6/30/09

Terry Gilliam's Brazil

Finally got around to watching this film, and it is great. Not totally in the mix for greatest film of all time great, but great, and especially so because of its ending, the final nail that settles the argument between great and near-great. Of course, I mean the ending to the Director's Cut, not the bowdlerized tv version.

That said, Gilliam's vision is great enough that even the slapdash job from studio suits is a good little film, even with several inexplicable moments. Of course, the film is not sci fi, not futuristic, although dystopian, and more a comedy than drama. It's not there with Dr. Strangelove, but it's miles better than the other films of Gilliam's I've seen, including his Monty Python stuff.

My guess is this was his one burst into the stratosphere, but I'd love to be wrong. A review is forthcoming, but here's some clips:





From Hell It Came

B filmmaker Joe Dante describes a 50s classic schlockfest:

6/29/09

Broadway Danny Rose

Not a deep nor great film, but excellent, and a laugh out loud comedy gem.

The trailer and a clip:

6/28/09

Early Woody

The first film Woody directed, from 1966: What's Up, Tiger Lily? He redubbed a B spy film from Japan, and got some funny stuff.

Another Woman



A clip from one of the best of Woody's films. It's a shame it's so underappreciated.

Sunset In Allenland



The last great film of Woody's Golden Era.

Radio Days

This is likely the best Woody Allen film sans any dramatic elements. There are comedies that are more gut wrenching but none as superbly sentimented.

The trailer:



2 great clips:





The film's ending is also one of Allen's best.

Manhattan

Another great film.

The trailer:



The great opening:



The equally great ending:

6/27/09

Crimes And Misdemeanors

Another Woody Allen masterpiece:



And here's a pretty solid discourse on the film, in three parts:







If only this film had been made by Allen, the term great artist would apply.

The Salton Sea.

I finally got around to watching The Salton Sea yesterday,and Dan has always claimed it to be a great film, but I think it's just good, but not great. Directed by D.J. Caruso, there is some stunning images and cinematography and Val's acting is great. He plays this undercover druggie guy trying to uncover the mystery behind the murder of his wife. In such a way it did have elements of Memento, but the thing that keeps me from saying this was a great film is that I thought in the last third of it, it just became more of a standard "thriller."


The opening scenes do a great job in terms of establishing a psychological exploration, and some of the dialogue is very well written. It also has some elements of Taxi Driver, but is no where in the league with Taxi Driver. Another druggie movie is The Panic in Needle Park, and it's been a while since I've seen that one, but I'm inclined to say it may be a little better. Perhaps not visually, but the story dealt more with the affects of drug addiction on the individual, more so than this film did, which turned out to be film with great potential, but ultimately became a thriller in the end. Overall I would still give it 8/10.

Here is the trailer.

6/26/09

Woody In His Prime

Hannah And Her Sisters- a masterpiece in Woody's novelistics films of the 70s thru 90s.

A trailer, and then a clip with the oft-quoted e.e. cummings poem:





It's for a return to these heights that Woody fans still bother to see his every new release.

6/24/09

Zhang's Raise The Red Lantern


















Yimou Zhang is one of those "true" Chinese directors. His movies though gained international attention remained with a well defined Chinese identity. He is famous outside China for his visually beautiful film Raise The Red Lantern, and later for his trilogy in the mid 90's.

Red Lantern is a straight forward story set in the 1920's, Songlian (Zhang's classical actress Gong Li) is a 19 year-old beautiful lady that is forced by familial financial needs to be the fourth concubine of a wealthy Chinese man. The movie detects different aspects of her life in the isolated mansion, paralleled beautifully with the changing of the four seasons, it also notes her progressive mental breakdown.

This is the Trailer

A short scene depicting few of the many architectural shots in the movie.



WASSIM

Bela Tarr's 'Woody Allen' Moment

2007's The Man From London, by Bela Tarr, is the least of his 4 'mature' films I've seen, and for two major reasons.

1) the plot is not just confusing- as many critics claim of films they do not understand- just simplistic and not believable in its own diegetic timeline.

