Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September movies

As promised, I saw more movies than I did in August. It wasn't difficult as that was such a low amount. The month started off with the mostly terrible I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry but later had four ***** films, which is a lot for me in one month. I happen to be a fan of Sandler's goofy film persona (maybe its because he's a bulldog lover too?) but when he does a bad film, it's truly wretched. Twelve foreign movies too (some of that was the influence of going to Seattle + Scarecrow Video) which for some reason makes me really satisfied.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry---2007---usa *
Goin' Back to T-Town---1993---usa ***1/2
Step Brothers---2008---usa ***
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days---2007---romania *****!
Transsiberian---2008---spain or usa? ***
Eye In the Sky---2005---hong kong ****
I Served the King of England---2007---czech republic ***1/2
Nada+---2001---cuba ***
Takeshis---2005---japan ***
Hamlet 2---2008---usa ***1/2
Burn After Reading---2008---usa ***1/2
This Is Spinal Tap---1983---usa *****!
Closely Watched Trains---1967---czech republic *****!
End of August at the Hotel Ozone---1966---czech republic ***1/2
Transylvania---2006---france ***
Producing Adults---2005---finland ***
The Machine Girl---2007---japan ***1/2
Django---1966---italy ***1/2
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan---1982---usa *****!
Adam's Apples---2006---denmark ***1/2

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Once--revisited live on stage

Last year one of my favorite movies was the Irish romantic drama with songs Once. I think it ended up at number two on my year end list. Well, a batch songs performed in the film were done by the stars (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) and came out before the film was made. The pair then recorded a few more that were used only in Once. You may recall that the duo won an Oscar for best song and have been touring as The Swell Season based on the popularity of the music and the film. Luckily for me and my friend LW, they made a stop at the historic Brady Theatre in Tulsa and we got to see them from row three.

They played for nearly two hours and covered lots of movie moments--Falling Slowly, Lies, The Hill--and unveiled four or five very strong new songs which makes me hope that they will have a new album out soon. Their music is just honest song craft, no gimmicks or phony hipsterisms. It's music with lots of heart and full of beautiful harmonies that never feels inauthentic. In this day and age that's a high compliment. Plus, Glen is a funny, witty Irishman and I've even got more of a "crush" on Marketa after getting to see this show.

Walking back to my car in downtown Tulsa after seeing them perform, my own heart just felt content and happy thanks to a movie I love (Once) and the duo who made the film so special with their music .

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Heart Sean Young

Let's get it right out in the open and be done with it--Sean Young is loony. At least that's her reputation now after all kinds of highly publicized events that have helped to derail her career. If it wasn't dust ups with directors it was volatile affairs with co-stars or showing up dressed in a homemade catsuit thinking you are auditioning when no audition was scheduled and then getting forcibly removed from the studio. Her most infamous embarrassment was the James Woods fiasco that involved all kinds of bizarre claims and counterclaims (and lawsuits). Even earlier in 2008 Young was ejected from the Directors Guild of America awards for a bit of drunken heckling (she entered rehab soon after). Young is a wild one!

Okay, that's done. Let's talk about Sean Young the actress in some films of hers I like. In May I re watched Blade Runner while in Lisbon and one of the things that struck me was just how much I adored Sean Young in her films from the 1980s. She was perfectly cast as the android love interest in Ridley Scott's landmark sci-fi noir. I can't think of a better suited actress in the early 1980s who could combine the needed qualities of sexiness and coldness that she does in Blade Runner as Young just seems like an android to me.

When I got back to Tulsa I watched another Young film from the end of the '80s in Cousins. I'm fond of this romantic comedy despite its flaws and probably Young's last hurrah before she went the way of crazy behavior, b-films straight to video and one off TV appearances. Young's role in Cousins is as warm and friendly as performance in Blade Runner was cold and distant.

1987 was Young's most visible year as she appeared in two popular, well received films: Wall Street and No Way Out. Her role in Wall Street was rife with turmoil as she battled director Oliver Stone repeatedly over whether or not she should be playing the Daryl Hannah role (Stone later admitted that Young was right). In No Way Out she was the dangerous femme fatale and was in one of the steamier love scenes of the era as she and Kevin Costner got after it in the back of a limo.

