Thin Red Line where you just want the narration to stop so you can focus on the beautiful images.

I think a while back I lauded 3:10 to Yuma for being a straightforward western, and complained that I was maybe a little tired of revisionist/elegiac westerns. Well, this one is certainly not a traditional western, so I'll go ahead and eat my words and say that I was wrong, this beats the pants off a typical traditional western.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I didn't plan it, but now that I think of it, The Hidden Fortress and Castle in the Sky were perfect movies to watch before checking out the new Indiana Jones. That's three rollicking action/adventure movies in a row about a ragtag group of adventurers on a dangerous quest. Good times!

Like everyone else on the planet, I love Indiana Jones. Unlike pretty much everyone else on the planet, though, my favorite has always been Temple of Doom. I know, right? That's nobody's favorite. But I love it. It's got all my favorite action scenes (especially the mine cart chase, and the mind-blowingly extended opening sequence) and I like all the weird, dark, violent visuals. It's like someone took Raiders and then added 15% horror movie to it.

I avoided reading too much about Crystal Skull and really tried not to get myself too worked up over it. I knew low expectations was the way to go. First of all, as much as I love Indy he's not quite as special to me as, say, Star Wars or Back to the Future. Secondly, it's kinda weird that they're returning to this series almost 20 years later... and I mean, we all know what happened last time a beloved George Lucas property returned after a long absence. I knew I would see Crystal Skull, hell I'd go even if everyone said it sucked, but I hadn't been obsessing over its release like some folks.

Well, I am happy to report that I loved the new Indiana Jones just as much as the rest of the series. Shit, I'll go ahead and say that I liked it more than The Last Crusade. It was magical, exciting, nonstop fun, etc etc. After being totally underwhelmed by Iron Man and completely baffled by its runaway popularity and critical lauding, it pleases me to no end to see an actually, no shit for real great summer popcorn movie this year. Hoo-ray.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Castle in the Sky

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Castle in the Sky catches me up on my Miyazaki. This isn't one of his delightful/magical films like My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away, but more of a rousing adventure flick. It's proof again that animation is a great medium for action scenes... think of The Triplets of Belleville or The Incredibles or Ratatouille and probably lots of others that I won't bother trying to remember right now. Good shit.

Props to Cloris Leachman on some top notch voice work, BTW.

The Hidden Fortress

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I should probably take a break from Kurosawa before I get sick of him, but fuck me if I didn't love this one too. It's another one of his samurai films, with the emphasis here on adventure. It's easy to see why George Lucas cites this as an important influence on Star Wars.

That's actually the reason I was curious to see Hidden Fortress. The main influence seems to come from the "sidekick" characters in this movie, who are clearly the template for C3PO and R2D2. The movie starts from their perspective, eventually meeting up with the real heroes, and then they provide comic relief and running commentary for the rest of the movie. They are both cowardly, constantly bickering with each other, but also kinda lovable... I guess it's more like having two C3POs. And what's great is that even though they ceaselessly argue and fight and chicken out and try to escape or make off with a bunch of money, we love them and are with them every step of the way. Then, meanwhile, we have the rest of gang doing all the real heroics, especially the consummate badass Toshiro Mifune, and being the one's to move the story forward. So now that I think about it, it's basically the Scooby Doo gang: 2 girls and a guy that do all the heroics, and then 2 lovable cowards who steal the spotlight. I wonder if the Hanna Barbera folks were fans of Hidden Fortress.

This is a very entertaining and exciting movie, and more lighthearted than some of the other Kurosawa films I've seen. Not that Seven Samurai or Yojimbo are major bummers, but there is some sadness or darkness under the surface there. Here, the underlying themes are more about friendship and loyalty, and I think the ultimate message is a positive one. In fact, one of the things I love best about Kurosawa that is very much on display in The Hidden Fortress is his humanist approach to his films. He empathizes with everyone, even some of the ostensible villains, and gets you to give a shit about the characters, and by extension the story. It's a sign of Kurosawa's empathy for the characters that the big climax comes about not because of the machinations of the plot, but because of a supporting character's emotional arc. As great as his movies are on a technical level, what's truly special is how he generates excitement by getting you involved with the characters first.

Of course, the movie is just plain exciting on an action/adventure level too. We get a lot of chases, sneaking past the enemy, clever ruses, an awesome sword-fight on horseback, a duel with spears, and more. There's one part where the heroes are escaping from the bad guys, and Mifune is riding off on his horse and reaches out his hand and effortlessly scoops on one of his companions and puts her on the back of the horse that made me want to cheer because it was so perfect and exhilarating.

I'm thinking if I watch more Kurosawa soon, I should try something that's not a genre film. Which makes me a little nervous, because as I've said before, what I like about him is how he makes an incredible, entertaining genre flick and then imbues it with depth and heart and empathy. Will I want to see a straight up drama from him? I mean, take for example John Carpenter or James Cameron... two of my favorite directors, but I'm not sure I'd want to see a subdued character piece from either one of them. But Kurosawa's earned more than enough good faith at this point... and I hear great things about Ikiru.

