Monday, April 30, 2007

April movies

My three favorite new releases are Grindhouse, Hot Fuzz and The Namesake. All different, all worth seeing.

Old movie to watch--Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee is so quick you can barely see him punch a bad guy in the face.

The Lookout--2007--USA--3--Neo noir w/ a bearded Jeff Daniels.

--1974--UK--2.5--Nonsensical post '60s freak out w/ a hairy chested Sean Connery.

Blades of Glory
--2007--USA--3--Another silly Will Ferrell comedy, this time about ice skating.

--2007--USA--4--Great fun with a schlocky double feature w/ fake trailers.

Major League
--1989--USA--4--Number 5 on my all-time favorite baseball films.

Green Street Hooligans
--2005--UK--2.5--Elijah Wood as a soccer hooligan? Yeah right.

Loud Quiet Loud
--2006--USA--3.5--Documentary about the great band Pixies.

Nobody Knows
--2005--Japan--3.5--Bleak and powerful film about abandoned kids.

Music & Lyrics
--2007--USA--2.5--No chemistry, by the numbers, liked the '80s music.

Winter Kills
--1979--USA--2--Bad JFKesque political thriller that's more absurd than thrilling.

Days of Glory
--2006--France--3.5--Africans fight for WW2 France as they wont fight.

The Namesake
--2006--India--4--Powerful family drama from great director Mira Nair.

Hot Fuzz
--2007--UK--4--Wonderful cop comedy that is funny and actionpacked.

Viva Algeria
--2004--Algeria--2.5--Depressing film about 3 Algerian women.

Enter the Dragon
--1973--USA--4--Bruce Lee in slow motion at 1 a.m. is MAGICAL!

Nights of Cabiria
--1957--Italy--4--Fellini in his prime and with a great ending.

--2004--Poland--1.5--Unlikeable, terrible and in running for worst of the year.

--2001--France--3--I'll watch Jean Reno in anything and everything.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Zardoz (1974) is a bizarre, senseless, tripped out quasi-philosophical science fiction film from director John Boorman that is one of the stranger films I’ve seen in awhile. Boorman, inspired by the turbulent late 1960s, takes a lot of ideas that don’t seem to go together, throws them up in the air and then swirls them around whether they make sense or not. What is left is one wild movie called Zardoz.

How to briefly describe the plot of this? Sean Connery plays a man named Zed who is an “exterminator” in a future earth in the year 2239. Zed and fellow exterminators worship the god of Zardoz. Zardoz is this huge, floating stone head that shows up every now and then to boom orders to the exterminators and spew guns out of its gaping, rock mouth. Most of the orders revolve around killing/raping people as a form of population control.

Zardoz is controlled by a madcap magician and lives in a utopian community known as the “vortex”. In this vortex, people never age, never die and have perfected various mind controls and communication with powerful crystals. The vortex favors sexless, androgyny that means in ’74 lots of topless women while riding horseback or doing the gardening.

I mentioned this was influenced by the 1960s and this is true not only of the look, attitude, subjects but the look of the film as well. Boorman stacks the film of tons of out there, psychedelic moments of dozens of images in mirrors, long winded infuriating speeches that mean nothing, subjects such as science, cloning, religion, sex, violence, aging etc. and all kinds of warped ideas that date the film to a particular time in American culture.

Connery spends the entire film basically running around in a red hot pants/leather boots (see photo at top of post) to his knees and ponytail get up that shows off his hairy chest and legs. A few times his hot pants ride up a little too much on his hairy arse! He also gets to grunt out and act with some of the hokiest faux philosophy, semi-sexual dialogue you are likely to hear. It’s definitely not his best performance as he seems awash with confusion and you can almost read his thoughts in some of these scenes as he ponders, “What the hell is going on here?”

Zardoz is a mess and gonzo of a film on practically every level and I can see why it’s gained sort of a cult following. It’s not great but it’s in the vein of so bad, it’s kind of good and guilty pleasure mode. Zardoz is just so all over the map and pure early ‘70s that I have to give it credit for that.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Favorite baseball movies

It’s April and to me that means the start of baseball season. I am a passionate fan of baseball history and have loved the sport since I was a kid. One great thing about baseball is the wonderful amount of stellar literature, history and films that have been set around it. Here are my five favorites.

5/ Major League (1989). This is a ribald comedy of a bunch of losers and castoffs that play for the woeful Cleveland Indians. There are has beens, guys off prison teams, a player who has turned to witchery and voodoo, old guys, etc, all of which band together to attempt to get back at the team owner who wants them to lose. James Gammon plays the crusty manager and he’s one of my favorite actors of all time. Gammon cursing while wearing a baseball uniform is a great sight to see. Thankfully this was R rated as a PG-13 version would have stripped it of some of its funnier moments. Woeful sequels followed but this first Major League is a great fun place to start if you want to see some baseball movies.

