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Archive for 'FILMS – 2006+'

The Big Sleep

February 17, 2013 by , under Films, FILMS - 2006+.




For someone who doesn’t get paid, I see and write about a lot of films.  I see them because I love them.  I write about them so I can later look them up and review my thoughts.  Let’s face it – not all movies are memorable or worth a second viewing, and, my memory sucks.

As in the past, I again watched “The Big Sleep” (1945 & 1946), starring who-else-but pop culture icons Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  My previous viewings left me with mixed, unenthusiastic feelings.  It’s not a stand-out film… at least not the 1946 version I’d always seen released to the public.  However, recently I purchased a dvd that held a 1945 version.  My wife and I decided to watch 1945 one night, and 1946 the next.  Stick with me on this…

“The Big Sleep” was made during the war and sent first to our soldiers overseas.  Whether this shipment was a gesture of Patriotism by Hollywood or merely an easy way to test market a movie without getting critics involved, you decide.  Either way, the studio learned a few things related to their investment: 1) the story was complex but sufficiently clear, and Bacall, the female they wanted to sell as the Star, had serious competition in Martha Vickers who played her lovely, flirtatious, out-in-left field sister.  I agree with what must have been the soldiers responses: Vickers is much better.  Bacall was neither equal in looks or acting dynamics… but, she had Bogart.

In 1945, at age 46, Bogart was a big star.  Bacall, at age 23, had a couple films on her resume – box office bombs.  Investors were afraid one more flop would kill her with the public.  Bogart had other big issues in his life: he was alcoholic, married, and had the hots for Bacall.  He was becoming known for unreliable behavior and costing Warner Brothers more money through delays.  In 1945 Hollywood, neither of these as-is people were a solid investment.

This is where it becomes easy to say “I’m going to stop reading about Hollywood and its machinations, and stick to watching films.”  But, like driving by the proverbial car wreck and seeing damaged people getting loaded into ambulances or hearses, I admit my wife and I look on.  There’s a “tabloid history” angle hard to ignore… now made even easier with a tablet computer next to us on the sofa for immediate research after the film.

“The Big Sleep” needed to be “re-vamped”.  Literally.  Most everyone had a vested interest in getting Bogey and Bacall into the limelight without unnecessary delays.  This would require editing out the “problems” and shooting additional scenes to be inserted.  Removal of film footage focused on Martha Vickers.  The studio wanted Bacall as the marketable Star, and Bogart wanted Bacall as… well, for the time being anyhow, his mistress.  Bacall no doubt saw the scrawls on the walls – she was on her way out and other women could out-dazzle her.  But, now she had a big star who would fight for her in ways she could not.  Vickers, too good to be removed entirely, was snipped out until no longer a screen “distraction”, and with the newly created open spots in the film, additional Bogart/Bacall scenes were created – scenes with plenty of Hollywood Heat.  The people who needed to make money would make more money.  The people with careers on the line would ally in ways necessary for self-defense and power.  A product would be altered, careers would be sculpted, people would be built up or torn down, and the public would be none the wiser while happily paying their twenty five cents at the box office window to see Their Stars.  Only later would they debate a confusing, incomplete-feeling plot.

All is Glorious in Hollywood… just don’t wander into the back lots.



(PS: Martha Vickers’ career and life would flail about unsuccessfully up to her death at age 46 in 1971.)  


1 Comment


January 17, 2012 by , under Films, FILMS - 2006+, Films 2012.



What films have you seen at least THIRTY times, and, WHY?


Leave your answers here!  (Many were originally posted on Facebook):



  • Dave JoachimBlues Brothers……….. good movie, great music.

    8 hours ago · · 1
  • Stu BechtelNemo…. love the grandbabies & seen it plenty of times.

    8 hours ago · · 1
  • Sonya HarmonJaws. I know, I know … but it’s not about the shark. The cinematography is gorgeous, and I love the relationship between Brody and his wife, as well as his camaraderie with Quint and Hooper. Go ahead. Judge away. LOLAlso? The Color Purple. No explanation necessary.

    8 hours ago · · 3
  • Pat Schoff GraggThe Wizard Of Oz. Brings back childhood memories from when we couldn’t watch it whenever we wanted, it was on once a year (signaling the start of the Christmas season). My sister, brother, and I would get soooo excited! Freshly bathed, in our pj’s, laying on the floor in front of the tv. My family was fond of Brach’s Malted Milk Balls (not the imposter, Whoppers), and as the music started we would hear mom dividing the bag into 5 bowls. Plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, pause, repeat. Goosebumps!

    7 hours ago · · 1
  • Eric HauseI’m with Sonya. Best adventure flick ever made.

    6 hours ago · · 1
  • Nancy Noll KolinskiThe Fifth Element: great writing + acting, so creative, amazing design – so much to look at!

    6 hours ago · · 1
  • FUTURES AntiquesI am LOVING this!! Go go go!!! Now I’ll add one of mine: “Eraserhead” by David Lynch.

    4 hours ago · · 1
  • FUTURES AntiquesOkay, Pat is right about “The Wizard of Oz”, and yes, I’m right there with the malted milk balls, too!

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES AntiquesLet me think… a THIRD would be… “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang.

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES AntiquesA FOURTH would be “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES AntiquesA FIFTH would be… “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”.

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES AntiquesSixth, and in NO particular order by the way, “A Christmas Story”.

    4 hours ago · · 1
  • FUTURES Antiques‎”Little Fugitive”.

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES AntiquesI’m working my way towards 3-0 with “Napolean Dynamite” I think…

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES Antiques‎”Lolita” – second version, 1997.

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES Antiques‎”The Last Picture Show”.

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES Antiques‎”Hud”.

    4 hours ago ·
  • FUTURES Antiques‎”Harold and Maude”.

    4 hours ago ·
  • Andrew RobertsGood movies are like great comfort food, evocative of time, place and memories of friends and family.

    3 hours ago · · 1
  • Lisa MerninAnimal House, pure stupid fun!

    2 hours ago · · 1
  • Lisa MerninAlso, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Wizard of Oz

    2 hours ago ·
  • Lisa MerninGroundhog Day – duh!

    2 hours ago ·
  • Lisa MerninThe Sound of Music – yeah, a musical

    2 hours ago ·
  • Lisa MerninThe Shawshank Redemption

    2 hours ago ·
  • Lisa MerninPlatoon

    2 hours ago ·


Oh yes!  “Animal House”!

Yes!  “Groundhog Day”!

And, “The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser”.

And, “The Long, Long Trailer”.

And, “Fistful of Dollars”.

And, “Annie Hall”.

And, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”,

And, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”,

And, “Lord of the Flies” (1963),

And, “Fail Safe”,

And, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”,

And, “Waiting for Guffman”,

And, “Come Back Little Sheba”,

And, “The Grapes of Wrath”,

And, “Avalon”,

And, “Blow Up”,

And, “The Elephant Man”,

And, “The Life of Brian”,

And, “Anchoress”,

And, “Shane”,

And, “To Kill a Mockingbird”,

And, “Platoon”,

And, “On the Waterfront”,

And, “The Thin Red Line” (1998),

And, “Midnight Cowboy”,

And, “Anchorman – the Legend of Ron Burgandy”,

And, “Apocalypse Now”,

And, “The Miracle Worker” (1962),

And, “Dr. Strangelove”,

And, “Exotica”,

And, “The Secret of Roan Inish”,

And, “Tender Mercies”,

And, “Manhattan”,

And, “Schindler’s List”,

And, “The Last Temptation of Christ”,

And, “Lawrence of Arabia”,

And, “Edward Scissorhands”,

And, “Big Fish”,

And, “Flirting with Disaster”,

And, “Taxi Driver”,

And, “High Fidelity”,

And, “2001: A Space Odyssey”,

And, “Summer of ’42”,

And, …

  • Pat Schoff GraggCool Hand Luke. Cuz Paul Newman was HOT!!!

    8 hours ago ·






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I gotcher Top One Hundred ri’chere, Pally!!!

August 6, 2011 by , under Films, FILMS - 2006+.


So, the first list below is the New York Times “Top 100 Films of All Time”.  I have issues with it, but let’s start there…

Marked in red are ones I own.  I italicized those I agree should be in the Top 100:

A – C

* Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
* The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)

* The Awful Truth (1937)

* Baby Face (1933)
* Bande à part (1964)
* Barry Lyndon (1975)
* Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
* Blade Runner (1982)
* Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
* Brazil (1985)

* Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
* Camille (1936)
* Casablanca (1942)
* Charade (1963)

* Children of Paradise (1945)
* Chinatown (1974)
* Chungking Express (1994)
* Citizen Kane (1941)
* City Lights (1931)
* City of God (2002)
* Closely Watched Trains (1966)
* The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936)
* The Crowd (1928)

D – F

* Day for Night (1973)
* The Decalogue (1989)
* Detour (1945)
* The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
* Dodsworth (1936)
* Double Indemnity (1944)
* Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
* Drunken Master II (1994)
* E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
* 8 1/2 (1963)
* The 400 Blows (1959)
* Farewell My Concubine (1993)
* Finding Nemo (2003)

* The Fly (1986)

G – J

* The Godfather, Parts I and II (1972, 1974)
* The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
* Goodfellas (1990)

* A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
* His Girl Friday (1940)
* Ikiru (1952)
* In A Lonely Place (1950)
* Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
* It’s A Gift (1934)
* It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

K – M

* Kandahar (2001)
* Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
* King Kong (1933)
* The Lady Eve (1941)
* The Last Command (1928)
* Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
* Léolo (1992)
* The Lord of the Rings (2001-03)
* The Man With a Camera (1929)
* The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
* Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
* Metropolis (1927)
* Miller’s Crossing (1990)

* Mon oncle d’Amérique (1980)
* Mouchette (1967)

N – P

* Nayakan (1987)
* Ninotchka (1939)
* Notorious (1946)
* Olympia, Parts 1 and 2 (1938)
* On the Waterfront (1954)
* Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

* Out of the Past (1947)
* Persona (1966)
* Pinocchio (1940)

* Psycho (1960)
* Pulp Fiction (1994)
* The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

* Pyaasa (1957)

Q – S

* Raging Bull (1980)
* Schindler’s List (1993)

* The Searchers (1956)
* Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
* The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
* Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
* The Singing Detective (1986)
* Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
* Some Like It Hot (1959)
* Star Wars (1977)
* A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
* Sunrise (1927)
* Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
* Swing Time (1936)

T – Z

* Talk to Her (2002)
* Taxi Driver (1976)
* Tokyo Story (1953)

* A Touch of Zen (1971)
* Ugetsu (1953)
* Ulysses’ Gaze (1995)
* Umberto D (1952)
* Unforgiven (1992)

* White Heat (1949)
* Wings of Desire (1987)
* Yojimbo (1961)

Did anyone ask “Hey, WHERE’S … ????”  Well I DID!  So I’m adding to the list (in no particular order!):

Taxi Driver
The Thin Red Line (1998)
The Endurance
Tender Mercies
The Best Years of our Lives
The March of the Penguins
Apollo 13
Woman in the Dunes
Dersu Uzala
The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio
Bicycle Thieves
Being There
Girl on a Bridge
The Cider House Rules
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Brief Encounter
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Wrestling Ernest Hemmingway
Little Fugitive
All the Real Girls
Lord of the Flies (1963)
Lolita (1997)
The Pianist
The Sweet Hereafter
A Man for All Seasons
All or Nothing
John Adams
Waiting for Guffman
A Mighty Wind
Come Back Little Sheba
Paths of Glory
The Ice Storm
The Grapes of Wrath
Grand Canyon
The Human Stain
Trilogy: Blue, White, Red
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Last Picture Show
All Quiet on the Western Front
Big Fish
Into the Arms of Strangers
The Elephant Man
Touching the Void
The Life of Brian
To End all Wars
The Field
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser
The Color Purple
Sansho the Baliff
The Burmese Harp
Grizzly Man
Tae Guk Gi
The House of Sand and Fog
Crimes and Misdemeanors
An Angel at my Table
Mystic River
Hart’s War
The Deer Hunter
The Pawnbroker
My Left Foot
Forbidden Games
Au Revoir Les Enfants
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Zorba the Greek
All the Real Girls
Of Mice and Men (1992)
Cinema Paradiso
Annie Hall
IL Postino
The Count of Monte Christo
Monster’s Ball
Band of Brothers
The Safety of Objects
A Song for Martin
Personal Velocity
The Believer
Sophie’s Choice
Moll Flanders
The Straight Story
A Beautiful Mind
To Kill a Mockingbird
Fail Safe
Apocalypse Now
Midnight Cowboy
The Crucible
Days of Wine and Roses
Brave Heart
Hilary and Jackie
The Miracle Worker (1962)
Hope and Glory
Leaving Las Vegas
The Last Temptation of Christ
Another Woman
Autumn Sonata
Dominick and Eugene
Unstrung Heroes
Under the Domin Tree
Europa Europe
Pelle the Conqueror
The Secret of Roan Inish
The Joy Luck Club
Life of Brian
Breaking the Waves
The Last Days
The Old Man and the Sea
Career Girls
Freedom Song
The Hairdresser’s Husband
Hoop Dreams

and more.  So there.





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FILMS – Year 2006

October 20, 2007 by , under FILMS - 2006+.

