Friday, March 14, 2008

Blah, Meh, and Ehh

Walker (1987, Alex Cox) - **1/2

In one phrase this whole film received a "uhhhhhhh.....that was ok" from me when it finished. Walker is a strange and odd film. Maybe when you read that last sentence you are expecting something really out there but Walker is not too extreme with it's oddness. Part of me wishes that it would go to the limit with it's strangeness rather than just sprinkling it here and there through out the film.

Walker is a "historical/biopic" about an eccentric man who became the dictator of Nicaragua in the 19th century. See, there is nothing strange there. Where it becomes strange is when Alex Cos decides to throw in modern innovations into the story. So, for example,. there are scenes of soldiers reading Time and People Magazine, shots of digital clocks, a car, and even a military helicopter. This is all meant to illustrate how we haven't learned from history and the story being told from the 19th century is the same story that is happening today, or in this case, during the 80s. You see...its very clever.

The problem is not the fact that Cox decides to make the film a satire or that he decides to throw in all of these things. The problem is that the film is not subtle with its clever ideas. They are so in your face that it comes off as being forced. It also doesn't help that he decides to actually make a biopic for 30 minutes and then throw in a shot of people reading Time magazine, and then come back to the biopic. What is meant to be clever and thought provoking becomes nothing more than just a distraction. After about the 3rd time it happens you just feel like saying "I get it already! Shit!"

Walker is far from a bad film. There is some greatness there but its overall ambition is what ultimately crushes whatever aspirations of greatness that it seems to have at times. It's an interesting film that is even more interesting due to Ed Harris delivering a great and fun performance but it never becomes more than just a "interesting film".

30 Days of Night (2007, David Slade) - **1/2

There are a couple of times during the film that I felt that it was at the point of achieving greatness but then it would become bland and predictable. This happened over and over again. It's far from a bad film but it also stays stuck within the blandness of it's genre, which is very disappointing.

The Ballad of Jack & Rose (2005, Rebecca Miller) - **1/2

This is another one that had a lot of potential but also fails to achieve an overall sense of itself. I'm not sure what exactly Rebecca Miller was going for since the film is trying to say something, but I just dont know what it is or if the film even said anything at all. It's really an assorted mess of top notch quality scenes mixed with pretentious and badly acted scenes surrounding these quality scenes.

Of course, there is no surprise that any moment of quality that the film has is due to Daniel Day-Lewis' perfect performance. This is a given but I have come to learn that what is more interesting than Day-Lewis' performances are the supporting performances around him. In this case the supporting performances from the cast, save for Keener, are absolutely destroyed by Day-Lewis. The weaknesses in the supporting performances are sadly noticeable too along with its sloppy writing and uneven direction.

A Wild Mess, The Lubitsch Touch, and Space Travel

I have seen lots of films the past couple of days and it's time to play catch up.

Schizopolis (1996, Steven Soderbergh) - ***

Soderbergh's experimental and very personal film is a mess of a film but that's why it's so much fun to watch. I say this because there are even numerous times where the film doesn't even know what its doing and straight out tells you that there is "a missing idea" instead of an explanation or a scene to advance the story. You really get a feeling of Soderbergh going insane behind the camera and just pouring every single idea on screen, even if the idea doesn't make much sense.

For being such a wild and experimental film, I was surprised to find it amusing and interesting. I also think that it is one of Soderbergh's best films even though I wouldn't rate it any higher. I don't know if that makes much sense or not.

Trouble in Paradise (1932, Ernst Lubitsch) - ****

Ernst Lubitsch is a director that I have long heard and read about but had never checked out until this film. I can now safely say that he lived up to the hype and I was generally impressed by how extremely well the film holds up. A very fun time.

Also, that is easily my least favorite Criterion dvd cover of all time.

