Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 224 - Klute

Klute (1971) directed by Alan J. Pakula

It's kind of strange that Alan J. Pakula's name is so unfamiliar to me. I didn't even realize this is the third film of his that I've seen in this project (Presumed Innocent, All The President's Men). One would think I would follow up that point with something, but nope, it was really just a ploy to try to get you to click on my old links to boost my page count.

John Klute is a private investigator sent to New York to investigate the disappearance of his friend Tom. He is led to the prostitue Bree Daniels who may be the key to figuring out what happened to him. It is a good old fashioned mystery thriller. As you can tell from the picture, Klute and Bree hook up. I don't think that is really ruining anything because have you ever seen a film about a private investigator keeping tabs on a pretty woman and the two did not get involved? I didn't think so.

What is interesting is that this film is named Klute after Donald Sutherland's character but Jane Fonda's character Bree is unquestionably the main character of the film. In fact, Fonda would win Best Actress for this role and she is quite good. What makes her character interesting is that it is (what I assume) a pretty realistic portrayal of a call girl. She isn't the hooker with a heart of gold archetype like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but a flawed sometimes even cold and mean woman. She is an aspiring actress but she is addicted to the game. She likes to turn tricks because that is what she is good at, that is when she has the power and the control. There are scenes where she confidently handles her clients with authority and confidence, yet in another scene she admits that she is afraid of the dark and is paranoid all the time. (Her paranoia turns out to be justified though as she is being watched, not just by Klute, but also the mystery man behind it all. Pakula shoots many scenes from afar to indicate she is being watched by this unseen character.)

Klute begins as the investigator out to do his job though you can tell he is intrigued by Bree. However he is kind of a boring character. He doesn't show much emotion or say many words. He is an observer and a listener. In a way he is in the audience with us watching Bree. And by the way, it is pretty amazing how some fathers and sons look so much alike. There was a moment when I thought I was watching an episode of 24 starring Kiefer.

The film has a very eerie feeling to it thanks to its noir style cinematography and creepy music. It all blends perfectly with the mystery aspect of the film. The film is very good at creating this ambiance. It is atmospheric and suspenseful throughout. Can't think of much else to say other than this was a well made and a pleasant surprise from a film I never even heard of.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 223 - The Muppets

The Muppets (2011) directed by James Bobin

The great thing about The Muppets is that it isn't just a cheap gimmick out to make a quick buck. It is a well thought out, often hilarious, and always charming experience that old timers will watch with fond nostalgia while their young kids will watch Kermit and co with glee. The film is so good on its own merits that you don't really need to know who The Muppets are to appreciate it. I often found myself grinning from ear to ear at its exuberant silliness and wickedly funny jokes, not just aimed at little children, but the adults accompanying them. It's been a while since I've been so happy watching a movie. It's just a really fun experience.

The premise is pretty basic. The old Muppet Theatre is going to be destroyed by a rich oil tycoon unless the Muppets can come up with $10 million. Gary (Jason Segal), his lovely girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter, Gary's muppet brother, embark on a journey to round up the old Muppet gang to save the theater. What do they want to do? Do one last show together on live TV to raise the funds. The only problem is that the Muppets haven't performed together in years and are scattered all over the place. They must reconnect with each other and ultimately themselves to give the show of their lives.

The Muppets is a surprisingly intelligent film. Rather than just have a wacky adventure together (though the film is plenty wacky) the film deals with their place in society now. In this way the film is very self aware. The Muppets are no longer famous or relavent. They've become a bunch of B list celebrities. Much of the film deals with the characters re-evaluating their circumstances in life. Kermit lives by himself in his lonely mansion, poor Fozzie Bear is doing local gigs in dingy bars in Reno. Perhaps they miss the spotlight but as it turns out they really miss each other. They are family.

The film wouldn't really be complete without its human stars. I particularly liked Amy Adams, a personal favorite of mine since watching her in Enchanted. She is so sweet and bubbly here and when she breaks into song, it is hysterical. Speaking of which, all the songs, aside from an unfortunate Chris Cooper rap, are very good. There is one particularly hilarious song that almost had me in tears.

One of the funnest movie going experiences of the year. And a Pixar short at the beginning was a very pleasant and entertaining surprise.

Grade: A-

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 222 - Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One (2011) directed by Sam Lui and Lauren Montgomery

Back from vacation!
I'm finally back from vacation and should go back on a normal posting schedule. I don't want to turn this into a personal kind of blog, so I'll just say that it was a nice trip but I'm glad to be back home sleeping in my own bed. Movie watching was at times pretty draining because of some super long tours and/or really rough days at sea and using the internet was a nightmare. While flying to Europe I lost twelve hours due to the time difference and was never able to get it back which was why my posts were coming in a day late. It's kind of crazy to think that I wasn't able to squeeze in two movies in one day to make up for it over a two plus week trip, but it just goes to show how tough this whole thing can be at times. Anyways I got back in kind of late so I decided to pick a shorter movie so I can go to bed soon. This is the second animated Batman film I've done so far, the first being Batman: Under the Red Hood. I'm kind of a nerd so I really enjoy these movies, but they are actually pretty good even for non comic geeks.

On to the movie...
A lot of people mistakenly credit Christopher Nolan for reinventing Batman into a more mature and darker character. While the recent movies have certainly helped revitalize the Batman franchise to the mass public, the real credit for Batman's darker image should go primarily to Frank Miller thanks to two key story lines he wrote in the 1980's, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. While Batman has always been a dark character by nature, it was Miller's realistic, gritty and brooding origin story that really changed the way people viewed Batman.

Batman: Year One is based on the comic of the same name, and from what I've heard is a really faithful adaptation (I haven't read the comic). The story is what you'd expect it to be based from the title, Batman's first year on the job. It is also Lt. Jim Gordon's first year in the job at the Gotham City's Police Department and surprisingly, this film is almost as much about Gordon as it is about Batman. The film deals with their two separate stories; they both seek to bring justice to Gotham but from different sides of the fight, one is a police officer and the other is a vigilante. As we've all learned from various films like Death Wish real vigilantism would never be tolerated in the real world. Batman's main struggles in his first year aren't with the criminals he's trying to catch but with the police that's trying to catch him. Gordon is tasked to bring in Batman, although he has his reservations about it. He is more interested in curtailing the rampant corruption of the Gotham Police Department. As we all know Gordon would be Batman's greatest ally and vice versa.

One minor comment that I have is that the film feels a little choppy in its pacing at times. Perhaps this has to do with being lifted directly from the comic sometimes panel for panel or that it has to cover an entire year of events in just over one hour. There is no in-between segment from Batman's first patrol where he's still an overzealous amateur to when he's confidently taking down bad guys with fearsome style. Other than that though, I'd have to say I was pretty entertained and interested throughout.

I also have to say that the production value of this movie is pretty good. The animation is very nicely drawn and heads and shoulders above the animated Batman's from my childhood and subsequent films throughout the years with the possible exception of Batman: Gotham Knight. The voice acting is spot on with none other than Bryan Cranston voicing Gordon. Overall, a very solid movie that focuses more on character than action which may turn off some casual viewers but should fascinate the fans.

Grade: B

Day 221 - Jane Eyre

Saturday November 26, 2011
Jane Eyre (2011) directed by Cary Fukunaga
I've never read the novel so I really have no idea how this film adaptation compares. I am just going to assume that the basic story is the same and the differences lie in the artistic vision of director Cary Fukunaga. I suppose that is the challenge of adapting famous books into movies. You pretty much have to leave the story alone so it is just a matter of how you present it which can affect the feeling of a film almost as much as the story itself.

