Monday, January 22, 2007

Scarecrow Video part three

One last photo of me at Scarecrow...This time I'm standing in their massive foreign section. And when I say massive I mean massive, thousands and thousands of films and TV series from other countries. I think I'm holding up a film from Taiwan and Tsai Liang-Ming called The Wayward Cloud.

By the way, I was on day 26 of the Brothers of the Brush beard growing competition when this photo was taken--I'm now on day 52 and you should see this beard I'm growing.

Scarecrow Video part two

Since I posted about Scarecrow Video and how it's one of my favorite places on earth--here's a picture of me standing in its rows and rows of choices. I'm in the "director" section--every film in this section is arranged via director--there are maybe nearly 1,000 directors in this section! I'm holding up a multi-regionDVD from France and one of my favorite directors Tony Gatlif. Boy do I love this place.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ice storm movie watching

The Tulsa area is in the midst of a massive ice storm. You know how the local media always have to ramp it up like we’re all about to die? Well, one channel is calling it “Ice Assault 2007”. I haven’t left my house or yard in more than two days (the photo is of my house taken a few minutes ago and that's 3 inches of ice on the ground, not snow). At least I have power and all the technologies connected to that. So, I’ve been dedicating “Ice Assault '07” to serious couch time and movies. Here’s what I’ve watched the past few days.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot: One of the last Clint Eastwood movies I’d never seen is this goofy heist 1974 film set in Montana as a group (Jeff Bridges also stars) attempt to rob an armored car vault they’d robbed a few years earlier. The film has a quirky vibe to it that is pure ‘70s—regular readers know I love ‘70s cinema. It’s manic, silly and a bit raw. Eastwood is almost too big to be in this as his “Clintness” nearly overwhelms whatever is taking place—either in the story or with other actors. Michael Cimino directed this and it has a lot of muscle cars blaring over highways and fields, a robbery, double crosses and a streak of goofy humor running through it.

Streets of Fire: I’ve been trying to see some Diane Lane films I’ve never seen and this one from ’84 not only has Lane but Bill Paxton (I’m a fan of his too) in a small role and the director is Walter Hill, who is another favorite. Hill, normally as lean and mean as you’ll see in a Hollywood director, gets to show a flashier side in this film. I couldn’t figure out if it was a period film in the ‘50s combined through an ‘80s blender or if this was in the future. I kind of think it’s set in the future because of the neon lit wet streets, leather outfits, atmospheric poverty and other little things on display was just a little over the top. Streets of Fire is like a 90 minutes video with Lane belting out songs with lots of quick cuts and stylized violence as local bad boy takes on a motorcycle gang. It’s kind of a frivolous film with some cheesy moments and bad dialogue that doesn’t really have much tension yet I liked it because it is so earnest in its genre sensibilities. I’m just a fan of Walter Hill movies and hadn’t seen him do something so atmospheric and splashy. Guilty pleasure.

Good Morning, Night: A few weeks ago I watched the epic Italian film The Best of Youth and was blown away by it. I also got a bit of a crush on Maya Sansa so I’m renting some of her films on Netflix. I’m not sure an Italian movie about radicals kidnapping and killing a hostage for political reasons is the kind of film to watch when you haven’t left the house for days because the city is entombed in ice—but that’s what I had from Netflix so I watched it. Sansa—still have a crush, it’s growing—while the movie is a somber piece of Italian drama that was good but not as good as it might have been had I not been cooped up in the house due to ice for days on end.

The Family Stone: To counter balance the earlier film I watched this sub-par family comedy that is as predictable as the day is long. I knew how this would end 10 minutes into it. Sarah Jessica Parker is among the cast and she’s film poison for me. Every scene she was in I was on the verge of cringing. Only recommended if you are in the midst of an “Ice Assault” and just watched a downer of an Italian film.

