Friday, December 31, 2010

Black Swan


EDITED TO ADD: I just realized that there may be some spoilery things in here...so be careful. But really, you shouldn't be reading this if you haven't seen the movie yet.

"Maybe it was all that White Swan/Black Swan split-personality stuff, but as Black Swan ended I found myself confronted by two outwardly identical but attitudinally opposed thoughts: "That was something... (?)" and "That was something... (!)." In other words, I can't yet tell you exactly what Black Swan is, exactly what it means to me, or exactly when the film is genius and when it's trite, but I can tell you that it got under my skin, that it's powerful in sum, if not incessantly, and that I expect its spell will linger."
                                                                                                   ----- Jason Bellamy


Black Swan is ultimately about an identity crisis (and how!), but it's also a genre mash-up that I can't stop thinking about. Like Jason explains in the quote above (from his piece with Ed Howard at The House Next Door), I find myself thinking that the film is often brilliant in its excess and often hackneyed in its execution. I'm no Darren Aronofsky acolyte, but there is something about his movies that keep me coming back. Like his obsessed characters, I find myself thinking about his films – love 'em or hate 'em – for days. Black Swan is, as Jason puts it, "powerful in sum." If Aronofsky is anything, the one thing he isn't is subtle. And you know what, I like that about him. I like the audacity of his head-long brashness to make the film arrive at the conclusion that, certainly, almost everyone can see it approaching. For once, Aronofsky's aesthetic didn't get in the way of me enjoying the movie. My observations after the jump...


Thursday, December 30, 2010

True Grit (2010)


Much has been made of The Coen's tinkering with the ending to their newest film True Grit – an adaptation of a novel by Charles Portis which was turned to a hugely popular film adaption by Henry Hathaway (which in turn gave screen icon John Wayne is only Oscar…but you know all of this already) – and how that tinkering makes their western – a wholly un-ironic (or, rather, un-existential) affair that is, surprisingly for the brothers, their most straight-forward narrative…ever – not so much an honest remake, but, what's that word we like to use now? Ah, it's a "reimagining." Well, truth be told I have neither read the source material, nor have I seen the original John Wayne film; therefore, I could only approach this recent telling of the story as it appeared to me: a Coen Brothers movie. It seems to me, from conversations with those who have seen the original film and read the novel, that True Grit v. 2010 is as strict an adaptation of source material as the brothers' attempt to "adapt" Cormac McCarthy a few years ago (which is to say that the "strictness" of an adaptation is really irrelevant to the quality of a film). That is they have stayed true enough to the source material all the while sprinkling in wonderful bits of Coenisms. Therefore, I felt I didn't miss anything from the experience by not knowing anything about the source material or the famous film released some 40 years ago. True Grit is not, as so many have been asserting, a "minor" Coen Brothers movie. I resent that sentiment not because True Grit deserves to be called anything better (it certainly isn't a "masterpiece"), but because the Coen's – two of our best and most challenging filmmakers today – don't have a "minor" film in them (whether or not The Ladykillers or Intolerable Cruelty count as true Coen Brothers movies is up for debate).


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Catching up with 2010: Capsule Review - Best Worst Movie


Best Worst Movie is great if you’re a fan of Troll 2, but otherwise it’s a bit of a boring documentary that seems to be discovering the same thing over and over: the film has a cult following, and the actors are varying degrees of embarrassed about the film. The film is really about George Hardy; he’s a dentist who does good work for his Alabama community, but when he catches wind that Troll 2 is a popular roadshow film he decides to jump on the circuit and be a part of the mania. The most interesting thing about this overlong documentary is that Hardy sees the difference between cult fans in small venues and the type of horror fans that flock to large conventions. In the most telling scene from the film he converses with fellow “one-and-done” horror actors as an entire row of tables consists of people who appeared – briefly – in one of the Nightmare films. When Hardy sees this, and the subsequent rejection of his “stardom” (he’s basically reduced to pimping his own bad movie and merchandise), he promptly turns on the people that seem to adore him the most. The most salient point Best Worst Movie makes is, I suppose, that there are two types of horror fans, and the die-hards (read: the one’s willing to spend LOTS of money) see horror in its most non-ironic form, and this just doesn’t work for what Hardy is trying to do with the Troll 2 roadshow. There’s a reason why the people involved in the Upright Citizens Brigade are willing to pay George Hardy money for an appearance at their club, and why the dudes dressed up as Freddy and Jason at the major horror convention haven’t even heard of Troll 2. The reason for this is the most interesting part of the movie. If the documentary would have been a short – a film about the phenomenon of Troll 2 and bad movies in general – then it would have been an easy recommend. But as it is, Best Worst Movie is a mild recommendation for fans only. There’s just too much wasted time in the middle of the film, and I really disliked the tone of certain scenes where it felt the filmmakers (the person who directed the documentary was the child star of Troll 2) were just trying to embarrass the director (Claudio Fragasso) by showing how inept he was in not seeing the irony in the film. Now either that was a point of the film, or I was completely fooled by Fragasso who maybe understands the irony of the film’s appeal and just plays the straight man; however, I feel what many feel is what makes Troll 2 the best worst movie: it’s genuine. Therefore, I don’t think Fragasso is being ironic at all here, and that makes the scenes focusing on him even more painful to watch because here’s an entire room of people ripping on a man’s work in front of him, and he just doesn’t get it. I never thought I would feel sympathetic towards such a hack filmmaker, but damn if I didn’t feel that Fragasso was somewhat of a tragic figure by film’s end. I don’t think that was the filmmaker’s intent, though, and that confusion in tone is why I can’t fully recommend Best Worst Movie.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ken Russell: The Musicals and Biopics, Part 2 (Tommy, Lisztomania, and Valentino)


After Mahler, Ken Russell signed on to turn the massively popular rock opera “Tommy” by The Who into a feature film. The film would go on to bring Russell his greatest success (both critically and financially) and would lead him to re-team with The Who frontman Roger Daltry for the hilariously absurd Lisztomania. That film was a bomb (although it did enjoy some minor success at the British box office) –in actuality it’s worse than that; although, it does play as some kind of perverse curiosity – and ultimately led to Russell’s worst film (a film he denounced), Valentino. The end of the 70’s was a rollercoaster for Russell. Tommy took the auteur to new heights (and gave him the canvas to construct his greatest visuals) while Lisztomania gave Russell a chance to unleash his unbridled creativity on audiences, it was met with silence, but it still wasn’t as bad a film experience as the nadir of his career, the failed biopic Valentino.  These three films show what’s simultaneously so invigorating and infuriating about the auteur – how he can all at once dazzle and dizzy the viewer with his visuals as well as confuse and frustrate with his imbalance.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ken Russell: Musicals and Biopics, Part 1 (The Music Lovers, The Boy Friend, Savage Messiah, and Mahler)



