SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

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SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sun Mar 31, 2013 4:38 pm

The season thread was a great idea, so let's keep the party going with our Spring and Summer '13 Viewing Thread. :D

Walt Disney's BAMBI (1942) on DVD for the first time. Wait, so Bambi is a dude? I always thought Bambi was a girl, and I still thought that even though everyone in the forest kept calling Bambi "prince." It wasn't until Faline shows up that, yep, I was convinced that Bambi was a boy. Talk about 40 years of complete misconception! I love it when I catch-up with an old movie that I've never seen and realizing that the reputation it has covers over what the actual movie is about. Who doesn't know about Bambi and his (!) mother? But that only gets you to about 1/3 of the movie. After you-know-what happens there's still a rousing adventure about love, friendship (though the morale of the story being childhood friends should stick with females of their own kind when they grow older is not exactly PC) and how your absent father that doesn't raise you but prompts you to run away from man-made fires completes its character's circle of life. In the making-of documentary of "Bambi" they show Walt Disney and his animators pillaging their earlier work (Pluto cartoon shorts, "Snow White," etc.) for inspiration in coming up with gags. I guess the makers of "The Lion King" did likewise with "Bambi" because the former steals so many iconic shots and beats from the latter it's amazing Disney didn't sue itself for IP theft.

Mike Nichols' CATCH-22 (1970) on Amazon Prime-HD for the first time. As with "Bambi" I was aware of the popular culture penetration of the term catch-22 (who hasn't used that at one point in a conversation?) reaching far beyond the Joseph Heller book that spawned the term. So I was completely unprepared and delighted that the movie adaptation of the novel turned out to be a continuation of what Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H" (also released in 1970) popularized: a direct assault at an institution, in this case the military hierarchies and rules, with some of the meanest, bloodiest and angriest comedic hijinks that make this one of the darkest adult black comedies I've ever seen. Alan Arkin gives the best performance I've seen him give as Capt. Yossarian, the sanest person at a base of WWII flyers because he tries (and fails) to be labeled insane so he won't be forced to fly missions. The performances are pitched at such cartoony levels that it would take only one actor taking himself seriously for the thing to fall apart, but Nichols (hot off "The Graduate") got a great cast to nail down the tone of unescapable-institutional-hell he wanted the picture to have. From Anthony Perkins' kind-but-ineffective Chaplain Tappman to Martin Balsam's & Buck Henry's (who adapted the novel) two-man act as Cathcart & Korn, and from Bob Newhart's hilarious cameo as Capt. Major Major to Orson Welles' scenery-chewing scenes as Dreedle, "Catch-22" doesn't stop giving us justifiable reasons for us to side with Yossarian's quest to get himself certifiable. Bonus: Despite not being remastered or in the best of shapes "Catch-22" has some of the prettiest anamorphic photography I've seen, including some shots (like the squadron of planes taking off and flying) that rival even the almighty "Apocalypse Now." John Carpenter would approve.

Sean Penn's INTO THE WILD (2007) on HD-DVD for the first time. Despite in-your-face and off-putting decisions by Penn to shove into our faces the meaning of what we're watching (from handwriting coming to life and ubiquitous camera angles to Eddie Vedder verbalizing in song what we're supposed to be thinking) the emotional, physical and self-imposed plights in the odyssey of Chris McCandless stil makes for a compelling, and at times heart-wrenching, road movie. Emile Hirsch (who looks like a young Johnny Depp, or an older-if-he-hadn't-died-so-young River Phoenix) embodies perfectly a real person that can be both admirable and repelling (each audience member will make that call) as his single-minded pursuit of an Alaskan nature hike at the expense of every relationship and material possession he ever had touches others he meets as well as Chris himself. Though limited to a handful of scenes William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden (along with Jena Malone as a co-narrator alongside Chris) convey the galaxy of emotions a family confronted with an incomprehensible reality must face up to. The characters Chris meets on his adventure are a mixed bag that live or die by the actors that play them (Kristen Stewart is suitably sexy as a singer with a crush on Chris, but Vince Vaughn is out of his depth as a kind farmer with an illegal side business) but man, when Hal Holbrook shows up his scenes with Emile are the best thing about this movie. It's not perfect and too long, but when it clicks "Into the Wild" is as sincere admiration of Chris McCandless' action as has every dreamer or human being that has wanted to follow his/her emotions to an illogical-but-heartfelt end of the line.

David Mamet's PHIL SPECTOR (2013) on HBO-HD for the first time. The fun-to-watch chemistry between Helen Mirren's defense attorney and a clearly-relishing-the-ham, wig-wearing Al Pacino as the murder-accused legendary music producer (whose entrance into the movie is milked as if it were Orson Welles' entrance into "The Third Man") keeps this 93 min. mish-mash of procedural, character-study and fantasy from making one feel dirty about watching it. Mamet's sympathy clearly lies with Spector (Lana Clarkson is an afterthought and/or so deep into the background as to almost not matter whether Spector really killed her or not) and the movie makes an argument that celebrities can and should get special treatment because of the types of personalities they are and, thus, the type of people they attract. Jeffrey Tambor provides much-needed comic relief and it's nice that Mamet feels free from commercial restrictions to let his ideas dictate the movie he wants to make (one no studio would ever either bankroll or release theatrically), but ultimately "Phil Spector" doesn't even have the Mamet dialogue (though the cadence is there) as a saving grace to make one care about the beyond-flawed person at the center of his own (and Lana Clarkson's) hell.

COMING IN APRIL: TRILOGIES MONTH! 10 unseen-by-yours-truly franchises, 30-new-to-me movies, a new installment every day of the month. The fun begins Wed. April 3 with my reviews of the new-to-me "Back to The Future" trilogy. 8)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:52 am

Jean Vigo's L'ATALANTE (1934) on Blu-ray for the first time. Fourth, final and only feature-length film by Jean Vigo, who passed away soon after finishing it from tuberculosis. The story of a newlywed captain and his wife living their first months of marriage aboard the barge he commands, L'Atalante, doesn't seem like that big a deal. But within its seemingly-innocuous exterior "L'Atalante" packs a lot of cinematic artistry (a shot of Dita Parlo's Juliette walking the length of the barge in her white dress contrasted with the darkness of the background stands out) and, though muted, the humanity of young love facing the tests of a rough working-class life in Depression-era France shines through. Michel Simon steals the movie as Jules, the boat's 2nd in command whose loyalty to his captain (though not necessarily his new wife) and grumpy attitude toward anybody besides his growing family of cats results in earned, big laughs. Vigo's place as an avant-garde cineast is well-earned.

George Lucas' ELECTRONIC LABYRINTH THX 1138 4EB (1968) on DVD for the first time. This short student film from Lucas' USC days may lack the human relationship at the core of the main feature it inspired (and 1138, played by the short film's editor, looks like a constipated Mr. Bean) but it totally nails the look, sound and atmosphere that George and his future collaborators (primarily Walter Murch) would build upon. I always wanted to check out Michael Radford's adaptation of Orson Welles' "1984" that, between this, the main "THX 1138" movie and John Hurt in "V for Vendetta," I feel like I've already seen it.

COMING IN APRIL: TRILOGIES MONTH! 10 unseen-by-yours-truly franchises, 30-new-to-me movies, a new installment every day of the month. The fun begins this Wednesday with my reviews of the new-to-me "Back to The Future" trilogy.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Wed Apr 03, 2013 10:30 am

^^^ It's TRILOGIES MONTH kids! :)

Robert Zemeckis' BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) on Blu-ray for the first time. Watching this with expectations of a frenetic time-traveling, back-and-forth, non-stop fun romp (as it's been described to me many times), I was shocked that the original "BTTF" is actually a pretty tight, nicely-paced and focused story in which basically Michael J. Fox has one main task: making sure his parents meet and fall in love so he and his brothers (all underdeveloped stereotypical types) are conceived. There's the typical subversive Robert Zemeckis/Bob Gale nuttiness from this still-early Zemeckis period (RPG-taunting Libyan terrorists driving a VW van around Hill Valley... really?) but this cartoon has a lot of heart at its core thanks to the chemistry between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd (the "Power of Love" song also helps). It's never spoken or shown much in the '85 present, but it's clear the mentor relationship Marty McFly has with Doc Brown is a substitute relationship each man built over the absence of a more personal relationship with their families or significant other (not too obvious with Doc until the third movie). These two charismatic leads are a strong base on which to build a franchise, and they keep delivering up until the very end of the trilogy (below). The ability to return to then-present day at the end of "BTTD" is never in doubt (which makes the drawn-out clock tower scene a tough bear to slug through, fun as it to see the filmmakers milk it for all its worth) but there is a charm, awkward truth and pathos in seeing a good kid like Marty plot, scheme and get into and out of trouble with his dork father (Crispin Glover) and sexed-up mother (Claudia Wells). I can see why the movie made a splash in '85 and the cast is terrific (blink and "Superman's" Marc McClure and Billy Zane are missed in supporting roles) but I want to see it a few more times before passing judgement. As a first-time viewing though this was a blast from the past... no pun intended. ;-)

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989) on Blu-ray for the first time. Turns out "Part II" is what I expected the original "BTTF" to be: all-over-the-place, going back-and-forth between past and present and, overall, a giant but entertaining mess. I put most of the blame on Thomas F. Wilson, from whom a lot is asked (three different roles) and he only barely delivers the goods as the older 2015 version of Biff (running circles around Michael J. Fox's heavily made-up future Marty McFly). Alternating between a dialed-up-to-11 asshole (50's Biff) or a mean SOB ('85 Biff shooting at Marty trying to kill him... in a PG movie!) Wilson constantly took me out of the 'nice' movie Marty and the rest of the cast seem to inhabit. And while I give kudos to Zemeckis and Gale for dropping Lorraine and Einstein out of the movie midway (instead of carrying them along for the sake of giving them something to do) there's still enough plot and space continuum entanglements in "Part II" for at least half-a-dozen time travel movies. Also, when the attempts at being cute and funny bomb ("Jaws 19") they're crater-digging bad moments that put it below its predecessor immediately. The last 1/3 of "Part II" (excluding the 'Biff tries to kill Marty' scenes) is the most fun, and not because we finally abandon the 2015-as-imagined-in-1989 future. A well-earned tribute to the original "BTTF" that doesn't mess with its timeline but stirs plenty of hijinks around the perimeters of its own manufactured-for-our-entertainment memories of an altered timeline, the 50's portion of "Part II" rocks. Now, about the remaining 2/3's... :(

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (1990) on Blu-ray for the first time. What a peculiar final chapter for this trilogy, which could have been anything Zemeckis and Bob Gale wanted it to be (a medieval romp, a pirate adventure, a gangster flick) and they chose to cash-in their chips with an honest-to-goodness western. While the first "BTTF" had a pitch-perfect pace and "Part II" was frenetic as all heck "Part III" takes it down a couple of notches, relaxes the pace (references/jokes built on the first two movies are present but not overdone) and even makes the heavily made-up, same-actor-playing-multiple-roles stunt tolerable. It already feels like a premature victory lap though and reeks of the "Matrix" sequels. At least "Part III" doesn't outstay its welcome (despite being at least 30 min. too long) because the premise's strength carries it past the dry patches and the chemistry built over three movies between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd is a beautiful thing to watch. I honestly didn't see the pathos of Doc falling in love with a teacher touching me as much as it did, or Thomas F. Wilson redeeming himself from "Part II's" fiasco by playing an honest-to-goodness menacing Old West "heavy" (get it?). The filmmakers even manage to squeeze tension and fun out of a final 20 or so minutes that were predictable (really, was anyone wondering whether the train would hit 88?) but manage to wrap a crazy three-movie series as good as they could manage. A nice way to start my month-long trilogies odyssey. :D

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: FERNANDO DiLEO's "MILIEU" TRILOGY. 8)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Mach6 » Wed Apr 03, 2013 2:55 pm

I wanted so badly to name the Spring Watching Thread but good old Vargas beat me to it. BLAST YOU VARGAS! BLAST YOU STRAIGHT TO HECK!!! ;-)

GI JOE Retaliation (in normal 2D): I hated the abortion called GI JOE The Rise of Cobra so I had no interest in seeing this & basically was forced by my friends to watch it at the theater. I have to admit, I sort of liked it. :shock: The costumes are improved with getting rid of those ridiculous lips off of Snake Eyes & giving Cobra Commander his faceplate mask. The kid in me got a kick out of CC saying “I want it all!” to the world leaders in his distorted voice. The Rock is the perfect lead for this type of stupid action movie with his presence, comic timing, & being a convincing badass. I still can’t believe that this is the same guy who I couldn’t stand & chanted “Rocky Sucks!” like most of the fans did because he was such a generic, bland good guy in his 1st year in the WWF (1996-97). He has become this generation’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. I appreciated that the action & weapons were toned down from TROC but I still wouldn’t call it gritty. Cobra has an ultimate weapon that would’ve been used in the 80’s cartoon. At least the new weapon is “clean” for the going green movement. The ninja chase sequence on the mountains was the highlight & maybe the only scene where I regretted not watching it in 3D. Walter Goggins is freakin great in his cameo in the hi-tech prison. Has Goggins has ever had a bad performance? Ray Stevenson (who is one of my favorite henchman actors) was hamming it up as Firefly. For all the hype about added scenes with Channing Tatum, he’s still barely in it although he did have some of the funniest moments with the Rock. Bruce Willis delivered one of his in it for the paycheck performances. Despite a lot of flaws, I think I enjoyed Retaliation because it looked & reminded me so much of my second favorite 80’s cartoon that I loved so much. I don’t know if I could recommend this to anybody who doesn’t have the nostalgia of 80’s cartoons & early 00’s WWE like I have.

The Man with the Iron Fists (Blu Ray): An OK cheesy throwback to 70’s martial arts flicks. RZA tries for the Quentin Tarentino look but he lacks Q’s writing chops & his directing is very hit & miss. I don’t know if the lousy wire work & sloppy action is supposed to be intentional or not. The WWE fan in me did like Dave Batista getting portrayed as the nearly invincible Brass Body. I just with the CGI transformations didn’t make him look a gold T-1000. The acting was uneven but the whole cast except for Russell Crowe knew what type of movie they were in. Crowe’s performance is good in the first half when he’s with Lucy Liu’s ladies but then he’s super serious actor & out of place in the 2nd half. The blood n guts violence got tiresome after the 1,000th body part got chopped off during the final battle. Ten minutes could’ve been edited out of the fight scenes & there still would’ve been enough action. I’m glad I only rented it.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:13 pm

Mach6 wrote:I wanted so badly to name the Spring Watching Thread but good old Vargas beat me to it. BLAST YOU VARGAS! BLAST YOU STRAIGHT TO HECK!!! ;-)


Just curious, what would you have named it? If your name is more catchy than mine (which I'll admit its half-assed at best) I wouldn't mind if the mods replace it. ;-)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Mach6 » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:42 pm

J.M. Vargas wrote:
Mach6 wrote:I wanted so badly to name the Spring Watching Thread but good old Vargas beat me to it. BLAST YOU VARGAS! BLAST YOU STRAIGHT TO HECK!!! ;-)


Just curious, what would you have named it? If your name is more catchy than mine (which I'll admit its half-assed at best) I wouldn't mind if the mods replace it. ;-)

I only had a few ideas & basically they were all weather related. Something like “It Sure Doesn’t Feel Like Spring Watching Thread”. :? With the lack of posts lately, it was probably smart to combine spring & summer together. The summer blockbuster movie season basically starts in spring anyway around late April to early May so I have no objection (sorry for the DVD Verdict pun) to your title. :)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby mavrach » Thu Apr 04, 2013 6:20 am

Hey J.M., how did you manage to have never seen the Back to the Future trilogy before?

I've mentioned here before the Cracked article that suggests that BTTF has a horrible ending for Marty, since there's a van full of dead terrorists at the mall and Doc is missing with the plutonium. The FBI is going to hold Marty without a trial and won't beleive his story. Also Marty's parents are essentially different people, and they've given the keys to the house to the guy who tried to rape his mom.

:lol:
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sun Apr 07, 2013 3:52 am

Fernando DiLeo's MILANO CALIBRO 9 (CALIBER 9) on Blu-ray for the first time. The payoff of the opening scene of the first installment of DiLeo's "Milieu Trilogy" (part of the blend of cinematic herbs that shaped the cinephile palete of young Quentin Tarantino) perfectly summarizes the appeal of the man's "poliziotteschi" films: a group of mafia bagmen, after being beaten/tortured for losing a bag of loot along their route, are tied together and executed by sticks of dynamite straight out of a "Looney Tunes" cartoon. It should be comical, but DiLeo and his actors' staging and treatment of these murders as matter-of-fact and unironic give the eventual explosion that kickstarts the narrative a blast of energy the film sustains. Gastone Moschin (think 50-something Don Rickles if he shut up and were serious for 102 minutes) makes a surprisingly compelling lead as the out-of-prison small time hood that police, the mob and everybody thinks has kept hidden the $300K from the botched opening. The colorful international cast (Mario Adorf, Lionel Stander, etc.) bounce off Moschin's mostly stoic, unchanged face, creating sparks that build and build toward a convoluted-but-unexpected climax that had me literally cracking the remote control 'till it broke. :(

Though it has the expected bursts of violence, sex (particularly Barbara Bouchet's seriously-sexy go-go dancing scenes), political commentary (between two cops about the greed or corporations over the little people... sound familiar?) and colorful cinematic flourishes (a seriously-repetitive-but-fun-to-listen-to score by Luis Enriquez Bacalov) "Milano Calibro 9" is rather restrained and more psychological as its focus on Ugo Piazza colors every other character's actions. Like the best Melville crime flicks, DiLeo's films look, feel, sound and come across as dated time capsules of early 70's Milan that encapsulate a universal truth about a social class most people pretend doesn't exist and wish would just go away. In the documentaries on the Raro box set DiLeo claims his films are realistic but enhanced-for-cinema versions of the truth ('50 people die instead of 2'). I disagree with him, but this version of 'realism' as imagined by DiLeo makes for seriously entertaining cinema for the masses.

LA MALA ORDINA (THE ITALIAN CONNECTION) on Blu-ray for the first time. The 'hitmen from out of town come to do a simple job' golden oldie is given a thorough workout in this energetic second installment of the "Milieu Trilogy." Robert Rodriguez's "Machete" kept coming to mind as Mario Ardof, a great supporting/character actor with a face you'd recognize in a second from a hundred movies (including Ugo Piazza's psycho friend in "Milano Calibro 9") steps as the lead/hero playing small-time pimp Luca Canali, who is mistakenly fingered as stealing drugs in route from Milan to New York. With two hitmen on his trail (Henry Silva and Woody Strode, bad motherf***ers both) and the local gangland boss (Adolfo Celi) trying to make nice with the New York bosses, Luca at first tries to reason with his pursuers and survive before a tragic turn of events turns him into a one-man revenge crusade. Like Danny Trejo in "Machete" Mario Ardof's on-screen charisma (the man's smile is contagious) compensates for his other shortcomings, particularly during an amazing chase scene in the middle of the movie in which he's literally blinded by rage (a neat touch DiLeo manages to visualize). Though violent "La Mala Ordina" is not gratuitous and at times can get silly (a blue-wig/boots-wearing girl, Francesca Romana Coluzzi, is as cartoony as the final shootout) but it has a streak of energy and that irreplaceable 70's vibe that make it a fun, if slight, "poliziotteschi" romp. Just be mentally prepared to shout in anger if you're a cat lover. :shock:

IL BOSS (THE BOSS) on Blu-ray for the first time. The explosive conclusion to the "Milieu Trilogy" (and I'm not exaggerating: the screen literally explodes!) cracks with two hours packed with action, betrayals, double-crosses, sexuality and "poliziotteschi" bad-assery of the finest order. This goes a long way to compensate for the disc packing the weakest transfer of the bunch (I haven't seen image stuttering this bad since "Sailor Moon Season 1"... ouch!). A racial feud between Calabrese mobsters Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi, looking/acting like a coked-up Fredo Corleone) and Sicilian boss Don Carrasco (Richard Conte) escalates into a gang war (with the police either too corrupt or out-of-the-loop to care) with Henry Silva's Terminator-like henchman, Nick Lanzetta, at the center of everything. Silva's facial expression doesn't change (has it ever?) but for this flick his screen persona is as good as Bronson's in "Death Wish X." Throw in a nympho hostage (Antonia Santilli), trigger-happy henchmen (Howard Ross' Melende), a loyalty-up-for-bids mob lawyer (Corrado Gaipa, a dead ringer for James Gandolfini), a corrupt "commissario" (Gianni Garko, who seems to have inspired both William Atherton's Walter Peck character in "Ghostbusters" and the finger acting of Dr. Doom in Corman's "Fantastic 4" movie) and some sweet montages of shootouts and assorted mob mayhem, shake vigorously and voilà! The totality and greatest triumph of "Il Boss" isn't not only that is a kick-ass "poliziotteschi" and prototypical Fernando DiLeo film, but that woven throughout and ever-present is a bleak picture of a law and order society (including the Catholic Church and student protest movements) that has gone astray. It's a dog-eat-dog world, and back in early 70's Milan (with Coppola's "The Godfather" already having an influence) "Il Boss" wasn't a movie as much as a distorted-for-entertainment mirror of Italian society at its not-finest.