2) Tarr's film steals major visual and thematic elements from his earlier films- Satantango, Damnation, and Werckmeister Harmonies- and in far lesser ways, that it reminds me of Woody Allen's films of the last 17 years, as they mimic his 1977-92 Golden Age.

Along with the disappointment of N.B. Ceylan's last film, Three Monkeys, this pains me to say, but Tarr may be on a long downward slide from here. He just seems to have nothing left to say and no original ways to say it.

I just hope that when it's finally released on DVD, Theo Angelopoulos's The Dust Of Time does not also fail, like Tarr and Ceylan did.

Here's the trailer, and note it's nothing like the film, a clip of which follows below:


MAN FROM LONDON: Movie Trailer - The best home videos are here

6/22/09

Run Silent, Run Deep

The underrated Robert Wise also made one of the best submarine films:

6/21/09

Theo Angelopoulos

Just because I felt like something deeper today.

A scene from Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow. Can't wait till Part 2 hits American DVD.

6/20/09

"It's not like we're criminals. This is entertainment."


I watched the movie Quiz Show that is about the 1950s Quiz Show Scandal, where they were feeding certain contestants the answers. The whole thing was staged, and despite this film being set in a specific period, there are some deeper elements to it that say something larger--exposing the underbelly of big business and corporations, and how they will manipulate the audience for the sake of ratings.



Directed by Robert Redford, he's probably the best actor-cum-director out there. Maybe one could argue for Clooney, but Eastwood? Costner? Ron Howard? Forget it. This film is far better than any Ron Howard movie. The acting is good, the characters real and the scenes are not stagey (despite the film being about a quiz show that is).

The man who is the star is played by Ray Fiennes and he plays Charles Van Doren who is, no less than the son of the Neglected Poet Mark Van Doren.

Wlliam Henry Pratt

Who was he?

Boris Karloff, that's who!



If I have to tell you who Karloff was the natural reply is, 'What da hell be wrong with you?"

Simply put, he was the biggest horror film star of the 20th Century. Beyond Frankenstein and the Universal films, Karloff never phoned in a performance, no matter how shitty the film. The Ape is a good example:

6/19/09

Dracula- Hammer Time!

Max Schreck never technically played Dracula, Bela Lugosi was too cheesy, and while Klaus Kinski kicked ass as Dracula in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu re-imagining, having grown up in the 1960s an 1970s, Dracula was always Christopher Lee, first and foremost, just as Roger Moore was always James Bond.

No, he wasn't as scary as Schreck, campy as Lugosi, nor 'realistic' as Kinski, but, damn, he had SOMETHING, and the Hammer films, along with Toho, Ray Harryhausen, and AIP, made filmgoing enjoyable for poor kids like me, who had to sneak in to the cheapest theaters.

Here's to you, Chris!:

6/18/09

Quatermass And The Pit (aka Five Million Years To Earth)

Never let is said that the Hammer Studios in Great Britain were all Dracula-based schlock. This film, based upon the BBC Quatermass television shows, was released in the USA as Five Million Years To Earth, and I snuck in and saw it in theaters when young, with my pals.

Released a year before 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Planet Of The Apes, this was the first really good sci film since Robinson Crusoe On Mars. Realistic, scary, and deeper than normal sci fi fare, it rocks.

And, it's free on Cinemension:

6/17/09

Cesar Romero

Best known as Batman's TV Joker, Cesar Romero was a 1930s and 1940s B film leading man, in schlock like Lost Continent, from 1951.

Here's clips of him as the Joker:

6/16/09

El Cid

One of the better epics from the 1960s, the film El Cid takes on a greater depth when one realizes that the 'Moslem threat' the film represents has been reconfigured post-9/11.

Yet again, Chuck Heston kicks ass. See the finale of the film here, where Chuck is a corpse:

6/15/09

Touch Of Evil

People mock the fact that Charlton Heston plays a Mexican, but other than his cheesy mustache, it's a good performance. So is Orson Welles'.