The film is about a young orphaned girl named Jane who ends up working as a governess at a rich estate. There she catches the eye of the imposing master Rochester who is taken by her intelligence and honesty. It is a classic Victorian age romance that deals with the issues of class, wealth, and expectations of women. However, not knowing anything at all about the story (though I assumed it was a romance) it was hard to tell where it might go because of the ambiance of the film. There is an incredible sense of foreboding throughout the movie; at one point I thought it may even be a horror film because of how dark it felt. Indeed, there is something fishy going on at the Rochester estate but I was never really sure of the nature of the secret until it was revealed.

There is sense of something really tragic in the film because of this darkness and the musical score which makes heavy use of the violin, which is both beautiful and profoundly sad. We already feel for Jane even before we truly understand why. 

Along with the wonderful score, the film is also gorgeously filmed. Though most of the film has a very austere feel to it with muted colors, it never looks bad and in some cases even shines. Exterior shots look like paintings with sunsets glistening over the fields. Springtime at the Rochester estate is as nice as the palace at Versailles. The dark interior shots set the tone for the most of the film. Faces are hidden in shadows but reveal enough to see the details of their features. 

When I rented Jane Eyre, I assumed it would be similar to Pride and Prejudice. Both are famous Victorian romances, but Pride an Prejudice is a more light hearted romance with some comedy (at least the film was, I haven't read this book either). Jane Eyre is deathly serious. I don't think there is a single joke in the entire film. I would say Pride and Prejudice is more romantic in the traditional sense, while Jane Eyre's romance is less developed though no less emotional. Was this the tone of the novel as well or is it Fukunaga's direction?

Grade: B+

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 220 - After Hours

Saturday November 26, 2011

After Hours (1985) directed by Martin Scorsese

You know the expression "Just when you think things couldn't possibly get any worse…"? Well, that is Paul Hackett's night in Martin Scorsese's wacky movie After Hours. It's so weird because I had never heard of this film, but I always had its premise in my mind for a story for a book or movie: basically a series of adventures late at night in a city and the film plays out pretty much exactly like I imagined, absurd characters and even more ridiculous scenarios the protagonist finds himself in. This is a really great film that feels so familiar yet is so different from anything I've seen. It is also a testament to Scorsese's brilliance as a director to be able to take such a seemingly meaningless story and practically turn it into some sort of modern epic urban adventure.

I read in a description somewhere that this film is akin to the Odyssey, a modern take of the adventures of Ulysses set in late night New York City. In a way this makes a lot of sense. Big cities can often feel like strange exotic places full of interesting characters. Like in Woody Allen's recent Midnight in Paris, once the night comes just about anything can happen. And it does happen to Paul. One night he meets a woman in a coffee shop and gets her number. Not quite ready to call it a night he calls her up and is invited to her place which leads to one dark comedic twist and turn after another. It's rather pointless to describe each mis-adventure because by themselves they are silly little episodes that don't seem to make much of a plot. As the story goes on it pushes the boundaries of coincidence, fate and perhaps a higher power's twisted sense of humor. Regardless of any underlining subtext that may or may not be there, the film is great for all the reasons films are great, entertaining, engaging and artistically compelling.

It is always interesting to see what great directors can do with certain screenplays. After Hours's screenplay is excellent but Scorsese makes the most out of a script that I would guess didn't demand a lot of special direction. What I mean is that Scorsese finds interesting ways to shoot normal scenes in a seemingly unassuming "regular" movie. There are big camera movements, interesting use of close-ups and camera angles and superb editing and use of music. Maybe another director could have done something different or even better with a scene here or there, but no one but Scorsese could have made this film exactly like this. And this is true for any great film by any great director, they find ways to make movies distinctly their own. After Hours was a very refreshing and surprising find for me. It is a hidden gem among Scorsese's impressive filmography and it deserves to be mentioned among some of his best work.

Grade: A

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 219 - 21 Grams

Friday November 25, 2011

21 Grams (2003) directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

21 Grams is an intricately woven story centered around three tragically flawed characters whose fates slowly become intertwined with each others. The narrative is as fractured as the characters, telling the story out of order, constantly shifting perspective and time, leaving you wondering how it all fits together throughout most of the movie. It takes a whole 30 minutes before you can even begin to sort out the basics and slowly put the pieces together. Whenever I watch a film with these distinct narratives, whether it be a flashback with the end at the beginning like in Double Indemnity or telling the story backwards like in Memento or out of order like in Pulp Fiction, I always ask myself does this make the movie better or is it just a gimmick? Does it reveal more about the story and the characters? Does it create a deeper sense of suspense or drama? These are particularly important questions regarding 21 Grams because this film starts out completely jumbled without any way to make sense of anything. When a film is constructed in this manner, the expectations of the viewer go way up because they expect a big payoff in the end to reward them for their patience and effort. 21 Grams is interesting in that the payoff isn't at the end at all, but rather in the process.

What I mean by that is that the ending isn't a mind blowing revelation nor a surprise. It may almost be considered a let down, but only because of how good the rest of the film leading up to those final moments are. The strength of the film lies in the three compelling characters played brilliantly by Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and particularly Naomi Watts. Each character is given their moment to shine (and falter). Because of the structure of the film, we see them at various stages in their lives in seemingly no particular order. What this does is cause us to focus on their stories and wonder where it all went wrong for them to reach that breaking point. Because we know that tragedy is in store for them, scenes that we know come before carry much more weight. An innocent moment becomes all the more heartbreaking because we know there are no more left for them. 

Sean Penn plays Paul, who we first see lying in a hospital bed. We have no idea how or when he got there. It is revealed that he is dying and needs a heart transplant but even then we are not sure if this beginning scene has anything to do with his heart condition. He is married to a woman named Mary but in an early snippet we see him lying in bed with Naomi Watt's character Christine. Christine is seen at a support group talking about her dark past, but we find out that she is happily married with kids but not with Paul. And finally there is Benicio Del Toro as Jack, an ex-con who has turned to Jesus to right his ways. All three of these characters are tragically flawed and show a great deal of vulnerability. These powerful performances drive the film. Even when we don't know what the hell is going on, we are still captivated because of how compelling these characters are. Christine suffers dearly in the film and Watts displays such a great range of emotion from depression and anger to unrelenting despair. 

In fact the whole film has a feeling of despair and foreboding which is accented by Inarritu's jumbled film structure. It is a style he has become known for following up 21 Grams with his critically acclaimed Babel. The performances are so strong that the film could have probably been just as powerful if told from beginning to end, but by fracturing the narrative, not only does he add in an element of mystery and suspense but also makes the performances and the individual stories all the more compelling.

Grade: A

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 218 - Shane

Thursday November 24, 2011

Shane (1953) directed by George Stevens

"There's no living with a killing. There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks." - Shane

Check out my swag I walk like a ball player
No matter where you go you are what you are player
And you can try to change but that's just the top layer
Man you was who you was before you got here.
                                             - Jay-Z

That is the second time I've used that Jay-Z lyric but it is such a fitting sentiment for those who believe that people can't change who they are. It is an especially common theme in the wandering warrior mythology of movies; restless warriors struggling against their pasts and their very nature only to have to fight again to save the day. This idea is used extensively in westerns with the lone gun slinger arriving into town. He is mysterious and unassuming, not wishing to cause trouble, but inevitably trouble will find him. In Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood's character begins the film as an old family man decades removed from being a stone cold killer, but by the end of the film he finally channels his inner demons to become the son of a bitch he always was. In Shane, Shane is a seasoned traveller wandering form place to place. He is quiet and reserved, almost to the point of being non-threatening, but there is a mysterious darkness looming over him that he cannot shake off. Trouble always seems to find him or perhaps he seeks it out; it is the only life he knows.

