Monday, September 28, 2009
The Terminator: Judgement Day T2 (1991) Cameron follows up with what would be the best of the lot. This one really pushed the boundaries of special effect, often leaving you wondering how the hell that happened. Schwarzenegger gets to be the good guy in this one. Same kind of machine with different instruction manual.
Titanic (1997) The ultimate date movie. A man and woman from different sides of the tracks, come together and fall in love at the worst possible time, in the worst possible place. Cameron's attention to detail is uncanny. Although Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett give great performances, the star of this one is the ship. It is hard to imagine that they are not actually aboard The Titanic on it's doomed maiden voyage.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Little Caesar (1930) Mervyn Le Roy directed Edward G. Robinson in his signature role as "Rico" Bandello. A two-bit hood who rockets to the top of the underworld, only to descend to the lowest depth with equal speed. Robinson would continue in hundreds of movies, but his work here is the one he is most remembered for.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Benjamin Christensen's "Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages" (1922) What starts looking like a documentary about the belief in witchcraft and demons in medieval culture goes on to become a much more revealing story, portraying devils and demons consorting with villagers, tormenting nuns and monks, and rites of the witches sabbath. Christensen even gets to play the role of Lucifer in a campy way that could only be taken seriously in a silent movie. This film was actually banned for many years in the US, for graphic violence and sexual perversion. It's kind of hard to imagine nowaday just how shocking it could have been, retrospectively. It would eventually be allowed for viewing in the 60s when a shorter version would be narrated by William S. Burroughs. It even does so far as to associate acceptance of demonic possession as a means of dealing with psychological condition that were just not yet understood. When it comes down to it this movie is pretty darn good even by today's standards.
If anyone is under-represented in "The Book" it would have to be the Coen Brothers. Their quirky comedies are laugh out loud hilarious while their more serious films explore crime from many different views. When they find a way of putting them both together, you are in for a wild ride.
Raising Arizona (1987) A repeat offender (Nicolas Cage) falls for the police mugshot photographer (Holly Hunter). Upon release from his latest incarceration, he proposes going straight and marriage. When they are diagnosed incapable of conceiving a child of their own, they devise a plan to kidnap the one of the sextuplets born to the Arizona family.
Fargo (1995) A salesman for a Minnesota automobile salesman (William H. Macy) hires a couple of thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife, in hopes that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the ransom, that he hopes to use a portion to solve the problems of his embezzlement that is in danger of being discovered. When an investigation is conducted by the pregnant Brainerd Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) behind the killing of a state trooper, the investigation leads to the kidnapping and beyond ending with a woodchipper. McDormand's performance justifiable earned her an Oscar.
Notable exceptions: "Blood Simple" Their first film, about an affair that leads to murder and an extortion attempt by a sleazy private eye.
"Miller's Crossing" A Irish gangland crime drama, with great performances by Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney.
"O Brother Where Art Thou" The Coens retell Homer's "Odyssey" by placing Ulysses in Depression-era American Dust Bowl.
"The Big Lebowski" Jeff Bridges' portrayal of "The Dude", the ultimate slacker who gets caught up in the life of an over-acheiving Lebowski.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The Informer: A great story of an IRA member that rats on another member for the £20 reward. Victor McLaglen's performance is superb.
Tobacco Road: Based on a play based on a book by Erskine Caldwell. The Lester's are a shiftless, ignorant lot, who would rather save the work for another day and would ruin any good thing that they have then complain about the fact that it didn't last.
Mister Roberts: The story of a U. S. Naval officer on a freight transfort ship who wants nothing more than to get a reassignment into a combat area. Great performances by Fonda, William Powell, Jack Lemmon and James Cagney as the Ship's Captain.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Flaming Creatures (1962): . Watching this one was like watching a train wreck. If you are into drag-queens, restraints, male genitalia and female mammaries flopping around and half-naked people mixed with awkward silences, show tunes and 50s pop songs, then this one is worth a look. I guess I am looking for a whole lot more from film as art. Missing this one is no crime. I am glad to get it out of the way. I might look into some of his (Jack Smith) other works that are available without the outlay of money, just to see if he had anything else to offer but I kinda doubt it.