After the release of The Devils, Ken Russell embarked on making a string of experimental, personal films -- some, on both accounts, more than others -- about artists, the theater, and composers. This olio of avant-garde work showcases the best and worst of Russell the auteur exploring his favorite subject: the creation of art by geniuses (and what makes those geniuses tick). The best example of this favorite theme of Russell’s is the stream-of-consciousness biopic Mahler and the rock opera Tommy (a precursor to all of the Baz Luhrmann/Guy Ritchie MTV-stylized films – and the forefather of rock videos, actually); Russell’s worst is in the verbose, overwrought The Music Lovers. And yet, what is perhaps most disappointing about this string of 70’s films is that, for the most part, they seem so benign and forgettable in the wake of Russell’s first two films (the beautiful looking, beautifully acted Women in Love and the visceral, jarring The Devils). What can be ascertained from this slate of 70’s films? Well for starters, we can see that Russell spurned the studios (and why wouldn’t he after his experiences with The Music Lovers and The Devils?) and decided to make films about subjects that were personal to him – all-the-while continuing to intersperse his favorite themes of religion and the creation of art into these films. It’s a wide range of films all varying in successes and failures, but I think these70’s films of Russell are vital to his oeuvre because it gives us insight into why Russell became the type of filmmaker he was in the 80’s and 90’s.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Catching up with 2010: Capsule Review – Salt


Salt is a breath of fresh air; it’s a great, old-fashioned style Cold War thriller with a no-frills, goofy attitude towards the action genre. This is exactly what these types of spy thrillers should be, and even though I really liked some of the Bourne films, Salt, in all of its simplicity, is light-years ahead of Paul Greengrass’ film. The film is not just light-years ahead in craft (I like that the film employs a mix of old-school and new-school editors – Stuart Baird and John Gillroy respectively – to show how smooth and exciting editing action scenes can be by really showing a sense of space and coherency and still being kinetic without having to make the viewer nauseous with in-the-moment shaky-cam), but in how Jolie is the perfect lead for this type of role (the same way Damon was for the first Bourne film), and the supporting cast – especially Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor – as we suspend our disbelief for a film like this we actually find ourselves, thanks to Jolie, not having to suspend it too far. Even though Evelyn Salt bounces on tops of semi trucks and jumps off of bridges and onto cars, Jolie is the type of actress who makes the silly situations in a film like this seems utterly enjoyable in spite of its goofiness. Director Phillip Noyce is adept at making these kinds of films as he made the best of the Jack Ryan thrillers in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Its head-to-the-ground momentum and constant action reminded me of an era when films like this didn’t take themselves too seriously and stop for needless exposition to try and make sense of it all. Salt seems to be making it up as it goes, and you know what that’s not a bad thing here. The only time you realize how silly Salt is is if you take the time to contemplate on it days later. All I know is this: it’s about as expertly crafted an action film that I’ve seen in years. I gave myself over to this silly spy thriller and enjoyed it immensely, and that my in-the-moment reaction to Salt is that it’s one of my favorite movies of 2010.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ken Russell: The Devils



All pictures are courtesy of my brother. He reviewed the film a couple of months ago at his blog. Check it out to see even more great screen captures.

Ken Russell's The Devils is one of the most memorable films to come out of that oh-so-exciting era of filmmaking: the early 70's. With the likes of Rosemary's Baby and Dirty Harry (not to mention William Friedkin's The Exorcist – one of the more audacious American films released during that era), American films were as adventurous as they were ever going to be. Filmmakers had carte blanche to make the kinds of films they wanted to see; audiences be damned. Russell was just one of those filmmakers, and perhaps no other film the British auteur made was as controversial, antagonistic (in its satirizing of the Catholic Church), and so beautifully shot and constructed as The Devils.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ken Russell: Women in Love



Sorry for the delay in getting this post up. It's been in the hopper for awhile; I was just never really that pleased with it….so I'm just getting it out here so I can kickstart this retrospective (which will run all month). Expect regular blogging from now until January. Yay. I hope you enjoy. See ya in the comments.

Ken Russell is a filmmaker who marches to the beat of his own drum; this is a trait that all auteurs have, and Russell is no different. Here is a man who makes the films he wants to make; critics and audience tastes be damned. There's something refreshing about this considering that in 2010 we're in the midst of what is possibly the stalest, most predictable and benign crop of "prestige" films an awards seasons has ever offered. However, there's also something maddening about doing a retrospective on a filmmaker who can all at once – sometimes within a 20 minute span – make you throw up your hands in praise of the visual artistry on display or make you throw up your hands in frustration at the lack of character development and coherent aesthetic. It makes for a viewing experience that is never dull, though, and if there is one thing that became abundantly clear after my first viewing of Russell's early crop of films is that I will not be short on material to talk about. Russell may be maddening because he seems a bit distracted at times by aesthetic in lieu of story, but one thing is for certain: Russell is never boring.

Russell parlayed his early success with British television into a job directing the rather ordinary (albeit good) spy film Billion Dollar Brain. However, Russell's first real theatrical success (and my jumping off point for this retrospective) was his interpretation of D.H. Lawrence's controversial Women in Love; it would also be the first and only time one of his films would garner mass critical acclaim.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Catching up with 2010: Capsule Review - Easy A


Much like Orange County and The House Bunny, Easy A is a film that is nothing new to the genre of high school/college films about people who look good and attend nice looking schools in affluent communities. Whew, that's a mouthful for merely trying to explain a specific type of film, but we all probably know what type of film Easy A is before we even watch it. And yet, that is what makes the film so damn enjoyable: it is so much better than it has any right to be. The sole purpose is the charming-as-hell personality of the film's lead: Emma Stone. This is a career-making role, and as Olive (Stone) wades through her self-inflicted problems (she takes money to allow outcasts to spread rumors that she is sleeping with them while donning a scarlet "A" a la Hester Prynne) we are privy to a portrait of a smart and beautiful and self-assured female protagonist that is rarely seen in the usual sex-crazed, cynical films about teenagers. This should come as no surprise to those who saw Stone in Superbad and Zombieland, and in Easy A Stone owns every scene. Her performance elevates the film and reminded me of the way that Colin Hanks and Jack Black made Orange County more than just your average high school film in the wake of American Pie; it also reminded me of the way Anna Ferris turned a film like The House Bunny (also starring Stone) from something I normally would abhor to something that was not just tolerable but really damn likable. Easy A is aided by a tremendous supporting cast in Thomas Haden Church, Malcolm McDowell, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, and Lisa Kudrow. Easy A isn't about to resurrect a dead subgenre, and director Will Gluck's (Fired Up!) direction is too inconsistent to keep the film from feeling a soggy at the end (even though it's a brisk 90 minutes); however, Stone's performance is really one of the best I've seen this year from a female lead, and Easy A is her coming out party. Here is a star-making performance in a film that is a breezy, harmless 90 minutes and good for some genuine laughs thanks to its outstanding cast.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks

Allow me for a moment to be serious...