Shane wanders through Joe Starret's farm and is already on his way out when he involves himself in a confrontation that he has no business in. Rather than going on his way as we get the impression he normally would, Shane instead volunteers to work for Joe at the farm. He wishes to live a normal peaceful life with the Starrets, but inadvertently inherits their troubles in the process. The plot of the film revolves around a powerful rancher Rufus Ryker trying to drive Joe and his neighbors off their land, but the heart of the film is in Shane's attempts at finding the inner peace and happiness he desires.

Shane finds a little bit of that happiness. He likes working for the Starrets. He admires Joe's hard work and integrity. There is an unspoken bond with Joe's wife Marian and little Joey idolizes Shane. There are some expected bumps along the way. Shane is confronted by Rkyer's men, taking their abuse silently when the viewer knows he could kick every one of their asses. When push comes to shove that is exactly what happens in one of the more prolonged and physical barroom brawls I've ever seen. When Joe and his neighbors still refuse to leave, Rkyer brings in a hired gun, the ominous Wilson. It becomes apparent that a final confrontation is inevitable. Shane must save the day but in doing so he must shed the peaceful life he so desperately wanted. As he tells Joey, once the line has been crossed, there is no turning back. He will save the farm but will never be able to come back to it.

Shane has a very strong mythology to it. Shane is the wandering warrior, the lone gunslinger, the honorable samurai all rolled into one. That is one part the film nailed. The rest of the film is not quite as strong as the title character. It is sort of strange just how dark and serious some aspects of the film is and just how campy it feels in other parts. I'm not a huge fan of the romanticized frontier setting that so many of the old westerns have. Much of Shane is mired in this sort of cheesy cliched ambiance, yet there are some parts that just stick out with how dark and mature it feels. 

There are two scenes in particular that would fit right into the darker parts of Unforgiven. One is when Torrey is goaded into a duel with Wilson. Torrey walks gingerly through the cold wet mud. Most likely he walks this way as to not muddy his boots but perhaps it is because he knows he is walking to his death. I actually jumped a little when the shot is fired because like Torrey, I wasn't ready for it. He is killed rather unceremoniously, left to lay in the cold wet mud. It is a really chilling scene. The other scene is the showdown between Shane and Wilson in the bar. There is a great deal of tension and bad-assery involved; it reminded me a lot of the final showdown in Unforgiven.

Side note: Relying a lot on children in a movie can be very risky because in general children are bad actors and the kid who plays Joey is really bad. It also doesn't help his character is annoying as hell.

Grade: B

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 217 - The French Connection

Wednesday November 23, 2011

The French Connection (1971) directed by William Friedkin

If I had to describe The French Connection in one word it would be gritty. In that way it sort of reminds me of another cop movie, Serpico. Both are set in crime ridden 1970's New York. Both feel cold and hard and feature strong willed cops that are often at ends with their peers. The difference is that the protagonists of the two films are very different. Serpico is a clean honest cop who only wants to do the right thing; Popeye will do anything to get the job done even if it means using police brutality, endangering innocent bystanders in reckless car chases and shooting first asking questions second.

Within the first two minutes of The French Connection a man gets shot in the face. It's a "Oh snap!" moment that sets the mood for the rest of the film. It is dark and gritty, tense and exciting. Popeye Doyle is a narcotics officer that stumbles upon the big case he's been waiting his whole career for. A mysterious Frenchman, Alain Charnier, is in New York looking to sell $32 million worth of heroin and Popeye and the cops are out to bring them all down. The film is basically one big chase. There are intermittent moments of staking out a location or talking about the case, but inevitably it always leads to Doyle and his partner tailing various different suspects whether by car or by foot. What is remarkable is that the film is able to maintain a high level of suspense and tension throughout the film's many chase sequences without getting monotonous or tiresome. This is done by its great direction, cinematography, and editing. It's no surprise that this film won Oscars in these categories.

The two memorable chase sequences of the film are quite remarkable. One involves Doyle tailing the Charnier through the streets of New York on foot. It leads down to a subway station where Charnier undoubtedly realized he was being followed the whole time and plays a cat and mouse game with Doyle. The other is perhaps the film's most famous scene, the ballyhooed car chase where Doyle must keep pace with a train, weaving in and out of traffic, narrowly dodging pedestrians and causing plenty of property damage. Director William Friedkin is no stranger to car chases as he would later direct an arguably better car chase in To Live and Die in L.A.

While the film is brilliant all the way around, it is highlighted by Gene Hackman's performance as Popeye Doyle. I don't think he's ever had a better role. He has a gritty toughness to him yet is terribly flawed. He's racist, temperamental, and very reckless. While many other people may be commended for determination and focus on their jobs, it is arguably a detriment for Doyle. I don't want to give away the ending but his reaction to his actions says it all; he is a man who doesn't care about anything but getting his guy. It is what makes the ending all the more bitterly fitting.

Grade: A

Day 216 - Blow-Up

Tuesday November 22, 2011

Blow-Up (1966) directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

I didn't get it. There, I said it. It's actually kind of amazing that I haven't said those words more often because I've watched some confusing stuff during this challenge but this was one of the few movies where I just didn't see what the big deal was. I know this movie was what inspired Brian DePalma's Blow Out, so I assumed it would be a similar type of thriller, but aside from a basic plot outline they are quite opposite.

The plot description of Blow-Up is actually somewhat misleading. You assume that the murder mystery is the main point of the film but it's really more about Thomas's lifestyle which on the surface looks exciting but you can tell he is actually bored with it. He lives a posh lifestyle, photographs super models and has crazy orgies, but doesn't seem to interested in anything. The majority of the film are these sort of episodic events where not much happens in plot, but supposedly a lot happens in bringing out this point of Thomas's lifeless existence. I just didn't see why I should care though. I suppose it is a time period thing, capturing the mood of the 1960's which I was never a part of. Is Antonioni pointing out the pointlessness of the time period? 

I'm all for slow developing movies, but it really did seem like this movie was going nowhere fast. I was a little bored so by the time it got to the part where Thomas thinks he sees a murder in one of his photographs, I'm already sort of whatever about it. At this point you expect the tone of the movie to shift into the suspenseful thriller that Blow Out is, but it even treats the murder mystery with the same kind of meandering attitude as the rest of the film.

The thing is that I'm not really hating on the movie. In fact there are several scenes that I thought were good and/or interesting, but they just didn't mean much to me when packaged together as a whole. I guess indifferent would be the best word to use. And could someone please explain to me the meaning behind the last scene with the mimes playing air tennis? I've been thinking about it for a while but can't really come up with anything. 

This is probably a movie that I totally missed the boat on and I would love nothing more than to be convinced that I'm retarded. And who knows, maybe if I watch it again I'll have another opinion on it so I guess this will have to go back in the queue with a couple other movies I might have screwed up on.

Grade: C

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 215 - Win Win

Monday November 21, 2011

Win Win (2011) directed by Tom McCarthy

Ever since American Splendor and Sideways, Paul Giamatti has become one of my favorite actors. He's been solid in pretty much every movie since then, though he's never really recaptured the subtle magic of those two films. He comes pretty close though in Win Win as the struggling every day man that he seems to excel in playing. Here he plays Mike, a mediocre lawyer whose practice is floundering. Desperate for the money, he becomes the legal guardian of Leo, an elderly client who isn't all there, for a $1500 a month fee only to stick him into a nursing home immediately after. Mike isn't a villain though; he's simply a flawed man who needs the money and probably honestly believe Leo is better off in a nursing home anyways despite his protestations. 