In our contemporary life, watching films is as close as we get to the deep-seated need for huddling around the fire and listening to our Story Tellers. This is when and where we express our fears of the unknown, debate the mystical, and support our assumptions about the sunlit world.
(CODES: “again” = I’ve seen it before,
“WOTO” = We Own This One,
“IMDB” = my opinions also found on the Internet Movie Data Base site)
The following are some of the films I have seen so far this year. Within each category, the film most recently viewed is placed at the top of the list.
==================== ============================
2006 MOVING PICTURES NEVER enough time, SO many films
==================== ============================
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (again and again, 1946): It’s a wonderful film, and story, with wonderful acting, gorgeous black & white photography, important philosophies… it has everything. Jimmy Stewart was at his best. Donna Reed? What a girl-next-door-babe! Clarence the Angel? Perfectly innocent and effective. Bert & Ernie? I suppose they are a major realization for Sesame Street fans!! The children – fragile and pure. Sam Wainwright – the goofy, life-time friend, no matter how rich he became. Evil Mister Potter? The man we love to hate (hissss!), played by Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather). The rejected kid at the dance, who opens the dance floor for George & Mary to fall in? Remember “Alfalfa” in “The Little Rascals”/”Our Gang”? That’s him. You KNOW what “Potter’s Field” is slang for, right? It’s the generic name given to graveyards for people who died alone, broke, and unclaimed. Uncle Billy? His memory problem is easy for me to relate to, and I’ve always wished I had a CROW as a bird-pal. Violet? We ALL knew (or know) a Violet…the good hearted gal who relied too heavily on appearances. One of the prettiest photographic scenes is early in the film, when George and Mary are just leaving town in the taxi after their wedding – it’s raining, and they stop to look back at what appears to be a “run” on the Savings and Loan. As they peer out the back window of the taxi, THAT is pure beauty. Do I still get misty with a film that I’ve easily seen 50 times? Yes. When Mr. Gower realizes that young George caught his prescription mistake. When adult George comes home that night shattered, and SNAPS. This film’s heart is in the RIGHT place SO often for SO many reasons. I’ve always shaken my head in amazement at people who saw it as schmaltzy. Yes, it has those moments, but they’re at a minimum (and are needed as RELIEF!) compared to the overwhelming amount of loss, frustration, fragility, anger, near & true violence, nasty characters, and shocking realizations. I see it as a TRUE spiritual journey along a suddenly frightening road. It STILL nearly brings me to tears at points, along with amazement at the story, and how it was done. This, and “Wings of Desire” are my Top Two Films of All Time. WOTO IMDB
“Pather Panchali” (Hindi, 1955): Poetic depictions of humans in all their pettiness, silliness, honor, and beauty. We “live” with a typical family over the years, as they struggle, love, fight, laugh, cry, and die. Shot beautifully, the moments are shown in lingering, thoughtful ways, whether as direct observations, or symbols. WOTO
“Anne Frank Remembered” (again, 1995): This is THE definition of what quality documentaries are to be. It uses facts, first hand accounts, archival film footage, respectful narration, and quality scoring. Those who played major roles in Anne and her family’s lives – and survived – are interviewed extensively, providing honesty, credibility, detail, heart, and inspiration. Kept is a fine balance between the specifics of a young girl’s life and death, and the larger meanings derived from these horrors. It simply gets no better than this. WOTO
“Amelie” (again, French, 2001): You know, I hesitated to put “Amelie” in this category, and then I tried deciphering why I shouldn’t. It has everything I look for in a profound film, yet, even after multiple viewings, I was in doubt. Here’s why (and it’s embarrassing for me to admit I caught this in myself): 1) Audrey Tautou is incredibly cute, 2) much of this film comes off as a comedy, 3) a variety of photographic techniques are used which are often reserved for comedy or suspense, 4) the scoring seems light, 5) the characters are VERY quirky, 6) the scenarios are laugh out loud strange. Not enough? 7) the sets are fascinating expressions of the characters, 8) they each have truly interesting but bizarre hobbies, and 9) Audrey Tautou is incredibly cute. ALL OF THAT aside, what we have here is a serious film about Life’s Choices – Our Options, Opportunities to Share or Retreat, Our Leading a Creative Life, Camouflaging the Flaws, and Our Potential Growth. This is a very wise film, made in a wonder-full manner, and should be seen by ALL. WOTO IMDB
A Trio of Documentaries:
“9/11” (2002): This is the French documentary that followed a few rookie fire fighters through training and their early weeks on the job in New York City. It was THIS camera duo who, by pure ugly “luck”, filmed the planes hitting the World Trade Center buildings (which you have probably seen). It was also these two men, the Naudet brothers, especially the one assigned to follow the departmental Chief, who entered the Center and kept filming, while the top floors burned. They would capture the last images of many frightened, doomed, brave fire fighters. My heart aches when I see these shots, my anger reminds me it does not dissipate, and I, again – with a renewed sense of awe – keep these people in mind as THE DEFINITION OF HEROISM. These men KNEW there was little chance they’d return once they began climbing up those stairwells – in full gear and an extra 60 pounds each on their backs – with thousands of people rushing down the stairs in a panic, none of the 80 elevators working (in fact, those shafts became the conduit for explosive, ignited fuel to shoot all the way to the basements, making each floor explode from the pressure) – they KNEW. You can see it on their faces. It would take them a full minute per floor to go up, and they had 78 floors to climb before they hit full fire and complete devastation… or at least that’s how it looked at the moment. It didn’t go that “well”, as we know. Meanwhile, paper, glass, metal, fire, and body parts rained over the streets and rooftops of N.Y.C. for blocks. People were suffocating in the smoke. With the camera crew in the lobby of one building, there was a slow, constant rhythm of HUGE, explosive bangs that could be heard just outside… people jumping to their deaths, having chosen this over burning. In fact, the bodies were falling at such a fast rate soon, that firefighters and others who were now told to “MAY DAY MAY DAY!! EVACUATE!!!!” had to wait for police, who were standing on the outside, to signal WHEN they could run out of the building, so no one was killed by those hitting the ground from 80 or more stories up. This is 120 minutes of inspiring behaviors and personal sadness brought about by the Evil of those killers. WE Shall Never Forget. WOTO IMDB
“In Memoriam (9-11-01)” (2002): This document is quite different than the one above. “In Memoriam” is composed of the film shot by hundreds of people with video cameras, still cameras, phone cameras… And because it was shot from so many locations, with so many points of view, you are privy to most terrible, the most horrific last moments of many lives, and the enduring pain of those left to live. There are very touching interviews with extremely thoughtful people, along with those who were angry, confused, frightened, hurt, AND brought together through tragedy. Mayor Guiliani did an exceptional job during this time, and I have now learned that when he finally went home that first night to rest, he picked up a book on Winston Churchill, finding help and inspiration from someone who had been down a very similar road already.
“America Remembers 9-11-01” (2002): This document, assembled by CNN, is different than the other two. Its focus is on the events, but as they channeled through the newsroom and its reporters. In this sense, it is a tad excessive in its self-centeredness, but there exists plenty of valuable information, and gives more attention to Washington D.C. than does the other two.
“Stroszek” (again, 1977): One of Werner Herzog’s more accessible masterpieces. As in “The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser”, Herzog uses his non-actor friend Bruno S. as the star in this story of misguided dreams and marketed myths. Bruno, released from prison after having caused problems from his drinking, reunites with acquaintances, both good and bad. The old life in Berlin, Germany, isn’t working, so he, with two friends, set out for a new life in Wisconsin, U.S.A.. Herzog’s production values are much higher in this work, but sacrifices nothing of his unique vision(s) about Life, and Death, in society, and in this case, especially in America. Leave it to a German artist to show us a fresh view of our culture. Watch for visually symbolic themes, such as repetitive, circular movements. This is a powerful, sometimes funny, often uncomfortable, quirky, tacky, and doomed fable – with too much direct Truth to be sloughed off as fantasy. WOTO IMDB
“Lessons of Darkness” (1992): Never call Werner Herzog a dilettante. When he sets out to make a film, he’s willing to die for it. Although this film could have easily been adjusted to a pure documentary of the oil fires in Kuwait after the Iraq invasion, Herzog takes it to much higher levels. War. Apocalypse. Mythical Disaster. The End of Life as we knew it. THE Struggle (and, since this is made by a dark-visioned German, we do NOT win the struggle. At best, we earn a temporary truce with the Devil.) This is perhaps the MOST BEAUTIFULLY PHOTOGRAPHED COLOR film I’ve EVER seen. Bar none. The scoring, as usual, is unique and perfect. “Lessons of Darkness” is atypically vague for a film in my category “Life Changers”, yet I am left extremely moved by the powerful effects of an exquisite visual and audio work of Art. WOTO IMDB
“Little Dieter Needs to Fly” (1998): Another Werner Herzog documentary. How he manages to find these TRUE stories, I do not know, but it must consume him. His film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” was created from the diary of the Spanish Priest who accompanied Coronado’s search for the City of Gold, Eldorado. His film “The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser” (also known as “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” or “All for One, and God Against All”) was created from a centuries-old file (1828) found in the “city” hall of small German village. “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” is the ASTOUNDING life story of a German boy who, during the deadly bombings of Germany in the last years of WWII, decided he wanted to fly aeroplanes, and to accomplish this he must move to America. Although thrown off the path for a few years (but learning skills he never expected to NEED), he eventually found himself flying in 1966 – for America – over Viet Nam. This is the story of a man who was shot down, deprived, beaten, tortured, and left for dead more than once, until he didn’t know what was real and what was his imagination. At all. How he survived, what he remembers, and what life was like for him over the next 30 years is the stuff of breath-taking pain and awe. TRUST Herzog. See ALL his films. WOTO IMDB
“The Color Purple” (1985): Always a joyous pleasure and deeply painful, this is the Film that took Spielberg into broader respect. Be prepared for very young, now famous actors. They’re all 21 years younger here… the superb premier of Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey (I long for her to go back to acting), Danny Glover (doing an admirable job in a very ugly role), “Larry” Fishburn, Margaret Avery, Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, Akosua Busia… You can FEEL it in this film – EVERYONE was there because they felt they were doing something of importance… which they were. Taken from the Pulitzer prize-winning novel, and keeping its epic, ironic, twists of Karma sensibility, we live and breathe the pains, degradation, and joys of very difficult lives. Towards the end, the film takes on less of a literary, and more of a theatrical nature – which I question – but this is a small point compared to the film craft, acting, and heart of very emotional story. Full of lessons in life, I watch it in awe – KNOWING that people HAVE faced these issues – some succumbing, some rising above – and I am both embarrassed and proud to be a part of this Human Race. WOTO IMDB
“1984” (again, 1984): This is a BRILLIANT rendering of George Orwell’s 1948 book. Starring the superb John Hurt as a “mental deviant” who holds still some doubts about The System, Richard Burton (as the chillingly calm Overseer), and Suzanna Hamilton (as the pretty comrade … or is she?), we immediately enter the world of the future (1984) – where technology and politics have gained absolute control over the population through the use of lies, fear, and the elimination of protest. (Closest literary/film relatives: “Fahrenheit 451”, “Metropolis”, and “Brazil”.) Not only are the characters and scenarios incredibly gritty and believable, but the story is set as one would see 1984 IN 1948, i.e., the look of the costuming, machines, buildings, logos, etc. has strong links to the then-defeated NAZIS, who, in 1948, were STILL being investigated, and the revelations still spewing forth. In this time of our privacy being secretly and increasingly violated by our own government in the name of National Security, and seeking NO approval from us, the book and the film “1984” are in NO WAY dated or quaint. Rent it tonight. Watch it closely. This is no fantasy. I’d seen it before, and I watched it again – twice more in two nights. “1984” was made visual by the intelligent photography of Roger Deakins. WOTO? IMDB
“Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000): This is a documentary about parents who try to get their children OUT of the reach of Nazis (focusing on the “Kindertransport” system). Once in awhile a documentary comes along that is SO full of information you did not have, SO mesmerizing, and SO important to your understanding of the World, it is a must-see – for EVERYONE. Can you imagine what it is to send your children away…to…somewhere, not knowing what will become of them, and wondering if you shall EVER see one another again? Can you imagine being a young child, and as you’re being put on a train for the escape, you scream to your parents (who are not going with you) that you must be adopted and they never did love you? Can you imagine being the child whose father, out of pure, illogical, last-second panic LOVE, pulled you back out of the moving train through the window, nearly killing you from the fall, and whose fates would then send you both to concentration camps? How would YOU and YOUR father DEAL with this, if you both “survived”? It uses excellent archival film (appears restored), beautiful scoring, artful editing, and lots of interviews (with surviving children and a few of their “foster parents”), make this an incredibly moving, horrific, inspiring experience. Really, you NEED to see “Into the Arms of Strangers”. WOTO IMDB
“Sansho the Bailiff” (Japanese, 1954): Kenji Mizoguchi made an epic film from what was (apparently) a centuries-old Japanese morality tale. We watch a well-to-do family slowly disintegrate – not from events they cause, but those out of their control. How they each react, how they deal with the passing years and events, and how they find solutions (if any) are powerful, emotional, lessons in life. Can a half-century old Japanese film be useful to a contemporary American audience? Of course it can. Human issues of love, devotion, honor, greed, lust, hate, violence, sadness, and revenge are, if anything, in further need of consideration and dealing. To enhance these thoughts, the musical scoring is superb (I love classical Japanese music), the photography is in gorgeous black/gray/white with artful composing, the pacing is patient and more explanatory than many Japanese films (perhaps Mizoguchi had foreign audiences in mind – which I appreciate!), and I often felt like I was watching delicate woodcut prints come to life. WOTO IMDB
“The Burmese Harp” (“Biruma No Tategoto”) (Japanese, 1956): What a powerful film. Directed by Kon Ichikawa (“Fires on the Plain”), this story is set during the last days of WWII, in Burma, with a troop of Japanese soldiers. They are weary, confused, but very bonded. When they learn their country has surrendered, with mixed emotions they submit and head to a P.O.W. camp to be detained until arrangements for their fates are made. One of them volunteers to go find a die-hard troop still “dug in” and unwilling to surrender, and ask them to give up, lest they be destroyed by who are now the victors. Thus begins his journey of spiritual awakening. Think of this as the story of Siddhartha, but on a clear, human level. It is gorgeous in its black & white compositions and lighting, slightly theatrical in its scenarios, and quite emotional. “The Burmese Harp” is a unique use of WWII as the stage for larger issues. Superb. WOTO IMDB
“Grizzly Man” (2005): Werner Herzog is one of the world’s best film makers. I’ve followed his career for 30+ years. One of the many interesting things about him is he sees little and no need for fiction. Reality is more accurate & much stranger for his dark, accurate, Germanic opinion of Life. When not reenacting real events for many of his films, Herzog is making documentaries. “Grizzly Man” is a documentary. His three main jobs were to edit & arrange film (which was shot by a man, “Timothy”, who decided he should “protect” the Grizzly Bears in an Alaskan National Preserve), interview people involved in the killing investigation and/or who knew him, and work with brilliant musicians to create one of his typically unique, haunting scores. You are put in the position of knowing up front what happened to the man: he was torn apart and eaten by a Grizzly. We then “backtrack” to look closely not at the bears but this man. Like peeling away layers of onion skin, we learn that Timothy was a loser, and in deep denial about it. You will NOT like this guy. He was a liar, a self-appointed expert know-nothing, an alcoholic & drug addict, a dilettante, an empty charmer who convinced a few people he was the Second Coming for them and the bears, an emotional Jekyll/Hyde, a rejected actor-wannabee who found his only “venue” in his self-made video tapes, a deluded fool who related to Grizzly bears as though they were people hiding in bear costumes, a paranoid who needed to create enemies in order to prop up his imagined value, a gay man clearly refusing to acknowledge his own orientation…and that’s only the beginning. Herzog makes a layered, insightful documentary from the rough footage of Timothy’s footage. It is Unforgettable. Almost everything Herzog has done IS unforgettable. WOTO IMDB
“Tae Guk Gi” (Korean, 2005): Set in 1950 South Korea, as the war begins between their North and the South, we follow two brothers – and best friends – who are “drafted” into the Army, and forced into lives they never expected or wanted. This is a dense, draining, monumental Epic of a story about love, hate, honor, violence, context, and forgiveness. GREAT War films are never about war… they are about humans facing extraordinary circumstances, and having to deal with them one split second at a time. The acting, lead by Jang Doug-Gun and Won Bin, is superb. The photography reminded me of the gritty hyper-reality of “Black Hawk Down”. The scoring sweeps over some scenes – sometimes like an immense Vulture, sometimes like an Angel. This is a very violent film, but never gratuitous. 148 minutes. In Korea, “Tae Guk Gi” (“The Brotherhood of War”) won Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Art Design, and Best Sound Effects. WOTO IMDB
“Anchoress” (again, English/Dutch, 1993): I would be SO proud to say I’d had a part in the creation of this work of Art. I’ve watched repeatedly. It is fascinating, beautiful, strange, and insightful. “Anchoress” takes place during the European Medieval period, when humans survived at the mud level. This is the story of one young woman who tries to find comfort and beauty inside the church, with ‘Mother Mary’…or at least a poorly made icon. She isn’t capable of deciphering her motives, and soon offers herself to the church as an “Anchoress” – a person devoted to God, relinquishing all worldly connections, and being voluntarily cemented into a small crawl space of her church’s wall for the rest of her life. Strange times, those… EXCEPT we see that the priest considers this a good marketing tool for the church (as an “attraction”), and a perk for his resume with the Big Boys back in Rome. But, things don’t go as anyone predicted… “Anchoress” is shot in some of the most powerful black & white film I’ve ever seen (equal to Bergman or Lynch), has an incredibly sensitive, ambient sound track (not score) attuned to the daily life of Earth, and, a camera that loves to be thoughtful and intimate. Each shot is a composed, artful image. (I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: If Rembrandt had used a movie camera, and b/w film, this could’ve been his.) Despite, or because of, the near total lack of dialog, there are scenes you will never forget. Watch for the shots of “earth” as symbols for the human body, the Anchoress’ exploration of herself through the touching of weeds and dirt, her literal entry into the earth, as a means of escape and happiness, etc. You’ll also see a strong indictment of the era’s patriarchal system – I’m sure depicted due to feelings that much of it still exists. This is a very grounded film, while being mystical at the same time. Perhaps that’s part of the attraction. It deals with the dual urges to deny & rise above our daily life on & of the earth, yet revel in it at the same time. This is one smart, interesting, complex, visual and audio masterpiece. IMDB WOTO
“House of Sand and Fog” (again, 2003): Jennifer Connelly (Mm mm) and Ben Kingsley lead a talented group of actors in this subdued but powerful story of bureaucracies, egos, and psyches slowly making mountains of molehills. Ownership of a piece of property comes up for debate. Who owns it? Who has the RIGHT to own it? What price is each person willing to pay for it? Connelly is amazing as a misguided, semi-reckless, semi-sober woman whose own fate she casts to the winds. Kingsley is the model of a proper Iranian military man with a new American family – taking charge, and standing by what he thinks is right. As other characters enter the story, small moments and ideas escalate the situation. Watch for wonderful little symbols of psychological changes, like Connelly’s reckless walk through a construction site, her sudden lighting of a cigarette, filling of a gasoline container, swig of a drink, or removal of a shoe; Kingley’s observation of a moving shadow… This is Art with one goal in mind – and the film takes us patiently and methodically towards it. It does not veer, no matter how much we’d rather it did so. This is what it’s all about. WOTO IMBD
“Crimes and Misdemeanors” (again, 1989): This is, without a doubt, one of Woody Allen’s most significant films. If you are NOT a Woody Allen fan AND you think of him only as a comedian, SEE THIS FILM. It is not a comedy, nor what you expect. You WILL be impressed. THEN go back and see some of the others you’ve ignored, such as “Deconstructing Harry”, “Husbands and Wives” and “Interiors”. “Crimes and Misdemeanors” has a great, flip-flop structure that bounces between the humorous and the humorless, the silly and the pathetic, the shallow and the profound. Acting by all is wonderful, the photography (Sven Nykvist) is innovative, interesting, and voyeuristic. This is a film about Choices, and living with them. It is a mature, wise, insightful work of Art. WOTO IMDB
“Eraserhead” (again x 40?, 1977): This is David Lynch’s first full length film, and debatably, his most powerful. All stories aside of his behind-the-scenes efforts to MAKE “Eraserhead”, it was this film that brought him international recognition, and remains well worth the time to re/visit. The first time I experienced it, I “hated” my friend who brought me (with no advance warning except that it was “amazing”). What I saw on the screen frightened me at the deepest levels of my being, and I didn’t know why. As the years and viewings pass (both in the theater, and on video or dvd), I lose none of my emotional response, but gain further intellectual and formal appreciation for the artfulness of it, and lots of thoughts about the meaning. Lynch himself will NOT discuss Eraserhead’s meaning, and perhaps wisely so. None the less, I believe he sees it in somewhat surreal terms (clarification being left to the individual), but was guided by the deep seated fears, confusions, and attractions that fill the Freudian world of the child, and which continue into adulthood. Most of his films since have been eerie and unsettling, but based more in realities we can recognize in the waking, every day sense. Here, the photography is gorgeous and mysterious, the SOUNDscape is perhaps the most subliminally powerful of all time, the dialog perfectly uncomfortable, and the situations right at the edge of possible. Your experience – the sort from which you desperately want to WAKE (but then return to repeatedly, as I have, perhaps 40 times now) – is never comfortable. This film takes emotional and intellectual work. The new restoration for dvd – LONG OVERDUE – is of high quality. Do not let the packaging “Eraserhead dvd 2000” throw you. It’s only stupid, confusing layout. And, since I have you here, let me make a short pitch for AVOIDING “extras” – commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, bloopers, factoids… all the CRAP with NO value to the original work of Art. It’s filler, and can do nothing but harm the purity of the REAL WORK. If it was important, it would be IN the film. WOTO IMDB
“Crash (2005): (Viewed two nights in a row): First night: With a sophisticated, complex, woven plot (which reminded me most of the simpler yet elegant film “Grand Canyon”), strong scoring, good photography, solid acting (including from those I’d come to expect little, such as Sandra Bullock), and a thread of gritty truth running through this hive of experiences, I was fascinated by it from start to finish. Using racism as a theme, it explores all the variations of who, when, where, and why, but with zero pandering to the audience, a sly use of stereotypes, and truth-seeking avoidance of PC-ness. On occasion, situations may seem a little too poetic for their own good, but this is a minor point, and in fact, I’m willing to call this film an EPIC Poem about Racism and Redemption (This is how I see 1998’s “The Thin Red Line” – an epic Poem to War).
Second night: Now I’ve seen it twice. This time was equally good, with the opportunity to focus on a few specific aspects (of the many here). There are many stories in “Crash” that could each be an entire novel, or at least a major short story. In this day of sampling every thing – the aesthetic of using smaller pieces for a reassembled larger result – seems to fit. Taking strong aspects of each story, weaving them into a new rhythm, tying them together with a consistent tone, and constructing a highly complex yet focused new work is artistically done, and rises above the Fashion of the Day. This is not a unique structure, but is a further exploration of “Grand Canyon” – a solid source for its inspiration. (I’ve now seen it a third time this year.) WOTO IMDB
“An Angel at My Table” (again, New Zealand, 1990): It’s been three years since I’ve watched this film. There is NO further reason to wonder if it should be in my top category. It is created by Jane Campion from the writer Janet Frame’s autobiographies of her harrowing life. We join Janet during childhood, move through the teenage years and into adulthood, as she struggles for a place – ANY place – in the world…but deep down, writing is her one reliable love. Three actresses were needed for the role of Janet, and all do wonderful jobs, especially depicting someone who always feels on the outside, and longs to be included. Jane Campion, one of my favorite film makers, presents a powerful, subdued, and melancholy work of Art. It is not an amazing film due to every camera shot or the quality of sound recording… THIS work is great for its acting, and its story telling. It has as much emotion as one heart can hold for 157 minutes. WOTO IMDB
“Schindler’s List” (again, 1993): I see this Monument repeatedly. It’s brilliant and powerful, from start to finish. YOU should see it first, in its entirety, if you’re contemplating your children being exposed. Spielberg made his own “parental warning” introduction, when it aired – unedited – on t.v. (a gutsy and triumphant moment for television). I would WANT my children to see it, as long as we had some preparation first, and PLENTY of discussion afterwards. Of course, this is an emotional and horrific story, scene after scene, full of dark insights at every turn, but it is the spiritual growth of Oskar Schindler – NOT an admirable man when we first meet him – that becomes one of the inspiring forces. Liam Neesom was great in this role, which helped make “Schindler’s List” one of my Top Five for supreme character studies. You will also see a typically subdued Ben Kingsley, and a brilliant, frighteningly evil yet torn, Ralph Fiennes. The music is not overwhelming, but present and effective. The camera work and lighting for this black & white work of Art are flawless. The use of a few tiny moments of color (aside from the start and finish), aren’t really necessary, and a little overly poetic, but are still a nice touch. During the film, I often want to vomit, or cry, or scream. I’m glad I feel these things. Steven Spielberg never has to prove anything to anyone ever again…even if he makes another “E.T.”. WOTO IMDB
“Ugetsu” (Japanese, 1953): This is going to sound weird, but much of this film, by Kenji Mizoguchi, reminded me of “The Wizard of Oz”. No, there is no Dorothy, Toto, winged monkeys, or a tornado, and yet, there IS a round-trip journey in search of Home, with related characters, incidents, and lessons along the way. ”Ugetsu” is what I think of as a Classic Japanese story loaded with dense cultural references, symbolism, high stylization, mysticism, legends, violence, greed, and morals to the story. It also contains an often seen ambivalence, if not distrust and fear, of Japanese women by Japanese men; the clash of traditions with a changing world; and a certain expected doom. Wizard of Oz? Well, do the characters find their Heart, Wisdom, and Courage by the time its over? Yes, along with other insights for which the price was very high. Ugetsu is a GREAT, theatrical, Japanese film…one that is easier to grasp (as an American) than many others. If you see it, and if you like it, I’d suggest the next one be the fascinating “Woman in the Dunes”, which focuses more on the issue of fear and claustrophobia in relationships. I’ve never seen films come from a single culture that so completely ignore attempts to be understood by the outside world, as the Japanese (at least until the contemporary work, which is more a commercial product than a work of Art). They are very interested in communicating to their own people, especially the educated, but seem to be extremely satisfied with their isolation. Maybe that comes from living on an island. If there is someone out there in the Universe who reviews movies made on all the different planets, s/he/it probably says the same thing about us, the Earthenese. WOTO IMDB
“Mystic River” (again, 2003): Talent all around. Directed, produced, and scored (!) by Clint Eastwood, with many of the actors I admire most: Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburn, & Tim Robbins. Add a strong suspense/crime story (with a few plot line “holes” that were probably explained in the original novel) composed from the history and psyches of three childhood friends, use great photography, supportive music…and you have one serious, high quality drama. It is not a pretty sight, and there are no winners or heroes to be found, but it rings of truth – lives that circle and circle around shared and private histories, that never get clarified, that never utter what needs to be spoken. The meanings and characters of this story are larger than the little lives depicted. This is the stuff of epics. Eastwood created a film equal to his superb film “Unforgiven”, with its use of gritty realism set in a specific time, place, and people, which rises above them to present our largest concerns as humans. WOTO IMDB
“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” (viewed twice this year, 2005): Julianne Moore (one of my favorites), Woody Harrelson (also great), Laura Dern (never disappoints), and a TALENTED cast of kids, make this true story come to life – Life- in all it’s funny, sad, pathetic, silly, frightening, and proud aspects. Set in the 1950’s – 60’s, we follow a family – centered on a Mother with a knack for writing advertising jingles and winning little prizes for them, a Father who is an insecure, neurotic, drunkard with an occasional warm side, and a house full of children who grow up walking on emotional eggshells – who do their flawed best under extremely trying circumstances. This is not a dark or light film – it stays in twilight – where so much of Life lingers, where Truth shifts and slides, where luck and prayer mix and mingle, where love and stubbornness hold the other together. This film will probably end up in the category above. I will be seeing it again, and again. IMDB WOTO
“A Christmas Story” (again, 1983): We watch this one every single year. We know it by heart, and still continue to love it. (Let’s see – I think this means I’ve seen it about 22 times!) It’s unavoidable for me, since it tells the story of MY childhood EXACTLY! No, REALLY! From the coat Slick wears, to the coal furnace, the school design, the heavy winter, the coon skin cap, the toys, to the tongue on the flag pole… except I never got the chance to shoot my eye out with a BB gun, which I’ve always regretted. It’s set exactly 10 years earlier than my experiences, but in Indiana THAT means little. The period sets, costumes, cars, etc. are flawless (even if there IS some of that “Clean Car Syndrome”). Believe me, I’ve studied it… but, there is ONE LINE of dialog precisely BACKWARDS, a real mistake. One day you might catch it. Might not. Good luck! While you’re at it, try to determine in EXACTLY what year “A Christmas Story” is set! It CAN be deciphered. FYI: the original family home has been restored and made to look EXACTLY like it did in the film! You can take tours. Also, the “leg lamp” is being reproduced. You can now have your very own. WOTO IMDB
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (again, 1991): This is one of three Xmas movies we watch EVERY year within two weeks of the holiday. It’s nothing but stupid, dry, hilarious fun…or…we be real dum maybe. Chevy Chase created a niche with the character Clark Griswold, a highly mediocre, frustrated but well-intentioned suburban man, married to his lovely & loving wife (Beverly D’Angelo – with the only sexy overbite in movie history). This film is FULL of people who would soon become stars: Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Brian Doyle Murray, etc. Expect nothing but laughs, and roll with it. It’s a no-brainer night. Who would’ve ever thought that Juliette Lewis would start here? WOTO
“Twenty One Grams” (2004): This is one HEAVY WEIGHT film. Expect to need a clear head as you enter and follow a highly complex plot, made of individual stories and time-lines slowly woven together to reveal larger concepts. Yes, the twisted time-line has become almost a fashion-must anymore, but THIS time it’s artful, and meaningful. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro are astounding. The supporting cast is also great. The scoring is perfect. The photography is strong without becoming self-indulgent. The story itself, for better and worse, is loaded with the sort of incidents in life we all fear, yet for which we feel the need to be prepared. This is a VERY emotional film, with very FEW glimmers of light that you must find by paying attention. This is a film lover’s film. WOTO
“The Aviator” (again, 2004): I don’t know a lot about Howard Hughes, and I truly hope this film played it straight with history, because it is a fascinating story, and I’d rather it accurate. Martin Scorsese directed it – not Oliver Stone – so there IS a better chance it honors the truth! We’ve ALL heard about Hughes’ final, reclusive, CRAZY years, but “The Aviator” covers the years before he became lost in what I’m sure would now be labeled Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. The story immediately peeks into his childhood, where an important issue is clarified. We then dive into his start with aviation as a young man. We see his mind working 1,000 miles per hour, flying in 4 directions at a time, and NEVER shooting down ideas. He gambles everything, often, and fights for what he gets. He’s no namby-pamby rich boy. You have to admire him, even if you DON’T want to be in his hire. Leonardo DiCaprio does a wonderful job, as does Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Gwen Stefani, and Alec Baldwin. The dirty business of politics & payoffs is covered, as are the glorious, imaginative efforts of Hughes and his engineers. Special effects are excellent, photography is exciting, dialog interesting, sets & costumes rich with era, scoring great… it’s an all-around solid character study and recreation of an era worth another look. If you liked the film “Tucker”, I can assure you “The Aviator” will do nothing but better it – which is quite a compliment. IMDB WOTO
“Capote” (2005): Sometimes you can sense the quality of a film within the first minute. This one had it, and never let it go. From scoring to photography, palette to sets, and dialog to acting – everyone and everything came together. Hoffman NAILED Capote. Having never seen Harper Lee, I don’t know if Keener succeeded, but I like what she presented. This one’s all about Capote, anyhow. Phillip Seymor Hoffman has created lots of great roles, but this is the one that brought him to a larger audience. The story is not about the murders he studied. The story is about Capote – the egocentric, manipulative, self-deluding character who uses others and lies as long as he needs. It’s a very dark story in the first place, and to then focus on someone who can only be considered a vulture who knows how to write, makes it all the more uncomfortable. You end up feeling grateful you weren’t acquainted with the killers OR Capote. Top notch character study. We saw it twice this year. WOTO IMDB
“Terminator II – Judgment Day” (again, 1991): Seven years earlier, the first “Terminator” came out… and for its time… it wowed the audience with the story, touches of humor, high pitched action & violence, and special effects. Looking back, it’s one funky movie, full of VERY period stuff. By “II ”, computer power increased dramatically, allowing artists more and better control. But, a good movie is never about equipment… it’s about story, details, pacing, scoring, acting, dialog, on, and on, and on. Whereas the first of this series is down in my “Guilty Pleasures” category (and you SHOULD see it first), THIS is the real thing. It’s still full of tongue in cheek wit, insider jokes, and hyper-violent action, but it’s also a “mature” sci-fi, with strong comic book heart. WOTO
“Miyamoto Musashi” (1955): by Hiroshi Inagaki, starring Torshiro Mifune. This is an EPIC story of one man who sets out to travel far and wide throughout the land and himself in search of his identity and purpose. It has something of the feel of Herman Hesse’s book “Siddhartha”, but with Samurai battle scenes… (no, it is NOT a silly martial arts film). Having won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 1955, this is 97 minutes of serious life dramas, with the priorities being Japanese, of course. One must think that with less than a decade having passed since Japan’s defeat in WWII, this film’s considerations (set in the 16th century) – about identity, goals, love, war, status, and true purpose – were nearly unavoidable. Beautiful photography, good color (considering the era), music that occasionally over-swelled the scene, believable sets, and again, a serious story line, make this one worth seeing. This will sound odd, but I found lots of parallels to the early Marlon Brando film, “The Wild One’”. Feel free to disagree. WOTO IMDB
“Sophie Scholl – The Final Days” (German, 2005): Julia Jentsch stars in this true story of a small group of young German underground organizers who tried to fight Hitler with leaflets and graffiti in Munich. Their group was named “White Rose”. This is a history lesson for all who see it. Not everyone clicked their heels to Hitler, including some Germans. Ask yourself what YOU would do for your beliefs, and what risks YOU would take to defend them.
“Pinocchio” (again, 1940): For me, this is about the last of the first Golden Era of Disney animation. You don’t have to agree – but I prefer the 1930-1950 era. After this, there’s a HUGE gap until “The Lion King” comes along, and reestablishes high level, non-CGI imagery. “Pinocchio” is a dark story when you get down to the nitty gritty. A lonely old man, who talks to himself, makes toys but has no children, and lives with a cat and a fish, wishes for a real son. The All-American/Northern European Fairy makes a visit (she’s HOT!), and gives life to the little wooden puppet. Jiminy Cricket, our tour guide, is given the duty of being P’s conscience. Then it all hits the fan. In Pinocchio’s life there is but one parent who loves him, and he finds a world FULL of skulking, ravenous, vulturous adults (all male), who lie and steal him away (from his parent) to places of seduction and Hell. The Fairy’s promise that IF he is good, honest, and brave, he will be made into a REAL BOY, seems like awfully slim odds. Then things get worse. The world is a huge, threatening, dangerous, confusing, slimy place… and kids do NOT belong. This story is full of predators, kidnapping, cages, abuse, crime, vice, broken promises, monsters, liars, and the most evil of ALL sneaky, lazy creatures: The Actor. After rewatching “Pinocchio” (and it’s been decades seen I’ve seen it), I have to say that between “Bambi” and this one, my childhood was a series of animated psychic scars. Yikes!! WOTO
“Red” (again, French, 1994): Exquisite, thoughtful drama about living isolated and interconnected, destiny vs choice, the difference between internal and external life, private and social life, life and death. Quiet thoughts, lots of observing, lots of dialog, lots of undefined moments add up to a powerful feeling. We are not alone any longer than we are supposed to be. We are not with anyone any longer than we are supposed to be. No one said it was easy or fun, but it’s the price of admission. You’ll find beautiful photography, understated acting (Irene Jacob, Jean Louis Trintignant), elegant scoring, and interesting pacing. Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski (“White”, and “Blue” the other parts of his trilogy). This one may have to go up to the top category… I’ve only seen it twice to date. WOTO IMDB
“Kagemusha” (1980): Directed by Akira Kurosawa. This is a SWEEPING Historical Epic about warlords of Japan in the 16th century. It has all the glamour and hugeness of a Hollywood production, but with goals of a more serious nature. A petty thief is found, just prior to execution, so identical in appearance to the Clan ruler, his life is “spared” in the name of “service” to them. Look-alikes were used as protection (“targets”) and double-duty (“stand-ins”) – as they have been ever since. Things go wrong, and many adjustments are suddenly necessary within the Clan, the family, and even the enemy camps. All the lessons are monumental, archetypal, Shakespearian, Greek. Perhaps occasionally long (at least for an American with little knowledge of ancient Japanese history), many of the scenes are powerful, beautiful, and horrific. I am NOT a fan of split-tinted filters for special sky effects, and at times the classic acting style of Japan is stylized beyond character credibility, but overall, this is a BIG film, and worth the 160 minute viewing. WOTO IMDB
“The Odessa File” (again, 1974): Based on the facts. It was 1963, nearly twenty years had passed since Germany was defeated in WWII, John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated, and Egypt was working on a biological weapon of mass destruction. Due to almost random circumstances, a series of events is set into motion… and former Nazis – still in hiding with new identities – must be found. They are designing the delivery system that will take the bombs to Israel. Simon Wiesenthal was the advisor for the book and this film. Starring Jon Voight and Maximilian Schell (with scoring by Andrew Lloyd Weber!), this is a detailed, tense, interesting detective/suspense drama. WOTO
“Vincent” (again, 1989): Narrated by John Hurt, all the information presented in this documentary is taken from Van Gogh’s letters, mainly written to his brother Theo. He wrote Theo more than any other person for two main reasons: no one else would tolerate Vincent’s obnoxious behaviors for any real period of time, and, Theo funded Vincent’s life of self-righteous fantasies and efforts. DON’T get me wrong. Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, especially the last few years of his life… but, it doesn’t change the fact he was a whiney, angry, manipulative man his entire life. He had three obsessions: women, religion, and art. They were completely interchangeable, and he was seldom grounded in his ideas about any of them. This attitude worked for the intense, defensive creation of his art. It was a disaster for women and religion. None the less, his behaviors insured a life of misery – which he felt he deserved – and concluded with his eventual suicide. WOTO
