Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March movies

My favorite film of the month was one I've seen five or six times--The Big Lebowski. Every time I see this movie it seems funnier, quirkier and just better. I'm eager to rewatch it in a few years! We showed it for the midnight movie series at the Circle (poster by Fritschie to the left) and had a short, impromptu trivia contest before the film where we gave away a rug and a balling ball. Earlier in the night a small group of us went bowling and I opened with two strikes before it went downhill from there. It was a fun night of bowling and The Dude. Lots of mediocre films in March.

---1972---england ***
Waltz With Bashir---2008---israel ***
The President's Analyst---1967---usa ***
Che, part one---2008---usa ***1/2
Love Songs---2008---france ***1/2
Tokyo!---2008---japan ***
The Class---2008---france ***1/2
The War Bride---2001---uk or canada ***
Happy Hour---2003---usa **1/2
The Big Lebowski---1998---usa *****!
Tulsa---1949---usa **
Wendy and Lucy---2008---usa ****
The Boss of It All---2006---denmark ***1/2
I Love You, Man---2009---usa ***1/2

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Heart Amanda Seyfried

I usually write about actors who have more of a resume or who are character actors but I'm going to change it up a bit with this one. I only know Amanda Seyfried from two shows on television: Big Love and Veronica Mars. Even though the roles have been small and not leads, Seyfried is a young actress poised to do big things and is someone to keep an eye on.

It's her performance in Big Love (one of my favorite shows) that has really grabbed me. She might have been great in Mamma Mia! but I didn't see that one. As Big Love has evolved in season three, Seyfried is at the epicenter of this Salt Lake City, Utah family of polygamists. Seyfried completely nails the confused, awkward teenager who finds herself pregnant. She never loses her vulnerability, her likability and warmth no matter how inward she turns. Seyfried is one of the highlights on a very good ensemble cast in an underrated show.

Seyfried has a lot of films coming out in the next year or two, so, her profile is about to rise. Judging by her performance in Big Love--she's got promise and might make it out of her large, surrogate family in Utah.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amores Perres

This film from Mexico and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu will make you feel soiled and in need of a long hot shower with lots of scrubbing. Amores Perros (Love's A Bitch) is the first film I've ever seen with a disclaimer before the credits informing us that no animal was hurt during filming. You see, dogs figure mightily in Amores Perros, and mostly it is cringe inducing, eye averting stuff. I'm no sissy with film violence but seeing bloody, limp dogs over and over was almost a bit much for me.

The film is a non-linear triptych of stories that sort of interweave into one another and converge at a violent, horrific car wreck. The first story is about Octavio, who has feelings for his brother's wife and fights his giant dog to get money. I don't care what the disclaimer says, I've been around dogs my entire life and watched big dogs fight one another. I've jumped into the fray with teeth lashing and know what a dog fight looks like, and the dog fights in this sure looked real. Anyway, everything in this story is pushed to a jittery, frenetic pace, aided by lots of handheld camera and the emotional powder kegs of betrayal and violence between the dogs and the two brothers. Betrayal is an interlocking theme used in all three stories as someone is getting betrayed and in two of them it is brothers doing the back stabbing.

Story two is based around a man and his model girlfriend he leaves his wife and kids for. They move into a beautiful apartment with a hole in the floor that spells trouble for their dog Richie (I told you, dogs walk a dangerous line in this movie and for a dog lover like me, that's hard to watch). These people don't seem to care for one another but there are stressful events in their lives. Story 3 is centered around a homeless man who is also a contract killer and has some kind of damaged relationship with an unknown daughter who haunts him. As I said, all the stories merge.

Amores Perros is one of the bleakest films I've seen in a while. It's also one of the most intense, gritty depictions of living on the fringe of society (or like the second story, in the upper class where all is beautiful yet horror lurks very near). At times the film veers too closely to melodrama but it's so no holds barred in its negativity that I'll forgive it that. This is one hopeless film but it has a feral, unhinged rawness that I really enjoyed. It may sound like I didn't like the movie--but I did. A lot.

Amores Perros was up for best foreign film at the 2000 Oscars and I can see why it didn't win (probably too dark for the voters) but there is often beauty and power in the squalid and Amores Perros delivers a few screaming howls from some dark recess of our existence. You can't really say this is a lot of fun, with all the dogs in various strata of disrepair, betrayals and in your face intensity, but good (great) movies are often filled with ugliness and we are better people for having watched them. Not for the overly sensitive but highly recommended.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

CineRobot propaganda poster

Talented local graphic designer/artist Dan Fritschie has been designing one of a kind posters for the monthly midnight movie series at Circle Cinema. These posters have been very popular with people around town since each one is unique to the particular film--it's like having a piece of art + a one of kind poster for a film that is unlike anything used for the regular promotion of the movie.

With that in mind, Dan has created a piece of propaganda for CineRobot to help spread the message: cinema + robot = CineRobot!

Dan also writes the blog Random Thought Patterns (link is on my links section to the left), curates the local Personality of Cult art project, is a burgeoning stand up comic and is an all around swell guy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When do you press stop?