Oh. One last thing. Apparently the real title for this one is something closer to The Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress... maybe I missed something, or maybe I'm just an idiot, because I cannot figure out who the three villains would be.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yesterday I did a massive overhaul of my Netflix queue. I threw out a lot of the old, stagnant ones that had been sitting on my queue for fucking ever, their chances of of being bumped to the top ever-diminishing and basically just taking up space. I did add some newer releases (Untraceable looks awful, but I can't help myself), and a few random things (horror movies) that looked cool. But mostly what I did was browse the internet scour lists of great movies and (especially) directors and load up my queue with some of the most interesting suggestions. Maybe this will kick my K2K up another notch. I mean, I'm sure I'll fall into the same traps of fixating on a particular director or actor or genre instead of trying to be more broad (hell, I plan on watching Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress tonight), but I still think this is a step forward.

I have also made a change in my Netflix strategy. Whereas I once kept a (sorta kinda somewhat relatively) smaller queue, I am now overloading that bitch until it bursts. Before, my thought was that I didn't want to overload it because I would never get to all the movies and maybe it would start to feel like a burden. But you know what? I plan on having Netflix for a long time, and any way who cares if I don't see them all? What used to happen is that I would look around my queue and not be in the mood for anything on it, so I'd just end up finding something to add. Now, with my supersized queue, I should always be able to find something I'm in the mood for.

So what I'm saying is that I'm ushering in a new era of my K2K. Okay, well, actually I've done alright so far and this probably won't effect my viewing habits much, but it's at least the dawn of a new K2K day. And how did I celebrate this momentous occasion? By continuing that Alfred Hitchcock catch-up I kinda half-assed last month, and probably won't follow up on right away. Sure, not a good sign of reinvigoration, but this bastard had been on my Tivo for fucking ever and needed to get watched.

This is a good one, not a favorite, but definitely upper-shelf Hitchcock. It's more subdued than many of his other films, a psychological thriller to a dgree, but more of a drama with a lot of tension boiling under the surface. Maybe one of his best shot, at least from a "pretty pictures" perspective.

It seems to be well regarded, yet conversely not as famous or as often mentioned as many other Hitchcock classics. This had struck me as kinda weird, as it stars Laurence Olivier, is Hitchcock's first Hollywood film, and is I believe the only one of his movies to win Best Picture. Now that I've seen it, though, I have an idea why. There aren't any classic Hitchcock set-pieces/sequences. Nothing like the Psycho shower scene, or the Mount Rushmore sequence in North By Northwest, or running up the stairs in Vertigo, or anything like that. Rebecca is an excellent movie, but there's nothing iconic about any of it. And when you're the director of some of the most iconic scenes in film history, I can see why this one wouldn't end up in the collective conscience so much.

I'm glad I finally got around to watching it. I liked the story and the acting, but mostly I responded to the look of the film, how Hitchcock films the eerie old castle that most of the story takes place in, and the way that an ineffable tension keeps building under the surface of day-to-day life.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Young Frankenstein

Monday, May 19, 2008

More Mel Brooks.... It's pretty insane that I had never seen all of Young Frankenstein before.

This was probably the funniest of the 3 Brooks movies I've watched (with Shenan) in the last few weeks. Although, I have to say, I suspect that I'm never going to see another Brooks movie as funny as The Producers. We'll see. I haven't seen Blazing Saddles since I was little, so maybe I should watch that one soon. But I'm suspecting that Brooks may have peaked with his first film.

Monday, May 19, 2008

High and Low

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back again with more Kurosawa, and it's another winner. I'm starting to fall in love here. This is the 4th one of his I've watched for my K2K, and my 6th overall, and it's another masterpiece. I'm starting to feel that personal connection to these movies that you get with directors that you love, like how I feel about John Carpenter's movies or Richard Linklater's or Robert Zemeckis's, etc etc, which must mean that Kurosawa is becoming one of my favorites. I suspect he's going to join the pantheon of directors where I'll just have to see all of his movies, and even the ones that maybe aren't as good will still be interesting and worthwhile for me.

I think the key is that, from what I've seen, Kurosawa tends to make my favorite kind of movie. Namely, marvelously entertaining genre films that could just be watched for fun, but that contain deep, powerful themes and emotions just under the surface. Actually, what we have here is an affecting drama/morality play about a kidnapping that turns into a compelling police procedural, but boiling underneath it all is a powerful story about class conflict (hence the title). And you gotta love the complexity with which the themes are explored. The villain lives in squalor and is motivated by his hatred for the lead character's wealth... his large house sits atop the hill and almost seems to be looking down on the villain. But the lead character isn't just some rich asshole, it turns out he started from humble beginnings and worked his way to the top. He seems kind of like an asshole at times, but we understand his motivation and ultimately, when faced with a tough moral choice, he makes the right call.

I think the movie makes a pretty honest approach to the material, being careful to show the luxory of the upper-class, then the working class policemen (they have one small fan cooling them off at a meeting on a very hot day), before taking us on a terrifying tour of a slum filled with heroin addicts.

So I'm not sure if there's a message here as much as there is observation. We see how the economic backgrounds of the characters effect their actions, and really their basic natures. It's the subtext of nearly every scene in the movie, from the motivation of the kidnapper, to the father furious with his child for not remembering some crucial information that he saw.

Looks like Andy just rented Hidden Fortress, which I have read was a major influence on Star Wars. So I'll probably be watching it soon, whether Shenan wants to or not.

All the Colors of the Dark

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I can't resist a good giallo. Or a bad giallo, for that matter, but this was a good one. Like the way some people can always watch a western even if it sucks, I can pretty much always watch a giallo.

