February 15, 2009

The "other Lyric"

If you haven't seen Coraline yet (and you should if you haven't!) then you probably don't know how cool and creepy this picture really is. My daughter sent this to me today.

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(And let me just take a moment to say it's kind of surreal and also pretty great to have a daughter old enough to send me cool, unexpected things like this!)

Posted by jason on 01:37 AM | Comments (6)

January 29, 2009

Yes! Narnia is saved...

I am so glad that Walden Media has managed to find another partner for continuing filming the Narnia series. I thought Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was excellent and Prince Caspian was better still. And I really think the films are cast so well so I didn't want to miss out on using the same actors and actresses as time goes on.

Bravo to Walden Media for salvaging this once Disney (foolishly, I think) cast them off.

Posted by jason on 04:41 PM | Comments (4)

August 05, 2008

Kramer vs Kramer

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It's been a while since I've had a chance to watch the movies on my list of movies I need to watch. Now that doesn't mean I haven't been watching movies. For instance, I saw the new Mummy movie on Sunday. Despite some fun moments and the always likable Brendan Fraser, it was pretty bad... It made me realize just how hard it is to write a good film. So many things can go wrong.

And I saw Mommie Dearest, which was a vicious, painful (if a little over the top) portrayal of an abusive mother. Once again, it only solidified my view that Faye Dunaway is an acting genius. Then there was Single White Female (scary!), If Lucy Fell (cute), Jesus Camp (disturbing), Team America: World Police (genius).

And of course, there is this little film called The Dark Night.

But I got back into the swing of the "Films I should watch" watching with a real winner. Kramer vs. Kramer was amazingly well written, well acted (wow I love Dustin Hoffman at the top of his game), and heart breaking. It was especially gripping if you're a father. Meryl Streep is surprisingly attractive, and delivers a very believable performance (quite a feat considering she has to play a woman who abandons her 7 year old son, which is something 99% of women would not do).

I would highly recommend this film, one that examined a very difficult social phenomena which was just becoming widespread - the custody battle.

4 out of 4

Posted by jason on 10:52 PM | Comments (6)

July 12, 2008

Bride of Frankenstein

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It's as if someone watched Frankenstein, then read the original novel, and said, "Wait a minute, we missed out on a ton of great stuff here!" and then decided to make Bride of Frankenstein.

Put this one on that small list of "sequels that were superior to their predecessors" along with Empire Strikes Back, Toy Story 2, Godfather 2, and The Two Towers. (Which others would you add?)

Bride of Frankenstein is more clever, Frankenstein's monster learns to speak and becomes much more sympathetic, it has a large dose of humor that was completely absent in the first, and it's just all around more entertaining. But mostly it revolves around the needed for companionship and the pain of unrequited love.

I had a professor this last year who said he would give us $20 if we could name 3 popular movies that dealt with unrequited love. We couldn't think of 3. I came up with 2 - Hunchback of Notre Dame and Edward Scissorhands. And now, I could totally get that $20 because Bride of Frankenstein makes that list. (Can you think of any others.)

He maintained that unrequited love was not a popular theme in movies because it's just too painful for humans to face, and people don't want to be reminded of it. We can handle loss, we can handle suffering, we can handle death and all that stuff. But the idea of loving something that just cannot or will not love you back is unbearable.

I wrote my professor today to tell him and he was happy that I thought of it. I also made the observation that it's strange that the only 3 I could think of involved freaks or monsters, and that still fits within his theory. We can't handle it happening to actual people, they have to be cursed creatures.

3 out of 4

Posted by jason on 02:45 AM | Comments (6)

Frankenstein

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I remember reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in High School and the book being a revelation to me. This wasn't some grunting monster stumbling around, this was a thoughtful creature who was genuinely hurt because he was rejected by his creator. And he could talk. I never knew that the original story was so smart, and full of such amazing themes...

All that to say, Universal's Frankenstein (1931) takes these things I loved about the book and flushes them down the toilet. It was exactly what you think of when you think of Frankenstein (and, is probably the reason you think of all those things). It was a lumbering monster groaning and strangling people.

That's not to say it's a bad film. For 1931 especially, it's quite impressive. And it's entertaining. But I much prefer the Kenneth Branaugh version from the 90s, because it's more true to the book.

I realized something while watching. You may remember that I wasn't completely thrilled with the style of the film 300. With all the digital backgrounds and scenery it felt really small to me (when I know that it was meant to feel epic and huge.)

It's the way films used to be made! No real locations, everything constructed and put together in a sound stage. Now the computer has replaced the sound stage, but it's the same idea.

It bothered me here with Frankenstein especially, where the backdrops were obviously cloth and everything was shot indoors. Both 300 and Frankenstein, I now realize, felt more like plays than movies.

And boo-hoo for me, the remake of Clash of the Titans (which I've been reallly hoping for for some time) is reportedly being made in the same style as 300.

2 out of 4

Posted by jason on 02:31 AM | Comments (3)

July 07, 2008

Network

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Network came out in 1976 (the year of my birth) and was nominated for a slew of Oscars, including Best Picture. It won Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress.

It's a very dark, cynical film that is amazingly prophetic. It features a downtrodden TV Network which takes advantage of the fact that one of its news anchors has a mental breakdown. When he promises to commit suicide on screen, the ratings soar. So instead of firing him as planned, they give him his own show, and he becomes the biggest sensation around.

Featuring an outstanding performance by the amazing Faye Dunaway as the unscrupulous programming executive, this film perfectly predicts the current state of TV, where news is not really news but entertainment, and people's private lives, pains, and trainwrecks are everyone's favorite topic of conversation. I really coudn't believe this was filmed 31 years ago, because it so amazingly captures our world today.

Nice little tidbits:

- The famous "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" line comes from this film.
- There is a hilarious part of the film where they give a Black Panther's-like domestic terrorist group their own TV show, to goose ratings. They even get footage of a bank robbery in progress!

4 out of 4 stars.

Posted by jason on 03:50 AM | Comments (1)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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I had read once that this film had as perfect a screenplay as you'll find. I will say that it does mix drama and humour, tragedy and comedy and action with an expert touch. For me, it draws a ton of parallels to Bonnie and Clyde, and I greatly enjoyed it just as I did that excellent film.

The basic story is that Paul Newman (again, great to see him in his prime) is Butch Cassidy, the leader of the Hole in the Wall gang, a group of bank and train robbers. He's got a sidekick / silent protege named the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford, who's just awesome.) They rob a certain rich man's train one time too many, and it becomes personal, with a team of relentless expert trackers dispatched to catch and kill them.

So it's a chase film, really, with Butch and Sundance trying to stay a step ahead. Yet it's also a film about how it's hard to leave your past behind, even when you go to another continent and resolve to "go straight."

It has an end similar to Bonnie and Clyde. But this time, they take on the world guns blazing, with hope still in their hearts. They aren't ambushed, they end their story on their terms, together.

Robert Redford liked this role enough to name the whole Sundance Film Festival after it. Who am I to disagree?

4 out of 4.

Posted by jason on 03:29 AM | Comments (8)

The French Connection

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This is the first R-rated winner of the Best Picture award (which is funny, because now an R-rating almost seems a pre-requisite to winning that Oscar.) It features a plot where two NYC cops track down a huge amount of heroin being imported from France into America. It also won a best Actor award for Gene Hackman, which he completely deserved because he's awesome in this film, playing this tough semi-crazed cop. Roy Scheider is his partner, and it was great seeing Sheriff Brody from Jaws in another good role.

The film is famous for an amazing car chase (if you like car chases in modern movies, you have this one to thank for it... it was an inspiration to countless directors. If you don't.... sorry) where Hackman's character actually chased an elevated train. (Nice little trivia, Christopher Nolan used the car chase in this film as direct inspiration for many of the batmobile sequences in Batman Begins.)

