Friday, June 16, 2006

More movies

To continue the previous post—here’s some more films I’ve watched the past few weeks.

The Warriors (1979). I hadn't seen May's midnight movie at the Circle in over 15 years so I was really excited to watch it for the first time ever on a film print—and at midnight to boot. Even better, a scratchy film print! The Warriors is very 1970s (this is good concerning movies) and I was surprised that there wasn't as much violence and fighting as I remembered. Director Walter Hill (who I'm a big fan of) does get to use some great slow-motion in some of the classic fight scenes—Warriors V. Furies, Warriors V. Punks in a tiny bathroom and Warriors V. Lizzies (the best shot is the slow-motion chair to one Lizzie's face!).

My Favorite Year (1982). This is an enjoyable romp through 1950s TV when a former English rogue actor shows up to appear on the show. Peter O'Toole plays the actor who is a drunk—although a loveable, fun loving drunk—who is still living life to the excess. This is a very charming film and The Hidden Staircase makes up for her recommendation of The Baxter last month as she said that I'd enjoy this since I'd never seen it. That wasn't so great but this one was worth watching.

The Notorious Betty Page (2006). Fun night at the Circle as we had a local burlesque troupe come in and do a show between screenings. The film version of Page's life was way lighter than I expected. Almost as much a satire of 1950s mentality regarding pornography (compared to how innocent it looks nowadays) as it is a biopic of Page's life. If anything the film rushes through some of the painful episodes to get to some of the naughty bits. Okay but not much substance. Gretchen Mol is way better than I would have guessed.

The Break-Up (2006). This is raking in the $$$ at the box-office but I'm not won over. It's just a lot of couple bickering and yelling at each other as their relationship crumbles even though neither truly want it to end. Yet they are stubborn so they keep on bickering. If I wanted to watch a couple fight for 90 minutes I'd get in a bad relationship and start up goofy arguments with her. I'm a big Vince Vaughn fan and he has some great moments in this—his scenes with longtime pal Jon Favreau stand out—but for the most part I just didn't think this was all that great.

A Prairie Home Companion (2006). Robert Altman's latest is this loosely adapted script based on Garrison Keiler's long running radio show. I didn't have big expectations even though it was Altman but I was completely captivated by this film. It breezes by in what seems like 45 minutes. Typical Altman «sketchbook» style that sees him moving from one storyline to another. I have called it a «floating» style of storytelling where there isn't one dominant story but several running at one time that bump into each other from time to time. The film is set in, around and behind the scenes during a radio show. We see the show as it is performed and then we see all the backstage banter and events that truly make the performance a lively affair. Great ensemble cast. Altman is a master at joining these large casts in a fluid, natural way. Wonderful.

The Tenant (1976). Roman Polanski stars and directs this off-kilter piece about an old apartment building in Paris that might have tenants up to no good. Not altogether a strange concept from him as he did make Rosemary's Baby after all. The Tenant is more low-key and slow to develop but it does get weird as it progresses. Polanski is in his element when he gets to deliver a paranoid, chilling story—although I'm not sold on his acting and he's the lead in this—and The Tenant has enough chilly bizarreness it's worth seeing late some night for a shock or two.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Three weeks of movies

A combination of being busy, not doing reviews for the paper anymore and being a bit burned out on the whole idea of «blog» has made a long stretch of no posts…Here's some of the things of worth I've seen over the past few weeks.

The Proposition (2006, Australia). Singer Nick Cave penned the script to this brutal and spare Australian outback western and it’s a dark, intense affair (like a lot of Cave’s music has been over the years). On display in The Proposition is violence, bloodletting, gaunt actors, flies, unshaved dirty men with filthy teeth. This had some of the most primal bursts of violence I’ve seen in a while and I loved it. Guy Pearce plays an outlaw who is given the choice to save one brother by killing another by a desperate lawman. Pearce, who is unbelievably filthy and emaciated in this, journeys to his brother who is hiding in a cave and contemplates killing him. Great to see a western again and I highly recommend this film as it’s going to be one of my favorites of the year. Spare, dark, literate, atmospheric and hauntingly violent.

Inside Man
(2006, USA). This was a very pleasant surprise from director Spike Lee that is the best thing he's directed in a long time. It's a straight up genre picture from Lee—a thriller set around a New York City bank heist. Lee often weighs his films down with heavyhanded statements that almost ruin everything else in the film but he doesn't do that here and I'm thankfull for that. Great cast, great fun and one of the better heist films I've seen in a while.

Raising Victor Vargas (2003, USA). This is a sweet little independent film about a teen who thinks he's a ladies man who gets caught in bed with «Fat Donna». In an attempt to up his street cred in the neighborhood begins to woo the unattainable «Juicy» Judy. This Judy is a challenge, a firecracker who takes no crap and doesn't want anything to do with the immature neighborhood boys. Raising Victor Vargas has a captivating performance by Altagracia Guzman as Victor's religious, put-upon Grandma who is raising him and his siblings. Guzman is so great in this I wanted to see more of her days and not the teenagers on display. She's not really an actor as this was her first role (she was 72 during filming) but I just loved her performance more than anyone elses in this.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2006, USA). This is a fascinating documentary that tells the story of one of the great, largely unknown songwriters of the past 25 years. Johnston’s raw music, often full of innocence, wonder and sweetness, and sung in his unique, off-key voice, exists despite the fact he has battled extreme bouts of manic depression and other mental illnesses over the past two decades. Johnston has been in and out of institutions and passed around various family members while never giving up his music or art pursuits. The documentary attempts to tell us Johnston’s life while also exploring just how completely depression can destroy the creative impulse, as Johnston is only a shell of himself due to the various medications he takes. I've never been much of a fan of Johnston's but The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a bittersweet, poignant, humorous, lovingly created tribute to an eccentric American original that battles his demons via song and lives on in rock and roll lore as a legendary figure of the underground.

Friends With Money (2006, USA). Kind of a disappointment here. Nicole Holofcener makes this a little too caustic and bitter for me—I know, that’s kind of her way of doing things but I guess I just wasn’t in the mood. Some rich friends (and one poorer one) sit around and whine about their marriages and lives blah blah blah. I really loved Holofcener’s Lovely and Amazing from 2001 but this one didn’t do it for me.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006, USA). The end is nigh. Maybe in my lifetime we’ll in a complete disaster zone of a planet. At least that’s Al Gore’s contention in this riveting documentary based around his environmental slide shows that he’s been putting on. As Gore simply illustrates just how much damage has been done to the climate (even I grasp the dire implications and I’m a science nitwit) I was swamped by two main questions: 1/ How world leaders let global warming evolve to the state that it’s in and 2/ How in the hell did Gore lose the 2000 election to George W. Bush? Right, he didn’t really lose did he? Guess I’m still bitter and seeing what ol’ W. has done the past 6 years I have a right to that bitterness as it's been one bonehead move after another.