A little twist is added to Mike's life when Kyle, Leo's teenage grandson, shows up one day all the way from Ohio to live with the old man. Mike has no choice but to take Kyle in until he returns back home. Except Kyle doesn't go back home and spends the rest of the movie living with Mike and his family. Oh by the way, Mike is a high school wrestling coach and Kyle just happens to be a really good wrestler. Mike takes on the father teacher role that Kyle never had while Kyle provides an escape for Mike's disappointments in life. The story is nice and tight with the familiar turning points, the neglectful mother unexpectedly showing up wanting her son back, the growing bond between Mike and Kyle and the inevitable strife between them. Perhaps the story is a little formulaic but it is a good formula with excellent acting and a strong script that is both funny and heart felt.

Win Win is labeled as a comedy, but its funny moments are more nuanced than outrageous. It wavers between moments of joy and humor and an underlying sadness. At its heart, the film is really a drama that focuses on disappointment. Every character has something to be disappointed with, Mike with his struggling professional life, his best friend Terry going through a separation with his wife, assistant coach Stephen who is only coaching to bond with his step-son that quit the team, Leo with being stuck in a nursing home and Kyle who has been let down by everyone in his life.

Nobody plays these types of roles better than Paul Giamatti. He is quietly very funny but always with a disconcerting look on his face. He plays his role effortlessly and believably, perhaps because his character is so utterly believable. He is essentially playing you or me, a typical every day man who must deal with his shit.

Grade: A-

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 214 - Old Yeller

Sunday November 20, 2011

Old Yeller (1957) directed by Robert Stevenson

True story. When I was little there was a dog in my neighborhood that was almost as big as me. Perhaps he gets bigger in my memory as the years go by but I swear he was the biggest dog I've ever seen. He was aptly named Bear. I used to hate walking to school in the morning because every now and then Bear would be roaming the streets and as soon as I saw him I started to run. I now know that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do since he probably thought I wanted to play with him. Surely enough as soon as I started running Bear started chasing. I was terrified. For the longest time I was scared of dogs and it took me a long time to get over this fear. I still don't really care for them but recently I've grown to like a couple of them here and there. So despite my surprising emotional attachment to Eight Below, it is tough for me to get too involved with these type of dog movies.

I suppose Old Yeller is the ultimate dog movie. It's one of those stories that everybody knows even though many people haven't seen it. It's the timeless story of a boy and his dog which just about anybody, including myself who's never owned one, could relate to. I will say though that there are some flaws in the film, but they are easily forgiven when you're dealing with such a timeless classic. I am however compelled to point them out. The narrative is extremely simple and repetitive. How many times do we have to see Old Yeller fight off dangerous animals? How many times do we have to hear Travis fawn over him? The first two thirds of the film is incredibly lightweight but the last third makes up for it with an incredibly mature and tragic ending. I like how a family friendly film doesn't try to dance around or sugarcoat death and loss, so I have to give the film major props there. To be honest I wasn't super moved by the ending, probably because I've never owned a dog. Clearly it is a sad and sentimental scene, though another thing is that the ending is no mystery; everybody knows what happens in the end, so I guess I was too prepared for it. 

What I found interesting were the fight scenes. Old Yeller looks like he's really going at it with those animals. How do you even film that bear scene? Weren't they afraid the bear would just maul the dog to death? (And what about the little kid practically wrestling with the baby bear? That has a wrongful death lawsuit written all over it.) What about the vicious wolf scene? Do you realize how dangerous pigs are? I wonder if there were any major injuries during this film. These were pretty exciting scenes though precisely because they looked pretty real and quite dangerous.

All in all, it's hard to really hate on a timeless classic, but at the same time it doesn't mean I have to love it. There are its minor issues, namely its insipid simplicity and heavy handed sentiment, but it is what it is. I still think about Bear having me running for my life so you can forgive me if I didn't shed a tear for Old Yeller. It's a fine movie for what it is though.

Grade: B-

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 213 - Bad Teacher

Saturday November 19, 2011

Bad Teacher (2011) directed by Jake Kasdan

After a 12 hour tour today and another 12 hour tour that starts early tomorrow (I'm in Israel right now), I decided to pick one of the easy movies I had saved up, something I had zero expectations for but was mildly surprised with, Bad Teacher

There is nothing worse than a middling vanilla comedy that plays it safe. Those rarely illicit any big laughs or get a bigger reaction than perhaps a yawn. Bad Teacher knows it's not going to be a great movie but it at least has the decency to make no apologies. It is tasteless, sleazy, raunchy and stars a completely unlikable lead character. It is also quite funny, amusingly offensive and mildly entertaining. Notice the lukewarm superlatives I use. I begrudgingly give this film a passing score for doing what it sets out to do. 

Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey who isn't just a bad teacher, she is a plain bad person. She's a selfish, scornful gold digger who is only a teacher for the short hours and extended vacations. Her idea of teaching involves showing movies in class while she sneaks a sip of hard liquor she's got hidden away in her desk. You aren't meant to like her, and for the most part you don't, even with her inevitable 180 degree sort of turn. However, I do like Cameron Diaz who even at her very worst is someone you still want to watch. Perhaps it is because we've never seen this side of her before, so delightfully filthy.

A pleasant surprise in the film is Elizabeth's rival, the comically enthusiastic Amy Squirrel, played by Lucy Punch. She is bouncy and lovable and has an attitude and energy that reminds me of Kristin Wiig, which is a comparison I don't use lightly. Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake round up the major players of the film but they sort of take a backseat to the rivalry between Elizabeth and Amy.

As far as the plot goes, it develops as you think it should with the obligatory turn by Elizabeth. Some of the plot elements are beyond absurd for the purposes of the comedy, but that is okay. Given the outrageousness of Elizabeth's character we can already accept certain transgressions. I suppose there may be an argument about a film being dirty just for the sake of being dirty, but that is a moot point if the film is funny, which Bad Teacher is. To use a really bad teaching analogy, if I were a teacher and a student came to me for extra credit to turn that C+ to a B-, I'd give it him for the effort.

Grade: B-

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 212 - Dark City

Friday November 18, 2011

Dark City (1998) directed by Alex Proyas

What does it mean to be human? What makes you who you are? If you took away my memories and switched them with yours would that make me you and you me? Or is there something innate in us that defines who we are? These are the questions that the Strangers seek the answer to in the science fiction neo-noir Dark City.

We open with an ominous narrative telling of an alien race called the Strangers that oversees a strange and dark city. We are then introduced to a man who wakes up confused in a bathtub. A dead woman lays on the floor in the next room. He receives a call telling him that people are after him and he must flee and so he does. Did he really kill this woman? Who are these people chasing him? And more importantly, who is he? He doesn't know the answer to that question either and we must follow him as he tries to uncover the mysteries of the film piece by piece. It is a totally engrossing mystery filled to the brim with noir elements and science fiction with a little bit of philosophical musings. It is part Maltese Falcon, Blade Runner, and The Matrix. In fact the themes of Dark City and The Matrix are almost interchangeable. There is something deeply wrong with the world around us and we must figure out what. 

The man finds out his name is John Murdoch. He is married to Emma, but he cannot remember her. This is a key point of the film. If our memories turn out to not be our own, then who are we? If we have the memories of a killer does that mean you are one? Can you love someone if your memory of him or her may not be real? Emma tells John, "I so vividly remember meeting you. I remember falling in love with you. I love you, John. You can't fake something like that."

The conflict of the film revolves around the mysterious Strangers who move in and out of the city like the agents of The Matrix. They are here to observe us, tinker with us so that they could understand us, so they can learn what makes us human. Every night at midnight everyone suddenly falls asleep. The Strangers recreate the city (in dazzling special effects) and inject new memories into the sleeping people. John is immune to the sleeping spell and witnesses first hand the Strangers do their thing. He is the one person with free will and the ability to break the endless cycle of darkness over the city.