I know it's cliche, and perhaps even a little cheesy, to type a list of things one is thankful for, but I felt compelled to compile this short post in light of some recent reading on this eve of the day we give thanks.

To Jim Emerson: Your Scanners blog never fails to remind me that time spent reading the internet is not time wasted. Thanks, too, for always getting me to think at a higher level about what is on the screen. Your blog reminds me daily of the fond memories I have sitting in my English Literature classes during my undergrad; every day was exciting because of the truths discovered through deep explication and deconstruction of the material.

To Sam Juliano: Your generosity and enthusiasm (not to mention your willingness to allow others to add their own posts at your blog) is something I'm glad to have come across in my short time blogging.

Thanks to Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard: Your "Conversations" series is hands down, without hyperbole, my favorite thing to read. Whenever I see a blog update stating that there's a new entry in the series (like your latest fantastic take on the film's of Arronofsky), I take a deep breath, grab a beer, and sit back on my couch and enjoy the ride. I rarely contribute to the conversation in the comments, but that is not because I'm unimpressed with that I've read; it's because your writing and analysis makes my own feel so obsolete. I mean that as the kind of compliment that should be interpreted as such: I don't comment because there's nothing left to add to the conversation; you've covered it all in your leave-no-frame-unanalyzed approach to film criticism. It's detailed, exhaustive, and always brilliant. It's the kind of film criticism that makes one stop and think: "Damn, this needs to be on my bookshelf!" Thanks for helping me see new truths in films I've seen more than a few times.

To Tim Brayton: Your blog, Antagony & Ecstasy, reminds me of why I love not just watching movies, but writing about and discussing them. Your reviews are the most densely packed with a gift for never having a feeling of over staying their welcome; they are the most hilarious, wonderfully irreverent, insightful, entertaining reads on the web. The fact that you can pack all of those into a movie review and not make it come off as cynical, pretentious, or overly verbose is truly amazing.

To my readers: Thanks to everyone who takes time to leave comments on here. It's a petty thing, but those comments always make this recreational writer feel like what I'm doing is at least somewhat useful.  There are so many of you (if your blog is listed on the right, then know that you are definitely thanked) that leave flattering comments, and a lot of you that will leave an insightful addendum to some of my musings. I appreciate that. To those of you that have been here from the beginning (even if I don't see you around here anymore): Ali Arikan, Rick Olson, Greg, Bill R., J.D., Alexander Coleman, Sam (of course), Tony Dayoub, Adam, Ryan, Jake, Bryce Wilson, Troy, Neil, Marylin, Rod, and so many more (again, look to the sidebar).


Thanks, everyone.  Whether you realize it or not, with this crazy thing called blogging, you all bring moments of joy, humor, intellectual stimulation, and new insights into my daily routine. Thank you for that.

So there you go.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Some Quick Thoughts on "Boardwalk Empire"


Thanks to my hometown's propensity for closing everything down when an inch of snow and a little bit of ice accumulates on the street, I don't have to work today. My school is closed for the day which gives me the opportunity to catch up on some episodes of my new favorite show "Boardwalk Empire." Once again, for great, insightful (and more detailed than what you'll find here) weekly recaps visit Ed and David (and of course Alan) at their sites. Spoilers abound if you aren't caught up with the most recent episode. Thoughts after the jump...


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Social Network


Not since last year's Inglourious Basterds have I left a movie theater so exhilarated; I couldn't wait to get home and type out my thoughts about David Fincher's latest The Social Network. But then a funny thing happened: I realized I was about a month late to the party, and, perhaps most pressing, what could I possibly add to the already invigorating and intellectually stimulating conversation that was taking place in the blogosphere. As you may recall this is exactly the same quandary I faced last year when talking about Tarantino's magnum opus, and it was at that time that I realized that the conventional review was not only less interesting to read, but, with a film as hyped and written about as The Social Network, even less interesting to write. Therefore, after the jump I'll simply present, for brevity's sake, eight bullet points on why The Social Network is a movie that I've seen multiple times: once in the theaters, and multiple times in my memory and in my dreams. That may sound strange, but I can't shake this film, and much like Inglourious Basterds last year it's a film that deserves more than a generic review about the film's narrative, how it is or isn't historically accurate, and whether or not Facebook changed the way we interact with the internet. No, I was more struck with what was on the screen, how it got there, and how those elements helped create one of the breeziest two hour films in recent memory.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spend the holidays with Ken Russell!


Yes, folks, that is correct, I will be spending my holidays with a man obsessed with religion...how apt! Apt, I say! (to quote Lisa Simpson) Beginning December 7th or so I will begin my second attempt to cover a director's oeuvre. Ken Russell is the man the majority of you voted for last month, and I have to say that you all must hate me. I don't want to tip my hand to how favorable or unfavorable my retrospective will be, but let me just say this: I have now moved through all of Russell's mainstream 60's and 70's films...and I can only think of two that have made this endeavor worth while. But I'm here to please the voters, and the voters wanted Russell, so I will deliver. I'm a classical music and opera neophyte, so I think naturally some of Russell's early looks at musicians and artists were right over my head. I tried my hardest to look at them objectively, but some of these films could only take me to a certain place because of my lack of knowledge about composers. That being said, I will give it a go in about a month, and the retrospective will be the focus of this blog all December (with some more capsule reviews of 2010 films sprinkled in). I hope you'll join me; it should be fun times. See everyone in a month.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hour of the Wolf


This post originally appeared as part of the Wonders in the Dark horror countdown. You can view all entries here.


"The Hour of the Wolf" is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when ghosts and demons are most powerful.


Imagine if I told you that the tagline above is for a movie called The Cannibals – sounds like an ordinary horror film, doesn’t it? Now, imagine I tell you that the above tagline is for a movie directed by Ingmar Bergman – you would probably think it was an art-house film about the dark night of the soul. Okay, so now I will tell you that Ingmar Bergman – after having a nervous breakdown – decided to make two of his darkest and most personal films in the form of Persona (a wildly popular and revered film art-house film) and Hour of the Wolf (originally entitled The Cannibals).  As odd as it may seem to see an Ingmar Bergman on a list for the best horror films I’ve always felt that it was around this time of the 60’s and 70’s that Bergman was not only making the best movies of his career, but he was also doing it in the form of deeply introspective and contemplative films that came from the darkest depths of the man’s artistry and philosophies.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Catching up with 2010: Capsule Review – The Killer Inside Me


Not since John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer has a film attempted so closely to follow and track the depravity of a killer, but Michael Winterbottom's latest experiment (based on a popular piece of pulp fiction) tries its hardest to do just that, but is sadly derailed by superfluous story threads and unnecessary supporting characters that seem to just drift in and out of the story with no rhyme or reason. The major difference between the two films, and one of the reasons the former works so well, is that McNaughton's film isn't stylized in the way that Winterbottom's film The Killer Inside Me is. McNaughton's film also wasn't interested in cluttering the story with those aforementioned unnecessary elements. Here was have a film that seems like it's going into an uncomfortable territory – into a place where there is nowhere to hide and we must confront the brutality of the killer we're watching (and being led through the story by); however, this is not the case with The Killer Inside Me which sadly devolves into normalcy when the film really calls for all-out, unflinching nihilism.