As much as I liked this film, I'm a little surprised that it won Best Picture. It's a very good film, but doesn't seem like your normal Oscar material... it's more like a really good crime action film. It's definitely worth watching, though.

3 out of 4

Posted by jason on 02:29 AM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2008

The Maltese Falcon

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This is the first movie I've ever seen Humphrey Bogart in, and I have to admit, he's very cool. His character - Sam Spade - is so vividly drawn, it's a joy to watch. He's so full of confidence, so unflappable, and yet so unpredictable... this was very good writing. I keep a little notebook handy when I watch these films and I write things that strike my fancy. Bits of dialogue, big moments, awesome plot twists, little details, just anything that I want to remember. I was writing a lot while watching this film. So many excellent lines.

This was clearly from a day when movies were still more like plays. And it occurred to me while watching this film that the modern demand of films to make a certain amount of real life sense was absent from those times. There are large and small things in this film that make no sense logically but that you kind of just accept because it's part of the story, much like you'd do with a play.

Anyway, I continue to be amazed at these old movies that entertain me. And here was another one. Watch it for Bogart's smooth coolness, some great lines, and a great mood.

3 out of 4

Posted by jason on 03:42 AM | Comments (1)

June 28, 2008

Reversal of Fortune

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Some of you may know, at one point in my life I thought I'd like to be a lawyer. Not just any lawyer, but the kind you see in movies, the ones who argue with lives in the balance in a packed courtroom. But then, at one point I realized that I truly couldn't live with the idea of convicted an innocent person or setting a guilty one free. So I gave up the thought of becoming one. If I make a mistake, I want it to have much less tragic consequences!

But because of this, I'm a sucker for legal / courtroom films. I always imagine myself in them, because while I don't have any regret, I still think I would have liked being a lawyer.

Interestingly enough, Reversal of Fortune addresses my exact concern, about setting a guilty man free, and makes a pretty good ethical defense of defending someone regardless of whether you know they are innocent.

Based on a book by the famous Alan Derschowitz (one of the defenders of OJ), and telling a true story of how he was able to overturn a a rich man's conviction for the murder of his wife, this film offers no easy answers. It is very similar to Rashomon in that sense, where as an audience you are purposely left without knowing exactly what happened between the accused and his wife.

The film does make a good case for defending a man who might be guilty, and it also gives a great behind the scenes view of what it takes to mount a good legal appeal. it's a tightly written, well acted story, and very enjoyable.

Bonus: You get to watch the voice of Scar from the Lion King, Jeremy Irons, play the accused rich man, Claus Von Burrow. He's excellent, a very complex character. He utters a line here which in the Lion King, created 3 years later, he says in exactly the same way. "You have no idea." Obviously Disney was having some fun with that one.

And speaking of fun, It's fun to watch a young Felicity Huffman in this film.

Posted by jason on 11:42 PM | Comments (3)

Wall-E

I saw two animated films in the theater today!

You have to see Wall-E. It's an achievement... those geniuses at Pixar have really made a masterpiece here. It's a beautiful story, one very similar in theme to Bladerunner, oddly enough (humans learn about really living from machines) and it's just.... amazing. it'll make you laugh, and probably make you cry. It'll give you chills.

PS. Kung Fu Panda was really good too.

Posted by jason on 02:54 AM | Comments (10)

June 26, 2008

Bladerunner

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This is a sci-fi classic from 1982. The basic idea is that mankind has created genetic clones of humans, called "replicants," to work as slaves (labor and pleasure oriented.) But as a result of a revolt, they are banned from earth, and only allowed in "off world" colonies.

As a safeguard, the replicants are created with just a 4 year lifespan, so that even if they go haywire, they can only go bad for 4 years at the most.

But a group of 6 replicants come back to earth to find their creator because they want to live longer. They are violent, and killing people to fulfill their quest. Enter Harrison Ford, who's excellent in the role as a "Blade Runner," a police officer who's job is to hunt replicants.

In the end Ford learns more about being human and preciousness of life and love from these replicants then he himself knew... in other words, these clones teach him how to appreciate being human. This is the kind of film that makes me angry when people assume that action, sci-fi movies can't have a heart. As with Terminator and T2 (both of which I thought were better than this film), this is a shining example of how awesome effects laden sci-fi can be when it tries to tell a story "that matters."

3 out of 4

Posted by elanyarts on 12:34 AM | Comments (1)

A Clockwork Orange

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This is one messed up film. I mean really, truly twisted in a "oh my goodness I can't believe what I'm see and hearing right now" way. It's probably the first masterpiece that I don't think I could really recommend to someone... The violence is so over the top and disturbing.

Yet it did win me over by the end. The bombastic use of visuals and Ludwig Van music and ridiculous voice overs is total artistic genius, and the story and message are both quite interesting and compelling. So, while I won't recommend it, I will say that it's a shock to the system, but I'm glad I saw this film in the end.

3 out of 4

Posted by jason on 12:19 AM | Comments (0)

Ordinary People

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This is a slow burn emotional film directed by Robert Redford. It explores the aftermath of a family who loses a son, and how the mother, father, and brother all deal with it. It's an intense film, where the son is suicidal, and the mother is angry that he is the one who lives when her favorite son dies, and the father doesn't know how to handle this situation.

It's a very good film. In many ways, it reminds me of Good Will Hunting, where the boy forges a healing bond with a therapist, played by Taxi's Judd Hirsh...

After all, it won Best Picture in 1980, so it has to be good. The reason it works is because Redford shows a lot of restraint and allows the emotions to be subtle and pulled back some. It's never melodramatic, even though the story could be played that way in lesser hands.

3 out of 4

Posted by jason on 12:08 AM | Comments (2)

June 23, 2008

Sullivan's Travels

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While I didn't care for his more famous classic, The Lady Eve, I greatly enjoyed this Preston Sturges film. It's about a director who decides he wants to make "more important films" so he sets out to discover what it's like to be poor and downtrodden. Of course, calamity and hilarity ensues, and I'm pleased to report that actually the intended humor was funny (for me) and I laughed quite a lot.

The female lead, Veronica Lake, was completely charming, and the overall story hit a sweet spot for me. And there's a scene late in the film where convicts watch a Mickey Mouse short film at a black church... and it just spoke to me so much because I believe that stories really do fulfill such a deep human spiritual need... You have to see this scene to understand what I'm saying, but it really is quite beautiful.

3 out of 4

PS. If you remember, when I saw Some Like It Hot, I commented on how this old movie so easily mixed a lot of bloodshed and slaughter into a comedy, and that it seemed strange to me. This film does the same thing, with a hobo being run over by a train and blood spattering on his cloths... It was nasty.

Posted by jason on 02:02 AM | Comments (0)

Rosemary's Baby

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This is a well-crafted, amazingly intricate suspense film where the audience isn't sure whether the lead character is a victim of a horrible plot or merely paranoid for quite a lot of the movie. And the pay-off is big and satisfying (if a tad bit cheesy by modern stadards, admittedly.) But once you know "the truth" you can look back and see all the meticulous set-ups and pay-offs which are spread throughout the film, many of which the filmmakers don't make explicit, but rather trust their audience to be smart enough to remember them on their own.

Make no mistake, this is a film oozing with creepiness, and in a good way. Not horrific, like the Exorcist, but just an unsettling dread throughout, a sense that something is not quite right, an impending doom. It works.

I'd highly recommend it (though be warned, there is a very trippy dream sequence with some extremely disturbing imagery. This film earns its R rating.)

Side notes:
* A young Mia Farrow looks a whole lot like Gwyneth Paltrow in my opinion.
* Ruth Gordon, of Harold and Maude fame, completely steals this film. She is incredible.
* This film doesn't have a happy ending, at all... and in fact it's quite subversive. But it's pretty satisfying from a filmmaking perspective.
* I've discovered that I love American films from the late 60s and early 70s. Who knew?