“Osaka Elegy” (Japanese, 1936): Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. This is one of his earliest films. Japan was in the throes of a cultural turmoil. They were busy invading China, and feeling the schizophrenia of traditional vs modern society. This story is about a decent young woman, who, when familial pressure is applied, does anything necessary to pay the bills of a pathetic father, a self-centered brother, and a confused, naïve sister, and, a keep an abusive boss “happy”. As we might expect (now), her road darkens as everyone demands more and more, gives back less and less, and shuns her for doing what they suggested and made their advantage. Expect a noir-ish look to the film, with spare traditional home sets and costuming, contrasted with high style business/commercial sets and costuming. WOTO IMDB
“The Cell” (again, 2000): Mixing some of “Don’t Say a Word” with “Eraserhead”, “Brazil”, and “Silence of the Lambs”, we get “The Cell”, which is still unique enough to be very interesting… as long as you like Sci Fi, and serial killers. What makes it really worth your time are the sets, costumes, and scoring – intensely creative, yet heavily influenced by the Japanese culture. A beautiful, frightening, and, as long as you pay attention, generally interesting, symbolic story worth following. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, and Vincent D’Onofrio. WOTO
“Women vs Men” (again, 2002): Focused on two couples (with a third couple as support), this is a rapid fire, extremely witty, relentlessly insightful dialog film about men, women, and their confusing relationships. Paul Reiser, Joe Montegna, Vincent Pastorelli, Christina Lahti, Glenne Heady, and Jennifer Coolidge star. I think of this as a funny version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” It is structured identically (was this too a stage play?), and has similar interactions – but never loses its sense of humor (until the last few minutes), and carries you through an entire evening of mini-situations. There’s some solid thought about the sexes here, and no one gets off the hook. WOTO
“Punch Drunk Love” (again, 2002): Starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. Do NOT think this is a “comedy” because you’re read “Sandler”. It’s not a comedy, nor is it a crime drama. I’ve never thought of Sandler as a comedian anyhow. I think of him as someone who portrays Neurosis… from little to huge, gaping, psychic wounds. And Emily Watson? See “Breaking the Waves”, “Angela’s Ashes”, “The Boxer”, “Hilary & Jackie”, or “The Luzhin Defence”. She does NOT do “comedy” either. So what IS this movie? It’s about social unease, disconnected people in modern life, trying to control one’s darker urges, the build up of stress, and finding someone – anyone – who can accept even some of you at some level for any amount of time. Connection. Seeking connection with no map. The extremely common Surreal day. Try and make sense. It’s a full time job. WOTO IMDB
“October Sky” (again, 1999): Based on the autobiography of N.A.S.A. scientist Homer Hickam, this is “can-do/make-it” entertainment of the highest order. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, and other talented actors, the setting is in a small West Virginia coal mining town, where everyone expects to bear children, grow, and die early in the service of the mines. Think “Coal Miner’s Daughter” mixed with “Hoosiers” mixed with “Stand by Me”. You can’t go wrong. WOTO
“Jurassic Park” (again, 1993): Is there anyone who HASNT seen this one? It’s a wonderful, almost believable sci-fi, which quickly pulls you to the top and then lets go, like an out of control roller coaster. Sure, Stephen Spielberg is formulaic in his devices, pacing, back lighting, music, story lines, etc., but it sure is fun to go for the ride, AND, it funds his serious work like “Schindlers List” and “Empire of the Sun”. So, LET there be “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park”… lawdy, even that dopey “E.T.” – there’s room enough for both types, and these crowd pleasers are what pay for his other efforts. THIS is the reality of big budget efforts. There’s LOTS of sweeping music, girl screams, almost-disasters, big chases, the tinting of reptiles with human characteristics, easy tugs of emotion, etc., etc.. Sam Neill and Laura Dern perform solidly, Jeff Goldblum always does his ONE character, plus there’s Richard Attenborough, and the yet to be knowns: Samuel L. Jackson and Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld), who make significant appearances. The young girl does a better than average job too. (Sorry, I don’t have her name.) WOTO
“Notorious” (again, 1946): Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant, and Ingrid Bergman. I am NOT a fan of Hitchcock, and this is NOT like a typical Hitchcock film, so I liked it much better. It’s without all the last minute twist gimmicks and typical A.H. signature devices so many people seem to appreciate. This is a straight ahead crime-suspense-drama, set in current time (1946), at the end of WWII, reflecting real concerns and events. In THIS case it means hunting down Nazis who escaped to South America. Grant is a government Agent, Bergman is a somewhat unwilling part-time Agent – the daughter of a treasonous father. Together, they are assigned the infiltration of a group of Germans down in Rio. This is strong, steamy, tense, reality based stuff, with, as you might expect, some sort of push/pull between our two leads… and WHO could resist Bergman (or Grant)? There are very few cheezie special effects (such as in “Vertigo” – one I especially dislike), and forget trying to spot Hitchcock hiding somewhere – he’s not there. Maybe he respected this story or his actors enough to avoid such distractions? IMDB
“Summer” (French, 1986): From Eric Rohmer’s series of “Comedies & Proverbs”. Prepare for a typically dialog-intense subtitle session with this Rohmer film… and to then feel it was totally worth the effort. A Parisian secretary, who was recently dumped by her fiancée, attempts a vacation from her troubles. Little does she understand she takes her troubles everywhere with her. This is a well done role by Marie Riviere, whose character seldom sees her own forest through the trees, and when she does, she runs back to the city. She has excuses for everything. She makes herself and everyone around her uncomfortable and tense. “Summer” is a focused film – it sets out to depict – in painful repetition – the traps we can create for ourselves in the name of comfort, safety, anxiety, defensiveness, and fear. The production values are mediocre at best, and some of the “extras” are too rough around the edges to ignore the film camera rolling a few feet away, but the central characters, and the purity of this story, make up for any smaller flaws. It’s not the look of the film, nor most of the acting, that attracts me (although the lead character is done VERY well) – it’s the purity of looking at one idea from various angles, exploring it further than we normally do in daily life (unless we are in an intimate relationship with another person), and having the courage to depict it with no sideline curiosities, diversions, or compromising entertainment. It’s dubbed, and a script full to the brim with dialog. Translation: LOTS of subtitle reading. This IS a “discussion” film, and the exchanges are important – however, much of their meaning is hidden in the juxtaposition of words vs actions, facial expressions, body language, etc.. so it’s equally visual. I do wish Roehmer used better production qualities. The look of his film takes on something of a rough documentary appearance – which has great potential – but his are without the total spontaneity of a real document or the total control of all those seen within the frame. I.e., “extras” are not controlled well enough to appear unaware of the camera, nor trained enough to act their way through a scene. He needs professional extras. Okay, THAT aside, the CONTENT of the MAIN POINT is so interesting, sad, maddening, and insightful, THIS is why you stick with it. This woman lives in a huge forest of her own, and can’t seem to spot a single tree. Everyone can relate to this idea through life’s observations – AND direct experience. Face it. NONE of us manage to know the entire forest by our solo strolls along paths of least resistance. This is a very smart film. WOTO IMDB
“Blue” (again, Polish/French, 1993): Starring Juliette Binoche, and created by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It is the first in a trilogy of films (“Blue”, “White”, “Red”). Worthy of your time…they are wonderfully complex psychological dramas, I will see them over and over. Aside from the obvious use of colors within each film, and some of the symbolism (which I suspect the European art crowd finds nicely elitist in that secret-society way, no one will absorb the full depth of these characters after one viewing. I also suspect that the issues portrayed in “Blue” are related to European politics and issues of solidarity, represented by various characters and circumstances. You’ll continue thinking about them, and, fortunately, they are open enough to use as comparisons (symbols) within your own life. That begins to reach Art. The color photography is superb, the scoring, although perhaps over-extended, is also superb. WOTO IMDB
“Thirteen Conversations about One Thing” (again, 2001): Like many films of the last few years, this one has a complex, multi-layered story structure, but it’s worth the effort to follow. It IS a film in which you literally listen to “13 conversations about one thing” – which is both linear, and non-linear at the same time. It is definitely worth your viewing. Expect a film that is moody, downbeat, and thoughtful, yet tinted with optimism that ALL of the characters seem only begin glimpsing. You’ll want to SLAP them sometimes! The acting is good (many stars), the scoring very supportive, the photography rich, and the lessons to be learned: very useful. WOTO
“Early Summer” (Japanese, 1950): I always seem to use the words “quiet” and “elegant” with Yasujiro Ozu’s films. They are not for the action-hungry movie fan. His films are for the very patient viewer, who may not need what one would typically think of as a plot line… perhaps “mood line”, or “slice of life line”, is more like it. Ozu uses the same actors, same low camera angles, and same meditative pacing in all of his films – which no one can match. “Early Summer” is in black and white like most, with gentle scoring, and subjects one finds in any home, country, and era throughout the history of humans. Think of the title as symbolic of a phase of life. Watch for the shots of birds singing in cages, a loose balloon in the sky, the ebb and flow of the ocean surf, the invisible wind over a field of wheat. The family struggles to keep itself together, while sometimes pushing the young towards the edge of the nest, and other times reeling them back in when it looks like they COULD fly. The children want to go, and don’t want to go. People want to move – explore – but want familiar surroundings at the same time. Children grow too fast, and not fast enough. One day you’re comfortable, the next day “it” is gone. Parents guide their children every day, and then can’t figure out when to give up the control. There is the constant push and pull of individuals within a home. Everyone keeps changing, or is forced to change. The Dance never stops. It has its own quiet, common elegance. WOTO IMBD
“Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1956): Starring Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, Kim Hunter, and Ed Wynn, and, written by Rod Serling, for Playhouse 90. Ninety minutes of nothing but LIVE television. The actors had to move in a constant flow from set to set, with all their lines and moves hidden in their heads. This was a serious play about a recently has-beened Boxer who knows no other life than that of fighting. His family is a manager and doctor. Now he’s cut loose, and needs work. It’s an emotional story about dreams, nightmares, and the real world. It has something of the feel of “On the Waterfront”. Why it never made it also to the silver screen, I don’t know. It DID win the Golden Globe Award for the year, and put Rod Serling (pre-“Twilight Zone”) on top. All the actors were marvelous. The sets were admirable for the conditions under which they had to work. A “Kinescope” of the broadcast (filming the t.v. monitor screen) was the only documentation. It is well worth your view. WOTO IMDB
“The Baker’s Wife” (French, 1938): Directed by Marcel Pagnol, starring Raimu, and Ginette Leclerc. This is a witty, funny, sarcastic, and tender look at humans & their investments in “status” and “image” – set in a small French village. When the village finally gets a new, desperately needed Baker, all is well. Bread, and wine, are everything to them. Without warning, the Baker’s wife takes off with a man of no consequence, the Baker slips from denial to depression, and stops creating bread as he comes to realize she is GONE. The town, MOST concerned with its love for his bread, MUST find her or a solution of some kind! Although some scenes struck me as unnecessarily stretched, the dialog is often fast, and it is subtitled, so come prepared. It is well worth the effort. There are some memorable, unique moments. WOTO
“Appointment in Tokyo” (WWII): An hour of American and captured Japanese film footage of the War in the Pacific, from island to island, wave to wave, beach to beach. Sometimes overly dramatic scoring gets in the way, but ALL footage helps add understanding to this important time.
“The Road to Perdition” (again, 2002): Starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tyler Hoechin. I liked this film even more than last time. It’s tender, and dark; evenly paced, and full of explosive moments; beautifully photographed, with subtle scoring; Epic, yet deeply personal. The story, seen through both the eyes of the Father, and the Son, shows the horror and the glory of their discovering the Truth about each other. It is a mature film that looks with sympathy and insight upon the inner lives of the Male. WOTO
“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” (again, 2000): This is my second viewing, and I enjoyed it even more. Talk about your quirky, funny, deep-South, Depression Era tales… and based on Homer’s “The Odyssey”????? Holy Moley Jesus, we’s in it deep now! I am especially impressed with the seeming ease in which George Clooney moves from comedy to drama, with John Turturro coming in a close second. Tim Blake Nelson is wonderful, John Goodman does what he knows best, as does Charles Durning. I have NOT read Homer, but I caught some of the references. I think next time I might make an attempt to read Homer before viewing the Coen Brothers. Hey, it couldn’t hurt. WOTO
“World War II – The Great War” (10 tapes, 1993): I watch a lot of documentary film about WWII, and I think I’ve said all I can about it. ALL of us reading THIS right now are capable of doing so because of the efforts, pains, and deaths of millions before us. Had Germany (and to a lesser degree, Japan) prevailed, YOUR life, NOW, would in no way resemble what you have been allowed to make it. Plain and simple. Had it not been for OUR country’s involvement, and that of the smallest countries such as Holland, along with the largest countries, such as Russia – had it not been a WORLD EFFORT to stop an Evil – nothing as we know it would now exist. To remain ignorant of this most important era is to have NO living perspective. WOTO
“Pearl Harbor Dec.7, 1941” (2001): Ditto. WOTO
“Paradise Now” (Arabian, 2005): When you read the hype, it’s of the “riveting thriller” genre, but I didn’t find that to be its focus. Set in Palestine, two life long buddies are “called” to become suicide bomb killers and sneak into in Tel Aviv. Basically, they’re the one-way explosion mules. I appreciate the fact that the motivations and politics of their group are mixed, sometimes suspect, occasionally shady, and not altogether clear-headed. I also appreciate the internal and external debates with which these two men wrestle, once the original plan has to be altered, and “improvising” is required. I do not find it so much an interesting political debate, as I do a social/economic one, where those who see themselves as “victims” behave in ways that confirm their beliefs, and those who “rule” will make all the necessary efforts to maintain that role as well. I would be shocked if many people in the Middle East were all that pleased with this open look at a sad, often deluded, and certainly desperate way of thinking, living, and dying. IMDB
“The Weather Man” (2005): This is one low key, cold, silvery-blue, frozen story of a man who wants some rational, foreseeable aspects to his life. He can’t seem to find or create them. In his eyes, his life’s a mess, he screws everything up, and no one pauses to wait while he tries to pull things together. Life’s events just keep blowing this way, then that, with no real reasoning. Is everything REALLY as random and meaningless – even valueless – as they seem? He (Nicholas Cage) is an adult, his father (Michael Caine) is distant, his wife has left him, his kids are finding life messy with or without him… and he has some growing up to do. I liked the subdued roles of both these men, and the defensive role of his divorcing wife (Hope Davis). Watch for wonderful symbols of his state of mind, emotions, and relationships. Despite how it first feels, this is NOT a one-emotion movie. Ride with it. WOTO IMDB
“Napolean Dynamite” (again, 2004): A caveat: This is one uniquely funny movie, but only if you like dry, Dry, DRY humor. If, like me, you love Christopher Guest movies (This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, etc.), and stories like Welcome to the Doll House, Drop Dead Gorgeous, or even The Brady Bunch Movie, you should like this one too. It doesn’t have the dark edge of Dollhouse, or the intellectual references of Guffman, but this is the ULTIMATE dead pan, dry-as-a-bone, walking-in-your-sleep, never-cracks-a-smile, supremely LAME-O movie of all time. Everything you see and hear is in support of that one goal. Every stitch of clothing, shot of landscape, choice of song, piece of furniture, and stunted dialog exchange takes you deeper into the Land of Nowhere. And where do you end up? Nowhere but somewhere and it ain’t spectacular, but it is what it is, and that’s exactly what it should be. I watched it twice in the first week I rented it. Now we own this one! IMDB WOTO
“The Incredibles” (again, 2004): NO ONE ELSE gets close to what comes out of the Pixar Studios. It’s ALL outstanding. Story, character development, dialog, wit, inventiveness, visuals, you name it, it’s great. THIS one is aimed more at families than couples or individuals, and is loaded with all the issues of pride, love, dedication, right, wrong, good, bad, patience, honesty… packed into a “cartoon”. The “retro” early 60’s look was fun, but eventually I’d like to see more work set in the “present”, like “Toy Story”. Let them age on their own. They’ll do just fine. WOTO
“Blow Up” (again, 1966, English): Michelangelo Antonioni’s great film has stuck with me since I saw it (first run) 36 years ago. It’s not just a period piece, with a great understanding of how to represent that time, nor a simple suspense/crime drama – it goes much deeper into the psyche – perhaps especially for that of “Baby Boomers” and up…where the world makes less and less sense the closer you investigate it, and, if there’s no pay off, why worry about it at all? You may as well go with the pointless flow… This is certainly his most accessible, popular Existential film. It was originally one of my absolute Guiding Lights of Art, and Thought. Since the passing of many years, I’ve grown to experience and prefer other films of his that are also Existential, but purer, and less Pop. None the less, I’d hate to choose only one. Antonioni IS my favorite Italian director. WOTO IMDB
(The following are comments on other Antonioni films, for comparison:)
“LAvventura” (Italian/French, 1960): Michelangelo Antonioni’s first of a trilogy (followed by La Notte, and The Eclipse) taking a slow, thorough look at rudderless humans who have no focus, no goal, no internal guidelines, reason, or inspiration. Had Ingmar Bergman been Italian, he could’ve made this film. (I’m sure he admired it.) Exquisitely photographed, subtly scored, and with hints of his upcoming sensitivity to ambient sound, this film asks you to be patient, to expect few answers, and simply observe a few days with these people – all beautiful, all empty. The existential moments will only become more and more apparent in Antonioni’s films – with his later film “Blow Up” being a favorite example of mine. WOTO
“Red Desert” (Il Deserto rosso) (Italian, 1964): Michelangelo Antonioni made this film just prior to “Blow Up”, and you can see where he was headed. “Red Desert” is about a deeply troubled, beautiful woman who seems to have it… all including a stable, handsome husband, a precocious son, and fun, sexy friends. Yes, she DOES live in an industrial wasteland managed by her spouse. True, even the birds know better than to fly anywhere near this area of floating and flowing poisons, but she has larger concerns. “Red Desert” is wonderfully symbolic (the title will make sense later in the film), and illustrates confused, tortured states of mind with landscapes & sets, not to mention the utterings & behavior of this woman. But, IS she insane, or, like the birds, simply failing to accept this environment? Watch the fog, architecture, room colors, lack of dialog, physical disconnects, out of focus camera, illogical gestures… listen to her stories, the sound track (which is electronic, and unfortunately dated), and the random events heard that seem to have no resolution. “Red Desert” is a TRULY great film about alienation in the modern age. WOTO IMDB
“Zabriskie Point” (1970): This was especially interesting to me on a personal level, since it takes place under identical circumstances, with identical peers in my own life of the Counter Culture movement of the late 60’s/early 70’s, on and off campus. We follow two unrelated young people in separate stories, who are slowly woven together. One is a young man in Los Angeles, tired of the endless, pseudo-revolutionary jabber in the classrooms and lunchrooms of his campus, and, the other, a young woman driving to Phoenix to see her father & employer, and take on an establishment job. The film is FULL of our Italian director’s (Michelangelo Antonioni) visual notations of America, and, the confused, psychedelicrazies of the era’s self-righteous, “we know it all, we’ll change everything for the better” youth. Just who IS the revolutionary? What does that REALLY mean? Do you dress like one and march around chanting? Do you fly in under the radar but give advance notice of your arrival? Do you keep your plans to yourself, and go about the business of change with no need for group approval? Zabriskie Point is definitely a period piece – full of slang, uniforms, somewhat surreal film moments, and era artifacts (after all, this is a film by the man who gave us the amazing “Blow Up” of 1966), but it is more. It presents options for cultural revolution, and going by Antonioni (who DOES seem to be supportive of it), the youth are too self-involved to see what is needed for radical success. Because of this, it becomes a powerful, frightening film that applies to anyone, any time, any place. WOTO IMDB)
“The Princess Bride” (again, 1987): I SO enjoy this story. Peter Falk, as Grampa, comes to see his sick Grandson (Fred Savage, pre-Wonder Years fame), and read a classic tale to pass the down time. In her luminous first role, Robin Wright plays a young, pampered woman who ends up falling in love with a poor country fellow, but then things soon get VERY complicated. This is SUCH a funny, sweet, romantic, quirky tale of adventure, danger, revenge, and love! It’s full of memorable lines and innocent joy. Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal… WONDERFUL. WOTO
“Glengarry GlenRoss” (again, 1992): Packed with the best, most intense male actors of our time: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey. Both stage & screen plays were written by David Mamet. The set is in a nowhere real estate office during one very long, rainy night, somewhere in Florida. It’s like watching a train wreck – you can’t seem to look away from the disaster. Sales are down, everyone’s on edge, and then… things get worse. This is one of Mamet’s BEST. Loaded with rapid fire, relentless, angry, desperate, vulgar dialog from start to finish, if you’re willing to hang on, you’ll be drained by the end. White Collar Hell. That’s what we have. WOTO
“A Clockwork Orange” (again, 1971): Though not as focused at “Dr. Strangelove” (and perhaps as equally vague in focus as “2001: A Space Odyssey”), “A Clockwork Orange” is full of great indictments of where we were headed if not careful… and careful weren’t. This 35 year old film, depicting the near-future (ours), seems very contemporary and, dare I say, almost “commonplace” now, instead of what was then definitely on the edge of unbelievable and shocking in terms of violence, the media, governmental intrusion, political maneuvering, and collapsing urban environment. Recreational rape? Random ransacking? Prisoners as guinea pigs? The only large, visible aspect of this film that has dated itself is the costuming and décor, but let me tell you – it’s a WONDERFUL sampler of the late-Mod, Post-Moon-Landing Hi-Fashion expressions of a scientific future so opposite of the Hippie/commune prediction. My doubts about “Clockwork”: the film could’ve been pared down a little and not lost meaning, and, Kubrick could have taken on fewer story components. THAT said, this one is still nearly as brilliant as “Strangelove”, and equally interesting as “2001”. WOTO IMDB
“United 93″ (2006): Let’s get one thing out of the way: I take seriously the attacks on New York, Washington D.C., and the skies over America – and I have not forgotten or mellowed over the last five years. Nor do I have patience for any one, Oliver Stone included, “dramatizing” or “fictionalizing” the facts of a historic moment. For this reason first, but not solely, I support “United 93″ and Paul Greengrass’ super-effort to make the facts and emotions of that day as true as possible within the confines of film. Does this mean his film is without Art? Not at all, but it DOES mean the only artistic devices he used were to assist the sense of reality that existed for those people during that time. I’ve heard “complaints” about the use of a shaking camera, but that is ONLY done as the tension and violence occur. It was the RIGHT thing to do for the film at that time, and a viewer’s inner ear problems are of no concern to me. I want an artist to take me a place I haven’t been. If it’s uncomfortable, so be it. I VERY MUCH appreciated the total lack of recognizable actors. It was a brave decision on the director’s part. “Selling” the film would be much more difficult, I’m sure, in our market, if not the kiss of financial death. Greengrass was willing to stick by his artistic and story telling intentions. And, because he did, we are gifted with a powerful, accurate, straight ahead, non-gimmicky, emotional recreation of a terrible moment. This is a highly SPECIFIC film, not one loaded with parallels and symbols. If you are AVOIDING it because you’ve heard it’s VERY bloody, etc., it’s not. You’ve been ill-advised. It IS very tense. THAT it is. It is also very sad, and the unknown actors need to be given credit for that. If I remember correctly, Greengrass also used original participants, such as in the control towers, for the added accuracy and feel of time and place. It must’ve been difficult for those people. I doubt “United 93″ was easy for anyone, and it remains a challenge for us. Thankfully. I’d hate to think someone DID find it easy. IMDB
“Black Robe” (again, 1998): Set in 1634, the Jesuits decide to send out one of their new Priests to help spread the word of Jesus to the “barbarian natives” in Canada. He is a fresh-from-seminary, wide eyed, starry-eyed man full of his religion, and ready to see the entire world through these eyes – and only these eyes. His journey into deep Canada – during the winter, with the guidance and protection of “barbarians”, is a lesson which will either help him grow, or kill him. Besides the powerful landscapes dwarfing all the petty concerns of humans, “Black Robe” is incredibly refreshing for its balanced and fair look at ALL people. This is NOT an indictment of religion, nor a pc glorification of the Proud Native. It is a gritty, open look at the flaws in each society, each leader, each member, each “shaman”. No one is idealized, and Hollywood is kept at bay. Scoring is equal to the landscapes and moments of realization or bravery. This is a quiet movie, set in a relentlessly cold world, full of interesting details – a place you’ll be very interested to visit, but not want to live there. WOTO IMDB
“Eye for an Eye” (again, 1996): Starring Sally Field, Ed Harris, Kiefer Sutherland, Beverly D’Angelo, and Joe Mantegna. Our stories tell us where we’ve been, where we are, and where we hope to go. THIS story is a Where We Are type. A family loses a loved one to violence. If that wasn’t enough, the perpetrator doesn’t see justice. Each deals with it in their own way, and everyone changes. Slowly we head towards an inevitable encounter. Sally Fields is great as a person torn over how to go on, Ed Harris does his classic stoic/occasionally almost emotional role, Joe Mantegna is very good as a hard working cop, and Kiefer Sutherland is great as a true sociopath. This is a tense drama that doesn’t jump over scenes for the sake of reaching a climax. It’s not that the characters are the most complex or unique in film history – but they ring true – and there in lies the strength of “Eye for an Eye”. It could have been ANY of us. WOTO IMDB
The Vanishing (Dutch/French, 1988): This film gets compared to Hitchcock. Well, I’m not much of a Hitchcock fan, and I think THIS one is much better! Talk about your slow-building, tension-filled, obsession-driven, suspense-dramas with a big dose of cat-n-mouse, and a finale that does NOT leave you guessing!! Whoa. “The Vanishing” is so nicely constructed – so complete – it’s a lesson in script writing that could teach others a few things. Film quality (on the copy I saw) was mediocre, and the project looks like it didn’t have a huge budget… so BOO HOO, it ain’t Hollywood? God bless it. I don’t want to say much about the story, because this IS a story-driven work, with character studies in a solid second place. DON’T read the rental box, don’t research it before hand! Just dive in IF you don’t mind subtitles, and you like a good mystery. WOTO
“The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” ( ): I’ve been spoiled. I’ve seen “Lord of the Rings”, and you, Narnia, aren’t a Lord of the Rings. However, I WILL say it’s WAY better than those flat “Harry Potter” things, and has a made-for-kids fantasy akin to the for-adults grandeur of “Excalibur”. The special effects are pretty darned good here, and the story is… well, VERY reflective of a number of things: 1) World War II in Europe, 2) the biblical story of Jesus, and, yes, 3) Lord of the Rings. C. S. Lewis, who wrote this story, went to school with J. R. Tolkien, who wrote “…Rings”. In fact, they shared ideas, and it shows. Good guys, bad guys (and gals – played by Tilda Swinton), twisted biological creatures who serve as the Righteous or Evil masses, sweeping landscapes, and in THIS case, a huge battle scene without one drop of blood (again, this one IS for kids). My wife and I enjoyed this one very much, and you will too, as long as you allow for it to be less than a fully adult story. Older kids would ADORE this. It gives kids all the power and glory they dream of having. IMDB
“The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001): Written and directed by the Coen brothers. Billy Bob Thornton, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco, Tony Shalhoub… and the superb, perfect, artful, intelligent photography of Roger Deakins. As always, we find interesting characters and a story that takes awhile to unfold and explain itself – or appears to explain itself. This would be enough for me with the Coen brothers, but I must say, THIS time it’s the visuals. It is one of THE MOST beautifully crafted films in all of history. I mean it. I’m partial to b/w anyhow, but for all the “right” reasons, and this film is an Icon of The Right Reasons. It’s up there with “Anchoress”, “Manhattan”, “Sansho the Bailiff”, “The Burmese Harp”, “Eraserhead”, “Schindler’s List”, “Made for Each Other”, “Hud”, “Village of the Damned”, “Good Night and Good Luck”, “Stranger than Paradise”, “The Elephant Man”, “Casablanca”, and “Onibaba” in its visual artistry. WOTO IMDB
“Storytelling” (2002): Written and directed by Todd Solondz. His film “Welcome to the Doll House” sold me. “Happiness” is out there on the edge, but has lots of guts. I own them both. Todd Solondz is a force to be reckoned with. In THIS film, he sticks with his suburban landscapes that are peopled with angst-ridden characters. If there’s one thing Solondz seems to know, it’s how to depict emptiness. Yes, there ARE “humorous” moments, but they’re always of the sort that makes you wonder if you should be laughing, and even if so, is it because you recognize them too well? Does this film, or any of his films, “tell a story”? I don’t think so. They tell a mood, a state of existence, an atmosphere.
“The Machinist” (2005): Starring a gaunt Christian Bale, and a chubby Jennifer Jason Leigh. In the recent spirit of films such as “Memento”, “Pi”, “Clean, Shaven”, and “Fight Club”, we have another truly interesting psychological drama asking us to decipher reality right along with the lead character (Bale). In order to look the role, Bale lost A LOT of weight – until he looked tortured and ready to die. It worked. He is a machinist at a metal working factory. He claims to have not slept – AT ALL – in a year. It’s not a healthy state for him. Incidents keep stacking up on him, and he sees a pattern to them… maybe… and on he goes, trying to lead a normal life, trying to protect himself from perceived threats, trying to find the answers to the puzzles. He is successful with some of his goals. IMDB
“When Harry Met Sally” (again, 1989): Written by Nora Ephron, produced by Rob Reiner, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, with Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher. Is there ANYONE who hasn’t seen this hilarious and tender comedy about relationships? The chemistry between Crystal and Ryan is PERFECTION. Everything about this film is top notch. It owes a few big tips of the hat to “Annie Hall”, but stands on it’s own as less neurotic and intellectual, and perhaps more charming and accessible? I hate to think of neither having been made. WOTO
“Alien” (again, 1979): Direction by Ridley Scott, sets by the talented and very Freudian H. R. Giger, starring Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Tom Skerritt. It is one of the most stylish, moody, and scary sci-fi suspense films of ALL time. On occasion, you can spot its 1979 roots, but for the most part, this is a totally believable story, set in the future, about a cargo crew who seems to have haphazardly & mistakenly taken too much aboard. I tire of the strobe light effect and blasting steam effects for added tension, yet I can’t deny it works. And, I am always disappointed in Weaver’s inability to THINK when it comes to her concerns over a cat. But, all in all, this is a great, tense, exciting movie. It is true, edge-of-your-seat stuff. WOTO
“Intermezzo” (1939): Leslie Howard takes the role as a famous violinist, who travels the world and seldom sees his family. Ingrid Bergman performs as the very talented piano teacher of his daughter back home. Despite his having “everything” (and nothing), an attraction grows between the two, which causes cancerous harm to his family, and just as slowly eats away at the two of them, now off traveling the world, leading a high style, romantic life. Made in 1939, with world war growing on a daily basis, this film was NOT escapist, romantic clap-trap, but an earnest look at what being a responsible adult entails, no matter the sacrifices, pain, or responsibilities. Leslie Howard is perfectly suave. Ingrid Bergman is the epitome of clean, scrubbed, elegant, glowing beauty. Many films of this time look at the same issue from various angles and stages. “Casablanca” would be another fine example… and, just WHO takes the female lead THERE? Why it’s Ingrid again! WOTO
“Made for Each Other” (1939): The more Jimmy Stewart movies I see from the 30’s & 40’s, the more I realize that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was really the overall improved assemblage of the best parts of ideas in previous Stewart films, with the brilliant inclusion of Donna Reed. “Made for Each Other” has many of the same elements, and the script pieces are all there, along with the mannerisms and dialog, but they lack the chemistry – the Heart – that Stewart and Reed created. What IS superb about THIS film however, is the unbelievably sophisticated & artistic light, dark, and composition used for every single solitary shot. It’s beautiful, smart, and effective. It should be held up to film students for this perfection alone. WOTO
“The Double Life of Veronique” (again, Polish/French, 1991): Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski – my favorite Polish director – and starring the lovely Irene Jacob. This is truly a haunting and beautiful film that supplies plenty of questions, lots of connections, and wonderful possibilities, but does NOT wrap it up into a neat little literary package for you. Taking the simple, old idea that everyone has a “double” somewhere in world, Kieslowski explores it via parallel stories, with rich, vague photography, lighting, and editing, creating out-of-body visuals and ideas, supported by a musical score that will get under your skin like the finest dose of heroin – taking you places you will not necessarily understand, but you won’t care. It’s such a lovely & interesting trip all along the way, the destination is moot. No matter what the outcome, you want to stay with it. In some ways, “Veronique” reminds me of “Wings of Desire”. There exists an aura of “Destiny” that is magical and fulfilling. WOTO IMDB
Record of a Tenement Gentleman (Japanese, 1947): A great film, simply not his greatest, by Yasujiro Ozu. Remember – this film was made in the REAL rubble of what was once a proud but aggressive Japan, recently defeated by the Allied nations and very big bombs. In fact, they were still “occupied” by the ruling victors. The tenements we see are the remnants of Tokyo. The adults AND children we see are SURVIVORS of the war. It is perhaps because of this situation, that Ozu, normally the most subtle of subtle, was driven to create a more direct statement to his own people. Everyone had lost someone. Everyone was on rations. If you had something, you protected it. The only glue remaining was old world ritual, held by the bitter and sad adults. Along comes an Innocent. What to do with someone who COULD be held blameless? This is a painful, brutally honest film. Its points were not lost on me, and this is why the conclusion seemed to be overstatement… but I believe Ozu wanted to make certain EVERY PERSON in his audience received them. WOTO
“Cool Hand Luke” (again, 1967): Starring Paul Newman, Arthur Kennedy, Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Joe Don Baker, and other actors you will recognize. A minor offense lands a man in a Southern work prison. He has no ability to bide his time or follow rules. There is a price for the direction of his path, yet he becomes a symbol of rebellion and strength to the other inmates. Who will win? Who will THINK they won? Who will pay what price? Although “Cool Hand Luke” starts with a certain “lightness” to its drama, the light slowly fades. This is probably my second favorite film of Paul Newman’s (the first being “Hud”.) WOTO
“Equinox Flower” (Japanese, 1958): Although this is not my favorite film by Yasujiro Ozu, it’s NONE THE LESS a film by Yasujiro Ozu, and THAT means it’s good. Using his effective, tried and true style, plus his group of trusted actors and professionals behind the scenes, he’s made another quiet statement about Life. This one focuses on an aging father, caught between the world in which he grew, and the new world of Japan – with children who want to make their own decisions about jobs, dating, and marriage. This is a “Generation Gap” film of 1950’s post-war Japan. It is subtle and never angry or violent (no “Rebel Without a Cause” or “The Wild One”), but full of worry, sadness, stubbornness, and slow acceptance. WOTO
Fata Morgana (1969): Early in Werner Herzog’s career, he set out to make a sci-fi film as though a documentary by visiting aliens. He went to Africa, became fascinated by mirages, began photographing them, narrated the Mayan creation story over it, and what we were given is a very strange, surreal film which will encourage you to take LSD and not bother debating its meaning with friends. What is most interesting to me, as a fan of Herzog’s work, is to see how many “seeds” of ideas, techniques, and stylistic gestures are within this nearly 40 year old work. WOTO
“High Fidelity” (again, 2000): Adjusted writing from 2001: I could’ve done with less “talking to the lens/audience” shtick, but this is a witty, funny, insightful film about young men, how they think, their male relationships, and also those with women. If you are a music lover, a trivia freak, and a smart-ass, you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. Repeatedly. WOTO
“Zelig” (again, 1983): This is one of Woody Allen’s lower profile but equally high quality films. It’s so full of interesting moments, witty lines, social criticisms, and psychological tongues-in-cheeks, you hardly want to laugh lest you miss something. Allen and Mia Farrow star in this film made by the same Team as always. (If it ain’t broke…) “Zelig” is a “documentary” about a troubled soul, Leonard Zelig, who, in the 1920’s, came to be known as the “Chameleon Man”. Through the use of black and white film footage and period recording techniques, a complete world exists here. Start to finish brilliance. WOTO
“Sling Blade” (again, 1996): The screenplay was written by Billy Bob Thornton, and he directed it, and he starred… it’s ALL VERY impressive. I don’t use this term ever, but I am today: “riveting”. Watching Thornton create the character of “Carl”, and the slow, patient empathy for him as his world is revealed, is as elegant a tension as I’ve ever seen. Will Carl EVER revert to his history, and if so, who will he take with him, and if not, where do we go from here? If you’re looking for action, this is the wrong film. It has the thoughtful pace of “The Straight Story” or “The Old Man and the Sea” or “The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser”. “Sling Blade” creates feelings in me that few films manage – that of a sense of sad love, a trust that is only justified by emotion, and an understanding of tragedy through someone else’s eyes. WOTO
“The Secret of Santa Vittoria” (again, 1969): Anthony Quinn is at his peak in this wonderful story of a small town in Italy during WWII. Mussolini was just removed as Il Duce, but the Nazis are on their way to this small, “backwoods” village to take any available booty. The villagers have but one source of pride and economy – vaults of wine they have created. It’s time to play “Hide the wine from the Germans”. This is an often, but not always, funny cat & mouse game. WOTO
“Where the Green Ants Dream” (Australian/German, 1985): by Werner Herzog, a favorite film maker of mine. The film opens with gorgeous, grainy shots of tornadoes moving over the earth. They’re frightening AND attractive in their power. The literal story is of a property dispute between a mining company, and the Australian Aborigines. The subtext is one of clashing cultures, and Herzog’s oft-debated issue over the modern world, and “progress”. His symbolism takes many forms – from the stories and facts behind Green Ants, to an Old World woman who has lost her dog, to the big transport plane the Aborigines seem to want for no understandable reason. The production values remain rough with Herzog, sometimes making scenes more beautiful, sometimes less so, but there is ALWAYS his unique brand of image and music combinations, a river of Germanic pessimism, and a patience in making his points that will test fans of Sylvester Stallone. WOTO
“Mulholland Falls” (again, 1995): There are THREE GREAT REASONS to see this film (and more than once, if you’re like me): 1) A nicely photographed, Noir-ish, moody post-WWII crime story well set in period Los Angeles, starring lots of talent, including Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Treat Williams, John Malkovich, Andrew McCarthy, and Jennifer Connelly; 2) The detectives drive around in a black 1949 Buick convertible. I had one. They’re gorgeous, in that aggressive, big front end, America #1 way; and 3) two words: Jennifer Connelly, in that gorgeous, aggressive, big front end, America #1 way. WOTO
“The Falcon and the Snowman” (again, 1984): Timothy Hutton, and especially Sean Penn, star in this true story of two best friends, who, as they headed into adulthood, were on very different paths… until an extraordinary circumstance presents itself. They were NOT prepared for the world they entered. As the pressure mounts, they begin to unravel. It’s a sad, fascinating, pathetic saga worth every moment of viewing. WOTO
“Cinderella Man” (2005): The true story of James Braddock, prize fighter, family man, out of work Depression victim, and the Comeback King. Russell Crowe and Rene Zellweger star in a richly textured, sometimes highly emotional film about an average New Jersey family “fighting” to stay together, get the bills paid, and keep the kids fed when everything seemed to be against them. It IS a “violent” film (for those of you who faint at blood), but this ISN’T a Boxing movie, it’s a movie about Heart, Determination, and Family. Directed by Ron Howard, you KNOW it’s going to have action, feeling, a decent centeredness, and lessons in life. He does it well.
“World War II – A World in Conflict” (2000): Although not much depth can be given in only 3 hours, this does the best job of summing it up as I’ve seen. It compares events that occurred at the same time in various Pacific, Atlantic, and European locations. The tactical immensity is perhaps made clearer this way. The devastation to the populace is shown in unflinching truthfulness. If it matters to you, there is more color footage in this compilation than in most. Bottom line: this dvd is a useful addition to your knowledge of REAL history.