An underrated film with a great opening dolly shot:

6/14/09

The Planet Of The Apes (1968)

While not as 'deep' as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Planet Of The Apes was the other great sci fi film to be released in 1968.

Charlton Heston always gave good performances, even if a little over the top, at times. But, could you imagine Gary Cooper or John Wayne as Colonel George Taylor?

Here is the trailer:



And here is the ending:



Rod Serling's ending is classic, causing the author of the original novel, Pierre Boulle, to envy it. But, notice the ending- Jerry Goldsmith's score is classic, but the ending revelation gains power because there is no music to guide the viewer. There is no Aha! crescendo. Taylor's idea of the world is utterly destroyed (including him as the white male American conqueror) yet the ocean waves pummel on, indifferent to his plight. The power of quietude.

Just imagine had, say, Philip Glass had scored this. While great in some films, like the -Qatsi films and The Thin Blue Line, he's also some over the top scores like The Hours. My guess is Glass would have ruined the scene.

Anyway, the first film is truly great, albeit far from perfect. That fact- that great does not equate with perfect, is a concept few grasp. Think, though, and the reason should become clear.

The Mysterians

An early Japanese sci fi schlockfest that actually is better than many of the lesser Godzilla films.

Zelig.

Yesterday I watched the Woody film Zelig. It's a fun movie, not one of my favorite Woody films, but does a good job capturing these old docs. Here is the trailer:



The opening scene can be viewed here:



And here's a fun little song that was incorporated into the film:

6/13/09

The Lost World (non-Spielberg)

Based on Arthur Conan Doyle's book, this silent film was really popular due to the stop motion animation of Willis O'Brien, mentor to Ray Harryhausen.

It's about on par with O'Brien's later work on King Kong- give or take several improvements, but the tale slices rather thin. Still, enjoyable fare from the silent era.

Here's the trailer:

High Fidelity.

Last night Dan and I watched some of High Fidelity, it came out either in '99 or '00, and it is a bit dated in terms of the lingo (people don't make mixed tapes anymore, they burn CDs or share MP3s). But the story is good, it's basically a relationship movie for guys, told from Cusack's pov. There is some obvious influence of Annie Hall in this, but I think High Fidelity falls short of it. It doesn't have as many witty moments as Annie Hall, but HF is a good, fun flick to watch when you're trying to relax and forget about Internet assholes.

It's also one of the first films that features Catherine Zeta-Jones, and at the time she was not even a big enough name to be featured in the end credits.

Catherine Zeta-Jones: winner of the genetic lottery for beauty.

6/12/09

Courageous Cat

A cheat, since it's not cinema film, but an old TV cartoon. Courageous Cat was a gun obsessed superhero parody of Batman, created by Batman's creator, Bob Kane. Minute Mouse was his fey Robin.

Here's a typical inanely scripted and produced cartoon:

6/11/09

Fritz The Cat Sequel

Never saw this when it came out, but that they made a sequel to the original Fritz The Cat is odd: The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat is here:



Watch the rest in snippets.

The World At War

Laurence Olivier's introductory remarks are one of the great starts to any film, documentary or fiction, television or cinema.

I have the whole series on DVD, and it's great.

Here is the series opening:

6/10/09

Fritz The Cat

I saw Fritz the Cat at a local porno theater when i was a child and found it to be quite dull. Years later, I saw the Terry Zwigoff documentary on Robert Crumb- Fritz's comic book creator, and I had my reason for the dullness.

It was the first cartoon to get an X rating, and recall feeling cool for sneaking in with my pals Ziggy and Georgey to see it. But, I didn't enjoy the film at all, and neither did they.

Here's a sample:



Yawn.

The Cyclist

My review is now up.

A clip:

Intolerance

Most known for The Birth Of A Nation, D.W. Griffith later released Intolerance to 'set the record straight' that he was not a racist. While some good moments abound, the film is far too long and didactic, yet, as with the long works of poets like John Milton or the Greeks, his large failure is essential to understanding the development of narrative and technical aspects of modern film.