As the title would suggest, this film is dark. There is no daylight at all in the film, only in the people's memories. This dark and grimy world is similar to director Alex Proyas's The Crow or writer David S. Goyer's world of the recent Batman films. In other ways its bleak futuristic setting is similar to the world outside of The Matrix. It is all about the mood at atmosphere of the film and the bleak setting of the film matches the bleak outlook of the film. It is a perfect match.

Dark City totally caught me by surprise. I was not ready for such an entertaining yet smart film. It is an ambitious film both thematically and cinematically. A lot of times these type of films will falter and crash in the end because they fail to answer the questions with the same kind of vigor they were asked, but this film delivers on its promise. 

Grade: A

Side note: The ending of the film has an almost dream-like shot of Jennifer Connelly standing at the end of a pier. There is an incredibly similar shot of her in Requiem for a Dream.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 211 - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Thursday November 17, 2011

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) directed by John Huston

"Sharing is caring."

I have to say that I was really shocked by the tone of this movie. I had no idea it was so dark and cynical. I just assumed it would be a standard buddy picture about three guys going up to the mountain to dig up some gold, learn about friendship, have a big showdown with some bandits, get rich and live happily ever after. As it turns out, money does indeed ruin friendships and the movie is all about mistrust, betrayal and greed. It is strange to say this about a 60 plus year old movie, but it was really refreshing to see such a non-standard movie.

Throughout the entire movie Dobbs is a cold hearted dude. The very first scene we see him in he splashes water in a kid's face. He doesn't think twice about asking the same guy for money three times in the same day. He is greedy, selfish and extremely cynical of others. Despite that you expect him to grow and learn, but nope, this movie isn't about heart warming lessons. It asks the age old question, "What would you do for money?" and gives a pretty realistic answer in Dobbs's character. He is who he is, an opportunist and kind of a bastard. The movie isn't about the adventure or the gold, it is a test of morals and character and Dobbs fails big time.

The film is driven by the three leads, Humphrey Bogart as Dobbs, Tim Holt as Curtin and Walter Huston as Howard. The three are perfect matches for each other and are magnificent. Dobbs's regression throughout the film is something straight out of Shakespeare; there is something unsettling about Bogart's crazed expressions and paranoia. Curtin is a fellow traveller who quickly becomes Dobbs's best friend and partner. He is also tested throughout the film and goes through his ups and downs. At one point, he is tempted to leave Dobbs trapped in a cave-in so he could take his share of the gold, but ultimately saves him. At another point, he unceremoniously agrees to kill a passerby who wants in on the action. But he is unquestionably a good guy in the film and a saint when contrasted with Dobbs. The most surprising character is Howard, the old time prospector full of wisdom and charm. He is the teacher and father figure of the trio. He is sort of characterized as the stereotypical old timer in his rapid fire dialogue and simple wit, but is undoubtedly the smartest of the three. Experience has taught him that gold will change a man and he is absolutely right.

The film is surprisingly funny at times and a great adventure picture. But more importantly it is a great character study and is not afraid to shy away from harsh realities. It would be so easy for the film to go in the opposite direction, the way you'd assume it would, and it would still probably be a fine film. But it is its cynicism that makes it great.

Grade: A

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 210 - Mutiny on the Bounty

Wednesday November 16, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) directed by Frank Lloyd

I don't think I've ever seen Clark Gable in action before. My friend will admonish me for not watching Gone With The Wind, but I'm planning to save that for another date and I figured Mutiny on the Bounty would be a fitting movie to watch while on a cruise ship. Here Gable stars across Charles Laughton, who I also believe I've never seen, in the semi-true story of the famous mutiny on the British ship Bounty. As we've learned from Knife in the Water, put two different people together on one tiny boat and cooler heads will not prevail.

Laughton plays Captain Bligh, the sadistic captain of the Bounty who believes fear is the best way to instill discipline. He is abusive, derisive, quick tempered and just plain nasty. At one point AFI voted him as the 19th greatest movie villain of all time, so you know we're dealing with a serious hard ass. He is contrasted with Gable's Fletcher Christian, Bligh's first mate, who for all intents and purposes is the virtuous hero of the film. They are set on a two year voyage to Tahiti. After witnessing one abuse too many, Christian leads a mutiny against Bligh.

There are certain aspects of older films that are noticeably different from current ones. While the sense of adventure of this film is timeless and exciting, there is a certain rhythm in the way people talk and act that lets you know when a film was made. That isn't to say the acting feels dated or is worse than today's film, it is just different. There is a way people enthusiastically pat each other on the back or deliver casual lines of dialogue a tad too loud, sort of like they are performing for an audience in a play. There is a passioned monologue at the end of the film that is clearly unnatural or at the very least rehearsed that you wouldn't see today. I don't know why I'm pointing it out for this film when it is far more prevalent in films like The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Thief of Bagdad, but for some reasons I could notice it here. Yet at the same time the interplay between Gable and Laughton are terrific as they constantly challenge each other.

There is a section in the film that sort of rubbed me the wrong way but it is stuff you expect from films of the time period. When they arrive in Tahiti, the natives are entirely too friendly and warm towards them. They are portrayed as the noble savage, though in real life I'd guess that they would approach the white men with a little more caution than in this film. The women are exotic and just flock to the sailors. It really is amazing how Indians, island people, tribesmen, etc were portrayed back in the day. This type of stuff even happens today though perhaps in less obvious ways.

One thing that I found interesting is that Bligh isn't shown as a complete nincompoop. It would be easy to just portray him as a horrible captain, but he shows that despite being a prick, he is clearly worthy of leading a ship. After the mutiny takes place, Bligh and his supporters are left stranded in the middle of nowhere on a small boat. In a fascinating segment, he leads the boat (and his men) across 3600 miles of open water over two months to land. In these scenes, he shows true leadership, even caring for the sick, when it would have been easy for the film to portray him as totally heartless by throwing men overboard to save the rations or something. Perhaps he is a hard ass, but he knows it is his duty to guide his men to land, even if he is only motivated by his desire for revenge against Christian. 

Overall, I found Mutiny on the Bounty to be an enjoyable film and it was fun to see Clark Gable for the first time. He seemed to be a strong capable actor with very manly features so it was easy to see what made him such a big star. The story follows a sort of predictable structure but the adventure still seemed fresh and the growing tension of the ship palpable and believable. It is helped by the strong leads of the two stars.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 209 - Fatal Attraction

Tuesday November 15, 2011

Fatal Attraction (1987) directed by Adrian Lyne

"I be catching bitches while birches be catching feelings." - Xzibit

Today we got onto the cruise ship for the two week trip and if today was any indication I'm in for a really rough time watching movies because I could feel every tiny wave and now I have a splitting headache. Halfway through the movie I just wanted to close my eyes and go to bed but I had to stick it out… The things I do for my six and a half loyal readers!

Fatal Attraction is the movie that makes guys think twice about having an affair. It also makes you wonder how guys think they can get away with it when the affair relies on the other woman keeping her mouth shut as well. Add in the psycho factor and you're Michael Douglas looking over his shoulder for Glenn Close with a knife.

This is the standard thriller you'd expect from the title and premise. Michael Douglas is married with a kid. One weekend alone, he meets Glenn Close and, well, you know. For him, it's just a one night stand, for her it's so much more. Michael Douglas gets top billing but it is really Glenn Close that drives the film. She has all the ingredients for the spurned woman gone crazy, obsessive, chilling, scary, manipulative, etc. There have been plenty of films with crazy obsessive women, Kathy Bates in Misery comes to mind, and Glenn Close's performance here is near the top of that list. 