This one is good for the same reasons a lot of giallos are good, which is to say there is a lot of sex and violence, juiced up with ridiculous visual bombast. And it's got Edwige Fenech, my favorite/the sexiest of all the ladies that showed up in a lot of these movies. She displays an acceptable amount of nudity, although perhaps not as gratuitously as I would have liked.

The director has done 2 other giallos I saw, the great titled but only OK Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and the awesome-ly, top 10 best titled Giallo, but pretty lame as a movie Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. (Which, believe it or not is one of the many Italian/giallo versions of Poe's The Black Cat). This one doesn't have a title nearly that awesome, but it's definitely the best one of his that I've seen. It's not as insanely violent as I would have liked, but it is entertainingly lurid and has an over-the-top visual style (this is definitely one of those slightly psychedlic, hippie giallos) and a silly-ass satanic cult plot filled with dreams within dreams within hallucinations, etc.

The acting in your typical giallo is usually pretty bad and the shitty dubbing doesn't help, and it tends to add a lot of accidental laughs to these movies. But, still, I have to say that my enjoyment is mostly genuine. All the Colors of the Dark isn't a good movie in many senses, but it's fun and stylish and kinda well-made for what it is. I think it's like that saying (Pauline Kael's, maybe?) about great art being so rare that it's important we learn to appreciate great trash. This is at least good trash, maybe a little more emphasis on trash than on good. With giallos, you occassionally get some great trash from the king himself Dario Argento like Opera, and maybe even trash so great that it trascends trash and becomes art, like Deep Red. But mostly you get average to good trash, and I find that immanently watchable.

Back to the Future Part III

Friday, May 16, 2008

My brother had, somehow, never seen the final installment of the Back to the Future trilogy. The original is pretty much my favorite movie of all time, so once I found this out I insisted that we watch it right away.

I think most folks would agree with me that this is the worst of the series (except for Shenan, who inexplicably thinks it's the best), but it's still funny, entertaining and even recaptures some of the magic and wonder of the original (albiet to a much lesser degree). Hell, I'll even cop to getting a little misty-eyed during Doc's farewell at the end, and then the train flying off into the air is pretty magical and goosebump-inducing.

The main fault here is that I just don't think the western gimmick sustains the entire running time. It's fun to see all the recurring BTTF jokes show up in a wild west context, but the joke gets a little stale after a while. The genius of Part 2 is that it was basically two films in one; one about Marty travelling to the future, and one about Marty travelling back to the events of the original. Both are great ideas, but neither could probably carry an entire film on their own. The pairing of ideas makes the movie seem filled to the brim with invention. Part 3 could have benefited from a similar structure.

Still, like I said, there's a lot to like here, and enough goodwill saved up from the earlier movies to help gloss over some of the faults. Zemeckis' work is characteristically great here, but I've always got the sense that the BTTF sequels weren't really a passion project for him and Bob Gale, that they more did it for the money/because of the demand. They brought their A-game and made the sequels better than sequels often have any right to be, but maybe there's a little less soul in them than in the original, or in something like Roger Rabbit or Forrest Gump or Contact where you feel like the movie is more personal or intimate.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two-Lane Blacktop

Friday, May 16, 2008

We talked a little bit over this one, but I'm still gonna count it. I don't have much to say here... I liked this one, it has this sort of zen-of-car-racing thing going on for it that's pretty cool, plus it has Warren Oates. What's not to like? The director made another movie with Warren Oates called Cockfighter, and it's on my queue and I should check it out soon.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Friday, May 16, 2008

Even now in my sincere attempt at Kommitting myself to Klassiks this year, my own personal obsessions and biases are still narrowing the possibilities of what I could (should?) be watching. I patted myself on the back for watching The General some time back, but I'm still neglecting silent films. And even worse than that, I haven't been watching any documentaries. I guess I'm not inherently a fan, which is a shame and really throws my credibility out the window.

King of Kong is not a klassik or great documentary, it's just a fun one from last year that seemed to get a lot of internet coverage. I liked it, but I didn't get caught up in the story like a lot of nerds on the internet seemed to. The movie really tries to work up a lot of drama over people playing Donkey Kong, clearly painting one guy as the hero and one as the villain. Well, I didn't much care about either, instead I would say that the message of this movie is "people take themselves way too seriously." And I don't mean that as criticism of the subjects... I mean, god forbid somebody filmed me doing one of my hobbies. This shit is embarrassing.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Suck it, The Orphanage.

Was it just last week that I was bemoaning the failure of that creepy-child movie to engage me despite its aspirations? Indeed it was. I even went so far as to wonder if it might just be creepier to have a crazy kid instead of another kid that could see ghosts.

Joshua is just that, a straightforward scary-kid themed movie with no supernatural bent, in the proud tradition of The Bad Seed and, uh, Macaulay Culkin's The Good Son. Oh, and let's not forget Mikey, which is the one where the kid from Blank Check murders his whole family and then gets a new family and murders all them and then blows their house up with dynamite that he somehow had. (4/24/2009, Note from the future: I Saw "Mikey" again and it turns out he uses a molotov cocktail and not dynamite. My bad.)