4 out of 4

Posted by jason on 01:48 AM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2008

Cool Hand Luke

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One of the great things about going back and watching all these old classics is that I'm gaining such an appreciation for movie stars who by the time I was watching films were older and not quite the stars they had been. To discover them in their prime has been a really eye-opening experience, whether it was Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot, or Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde, and now... Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Yes, he did more than make salad dressing. A whole lot more.

He's a total and complete star in this film, which is quite excellent. He plays a small town crook who gets assigned to a prison work camp and keeps trying to escape. In many ways, this film draws a whole lot of parallels for me to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, only not as funny, and criminals instead of mental patients.

It's also got something of a twist, which was satisfying and completely surprised me. And, it's the origin of that famous movie quote "What we got here in a failure to communicate" that Guns N Roses uses in their song "Civil War."

If all that isn't cool enough to get you to watch it, then I don't know what to tell you.

3 out of 4.

Posted by jason on 03:23 AM | Comments (1)

June 19, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

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This isn't the Disney animated classic from the 90's. This is the 1939 French Language film. That alone would probably be enough to scare you away, but in truth it was a highly watchable, beautiful film. The surreal effects are visually impressive, especialy when you consider they were all accomplished long before special effects were really an expertise in filmmaking.

But overall, if you're already familiar with this fairytale, there isn't a ton here to discover anew outside of the look of the film. The plot and story differences between this version and the Disney version all tended to make me appreciate the choices the Disney version made, as I think they served the story much better.

Still, if you want an idea of good effects from the 1930's and a romantic movie, it's worth your time.

2 out of 4

Posted by jason on 03:27 PM | Comments (2)

June 09, 2008

The Lives of Others

This German made film is incredible. It's about a Eastern European State Security Officer who is assigned to monitor a prominent playwrite. It's such an emotional journey, beautifully acted, filled with organic conflict and amazing character interactions.

I cannot recommend it enough!

Posted by jason on 01:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 05, 2008

Easy Rider

This is one of those films that you hear about all the time, it's completely iconic. I do have to say, it oozes style and I do feel like it's perfectly capturing a time and a lifestyle. And yes, I enjoyed it. Yet I couldn't shake the feeling that it's an extended music video with lots of a scenes of motorcyles and beautiful landscape set to classic rock tunes. Now this isn't really a criticism, it's fun to watch this stuff.

OK, that's not all there is by any stretch. It's a celebration of 60's counter-culture... where "all the cities are the same" in that their big business corporate culture creates cookie cutters that can only be escaped by getting out into nature and finding yourself. The only places in the film that aren't nightmarish are those beautiful landscapes and a peaceful age of aquarius commune.

And the good old boys can't handle anyone different, to the point of murder... it's a scary world.

Oh, and there's a completely wacked out acid trip in a cemetery in New Orleans.

Overall, I feel like I just stepped out of a time machine, and it was a weird wacky groovy trip that I didn't mind taking. The film had so much style that it's lack of humor or plot or much of anything that a movie normally needs didn't really matter.

3 out of 4 – You would probably like this film

Posted by jason on 02:23 AM | Comments (4)

June 01, 2008

Indy 4 - More commentary (not from me)

You already know I was disappointed. Here's an excellent write up about the flaws of the film, and why it didn't live up to the Indiana Jones franchise.

I agree with just about every one... great insight into movies in general.

Posted by jason on 12:14 PM | Comments (4)

Bonnie and Clyde

I've seen a ton of black and white foreign films lately... some with little semblance of story, most with little humor.

So it was a breath of fresh air to see "Bonnie and Clyde." This was a film with a great story, great acting, lots of laughs, lots of meaning, and it was instantly accessible for me.

It wasn't "work" to watch this movie, it was easy and fun and meaningful right away.

And Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty (two famous actors who I've never really seen in much) were perfect in their roles. Faye especially, she was just awesome.

In a similar way as the Sopranos, this film makes you care and cheer for total criminals. That's a very impressive feat, to make really psychopathic people sympathetic. I can't quite figure out why I like it so much when films do this. I think it's because we're all messed up, and it's comforting to know that you can still be loved. Or maybe guns are cool.

4 out of 4 - You should love this film.

Posted by jason on 03:23 AM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2008

the 400 blows

Another French film, also from the late 50's. And this is another one where there isn't much story. A boy has trouble at home and in school so he decides to run away and steals a typewriter from his father's office to make some money. He gets caught and goes to a delinquent school.

That's it. That's the whole story. Not a bad setup, but that's exactly it. It's a setup. Not a whole film. That's the end of act one! Now it could be the whole story if it were filled with great character studies, or amazing dialogue, or compelling relationships. But it's not.

Now I criticize, but as always there is much to like. It's shot very well (it's beautiful), it coaxes great performances out of children, and as slow moving as the film is, there was always something that kept me wanting to watch. But really, you have to have a fairly deep appreciation of film to actually want to watch this film.

2 out of 4

Posted by jason on 01:24 AM | Comments (0)

Breathless

Another foreign film from the late 50's, this one is French. I'm starting to suspect that I don't like French films so much. Now I actually kind of like "Shoot the Piano Player," but I had to watch the last hour of "Wages of Fear" in fast forward. French movies feel like they're more about mood and editing then they are about an actual story or character. This may be an unfair accusation, but it's how I'm feeling.

The basic storyline is of a man who is a criminal on the run after shooting a cop. He shacks up with an American girl in Paris while he hides from the law. Ummm... that's it. That's the whole story. There's not action. Every once in a while cops show up somewhere and ask questions. Then they go away. In the end, the American girl dimes the criminal out, and he is shot in the back and dies. (It's a french movie, of course he's going to die.)

I did not hate this movie by any means, there was a lot to like. I actually dig the editing style of the french new wave movies, the jump cuts work for me. But it's just annoying to me when I read the movie's description on Netflix and then learn nothing more by actually watching the film itself. No twists, no funny dialogue, no surprises that build on the basic premise and keep you satisfied.

2 out of 4 - I doubt you'd like it very much.

Posted by jason on 01:18 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I really hate to say this, but I was disappointed. It just didn't feel right. It felt like fan fiction, not real Indiana Jones.

It proved a theory that I've been preaching for a while now. Great Indiana Jones movies need two things: biblical relics and Nazis. This movie had neither, and it suffered from that. Temple of Doom, same thing. Raiders and Last Crusade had both and rocked.

Here's another problem. The world of Indiana Jones and the world of space aliens are both cool, but they are completely seperate worlds. It felt all wrong mushing them together. I loved Stargate, I love the X-Files, but not in an Indiana Jones movie!

And the ultimate problem... Indiana Jones is about faith, and belief and hope. About obsession and searching and seeking and finding. This new one... it's about science. Aliens are science, and even Indy didn't seem all that interested in his journey. He was obsessed with the Ark and dreamed of the Holy Grail, but the Crystal Skull? (NOTE: My friend Joe points out to me that the Grail was more Indy's dad's thing, not his. And he's right. But at least there, it's a very close personal relationship to Indy, his DAD. Who exactly was Moxely, and why should I care about him?) Eh... he said he was obsessed with the Crystal Skull when he was younger. Now, not so much. So why should we care?

Why has Lucas taken faith and trampled it into materialistic science? With Star Wars, he took these great concepts of the Force in the original trilogy and reduced it to his wacky medi-chlorinates or whatever in the blood... (something I can't just reconcile at all, it ruins too much for me. I pretend it doesn't exist!)

And now where there is the sense of wonder in something spiritual and bigger than ourselves in Indy 1 and 3, in this one it's just aliens, which is just science. Lucas, keep your crisis of faith away from our beloved franchises!