The film goes as you'd expect, though I will say that I think Michael Douglas gets off too easy here. Yes, Glenn Close is psychotic and even threatens to harm his family, but it is all initiated by Michael Douglas. Remember, he is the cheater here. He dismisses her far too readily and now he's wondering why she won't leave him alone. We only really sympathize with him because his wife and daughter are in danger, but make no mistake about it, he deserves to get caught and get punished for his actions. We don't really get to feel his guilt for cheating because the focus is on Glenn Close's craziness. He only admits it to his wife after things have gotten out of hand. She is upset but doesn't have the chance to be really angry at him because of the more immediate concern of Glenn Close's threat to the family.

All in all, Fatal Attraction is an enjoyable suspense thriller with a memorable performance by Glenn Close and a reminder to men, don't cheat!

Grade: B-

Day 208 - Cabaret

Monday November 14, 2011

Cabaret (1972) directed by Bob Fosse
Greetings from Athens!
My posting schedule is all screwed up because I lost 10 hours due to the time difference between California and Athens and have been trying to catch up ever since. As I type this, it is actually Tuesday morning here. (I watched the film last night before I went to bed.) You always hear about all these internet cafes in Europe as if there was one on every corner, but I wasn't able to find one yesterday. I did manage to find a restaurant with free wi-fi for lunch but unfortunately I didn't have my laptop with me. Today we depart on our cruise and who knows when I'll be able to get the internet again. It is kind of strange to be watching these movies completely on my own since I don't have the internet. Usually when I watch a movie I will read stuff about it afterwards. Sometimes it helps me find things to write about or to see if I missed something that I didn't think of before. There have been a couple movies that I appreciated much more after reading something really smart, though there have been others, like My Fair Lady, that I felt really strongly about no matter how much my opinion differed from the consensus. 

Onto the movie!

What surprised me about Cabaret is that it is actually quite edgy. It deals with issues such as Nazis, racism, abortion, homosexuality, and promiscuity. There are even scenes of violence with blood. This is actually a pretty mature movie, yet it retains a fun free spirited feel to it. The movie is set in 1931 Berlin and follows Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American performer at a cabaret show at the Kit Cat Club. She meets a British man Brian Roberts (Michael York). Sally is a free spirited girl and Brian is proper sort of gentleman. Naturally they fall for each other, yet this isn't the typical romantic comedy you'd expect. They are unfaithful to each other, issues of what to do with Sally's pregnancy, and the realization that they probably aren't right for each other. The results of these questions are pretty much the exact opposite of what you'd expect from a movie.

Throughout the film there is also the looming presence of the Nazis who are just coming into power. It is interesting to see how the characters react to them since we know what will happen. There is a side story of a guy who loves a Jewish girl which is quite romantic and would actually make more sense as the lead romance of the film. The closing shot of the film is also quite dark as it shows faces in the crowd of the cabaret filled with Nazi members. It makes you wonder what will happen to Sally and the cabaret during the upcoming war.

I have found that there are generally two types of musicals. One is when the music breaks the reality of the film, I think there's an actual term for this, when characters just start dancing and singing mid-scene. The other is when the musical numbers are done within the context of actual performances i.e. the film revolves around a Broadway show or in the case of Cabaret, set in a cabaret. I don't really have a preference one way or the other as I have seen musicals of both types that are equally good or bad. In Cabaret the musical numbers are done on stage, though usually a cutaway from events going on in the movie. In this way the film doesn't really feel like a musical even though it is very theatrical throughout. 

I actually don't know of any movies Liza Minnelli is in but I thought she was really good in the film. She has a quirky attitude and charm to her and is pretty funny. Despite the darker moments of the film, it is actually really funny in some spots. I really enjoyed the film and found it a good combination of seriousness and comedy with the theatrical musical numbers linking the two together. I also thought the ending was really appropriate for the film and was glad that it didn't go for a typical Hollywood happy ending.

Grade: A-

Day 207 - The River

Sunday November 13, 2011

The River (1951) directed by Jean Renoir

Nostalgic. Dreamlike. Poetic. Drifting. Enchanting. Soothing. These are words I would use to describe The River. I really wish I had the internet so I could read more about this film because it is such an interesting movie and I know nothing of its background. The movie is set during colonial India and focuses on the daily lives of the narrator Harriet and her friends and family who live alongside the Bengal River. Their daily routines are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the mysterious Captain John, their neighbor's cousin from America. The girls of the film, Harriet, her friend Valerie and neighbor Melanie are all affected by him in some manner. Harriet and Valerie in particular are smitten by him with school girl crushes. 

If I had to say there was a central theme to the film, it would be the pains of growing up and love. Harriet is a young girl who wishes to be taken seriously by John, who favors the slightly older and more mature Valerie. However, both are just kids in his eyes. John has issues of his own to work out, such as wondering what his place in life. It is really only Melanie, her cousin's Indian daughter, who really understands him.

It seems like I wrote a pretty heavy sort of summary, but the film is actually much lighter than that. The film sort of just floats along aimlessly as it follows the characters' daily lives. The film is really more about showcasing India and capturing its feel, the ebb and flow of life along the Bengal River. Shot in Technicolor, everything has a really magical look and feel. There is something about Technicolor that sort of gives movies a timeless look and a sense of nostalgia. This feeling is also magnified by the film's voice over narration. It is done by a much older Harriet who reflects back on these days with nostalgia. She uses a poetic prose that has a sort of enchanting flow to it, it sort of just draws you in. Everything about the film just sort of invites you into their world. I thought it was a really neat film.

Grade: B

Day 206 - All The President's Men

Saturday November 12, 2011

All the President's Men (1976) directed by Alan J. Pakula
As of this writing, I am flying above Iceland on my way to Athens. After some airplane chicken and mash potatoes I decided to watch the acclaimed All the President's Men, which I assume is the true accounts of the two Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein who uncovered the Watergate scandal. The interesting thing about this film is that it doesn't really try to dramatize or romanticize the story; it is basically straight up investigative reporting the whole way through which can be a little tough to digest. There is no humor, extended monologues, witty banter or deep character development, but it is perhaps the most extensive and thorough movie I've seen about the journalistic process. 

When news of Watergate breaks, it is seen as a minor event as the true depths of the conspiracy are not yet known. The two reporters Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are assigned the story and they quickly realize that there is something much bigger going on, so the two go through painstaking lengths to uncover the scandal bit by bit. Once the outline of the story is in place, they must fill in the gaps and that can only be done through sources, so they make phone calls, go door to door to interview people, crossing names off the list. This process is the heart of the film as it shows how important sources are to a story. A story does not become news until it can be verified and confirmed, otherwise you are just speculating or flat out making things up which are dangerous accusations against any reporter. Nothing can ruin a journalist's career more than printing a story that turns out to be false. 

Finding a source for this story turns out to be incredibly difficult for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to speak to them about the issue so they must go through dozens if not hundreds of people before they can get somebody to tell them something they can use. This process is fascinating to me because what compels people to tell these guys anything? Bernstein in particular seems like a real pain in the ass yet he manages to get people to tell him stuff seemingly against their will. For instance, he goes to a woman who is clearly bothered by his presence multiple times. She flat out tells him, "I don't want to say anything to you" over and over yet he manages to find a way inside her home sitting on her chair drinking her coffee. She sits across from him and says "I'm not going to say anything more" but he somehow pries answers out of her. It's kind of like how a kid keeps nagging his mom for candy until she finally gives in because she knows he'll never stop asking. In this case though, the woman could simply throw Bernstein out of her house and never answer the door. I suppose it isn't that simple and that reporters don't have magical control over people. They simply encourage people to tell them stuff they want to tell anyways for whatever reason, in this case, to do what is right. 

I wonder if this really happens or not, but a tactic reporters in the movies like to use is to say stuff like, "I'm going to say this or that and you simply nod your head yes or no" or "I'm going to point my finger at a name and if you don't say anything, I'm going to take that as a yes." It is a clever ploy in playing to the source's fear of giving information even though he or she really wants to give it. I'm guessing that the reporter knows that this can only work if the other person allows it to. They use this tactic over and over in the film.