Maybe it's not the most auspicious subgenre, but Joshua is a top-notch example. It's probably the most tense, involving horror film I've seen in a long time, and if I didn't have some reservations with the ending I'd be giving it even higher praise. As it stands, it gets the status of Minor Classic.

What I loved about the first 2/3rds of Joshua is what a slow burn it is, and how for a while it's more of a dark character piece that only gradually tips itself towards horror. The tension builds under the surface of mundane, plausible events. The new baby seems to cry too much at night. Mom is suffering from post-partum depression and is slowly losing it. There's tension at work for dad... and is he having an affair? And then there's little Joshua, much too smart for a 9-year-old, and so strangely calculating... is he dangerous, or just strange?

The last chunk of the movie starts to feel a little less plausible... in particular I'm not sure the father would lose his shit so dramatically, and then the plot works itself out a little too neatly SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT making Joshua a little too Hannibal Lector-y. But even then the tension and the creepiness never diminishes, so it's not a wash. And at least it doesn't turn out that Joshua is a demon child with an imaginary friend that's actually a ghost but really the father has split personalities and he's the crazy one, or some shit.

I have mixed feelings about the final scene, which has a lot of creepy touches, especially the reveal of the fate of his pet hamster. But the big button on the ending is little Joshua playing the piano and singing a creepy song to his uncle that pretty much confesses his guilt. I can't figure out why the hell Joshua would write a song about how evil he is, and then sing it to someone who he is pretending to be normal in front of. I mean, seriously, Joshua, you masterminded this whole plan to destroy your family and look completely innocent, why are you writing mopey songs about your guilt? And it doesn't help that the song sucks. It was written by Dave Matthews, who then performs it over the credits. I mean, no bias against Matthews here, although we all know his music sucks dick, etc etc, but he theortically could have written an ok song. And I guess the song strikes the right mood, but the lyrics are atrociously on-the-nose and makes this bad idea stick out even worse.

You know what might have worked? Joshua playing some creepy music on the piano but not singing. We don't need any corny lyrics about pulling wings off of flies and shit.

So I think what we have here is 3/4ths of a great horror movie that stumbles in its finale. But it's still totally worthwhile. It's well made and tense, with some strong acting (god I love Sam Rockwell) and not without a solid dose of dark humor (whihc helps make some of the less plausible moments palatable). Remember when I said The Orphanage was exactly the kind of mature, serious, themetically rich and artistic kind of horror film that I've been looking for, only it just didn't work at all as horror? Well, Joshua is all that too, but it works and is actually a scary movie.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Brief Encounter

Monday, May 12, 2008

After witnessing the awesomeness of The Bridge on the River Kwai, I knew I had to check out some more David Lean. I figured it would be Lawrence of Arabia I saw next, which had been sitting on my queue for a while.

But then I saw a few weeks back that Brief Encounter was gonna be shown by my wonderful K2K ally TCM, so I Tivoed it.

Well, not that I'm surprised, but Brief Encounter is nothing at all like Bridge on the River Kwai. It is a small, short, intimate story that doesn't strain for much emotion. I'm a sucker for a story like this: a man and a woman meet by chance, form a friendship and start to fall in love, only they are both married to other people. They want to be together, but ultimately they are just too decent to start a real affair.

I like the restrain in stories like this... there are plenty of movies about extra-marital affairs, and a lot of times the hidden message is to follow your heart regardless of the consequences.. I prefer a movie like this, or like Age Of Innoncence, that tries to be a little more conflicted. It shows the good and the bad, the reasons for them to be together and the equally valid reasons they should stay with their spouses. I'm not exactly a family values kind of guy, but I tend to care more about characters trying to resist temptation.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Sunday, May 11, 2008

I think the last time I saw Casino was about 3 years ago, back when I was still living in a dorm at JMU. I was hungover on I think a Sunday and didn't want to get out of bed, and it was on TV.

I tend to go back and forth over whether I like this one or Goodfellas more, usually tending to go for whichever one I am currently watching. Casino connects less on a character/emotional level, but the style is something to behold. It's constantly moving forward in grand gestures, the editing is mindblowingly complicated and the pop sountrack is nonstop. It's like a movie made entirely of climaxes. Every moment, even the small moments, feels like a big crescendo. It never stops for a breath, it's just go go go.

So maybe it's not a deeply felt movie, but it's Scorsese in overdrive and that is a sight to behold.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

The next in my list of "why the fuck didn't they just translate the title into English" movies, jigoku apparently just means "hell." And it's a movie about a bunch of people that die and go to hell. Wow. I'm sure we would have really lost something in translation.

I watched this at Andy's suggestion, and nice try kiddo but this movie pretty much sucked. There's some cool imagery near the end when the characters finally go to hell, but most of the movie leading up to that is corny, when it's not just boring.

I guess this is a horror movie, or at least the finale kind of seems like a horror movie, but most of the build up is some really silly melodrama. I don't know, maybe some of this was supposed to be funny and I was just in the wrong mindset, but that part where all the major characters die through a weird string of coincidences was just silly.

Oh well, I guess it was worth a shot.

Paris, Texas

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My K2K this year has lead me to another beloved director I was heretofore previously completely unfamiliar with: Wim Wenders.

For some reason I was expecting this to be a slow, sad, morose affair, maybe a little hard to get through. Also, I thought it was going to be in black and white. I have no idea why I thought any of these things, but I was pretty much wrong on all counts. Paris, Texas does tell a sad story, but it tells it with warmth and affection for its characters.

