Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) on Blu-ray
. This is only the third time I've seen the movie but, since it's been several years since I saw it last (on VHS to boot), watching it again in high-def blew my mind and not just because of John Russell's tight B&W photography. Yes, the exposition-spewing psychiatrist at the end really blows (though it cracked me up that Lila Crane takes the news that her sister is dead so well) but that final scene with Mrs. Bates' voice-over is just ice-cold chilly AND FUNNY!
This is what stood out for me watching "Psycho" again: the gallows humor. The movie's first 25 minutes are just one disaster after another (man-made as well as forced by nature) forcing Marion's guilt-ridden fugitive (Janet Leigh) into the unsuspecting arms of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Hitch dispatching our leading lady when she's made the decision to turn her life around... with just 15 minutes left between her and safety... just WOW!
BTW, are the voices that Marion hears as she's driving (the cop talking to the car dealer, the boss talking to the secretary, etc.) figments of her paranoid imagination or actual conversations taking place? I know Hitch intended these inner-voices to be both real and imagined (per the movie's bonus features) but for me the movie works better if these are imagined conversations. Regardless, Bernard Herrman's score is flat-out incredible (though I admit to personally liking the rip-off score from "Re-Animator" a little bit better) and Saul Bass' opening titles/little visual tricks enhance the nightmare-happening-in-reality feel. Like "The Usual Suspects" this is a movie that is still fun to watch despite everyone knowing THE SCENE
from overexposure in pop culture lore, done back when blood evidence could be wiped away with a bucket & mop and DNA were just three randomly put-together alphabet letters.LISA LAMPANELLI: THE QUEEN OF MEAN (2002) on Netflix Instant Watch
for the first time. I'd never seen Lisa outside her late night stand-up appearances and Comedy Central roasts (where she always killed despite the handicap of bleeps and censorship). Watching this uncensored Lisa stand-up performance from 2002 with friends & relatives on Christmas Eve (the first thing I've ever watched on Netflix Instant Watch via my sister's account) I realized a little bit of Lampanelli goes a long way. Though it's refreshing to see politically incorrect humor Lisa has been riding the 'I date black men'
and 'aren't I shocking?'
schticks for way too long (I heard jokes in this 2002 stand-up I've heard her repeat recently). Just calling people in the audience 'Jew' or 'Black Guy' isn't funny anymore (hasn't really been since Don Rickles made insult humor his calling card) but, if you're in a forgiving mood, Lisa is one loud and funny broad.
Rewatched David Cronenberg's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) on Blu-ray
with the director's commentary track on. I didn't like this the first time I saw it. Cronenberg's commentary has almost single-handedly convinced me that I saw the movie with the wrong perspective clouding my initial judgement. Since the publicity and regular movie descriptions gave away that Tom Stall has a violent side to his seemingly mild-mannered personality I already knew what was coming; Cronenberg makes it clear in the commentary he intended the movie to be seen without the audience knowing that Tom had a hidden side. I didn't see the movie as the duel of personalities between Joey and Tom, or appreciated the subtle acting nods that Viggo made to distinguish one personality from the other. And the slow-burn, irony-free way 80% of the movie unfolds didn't prepare me for the John Hurt hurricane that his hilarious Richie character turns out to be. I still have issues with the movie (Ashton Holmes' mopey portrayal of bullied son Jack in particular) but it went from being on my 'to be traded' pile into the must-keep one despite being an underwhelming-looking high-def disc.MARLEY & ME (2008) on Blu-ray
for the first time. Funny that, for a movie about a dog, the only thing I remember about this flick is Alan Arkin making me laugh hysterically with his deadpan Florida newspaper character. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston (with an inexplicably top-tier billed Kathleen Turner for what amounts to a minute-long cameo) essentially disappear into a forgettable rump about troubled professionals (i.e. whiny yuppies) on an upward career/family trajectory they don't seem to appreciate. In between their domestic and familial squabbles stunt dogs get into mischief and, at the end, you're supposed to care about any of them (human or animal). There's a throwaway scene in the middle of the movie when Owen attends to a female neighbor he hadn't bothered to meet for years that had just been victimized. Maybe if Owen's character had bothered to befriend this neighbor (instead of dragging Jennifer and their kids to a safer neighborhood) I would have liked or given a damn about these self-centered bastards. Also, like "A History of Violence," the high-def transfer on this Fox BD is shy of being barely worth the price premium (even though I got the three-disc BD set for ten bucks).
