Friday, December 22, 2006

Scarecrow Video

I'm flying to Seattle tonight for a visit and of course I'll be seeing movies while I'm there. One of my favorite places in the world happens to be Scarecrow Video. I just get a warm and tingly all over feeling when I walk through their doors. They've got upwards of 75,000 videos to rent, including thousands from other countries that take a special all-region DVD player to see. They've got a mammoth foreign section--you want to see films from Chile, Mongolia or Finland? Then Scarecrow is for you. Unreal horror, science fiction and anime collections too. But, my personal favorite thing about it is the massive section that is separated strictly by director! That completely appeals to my film geek DNA. I'll be taking in some of my favorite local theatres like the Harvard Exit, Neptune and Egyptian but I can promise you I'll spend hours over the next week just absorbing the sights and sounds of one the best places on planet earth...Scarecrow Video.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Five films I hated in 2006

I could have put more than this on a list of the films I hated in 2006 but I’ll whittle it down to a measly five. In no particular order here they are…the gloves are off!

The Pink Panther—This was flat out embarrassing for Steve Martin and everyone else in this miserably dull, unfunny and shameful remake of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther films. Martin, utilizing a French accent and style of physical comedy that makes him seem borderline retarded, gives the most annoying performance of his career (I’m a fan of his actually). There is absolutely nothing of worth in this film (okay, Emily Mortimer, a perinial Top5 of mine is in this and I also like Kevin Kline but even this pair can't save the film) and should make anyone considering remakes of classic movies think long and hard about shooting themselves in the head to save us all the pain of having to watch another retread, inferior movie. Peter Sellers is rolling over in his grave as I write this.

Failure To Launch—Some things never change, another year, another bad, bad, bad Matthew McConaughey movie. I have to hand it to the guy—he’s consistent in his crapness. The pairing of McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker creates romantic tension of the likes of the possible pairing of Abe Vagoda and Britney Spears in a remake of Love Story (I know, unfair to poor Abe!). Translation: the duo has less than zero chemistry in this romantic comedy about a guy who doesn’t want to leave home. Plus, am I the only person that thinks Parker is wearing enough makeup to stock an entire city block and looks like a man in drag? Yet another reason to avoid this—Terry Bradshaw bares his pasty ass multiple times. Yes, multiple times.

Down In the Valley—Granted, I’ve seen a lot worse this year but I’m not sure I watched something that I loathed as much as this phony piece of trite with Edward Norton pretending to be a cowboy in the San Fernando Valley, Cali. The only thing I was rooting for during this was for it to be over as it is just a ridiculously over the top story that should have been left in some writer’s desk. Norton, a fine actor indeed, picked this as a "statement" role but by the end I was just laughing at this absurd waste of my time.

Poseiden—I reviewed this earlier in the year for CineRobot and I asked in the review, “Is it possible to see something so mediocre, so unrelenting in its average, aim for the lowest common denominator” goals? The answer in 2006 is no. This is as average as average can get. Poseiden is predictable, has no tension and is just another silly remake of a film that didn’t need to be redone. Enough is more than enough, Hollywood!

The Benchwarmers—Let me quote from my very succinct review in Kinetoscope after I saw this on June 28, 2006: “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. But at least it only cost one dollar.” Everything, and I mean everything, you’d expect from a comedic vehicle starring Rob Schneider and David Spade. I’m not normally a guy who knocks a film with as many blows to the groin as sentences (groin pain: always funny) but I’d almost rather take a blow to the groin than to watch this again. Maybe even two blows to the groin?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

I somehow avoided the bombardment of Stranger Than Fiction’s trailer—it was on every two minutes for a few weeks—to make it into the theatre with no clue what happens in this movie. That’s kind of hard to do in this day and age of too many people giving too much of the story away in reviews/trailers. Can these critics just stop writing what happens in the movie for 3/4 of their reviews! Rehashing the plot for the bulk of the review is not good criticism and many professionals seem to do it all too often. It’s lazy and takes no skill to rehash a plot.