Blonde Cobra (1963): Are you kidding me? Immediately upon learning that this was somehow related to Jack Smith I wasn't expecting a lot. This one basically plays out like the story of a few guys with a movie camera, who are stuck in a cabin in the snow with an old Victorola and a bunch of 78rpm records to pass the time, getting drunk while cameras roll, they talk about the weirdest things, one of the narrators sounding amazingly like Miss Piggy. That's about it.
Meshes of the Evening (1943): Maya Deren. An experimental film following a woman who may or may not be dreaming. She walks into an apartment, goes upstair only to look out the window and see herself chasing after a grim reaper who looks a bit like the ghost of Christmas to come in "Scrooged". Plays a little like a very short version of Groundhogs Day. Was originally silent but later provided with a soundtrack which adds a significant ambiance.
Scorpio Rising (1964) Kenneth Anger's film about guys in leather and chains, motorcycles and a bevy of 50s pop hits. Between the dressing rituals, the partying and motorcycle racing with a mingling of film about Christ and his disciples and Adolph Hitler, I am left wondering about the meaning.
Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966) George Kucher's film that if I hadn't read it somewhere would have never guessed it was about sexual frustration. A small film director's lead actress quits a film because she is tired of performing in all her scenes naked.
ubu.com appears to be a good place to go if you want a sampling of avant-garde films. Those I found in this post are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a few more from "The Book" available there as well as SO MANY OTHERS.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Pulp Fiction: So many stories to tell, somehow you come out liking everybody, even though no one is a real pillar of society. Revitalized the stagnant career of John Travolta. My head just spins as I try to imagine how to tell the story chronologically. The story of the Gold Watch as told by Christopher Walken is a Hoot.
Kill Bill Vol. 1: An homage to the Martials Arts film, this one about a league of assassins, who set out to kill one of their own, only to fail, leading to an obsessive need for revenge. Lots of great choreographed fight sequences (hand-to-hand and sword play) elevate genre to amazing spectacle. The Bride gets her day.
One of my favorite scenes comes from this movie. When Uma Thurman opens a door looking for Lucy Lui, we see a very peaceful Japanese garden with snow falling. A clapping is heard as the soundtrack rolls to Santa Esmerelda's Latin disco cover of "Don't let Me Be Misunderstood".
Notable Exceptions: Of course, my volume of "The Book" was printed prior to the release of "Kill Bill, Vol 2" its inclusion as a notable exception is absolute. This being said, "Inglourious Basterds" was released in September, where Tarantino recreates the genre of "Secret Mission War Movie" not really popular in a few decades. It has more in common with the fantasy genres, since it rewrites history with a great big "if only this could have happened". Brad Pitt's Major Aldo Raine is the kind of role that he is meant to play. The over the top, half prize fighter, half mental patient with a little stand-up comic added for good measure.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Tabu (1931) Murnau's last film. A story of Polynesian culture involving a young pearl diver in love with a girl who is destined by the tribal elders to be the the bride of the god that they worship. They unsuccessfully attempt to run away but the elders have a long reach. Not my favorite of Murnau's films, if I had to pinpoint why I have to say because it is so bright, the darkness and shadows that Murnau is so effective at manipulating, is just not available on the island of Bora Bora. Regardless it is certainly well worth seeing.
Notable Exceptions: Phantom (1922) has come up on TCM a couple of time. It is a story about man's obsession for a woman he sees on the streets, and Faust (1926) with a perfect performance by Emil Jannings and Mr. Scratch himself.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
The Passion of the Christ (2004) -Mel does it again. As if filming the Battle of Stirling wasn't enough, especially in kilts, he takes on the crucifiction of Christ, with actors performing in Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew. I am an agnostic and though I may not see it as a spiritual film, I recognize that the feat is something to be admired.