Ice Assault ’07 continues for another day as work was called off and I’m sure I’ll watch one or two more things today—I’m thinking of venturing out of the house for The Curse of the Golden Flower and am planning on watching The Treasure of Sierra Madre on the couch.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Children of Men

I don’t know what it is about anything that hints of the idea of “dystopia” that makes me enjoy it so much. 1984 and Brave New World are favorite books of mine. I travelled to Hungary and Poland in the mid 1990s just to see the myriad of concrete Soviet built complexes before cheery American chain restaurants were placed in front of them. I love the color gray. So, me loving the straight up dystopian film Children of Men (2006) should not be a surprise at all.

Children of Men is set in 2027 London and the world has gone mad. It’s a police state (what kind of dystopian film would it be without an oppressive police state?), women have mysteriously stopped giving birth for 18 years and the English government is hell-bent on imprisoning (or worse) all foreigners while striking fear into all that live there.

Of course there is a resistance movement to all this (one reason I love dystopian culture is there is always an underground group or someone rebelling against the powers that suppress them) and they are known as The Fishes. The Fishes plant bombs and fight for immigrants who are being penned like chattel in the name of “Homeland Security” (sound familiar?).

Clive Owen plays a worn down man who once was an activist who is drawn back into this world when his ex (Julianne Moore), who is now the head fish, contacts him about helping the group hide a young woman from the government. He has a price and is soon in the midst of a complicated scheme to get the woman on a rumor of a boat that might or might not be real.

Children of Men is the kind of science fiction movie I dream about seeing but rarely get to see—it’s that good. It’s got everything I want to see in a dystopian future: complete grayness, a lawless police state, extreme poverty and chaos, a feisty uprising swelling from the underground and the utter hopelessness that living in a society like this would generate. Doesn't that sound fun? Maybe it's just me.

Director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) has made a film that is as smart, nuanced and atmospheric as it is controlled. Cuaron never lets loose of the grip of the vision he’s trying to create in this future world. It’s an ugly place contaminated with ugly policies, where the people have lost all sense of involvement in what happens to them, from the government on down.

Children of Men is one of my favorites in 2006 and will be high on the list when I compile my top ten in a few weeks. It’s not only a great movie but one of the best piece of dystopian culture I’ve come across in years and years. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


This will be less a review and more of a rant. If you haven’t seen this, stop reading if you don’t want to know the ending as I’m going to throw in some *spoilers* in what follows.

I saw Spanglish in 2004 when it first came out and left the theatre frustrated and completely annoyed at what I’d just seen. I watched sections of it again the other night on TV and felt exactly the same! I hate this movie and I mean HATE it.

Why? Writer/director James L. Brooks spends 4/5 of the movie making us dislike the shrillish wife (Tea Leoni) to Adam Sandler’s likeable husband. She’s unlikable in every single way and to every person around her—to her daughter, husband, mother and hired help. Wife and husband have a disaster of a relationship and she’s a neurotic mess and that’s all we ever see of her.

Enter spunky Mexican maid (who is also beautiful) who shows everyone just how decent and giving and loving a mother is supposed to be to those around her. Naturally, Sandler’s husband and this woman (Paz Vega) have sparks and hint around at the “chemistry” that is between them.

The end comes and the wife is supposedly changed and nothing comes of the husband, and this obviously much better person, in the maid. It’s a massive romantic drama tease that pulls a fake out at the end that I don’t buy for one second. Keeping the husband and wife together after everything we’ve just seen is one of those magical Hollywood conversions that would last about one month in the real world.

What ticks me off about the film is how can Brooks expect us (the audience) to WANT to see the film end with Sandler and Leoni when the ENTIRE movie he’s set her up to be despicable and made a saint out of Vega? Plus, Vega and Sandler are actually good together on screen unlike Sandler and Leoni. It’s a disaster of a decision by Brooks and fills me with distaste and sort of makes me actually angry when the film ends.

Sandler’s character is a weakling in the film who has a hard time standing up for what he truly believes in or feels but to think at the end, he’ll continue to be under his manipulative, emotional game playing wife instead of being with this better woman is an awful way to end the story. But hey, it’s Brooks’ story and film, if he wants to go down unbelievable, paths, that’s up to him. It doesn’t mean I have to like it—in fact, in the case of Spanglish—I loathe it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 totals!