I'm not saying that's a requirement for a film of this nature to be good, but if Winterbottom and his crew (and the crew does great work as the production design and cinematography are top notch) were content on giving us scenes like they do where a character is brutally punched to death (with sound-mixing that churned my stomach) then they can't back down the rest of the way by making the film a banal procedural with unnecessary periphery characters and a horribly misused soundtrack. Sadly, that's what The Killer Inside Me amounts to. I really wanted to love this movie. I was ready to go there if the film would have been willing to go to the places, the depths, it promised it was going in its opening 30 minutes. Alas, it's somewhat of a miss for Winterbottom, one of the most prolific (and one of my favorite) filmmakers working today. The Killer Inside Me is a beautiful looking film with the appropriate pulp/noir aesthetic, but a tone that is all over the place (especially in the way the film juxtaposes the brutality of its moments with a 50's soundtrack that is just all wrong all the time). There's enough here in the performance of Affleck and the style of the film to make it more than a worthwhile curiosity, but considering the talent and the subject matter it's a surprisingly disappointing and banal one.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catching up with 2010: Capsule Review – Date Night


Here's the type of comedy that just doesn't work in 2010. The actors, bless their hearts, try their hardest to make this pseudo-screwball comedy work, but the writing and the directing (specifically the asinine idea to add 20 minutes to the film for home release) completely derail the film. In other words: it's hard to make a screwball comedy in 2010 because directors and studios think screwball today equates to guns, car chases, and poorly directed action scenes involving normal, everyday people. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are Phil and Clair Foster, a married couple looking to have an exciting date night in New York City after hearing about how their friends' (great supporting performances from Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) marriage has died due to lack of excitement. What happens, of course, is a misunderstanding in the city that puts the Foster's smack in the middle of a situation involving crooked cops, a corrupt D.A., and a coveted flash drive that links the cops with the D.A. with a mob boss (Ray Liotta).

It's all a convoluted mess that results in more groan inducing moments than laughs. Part of the problem is that director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum films) has no idea how to direct a comedy (or an action picture for that matter). The actors do their best to show the appropriate emotion as all of the screwy madness swirls around their normalcy, and half the fun of the movie is just looking at the Fosters as they experience these crazy situations. However, the banter between Carell and Fey is mediocre at best (Fey really isn't a movie star, her performance was all wrong for a film), and they are upstaged by the supporting cast that includes the aforementioned Ruffalo, Wiig, and Liotta; as well as James Franco (in a role that steals the film, and actually makes it worth watching), Mila Kunis, and Mark Wahlberg (another great comedic performance). When it's all said and done the film is too long at 108 minutes (the theatrical version was 88 minutes…so you're telling me they felt the need to add 20 minutes to the DVD!) as there are countless scenes that kill the momentum of the film, and I imagine had I seen this in the theater the pacing would have been quicker (adding to the screwball element) and more tolerable; instead, the pacing is atrocious, specifically a scene near the end where the Foster's must pose as strippers. It just killed the film right there for me. If you run across the film on TV late at night it's worth checking out for the scenes with Wahlberg, Franco, and Kunis. Everything else in Date Night is a big time failure.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I hope that's shepherds pie in my knickers...

Forty years ago, a film appeared that was so shocking, so terrifying, it was sealed in a concrete vault deep beneath the earth. But even the new management of Sony Tri-Star could not contain the pure evil of The Bloodening. A registered nurse, trained in the treatment of terror, will be on duty during the showing of The Bloodening.

For a truly terrifying film this Halloween make sure to watch The Bloodening. It has a high likelihood of causing fear-induced heart attacks, and you get to find out how creepy little kids know about how the doctor and the bootblack have been rogering the fishwife in the crumpet shop. Oh, and you find out about the constable who has been sneaking puddings. Because those creepy little kids "KNOW ALL YOUR SECRETS".

Video after the jump (for some reason when I embedded the video it wanted to go outside of my margins)...


Sunday, October 3, 2010

In the spirit of "friending"...

There's no doubt what the movie of the moment is right now: the Fincher/Sorkin (accredited in the trailer the same way Welles and Toland were in Citizen Kane, suggesting, perhaps that the film wouldn't be what people are calling it if Fincher didn't have Sorkin) collaboration, The Social Network. It will be a looooong while before I see this (okay, not really, but at least a few months), so in the spirit of online friends and community and such, (and living vicariously through other people's ability to get out there and see the film...not to mention their talents in writing about it) here are some of my favorite bloggers and critics discussing the film. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Images from a night of movie watching without my wife...

So my wife is gone this weekend at school (she's in a program that meets two weekends every month at Portland St.), and so I decided to be mature and instead of throwing a big party I decided to work on my work samples for my masters degree. I need background noise when I work...so I went to the one genre that always gets me through schoolwork (surprisingly not horror): the action film*. Here are some images of what motivated me while I typed up lesson plans, assessment data analysis, and other various forms of busy work. Enjoy. (oh, and in case anyone is wondering where the second episode thoughts for "Boardwalk Empire" are...sorry. I just don't have the time. The Q&D, though: Michael Shannon is awesome. Oh, and "Eastbound and Down" was highly disappointing considering the amount of talent working on that show.)
















*One thing I did notice when I randomly payed attention to these movies: Andrew Davis is a really goo action filmmaker, and his Above the Law is not only the best Seagal movie, but it might be one of the better action films of the 80's. Out for Justice is just goofy, Bronson-esque vigilante fun, and of course Under Siege is beyond awesome thanks to a brilliantly manic performance from Tommy Lee Jones...oh, and Garey Busey!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blogging Hiatus (kind of)...

It looks like Ken Russell won the blog poll for my next director retrospective. I have loaded up the Netflix queue with Russell films, and I will begin viewing those shortly. However, when I actually post stuff will be sporadic at best. In fact, I have decided use this retrospective -- and the breadth of Russell's oeuvre -- as a way to get out of doing a second Italian horror-themed blogathon. For those of you that don't know, I am an educator; actually, I think of myself as more of a social worker considering the the type of students I felt a vocational calling to help ten years ago. I've worked with at-risk teenagers for at least five years now, in various arenas, but specifically in an options high school that is associated with a local community college where the students -- mostly teen moms, expelled students from public high schools, marginalized teens, or former gang members (and sometimes just super smart and ambitious students who think the public school system works too slowly for them) -- take a term's worth of classes in three weeks.

