Thursday, May 22, 2008


I'm off tomorrow for a couple of weeks in Lisbon + Madrid + Barcelona. Movies will be watched and I will judge these fellow moviegoers against the Finnish people from 2007. The Finns have set the bar very, very high for movie etiquette.

The Hidden Staircase will be on this trip with me and she has a digital camera so I might try to make some posts along the trip--you know, movie related tidbits, photos, updates...what else would I write about?

If you are really lucky I will locate a speedo and recreate a Borat-speedo moment on the beach in Barcelona, ha.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Heart Irene Dunne

Back in February I wrote about really enjoying the 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth and that film’s star—Irene Dunne. Well, since then I’ve been trying to catch up on my Irene Dunne (yay Netflix queue!) and how I’ve enjoyed discovering Dunne’s many charms with three more films: My Favorite Wife (1940, really great), Love Affair (1939, kind of disappointing) and Roberta (1935, good). While none of those equal the absolute wondrous that is The Awful Truth—Dunne is great in all of them.

What makes Dunne so talented is that she possesses a level of versatility that allows her to do comedy, belt out songs (in both serious and comedic vein), drama and play romantic leads—all while being smart, sympathetic and likeable for the audience. Dunne seems to be good in any genre you put her in but she’s a master in anything with romantic comedy in it. Timing, wit, flair and spunk—Dunne has all those things and the screen radiates with her presence in these black and white films from the past.

I just watched Roberta earlier tonight and Dunne is not the main focus of the film—Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing and dancing seems to take up the bulk of the action. While I enjoy watching that legendary tandem do what they do best—I wanted more of Irene Dunne! Her “almost” romance with Randolph Scott’s John Kent is the heart of the picture. I hate to say it but the Astaire/Rogers scenes are just fillers to get to the scenes with Dunne stealing the picture.

Roberta, set in a Parisian fashion house and in a music hall, lets Dunne play to all her strengths—romantic longing, whipping off intelligent barbs and singing until Kent comes to his senses. I’m not sure what takes him so long but you have to be patient in older films—but patience will often reward you with something good and films from the 1930s are especially generous in what they give.

I’m not finished with my “catching up” with Irene Dunne as I’ve got four more of her films waiting in my queue—Life With Father and Penny Serenade among them. Unfortunately, not enough of her films are on DVD—I count about 25 or so I’d love to watch but they don’t seem to be available. If anyone sees Turner Classic running an Irene Dunne marathon—someone out there needs to tell me about it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


David Mamet likes words. His films, like the recently reviewed Glengary Glen Ross, are either based on his plays or feel like they are adaptations. Redbelt has that Mamet “theatrical” feel to it. I happen to like that as it creates all this measured, rhythmic dialogue that feels thought out and intelligent. What Redbelt has that is unique to a Mamet film is action scenes and lots of martial arts fighting. That’s something different.

Redbelt has the very good English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as the ultra-principled martial arts instructor Mike Terry, who is struggling to eek out an existence because of those principles. There’s big money to be made in the world of mixed-martial arts but Terry believes that money or competition weakens your skill as a fighter. He looks at martial arts as a philosophical way of life and expects those around him, students, wife, everyone else, to think the same way.

Terry unexpectedly comes in contact with a famous Hollywood action star (Tim Allen, yes, Tim Allen in a Mamet film) and it’s either the biggest break of his life or the biggest challenge to his lofty standards. Mamet throws in some standard topics like corruption (Mamet regulars Ricky Jay and Joe Montegna help in this regard), romantic complications (Emily Mortimer as damaged new student) and possible double crosses to make it feel more like something of his doing.

I liked Redbelt a lot. Mamet’s not for everyone as his dialogue and acting style, as I mentioned earlier, is very play-like and this can lend it the air of being stilted. I find his films remarkably compressed and unpredictable. Even though Redbelt has some fighting in it—I wouldn’t describe it as kinetic. It’s just Mamet directing fight scenes with his stationary camera the same way he might direct a scene with people talking (which is pretty much every scene in every film he’s done).

Redbelt is a non-action action film, if that makes sense. It’s smart, complicated and does have a suspenseful, sort-of action packed finale and another good film from David Mamet.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Speed Racer

This will be brief. Anyone who knows about my disdain for CGI can take an educated guess at how I’m going to judge the latest example of summer excess Speed Racer. It was not a pleasant experience and the fact that I watched it at an Imax theatre means there was just more to dislike (I’d been promising the 12 year old son of a good friend I’d go watch it with him; hence me going to see it). Speed Racer will probably rake in big bucks but that just means people like to be dazzled by the flash. It seems people are just blinded by the superficiality of technology in 2008 and that’s so disappointing to me.