It's that time again. I add up all the totals of the year I spent dedicated to watching movies and go public. I've been keeping these "stats" since 1998 so this was my 9th year of documenting my movie watching. Bow down with envy to my film geekdom!

2006 total: 216
Foreign movies: 53
Decade when movie I watched was made: 2000 and up (144), 1980-89 (23), 1970-79 (16), 1990-99 (15), 1960-69 (8), 1950-59 (5), 1930-39 (2), 1920-29 (1), 1940-49 (1)
Amount I saw IN a movie theatre v. at a house: 82
Best month: December (25)
Worst month: October (10)
Average movies seen per month: 18
Average movies seen per week: 4.15
Documentaries: 29
Black and white: 13
Midnight movies: 11
At the Drive-In: 1
Times I cried while watching a movie: 13
Cities I watched movies in: Tulsa, Okla. (189), Seattle, Wash. (13), Pryor Creek, Okla. (5), Norman, Okla., St. Louis, Mo., Santa Fe, NM (2), Claremore, Okla., Guymon, Okla., Oklahoma City, Okla., Siloam Springs, Ark., Trinidad, Colo. (1)
Country a movie was from: US and A! (163), France (15), England (13), Japan (7), Spain (4), Australia, South Korea (3), China, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy (2), Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Russia, Taiwan (1)
Who I watched the movie with: Alone (161), Brandi (13), Nancy (11), Cameron (8), Lillian (6), Rosemary, Sara, Shane (4), Donnie, Greg, Sherrill (2), Ashley, Barbara, Ellen, Gunter, Kelly, Kylie, Laura, Linda, Nicole, Paige, Sheri, Tim (1)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Movies on a jet

I have unearthed a wonderful invention when travelling cross-country on a jet: the portable DVD player! This marvelous new invention of technology turned a 3 and 1/2 hour flight into something that seemed to last about 45 minutes. And forget about being panic stricken by the bounce of turbulence—with headphones on and lost in the 9” screen, I didn’t notice a thing. Babies screaming awful sounds and other cabin noise bother you? That’s also lost on the viewer. Has anyone else discovered this incredible way to travel through the air? It’s a miracle I tell you.

As a parting gift to myself from Seattle and Scarecrow Video I rented two shortish films from one of my all-time favorite directors—Milos Forman—Black Peter and The Fireman’s Ball.

Black Peter (1963) is Forman’s first film and I’d never seen it but it wasn’t long before I was enjoying this low-key comedy about the confusions of youth as Peter heads to adulthood. Peter sort of glides along in a job he doesn’t like, wooing a girl he does like and has to sit through his dad ranting, raving and imparting wisdom from the apartment kitchen. I hate to be lectured but I loved listening to Peter’s dad pace back and forth unleashing these rants. Black Peter is a smart little film from Forman and just hints at things to come from him in the future.

I love Forman’s 1967 satire The Fireman’s Ball and have seen it twice before but decided to watch it again. This has one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in the raucous attempt by the brigade to hold a beauty contest. The contest turns into absolute bedlam. As the scene approached I was curious if I’d find it humorous in this jet setting but suddenly found myself laughing hysterically and wondering if those around me thought I’d lost it. Didn’t care, I just kept laughing.

What amazes me about The Fireman’s Ball is the cast. This picture has the most amazing collection of faces and personalities in such a short (only 73 minutes) and intimate movie. Every single one of these actors is dead-on perfect as bumbling, dimwitted firemen who are clueless in pretty much all they do.

I love satire and this one got the movie banned from Soviet controlled Czech lands and sent Forman out of the country to make movies (which was good for us but I wonder what kind of films he’d made had he stayed home). There are subtle jabs and more pointed ones at anyone in authority during this era in Czech history. I love The Fireman’s Ball and it’s going in my Top 100 next time I update it. Highly recommended, as is the portable DVD player when travelling on jet planes.