Monday, November 14, 2005

You want great acting?

If you want to see the performance that will likely win the first ever "Android" for best acting (it's my own CineRobot film awards to be called "Androids"!) go see Capote and soak up Philip Seymour Hoffman's unreal capturing of Truman Capote. Hoffman has delivered a lot of terrific performances in films and on stage (I was lucky to see him and John C. Reilly on stage doing True West a few years ago) but this might be the highlight of his career.

Playing Capote is a difficult role to pull off but very early in the film Hoffman just sort of "becomes" Capote and you forget it's acting you are watching. Great, great stuff from a long time favorite. Catherine Keener also gives a standout performance alongside Hoffman and the movie as a whole will be in the running for an Android for best film of the year.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jarhead and the changing culture of being a soldier

Jarhead, a military war film that begins like so many other military films, with a stone faced drill instructor screaming insults at a young recruit, never quite makes the leap to being a great movie. Still, it’s an interesting, entertaining, testosterone fueled look at being a marine in the early 1990s and the Gulf War that many might find enjoyable.

Jarhead was a memoir a few years ago by Anthony Swofford about his family connection to the Marines, his boot camp experiences and the dragging on forever experience he had during the Gulf War that soured his opinion of what it was to fight in a war. As a kid growing up, all he wished for was to fight in a war like his grandfather in World War Two and his father in Vietnam. When he was finally in a war, his reaction is one that completely spins him around and changes his opinion.

A beefed up Jake Gyllenhaal plays Swofford as we see him from boot camp, in sniper training and then as he and his unit ship out to the desert to sit and wait to attack Iraq. The troops wait and wait and wait and boredom causes all kinds of festering tension between the men, their relationship with women back home in the states and their opinion of the Marines. Not everyone is feeling so Semper Fi when they’ve sat out in the sun for 3 months tasting sand every single day.

An interesting aspect of the book that the film attempts to explore is the entire male culture of the military in general and the Marines specifically. These men are so pumped up and full of testosterone and have been force fed a steady diet of what it means to be a soldier and to fight for America that it’s almost impossible to satisfy their lust for combat.

Soldiers now are different than any soldier that has ever fought for the United States. First, technology has rendered combat into warfare of distances, of air strikes without close fighting. Marines are constantly sniping about this in the film. They want to “get some” and are angry the jets fly over to bomb the Iraqis before they get the chance to fire their weapons toward an enemy.

The second change for modern soldiers the book and film tries to address is that these young men have been so completely washed in the culture of war through films, video games, books and historic lore that it is virtually impossible for them to stack up against what has come before them. As a Marine, how in the world can you compete with what happened in WW2 when all you are doing is sitting in the desert week after week?

One of the best scenes in the film plays into this notion as the Marines assemble to watch Apocalypse Now as they wait to be shipped of to the Middle East. The Marines, who have obviously watched this film (and others like it) over and over, shout out lines and grin at each other like kids with the hope this will soon be them kicking tail and taking names. These soldiers have built up such expectations about what war is, because of the “culture” of war, it’s impossible for them to live up to the ideals of Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter.

The book explores these ideas in more depth than the film and that’s why I felt the film was missing something as I watched it. I expected director Sam Mendes to put more teeth into the satire aspects of the story. Mendes does put in subtle reminders from time to time that there is another war going on in the desert at the moment and the first Gulf War did little to remedy the restlessness of the region.

The photography is really washed out with sun-drenched vistas of vast desert and it fit the film’s location perfectly. The supporting cast was quite good with Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black and Chris Cooper all giving solid help for Gyllenhaal in the lead.

Jarhead is worth seeing as it’s got some funny dark comedy moments and has some interesting issues regarding the changing culture of war in the testosterone fueled world of the Marines, but it seemed to lack the depth of the book. But you know, the always present complaint of someone who has read the book first lives here—the movie is never as good as the book.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Prime Cut: 1970s american pulp

A few months ago I read about Prime Cut being released on DVD. I’d never heard of the movie but it sounded interesting—Lee Marvin plays an Irish tough guy sent to Kansas City by the Chicago mob to collect $500k from Gene Hackman and some local country types. What I wasn’t expecting as I put the DVD in a couple of nights ago was to love Prime Cut as much as I did.