Now, let me discuss the plot of Stranger Than Fiction (ha!). Will Ferrell is a guy named Harold Crick who hears a voice in his head…is he crazy? Is it the narrator in a book narrating his life? Will what the narrator say what will happen to Crick in his life? There, that’s all you need to know about this comedy-drama to know enough of what goes on in the film. Why not let the rest of the story be a surprise? To me, there is nothing greater in a movie for events to happen that you didn’t see coming. It’s magical to not know.

I really liked Stranger Than Fiction. It’s funny, it has depth to it, the story has interesting things to say about topics such as the nature of writing, discovering how to live and to love and tax codes. Ferrell, who I’m hardly sold on as a dramatic actor, gives a performance that is part loopy, part serious. Word was this was in the vein of madcap screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)—it’s not. Kaufman is Kaufman and there’s only one Kaufman writing movies in Hollywood.

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives one of the most charming performances of her young career as a tattooed baker who has tax issues which results in the IRS agent Crick paying her a visit. It’s the kind of role a lesser actress would have done nothing with but she’s one of the finest actresses at the moment (when will I get to see Sherrybaby damnit?!). Gyllenhaal makes her screen time count every second she is on the screen and isn’t it amazing what talent can do to a character’s depth and appeal?

Director Marc Forster, whose career is littered with over hyped films such as Monster’s Ball (a film I really hated) and Finding Neverland, has made his most interesting film here. He doesn’t wallow in cheap, emotional ploys to tug at your heartstrings as he did in those films. Don’t get me wrong, he still wants you to like and be moved by his characters, but thankfully he reigns in the over the top maudlin crap he drowned the before mentioned films in.

Stranger Than Fiction is quirky, funny in a thinking kind of way, has some interesting things to say about the nature of writing, it’s romantic, has the enchanting Gyllenhaal and will likely make it onto my top ten of 2006. That sounds like a recommendation to me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky, the director of The Fountain, is someone I’ve not really responded to in his first two films—Pi and Requiem For A Dream. I admit, he’s an audacious visual stylist that makes technically brilliant films, but I found his first two films lacking in various ways. Pi was too thinly conceived to work to the finish and Requiem For A Dream was too unrelenting and ended up one of the most dour, joyless films I’ve seen in years.

The Fountain, a film that was in production for about five years (it was actually scrapped by Warner Bros. a few years ago after they’d spent 20 million and saw they were going to throw about 80 more down the well, this is the cheaper version), is by far my favorite Aronofsky movie. If I went into the out-there plot you might see why about half of the 15 people at this late night screening walked out of the theatre. Their leaving just emboldened my enjoyment of this extremely artistic and idiosyncratic movie.

I’m not going to really go into the story, as it will just come off very convoluted and strange--which it is. The story spans about 1,000 years with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz playing a variety of characters. There’s conquistadors, Mayan jungle scenes, the search for the fountain of youth, science experiments on monkeys, an astronaut floating in a bubble in outer space who lives with a giant tree (yes, this is true), love and more love…and just a lot of other elements to make this the most “out there” mainstream release of the year.

The story is pretentious (it is Darren Aronofsky after all), confounding, complex and wildly romantic all at the same time! Aronofsky has never been a director to shy away from striking visuals and he stacks so many memorable images and ideas into The Fountain it’s hard to process the story as it shifts from Spanish Inquisition to 1,000 years in the future to what seems like now with the one element that links all the timelines--the search for immortality.

As I mentioned, a lot of people walked out of this—including two loud, obnoxious people behind me so good riddance to them—and I think this is a very divisive little movie. Either it’s going to a work of visual and thought provoking art you get swept up in. Or, it will be a ridiculous, pompous mess that you will loathe. I’m in with the former on this one.

I was completely mesmerized by The Fountain from the very start. It's kind of a headrush of ideas, beautiful images, an interesting love story (or two, or three love stories) and will challenge the crap out of you as you watch it. And that is so refreshing to me in this day and age of market segmented filmmaking. With The Fountain, I'm not sure Aronofsky gave a damn and just made a crazy, all over the place film that will sparkle you if you are weak to this sort of magic.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Is anyone out there?

I know it's a bit annoying when people whine about comments and all...but I've written about 9 reviews in a row and not sure anyone has posted a this thing broken? Agree with me, debate me, tell me I'm crazy, I'll take anything in the comment box!