It's not like it was horrible. I'd give it 2.5 stars out of 4. It was entertaining. Just disappointing. A slightly sour note to go out on.

One last thing. It takes a ton of familiar things in American mythology: Area 51, Nuclear Testing, Aliens, Spaceships, etc... and fails to give any kind of twist or new take on any of those things. I came out knowing the same amount about all that stuff that I knew going in.

That's not right.

Posted by jason on 05:17 AM | Comments (2)

May 27, 2008

8 and 1/2

This is my first exposure to famed Italian director Fellini's work. The film is not a conventional story by any means. It's really a semi-autobiographical meditation on filmmaking, and any artistic endeavor. The basic story is that a famous director wants to make a completely honest, ground-breaking film. The film itself is surreal as he works through his issues with self-deception, religion, women, his relationships, his mother, the devil and his wife.

The film is interesting to look at on a purely ascetic level - it's great to look at. But I was only so-so on it until the very end, which saved it for me and made me like it very much. In the end, the director decides to give up film-making all together, he's so full of falseness and pretension, he decides.

But then (through a discussion with a very critical film critic who supports this decision, supports any time artists decide to stop creating) the director realizes that all artistic achievement relies on the "conceit to believe that others may find something of value in our personal catalog of failures." That our imperfect works of art, as flawed as they may be, are better than no art at all.

In the end, it won me over.

3 out of 4.

Posted by jason on 04:30 AM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I'm not really sure why, but I avoided this film for quite some time. I just thought I would find it boring. I knew it was very long, and I knew that it didn't include much plot.

But I was wrong. I found the flim fascinating and engrossing and hard to forget. Obviously, the acting is incredible. Daniel Day-Lewis deserves every award and accolade he received for this role.

What I didn't expect was coming away with such lessons about unbridled greed and competition, and the affect they can have on your soul. The way Daniel Plainview destroyed all of his relationships one by one as he descended into a certain kind of madness was completely preventable and tragic. While the portrayal of religion was far from positive, it's telling that Plainview's antagonism with Eli, the town pastor, culminates at the same time his madness becomes truly unfurled.

And sadly, what truly sets Plainview off is the stark realization that Eli, in the end, chooses money over God. At this point, when the idol Plainview has sought his entire life wins over the most holy man he knew, there was nothing to hold back his final drop into darkness.

Posted by jason on 02:49 AM | Comments (6)

April 15, 2008

La Strada

This is the first film I've seen by famed Italian directer Fellini. I very much liked it, and it was truly carried by the unique acting strengths of the female lead, Giulietta Masina. She brings such a childlike wonder and her face emotes so much with just a look, she's very captivating. Anthony Quinn also plays his boarish character so convinvingly that Darby and I suspected he was not really acting.

I very much like films that open you up to a world that you didn't even know existed. In this one, it's the life of the travelling circus performer post WWII. Very Very interesting (and... depressing.)

It's a very sad tale, tragic in the end. But captivating, very accessible, and worth your time. I've been on a good run with the old foreign films lately (this one was released in 1954).

3 out of 4 – You should like this film.

Posted by jason on 05:28 PM | Comments (2)

April 08, 2008

Kurosawa's Ran

Since Kurosawa and I are getting along better, I decided to watch another of his films, this one from 1985 and his last "epic," Ran. He directed it when he was 75 years old. Just a second to point out that Rashomon was made in 1950 and this film was made in 1985. That's incredible longevity.

Ran is truly epic and important and beautiful on a grand scale. As much as I didn't like Seven Samarai, I loved Ran. The story is taken from Shakespeare's King Lear, where an aging Lord trusts his sons with his Empire, and tragedy ensues. The battle scenes in this film alone are worth the price of admission... I think Braveheart and Lord of the Rings took some inspiration from them.

4 out of 4 - You should love this film.

Posted by jason on 11:25 AM | Comments (2)

April 07, 2008

Rashomon

After my last experience with Kurosawa, I approached Rashomon with caution. In fact, I received it 2/27 and only just watched it last night. That's a good deal of avoidance there.

It's just that after not getting his other film, the thought of watching another black and white Japanese language movie, this one released in 1950... it just didn't appeal to me to much.

Fortunatley, I was wrong to worry. I found this film very engaging and entertaining.

The interesting thing about Rashomon, and the reason that a good deal of (film) people still talk about this film to this day, is that it revolves around a horrible incident, where a woman is raped and a husband is killed. (Just so you know, none of this is graphically portrayed in the least... the "rape" consists of the woman being kissed on the lips, but more is implied just by dialogue.)

That's all we really know. We have a dead man, and then the film gives us 4 different people's perspectives of what happened, all of which are not only different but completely incompatible. It's a meditation on how difficult it is to arrive at an objective truth, and how different people remember or portray things differently. There is no "objective God perspective" in this film, that we can trust is "the way things really happened." We take this for granted in most films, but most films are shot from this perspective. In Rashomon, we're left not knowing what exactly truly happened.

Pay attention to the first spoken line of films. Often, the first lines are used to somehow get the overall theme across in a clever way. In Rashomon, the first line (and it's said 3 times) is "I don't understand." And that's exactly what this film portrays so well. It's very hard to understand exactly what happens sometimes.

This is an entertaining, well-acted, and short (88 minutes!) film. It's very watchable, even today. My one main critique is the music is ridiculous, and unfortunately it drains a lot of the tension from the scenes. Seriously, it sounds like jokey cartoon music during what should be very intense moments. I'd say if someone re-scored this film with music more in tune with our modern film soundtrack sensibilities, it would have much more emotional impact. (By the way, I'm not anti-old movie soundtrack, I loved the soundtracks to Laurence of Arabia and Citizen Kane. This film's soundtrack is unfortunately just laughable and inappropriate to the scenes the majority of the time.)

The film ends with one of the witnesses of the crime and a Buddhist Priest, both of whom have had their faith in humanity shaken by the crime and the inability to arrive at a true understanding of what really happened, coming across a crying baby abandoned. The Buddhist Priest has his faith restored when the witness takes the baby to take care of it. I think the meaning of this oddly satisfying ending was roughly "Hey, we can't really reach an objective truth because we all witness and remember things differently, but we can love and take care of each other, and that's where our hope lies." That's a sentiment that I can relate to. And, if you think about, a masterstroke for an ending. If the whole movie had just been this terrible crime, and in the end no resolution to it could be reached, the audience would have left annoyed.

(One minor quibble: it would have been nice if the baby had been somehow integrated into the overall story instead of just showing up at the end.)

3 out of 4 - I really liked it.

Posted by jason on 01:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2008

The Lady Eve

In the battle of old films with the name "eve" in the title, All About Eve wins hands down. The Lady Eve, which was supposed to be a romantic comedy, didn't work in either sense for me. It was a cute story, I suppose. A con artist woman tries to swindle a good-hearted millionaire out of some of his money, but in the end she falls in love with him (for real.) But it wasn't funny, for me. I didn't laugh once. In a comedy, this is a problem. After knowing that an old film like Some Like it Hot can indeed keep me laughing throughout, this isn't really acceptable for me.

Don't recommend this movie. (Sorry, if I'm wrong and I missed something, please enlighten me.)
1 out of 4 - I'm not understanding why this is a great film.

Posted by jason on 02:20 AM | Comments (2)

March 06, 2008

All About Eve

All About Eve won the Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, and Screenplay in 1951. It's about a conniving woman who's desperate for fame and undermines an aging Broadway starlet. I'm slowly but surely overcoming my bias against old films (loosely defined as black and white films) but I can still it's still deep within me because I'm pleasantly surprised whenever I can actually enjoy one of these older movies.