Overall I found the material of the film really dry and at times hard to follow because of how dense it is. There were times I didn't know who they were talking to or whom they were referencing. There isn't much to grab on to other than the story. It's not as if I was rooting hard for the two because we barely get to know them other than through their work. However, I did find the step by step journalism pretty interesting as we got to see how reporters do their thing, but even that can get a little tedious if you're not up for it.

Grade: B- 

Saturday, November 12, 2011


So today I will be going on a two week Mediterranean cruise where I'm not sure if I will have readily accessible internet. I've loaded up my iPad with a bunch of movies to watch and will type up my blog entries offline and hopefully post them whenever I get a chance. If worst comes to worst, I'll just post all my entries when I get back.

I should be back home by Nov. 28th. See you guys later!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 205 - Immortals

Immortals (2011) directed by Tarsem Singh

Ever since the enjoyable but generally overrated 300, studios have been trying to recapture that magic (and money) with varying levels of success. Riding 300's momentum, the dreadful Clash of the Titans was released a couple years later. And of course there is director Zach Snyder and his copycats who have fallen in love with his visual style, some more successful (Watchmen) than others (Sucker Punch). Then there is Immortals which Snyder might as well have directed himself and labeled it 299 or 301, whichever you think makes it sound more impressive.

Let's first start with the story, which is a little complex, but not in the good way. My Greek mythology is a little rusty so I don't know how closely the movie follows the myths, if at all. Many moons ago, the gods were at war with each other. In the aftermath, the gods agreed to stay out of the affairs of man and the losers, the Titans, were imprisoned in a mountain. The evil King Hyperion, played by Mickey Rourke, is in search of a magical bow that is the ultimate weapon and the key to freeing the Titans so they could start another war with the gods. Why would he want to mess with Zeus and his homies? I'm not exactly sure, but I think it has something to do with pure spite; he is evil after all. In order to do so, he must find the oracle Phaedra, played by the beautiful Freida Pinto, who I suspect was only cast in this role because, well, she's beautiful. Do you think these Greek characters realize her English has an accent different from their own? Then there is the lowly peasant Theseus, the hero of the film played by Henry Cavill. Along with Phaedra, and a little help from the gods, Theseus must fight Hyperion and save mankind.

The story isn't actually that hard to follow, but needlessly complicated for no real reason other than to set up more battles I suppose. Oh yes, this film has battles and lots of them done in 300 fashion, meaning lots of slow motion, freezing the shot, bullet time camera rotations, and hyper stylized violence. A lot of it had the crowd oohing and ah-ing and I suppose I am guilty of it too, but after a while this type of action gets a little monotonous. The main problem is that none of the action is real; everything in this movie is CGI. So what if a Titan gets his head smashed in if it isn't even remotely close to looking real?

I suppose you could just assume the entire film was shot over a green screen since the entire picture looks fake. I realize that the look is intentional, as it was in 300, but what made a movie like Lord of the Rings impressive is that while it uses a ton of CGI, there were also gigantic realistic looking set pieces as well.

I am sad to report that the best scene of the movie, where Freida Pinto gets naked, is also fake; after checking the internet I am sad to report she used a body double. Sad face. Also, I realize that Henry Cavill must have worked really hard to get his perfectly sculpted body, but its just so cartoonish good looking that it fits in perfectly with everything else in the movie. I will say though that the picture is often quite pretty, sort of like looking at a painting, which the film basically is most of the time.

There are the obligatory moments of hero worshipping, obvious shots, corny speeches and other big action adventure cliches. Immortals is exactly the film you expect it to be from the previews so there really shouldn't be any reason to be disappointed coming out. Otherwise you had the bar set too high. All in all, I found it enjoyable standard blockbuster fare. Chalk it up as a guilty pleasure I guess. Not as good as 300 but miles ahead of Clash of the Titans.

Grade: B-

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 204 - Alien

Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott

I live within walking distance to a small theatre that occasionally shows old classics which is really cool since people my age never got the chance to watch these movies on the big screen. I've seen Alien before probably 6 or 7 years ago so I've forgotten just enough to make it new again. I think for the remainder of this project I'll probably watch more movies that I haven't seen in a long time (5+ years) as there are actually a bunch of oldies that I'm just dying to watch again.

One thing I kind of forgot about Alien is that it is more of a horror film than science fiction. At its very core it is a creature feature from the 1950's. It's probably not a coincidence that its premise is similar to Howard Hawks's The Thing from Another World. In that film a group of scientists discover an alien creature in a remote Arctic outpost where it awakens and terrorizes the humans. Replace the Arctic outpost for a spaceship in the middle of nowhere and you got Alien.

What's great about the horror aspects of Alien is that it is all about the mood and atmosphere rather than the queasy blood and guts horror you see nowadays. Like Halloween, Alien takes its time, building up suspense and then finally letting you gasp a little at the right moments. It doesn't just jump into the alien right away. There is a great sense of mystery in the beginning. There are characters that we get to know pretty well in a short period of time. There is this a great sci-fi element involved. All this builds up the tension even before we even know an alien exists in the film.

There really aren't that many pop out scenes in the movie, at least compared to horror movies today. Instead Alien makes sure you stay scared throughout by building up the tension. In fact, it is the relative lack of pop out moments that makes the film so scary. You're waiting, waiting, waiting for that inevitable scare, but it doesn't come just yet. You're left holding your breath, hiding your eyes just a tad bit longer than you'd expect to. The really good horror movies are like experienced lovers, they take their time to do it right; the bad ones are like young kids who just want it as fast as they can. I can't really say more than that. Alien is a classic, great as both sci-fi and horror.

Grade: A

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 203 - Shoot the Piano Player

Shoot the Piano (1960) directed by Francois Truffaut

I've watched a decent number of French New Wave films for this project but surprisingly none by Francois Truffaut, one of its early founders. I say this is surprising because I loved The 400 Blows. The very next film he directed after his heralded classic was Shoot the Piano Player, which is said to be Truffaut's homage to Hollywood gangster films that he loved.

The film follows the story of Charlie, a piano player working at a lowly dive bar. He used to be a great concert pianist but something terrible has gone wrong in his life, as to what is revealed slowly as the story goes on. Suddenly his brother walks into his bar in all sorts of trouble and Charlie is dragged back into the life he was trying to leave behind.

The film is a sort of mash up of genres as it incorporates the artsy French New Wave stuff with film noir, gangster thrown in with romance and comedy. It flows pretty effortlessly; you just got to read the subtitles to follow along which I admittedly missed some of due to heavy eyelids. It wasn't that the movie was boring or anything, just that I had just come back from a heavy dinner and was too relaxed. Even so, I enjoyed the story though it seemed much more of a "regular" movie than some of the other FNW stuff. Sorry I don't have much more to add than that. Shoot the Piano Player is a solid movie, but it didn't really do much for me one way or the other, though perhaps I should have paid a little more attention.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 202 - Leap Year (Año Bisiesto)

Leap Year (Año Bisiesto) (2011) directed by Michael Rowe

I was browsing through Netflix and came across this movie with a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes so I decided to give it a shot. I thought it was quite good despite being pretty disbursing. It goes to show that sex in films doesn't have to be there just to be shocking or to titillate audiences, but is often crucial in telling the story.