“Frances” (again, 1982): Starring Jessica Lange in one of her best roles, and costarring Sam Shepard. This is the true story of Frances Farmer, an individual-minded girl from Seattle, who set out to become a star, and DID. However, she did not have the political/social savvy to wade through the Hollywood muck, and she did not play well with others. Her life’s ups and downs read like a cardiogram, much brought on by herself, much brought on by others, and few near her who really cared one way or the other – they were just there for the coat tail ride. This is a painful story. No way around it. Lange’s use of her face is superb (body language so-so), photography is good, sets perhaps a little too era-pristine, but all in all, this is a powerful film very much worth seeing. WOTO
“Sometimes a Great Notion” (1971): I’ve never liked Ken Kesey’s novels, but I DO like the films that came from them. This is an example. Starring Paul Newman (who also directed), Lee Remick, Henry Fonda, and Michael Sarrazin, it’s a story about a small lumber town under the thumb of a union. Everyone but one family (Fonda’s) agrees to strike. The pressure mounts. Since it was made in 1971, there are a few unnecessarily “dated” moments (the opening title graphics, comments about “long” hair, and a dopey score by Henry Mancini), it’s still a powerful film, full of interesting, obnoxious, and desperate characters. I will never forget a couple of the scenes. WOTO
“A Mighty Wind” (again, 2003): IF you loved “This is Spinal Tap”, “Waiting for Guffman”, and/or “Best in Show” (which I DO, especially Guffman), you’ll also love this one – about “the” reunion of the best of the (worst of the self-deluded, cliché) folk groups of the early 1960’s. (They are based on the “New Christy Minstrels”, the “Kingston Trio”, and “Ian & Sylvia”.) As usual, Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy have assembled THE finest group of THE driest comedians of ALL time, and allowed them to brilliantly improvise their characters. Each actor had to LEARN to play an instrument for their role, and were given “perimeters” for their character…then set loose to create most of the dialog right on the spot. They also wrote the “folk” music you’ll see and hear. Of course it’s perfectly terrible, which means it’s ACCURATE to the period. Guest’s theme IS Self-delusion. All of his characters and groups, no matter what the setting in his films, truly believe they are talented, know what they’re doing and saying yet see no irony or contradictions, and press on in the faith that others see them as they see themselves. It’s a lovely, sad, hilarious, pathetic, mind-boggling, brilliant experience. As usual. We’ve watched it twice this year. WOTO IMDB
“Small Time Crooks” (again, 2000): This is about as “slap stick” as Woody Allen has gotten since “Annie Hall”. He continues to take shots at society and personal weaknesses, but this IS a silly story about some VERY stupid, VERY optimistic small time crooks, who, by their own random, undeserving luck, end up successful. Woody Allen wrote, directed, and stars, along with Hugh Grant, Tony Darrow, George Grizzard, Jon Lovitz, Elaine May, Michael Rappaport, Elaine Stritch, and the always interesting Tracey Ullman. WOTO
“Girl, Interrupted” (1999): It’s no “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, but it IS good, with superb jobs done by Angelina Jolie, and Winona Ryder. It’s also a true story, written by the woman who experienced it. It’s the late 1960’s, the world is already is turmoil, and it’s harder to determine who is crazy, and why. A young woman IS having problems, and IS committed. Susanna’s (Ryder) recovery is in doubt, and it is NOT helped by the presence of “lifer” Lisa (Jolie). The film is carried by these two women, with a great supporting cast of Whoopi Goldberg, Clea Duvall, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss, Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, and Vanessa Redgrave. This is NOT one of those horror-chamber sadist psychiatric ward stories. This is a nice place, and only the wealthy can afford to be committed here. THIS story is about disturbed, flawed people who may or may not make it “out” into the world. The period locations and sets are very good, it’s visually put together, and in no way rings false. WOTO
“Closet Land” (again, 1991): Madeleine Stowe and Alan Rickman… these two people… in one room. Nothing more. Music is by Richard Einhorn (“The Passion of Joan of Arc”), and sets/costuming are by Eiko. Naturally, this is a dialog-heavy work – a drama – and a symbolic look at terrorism and torture. It is NOT a comedy. Though supported by Amnesty International, it manages to avoid becoming an “educational” film illustrating an agency. It IS a work that stands on its own. Acting, especially by Stowe, is wonderful, the sets are highly stylized and interesting by one of the few fashion designers working today who strikes me as innovative (Eiko), and the scoring by Einhorn is good. You must pay attention, even when you are uncomfortable. Also see the film “The Trial” (written by Kafka) starring Anthony Perkins. And if you STILL haven’t had enough, see the film “1984” (written by Orwell). That’s quite a ménage a trois. WOTO
“Village of the Damned” (again, British, 1960): I saw this one first run in 1960. I was 10. I remember the adults being very upset by this odd film. I didn’t understand why they were disturbed, but I KNEW I was seeing the first “adult” sci-fi. There were no monsters, no rockets, no buildings being smashed, no space suits… yet it was creepy and disturbing. I may have seen it again over the decades, but don’t remember doing so… until now. Would it be laughable, like so much of what we outgrow? Well, yes, and no. Special effects, although (gratefully) almost non-existent, are obvious. Dialog varies from brilliant to lame. The acting hovers above other sci-fi flix of the time, but nowhere near what I’ve come to demand from top films. The photography is BEAUTIFUL. It’s rich, well composed, black & white. The setting – a pastoral, Mayberryesque rural village in England, was perfect. The build up of tension is patient but steady. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle come together, and then we switch to issues of resolution. While this was happening, I began to see why it upset the adult population in 1960. By the end of the film, I totally got it. “Village of the Damned” reaches the level of societal insights comparable to “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, but less obviously. The Cold War was in full swing. Fear of the unknown – the Infiltrator – the Spy – the Double Agent – permeated life. Adults were sensing a huge generation gap stomping their way – one unlike the world had ever seen. The children were in the formative years of this revolution. No one knew what the next day would bring. Science was constantly offering up major alterations to life, and politicians were promising they’d be installed as daily reality. We were on ANOTHER PLANET within another 9 years! No one was joking anymore. Hey…if WE would be on other planets soon… maybe it’s possible someone can reach US too! The Age of Fantasy was fading – for REAL. Also threatening were the concepts of Brain Washing, Mind Control, and other invisible tools of warfare. Overall, this is a subtle film, which adds to its chilly creepiness. Forgive a few awkward scenes, and you’ll love the calm evil of this classic. It is a GREAT period piece. WOTO
“Big Battles of WWII” (2005): 5 dvd set, totaling more than 12 hours of WWII documentary footage. Insight is insight. We all need it, especially in areas where we THINK we don’t. We “know” war is ugly, and most of us know there are necessary and unnecessary wars. The difference, short of experiencing it in person, can only be reached through the real documents left us from the past. War is intellectually, financially, philosophically, materially, tactically, and emotionally complex. What those of us who haven’t faced such events DON’T realize is the scope of these aspects. It isn’t just ugly, it’s overwhelming in its intricacies, and offers glimmers of beauty & optimism in places you cannot anticipate. Do I wish I could experience all of that? No, no more than anyone who was forced into it wished it upon themselves… but, there it was, and the most one can do is first) survive it, and second) make some sense from it. WOTO
“Angels in America” (2003): This is six hours of film on 2 dvds. You might want to divide it into 2 evenings. It’s not just long, it’s demanding, witty, maddening, sad, ridiculous, surreal, VERY gay, and beautiful. Set it 1985, we follow a number of characters through their lives – dramatic and common – as A.I.D.S. becomes part of the language of the homosexual community…and soon for everyone else. The Plague. Dialog is very insightful and interesting, sets are everything from bleak to extravagant, scenarios are grounded in relatable circumstances, and the acting by all in superb. Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker, Justin Kirk, Jeffrey Wright, Patrick Wilson, Brian Markinson, James Cromwell, and many others made for an awe-inspiring work. I have but one complaint: some of the actors, including famous ones, were put in 2, 3, and 4 very diverse roles. This MAY have been fun for them, but it was not done to enhance or explain the story or characters, and became nothing more than an anti-artistic distraction. You either broke concentration to play the “I.D.” and makeup games, or, the characters lost substance and continuity as your “suspension of disbelief” was repeatedly pulled out from under you. THIS was a flaw. No doubt about it. You’ll have to be forgiving of this huge wart on the nose of Angels in America, to enjoy most of a very fine work.
“The Magdalene Sisters” (2003): Set in 1964 Ireland, this is the true story of four girls who are put into the “Magdalene” system of Catholic penitence homes for “wayward, problematic” girls. Their stories are, sadly, not unique, and represent approximately 30,000 young women who, whether they had an illicit child, were rebellious, or merely rumored to be flirtatious with boys, locked away in institutions for anywhere from a few years to life. They were run by the Catholic Magdalene Sisters of Ireland. It is a frightening, sad movie. The subject itself is bad enough to make this an effective, emotional film, but the acting, especially by all the leads, is ASTOUNDINGLY good. It is a must-see for adults. No doubts about it.
“Kinsey” (2004): Liam Neeson and Laura Linney star as the awkward, but intellectually curious couple who stumble into the idea of sex research, and begin an investigation which continues to this day. The process of their reaching the concept, beginning the surveys, expanding the research, gathering “followers”, and fighting for funding is an interesting story. Completely woven into this linear story is a second one: that of Professor Kinsey’s childhood and own sexual orientation. He was also obsessed and intense, seldom leaving the topic for the mundane niceties of dinner chat… which made him less and less someone to “invite”. Laura Linney is one of my favorite actresses, and she does not disappoint here either.
“Munich” (2005): Steven Spielberg dips back into unpleasant truths, like his film extraordinary “Schindler’s List”. “Based on real events”, many of us remember the early 1970’s Munich terrorists with their athlete hostages. Looking back 35 years, this now seems “small” compared to what our world has (sadly) become. None the
less, Spielberg created another large statement in two main ways: 1) it, like so much of world politics, was & is an unending maze of uncertainties & feigned resolutions, and, 2) people CANNOT act within their choices without being affected by their choices. These are not new ideas. What “Munich” offers, however, is a superbly drawn representation of those thoughts, with a complex, but coherent linear movement depicting those story goals. Expect no humor, and lots of necessary, graphic violence. The main character is created by Eric Bana, who does an AMAZING job as a man with vague but high ideals, and must slowly adapt to his new, increasingly vague challenges which hold increasingly blatant results.
“Capturing the Friedmans” (2003): This is an award-winning documentary about a Long Island family who suddenly found themselves under investigation, indictment, and being tried for pedophilia and sexual assault of minors. Due simply to their own long time habits of home movies, combined with the children’s intentional video documentation of this nightmare, and finally, with the interviews, investigations, and further insights by the people who made “Capturing…”, this is one serious, layered look at what happens to a person, family, neighborhood, city, system, and the Truth, once an event like this is set in motion. Unlike MOST dvds loaded with excess luggage (“special features”), this one offers additional information and follow-ups worth your time…IF this case and these people interest you.
“This is Spinal Tap” (again, 1984): Every time I see one of Christopher Guest’s films, I think “No, I’ve changed my mind. THIS is my favorite!” … and then I see another one. Check out “Waiting for Guffman”, “A Mighty Wind”, and “Best in Show”. His ability to not only come up with a scenario, but choose the other actors to create the roles with their improvised responses, amazes me. He does have one main theme: small, mediocre people with incredibly & irrepressibly deluded, optimistic views of themselves, their abilities, and their impact on the larger (but very small) world. If it wasn’t so funny, it would be depressing as hell. Sure, we all know someone like this, and chances are there was a month or two when WE were one of these characters. Come on. Admit it. WOTO
“Sunset Boulevard” (again, 1950): This is a classic drama of egos, pettiness, and the, ahem, “glamour” of Hollywood. “Sunset Boulevard” is witty, bitter, and hard-edged, starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, and Nancy Olson. Much of the script is done in the Holden character narrative, as the down-and-out hopeful/hopeless screen writer, who, while escaping the repo man, lands in the surreal world of an aging, forgotten, deluded silent screen star. Sometimes funny (bizarre), often dark, always pathetic, this is a hard-boiled, hip-talking, pessimistic look at the desire for and effects of “Fame”. WOTO
“Raising Arizona” (again, 1987): Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Frances McDormand star, and the Coen brothers write and direct. This is a weird and funny story about a VERY unlikely couple who, when finding themselves “barren”, kidnap a baby for themselves. Somehow this tale of criminals who kidnap has humor and heart. Every character is a mess of contradictions and quirky details. The entire experience is over the top, unbelievable, and surreal. A unique film. WOTO
“The Manchurian Candidate” (again, 1962): This is one of THE BEST paranoid, Cold War, political/espionage stories of the entire period – hardly dating itself, and not James Bond in flavor. This is one creepy, interesting, unique film…and you will NEVER think of Angela Lansbury the same way again. Yikes. Shot in a harsh black and white, with strong camera angles and edgy music, it is a patient but relentless story headed one direction only – a darkening direction – which gives you glimpses of truth it as it moves along at its own pace, not yours. The tension builds. You’ve come to like, sympathize, and hate characters… but “The Manchurian Candidate” never panders to your wants. You’ll also find it eerily predictive of the J.F.K. and R.F.K. assassinations – which had NOT yet occurred. It’s almost as though this fiction book-turned-film was the rough draft for our soon-to-be real political environment. Amazing.
“Heart of Glass” (again, German, 1974): I “discovered” Werner Herzog’s films soon after he began his career, thanks to a local Art Theater in Tucson, Arizona. If YOUR town has one, SUPPORT IT!! It didn’t take long before I knew this German artist was one of my favorite directors, who held a unique, dark, bitter, humorous view on humankind. “Heart of Glass” was not a film that dug straight into my soul and wouldn’t let go, as some have (“The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser”, “Stroszek”, “Aquirre, the Wrath of God”, “Even Dwarves Start Small”, “Nosferatu”…). Instead, this one enters and exits my intellect and emotions throughout the story (stories), with moments of pure artistic awe, and others of impatience. You KNOW you’re in for something special from the very opening landscape scenes & their Herzog-patented, unusual pairings with music you would NEVER have chosen, yet are absolutely, eerily perfect. You KNOW something’s going to happen, as you listen to an isolated man make a prediction of disaster, in the misty, dark mountains. Things are going to get bad… even if you never understand them… they’re going to be bad. VERY Germanic! I remain perplexed as to why the visual quality of films made in the 70’s often have a low-production look, when I’m sure it wasn’t necessary, and isn’t much of a “device” for a “new realism”. You’ll have to accept grainy film, accidental movements of the camera, and rough editing as a by-product of his film-making process, if you want to get to his bigger issues. It’s of interest that for “Heart of Glass”, the people in the film (most of whom are not actors) were HYPNOTIZED, given their lines, and deliver them in a zombie-like state. You’ll note blank stares, stiff walks, and monotone dialog… which is a fascinating method for creating the sense of doom, in a town whose residents are losing not only their careers, but their minds. This story is not as singularly focused as many of his other works, but remains a strong MOOD piece, none the less. There are many scenes you will NEVER, EVER forget. WOTO
“American Psycho” (again, 2000): Think of this as a very witty, dark, psychotic look at the 1980’s in New York City. We follow a group of young money makers, especially one individual (Christian Bale), through the daily, income creating, label wearing, name dropping, reservation making life of empty objects, hollow relationships, and rich mental lives. The story has some twists to it, so I want to be careful here, but prepare yourselves for a film that makes you want to laugh and vomit at nearly the same moment. You will definitely appreciate Bale’s acting, along with a nicely subdued Chloe Sevigny, a typical fritzy Reese Witherspoon, and a dogged Willem Defoe. This is a VERY black comedy thriller, with lots of sex and violence, and a cultural vision with a sharp eye on consumerism.
“Judgment at Nuremberg” (again, 1961): This epic courtroom drama was made only 13 years after the real war crime trials. Germany & Japan were defeated a mere 16 years before. This is equal to YOU remembering 1990 in 2006. The audience was packed with people who were “there”. Up for eleven Oscars, much of this film was scripted from the original records, and on occasion, real film footage is used to illustrate the horror of what went on. This is a LONG film, and brutally, relentlessly verbal, but NOT a simplistic, one-way, black-and-white assault of good upon bad. Many, many issues are shown to hold its “grayness”, which is the most interesting thing about this Stanley Kramer film. Acting ranges from way over the top (Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell), to wonderfully understated (Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland). The film makes a of reasonable couple assumptions: that you know SOMETHING of history and come to it with more than an empty head, and, that you are willing to see more than one angle of the many issues presented. “The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend”. WOTO
“Heroes of World War II” (2005): Seven hours of documentary footage, including “Tunisian Victory”, “The Great Battle of the Volga”, “Target for Tonight”, “Theirs is the Glory”, “Dropzone Normandy”, “Rear Gunner”, “Wings Up”, and “Wings for the Man” (all made between 1941 & 1945). Although some of this footage has a recruiting propaganda angle to it, I find it interesting, since it too was part of the war years experience. Most of the footage however is pre-battle and battle film in the subject locations. This is NOT reenactment. Those are real men dying, real men with their last thoughts, real men who would rather be Home… but knew it had to be done, and they were willing to take those risks. WOTO
“Trees Lounge” (again, 1996): Written, produced, and directed by Steve Buscemi – already a talented, neurotic actor – created a strong, quirky, downbeat, slice of life story set in a bar, and an ice cream truck. Yes, really. He’s a loser, everyone around him is a loser, and they all interact with varying degrees of loser success. If it wasn’t such a pathetic scenario, it might be a comedy. These are people caught in a pinball game of their own making. Joining Buscemi is a young Chloe Sevigny, Anthony Lapaglia, Elizabeth Bracco, Carol Kane, Mimi Rogers, Samuel Jackson, and a few of Steve’s family. WOTO
“Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005): This is the true story of Edward R. Murrow’s professional television commentator/news man career in the early 1950’s, and his battle with the fear mongering political bully Eugene McCarthy. Restrained acting, subtle period sets, low key costuming, the use of actual footage when possible, and the most beautiful, velvety blacks, grays, and whites of any film ever, made this an extremely high quality film experience. For those too young or uneducated to have knowledge of this period of history, it is a good start towards understanding what not only happened, but what can easily happen again, if we remain a society of passive consumers. David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella star.
“Drugstore Cowboy” (again, 1989): Set in Portland Oregon in 1971, we follow a foursome of drug addicts through their daze of breaking & entering, using & abusing. It’s not a pretty sight, nor a comedy, but it makes its points, and only the most desperate would find this a romantic tale of freedom loving youth. Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham, James Remar, James LeGros, and William S. Burroughs star. I’m not a huge fan of some of the “altered consciousness” imagery in this Gus van Sant film, but it’s forgivable, since everything else about it rings true & interesting. WOTO
“Maria Full of Grace” (Columbian, 2004): Life is what life is in Columbia. People get by. Maria, a pretty 17 year old with a menial job and a slacker boyfriend, lives with her Grandmother and lazy Sister… then things get much more complicated. This is an elegant, intense look at Choices – the price we pay for any direction we choose, and the ripple effects it has on so many near us. It is during these tests we find out who everyone is, including ourselves – and THIS guides us towards a clearer future. “Maria” leads us through a very good meditation.
“Stranger than Paradise” (again, 1984): Jim Jarmusch’s first film. Often listed as a “comedy” – and yes, I suppose there ARE a few oddly funny moments – for the most part I find it an intensely bleak film, empty of almost all life but for a few lone cruiser characters who are detached from everyone else. The photography is astoundingly beautiful black & white. They are almost shot as individual stills with minor movements in them, and divided by blatant black divisions, which one can think of as the black pages of an old photo album. The velvety rich blacks, grays, and whites, plus the composed “still” scenes, cause me to think Jarmusch was trained as a static, 2-D artist first. Just a guess. This film is NOT about acting, which is limited at best, but doesn’t really need much. We observe an alienated set of scenarios which are only enhanced by the stiff, awkward exchanges and pauses of the characters, and the lack of movement in the camera work. Ambient sound adds to the gritty reality of emptiness. Funny or not, this is a low-key, lost-souls story of detachment and aimlessness. WOTO IMDB
“The Brandon Teena Story” (1998): This is the documentary which inspired the film “Boys Don’t Cry”, about the young woman who cross-dressed as a man, and was eventually beaten, raped, and later shot to death. No, it’s not a comedy. Nor will you want to live in a small town, the Midwest, on a farm, or near country-western music… but then you’ll come to your senses and realize that this sort of horror can, and does, happen anywhere. Was Brandon a good kid? Not really. She was a check forging thief. Were her friends any better? It’s hard to decide by the documentary, but I almost MUST believe SOMEONE was level headed and decent. Were the police effective and professional? I doubt you’ll want to rely on them when you’re traveling through Nebraska. Was the criminal justice system fair? Well, how do you feel about plea bargains, and rats who rat on other rats? Are there ANY people in this sad story you want to go line dancing with? I’ll leave that to you. (It would be a good idea to rent “Boys Don’t Cry” and watch it after “The Brandon Teena Story”. Hillary Swank stars, and has “Brandon” nailed. It’s a top notch film. WOTO IMDB
“Boys Don’t Cry” (again, 1999): I had expected good, and it was great. I LOVED that this true story was allowed to remain set in a rural, white trash environment. This added greatly to its uniqueness. It also made me want to follow Hillary Swank’s career. This is a (basically) true recreation of “confused sexual identity” and the people that deal with it. The setting is Nebraska. Hilary Swank plays “Brandon”, the out of town kid that stumbles into the world of pickup truck surfing, chasing bats, and getting drunk down at the quickie mart. No one is happy here, but no one wants their world upset either – and Brandon just ain’t status quo, despite her desperately wanting to be accepted. Don’t confuse things here. Brandon Teena (Teena Brandon) was a thief, check forger, and liar. NO ONE is this film is a hero, and most everyone is a good example of a brain dead low life on a path to self destruction. Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton, Allison Folland, Alicia Goranson, Matt McGrath, Rob Campbell, and Jeanetta Arnette star in this sad, anxious, maddening, violent, and extremely ambivalent film – and are ALL SUPERB. Superb. I own the documentary, and the recreation film. The film takes a few liberties, leaves out a couple of people, and tosses us a couple of theories which cannot be substantiated. None the less, the majority is accurate, both in details, and certainly the spirit of this horrific situation. WOTO
“Mississippi Burning” (again, 1988): Willem DaFoe, Gene Hackman, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Pruitt Taylor Vince. Good actors recreate the true story of the three civil rights workers murdered in 1964 Mississippi, and the FBI investigation that followed. This is a well photographed, tense drama that, on occasion, gets carried away with its own sense of mission. The characters are ALL a little too pumped up and simplified for my taste, but it remains a sad, terrifying, frustrating look at the old segregated South, in the throes of change. WOTO
“World War II – The War in Europe” (4 tapes, The History Channel) 1983: One thing you realize by watching so much documentary battle and civilian footage as I have, is a HUGE team of camera men, risked their lives in the midst of battle equal to that of the gun-toting soldiers. Cameras were everywhere, catching everything, from the mundane, to the most frightening, grotesque, and timely. Many, many men were being photographed (and you watch) when that final bullet came in and killed them. Many parents had their children dug out of rubble, with the cameras rolling…and you watch. You watch American men drop on Omaha Beach, Japanese men, on fire, run out of their underground tunnels. You watch everything. You are forced to repeatedly ask yourself “Was THIS WORTH IT?” It is easy for ME to say “yes”, but it was NOT easy for mothers to say the same – but, they did. They knew it then, and if you do your homework, you know it now. It HAD to be done. There was no other way to stop the maniacal slaughter being spread all directions by the Nazis. WOTO
“Kurosawa” (doc., 2000): If you love serious film making, you know of Akira Kurosawa, and if you know his work, you probably love (at least some of) his films. If so, this 215 minute documentary on his life and art will fly by for you. Full of interviews, history, film clips, and INSIGHTS, “Kurosawa” honors the man and the artist.
“The Stranger” (Hindi, 1991): Directed by Satyajit Ray. Think of a film that starts as a mild suspense/mystery, soon switches to “My Bengali Dinner with Andre”, and builds up intensity until you’re thinking “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf in Calcutta?” We’re not done. The pacing then switches back to a mystery, only to be wrapped up in a version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Don’t believe me? See it. Have patience. It’s worth it. WOTO
“Padre Padrone” (Italian, 1977): Directed by Paolo and Vittoria Taviani. A Sardinian boy grows up under the crude and violent shadow of his sheepherder father. Family life is a combination of mind-numbing boredom and crackling moments of fear. The years pass, and almost by accident, the boy (now a man of 20) becomes involved in the larger world. Here begins his struggle to break away from the tyranny of “Father/Master”, and make use all that awaits him… but the teachings of his father are NOT that easily left behind. It’s an interesting psychological story shown in typical Italian 70’s fashion – low production values, lots of overdubbing, and only a slight interest in creating an artful shot (no, most Italian films are NOT Fellini or Antonioni). However, THIS one is worth following. The payoff IS in the story and its message. It’s a strong film that reminded me of “Pelle the Conqueror”.
And a second night of pondering: “Padre Padrone” (“Father Master”) is a truly unique look at the relationship between fathers and sons. It’s not a pastel image, that’s for sure, but it raises some very interesting questions that I think most sons will recognize at some deep, unspoken level. As is always the case with a smart work of Art, the visual level is but the entryway to a broader topic which allows more viewers to relate. No, WE’RE NOT Sardinian, sheep herders, uneducated, or dirt floor poor. No, our fathers probably did not behave exactly as this father did…yet nearly every one of us can sense that the feelings we held towards our fathers (as boys) are somehow addressed in this film. He held the power. To get “out from under” his looming protections and threats, we had to leave. There was no other way to break free of the family dynamic. Upon return, for a visit or temporary living circumstance, we found he had not changed – no one in the family had changed – and the certainty we had that WE had changed while away, was only a facade days away from cracking or collapsing. What did we do? We left again, returned, left, visited, avoided, watched, and waited for “things” to change to SUCH a degree, we could now all settle into a new set of roles. WOTO IMDB
“Dangerous Liaisons” (1988): Totally fascinating script about the 17th century world of wealthy, frilly, powdered, terribly bored, rich white folks who exhaust their days in mean-spirited mental games with each other. Glenn Close (as an incredibly manipulative bitch), John Malkovich (as a snotty dandy whose only pleasure is damaging women), Uma Thurman (who is the younger, naïve one of the bunch), and Michele Pfeiffer (the morally pure one who is considered fair game). We’re talking an ugly, artificial, empty, ugly world here…and I’m no fan of gold-leaf lacey stuff. Well acted, beautifully photographed, scored, set, and costumed – this is a first class drama with lots of twists, turns, cats, and mice. You’ll just want to take a shower afterwards. WOTO IMDB
“Das Boot (again, 1985) (Dir.cut, 209 min.): Once I got all the programming decisions made so I could view the film as it was intended to be seen (wide screen, in German, with English subtitles, at 209 minutes), I settled in for a lonnnng night. I’ve seen “Das Boot” before. I knew what I was in for. Set in World War II, and seen from the German Navy p.o.v., this story is set as the Axis is losing to a quickly improving team of Allies. We follow, and then join, a submarine crew. We live with them during weeks of mind-numbing boredom and moments of complete violence. We get to know main characters and their roles in this tiny, underwater world, in a metal capsule full of bombs. The film does an admirable job of creating claustrophobia and the slow decline of their ship and attitudes. The men are shown as flawed humans, with normal personal lives, and layered fears. We never meet their enemy. “Das Boot” is all about the crew. The photography is subordinate to the action and dialog (plus, let’s face it, there are limited angles and movements available in this environment). Special effects are thankfully sparse, and only average for the time. Scoring ranges from effective to over used. The length of this film, combined with the depiction of their lives “down there”, makes for a grueling experience…which is EXACTLY right for the subject. And a VERY Germanic p.o.v. it is. WOTO IMDB
“Pretty Baby” (again, 1978): Usually, when a controversial film comes out, the hubbub dies off in a few weeks. Later, people wonder why anyone got upset at all. In this case, I think the opposite is the case. There WAS some buzz about “Pretty Baby” when it premiered in 1978, but NOW? People would be killing the director, photographer, and screen writers in the names of Decency & Righteousness. It’s a crazy world. Photographed by Sven Nykvist (Ingmar Bergman’s photographer), Louis Malle directed this Polly Platt screenplay about the real life New Orleans documentary photographer E.J. Bellocq. He spent much of his career photographing those no one else would – the prostitutes of N.O. – and eventually became involved with a young girl (Brooke Shields) raised by her prostitute single mother (Susan Sarandon), to be a prostitute herself. There’s an interesting push/pull to this film. It is SO beautifully photographed, and the prostitutes shown SO human, there is much warmth in the scenes, yet the facts remain difficult to accept – life was what it was, and they did what they had to do to survive in the turn-of-the-century South. This is NOT a story of tragedy (except in personal terms that have nothing to do with the profession). Most everyone went about their days in matter-of-fact acceptance of their “station” in life, and did not get ulcers. They had a roof, decent money, good food, servants, and a place to raise their “accident” children. “Pretty Baby” asks you to step outside your contemporary world and standards, and try, just for two hours, to see another point of view. It’s an interesting challenge…perhaps more now than even a mere 30 years ago. WOTO IMDB
“Hollywood Goes to War” (2004): This is a two dvd set of documentary films shot during WWII. It covers everything from entertainers at home raising money for war bonds, etc., to cameras mounted in the wings of P-47 fighter planes during air battles over the Pacific. MOST of the footage of these 8 documents (total 388 minutes) is actual fight coverage. Some of it is not pretty. Americans were not the wincers they are now. This was serious stuff, and they wanted to know the truth…when it could safely be told. Much of the narration is interesting tactical and weapon information, plus looks at the daily grind of being a soldier in a real war. Remember – these documents were being made DURING the war. Yes, there IS a pro-American viewpoint here. What would you expect?
“Dodge Ball” (2004): 100%, laugh out loud, stupid fun. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn, William Shatner, Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris (et al)… tell the tale of down and out “Average Joe’s Gym” – threatened with bankruptcy and a take over. Vaughn and his small band of out-of-shapers try fighting their way to the top (?) to win the National Dodge Ball championship – for the much-needed cash – AND the pride! If you liked Stiller in “Zoolander”, if you liked the humor of “The Big Lebowski”, you’ll like “Dodge Ball”. Give yourself a high level, low-grade, brain-dead evening on the sofa, and enjoy the hell out of it. “Grab Life by the Ball”. I watched it twice this year! WOTO
“Black Hawk Down” (again, 2002): This is the true story of a botched mission in Somalia, 1993, when the American Government and Army Generals (watching war on television, from satellite cameras back in the offices) hesitated and refused to provide necessary backup for our soldiers. This, if you remember from watching the news, resulted in many deaths. What makes this film special are a number of elements: good acting by all; stark, slightly surreal lighting; graphic and relentless violence (yet STILL leaving out some of the brutality later shown on news television at the time); detailing I’ve never seen in a war film – the small moments and effects of relentless battle; a strong balance between characters and plot; effective, powerful, but seldom intrusive music tracks; sets, costuming, equipment, and makeup that was flawless; and the fact it was a final salute to those soldiers (listed in the end credits) who DID die during that twenty-four hours of Hell. Directed by Ridley Scott, and scored by Hans Zimmer, this film has much of the “feel” of their last one, “Gladiator”. WOTO
“Bully” (again, 2001): Like Larry Clark’s film “Kids”, “Bully” is an unflinching look into the empty eyes & souls of a loose knit pack of teens, who wouldn’t know a good friend, good idea, or good feeling if it came up and stabbed them in the heart. Based on a true story, and supported in concept by 1986’s “River’s Edge”, we see minds that are too young, and too addled from drugs, try solving their current irritation, without giving up the only world they know. Outstanding acting by all, including Brad Renfro, Nick Stahl, Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner, and Leo Fitzpatrick (of “Kids”), brilliantly brain dead dialog, camera work, and music tracks all add to the frightening realism of this recreated event. Note: although the visual violence is minor (for these days), there is quite a bit of nudity, profanity, and psychic disturbance to this story. If you’re the delicate type, or have children to protect, you might want to skip this one. If you want a high quality and very disturbing film, it’s a must-see. WOTO IMDB
“Poltergeist” (again, 1982): For some reason I always forget that this is a Spielberg movie, even though it’s one of my favorite sci-fi/horror stories. Set in a brand new subdivision, we meet a typical real estate man and his family in their fresh, one-owner home. Then you start to notice – or sense – small things – none of which deserve notice by themselves – going a little awry – off key – and the tension builds. And builds. And builds. This is NOT a slasher film. It is a psychological & parapsychological drama – with occasion bits of wit tossed in just at the right moments. The special effects are a quarter century old, so take with you a little forgiveness and wonder. Suspend your disbelief, and go for one hell of an interesting, well-paced, tense ride. Oh, and don’t think the ride is over just because the cars have stopped. WOTO
“Match Point” (2005): First things first: If you haven’t seen Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, it’s going to be difficult to get perspective on THIS new film by Allen. That said, there’s not a thing wrong with “Match Point”. The acting, especially by Jonathon Rhys Meyers and Emily Mortimer, is superb. Scarlett Johansson does a fine job too, but her role seems to be more familiar territory, and asks less of her. The use and placement of original 78 rpm, flawed, Caruso recordings (as the score) is the most unique component of this film. The plot IS “Crimes and Misdemeanors” – for the new film going audience, who has yet to look back at his previous work. My wife wondered if Woody Allen might be getting tired. Who knows? He usually takes “breaks” from his “darker” films by doing “lighter” ones (and visa versa), but I don’t expect him to be predictable in many ways for very long. I hope we have the opportunity to see that for ourselves for many years to come.
“Untold Stories of WWII” (1998): The important thing about ALL the documentation of WWII is that it puts our lives in perspective. Still walking among us are men and women who survived the obscenity of that horrific time, gave more effort than most of us can even comprehend, were willing to die to stop evil megalomaniacs, and whose bravery and heroism deserve our thanks anytime we can offer it. We can, as of yet, still travel most of the planet with the opportunity to meet someone who played a role in that terrible time, and who, each in his or her own way, made our standing there, alive and free, a possibility. This particular National Geographic special looks at a group of incredibly tough, single-minded, brave Norwegian & English men who faced starvation, freezing temperatures, and death, while attempting to destroy a Nazi “heavy water” laboratory high in the Norwegian mountains (and were eventually successful). Also in discussed in this special are the Japanese men who guided mini-submarines into attack at Pearl Harbor; and, the Japanese men who flew both the Kamikaze planes and manned guided missiles. All acts of desperation in a very wrong aggression, to be sure, but the bravery cannot be denied.
“Brokedown Palace” (again, 1999): Two American high school girls, best friends, take off on a last vacation before their lives separate at the fork in the road – one to college, one not. Through a series of seemingly random, childish events, they are suddenly swept up into a nightmare that has no solution. Great acting by Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale make this “it could happen to YOU too” film an intense, emotional, frightening story… and a warning to others. Have your teens watch this one. WOTO
“America Goes to War” (PBS) (2000): Twelve parts (6 VHS tapes), 320 minutes, originally aired by PBS TV, and narrated by Eric Sevareid. Unlike many WWII documentaries, this series focuses on the “home front” in the U.S.. It sets the stage for Dec. 7th, 1941, “A day that shall live in infamy”, looking at the mood before (The Great Depression, Isolationism) and after this attack upon Americans at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese (Patriotism, Revenge, an improved Economy). It’s about rationing, scrap drives, Victory gardens, changing morals, the American role in international affairs, taxes, increased jobs and salaries, the growth of assembly lines, the status of segregation, Hollywood’s role in morale, etc.. A very interesting look at what happened here, while the horrors of battlefields and concentrations camps raged on elsewhere. WOTO
“Robots” (2005): This was SO MUCH FUN! If you love design from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, especially industrial design, you’ll gawk & drool your way through it. If you love innuendo, obscure references, and witty plays on words, you’ll listen close, and feel worn-out by the end. No, the plot is nothing unique…little good guy against big bad guy. Love, family, friendship, honesty, determination, courage, and other aspects of human interest are introduced by never truly explored – in a computer generated movie that ISN’T made by Pixar. This is its weak point. The visuals are inventive, exciting, beautiful, and fun. The jokes tend to be adult oriented, and funny. For pure PLEASURE, with no intellectual demands, “Robots” is top notch. I will see it repeatedly – when I want tons of quality stimulation, without any challenges to my intellect… which has been twice so far this year. WOTO
“Woodstock” (again, 1970): This is the new version which took the original, at 185 minutes, up it to 225 minutes. Was it useless old footage that deserved to be ignored? NO! In fact, for 36 years I’ve wondered how and why they ever felt leaving Janis Joplin or Jefferson Airplane OUT of the documentary made ANY damned sense at all! There’s some extended footage of the goings-on at the concert, but for the most part, it’s of the performers. My god there were a lot of them that would soon be dead… Watch for spectacular performances by Richie Havens (“Freedom”), Joan Baez (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”), Joe Cocker (“A Little Help from my Friends”), Santana (“Soul Sacrifice” – watch for the drummer, who was 19 at the time!), Sly and the Family Stone (“I Want to Take You Higher”), Ten Years After (“Goin’ Home”), The Who (if you like them), Janis Joplin (“Help me Lord”), and Jimi Hendrix (in all of his cool brilliance doing a constant flow of familiar and unfamiliar sounds, with quite a bit of new old footage). Skip PAST Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe and the Fish, Sha Na Na, the sappy John Sebastian, Canned Heat, and Jefferson Airplane (who should’ve stayed in the studio). Crosby Stills & Nash were okay, but still had some bugs to work out of their new group (that was still without Neil Young). The 225 flew by. It’s a great documentary of a very serious, very confused, very silly, very interesting time. One shot shows the back of a jean jacket of some guy. On the back he has three symbols within each other: The swastika, the Anhka (sp), and the peace symbol. A VERY confused time. WOTO
“Gummo” (again, 1997): Visit Xenia Ohio, physically damaged by a tornado, and psychically damaged by its inhabitants – the fringe people – the poor white trash, the retarded, the uneducated, the drunken & glue sniffing wanderers. Spend shards of time with them as they “play” with each other, shoot cats, tape nipples, wrestle kitchen chairs, use all 9 words of their vocabulary, break things, and kill whatever can’t fight back. “Gummo” takes you to an interesting place … but you DON’T want to live there.
This is what I wrote last time:
Had Diane Arbus not committed suicide, and gone on to experiment with moving film, she could’ve made “Gummo”. If you believe in reincarnation, perhaps she returned as Harmony Korine, the creator of this very disturbing, but very interesting piece. The imagery, sounds, music, plot, acting, all of it… unique, and, despite many opinions, not for mere shock value.
The following is what I wrote last time:
“I’ve never read a good review of Gummo. It was done by the same person that did “Kids”, which knocked me out. Both are done in a pseudo-documentary style, sometimes NOT using actors (in Werner Herzog tradition), but frighteningly unique people that probably AREN’T acting at all…which ADDS to the deeply pathetic and disturbing nature of this loose knit town of poorer than poor, trashier than trash, white trash Ohio residents. This is Herzog meets Diane Arbus meets Korine (the writer). Did I mention ‘trash’?” WOTO