I mention all of this because I am in the midst of wrapping up my masters degree in education (I'm writing a research project and two work samples right now), and I'm teaching classes at night. So, I'm essentially working from 9am to 7:30pm. Needless to say I am tired, and I am going to anticipate being tired for a long while. Sadly this will come at the expense of the Italian horror blogathon (but I plan on doing it again next year) and some more recent movies I wanted to go see (I still have a slew of 2010 movies to catch up with); so, expect a lot of content when I'm on winter break (sometime in mid December) and random content until that time. There will be plenty of horror-themed content out there for you all to get your fix. I will continue writing blurbs for the Wonders in the Dark horror countdown, and it sounds like Bill of the wonderful The Kind of Face You Hate is returning with his great October series on horror literature (with the great theme name of The Kind of Face You SLASH).

So there ya have it. I will try my hardest* to continue posting brief thoughts on "Boardwalk Empire", and like I said, I'll get to work on the Ken Russell movies when I have time, but the plan is to step away from multiple posts during the week for my own sanity (and my wife's). See ya when I see ya.

*Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the school I teach at just started the school year off on the absolutely worst possible note: three students -- ages 16, 18, and 18 -- were standing on a sidewalk waiting for a bus outside of our school when a driver who was under the influence veered two lanes over and jumped the curb instantly killing one of the students, injuring another so badly that she died later that night in the hospital, and critically injuring the other one. I was the first teacher on the scene, and I noticed right away that the critically injured student was one of mine; three of my other students saw the entire thing happen, and I know what I saw...so I can't even imagine how they're dealing with what they saw. We're a close-knit school community (only about a 120 students total), and we're all extremely shaken-up by all of this. So, even though film and television is a positive and cathartic distraction for me right now, I think you can understand why I feel so ambivalent towards posting content: On one hand it helps to watch, read, and discuss about other stuff; on the other hand it just doesn't seem to matter at the moment.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Only one day left to vote!

On the right side of my blog you will see a poll. This poll was created to give you, my dear readers, the power to tell me what you want to read about for my next director retrospective. So...if you haven't voted yet all I can is this: What are you waiting for! The race is tight (I'm a little shocked there's no love for Hal Ashby), and it appears that right now Ken Russell is going to win this thing, but Peter Weir has caught up a bit, and Nicolas Roeg is starting to creep up there, too. Only 26 people have voted so get on it, people! Once the winner is revealed I'll start as soon as I can on catching up with their movies.*




*Sadly this may come at the expense of the Italian Horror Blogathon. I've acquiesced to the fact that I just don't think I can do it this year (too much school and work...which happens to be school, too); besides, there will be plenty of great blogathons and Halloween-themed posts out there for everyone to discover. I'm also participating in the Wonders in the Dark Halloween countdown, so I'll get my chance to write about Italian horror over there (I already have), and if you haven't checked out the content over there for the countdown, do so as soon as possible. It's a lot of fun, and there's usually great discussions about the films in the comments section.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Boardwalk Empire"...the best film of the year?


[I'm hoping to do these quick and dirty posts on what I liked most about each episode every Monday. For detailed episode recaps, which these posts of mine will not be, you should read Edward Copeland's wonderful blog. His summation of the pilot episode can be found here.

Keeping in the spirit of what Jim Emerson has been proposing over at his blog (essentially that television is doing cinema better than cinema these days), "Boardwalk Empire" may just be the best "film" I see this year. I'm extremely excited to see where it goes from here.

A few notes about the pilot episode after the jump...


Friday, September 17, 2010

Oliver Stone: Nixon



[This is the final installment of my look at the films of Oliver Stone from 1986-1995. I've placed a convenient little pole on the right side of the blog for you all to partake in. That's right, I'm giving you the power to decide what I watch and write about for the next director retrospective! Hehe. Exciting, I know. So, be democratic and vote!]

And so we come to the end of this "retrospective". Yes, retrospective is in quotes because I was only ever interested in covering the years when Stone's films were popular. I found that by looking at this output of films from 1986 – 1995, Oliver Stone was unlike any other American filmmaker during that time. He was a filmmaker, as Roger Ebert said, "that sought controversy" instead of running away from it; often explicating characters, real-life figures, and themes that always had a seething anger and disillusionment with the "system" running through them. Towards the end of his prolific run, Stone became a kind of loose cannon filmmaker; an artist who started to become more stylistic in approach, and where that style dominated substance. This caused his films to make less and less money as Stone was clearly losing touch with the audience who was paying to see Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July (by the time of Nixon's theatrical run was over, Stone's reputation and disconnect with his audience had gotten so bad that the film only made about 14 million of its 44 million budget back); however, box office success or failure isn't an appropriate barometer for how good or bad a film really is, and even though Stone was alienating his audience with films like JFK and Natural Born Killers, (causing him to become even more experimental after Nixon, and failing with films like U-Turn, Any Given Sunday, and Alexander) he was arguably making his most interesting pictures during that time, too. The perfect bit of final punctuation to this prolific era is Nixon; a film that is certainly one of Stone's most intense character studies, most stylistic (compounding upon the schizophrenic aesthetic of JFK, his other political picture), and certainly most surprising.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oliver Stone: Natural Born Killers


After the box office failure of Heaven and Earth Oliver Stone was crushed. His final entry into his Vietnam trilogy – his most impassioned labor of love – was met with resounding apathy from the critical and commercial masses, and all he wanted to do was make a straight-forward action film with an easy shooting schedule after the grueling experience of filming on location in Saigon for Heaven and Earth. What Stone found was a script by then-plucky up-and-comer Quentin Tarantino (who at the time of shopping his script around wasn't known for Pulp Fiction) called Natural Born Killers. Stone's initial idea was to make into an action film that "Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of"; however, O.J. Simpson and the onslaught of what is now known as "Reality TV" coverage changed the tone of the picture Stone intended to make.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

David Cronenberg Blog-a-thon: Videodrome


[This post is part of the David Cronenberg Blog-a-thon going on right now at Tony Dayoub's site Cinema Viewfinder. Check out the comments for this piece here]

What is probably one of the most unconventional horror films ever made, David Cronenberg's Videodrome is, perhaps, only matched by David Lynch's Blue Velvet as one of the oddest, most surreal horror experiences I've ever seen. Cronenberg's film is akin to Lynch's in the sense that both films sit on the fringes of horror (using the prototype of the genre to explicate darker, more postmodern themes that society marginalizes and deems taboo) and really ask us to consider what makes a horror film horrifying. It's not just the visceral nature of horror, and it's not just the getting-under-skin ideas at play – it's a mixture of both. On the surface both films seem to be something else entirely: Lynch's film is dark, yes, but it's also comical (mostly ironic in the way a lot of postmodern work is) in the same way Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (another film that stretches the genre) is darkly comical; whereas Videodrome is without laughs. There's nothing remotely comical about Cronenberg's exercise, an odd hybrid (as most of his movies are) of science fiction and horror; however, like Blue Velvet, there are deeper questions about sexuality and violence, and the effects those two things have (especially when combined) on society. Videodrome is as displacing a horror film that I've seen; a film that plunges the viewer into the depths of sexuality and violence to give us an otherworldly, uncomfortable experience that asks us not what we find objectionable about sex and violence, but how we consider platforms for these oft taboo subjects.