One other thing that Young has going for her in my book--maybe the greatest eyebrows in film history. I sort of have this thing for eyebrows on women and Sean Young c. 1980s sits near the top of the pedestal. She's got some unbelievable eyebrows and those and no amount of erratic behavior can change that!

I have to admit, I haven't seen a single Young movie since Cousins in 1989 so my fondness for her strictly based on 1980s films such as Stripes (she was the MP that Bill Murray woos with a spatula!), Blade Runner, Dune and her '87 double feature mentioned earlier. I doubt I see anything else too as her reputation (and behavior) has her permanently stamped in the realm of "troublemaker."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Czech film frenzy!

I've gone on a Czech film bender since heading to Seattle as I've watched three of them: I Served the King of England, Closely Watched Trains and End of August at the Hotel Ozone. Shall we get into some Czech film discussion? I think so.

First up was the 2007 film I Served the King of England that was the official Oscar entry for the Czechs last year and was directed by one of the country's more prominent directors in Jiri Menzel. Set in WW2, I Served the King of England is a ribald, energetic, satirical comedy set around one man's misadventures with jobs, women and the ever shifting political climate around him. Sometimes subtle, other times overt in its message, Menzel has crafted a charmer that deftly balances the line between the comic and the somber.

Closely Watched Trains, another film directed by Jiri Menzel, is firmly rooted in the mid to late 1960s Czech New Wave. I'm a huge fan of Milos Forman's films from this era and Closely Watched Trains fits right in with the best of what those Czech filmmakers were creating. Unlike Forman, Menzel never left the country and made more films, some of which were banned by the government from being shown. I'd seen Closely Watched Trains on the shelf a number of times while at Scarecrow Video but had never watched it until now. Boy, was it worth the wait.

There's a similarity between Menzel's earlier mentioned I Served the King of England and Closely Watched Trains. Both are set in or near WW2 and both have a central male character who is lost in the obtuse haze of youth that leads to misunderstandings and confusions. Closely Watched Trains is the superior film (it won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1966) and set at a local provincial train station. A young man begins his career as a railwayman while also forming new bonds with workers and attempts to woo a cute brunette with awkward results. Closely Watched Trains is a wonderful, thoughtful and well made film that is highly recommended.

My third Czech film in my frenzy is the ultra bleak End of August at the Hotel Ozone from director Jan Schmidt in 1967. Set years into the future after a nuclear bomb event around the world, a group of hardened women (men have seemed to have died off for some reason) struggle to survive one day to the next. These women, possibly the last humans in civilization, are savages. The only thing that matters to them is the moment of "now" as they move across the landscape hunting for other survivors, items that they need or amusement. Cheery stuff? No, but it is a haunting and powerful film nonetheless.

I've often thought if there is one thing lacking on CineRobot it's the need for more Czech films discussed or reviewed. I can sleep easier tonight knowing I can check that one off my list.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Director Tony Gatlif's latest is chock full of all the elements of his films that make him a long term favorite: rural Transylvanian locations that reek of off the map authenticity, non-professional actors mingling with professional, gypsies, the struggle for life, the grasping for love and lots and lots of music. Add all of those things and Transylvania is a another slice of raw cinema from Gatlif.

Asia Argento plays a Parisian who goes to Transylvania with her sister to hunt down a boyfriend who left her suddenly in France. She's off the deep end in love, he's not. When she finds out his true feelings she loses it. We're talking running through the woods screaming like a wounded banshee kind of losing it. Argento is an actress who likes to emotionally freak out on screen (I covered her acting style a few months ago) so I'm sure she had no problem tapping into that side of her self. At times, this isn't a lot of fun to witness but at least the music that supports her breakdown is amazing.

Like every other Gatlif film, music, specifically gypsy or Rom music, plays a central role in the movie. Transylvania has some incredible songs in it. We get fast, wild, joyous fifteen piece stompers to slow, dirges of soul sick achers. The songs truly convey every emotional mountain or valley the human heart experiences and pulls the film up to another level rather than just being a gloomy downer.