In the Shadow of the Moon (2007, David Sington) - ***1/2

I loved this one until the final 15 or so minutes when the film's impact was softened on me due to the film all of a sudden rushing through years of history and then just ending. I just feel that the film should have been titled "The First Men on the Moon" instead of the title that it has now because most of the story is more devoted to the first mission that it is to everything else. I wish I could have learned more of the overall story than just learning about a small fragment of what I think is rich and interesting history to explore.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Slapstick, Panic, and Depression

I haven't written anything in a long time, so I am going to try at least write a little bit about what I have seen the past couple of days and weeks.

Run, Fatboy, Run (2007, David Schwimmer) - *

What a flaming piece of shit. I wasn't expecting anything on the level of Shaun or Hot Fuzz but I was expecting something at least good since the film is directed by Scwhimmer (who I am a fan of), written by Michael Ian Black, and starring Simon Pegg. Instead of getting a great or even a pretty good comedy, I got a film that plays it so safe and by the numbers that it's just embarrassing to watch. I am surprised that this one was a huge over seas. It really is so bad that I saw it about 3 weeks ago I don't remember almost anything about it. Horrible.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991, Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, and Elenor Coppola) - ***1/2

I was sort of disappointed by this one, but I still found it great. I have spent years trying to watch this now legendary documentary and until a couple of weeks ago I was able to finally get the dvd instead of some shitty vhs. I watched it and I wasnt all that blown away by it as I imagine other people are by it. This isn't the films fault but my own. I have read about the trouble Apocalypse Now faced during productions a number of times and even read what I consider to be the ultimate account of all this, which is the chapter in Peter Biskind's Easy Riders and Raging Bulls that deals with the making of the film. So, while watching this documentary it felt like hearing the same story again but with images to go along with it. It's still one hell of a story but I just wish that I didn't already know it so well.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969, Sidney Pollack) - ****

This, just like Hearts of Darkness, is a film that I have long heard about and was at first hard to get my hands on. Then, it became pretty easy for me to watch it but I didn't jump at it. Now, with all the rumors flying around about Sidney Pollack lying on his death bed, I decided to check it out as a form of odd respect. I was going to write a lot more about this film but I feel like I wont be doing it justice. I was absolutely blown away by this one and it is a true hidden gem and I am a bit baffled as to why it's not even considered a cult film to some. For a film that deals with a non stop dance marathon, it is incredibly fucked up and depressing The film also contains a couple of scenes that immediately shot up on my favorites list.

I don't know what else to say so I am just going to post the music video that Paul Thomas Anderson directed that includes an homage to the film.

I really cant wait to buy this one and savor it some more. I really just loved it and it is one of the best gems I have found while "digging for films".

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pretentious Mobsters, Travelers, and Secret Agents

I've decided to just start doing mini write ups in groups of three just because I like the format better and it makes me feel like I wrote a lot when I havent written almost anything.

Little Odessa (1995, James Gray) - *1/2

Sometimes when I look back on old posts I get a feeling that I might be too kind and easy towards movies. I feel like I should be more strict but when I look at the movies that I watch and rent I like to think that I rent according to my taste, I rent and buy movies that I have liked or have a feeling that I will like. I feel that I got my taste pretty much down and even when I venture off and rent a film that I have never heard of before there is always a small root that appeals to me and that is why I take a chance with them. I like to think that most of the time I am right and the film ends up good.

So..after watching and really enjoying We Own the Night I did my I-just-finished-watching-a-movie-routine of going to IMDB and checking out what other films the director, writer, or actor have doneor are doing. Through this I found Little Ordessa.

My thought process went a little bit like this:

" its a crime drama....looks dark...mid 90s and indie...hmm...I'm not a fan of those...oh but it stars Tim Roth? Tim Roth in a crime drama by the guy who did We Own the Night? I am sold"

I expected a gem and found a huge misfire. Little Odessa suffers from the same thing that I feel most indies from the 90s suffered from and while reading Down and Dirty Pictures it seems that I am not the only one who has a problem with this subgenre. They all try so hard to be dark and moody (Things to do in Denver While You're Dead, ) , be quirky (Party Girl, Living in Oblivion, Welcome to the Dollhouse), or represent generation X and freeload off of the Slacker/Clerks vibe (Empire Records). I hate them all and I think that they have aged worse than films from the 80s. They just feel extremely pretentious to me and never sincere.