4/ The Natural (1984). Robert Redford’s version (directed by Barry Levinson) of Bernard Malamud’s novel is a meditation of heroes via the baseball diamond. Redford is Roy Hobbs, who arrives out of nowhere in the 1930s and turns the New York Knights around despite being in his 40s. The film has a magical quality to it—which is hammered home with slow motions, exploding lights, and beautiful, golden tinted photography. Redford’s version is very different than Malamud’s if you’ve ever read the book.

3/ Field of Dreams (1989). Another loving tribute to baseball as a subject that is bigger than just the game of baseball. This is baseball as savior; baseball as healer; baseball as something so important and pure it might have magical powers. A man hears voices in a cornfield and his life is turned upside down. Based on W.P. Kinsella’s terrific novel (called Shoeless Joe), Field of Dreams is so lost in the possibilities of fantasy and of dreams that it just hits me in the heart every time I see it. I actually drove to Dyersville, Iowa in the mid ‘90s just to see those lovely cornfields.

2/ Bull Durham (1988). Another Kevin Costner film. Hey, he’s been in two great baseball films. Bull Durham is a comedy/drama that follows minor-league team as a veteran mentors a phenom. Both of them want to get with Susan Sarandon’s lusty supporter of the team. Bull Durham probably has the best dialogue, the most accurate depiction of the sport and is the smartest script of any baseball related film. It just nails pretty much everything about the allure of the game in funny ways. Plus, it has a damn good romantic triangle between Costner/Sarandon and Tim Robbins. This will never age.

1/ The Bad News Bears (1976). This to me is not only the best baseball films it is one of the best films of all time regardless the genre. It’s perfectly cast, as Walter Matthau is a pool-cleaning drunk who takes over the Bears for drinking money and every single kid in this is believable. The team, self-described by Tanner as a “bunch of booger-eatin’ morons,” is the laughing stock of the little league. But with a couple of ringers, some beer in the dugout and a lot of attitude the Bears might shock the league. The Bad News Bears was made during the ‘70s and revels in its non-PC world (thank you!). The Bears have grit, spunk and fight and the story was completely ruined in 2005 when Hollywood decided to give it a soulless, dull, watered down remake. The original version has a chip on its shoulder from start to finish and is my favorite baseball movie of all time.

Monday, April 02, 2007

March movies

Movie title—year of release—country of origin—my rating from 1-5

I Love You Again—1940—USA—4
Everything Is Illuminated—2005—USA—3
The Invisible Boy—1957—USA—1.5
Black Snake Moan—2006—USA—3
The Astronaut Farmer—2007—USA—2.5
Blood Diamond—2006—USA—4
My Best Fiend—1999—Germany—3.5
Bad Company—1972—USA—4
Just Friends—2005—USA—2
The Host—2006—South Korea—3.5
American Splendor—2003—USA—3.5
Reign Over Me—2007—USA—4

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--film of the year?!

I took a friend’s kids to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or TMNT as the kids and marketers like to say these days) over the weekend and am stunned to say it will likely be in my top 5 at the end of the year. No animated movies usually make my top ten so that’s saying something about TMNT that it reaches such a high level. TMNT is thrilling and riveting on many, many levels. Seriously.

The first thing that jumps out at you when TMNT starts is the amazing, groundbreaking animation. The creators of this film have taken new computer technology and run amok with it—the turtles and their subterranean environment seem “more” than real. It’s so good it doesn’t really resemble animation as it looks like real ninja turtles running around. I honestly think this film can be thought of as highly as Walt Disney’s Fantasia in 40 years.

The story was completely shocking to me as well. I thought it was just going to be about some goofy turtles that get into misadventures and try to save the city and each other. Wrong! Sure, there is some of that but the film also has some off the wall turns that I was stunned to see develop. First was when Leonardo develops a cancer scare and the film branches off with him going to the doctor and the rest of the turtles rallying around him. I mean, who would have thought a cancer storyline would be in this kind of movie? I didn’t. Another element of the story is about manic depression—which I thought was a little too much for kids but its handled in a tasteful way. You do have suicide but you don’t actually SEE the act of suicide so that was okay for kids. It’s good for them to be aware of these kinds of topics anyway. I won’t even go into the plot twist at the end but all I can say is don’t trust any of these turtles as one of them is not as they appear to be!

TMNT has it all: comedy, action, laughter, the best animation in 50 years, plot twists, death, turtle romance and many other elements that will leave you as slack-jawed as I was when it ended. TMNT is possibly the best film of the year for me. Oh, and by the way, you should probably look at the date of this post and realize if you believed any of this you were had, as it is April fools day! Got you.