Everyone has a stopping point. You know, you are watching a film that you don't like and a decision must be reached. Pick a reason--it's boring, the acting is terrible, it's annoying, it's just not any good. You pick up the remote and press stop. You then move onto something else in your life. My question for you is this: what was the final moment or the last film you were watching when you had enough and went over the edge to the stopping point?

I had such a moment recently. I was watching the 1975 cult French film The Beast (La Bete) and right off the bat there is a very graphic scene of horse on horse copulation. I'm talking erection, quivering and ejaculation graphic. Horses. For a minute or two. I think to myself--"Okay, it is French, it's a controversial film in some circles, an extended horse sex scene in the first three minutes, while not my thing, it's understandable." I keep watching.

About ten minutes later there is a second scene of two horses getting it on! That was my moment of remembering of the other things I could be doing--I pressed stop. I don't feel guilty at all. I just won't watch The Beast and who knows how many more sex scenes the kinky, equine obsessed director might have put in the movie.

Evidently I have a stopping point: multiple + detailed lovemaking scenes between horses. But that's just me--what is your stopping point or what was the last film you stopped watching and never returned to?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Che (part one)

Che, Steven Soderbergh's history on the revolutionary Che Guevara runs nearly five hours long. It's actually divided into two separate parts with part one is dubbed The Argentine. Not wanting to sit on a not so comfortable seat at the Circle for five hours on a work night--opted to watch part one only.

I enjoyed Che--part one. I'm not sure why there is even the need for part two although I haven't the foggiest what material it covers in Che's life. Part one exists on two fronts--Guevara's involvement in the Cuban revolution in the late 1950s and his visit to New York a few years later to address the United Nations on behalf of Cuba. The film flips back and forth between the two times in Che's life. One's in color, the other black and white.

I absolutely loved the Cuban revolution storyline. It's the strength of the film as it perfectly captures the gritty struggle by this small band of fighters, farmers and radicals as they make their way towards Havana encountering Bautista's military along the way. Lush, tropical greenery surrounds them and it's a stunning, beautiful backdrop. If you are going to engage in armed rebellion--you might as well do it in a place this gorgeous. Has to help with the morale.

I was less interested in the jump forward portion of Che in New York. To switch up the color palette, Soderbergh shoots these scenes in super grainy black and white (literally--he's also the DP under an alias). Soderbergh has put these two sections of Che's life side by side for a reason--he wants to show us the revolutionary with a gun in his hand juxtaposed with the statesman with words as his weapon. I found the Cuban revolution stuff more interesting, thought out and effective. Benecio Del Toro gets to deliver more layers as Che with the dual story lines and he does deliver a fine performance--I would have happily traded these scenes for more Cuban revolution.

Aside from the ubiquitous t-shirt, I knew very little about Che Guevara. Che--part one (and maybe part two)--changes that somewhat for me. Had this only been about the Cuban revolution Che--part one might have made my top ten for last year, that's how strong that portion of Che is. Too bad it had a dual storyline to drag down the superior story.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Movie tickets #5

This week's remakes

Well, Hollywood has decided to release not one but two remakes this week. Pretty soon that is all we'll get--new versions of films we've already seen. You can go the horror route (and gee, how long will it be until another horror film from the '70s or '80s is out?) and choose The Last House On the Left. Or, you can go the more kid friendly path of Race to Witch Mountain. Either way--you lose. Boycott!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Delman

The Delman is a movie theatre in Tulsa I love but I sadly never got to see a film in this Art Deco gem. Heartache. I vaguely even remember the place as it sat empty and ignored into the mid 1980s before it was noticed (and deemed too troublesome to fix up) and was met full on by the wrecking ball. More heartache.

Built in 1938, the Streamline Art Deco 1,138 seat, single screen with balcony Delman Theatre saw its glory days in the 1940s and 1950s. Like many single screens, it went the way of porn in the 1970s, was bought by the Loew's chain and used for movies and events, and gradually went downhill until it was closed for good in the 1980s. A generic Walgreen's sits on its lot now. That's progress of the sickening kind.

I fell in love with the Delman when I caught a glimpse of the photo in this post. 1948. Claudette Colbert on the marquee. Noir-like. Wet streets. Neon. The sensual streamline curves in the black and white night. This photo tugs at my heart with a full fledged assault of romantic nostalgia (something I'm always susceptible of). I can only imagine what joy it must have been to by a ticket out on Cherry Street and see a film at the Delman.

***Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society***

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I Heart James Gammon

I love character actors. They are the supporting structure of virtually every good movie with a cast of more than a couple of actors (which is pretty much every movie of worth ever made). You can't name a great film without these smaller, character roles that give a film depth, tension, laughter, heartache etc etc. These are my acting heroes. James Gammon is a character actor of the finest kind. James Gammon is one of my favorite actors of all time.

The first thing you notice about Gammon is his voice. It's a wonderful blend of gravel and drawl. Gammon is not a handsome guy but his everyman looks have allowed him to play every sort of character in a career that dates back to the mid-1960s. Gammon, like all great character actors, makes a film better even though you might not realize just who he is. He can help make good films great and the dreck he has to do sometimes to pay the bills is always more watchable because of his presence.