I've always liked Harry Dean Stanton, but I've never seen him front and center in a movie like this, and he's awesome. I can imagine an alternate universe where he was a leading man and not a character actor. Also, props to the great Dean Stockwell for his work in this. He's so good I wish his role had been bigger, but he vanishes for the 2nd half.

I am definitely not opposed to seeing more of Wim Wenders in the future. This movie didn't blow me away, but I responded to a lot of it (even if it did drag a bit towards the end), and the cinematography was beautiful.

There's Something About Mary

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Andy, Shenan and I watched the extended cut of this, which none of us had ever seen before. This is still a great movie, but the added stuff is pretty odd. The main addition is a subplot about Jeffrey Tambor's character (who is barely in the theatrical cut). He goes on a coke binge and his life completely falls apart. Near the end he is found eaten by a giant snake with no real explanation as to how. Yeah.

Let's just say I can understand why they would cut that last part.


Friday, May 9, 2008

I have trouble reconciling the fact that this movie was directed by Paul Verhoeven. I mean, how did the guy who made some of the smartest, funniest genre films of the 80's and 90's direct what is often referred to as one of the worst films ever made. I don't get it. The nicest thing anyone ever said about Showgirls is that it might be a really funny camp classic. How do you go from making movies like Turkish Delight, The Fourth Man, Robocop and Total Recall to this? Even when he made total trash like Basic Instinct, he made pretty good trash.

I'd like to believe that he knew what he was doing, and he had some sort of satirical slant on the material a la Robocop, otherwise how do you explain moments like the sex scene in the swimming pool where Elizabeth Berkeley flops around on her back like a fish. Or when she expresses an emotional outburst by angrily squeezing ketchup on her fries, then knocks the fries all over the table. Or when the two female leads bond by discussing how they enjoyed eating the same brand of dog food? That has to be, like, ironically misogynist and not actually misogynist, right?

After this it was a string of Verhoeven disappointments. Starship Troopers has a very amusing satirical edge to it, but the movie itself isn't much fun to watch. And then Hollow Man just sucked. Finally, he seems like he got his bearings back with the excellent Black Book, so I'm hoping this ushers in a new era of Verhoeven. Someone call up the studios, we could use another subversive sci-fi action picture right about now.

Silent Movie

Friday, May 9, 2008

Oh what the hell, a little more Mel Brooks. Although no klassik, I liked this one a little more than High Anxiety. There's just something about the premise that adds a little extra joy and magic to this one. It's far from the funniest Mel Brooks movie I've seen, but it might be the most delightful.

If I do any more Brooks for my K2K, I should probably do Young Frankenstein next.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Savages

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I have no inherent affection for indie comedy-drama quirk fests. Outside of I Heart Huckabees and Wes Anderson's best movies, there certainly aren't really any I love. And even some of the ones I kinda sorta like a little (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine) I like them despite their style, not because of it.

I was going to rent Margot at the Wedding, which is probably more or less the same movie, because I liked the trailer more. My brother convinced me to get this one, and I love Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, so I agreed.

Actually, The Savages isn't quite the quirkfest I thought it would be, it's more bitter. I guess it's closer to The Squid and the Whale. But not as funny.

That really threw me off, the lack of laughs in this movie. My girlfriend agreed, but said she thought it was more of a drama with a little humor, that it wasn't trying to be a comedy. I don't agree. I think a lot of the movie is supposed to be funny or amusing, it's just not.

I can't fault much in the direction, and the acting is (obviously) strong, but it didn't work for me. At all. The bitter laughs are few and far between (and I love bitter laughs), and I was completely unengaged on a dramatic level. It seemed like everything you need to know about the characters you understand within minutes of meeting them, and then the movie rambles on for another 100 minutes. I'm guessing someone who has a family member with Alzheimer's would find this movie more engaging, but it didn't do much to inspire interest or empathy with me.

And then I really hated the ending, where suddenly it skips ahead 6 months and everyone's lives have turned for the better and they are on the road to self-improvement. So basically they skipped over the entire emotional climax.

I wish I could see this cast in a better movie.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I like Stuart Gordon, although I don't think he's ever topped Re-Animator. King of the Ants comes close, and he has a number of other really good ones, but his first film is the best. It's one of those ultra-violent, over-the-top 1980's horror comedies like Evil Dead 2 and Return of the Living Dead, but like the best ones has a voice and style all its own.

I picked up this DVD a few years back (I guess some time in college), shelled out the extra $ for the double disc special edition... and I have yet to watch a single one of the special features. I've probably watched the movie 3 or 4 times, but I haven't watched any of the documentaries or listened to the commentaries. Hell, I've barely utilized the interactive menus.

This ever happened to you? I'm such a freakin' DVD addict that I always feel compelled to get the super special editions, and then find I don't have the time or just don't care to watch the special features.

I'm trying to cut back now... only go for the expensive DVDs that I actually think I'll peruse. I was pretty proud of myself last November when I only got the regular 1-disc edition of Live Free or Die Hard (which was the first post I ever made on this site). The special edition of Superbad was definitely worth it, because the extras are all hilarious, but unless I really give a shit about the making-of a particular movie, there is no need to get, like, The Ultimate Crazy 5-Disc Collector's Set of any movie.