“L’Argent” (French, 1983): When I saw Bresson’s 1974 film “Lancelot du Lac” in 1977, I was amazed. What a stripped down, abstract, minimalist film! How empty, unemotional, and full of dread can one film be? Well, he met this challenge nine years later with his own (and last film) “L’Argent”. Imagine screenwriting a very interesting, linear story (taken from Tolstoy’s short story “The Forged Note”), creating many characters who occasionally cross one another’s paths, but then using static, nearly frozen camera work; stiff, nearly frozen “actors” (non-actors, “deliverers of the few lines”); and no major action to depict the events of your story. The result is almost like a “recreation of actual events”. If you’re looking for an intelligent story, here it is. If you’re looking for entertainment, powerful acting, fascinating interaction, dizzying camera work, Dolby sound or a single special effect, go elsewhere. WOTO IMDB
”To Have and Have Not” (1945): World War II was coming to a close, but not over. Everyone was weary. On the island of Martinique, in 1940, lives a game fish guide (Humphrey Bogart), who wants nothing to do with anyone’s war, let alone their personal problems. Then, along come some strangers who want to “talk” with him and want his “help”, and, if that wasn’t enough, enter a 22 year old vamp (played by a 19 year old unknown, Lauren Bacall) complicating his life. Up to this point, his biggest concern was keeping track of his old rummy boat assistant (Walter Brennan), and getting the rent paid. This is an excellent Bogart film, with all the intrigue a noir war thriller should have, and an especially sultry love interest performed by the precocious Bacall. Hoagy Carmichael performs his music in the local hangout. The screenplay was written by William Faulkner, and the novel, by Ernest Hemmingway. WOTO
“The Piano” (again, 1992): Jane Campion is one of my favorite writer/directors. This film of hers is set in 19th century New Zealand wilderness – and NOT that majestic, powerful sort of wilderness, but a rainy, mucky, dismal one. Ada (Holly Hunter), a mute woman and her daughter (Anna Pacquin), are shipped off to a man in this wilderness (Sam Neill), to meet and marry him by arrangement. Ada’s only passion is the piano…and yet, here they are in a world that seems to offer nothing. Enter the odd and gruff worker (Harvey Keitel). Superbly acted, beautifully photographed, richly scored, with higher production values than some of her earlier works (which does NOT imply this one is better), “The Piano” is a story of passion and conflict, and though a tad on the soapy side, is a JANE CAMPION work, therefore it is NOT typical, average, or burdened with stereotypes or easy solutions. Always see her work – all of it. WOTO
“Mighty Aphrodite” (again, ): Woody Allen, Helena Bonham Carter, Mira Sorvino, F. Murray Abraham, Michael Rappaport, Claire Bloom, Peter Weller, Jack Warden, David Odgen Stiers, Olympia Dukakis… who else would you like? This is a charming, funny comedy about a childless couple, the bio mother, and lots of complications – all set as a Greek tragedy gone Farce. Another unique structure is offered by Allen, who doesn’t wander too far from his interests, yet always creates a thoughtful exploration of morals, relationships, irony, and the gloriously silly efforts made by self-deluded humans. WOTO
“Freaks” (again, 1932): Tod Browning made this classic suspense/drama oddity soon after the first “talkie” version of “Dracula”, also his. “Freaks” is the story of a group of sideshow people – various deformed humans – who have their own sense of honor and family, and guard it with care. You’ll find no fakes or special effects here. These folks are the real deal. The story itself is somewhat soapy and dopey, but the experience of watching how real people deal with real challenges, and how they protect one another from the barbs of “normal” society, is an unforgettable experience. This is, in other words, not as much a good film as a worthwhile reminder of priorities in life.
”Monsters, Inc.” (again, 2002): Pixar is simply the Best at digital animation. NOT because they’re great at their visuals, which they are, but because they understand that “fx” AIN’T where it’s at – it’s story, wit, and “heart”. All their visual work is superb frosting on characters and plots that are interesting and about which are worth caring. “Monsters Inc.” carries on Pixar’s tradition of quality entertainment. They’ve set the “bar” so HIGH in this genre, it’ll take a near-miracle for anyone to top them, even by dumb luck. WOTO
“Our Gang/The Little Rascals” (again, 1922+): Maybe this isn’t the “right” category for these movie shorts, but it will have to do. I wasn’t born when these pre-feature film comedies were being run in theaters, but I was lucky enough to see their first revival on early 1950’s Saturday morning television for kids. It didn’t take long for me to have preferences. Although the true first ones weren’t shown on t.v. at all (because they were silent), my favorites were the earliest of the talkies, which included Chubby, Farina, Dicky, Tommy, Wheezer, Jackie, and Mary Ann. The camera work, locations, sound quality, and scripts were very basic, but there was spontaneity, beauty, and charm to them entirely lost over the next two decades, as groups of kids were replaced with the latest sets of youngsters. By the late 30’s and into the 40’s, the kids (STARS) were over-trained, precocious, hot house Hollywood babies (Alfalfa, an older Spanky, Darla, Buckwheat, Scotty, Froggy…), who were clearly harassed from the sidelines by pushy stage parents. It sometimes saddens me to watch these later episodes, but the early ones never cease to give me good laughs and warm feelings.
“The Killing Fields” (again, 1984): Winner of 3 Academy Awards, starring Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, Craig T. Nelson, John Malkovich. This is the true story of Cambodia’s collapse during and after America’s war in Viet Nam, when the Khmer Rouge began the Holocaust against their citizens. Centered on real life characters, we join a writer and photographer from the New York Times, lead by their Cambodian interpreter/life saver. The story is amazing, frightening, very graphic, sad, disgusting, and joyous. We see the Best and the Worst of human behavior. The scoring is overdone (Mike Oldfield of “Tubular Bells” fame), and too abstract & detached from the grittiness of the scenes). The photography has a solid documentary feel, and the constructed scenes of devastation absolutely astounding. There are scenes you will never forget. WOTO IMDB
“All the President’s Men” (again, 1976): Focusing on the Watergate Scandal, and made soon after Nixon’s resignation due to his & his staff’s lying under oath, this film came out. It was an exciting, tense, boiled-down depiction of what had become a huge mass of confusing facts with which the public had wrestled. History aside, is this a good FILM? Yes. It’s well acted and well made. It tells the story well, and gives the broader meaning. Does is have enough intrinsic substance to interest someone who is uninformed and uninterested in this episode of history? I doubt it, but then, I could care less about someone so ignorant and so lacking in curiosity. Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards star. See small, early roles by Meredith Baxter(-Birney), and many others. WOTO IMDB
“Unstrung Heroes” (again, 1995): With wonderful acting by all, this quirky story makes more and more sense as you follow a family through their own comedies and tragedies. Shown are some of the most subtle, lovely realizations of all time… which become profound as you realize how and what the young boy is learning from his old, split, bickering family tree… and how they ALL are very important to his best upbringing. Very good scoring never becomes assertive, and signals various factions of the family and mental states. This one will make you laugh loud, and cry quietly. WOTO
“Orpheus” (French, 1950): by Jean Cocteau. This is the first Surrealist film I can really get behind. Interpreting the “Orpheus” legend of old, Cocteau set it in a contemporary France of American Bee Bop music, young ruffian Beat poets, the fashionably “in” and those on the “outs”, and an Angel of Death who makes her visits via Rolls Royce, with an entourage of motorcycle military/police/“nazi” assassins. I generally liked the noir style photography, the contrast of music versus images, and special effects that did not reach into gimmickry. The acting is on the dramatic-drama side, but because of the Surrealist basis, I had no trouble with the exaggerated, awkward, or inconsistent. WOTO
“Thirteen” (again, 2003): Evan Rachel Wood plays a thirteen year old teen (and can’t be much older than that in real life, yet gives a superb performance – one SO good, I’ve already decided to see ANYTHING she does), and Holly Hunter (also great) is her on-the-wagon Mother. Life can feel rough in Middle School and for any kid, but this girl, basically without a Father, is desperate for attention she doesn’t understand, and looks in ALL the wrong places. The film FEELS like a documentary most of the time, with rough camera work and very natural dialog – reminding me of “Kids”. It’s a painful film, and I do not recommend it for anyone under “Thirteen”. At the very least, parental-lead discussion afterwards is required. Everyone in the film does a great job, the camera work, color, music, dialog, etc. supports the mood. This is one STRONG film. VERY impressive. WOTO IMDB
“Pelle the Conqueror” (again, Swedish, 1988): Set in the 19th century, a father and son leave Sweden to find a better life as indentured workers in Denmark. This is a long story full of plot lines, and needn’t be described here. The Art of the film is ABOUT strength, acceptance, reality, endurance, life, and death. The acting & sets are amazing; the photography is beautiful; and the scoring perfect. The meanings are given to you in small, seemingly insignificant moments that keep adding up. Max von Sydow is at his best, and no one is slack in this film. WOTO
“Hoffa” (again, 1992): Produced and directed and co-starring Danny Devito, with Jack Nicholson in the lead, this is the story of the rise and fall of Jimmy Hoffa, who began and ran the Teamsters Union. It’s a no-nonsense story about one man who believed in what he was doing, talked the talked, and walked the walk – even as he became dirty from the journey. David Mamet wrote the dialog, and although no one knows for a fact what happened to Hoffa (who VANISHED), this film’s conclusion is highly logical. Nicholson gives another powerful performance, and makes this a character study that rises above its seeming everyday material. WOTO
“The Manchurian Candidate” (again, 1962): This is one of the ultimate Cold War thrillers… directed by John Frankenheimer, shot in Noir-ish b/w style, and starring Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James and Gregory. (The standout is Lansbury as the epitome of Motherly Evil – for which she received an Oscar nomination.) Set starting during the Korean War, we see American soldiers being attacked and whisked away to… well, we don’t know where, and only slowly do we learn. The Step Father character is clearly based on McCarthy and his Commie-Witch hunts. This is an especially graphic and gritty film for 1962, and almost chillingly prophetic of the upcoming J.F.K. assassination. This is a top notch, creepy, dark, psychological, political thriller. WOTO IMDB
“Sweetie” (Australian, 1989): Jane Campion is one of my favorite “newer” film makers. (See “An Angel at my Table” in the category above.) She has a unique vision on life, and most every aspect of the film is hers – from concept and writing to the directing. Although the production values have a low-budget look, the stories are so good, and so powerful, you quickly overlook this weakness. “Sweetie” is the story of Kay, a highly neurotic young woman who is totally uncomfortable with the “everyday” world. Because of a tea leaf reading, she makes decisions that will greatly affect hers and others lives. Yep, she seems close to crazy. THEN her sister arrives – Sweetie, with a mystery man. Nope, things weren’t crazy before… but NOW they are. They couldn’t get crazier now. Then their parents come into the picture. WOTO IMDB
“Lord of the Rings” (again, 2001, 2002, 2003): Fun, exciting, full of action, romance, heart, and enough archetypes to represent the entire history of humans. I’m going to keep it simple here: The entire Trilogy is what is important, and only if you’re willing to view it as serious stuff, not merely entertainment (although it’s certainly that as well). I read the Tolkien books, and I thought no one could get close to depicting them visually. You know… like what I had in my head? I was WRONG. These three films are masterpieces of visual story telling. The MOST important thing however is this entire Epic was written in Archetypes – that is, the REAL issues are those ALL of humankind has ALWAYS seen as important: honesty, bravery, love, decency, truth, good vs. evil, lust, honor… “Lord of the Rings” has it all, as did the Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, lost stories told around campfires, and even a film that at first appears to be very time/site specific, like “Mystic River”. This IS the stuff of all Ages. I feel lucky to have been born into a time when a true Epic was written. (My wife and I watched the Trilogy over three sequential evenings. Although demanding much time, this really helps keep the story together, compared to their original release times.
Side notes:
“The Hobbit” was written in 1937, with the much larger “Lord of the Rings” trilogy begun soon after WWII. Although Tolkien was obviously referencing ancient lore (mainly from northern Europe and Scandinavia), I have the strong suspicion it was equally driven by conditions of spreading violence and official war in the Pacific and Europe beginning in the early 30’s, reaching unavoidable participation by the late 30’s. I see no reason NOT to interpret Lord of the Rings as a symbolic, emotional version of our own World War II. (Why, even the water landing crafts used by Orcs in Part Three (of the film) were directly inspired from the American landing crafts used for our soldiers).
The designers must have loved being involved in this project, but also felt lots of pressure to meet the visual expectations of generations of the Book Readers.
Only one reference in the entire trilogy seemed out of place, and that was uttered by Gimli the Dwarf, when he mentioned “tossing Dwarves”. I did not need ANY contemporary, insider-joke references.
I very much liked the logic of architectural, costume, character, and monster designs. Kudos to those artists.
As far as I’M concerned, Liv Tyler can KEEP the pointy ears ON! She wore ‘em well. And, if the Elven language (which she spoke perhaps the best of them all) was real, I would learn it just for her. Lovely sounds. Better than French.
Many of the massive military Orc gathering scenes had the appearance of Hitler’s Nuremburg spectacles.
NATURALLY, the good monsters were huge Eagles. The bad monsters looked like Mammoths, sea creatures, snakes, Cockroaches, or the genetic spawn of Pork Rinds. The character designs I had a little trouble with were the Ancient Trees (Ents). They didn’t have the gritty believability of the others. WOTO IMDB
“Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle” (French, 1986): by Eric Rohmer. Two young women meet out in the country on a lovely day. One helps the other, and they become friends. The film is divided into four stories: each separate but related, leaning heavily on dialog (subtitled). Pragmatism vs. Idealism, The Truth of Morals vs. Existentialism, etc. … these two people cover lots of territory in their simple scenarios. Low production values aside, this is a joy to watch (& especially to hear) as subjects are illustrated & debated in unique, interesting ways. WOTO
“Journey of Hope” (Turkish, 1991): A strong, clear, direct, honest, and sad film, without a hint of schmaltz. Join a contemporary Kurd family trying to leave Turkey for the perceived “paradise” of Switzerland (based on a postcard they get from a family member). Their journey is not spectacular, it is common, and in its commonness, we see its power. It is easy to forget you are watching actors that are not actually caught in these circumstances. “Journey of Hope” was given the Academy Award for Best Foreign film – and it was deserved. You’ll probably have some things to discuss with your kids afterwards, if you watch it together…and I think you should. WOTO IMDB
“The World According to Garp” (again, 1982): Robin Williams, Glenn Close (in her debut role), John Lithgow, Swoosie Kurtz, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Amanda Plummer, Mary Beth Hurt star in the film adaptation of John Irving’s novel. When I saw this film first run in the theater, the story left me a little confused, but I knew I’d seen something unique. Over the years I’ve seen it again, and THIS time left no further doubt about the story line or its point. You have lots of choices in life, and lots of reactions available to you as circumstances come flying in your face. HOW you deal with it is what is ALWAYS under your control. This is a quirky, funny, sad, occasionally violent, out-of-left-field film still worthy of your consideration or return. WOTO IMDB
“National Velvet” (again, 1944): This film is COMPLETELY charming – the BEST of Hollywood – with humor, wit, heart, quirkiness, drama, sadness, and a couple lumps of sugar, if you please. Elizabeth Taylor, at the age of TWELVE, with her beauty and talent, was destined to be thrown into a very large world very quickly, after this film came out. Playing a girl her own age, the story is set in England in the 1920’s. She belongs to a solid, decent, hard working family. Her one love (besides her family) is horses. Through a series of generally predictable situations, she is on the road to her destiny, and her destiny is spelled out (in such a way as to give hope to a 1944 world still battling in WWII). The ENTIRE family should see this one, and for those of you who, like me, are hesitant to take seriously stories so full of romantic notions, let me just say that THIS one is worth it. It is absolutely enchanting. IMDB
“Little Women” (again, 1995): For those who never read the book (including myself), we might be stuck with the rumor that this is a flouncey, fluffy, girlie story… and in certain ways it is. HOWEVER, stick with it, and you’ll see it increasing insight as the early years pass, and life experience begins to pound heavily at their door. Full of good actors, including Susan Sarandon, Clare Danes, a young Kirsten Dunst, Winona Ryder, Josh Brolin, Gabriel Byrne, Eric Stoltz, Samantha Mathis…make this a worthwhile view of the Victorian era in America.
“Metropolis” (again & again & again, German, 1926, by Fritz Lang, 87 minutes, restored 1984 by Giorgio Moroder): First of all, you need to LET GO of your 2006 A.D. “film-think”, because this was made 80 YEARS ago. Acting, even when done well, was related more to stage than camera – which shows in the exaggerated gestures meant to be seen & understood from the back row of a theater. Plus, this IS a German Expressionist/Cubist/Art Deco film, so an edgy, frantic, and shattered look ARE its artistic means to the end. With that said, this film was lovingly restored – pieced back together where ever possible, filled, and altered by Giorgio Moroder over a number of years. A TRUE Labor of Love. Bless him. I tend to be a Purist – and yet his contemporary soundtrack is surprisingly enjoyable and effective. The story is of class division 100 years in the future (2026 A.D.) (though everything looks 1926 Modern, which I love), when the few wealthy people (“Brains”) with power run the hoards of faceless, blue collar workers (“Hands”). Sound like you could relate? Sure, this film is an essay on German society in psychological and financial ruins from World War I, with it’s increasing need for a “savior” to come along and UNITE & SAVE the People (in this case by forming Labor Unions). Socialist? Yes. Politics aside, “Metropolis” is one of the most beautifully lighted and creative sets of all time. Each shot is composed with great care, each movement and spot of light placed with precision, and the architecture/decor is stunning early Art Deco. The male lead, “Freder”, will not fill your definition of “hero” I’m willing to bet…being a tad heavy on the pancake makeup and rouge. On the other hand, I’ve had a long-running, VERY heated, major crush on the female lead, Maria – the good-hearted heroine – the gentle woman who holds the hands of children, AND…(in a dual role) – the evil “false Maria” robot/temptress who dances wildly at the “Yoshiwara” house of ill-repute, driving tuxedoed men wild with animal lust. Yes, it’s true – if I could get in a time machine and go anywhere in the 20th century, it would be to the Metropolis movie set, 1925-26, just to cozy up with Brigitte Helm (“Maria”). (My wife knows this, so don’t bother trying to rat on me.) I have “Metropolis” in this category NOT because of all the lessons it will teach on how to lead your Life, but due to its artistic beauty, historical interest, imaginative decor, and enjoyable naiveté. (Remember to rent the restored Moroder version (!!!) or the later, even longer & further restored version (2002) with its original orchestral score, and NOT the old one – a patchwork quilt attempt, which is barely legible.)
“Metropolis” (1926, again? Yes – twice this year – and also No): I say “yes, and no” because THIS is the new (2002), FURTHER restored (124 minutes!), silent (no dubbing) version of the once-lost masterpiece by Fritz Lang, and my first viewing. There have been TWO major restorations: the Giorgio Moroder version (listed above), which I really enjoy, including it’s 80’s rock-n-roll (!) music tracks and occasional “hand” coloring in small areas, and, this NEW one which extends the movie length (although approximately 25% is still missing from Lang’s original work). NOW the missing parts, due to script discoveries, are indicated in black-frame text descriptions, and, since the original orchestral score is now known, it has been recreated, recorded, and fit to the film as well. Fritz MUST HAVE belonged to either the Socialist or Communist Party at the time. The film is a hardly disguised propaganda piece for the Heads (wealthy bosses), and Hands (anonymous workers), to come together with the aid of the Hearts (union mediators). You MUST approach this film with an attitude different than that which you use for contemporary films: the acting is way over the top, as silent films took their queues from the theater; the music is heavy and dramatic (Germanic); the symbolism straight from the Bible, ultra-Moderne fashions, and political thinking of 1920’s Europe; not to mention bits and pieces of “Frankenstein” (pun intended), “Nosferatu”, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, a harbinger of “King Kong”, plus many influences by German Expressionist visual art of the period. The more you know about German history of that time, the more you see how significant “Metropolis” would have been to that viewing public (not to mention sexy, cutting edge, and prophetic). Hitler was still a small time crook in 1926, but the old German empire was crumbling under its own weight, and Fate awaited Adolph. The Time was Ripe, indeed. I ADORE Brigitte Helm, the actress who plays both a Madonna-like, inspirational spokeswoman for the masses, AND the evil temptress robot, programmed to infiltrate the masses – for the purpose of destabilizing the union movement. Her body and facial movements are SO enjoyable in their exaggerated, Art Deco/Expressionist way, and, at least for ME, somehow V V VEEERRRRY seductive… She also loves to grab her breasts during emotional moments. Watch her one eyelid drop, when she’s the robot woman. Watch her eyes become like Bambi’s Mom, when she’s the Madonna. The sets are so modern, so hip and stylish, I can barely stand it. Within the context of IT’S time, perhaps only “2001: A Space Odyssey” matches its vast inspiration for depicting the future. Remember: “Metropolis” was made BEFORE skyscrapers – and that includes the Chrysler and Empire State buildings in N.Y.C.. There were NO multi-layered overpasses, air transports within cities, etc.. Are the characters simplistic? Yes. Is the story fairly obvious? I think so. Does that detract? No! It IS a Masterpiece, and WILL impress you, unless you have no sense of historical perspective…THAT you probably need, or you might think the entire film just “hokey”. Your loss. WOTO IMDB
“Diary of a Country Priest” (French, 1950): This is a slow, evenly paced, thoughtful, introspective story by Robert Bresson, shot in exquisite black/white, lit and composed like a series of paintings (with beautiful, slight movements). A young priest is given his first parish, and despite his desires to be of value, it’s possible he is not. Having been “cloistered” away from the world, he does not have the necessary insight into people, let alone rural people, especially in the midst of WWII. This inability slows dawns on him and causes great questioning – but this is not the end of his “tests”. Expect no action, humor, sex. “Diary…” is for only the philosophical, the artistic, and the patient, I would say. WOTO IMDB
“Grey Gardens” (1975): Documentary. In Jackie Kennedy/Onassis’ family were a mother and daughter the wealthy might want to call “eccentric”, but the rest of us might call “nuts”. This is a visit to their once-nice, modest mansion on the ocean among the other newer mansions of the well-bred & breaded. Imagine never getting any further than maybe 100 yards from your home in 30 or 40 years, never doing a lick of maintenance, letting the ivy, rats, raccoons, weather, cats, and your own slovenly ways destroy the house, and you…well…you adjust as it all slowly happens, thinking it’s normal. Your only company is your Mother/Daughter, you bicker constantly, while living in the past, and making up your own rules for the present. Anytime you think you (or a family member) is going nuts, rent this one, and set yourself at ease. IMDB
“Happiness” (again, 1997): Todd Solandz has done two of my favorite films: this one, and “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” “Dollhouse” is THE definition of Junior High Hell. “Happiness”? …well, take all the episodes of “Leave it to Beaver”, distill them, pour into a fine, toxic waste storage cask, allow to age 50 years behind a porno store, and you get this incredibly witty, but very dark horror of a faux-comedy. Solandz’ stomping ground is Suburbia, and he seems to be REAL MAD at it. Adults are predators, children are food, dens are lairs, and white-bread snacks are laid upon waiting traps. NO ONE UNDER 18 should see this, and no one with a delicate sensibility. The sets, costuming, and scoring add greatly to the overall impact of this nightmare. The dialog, silences, acting, layered roles… all done superbly. Casting was amazing. Ironies abound, contrasts are everywhere. This is a painful, terrible, horrifying, wonderful film. WOTO IMDB
“Scent of a Woman” (again, 1993): Al Pacino won Best Actor for his role as a bitter, acid-tongued, crude, blinded ex-military man who is faced with needing care. Chris O’Donnell, a student at Baird, is in need of money to remain in school. He’s no rich boy. These two are sort of stuck together, but I gotta tell ya, I’d of walked. Pacino pushes everyone within his range to the edge. This is a maddening, funny, tender, crazy, interesting, inspiring story that sometimes reaches true depth. WOTO
“We All Loved Each Other So Much” (Italian, 1974): A film by Ettore Scola. We follow three men-friends through 30 years – weaving in and out of each others their lives, alone or in various combinations, with one particular woman. They met as “brothers in war” during the Italian Resistance of WWII. With eventual peace, each traveled their own paths, crossing and remeeting every so often. The b/w photography is beautiful, the scoring perhaps a little heavy-handed (but considering the time – 1974 – downright subtle), the period “looks” seems accurate enough, and the acting by all involved is good. I enjoyed some of the film’s devices, such as all the actors freezing in position and the one “in thought” getting a spotlight, the occasional near-repeat of a scene/incident, the actors sometimes speaking directly to you, and other breaks with the “reality” of a film. No doubt Woody Allen saw this work before his making “Annie Hall”. You might also think of this film as a more somber, sophisticated version of “The Big Chill” with fewer main characters and more internal assessment. WOTO IMDB
“Victory at Sea” (1952): This is a 26 part documentary on WWII, obviously focusing on the Naval/Air operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific battles. Think about this: the war was only 7 years over. Hardly a single American was without a personal link to that war. Plus, this massive amount of film footage was gathered (not only American & Allied footage, but also German, Japanese, and Italian), organized, edited, scripted, scored, and produced into 30 minutes segments which were originally shown on television. There are a few spots that have glitches, but I understand the thinking behind these conscious decisions. You’ll occasionally see the same footage – say, of a bomber dropping a payload onto a landscape – a number of times. This was probably the best, most accurate example available for the particular narrative, but it is distracting (and for a detail/history fan, is distracting and threatens the credibility of other scenes as well). Also of note is the willingness that still existed in the American medias to show the death and maiming of our own people – our soldiers. This has all but vanished. Ask yourself why. WOTO
“The Nomi Song” (2004): Klaus Nomi was a man, and eventually, a personality in N.Y.C. in the late 70’s and 80’s. I was first introduced to his brand of singing and dress when he appeared as a backup singer for David Bowie, on “Saturday Night Live”. Think of an angular, gay, robotic, Kabuki dancer – singing pop opera. I like his studio recordings very much. For the most part, I find his stage performances part of what quickly became that era’s style cliché – the latest in ritualized, NYC nihilism with a transgender spin. None the less, his story, like so many others of those years, was one of shooting semi-stardom, with predictable steps towards a tragic end. See this one if you’re a fan of his music, or you want to further study what NOT to do for your career.
“Casablanca” (again, 1942): Simply one of the finest looking, realistically patriotic, interesting stories full of dry wit and non-sugary romance, ever made. There’s nothing I can say that someone hasn’t already. WOTO
“New York – A Documentary Film” (10 hours, 5 episodes): This was a special for PBS television, made by Ric Burns (relation to Ken Burns?), covering the history of New York City, from 1609 to 1931. It is absolutely fascinating from start to finish, and is packed with tons of large concepts and little details too many to mention…but here’s one: did you know that “Wall Street” began not as a street but as a WALL – it was a long, protective wall to help keep the new Dutch resident traders safe from Indian attacks (yes, even though they DID purchase Manhattan from them) in this small village-town? Although the Dutch did have this deal with the local Indians, it seems some of the Euro residents, while out on hunting trips for food, were also shooting the former owners, if seen on their new property – which seemed excessive and “unfair” to the indigenous folks – and who retaliated. Thus The Wall. Did you know that England took New Amsterdam from the Dutch without a fight (and of course renamed it – with just as much “imagination” – New York)?
“On the Beach” (again, 1959): Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins, directed by Stanley Kramer. We find ourselves in the near-future of 1964, Australia. There is an odd, “informal” feeling to what we see. People are tired or depressed or drinking excessively…is THIS was Australians are like? We then learn that the Atomic War is OVER, the rest of the planet is, they suspect, now dead, and radioactive clouds are finally headed for Australia – the last location with clean air. People are in denial or trying to prepare. There are no scientists madly searching for a last-minute cure. Everyone does a decent job depicting people trying to be stoic or fatalistic or casual as their deaths approach. The photography is good, but if I could, I would rip 90% of the scoring OUT – since it uses “Waltzing Matilda” REPEATEDLY (in a variety of styles for moods), which really got under my skin. The individual situations we see are powerful, the reactions to their realities thoughtful and sad. This is one of the ultimate Cold War/anti-war films. It may not be equal to “Failsafe”, but it’s up there. WOTO IMDB
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1981): Funny…I have for years thought I’d seen this version. Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, John Colicos, Angelica Huston…filmed by Sven Nykvist, screenplay by David Mamet…how could I forget…and yet I was proven to be wrong moment after moment, throughout this 30’s Era, steamy, sexy, violent, gritty story of lost souls. It’s a great drama of people trying to find Redemption through shoddy, aimless, toss-of-the-dice methods. We, as an audience, are jerked back and forth countless times, and each of these characters seems to be on a right (or wrong) track, only to pull another hairpin turn, if for no other reason than their trying to swerve out of the way of Karma barreling down the road straight at them. In unfortunately typical style for the time (1981), the lighting is too convenient and artificial for my taste, but everything else about this version is quite engaging. WOTO
“Late Spring” (Japanese, 1949): Every time I see another Yasujiro Ozu film, I am more amazed and further impressed. As a director, he was a master of understated elegance. Think of him as a moving wood block print, or an extended Haiku poem. His images, symbols, photography, composition, editing, dialog, story… they’re all controlled to a masterful degree, and patiently lead you from one point to another. “Late Sprint” is the story about an older daughter who has never left her father. She is completely satisfied to stay at home caring for him (the mother died many years earlier). Everyone is concerned about her, applies pressure, and she resists. The father realizes it is he alone who might convince her to enter Life on new terms. Do NOT take Ozu’s landscapes and city scenes as mere non-story scenery. Instead, watch for them to represent current conditions, emotions, and truths. WOTO IMDB
“Anchorman – The Legend of Ron Burgandy” (again, 2004): Imagine my surprise after renting “Forgotten” with Julianne Moore, putting in the tape at night, and finding “Anchorman” starting up. I think this is a first. Wrong tape, right box. Okay, Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Tim Robbins, Fred Willard, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and a seemingly endless supply of talent fill out this totally ridiculous, witty-in-a-brain-dead-sort-of-way, “epic” about a 1970’s tee-vee anchorman and his overblown belief in himself. But, as much of the world operates, everyone believes him, so things work out pretty well … until the Feminist comes along… The core of this comedy seems to be tons of improvisation that was later edited to fit the small plot. It’s fresh, tacky dopiness, and great fun. I laugh constantly. WOTO IMDB
“Rosemary’s Baby” (again, 1968): Even the very young & cute Mia Farrow could barely carry off that “Twiggy” look of 1965-68, and yes, there are other “period” clues in this film: the camera work has that “trippy” look when she’s (possibly) in another consciousness, the music has a druggy sound to it at times, the “high fashion” was often at a low point…but this film is STILL a great exercise in PARANOIA. WHO is imagining WHAT? WHY is she suspecting THAT? Is Rosemary nuts? If not, are THEY in on it? John Cassevettes plays her patient husband, the crazy Ruth Gordon who won the Oscar for her role, as one of their neighbors, many character actors you’ll recognize…and they all add up to an increasingly tense, psychological-horror film that shook up EVERYONE in 1968. Pure period style fun. WOTO IMDB
Cream “Strange Brew” (1991): This is an hour documentary with Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and Eric Clapton, about the years prior to and including their trio work in “Cream”. Wonderful early film footage and stills of Bruce and Baker in jazz groups, Clapton in blues groups, Jimi Hendrix honoring Cream with his interpretation of their music, interviews with John Mayall, etc. all add up to more insight into one of the most important, exciting, and short lived groups in the history of Rock and Roll. Yes, they went on, but for me, never again hit that high thin air…. Truly, they “fed” each other. Speaking of which, expect to see some very funky psychedelic effects, an awful, staged (lip-sync) thing they did for t.v., and some of the most thrilling live music of all time. WOTO
“Kids” (again, 1995): Written by the same person that created “Gummo” (Harmony Korine), this first effort – “KIDS” – announced a new talent on the block. With the same documentary style, and all the doubts as to whether ANYONE is ACTING at all, you are “privileged” to hang with a bunch of feral city kids as they stumble their way through their daze. One reviewer said it made him want to go get a vasectomy. I agree. Directed by Larry Clark, “starring” Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, and many others, this one just makes you sick with the honest ugliness of these lost souls. WOTO
“The Conversation” (again, 1974): Nominated for Best Picture of 1974, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Gene Hackman, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams (soon after “American Graffiti”), Harrison Ford (ditto), and get this – an uncredited Robert Duval- all add up to one creepy, suspense drama, with a solid character study to hold it all together. Character “Harry Caul” is a surveillance expert. He’s a professional spy, and gets good money for doing it. He’s also a loner, and has an intense, justifiably paranoid streak that his privacy is something of an illusion. He’s also haunted by some of his past jobs. This is not a comedy, obviously, but nor is it a crime story packed with action. It’s a great, “looking over your shoulder” mood piece of the highest quality. WOTO IMDB
“Closer” (again, 2005): Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen, with Mike Nichols directing. As the film got rolling, I felt I was seeing too many plot and character clichés. “Why am I being shown all this?” I asked myself. “Hang in there,” I told myself, “it’ll clarify itself.” By god, it did. We are presented with four strangers who meet under completely random circumstances, begin crossing paths, and pursuing artificial relationships wearing their well-crafted, invisible armor… but like a Rubik’s Cube, every time they seem to have “sided” – gotten CLOSER – they each, in their own pathetic, life-long, practiced fashion, set about to ruin it. Do I see a progression towards honest self-awareness? Hmm…I think so. “Hang in there,” I told myself. Then they twist the Cube again. “Maybe THIS is it this time,” I ponder. While watching “Closer”, I went from ambivalence to thinking it was quite good – admiring the plot, dialog, photography, acting, scoring, and overall idea. I chose to watch this film three times this year. WOTO IMDB
“Summer of ’42” (again, and again, and again, 1971): Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: I will, for the rest of my life, have a crush on Jennifer O’Neill …because of this film. For that reason – if it WAS the only reason – I would put this film in my “Guilty Pleasures” category. But…it’s not the only reason I return and return to this work. Simply put, when it’s funny, it makes me laugh harder than most others; when it’s tender, very few films can touch it; when it’s sad, it’s really sad; and when it reaches my fragile spots – which all men have whether they admit it or not – it makes me feel as though I could shatter. It’s also full of lovely landscapes, nicely framed shots, elegant music, wonderful dialog, and perhaps the finest LACK of dialog ever created. Everyday adults play no role in this story. It’s about three boys – best Summer Pals – who, for this season, stay in a New England beach island community. They’re bored, they make their own fun, they’re horny and have no idea how to deal with that, they’re embarrassed and embarrassing, they’re innocent and dopey, they’re funny, desperate, and very human. Maybe “Summer of ‘42” is more of a male-film, but only if females aren’t willing to see the Truths in this delicate, insightful story. I adore it. Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser, and Oliver Conant play the boys. Despite the fact there ARE other people on the island, and they DO inhabit parts of the film, together, these four people will seem like the only ones left on Earth. WOTO IMDB
“Chikamatsu Monogatari” (Crucified Lovers) (Japanese, 1954): Set in 17th century Japan, a series of honorable gestures begins to go terribly wrong, and takes victims with them. Did you know that adulterers at that time were crucified in Japan? This and many more traditions of the Old Way were up for reexamination by the Japanese culture soon after their defeat in World War II. This must have been a time of great doubt for them – after all, wasn’t it their past that lead them to their current condition? “Chikamatsu Monogatari” is an elegant, methodical story with tragic twists and turns that never the less head straight into inflexible Fate. WOTO IMDB
“World War II documentary films” (1937-1945): I found a large set of video sets that are all documentary footage from WWII, organized into specific battles and subjects (see below), with interviews of veterans from ALL sides of this major world event. Viewing will be a lengthy effort on my part, but I want to know much more about this terrible time when so many people suffered and gave their lives to stop TRUE Evil…for themselves, for me, and for you:
D-Day June 6, 1944: The tactics necessary for such an effort simply boggle my mind. It was so complex, so dependent upon so many people doing so many things well and courageously, I cannot pretend to comprehend it. Still, I grow increasingly impressed, and grateful, over what was done.
Battlefield the Battle of Normandy: More looks at the decisive battles that took France and other areas back from Germany. Maneuvers to make the German command think the Allies were going to attack somewhere further north were complex and expensive, but necessary, and in the end, successful.
The Century of Warfare The Western Front 44-45: A quick wrap up of what was going on prior to these last years, and we head straight to the final big battles in Belgium, France, Holland, and Germany. Special equipment was designed and built to get tanks over anti-tank ditches, floating harbors were brought in to areas that had no capabilities, the Allies somehow projected into the Nazi radar large batches of attack ships not there, and lots of bluffs were performed to send the enemy defending wrong locations.
“Fighting Destroyer Escorts of World War II”: This is a look at a special small class destroyer designed to escort other ships across the Atlantic, and fight the German submarines. Built for high speed and quick turns, they were, with their crews, an effective weapon against the Nazis, and later in the South Pacific, the Japanese. WOTO ]
Brothers in Arms the 101st Airborne Division (3 vols): Jumping from the sky at low altitude and high speed, loaded down with heavy equipment, an enemy shooting at you floating in the air above… Coming down, you’d hit whatever was below, and if you survived THAT, and didn’t have a broken leg, you had to get OUT of the parachute straps, and IF you had any weapons left, get them together. The war was already there waiting for you, and many of those strangers wanted you dead. WOTO
“Braveheart” (again, 1995): Huge, powerful, violent, interesting, romantic, and, did I say VIOLENT? The story (and no doubt fertile myths) retells the life story of William Wallace, who, in the 13th century, leads his ragtag band of commoners into larger and larger battles against highly militarized England, eventually winning freedom for “his” Scotland. With big scoring, majestic landscapes, Shakespearian situations, and hopefully, an effort to tell history with some credibility (I cannot assure you of this), this IS a life WORTH retelling into the centuries. Some people are Driven and Focused. THIS Wallace became after experiencing for himself the cruel and unfair treatment of his people by the monarchy of England. It is an inspiring story full of blood, torture, fire, steel, mud, and courage. Acting is high quality across the board, photography is lush, and dialog worthy of Henry the VIII. Starring, produced and directed by Mel Gibson, with Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, and many other talented people. WOTO IMDB
“Country Boys” (2000+, documentary): Six hours in length, follow two Kentucky teenage boys (and their troubled families) through their last years of efforts in (and out of) an alternative high school, set in a small, poverty ridden part of the state. Although cursed with the doubts and confusions all teens face, these kids have been handed additional burdens. It is an honest, frustrating, sad, and insightful study of real life, and how we all must SOMEHOW deal with it – like it or not – succeed at it or not – understand it or not – we still must find a way.
“Charlotte Gray” (2001): Cate Blanchett is wonderful, taking the role of a 1940’s English woman (Charlotte) with a slightly romantic view of War, who meets a handsome RAF pilot. She idolizes his role, and, with the Germans now occupying half of France, decides to volunteer for the war effort once he leaves. Naturally, she has a lot of learning to do, some of it predictable, some not. What I like so much about this film is its ability to juggle a romance with a good “spy” story, without sacrificing either. The photography is elegant, the lighting often dramatic, the color exquisitely subtle and effective, and the music is supportive. Everyone’s acting is commendable if not great, and Blanchett is outstanding – again. And again. WOTO IMDB