Oliver Stone: Heaven and Earth


Sandwiched between Stone's two craziest and most manic films lay one of the auteur's more visually poetic and interesting films; Heaven and Earth isn't something so different that it stands out – although it's nice to see Stone stretch himself a bit here by having the film being told through the eyes of a female protagonist – and it falls too often into ridiculous melodrama to be emotionally memorable. But if you can get past some of the film's major flaws (the film, based on two books by the film's protagonist Le Ly Hayslip, feels incomplete as it really doesn't follow through with her story) you'll see a gem of a movie that lingers on moments of poetic filmmaking and voiceover narration that puts the viewer in a state of reverie; a shocking tonal shift from a director who would descend into self-parody with his ADD aesthetic a mere two films after making this one.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Winter’s Bone


Unlike Precious and Frozen River (the latter I enjoyed for its performances), Winter's Bone feels lived-in; it doesn't feel like the filmmakers are above the material judging it, smugly proud of the way their exploiting their marginalized, poverty stricken characters for the sake of impressing the Sundance crowds in the name of "understanding these characters" or "showing us a world we've never seen before because we're too concerned with our own lives to look worry about it." Meth is a driving force in this film, but it never makes an appearance; drug trafficking is the cause for a lot of the fear for the Dolly clan, yet, there are no chase scenes or moments where we follow the characters into the despair of drug use. No, that kind of mentality isn't on display here as writer-director Debra Granik, working off a novel by Daniel Woodrell, is too smart for that. She fashions her film, instead, in the style of the Dardenne brothers (the masters of minimalist cinema) where she relentlessly follows her lead character, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) as she searchers for her father Jessup, a meth dealer and "cooker", who has put their house up for bond, and if she doesn't find him in one week she will lose the house that she and her younger brother and sister and comatose mother are staying in (not to mention the timber land they own). The camera always stays on Ree, even when other characters enter a house, the film doesn't cut away to show another point of view. We watch the events of her life unfold as nuance after nuance of her odyssey seem to build and compound upon one another until before we even realize it we're knee deep in a thriller, and the film doesn't let us go of its grip until the final cut to black.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Oliver Stone: JFK


After the lukewarm reaction to The Doors, Oliver Stone needed to rejuvenate the quiescent angst that had been on display in his earlier films like Salvador and Born on the Fourth of July. Stone wanted to fashion a film – what he would call a "counter-myth" – about what he perceived as the conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy. Molding his screenplay in the style of Z and Rashomon, Stone created JFK; a procedural unlike any I've ever seen. Thanks to Stone's amazing ensemble cast (as Craig pointed out about a week ago in the Wall Street thread Stone is an underrated director with his actors, and reminds one of the way Altman always handled his large casts with ease) and the film's insanely kinetic aesthetic (once again shot by Robert Richardson, and edited by Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia), JFK is indeed another angry movie from Oliver Stone, and it's my favorite film from the controversial director.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Oliver Stone: The Doors


I remember seeing tons of shows as a teenager where I would gladly be packed shoulder to shoulder with other sweaty music fans – packed like sardines – waiting for a band or musician to come on stage and give us a show. I was always adamant about seeing bands that did something different live than what they would do on their albums; after all, if I wanted to hear the same thing I would save my money and just listen to the album. Standing there for hours with complete strangers, swaying back and forth and sometime getting rowdy in mosh pits or circle pits, and emulating the antics of the band's frontman was all part of the experience. I'm fond of those memories; memories that are likely never to fade, and memories that always arise when I spin a particular album. One thing is always clear when I remember those times when I had the stamina to hop from venue to venue in Portland, OR to see a variety of bands: I was feeding off the energy of the band, and most specifically the frontman (aka the lead singer). This person was the avatar for a scene, a niche or subculture that we all sought to assimilate with our band t-shirts and hightop Converse (or Vans). These frontmen could single-handily make a band watchable; they were all energetic, they could all belt a good tune, and they all had an undeniable hypnotic quality about them. The band needed to be good, too, and I'm not shallow enough to say that I didn't enjoy watching people jam, but it was always the frontman that kept me going back whenever that band would come through town. Fans became acolytes to these kinds of icons, and it dawned on me while I was watching Oliver Stone's flawed biopic:  there may have been no greater – or more influential – frontman than Jim Morrison.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Oliver Stone: Talk Radio and Born on the Fourth of July



Talk Radio is perhaps Oliver Stone's angriest film; an apt designation considering he teamed up with an even angrier man in playwright Eric Bogosian (who also stars as the lead). What they're angry at is more arbitrary than what Ron Kovic, the subject of Stone's 1989 hit film Born on the Fourth of July, is angry at. For Kovic the focus of that anger is clear: disillusionment and betrayal from those he trusted most (his government, his parents, American ideals); however, the anger directed by Barry, the subject of Stone's 1988 film Talk Radio, is more at society in general. Both films, though, have an angry director behind the camera; crystallizing his frustrations by using others' stories as source material. In Talk Radio it's the story of 'shock jock' (before Howard Stern popularized such a term) Barry (played by Bogosian who also co-wrote the play the film is based on which is also based on a book about Alan Berg, a radio host from Denver who was murdered in 1984…whew, did you get all that?) who has a popular late night talk show that caters to all kind of right-wing nutjobs and conspiracy theorists, not to mention the usual talk radio listener who seems to only exist to continuously irk the radio host with their clichéd philosophies on life. In Born on the Fourth of July it's Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), a once baby-faced Midwestern high school wrestler who dreamt of making his mark in the Marines the way his father and grandfather (not to mention John Wayne in all of those WWII movies) did. Both films have similar themes about people being disillusioned with the culture that surrounds them, and both films have an angry undercurrent running through them.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Blog Design