Now, about getting a hold of "Seduction" and "Being Twenty" to ring my DiLeo jollies. 8)

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: Steven Soderbergh's "OCEAN'S" TRILOGY.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Tue Apr 09, 2013 10:52 am

Steven Soderbergh's OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001) on HD-DVD for the first time. Now that he has "retired" (or will be officially after his Liberace movie airs on HBO) I have to admit that I took Steven Soderbergh for granted. Take this slick, star-studded remake of a 1960 Frank Sinatra & pals heist flick. Yes, producer Jerry Weintraub deserves credit for getting actual casinos & Vegas locations to let the movie shoot there, giving the flick an irreplaceable vibe of authenticity to enhance the fantasy. Yes, Ted Griffin deserves credit for using the original screenplay as the basis for an updated take on the impossible Vegas heist that is both complicated but easy to follow, not to mention dripping with snappy dialogue. And yes, a huge cast led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt in fine leading men form, along with choice character actors like Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jemison, etc. (and recognizable faces like Bernie Mac, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia), really sell both the high stakes of the con job "Ocean's Eleven" are pulling and the fun of watching professionals (actors pretending to be thieves) being good at their job. I actually laughed out loud when the 'Introducing Tess as Julia Roberts' credit appeared. :D

Ultimately the reason "Ocean's Eleven" comes together so ridiculously well though is Soderbergh being so completely in control of the language of film, including pulling a Peter Hyams and working as his own cinematographer. A director for hire would have been content to take the above-outlined ingredients and just stir the ingredients and line 'em up. But the skillful eye of Soderbergh, like the cameras inside a casino, can be felt guiding this huge production from top to bottom making something that could have easily been problematic or overwhelming seem way too easy. You can actually feel the relaxed atmosphere of Soderbergh's set giving Clooney's leading man chops room to extend, and small touches that would become running gags (Shaobo Qin's chinese-everybody-understands, Don Cheadle's accent for Basher, etc.) taking shape from script to the organic process of cast-and-director collaboration. And even though the star machine and plot machinations take center stage (and would overwhelm the sequels) Soderbergh manages to squeeze enough human emotion and character development from the Danny-Tess-Terry Benedict triangle to elevate "Ocean's Eleven" above both its dated progenitor and the sequels it spawned. It's no surprise this is the shortest of the "Ocean's" movies (under two hours) because there's not an ounce of fat in its slick-beyond-reproach, playground-for-grown-ups movie world.

OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004) on HD-DVD for the first time. Gotta hand it to Soderbergh: when he fails it's in a spectacular, unique and always-interesting fashion. On the surface this appears like your typical 'let's get the gang together again for one more job' star-studded sequel with diminishing returns (i.e. Matt Damon's character regresses down to Scott Caan's level.. what?!?!), with Andy Garcia's Terry Benedict catching up with Tess and Danny's gang three years after they crossed paths. Contrasted with "Ocean's Eleven's" seducing/springing crew scenes, the montage here of Benedict crisscrossing the world and catching with each crew member (in one day?) makes no sense, even if the Basher 'bleeping' scene is hilarious (a clear, though self-censored, 'F U' to the MPAA). Too hot to work in the States and an impending deadline to come up with almost $200 million that could cost them their freedom or worse if they don't come up with a big con, the crew heads to Amsterdam to not only pull a couple of impossible heists but to cross paths with a determined police detective (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and fellow thief (Vincent Cassel) out to ruin their best-laid plans. The stakes for this type of heist movie (totally different from, say, "The Bank Job" or "Point Break") are always tricky because we know, unless the movie turns very dark unexpectedly, that the cool gang is going to prevail in the end. Soderbergh really pushed his luck (and the skill of his writers, not to mention the appeal of his cast) by essentially making the con jobs secondary to the motives, games and egos of the participants. An attempt near the end to humanize and give personality to Isabel felt insulting to me, a last-ditch attempt to dial back the clockwork-like plot completely overwhelming "Ocean's Twelve." While I admire Soderbergh's attempts to subvert audience expectations and even poke fun at his own movie's reliance on star power to sell his fantasy (something that the prequel pulled with the 'Introducing Tess as Julia Roberts' credit, which here gets blown-up into an actual plot point complete with uncredited-big-star-appearance) the end result is an occasionally amusing but mostly smug, surface-level pretty and empty-calories cinematic experience.

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (2007) on HD-DVD for the first time. Soderbergh & Co. return to the scene of their original crime in their last and best sequel of their 2001 remake (easy after "Twelve" stunk up the place) and, though not perfect, it captures enough of "Ocean's Eleven" mojo to both entertain and make one forget these movies don't stand up to scrutiny only after they end because their magic works wonders while they play. A subdued Al Pacino and a sexed-up Ellen Barkin are the villains this time as the hotel magnate and right-hand person, respectively, that Danny Ocean (George Clooney, so much into his role the divide between character and actor disappears) and his gang target after Willy Bank's tactics puts Reuben (Elliott Gould) on his deathbed. I don't recall Reuben being that beloved or intimate with the gang in the two previous flicks, but whatever (though the touch of Basher's unread-by-Linus letters being what brings Reuben back is hilarious). While some of the stuff clicks (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan leading a Mexican worker revolt is hilarious) and other feels like a waste of time (the plight of David Paymer's reviewer/critic) the mythology built over three movies constantly rewards with nuggets of entertainment (tons of awesome cameos, Eddie Izzard's particularly). The laser-like focus on the plot's end game (hit Bank where it hurts the most: his pride and his bottom line) can't distract enough to make one forget this movie is at least 20 minutes too long and full of itself (aren't they all?).

And yet the sum of "Ocean's Thirteen's" parts is bigger than all its unequal individual elements. The "Oceans" movies are like a digital analogy to analog filmmaking (to paraphrase a line in "Thirteen"): team effort can build and deliver entertainment/execute miracles neither of these actors, writers or director (like the gang in the flicks) could pull off on their own. I had a ton of fun watching Matt Damon's Linus actually grow (especially after his descent into an immature adolescent in "Twelve") and flirt with Ellen Barkin, and the interactions between a couple of dozen good actors bringing their 'A' game to a handsome production (the set design is magnificent, even if the CGI hotel design for exterior shots is so laughable even the characters make fun of it). And the allure of the forbidden fantasy that anyone that has lost money gambling will attest to proved too much to resist... three times, with the same crew (minus Tess, who sat this one out). Plus, as the credits and style over all three "Ocean's" movies prove, Soderbergh's affection for 70's motiffs didn't start with "Traffic" or end with "Magic Mike" but was an ever-present influence in his work. And hey, 2 out of 3 aren't bad odds considering the material he started with. It ain't "Casino" after all. 8)

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: Robert Rossellini's "WAR" TRILOGY.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby mavrach » Wed Apr 10, 2013 10:06 am

Babe - This didn't seem like it would be my cup of tea, but I was drawn to it by a combination of positive reviews, and a morbid fascination that the people who brought us the Mad Max series went and made a talking pig movie for kids. The tone is indeed for the kiddies, but there's a lot to love for the adults. On a technical level, you will beleive that these animals talk, it's done so perfectly. And everything you've heard about James Cromwell's performance here is true.

The Deer Hunter - I wanted to knock one of the "great movies" off my list, but I think it's more of a movie to appreciate as opposed to actually enjoy. The 2nd act is intense as it's known for, but the movie is way too long and it's too impressed with its own poignancy. BTW is it possible to watch The Deer Hunter at this point, and not picture Christopher Walken having a watch up his ass the whole time??

Open Range - I've been meaning to rewatch this ever since I saw it on DVD when it first came out, which I just realized was 9-10 years ago. A movie like this deserves more play time than this. Such an awesome Western, and I feel it didn't get nearly the attention it deserves (outside of this group of course). It's billed as Costner's movie, but it's a duo piece of him and Duvall, even moreso Duvall in many ways. It's a character driven slow build to a fantastic finale.

Spy Game - Liked it, didn't love it. I feel like I should've enjoyed it a bit more than I did. Maybe it was my mood? BTW I love the final line of this movie.

The Hole - This felt like a rough draft of a decent Joe Dante movie. It's got the makings of everything he's capable of, but you get limp actors who seem too old for their roles and bland implementation of the story.

Quigley Down Under - What a fun movie! Somehow I'd never seen this one before. From its title, I'd thought it was a sequel to something or part of a "Quigley" series. So it's a Western in Australia that's still completely a Western, transposing Aborigines for Native Americans. And it's got the sensibilities of a 90's action movie. Alan Rickman is is full hammy villain mode here (that's a good thing), and you get a brief taste of what would've happened if Tom Selleck ended up being cast as Indiana Jones.

Crimson Tide - A perfectly tense sub thriller. I'd seen this when it first came out and loved it, then never returned to it for no good reason. It does a great job of setting up the epic world-changing stakes while being confined to a sub with cut off communications. I should rewatch Man on Fire since I watched the other 4 Denzel/Scott movies in the past couple months

Brotherhood of the Wolf - Loved it. I'd describe it as a mishmosh of medieval period epic, monster movie and martial arts flick. Who'd think casting Mark Dacascos as a near-silent Native American badass would work out?
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Ash22 » Thu Apr 11, 2013 4:48 pm

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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sat Apr 13, 2013 10:37 am

Roberto Rossellini's ROME, OPEN CITY (1945) on Criterion DVD for the first time. Imagine my surprise when I started watching the first and earliest of Rossellini's "War Trilogy" installments and, instead of the rough-and-shot-under-difficult-conditions war movie I was expecting (which only reveals itself in the uneven quality/damage to the film stock), I got basically an early neorealist melodramatic take on Italian resistance fighters and their oppressing Nazi occupiers before the Allied liberation. There are children that plant bombs against German soldiers on their own (who then get scolded by their unknowing-of-their-sons-heroics worried parents, a nice touch), close calls with Gestapo raids, resistance leaders (Marcello Pagliero) and allies (Aldo Fabrizi as a kind priest) along with the girlfriends (Maria Michi and Anna Magnani) that are easy prey to Nazi weapons like machine guns (or the temptations of an easy life) and so forth. This initially-odd mix of vibes from "The Third Man" (only a bombed-out Rome right after WWII ended could beat Vienna for background atmosphere to life-and-death human struggles) and "Children of Paradise" (an attempt to sustain movie-quality production values and narrative that don't reflect the hardships the filmmakers encountered making the film) gradually turns less cheerful-against-the-odds positive and more dark as the movie's narrative gathers the momentum of being so close to the then-recent tragic events that befell or were experienced by many of its participants (those behind the camera as well as those seeing it for the first time). "Rome, Open City," despite being 58 years old and slow to get started, has well-developed characters and torture/interrogation scenes that make the one's in 2012's "Zero Dark Thirty" its bitch. And this is the one in the "War Trilogy" that I liked the least! 8)

Rossellini's PAISAN (1946) on DVD for the first time. It takes a breakthrough once-in-a-lifetime moment in time (WWII just ending), above-the-line commitment by cast & crew and filmmakers of the caliber of Rossellini & collaborators (including Federico Fellini co-writing the scenes/portions that weren't improvised on the spot) to deliver something as amazing and knock-your-socks-off memorable as "Paisan," one of the best war movies I've ever seen. Six different vignettes (about 20 min. each, some shorter/longer than others), set on different Italian regions/cities and linked together by voice-over news narration of the Allies' progress before the liberation of Italy (sobering reminders of the many lives lost by those that couldn't stay alive just a few more months), manage to convey the horrors, small triumphant moments, heartbreak, courage, missed opportunities (Brad and Francesca's encounters in the third episode's post-liberation Rome is my favorite) and conflicting emotions of a nation's people going through such a harrowing experience. The excellent use of ravaged-by-war locations (including seldom-seen-in-movies places like the Po Delta), stock footage (not exactly seamlessly blended with the movie footage but close-enough) and non-professional people to complement the multinational cast (British and American English flows as often as Italian in some segments) give the stories as close to an air of fictionalized documented reality as a nascent neorealist filmmaker like Rossellini could hope for. Some of the situations in "Paisan" (chance encounters with girls, religious prejudices against people trying to help in a time of need, mistaken identity complications, etc.) would and could be read as comical, except the stakes for these movie composites of real people who fought, died and/or suffered great losses feel so real and important to them we, as an audience, can't help but become emotionally invested in the outcomes. The last spoken (and quite ironic) line of the movie, along with the scene that precedes it, closes the show as only a neorealist like Rossellini could: simply, unemotionally and without resorting to cheap tricks to get one welled-up (which you're likely to do on your own) from the power of the overall experience.

The first and last vignettes are the most like your typical American WWII action movie, except the just-concluded events dictated the stories strive for not-always-happy authenticity and sobering endings. No one actor stands out, no character/story carries from one vignette to the other and no segment is better than the one before or after (YMMV, although the next-to-last segment with the Franciscan monks feels unlike the other five). Only the soundtrack by Renzo Rossellini (Roberto's brother, who scored the entire "War Trilogy"), slightly over-the-top and so melodramatic you often think it's library music, sticks out every once in a while as not matching the tone of what you're seeing and feeling. And yet the subtext linking all of "Paisan" together (misunderstanding and/or lack of understanding, language/cultural barriers, common goals of very different people, etc.) results in a potent, exuberant cinematic experience no WWII film buff should be without. It's over two hours long yet "Paisan" just flew by as it achieves what it sets out to do. Though there's nothing of his fantastic or personal vision as we would come to know it later "Paisan" is also worth seeing to experience the contributions of a still-not-directing Fellini as the co-writer (along with Sergio Amidei) of these multiple-story scenarios. The maestros' (Rossellini and Fellini) eventual humanism and depth of emotion/personality displayed in their movies were shaped by the conflicts that affected his countrymen, who are all in one form or another (from 'Partisan' guerrillas and urban professionals to American OSS boots-on-the-ground soldiers and Sicilian peasants) represented in the tapestry of WWII cinematic majesty that is "Paisan." It's 'molto buono, ottimo!'

Rossellini's GERMANY YEAR ZERO (1948) on DVD for the first time. I'm sorry, I spoke too soon about just-liberated Rome being able to top Vienna as a great WWII location (for visual as well as thematic backdrop). Turns out Berlin in ruins, as photographed for Rossellini by Robert Juilliard, is an even better visual metaphor for the plight of ordinary people attempting to rebuild their broken lives and non-existent economy soon after Hitler's regime fell. Told mostly through the eyes of 12 year-old Edmund (Edmund Moeschke) as he tries to provide for his ailing father (Ernst Pittschau), police-avoiding-and-lazy older brother Karl-Heinz (Franz-Otto Krüger) and motherly sister Eva (Ingetraud Hinze), "Germany Year Zero" is as laser-focused, clinical and intimate in its neorealist portrayal of Edmund's gradual descent into despair as Rossellini's previous two "War Trilogy" films were on the big picture. There's no need for dramatic hooks when everyday survival in post-WWII Germany and a chance encounter with Edmund's old teacher (Erich Gühne, the creepiest and perhaps most overtly-without-spelling-it pedophile to ever appear on film) set up a series of ideas and actions that make Edmund's already-bleak life seem even more hopeless. Too grown-up to hang out with kids his own age (who don't even want to play with him) and too-young to hang out with the adults his family shares an apartment with (or the youthful truants Edmund thinks he has befriended), Edmund is caught between two worlds in a society that can't accommodate neither of them. Influencing countless films afterwards (from "The 400 Blows" and "Mouchette" to "Grave of the Fireflies" and "Forbidden Games") "Germany Year Zero" has artistic merit and filmmaking skill to spare (the sound of a Hitler speech playing over the ruins of the Chancellery is a nice, if too-obvious, ironic contrast) but it does feel like somewhat of a letdown after the homerun that was "Paisan." Like Hitchcock's "Sabotage" (or Bresson's "Mouchette"), kudos for having the balls to "go there" and not wimping out on the conviction of what "Germany Year Zero" has to say or show about Edmund and his family, representatives of innocent German victims of WWII atrocities immortalized forever by a neorealist master director in his final "War Trilogy" chapter. Great film, but one I'm not sure I want to revisit often (or ever).

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: Gore Verbinski's "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" TRILOGY. 8)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Wed Apr 17, 2013 12:37 am

Jacques Rivette's JEANNE LA PUCELLE I - LES BATAILLES (1994) in 35mm at Anthology Film Archives for the first time. Rivette's historically-researched, almost six-hour epic telling of the story of Joan or Arc benefits from not being an abridged or condensed version of the highlights of either the battles or trial/execution of one of he most well-known figures in history. A collection of the casual day-to-day interactions with the everyday soldiers, courtesans, political figures and people inspired by Joan (every time a woman character meets Joan the former is clearly looking up to the latter as an early feminist icon), the collective power of spending so much time with Joan and the people she inspired is deeply felt. On-camera documentary-like testimonials by characters that knew Joan, poor-but-necessary substitutes for the epic action and battles "Jeanne La Pucelle" cannot afford to show us, keep the complex chess-like characters, motives and machinations of kings, political figures and the church easy to follow over several months/years. Rivette keeps cutting to seconds-long black frames after scenes start/end, a reminder that this isn't the full story of Joan of Arc but only a fictitious re-enactment of a moment of reality his camera (like the books/records used to inform the project) was able to record for posterity. There are barely-enough castles and men in horses to sell the illusion that battles for the freedom of nations are being fought (think "Braveheart" at 1/10th the scale), so it's testament to Rivette's skills that "Jeanne La Pucelle" still resonates even with so few actual big sets and even fewer 'money shots' of epic battles to show.

Sandrine Bonnaire really shows her actor chops by making you care for the well-being and emotional state of Joan, going from annoying teenager to horse-mounted warrior that rallies an army purely using body language and poise to try to show what it is that Frenchmen saw in Joan that inspired them to fight the Brits for the liberation or Orleans. The not-fatal flaw of Bonnaire's lead performance is that she's not the same age or looks as she did in Pialat's "À nos amours" in '83, which would have been the perfect time to play Joan. I had to talk myself into buying Sandrine as a teenager saying someone as Joan of Arc would move, talk and carry the weight as she's portrayed here by Bonnaire. Typical of a Rivette film, the other leads and supporting actors (Jean-Louis Richard really stands out as La Trémoille, Joan's eventual nemesis) help immerse one into the world and glacially-paced narrative the man is trying to engage in. Since the narrative is split into two almost-three hour movies the room to breath can sometimes seem dull and pointless (which sometimes it actually is), but it's also fascinating and riveting... get it? :o

Rivette's JEANNE LA PUCELLE II - LES PRISONS (1994) in 35mm at Anthology Film Archives for the first time. Wisely choosing not to try to one-up Dreyer's seminal 1928 movie by summarizing the trial portion of Joan's life into one scene (Joan's state of mind before and after that trial is more fertile ground to cover), Rivette's conclusion to his epic "Jeanne La Pucelle" movies carries with it the same economy of epic scenes (i.e. few money shots or action scenes) but ups the character-related pathos tremendously as Joan's fortunes experiences ups and (mostly) downs. The scene when Joan says goodbye to her fellow soldiers after the wars are over and the women related to her captors befriend and admire her (elevating Joan to early feminist icon status) are moving and touching without being sappy, the result of our spending so much time hanging out with these characters. Even knowing how it all ends, thanks to Rivette's commitment to as much of the documented record as possible and Sandrine Bonnaire's body language selling the self-composure and anguish Joan experienced leading up to her passing "Jeanne La Pucelle" ranks up there with the best of the Joan of Arc movie adaptations. It's not perfect (the coronation of the king scene goes on forever) but six hours in the medieval ages have never gone by so quickly or been so enthralling. The somber, respectful silence and suppressed tears (my own included) during the closing credits of "Jeanne La Pucelle II" spoke volumes about the impact these movies had on those of us lucky enough to have seen them in 35mm.