Actually, I would have liked even more music and less of Argento doing her usual "un-acting." Her antics come close to spoiling the film for me. Transylvania is saved by its purity of music, setting and the cast of non-pros. There's something about the music that just gets to me with its exuberance and melancholy. Those are things that can rescue any Gatlif film from the dangerous touch of Asia Argento.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Double digits

You will be happy to know that after my embarrassing display of movie watching in August (I saw only eight films!) I am well into double digits for September. I humbly apologize for slacking off in August.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I've come into this theatre just to talk on the phone

I sometimes write about my theatre going dismay at the behavior of others--okay, it's more often rants involving my anger and annoyance at these idiots I have to suffer. Well, let's add a new wrinkle to the rudeness--theatre as private phone booth.

A friend and I were taking in a late night screening of Transiberian and all was well. The film had about fifteen minutes left when I hear a loud voice talking in the entryway before the talker became visible as two young women came into the room and moved above us. I thought to myself that was strange to enter the movie at this point but thought they might be talking to someone in the theatre telling them where to locate them. I was wrong.

Transiberian was in "final showdown" mode so the noise on screen initially blanketed the voices I could hear every so often behind me. I still heard those voices though and I turned to MB and asked, "Can you hear those people?" She could too. After a few more bursts of talking I stood up and turned to get a good look at the offenders. Lo and behold BOTH of them were on their phones at the same time!

Amid the current trends of texting at every opportunity and the talkers that I've experienced in movie theatres--never had I seen two more blatant talkers who seemed to enter the theatre ONLY to have conversations on their cell phones. These two dimwits didn't take a call during the film, that is expected as normal these days. No, they did something even more discourteous-- they came into the theatre with fifteen minutes left to make calls.

A woman sitting above us went to get theatre staff (instead of confronting the noisemakers) and soon someone was escorting them out. The funny thing was, one of the women did not stop her conversation as she brazenly kept on loudly blathering away down the aisle and out the door. It was an amazing display of uncivilized behavior. The depths of public conduct among our populace is hard to fathom but this is the new low point for me. The sad thing is I'm sure the bar will drop even lower in the future.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My obligatory seattle scarecrow video post

I'm in Seattle and that means one thing: my traditional Scarecrow Video post. Long-term readers will know that this place is truly one of my favorite places on EARTH! It's a mecca for cinema lovers. My DNA is wired to be able to come in, navigate the shelves and find something wonderful. 

As you can see in photo two, the foreign section is a mindblower. This is only about 2/3 of the section. If you want to see films from Finland or Portugal or Chile or India or Mexico or practically anyplace in the world--this is the section for you. It helps to have a multi-region DVD player to fully discover the foreign section as lots of the films in stock are direct from other countries. I had to leave my multi-region player in Seattle when I moved home because I'm not going to use it in Oklahoma that's for sure. 

The other two photos show how the shelves are arranged by director. While there are traditional sections such as comedy or drama, the main floor of the video store is dedicated to the director and there are dozens of shelves with films from directors from around the world--the obscure and the very well known. One of my favorites is the Preston Sturges shelf and if you know you "Sokurov" is on the 1st photo (without consulting IMDB), then you are worthy of entering the director's area with your head held high in confidence. 

There you have it. My annual Scarecrow post. I've rented a Cuban film, a Japanese film and am going to rent another Czech film for the jet ride home. I'm also renting Tony Gatlif's latest to watch when I get home and then mailing it back to The Hidden Staircase for her to return for me. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Neptune marquee

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I made it over to the Neptune last night to see Hamlet 2 (a raunchy, random send up of the high school musical) and got a nice photo of the light blue marquee when we left. I love the long trident that goes through the entire name and turns into the "E" at the end. Great theatre!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Neptune

Since I'm in Seattle, I might as well write about a movie theatre I love: Neptune. The Neptune is a nautical themed 968 seat theatre opened in 1921 in the U-District of Seattle. It's the rarest of movie theatre creatures in the year 2008--a single screen theatre! That fact alone completely endears me to it. Not that I wasn't captured by in the first time I caught a glimpse of the lovely blue neon marquee. Aw, the neon theatre marquee, something about them just hits me right in the heart.