Prime Cut is just a straight up, charge you like a bull, 1970s attitude, full-on American pulp filmmaking and it is terrific from start to finish. Directed by Michael Ritchie, who helmed one of my all-time favorite movies in The Bad News Bears--so how could I have never heard of this film?

The set locations alone are worth watching Prime Cut for as it’s like a snapshot into the early 1970s with parts of Kansas City you never see—slaughterhouses, dingy flophouses with sacked out winos, swanky downtown hotels that are long gone, rural country fairs and the huge cinema marquees that blink with so many lights they resemble Las Vegas signage.

While Prime Cut exists at its heart as just a gangster film with tough guys (although Marvin dons a pair of white leather shoes that lessons his toughness, or makes him tougher as you have to be a bad-ass to wear shoes like that when beating people up) wanting money they are owed. This is not a normal “give me my money” picture as it turns sleazy, strange, darkly funny, gritty and reeks of the 1970s mentality that made that decade such a blissful decade for filmmaking.

Early in the film Marvin shows up at an auction house to find Hackman (whose name is Mary Ann in this, which should tell you this is a different gangster film) eating a hot plate of cow guts with a bunch of completely naked women laying in drugged stupors in cow pens full of hay. Men stand around the pens and eat sausages and ogle the women in preparation for buying them for all kinds of criminal doings.

One of the naked women is named Poppy and it’s Sissy Spacek’s first credited role in a film. She soon joins up with Marvin’s crew and gets to deliver some odd, spacey ‘70s style dialogue and scenes while Marvin attempts to get the money owed his employer.

Prime Cut also has a great scene with Kansas wheat and a chase sequence involving a giant thresher. The first post I ever did in CineRobot was about wheat so it’s a no-brainer I loved watching this scene. There’s something about wheat blowing in the wind that completely captivates me. I've said it before and I'll say it again: more wheat!

I sometimes wish I had access to a time machine and could use it whenever I wanted. I would hop in it and go back to 1972 and watch Prime Cut at the drive-in because it is the perfect kind of drive-in movie. Prime Cut is an example of pulp American cinema that is trashy and slightly dated, yet is still hard to take your eyes off of and so, so much fun.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Evil Dead midnight movie photos

Leatherface shows up at Saturday night screening to attack (or by this photo, grope) victims in the Circle lobby. <10.29.5>

These were the youngest two people at the Saturday midnight Evil Dead screening at the Circle. Have to start 'em young...
Circle Cinema lobby as people wait for Evil Dead to start at midnight. This was our first midnight movie sell out!!! All hail the Deadites!

October 28, 2005
Tulsa, Okla.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The five obstructions

I watched The Five Obstructions a few nights ago and really loved it. This is a fascinating documentary that sees the Danish director (and trickster) Lars von Trier challenge Jorgen Leth to remake his 1967 short film The Perfect Human five different times.

What makes it interesting is each version von Trier comes up with rules or obstructions that will challenge Leth in an attempt to trip him up or make him suffer while making the film.

For example, remake number one has a series of obstructions with one being no cut longer than 12 frames (film exists with 24 frames per second so that’s a lot of very short cuts for the entire film). To see what Leth does with each of these five groups of obstructions is terrific to watch as Leth is inspired by von Trier and makes interesting short after interesting short. Leth comes off as a very talented man after watching what he does with von Trier’s obstructions.

The Five Obstructions deals into subjects such as the deconstruction of film and the recreation of it as something new, different and better—yet still oddly the same almost thirty years after it was originally made.

The Five Obstructions is one of my favorite documentaries of the year and is a must see for anyone who loves seeing the behind the scenes, creative aspects of filmmaking.