Gore Verbinski's PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003) on Blu-ray for the first time. I might be 10 years late to the party, but got damn it, "Curse of the Black Pearl" is just amazing and at times (the underwater moonlight walk of Barbossa's men to the ship they're about to board, one of many jaw-dropping scenes worthy of the 'movie magic' moniker) a work of art that happens to also be the first clog of a now-reliable Disney money-printing machine. I have no trouble with that because, frankly, the franchise (at least with Verbinski at the helm, haven't seen the 4th "Pirates" movie yet) has earned its bank by never losing a thrilling sense of fun about itself that its encapsulated in this perfectly-paced (a little too long but it beats the alternative) self-contained adventure that can be enjoyed without the sequels' convoluted plots. Every element of the well-thought out story, every action beat, every disregard for conventional leading man behavior by Johnny Depp (Orlando Bloom takes care of that in his best post-"Lord of the Rings" role), every special effect shot that's not just for show but to advance the plot, every musical note from Klaus Badelt's memorable score (which Hans Zimmer only produced), every authentic prop and still-usable old time ship they got a hold of... everything about this slick Hollywood blockbuster just works as if the ghost of early 80's Spielberg were directing a reincarnated "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in pirate movie form. Frankly I didn't know Gore Verbinski had it in him, but the man can stage and shoot action like the best of them. Writers Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (who kept, ahem, "writing" the rest of the series), Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert deserve as much recognition for striking that perfect story balance that few mainstream movies achieve in which anyone watching, regardless of age or experience, can lose themselves into the adventure and find something/someone to latch (usually Sparrow/Depp). Kudos to Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer for letting the filmmakers shoot a rather violent PG-13 movie that pushed the house the mouse built squarely into the mainstream of Hollywood filmmaking. To think there was a time Disney didn't want its logo at the head of this movie because it was such a gamble to show the violence of pirates doing their violent things.

Yes, remove Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow away from this movie and it might as well be "Kingdom of Heaven" on water (Depp in "Curse of the Black Pearl" is still technically not the hero that Bloom's Will Turner is set-up to become) but the man needed his co-stars and the production values behind his fey portrayal of Sparrow for the clockwork machinations of the story to run smoothly. Even Sparrow's speech about the Black Pearl meaning so much to him (echoes of which were repeated by Nathan Fillion's character at the end of "Serenity") carries the weight and pathos not of a sad clown or a caricature, but of a real character with depth and dimensions (quirky, odd and whip-smart as well as selfish and unrefined). My only beef with "Curse of the Black Pearl" is with Geoffrey Rush hamming it up way too much for my goat, but at least his Barbossa doesn't get overexposed over three entire movies (unlike the principals, particularly Bloom and Knightley toward the end). "Curse of the Black Pearl" sets up a template the sequels struggle mightly hard to uphold (and one does it better than the other, IMHO) but the primary directives of never taking itself seriously and to always go for broke trying to entertain are carried throughout. Bringing a missing element of fun to a moribund genre that Renny Harlin had killed for good a decade prior? Priceless.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST (2006) on Blu-ray for the first time. Oh, that's cute. After the first "POTC" movie was a money-maker Disney was more than happy to (a) stick its logo at the start of the sequels and (b) let Hans Zimmer kick Klaus Badelt off the franchise so he can take over the music. :? I didn't know until after I saw them that "Dead Man's Chest" and its follow-up (see below) were troubled, rushed and often-improvised productions. Some of these production pains can be felt here in the excruciating running time, slow pace, tons of exposition and obvious need to set-up a third "Pirates" movie, but I honestly thought parts of "Dead Men's Chest" were so damn incredible and fun that I like it as much or more than "Curse of the Black Pearl." While the first film felt like a streak of luck this one walks and talks with the confidence of a bad-ass blockbuster that knows it's going to break the bank, and its felt in every aspect of its cinematic being. Zimmer's soundtrack, though built on Badalet's original score, now has a more peppy beat and even a couple of cues (the cello portions of the Capt. Jack Sparrow song and the theme song at the end) are some of the most incredible music I've heard in a film. I mean, listen to the first 3:40 min. of THIS and tell me you don't want to hop of a pirate ship and start looking for booty right now! The production values, which were already big in the first movie, are now gigantic and further push the awe and fantasy of sea monsters, cursed pirates, action scenes and slapstick (often all four at once) colliding into an absurdly entertaining romp of swashbuckling delights. The rotating cage escape/chase (a nice chance for the supporting actors to shine) and the sword fights on top/inside/around the runaway wheel could teach Steven Spielberg ("Temple of Doom") and Peter Jackson ("King Kong 2005") how to stage and put together kinetic action scene involving natives/bad guys that can make them look menacing but not silly. Bill Nighy's Davy Jones and his Flying Dutchman crew are frightening, spooky-looking (amazing ILM SFX work on Jones' tentacled face) and truly worthy foes for the heroes to do battle with. And, even though we've seen stuff like it before, the Kraken attack scenes are staged with enough destruction and mayhem (mostly from red shirts but also a few main cast members) to put the rebooted "Clash/Wrath of the Titan" movies to shame.

Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are still a darling couple (though they spend most of the movie apart, to Elizabeth's and Will Turner's benefit as they grow bolder and less goody two-shoes) and they make great straight men as well as Tom Hollander does colonial imperialist bad guy (Beckett's awesome! 8)). Jack Davenport having such a crucial role in the story of "Dead Man's Chest" (and set-up for "At World's End") surprised me, but Norrington was a character well worth bringing back after doing such great work in "Curse of the Black Pearl." But man, is Johnny Depp on fire here as Capt. Jack Sparrow. Everyone in the production knew they struck gold with the happy accident casting of Depp the first time, and even though he's excellent in all three of his "Pirate" movies Verbinski deserves credit to not turn any of them into 'The Jack Sparrow Show' and use the character just shy enough of complete overexposure as the spark that ignites everyone and everything. I don't know why but every time Sparrow turns tail and runs away from trouble (which in "Dead Man's Chest" is the cue to play the captain's heroic theme song) it feels like the greatest moment in movies ever. That to me is they key to the character's appeal: a bold-enough man to lie, steal and get into and out of trouble that's also smart-enough to run away from said trouble (like most of us or a girl would too, but whatever) is a man I'd gladly trust with my life on an adventure in the high seas... from the safety of my recliner chair in front of my 58" Vizio. :D

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END (2007) on Blu-ray for the first time. The payoff to all the set-ups and double/triple dealings in "Dead Man's Chest" comes to a head in this extremely long, often-meandering, confusing-at-times but still-entertaining conclusion to Verbinski's trio of "Pirates" movies. I know after seeing two of these already that the level of violence and bloodless gore in these Disney movies shouldn't bother me, but I'm still shocked a Walt Disney movie could carry these many red shirts buying the farm or on-camera mayhem. Johnny Depp's Capt. Sparrow is the gift that keeps on giving, here going as far as multiplying into many versions of himself (isn't that what audiences wanted, more Sparrow?) in a surreal, almost 'artsy' mini-movie within "At World's End's" Davy Jones Locker segment (complete with desaturated color) that would have been the movie's highlight if the final Maelstrom battle hadn't happened. This insane display of practical and CG stunt work just doesn't stop, and would feel like an empty exercise in SFX overkill if (a) everyone involved wasn't doing their damndest to sell the life-or-death stakes involved in the outcome (it is after all the climactic battle of a trilogy filled with perpetually-topping-itself action sequences) and (b) Verbinski & his writers hadn't laid enough foundations for the audience to know who is who and their pecking order in relation to what's happening. It's a ballet of practical & CG effects, acting and story/directing so mesmerizing I had to watch it again after finishing "At World's End," which is amazing because it's almost 20-30 minutes of an almost three-hour movies. Plus there's Shipwreck Cove, Jonathan Pryce's touching reveal (nice), the Brethren Court scenes (the right way to do stage a big-star celebrity cameo), the balls-out destruction of Beckett's ship, the opening Singapore action scene (messy and confusing but so much like "Big Trouble in Little China" it's scary), etc. BTW, shame on this movie by nabbing Chow Yun-Fat, one of the most charismatic and engaging stars of the past couple of decades with charisma to spare, and totally wasting him with the underdeveloped-and-quickly-done-away-with role of Capt. Sao Feng. :(

It's my least-favorite movie in the Verbinski trilogy (still haven't seen "On Stranger Tides") but "At World's End" still packs plenty of fun stuff to see, particularly the actors' up/down standing in the series. Bill Nighy's Davy Jones, like Christopher Lee in "Star Wars Episode II," goes from being the menacing baddie of the middle movie in a trilogy into a neutered-and-not-as-feared background player whose heart belongs to Naomie Harris' Tia Dalma (whose relationship with Capt. Sparrow is still a mystery to me) and is just one more special effect during the Maelstrom finale. Thank God Tom Hollander's Beckett and Kevin R. McNally's Gibbs step up as the type of bad guys you love to see get their eventual comeuppance, though Beckett's final scene confuses me. Even good old Jack Davenport's Norrington gets a couple of memorable scenes, though Stellan Skarsgård isn't as touching here as he was in "Dead Man's Chest." Unlike their earlier "Pirates" movies Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom wear out their welcome here, acting/behaving not only inconsistently with their previous character behavior but clearly thinking they're the reason people liked these movies (certainly not during their silly-and-misplaced marriage fight ballet) when Depp and the overall production are the reasons this films resonated. Great last scene between Elizabeth and Will though (after the credits) plus Geoffrey Rush, still in his own planet orbiting near the same planet as Depp's and who mostly sat "Dead Men's Chest" out, benefits the most from his Barbossa schtick not wearing too thin from overexposure.

My critical faculties can pick every little bit of these movies that's flawed or imperfect, but the sweeping scope of these productions (close to $600 spent on making them) and the fact these actors, filmmakers and armies of crewmen pulled off being shamelessly entertaining and turned into an art form over close to eight hours of released work. I can honestly say this is the trilogy I wasn't expecting much from (it's based on a Disney theme ride) that has given me the most so far.

BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION (2013) in theaters for the first time. Three years and built-in cult status later, James Nguyen and his cast (many returning from the original "Birdemic", along with a new batch of... "faces") are fully aware of what is expected of them and seem to (a) be trying too hard (look for Whitney Moore kicking bird butt, literally) and (b) repeat the same beats from the first flick. The endless driving footage that opened the first movie? Vietnamese restaurant romantic dinner? Motel room sex scene? In-your-face environmental agenda? Awkward club dancing (with the 'Hanging out with your family' guy singing)? Hitchcock worship references? Check, check, check, check, check and... he's dead... sorry, check. The SFX & budget plus Nguyen's skills have improved somewhat (i.e. they could afford to rent a boom mike and a tripod with wheels, which I know because I saw them reflected on windows/mirrors... several times!) but the now-expected-but-still-eye-opening overall incompetence, bad acting and willful disregard for the most basic of filmmaking techniques (sound is still muffled and changes from shot to shot, birds are still mostly static, etc.) are back in full effect, and as gut-busting hilarious as ever. Nguyen's new tech toys, unnecessary green-screen photography and low-budget non-bird/blood CGI (hell, they probably spent more money blurring faces/signs in "Birdemic 2" than the entire cost of "Birdemic" several times over), results in some fun stuff that needs to be seen in a 'so bad it's hilarious' state of cinematic mind.

"Birdemic 2" goes completely and spectacularly off-the-rails several times though, and not in a cute or funny way (if the stone-death silence of the crowd in my midnight theater crowd is any indication). The introduction of cheesy human zombies and resurrected-from-the-past cavemen to the mix of bad things global warming is responsible for, gratuitous sleazy nudity (i.e. boobs) and a never-ending "ending" so insultingly bad/God- awful Nguyen had to put the 'Hanging out with your family' song over the credits (to buy back goodwill from many an upset viewer like myself) are just too freaking much to tolerate even for a bad movie connoisseur. Still, a sequel that catches about 65-70% of the insane chemistry of one of the best-worst movies of the 2000's is worth seeking if you know what you're getting into.

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: Godfrey Reggio's QATSY TRILOGY.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Fri Apr 19, 2013 12:06 am

Godfrey Reggio's KOYAANISQATSI (1982) on Criterion Blu-ray. I'm cheating a little bit here with my own new-to-me trilogy rules since I saw "Koyaanisqatsi" three years ago. That was a full-screen MGM-HD master that hadn't been remastered though, which made many shots (particularly the stock footage) a grain fest. After a thorough clean-up job and under the Criterion banner though "Koyaanisqatsi" on Blu-ray really shines as the genesis of a small-but-influential (particularly in advertising) mini-genre that, as late as last year's "Samsara," still relies on its blueprints for guidance. The original 35mm and stock footage elements keep it from achieving "Baraka"-caliber sharpness, but the high-def transfer injects its own charm given it features plenty of already-dated early 80's fashions and technology (including a recently-closed Twinkie factory :(). Reggio and his collaborators, particularly cinematographer Ron Fricke (whose absence from Reggio's follow-ups to "Koyaanisqatsi" keeps them from coming close to equaling it), put the tools of cinematography, editing, music (via Philip Glass' often-nutty-but-memorable score and some well-chosen chants/songs) and stock footage at the service of a stripped-down-to-ideas wordless narrative that is just shy of preachy. Letting the carefully-arranged images do the talking and making each audience member judge their impact on them (personally the 'ghostly' stock market trading floor photography, along with the nuclear-explosion/airplane-taking-off footage looking like monsters, stood out to me this time) is "Koyaanisqatsi's" best achievement, even though its the sped-up photography of humanity-as-an-ant-farm that most people remember the movie for. The best installment of the Qatsy Trilogy, and the building block on which Ron Fricke has created two movies ("Baraka" and "Samsara") that retain the sense of wonderment Reggio's "Qatsi" films began to lose the further away from "Koyaanisqatsi's" blueprints he went.

POWAQQATSI (1988) on Criterion Blu-ray for the first time. With the more narrowly-focused viewpoint of how technology affects developing nations and Philip Glass now more involved into the scoring of the images (which tend to me more "artsy" and faster-paced than "Koyaanisqatsi's") there is a lot to like about "Powaqqatsi." The movie's best scenes come early with shots of miners walking through Brazil's Serra Pelada gold mines set to happy music (complete with what seem like children singing) that is a stunning use of juxtaposition/contrast to drive home its point. There's also a 'TV faces dissolving into each other' sequence (which goes from pretty Caucasian/American faces to international TV broadcasts) that already hints at "Naqoyqatsi's" eventual integration of image manipulation, but here it's a limited and quite effective use of technology to demonstrate the "sameness" with which television has linked us all into the same patterns of entertainment. Unfortunately "Powaqqatsy" just doesn't look as good or feel as polished as its predecessor, partly because Reggio wanted the focus on poor people going about their lives and also because Ron Fricke's skilled eye for composition and the optimal spot from which to shoot isn't behind the camera. Glass' score is mostly awful, strident and annoying (my opinion, YMMV) plus, as the movie's running time begins to take its toll, it feels like the longest 99 min. of your life passing you by. I enjoyed seeing "Powaqqatsy" and was genuinely entertained by it (Glass' score notwithstanding) but, compared with its predecessor and the better-shot-and-more-resonant work from the Fricke side of the street, Godfrey Reggio is already struggling to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of "Koyaanisqatsi."

NAQOYQATSI (2002) on Criterion Blu-ray for the first time. Let me first give credit to Reggio for at least trying something different here and not simply remaking "Koyaanisqatsi" with prettier, sharper photography (which is what he did in "Powaqqatsi" and Ron Fricke has essentially done in "Baraka" and "Samsara"). Even the opening using an abandoned Detroit building bathed in B&W tones (as is most of "Naqoyqatsi's" photography) has an artsy, powerful edge that lives up to its 'Steven Soderbergh Presents' moniker, replacing Coppola and Lucas who have been relegated to polite thanks at the end of the credits. Philip Glass also gets away from the nails-on-chalkboard music he used in "Powaqqatsi" and delivers an OK score (parts of which recall his "Koyaanisqatsi" tunes).

That said, "Naqoyqatsi" is the one example of this style of filmmaking that lives up to the stereotype of being highfalutin and smug to a degree that can turn off even fans of Reggio's previous work. By manipulating the images with all sorts of digital tinkering for artistic purposes (essentially the 'TV faces dissolve' segment from "Powaqqatsi" in B&W and on steroids crossed with the stargate sequence in "2001: A Space Odyssey") Reggio has inserted himself as the center of attention in a wordless visual essay that is repeating basic motifs and ideas he and others had already explored over four similar movies (including Fricke's "Baraka"): military bad, brown people nice, technology and information overwhelm humanity (via Wall Street Journal Report-caliber graphics), we're at the mercy of variables beyond our control, etc. More so here than in any other of these types of films, been here and done that. There isn't even a money shot or standout scene like the endless train in "Powaqqatsi" or the rising moon in "Koyaanisqatsi," just an unending parade of faces (young American soldiers), numbers, distorted effects and digital noise that are a bear to slug through. Worse, all the digital manipulation and Paint Box-altered images benefit little from a Blu-ray upgrade (which did wonders for Reggio's previous two movies) despite this being the newest installment of the trilogy. "Naqoyqatsi" more than "Powaqqatsi" shows how much Ron Fricke brought to the success of "Koyaanisqatsi" because, left to his own devices, Reggio has gone back to the '82 well twice with diminishing results. It's not a horrendous movie, just one that fails to live up to the genre's, its predecessors' and its own creator's heightened expectations.

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: Author Stieg Larsson's GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO TRILOGY.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Kenneth Morgan » Sun Apr 21, 2013 9:23 pm

Not too long ago I watched "Countdown", a pretty good movie about a fictional lunar mission starring James Caan and Robert Duvall about four years before "The Godfather". It looks fairly well-researched and realistic for its time. Most likely the most interesting thing is that it was, I believe, Robert Altman's first theatrical film. You can see a few hints of his recognizable style, even though the producers disagreed with him and he was either fired or forced to quit. Still, I thought it was OK.

On the other hand, I also re-watched the Cinematic Titanic version of "The Doomsday Machine". One of the most inept movies I've ever seen, which is saying a lot.

And I recently tried to watch "Monday Mornings" on TNT again. The network hyped it as David E. Kelley's next great series, and I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. The problem was that they used every single medical show cliche that has ever been invented; I'm pretty sure a couple were used on the "Dr. Kildare" movies with Lew Ayres. I wasn't impressed.

And I also watched "Dark City". Not the sci-fi movie that "The Matrix" was alledged to have ripped off, but a well-made film noir from 1951 with Charlton Heston in his first Hollywood feature. It turned out OK, with a great supporting cast including Dean Jagger, Ed Begley, Harry Morgan, Lizabeth Scott, Viveca Lindfords, and a good turn by Jack Webb as a cowardly crook.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Tue Apr 23, 2013 8:45 pm

Niels Arden Oplev's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009) on Amazon Prime HD for the first time. This movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best-selling novel is amazing, one of the best, most gruesome (from what's shown, implied as well as the things you imagine happened) and best character-based thrillers I've seen in my life. It pulls so many simultaneous feats, not the least of which is that it's a self-contained story that wraps-up neatly (too neatly, as if it knew it was Hollywood-bound) and sends away those that don't want to venture further feeling like they've seen a complete work. Personally I found the mystery of the 1967 disappearance of Harriett Vanger (and the kerfuffle it unleashes) to be "Dragon Tatto's" McGuffin, the excuse to get the plot ball rolling to eventually reunite the two leads together. But just because the Harriett mystery is the window-dressing to a more stylish and character-heavy movie doesn't mean the thriller aspects have to be dull or uninteresting (they aren't), and those that come to see "Dragon Tattoo" to get their "Cold Case" jollies rang will be satisfied. Personally I was glad there were more movies for me to see after "Dragon Tattoo" ended because I couldn't get enough in just one movie of the chemistry between Michael Nyqvist's Mikael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth Salander, one of the most unlikely pairings in fiction I've seen. The back-and-forth between Lisbeth and Mikael resonates with the interaction of people who are broken but also resilient and dogged in their determination, and who cling to their work (and a couple of times to each other) to not think about where life has brought them. Noomi Rapace broke out as the star of "Dragon Tattoo" (and rightly so, though it's sad to see her wasted as she was in Ridley Scott's "Prometheus") but personally it's how well she interacts with Nyqvist that helps make Lisbeth Salander such a unique and memorable character. Director Niels Arden Oplev uses the anamorphic photography and Sweedish landscape like a boss, giving the often-grotesque and at times graphic movie an air of elegance that is neither glorifying violence or sanctimoniously criticizing it as much as putting it within its proper context as the cog in the machinery of a well-developed, well-written (in book and screenplay form), well-made and well-acted thriller in which the lead is a woman that doesn't want or ask for pity at her own peril yet always remain, if not sympathetic, enigmatically watchable. As the follow-up "Dragon Tattoo" movies got bogged down by the books' procedural plots what kept them watchable and interesting is what also makes the original movie an international smash: you just can't take your eyes off of Lisbeth wondering what's going on inside her mind, or not feel touched by the relationship that develops between her and Mikael. Guess I'm going to have to see the Fincher remake now. :(

Daniel Alfredson's THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE: EXTENDED EDITION (2009) on Amazon Prime HD for the first time. Midway through the almost three hours of this extended edition of the 2nd part of this trilogy it dawned on me that, as much attention as I was putting to the plot of "The Girl Who Played With Fire" (some of it leftover from "Dragon Tattoo" but mostly a metric ton of new backstory, characters and a growing conspiracy), I was counting the minutes until Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander met face to face again. And as this self-perceived-by-me important cinematic pleasure kept being denied to me it hit me: I'm a Lisbeth/Mikael shipper. I loved these characters so much in the first movie that I would have been content if this sequel had a "My Dinner with Andre"-type plot so long as these two were doing the talking/dining. Despite director Daniel Alfredson (a) shooting the movie with a lot less panache and style than Niels Arden Oplev (1:85:1 vs. 2:35:1, basic camera frame-ups vs. stylish framing, little-to-no atmosphere vs. "Dragon Tatto's" amazing atmosphere) and (b) Noomi Rapace looking quite different as Lisbeth in this movie and the next (the character is the same but Alfredson's basic direction robs Rapace's performance of some the mystique and cinematic appeal she had in "Dragon Tattoo") you still can't take your eyes off or Rapace or Michael Nyqvist when their characters are on-screen. Nyqvist actually has to carry most of "The Girl Who Played With Fire" this time given the plot involves him and Millennium magazine getting mixed-up with what appears to be a sex trafficking scandal that blossoms into something a lot more sinister, dangerous and personal for both Mikael and, eventually, Lisbeth. While I had to roll my eyes at some of the plot's more far-fetched moments (why would Lisbeth return to Stockholm? how would "they" know she'd find and touch Bjurman's gun?) "The Girl Who Played With Fire" still sustains the prequel's amazing ability to balance the dual tasks of appealing to the procedural-minded viewer that wants to follow the complex plot and/or blossoming conspiracy threat as well as those of us that just want to know more about Lisbeth Salander or watch Mikael Blomkvist play avenging crusader. And for all the production value and parade of Swedish character actors on display is the little moments (Lisbeth playing with the cigarette holder Nancy Wu gave her, the same window from which one character was smoking found by another, the unspoken 'I know' encounter between Blomkvist and Wu at the hospital, etc.) that continue to add-up and make a shipper like me wish for a future, real or imagined, between Lisbeth and Mikael beyond what these movies show. :?