I very much enjoyed this film. The story was engrossing, the acting and writing were excellent, it's definitely worth a rental. I didn't know that people have been so obsessed with celebrity and fame for so long. I guess part of me thought that today's fixation was more a result of the 100s of cable channels, youtube, entertainment blogs, etc. But this film shows that these have been issues for decades.

4 out of 4 - You should love this film.

Posted by jason on 04:34 AM | Comments (2)

March 02, 2008

Godfather Part 2

This film felt like more of the same excellence that was in the first Godfather. Yet it innovated enough and told a different enough story that it stood on it's own. I can't really say whether it's better or not, they are both fantastic. In my mind, this is a sequel done right. Don't rehash the same basic story, but expand on it.

Structurally, this sequel does something that I can't recall seeing anywhere else. The first Godfather told one story - the rise to power of Michael Corleone. Now for the Godfather part 2, they basically split the film and dedicate close to half to a prequel kind of story - the rise to power of Michael's father, Vito Corleone, and the formation of the Corleone crime family. Then the other story told here is the continuation of Michael's story. I've never seen a sequel do this, where it spends a lengthy amount of time on both the time before and after the original film. It worked very well, and I'm surprised more sequels don't try this.

You owe it to yourself to watch both of these films.
4 of out 4 - you should love it.

Posted by jason on 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2008

The Godfather - A Film of Paradoxes

A paradox - where two seemingly incompatible truths co-exist to make up a deeper truth - makes a story stronger. A film like the Godfather contains a number of paradoxes, and it's one of the reasons it remains relevant and important and memorable all these years later.

A man’s daughter suffers a great injustice. He exhausts all his legitimate avenues for justice, and finally turns to the underworld mob boss.

But his request offends the boss. Why? Because he asks the Godfather to kill in vengeance? No, that’s not really the reason. It’s because this man, this undertaker by trade, did not have the personal relationship, the close familiar ties, to ask for such a thing. For truly, by the Don’s own words,

“Had you come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And that by chance if an honest man such as yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.”

But because this man comes to the Don offering money, as a pure business proposition, this is disrespectful.

By the end of the scene, the undertaker takes his cue, and kisses the Don’s hand, addressing him as “The Godfather.” Essentially, he joins “the family” and becomes a friend to Vito. Appropriately, his wish will be granted. It’s clear that the Don will wield his power to gain justice, and that those who wronged the daughter will meet their end. But, the Don is quick to add, “We're not murderers, despite of what this undertaker says.”

This seems like such a paradox, that killers could truly say they aren’t murderers. Yet – in the world of the Don – this statement, though apparently false, rings true. In a world where the family matters more than anything else, fighting those who threaten the family is not murder, it is duty.

In The Godfather, the main character, Michael, gives up his innocence and his straight and narrow ways as a sacrifice to the family. Yet in a tragically ironic turnaround, his actions threaten the very survival of that family, ruin all of his intimate relationships, and in the end create a starker, more brutal family than his father ever would have led. The film is structured around such a profound paradox, so it should be no surprise that it’s made up of many other paradoxes.

A tough man, Luca, nervously reciting his greeting to the dawn like a clumsy schoolboy, for instance. Or a squeaky clean war hero who reluctantly accepts power and becomes a more bloodthirsty leader than either his underworld mob father or his hotheaded older brother, eager to lead.

Michael tells his girlfriend, Kay, a story about how the Don got Johnny Fontane (ie Frank Sinatra) out of a bad contract. The Don had a meeting with Fontane’s band leader and “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains - or his signature - would be on the contract.
(then)
That's a true story.

Seeing Kay’s horror at this revelation, Michael is quick to add, “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.” Of course, this is true, but not in the way either Michael or Kay could probably have realized. Indeed, Michael would be different than his family, but in a horrific, not a comforting, sense.

Because while the Don might have threatened a band leader with death, by the end of the story Michael would have killed a cop, a casino owner, and a multitude of family bosses. In the case of each of these people, “the family” (that Michael was “not like”) would never have elected to kill. But Michael was different, and he was comfortable with the escalating violence.

Ironically, it was Michael’s status as being outside the mob that probably led him to being more brutal once he accepted his role within it. In this way, he played an intermediary, one who was new to the underworld, who was willing to question its status quo – “You don’t kill cops and you don’t start wars with other families.”

By being new to the scene, he was able to defy these assumptions. If he had taken to the family business from the young age, he likely would have assimilated his father’s own principles, and abided by an older, more restrained creed.

When discussing the situation of Solozzo and his father’s near murder with a group of seasoned mobsters – his brother included – Michael asks the simple question: “Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?”

This naive query is met with laughter and disbelief, the very concept is so foreign to the “old ways of doing things.” But soon, once Michael’s defiance becomes clear – the simple questioning of this old boundary makes it appear antiquated, and a important line is crossed. This is an action which will eventually lead to the gunning down of Michael’s brother, Sonny.

By staying an innocent for so long, Michael eventually brought a whole new perspective on the mob with him, and indeed was responsible for escalating the violence. In the end, his influence on the mob results in a full-fledged mob war, the death of his loved ones, the betrayal of his sister, and the alienation of his wife.

In other words, to save his family, he reluctantly enters their underworld, changes it through his outside influence, and in the end destroys what he sought to save in the first place. Yet at the same time, he doesn’t, because he builds a stronger, more brutal organization, more likely to survive in a harsher new age.

Posted by jason on 01:10 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2008

The Godfather

Yes, I finally crossed another film that caused people to look at me askew and ask, "Wait, you mean you haven't even seen _______??!!!" I don't know how I missed seeing the Godfather for all these years, but I did.

Now the strange thing is, Godfather is one of those films that even if you haven't seen it, it's so culturally influential that you feel like so many lines and scenes are familiar. "He made him an offer he couldn't refuse." "He sleeps with the fishes." "Where is it written that you can't kill a cop?" "Someday, and the day may never come, I'm going to call on your to do me a favor." And that music, that brilliant music. So while watching it, just about the whole time I felt that I had already seen it.

Now add to this that actually I did play Godfather the videogame. And surprisingly enough, that videogame was very true to the story. I knew the whole plot, only now the graphics were much better.

With all that out of the way, I have to say this film is a masterpiece. It makes me proud to be an Italian! (OK, one quarter, but I'll take it.) Such a fantastic study of these principled men who do very evil things, yet have their values which justify it. And, it is really something a tragedy, where this innocent war hero gets pulled back into the family, and becomes worse than his father, worse than the life he was trying to escape.

4 out of 4 - You should love this film.

Posted by jason on 02:06 AM | Comments (7)

February 20, 2008

Shoot the Piano Player

I've never seen any films from the French New Wave movement, and this film is a prime example of that style. It features these strange jump cuts, lots of voice overs, and asynchronous shots.

I have to admit, I kind of dug it. And finally, a film that didn't feel like it needed to be longer than it's story. Only 84 minutes long, and actually there was a plot and character jammed into that time. Of course, the film is very French, as in... not inspirational and fairly depressing. But it's also funny in places, and the dialogue is engaging.

You feel for the main character, a formerly famed concert pianist now pounding away on the keys at some bar in Paris.

And about those voice overs, they were used rather unconventionally, at least compared to most Hollywood voic eovers. Today, when you see them employed, it's normally as a narrator, as in, they are telling you, the audience, a story. Not these. these were just like hearing the main characters thoughts, no recognition of an audience at all. It was a device which I thought worked very well, made it kind of noveliistc in its ability to give you thoughts.

Tuck that away, maybe it needs a revival.

I liked it, it's worth watching.

2 out of 4 - You should like it.

Posted by jason on 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2008

Seven Samurai

I'm embarrassed and ashamed to say I couldn't even finish this film. Even after I knew that Karasawa is a legend, that he inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, that this film is considered a masterpiece. I know I should have appreciated it, but goodness it was three and a half hours long.