Rewatched Neill Blomkamp's DISTRICT 9 (2009) on Blu-ray
with the director's commentary track on. This is such a self-assured and well-done potpourri of a motion picture (mock documentary, balls-to-the-wall action. social critique, etc.) it's easy to forget this is Blomkamp's first feature-length movie. And, as good as the special effects and Sharlto Copley's lead-performance are, David James steals the movie as bad-ass mercenary Koobus.KEVIN HART: SERIOUSLY FUNNY (2010) on Netflix Instant Watch
for the first time. What Kevin lacks in stand-up skills (he talks way too fast and is often impossible to follow the set-ups) or originality (the 'married with children' schtick has been mined to death) he more than makes-up with split-second timing and facial gestures/mannerisms that are hilarious. His 'peeping Grandpa' segment is a gut-buster (as is making fun of Shaq and LeBron James to their faces) but Kevin is better off sticking to the Hollywood paycheck roles that make him a recognizable 'that guy looks familiar' face. David Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) in theaters
for the first time. Saw this Christmas Day in a packed NYC theater and loved it. Great casting (Garfield and Eisenberg particularly), Sorkin's quirky/rapid-pace dialogue is always a delight to hear (especially when uttered by Rooney Mara) and the mature Fincher's tendency to let his movies feel conventional (while showing themselves to be anything but on repeat viewing) didn't prepare me for how engaging and interesting a movie than can be described in a couple of sentences could be. The seemingly-convenient device of using depositions to tell the characters' stories (which isn't about Facebook as much as the life-altering friendships, betrayals and decisions young people make that they carry with them for the rest of their lives) is brilliant because it allows us to witness within the span of the 121 min. running time what the young kids we're watching grew up to become. I knew of Fincher's penchant for 'invisible' SFX shots and I thought I spotted a couple (background plates in Harvard campus, the Thames rowing scenes, etc.) but I had no idea Armie Hammer played both Winklevoss twins. Holy s***, I was completely fooled and had no idea Hammer was pulling a double-role until I read about it afterwards. That's the highest complement I can pay to the SFX shots of the movie. I could relate to the somewhat-fictitious Zuckerberg's subtle (unconscious?) efforts to isolate himself emotionally from the characters that showed him true affection. The movie's final scene isn't as emotionally powerful as "City Lights" or any other film in which a lonely person pines for an impossible loved one's affection, but for a generation reared on "Transformers" CGI blockbusters it might as well be. Sylvain Chomet's THE ILLUSIONIST (2010) in theaters
for the first time. "The Illusionist" takes a running thread of the Hulot movies (a young woman with whom Hulot develops a kinship that borders on, but never fully blossoms into, true love), expands on it and then wraps it around a 'what if' scenario (Tati never becoming a filmmaker and continuing his stage act into has-been status) that is both magical, occasionally funny but also brutally depressing toward the end. The movie's last 10-15 minutes skew humor for the type of heartbreaking pathos that the live-action Hulot movies only hinted at. As a relative newcomer to Jacques Tati that saw and loved all his movies this year (starting with "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" in May) I'm amazed an animated movie with such narrow appeal would even be made. It might connect with new viewers unfamiliar with the Hulot character or Tati's personal life (for whom this will feel like the most depressing and existentialist animated feature since "Grave of the Fireflies") but they'll miss the movie's true worth. The more familiar you are with the character/person behind the animated drawings the more you'll get out of this. "The Illusionist" looks gorgeous (a lot of it invisible CG but mostly hand-drawn) and yes, it allows Tati fans a chance to experience the Hulot-like antics one more time in animated form (and without the super-deformed style that characterized Chomet's "The Triplets of Belleville"). Chomet wisely keeps the animated Tati tricks within the realm of human possibility (no exploding cigars or "Pink Panther"-type antics) which, like the Hulot movies, results in a steady trickle of small laughs. The rock musicians gag (stay tuned until after the credits for this and similar gags to pay off) was my favorite. For Tati enthusiasts (or fans of Chaplin's "Limelight," which "The Illusionist" often resembles).Sofia Coppola's SOMEWHERE (2010) in theaters
for the first time. Sofia is quickly becoming the most well-known and publicized director of a cinematic genre with little-to-no commercial appeal whatsoever (unless you get Bill Murray to star and give career-best work). Even if "Somewhere" didn't work for me as a whole movie (the ending cold-cocked me, the opposite of the knock-out opening scene even though both feature basically the same actor/prop doing similar things), there are many scenes that are quietly powerful and add-up. A mesmerizing zoom-in during Johnny's prosthetic make-up session and its equivalent bookend zoom-out when Johnny and Cleo are sunbathing by the pool (the latter landing on the movie's poster) stand out. Though not autobiographical you can tell Sofia is using personal observations of her life inside the showbiz bubble to feed the movie's believable moments; the midnight ice cream sampling while watching a "Friends" rerun dubbed in Italian (and the awkward morning-after breakfast between Johnny, Cleo and an Italian actress) is the type of perfectly-executed scene that didn't feel forced. Sofia's editing rhythm and decision to let scenes breathe far longer than they would in a normal movie (like an ice dancing scene establishing both the intimacy of Johnny's relationship with his daughter as well as Cleo's normalcy) give Johnny's chaotic slice-of-life vignettes the poignancy of both a normal life lived but also wasted. Ironically the movie's final scenes, to me, undermine the simplicity of the movie that preceded them. As good as Dorff is he doesn't sell his emotional breakdown well-enough to make me buy what he does at the end. Little Elle Fanning (whose breakdown while being driven to summer camp I completely bought) could actually score an Academy Award nomination from her portrayal of Cleo, she's that good and convincing as a showbiz daughter that (against the odds as portrayed in this movie) retains her normalcy and wits about herself. Not as good as "Lost In Translation" but definitely made from the same sturdy template.