Daniel Alfredson's THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST: EXTENDED EDITION (2009) on Amazon Prime HD for the first time. The conclusion to the "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy tilts the balance even more lopsidedly toward the procedural-heavy and borderline-fantastic political/family conspiracy in Lisbeth's past over the character development of the two previous films. It's the logical point of where the plot should end given the balls up in the air, but other than Noomi Rapace's eye-catching (and totally within Lisbeth's character) outfit and appearance while in court this feels more like an uneven cross between "Law & Order" and "Castle," complete with THE woman-hating bad guy (Peter Teleborian) stepping up to compensate for not having Nils Bjurman to kick around anymore... maybe. ;-) As a now full-blown Lisbeth/Mikael shipper it's very disappointing that, even more than in the previous film, the two characters I've grown to care and like so much spend their on-screen time apart from each other (which only makes the little time they do share a scene all the more meaningful). Oh well, we still get to see plenty of Nyqvist and Rapace breathing life into their wonderful characters for a few hours more. At least "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest" is where all the dominoes and pieces set in motion by the two previous films (the character chemistry from "Dragon Tattoo" and the conspiracy/mythology from both it and "Played with Fire") land, so squarely, neatly and well-arranged by the end that the few times the movie generates tension is because you're genuinely scared the filmmakers are about to go edgy for the sake of being different or controversial. Even minor characters (Plague the hacker), fantastic one's (Ronald Niedermann, i.e. The Swedish Terminator :D) and underdeveloped one's (Fredrik Clinton) benefit from the extended cuts' longer character beats or just that the actors inhabit their stock characters so well you don't need much explanation. Looking no better or worse than its predecessor, I still miss the stylish camera work and great atmosphere (no snow!) that Niels Arden Oplev brought to "Dragon Tattoo." I've come to accept though that just spending more time watching Mikael launch his tireless crusade for justice, or Lisbeth both fight (her autobiography) and give up against her accusers, was reward-enough to stick through the almost nine hours the trilogy lasts (extended cuts only).

The next-to-last phrase Lisbeth says to Mikael complements beautifully the one from the previous movie, and it carries the weight of an uneven but thoroughly captivating trilogy of movies that never lost sight that the steely determination of Lisbeth Salander (and Mikael Blomkvist's feelings toward her) was worth the trade-off of sentimentalizing or romanticizing her arc. Noomi Rapace has breathed life into a character so interesting and unlike any I've seen in movies I really hope she's not completely done with Lisbeth Salander.

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's BUNDERSREPUBLIK DEUTSCHLAND (BRD) TRILOGY.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby mavrach » Wed Apr 24, 2013 5:57 am

My main problem with Hornet's Nest was:

SPOILERS I guess for the series:

...was how this seemed like the realistic aftermath to any action movie out there. Picture your average action movie where the hero kills the bad guy and his henchmen, and saves the day. If that ever happened in real life, they'd face a trial, the remaining bad guys would try to sue for property damage, and the hero would be neck-deep in crap. It would be a miracle if they didn't go to jail or lose everything they own after a lawsuit. Action movies are fun because you only see the fun part and not the beaurocracy that follows. Hornet's Next is that crap exactly.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Kenneth Morgan » Wed Apr 24, 2013 12:06 pm

Finally saw "Skyfall" last night; for one reason or another, I missed it during the theatrical release. I thought it was one of the better Bond movies, with some great action and good characterization. I was pretty much spoiler-free, so there were some plot twists that really surprised me. And it was great to see the DB-5 (with accessories!) back.

Still, I agree with my brother Bri that the movie could've been cut down a bit. And I didn't like the villain; he was too much of a smug creep for my tastes.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Wed Apr 24, 2013 12:18 pm

mavrach wrote:My main problem with Hornet's Nest was:

SPOILERS


I was fine with that. By the time we get to the end of the trilogy you're either gripped by the Lisbeth-Mikael relationship (or either character on their own if you don't care for the other) and/or the conspiracy/procedural/mystery thriller aspects of the story, which partially culminate into the trial of Lisbeth but there's still more plot/twists/reveals happening until the last half-hour of "Hornests' Nest," when it really begins to wind out for good. Maybe it doesn't hold on repeat viewing (I want to get the Extended Versions Blu-ray Box Set so I can see the extended "Dragon Tattoo") but as a first-time viewer I was both wowed and almost overwhelmed. :)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:10 pm

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN (1979) on Criterion DVD for the first time. From the moment the laid-on-top-of-one-another Edwardian font opening credits unfold over a frozen image of Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla) and her new hubby Hermann (Klaus Löwitsch) kissing the floor as Allied artillery shells the civilian building in which they're getting married you know you're not watching a "normal" movie. As the end of World War II gives way to post-war German reconstruction pains Maria, who later in the film describes herself as 'the Mata Hari of the economic miracle,' holds dearly to the illusion of hope and happiness that marriage brielfy gave her and it becomes the fuel through which she overcomes many obstacles (including the cold-blooded taking of a human life) to become the living embodiment of 'Germany's economic miracle.' Even as you watch prolific filmmaker R.W. Fassbinder stage a woman-against-the-odds survivalist melodrama your mind keeps picking-up ways in which this seemingly-traditional movie both plays by Hollywood's playbook (essentially a rags-to-riches morality story) while simultaneously subverting it (multilingual cross-racial scenes/conversations that don't call attention to themselves, an anti-climactic climax, etc.). Does anyone else get a creepy "Mad Men" vibe when the final scenes of "Maria Braun" (accompanied by a German radio telecast of a World Cup match as louder-than-normal background noise) unfolds with all the casual attitude of a dinner appointment as Maria and Hermann get their comeuppance? Besides the wonderful cast of character actors, many of them regulars in Fassbinder's circle of favorites (with Ivan Desny having his meatiest role in the trilogy as Maria's boss/meal ticket Karl Oswald), "Maria Braun" is truly carried on the shoulders of Hanna Schygulla breathing life into a lead character so simultaneously fierce and determined (to get ahead and be materially prepared for the eventual happiness she anticipates) while simultaneously naive and clueless (about her family's misplaced affection and both Hermann's and Karl's true feelings toward her). While the two remaining "BRD" Trilogy films have leading ladies and stories that revolve around (or are propelled by) their being the lead characters "Maria Braun" is the standout work not just because of its unmistakable critique of a post-war society willing to collectively forget about its recent history in order to escape it. It's also the one with the most fully-developed, fully-realized, fascinating and better-acted character, one on whom Fassbinder places the emphasis as both symbol of a generation as well as damn interesting movie personality worth following for two hours. Amazing movie. 8)

LOLA (1981) on Criterion DVD for the first time. Technically third in the "BRD" Trilogy by chronology of the 'German economic miracle' (taking place after the stories of "Maria Braun" and "Veronika Voss," not that it matters in which order they're seen), the remaining two movies de-emphasize the plight of the female lead characters as they become more a catalyst to the narrative and other characters' behavior, more so in "Lola" than in "Veronika Voss." Barbara Sukown's Lola, the rather-good stage performer and most sought-after prostitute in the most high-class brothel in a small German town, ends up being the ultimate prize in a war of wills between larger-than-life building contractor Schukert (Mario Adorf, of "The Italian Connection" and "Caliber 9" fame) and newly-appointed building commissioner Von Bohn (Armin Mueller-Stahl, around whom the movie revolves as much if not more than Sukown's character). Lola's inner circle (housekeeper mother & illegitimate daughter, Matthias Fuchs' Esslin) and Schukert's associates (the corrupt mayor, most of the town's business community that frequents the brothel) become unwitting pawns/victims/accomplices as sexy Lola and incorruptible Von Bohn innocently fall in love, then things turn around when Von Bohn realizes how Lola makes a living. There are two scenes (Lola performing 'The Fishermen of Capri' like a feral beast after Von Bohn sees her performing, then Von Bohn returning to usurp Schukert for Lola's time) that Douglas Sirk would have been proud to call his own. Fassbinder pitches and photographs those and the rest of "Lola" like one of Sirk's Technicolor melodramas in which the primary color on-screen (piercing yellows, greens, reds and blues depending on who is on-screen doing what) tells you everything you need to know or feel. Despite being the most seemingly "light" and breeze of the three movies (in which Mueller-Stahl and Adorf pretty much tag-team steal the movie from everyone else, including Sukown) it packs the most acerbic and bitter pill to swallow of all three movies: that German's economic miracle is built on even the "good" people compromising their principles to achieve a false-but-safe perception of both acceptance within the community and personal happiness. It's my least-favorite "BRD" movie and yet "Lola" still packs so much good stuff in its technique (the screwball-meets-"Downton Abbey" vibe, out-of-focus optical transitions, etc.) and subtext (Von Bohn and Esslin trading places and eventually betraying their alleged principles) it's the one I'm looking forward most to revisiting with the commentary track and stuff.

VERONIKA VOSS (1982) on Criterion DVD for the first time. Fassbinder's final masterpiece before his death at age 37 is a gorgeous B&W noir melodrama set in 1955 Berlin. Using a fictionalized-but-inspired-by-a-true-person story as its springboard (real-life actress Sybille Schmitz), "Veronika Voss" unfolds with the skill and love of someone that wants to put his own particular spin on Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" but with the 50's 'German economic miracle' as the silent, almost-ignored-but-palpable backdrop. A once-famous German movie star (Rosel Zech in the title role, not as invisible as Sukown in "Lola" but nowhere near as dominant as Schygulla in "Maria Braun") seduces a sports journalist (Hilmar Thate) while in the throngs of a drug-dependent binge at the hands of an opportunist doctor (Annemarie Düringer, who gives Louise Fletcher a run for her money for coldest movie villain wearing a white medical uniform) that tries to squeeze every dime she can out of living-in-a-movie-of-her-own-making Voss. Henriette (Cornelia Froboess) is the journalist's girlfriend that, rather than try to compete against the fantasy-come-to-life star that's stealing her boyfriend, helps him because she'd rather be inside rather than outside looking in. Henriette's scene with an older couple of Jewish survivors (whose treatment at the hand of Dr. Katz stands out) is both surreal and the key to understanding Fassbender's desire to shine the light on then-German's desire to forget about their still-recent past. Fantasy, surrealism (that damn country music radio station at Dr. Katz's clinic!) and melodrama continually collide into the narrative (the 'farewell party' Veronika throws herself is both creepy and touching, not to mention an editing tour-de-force), yet "Veronika Voss" manages to keep it all fairly dream-like but also coherent because of Fassbinder's skills and good actors playing their roles convincingly (Zech and Tate kept reminding me of Glenn Close and Bob Hoskins every time Veronika and Robert are together). It's a movie that trades on our nostalgia for old-school Hollywood glamour while also trying to deliver the same type of vicarious thrills those movies were trying to deliver while, for good measure, carrying a sociopolitical message you're more than welcomed to ignore. Like Cecil B. DeMille with "The Ten Commandments," Fassbinder left this world with his best work preceding him and just as Armin Mueller-Stahl, fresh from stealing "Lola," came on board to join his troupe of regulars as Veronika's real-and/or-idealized screenwriting hubby.

Having watched The "BRD" Trilogy back-to-back (and barely getting through a small sample of the generous package of Criterion supplements) I can't emphasize enough how much you get from these movies if they're watched as a trilogy instead of individually. And not just because having Günther Kaufmann walking or just being in a scene for no apparent reason (more in "Lola" and particularly in "Veronika Voss," since the black soldier Günther plays in "Maria Braun" is an actual character) is one continuous thread of surreal narrative linking all these movies together. The different styles of stories being told, different cinematography techniques, Fassbinder's regular troupe of actors switching roles around (Ivan Desny, Hark Bohm, etc.) are all like a three-film crash course in watching a filmmaker be both an 'auteur' (Fassbinder's imprints and personal touches can be felt even in the opening/closing credit layouts) and a practical-enough man to let others do the stuff he himself wasn't good at or interested in doing. And hey, nice to see the type of semi-contemporary old school movie that inspired Soderbergh and Clooney to make "The Good German" back in 2006.

NEXT TRILOGY ON TAP: Pier Paolo Pasolini's TRILOGY OF LIFE.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Mon Apr 29, 2013 3:16 pm

Andrey Tarkovsky's ANDREI RUBLEV (1966) in 35mm at Anthology Film Archives for the first time. I went into the theater pumped to see this and was eager-beaver as the film started. The opening moments with the balloon flight were awesome and establish early the 'gravity-defying neutral POV' angles that would come in stronger in the movie's 2nd half. Then suddenly "Andrei Rublev" got excrutiating, dull, pretentious and boring, like instantly, to the point that I don't remember anything but odd flashes/images and scenes from the first two hours. I don't remember falling asleep, at all, but I must have because other patrons around me were giving me some mean looks (and I'm a heavy snorer). Either that or the movie just put me in a coma-like trance or something for two hours. During the 10 min. intermission I seriously considered leaving because I was mentally trying to recap the movie's plot/characters and I was coming empty about most of anything except the balloon flight and the jester with the exposed derriere. Glad I stuck for the 2nd half though, even though Anatoliy Solonitsyn makes for a charisma-free leading man (even if its on purpose). The invasion of the town of Vladimir and the plight of young Boriska (Nikolay Burlyaev) constructing the big bell with other villagers (with a segment in-between involving Irma Raush as a dumb mute girl) were some awe-inspiring, they-don't-make-movies-like-this cinematic moments. I was actually tense as hell wondering whether that bell was going to ring or not. It was also refreshing to see a biopic about an artist that skews the expected tropes (except perhaps the 'lowest moment in his life' chestnut, which for Andrei would be pretty much of the 2nd half before the color montage of Rublev's classic paintings at the end) and doesn't show Andrei lifting a finger to paint but instead shows the state of life surrounding him that inspired the self-repressed artiste to paint again. Nikolai Sergeyev almost steals the movie as Theopanes, especially during the post-attack-by-the-Tarts "conversation" with Andrei at the burned-out cathedral. I really need to see this again to try and piece together what is it about the first two hours of the movie that I either saw and forgot immediately or knocked me cold, but all I have access to is the non-anamorphic decades-old Criterion DVD (yuck). On the strength of the 2nd half of it though "Andrei Rublev" is making me wondering why I haven't gotten around to opening the "Ivan's Childhood" DVD and "Solaris" Blu-ray sitting on my skyscraper-tall kevyip pile.

Pier Paolo Pasolini's THE DECAMERON (1971) on Criterion Blu-ray for the first time. The first entry in Pasolini's unusually-cheery trilogy of literary tales with erotic undertones, "The Decameron" is also the tamest (only an 'R' rating vs. the sequels' 'X'/'NC-17' rating, though an 'R' went a lot further in '71) and the one that establishes a unifying structure (Pasolini himself playing a painter) linking its disparate stories of medieval love, lust, church morality and all-around chicanery. Also established is the lack of transition from one cinematic vignette to the next, which is at first a little confusing because the unifying tale of the Naples painter doesn't start in earnest until the movie's halfway mark. The first tale, about a dumb-witted young man named Andreuccio (Ninetto Davoli, whose face you'll get to see throughout the trilogy along with many regulars) that gets dragged into the s*** (literally) and winds up entombed, sets the stage. Occasionally Pasolini throws a curve, like the story of a young couple of kids in love (Ricardo and Caterina) that doesn't end up like you'd expect when the young girls' parents catch them 'in fraganti.' The rather-touching and eventually-morbid tale of the love between peasant Lorenzo and rich girl Lisabetta, whose brothers disapprove of the Sicilian youth's affection for their sister, is my favorite of these first batch of tales. Eroticism sometimes goes hand-in-hand with social critique, usually directed at the church but mostly at society's hypocritical double-standards of men toward women. The movie's final line (uttered by Pasolini's painter character), 'why complete a work when it's so beautiful to just dream it?', both sets-up the continuation of the trilogy and speaks to a true artist's desire to always leave a little something left to the wanting (an idea that George Lucas, sadly, has taken to an extreme).

THE CANTERBURY TALES (1972) on Criterion Blu-ray for the first time. This middle-installment of Pasolini's Trilogy of Life finds Pier Paolo casting himself as author Geoffrey Chaucer writing the stories we're witnessing (and, in a cute self-referential moment, reading "The Decameron"). It's an improvement over "The Decameron's" randomness but isn't exactly cinematic excellence to see Pier Paolo's mug grinning as he dreams-up the closing tale of the book/movie before signing off. This outrageous vision of a friar being led through hell is cinematically daring though, closes the movie on a huge high and needs to be seen to be believed. :o Some of the stories in "The Canterbury Tales" have an edge and a point more significant than just eroticism or nudity, like the one about two gay men that end on different ends of a burning pyre due to their class position. More than in any of the three movies though, here Pasolini's goes for and aims mostly for the low-brow, burlesque-showmanship of an 'artiste' thrilled to have works of high-class art on the same frame as a well-aimed fart to the face or a Keystone Cops-worthy sped-up physical gag. From four-time widow Alice's push for marriage with much-younger Jenkin (why have separate wedding/funeral ceremonies when you can do a twofer? :D) to an older king taking a much younger bride getting more than he bargained for when he goes blind, or from the smart-ass students trying to put one over the school's old miller to the wolfpack of youths that turn on each other when an abandoned pile of treasures is found, "The Canterbury Tales" hits as much as it misses but is never dull or uninteresting. Seeing familiar English faces alongside returning Pasolini regulars like Ninetto Davoli (Andreuccio in "The Decameron") and Franco Citti (who looks like Willem Dafoe), plus the change of pace of seeing the actual British countryside and hearing English dialogue mixed with the dubbed Italian, give all these small mini-tales a charm and consistency they'd lack without the consistent vision of Pasolini at the helm.

ARABIAN NIGHTS (1974) on Criterion Blu-ray for the first time. The most exotic, fantastic and guilt-free (i.e. no religious authority figures in sight) of Pasolini's erotic literary tales, "Arabian Nights" closes his Trilogy of Life by toning down the outrageous vulgarity of the previous two films while aiming for naturalistic/idealized romanticism that still maintainins a steady stream of female and male nudity. It also, finally, adds a satisfying and well-structured through line that links the different tales/characters in the form of a main story between Nur Ed Din (Franco Merli) and his "slave" Zumurrud (the gorgeous Ines Pellegrini) that results in repeating gags (the 'cursed rice') and a satisfying payoff. Pasolini's regular troupe of Italian actors are back but really stick out among the locals in the exotic shooting locations (Ethiopia, Iraq, etc.). Franco Citti, again, stands out as a Willem Dafoe doppelganger that here happens to fly ass-backwards (think "Puma Man") and turn the runaway son of a king that slept with his imprisoned-in-an-underground-tomb daughter of a different king into a monkey with neat penmanship... don't ask. And, as in "The Decameron" and "Canterbury Tales," Ninetto Davoli gets the most visible and plum of the small-but-key supporting roles as Aziz, a foolish young man who doesn't appreciate what he has in his cousin Aziza (Tessa Bouché) and instead chases after the erotic dragon that turns out to be a man-hating princess (Abadit Ghidei). The special effects (green screen work that "Birdemic 2" would be ashamed to use) and miniature shots (particularly when Prince Yunan confronts a gold plated knight in his island) are poor, but they're tolerable given the scope of the stories being told and the location photography bringing the costumes and sets by Dante Ferretti to amazing life. Only Ennio Morricone's score, unlike the two previous movies, doesn't seem to stand out and is quietly, almost subservient, laying down while the movie walks all over it.