I'm not understanding why these older movies were so long. Let me tell you the story of Seven Samurai. It'll sound familiar, because it's been reused a number of times since then.

Weak defenseless farming village is going to be attacked by bandits. They hire a band of samurais to defend them. Samurai defend them.

This is the story! Why do they have to take so long to tell it? I don't know...

I've learned that starting in the 60s and 70s there has been a trend towards compressing movies, jumping right into the story, even if it leaves people slightly confused for a while, at least they are invigorated and excited. I think that I'm so used to this, so these older styles of filmmaking where the setup is so long are really difficult for me to watch.

So yes, I watched the end of this bad boy in fast forward. And yes, I need someone to tell me why this film was great. Because I wasn't able to crack this code.

? out of 4 - I didn't get it.

Posted by jason on 10:23 PM | Comments (4)

February 15, 2008

Terminator

It's strange, having seen a sequel but not the original movie. I do this sometimes, and then it's fun because the earlier films become total backstory for me. I just recently watched the 2nd season of Big Love, an excellent series on HBO. I was often confused. But then I watched Season 1 and there was a very satisfying feeling of learning a ton of secrets.

So yes, I saw Terminator 2, which I thought was an excellent film. Somehow though, I had missed out on the first Terminator. I think this was because somewhere deep inside I suspected it was the same film. Great military leader needs to be born, so robot from the future comes back to kill the mother before she can have him.

And in a lot of ways I was right. For me, Terminator and T2 are kind of like the Xbox and the Xbox 360. Same basic storyline, just better graphics and some added pizzaz. But it doesn't really give you anything extra.

That's not to say I didn't like it, I did. But I think T2 is the superior film, and Terminator doesn't really give you much that T2 didn't already have (and T2 had more cool twists, in my opinion.)

I'm sure I would have felt differently if I had seen this one first. It was a great film. And it handled a very complex subject which required a lot of exposition (often the kiss of boring death) very smoothly. It had a scroll at the beginning, and 2 major sequences where Kyle from the future explained what was going on to clueless people in "the past." It worked, seemed integrated with the story, and explained enough for us to understand what the conflict and story was all about.

While the film doesn't feel too dated, the effects start to strain a bit when Arnold's skin melts away and the evil Robot starts the chase. It looks really herky jerky, and unlike the Exorcist, it just doesn't hold up anymore.

Not that I mind it at all, because I think it's thought-provoking and it "works" in the universe this film sets up, but I can't quite get my head around how John Connor's father is the man who was born later and travelled back to save Sarah. I think it's cool, but how does that work exactly? It's like a hole in the space time continuum or something.

One last thing. There are some very funny parts in this film. And emotionless killing machines are ALWAYS scary. Like sharks, and robots. And Chigra, from No Country for Old Men. Dr. Suber, who teaches my Film Structure class, says that humans are so emotionally wired that things that have or show no emotion terrify us, because we just can't relate to it.

2 out of 4 - You should love this film

Posted by jason on 04:08 AM | Comments (3)

February 14, 2008

The Exorcist

Oh my goodness, this had to be one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen. And it was so well made (after the first 35 minutes at least, which were badly acted and boring), that I feel like I watched a real demon possession and exorcism. It just seemed so authentic and frightening.

I don't really have much more to say except that I'll never watch it again, but it was an excellent film.

And it was child abuse to have a 12 year old actress play the part of the possessed girl.

3 out of 4 - You should love this film (ok, not love, but appreciate it. But honestly, don't watch this unless you can really handle some terror and horror. This is VERY scary. It's traumatic.)

Posted by jason on 03:12 AM | Comments (6)

February 13, 2008

Lawrence of Arabia

What an epic movie. Epic landscapes, epic armies, epic scenes, epic main character. It apparently cost 12 million to make in 1960. It looked like it would cost 150 million to make today.

Oh yeah, and epic running time. It was 227 minutes long. Yes, that's 3 hours and 47 minutes.

I really enjoyed this film. Many of the older films are very black and white in their portrayal of heroes and villains, but this one really showed the mix of character and study in contradictions that made up T.E. Lawrence. His journey and quest and thirst for adventure basically destroyed him in the end. Hollowed him out. And the tragedy in my opinion was that the freedom he was fighting for on behalf of the Arabs never really materialized. He basically gave his life to prop up a monarchy and colonialism.

One piece of advice for anyone who wanted to tackle this beast of a film. Read a synopsis of the first hour before you see it. I don't know if I'm just stupider than the average filmgoer in 1960, but I had a tough time following who was what and what people were doing for a while. I stopped the film to catch myself up, then I was good for the rest. Just a thought.

I'd say watch this film just to see what good old-fashioned epic filmmaking is all about, along with the beautiful portrayal of a hero's descent. And a number of the lines are outstanding, too.

Oh, one last note. I think the music, shots, and acting for Star Wars New Hope were all very heavily influenced by this film. Some of the score sounded like variations off of the Star Wars music and I felt like half of it was shot in Tattoine. And Alec Guiness, ie Ben Kenobi, plays a Arab Prince.

3 out of 4 - You should love this film.

Posted by jason on 03:00 AM | Comments (1)

The Use of Humor in Depressing Films

If I were to ask you to watch a movie about the abuses suffered by patients in a mental ward, or two adult children having to deal with the fallout of their cruel father's mental deterioration, you'd probably pass and say, "When does Meet the Spartans play again?"

Both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (OFOTCN) and Savages (S) utilize humor to make their difficult subject matter palatable, and even enjoyable. Yet the humor serves an even deeper purpose – it makes you sympathize with the characters even more and open your heart to them, it makes you care. Ironically, the end result is then more devastating than if you would have watched a simple humorless documentary that provided the simple cold hard facts on the same subject matter.

That these movies, which could be characterized as downers, use humor should not be a surprise, as laughter and tears are closely connected. Just as our instinct at funerals may be to smile or laugh reveals this connection, the humor in these movies actually deepen the experience of sadness they provide.

The films use humor differently.

In OFOTCN, the wit and humor frequently emanates from the main character and hero, Mac. Whether he is recreating a baseball game, introducing the escaped patients as high powered doctors, or pretending to be a zombie as a result of his electroshock therapy, his humor makes him endearing to the other characters and the audience.

But in Savages, the humor is more situational, and the situations themselves are pathetic. Wendy puts her hand on the dog’s paw during sex, her boyfriend howls like a dog, her brother wrenches his neck and is forced into a ridiculous therapy, she finally gets a grant but it’s from FEMA. That the humor is laughing at them, not with them, is appropriate, as Wendy and Jon are not so much heroes as they are anti-heroes. Neither of them wishes to sacrifice anything for the greater good. They just want to get over their current burden, and the guilt associated with it, and move on.

Mac, on the other hand, makes a journey throughout the film, from antihero to hero, so his humor is a natural outflow of his heroic trait, defiance.

At the beginning of the story, the only attribute of a hero that he truly possesses is defiance. He displays this trait up front with his critique of the mental health diagnosis system:

Now they're telling me
I'm crazy over here...
...'cause I don't sit there
like a goddamn vegetable.
It don't make a bit of sense to me.
If that's what being crazy is...
...then I'm senseless, out of it,
gone down the road, whacko.
But, no more, no less. That's it.

But in his struggles against the antagonistic forces in the film – first against the authority at the mental ward, and then against the passivity of his fellow patients – he discovers within himself a new call. To give up the immediate escape to Canada and make things better for those he would have left behind.

His final act of sacrifice that solidifies his heroic status was set up perfectly by his earlier humor, to make it even more painful to behold. As he is taken back from the final treatment, he again is a zombie, as he was earlier. Only this time we were set up, this is no joke. The lobotomy was real. By using the fun of the earlier scene, in contrast this final sacrifice is even worse to behold.