When I first moved to Seattle in 1996 I came to the Neptune a lot because the woman I was seeing lived only a few blocks away. We'd walk over and eat on "The Ave," browse used book stores and then head to the Neptune to watch something. In fact, the theatre is kind of connected permanently to her memory because the first time I ever kissed her was right after we watched Flirting With Disaster together. Movie theatres can inspire romance and love and desire while you sit in the darkened theatre and images flicker across the screen. 

Along with thinking about my ex Lola, the Neptune makes me remember my late friend Phil and a few of the films I saw there with him. Before we watched the first Spiderman, he sang the old song to myself and The Hidden Staircase but the movie that stands out the most to me was when we watched the rabble rousing documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 together. 

Seattle is kind of a hot bed of leftist thinking and we (Phil, The Hidden Staircase and myself) all shared those opinions of the film's main subject matter: the ineptitude of George W. Bush. The screening was sold out, it was opening weekend and you could just feel the anger, disgust and the hatred in the air as we sat there and watched all the shenanigans of Bush, Cheney, Rove etc etc. 

After the film we headed to eat at this Indian place we liked called Bengal Tiger where we ranted to one another about the corrupt machinations of the American political wheel. It felt good that we were together and in agreement as we ate vegetable pakora and pashawari naan. Movie theatres can also provoke, make you loathe and create bonds while you watch what is on the screen. Now that Phil is gone, it makes me hold onto those memories stronger than ever. 

The Neptune's not only about the past though as I'm still seeing movies there--I plan on watching Hamlet 2 there tomorrow night with my friend Trevor. I'll savor buying the ticket and standing in the small lobby that doubles as the concession area before heading down into the large, cavernous auditorium. 

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Eye In the Sky

I miss Hong Kong cinema. In the 1990s my viewing schedule was awash with people like Wong Kar Wai, John Woo, Johnny To and even heavy doses of early Jackie Chan and his cohorts in martial arts films. Those Hong Kong films were usually versions of American formula (lots of Asian gangsters for example) but chock full of non-stop kinetic fervor and saturated colors drenched in rainy urban streets and neon. I loved it. 

Eye In the Sky, produced by that workaholic Johnny To and directed by Nai-Hoi Yau, reminds me of what I've missed with Hong Kong cinema over the past few years as I've watched less and less of it. It's a cops and robbers picture (as lots of HK stuff seems to be) but it rises above that simple description to become something more suspenseful and interesting. 

"Eye in the sky" is a reference to mean if you live in a city you can be watched at all times. Whether by cameras or by unobserved "strangers" on the street--in a place like Hong Kong, you can and will be monitored without your knowledge. The same goes for New York or London or Mexico City or any other large metropolis. Such is the king of observation the secret police unit in Eye In the Sky undertake as they attempt to bring down a savvy group of heist men who rob various jewelry stores. 

The unit follows two main people--a newcomer called "Piggy" and the wise veteran training her known as "Dog Head." The criminals are led by the crafty crook Chan Chong Shan (played by Tony Leung Ka Fai) who looks more like a businessman than a violent criminal (looks are often deceiving). Shan seems just as trained and resourceful as the unit that is trying to hunt them down and a suspenseful battle of wills and observation erupts between the two groups. 

Eye In the Sky is just a taut, no-frills, clever, tense story--the kind of film the Hong Kong system is able to hit right on every note. I need to start watching more of them again if they are going to be as solid as well made as Eye In the Sky is. I watched this on a jet as I flew from Dallas to Seattle and it sure made the time pass. 

Monday, September 01, 2008

August movies

Well, I only made it to eight films in August. That's a woeful total! My ratio of good to bad was great though as five of the eight films I really liked including two films that will make my year end "best of" lists--the documentary Man On Wire and the edge of your seat French thriller Tell No One. I watched Tell No One yesterday afternoon and that was riveting and I'm betting it will be remade (and probably ruined) by an American director very soon.

The Bow---2005---south korea ***1/2
Mr. Woodcock---2007---usa **1/2
Pineapple Express---2008---usa ***1/2
Tropic Thunder---2008---usa ***1/2
21---2008---usa **
Man On Wire---2008---england ****1/2
Tell No One---2008---france ****1/2
The Backwoods---2006---spain **