Although I would buy a What Are You Looking At Dicknose? 12-disc Special Edition of Teen Wolf if they ever came out with that.

Mean Girls

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ah, I recall the brief window of time when Lindsay Lohan seemed to have a promising career. And it was really the 2 flicks she did with director Mark Waters that signify the high point: the way better than expected Freaky Friday, and Mean Girls, one of the best and funniest teen movies of the 00's (maybe second only to Superbad... or are there some classics I'm forgetting?)

Since then, she really hasn't done much of note. A Prairie Home Companion was pretty good, but she was probably the least interesting part of the whole movie. And then I guess you could count The Parent Trap's violent, nonsensical, kind of awful but also fascinating horror movie sequel I Know Who Killed Me as a positive, but I'm not sure that movie is good for any of the reasons Ms. Lohan may have thought... or anyone who worked on the film, for that matter.

Tina Fey should write more movies, because this shit is funny and it stays funny every time I watch it. I got a little worried that maybe Fey had lost her touch when I saw those awful commercials for Baby Mama, but then I found out she didn't write that one. Phew. Although I gotta say, I like Tina Fey the actress, but I still prefer Tina Fey the writer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Orphanage

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about The Orphanage, but I suspect that I can't quite give it the a-ok. Which makes me feel guilty. I mean, here we have an honest-to-goodness earnest attempt at making a serious, mature, well-shot horror film, with fleshed out characters, complex themes, heavy atmosphere, that takes it's time and tries to build real suspense. Pretty much exactly the kind of horror movie I'm always begging for. I guess the operative word, though, is "attempt," because I'm not convinced it's too successful at reaching its goals.

It left me at times a little bored, and in the end unsatisfied. Where as a lot of less-artisitc, atmosphere-lacking, suspense-free Friday the 13th movies have given me a much better time at the movies. It's like I tried some new, fancy expensive Belgian Ale that I should love, only it wasn't all that good and I'd rather have a Pabst Blue Ribbon. I feel a bit like an uncultured ass for not liking it, but I gotta remind myself of all the good, sophisticated horror films I do love.

OK, let me try this from a different angle. You know what I don't want to see again in a horror movie? A precocious little kid who tells his parents about his imaginary friends, and then the kid starts behaving strangely and weird things are afoot and the parents become worried that the kid is losing his shit. Because the moment a kid in a horror movie says he has an imaginary friend, a little bell goes off in my head and I immediately know that this will be an important plot point and that his friends are most certainly not imaginary. They are most likely ghosts, or I guess there was that one shitty Rober DeNiro movie where he had a split personality that befriended Dakota Fanning. (Don't read that last sentance if you wanted to see Hide and Seek.) So right there, all the suspense for the first act is gone, because we never for a second worry that the kid is just looney tunes, we know he's telling the truth.

Hey, that would be something though... how about a horror movie that actually makes us wonder if the kid is a nutjob? I'll still let the answer to the mystery be "ghosts" if you really want it to be, but maybe we just don't have the kid talk about his imaginary friends, or at least not until later in the picture. That way it might actually be a little spookier when a little kid in a fucked-up mask starts running around the house.

Let me digress off my digression here for one second about that fucked-up mask. It's really damn eerie, and one of the coolest things in the movie. But the more I thought about it, the less sense it made. It's suppossed to be a mask that was worn by a little kid to hide his deformed face. I'm guessing this was done to avoid embarassment and prevent him from scaring other children... but then why the hell would his mother make the mask way, way scarier than his actual face? You think she would have made him a cute mask or something, not the weird, lopsided, clown/rapist nightmare he wears. Ick.

OK, digression over.

I'm also not keen on mediums and ghost hunters popping up in horror films to create some additional suspense scenes and I guess to try to lend some realism or science to the story. In fact, I'm not inherently into ghost stories, so you're already asking me to swallow a lot in believing that there is an afterlife and that ghosts have magical powers and also they still wear clothes (are their clothes the ghosts of their clothes when they were alive?) and they can talk so I guess they have, like, fully functioning organs and a voice box and shit otherwise I'm not sure how they generate sound, and they are intangible sometimes and solid others, and there don't seem to be any rules and they do a lot of arbitrary spooky things. I'm willing to go along with that, if the movie is a good one. But then if you throw in psychics and pseudo-science and it gets to be too much for me.

Actually, you know what, I'll even accept psychics and mediums, even though they are horseshit too, because this is a movie and not real life and fantastical shit is cool. But ghost hunters have to be the corniest, stupidest group of pseudo-scientific charlatans ever and I will not tolerate any treatment of them in a serious light. You gotta go the 1408 route and acknowledge that their profession is silly (even if there really are ghosts in the movie), otherwise save it for Ghostbusters 3. To The Orphanage's credit, some of the characters are skeptical of the ghost hunter guys, but the scene is still played as seriously creepy and it seems like the movie ultimately falls in their favor.

Then there's the ending, which struck me as too pat and maybe upbeat. I mean, I don't object to a horror movie having a happy ending, because sometimes it can provide a very satisfying catharsis. But the ending here borders on corny, and then makes the rest of the movie seem not-scary in retrospect. I mean, seriously, when you think about what happens at the end, you realize that there was nothing to fear the whole time.