Gammon is perfectly suited for westerns. If I was making a western, since Warren Oates is dead, the first person I'd call would be James Gammon and I'd ask him to grow a powerful mustache. No one tops Oates! I wouldn't make the film if Gammon wasn't in the cast. Gammon has been in westerns such as Silverado, Wyatt Earp and Cold Mountain. He can also do comedy as his gruff exterior offers great straight man possibilities--he's hilarious in the ribald baseball comedy Major League. Cast him in crime genres and he'll go to town in those as well.

James Gammon is just a great actor in anything, period.
Every time I see his name in the credits or see his face pop up on screen I get a little thrill something good is about to come my way. He's the glue, an honest, hardworking character actor. And that's a compliment.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Torino had me worried at the start. As the opening minutes rolled by, I kept thinking, "This is the last time I see Clint on screen" and it was hard to think otherwise since Eastwood has said it will be his last role as an actor. I wanted Gran Torino to be nothing short of great--of which I was quickly realizing it wasn't up to that level. But, it was Clint Eastwood up there and he was giving one more dose of the quintessential "Eastwood" that has made him a cinematic icon and one of my all-time favorites. Even with Gran Torino's flaws, Clint being Clint is more than enough to make me happy.

Eastwood plays Walt, a newly widowed Detroit autoworker for forty years. He still lives in the same neighborhood despite many changes for the worse in his opinion--run down houses, unkempt yards and lots of Asians and other ethnic groups Walt dislikes. With no relationship with his own family--Walt lives by himself (and his dog), wants to be left alone by neighbors/priest and he likes it that way.

Walt begins to thaw some when he gets entangled in the troubles of the Hmong family next door. This involves taking on some wannabe gangstas who drive around the neighborhood acting and speaking tough. I don't care how old Eastwood is--to see him taking on gangstas with a sneer and the threat of violence feels my heart with pure cinematic joy. It's Clint Eastwood people!

The early portion of Gran Torino is plagued by a clunky start. The story is a little forced , heavy handed and is bogged down by some woeful acting by some of the younger actors (maybe Clint scared the acting right out of them?). Some of this might have been my fault--see the intro. The racial stuff in the film is played for laughs--always dangerous--but was mostly effective in drawing in to Walt's world and to see how he's softened for these people he barely knows.

The film gets better when Walt softens up some and begins to befriend and protect an awkward Hmong kid next door. While predictable, this gives us a connection with the character rather than just seeing him as a simplified, one-note, cranky, bitter, bigoted old man stuck in a buried rage of what he did in his past. Well, he kind of is those things but he has a few gifts left to give that make him redeemable.

If this is Eastwood's last film as an actor--it's not his best but it's still good. Gran Torino is another piece of his cinematic mythology he's been creating for decades. If this is it, Clint has gone out squinty-eyed, bad ass, taking on gang bangers, gun in his hand, knuckles bloody from pummeling some punk kid's face and standing up alone against bad odds because someone has to. Would we have it any other way?

***I saw Gran Torino a second time after I wrote this review and liked it more. I just got to enjoy it instead of worrying how good Eastwood's last role would be. I think I laughed more, was rooting for more vengeance and even moved more than the first viewing.***

Sunday, March 01, 2009

February movies

Since I didn't see many films in February, here's a brief opinion of all the ones I did see.

American Teen---2008---usa *** Glossy doc set in Indiana high school that attempts to be a real life Breakfast Club. Kind of artificial feeling. If I was in high school--I'd have the biggest crush for the artsy girl Hannah.

I've Loved You So Long---2008---france **** Very somber and serious French film that is blessed with a knockout performance by Kristin Scott Thomas. A bit slow at start but that's a strength as the story unfolds.

My Brother Is An Only Child---2007---italy ***1/2 This was good but not as good as the director's previous film The Best of Youth. Similar themes--family life and politics and how the two subjects affect one another in Italian culture.

Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist---2008---usa **1/2 I wanted to like this teen directed romantic comedy but it just didn't do it for me. I actually feel kind of sorry for teenagers now with the dreck that is about their lives (except for Juno, now that was good).

Slumdog Millianaire---2008---england **** I rewatched this with Scott since he hadn't seen it.

Gran Torino---2008---usa **** Another rewatch with Scott; I actually liked it better the second time--long review of this coming soon.

Pink Panther 2---2009---usa *1/2 I didn't pay for this so don't accuse me of giving my $$$ to remakes! This is absolute garbage though. Just terrible. The 1/2 star is for Emily Mortimer, one of my favorites. I hope she got something nice with the money.

Dirty Harry---1971---usa *****! Watched this again for first time in 20+ years--viva Blu-Ray! It's Clint with a sneer and a .357. Loved seeing the gritty, San Francisco setting, all neon lights and strip joints.

The Garden---2008---usa ***1/2 Heartbreaking doc about a group of Mexican-American farmers who have taken over a 14 acre green space after the L.A. riots. They've created this magical area of plants, trees and vegetation. Until the city wants to take it from them.