“Onibaba” (Japanese, 1964): Directed by Kaneto Shindo. This film would be so much less in color than the powerful black and white in which it was created. Think Film Noir with the extra flair of the theater and the irrational. A constant, calming yet ominous rustle of an entire sweeping Plain of reed (think wheat, but higher than corn) is the stage for a seemingly simple tale about a mother and daughter-in-law, left alone on this Plain, fending for themselves during the Medieval wars of Japan. They kill wayward soldiers to scrape out a “living”… strip them of equipment, and trade it all for food. Enter a brutish man – an escapee (AWOL) from the war – who complicates their lives. Never accept Japanese films for what first appears on the surface. Expect symbols, spirits, and hard learned lessons during a situation that moves from “normal” to bizarre. Full of warnings, guilt, and fear, they clearly serve as teaching tools to the culture. Stepping back, most art forms do that for their own culture most of the time. Perhaps the Japanese just use a more stylized, therefore obvious, presentation. Expect to be intrigued within the first minute, as the camera floats and sweeps over the reed Plain, finds a large hole (a la “Eraserhead”), gives you vague clues of things to come, and then floats off again to find the women… Yikes! WOTO IMDB
“Fitzcarraldo” (German, 1982): One of my favorite film makers of all time is Werner Herzog, and this one ranks at about the middle of my Herzog list. It’s wonderful – don’t get me wrong here – with lots of classic Herzog devices and attitudes – many non-actors used, the documentary half-truths and lucky accidents he allows to occur & remain, the always interesting music juxtaposed to the imagery and action, the basis of true events which lend believability to otherwise unbelievable and incredibly interesting stories, and his “take” on humanity – which is never very optimistic, most often dark, full of people with incredibly out of proportion egos, the clash of cultures, and First-vs-Third world scenarios. “Progress” is a very debatable concept to him. This story took a monumental effort to create, and I admire it very much. My only reservation is in comparison to his work I feel is stronger – especially “The Mystery of Kasper Hauser”, “Stroszek”, and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, followed by “Even Dwarves Start Small”, “Heart of Glass”, and (his version of) “Nosferatu”. He is one of “our” best. WOTO IMDB
“Permanent Midnight” (again, 1998): Ben Stiller is not only a good, dry comedian who does “uncomfortable” very well, and this role proves it. Apparently a true story, Stiller plays the Hollywood writer Jerry Stahl, destroying his life with heroin. His slow, desperate collapse is very well done. Elizabeth Hurley, Fred Willard, Cheryl Ladd, Janeane Garofolo, Peter Greene, Owen Wilson, Maria Bello also do fine jobs as people who satellite the addict, for better or worse. This depiction of addiction is one every teen should see. Use this film as a “scared straight” sort of event. It is – the life of addiction – illustrated as absolutely pathetic, maddening, and deadly. WOTO
“It’s a decent enough reason to ride the sofa for a couple of hours”:
“De-Lovely” (again, 2004): My WIFE wanted this one for our collection, okay? Not me! You know how I feel about musicals, right? Well, imagine a musical about Cole Porter, who WROTE musicals! Just shoot me!! Hysteria aside, it’s not terrible. There’s Ashley Judd for staring, some decent costuming, cars, and décor from the 30’s, the pathetic attempts at being in a stylish, “liberally minded” marriage (the Porters), and the slow collapse of two smart people, each with their own vulnerabilities. It’s slightly funny, slightly sad, slightly decadent, and never gets huge in any way. It’s…… okay. But it IS a musical. WOTO
“Syriana” (three times this year, 2005): Since some of the people involved in this film were a part of another film I like very much (“The Thin Red Line”). I thought, “Great!, with good actors in this one too, so much the better!” As the film opens, you are given gorgeous, mysterious scenes glazed over with equally wonderful scoring. “Ah, quality…” Never once did I waiver from appreciating the photography, editing, scoring, or acting…in fact, I watched it two nights in a row for these reasons. Here’s the snag: it’s an overly-messy story about a messy, convoluted, greedy, misguided world full of too many players – so the script presents us with tiny, torn bits of possible information – too far, too few, too many – and never bothers to assemble much of it by the end. Did I “get it”? Yes, corporations and politics make strange, ugly, self-centered bedfellows, and they pretty much run the world, and they’ll sacrifice anyone – sometimes even themselves – for their goals. And, they usually win. That’s it? Tell me something I DON’T know, will you? “Syriana” was full of style and potential. WOTO
“King Kong” (again, 1933): I could put this movie in just about ANY of my categories and still make a good argument for it, so I’m putting it in the middle. It’s a story with heart. It holds the depth of meaning as does any good fairy tale. The special effects were complex and astounding for its time – affecting the 1933 audience greatly – and will appear crude to today’s audience. It’s a period piece with good Art Deco scenes & Flapper babes (gorgeous & quite revealing Fay Wray in the lead), 1932 New York City scenes, Depression Era & “a world-in-the-early-throes-of-turmoil” sensibilities, a lingering, mild racism, sci-fi scenarios, lessons in the corruption of wealth, “Man-Plays-God” syndrome… you name it. “King Kong” is fun, beautifully photographed, with nicely & slightly over-the-top acting. The innuendos are subtle but visible. You KNOW how the story turns out, but I wonder who YOU will be rooting for? The double dvd package is a good one (for once), with tons of information about the history of its ideas, how it was done, and its path to release.
See it. Try to view it as an adult caught in the fourth year of the Great Depression, in 1933.
“Shaft” (again, 2001): Thirty+ years later, Samuel L. Jackson takes the role of “Shaft” (“HE’S A BAAAAAAAD MUTHA F[SHUT YO MOUTH!], with Richard Roundtree (original John Shaft) in the role as his now-retired, private-dick Uncle. Over the top styling seems appropriate here, as the off-spring film of 70’s blacksploitation, using the same music track, and a pumped-up, world-is-even-more-violent-now storyline and visuals. Toni Colette plays the crucial witness, and does her usual superb job. Jackson simply had to review his character from “Pulp Fiction”. None the less, this is a gritty, hip, fun, violent retro job with all the right cues if you’re in the mood for a decent update of what was always a Grade B flik. WOTO
“Ruthless People” (again, 1986): Perfectly 80’s style comedy about a well-meaning and very likable pair of kidnappers (Judge Reinhold & Helen Slater) who have a tiger of a hostage by the tail (Bette Midler), who has a husband (Danny DeVito) who wants her dead anyhow. Funny, entertaining, and FULL of very cool, High-end Memphis Design Group furnishings & their spin-offs. (WOTO)
“The Hitchhiker” (1953): Starring Edmund O’Brien. This is a Noir thriller set on the asphalt and dirt roads of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico. Wonderful photography, a somewhat overstated score, occasional bits of over-the-top acting, and a plot element that is dragged along through the film for logically unjustified reasons, it’s none the less a TRUE cat-n-mouse crime drama worth experiencing. WOTO
“Narc” (again, 2003): Ray Liotta and Jason Patrick star in a Tom Cruise production. It’s about undercover cops in Detroit. Who’s dirty? Who ain’t? Does anyone give a shit anyhow? “Narc” is a standard issue cop drama, with hyper violence and relentlessly foul language. Is that something I mind? No…IF it has a point, and this is where I have trouble. There IS a plot, and SOME mysteries DO get solved…sort of…during the last moments of violence and twists… but for the most part, I think it’s a mystery because it’s muddled not complex. It does have stylish photography and scoring. It most reminds me of “Reservoir Dogs” but in color, and without the purity of intent. WARNING: NOT a kid’s film.
“King Creole” (again, 1958): NONE of Elvis’ movies challenge you, so let’s get those sorts of thoughts out of the way NOW. But, IF you like Elvis, or, you want to find an Elvis to like, the Pre-Army (pre-1960) version is the one. He has a little edge, sarcasm, and sexiness to him that was all surgically removed during his stint in the military. Pre-1960 music, pre-1960 movies, pre-everything. That’s all you need to remember. WOTO
“Mayerling” (1935): A French film set in 1883-89, that desperately wanted to be “Romeo & Juliet”. It’s dashing and glamorous, but has none of the real passion of Shakespeare’s story of ill-fated lovers. WOTO
“The Wedding Singer” (again, 1988): Nothing challenging here, just a classic, light love story, with some good humor, set in 1985, and FULL of cheezie 80’s styles and references. It also showcases Adam Sandler, and the luminous Drew Barrymore. Steve Buscemi, Christine Taylor, Billy Idol star in supporting roles. WOTO
“Dinosaur” (200X): By Disney Studios. Two angles: 1): This IS a kid’s movie, and you, as an adult, have to decide if the blatant messages are what you want your kids to receive – which include: there’s always hope, some adults are wrong, death is a fact of life, there’s strength in numbers, you have to fight for yourself, inter-species cohabitation is okay, no one’s better or more valuable than another, it’s good to have lots of babies, girls are pink/boys are blue, and animals are nothing but humans in the wrong shape. I have some problems with a few of those. I also have problems with the SWELLING, HUGE, LOUD score, and yes, the force-fed injections of human characteristics into every creature. But…THAT’S Disney. Now for the other angle: 2): It’s gorgeous. The light, perspective, textures, colors… gorgeous. If it wasn’t gorgeous, I’d say run the other way. WOTO
“Harvey” (again, 1950): Jimmy Stewart has a best friend – a 6’3” tall white rabbit named Harvey. Only he can see Harvey. Everyone else thinks he’s nuts. Take it from there. This is a gentle, witty, funny, and sweet story that would later inspire the film “They Might Be Giants”. It’d be an interesting double feature. WOTO
“Enemy at the Gates” (again, 2001): Solid, based-on-the-true story about one man in the Russian Army during WWII, at the Battle of Stalingrad. Jude Law plays this man, swept up into the Army, where he is discovered to be especially good with a rifle, is given status as an elite sniper, and is then raised to the level of Poster Boy for the propaganda machine run by Nikita Kruschev. He IS very good, which only increases the German desire to take him OUT. Sets are incredible, with costuming and makeup equally so. This film is NOT in a higher category because I could’ve used less of the unnecessary “love interest” and English accents coming from all Russians (!). Although not to the level of “Schindler’s List”, “Sophie’s Choice”, or “Full Metal Jacket”, it remains good drama despite its flaws. WOTO
“Thank you for Smoking” (2006): Think “Wag the Dog” for cigarettes. Often very witty and funny, sometimes dark and funny, sometimes almost pathetic in a too-open sort of way, Aaron Eckhart stars as the spin meister for the tobacco industry. He’s very good at what he does, and it’s all he does. He’s ready to make anyone with good arguments against smoking look stupid to the public. Although the story flow is a tad too predictable, and the jokes repeated a few times too often, it’s still an enjoyable sofa ride for an evening. Be prepared for “Cancer Boy”, the dying “Marlboro Man”, the reporter who screws for news, the spin meisters of the alcohol and gun industries, hypocritical Senators, and a sharp, loving son who has a case of the idolatries for Dad.
“Hardly Gold” (1997): I’ve enjoyed William Wegman’s unpretentious little films/videos for more than 30 years. He has built them all around his dogs, who do everything from take spelling tests to go on big adventures as The Hardly Boys. They are not weighty films, and the humor is gentle. He did an entire series for Sesame Street some years ago, and seemed very at home. Relax with these easy gems, and you will enjoy them as much as your children. WOTO
“Elvis is Alive (I Swear I Saw Him Eating a Ding Dong!)” (1999): Part documentary (?), part MOCKumentary, ALL of it dry, weird, straight-faced, and some of hilarious, this is one man’s search to make it big by tracking down rumors that Elvis is still alive… and he’s willing to go anywhere. This film has something of the feel of a Christopher Guest film, but does NOT reach that quality. None the less, you’ll find Fred Willard, Vickie Lawrence, Rip Taylor, and Dr. Joyce Brothers, mixed in with people who may, or may not be escapees from the Desert Trailer Park for the Terminally Deluded. WOTO
“Walt Disney – On the Front Lines – The War Years” (1941-45): This is a collection of animated cartoons, informational, and instructional films made by the Disney Studios for the war effort. They range from Goofy being a lovable but incompetent soldier showing you what NOT to do, and a typically emotional Donald flying off the handle and losing track of what should be done, to films discussing the tactics of land, water, and air battles. The films, of which there are MANY, range from a few minutes to over an hour, and total 3.5 hours. If you are a student of animation, or WWII, or Disney specifically, this is a must-see addition to your knowledge.
“Welcome to Collingwood” (again, 2002): Bill Macy, Isaiah Washington, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, Luis Guzman, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jennifer Esposito. The tag line says it all: “Idiots make lousy criminals”. This is pure comedy crime caper fun. That’s all. Sit back and relax. WOTO
“The Lonely Guy” (again, 1983): Not quite the original, mindless silliness which launched Steve Martin, nor is it the later, more sophisticated work about relationships and society, this latent-Disco era comedy is enjoyable, and often predictable, yet remains a pleasure for its rapid fire, one-joke scenes. WOTO
“Don’t Say a Word” (again, 2001): Starring Michael Douglas and Brittany Murphy. This is the one that made me want to see more of Murphy’s work. She’s VERY good at Fragile, Neurotic, and Deviant. This movie is a crime-thriller drama, with greed, lust, murder, revenge, and resolution. Somewhere inside the head of a mental patient (Murphy) are the numbers to a solution. LOTS of people want them, but no one can get inside. That is, until a psychiatrist is found (Douglas) who might just be capable…IF he can be convinced to go after it. Although some of the film has blatant devices to create tension, it’s an enjoyable trip. Everyone does a good job (don’t expect much from the little girl) of making you jerk this way, then that. WOTO
“The Corporation” (2003): Try to ignore the fact Michael Moore is in this film. Like Oliver Stone, he has no interest in Truth. Now the documentary: it’s a left-leaning primer on the structure, greed, deceit, & general evil of the corporate structure. Is it all bullshit? No. Is it balanced & fair? No. Are some of the film makers concerns valid? Yes. Are they also somewhat paranoid and/or sensationalist? Yes. Look, it’s the age-old issue of Haves and Have-Nots. NO ONE likes to be a Have Not, and the Haves want to hang on to what they have. Both sides are all about Greed, minor or major. Go in to this film NOT to learn the truth because NO film has THE truth but go in to read BETWEEN the lines. Ask yourself WHY these people made or participated in THIS film, what THEY’VE invested, and what THEY find of value – then ask the same thing about those they are indicting. If you get uncomfortable about making sweeping generalizations about one group, you should get uncomfortable about making them about the other. This has all the embarrassing components of any self-righteous entity. It’s made by greedy humans, about greedy humans. That’s all. Nothing more. The song remains the same.
“The Seven Year Itch” (again, 1955): Sure, it shows its stage roots like a bad bleach job, and no one is what you’d call a “brilliant actor”, but Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell make this just-plain-fun, and more than a no-brainer, with lots of silly innuendos and fetishist imagery that carved itself into the movie going audiences of all time. Marilyn keeping her underwear in the freezer. Marilyn standing over the subway grating and her skirt blowing up around her waist. Marilyn flopping down in the easy chair and spreadin’ ‘em in front of the air conditioner. Etc. This is a fast paced, funky, dopey, witty, dialog driven piece of entertainment… and it’s not embarrassed to admit it. WOTO
“The Big Easy” (again, 1986): You have to overlook a few things to enjoy this crime drama, including Dennis Quaid’s Cajun accent that seems to come and go of its own accord, the perverted little innocent girl routine Ellen Barkin mixes with her government agent persona, and the typical weird 80’s attitude: the only characters we’ll ever meet are those who survived a nuclear war and are starting over with a clean but charred slate for their reinvention of morals. It’s the PEAK of the anti-hero, I suppose. Whatever the case, there IS a crime drama here, and some hot-n-humid sex scenes with the two stars that are far from beautiful yet have an attractiveness you can’t deny, even if you want to. WOTO
“The End of Violence” (again, 1996): Because my favorite film Of All Time is by Wim Wenders (the brilliant “Wings of Desire”), I compare ALL of his films to it, whether or not it’s fair. Wenders takes HUGE bites out of the philosophy sandwich, and sometimes can’t get it all chewed, swallowed, and digested. I liked his early film “Hammett” for its direct story and period feel. “Wings…” took on MAJOR issues, but did not lose sight of the need to focus. “The End of Violence” wants to be about 3 films, I’d say, and none are treated to the full exploration. It’s part crime drama, part marital drama, part Hollywood biz drama, and part exploration on the subjects of privacy, violence, perception, and secrecy. That’s A LOT to pack into one tasty bite, and nothing is fully appreciated. Wim: ease up. Take one subject, make a full film. Then, take another subject, make another full film. You can do. Again. All of that said, the acting is good, the score is effective, the photography often striking, the characters often interesting, and some scenes are very memorable. WOTO IMDB
“A Prairie Home Companion” (2006): Directed by Robert Altman, written by Garrison Keillor, and full of stars, including Meryl Streep, Lilly Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, Keillor, Lindsey Lohan, etc.. Stylistically, this IS Altman doing Keillor. The acting is good enough, but not especially engaging for any reason. The characters are not that interesting. Fact is, if you’re not already extremely aware of “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show, AND you’re a fan, this movie won’t make much sense, and you won’t care. It’s an Insider’s movie of intermingling moments that have no real progression or larger goal. Either you’ll enjoy the mish-mash chatter of distant characters, or you won’t. I did, but it’s a very forgettable movie.
“The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946): Starring Kirk Douglas (in his first role), and Barbara Stanwyck. A Noir film with all the classic components, but lacking the great photography. It was merely acceptable. Unfortunate. Otherwise, we had passion, twists and turns, lots of Karma, unexpected moments, a wonderful blonde dame (sorry, forgot her name), and a few creepy characters that sold their souls long ago. WOTO
“The Scar” (1948): EVERYONE gets their “come uppance” in Noir crime dramas. Oh sure, things might look swell for a little while, but mugs and dames both get it when their number’s up, see? This one has beautiful lighting and composition, less aggressive scoring, better acting, and overall higher quality than many, including the one mentioned below (“Detour”). Sure, there’s always a gorgeous bombshell, and somebody owes somebody something. That’s how things are, and they ain’t gonna change for no one, get it? WOTO
“Detour” (1946): Starring no one recognizable or talented, with over-acting and over-scoring, why wouldn’t this one be in a lower category? It’s an interesting story line, that’s why. I DO enjoy the kitschy “tough guy” and “broad” patter, the shallow sets, and the costuming. But, the story – with turns in it you won’t foresee – is the enjoyable part. WOTO
“The Notorious Bettie Page” (2006): Look, I’m a FAN of the REAL Betty Page, so I went in with an Attitude: “Gretchen Moll and the others BETTER get it right, and if the script is sloppy with the facts – a la Oliver Stone – you’re gonna piss me off.” I’m both satisfied and pissed. I’m satisfied because Moll got Betty right. She’s not the identical twin of Betty – doesn’t quite have the beauty, and isn’t nearly as “hippy”, but Moll got the FEELING of Betty very well. Betty ALWAYS came through the photos as a decent-but-slightly-naughty girl-next-door who was just having fun. You have the feeling you’d like her. Even women like her. Moll nailed that quality. Kudos. However, continuity problems in the sets (etc.) were distracting, and Oliver Stone must have been hanging around in the shadows somewhere, because Betty’s history was really diddled. Going by the movie, you’d never know that Betty VANISHED for c. 30 years – POOF, GONE – and was only found after a determined man set out to not just locate, but help her. The REAL story of Betty Page is more compelling and humane than the movie let on. None the less, Moll makes it worth the visit.
“Scarlett Street” (1945): Imagine Edward G. Robinson as a meek, mild, hen-pecked husband. Difficult to do? It was for me… for the first few minutes, and then his ability to create this character makes you forget his gangster roles. Imagine Dan Duyrea as a sleaze ball. Yep, he does a good job of THAT. And finally, what about Joan Bennett as a VERY hot, beautiful, manipulative Noir broad? No problem there. None. “Scarlett Street” is directed by Fritz Lang, who was my initial reason for seeing this film. As it turned out, the story – albeit a tad longer than necessary? – is a dandy. We have revenge, irony, twists, lessons, darkness, and blinding glare all in the same steamy story. WOTO
“The Squid and the Whale” (2005): The first and main thing I heard about this film was its being very uncomfortable. You voyeuristically watch people behaving very poorly – with zero insights into themselves – deluded beyond the comfort zone – avoiding truths at all cost. A family is divorcing, everyone is being torn to psychic pieces, and the audience seems to be the only ones who know what to do… or, at least, what NOT to do. I enjoyed this aspect… but as the film wore on (and it – THEY – DO wear on you!), the characters began to up the ante in ways that lost proportion. Behaviors and dialog went on steroids, and simply became unbelievable. “Dialing it back” about 25% (at least) – clinging to some subtlety – would’ve helped. Actors Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney (one of my favorites), and a newcomer, Jesse Eisenberg were most impressive, but there was talent across the board, including Owen Kline, Anna Paquin, and Halley Feiffer. A couple BLATANT continuity problems were shockingly allowed to remain, which always hurts credibility with me. The film needed someone with fresh eyes to come in and “tweak” the film into a tighter story.
“A Shark’s Tale” (2004): Produced by Dreamworks, and using big star names (voices). Dreamworks has produced very little that impresses me. They’re up against Pixar. If you saw DW’s “Antz” and compared it to Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life”, you know what I’m talking about. If you prefer shallow characters, a thin plot, lots of pop references, weaker animation, punny dialog, and visual gags, Dreamworks is for you. Should you prefer a deeper plot, characters with character, gorgeous animation, and wit not destroyed at the expense of heart, stay with Pixar. “Shrek” (#1) is the ONLY Dreamworks project I can think of that had something comparable to the consistent quality of Pixar. I will see Pixar films now simply because of who made them. They are reliably on top, where they belong.
“The Thin Man” (1934): Starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. “The Thin Man” was such a hit during the Depression era, it became a decade-long series… lasting well into World War II. The film is made of beautiful b/w, noir style photography, rapid fire snappy patter, oddball characters, a big pile of steamy innuendos, and of course, a murder mystery. Powell is a retired detective with a wife who loves the buzz of danger and traveling, not to mention sharing lots and lots of martinis with him. The décor is stylish, costuming apparently representing the quirks of wealth, and the dialog richly Period. Oh, and much of it is funny.
”After the Thin Man” (1936): Starring, of course, William Powell and Myrna Loy. Watch for a young Jimmy Stewart, also. This was the second in their series of Thin Man movies, and what I had to say above holds for this one as well. They’re good looking, witty, funny, complex, and stylish. In fact, I’d say this one has better décor than the first one… or at least more to my taste.
“Another Thin Man” (1939): Starring the same William Powell and Myrna Loy, but THIS time they have a baby… who, except for an occasional piece of shtick, is as much a part of the family as a table lamp. Their dog “Asta” has many more good scenes. Note the reduced amount of drinking and drunkenness in this film – due to the baby? Watch for young actors Sheldon Leonard, and Marjorie Main. Almost all sequels go limp. This is no exception. “Another Thin Man” does not hold your attention, and the sets, etc., are even less interesting.
“The Shining” (again, 1980): Okay, Stanley Kubrick isn’t a god after all. It had been a long time since seeing this horror film, and it’ll probably be my last. Each time I’ve seen it, it drops lower on my lists. Why? Jack Nicholson is at his insane best, the photography is often superb (WOW how about those garden mazes at night in the snow?), the sets are strong… And yet, much of the acting is weak-ish with Shelley Duvall (although once she gets a head of steam, stand back!), Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers (yes!), but perhaps the most distracting, non-artful aspect is the overbearing score of music and other soundscapes meant to add tension, fear, adrenaline… they were obvious and overused… and relentlessly present. It really damaged the overall quality, for me. And finally, writer Stephen King, has nothing to brag about. I’m not sure he EVER has… WOTO
“Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” (2005): I LIKE Albert Brooks’s films and dry sense of humor. I do. In this new film, with the idea being that America sends a comedian to India and Pakistan in order to understand THEIR senses of humor (and therefore avert war?), we have a good start. And, sometimes the bits ARE good…but…not all the time. Brooks takes Dry, and makes it dry…takes Stretch the point, and stretches the point… The movie isn’t all that long, but it felt like it. I’m sure it ALL sounded hilarious on paper, but in the film… oh, it’s just Okay. Watch it and expect less than I did, and you won’t feel let down. See one of his really solid films, like “Lost in America”, and this new one is going to give you trouble.
“Tron” (again, 1982): Originally billed as the first computer created movie (NOT true, but hey, this is Disney we’re talking about here), we see two worlds: the “Real” world, and the world inside computers/programs, which is full of good guys, bad guys, and at least one love interest. Think of this as most closely related to “Star Wars”, but with an early compu-generated look, set in an ultra geometric, highly perspectived, bleak digi-world. The story is lame. We even have characters named “RAM”, etc.. The ‘tude of the characters is pure early 80’s/”Dirty Dancing”/late disco. It’s a Period Piece, let’s face it. However, if you can step away from all your personal connections to ’82, and can allow the digital effects to be what they are, the Disney team created some extremely handsome scenes that needn’t apologize to anyone. Is it a good movie? No. If you want to revisit early digital graphics, see it. WOTO
“Ghost Busters” (again, 1984): It’s fun. That’s all. The special effects are about as good as you were going to get in 1984, Bill Murray was cashing in on his classic, funky, suave, lounge lizard persona, Dan Aykroyd was playing straight man (around Murray, everyone had to), and the premise was nothing but Reagan-era entrepaneurial optimism. Yes, it’s now looking and sounding VERY 80’s, and the setting of New York City – under attack, with people running, buildings burning and collapsing – has new associations – but the comedy is still there. You just have to forgive it a few things they could not have foreseen. WOTO
“Action in the North Atlantic” (1943): Starring Humphrey Bogart. Raymond Massey, Alan Hale, Ruth Gordon. With this being a film that came out as America was really hitting its stride in terms of war production and involvement, this film is a 3-in-1 deal. It’s an action film (with acceptable special effects and documentary footage blended in), an “informational” film – explaining the value, use, and tactics of the Merchant Marines, and, a propaganda film to raise spirits on the homefront. This film was actually used as a TRAINING film for the Merchant Marines, also. 127 minutes occasionally feels too long, but it is generally an interesting period piece. WOTO
“Good Morning Viet Nam” (again, 1986): Odd as it may sound, this film reminds me of another Robin Williams movie, “Dead Poet’s Society”… but “Good Morning Viet Nam” is a like a bigger, war version. Perhaps it was Williams seeming inability to pull in the reins of his improvisational talents that kept heading him into certain scenarios and roles. I don’t know. The Outsider. The struggle against Authority. The Creative vs the Common. The Uncontrollable. I was very relieved to see “One Hour Photo” where, whether due to the overpowering strength of a director, or Williams finally controlling himself, his restraint was incredible, and the film is brilliant. “Good Morning…” – truly a “Nam” movie about an era of pointless war and the questioning of authority – was a classic vehicle for driving Williams the other way down a one-way road. There ARE some wonderful moments (like when he has lost the “heart” to continue his radio show, then meets a group of soldier-fans while stuck in a traffic jam). Of course there is the unnecessary “love” interest, which supplied nothing more than an additional, simplistic tool for his entry into other parts of Vietnamese culture, and we could’ve done without her. None of the characters have much depth, and we see absolutely no internal reason for Williams to latch on to the particular Vietnamese characters. “G.M.V.N.” is an ideal film for THIS category. I enjoyed it, will remember a few scenes, and move on to higher quality films. WOTO
“Brick” (2006): Caveats: I think to enjoy this film to its fullest, you need to come to it with: 1) an existing love of 30’s-40’s Noir films, 2) preparation for dialog where everyone is savvy, 3) a clear head for a complex crime story, and 4) the willingness to see a reinterpretation of chilly wet urban night Noir with burnt out adults who’ve “seen it all” into the dry warm bright sun of suburban California with high school students. If you can do these things, you’ll enjoy it. You’ll also enjoy seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the sharp-but-numb lead character, Lukas Haas (no longer the cute little Amish boy of “Witness”), and Richard Roundtree (“He’s a baaaad mutha..fu..Wha’cho mouf!”) as the Vice Principal of a public school. Also starring is Nora Zehetner, who creates a believable girl racing towards her doom. The music is minimal and moody, the photography is occasionally “dark” (noir), but the mood of the film is rooted more in crime, snappy dialog, nihilistic characters, and the inevitable twists and turns with dollops of Karmic Come-uppance.
“Wife vs Secretary” (1936): Clark Gable, Merna Loy, Jean Harlow, Jimmy Stewart star. This is a standard soaper/drama-lite about a happy (gooey, smooshy) couple who seems to have become threatened by the husband’s valuable, effective secretary. The story line is nothing special. What interested me were the sets and costuming. 1936 was clearly the start of a confused era, when the wealthy needed to begin redefining their “look” as a way to separate from the average, Depression-hit Joe. Apparently, everyone sharing the SAME Modernism was TOO Socialist. If you ever want to see a film loaded with the most extreme Art Moderne (not Deco, not Machine Age, not Organic, not Surreal), this is the film. The people and homes look like they were attacked by roving bands of obsessive-compulsive rich women and flaming queen gay interior decorators, both just released from the asylum. WOTO
“Team America: World Police” (again, 2004): By the makers of South Park, which means nothing to me as I’ve never seen South Park, but that’s what the rental box says. Imagine all the characters being puppets. Puppets who spout cheezie dialog, sing show tunes about A.I.D.S., vomit, have sex of any and all sorts, kill and maim in the name of world peace, and perform amazing physical acts as, well, like I said, PUPPETS! Their MOVEMENTS in relation to the seriousness of their actions is perhaps the funniest aspect. This is one stupid, dirty mouthed, violent, politically incorrect, nearly pornographic, funny, scatter-shot aimed at EVERYONE – from world leaders to self-involved Hollywood actors. You’ll laugh… and then check to make sure no one saw or heard you. WOTO
“Trekkies” (1999): One moment you’re feeling sorry for them, the next you’re laughing at them, and the next you’re so embarrassed for their delusions, you don’t know what to do. This is the documentary about the people who LIVE “Star Trek” – who, like the Dead Heads, have no significant work or personal life, pattern their real lives after a tee-vee show, and find some pathetic consolation in this “world”. Some of the people are just goofy, some disturbed, but most, I suspect, are very, very lonely. Yes, the Star Trek conventions pull in big bucks, and yes, most of the original stars have gone on to do… well… nothing… so they’re “thankful” for this massive group of lost souls – these obsessive-compulsives – these admirers – but at the same time, you can see it in the aging stars faces – they think the whole phenomenon is pretty twisted too…. except for a couple of them, and THAT gives you the creeps too. WOTO
“Matinee” (again, 1993): It’s fun. It has simplistic but good sets and costumes, the cars a little too clean and rust-free (especially for Florida), the story is basic, and John Goodman fills the role of inspired B-grade Sci-Fi movie director perfectly. Taking place in Key West in the early 1960’s, only 90 miles from Communist Cuba, with Russian missiles just discovered on that island, the tension of nuclear war, AND putting on a good premier of “Mant” (the Man turned into a huge Ant because of, what else?, atomic radiation!), adds up to a stressed out little community. Just enjoy. Don’t think. WOTO
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen” (1964): Leonard Cohen began getting serious attention as a poet and novelist in the early 1960’s. His other career – music – was yet to begin. This is a documentary done on him in those early days as a Canadian upstart who, like Bob Dylan, was getting lots of attention – not only for their work, but for their smug, evasive, elitist, generationally-divisive, smart-aleck, Surrealist Debating Team tactics. This look at the young, somewhat unlikable Cohen, and his inability to read his own poetry, will show you how far he’s come. For those who now appreciate his growth, this is a must-see.
“The Pee-Wee Show” (1981): Before Paul Reubens had his “children’s” tee-vee show – “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” – he had a cult-follower stage show in Los Angeles. If you are a fan of the Playhouse, you’ll want to see this document of his earliest daze. The set is not fully realized (and very frontal for the live audience, of course) but IS designed by the talented Gary Panter. Characters that made it to the Playhouse include Captain Carl, Miss Yvonne, Pteri, Klockie, and Jombie, but quite a few were NOT seen again, and many were yet to be created. The bodily/sexual references are more blatant and numerous, and everyone’s behaviors are much more exaggerated. If you can imagine this, the later tee-vee “Playhouse” gained lots of finesse and subtlety lacking in the earlier stage show! This is an interesting look at the evolution of a truly unique character.
“Downfall” (German, 2005): This is a recreation of the last days down in Hitler’s bunker, as told by his secretary, who survived the war. Bruno Ganz (of “Wings of Desire” fame) takes Hitler, and Alexandra Maria Lara takes Traudl Junge, the secretary. I am a WWII history buff, so I watch for 1) accuracy in characters, events, etc., 2) the point of view that this film was made BY Germans FOR Germans, and 3) it’s a FILM – a work of Art. Historically, it was recreated by Junge’s words. She and few others survived the bunker and any attempts to escape Berlin. We’ll have to accept her words (cross referenced with other sources) as what we know, but must also understand that she would have an agenda for putting her position in the most acceptable light… after all, she remained in Germany, dying only a few years ago. None the less, it struck me as honest and thoughtful. Characterizations were acceptable, and I liked Ganz as Hitler, but such HIGH profile people, such as Hitler, need almost miraculous casting and acting to suspend the disbelief, and this did not happen for me. The special effects – from bombs to executions – were average to weak – probably budget issues. Everything had a staged, slightly “dry” appearance. I thought it was “brave” for this German film to state repeatedly (through the mouths of the characters) that the German people got who and what they wanted and deserved – they created their own fate – and to complain or blame others is an unacceptable position. Overall, the film moved a little slow, and if you’re not interested in History, I think this one is too focused and German for most viewers.
“Broken Flowers” (2005): A Jim Jarmusch film. Starring Bill Murray, with other stars that play small, supportive roles. Jarmusch makes his own “style” of films, that’s true. But I also suspect he, as an artist, lets himself off the hook a little too often. Creating a mood is fine, and he does that. Laying out a story line, but presenting it in a “surreal”/make-of-it-what-you-will fashion, is just too easy. It’s the way out when you’re not sure what it IS you want to do, but you’re doing it anyhow. I also suspect he lets his actors off easy also. He may be a Guide when it comes to the mechanics of a scene, but I think that his “whatever” attitude may rub off on the staff. In “Broken Flowers”, it struck me that NO ONE had much acting to do. They merely delivered lines, in (or out of) costume, in a dry, stretched out fashion, with implied, unresolved agendas. I liked the photography, and the maybe yes/maybe no connections shown, but the pacing was so painfully drawn out in every scene, it became tedious and predictable. Obviously, I was disappointed in this one. It’s not that I disliked it, I just wasn’t impressed. It’s a worthy one-time view.
“Always Outnumbered Always Outgunned” (again, 1998): Narrated by the best friend (Bill Cobbs) observing the main character (Laurence Fishburn), we watch one man’s struggle with himself and the messy world of freedom – just out of prison, after serving 18 years due to killing two people, he still has anger control problems, but is determined to better his life, if not those near him as well. Set in ghetto L.A., this story has television production roots, and a poetic, almost mythic street feel. The occasional all-Whites-are-bad angle is unfortunate, and this is no “Crash”, that’s for sure, but it does have many redeeming moments. Also starring: Natalie Cole, Laurie Metcalf, Bill Nunn, and the always great Cicely Tyson. WOTO
“The Longest Day” (again, 1962): Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, and touting “42 international stars”, this is the fairly accurate-yet-Hollywoodized retelling of D-Day, minute by minute by hour, on every beach, in every bunker. Is it of interest to contemporary audiences? Well, not like it would have been THEN, less than 20 years after the real end of WWII, and now in the midst of the vagaries of the Cold War. It is of interest to me as a version of history, with added tactical information I hadn’t known, and, it’s a look at how epic sized films were made at that time. FORTY TWO stars? There was someone for everyone…from John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Eddie Albert, to Fabian, Paul Anka, and Tommy Sands. Music made to march out of the theater whistling. Hollywoodization: thousands and thousands of Americans die – without one drop of blood spilled. Amazing. No one deserted out of fear or doubt. No one cursed. No one cried, screamed, or shot themselves in the foot. There was no such thing as “friendly fire”. None the less, it’s a decent retelling of D-day, with a high polish put on it. WOTO
“Panic in the Streets” (1950): Directed by Elia Kazan, this is no “On the Waterfront”, but it’s better than average, and beautifully shot in strong, Noir-style black & white. Set in New Orleans, an illegal alien brings a contagious disease into the city. It’s up to a few men to find the carriers, quarantine the sick, and try to keep the population from panicking and escaping. It reminds me of “Blackboard Jungle” in terms of relationships, pacing, and resolution. Actors Richard Widmark, Jack Palance, Paul Douglas, a very young, cute Barbara Bel Geddes, and lots of character actors make this a fine piece of entertainment. WOTO
“The Messenger” (again, 2000): Milla Jovovich stars, with John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, and Dustin Hoffman in a somewhat “popularized” version of the true story of Joan of Arc. It has the feel of many films along this line – “Braveheart”, “Gladiator”, etc., where sweeping, epic tales are simplified, re-historicized, and made palatable for contemporary audiences. Jovovich does a wonderfully fragile, frantic, self-convinced version of Joan, and Dunaway is the perfect, icy, stylized, manipulating mother-in-law to the soon-to-be King of France (Malkovich). If you want to see the definitive “Joan of Arc”, see the silent 1928 Dreyer version with the Richard Einhorn score. THIS is the amazing one. WOTO
“Space Cowboys” (2001): Four old, retired astronauts are the only ones with enough practical experience to even try to fix a big problem with an old Russian satellite orbiting earth, which is losing altitude and headed back to Earth. Satellites fall back on a regular basis, but a couple people seem REAL concerned about this one – and then it’s discovered why. Clearly aimed at Baby Boomers, part comedy, part drama, part romance – if you LOVED “Apollo 13″, you’ll like this one. Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner do wonderfully entertaining jobs.
“Gosford Park” (2001): Robert Altman LOVES to compress as many actors, characters, mini-plot lines, and goings-on as he can. Think soap opera on steroids. This one is no exception. Set in 1932 England at a huge country estate, we are slowly introduced to many of the guests, owners, and staff. We learn there are hierarchies, pecking orders, and sub-pecking orders within every single relationship inside the mansion. THIS I found interesting, and sometimes witty. Unfortunately, there seems to be TWO films here (COMPRESS! COMPRESS!!): Hierarchies is joined at the hip by an English Whodunit, which is far less interesting – dare I say? – COMMON – and often close to boring. I sincerely wish Altman had let the initial story play itself out, and not introduced an entirely new, second story line.
“The Statement” (2003): A Nazi war criminal has been hiding (in France) for decades, leading what may have been a decent life ever since. None the less, he’s always been on The List of those to be hunted, found, and killed, whether he knew it or not. Thus goes the plot. You’ll notice weak continuity details, a somewhat muddled story, and good acting from Michael Caine and Tilda Swinton. It’s a good enough film for a ride on the sofa, but nothing more.
“TransAmerica” (2005): Although I knew I wanted to see this film, I admit I didn’t ask many questions or listen to many opinions beforehand, and did not realize it was considered a comedy. So… as the movie proceeded… with me thinking it was a weighty drama… I had trouble adjusting to its comedy. Then, as I WAS adjusting to its comedy, the comedy was fading, and the film was getting dramatic. We were not a good marriage. I liked the film, but to it I did not dovetail, nor did it hold much insight. It became a candidate for THIS category of mine. A decent sofa ride.
“Witness” (again, 1985): Sure, there’s all the action/drama clichés, along with the patented Harrison Ford expressions. Of course there’s a beautiful woman, and bad guys. Given all this, don’t expect a truly unique experience, and yet, the SETTING – in an Amish community – DOES separate it enough from other films with the otherwise same components. There are a few extremely memorable scenes. Directed by Peter Weir. Kelley Lynch, Lucas Haas, and if you watch closely, other eventual stars are in this entertaining story.
“Meeting People is Easy” (1998): Documentary by Grant Gee, covering the day to day lives of the group “Radiohead” as they tour the world in 1997-98, after the release of their album “O.K. Computer”. It’s a little too artsy-fartsy for a document, but hey, Gee had to do SOMETHING besides aim a camera, I guess. The “focus” should be on the members of the group, and it generally is. Sadly, there’s little insight here. We learn what we already knew: there are prices to pay for stardom, stardom has nothing to do with Art, promotion steals Art time, money corrupts, people don’t like change, groupies are sad, traveling is tiresome, sound checks are boring, and you hear the same interview questions over and over. STOP WHINING. You got what you asked for. You’re famous, you’re rich, and people listen to your music.