Here is Part 1, with the other parts easily found online:

6/9/09

Ceylan's Cocoon

I was rewatching Ceylan's first work, I saw it only once few years ago, this 17-min short is the director's dedication to his parents. They are also the protagonists of this dream-like silent work, heavily influenced -if not dominated- by Tarkovsky's work (especially Mirror, and Ivan's Childhood).
It's strange that Ceylan never mentioned Tarko as one of his influences (the musical soundtrack on this short is even like the classical clich├ęs Tarko used).
Cocoon is visually strong, also he gives a lot of attention to "earthy" noises (door squeaking, clock ticking, birds....). These are the first and the second (last) parts of it.

Speaking about Tarko's Mirror, this is a very well crafted scene :note how he refrains from following the kids initially, still looking back... then we know he's expecting the lamp to fall from the table, the lens shifts quickly to a hazy reflection in the mirror, afterwards the camera parallels the movement of the kid walking outside, only to frame the flaming fire by the dropping water. The next B&W scene is a dream that bridges the childhood with adulthood by the the reflection of the young mother as an old lady towards the end.

Wassim

Take The Money And Run

Although he appeared in a few films directed by others, and recut a Japanese spy thriller into the hilarious What's Up, Tiger Lily?, Take The Money And Run was the first real 'Woody' film.

Jes watched it the other day and I thought you might want a sniff of Woody when he was young and reckless:

6/8/09

The Jimmy Show.

One of the best indy films to come around in a long while is the terrific little film The Jimmy Show, written by Frank Whaley. This is about a loser guy who wants to be a stand up comedian but has no talent. He's blown all his opportunities, made poor choices, and is pretty much an unlikeable tool. Though this is by far one of the best screenplays I've encountered as of recent.

Although Dan in his review compares it to The King of Comedy, and notes that it's not quite a great film, but close, I have to argue that the screenplay is great. It is a perfect depiction of not only working class life, but the idle life of a "dreamer" who cannot accept his realities. And there is also a great performance by Ethan Hawke in it, as his pal.

The reason this film was not well received, I have to believe, is due to it's "depressing nature," where viewers might have gone into it thinking it's a comedy. It's actually quite a sad film, and is the closest thing to a Richard Yates novel I've ever encountered. Yates is known for distilling those important scenes in books down to their essence, and many of the characters are not only "losers" but believable losers, and also understated.

Too much in Hollywood and also the publishing industry focuses on hyperbole, rather than those small moments in life that everyone witnesses. What they don't realize is that by focusing on those smaller subtleties in life, you are forced to pay closer attention not only in the art, but in real life as well. The reason Jimmy O'Brien is such a well sketched character is because you've met people like this before.

The Jimmy Show
distills these moments nicely, giving a believable and pathetic (in the best sense of true pathos) character. Visit the trailer here--and read Dan's review. Or wait to read it if you don't want spoilers. Then give the movie a shot. I can't recommend it enough.

Things To Come

Another seminal sci fi film, and one of the first 'serious' sci fi films- and post-apocalyptic ones, is William Cameron Menzies' Things To Come, based on the H.G. Wells novel.

Dated, yes. But still visionary. And while the tech stuff is silly, the knowwledge of the human soul is dead on.

Here's another Cinemension freeby:

Spider-Man 3



The review is online.

6/7/09

Frank Capra's Why We Fight Agitprop Films

Frank Capra's series of 7 agitprop films during WW2 are better than thought by many. Yes, there are racial stereotypes, but it's still contains facts often lost in later docs.

I wrote of the series: 'the film series is well worth watching, not only for the obvious reasons, but for the subtle things it reveals, such as the use of the plural for terms like X millions when referring to dollars, rather than the modern singular, or the most overused graphic in the whole series- a Japanese sword piercing the center of Manchuria. Yet, it also shows the complexities of trying to apply past standards to current wars. The lesson of World War One (avoid foreign entanglements) was not applicable to World War Two, whose own lesson (act early against dictatorships) has not been applicable in the three major wars America has fought since: Korea, Vietnam, nor Iraq.'