Considering how angry and downbeat most of Pasolini's other cinematic work reflects his own personal POV (particularly with "Salo's" primal scream of frustration being the unexpected final word on Pier Paolo's cinematic oeuvre) it was nice to see three movies that mostly celebrated love, the human body and both the heights of medieval culture and the rowdiness of lower-class, "South Park"-caliber toilet humor (long before there were even toilets for commoners). A high point of the 70's erotic art house scene, Pasolini's Trilogy of Life gets better as it goes along and is as un-PC and in-your-face vulgar as it is silly, smart, high-brow and erotic as all heck.

LAST TRILOGY ON TAP: Krzysztof Kieslowski's THREE COLORS TRILOGY.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby mavrach » Wed May 01, 2013 5:26 am

Blue Valentine - I'd avoided it because I thought it might be depressing, and the marriage ending story would hit a little close to home. It does tell a sad story, but manages to be engaging instead of depressing. Some interesting direction via handheld camerawork gives the movie a realistic feel. I'd recommend it.

Lars and the Real Girl - This one started to lose my attention by the midway point, but you get a sweet story of a town coming together to help an introvert who's treated a life-size doll as if it were a real person. While this sounds like a comedy, it's more serious than you'd expect. And I have to give Ryan Gosling some credit because between this and Blue Valentine, he has some amazing range. I couldn't beleive he was able to summon such emotions towards a doll.

Finally saw Skyfall, and I loved it as much as I expected to. They've successfully taken the core James Bond movie and modernized it with today's themes and expected intensity. Between this and No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem is a terrifying villain who I'm afraid of what he will do next. I love how they've incorporated M into the primary story arc, and it gives the characters a continuity that doesn't require you to rewatch every single Bond movie. And as I've said before, I stand by the fan theory that each actor is a seperate secret agent that separately holds the code name of "James Bond."

Being John Malkovich - One of my top 5 movies at this point. Leave it to Charlie Kaufman to write a dead-serious drama (or very dark comedy) about a subject so impressively ridiculous that I have no idea how the hell he came up with it. John Cusack and Cameron Diaz both go way against type, and it's so awesome that Malkovich accepted since the scritp was only made with him in mind.

Warrior
- My second viewing. I can see this one becoming a comfort title for me. This is the kind of movie I would have watched as a kid, but made mature enough for me as an adult. I know if I try to rewatch Bloodsport today, I will walk away disappointed and a small part of my childhood will die. But now I have Warrior, a movie that's still about a martial arts tournament, but the characters are taken seriously and the subject matter is dark and intense enough to support their motivations.

Argo - I quite enjoyed this, much more than I'd expected to. For some reason I thought it would be dryer and more procedural, but I got an easy but fluid pace. The movie wasn't afraid to be fun either. For a Best Picture winner, I didn't expect to straight up have fun with it, while still saying what it had to say. Also you can now call me a fan of Affleck's (I liked The Town but haven't yet seen Gone Baby Gone), and I'm happy that he's finally found his place in Hollywood after prior floundering.

Unstoppable - 2nd viewing. This one is insanely fun, a disaster movie that doesn't fall in with most of the genre's entries. I've said this before, but I assumed this would be garbage, but Tony Scott at full blast saves it, and Denzel Washington brings a presence to a character that I don't think I would've cared about otherwise.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Ash22 » Wed May 01, 2013 3:55 pm

Skyfall - the movie is great and Bardem is very meancing and probably ranks in the top five of villains in the series.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Wed May 01, 2013 7:06 pm

Jean-Pierre Melville's LE CERCLE ROUGE (1970) on Blu-ray for the first time. A taught, tense and excellent heist movie/character drama with that detached-but-cool top-notch Melville touch. The paths of Alain Delon's out-of-prison mob robber Corey (think Jeff from "Le Samourai" as a pimping 'stache-wearing cool mofo), Gian Maria Volonté's prisoner on the run Vogel and Yves Montand's down-in-the-dumps alcoholic ex-cop Jansen (whose hallucinations would give Sammy Rice's in "The Small Back Room" a run for the 'WTF!' title) intersect by chance with those of police inspector Mattei (André Bourvil, looking like a classier Tom Poston), who initially is after just Vogel for escaping from his custody. 'Nothing can change a man's basic nature' says an Internal Affairs superior of Mattei's, and "Le cercle rouge" takes its sweet time (140 min. worth) watching these men go about their criminal ways with all the cool and collected presence of professionals. The sequence where Mattei uses the teenage son of a known underworld contact to turn the latter into an informant is both breathtaking and an honest-to-goodness great character beat, showing Mattei being more bad-ass than his cats at home routine would let one believe. The first face-to-face meeting between Corey and Vogel is the Melville movie equivalent of first cute meet in an American romantic comedy, a point underlined by the literal two-dimensional portrayal of women as background objects not worth more than a casual thought. The lengthy and silent heist sequence is golden (no words uttered, not a camera shot or movement wasted) and the finale, though somewhat predictable given the genre, satisfies and closes "the circle" with aplomb. Melville's next-to-last movie easily ranks among his best.

Krzysztof Kieslowski's THREE COLORS: BLUE (1993) on Blu-ray for the first time. I wasn't crazy about "The Double Life of Veronique" when I first saw it a few months back, and was afraid that Kieslowski was basically going to repeat "Veronique" three more times. Holy shit, was I wrong! Not only is this a great trio of movies that work and stand on their own that don't outstay their welcome or are esoteric-beyond-comprehension (i.e. pretentious), but "Three Colors" also has a galaxy of human emotions contained within its carefully-observed and meticulously-crafted frames, cinematography, music and lead actors. "Blue" is almost as good as "Red" in both being accessible while also deeply abstract, but the amazing lead performance by Juliette Binoche (the best actor in three packed-with-talent casts) is the movie's best asset to lead many a not-quite-with-at-at-the-start viewers through the wilderness. The 'woman trying to rebuild her life after tragedy strikes her family' thing has been done many times before and since, but Binoche's face (or the frame lighting-up in blueish hues as musical inspiration strikes her) is both enigmatic, puzzling and bizarrely relatable as she both attempts to isolate herself from old memories and then, tentatively, reconnects with pieces of her previous life that she both knew and wasn't aware of (I'm trying to be spoiler-free here). The first time the camera fades to black on Julie Vignon's face as Zbigniew Preisner's operatic scores swells in volume (shades of "Veronique"), then fades back to a continuation of the same dramatic scene on Julie's face as if nothing had just happened (like a musical), I couldn't help but laugh at the audacity of Kieslowski's mise en scène. By the 2nd and 3rd time this happened though I wasn't laughing anymore, as it became clear these were transitional moments in which Julie's decisions (assuming they weren't already made for her by something neither we or Kieslowski understands) would alter both her life and the lives of those around her. If there are any major flaws in "Blue" is that the remaining actors in the cast (particularly Benoît Régent's Oliver and Charlotte Véry's Lucille) aren't anywhere in the galaxy of awesome that Juliette Binoche brings to the title role, except for a handful of scenes in which Julie confronts someone (Florence Pernel) from her husband's past. Also, for all the hype about the names/colors symbolizing the French flag, the color integration isn't as elegant and subtle in "Blue" as it is in "White" (where you don't even notice it) or "Red" (visible throughout but never a distraction) and some startling on-camera mistakes (check out that boom mike at 1:27:50) seem uncharacteristic for a craftsman of Kieslowski's pedigree. An amazing and moving film, a strong start to a strong franchise.

THREE COLORS: WHITE (1994) on Blu-ray for the first time. As a big fan of the warped and f***ed-up sense of humor from Eastern European filmmakers like Dusan Makavejev, Emir Kusturica, Andrzej Zulawski and young Milos Forman (to name a few) it pleased me greatly that "White" takes an early and decisive detour toward the bizarre socially-conscious comedic school of Eastern Europe while retaining Kieslowski's unifying visions of fate, destiny and lyrical romanticism. Zbigniew Zamachowski's Karol and a baby-faced Julie Delpy (one of the few actors that became stars from their "Three Colors" exposure) as Dominique are Polish immigrants living in Paris whose fortunes and affection for one another drift apart, prompting Karol to plot a return trip to the homeland with the help of fellow Pollack-in-exile Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos, who steals the movie without us or the leads initially aware that he's doing it). As the most fantastical and over-the-top romantic installment of the trilogy ("Red" and "Blue" are fine but, God bless them, take themselves way too seriously to barely crack a smile or two) "White" boils down to Karol Karol's rags-to-riches quest to get the upper hand over her pretty wife, whom Karol knows (or wishes?) still loves him. Think "Goodfellas" if the movie's tough guys were "Rocketeer" gangsters and the plot focused instead on young Henry trying to regain Karen's affection. Edward Klosinski's down-to-Earth cinematography (this is the movie that least show-offs its color gimmick even though it's the most consistent-with-its-namesake colored of the three) and Zbigniew Preisner's mostly-playful-except-when-it-matters musical score, a far cry from the operatic chants in "Blue" or "Veronique," gently guide the viewer from instances of gallows humor (an easy money work for Karol involving potential criminal activity) to heart-wrenching tears you didn't know "White" had earned until they come tumbling out. Zamachowski is so good at portraying Karol's 'babe in the woods' innocence that it sneaks-up on the viewer when, little by little at first and then suddenly, Karol's dark side and willingness to go through with his scheme take "White" (and Dominique) to some unexpected places. While it might seem like the slightest of the "Three Colors" movie (it's certainly not as ambitious or emotionally intimate as "Blue" and "Red") "White" is an enjoyable and fun romp, the perfect bridge between "Blue's" tragedy and "Red's" introspective meditations.

THREE COLORS: RED (1994) on Blu-ray for the first time. Krzysztof Kieslowski closes his "Three Colors" trilogy, his career and his life (he passed away a couple of years after "Red's" theatrical release) with the most abstract, introspective and gorgeous installment, a multiple-character meditation on the role (if any) human beings play in the fancy game of life, chance and fate that is to live and love in then-present day (or is it?) Europe. Opening with a bravura (and often-imitated since) sequence tracing the technology path of a phone call (the most eye-catching way Kieslowski could come up with to visualize his personal peeve about technology distancing people more than bringing them together) we're introduced to a young couple that, though talking and seemingly in love, aren't communicating. One of them, a Swedish model in Geneva named Valentine ("The Double Life of Veronique's" Irène Jacob), crosses path with an old retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) whose only means of communicating is spying on his neighbors' phone conversations. Parallel to Valentine's ongoing life there's an unknown-to-her neighbor, Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), whose life becomes linked with Valentine's and the judge's, even though chance/fate/destiny already has affected him by the listened-to phone conversations and (as it did the judge at a young age) by fallen books opening to a key written passage answering a yet-to-be-asked important question. The acting is a work of delicate art and the grace of composure, with Irène Jacob matching Juliette Binoche's turn in "Blue" and the growing emotional intimacy of their friendship reflected on Jean-Louis Trintignant's tired old face. Gorgeously shot by Piotr Sobocinski and with Zbigniew Preisner still delivering strong music (though mostly soft and subtle to suit the introspective mood) "Red" builds its thematic blocks carefully and with the subtle and overt skills of a master director at the helm (though, as with "Blue," a major on-camera blooper was left in the final cut at 14:50), including the re-appearance of the bottle-recycling old lady from before. Kieslowski goes for broke at the end of "Red" with a trilogy-unifying storytelling stunt that will separate the romanticist from the practical, the 'this couldn't really happen' realist from the 'why not?' idealist dreamer that has bought what Kieslowski is selling. I've said this already about Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Cecil B. DeMille but it bears repeating: if you're a filmmaker and you're going to go you might as well leave this would with your best movie. Or, in the case of Krzysztof Kieslowski, your best three. :cry:

And that's the end of TRILOGIES MONTH for me. And I'm spent! 8)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sat May 04, 2013 8:47 am

Alain Resnais' HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) on Criterion DVD for the first time. After watching this twice in a row (the 2nd time with Peter Cowie's commentary), going through all the bonus features and reading the 32-page booklet cover to cover, I still don't know what to make of this influential and often-imitated movie (everything from TV commercials to Krzysztof Kieslowski's entire 1990's output) that's part romance, part staged documentary and all-around moody self-reflective piece of literate filmmaking. Emmanuelle Riva, last seen on Michael Haneke's riveting "Amour," is a lovely face to stare at as a nameless French actress in then-present day Hiroshima to work on a "peace" film. When we meet her she's already in the arms of her lover (Eiji Okada) and engaged in a famous 'You don't know Hiroshima' exchange of quasi-philosophical platitudes set to 10 min. of real and staged footage of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombings. This tour de force opening by itself established Resnais as a director/editor with a distinct voice. Unlike most romantic movies in which a couple that is meant to be together starts apart from each other though, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" starts with its lovers at the peak of their intimacy (sexual as well as emotional). The bulk of the story deals their present-day situations and the woman's troubled memory of her first love back during World War II in her hometown of Nevers, France. But, from his juxtaposition of the then-ongoing trauma of a nearly-destroyed society with the seemingly-trivial-but-not-to-them anxiety of the lovers' unresolved situation (she's leaving the next day for France, never to come back) to the staging/positioning of actors to enhance their symmetry with their surroundings (something he would perfect two years later in "Last Year at Marienbad"), Resnais takes the literary cues from Marguerite Duras' screenplay and translates them into sounds, flashbacks and images that look like an unfolding piece of intellectual cinematic art. I was blown away when a slap in the face dramatic moment reveals that, for the previous 10 or so minutes I wasn't aware of, we didn't have background sound besides Emmanuelle's voice. Ditto for the 'talking to yourself' mirror scene, which many films have imitated since ("Evil Dead 2") but not with the artistic pedigree with which "Hiroshima Mon Amour" pulls it off.

I wish more weight and perspective had been given to Eiji's character (he's deliberately kept distant and foreign... in his own homeland!), but Resnais and Duras were clearly not interested in that and the focus on the French woman's perspective works well-enough as it is. I need to see this again to be sure I like it but its reputation is warranted: whether it is or it isn't French New Wave (I say it is, by proxy) "Hiroshima Mon Amour" is both classic and modern cinema at its finest.

Grant Heslov's THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (2009) on Blu-ray for the first time. Sandwiched between his co-writing/co-producing "Good Night, and Good Luck" in 2005 and winning an Academy Award this year for producing Best Picture winner "Argo," Grant Heslov took a crack at directing an adaptation of Ron Jonson's book account of a secret psychic military unit within the U.S. Army. Starring Heslov's pal George Clooney (who's clearly having a blast, especially during the early 80's flashback scenes when he gets to wear a silly-looking wig), Ewan McGregor (who pulls both an American accent and a deadpan impression of Jason Bateman rather well), Jeff Bridges in dialed-down "Big Lebowski" mode, Kevin Spacey and Stephen Lang (both good but not asked to so much) we learn, via flashbacks and present-day exposition scenes in the early days of the Iraq War, that after the Vietnam War experience the military was willing to experiment with any idea. Though exaggerated for comedic effect (stick through the credits to read the more-detailed-than-usual disclaimer at the end) the creation of the New Earth Army battalion, its experiments, unorthodox methods, rise and fall within the Army and eventual connection into the Iraqi adventures of Bob Wilton (McGregor's character) and Lyn Cassady (Clooney) are played mostly straight-faced. This enhances the lunacy of the premise and loopy narrative with a handful of big laughs ('I just saw Timothy Leary', Robert Patrick's cameo, etc.), which don't make-up for the fact "The Men Who Stare at Goats" isn't as ridiculous or funny as it (and Rolf Kent's soundtrack) thinks it is. Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan run out of gas about 20 min. before the movie ends on a 'F*** you 'Dubya' uplifting-for-liberals note that pushes an already-stretched-thin comedy deep into sanctimoniousness. Happy I saw this but Clooney and Heslov have done much better work together elsewhere ("The Ides of March"), though they've also done worse ("Leatherheads").
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Polynikes » Sun May 05, 2013 3:32 pm

Inception (2010). I am surprised at the rave reviews given to this. Having been very disappointed by The Prestige, I found Inception better, but it had the same flaw of starting with an interesting idea (albeit one that has been explored extensively in literature and film), but neither developing it well, nor explaining it convincingly, nor drawing interesting characters. The special effects were excellent, but this does not entirely make up for the wooly/feeble/fanciful explanations and inconsistencies lying behind the basic idea of inserting oneself into someone else's dream. ( One example is SPOILER the concept of "limbo", from which you may/may not escape by waking up/not waking up or by dying/not dying and leaving your brain as mush/undamaged). Apologies for my usual rant which now follows: it is such a pity that modern blockbusters appear happy to invest tens of millions of dollars in special effects, but presumably are paying the screenwriters a pittance, as the plots appear to have been hastily scribbled on one side of A4 (e.g. Avatar).
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Wed May 08, 2013 6:14 pm

Now this is what I call a nutritious and balanced meal. 8)

Buster Keaton's STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) on TCM-HD for the first time. Keaton's last great silent epic (with a capital 'E') before his downward spiral through MGM contracts and alcoholism dragged him down, "Stamboat Bill, Jr." starts slow but by the amazing final act it's every bit as amazing and intense to watch as "The General." Buster plays the athletic but bumbling (what else?) stranged son of a steamboat captain (Ernest Torrence, who looks like James Best' grandfather), who is having difficulty competing with the money and newer, bigger boat from local bigshot J.J. King (Tom McGuire). The fact Keaton's character is in love with King's daughter (Marion Byron) complicates things not only between the lovebirds but their fathers, who'd rather stump the other out of existence than let their offspring date their own. Before the big finale unfolds "Steamboat Bill, Jr." has a thread of pathos going as the macho William Canfield patriarch has no patience for Junior's silly (i.e. effeminate) way of being, a not-subtle commentary of rural folks' perceptions of people from big cities like Boston. Alas, when the tornado hits and walls, buildings, trees, boats and cars begin flying or collapsing all around Keaton the movie becomes one money shot (wall falling on Keaton in the window spot, a gag so amazing it's lived through innumerable tributes in other movies and cartoons), after money shot (the tree flying) after money shot (Buster jumping from one deck to another of a three-story boat) after... etc. Like the earthquake in 1936's "San Francisco," the final act of "Steamboat Bill, Jr." and Keaton's amazing athleticism and gags steal the attention and elevate an otherwise-average silent movie into something special. I haven't laughed harder than when an expected punch in the face lands... below the Mason-Dixon line. :lol:

Rewatched Robert Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY (1955) on Criterion Blu-ray with the Alain Silver/James Ursini commentary track on. My opinion hasn't changed from the last time I saw this three months ago: average-at-best for its first two thirds, great third act (which saves the movie), Meeker is miscast, damn the Hays code, etc. Kudos to Silver and Ursini for gushing and putting the flick in perspective, but "Kiss Me Deadly" still hasn't worked its magic on me. Maybe after I get a few more Aldrich movies under my belt.

Rewatched Jean-Pierre Melville's LE DOULOS (1962) on Criterion DVD. I first saw this movie almost four years ago and, with more maturity, cinephile know-how and more Melville pictures under my belt, "Le Doulos" is much, much better than I remembered. Not to excuse the misogyny on display here against the female characters (poor Thérèse), but damn if lines like 'I hope you don't mind me telling you I beat her unconscious' and 'make me a sandwich' coming from these Melvillian characters isn't politically incorrect and uncomfortably hilarious. The plot is a beautiful thing to see unfold (think "Yojimbo" with unexpected double/triple twists) and Serge Reggiani, like Robert Forster after "Jackie Brown," gives such an amazingly layered performance as Maurice you wonder why it was ever difficult for this man to find acting work. And, while Jean-Paul Belmondo is still a cool mofo ("Léon Morin, Priest" is on top of my kevyip pile), after seeing "Le cercle rouge" and "Le Samouraï " it's hard not to think of Alain Delon as the quintessential Melville actor. Great flick, the late spark that set off Melville's last wave of crime pics (and "Army of Shadows").