“There’s Something about Mary” (again, 1998): When you’re in the mood for dumb-ass humor that has no redeeming value but makes you laugh out loud (every so often) (think “Animal House” for example), there’s THIS film. Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, and a large cast of strangely believable characters, star in this teen-giggle-fest about a young man who has never forgotten his first true love, and is willing to go through all that pain again. And again. And again. WOTO
“Triumph of the Will” (again, German, 1934): This is the semi-documentary of the 1934 Nuremberg Rallies, held by and for the Nazi Party. Leni Riefenstahl was hired to film this six day event. It was then distributed as a show piece for all the world to see. As Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels was behind the idea. As you will see, it’s everything from very effective, to repetitive and dull. If you are not interested in history, especially the 1930’s, “Triumph…” is probably not for you. If you like huge events full of pageantry and pompousness, it’s a must-see. WOTO
“One Good Cop” (again, 1991): Starring Michael Keaton, Rene Russo, and Anthony LaPaglia. Keaton seems to be able to do ANY role. THIS time it’s as a dedicated cop, who’s worked with his best friend/cop partner for eight years. They’re working on a major bust, and things go bad. He does the right thing… and things don’t get better. What now? It’s an interesting morality tale, with twists and turns that eventually offer the sort of resolution we’ve come to never expect. WOTO
“Total Recall” (again, 1990): All I have to do is allow enough time for me to forget some of the plot, and I’m ready to go again. This is pure Schwarzenegger action, sci-fi fun, but with brains. Besides the patented catch phrase or two they always make sure he offers up, this is a complex, witty, interesting look at “the future”. Of course the “FUTURE” looks IDENTICAL to 1990, but with the bonus of “mutants” and some alien machines on Mars. Otherwise… it’s a future populated by New Wave fashions, boxy speed machines (think Italian), and lots of control by the corporations (“government”?) … so you see, NOW think of the Past which presented the Future as what was then the Present … just like Hollywood always does. THIS film is better, because of the story, and its double inside-out U-turns. Oh, and there’s plenty of innuendos, bosoms, and brains being blasted, just in case you were worried. WOTO
“The Time of Your Life” (1948): Think of this as a potential inspiration for the t.v. show “Cheers”, forty years earlier. Originally a stage play by William Saroyan, this film keeps its roots deep in the stage, with a very stylized, fun, rapid fire style dialog, entries, and exits. Quirky characters abound, and most of them are pretty interesting, eccentric, and unexplained. They just “are”. William Bendix, James Cagney, his daughter Jeanne Cagney, Broderick Crawford, and a cast of character actors who would later become “household faces”, such as the woman who played “Mrs. Howell” on “Gilligan’s Island” fill out this entertaining oddball of a film. WOTO
“The Guns of Navarone” (again, 1961): Starring Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven, James Darren, Anthony Quayle. This is the true story of an Allied secret mission to destroy the two German super-cannons positioned inside the rocky cliffs of Navarone. Even with a band of experts, the odds of completion are very slim. Although the special effects are now mediocre at best, this is an interesting, complex film about tactics, with some of that 1961 emotional drama and sweeping music thrown in for the audience. Remember, this story was less than 20 years back for those movie goers. WOTO
“Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” (1944): Spencer Tracey, Van Johnson, and lots of other soon-to-be well-knowns fill out this recreation of the Jimmy Dolittle bomber raids over Japan – the first successful retaliations against the Japanese after their attack on Pearl Harbor. This is an INTERESTING film, especially from a tactical point of view (planning, secrecy, logistics, etc.). It’s also about the camaraderie of crew mates, the importance of loved ones back home, and the psychological challenges to be faced after physical damage done to bodies. A lengthy and detailed film, full of emotion and hard realities, this one would’ve been especially potent when it came out DURING WWII. WOTO
Frankenstein” (again, 1931): It’s been decades since I saw this film, and expected to react with lots of laughter…but I didn’t. I was impressed with Boris Karloff’s interpretation of a man made from parts, including the brain of a killer. I liked the “dandy-esque” style of Baron Frankenstein’s son, the rebel inventor (Colin Clive). His soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), was an early 30’s babe, and a true knock-out in her wedding dress. Perhaps there were scenes that could’ve been given more time to turn up the tension – such as The Monster with the Little Girl down by the lake – but overall, this really IS one of the best Hollywood sci-fi’s of the period. Don’t look for much “1931-ness” in this one, as it’s set in Germany, with old mansions and lighthouses, and often shows the villagers in traditional peasant garb (but there ARE a few people dress hi-style, and a few “scientific” machines in Frankenstein’s son’s la-BOR-a-tory). I expected to side more with The Monster, as one does with King Kong: they didn’t ASK to be in THIS new circumstance. But, The Monster WAS operating on a killer’s brain (thanks to the stupidity of Fritz, the hunchback assistant). Special effects and set design are, well, okay for the time. “Frankenstein” is no “Nosferatu” (by Murnau), but it’s far above the “Dracula” films of 1931+. And, OF COURSE, there is The Lesson To Be Learned: DON’T Mess with Mother Nature. WOTO
“Blast from the Past” (again, 1999): It’s 1962. The Cold War is at its peak. A suburban couple thinks the Atomic War has begun. They go below into their elaborate fallout shelter, and do not come out for quite some time. In the meantime, they have a son, who they obviously “home” school. What the three of them find “Above” is NOT what they expected. As for stars Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone – they are NOT good actors, but are quite acceptable in this retro-lite look at the past and present. Sissy Spacek and Christopher Walken are hilarious as the parents. The sets are great, and kept under control, seldom reaching caricature. “Blast from the Past” is a feel-good movie. That’s what it is, and it doesn’t pretend to be more. WOTO
“Genghis Blues” (1999): A blind blues man hears an odd music on his shortwave radio, and pursues learning more about it, which leads him and a documentary crew into the country of Tuva (north of Mongolia). This is really 2 documents in one: the life of a blind man, and the art of Tuva throatsinging. They seemed to compete for priority, and thus neither was covered in as much depth as I would have liked. None the less, the Tuva singers create a wonderfully rich, odd sound you’ve heard nowhere else. WOTO
“To Be or Not to Be” (1942): Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. That must mean this is a comedy? About World War Two? WHILE the war was on and Germany was still winning? Yes! It’s not ALL laughs, but for the most part, especially with leads Jack Benny & Carole Lombard, it IS a dark, sometimes silly, insightful poke at, as you might expect, The Enemy. This is no “Stalag 17” nor is it “Hogan’s Heroes”, but rides somewhere in the middle, and is definitely wittier than most war films. How DO you make a comedy about a maniacal killer who is still around and succeeding with his plans of slaughter? THIS is how. WOTO
“The Rules of the Game” (French, 1939): by Jean Renoir. This is a VERY French look at civility, social classes, morals, and poor excuses. It is set among the wealthy and their servants at a mansion during a party they throw for themselves. Consider it a farcical comedy with touches of Marx Brothers and a dash of darkness. WOTO
“Elephant” (2003): I was disappointed, but not at first. Beautiful photography, great camera movements, wonderful ambient sound recording, and introductions to characters made me think we were on to something. As time passed – with a VERY PATIENT sense of time – plot pieces were coming together, as long as you paid attention. Then you got it – the writing was on the wall…but “Elephant” never reached beyond a series of introductions to characters and ideas, an initial idea. It stayed in outline form. The ending is reached as randomly as any have ever been done in film making, and although perhaps somewhat unique, it left me hungry for some character depth, some resolution – SOMETHING! “Elephant” ends up being a dramatically shallow film. See this one for the photography, movement, timing, and sound, but not the story, acting, or lessons to be learned. There’s an “elephant” in the room, and no one is willing to mention it? That’s IT?? Gus van Sant written and directed.
“My Man Godfrey” (again, 1936): Having seen quite a few “Screwball” comedies, they seem to have a couple common goals: to take the audience’s mind off the less-than-perfect world outside, and, aim rapid fire, relentless, snappy patter at your brain. You MUST pay attention, or you’re quickly left behind. Maybe there’s a third goal: somewhere in all the high speed exchanges you’ll find a morality tale…the perfect “entertainment” during the American Great Depression. Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, and others – all of whom take roles of flakey, pointless, self-centered RICH people – find themselves facing a “Forgotten Man” (jobless, homeless), played by William Powell. Not EVERY thing IS as it seems, but for the most part, this is a story made for the average person still dealing with the collapsed U.S. market. It’s funny, demanding, full of wonderful sets and costumes, and reminds us that there are more important things in life than having a full wallet. Viewed twice this year. WOTO IMDB
“Small Change” (French, 1976): Screenplay and direction by Francois Truffaut. This is a loving and occasionally serious look at children in 1970’s France, who, like children of all times, share certain joys and agonies, but who also carry the individual weights dealt them in their time and place. Using non-actors, almost documentary style photography, and the seemingly unavoidable overly-insistent scoring, rough editing, and low production values of the 70’s, “Small Change” can be considered a mediocre film with a top notch heart. WOTO
“Christmas in Connecticut” (1945): Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, S. Z. Sakall, Robert Shayne star in this WWII era silly farce about a woman whose career depends upon her keeping an “image” of perfect housekeeper she doesn’t own…in the least. Expect few insights, but lots of snappy patter and light jokes, a few double-takes, and an occasional glimpse of 1945 thinking. WOTO
“The Sandlot” (again, 1993): Inspired from “The Little Rascals”, “A Christmas Story”, and “Stand By Me”, this is a lighter, fun story set in the 1950’s, about a group of California boys who love baseball, their free time, and their goofy, confused, adventurous, wing-it, mythical lives. Pleasant material for an evening on the sofa. WOTO
“Saturday Night Fever” (again, 1977): The one thing you can say about Disco is that there were some good dancers back then – after all, if YOU did nothing else with your life, you’d be good too. It was an empty, EMPTY time. The cast is relatively young here, and although there’s no “brilliant” acting, some of it’s not bad. Why, you can even see some talent waiting to blossom in Johnny Travolta. Who’s that in the background at “Studio 2001”? Why, it’s a very young, hardly identifiable Fran Drescher! The late 70’s and into the 80’s were filled with movie stories of young kids who didn’t have a chance of escaping their lower class urban lives… or DID they? …maybe… maybe they could DANCE their way into the World! Watch this movie for the costuming, décor, music (if you like that stuff), and the dancing. If you watch it for the Lesson in Life, well, okay… there IS one… but don’t bother studying up first. It’ll be fed to you in tiny little spoonfuls hanging from the chain of some guy’s hairy chest. WOTO
“Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored” (again, 1996): Set in the deep American South, over the years 1946-1962, and told as biography, this is the story of one boy’s memories of being raised in the Cotton & Bible Belt. He’s poor, his family is in pieces, he’s Black, he’s surrounded by the KKK…and yet, this is a soft, even soft-focus look back at the people who DID provide community family, did not dwell on their poverty nor make their race the focal point of a normal day. We are so accustomed to angry, relentlessly violent films about the racial divides, this film could easily be taken as a Hallmark Card presentation…but SOMETHING about it tells me otherwise. Yes, problems are depicted, and yes, the times they were a-changin’, but not as fast or dramatically as we’ve come to accept from the quick flip of a few pages in history class. I LIKE the pace of this film. It’s slow, warm, often funny, occasionally sugary, sometimes sad or maddening, but for the most part it’s a nostalgic look back at the GOOD parts of black author’s childhood. WOTO IMDB
“Street of Shame” (Japanese, 1956): In 1956, especially in Japan, and after only a decade since its total defeat in WWII, this would’ve been an especially powerful, gritty, shocking tale of a culture that has psychically & emotionally fallen to pieces. We meet and get to know a group of prostitutes. Each woman has her own personality, method of dealing with the situation, and a story as to why she’s there at all. Slowly, each woman is shown to be a victim of the War, Government/Society, and Men. For this reason, the plot gets a little heavy handed and “after school special-ish”. The acting, (although still somewhat Japanese in style), camera work, story movement, and a very out-of-place “music” score, shows strong influences from American films, and the infiltration of its pop & consumer culture. For THIS reason it held my interest. The original intent – looking at a culture in deep trouble
– is now commonplace, with very little room to further raise the ante. WOTO
“Hamburger Hill” (1987): This is a recreation of a true battle in Viet Nam. Al the issues have been covered in other Nam films, and perhaps war in general. Acting, photography, etc. is decent. No complaints, no kudos…just a decent enough reason to ride the sofa. WOTO
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005): It’s definitely a film for older kids and not much of anyone else. Perhaps it has a darker edge to it – compliments of Tim Burton (which is the only reason I rented it) – but once it’s over, the simple message about Family is what remains. A good message indeed, but not enough for an adult audience. The characters ring somewhat hollow, the acting is minimal and cartoonish, etc., but the FX and set/costume designs are wonderful. I was most reminded of “Edward Scissorhands”, with a clear Dr. Seuss slant to its style. Watch it with kids, or watch it for the design of things…any OTHER reason would disappoint.
“The Harmonists” (German, ): Not being a fan of musicals, and this film ALMOST being a musical, I had my hesitations, but the true story stood above the music, and I relaxed. In 1927 a loose-knit group of men formed an a capella singing group. They had their ups and downs, but were eventually stars of Europe. By 1933, with half of them being Jewish, the Nazi writing was literally on the walls. Some members went into denial. This is their story – of a group of people who came together due to a shared love and success – and what they faced internally as well as externally. Although not of great depth, it presents another perspective on what that terrible time created for average people. It is worth restating that this is a GERMAN film made only a few years ago.
“Our Town” (1940): You’ll notice that many of the cast members were also in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Taken from Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, this film adaptation of the stage play is interesting in it’s willingness to move easily between stage and screen, using the best aspects of both. Although somewhat romanticized for our contemporary sensibilities, “Our Town” remains a soulful look at what makes humans, well, human, and why all this trouble is worth the effort. WOTO
“Dead of Night” (1945): Imagine that Rod Serling was an Englishman, and wrote movie scripts in the 1940’s. If you like that idea, you’ll like this inside-out thriller.
“War of the Worlds” (2005): Steven Spielberg is, I hope, using the money he makes from this thing for another SERIOUS work of art. I am SO SICK of retreads – oops, s’cuse me – reMAKES – of which genre this is a fine example. Heavy doses of special effects (and yes, some are very good), with relentless action, pounding scores, running and screaming, hiding and gasping…it’s all there…in a slick, soulless package. Don’t let the divorced Father/trouble relating to his kids-n-Ex routine fool you – they are faux-emotional set-ups that go nowhere. Most impressive were a few of the scenes with Dakota Fanning. She outshines Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins (he slept-walk through this, his now-patented role of oddball creep), and the others. So, to sum up, it’s an exciting potpourri of FX & plot clichés, gives you an excuse to lie around on the sofa, and satisfies like Chinese take-out. There…how do you like having another cliché shoved down your throat? See the ORIGINAL. Kids: forgive it it’s lower-techness, and enjoy the REAL thing made half a century ago. Notice how THOSE machines DON’T have to be half a mile high to be threatening! Gimme a break! IMDB
“Ginger & Fred” (1986): I’ve never been a huge fan of Federico Fellini’s films, and I can’t really pin down WHY, but most of his work has a scattered, 3-ring circus feel, and it doesn’t seem to reach me. Yes, there are fun and witty moments in “Ginger & Fred”, especially the potshots he takes at advertising… I think it’s just a bias of mine. I choose darker, somber dramas most of the time, and his are more like hyperventilating while on vacation. If you know much about Fellini’s work, you’ll understand my point of view if I say I prefer his films “Il Bidone”, “Nights of Cabiria”, and “La Strada”.
“A Letter to Three Wives” (1949): A witty and sarcastic comedy about marriage, consumerism, trust, insecurity, and love. It stars Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, and Jeffrey Lynn. It was nominated for Best film of 1949, and won Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Sets, costumes, cars, all the visual candy…was pure pleasure. Stereotypes seem to abound in this 57 year old film, but by it’s conclusion, not as many as you first thought. It’s a “fluffy
thinker” of a film.
“Voyage of the Damned” (1976): As you might expect from a big movie of the 1970’s, it is jam-packed with big stars. And, as you might expect, if all the drama takes place on what seems like a doomed ocean liner, Shelly Winters should pop up at any moment. Not so, here. Despite the costume & makeup peoples’ inability to portray 1939 accurately (no, people didn’t look like 1976 in 1939!), and some stars inability to escape their general star personas, this IS a true and interesting story, which is NOT predictable, and has some really good moments of acting and heart.
I only have “Voyage of the Damned” (UNFORTUNATELY cheezie title) in this lower category because of a few typical 70’s flaws. What WAS IT with that decade?? WOTO
“Modern Times” (again, 1936): Charlie Chaplin isn’t my favorite comedian from the 20’s & 30’s. I’m partial to W. C. Fields, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd… Chaplin is a little too stylized and feminine for my taste, but this is an interesting film for a couple of reasons: One, it’s presented as though a SILENT film from the early days of movies – and 1936 was more than a decade past silence by then. Two, the sets, costumes, and locations are pure 1936 middle and upper class Art Deco, which is a pleasure to peruse. WHY was “Modern Times” done as a silent? It HAS music and dubbed tracks of all sorts, so it’s NOT actually silent, but all the dialog IS, with the old style use of caption cards. I think the film tried to straddle eras and audiences. It was the middle of the Great Depression. People needed laughs, and comfort “food”, so to speak. Presenting a new film in the old style took the audience back to BEFORE the stock market crash of 1929, if for no longer than 90 minutes. I also wonder (and have not researched) if Chaplin, though still famous, was by then something of an anachronism, and could not make the full transition. This WAS the last appearance of his “Little Tramp” character. LOTS of actors lost their careers when “Talkies” came along. They did NOT have good voices. Valentino apparently sounded like a girlie-twerp. Chaplin also got himself into trouble with the Government – OUR “free speech” Government – by espousing unpopular politics. There are other reasons I enjoy this film: the black/gray/white value range is lovely, and so is the leading lady, a young Paulette Goddard. What a babe! She could easily be Courtney Cox’s genetic Great Grandmother. Oh, and I laughed out loud a few times…some of the wit still holds up. You have to hand it to Chaplin – he directed, wrote, scored…did it all in this film, and THAT’S a serious effort. WOTO IMDB
“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (again, 2004): This is my third viewing. It was SO much FUN, I watched it twice in one week last year, and it’s only January of the next year. A caveat: If you don’t like stories with good guys, bad guys, and love interests, you might not like the STORY. If you’ve enjoyed movies like the Indiana Jones or Star Wars series, you probably will like it (in fact, you’ll think you’re hearing the Star Wars music score here). Now, ASIDE from the classic story line which is as predictable as ever, here’s the GOOD news: This is a DESIGNER’S DREAM of a project. Nearly EVERY visual and audio moment of “Sky Captain…” is EXQUISITE. Admittedly a “retro” film, relying entirely on the style of American 1930’s Machine Age & Sci Fi, this flick takes off where Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon ended, and goes much, MUCH further. Hardly any of this new work could’ve been made without computers, but it’s still a sci-fi fantasy grounded the 30’s. The “noire” look is perfect with it’s lighting, composition, double-exposures, tilted cameras, and even a constant slight soft-focus effect. The color is that of a black and white photo with delicate hand coloring. The dialog is straight from Mickey Spillane. The costuming, sets, machine design…they’re all incredible. (I did find the auto design not up to the film’s par – being somewhat underdeveloped, along with other reflective surfaces.) Real locations were used, such as Radio City Music Hall, but for the most part, it was all “World of Tomorrow” speculation (the actual slogan of the 1939 New York World’s Fair was “The World of Tomorrow”). This story teaches you nothing new, if anything at all, but it’s an absolute JOY to experience, and, should spark new interest in the REAL period for it’s REAL designs. Start by picking up books on the ’39 NY World’s Fair. They’ll lead you to more and more REAL places…and THOSE you could or still can touch! WOTO IMDB
“La Bete Humaine” (French, 1938): Written by Emile Zola, this doomed-from-the-start, but opposite-of-Romeo-&-Juliet drama may seem more typical within our contemporary expectations, but for films of that time, the dark, manipulative, neediness of these characters is quite extreme. Beautiful, dark photography and a noir script make a perfect match, unlike any of the “lovers” in “La Bete Humaine”. WOTO
“The Odd Couple” (again, 1968): Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau star in this screenplay adapted from Neil Simon’s stage play. I’m not a fan of Simon, but this one I always enjoy. It was an obvious story for television, too (and went very well, unlike most efforts. “M*A*S*H” and “The Odd Couple” are the only ones I can think of at the moment that lost nothing in the translation.) Two men, good friends, total opposites, who could tolerate one another during occasional gatherings, suddenly share an apartment. There are lots of clashes and funny stuff as the tolerances crumble, with some great peripheral characters who keep things from getting claustrophobic. WOTO
It just hit the fan !!!”:
“The Blue Butterfly” (2004): This ISN’T an awful film, and it IS based on a true story, but it is none the less SO full of clichés, I can’t support it. William Hurt does what he does best – a hesitant, tortured-by-the-Past man. He’s a world famous insect expert. There’s a boy dying of brain cancer, who also loves insects. His one wish is to go to South America with this man, and find a rare, blue butterfly that is said to be “magic”. Naturally, they end up going. You know it, I know it, we all know. All the situations come at a fairly regular, telegraphed rate. Think Disney, with an extra dose of serious issues. There are occasional breaks with its established reality that, although interesting, ask you to jump in and out of the “suspension of disbelief” more and more often. This is awkward. The dvd offers a non-vulgar language version, which tells me it has older children in mind. This film is most appropriate for that group. WOTO
“Beautiful Creatures” (2000): I like Rachel Weisz, but this film is just another “Pulp Fiction/Thelma & Louise” spin off wannabee, with self conscious hipness (some cool décor, I admit), pop musical score, standard issue “dark humor”, and typical “no one’s a good guy” nihilism. It’s NOT awful, it’s just too standard – and a little muddled in the story – to consider it average entertainment. WOTO
“Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (Russian, 1964): by Sergei Paradjhanov. Imagine early Hippies on constant acid trips pretending they were Russian peasants wearing fake moustaches. Imagine they are trying to put on an entertaining, “deep”, symbolic play in the woods. Imagine every single solitary person involved in making this film – from directors to actors to photographers to musicians to lighting directors to editors – are ALL without the tiniest bit of competence, let alone talent. Now you’ve got it. THIS could be a contender for the Worst Film of All Time/International Competition. Bring on “Plan 9 From Outer Space”… bring on “Barbarella”… you may just get your self-assured asses kicked… the Russians are coming!!! WOTO
“Mad Max” (again, 1979): It’s slow to get started – not with the action, but with the story. The production values are low… more like a 60’s spaghetti Western. The dubbing of dialog is rough, the acting minimal, and the explanations as to what’s going on nearly nonexistent. Mel Gibson is too young and too fruity/goofy looking to have made much of an impact (I WOULD THINK), and yet there’s very little else here to justify what was clearly a prearranged sequel to Mad Max – IF it made any money – and apparently it DID. “The Road Warrior” (part 2) was of a much higher quality all around, and a great, kitschy expression of fashionable Nihilist Punk Post-Nuclear fantasies. I SUPPOSE Mad Max explains a tiny bit of where Road Warrior picks up, but hardly, so don’t worry about see-quencing them. Jump over this one, and go to Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which is entirely baroque and interesting for its “tribal” sets and early re-civilization thoughts. WOTO
“The Outlaw” (1943): Just because you’re Howard Hughes, and can do damned near anything you want – even fund and direct a movie – doesn’t mean it’ll be good. Sure, it may be “controversial” (after all, Jane Russell’s cleavage is enough to rile us all up?), but “The Outlaw” (centering on Billy the Kid) is one tacky, dopey, piece of unintentional crap. No, it’s NOT a competitor with “Plan 9 from Outer Space”… but it IS in the same, naively bad solar system. With photography equal to any Saturday movie matinee for kids, scoring equal to any Ma and Paw Kettle adventure, and acting equal to any 6th grade stage presentation, you’d never know there were unlimited funds behind this. THIS was Russell’s premier. How sad for her. The others, who knows. Walter Huston went on to do a much better character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but there’s more to this mess of a movie. IT IS SO GAY. And, it GETS GAYER EVERY MOMENT. I’m telling you, Howard Hughes had a hidden side to him, if in fact he DID control thing movie, because the only interaction with Russell is an unseen rape by Billy (and she forgives him… no, she’s attracted to him… by the next day), and the rest of the story is about the jealous, competitive, attractions/repulsions between Billy, Pat Garrett, and Doc Holiday. What the hell: I’m retitling this movie “Plan 9 from Brokeback Mountain”. WOTO
“11:14” (2005): It’s a Bastard Son of “Pulp Fiction” set in “Gummo” Land, but has neither the wit or the deeply low down white trashiness. “11:14” attempts to weave multiple stories into an interesting (even ironic?) set of doomed events, but all it really does is scream “Look at ME, too! Please!!” With Hillary Swank and other talented actors, I was lured into thinking they were too sharp to fall into a pit of contemporary clichés. Everyone has their poor choices. So it goes. You see lots, you win a few. Don’t bother yourself with this one.
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982): The early 80’s were nothing but late 70’s. The film is full of not-yet stars. The story is your basic lame ensemble deal with scenarios that are supposed to be funny, sad, moving, hip, and witty. It’s none of those. HOW IN THE HELL Sean Penn, Judge Reinholdt, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stolz, or Phoebe Cates were given further chances is beyond my understanding. Only ONE person shows talent at this early stage: Jennifer Jason Leigh. She actually adds a little depth and empathy to an otherwise cardboard cast. The only thing(s) I can “flesh out” that made this flick a teen rage were the bare breasts of Cates and Leigh, and a few raw moments tossed in for no more reason than anything else in this patchwork quilt of Teen Malldumb. This thing stinks. WOTO
“The River” (English/French, 1951): Considering I was never a fan of Auguste Renoir, now that I’ve seen “The River” by Jean Renoir, I’ve begun wondering if it IS somehow genetic. Genetic? Yes, the tendency towards poetry-lite, the overly sweet and theatrical, the staged, lazy, and hardly meditative. With the burden of constant narration being presented as though reading a dramatic little story to 4th graders, we pass the hot, humid days of the late 1940’s, in India, with a British family, their American guest, and of course, their devoted Indian servants – who are “just like family”. It has the look of an early “Lassie” movie, very poor acting by all, stifled dialog (or is it that they’re just English?), the sensibility of a National Geographic special, and the touring flavor of a View Master stereovision disk. Yek. WOTO
“Freeway” (1996): Made ten years ago, starring Keifer Sutherand and Reese Witherspoon, along with Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, and Brittany Murphy. Made two years after “Pulp Fiction” and “Natural Born Killers”, this one wanted to belong to THAT club real, real bad. You’ve got a touch of “The Accused” throw in, along with some “Thelma and Louise”… I keep mentioning good films, but this is not one of them. It’s like an Elvis impersonator. Hey, I LIKE Reese Witherspoon, and I like her in this role. Brittany Murphy, carrying more body weight, and almost unrecognizable in her makeup, does a good, early version of what she has patented – the fragile, mentally disturbed, withdrawn girl. What we have here is a road movie, set up something like “Love and a .45”, but it lacks focus and, despite the violence and attempts at black humor, left me waiting for something of substance.
The story is straight ahead, but doesn’t arrive much of anywhere. There are scenes which carry the potential to be MORE, but don’t make it. You have only so much time for movies. See any of the others if this sort of subject interests you.
“A History of Violence” (2005): Don’t get me wrong here… I liked the acting jobs of almost everyone in the film: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, and a number of people who don’t get mention on the dvd box (such as the young actor who plays the gay son). However, David Cronenberg does SCI-FI, not grounded, human dilemmas with all the logic and behavior an audience expects from a family that COULD be their favorite neighbors. He simply did NOT succeed at this story, which was inspired by a “Graphic Novel” (Translation: comic book), which, even from the comic book level, asked things of him he could not deliver. The story was full of holes, continuity was a mess (“Wait a second…wasn’t it NIGHT a minute ago?”), characters inconvenient to the moment were simply “erased” as though they didn’t exist (watch the family’s KIDS get inserted and yanked as they’re needed as “tools” for the story), the stereotypes were flat and dumb (Bad guys from Philly ALWAYS drive shiny black cars with blacked-out windows, and wear black clothes & sunglasses, of course, and, small towns are made of nothing but loving, dedicated, plaid flannel shirted good folks… etc. etc.). Mortensen’s older brother is played by Hurt. ANYONE out there think THAT is good “genetic” casting? Ed Harris plays a good bad guy. Scarring most of his face seems a little over the top… but maybe it’s just me. The music is set on “constant epic swell”, just in case you’re not feeling anything for these flat characters. It is, to tell the truth, a fun film for anyone who’s in the mood to rip one apart. That’s about it. I was looking forward to a good film. I’d heard so many positive rumors. THAT was my first mistake…
“From Dusk Till Dawn” ( ): Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin. What director/writer/actor Tarantino doesn’t seem to understand – at least no longer – is that “cult classics” are NOT made. Cult classics HAPPEN. He loves them. Fine. We all do… in that twisted, educated, “how the hell did they think they were on to something?” sort of way. He TRIES SO hard. He tries TOO hard. He can’t get the distance. He’s the Shallow Hal of writer/directors. He’s clueless that he isn’t making a cult classic, or parody of a cult classic, he’s just making (or supporting, like with his “Rolling Thunder” re-releases) bad movies that come and go without notice. He is blindedeth by his love for this typeth of movies… and they end up awkward messes of no value for anyone. I long for the days of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” when he had yet to fall off the tightrope. WOTO
“Empire Falls” (2005): The screenplay was written by the author (Richard Russo). The cast is a Who’s Who of many of the best actors of our time… and yet… “Empire Falls” is a piece of junk. How can that be? Paul Newman and the author were the producers. Joanne Woodward was involved, as you might expect. It was an HBO “mini-series” (of mistakes). The dialog is simplistic and loaded with clichés. It “instructs” the audience by providing “educational back story” (so no one had to bother with it any further?) and obvious descriptions (in case the audience is too stupid to notice). (Paul Newman: “I’m an OLD MAN!” Audience: “Huh. I didn’t notice he’s EIGHTY YEARS OLD!…”) The lines, delivered by scores of talented people, are delivered in such an elementary, you-talk-then-I’ll-talk, unprofessional, college Freshman fashion, I can only assume these professionals were DIRECTED to do it (by Fred Schepisi), and for some reason agreed to let themselves look like idiots. Only Philip Seymour Hoffman and Danielle Panabaker seem to have held their own against the tyranny of bad instructions. On the plus side: expressive locations and sets (although over-lit) were used or created for the attempted mood of the story. Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, Aidan Quinn, Robin Wright Penn, Dennis Farina, William Fichtner, Estelle Parsons, Theresa Russell, Kate Burton, Jeffrey DeMunn, Trevor Morgan. Enough talent? Wasted like you’ll seldom see.
“Joan of Arc” (1948): Imagine a really well-meaning College Freshman theater class putting on this story. Imagine they have a good budget, a couple of cameras, and a scene painter. Imagine all the theater majors get roles. Imagine it’s 1948. Oops! That’s pretty much what we have here. Ignore the fact Ingrid Bergman is in the lead. This is a movie of flat sets, bad acting, over acting, theatrical shtick, Hollywooded characters, lurid Technicolor… the whole thing is an ugly, sad mess of pap. Even “Joan of Arc” (1999), or “The Messenger” (2000) looks BRILLIANT next to this. What you SHOULD see is the silent Dreyer version: “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) with the new score by Richard Einhorn. THIS you should see!!! WOTO
“Tank Girl” (1995): This movie wanted SOOOO BAAAAAD to be considered the next Road Warrior/Rocky Horror Picture Show insta-cult Classick (but with Girls Who Jus’ Wanna Have Fun in the lead roles), and it missed on every turn. It was properly self-conscious and stupid, it carried the sheen of nihilism and irony, it was relentlessly MTV, the jokes were perfectly Middle School, the fashions and gestures ideally Punk, the music score (assembled by Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain) had all the proper, hip signals… etc…. etc…. etc…. and yet, it never went anywhere. Any where. Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Ice T, Iggy Pop, god knows who else… and yet… No where.
“Subway” (French, DUBBED, 1985): Two issues: The Film, and, The Star. The film is awful. It’s not only DUBBED, but it’s one of those watered down, fashionably nihilistic, underground, faux-Punk-ish movies that want to be full of atmosphere, but lack any significance or interest. It’s stupid, boring, and a total waste of your time… UNLESS, Issue Two – The Star: you’re madly in lust with Isabel Adjani, as I am, then, no matter where she appears or how they dress her, she is the most luminous, beautiful woman to walk the planet, and you’re willing to sit in a big pile of celluloid crap just for the honor of staring at her. WOTO
“Walk the Line” (2005): Well… sometimes my instincts are right on. When the hype began pouring out about this film, and Reese Witherspoon was announced as June Carter, I shook my head in disbelief. I LIKE her, don’t get me wrong, but as June Carter? No way. Huh uh. Now, MAYBE Joachin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Maybe. But doing his own singing? I’m back to having big old doubts. So, I was in no rush to see this one. My gut told me “Don’t bother. See it if you happen to see it.” It happened tonight. Congratulations GUT, you were right. The casting was RIDICULOUS. Even if you could accept Joachin as Johnny (and his acting IS good), and even if you were half brain dead and accepted Reese as June, WAIT until you see who they try to pass off as Jerry Lee Lewis, and if that’s not bad enough, get ready for their version of Roy Orbison, and if you STILL believe in the tooth fairy (HEY! Where did June’s overbite go?!), TRY to believe that the guy you’re looking at now is ELVIS. Or Sam Phillips. Or Waylon Jennings. Casting was apparently done by blind, deaf people. This film is an excellent example of why equal opportunity for casting agents should be banned. Look, it’s NOT complicated. IF you have a true story, the people portrayed are recently deceased, and the audience for your film has REAL memories of those REAL people, you CAN’T play fast, loose, and sloppy with casting… no matter how CUTE or affordable an actor might be. Take a lesson from Philip Seymor Hoffman’s job this same year as “Capote”. He NAILED it. NAILED it. But, even before he COULD nail it, a casting director (& a whole bunch of other decision makers) had to agree an actor had the core appearance of TRUMAN CAPOTE… NOT Brad Pitt, NOT Robert Goulet, NOT Sean Connery, NOT Eminem, NOT Denzel Washington. CASTING!!! “Walk the Line” should be shown in ALL film-study courses, and saved for the CASTING lecture. Pathetic. PS: Although Joachin’s acting has always been very good, neither he nor anyone else was able to take this script & direction, and create characters with enough depth that you cared about them. The story itself is, unfortunately, a common one, so unless you get “under” the “came from a dysfunctional, poor family, slowly rose to stardom, got hooked on drugs, made a mess of life, and eventually found some peace” Standard, and you focus on intimate. unique aspects, you don’t have much, and no one’s going to care.
“Blazing Saddles” (again, 197X): Due to circumstances that had NOTHING to do with my wanting to see this particular film, a good friend and I found ourselves in front of “Blazing Saddles”. I have NEVER, ever, EVER found Mel Brooks funny. I didn’t think this “comedy” was funny 30+ years ago, and it’s even less so now. We sat there straight faced. I wondered “Would there be ONE moment causing me to guffaw over even one of his stupid sexist, racist, or fart jokes?” I thought of this as an experiment. Result: not one laugh. Mel Brooks has used up more than his share of valuable celluloid, not to mention oxygen. I suggest using THIS flick as a gauge with which you can determine who you should or shouldn’t associate. If someone thinks it’s the funniest thing ever made, walk away. If s/he follows you, run.
“Empire Records” (1995): Do you remember or have you ever seen any of the Frankie & Annette beach movies of the 1960’s? Okay, add 35 years, turn the sunny beach into a neon record store, turn the Frugging kids into Mosh punks, take away surf music and put in pissed-off music. It’s still the same. Each kid has his/her own problems, but hey, thank god they have their “hang out”… until it’s threatened by “The Man”, and then All the Kids pull together to Save the Day. You would THINK with a cast like Liv Tyler, Robin Tunney, Rene Zellweger, Anthony LaPaglia, etc., THEY could do something of value with this trash. Nope. They were too young, too undirected, too vulnerable, too whatever to take a terrible idea and turn it into a decent idea. This is one sad, weak, poor, embarrassing piece of junk. WOTO
“Muriel” (French, 1963): Somewhere in your life you’ve heard some redneck fool call all foreign films a “dumb ass waste of my time”. Or, if you heard it from a regular fool, you heard something like “I just didn’t get it!” Well, it had to happen – this time they’re both right. Directed by Alain Resnais, this film is one hot steaming pile of pretentious crap. Mediocre acting and low production values are only the start. We are also presented with a terrible mess of “artsy” editing, random shots, and bad, poorly integrated music. Maybe it wanted to be the “Beat Poem” of Film Making. Maybe Resnais had no real clear clue WHAT the goal was. But, no matter what the intent, “Muriel” exemplifies what so many people used to say about “those foreign films”. Thankfully, foreign films this bad are few and far between. We, as Americans, have a much worse record when it comes to BAD movies. WOTO IMDB
“What the Bleep do WE know?” ( ): I had this one noted as one I WANTED to see. What a disappointment. Oh, it isn’t an AWFUL film in some ways…but in others, you better believe it is. First, you can strip about 80% of the entire film OUT and throw it away, since it’s nothing but stupid and bad special effects, dopey video game “entertainment”, and embarrassing “visual aids”. Second, we can toss the story line, which is of zero value. Third, toss the actors – second rate has-beens who again showed no abilities. What ARE we left with (of any redeeming value)? A SEED of an idea, desperately clinging to Quantum Mechanic theories as though it was the only possible way an American audience could even get NEAR the issue of reality and it’s relation to time, space, options, and choice. Instead, make these thoughts a pleasant, even fun experience, without skipping over any of the concerns, by seeing the subversively insightful film “Groundhog Day”. I’m serious. Hidden under its comedy is a full meal of lessons in Eastern religion, psychic states, and yes, even Quantum Mechanics. It needn’t be pompous or digitally concocted to be “true”, you know? You DO know that, right? IMDB
“Pierrot le Fou” (French, 1965): I admire anyone willing to experiment in the Arts. I especially admire those artists whose experiments were guaranteed to be expensive, and still they proceeded. Some experiments change history, some are interesting, some sounded so good on paper yet came to absolutely nothing but a idea that sucked money, time, and energy from numerous people and gave nothing in return. Jean-Luc Godard experimented, and of his films I’ve seen, “Masculin-Feminin” is the only one I’ve liked. The 1960’s had an air of intoxicating encouragement to experiment in any way with every thing. It guaranteed nothing, but had an optimistic adrenaline that was hard to deny. Sadly, most of it came to nothing. Art DOES want an idea, a goal, and a form. Without it, and especially in that environment, we got a lot of “Intellectual Masturbation” – a loose-knit, cop-out version of Surrealism, partially brought on from the increasing use of psychedelic drugs and an anti-intellectual intellectualism. Such project were big hits – with chemically inspired audiences. “Pierrot le Fou” is a “murder/road movie”, made with no script. It is Existentialism made for the silver screen and a stoned audience – an audience who could then pretend to understand what had no meaning. You REALLY take your chances with Godard. I’m willing to do that, but do not assume he’ll give me much, most of the time. WOTO IMDB