I'm currently in the middle of Down and Dirty Picture by Peter Biskind (my favorite writer maybe ever and I also like to name drop books I'm ready because I am cool like that...lulz) and there is a quote from Soderbergh when hes talking about Sex,Lies, and Videotape which I feel sums up this 90s indie boom perfectly. He says something along the lines of "I look back on that film and just see a student film where the director is trying to say so much" and that line describes Little Odessa.

It feels like a student film where the director is hammering you away with his brilliance and awesome screenwriting. Maybe I sound like a dick right now but if you were to see this film then you will know what I am talking about. It just feels unpolished, amateurish, and rough but what is annoying is that the film tries to pull it all off as polished, slick, and just as good as the crime films of the 70s. I realize that I am now rambling but I will just say that all of this might excusable because of it's an indie and a debut film but the plotholes that this film takes just for the sake to create melodrama and "deepness" in its theme is just too bad and obvious for me to like. The director is also able to bring out an uneven performance from Tim Roth and that is just inexcusable and close to impossible I think. I am very happy that Gray "grew up" and can now do a film like We Own the Night.

Man..I really did go on a mini rant now that I look back. I feel like backspacing all of this and just putting "it sucks" but I will just end it now with....."it sucks"

Into the Wild (2007, Sean Penn) - ****

I am going to make this one short and use the easy way out by saying that everything that could be said has already been said. I was blown away by it and it would go into my top 5 without a doubt. The direction and writing by Sean Penn is outstanding and the performances by the entire cast are perfect. Holbrook also deserves all the praise he has received and was actually able to break my heart. I was also surprised that the film turned out to be nothing like how it was marketed as.. This is not the hip "fuck the system" movie it was made out to be. It's a much more joyful and beautifully tragic road film than anything else. I was surprised by how much I really loved it.

Also...Zach Galifianakis...what the hell are you doing in this? That was just out of nowhere and hilarious. Thank you, Sean Penn.

The Silencers (1966, Phil Karlson) - Dean Martin Cool

A very,very,very,very cool 60's spy comedy staring Dean Martin as a part time secret agent and a full time ladies man. I was reminded of Danger: Diabolik during the film with it's tongue in cheek style, colorful sets, jazzy score, and uber coolness. I enjoyed every single second and can't wait to see the rest of the series. that Dean Martin riding a gun?

And now I am officially up to date. Finally.

Lawyers, Sex Dolls, and a Schizo

Michael Clayton (2007, Tony Gilroy) - ****

This seems to be the love/hate film of the moment along with Juno most likely due to the high praise that both films have received and some people thinking that they don't deserve the praise. I belong to the group of people that believe that Clayton deserves all the praise it has received. It really is one of the most rewarding watches that I have had lately and I admire how the film has the balls to alienate it's audience through out most of the film while everything falls into place and by the final minute everything makes sense for a very "fuck yes!" type of ending.. As much as Diablo Cody's script is the favorite to win the Oscar for best original screenplay, I think that Gilroy deserves it. This really is a perfectly crafted film. I cant wait to rewatch it again while knowing how everything will play out. Oh, and Wilkinson is worthy of the praise and nomination that he received. He makes a role that could have easily been over the top very human and "makes" the film. Very,very,very solid film.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007, Craig Gillespie) - ****

There are certain films which I cant help but enjoy, love, and give 4 stars to even though they may have some minor flaws and this is mostly due to me just being too touched by it to deny it anything less than 4 stars. I go with my heart in these cases and this is exactly what happened with Lars and the Real Girl. I really fell in love with this one and it's overall sweetness and good vibes that it throws at you. Gosling knocks it so out of the park that it is ridiculous and this performance further proves that he really is the next best thing. It may not be the best film of last year but it is one of my favorites.
Clean, Shaven (1995, Lodge Kerrigan) - uh....woah...