In the Savages, contrasts are also used to great affect. The only people who smile are in ridiculously overblown commercials for cleaning solutions or nursing homes. These bright and cheery spots are played against a real life grim and snowy and sad. As Jon Savages says:

It’s a HORROR show! And all this
wellness propaganda and landscaping is
just trying to obscure the miserable fact
that people die and death is gaseous and
gruesome and filled with piss and shit
and rot and stink!

The Savages, with it’s brutal unrelenting descent into the death of a father, a death that is gaseous and gruesome, a process which forces both brother and sister to adjust the miserable but comfortable life that neither of them wants to change. If an antagonist is someone who stands in the way of the protoganists’ goals, than the father fits this role superbly.

Of course, in Wendy and Jon’s case, their goals are to prevent change. Wendy will continue to sleep with the married man. Jon will continue in his pattern of a non-intimate life. Neither of them wants to be bothered by anything, let alone their father’s care.

But the father’s death exposes the pettiness of this existence, and forces them to change despite themselves.

In the end, the remarkable achievement of both films is to make engaging, interesting, entertaining stories around utterly depressing and non-entertaining subject matter. And they do this not by satirizing or making light of these situations, but by instead using humor as a way of stringing us along, making us more empathetic, opening us up and causing us to let down our defenses, and then striking our defenseless hearts with the sadness of it all.

Posted by jason on 12:12 AM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2008

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Another great film I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't seen until now. I very much liked it. Of course, it's a downer. But also quite an achievement. (Won academy award for best picture. best director, best screenplay, best actor, best actress. Of course it's good).

What I didn't expect was how entertaining and funny it was. It was 2 hours and 13 minutes long, but that time flew by. If I told you it might be fun to sit down and watch a film about a person committed to a mental institute and how it involved electric shock treatment and daily therapy and a cruel domineering nurse and a lobotomy, I think you'd say hey that's a film you're not really interested in watching. But actually, enough comedy is injected into this story that not only would you enjoy it, but you'd never get bored.

4 out of 4. You should love this movie.

Posted by elanyarts on 04:33 AM | Comments (3)

February 06, 2008

Wages of Fear

Earlier today, I was think that I should give a "rating" as I watch these films, just as recommendations for other people who might want to watch them too, and want an opinion.

And I was thinking that since my queue is made up of films that experts say are important, that my rating really shouldn't be "it stunk" to "it was awesome," since none of the films should stink. I was thinking that it should be more along the lines of:

1) Watch it because you should watch it.
2) Watch it because you'll like it.
3) Watch it because you'll love it.
4) Oh my goodness, you're not going to believe you spent so many years of your life without watching this film.

And I might still adopt that, with one addition which I'll call the "Wages of Fear" caveat. I'm going to add a "?," which will be dedicated to "I just don't get what the experts are talking about."

Now mind you, I think I get why this film is significant, and why it's worth knowing. It's tense and full of suspense and danger in spots.

The basic storyline is solid: 4 drifters (from different countries) are stuck in a part of south america where they can't afford the money it would cost to get out (only accessible via air) and they don't have the papers to work. A nearby oil field (owned by Americans, of course), needs some poor fools to transport highly dangerous explosives across a remote desert. The job is far too dangerous for most normal people, but the pay is high and so the drifters take it.

Not a bad setup, and the power of the film is in these painful sequences where at any moment the explosives could go off. And of course different conflicts arise between the 4 as they deal with the stress of the journey. And, the ending is nice and ironic and satisfying.

But it took the film 40 minutes to get to the fact that the oil company needed anyone to drive these explosives across the desert. Yes, 40 minutes of watching aimless drifters hanging out at the local cantina, doing nothing of substance. And they didn't start their journey across the desert until the one hour mark. And really, that's where the story, and any action, begins. This is like the Peter Jackson King Kong disease. Guys, we came for the monkey. Show us the monkey sooner.

The film runs 2 hours and 28 minutes. So yes, they still spent almost 90 minutes on their trek across the desert. About 30 minutes of this is really worth watching. The rest? Two trucks freaking driving across the desert. Engine rumbling, landscape flying by. Yep. About 60 minutes too much of that.

I'm trying not to be too negative, and again, hopefully I took out of this film what I needed to be literate, but to be honest by the time I was watching the film in fastforward. Once anyone is doing that, you know there is a problem.

I doubt anyone is going to watch this film on the basis of this discussion. But if you do, or have, please help me understand where I'm wrong. I'd love to know why this is an important film. Really, it seemed like Speed in the desert and in a foreign language. (And with about 57 minutes too much setup in the beginning.)

By the way, yes I do think this movie should have been 33 minutes long. If they wanted to make this story into a feature film, they just needed to add more real character conflict. It could have greatly benefited from a "Simple Plan" style descent into greed and immorality.

Now that I think about it, I'd like to see what the Coen Brothers could do with this premise. I think it'd be fantastic. (Yes, I know the Coen Brothers didn't make Simple Plan. They were two separate thoughts.)

? out of 4 – I just don't get what the experts are talking about.

Posted by jason on 01:29 AM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2008

The Graduate

While Some Like it Hot was better than I expected it to be, I didn't honestly enjoy The Graduate as much as I thought I would. That's not to say it's not worth watching, it is. It's a great film, and one of the first to accurately chronicle the "generation gap" and the aimless post graduate boredom. And it's very well acted. Dustin Hoffman is excellent in it. And also, you have to respect the general artiness of the film, the way its shot . There's a Point Of View underwater scuba scene alone is worth watching the film for. (you'll know what I'm talking about if you see it.)

But I think it could have used an editor. There is a part right after Dustin Hoffman decides to chase his true love in Berkley where they play Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Faire about 7 different times. And sadly, I think I'm only exaggerating by 2 there. Oh, and I don't know if I'd even call it a comedy. It's more like a very good drama with funny sections. That observation might reveal me as an idiot, but there are long stretches with no laughs.

But overall, it's an excellent film. I know I'm sounding kind of negative here, but that's because I kind of assume these films are going to be awesome, so I'm discussing the things that didn't work for me.

The ending really scores, though. It's another reason I don't think it's a comedy. Because it's not happy. I mean, it seems happy, but in a very clever way, you can tell that it's not.

2 – Watch it because you'll like it.
Remember, I'm grading on a scale here. Since I'm watching only "incredible" movies, a 1 is still very good.

Posted by elanyarts on 01:43 AM | Comments (2)

February 02, 2008

Some Like it Hot

My film literacy education has begun. I watched Some Like it Hot, very funny comedy starring Marilyn Monroe. Incidently, this is the only movie I've ever seen with her in it. Which is odd, considering how famous she is. But anyway, I'm happy to say she was very good, a very skilled comedic actress

The film is funny. Not funny in an old fashioned "yeah that's kind of humorous for a bunch of old geezers kind of way" but funny as in if it were a movie made today today's young audience would get it and laugh and want to see it again. And Jack Lemmon is (was) a star, the guy is hilarious. I never knew how good he was prior to be a Grumpy Old Man.

Anyway, if you thought that Mrs. Doubtfire / Bosom Buddies / etc were original in their guys dress like girls to get something and hilarity ensues storyline, like I did, you'd be wrong. This film does it masterfully.

One strange thing that you just don't see in comedies today. This movie had no less than 14 people gunned down in cold blood, wounds seeping on the ground, pretty violent scenes. It was like an episode of the Sopranos showing up in the middle of Runaway Bride. Different times, different tastes I guess.

UPDATE:
I also realized that this movie is unique in that there are no character arcs (ie the main character does not change in the course of the film) and there is no single protoganist (both Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are equally the main characters.)

UPDATE 2:
I watched it again tonight and realized there is a small character arc, though it's definitely not emphasized. Tony Curtis' character goes from being a womanizer to a man who wants the best for the Marilyn Monroe character.