I'll be back on Monday with some more posts (continuing my look at Oliver Stone's films), but first I wanted to point out the obvious: I've redesigned the blog (yet again).  So I guess I've re-redesigned the blog. Anywho, if you look up top there are now neat little tabs that will take you to a specified page with links. I will place the current year's reviews in a tab at the top (and when I was doing this I was shocked to see that I've reviewed exactly three films this year!) and any previous years will be placed on the right under their appropriate label. Also, I've added a neat little quote that from Jim Emerson...it's pretty much perfect.  In addition, I've added tabs for any of the major features or blogathons I've done on the blog (Italian Horror, Summer of Slash, and Best Films of the 2000's). So, yeah...hope you like the new look, and I'll be back Monday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oliver Stone: Wall Street


Taking a break from traditional war zones, Oliver Stone decided to move from the jungles of El Salvador and Vietnam to the jungle of Wall Street. The major difference is that Stone isn't as serious here as he was with his previous movies Salvador and Platoon. There's something charmingly campy about Stone's tale of 80's excess and greed in Wall Street. Most of what makes it work is the performance of Michael Douglas – a star at the time not known for these kinds of roles – and Charlie Sheen, who once again plays the wide-eyed optimist who gradually becomes more and more jaded, just like his character Chris in Platoon. The most interesting thing, though, about Wall Street is that how it shows Stone as a filmmaker stretching his legs a little bit, and showing the ability to make a different kind of picture. It would have been easy for Stone to follow up his Oscar-winning Platoon with another message movie about the war, but instead the oft-angry Stone decided to make a statement about the ridiculous ethos of the 80's, and how people in skyscrapers buying and selling companies like they're nothing are just as "lost" as the people in platoons who wandered through the jungles of Vietnam. Wall Street isn't nearly as serious as Stone's previous two films, but there's an undercurrent of anger at the Me Generation running through the campiness of the story.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Oliver Stone: Salvador and Platoon



Oliver Stone is as interesting a filmmaker we have working today in American cinema. The problem is that he basically made the same film over and over until people grew tired of his shtick. To see an Oliver Stone film is to see something controversial; the filmmaker has always been interested in not creating controversy, but seeking it out and explicating the chaos and greed and corruption of America's infrastructures (Wall Street/greed; Vietnam/war; Washington, D.C./corruption in politics; television/violence in the media). Stone got his start writing screenplays – quite popular screenplays – for big time filmmakers like Brian De Palma (Scarface) and Hal Ashby (8 Million Ways to Die), and wrote screenplays for big budget films like Conan the Barbarian. You got a sense of Stone's writing in one of his first screenplays, Midnight Express, and he would cut his teeth as a director – like so many filmmakers do – in the horror genre with films like Seizure and The Hand. However, after the success of the aforementioned screenplays Stone began working on his first feature that would set the tone for how we view Stone as a filmmaker. That feature was Salvador – a weird hybrid of an adventure film and a film about journalism while trying to be a message film. The film is flawed, but it would be the catalyst for what was Stone's most impressive run of films – a run he's likely never to duplicate.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Director Retrospectives: Oliver Stone


On September 24th Oliver Stone will release his sequel to the campy 80's drama, Wall Street. Yes, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (what a horrible subtitle) seems hardly an event to trumpeted, but I have to be honest: for maybe only the third or fourth time this year I'm actually kind of excited to go out and see a movie on the day of its release. So, prior to the release of Stone's latest film I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at his most revered period of filmmaking. From 1986 - 1995 just about every film he released was nominated for numerous Academy Awards. Now, I know that Oscar's aren't the be-all-end-all barometers of how good a movie is, but I do find it interesting for that nine year period Stone was somewhat of a golden boy in Hollywood. After the release of Nixon it seems that he his films started to become too self-indulgent and smug and he lost favor with his audiences (the tipping point was probably his overly long failure Any Given Sunday).  So what I'm interested in doing (and I'll be doing this for some other filmmakers who have films coming out this year...Peter Weir being one of them) is going  back through Stone's early oeuvre and revisiting his films to see if I can accomplish two things: a.) to see if they're as good as I remember them being (all I remember about films like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July is that I really like them, but it's been at least 10 years since I've seen them) and b.) whether or not Stone is really as good a filmmaker as I remember him being (I still love the rather polarizing JFK and Natural Born Killers), or if he's nothing more than a faux-documentarian who loves to stir the pot with his controversial films.  Look for the first set of reviews (Salvador and Platoon) on Monday.

Other filmmakers I plan on doing these retrospectives on: William Friedkin (he had quite the interesting fall in Hollywood, going from making influential crime and horror films to making straight to video movies) and Peter Weir (who, finally, has a new movie being released this year). Any other suggestions on filmmakers you would like to see me cover? Leave your suggestions in the comment section.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Two from John Huston: Prizzi’s Honor and Under the Volcano




[This post is my contribution to Adam Zanzie's John Huston blogathon; head on over to Icebox Movies to check out the rest of the great entries.]


When thinking about Adam's question and main theme for the blogathon – whether or not we can call John Huston an auteur – I knew that I wanted to consider this question while placing it within the context of Huston's late era; in this case two of the final three films he ever made. Prizzi's Honor – a dark comedy about the mobster genre – was unlike anything done at the time, and the film that preceded his penultimate project, Under the Volcano, perhaps the best movie about drinking ever made (containing one of the best performances of a drunk by Albert Finney). Each film's merits aside, were they proof that Huston was an auteur, and if they did prove that he was, what then is Huston's mark on the medium? The obvious answer is Huston's love for literature. Almost all of his films are adaptations of some sort, some from quite famous and important authors (Flannery O' Connor, Malcolm Lowry, and a little nobody with the last name Joyce, I think…), and even though his films aren't flashy or pretentious they may just be some of the most consistent pieces of work since the likes of Howard Hawks or John Ford. There's something warmly familiar about Huston's films, and there's something gratifying in the consistency at which he churns out quality picture after quality picture; in addition, there's always something postmodern or theological going on beneath the surface of his films; and the wrestling of those bigger topics is Huston's indelible thumbprint on film. To watch a John Huston film is somewhat of a con game; it's easy to find yourself thinking that what you're watching is simply quality filmmaking, but there's a lot more going on in the frame than a mere competence of filmmaking 101.
 


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why The Expendables will be the best movie I see this summer


No, there's no logical reason for the title to this post; this is going to be strictly emotion-based. Next Friday The Expendables – a B-level action movie that seems to be so retro that it has no place being released in theaters in 2010; rather, it would be more appropriate to have it be shown between the hours of 12:45 am and 4 am on Showtime – will be released nationwide. Sylvester Stallone's recent labor of love is an attempt to bring people back to the action movie; people who have become disillusioned with the shaky-cam, CGI-fests that plague theaters and call themselves "real" or "gritty" action films. Stallone is shamelessly trying to tap into a sense of nostalgia with his latest film by casting virtually every action star from '80s and '90s (and more recent tough guys like the always great Jason Statham) from the likes of Dolph Lundgren to Bruce Willis to Jet Li to a cameo by the Governator himself. Sadly Steven Seagal (my personal favorite of the '90s action stars) and Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the opportunity to be in the film; the former because of a dislike for the producer (seems fair enough), and the latter because – and I'm not joking here – he felt like his character wasn't developed enough. You know, like his well developed characters from such classics as Nowhere to Run, Double Impact, or Hard Target. But I digress...



Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer of Slash: Wrap-up

Well, as you can can see apparently the summer only lasts a few months in my world. I know that technically I have an entrie month to watch more slasher/horror movies and write about them, but the truth is that I've pretty much covered all of the titles I wanted to cover. This isn't really the end of my horror movie writing, though (of course not!) as a month from now I will be joining three others in coutning down the best horror films of all time over at the place for movie polling, Wonders in the Dark. Since the four of us plan on taking our lists and finding common films among them to make the list, some of the films I will have placed on my list won't get featured, so I plan on doing my full countdown (all 100 movies!) over here in small, one-to-two paragraph reviews of each horror film. That way I can continue the horror theme (all the way through October, which this blog will once again host an Italian horror themed blogathon) while reviewing other movies, too.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my horror posts (and to those of you who read without commenting, too), and my apoligies for dropping the ball the last few weeks and not replying to comments. School is over for the summer, and work stuff won't really pick up until mid-September, so I plan on getting a lot of reviewing done here on the blog (I have a handful of 2010 films I've watched, ranging from:The Green Zone to Greenberg to Chole to The Ghost Writer, and so much more). Be on the lookout for my John Huston reviews for Adam's John Huston blogathon, and next month I'll be contributing a piece on Videodrome for Tony's David Cronenberg blogathon.  Go to those blogs and participate in the discussion.  See ya around.



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In Defense of Miami Vice


Head on over to Wonders in the Dark where they've been kind of enough to let me ramble on about why I think Miami Vice is one of the best film's of the decade (in their recent poll on the subject I placed it number two). Here's a sample:

There’s nothing more cliché than an action film about two cops who go undercover and infiltrate a drug cartel; and that, while undercover, one of the cops will no doubt get in too deep while the other cop can only question his partner’s commitment to the case. Such clichés are evident in almost all of Michael Mann’s films; however, he always sidesteps the banal inevitability of said clichés by taking a fresh look at the men who lead such lives through an introspective and microscopic lens. 2006 brought Miami Vice, a film popping with beautifully filmed colors, meticulously framed skylines, and, most importantly, the type of scrupulous itemization Mann loves to display for his audiences (just watch the way his characters create sing-songy dialogue with insider jargon). For Mann, it isn’t so much about the action, but about the duty, the inner turmoil (which is always aided by beautifully shot and framed visual correlatives); they’re about why these people are driven by what they’re driven by, and how they function in the world they live in. A lot of people find Mann’s brand of “action” film boring – too much ethereal wandering that result in long, lingering takes on unnecessary close-ups or establishing shots – with not enough shoot ‘em up; I find them misunderstood, refreshing takes on tired genre tropes; existential tone poems of the crime genre that are narratively akin to the French master Jean-Pierre Melville in how the filmmaker is more concerned with the inner dilemma than the external action. If Mann’s crime films are narratively akin to Melville then surely they are visually akin to his American contemporary visual poet Terence Malick in how the film has an ease about its tone; it’s almost as if it wafts from scene to scene as if in a dream.   Miami Vice is a masterpiece of the crime genre that isn’t just the most misunderstood film of Mann’s oeuvre, but also the most misunderstood masterpiece of the last decade.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer of Slash: Maniac


William Lustig's Maniac is a brilliant slasher film; one that William Friedkin called not just "a great film", but, "one of the scariest films of all time." Now, Mr. Friedkin's comments – not always a pillar of reliance (see: Jade) – are quite a shock to those who think Maniac is nothing more than a gratuitous, misogynistic splatter fest. The film is so much more: it's a 42nd Street Cinema version of Taxi Driver; a film that deserves more credit than just its superb gore effects by make-up maven Tom Savini (who lays claim the film's most infamous death). Lustig's direction is top notch even despite some splotchy pacing, there is a chase scene in the film that is rather intense; Joe Spinell's portrayal of Frank Zito, the homicidal killer with obvious woman problems, paints a portrait of a disturbed serial killer almost as unnerving as Michael Rooker's in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer; and that ending…what an ending…it totally squashes all of the N.O.W. complaints about the movie, and, especially when compared to drek like Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper, it's clear from the ending that Spinell and Lustig were not interested in glorifying the murders of these women, but in how these murders haunt the killer…showing (in a dream sequence) that they (the murders of the women) are literally eating him alive.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer of Slash: Capsule Reviews, Part 4



Back with some capsule reviews.  These have been in the can for a while, but a mixture of grad school, work, and the hard drive for my desktop computer blowing up it's been a bugger of a time getting some new horror posts up.  I have a review for Maniac ready to go, too, but I'm still waiting for my computer to get fixed so I can get some screencaps up (my Netbook doesn't have a disc drive). In these capsule reviews you'll find brief thoughts on the Ozploitation version of Rear Window, a zombie movie penned by the man who came up with the idea for Alien, One of the best worst movies I've ever seen (one that would make Umberto Lenzi proud), and possibly one of the worst horror sequels I've ever seen.  Reviews after the jump...


Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer of Slash: Eyeballing a Meme


Hans from the always wonderful Quiet Cool blog has pegged me for the latest meme making the rounds. This meme started over at The Dancing Image. The inspiration for the meme is "a gallery of images chosen by you to stand for so much of what makes Cinema such a rich and exciting medium." Here are the rules(cut and pasted from Hans' site):

1. Pick as many pictures as you want - but make them screen-captures. These need to be moments that speak to you that perhaps haven't been represented as stills before.

2. Pick a theme, any theme.

3. You MUST link to original gallery at The Dancing Image.

4. Tag five blogs.

I'll tackle the last part first: I'm going to ape what Ed Howard did and simply invite all readers to participate.  It's just better that way.

Okay, so my theme for this meme came to me pretty easily since I'm already doing a theme for the summer.  Naturally, most of the movies I have at my disposal are horror movies, at the moment, so I went ahead and tried to think of one element that I love about horror movies, and I my mind went to eyes.  The Italians love 'em and so do I.  There's something about the eyes: cliches like "windows to the soul" are apt for horror films; there's something seductive and alluring about a close-up shot of the eye; there's something vulnerable about seeing an eye exposed, which leads to many cringe-worthy moments in horror films where eyes are injured (again, a favorite of the Italian's); and there's just something cool about the way eyes are often framed in horror movies.  So here is my gallery of 'eyeball images' from an array of horror films.  Pictures and titles of the films come after the jump...