“The Fountainhead” (again, 1949): First, I must say I have not read the book, by Ayn Rand, on which this film was based (which may just be the motivation I needed. I suspect the book was intended as more of a pro-American, anti-Socialist, anti-Communist slam). I sincerely hope IT has more depth and insight than this King Vidor movie project. Frankly, it’s “After School Special for College Freshmen Studying Architecture and the Other Arts” is simplistic and pandering…but considering the time and the lack of public education on these issues, the film script may have effectively brought more believers into the Fold of Modernism, while taking aim at other governmental systems (recently defeated in WWII). The b/w photography was wonderfully angular, dramatic, rich in value, and very 30’s-40’s. Stylish is the word. I loved nearly every shot. That’s where it stopped being a pleasure. The artistic negatives which pushed “The Fountainhead” into this, my lowest category, include: Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith and everyone else seem to have been threatened with DEATH if they didn’t overact. The music designer apparently met the same, swelling, orchestral fate. At every turn, emotions were pumped up to soap opera/stage level, and no one, Cooper and Neal included (who COULD produce understated characters), seemed capable of delivering a single nuance. As you probably know, this story was a very thinly veiled comparison to the career of Frank Lloyd Wright, still living and working in 1943/1949, when the book/film came out. His fame was decades large by that time, and the film’s visual references to his designs would not have been missed by most of the audience, even if they didn’t understand a thing about design, architecture, or philosophy. Exposure through the popular media, especially magazines, was extensive. As someone who cares about these issues, to see them so painfully boiled down, then over-spiced with a torrid love story, demeans the presentation of the Heroic Artist/Inventor, and caricaturizes the facts behind the those real people who created real results…allowing the book to even be considered, let alone written. WOTO IMDB
“Hell, I ain’t gotnoidea ’bout this wha’cha’call dang deal!”:
“The Many Taboos of Death – Part 6” (1999): This is nothing but documentary film footage of people being killed, executed, tortured, already dead, or committing suicide. This is unedited footage, and it can’t get much rougher than this. Is there any value to it? Yes. In THIS culture of isolated comfort and padded information, we’re sanitized into romanticizing, even glorifying violence against others. This’ll take the shine right off. WOTO
“Gabriel over the White House” (1933): I suppose it would help to be interested in both politics and history to make the most of this strange, dark, crazy pessimistic-cum-crazy optimistic drama created during the Great Depression: A typical sleaze of a politician wins the Presidency of the U.S.. It’s an ugly scene, that’s for sure, and it is created in some imaginative ways. (Watch for “Little Dickie” of “Our Gang” as his nephew.) Then our self-involved President gets himself in a car crash (at 95 mph on Washington D.C. roads … I see nothing much has changed!). When he exits a coma, we have a New Man ready to create a New Deal. Yes, the rest of the story is one funded and guided by William Randolph Hearst as a primer for what he’d like to see our upcoming REAL President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do. We are shown visits by Gabriel the Angel through the use of lighting changes and slight breezes. Gabriel apparently leads our President to cut through the bureaucratic crap, adopt a “Dictator” stance, shift our policies to Socialism, and our tactics to Fascism. Problems with bootleggers? Give them one warning to leave the country. If they don’t go, round ‘em up, run ‘em through a military court, pronounce ‘em guilty, and shoot ‘em… dead. This film is REALLY interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is it was made in 1932 and held back until ’33 when F.D.R. took over, which was the same year that Hitler took over Germany, and both Socialism AND Fascism were being discussed in THIS country as a viable alternative to the current mess. I liked much of the photography, the sets (oh my god, the mobster’s high style Art Deco apartment!), even the slightly stiff dialog and deliveries, and at other times the compromises deserved a quick laugh (model planes dive bombing model ships, firing squads aiming their rifles about three feet from the blindfolded criminals, creating 95 mph in cars not only incapable of doing it but through the use of speeded-up film, etc.), I none the less found “Gabriel Over the White House” creepy, interesting, entertaining, funny, ugly, naïve, very smart, and slightly surreal. Think 1930’s Frank Capra on L.S.D..
“Russian Ark” (2002): Written & directed by Alexander Sokurov, this is (in ways) a fascinating visual and tactical film, mixed with a totally FOREIGN foreign experience (which is how I feel about many Japanese movies), with the suspicion that much of what its Russian audience MAY have understood was never intended for those us non-Russians other than Russian History majors, since the film is entirely made within the Hermitage Museum, and was shot in ONE, ever-flowing, non-edited, no-second-chances TAKE, which meant that as one area is being photographed, another is being adjusted for the return of the camera, and if a jet flew over during the 18th century scenes, well, we’d have to deal with it, and if one of the crew sneezed, we’d have to deal with it, plus (as if that wasn’t enough stress), we had a story which we view through the eyes of a dead person floating and swimming through hallways and crowds, generally invisible (but not to ALL the characters), and again, remember: this was filmed in ONE, CONSTANTLY moving take with NO second chances…
“Julien Donkey-Boy” (1999): Harmony Korine’s films interest me, and this is one of them. His less mainstream way of making films doesn’t throw me, as it seems to some others. There are plenty of ways to create a story, and he’s working on his. No, they are NOT narrative in a classic sense, but they do have a poetic, emotional sensibility. (Another film that takes on this mood/subject is “Pi”.) They are what they are, and they are to be understood on their own terms, seen through the eyes of the main character, with your reactions attached to them like the tail of a kite. Korine nearly slips off into what Werner Herzog (playing the abusive, crazy father) calls “that artsy fartsy shit”, but he doesn’t linger there. “Julien…” is a partially true story about Korine’s schizophrenic Uncle who lived at home for TOO long. It was filmed in Korine’s family home, and he cast his Grandmother as herself. These factors have little to do with the quality of the film, but it does tell you he may approach creativity with a highly myopic, personal vision…which is NOT to be dismissed, unless you are prepared to dismiss the history of Art over the last 150 years. Chloe Sevigny plays the pregnant sister. (She has been involved herself in many such projects (“Kids”, “Gummo”, “Boys Don’t Cry”). “Julien Donkey Boy” will not remain in this category, but I have to mull it over awhile. I didn’t respond to it as strongly as “Gummo”, for example. It didn’t FEEL like it had as solid an emotional core-goal, but I’m unsure. MANY odd, beautiful images are created, along with many weird, uncomfortable scenes. Main acting kudos go to Ewen Bremner (“Julien”), who is astounding. Werner Herzog’s dead pan presentation with the absolutely CRAZY dialog/behaviors, adds dark humor and evil tension. It’s clear to me that he is a major influence on Korine – both in the “look” of film, and a director’s openness to the creation of a film. Other characters, of which there are many, satellite around Julien and Dad. It IS worth your effort IF you’re interested in Art-thought, and does NOT attempt to follow the beaten path. Your choice. WOTO
“The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (2004): I SUSPECT I WILL have an idea about this film, but for now, let’s keep it here. Five people fall from the foot bridge of San Luis Rey, in Peru, during the Inquisition. A monk sets out to “divine” WHY THESE five people met with tragedy. What brought them to that point at that time? Was it pure bad luck? God’s plan? Satan? The result was his book, filled with data on these people, and, since it was the Inquisition, he was taken to “Court” for trial of Heresy or anything else they could conjure up. This film is FULL of stars and requires a heavy suspension of disbelief because of all the high recognition (and the lack of proper accents). The photography was good, the music fine, but what requires your WORK is listening to the philosophical dialog. It IS work, and does not tie itself into a neat little package at the end. However, there ARE things you can discern for yourself, and this may be its value. WOTO
“Morning Glory” (1933): Katherine Hepburn won her first Oscar in the role of a naïve, romantic young woman who wants to become a New York stage star. The story is of that climb, and were it kept this direct, might’ve not been a brain teaser, but at least it wouldn’t have ended up muddled. Her character begins as a wonderfully flakey, idealistic, bubble-headed but assertive hopeful, who stumbles her way into the hearts of calloused stage people. You can’t help but like her. However… whether it’s in the script or the editing, the sense of TIMING is very odd. Her character is given plenty of attention and patience in the first half of the film, and then the story is increasingly horse-whipped into a faster & faster, more compressed, rushed explanation, until finally – at the end (if you can call it that) – the entire idea simply SCREECHES TO A SUDDEN STOP – and you’re left looking around the room, wondering if the electricity just went out. WOTO IMDB
“Life on a String” (Chinese, 1991): Asian symbols often slip right past this very non-Asian man, but I can say a few things that others might be able to use from their Euro-North American point of view: Imagine German film director Werner Herzog being reincarnated as a Chinese film director. He decides to create a story that has links to both the story of Jesus of Nazareth, and Romeo & Juliet, but remains embedded in the Chinese sensibility of myths, symbols, religion, and morality tales. This is a BEAUTIFUL film with many unexpected moments…but don’t expect to work your way through this one all alone, without research, or after one viewing. WOTO IMDB
“Guilty Pleasures (Okay, you caught me!)”:
“Murder in Soho” (British, 1940): Weak and overcooked acting, a familiar storyline, and spotty camera work in an English crime drama don’t add up to much… but… some of the dialog is witty, even officially funny, and here’s the main reason to see this one: WONDERFUL late Art Deco sets and costuming are shown throughout, in a suave nightclub, home, and offices. Tres chic.
“The Terminator” (again, 1984): Be prepared to forgive this 1984 film its relatively weak special effects (especially in the opening scene), and comic book story. It IS fun. Yes, it’s painfully so VERY “80’s” in costuming, etc., but hey, it WAS the 80’s! See a young Linda Hamilton, a pre-Governator Swarzenegger, why, even watch the extras – you’ll find a kid-of-a-Bill Paxton as a loser Punk kid. The scoring is BIG in this film, BIG AND OMINOUS… as it should be. LOTS of violence, lots of gore, lots of bullets and chase scenes, a little sex, 80’s paranoia about the Intelligent Machine, and naturally, head bands and dancing. I mean, Hey. WOTO
“Hallelujah!” (1929): First things first: this was directed by King Vidor, and it features an all-black cast. It has survived beyond its deserved life span, due to this somewhat unique position within movies. Still, it is a FILM, and cannot be judged with some sort of politically correct point handicap. The sound is bad, the acting awful, the singing mediocre, the photography often strong, and the depictions of Negro life on a cotton farm (etc.) although interesting, are SO stereotyped and SO romanticized, it’s laughable – which is why I have “Hallelujah!” down here in this lowly, brainless category. It’s an enjoyable oddity… a period piece tally of kitschy Mammy, Pappy, Oh Lawdy, Shuckin’ n Jivin’ routines. What I most enjoy about any film of this time (early “talkies”) is the general “feel” of the light, and the ungroomed locations used. There is a naïve crudeness I’ve always appreciated. The EARLY “Our Gang” comedies (with Wheezer, Jackie, Chubby, Farina, & Mary) are good examples. WOTO
“The Lost City” (1935): This is a WONDERFUL, cheezie 30s serial, originally made to be seen each week in cliff-hanging parts at the local movie house. You may love it MOST for its fabulous Art Deco and early Machine Age decor, machines, and wacky moderne uniforms. Also, there are commercial objects used in the sets, such as lighting, furniture, etc. (some of which is now famous). References are made to
the latest in science, like Televison (which would debut to the public 4 years later, at the 39 New York Worlds Fair). Starring is William Boyd, and, as the package says, “a cast of over 500!” Its a Save the World from Disaster story (of course), and buddy, it has it all:
The Evil Genius (who wants to take over the world and looks like Bela Lugosi imitating Hitler who stole the wardrobe of Liberace),
and his Wormy Hunchback who is a kiss-ass character with a bad Jerry Lee Lewis wig who sounds like he was educated at Harvard.
The Evil Genius has Giant Buckwheats – big black men with out-of-control wigs and a gallons of motor oil smeared on their bare skin, who, are only capable of grunting “ooh!” and walking like Gumby,
plus his non-hunchy assistant who looks like Tarzan’s gay brother.
There is an Intermediary Lacky between the Evil Genius and the Jungle Tribes – a village leader who for some reason wears a sports shirt along with his spear shield.
All of the village tribal women have straightened hair in the latest hip club styles of 1935 Harlem.
The Good Genius is a basic rip-off of Albert Einstein with his famous gray head and moustache of exploding hair,
whose daughter is a cross between Dale Evans and a Disco Gypsy Princess.
The Handsome Hero/Savior not only has the same last name as Flash Gordon (Bruce Gordon!), but looks a hell of a lot like the square-jawed Buster Crabbe (the actor who played Flash).
Watch for Gabby Hayes (who 20 years later who show up on the Roy Rogers tee-vee show, yee-hawwin around in his jeep named Jezebel) who here does a moral U-turn eventually but is pretty hot on the idea of ruling all of his children (the blacks in the jungle) with Fatherly Love.
The Jungle: has no jungle life – no jungle animals, plants, or sounds. It appears to be a wooded back lot on the edge of the town of Hollywood after Fall. All the plants are as bare as the Gumby Children of the Jungle.
The symbols on the uniforms do everything but twist into swastikas.
“The Lost City” is ALL about a world on the brink of disaster, needing a Heroic, Hollywood way to express those fears. If you like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, even early Tarzans, you’ll like this even more. “The Lost City” is worthy of cult status. It is a GREAT package of degraded, popularized ideas and hopes. WOTO
“The Devil Doll” (1936): Starring Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s Grandfather), and Maureen O’Sullivan (Mia’s Mother). This was a film made by Tod Browning, who also made the REALLY creepy “Freaks” a few years earlier, along with the original “Dracula”. Seeking revenge, a man takes advantage of a weird scientific discovery as a means of punishing those who wrongly sent him to prison. The special effects are quite good for being 70 years old. Although the story may drag a little at times, it’s pretty darned good. Expect little, and you’ll get much more than you expected. WOTO
“Invaders from Mars” (again, 1953): It’s only eight years after WWII. The big threat now is Communism, and there’s a Commie under every rock. Literally. Thinly disguised as a “sci-fi”, this is a post-war expression of paranoia worth watching for its funky, naïve, stripped-down, low-budget attempt to tap into the average fears of the average American on an average day. Why is it a CHILD is always the one to discover and even resolve many of these complex threats? Why are all women pointedly buxom and beautiful – ruby red lips ready for a Miss American contest – even if they’re scientists working in their laboratories? Why are our Army tanks the first line of defense in interplanetary battles? Why in HELL would the military leave the “more advanced Alien” weapon behind to be destroyed in a defensive blast? And, while we’re at it, why would the “infra red ray” of the Alien weapon sound like a choir on Halloween Eve? So many questions, so few answers… WOTO
“The Flying Deuces” (1939): I don’t like Stan and Ollie as I do Buster or Harold, but neither do I dislike them as I do Charlie, or Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe. They’re not all that funny, but there are “moments”. The story line is what it is, they do their shticks, and it’s nice to see some 1939 objects and costumes. If I sound so-so and blasé about “The Flying Deuces” (not “Aces”, get it?), it’s because of its mediocrity. Ride the sofa when you choose not to think, and this will be an acceptable flicker on your face. Pass the watered-down Kool-Aid. WOTO
“D.O.A.” (1949): Edmund O’Brien stars in this highly theatrical, soapy, Noir crime mystery full of Bad Guys, Dangerous Dames, Shady Dealings, Tough Talk, Convertible Cars, and of course, one Sweet Gal. There’s some VERY funky devices used in this movie, and no one had an inkling about subtle acting, lighting, or scoring (and WHAT is with all the “Wolf Whistles” coming out of nowhere, every time he sees a good looking Broad?), but it has such a hyper-dramatic franticness, you just have to enjoy it. And, while we’re at it, I used to have a 1949 Buick Super convertible… which is what the Bad Guys drive as they follow O’Brien, who’s trying to escape them on a bus. It’s the PERFECT car for Bad Guys in 1949. The thing looks like it would eat you alive. WOTO
“Okie Noodling” (2002): It’s a documentary, and it’s danged weird, ya’ll. We gotcher country folks’es white trash who have what they be t’callin’ a “sport”, why hell, mebbe even a “callin’”: they crawls aroun’ in them nasty, muddy ole water holes n such, reachin’ inta dark holes, wigglin’ (noodling) they fingers – AS BAIT – for CATFISH. The catfish bite onto them (the bigger the better), swallow they hand, and find them catty selves bein’ pulled outa they shady holes, where they gonna be tossed onto a fryin’ pan soon enuff! Some of these people think they’re nuts, but it’s a “tradition”, so what’s one to do? Some try it and give it up – it’s too creepy. Some get “hooked” on it. They love the mucky, murky hunt, the threat of being bitten by poisonous snakes and beavers instead of catfish, and there’s something about all the fish-bite scars on their arms they find… MANLY … like the cancer hole in your cheek from all those years of chawin’ on tobaccy. Real life, white trash, sports event, you betcha.
“Old School” (2003): If you loved “Animal House”, you’ll love this one too. It’s stupid, stupid fun, with absolutely no redeeming social value. The plots are nearly identical, so there’s no reason to bother with that, here. Wait, someone might NOT have seen “Animal House”!… nah… impossible, or very, very sad. In THAT case, see it too, and find “Old School”s roots! Will Ferrell, Juliette Lewis, Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, and others make for a mindless Laff Fest of shtick, cheeze, and again, stupid, stupid fun.
Rock Rock Rock (1956): Alan Freed was to Rock and Roll movies what Ed Wood was to sci fi: an idiot. But, I side with Wood – at least he did it for the love. Freed was creating a market and nothing more. He was the P.T. Barnum of Pop music. Shoving known and unknown singers and other musicians in front of a camera – many for the very first time, expecting them to dub a tune many for the first time, and expecting them to have any sort of stage presence, gave everyone the results they deserved. If these films weren’t so painfully staged, they could hold up as Rock and Roll documents. As they are, they are laughable, pathetic, embarrassing collections of awkward, amateurish kids who are being scooped up, wagered upon, and thrown away by music industry investors. NONE THE LESS, if you’re a fan of movies, this one is so transparent its entertaining. Watch Alan Freed sell himself with his wide eyed, crap-eating grin as he pretends to be a band leader, or introduce the next act; watch the premier of Tuesday Weld so young she’s still a gawky teen – not the beauty of later years – as she dubs songs in the voice of Connie Francis (!); watch countless singers and groups who are getting their one shot and were never heard from again; watch Frankie Lymon lead “his” Teenagers through a couple of their actual hits with slick professional behavior (corny as it was, the entire film is worth their performance of “I’m not a Juvenile Delinquent”) but keep in mind he was 13 years old, in 2 years would be a heroin addict, and 10 years later would be dead of an overdose; watch La Vern Baker do the dumbest song of all time (“Tra La La”); watch Chuck Berry stand on stage like a funky puppet performing “You Cant Catch Me”; watch many others make fools of themselves; and remember that only a year later, Freed would be busted for DJ payola, lose everything, and drink himself to death by the age of 32. There is some good dry detailing, incredibly lame dialog, numb-skulled plot devices, awful acting, and primitive editing… yet, I’m already in the mood to watch it again. I must have a mental problem… like those jerks who tie up traffic by slowing down and rubber-necking a car wreck WOTO IMDB
“The Wild One” (1953): I waiver about which category I prefer to place this film, but for now I’m not going to worry about it. I have ALWAYS loved this Stanley Kramer film – I’ve seen it perhaps 30 or 40 times, mainly as reruns on television – and THIS was MY introduction to Marlon Brando – probably before I became a teenager in the early 1960’s. I love it on so many levels, I can no longer separate them, but, I’m willing to admit some people might find it of little interest if they can’t get past some of the period presentations. A roaming band of aging teens (the kids that would’ve grown up without Fathers who were off fighting in WWII!), form their own group, the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, and spend their weekends wandering the countryside, causing trouble. Hoodlums! THAT’S what they are!! Compared to TODAY’S standards of violence, rebellion, etc., this is nearly laughable. The “hep jive” talk of the angry young motorcycle toughs (Bop-Beatnik) is a relic, but a fun one. Brando, and other soon-to-be-known actors like Lee Marvin, do good jobs, and you can see the seeds of “method acting” sprouting. The sentiments, sadly, are dated but socially/historically interesting, and not necessarily worth ignoring. The “small town gal” who “falls” for “The Wild One” (Brando) is a 1953 scrubbed clean All-American BABE. Many of the townsfolk aren’t quite three-dimensional. The sets and photography are theatrically stark and powerful. The music is dramatic and on the heavy side, but feels right. Relax into this film. Let it be what it is – an artifact that’s fun, informative, dramatic, and over a half-century old. WOTO IMDB
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1920): FIRST, AN ALERT: Never confuse “Digitally Remastered” with “Digitally Restored”. Remastered is nothing but putting any old thing into digi-format, no matter how bad its condition. Watch out for “Madacy Entertainment Group”. That’s what they do. (You get what you pay for sometimes.) Now, aside from that, we have a silent film, made from the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novel, starring John Barrymore (Drew’s Grampa!) as Jekyll & Hyde. “Millicent”, Dr. Jekyll’s love interest, is a fragile flower of a Victorian woman, and a real cutie pie! There are a number of pompous old coots and peer competitors in the story, but for the most part, it’s about Jekyll, and his nasty, ugly, chemically driven schizy-otherself. The acting, as you would expect from this era, is entirely over-done and totally Theee-AT-ri-CAL. Exaggeration and LOTS of mascara on the men were (apparently) the standard for a Thespian. I must say, Barrymore does a GOOD Creep, and when in an “altered state”, I didn’t mind the hyper-acting, since the context made crazy sense. One of the WORST features, just plain IRRITATING, was the use of a random “silent film” score sprayed over the film with no consideration for the action or mood. Expect light fluffy Baroque dance tunes while someone is being murdered, for example. Surreal? Yes…but this was BEFORE Surrealism, and was NOT “ahead of its time”! (I DID say “thespian”, right?) WOTO
“Dracula’s Daughter” (1936): There are only a couple of reasons to watch this flick: 1) good examples of mid-30’s Moderne English costuming, cars, and sets, and 2) the Noir style photography. The story is typical, except that Van Helsing has just killed Dracula, and doesn’t yet realize he had a DAUGHTER!!! I DO find it interesting how many Dracula films came out while Europe & America anticipated, and then witnessed, Germany come out of the shadows, and hunt for blood.
“Dracula” (1931) (One version is American with 1999 Philip Glass score, the other is Spanish):
American: Bela Lugosi is NOT a major guilty pleasure, because his acting – his “presence” – is just lame, but I do like the photography in this first talkie-Dracula film, with the Glass score. The dvd also offers the 1931 Spanish version – which includes different actors and photography, perhaps more interesting than the one with which we are familiar.
Spanish: Shot at the same time, using the same sets, we watch a different group of actors, Spanish, working in their own style, with a different photographer. They used the sets at night, while the Americans the sets in the day. The versions are generally alike, but some scenes are interpreted differently enough to make this an interesting comparison, and the Spanish use a more exaggerated acting style.
“Sundown” (1941): Starring Bruce Cabot, George Sanders, and… here’s why I like this movie in the “guilty pleasure” category: it also stars Gene Tierney, the most beautiful woman of the 1940’s. (THEN come Dorothy Lamour, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, and others…) The video box reads: “A jungle woman…” (Tierney): well, there is NO JUNGLE or JUNGLE WOMAN in this movie, “…helps the British in defeating the attempts of the Nazis…” (there are NO NAZIS in this movie), “…to take over and occupy the jungle!” (There is NO JUNGLE!). So, OTHER THAN THAT load of crap, there IS a DESERT, there is WWII for the British (not the U.S. yet), and there IS Pinup-olicious Gene Tierney. Another odd piece of junk is that “the main bad guy” is Dutch. IF you know anything about that war, the Dutch were Allies, folks, ALLIES. You know, hiding Ann Frank, etc.? Some of the photography is good, acting is average at best (and awful at times – watch the actor’s eyes (who plays the “bad guy”) as he reads his lines left to right, left to right, left to right. Whatta shmo. If you’ve ever wondered what Gene Tierney’s belly button looked like, THIS is your chance. She also has a nice, statuesque walk. Guilty pleasures arise and be proud! WOTO IMDB
“Buck Rogers” (again, episodes 1-12, 1939): This stuff is interesting to me for more than its comic book/kitsch style, weak acting, poor production, low grade special effects, lame story, and bad costumes. In 1938 & 1939, audiences were treated to Serials before the main movie at their local theater. Each section of these ongoing stories was about a half an hour in length, and a new one was shown each week. To see all 12 episodes (the entire story) you had to attend the movies 12 weeks in a row. Did you know the good guys would win? Of course. Did you know that at the end of each week’s installment, there would be a “cliffhanger” moment leaving you wanting more next week? Of course. The Great Depression was still on, and television was invented but not yet available except to a few people in New York City. Once a week, especially on the weekend date nights and Saturday matinees for the kiddies, the Movie was IT….A SPECIAL experience to be savored for a nickel or dime. You got the NEWS, a CARTOON, a SERIAL installment, and THE MOVIE, plus some “private” time with your date…IN THE DARK, IN AIR CONDITIONING!! What a deal!! When I look beneath the surface of this serial (I go back and forth whether I like the characters in Flash Gordon OR Buck Rogers better, both with the same Space/Future theme, but I definitely prefer the décor and the hidden symbology of Buck) I see, as always, a “future” depicted by what we ARE at the moment, in our own time – considered the most “modern” of styles available to us. The cities, room sets, machines, costuming, transportation, and tools expected to be available to us in the future, are all shown in the Middle Art Deco style of America – Zig Zag, Geometric, Jazz, Skyscraper – applied (slathered) to everything from a pair of shoes to a rocket ship and an entire city. And, since the most modern symbols of the 1930’s were our very own skyscrapers – with their skeletons of riveted steel – everything in the future is made of…riveted steel, even if it should float. Wonderful and silly. The city designs are direct ripoffs from various buildings of the 1933 Chicago and 1939 New York World’s Fairs. The costumes are a mix of para-military horse riding jodfer outfits, and objects that can serve as both helmets OR trash cans for example… trash cans with lightning bolt wings, anyhow. Radio microphones FLOAT (on a fishing line) for some reason, but their speakers still look like turn of the century wind-up record player speaker horns; doors are toothy, biting jaws that open and close with intimidating chews; every object of any importance has a few vacuum tubes or power line insulators on it, along with the rivets; the powerful rocket ships snap, crackle, pop, fizz, and smoke like a used Desoto pouring sparks out its tail pipe, but somehow they get from planet to planet in minutes. Fight scenes: Buster Crabbe’s (Buck’s) stand-ins do all the work – and you KNOW they’re stand-ins because you can SEE them fighting, and they look NOTHING like Buster/Buck. “Hey look, some OTHER guy’s fighting now! Oh wait, he’s Buck’s stand-in!” Then we have the Zoggs – a dark skinned race of dolts, with large spirals of forehead flesh that hand in their eyes, who serve as the gophers and laborer/minions of governments. Bad guys wear tight black uniforms. And here is where we get glimpses into the world of 1938/39, when Hitler, like the “Killer Kane” maniac leader in our story (a name that would have been recognized as the powerful “Citizen Kane” character who represented publisher William Randolph Hearst), who was attempting to take over the world, the solar system, the universe…controlling the minds of everyone. The good guys are working on alliances, some are ready to roll over for Killer Kane, others want to fight, and politics & leadership councils are being put to use as everyone decides who is on which side. In Buck Rogers, the American/English Caucasians/Earthlings are joined by the Chinese/Asians Saturnians and the Russian/Caucasians (of some other planet) to fight the power-mad German/Aryan race. The parallels were simple enough for all of that movie audience to “get”. (The Japanese/Asians Aliens were not in the mix directly, but the audience would’ve known that the alliance with the Americans meant China, who was being attacked by Japan.) On and on the serial goes… battles, spying, espionage, meetings, weapon races, disguises, and science dedicated to winning wars not curing diseases. It was low-grade info-tainment – mild propaganda on a weekly basis – expressions of contemporary concerns and fears, which reached so many millions of Americans every week. Those hidden in the top back rows of the balcony didn’t notice. WOTO IMDB
“It Came from Outer Space” (again, 1953): They’re dopey, you can laugh AT them, they’re obvious, full of great cars and costuming … but they’re also symbolic relics of a time when Americans feared Communism and other “invisible”/foreign threats to such a degree, which needed expression. These films were perfect fodder for the drive-in movie. They gave a girl an excuse to pull a little closer to a boy. HE’D protect her … just like in THE MOVIES!!!
“Your Suggestions of Films”:
Holy shit! I wanted to watch that movie again and again and again. It does a wonderful job showing the chaos that ensued the nation that we DIDN’T see…military inaction, FAA complications involving the confirmation of hijacked planes (especially with rumors filling the air traffic stations), exactly what happens at the first signs of a hijack and how it can (and, in this case, did) lead to a larger disaster. Points no fingers, pulls no political punches, tells the story exactly as it should be told.
The use of no-name actors and the sheer chaos in almost every scene leads to a great documentary style. Lines are flubbed and no recognition of faces leads to no need to “forget” who you’re seeing onscreen. Thankfully, the hijacking occurs halfway through the film. You’re given enough time to attach yourself to the victims. But, when that hatch closes twenty minutes into the movie, you’re already wishing you could get out. The best scene in the whole film doesn’t even happen in the plane: Amidst all the noise in the military control room, a general is trying to gain clearance to send unarmed fighter jets (the only ones they have available) to intercept the two remaining “lost” planes. Phones are ringing, multiple voices are heard onscreen, and the TV in the control room to CNN. At that moment, CNN reports that the third plane has hit the Pentagon. The whole room goes silent and he says only one word, “Shit”.
I’m not sure whether your adrenaline is supposed to rush like mine did during the takeover scene. After all, this is a tragic moment. But, I couldn’t help cheering when the most well-deserved beating occurred onscreen. Even a pacifist would love this one. Maybe that was just my way of masking the immense sadness that comes with a movie like this.
And when it was all over, all I could do was lie motionless on the couch. The sadness DID find me and it kept me there for a few minutes, but the epilogue reminded me why this film was made: “Of the four planes that were hijacked on September 11th, United 93 was the only one that did not hit its’ intended target.”
Because after being submitted to 90 minutes of fear and terror, someone fought back.
“In your “Dracula’s Daughter” capsule review, I was disappointed and surprised to see no reference to the MAJOR lesbian seduction between D.D. and (I think) Van Helsing’s daughter. It’s often noted in histories of gay cinema studies, so you can be forgiven if you didn’t pick up on it…although I suspect that you are too sharp not to have noticed. Anyway, a less noteworthy but interesting bit of trivia from this movie is that Daughter’s menacing henchman is played by Irving Pichel who is one of the rare breed of actors who also had a relatively successful career as a director. I believe I just watched his early 50’s sci-fi opus “Destination Moon.” Thanks for the often lengthy, usuallly verbose, but never-less-than-interesting reviews. I use them for reminders of worthy German and Japanese “product” worth sampling, to help me balance out the bland, pop oriented, music laden, intelligence challenged 40s and 50s B-picture diet that I too often consume on weekends. Lynn Summerall”
I was thinking about MASTERFUL acting performed over the years. A list began spilling out:
(If GREAT ACTING is enough reason to watch a film, then I think you’re safe with ANY of these…and MOST are also great films.)
Isabelle Adjani ‘The Story of Adele H.’, ‘Queen Margot’, ‘Camille Claudel’, ‘Diabolique’
Patricia Arquette ‘Beyond Rangoon’
Fairuza Balk ‘Imaginary Crimes’, ‘Personal Velocity’
Ann Bancroft, and Patty Duke ‘The Miracle Worker’
Tom Berenger ‘Platoon’
Halle Berry ‘Monster’s Ball’
Cate Blanchett ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Orlando’, ‘Missing’
Brenda Blethyn ‘Lovely and Amazing’
Kenneth Branagh ‘Henry V’
Marlon Brando ‘On the Waterfront’ ‘Last Tango in Paris’
Jeff Bridges ‘American Heart’
Jim Broadbent ‘Iris’
Michael Caine ‘Alfie’, ‘The Cider House Rules’
Nicholas Cage ‘Leaving Las Vegas’
Robert Carlyle ‘To End all Wars’, ‘Go Now’
Jim Cavezel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’
Hayden Christensen ‘Shattered Glass’
Glenn Close ‘Paradise Road’
Toni Collette ‘Lilian’s Story’
Jennifer Connelly, and Russel Crowe ‘A Beautiful Mind’,
+ ‘House of Sand and Fog’,
Tom Cruise ‘Born on the Fourth of July’
Willem Dafoe ‘Platoon’, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’
Claire Danes ‘Brokedown Palace’, ‘Romeo + Juliet’
Jeff Daniels ‘Something Wild’
Judy Davis ‘One Against the Wind’
Daniel Day Lewis ‘The Crucible’, ‘My Left Foot’, ‘In the Name of thy Father’
Zooey Dechanel ‘All the Real Girls’
Judy Dench ‘Iris’
Robert DeNiro ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘The Mission’, ‘Raging Bull’, ‘This Boy’s Life’
Laura Dern ‘Focus’, ‘Ramblin’ Rose’, ‘
Leonardo DiCaprio ‘The Basketball Diaries’, ‘This Boy’s Life’, ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
Kirk Douglas ‘Lust for Life’, ‘Paths of Glory’
David Duchovny ‘Kalifornia’
Kirsten Dunst ‘Interview with the Vampire’
Robert Duval ‘Tender Mercies’, ‘The Apostle’, ‘A Family Thing’, ‘The Gingerbread Man’, ‘The Great Santini’, ‘Rambling Rose’
Sally Field ‘Norma Rae’, ‘Places in the Heart’, ‘Steel Magnolias’, ‘Sybil’
Morgan Freeman ‘Driving Miss Daisy’
Michelle Forbes ‘Kalifornia’
Jodie Foster ‘The Accused’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Taxi Driver’
Vincent Gallo, and Christina Ricci ‘Buffalo ’66’
Cuba Gooding Jr. ‘Radio’
Ryan Gosling ‘The Believer’
Christopher Guest ‘Waiting for Guffman’, ‘Best of Show’, ‘A Mighty Wind’, ‘This is Spinal Tap’
Maggie Gyllenhaal ‘Secretary’
Gene Hackman ‘The French Connection’
Tom Hanks ‘Philadelphia’
Ed Harris ‘Pollock’, ‘Radio’
Ethan Hawke ‘Tape’
Dustin Hoffman ‘Hero’, ‘Lenny’
Dustin Hoffman, and Jon Voigt ‘Midnight Cowboy’
Philip Seymour Hoffman ‘Happiness’, ‘Love Liza’
Anthony Hopkins ’84 Charing Cross Road’, ‘Nixon’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Dennis Hopper ‘Carried Away’
Tom Hulce, and Ray Liotta ‘Dominick and Eugene’
Holly Hunter ‘Thirteen’
William Hurt, and Raul Julia ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’
Jeremy Irons ‘Betrayal’, ‘Lolita’, ‘Damage’
Angelina Jolie ‘Gia’, ‘Girl Interrupted’
Michael Keaton ‘Clean and Sober’
Catherine Keener ‘Lovely & Amazing’
Harvey Keitel ‘Imaginary Crimes’
Nicole Kidman ‘To Die For’
Shirley Knight ‘Come Back Little Sheba’
Martin Landau ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’\
Jessica Lange ‘Frances’
Jennifer Jason Leigh ‘Georgia’, ‘The King is Alive’, ‘Bastard out of Carolina’, ‘The Last Exit to Brooklyn’, ‘Washington Square’
Jack Lemmon ‘Save the Tiger’, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’
Jack Lemmon, and Lee Remick ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’
Robert Sean Leonard ‘Dead Poets Society’, ‘Tape’
Juliette Lewis ‘Kalifornia’, ‘The Other Sister’
Ray Liotta ‘Unlawful Entry’, ‘Dominick & Eugene’
John Lynch, and Jacqueline McKenzie ‘Angel Baby’
William Macy ‘Focus’, ‘Fargo’, ‘Door to Door’
John Malkovich ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘Places in the Heart’, ‘The Sheltering Sky’, ‘Dangerous Liasons’
Joe Mantegna ‘Homicide’
Samantha Mathis ‘Sweet Jane’
Julianne Moore ‘Safe’, ‘Forgotten’, ‘Far From Heaven’
Emily Mortimer ‘Lovely and Amazing’
Brittany Murphy ‘Don’t Tell a Soul’, ‘8 Mile’, ‘Sidewalks of New York’, ‘Spun’
Liam Neeson ‘Schindler’s List’
Paul Newman ‘Hud’, ‘Nobody’s Fool’
Jack Nicholson ‘Five Easy Pieces’, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’,
Edward Norton ’25th Hour’
Gary Oldman ‘Immortal Beloved’, ‘Sid and Nancy’
Peter O’Toole ‘Lawrence of Arabia’
Al Pacino ‘Serpico’, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, ‘The Godfather series’, ‘Donnie Brasco’
Robin Wright Penn ‘She’s So Lovely’, ‘Moll Flanders’
Sean Penn ‘Casualties of War’, ‘Dead Man Walking’, ‘The Thin Red Line’, ‘The Indian Runner’, ‘Hurly Burly’, ‘I am Sam’, ‘She’s So Lovely’
Joachin Phoenix ‘To Die For’, “Gladiator”
River Phoenix ‘Stand by Me’, ‘The Mosquito Coast’
Brad Pitt ‘Kalifornia’, ‘The Fight Club’
Amanda Plummer ‘Pulp Fiction’
Natalie Portman ‘Garden State’, ‘Anywhere but Here’
Parker Posey ‘Best in Show’, ‘A Mighty Wind’, ‘Personal Velocity’,’Waiting for Guffman’
Dennis Quaid ‘Everybody’s All American’, ‘The Savior’, ‘Far from Heaven’
Randy Quaid ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’, ‘Of Mice and Men’
Aidan Quinn ‘Avalon’
Anthony Quinn ‘Zorba the Greek’, ‘Lust for Life’
Robert Redford ‘Jeremiah Johnson’
Giovanni Ribisi ‘Boiler Room’, ‘The Other Sister’
Christina Ricci ‘Buffalo ’66’, ‘Monster’
Miranda Richardson ‘Tom & Viv’
Tim Robbins ‘Bob Roberts’, ‘The Player’, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Short Cuts’
Tim Roth ‘Invincible’, ‘Little Odessa’
Mickey Rourke ‘Pope of Greenwich Village’
Meg Ryan ‘When Harry Met Sally’
Winona Ryder ‘The Crucible’
Susan Sarandon ‘Dead Man Walking’, ‘Thelma and Louise’
Campbell Scott ‘Roger Dodger’
George C. Scott ‘Patton’, ‘They Might Be Giants’
Chloe Sevigny ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘Gummo’, ‘Kids’, ‘Trees Lounge’
Charlie Sheen ‘Platoon’
Martin Sheen ‘The Execution of Private Slovik’
Elizabeth Shue ‘Leaving Las Vegas’
Gary Sinise ‘Apollo 13′, ‘Forest Gump’, ‘George Wallace’, ‘A Midnight Clear’, ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘Forgotten’
Maggie Smith ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’
Will Smith ‘Ali’
Sissy Spacek ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, ‘The Straight Story’
James Spader ‘sex, lies, and videotape’, ‘Secretary’
Armin Mueller-Stahl ‘Avalon’
Rod Steiger ‘On the Waterfront’, ‘The Pawnbroker’
Ben Stiller ‘Flirting with Disaster’, ‘Permanent Midnight’
Meryl Streep ‘Sophie’s Choice’, ‘Ironweed’, ‘Out of Africa’
James Stuart, and Donna Reed ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Dominique Swain ‘Lolita’
Hilary Swank ‘Boys Don’t Cry’
Tilda Swinton ‘The Deep End’, ‘Orlando’
Jessica Tandy ‘Driving Miss Daisy’
Elizabeth Taylor ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis, and George Segal ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
Lili Taylor ‘I Shot Andy Warhol’, ‘Dogfight’, ‘Girls Town’
Philip Seymour Taylor ‘Owning Mahowny’, ‘Happiness’, ‘Love Liza’
Charlize Theron ‘Monster’, ‘The Cider House Rules’
Victoire Thivisol ‘Ponette’
Emma Thompson ‘Wit’
Billy Bob Thornton ‘Monster’s Ball’, ‘Sling Blade’
Uma Thurman ‘Dangerous Liasons’, ‘Tape’
Maris Tomei ‘In the Bedroom’
Lily Tomlin ‘Flirting with Disaster’, ‘Nashville’
Massimo Troisi ‘Il Postino’
John Turturro ‘The Luzhin Defence’, ‘Unstrung Heroes’
Stanley Tucci ‘Sidewalks of New York’
Liv Tyler ‘Heavy’, ‘Stealing Beauty’
Cicely Tyson ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’, ‘Roots’
Jon Voight ‘Coming Home’, ‘Conrack’, ‘Deliverance’, ‘Midnight Cowboy’
Max von Sydow ‘Pelle the Conquerer’
Denzel Washington ‘Glory’, ‘Malcolm X’, ‘Training Day’
Emily Watson ‘Breaking the Waves’, ‘Hilary and Jackie’
Sigourney Weaver ‘Death and the Maiden’, ‘Alien’, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’
Chloe Webb “Sid and Nancy’
Frank Whaley ‘The Jimmy Show’, ‘A Midnight Clear’
Dianne Wiest ‘Edward Scissorhands’, ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’
Robin Williams ‘One Hour Photo’, ‘The Birdcage’, ‘The Fisher King’, ‘Insomnia’
Bruce Willis ‘Hart’s War’, ‘Pulp Fiction’
Owen Wilson ‘Bottle Rocket’
Debra Winger ‘The Sheltering Sky’
Mare Winningham ‘Snap Decision’
Alfre Woodard ‘Down in the Delta’, ‘Grand Canyon’, ‘Passion Fish’
James Woods ‘Citizen Cohn’, ‘The Onion Field’
Oprah Winfry, and Whoopi Goldberg ‘The Color Purple’
Evan Rachel Wood ‘Thirteen’
Alfre Woodard ‘Down in the Delta’
Joanne Woodward ‘The Three Faces of Eve’, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Bridge’
IF NUDITY in films upsets you, or you have a special passion for an actor/actress, and you want to know which films to view or avoid because of nudity, go to:
Still photos are not included. This is a descriptive/listings site only.
Thanks to Bryant for the tip!
I have preferences (biases), and they ARE:
– Drama,
– Followed by dry/dark/intellectual comedy (“Waiting for Guffman”, “The Life of Brian”, “Flirting with Disaster”);
– I don’t avoid films due to graphic violence, sex, or language (“Pulp Fiction”, “Savior”, “Last Tango in Paris”) (most of my choices are NOT suitable for children);
– Black & white is as beautiful – at times more beautiful – than color. (Can you imagine “Eraserhead”, “Manhattan”, or “The Elephant Man” in color?? Ted Turner: burn in hell!);
– I prefer “method” acting (Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”) over the “classic” theatrical style (Sir Lawrence Olivier);
– I EXPECT intelligent scripts, sound & music tracks that support (don’t overwhelm) the film, good lighting, decent continuity, period accuracy, and superb acting. (“Elizabeth”);
– Whenever possible, I want some actual innovation in the subject and techniques! I need to be shown something new & of value that I can USE – in my head, and/or in my heart (“The Blair Witch Project”, “Gummo”, “Momento”, “Following”, “My Dinner with Andre”);
– I prefer fiction or historically accurate films – I detest “serious” films that play fast and loose with history (like the sort Oliver Stone is often willing to make, such as “J.F.K.”); and,
– I prefer subtitles over that goddawful dubbing, in foreign films.
I enjoy kitschy-cheezie bad films, too, (Yes, “Plan Nine from Outer Space” IS one of the three worst films of all time…the others being “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”, and “Roller Boogie”), but they are not great Films – they are NOT Art.
– Oh, also, I DETEST musicals. Just accept it, okay?. I can count the ones I do “like” – throughout the entire history of movies – on one hand – not using my thumb. No, NOT EVEN “The Sound of Music”, “West Side Story”, “Chicago”, or whatever else you think is just WONNNERRRFULLL. For SOME reason I like the TOTAL OVER THE TOPNESS of “Moulin Rouge”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, and, if you WANT to call “Little Shop of Horrors” a “musical” you can, but I think that’s wrong.
I realize many films on the list will suffer by not being seen on the real movie screen, but anymore it’s a compromise I’m willing to accept. The average movie audience has become a room full of pigs.
Now you know where I stand. Maybe I stand alone. I’m open to your comments, and have created the SEVENTH category just for you.
Go for it.

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