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

When you think Sam Peckinpah western, you might think of gritty characters, slow motion shoot-outs and lots of people dying. His most infamous western, The Wild Bunch, featured all of these elements in spades and is probably his most notorious and famous film. The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) is a western but it’s one with a great deal of levity and is one of Peckinpah’s most pleasurable films to watch because it’s such a curveball.

Jason Robards plays Cable, a man left without water in the desert and left to die. He stumbles around in the heat and sun but luckily finds a freak water hole when he was about to give up. Cable stakes a claim to the land with the sole desire to wait for the two fellows who left him to die make their way to him, then he plans to kill them.

Cable goes to town some and meets the busty prostitute Hildy (Stella Stevens). I wouldn’t mention her bust line but when the pair meet Peckinpah does some really funny quick cuts over and over regarding her chest as Cable can’t get his mind on anything else (he has been out in the desert about to die after all!). Cable is in town to entice the local stagecoach line into funding his new town, Cable Springs, while he waits to exact revenge.

As I said, this was more a western-comedy from a director not known for lighter moments and I really enjoyed those elements in the movie. Robards gives a great, lively performance as Cable, he’s a ranting, randy character. Slim Pickens shows up to deliver a few one-liners and any western with Pickens is usually something worth watching.

The film even has some statements on the changing nature of the western frontier in it toward the end, which was a nice surprise, and it throws in a little romance before the final showdown too for a different kind of western from one of the genre’s most unique directors. The Ballad of Cable Hogue is not Peckinpah’s best film, but it is right up there with his most fun to watch. Great.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Bicycle Thief

Sheer perfection. This is a perfect movie—perfectly conceived and executed—and is one of my favorite movies of all-time. I’ve seen it at least six times now and it never loses its ability to wring out the emotion as I watch it. The Bicycle Thief hurts so good.

Director Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film is among the canon of the neo-realist movement in post-WWII Italian cinema. Neo-realism was a movement that attempted to toss away excess and to tell real stories with real human beings. These films attempt to address everyday moments of a normal person in a heartbreaking, moving and dramatic manner. “My purpose is to find the element of drama in daily situations” De Sica said regarding the storyline of The Bicycle Thief.

The film's story is set around the poverty and unemployment of a single family. Antonio is out of work. He gets a job to put up posters but needs his bicycle to do the job. To get the bike out of the pawn shop the family hocks their linens. On the first day of his job, the bike is stolen. Antonio and his son Bruno go on a search trying to find the bike that will put food on their table.

That’s the simple version of the story. The film has so many layers to it that each time I watch it another is peeled back for me to discover. Only the great movies can do that for you as a viewer. Sometimes I notice the father-son elements, sometimes I pay attention to the way poverty/ unemployment have a significant role in the film’s story. This time I really noticed the use of God/religion/psychics in the story and how it relates to Antonio’s plight.

Most of the time I just get swept up in the desperation of the father who knows the consequences for his job and his family if he doesn’t locate the bicycle. With the bicycle, they aren’t well off, but he won’t bury himself in the shame of unemployment and the struggle to survive that losing the bicycle will cause.

The Bicycle Thief, like other neo-realist films from this period, relies heavily on non-professional actors and extensive location shooting. This adds to the feeling of “realness” in what you see on screen. You see real alleys, churches, building stairwells, streets and apartments.

The Bicycle Thief has one of the most devastating endings in the history of cinema. I don’t care how many times I watch the film, I’m blown away and crushed for the rest of the day. That’s a good thing in my book. Any movie that takes you into another emotional state because you love the characters and the story so much is a complete success to me. In the case of The Bicycle Thief, it’s simply one of the best movies in the history of cinema.

Inland Empire

When I was writing the post a few weeks ago regarding films I'm itching to see--I somehow forgot the one I want to see most of all--Inland Empire!

I keep reading about how this is THE David Lynch movie he's been waiting to make his entire career that has all the quirky and strange elements + some more. Years in the making, shot entirely on consumer DV (Lynch has sworn off film which kind of bums me out), scenes with talking rabbits and who knows what else will be in store for us brave enough to enter the world of Lynch.

I really want to see the movie!