A couple of years ago I rented a film named Keane just because I didn't have anything in mind to rent and it looked like it might be good. It turned out to be one of the most haunting and tragic films that I have stumbled upon and it is one of those films that I try to pimp out as much as possible when ever there is an opportunity to do so. I still don't know why the film doesn't have more of a cult following. A couple of months ago I decided to check out what other films the director had done and through there I was happy to find that his debut film was a criterion release and also a favorite of John Waters. So, I put it on my queue and played the waiting game because of it's wait status and now about 5 months later I have seen it and part of me wishes that I hadnt.

I dont get disturbed by movies all too easily. I really cant think of too many movies off the top of my head that I have seen past the age of 10 that have really and truly disturbed me while watching them. I think Henry and Paradise Lost would be the closest ones that I can think of but other than that...nothing. Well, that has now changed. Clean, Shaven is one of the most if not the most disturbing film that I have yet to see. This film is on a whole other level of fucked upness and after watching it I can really see why it is easy to compare it to Repulsion or Eraserhead.

After one of the most shocking and demented openings I have ever seen to a film we are treated to a 77 minute dark journey into the mind of schizophrenic man and the detective who is trying to catch him. Telling why he is trying to catch him would ruin the "fun". This all plays out while we mostly find ourselves follwoing the schizophrenic man on a quest to find something..telling would spoil it once again. This really is one of the films were it is better to not know what you are getting into and just having to embrace yourself for the ride.

I dont know what else to say. I am currently waiting on a friend of mine to watch it that way we can discuss it because this is also one of those kinds of films where despite it's creepiness and disturbing tone, there is a ton more going on underneath it and as soon as the credits roll you want to turn to your side and ask a person "So....what did you think about that scene where _____ ?"

I was shocked, intriqued, puzzled, and during one particular scene literally acting like one of those oh-so-5 minute ago reaction videos to 2girls1cup The scene I am talking about will never leave my memory and is easily the most. I also just want say that the use of sound in this film is brilliant and one of the best uses for it that I have yet to see.

I really don't know what to think of it all. I hate it when people are quick to jump to a conclusion to such a challenging film upon first viewing but even after seeing it a 2nd time with an excellent commentary track by Steven Soderbergh (who is a huge fan and produced Keane) and the director..I still don't know. It's been a couple of days and I have thought about it some more...and still I don't know what to make of it. I feel that it really is a brilliant film but is on a level where your brain struggles to wrap around all of it and it's many layers and to me that is a mark of an outstanding film.

This is also one of the best debut films that I can think of as well. A true one-of-a-kind film that is a must see.I think that even if you end up hating it, you will not soon forget it.

I also love this oh-so-great teaser/trailer for it. Check it out.

And just because Lodge Kerrigan is the man...check out the trailer for the very overlooked Keane, which is not only overlooked but features one of my favorite performances ever by Damien Lewis. You can already see his greatness in the 2 minute trailer. I just have to pimp it out some more.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Every movie I have seen in the past couple of weeks and a couple of sentences about them. Part 5

Hopefully just one more part after this one. I am a movie watching machine lulz.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964, Bryon Haskin) - ****

Very colorful and very fun. Thats all I have to say and I feel that sentence sums it up perfectly. It's also pretty great that criterion released this one.

Sidenote: I really love that "This film is Scientifically Authentic" on the poster.

Pepe Le Moko (1937, Julien Duvivier) - ****

My friend Dan over at The Public Enemy summed this one up perfectly with another simple sentence "It's like The Third Man mixed with Casablanca" and that really is a great way to put it. Jean Gabin is ridiculously pimp as a master criminal and Lucas Gridoux is just as great as the inspector trying to catch him. The interactions between them are the true highlights of the film from a film that has many. It really is just a perfect film.