The first question you should ask yourself: do you currently like video games? Do you like to watch others play video games? If you answered yes—then this movie might be for you. I stopped playing video games in about 1987 and, while watching Speed Racer, felt like I was trapped, watching some massive screen where someone was playing a painfully colorful video game for two hours.

Speed Racer has no characters, there’s no dialogue that didn’t take a few hours to script, there’s no wit, there’s no suspense—but there is a funny monkey + an unbelievably annoying kid actor hamming it up (with the monkey most of the time!) to such a level he wears his cap sideways. People around me seemed to like it as they’d laugh and say “Yes!”—I guess I’m just out of step with these effects laden, blockbuster centered times (which fills me with ecstatic relief).

To sum up—Speed Racer is terrible. It feels more like a noisy, garish, over designed video game. It’s just one more CGI disaster that is empty, soulless and rewards you only with motion sickness but if this is what the masses want...this is what the masses get. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What a film robot dreams of

I’m going out on a limb here but I’d guess “normal” people who dream of films or movie stars gravitate toward the stars or the popular. You know, Scarlett, Brad, George, Alba, etc etc. Not me. I tend to dream about more obscure subjects. For example, a few nights ago I had a dream about a documentary. Now that’s cinerobot for you.

The documentary is one of my favorites—the “Up” documentary series that started in 1964 with Michael Apted tracing the hopes, dreams, failures, successes and lives of a small group of English people since they were seven years old. Ever seven years he visits them for updates—the series is in its fourth decade with the recent 49 Up. That’s what I have dreams of.

It seems that I was involved in filming the latest update 56 Up and was one of the film’s directors. Apted wasn’t involved in my dream. I was stressed out as I realized how powerful and popular the documentary series is and that people had been waiting for seven years for this newest addition. “Don’t screw this up,” was all I could think in my dream.

Interviews were done and I was ready to go visit Neil, the heartbreaking character that I am most concerned of. But, before Neil shows up in my dream I woke up! It was 6.30am and I could not return to sleep I was angry that I didn’t make it to see what had happened to Neil. I’m going to have to wait until 2011 or 2012 for the real 56 Up to find out.

Clip from 49 Up featuring Neil

I thought I was going to see what Neil was up to at 56 in my dream...Here's some of his part in the "Up" documentary series that is HIGHLY recommended.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Glengary Glen Ross

How's this for a reason to see this film from director James Foley: Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, Jonathon Pryce, Alan Arkin and Alec Baldwin. Are those enough reasons? One more—how about if each of these wonderful actors are at the very top of their game? I’m sure everyone has seen this but if not—what are you waiting for?

Based on a play by David Mamet, Glengary Glen Ross (1992) is a profane look into the testosterone fueled world of a bunch of highly stressed real estate salesmen as they try to seduce people into buying property. They are all so fast talking it's as if they are straight up con men, duping these palookas on land deals that aren't worth anything. Boy, would I have loved seeing this on the stage with all these incredible actors.

To make things even a more intense pressure cooker, a big shot salesman (Baldwin) shows up to deliver what is intended to be a motivational speech but is mostly him insulting the others, much to the annoyance of the of the irked crew of salesmen (watch the scene below). Baldwin gives the most blatant pro-capitalist greed speech this side of Wall Street with him basically breaking it down to this formula: wealth = manliness. Quite funny. These are desperate men trying to capture the magic of the close ("always be closing" is their collective mantra) and the low sales total for the month will result in being fired.

This movie is bleak, captivating and full of lots of dark humor. Lemmon's performance in particular is a thing of beauty. His emotions rise as his desperation increases with the looming economic troubles that befall him. I'm doubtful he's ever going to come out of his tailspin and losing streak.

If you have seen Glengary Glen Ross and want to see the real thing, check out the documentary Salesman from the early '60s. The film follows a group of Bible salesmen around as they struggle to make a buck convincing people to buy a Bible when they can't really afford it. It is a heart-wrenching thing of beauty.

Alec Baldwin's infamous scene in Glengary Glen Ross

Have I got your attention now? Good.