Rewatched Alain Resnais' LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1962) on Criterion Blu-ray. Fresh off my thorough recent viewings of "Hiroshima Mon Amour" I dove back into the perpetual mystery that is Resnais' spiritual follow-up to "HMA" (though obvious interpretations of what "Marienbad" means make repeat viewings an exercise in mise en scène appreciation). I loved noticing that, at the start of "Marienbad," there are other couples at the hotel engaged in their own private (fragmented to us) elliptical conversations before we settle on 'A' (Delphine Seyrig) and 'X' (Giorgio Albertazzi). This gives credence to my opinion all along that this whole movie takes place in a purgatory of-sorts for intellectuals, and that we're only privy to one of many similar 'personal hell for someone' going on. The enigmatic 'M' (Sacha Pitoëff and his unforgettable face) keeps 'A' imprisoned while 'X' tries to get through to her. Or does 'M' not imprison but enforce? It all adds up to nothing or everything we, as viewers, care to invest into "Marienbad," but it's never a dull ride. The B&W photography, set design, performances by the leads and pace are a work of art in motion, especially in the now-OOP Criterion Blu-ray package. :(

Rewatched David Cronenberg's RABID (1976) on DVD with the commentary track on. Did you know that the city under siege scenes in the 2nd half of "Rabid" were inspired by the 'October Crisis' in Montral in 1970, when Martial Law was declared by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau after the kidnapping of two government officials? No? I know, I know, who gives a flying f***? Cronenberg obviously did as the memory of reading about these events while living abroad in France weighed heavily on his mind when, with a bigger budget than he had before (i.e. the $10.43 Canadian it cost to slap together "Shivers"), he staged his own version of a city under the siege of an ongoing epidemic caused by an armpit penis-penetrating Marilyn Chambers. But wait, she's not evil! She's just a "victim of soicumstance" (doink!). As "Fast Company" has proven and "Rabid" reinforces, you can be a bad and/or schlocky David Cronenberg movie but the man never fails to give great, insightful commentary on his own work. Are you listening Spielberg? DePalma?

Rewatched Krzysztof Kieslowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991) on Criterion Blu-ray with Annette Insdorf's commentary track on. I have to confess again, like I did in January, that I wasn't prepared for "Double Life of Veronique" when I first saw it and it left me cold. Now, after recently going through Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy, rewatching it with the commentary track (which is mostly useless as Insdorf states obvious things we can see/hear for ourselves) and "getting it," I appreciate "Veronique" more for what it is than what I wanted it to be, whatever that was, the first time I saw it. I still can't fall under the movie's spell completely (nothing against Irène Jacob, but she's no Juliette Binoche) and it all feels like Kieslowski & Co. warming up for their work on "Blue." Zbigniew Preisner's operatic score is magnificent as ever though, and Slawomir Idziak's cinematography is as much a thing of beauty as Jacob's face and, ahem, assets. Kieslowski is growing on me, so maybe in due time "Veronique" will cast its spell on me. Not yet though, not yet.

David Fincher's PANIC ROOM (2002) on Superbit DVD for the first time. Why make a simple B movie about the home invasion when you're David Fincher? If you can afford to doll-up the tracking shots between floors, through air vents, in-between walls and all over a NYC brownstone with seamless CGI effects (or noticeable one's like the opening credits), why not spend Columbia/Sony's dough even if it all adds up to... not much? Dwight Yoakam with his face covered by a mask is easily the best special effect about "Panic Room," an amoral criminal who clearly doesn't give a golden turd about anyone but himself and getting what he came for even if he doesn't know what it is. I know the mask is a special effect because, when it eventually comes off (SPOILER... oops, too late! ;-)), Yoakam becomes as annoying and generic a movie bad guy as Jared Leto. Forest Whitaker is OK but hey, he's Ghost Dog! What happened to your code of ethics, "dog"? :? Jodie Foster and a very young Kristen Stewart are fine as mother and daughter, and the whole movie is a fine cinematic exercise in creating tension out of a single location which we don't leave for the duration of the film. "Panic Room" is the vanilla ice cream flavor of Fincher's filmography: tastes fine and gives you a taste of what the man does best (spend "mucho" studio money into cool-but-unnecessary SFX shots), but there's too much polish over a story and characters that feel as perfunctory as seeing the crew/actors' names so high and mighty over NYC skyscraper walls.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Kenneth Morgan » Sun May 12, 2013 7:47 pm

Saw "Iron Man 3" today. I thought it was good. The acting was OK (especially Robert Downey Jr. and Ben Kingsley), the script had some twists I didn't see coming, and the stinger was worth waiting for. It does run a bit long, though.

I did notice one thing beforehand. They ran the trailers for "Star Trek Into Darkness", "The Lone Ranger" and the sequels to "Thor", "Hunger Games" and "Fast & the Furious". It was like I was watching the same trailer five times; they all looked exactly alike. I have no idea if the movies they're pushing are/will be that generic, but they didn't really excite me. About all I can say is that it appears the makers of "The Lone Ranger" ignored everything about the original radio show and made a movie that looks...well, awful. But that's just my first impression.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sun May 12, 2013 8:05 pm

LOONEY TUNES (1948-1957) in 35mm at Brooklyn Academy of Music. 14 Looney Tunes shorts, ranging from flat-out masterpieces (1950's "A Fractured Leghorn," 1957's "Zoom and Bored," etc.) to OK-at-best-but-still-iconic one's (1954's "Dr. Jekyl's Hide," 1952's "Rabbit's Kin," etc.), unfolded into a jam-packed theater full of either grown-ups or parents with boisterous children. I was sitting between (a) a couple in their 30's that, like me, were laughing and enjoying all the meant-for-adults puns and jokes that were going over the childrens' heads, and (b) a 2-2 1/2 year old on her father's lap that covered herself with a rain poncho when scary stuff (like the bees inside Papa Bear's sandwich in 1949's "The Bee-Deviled Bruin" showed their eyes) made her cry. At one point in the middle of the run, when the memorable "Looney Tunes" opening and ending music was happening, I turned to the guy next to me (not the one with the kid in his lap) and said 'I don't want this to end, ever' and he replied 'me neither.' That's a pretty good summary of how much fun it was to be around children and become one while watching "Looney Tunes" cartoons in a movie theater on a rainy Saturday morning in Gotham.

Rewatched Stanley Donen's CHARADE (1963) on Criterion Blu-ray. Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone, old school Hollywood pros, provide a great commentary full of fun production anecdotes, behind-the-scenes stories and even gossip (who was Alain Delon having an affair with at the Swiss hotel Donen & Co. were shooting at?). The movie is still a fun and peppy romp, a romantic adventure that's pleasant enough (nowhere near the masterpiece Donen and Stone make it out to be) to make you wish Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant had made more movies together.

Ingmar Bergman's SHAME (1968) on DVD for the first time. This war film is an unusually big production and quite angry (on a larger scale than his usual handful of characters with inner-conflicts) for a Bergman movie. A small island (not unlike the one Bergman lived in) becomes a military hot spot for an ongoing (fictitious) military armed conflict. "Shame" focuses on how this war brings the worst in the local people living there, specifically testing the relationship of a married couple whose political ignorance of who is who (Bergman deliberately keeps the armed conflict, soldiers and allegiances murky) makes the downfall of their routine life all the more startling. The gorgeous Liv Ullmann's portrayal of Eva Rosenberg delivers one her best performances; the camera lingers on Eva's quizzical face longer than it should, but we don't mind because we'd like to know what's going on behind those eyes. Liv's performance is matched by Max von Sydow's as Eva's henpecked hubby Jan, whose shy and meek demeanor gives way after one too many put downs and humiliations into a personality that Jan is not sure she loves or wishes to be with any longer. Bergman's other regulars (Gunnar Björnstrand as a colonel, Ulf Johansson as a loopy army doctor, etc.) are also on hand, with Sigge Fürst standing out as a local that uses his connections to spare Eva and Jan from hardship so he can take advantage of the former. Shot in gorgeous B&W by Sven Nykvist, "Shame" both stands out and perfectly fits within Bergman's other work from the era.

Rewatched David Cronenberg's SHIVERS (1975) on DVD. I've seen this movie twice in the past 10 years, the last time five years ago when I happened to catch it on cable. I'm on a huge Cronenberg kick right now (a theatrical screening of "Crash" is coming to town soon) and really wanted to see "Shivers" again. With no quality Blu-ray in the horizon and my streaming options limited I tracked down the 15 year-old Image DVD that's out of print on amazon. It cost me quite a few pennies (some of which hopefully ended up on the Verdict's coffers) but everything I said in '04 (click link above) still applies. The transfer is soft and uneven, but a movie like "Shivers" actually benefits from not being sharp and in high-def for that grindhouse dirty look to work.

Maurice Pialat's UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN (1987) in 35mm at BAM for the first time. This controversial Palm d'Or winner at Cannes (where it got roundly booed) walks the fine line between philosophical existentialism and nihilistic boredom, enough to make even the most patient viewer give up. I went in excited (as I am every time I see a new-to-me Pialat movie) and came away both glad that I'd seen it and grateful I'd never have to think about or see this movie ever again after I write this paragraph. Pialat acquits himself admirably as a priest that councils and guides fellow priest Donissan (a miscast Gérard Depardieu) who is having a crisis of conscience after an encounter with a peasant that may or may not be Satan himself. Think Satan tempting Christ while the former was fasting in the desert, except with a fat French actor pretending to be a priest instead of the Son of God. Between this encounter and Donissan's run-in with an erratic teenage girl (Sandrine Bonnaire) that may have killed one of her many lovers the priest sincerely believes that Satan has won over, and he and the church are on the losing end of an endless battle. Late into the movie Pialat tries to play an "Ordet"-type card to redeem Donissan, but this only succeeds in making "Under the Sun of Satan" look like the half-baked Carl Theodor Dreyer wannabe film that it is. Disappointing.

BIRTH (2004) on DVD for the first time. Is 10-year old Sean (Cameron Bright) the re-incarnated husband of Anna (Nicole Kidman), whose 10 years as a widow are about to end with her impending marriage to fiancée Joseph (Danny Huston)? Other than sexually explicit scenes "Birth" feels like it could have been made in the 40's and 50's by King Vidor. Set in the posh world of Manhattan upper-class professionals (with a couple of trips to Sean's humble outer-borough home and public school), co-writer/director Jonathan Glazer ("Sexy Beast") and his actors (including Lauren Bacall as Anna's mother) treat the premise with the utmost seriousness except for a couple of well-timed, tension-diffusing moments ('How is Mr. Reincarnation enjoying his cake?'). Kidman, sporting a ginger page haircut and voice affect that makes Anna seem slightly childish for her age, carries the weight of "Birth's" premise (and more risque, taboo-pushing scenes) working since the movie sinks or swims on whether we believe Anna believes young Sean (played exceedingly well by young Cameron) is her dead husband. A slow zoom-in close-up of Anna's face at the opera with her inner mind trying to process what is happening (matched by a similar shot of Joseph near a window) are "Birth's" highlights, along with Alexandre Desplat's 'fairy tale gone slightly askew' soundtrack. Ultimately, paraphrasing what a co-worker of mine is fond of saying, "Birth" is a movie about well-to-do white people having first world problems.

COMING NEXT WEEK: OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU WEEK. Seven days, seven bad-ass kung fu flicks. 8)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Mach6 » Tue May 14, 2013 4:43 am

Kenneth Morgan wrote:I did notice one thing beforehand. They ran the trailers for "Star Trek Into Darkness", "The Lone Ranger" and the sequels to "Thor", "Hunger Games" and "Fast & the Furious". It was like I was watching the same trailer five times; they all looked exactly alike. I have no idea if the movies they're pushing are/will be that generic, but they didn't really excite me. About all I can say is that it appears the makers of "The Lone Ranger" ignored everything about the original radio show and made a movie that looks...well, awful. But that's just my first impression.

Amen on that Kenneth. I saw Iron Man 3 & got all the same trailers except for The Hunger Games sequel (I got the Man of Steel trailer instead). They all feel (except for Man of Steel) to have the same editor, music, & get louder & louder by every second. (How many trailers have featured the theme music from Drive?) Does every big blockbuster movie trailer have to feature the main hero/heroes jumping off from some high place (skyscrapers, mountain cliffs, etc.) to fall to their apparent death? Fast Six, Star Trek, & even earlier this year in Die Hard 5 feature this 2-3 times in their trailers. I guess that has replaced the cool hero walking away from an explosion & not looking back as the #1 action movie cliché.

As for The Lone Ranger, the trailer looked promising to me, but I’m waiting for the reviews to see what type of Johnny Depp performance we get. If it’s another one of his wacky look-at-me Alice in Wonderland, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard efforts, I won’t even bother to rent it.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Gabriel Girard » Tue May 14, 2013 1:13 pm

J.M. Vargas wrote:Rewatched David Cronenberg's RABID (1976) on DVD Did you know that the city under siege scenes in the 2nd half of "Rabid" were inspired by the 'October Crisis' in Montral in 1970, when Martial Law was declared by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau after the kidnapping of two government officials?


yes I did. ;-)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Tue May 14, 2013 1:47 pm

^^^ It was a rethorical questions since 50% of people that have seen "Rabid" aren't rotating co-hosts of "They Came From the North." ;-) :D
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Gabriel Girard » Tue May 14, 2013 5:16 pm

J.M. Vargas wrote:^^^ It was a rethorical questions since 50% of people that have seen "Rabid" aren't rotating co-hosts of "They Came From the North." ;-) :D


Hehe. BTW Kudos on watching Fassbinder's BRD trilogy. I own it, but I still haven't watched it, due to my viewing schedules being filled with TCFTN related viewings. Big Fassbinder fan though. I wish we would consecrate an episode to him, but I would probably end up doing that one by myself.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Wed May 15, 2013 8:48 am

^^^ I made the mistake of looking online what Criterion's BRD Trilogy Box Sets are selling for. I liked "Maria Braun" and "Veronika Voss" OK, but for that kind of dough I wish the BRD Trilogy had blown my skirt up a little more given what I "paid" for opening the box's shrink-wrap. :(
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Gabriel Girard » Wed May 15, 2013 9:07 am

J.M. Vargas wrote:^^^ I made the mistake of looking online what Criterion's BRD Trilogy Box Sets are selling for. I liked "Maria Braun" and "Veronika Voss" OK, but for that kind of dough I wish the BRD Trilogy had blown my skirt up a little more given what I "paid" for opening the box's shrink-wrap. :(


Stumbled upon it at a local used shop. Cost me 100$ - couldn't help myself.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sat May 18, 2013 8:22 am

Recently attended a weekend of old school kung fu movies at New York City's Anthology Film Archives, all shown in 35mm prints (except one). Here, from worst to best (IMO):

RED SPELL SPELLS RED (1983). More of a Filipino-like exploitation movie (even though it was made in Hong Kong), this NC-17 horror flick's worse sin is how dull and boring it is. It's the only film of the seven shown that didn't get a spontaneous applause reaction from the crowd when it ended. Ripping off "The Exorcist," "The Evil Dead" and Italian horror, "RSSR's" about a long-imprisoned Red Dwarf spirit wrecking vengeance when its freed from its entombed prison by a nosy TV crew on the locals and a female reporter (who foolishly stays behind while producer boyfriend returns to the mainland to be attacked by the possessed film footage) with scorpions and woods that come to life (i.e. tree branches shaken by off-camera crew members). It all ends on a ludicrous set with a torture wheel, an army of exorcist monks and enough TNT to stage one cool shot, filmed from way too many camera angles that we're shown over and over again. Did I mention the kung fu is minimal to non-existent? A giant piece of crap and a waste of perfectly fine celluloid that could have gone to better use, i.e. shoot an actual snuff film.

ANGEL TERMINATORS (1990). Even though it's sixth in quality of the seven movies I saw the entertainment value picks-up dramatically over "Red Spell Spells Red" from this point on. Even this 'girls with guns on auto-pilot' flick, an inferior knock off of every cool HK action movie from that era, has enough bad-ass shootouts and kung fu fights (not to mention a hell of a memorable final shot/ending) to earn some genuine applause at the end. Kenneth Tsang plays a triad boss that alternates between tender/loving and a real bastard, both to a lovely younger woman he met at a bar (Carrie Ng) and the female detectives (Kara Hui and Sharon Yeung) that forced him into a years-long exile from which he just returned. The plot is garbage, ripping off "The French Connection II" (drug addiction as means to torture/punish someone) and every John Woo cliche in the book, the budget non-existent and the acting passable at best. But man, when the action/fight scenes kick in and you see these actors and their stuntmen jump through windows, down street lamp posts and fall on their backs you can't help but get pumped. "Angel Terminators" is not an undiscovered gem as much as an unpolished diamond in the rough from a now-gone HK movie sub-genre that didn't last long.

THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977). The only movie shown dubbed in English instead of subtitled, this notorious 'Bruceploitation' flick about Bruce Lee (Siu-Lung Leung) fighting his way through the minions of hell to get back to the world of the living should be the mother of all so-bad-its-good unintentionally-hilarious kung fu flicks. But it isn't, not by a sped-up mile (though the 'Third Leg of Bruce' gag is probably worth the ticket price alone). Not only is the fight choreography severely lacking compared with the four better movies shown (read below) but, by going with iconic characters like "Clint Eastwood," Godfather, James Bond, Dracula, Emmanuelle and Popeye (who is the worst, mugging for camera attention and ultimately not saying or doing anything remotely funny) as the netherworld beings Bruce must either defeat or befriend, the filmmakers were clearly on the joke of what they were making. And nothing is worse than something thinking/acting like its funny and failing to live up to expectation. Still, the amount of crazy shit and it-had-to-be-accidental decent fight sequences (not to mention some gratuitous boob shots and an ending so fan-f***ing-fantastically demented it ends the movie on a huge high) put this slightly-ahead of the more-polished-but-not-as-entertaining "Angel Terminators."

SHAOLIN AND WU-TANG (1983). If the fight choreography in the actual movie had lived up to the montage during the opening credits (something my #2 movie actually pulls off) this would have ranked higher. As is though, this spiritual sequel to director/star Gordon Liu's "36th Chamber of Shaolin" is still a fun 'sit back and marvel' type of experience. For all the crazy plot complications that end up pitting ace students Hung Yung-Kit (Liu) and Chou Fong-Wu (Adam Feng) against each other so that an evil Lord (Wang Lung Wei) can steal their respective schools' fighting technique secrets and get rid of both of them, the real stars of the movie are the Shaolin Fist and Wu-Tang Sword techniques. Liu, along with his co-stars, fight choreographers and cameramen, manage to show on-screen the beauty and style of both fighting styles without coming across as preachy or didactic. It doesn't have as high a body count or is as much fun as the other films here, but "Shaolin and Wu-Tang" respects and takes its kung fu fighting scenes seriously-enough to sacrifice some (but not all) fun for a little more appreciation of the techniques on display.

BLOODY PARROT (1981). The most gratuitously violent & sexy release of this particular bunch (it was shown as a 'Secret Screening,' and the gimmick worked because the theater sold out which rarely happens at AFA), this notorious Shaw Brothers movie has a twisty plot too borderline-incomprehensible to explain. It didn't help that, like the screening of Cronenberg's "Shivers" that I attended in the same theater 10 years ago, there was a mix-up in the reels that made an already confusing movie an even bigger mind f*** than it already was. Director Shan Hua ("Soul of the Sword") throws a little bit of everything (wuxia, ghost story, demonic possession, zombie, cannibalism, nudity) and hired good fight choreographers to keep the narrative crackling along until, to be honest, things completely fall apart at the very end when it puts its cards on the table. Oh, but what a fun trip! Tony Liu and Pai Piao make for fine leading men (even if one of them isn't on-screen for too long) and God bless Liang Zhen Ni for not being uninhibited about her great-looking body (she's practically nude for the last act of the film). Like Hammer in its dying days when it went all pervy and explicit, the late 70's/early 80's output from the Shaw Brothers Studio (have you seen "Boxer's Omen"?) have the resources of an epic-on-a-small-scale production with the grindhouse mindset of envelope-pushing filmmakers. Come for the gratuitous T&A demonic rape, stay for the bloody parrot. :shock:

ODD COUPLE (1979). "The King of The Sword" (Sammo Hung) and "King of the Spear" (Chia Yung Liu) have spent years fighting to the death on regular duels, trying to prove once and for all to the other (by killing them I guess! :shock: :lol: ) that his weapon/skill set is the best. Since they're getting up in age the masters each take on a pupil (the same actors sans old man make-up, a neat gimmick that allows both to show-off their skills with both weapons) so that, ten years down the road, the rivalry can continue and break the string of ties the masters' duels have always ended with. But a student from both masters' past (Leung Ka-Yan) steps in with revenge plans of his own. Though definitely comedic in tone the display of old school kung fu technique and energetic fighting choreography in "Odd Couple" blew away every other movie in this festival... and that's just the opening credits! By the time we get to the final duel between the good guys and the big bad heavy you have more than gotten your money's worth, except the film is not done yet because there's still the unresolved matter of the pupils carrying on their masters' decades-old rivalry. F*** "Gladiator," this is the action masterpiece that stares at you midway through an amazing fight sequence and asks in an angry, quizzical voice 'Are you not entertained?'