Laura is a 25 year old journalist who moved away from her family in the countryside and lives in a quiet apartment in Mexico City. Its drab walls and dilapidated state reveal quite a bit about Laura herself. She lives a desperately lonely life, almost never leaving the apartment with the exception of picking up guys to bring back. In fact, aside from a very brief scene at a supermarket in the beginning of the movie, the entire film is shot in this apartment and its effect is almost claustrophobic. We watch Laura do what essentially boils down to nothing; eating instant noodles in front of the TV, reading a book while eating ice cream, playing Tetris on her laptop, sitting on a toilet, looking out her window, random chatter on the phone. This is her daily routine and it is utterly depressing. On the wall is a calendar for February where the 29th is marked in red. Every day she crosses off a date leading to that day. The significance of that date to Laura and what is to happen is slowly revealed as the film progresses.

There are two scenes from these early moments that tell quite a bit about Laura and the movie, one very subtle and one very obvious. One is a simple one where she is typing on her laptop and picks her nose for a brief second. Now this may not seem significant, but how many times have you seen someone actually stick a finger in his or her nose in a movie? Hours of unused footage get cut on the editing room floor for every movie and Leap Year is only 94 minutes long, yet 20 seconds are spent on this scene and tens of minutes on her sitting around doing nothing revealing the enormity of her current condition. Everybody in the world picks their nose but you never see it on film because, well, why would directors want you to see that? I think what director Michael Rowe is trying to get across is the plain ordinariness of Laura's life.

In the other scene, Laura peeks out of her window into her neighbor's apartment where she watches a young couple together. She watches them sitting on the couch drinking beers, which doesn't seem much until you compare it to her own lonely existence. She desperately wants this intimacy and so she masturbates watching them through her window. Here she equates their intimacy and human connection through the pleasures of sex which helps explain her behavior with men.

We watch her get dressed up to go out and in the next scene we see her in bed having sex with a man. We never really get to see his face because he isn't important. The experience is impersonal and ultimately unfulfilling. In the morning, the man tries to quietly get dressed and sneak out. With her back to him, he does not realize that Laura is awake. She lays there in awkward silence waiting for him to leave. In another encounter with a different man, after having sex he gets off of her, sits by himself on the edge of the bed and calls his wife telling her he will be home soon.

It is not until she picks up Arturo that things change. Their first encounter is almost animalistic, doggystyle with him slapping her ass a couple times. Something else is different too, he actually wants to talk to her afterwords which takes Laura by surprise. She still sees men, and the intimacy she craves, as solely sexual. In a telling composition, after having sex for the second time Arturo is standing above the bed with his penis in the center of the picture with his head chopped off at the top of the screen as if to say he is as irrelevant as the rest of her men. He tries to engage her in casual chit chat, asking her if there's anything she'd like to know about him. She simply says no. Yet there is something in these encounters that draws her to him.

The two begin a sexual relationship that is centered around Arturo's penchant for rough sex and Laura's willingness to take the punishment. Each encounter grows more and more extreme to the point where even Arturo must wonder where fantasy ends and reality begins. It becomes clear that Laura's desire to be punished is linked to a deeper rooted issue. These scenes of sadomasochistic sex reminded me a lot of In the Realm of the Senses both in their overt sexual nature and psychological ramifications.

I have never really been shocked by sex in film. It could be all the porn I watch (just kidding, sort of) but the extreme sexuality of the film didn't really bother me, not even the water sports which from what I could tell looked real. I was however noticeably uncomfortable with their last encounter where nothing truly bad happens, but Laura's desire for suffering is unnerving.

The film is full of shocking sex but unlike In the Realm of the Senses I didn't find Leap Year to be shocking just for the hell of it. I thought these scenes worked quite well in showing Laura's desperate and lonely state of mind. I suppose some viewers may be turned off by the BDSM aspects of the film, but people don't realize that much of what you see in Leap Year are actual things that people do and/or fantasize about. It's just sex after all.

Grade: A-

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 201 - Super Troopers

Super Troopers (2001) directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

I got home really late after a long day and wasn't in the mood for anything heavy so I decided to pick a slapstick comedy that wouldn't require extra focus. Super Troopers actually turned out to be exactly what I needed, a stupid movie full of laughs. When I say stupid, I don't necessarily mean that in a derogatory way. Many of these comedies realize they're "bad" movies, but they aren't out to grab any awards. They're trying to make you laugh as much as possible, no matter how crude or tasteless the method. If a movie is funny, it is funny, period.

Now, as it turns out Super Troopers isn't that funny, but it gets the job done. It follows a group of misfit highway patrol men who are seen as a sort of laughing stock to the "real" city cops. They amuse themselves with juvenile pranks and silly games. In the first scene the troopers decide to mess with some potheads by repeatedly pulling them over and asking the same questions, then to teach them a lesson by making them smoke an entire bag of weed. These beginning scenes have a frantic energy and humor that shows a lot of promise, but the hijinks sort of taper out in the middle. The jokes come but don't hit quite as hard as you'd expect.

The plot is somewhat of a variation of the lovable loser underdog story where the misfits must rise to the occasion by solving an actual police case. Of course they are not taken seriously by their rivals, the city police. Surprisingly the story actually makes sense and even throws in some unexpected twists, which is a lot to ask for sometimes when dealing with dumbed down movies. The strength of the film lies in its cast of misfits, each trooper has his own personality. Think Animal House but with cops.

Overall the film is a decent time killer with some laughs, which can be exactly what you need in some situations. However, if you're looking for something with even a hint of sophistication or thought, you might want to look elsewhere.

Grade: C+

200 Days...

200 Days...

So I've now finished 200 days, over halfway done. Watching movies have become second nature to me by now, but writing is still an arduous task and I'm not sure if I'm getting any better at it. There were a couple movies I absolutely hated writing for because I couldn't think of anything to write about. With my crazy sleeping schedule I've often had to watch movies when I got home at like 5:00 am dead tired, making the writing even worse. Reading back on some of the posts, I could definitely tell which ones I just sort of half-assed. When I started there was an endless supply of movies to watch but now the really good ones I want to see are getting fewer and further between. There were a couple nights where I was just scrolling through Netflix and nothing looked appealing at all and have had to watch a couple movies I didn't care about at all. I really hate wasting days on useless movies but it's going to be inevitable.

I have difficult challenge coming up. I'm going on a two week Mediterranean cruise with my family next week where it's unlikely I'm going to have access to the Internet on a daily basis. I'm going to download a bunch of movies to bring with me and type up the write-ups offline, posting them whenever I get the chance to. What's probably going to end up happening is just posting them all at once I get back. So when you see I haven't been updating the blog, it's not because I quit!

So here is a brief breakdown on what I've been watching the past 100 days (including two bonus movies).

By decade:
2010: 25
2000: 14
1990: 8
1980: 18
1970: 9
1960: 4
1950: 13
1940: 8
1930: 1
1920: 2

Now by grade:
A   19
A-  19
B+ 19
B   20
B-  9
C+ 9
C   3
C-  1
D+ 1
D   1
D-  1
F    0

It's pretty evenly distributed at the top. I'm happy that I'm still finding good movies to watch, thankfully I have yet to give out an F. It could be that I'm too easy as a critic though. I might just decide to watch a movie universally accepted as horrible and see if it's bad enough to completely flunk.

Here's a list of the 19 A's I've given out in the past 100 days. Obviously if I had to recommend a movie from the ones I've watched, I'd start here.

Blow Out, Body Heat, Drive, Fargo, Hanna, Heavenly Creatures, Last Train Home, The Music Room, Paths of Glory, Ponyo, Psycho,  Scarface, sex, lies, and videotape, Sin Nombre, Still Walking, Stranger Than Paradise, Sweet Smell of Success, Touch of Evil, Young Frankenstein

If I had to choose just one of these movies I think I'd have to pick Still Walking. It may or may not be the best of the bunch but it is certainly the movie that affected me the most.

Oh, here's a link to my 100 day post.