3 out of 4 - Watch it because you should love it.

Posted by jason on 03:13 AM | Comments (7)

January 31, 2008

Couple more movies

I'd highly recommend the movie Billy Elliot. What a highly emotional, uplifting story. Made me want to be a dancer. And I don't want to be a dancer.

13 Conversations about One Thing honestly seemed overwrought, pretentious, and in love with itself. The acting was good, though.

Memento is fantastic. Christopher Nolan is an awesome talent. Such a complex story, made intriguing and simple.

And if you haven't seen Juno yet, what are you waiting for. It's incredible.

Posted by jason on 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

Citizen Kane

If you haven't seen Citizen Kane, you should. And when you see it, you should watch it with an open mind, because it's incredible. On one level, there are the amazing technical achievements, the deep focus that plays out three different layers of action, the fantastic use of light, and scene transitions. But the reason it's so good is because of the story. Because, in the classic sense of the word, it's just about a perfect tragedy. In a tragedy, a person who has the whole world loses everything. So you have kings, or rich men, or great people ending up dead, or emotionally dead, or both.

Citizen Kane: Of Work and Love

Citizen Kane is the story of Charles Foster Kane, who unsuccessfully navigates the spheres of work and love in an attempt to gain what was stolen from him at an early age.

When still a young boy, Kane's mother chose work for him– assigning him to the custody of a bank so he could be raised to handle his newfound wealth – over the simple home-life he had. So at an early age, the conflicts of work and love were at work in Kane's life, irreparably damaging him and setting him on a lifelong fool's quest to regain what he lost. This point was made clear by the newsman's desire to find out the meaning of Kane's last word.

That's it – motivation. What made Kane what he was? And, for that matter, what was he? What we've just seen are the outlines of a career – what's behind the career? What's the man? Was he good or bad? Strong or foolish? Tragic or silly? Why did he do all those things? What was he after? Maybe he told us on his death bed.

He did tell us on his deathbed. "Rosebud," the name of his sled, the symbol of his simple homelife, his last innocent childhood activity, and his last weapon in a sad effort to prevent the inevitable change.

Without a word, Charles hits Thatcher in the stomach with the sled.

THATCHER

You almost hurt me, Charles. Sleds aren't to hit people with. Sleds are to – to sleigh on.

That the film uses extensive use of flashback is certainly effective, as it highlights the that Kane had no fond memories. For most people, memories are tinged with nostalgia, a "We'll always have Paris" warmth where you recall a moment where love was strong and real and present. But Kane had no such memory in the whole of the film.

Early on, Kane attempted to regain his lost love and childhood through work. He decided it would be "fun" to run a Newspaper, and in a childlike way he did just that. And he fashioned himself an "Editor of the People," attempting to gain the favor of the common man. Of course, this conflicted greatly with his work, costing him a million dollars a year. When pressed by his surrogate father, Thatcher, or his conduct with the paper, Kane responded that "he could lose a million dollars a year for the next sixty years."

Kane attempted to find love through his first wife, and early on things seemed hopeful. Yet as his media empire grew, his relationship with his wife soured, to the point where she remarked that she would only know how he was doing by reading his papers. And this day came.

Kane attempted to parlay his media empire into a way to make all the people love him – by running for Governor. This was going to be the apex of his work achieving the love he always wanted. It was a sure thing, a large portrait of him, enthusiastic crowds cheering. But this massive success was undermined by a simple, innocent attempt at love.

With his marriage fallen apart, grown barren, he met a young woman, Susan. Their time together was chaste, simple conversation, him being taken by her singing voice. Just a hint of the love he had never experienced. But his rival for the governor's office used it to spread scandal.

At the threat of this, Kane believed he had gained the loved of the people, tragically proclaiming:

You do anything you want to do. The people of this state can decide which one of us to trust. If you want to know, they've already decided.

But in fact, his last great attempt at finding love through his work betrayed him. He lost to Rogers. And the irony was, his great accomplishment in his work was the very tool by which he was scandalized, the yellow journalism that would print innuendo without any foundation in truth. So again in this way his life's work, his legacy, allowed "this public thief to take the love of the people of this state away from" him.

But he had one last try for love left in him. Susan Alexander, the woman who had been used to scandalize her, and the voice that had captivated him. Having given up on his work, at this point he pours himself into her, and his attempt for love. But, like a feral child never quite being able to learn language, at this point it's too late, and he cannot love her in the way she needs. Alexander accuses her of this:

Love! You don't love anybody! Me or anybody else! You want to be loved – that's all you want! I'm Charles Foster Kane. Whatever you want – just name it and it's yours! Only love me! Don't expect me to love you –

And in the end, this is his life, this is why he's dying and thinking of that sled, thinking of his loss.

[Love is] why he did everything. That's why he went into politics. It seems we weren't enough. He wanted all the voters to love him, too. All he really wanted out of life was love. That's Charlie's story – it's the story of how he lost it. You see, he just didn't have any to give.

Posted by jason on 02:15 AM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2008

Atonement

I had to watch the film Atonement for one of my classes. Unfortunately, the daytime showing was not going to work for me, so I had to catch a late night viewing. I haven't had an experience with a film like I did with this was for as long as I can remember.

In short, I thought the first half was truly excellent. It was engaging, intriguing, well acted, well written... everything you want a british victorian film to be. And then it just kind of fell off a cliff for me. And then the ending fell off another cliff and actually made me feel cheated and angry. More specific discussion after the link, in case you haven't yet seen it yet and don't want to be spoiled.

So the film is called Atonement right? And the basic plot is that this young girl misinterprets a couple of incidents she witnesses and as a result gets a man put into prison. Now this man was in love with this young girls sister, and the sister loved him too. But with him in prison, and then trading out of prison for service in World War 2, that relationship came to a tragic end.

The part that was very good was up until the man got arrested and put in jail. It was tightly wound, very interesting. Then it started meandering. Man in France or Germany or somewhere, trying to get to girl. Girl being a nurse, trying to somehow track down Man. Blah blah meander here, talk about missing each other there, etc etc. Now I have to admit, it was late at this point and I was tired. Very tired. But at the same time, this boring meandering nothingness of story was not helping my wakefulness.

So finally we meet the young girl all grown up, and she's a nurse too. And she feels guilt over getting the man arrested, realizes she was wrong, etc. So she goes to her older sister and apologizes. And her older sister is... surprise, entertaining the love of her life, he's in her bedroom, they are sharing precious moments! Huh, ok, that's nice. I guess. They got back together. I guess.

BUT THEN, it cuts to the young girl, now all grown up, and even more so, really quite elderly. And she's on CNN. Yes, that's right, they try to jolt me out of my stupor by cutting from these lush victorian sets to a CNN (Maybe it was BBC) soundstage. And the old lady is asking if she can go to the bathroom. And I'm thinking, hey that's not fair, I have to go to the bathroom, but I'm sitting through this boring weird ending, you should do the same because you are IN THE MOVIE.

So the old lady then tells us that the whole ending we just saw never really happened, her going to apologize, the lovebirds have their moment of reuniting. Nope, didn't happen. He died in the war. The sister died in the Nazi bombings of England. They never got back together. And no, she never had the courage to apologize to her sister either.

So why did they just show us that scene? Because she wrote a BOOK with that ending, to "make it up to them," for the way she ruined their lives. Yes, that was her ATONEMENT, she made up an ending to a story where they got to spend some time together. !???!! That's atonement!? Last time I checked, atonement was some kind of sacrifice that restored something that had been lost, to fix some of the damage that you created. THAT IS NOT WRITING SOME FICTITIOUS HAPPY ENDING so that "in some world they can be together."

Didn't work for me. Really did not work.

Posted by jason on 02:26 AM | Comments (1)