A snippet on the series:

Disney's UP



This is the first time I'm posting a movie that is currently screened on the big screen. They did it again, Pixar's people made a terrific addition to their great latest Wall-E and Ratatouille. It seems Disney's cartoons are one of the very rare reasons to attend a movie in a theater amidst the endless garbage of Hollywood blockbuster releases.

A grumpy old man refuses to surrender his old house to the new urban wave of construction, overwhelmed by the loss of his wife, he decided to pursue the trip they always wanted to make but had constantly to give it up due to life's demands. UP fuses an imagination as wild as H. Myazaki's finest moments, a comedy that works for adults even more than kids, and a solid narrative. But above all, it has those great cinematic moments, some sequences without dialogue, where every shot is an irreplaceable piece of narrative.

Currently in theaters, I didn't catch the 3-D version but read good feedback about it (The New Yorker, June 8/15 issue: The Current Cinema). The movie is preceded by a funny Pixar short (one of the funniest I've seen lately): Partly Cloudy , (I hope it finds its way to the upcoming DVD), here's a short sequence.

This is Up's trailer, also excerpts from the soundtrack that accompanied some dialog-free sequences(here: married life). Overall Disney is creating a new standard for "classic", a quality that should be regarded like their Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow white... but with more grasp on real life and less (or no) references to fairy tales.

Wassim

6/6/09

The Thin Red Line

I've not seen the 1960s film version of James Jones' novel, which is supposed to be more in sync with the novel, and starring Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), but Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998) is his greatest film.

I recall seeing it in the theaters, and immediately knew this was a great film, way beyond Steven Spielberg's schlockfest on D-Day and after, Saving Private Ryan.

A clip:

Happy 65th B-Day D-Day!



Don't let Spielberg's bad movie ruin the reflection of this day.

"Did I live a good life? Tell me I'm a good man..."

Here's a quick doc:

The Pride Of The Yankees

While a New York Yankees fan, and a Lou Gehrig and Gary Cooper fan (compare him to John Wayne and Coop is superior in every way as an actor), the film The Pride Of The Yankees has always been only mildly entertaining to me. Possibly because it's too Hollywoody, but also because it never really cores into Gehrig's character.

Also, background characters like Babe Ruth (who played himself) are mere stereotypes. Still, overall, an enjoyable film, and even I am still moved by Coop's recreation of the real Gehrig's final speech at Yankee Stadium:

6/5/09

Willard

An odd little movie I recall seeing as a child- in theaters or on tv, I don't recall.

This is poor video quality, but, you gets whats ya pays for, and this is free from Google:

6/4/09

Scared Straight

This was a landmark documentary in 1978.

It's a bit over the top, but I knew many people like the kids and those like the cons.

The original doc has the the audio stripped, but here is a snippet that gets to the core of the shit:

Mayor Of The Sunset Strip

Been busy in the last few weeks, sorting through my deceased mom's things, tying up loose financial and personal ends, so have had zero time to watch any films to review. Consequently I've been rewatching some docs from the last few years.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip is one of them. In my review I write:

'The only moment we don’t pity Rodney is when his pal and film producer, Chris Carter, an ex-rocker from 1980s schlock band Glamorama, gets a similar radio show to Rodney’s on a rival station. Rodney drops the F-bomb and sticks his middle finger at the camera. One senses this moment, which Rodney didn’t want filmed, is perhaps the last gasp of humanity in a man reduced to a dull human patina, lacking the wit of an Andy Warhol to post-modernize his vapidity. George Hickenlooper, a noted documentarian, misses the target in this film. Not because Rodney’s such a cipher, but because even a vacuum has potential energy. What do we know about ourselves or the man when the film ends that we didn’t know within the first few minutes? Celebrity is an obsession that saps the soul. Rodney is Exhibit A- assuming there was anything to sap to begin with, a debatable point.'