There are definitely some effective scenes and images and ideas at play here, it strikes the right tone, it actually tries to flesh out the characters. I've been trying to decide whether or not to give it a 2 or 3 on Netflix, and I'm considering the 3 just because I have a lot of respect for what The Orphanage is trying to do. But I don't think it works.

I've rambled on a lot, but if I could sum everything up into one main point for what didn't work for me, I would say it's the complexity of the story. After watching Them the other night, and then seeing this one, it's clear to me that simplicity is often a virtue in a horror movie. With Them, there's a lean efficiency to the suspense... oh shit, someone's in our house and they are trying to kill us. That's all, there's no more "plot" to speak of, and it's enough to get your blood pumping. The Orphange has so many different elements to it... the creepy kid, imaginary friends, weird mask, ghosts, videos of an old orphanage, a murderous caregiver, a creepy old house full of secrets, ghost hunters, a psychic, on and on. Much of it is well done, but I'm not sure the complexity makes the movie scarier. The most effective scenes of tension really could succeed with or without the complicated plot. It doesn't reach Neil Jordan's In Dreams levels of convoluted, distracting storytelling, but I think maybe there's still more going on than neccesary. I can even understand the need for a central mystery, which can add a spooky sense of the unknown, but I don't see how having this much plot makes the movie any more effective.

I'm still debating how to rate this on Netflix, but it's starting to fall into There Will Be Blood territory of uncertainty. I guess I appreciated the effort much more than the final product.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Monday, May 5, 2008

You know what movie I really didn't like? Serpico. What's so special about this guy? I mean, great, he wasn't a corrupt cop. That's wonderful. But it should also be a given. You know, I don't praise somebody every time they don't rape and murder a child, I don't see why I should praise Serpico for not being corrupt. And he spends so much of the damn movie focused on being not-corrupt that he doesn't, you know, seem to do any other police work. Doesn't save a lot of lives or bust any criminals. Not exactly my definition of a hero. American Gangster told a much better variation on the same story with Russell Crowe's character, and that part of the movie wasn't even 1/3rd of the plot, and he ends up bringing down a drug kingpin. Seriously, fuck Serpico.

So I've seen a few Sidney Lumet movies now, and my favorites are Network and Dog Day Afternoon, the ones about bad guys and morally complex people. I'm not so hot on Serpico, like I said. And I like 12 Angry Men, but not the parts where Henry Fonda comes off like a perfect angel blessed by God himself and sent down to Earth to teach us heathens about resonable doubt.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, luckily, is about bad guys and morally complex people. So it's Lumet on the turf I prefer him on. I was pretty curious to see it after some of the raves I had read last year, especially Roger Ebert's review. I liked it, especially Ethan Hawke's performance (he usually plays laid back intellectual types, but this movie suggests he should play more idiots who get in over their head), but it's nothing special. It's a solid crime flick/character study, but I think it went a little too "big" for me in the later scenes. I remember some reviews comparing it to Greek tragedy, which I should have realized at the time is often code for "it goes over the top, and people start doing really dramatic things that don't make sense in order to make a big finale."

Oh well, it's still better than Serpico.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Home invasion makes for a great scary-movie premise. I mean, horror movies expect us to get scared by zombies, dream demons and Draculas, and those assholes don't even exist. Home invasion could actually happen to you. You're minding your own business, maybe watching TV, late one night when BAM a bunch of weirdos in hoodies break into your place and murder you. There's something so simple but direct and realistic about the premise that cuts through all the contrived story elements of most other horror movies.

Them makes the right call by being short, fast-paced and to-the-point. We get a brief introduction, then the shit hits the fan and the movie never pauses for a breath. Too much story or set-up would ruin the headlong energy. It's no masterpiece of terror, but it builds a respectable amount of tension and excitement. I'm fond of it's simple but effective style and aspirations. It's another sign that we are in a renaissance of good horror films.

The ending is a disappointment though. I think the filmmakers wanted to put on a little button on the end instead of just going for the logical, abrupt ending. Maybe button is a bad metaphor, because this button is supposed to shock and disturb you, which isn't typically the job of a button. What I mean is there is a revelation at the end, not exactly a twist, that I think is supposed to make you go "woah!" and feel depressed and maybe feel like the movie is less light-weight and inconsequential. (It's not those things; I would call it lean and direct). Only, it's kind of an anti-climactic revelation. I like it, but they could have just revealed it halfway into the movie as a cool detail instead of trying to make it feel like some major, mind-blowing twist. Or if they had to do it at the end, they could have handled it better.

OK, spoilers. It turns out in the end that the home invaders are all little kids, like 10-15 years old. At the end, after killing off the leads, we see them walk calmly off, and get on a bus. There's a good idea here, but it's not well executed. The cool idea is "holy shit, those were just a bunch of kids, and they killed those people just for fun." That could make for a disturbing final scene. But even after the big reveal, the kids aren't really treated as kids, but still like faceless monsters who hide in the dark. Even in the last shot they look all spooky and mysterious, and lacking in personality. A much more disturbing variation would have been to have one of the kids go home and hug their mother and act like a good child, or maybe to have the kids all engage in a game or do some other inherently adolescent activity. Really emphasize that they are children, instead of just mention it and then not do anything with it.

Wow, I spent a lot of time bitching about the ending, but I think that's only because I liked the rest of the movie so much. This is an effective piece of sustained suspense, very well made. Oh and it's French, I didn't mention that before but there you go.