SHAOLIN TEMPLE AGAINST LAMA (1980). It says something about how awesome (and numerous) the fight scenes and batshit the plot of this crazy Taiwanese movie are that it was my favorite film at AFA despite being the only one not shown in 35mm (16mm print only, but that only added to the grindhouse flavor). The budget is micro and the plot (prince returns from exile to find out an evil faction trying to take over his kingdom by pitting holdout martial art schools Shaolin Temple and Red Faction Lamas against one another) nothing out of the ordinary. There are at least 12 ball-busting action set pieces/fights that also throw in crazy shit (Persian assassins that tunnel through the ground like shark gophers) and acrobatic visible-wire work on top of that. Yes, the film undercranks constantly and often (think action scenes in early Connery Bond movies), but a sped-up good fight or action sequence is still a good scene regardless of how it looks (it adds to the charm actually). Alexander Lo Rei has a great screen presence as the prince, whose kung fu is matched by the evil snarl of Alan Chui's invincible body technique (minus the weak spot that the hero doesn't know about) with countless red shirts and some bad-ass henchmen standing between them for an inevitable final duel. The sum of all its disparate parts doesn't make "Shaolin Temple Against Lama" the best movie shown at the AFA festival ("Odd Couple" has better fight choreography, "Bloody Parrot" more production values, etc.), but for entertainment value each of its many individual elements (the crazy monk!) adds up to the most fun I had watching an old school kung fu flick all weekend long. 8)

* * * *

Bernardo Bertolucci's LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972) on MGM-HD for the first time. I knew that Marlon Brando's moribund career was revived by "The Godfather," but I had no idea until I saw this movie that Vito Corleone was only one of two amazing performances Brando gave in '72. As an American widow living in Paris that mourns the loss of his wife and has anonymous rough sex with a Parisian girl (Maria Schneider, who compensates for her lack of skill with a casual innocence and willingness to appear 'au naturel') in an empty apartment where they first meet, Brando's portrayal of a wounded man's psyche seeking solace by abandoning his emotions is simply an amazing piece of bravura acting. It's one of Brando's best performances I've seen. As notorious as the movie's sex scenes are (the infamous 'butter' scene actually bothered me more than I thought it would) my favorite scenes in "Last Tango in Paris" were Paul's casual conversation with both his wife's lover (Massimo Girotti) and his monologue to his dead wife's corpse, where Brando and Bertolucci show the range of the stories they're telling extend beyond just sex for sex's sake. "Last Tango in Paris" isn't perfect (the music by jazz great Gato Barbieri is just nails-on-chalkboard God awful, and Jean-Pierre Léaud strikes out as a Godard-meets-Truffaut New Wave-type filmmaker more in love with making movies than to the subject of them) but its a potent and still exciting piece of artistic erotic cinema. Those that haven't seen the movie condemn it for its treatment of the Jeanne character when in fact (and if you've seen the movie you know...SPOILERS FOLLOW) it's her that has the control at the end when the charade between Paul and Jeanne is over and they reveal their true selves. That's why the sex scenes for the first 85% had to be so one-sided toward Brando dominating, they set-up the downward spiral of both Paul and his relationship with Jeanne the moment he gives up the control that his anonymity empowered him with.

Rewatched Joe Dante's THE HOWLING (1981), INNERSPACE (1987) and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990) on DVD. Been on a Dante kick lately, so I listened to the commentary tracks on all three movies. Joe has a funny voice, is self-deprecating, tells great anecdotes and surrounds himself with both talkative actors (Dee Wallace for "Howling," Kevin McCarthy for "Innerspace," Zach Galligan for "Gremlins 2," etc.) and friends (producer Mike Finnell, actor Robert Picardo, etc.) that all seem to be having a grand time remembering these movies and meeting again to talk about them. Personally "The Howling" hasn't dated well (too much build-up for too little payoff; Landis' "Werewolf in London" did everything better plus it's funnier and zips along so much faster), "Innerspace" is an underrated 80's gem (with an equally underrated Jerry Goldsmith score and Martin Short's best movie role ever) and "Gremlins 2" is as pure a Dante movie as there will ever be (that ending!). Good times.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Mon May 27, 2013 2:12 am

Mikio Naruse's MOTHER (1952) on TCM for the first time. Narrated as flashback (though we never actually see the "present" in which the narration is unfolding) we watch a few years in the life of a struggling family in a small city in post-war Japan. Through the eyes of young teenage daughter Toshiko (Kyôko Kagawa) we watch how the family's matriarch (Kinuyo Tanaka) struggles with raising other family members' kids (much younger than Toshiko), unexpected deaths in the family and the financial hardships to keep a business afloat while caring for too many burdensome but loved children. Naruse, by '52 a master of the melodramatic women in domestic distress genre, isn't beyond piling on the sentimental tools of his trade to wring emotion from an audience (the soundtrack practically beatifies Tanaka whenever she holds her hand up to her chest). In "Mother" though the eccentric and colorful supporting cast (from the little kids to 'Uncle P.O.W.' to the baker that's in love with Toshiko) add a welcome dose of funny and lighter moments to complement the sadness of the underlying story. There's even, if you care to look at it that way, a "Late Spring"-type scene involving Toshiko wearing a wedding dress that's played mostly for laughs. Naruse paying a complement to fellow director Yasujiro Ozu? Nah! :)

TOP BANANA (1954) on TCM-HD for the first time. A filmed-for-the-big-screen (i.e. director Alfred E. Green pointed the camera at a stage and awkwardly cut around the master shot) performance of the Tony Award-winning theater play in which Phil Silvers plays Jerry Biffle, a Milton Berle-type TV comic trying to goose up his variety show's TV ratings. There is no showbiz cliché from before the 1950's that isn't given a snappy one-liner or musical number backdrop, and what's here is clearly your father's father type of entertainment. The top-tier vaudeville performances (Jack Albertson, Danny Scholl, etc.) and Phil Silvers in his prime make for an entertaining, if unsurprising or totally predictable, vintage Broadway-on-film experience.

Claude Autant-Lara's A PIG ACROSS PARIS (1956) at NYC's Film Forum for the first time. Also known as "Four Bags Full" (the name under which appears on IMDB), this impressive comedy about two Frenchmen carrying contraband black market food (a slaughtered 200 lb. pig cut into small chunks) across Paris during the days of the Nazi occupation manages to be hilarious one moment and noir dark the next. Shot with stylized painted backdrops to heighten the artificiality of the situation (which is what it must have been like for Parisians to have Germans in their city and themselves reduced to black market trickery to make ends meet) the movie relies almost entirely on the chemistry between complete opposites Jean Gabin's Grandgil (who steals the movie) and Bourvil's Marcel to generate both the laughs and the pathos. A few scenes involving dogs sniffing the pig remains in the luggage being carried were clearly an influence on Jacques Tati's "Mon oncle" two years later. There's also the mystery about what Grandgil's true intentions are in accepting Marcel's offer to help him carry the pig, which when its finally revealed adds a whole new dimension to the story and the characters. Apparently Steven Spielberg isn't the only one prone to screwing-up perfect endings though, since "A Pig Across Paris" has a moment where it should clearly end that goes a couple of scenes too many to sugarcoat what would have been a downbeat-but-earned ending.

Vittorio De Sica's TWO WOMEN (1960) on TCM-HD for the first time. Strong Italian World War II drama from neorealist director De Sica about a mother (Sophia Loren, heavily made-up with prosthetics to look older) and 13 year-old daughter (Eleonora Brown) fleeing Rome during the Allied bombing and seeking refuge in the former's small country town. Jean-Paul Belmondo, fresh off his star-making role in "Breathless," plays the intellectual non-combative son of an elder couple that also has come to this small town to avoid conflict. He and Loren's character have a tentative relationship, and young daughter Rosetta develops a kinship with Michele. Alas, things go from bad to worse for everyone as the expected landing of the Allies keeps getting delayed and bands of foreign soldiers (German, Moroccan, etc.) roam the countryside. The heavily-spoiled-by-plot-summaries final act of the movie manages to be as harrowing as advertised, and a few standout scenes (the shell-shocked woman wondering through ruins offering her breast milk is particularly harrowing) add to the atmosphere of survivalist dread and anxiety. Not a fun or rewatchable movie by virtue of its subject matter, "Two Women" is proof that, besides her God-given beauty, Sophia Loren could also be a hell of an actress when given the right role/direction.

Jean-Luc Godard's A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (1961) on Criterion DVD for the first time. The Belmondo lovefest continues with this, as close to a "happy" movie as I've seen Godard make. Not a surprise since, at the time he made it, JLG was intoxicated with feelings for his muse Anna Karina (whom he eventually married and soon after divorced) and the entire flick is basically an exercise in rubbing our faces into what a lucky fellow he was. Godard's cinema, for better or worse, represents the exact state of mind the man was in when he made each of his films, and back in '61 the man clearly wanted to sing and dance his feelings away... which he didn't because that would have been the conventional thing to do. Shot in gorgeous anamorphic color by Raoul Coutard and scored by Michel Legrand before his music was chopped to bits (this film marks the birth of Godard's 'interrupt the music as it starts to build' mise-en-scène) the story about Angela, a striptease dancer who wants to have a child with couldn't-care-less boyfriend Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy) but may have to settle for boyfriend's available best friend Alfred Lubitsch (Jean-Paul Belmondo in full-on star mode), is both disposable and self-contained enough for some breathing room. At times the movie becomes a hidden camera feature (Karina and Brialy asking passersby if they'd want to father her child), other times a fourth-wall breaking exercise (a cameo by Jeanne Moreau, plugs for Truffaut movies, Belmondo name-dropping Burt Lancaster, etc.) and at others a harbinger of things to come in Godard's career (an extended scene in Angela and Émile's apartment feels like a warm-up for "Contempt's" apartment break-up middle third, except here is played for laughs).

Deliberately nonsensical (the "magic" closet that changes clothes instantly) and also masterful (an extended musical interlude hearing a recording on a jukebox while Karina's face reacts with repressed sadness to an incriminating photograph), "A Woman Is A Woman" is vintage JLG whose happiness is so rare and sincere you can't help but wish the man had been happier a lot more than he's been in recent years, if his post-60's work is any indication of his feelings. Great Criterion DVD (currently OOP and worth a ton on eBay), with a great bonus feature in which the audio of a promotional record is matched with all sorts of dialogue snippets and colorful circles to summarize the entire movie down to a little over 30 minutes. Call it "Video Diary: The Early Years."

František Vlácil’s MARKETA LAZAROVA (1967) in 35mm at Anthology Film Archives for the first time. Caught a 35mm screening of this Sunday afternoon; great print, with hardly any blemishes and just the right amount of grain to stand out as film stock without becoming intolerable. Sorry to say though that I didn't like the movie at all except for Zdeněk Liška's amazing music score (mixing coral chants, classical music and electronic effects), which is awesome. Even with the on-screen text telling me exactly what was about to happen in the 10-15 min. tableau I was about to see I was confused as heck for a long stretch of the film as to who was who and what was happening (which at 180 min. felt easily twice as long). Unlike "Andrei Rublev's" amazing set-pieces during its 2nd half and the great pictoral ending, "Marketa Lazarová" just meanders about with its quasi-philosophical, poetic and simplistic-but-confusing story (two clans in medieval times feud, which is meant to represent the conflict between paganism and Christianity) 'till the very labored end. Criterion is about to enhance the reputation of this film by releasing it on DVD and Blu-ray in June. I'm happy I caught "Marketa Lazarová" on the big screen because, had I bought it, it would have been my worst blind-buy purchase since the "I Am Curious" Box Set.

Rewatched Ingmar Bergman's SHAME (1968) on DVD. Bergman biographer Marc Gervais, a Jesuit priest, flies solo and does an OK job putting the movie in perspective even though he's prone to using the word 'determinist' and the phrase 'The name of this movie... is SHAME!' over and over, to the point of distraction. The movie still kicks butt, as close as Bergman ever got to making something akin to mainstream entertainment while still retaining his trademarks. And God, has a movie ever made Liv Ullman look more gorgeous and approachable? :D

H.B. Halicki's GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974) on Blu-ray for the first time. Despite some really shitty replacement music for the post-'99 home video releases (too modern for the clearly-set-in-the-70's film) you can't argue with the quality of the HD transfer and enthusiasm for cars, car mayhem and car culture that writer/director/stunt driver/star H.B. Halicki brings to this orgy of destruction. The absence of artificial editing to create tension or SFX tricks (just good old-fashioned, real-life-or-death-stakes car racing stunt work) makes the final act in "Gone in 60 Seconds," a 40 min. chase scene starring 'Eleanor' (a '73 Ford Mustang Mach 1) and 100 other cars getting wrecked, the type of jaw-dropping exercise in filmmaking you appreciate because they simply don't make movies like this anymore. While the law abiding civilian in me finds it reprehensible that the movie pretty much glamorizes the bad guys (who Maindrian Pace and his crew are) getting away with it, and the cinephile in me clamors for an actual plot resolution (did Pace ever find out who rated him out, and what did he do about it?), from a purely entertaining POV "Gone in 60 Seconds" more than delivers the goods and then some. And the scene where Halicki-as-Pace walks into a warehouse with his stolen-and-waiting-for-shipping car stash (i.e. Halicki's own private car collection)? Car porn, pure and unadulterated pimpin' car porn my friends. 8)

Rewatched Shinji Aramiki's APPLESEED (2004) on DVD. I'm happy that ADV Films bothered to include (in Japanese with English subtitles) the commentary track from director Shinji Aramaki and producer Fumihoko Sori. But my goodness, these two talking about their film and reading their thoughts was the most boring and irritating waste of two hours I've had in a while. Aramaki-san and Sori-san speak in clichés and "safe speak." Great little anime flick though, despite the dullness of two of its primary makers yapping over it.

Steve McQueen's HUNGER (2008) on Sundance Channel for the first time. When was the last time a movie impressed you with its use of silence and natural sounds, along with top-notch visuals, to carry a story instead of dialogue? The debut feature film of visual artist Steve McQueen manages to pull this feat by giving you the first and last act of "Hunger," a true account of the life and death of IRA prisoner Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) during the 1981 Maze Prison Hunger Strike, practically dialogue-free and with natural sounds (mostly labored breathing) conveying the strain of the situation. McQueen's mise-en-scène, co-screenwriter Enda Walsh's script (which introduces supporting characters inspired and/or affected by Bobby Sands before we actually meet him) and Fassbinder's committed performance (in which he pulls a DeNiro-in-"Raging Bull" weight loss stunt) are impressive-enough feats if you can live with the fact "Hunger" isn't trying to be fair or balanced to both sides of the conflict it portrays (Margaret Thatcher's disconnected speech being the sole voice arguing in favor of the IRA prisoner's treatment). "Hunger" goes for broke in a daringly-lengthy single-shot dialogue scene between Sands and a priest (Rory Mullen) that compromises the entire middle act. A couple of scenes involving a guard (Stuart Graham) affected by how he treats the IRA prisoners are also powerful even if they come across as dramatic stunts, and the visual flashbacks to the childhood days of Sands during his dying daydreams come across as empty-but-visually-alluring symbolic art (the complete opposite of the powerful visuals of the circle of shit inside an IRA prisoner cell's wall, or family members passing contraband during visits). An amazing movie.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby stypee » Wed May 29, 2013 8:26 pm

The Canterbury Tales was painfully dreadful.

:razz:
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sat Jun 01, 2013 7:08 am

Lucio Fulci's DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972) on DVD for the first time. A depraved but stylish 'giallo' about a small Italian rural town in which young boys are being murdered by someone from a deep pool of red herring suspects that the laid-back local police has to sort through. Without a surrogate lead character to latch onto (except for a chain-smoking reporter and a rich woman with a drug problem that likes to seduce 12-year old boys while naked... our heroes, ladies and gentlemen! :shock: ) we're basically lost into the maze of depravity that each suspect's actions convey until it's clear whether they're the killer or not. Lacking the supernatural elements or nasty gore set pieces he became know for in later years (except for a couple of well-placed hyper-violent moments) Fulci actually shows a knack for playing the thriller game and to show-off some directorial skill. A brutal beating set to a romantic song on the radio is something Tarantino emulated to great effect in "Reservoir Dogs," and the then-modern highway that's constantly in the background of many shots (along with what's said about Barbara Bouchet's character and what's done to Florinda Bolkan's) not-too-subtle reminders of the cultural differences between rural and urban Italian cultures that are both so close and yet far removed from one another. With the typical mediocre dub and mostly-passable acting we've come to expect from the genre, "Don't Torture a Duckling" will be a revelation to Fulci fans and/or another 'giallo' to add to the pile based on your love/tolerance for this type of movie.

Jerry Schatzberg's SCARECROW (1973) at NYC's Film Forum for the first time. Like Brando with "Last Tango in Paris," I'm amazed a 70's movie starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman in their prime playing colorful drifters on the road (think cross-country "Midnight Cowboy") escaped my radar until a recent theatrical revival clued me in. Though prone to one too many cute scenes in which hobos are the center of colorful attention (Hackman's impromptu striptease at a cheering diner stands out) it's always at the service of story and characters, the type of cinematic narrative about the lives and dreams of social outcasts Hollywood studios have all but abandoned. Pacino's Francis character has an amazing scene on a fountain in which the now-expected explosion of overacting (after one of the most tense and f***ed-up phone calls in movies I've ever seen) is not only warranted but key to the character he's playing, which contrasts nicely with Hackman's need to remain calm and in control. The acting is so good I'll even buy the movie's premise that Gene is an ass-kicking brute, which his appearance and height don't convey at all (practice for Lex Luthor in "Superman" five years later? ;-)).

RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) on DVD for the first time. You gotta love 70's exploitation flicks that sold a pig in a poke to drive-in audiences, or in this case what appeared to be a race movie of some kind becoming essentially a satanic "Deliverance" set in rural Texas. Even with Peter Fonda slumming (though his character's face showing excitement as he starts fighting back is a highlight), Warren Oates being predictably awesome and the lead women (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) not having much to do besides scream or look worried, "Race with the Devil" builds a head of steam that pays in expected (pretty rad car chase action) and unexpected ways (that ending... on a PG movie!). It takes a while to get cooking though, especially since anyone alive who has seen a movie can tell early on who is who and where things are headed. A nice, pleasant exploitation flick that's as quick and dirty as a two-wheelie on a pick-up truck. 8)

Rewatched Andrzej Zulawski's POSSESSION (1981) on TCM-HD. The more I watch this twisted, messed-up movie (Zulawski's masterpiece) the more I can't help but admire it. Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil make a bickering/loving movie couple for the ages, with West Berlin and "The Wall" a constant presence that means a lot and/or nothing at all. Even though I know it's coming "Possession's" turn at the hour mark into both something completely different and totally natural given what takes place in the first hour it's still breathtaking.

Rewatched Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991) on DVD. Ric Meyer's commentary is a little too laid back and casual (an educated fan's perspective) plus the down times in-between the fight scenes aren't too interesting outside their socio-political content (i.e. seeing a foreign movie's perspective about America get us as bad as our movies portray most foreign cultures, particularly the soldiers). But man, when young Jet Li (playing an older-than-himself, wiser and more ass-kicking movie version of perennial Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung) gets to show off his stuff the movie picks up the steam of a runaway locomotive. Four simple words: gravity-defying ladder fight.

MST3K #508: OPERATION KID BROTHER (1993/1967) on DVD for the first time. Originally known as "Operation Double 007" (which the show/movie itself used at the time both were made), this Italian James Bond parody/ripoff starring Neal Connery (Sean's baby brother) is the type of self-aware, cheesy 60's spy movie that it's hard to make fun of because it's already doing its own version of that. Since Joel & the bots don't go overboard with the Bond puns (to their credit) this is an odd "MST3K" experiment in which the movie and the riffs work parallel of one another instead of the perfect melding of the two. While the host segments bomb (except for Joel's deadpan funny 'I know' segment) and some of the riffs strike gold ('Sister Chuck Yeager!,' 'It's the Elmer Fudd Brigade,' etc.) "Operation Kid Brother's" skirting of the Bond cannon is the main attraction. Neal ain't half-bad in a non-charming, non-sexy lead if you like your heroes to be machine-gunning hypnotist archers (!). A truckload of actors from the 60's Bond flicks (Adolfo Celi, Louise Maxwell, Daniela Bianchi, Bernard Lee) playing minor variations of their EON movie roles, plus production values below "Diabolik" and a great title tune by Ennio Morricone, add up to a rarity: a cheesy movie you'd rather watch without "MST3K" riffing.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Mon Jun 03, 2013 2:19 am

Shohei Imamura's VENGEANCE IS MINE (1979) on Criterion DVD for the first time. Not what I expected from the title or plot summary, which made it seem more like an exploitation flick instead of the character drama it ends up being. It's mostly an out-of-chronology-but-cohesive police procedural about a real-life Japanese criminal, Iwao Enokuzi (Ken Ogata), that went on a 78-day crime spree in the early 60's in which innocent people were murdered and many more swindled throughout Japan. Since serial murder wasn't as common a crime in Japan as in the US the movie, which is rather violent and sexually explicit (rape and icky incestuous father/daughter-in-law insinuations), feels like its both exploiting its sensationalized subject matter while also trying to make a bigger statement. Iwao's troubled Christian family members and a bickering mother & daughter Inn-owning duo (Mayumi Ogawa and Nijiko Kiyokawa) give color and strong supporting roles for Ogata's take on Iwao to bounce off his charm and violent outbursts. Ultimately cathartic revenge happens, but the suffering endured by the innocents for that moment to take place seems both realistic and out of proportion with their suffering. My first Imamura flick, and a good-enough taste for me to want to seek more of the man's work.