Point Blank (1967, John Boorman) - ***1/2

This was a film which took me by surprise. I was expecting an excellent crime/revenge film from what I had read about it and I instead got the most non-French-French-New-Wave film that I have yet to come across. Its a bit puzzling at first and you dont really know where it's going but once it gets on its way it is excellent. Although I really did love its new wave influence and how it wore it on it's sleeve, I did feel cold and unattached towards the final act. I also felt that a film that is a huge build up to the revenge climax that it was a little bit disappointing when it finally came. I felt that the journey to it was a hundred times better than the actual final destination. I am interested in rewatching this one in a couple of years or months just because I would be interested in seeing how the film will play out once I know what I am getting into.

Sidenote: Now that is one badass poster.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Every movie I have seen in the past couple of weeks and a couple of sentences about them. Part 4

...and even one more..
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (2007, Jeff Garlin) - ***1/2

It's easy to see why people are quick to compare this one to Woody Allen, I think the comparison is a compliment and it fits perfectly. Jeff Garlin has created a very personal, intimate, and even a bleak film that at times you cant help but be charmed by it because you know what you are watching came directly from the heart. It's a small, short, and sweet film which just flies by. I really enjoyed it and was surprised at it's honesty towards the lives of the characters and life. I wish romantic comedies could be more like this than whatever bullshit comes and goes in theaters. It's a great small film that deserves the small acclaim it has received.

The Age of Innocence (1993, Martin Scorsese) - **** (MASTERPIECE)

My love towards this film is extreme. It is ridiculously excellent and it now easily rests among the best from Scorsese that I have seen so far. Why this film doesn't get talked about is beyond me. It may easily seem like its very un-Scorseseish but if you only take a moment to look a tiny bit deeper, it is as Scorsese as Goodfellas is. The long tracking shots, the tension, the bleakness, the punk rock editing tricks...its all there and used in the most subtle but excellent way. If you can not tell...I absolutely fucking love this one. What else can I gush over? I guess I can praise Daniel Day-Lewis' incredible performance. It's easy to compare his performance to Scorsese's direction. You might think that he is solid as always as the role of a man in love with another woman in a time when such a relationship was forbidden but it also doesn't take too much time to notice how many layers of emotions he keeps hidden right under the surface, but keeps it to a level where it is noticeable enough for the viewer but not the characters around him. It is too good for words. The way he nervously laughs and smiles while talking to his forbidden love is some of the finest acting I have yet to see and when the film finally gets going and the heartbreaks begin to cant help but feel broken too because of his acting. This is easily one of the most criminally overlooked, underrated, and underwatched films I have ever come across. I only pray, wish, and hope that Criterion will one day release this film or at the very least that people will discover it sooner or later. It really is as much a masterpiece as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas are.

We Own the Night (2007, James Gray) - ***1/2

...and speaking about overlooked films, We Own the Night might be THE most overlooked film from 2007. I think this is mainly due to the coincidence of coming out one year after The Departed and on top of this the marking for it buying into the "The Departed Jr." image and marketing it like that. It's a shame that it will have to live in The Departed's shadow for now, but for those who take a chance on it, it will be a great surprise. I was incredibly surprised by the film that I found. This is a very slick and dark crime film that has a couple of stellar scenes that are not only stellar but also stunning. This is also not without the help of the very solid supporting cast and direction but also mainly due to the superb acting by Joaquin Phoenix. Fuck Walk the Line, this is the kind of performance which he should be raved about for. He absolutely knocks it out of the park and delivers the most overlooked performance in the most overlooked film from last year. Sure, it may be a genre film with genre cliches but its a great entry into the genre.

One more part will hopefully be coming up and I will finally be caught up.