And later this month we have a new home invasion movie, The Strangers, which looks similar to Them and also looks fucking awesome. I can't wait.

Iron Man

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I'm a little mystified at how strong the reviews have been for Iron Man. It's entertaining, but a mild pleasure at best, and not the classic that the Rotten Tomatoes count or all the hyperbolic gushing at AICN suggested. A great superhero movie should give you a charge, get your heart racing with excitement and delight, and light a fire under your ass. Iron Man is, at it's best, just kinda fun. It doesn't really capture the imagination.

The movie works mostly because of Robert Downey Jr, and because it's funny. There are a few cool action moments, but no real classic or noteworthy action scenes. That's more or less what I expected when I first heard that Jon Favreau was hired to direct.

My main problem with the film is a problem common to many superhero-movie part 1's, which is that it's an origin story. It happened with X-Men and Spiderman and actually even the 1st Superman a bit: the origin ends up taking up so much of the story that there isn't any room for a real plot or conflict in the film. Or at least not one that isn't half-assed. Luckily, the origin in Iron Man provides for some real fun (especially all his failed experiments with the suit), but it burns up so much screen time that there's not really much going on in the finale. It basically comes down to one small-ish fight between Iron Man and an evil Iron Man. And the evil Iron Man suit is only introduced right before the end, so we never get a chance to see what it does before they fight. it's never established as a credible threat. And then, since it all boils down to a fight between Iron Man and another guy, and the other guy's master plan seems a little vague, there aren't really any stakes. They fight, we already know Iron Man will win, he wins and then things go back to normal and no one really gets saved or anything.

I never gave a shit about the Iron Man comics, so when I first heard the movie announced I could barely muster any enthusiasm. Jon Favreau is talented, but he makes light-weight charmers, not exciting action flicks. Then, when Downey signed on, I was a little more interested. And then all the reviews seemed to glow, I kinda got my hopes up. So although I liked it, Iron Man was a big disappointment. It's just another Favreau-style light-weight charmer disguised as a big budget superhero extravaganza.

High Anxiety

Friday, May 2, 2008

This is so obvious I feel like an idiot. I had complained before that too many of my explorations into comedy for my K2K ended in failure. And then I would blame social/cultural differences between now and then. You know like, if the movie was from the 1940's and it wasn't funny, I could point out that overseas at the time millions of Jews were being slaughtered, so almost anything would seem funny in comparison. Watching klassik komedies, which should be the most fun part of my K2K, was starting to feel like a chore. (Meanwhile, movies like Tokyo Story and Aguirre feel like a chore going in, and end up blowing my mind).

How the fuck did it never cross my mind until last week to throw a Mel Brooks movie on my queue? I already know he can make me laugh (The Producers is, like, one of the funniest movies ever), but I haven't seen much of his filmography. I don't know why I immediately equated klassik komedies with the 1940's, but there you go. I am retarded.

I selected this one at Shenan's recommendation. It's Brooks' take on Hitchcock, which sounds like a great idea, but the results are mixed. I laughed enough that I liked this one, but it's not one of his best. I think maybe my main complaint is that the movie isn't Hitchcockian enough... A lot of the specific Hitchcock parodies are really funny, but too many of the story elements and scenes and shots don't seem to recall Hitchcock much at all. And then there is what seems to be an extended reference to Blowup, which is an almost anti-Hitchcockian film.

Still funny, though, and I'm going to add Silent Movie to my queue.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Tokyo Story

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I don't know if you've heard of this one, but it frequently shows up on all time greatest movie lists. It's not a publically well known classic, though, and I think nowadays it's mainly seen by film critics and movie lovers.

Well, I was proud of myself for Netflixing this one, since it's a 2 hour and 15 minute Japanese movie about an elderly couple where people basically just sit around and talk; I thought it showed my kommittment to klassiks. But secretly, I was kind of dreading it because, well, it's a 2 hour and 15 minute Japanese movie about an elderly couple where people basically just sit around and talk. I was worried it would be a snooze fest, and I'd lose interest in it and feel like a jackass for my failure to kommit.

It didn't exactly grab me from the get-go and change my opinion, either. It really is a movie comprised of conversations between people, with not a lot going on. It's not particularly visually dynamic. I thought I was in for a long night.

Then, before I knew it, I got completely wrapped up in Tokyo Story. It's just a simple story about people, and it never strives hard for drama or emotion, but there is uncommon insight and depth of feeling in the movie. I can't remember the last time I felt this touched watching a movie.

There's an old couple, and they travel to Tokyo to visit some of their children, whom they haven't seen in years. The children are a little put out by the parents, and essentially try to gently push them out the door. Only the widow of one of their sons seems to appreciate their company, in fact she loves having them around. The couple eventually travel home, and shortly after the mother dies. The family all comes for the mother's funeral, and the father and the son's widow have a heart-to-heart. It couldn't get more basic than this, but the simplicity is part of the strength. Tokyo Story is so emotionally honest that it's hard not to relate to almost every moment, and the last 20 minutes or so are an amazing of emotions. I felt sad and happy at the same time. Sad for what happens, but happy because of how much you care for and empathize with and love the characters.

I wouldn't think a movie this low key would have such an impact, but there you go. I can't wait to see more of Ozu's films.