In rewatching, the only addendum to my review I might add is that this film is even more sad, for not only is Rodney Bingenheimer a cipher, but the film is, in many ways, utterly pointless. Contrasted to The Kid Stays In The Picture, another doc on fame and its costs, this film does not measure up, even if one does indeed feel badly for Rodney.

Herein the whole film:

6/3/09

Sokurov's Father and Son (2003)






Sokurov's second installation of an anticipated trilogy started with Mother and Son (1996). Seven years after, Sokurov returned to a similar intimate familial theme (this time a young son and his father). The movie's content lacks a significant depth, yet it has Sokurov's beautiful imagery, and that makes it worthy if you're in the mood of well-crafted visual compositions. The movie opens to a zoom shot that evokes the inaugurating sequence in Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour: a father trying to calm his son after a nightmare replaces the famous image of the two lovers emerging from the sand and remains of the atomic bomb, interestingly enough both scenes share a notable eroticism.
Father and Son paints a very questionable male-bonding theme: nudity, physical proximity, and the tension between the two men add an unsettling feeling in the viewer. To be clear this didn't add any substance to the material. Some scenes: early in the movie the camera is playfully flirting with the young couple. The movie ends on a thematic and visual symmetry (a dream also), a smart trick by Sokurov was the fact that the viewer can not identify whose dream (or nightmare) it was: the father or the son.
Overall, worth seeing for its imagery. This is the Trailer.

WASSIM

The Fog Of War And The Law Of Unintended Consequences

I thought of the titular principle last night whilst watching a dreary pseudo-doc on ABC, called Earth 2100.

Naturally, almost everything that could go wrong on the next 91 years is shown to go wrong. But, reality shows that with every prediction, subsequent predictions become cloudier. While we in 2009 worry of global warming, just 50 years ago such was inconceivable. In 50 years the problems that dominate likely will be ones we have no clue of now. And this is true even if we dawdle as a species with our current problems. But the film makes it seem as if nothing can stop our descent into a new dark Ages; although the two hour film ends with a 10 minute 'alternate' paradisical view of 2100. Within the next few decades we will have quantum computers, the ability to fight disease genetically, not just biologically. We will be able to master genetic farming, have colonies in space, and- as with the bad stuff- have other good consequences I cannot foresee.

This real 'reality' of indeterminacy reminded me of the great Errol Morris documentary The Fog Of War, which explains its title as the inability to predict the outcome of war after it begins, despite the best laid plans.

The thing that annoys me the most about such fluff as Earth 2100 is that extremists on the left believe such things with the same ease as Right Wing fanatics believe such nonsense that President Obama is a Manchurian Candidate for Moslems.

Reality is 'always' far more complex than such simpletons realize, which is why the greatest artists and art is never simplistic as Earth 2100.

Here's the whole film- a classic:

6/2/09

Jackson Potluck.



I watched the movie Pollock the other night just for fun, since it happens to be one of my favorite biopics. The acting is excellent and they did a great job of adding in little detail, to the point where you can't tall it's Ed Harris or the real Potluck himself. See? They could be twins.

Ed Harris apparently did those paintings that were used in the film, which says something about Pollock's talent I guess. As an artist, he gives me a headache, and the last half hour or so (when Jennifer Connelly enters the picture) the movie goes down the crapper. I pretty much just skip that part, and think the film should have ended 1/2 hr sooner. It's a movie I like, but it's certainly not a great film.

And I must add that one of the best things about this film is the music that appears throughout. Here's the trailer in Italian.



And in searching for the Pollock trailer, I found this one on the life of Klimt starring John Malkovich. Looks kind of pretentious:



It's always funny how they'll glorify great artists who were rejected in their day, only to make movies about them being rejected years later. Hmm. And the patterns don't ever change.

6/1/09

Fantastic Planet

This French and Czechoslovakian cartoon has always stuck with me. I first saw it over 30 years ago. The animation is not that good, but stylized, with an interesting script.

At this same time, 1973, Hanna-Barbera schlock dominated American animation.