Rewatched John Carpenter's GHOSTS OF MARS (2001) on Blu-ray. When I watched this for the first time last October I wasn't too impressed and pretty much loathed it as one of Carpenter's worst movies. Maybe it's because F This Movie's Junesploitation! has put me in the right mood for this type of flick, but rewatching this twice in one night (the second time with the creepy commentary track in which Carpenter pretty much flirts with a game Natasha Henstridge for the entire length of the film) I really enjoyed it for being an unashamed exploitation blast and an unrestrained last hurrah for Carpenter working with a studio budget (and a no-BS heavy metal soundtrack the man himself composed). A cross between Hawk's "Rio Bravo," Carpenter's own "Prince of Darkness" and a KISS concert, "Ghosts of Mars" took me back to a not-too-long-ago era when Ice Cube would get top billing in a movie, Henstridge's character seems to have inspired Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck character in the "Battlestar Galactica" remake, model effects (the train) went hand-in-hand with K.N.B. EFX money shots (i.e. on-camera beheadings), open endorsement of drug use is shown in a couple of key scenes (which also rip off "ID4's" 'I can see what they're thinking' backstory shortcut) and Jason Stathan & Pam Grier were considered expendable cast members. In the right state of mind and when comparing it to his better-known films, "Ghosts of Mars" will rock your mother-loving exploitation grindhouse wheelhouse.

Rama Burshtein's FILL THE VOID (2013) in theaters for the first time. An 18 year-old devout Israeli Orthodox girl named Shira (Hadas Yaron) struggles with the unexpected death of her pregnant older sister (whose baby she must care for), her mother (Irit Sheleg) maneuvering the family connections to try and marry Shira to his sister's widowed husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) and a couple of marriage proposals from other interested suitors floating around. The initial surface-level appeal of "Fill the Void" is writer/director Rama Burshtein, herself an Orthodox Jew, showing us the lives and plights (relatively small in the big scheme of things but tremendously meaningful to the characters involved) of the notoriously closed-off Orthodox Jewish community in Israel from within, a perspective all but absent from any other media (besides maybe documentaries or something like Sidney Lumet's NYC-set "A Stranger Among Us" from 1992). What elevates "Fill the Void" above mere cultural curio though, besides the strong & believable acting and writing across the board (with just the right dose of humor to lighten the tension), is the sincerity and respect with which the movie tries to show the insular culture it portrays as something that would hold appeal to its devout followers. An Atheist and/or secular person could look at the docile women in "Fill the Void" that let their men decide for them whom to marry or what to do and see the injustice and unfairness of the religion/culture depicted. I saw the human struggle of trying to communicate delicate feelings and emotions in a community in which what isn't said holds more power and truth than what is actually spoken. With one of the best closing shots I've ever seen (which tells us everything without showing much) "Fill the Void" is the best new movie I've seen in 2013 by far.

Zal Batmanglij's THE EAST (2013) in theaters for the first time. Indie darling Brit Marling headlines another feature she co-wrote, this time dealing with echo terrorists and the private sector corporate spy business (who are in some ways as bad as the terrorists they're spying on) sent to infiltrate the most radical group that engages in the most radical attacks. While it's dealing with one of the oldest tropes in the character drama playbook (the rookie recruit that goes undercover and may grow too close to the people she was sent to spy on) "The East" achieves enough new wrinkles on an old formula to help one overlook the heavy hands of executive producers Ridley & Toni Scott in the manufactured-for-mainstream conflicts and straight-out-of-thriller-101 stunts. A scene involving the family of Ellen Page's character feels like a total misfire, and more than once I had to roll my eyes at the convenience with which a situation (a deaf mute girl) is dealt with (Sarah knows sign language? :?). Besides Marling in the lead the supporting cast (Alexander Skarsgård, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson, etc.) is aces and, toward the end, the type of moral ambiguity that is achieved feels reasonable without feeling like the cop-out ending it actually is. Not "Another Earth" good, "The East" is at least a sign that the talent shown by Marling in the former (and last year's "The Sound of My Voice") was no fluke.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Kenneth Morgan » Tue Jun 04, 2013 7:44 pm

J.M. Vargas wrote:MST3K #508: OPERATION KID BROTHER (1993/1967) on DVD for the first time. Originally known as "Operation Double 007" (which the show/movie itself used at the time both were made), this Italian James Bond parody/ripoff starring Neal Connery (Sean's baby brother) is the type of self-aware, cheesy 60's spy movie that it's hard to make fun of because it's already doing its own version of that. Since Joel & the bots don't go overboard with the Bond puns (to their credit) this is an odd "MST3K" experiment in which the movie and the riffs work parallel of one another instead of the perfect melding of the two. While the host segments bomb (except for Joel's deadpan funny 'I know' segment) and some of the riffs strike gold ('Sister Chuck Yeager!,' 'It's the Elmer Fudd Brigade,' etc.) "Operation Kid Brother's" skirting of the Bond cannon is the main attraction. Neal ain't half-bad in a non-charming, non-sexy lead if you like your heroes to be machine-gunning hypnotist archers (!). A truckload of actors from the 60's Bond flicks (Adolfo Celi, Louise Maxwell, Daniela Bianchi, Bernard Lee) playing minor variations of their EON movie roles, plus production values below "Diabolik" and a great title tune by Ennio Morricone, add up to a rarity: a cheesy movie you'd rather watch without "MST3K" riffing.


This is one of my favorite MST eps. I particularly liked the host segment paralelling Sean & Neal's careers, ending with Neal being able to look in the mirror and say, "At least I didn't do 'Zardoz'." The movie is fun, too, especially seeing Moneypenny carry a gun and get to use it, too.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Kenneth Morgan » Tue Jun 04, 2013 7:46 pm

"Die Another Day" has been making the cable rounds again. On a couple of occasions, I've managed to see most of it. And I've been watching both Flint movies on DVD. Both were more fun than DAD, especially "Our Man Flint".
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:47 am

Terence Young's COLD SWEAT (1970) on Amazon Prime for the first time. An ultimately disposable but entertaining European-set thriller with a few neat try-to-beat-the-clock car racing stunts. Charles Bronson, an American making a living in France with his tourist boat and card playing skills, is confronted by his poe'd former Korean War comrades/partners in crime whom he left holding the bag when their last crooked job together went south a decade earlier. With a bearded James Mason leading the bad guys' plans to force their old partner to help them score some drug deal, the best part of "Cold Sweat" is seeing how Bronson and Mason (along with Michel Constantin as a trigger-happy henchman) keep gaining and losing the upper-hand over each other at unexpected moments. Bronson's wife Liv Ullman & young daughter plus Mason's boo Jill Ireland (Bronson's boo in real-life) are basically bargaining chips instead of characters, but you kind-of end up liking them even if the forced happy ending leaves a sour taste. Even when he's slumming in a 'B' project from the director of "From Russia With Love" though, Bronson remains effortlessly cool and the magnet of attention any time he's on-screen.

GALAXINA (1980) on HD-DVD. With few exceptions (like Corman's "Galaxy of Terror") cheesy low-budget sci-fi movies always tend to be fun because both filmmakers and audience are aware of the limitations of the movie. The better one's (like "Battle Beyond the Stars") overcome it by sheer cast & crew effort and commitment; the bad one's get to become fodder for entertaining "MST3K"-type ridicule. And then there's "Galaxina," the "Two and a Half Men" of early 80's post-"Star Wars" cheapo sci-fi movies; some will like the cheese it's selling, many of us will wanna throw up. A dumb "sex" comedy/adventure with "space ships," "planets" (not half-bad if you appreciate practical effects over CGI) and recognizable faces (mainly Dorothy Stratten, whose treatment both as a sexpot robot character and selling point for the flick after her death pretty much define sexploitation) that barely hang by something resembling a thorough comedic thread. I prefer my sci-fi unintentionally hilarious because, when the filmmakers are in on the joke as "Galaxina's" are, the bird being flipped isn't the one in outer space on the screen but the bony one Stratten is giving them from her grave.

Rewatched Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE (1998) on Blu-ray. Shame that co-writer Luke Wilson, co-writer/director Wes Anderson and actor Jason Schwartzman were recorded separately for the movie's engaging and informative commentary track. Together in the same room these three would have been great bouncing thoughts/ideas off of each other. The movie just continues to both thrill and move me to tears as it reaches the climax ('Except you!' :cry: ), a modern-day fairy tale fable about a young dreamer coming to terms with both his place in the world and learning to love by letting go... sort of. I love this movie.

DEAD & BREAKFAST (2004) on Amazon Prime for the first time. This seemed like a promising little horror movie with a decent cast (Jeremy Sisto, David Carradine, Erik Palladino, etc.), an OK premise (wedding party guests get stuck in a hicktown that gets overrun by an evil spirit trapped in a Buddhist box that turns them into zombies) and unrated gore (check). Holy crap though, things go south pretty quickly when writer/director Matthew Leutwyler introduces comic book panel transitions and a one-man singing cowboy greek chorus (Zach Selwyn). Bad self-aware acting (except for Sisto), a jokey soundtrack that underlines everything (reaching the apex of silly during the "zombie cowboy rapping square dancing" scene) and tributes galore to the genre ("Evil Dead," name-dropping Robert Wise, etc.) add-up to a wanting, cheap "Dead Alive" knockoff without a tenth of the original's charm or impact. 'Hicksploitation' is alive and well in the zombie genre.

M. Night Shyamalan's AFTER EARTH (2013) in theaters for the first time. "After Earth" is not a horrible or bad movie, but also not a very good one either. It's easily M. Night's best work since "Signs" (for what that's worth), has something to say and delivers a few great individual moments here and there. Too bad Jaden Smith's irritating voice and mannerisms are front and center throughout the film. There's also close to no fun or exciting moments in this $125 million summer film, and a few gotta-be-shitting-me plot shortcuts for the plot to arrive at a point that, frankly, neither the Kitai character or the story seem to have earned. On the other hand Will Smith, looking a lot like Laurence Fishburne and giving a restrained performance (good for the story/movie he's in, not good for his fans that want to see the man cut loose), verbalizes the difference between fear and danger better than I can recall on any other flick I've seen. "After Earth" also looks gorgeous (courtesy of David Cronenberg's cinematographer Peter Suschitzky), presents a different-enough take on the future (quasi-organic technology side-by-side with modern conveniences) to stand out and it's concerned with an idea (relationships between parents and their grown children) that put front and center over action beats and/or SFX shots. The movie screams "vanity project" and "ego trip" from everyone involved, but at its core the disappointment/approval/rejection of a father for his son for being or not being whom we expect him to become is a very powerful narrative tool that lifts the weak parts.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sat Jun 08, 2013 7:33 am

J.M. Vargas wrote:Rewatched Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE (1998) on Blu-ray. Shame that co-writer Luke Wilson...


OWEN! Owen Wilson co-wrote "Rushmore," not Luke. I'm getting too old for this shat. ;-)
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby mavrach » Wed Jun 12, 2013 6:57 am

Mystery Men - I've decided that I had horrible tastes when I was in college, because I watched this once and didn't like it. I gave it a second day in court and loved it. It came out just before comic book movies became big business, so its style is more reflective of prior comic movies like Tim Burton's Batman. The self-aware tone is in danger of becoming smarmy but never quite crosses over that line. You get some deadpan comedic actors like Stiller & Ruebens, along with more serious actors like Macy & Rush. Also can I say that the death that occurs 2/3 in is about the most horrible thing I've ever seen?

Mystery, Alaska - I've said before that this is a movie that seems designed for me to dislike it. I've never had any interest in sports whatsoever, and pleasant movies about quaint little towns never do much for me. This is about a small, lake hockey-loving town in Alaska who gets challenged to an exhibition game by a pro hockey team, and how the town comes together to recognize themselves. Fun and inspirational at the same time, and the R rating brings some realism to it. This is a lesser-known movie that I think most people would appreciate if they knew about it.

Superman - It's starting to dawn on me that this is two movies smushed together. You get the slow paced (that's good) epic opening to the character where the main actor isn't even introduced into 1/3 way into the movie. Then you get the goofy fun villain and heroic antics (which would eventually be the downfall of the series). I enjoy both movies. More superhero movies could benefit from such a character buildup. And as silly as he is as Luthor, I LMAO and just about every word that comes out of Hackman's mouth.

Superman Returns - I think I'm about done with this movie. It's extremely awkward how it harps on the fact that 5 years have passed, when it's already on shaky ground for making a direct sequel to a 25 year old movie. Then the cast members are too young for their roles, and now Lois Lane is a 20 year old actress with a 5 year old kid, who's supposed to be an award-winning experienced reporter. And along with Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it's a weak plot twist to introduce a character who's age is the same as the time gap since the last movie, and expect us to be shocked that they're the son of the hero. The movie has a few good points, including an extremely out of place gag about canine cannibalism. But the dreary sick superman finale weakens it further for me.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins - Another old favorite that I'm revisiting for the first time since VHS. My dad and I used to watch this over and over again and it always seemed like nobody else ever heard of this one. I was afraid this wouldn't hold up but I'm happy to report that it does, and I was smiling the whole time. It's half serious and half joking as Remo is trained to perform such feats as bullet dodging and floating while running. The questionable casting of Joel Grey as a Korean master is tempered by the fact that I was laughing every time he was onscreen and how you'll be quoting his lines afterwards.

Young Sherlock Holmes - First viewing. The only thing I knew about this movie was the early use of CGI; the window pane knight was always referenced in movie documentaries and such. Anyways what I got was a fun adventure with a tone that you'd expect from Amblin of the 80's. Yet another movie that I discovered as an adult that I wish I had with me growing up.

The Road - Good performances, but relentlessly depressing. But in all fairness, this is realistically what the apocalypse would be like. It wouldn't be all fun and games with feral warrior boomerang children and zombie target practice.

8 Heads in a Duffel Bag - I'm probably the only person who ever saw this movie. I saw it in the theaters and once or twice on VHS, and I know my tastes have changed considerably since high school. I know these are pretty dangerous revisits sometimes. So I gave it a whirl on Netflix Instant and, yeah it's pretty bad. It's divided between generic sitcom hijinks in a Mexican resorts with a family getting stuck with the eponymous duffel bag. But it's offset by the scenes with Joe Pesci, David Spade, which have some chuckles. And no matter how much you hate this movie, I challenge you not to laugh at Todd Louiso's eventual breakdown.

Robocop - I've said a million times how much I love this comfort title. It feels like everything I wanted in a movie as a kid, coupled with the technical prowess and social commentary that I want in a movie as an adult. When a dumb action movie comes out nowadays and people say "what else do you expect from a movie about giant robots beating each other?" I expect Robocop. I wish every action movie concept were treated the way this movie does it.

Quiz Show - Pretty engaging considering how this sort of movie can easily come off as being very dry. It's most interesting to watch seeing how betrayed the public could feel when they were lied to by television in its early days. It's something we've become used to at this point and take for granted.

The Blues Brothers - I'd somehow never seen this before, despite being aware of it and knowing that pretty much everybody loves it. I'd just had no interest. What the hell was I thinking?? This movie was so much fun, a combination of car chases and musical numbers.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - Excellent as always. The perfect entry point for anybody not familiar with Trek. It works as a straightforward adventure, with the theme of aging that pays off in the finale. It's sort of embarassing when you find that a Star Trek movie is one of your biggest tearjerkers, until you find everybody has the same effect.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - I think this is a better movie that most give it credit for. It gets defined as a odd-numbered Trek movie and gets lumped in with part V and the good but awkward part I. It's got a couple flaws, but its biggest problem is it's not as good as part II, and most movies aren't. The Enterprise heist is so much fun, and Kirk's loss that happens later in the film is affecting. I've got no problem following Khan with this movie.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Credit to this series for not following a formula and trying to be the same thing over and over again. This one is almost a comedy in its fish out of water storyline of the crew coming to modern day San Francisco. The environmental theme fits perfectly without coming off as being too heavy handed.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- Wasted potential. It could've been an interesting exploration of religion and emotion. Instead, every character is an idiot. The Klingon commander is an idiot. Sybock turns people into idiots. The thugs enticed by Uhura's fan dance are idiots. The God concept is wasted immediately, and I wonder how a 50-foot tall head of energy can ride a spaceship. I watched this for completism.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - I've always found it odd that it took 6 movies to finally get a fully operational Enterprise without a newbie trainee crew. A mix of a political thriller, prison escape movie, and whodunit, and is yet another Trek movie that doesn't feel like any of the others. David Warner and Christopher Plummer add some hammy (in a good way) epic weight to their roles.

Star Trek (2009) - A lot of modern energy is put into revitalizing the franchise, a solid new cast as well. There are a lot of little plot holes, but they can be overlooked in favor of the fun storyline. I wish there was more of the Bones character, since the former trinity is now pretty much Kirk & Spock focused, plus they got Karl Urban for the role. But as a new series, it's a new focus which can be accepted too.

Star Trek Into Darkness - I absolutely loved it. Benedict Cumberbatch is a chilling villain and I was impressed with where they went with him. Peter Weller also brings an interesting outside presence to Trek where he almost feels out of place but works perfectly. I liked the hooks it brought into the previous series and I thought used those references for the story rather than most reboots that just say "hey remember this scene from a better movie?" The plot seemed to be tighter than the first one, no such contrivances, though to be fair I didn't notice those on the first runthrough on Trek '09 either.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Thu Jun 13, 2013 4:59 pm

Seven movies, seven consecutive decades (except the 2000's). Let's-a-go! ;-)

SHOCK (1946) on Amazon Prime for the first time. Wannabe-noir psychological thriller that does little with the interesting premise of a woman (Anabel Shaw) paralyzed from shock being treated by the doctor (Vincent Price) whom she saw kill his own wife. Price, who looks odd without his trademark mustache, has little chemistry with his wannabe-femme fatale nurse girlfriend (Lynn Bari) and is riddled by so much Hays Code-imposed guilt his character is never allowed to cut loose and be anything other than a guilt-ridden pushover. For V.P. completists only.

THE FLY (1958) on DVD. He might be third-billed in the cast but Vincent Prince steals the movie because, playing against type and faking sincerity like a champ, he's both the audience surrogate and the "normal" guy coming to terms with the madness happening around him to his loved one's. David Cronenberg's remake highlights the scientist/loved one couple (which here are portrayed by David Hedison and Patricia Owens as animated props) instead of the third-wheel Price-like character played by John Getz. Nice switch, David. ;-) The original "Fly" starts/ends kind-of weird as a Canadian police procedural and has way too much padding (15-20 minutes could easily be chopped off). It's reflection of the mentality and censorship from its era (except for François' snuck-up admission that he once was in love with Helene! :shock: ) keeps it firmly anchored in the trappings of a silly monster movie, but a stylish-as-heck memorable one. It's a 50's time capsule, the same way Cronenberg's remake captured the zeitgeist of the 80's horror boom. The ending is genuinely f***ed-up and terrifying, even if it allows Herbert Marshall the opportunity for some fun that sets-up the Hays Code-mandated happy ending.

BOOT HILL (1969) on DVD for the first time. Disguised/lumped as a "Trinity" spaghetti western because it stars Terence Hill and Bud Spencer playing similar-though-totally-unrelated characters, "Boot Hill" is light on comedy (assuming you find midgets dressed as clowns beating a thug while circus music plays hilarious) but holds its own as a decent 'oppressed town miners vs. evil mining company's henchmen' revenge tale-lite. The circus literally comes to town, saves said town and then goes its own merry way while the heroes ride into the sunset. For my money Woody Strode (looking menacing and bad-ass even while wearing an acrobat's leotard) steals the movie, Lionel Stander chews scenery like a champ and Hill's blue peepers give Franco Nero's a run for their money. "Boot Hill" builds up to a satisfying final showdown, which for a western gets you 50% there.

Alejandro Jodorowsky's EL TOPO (1970) in theaters for the first time. Imagine if Blondie or Django had a midlife crisis and tried to change their ways, spiritually as well as physically, for the betterment of themselves and the less fortunate and oppressed. Like Welles' "Touch of Evil" did for film noir, "El Topo" is the skeleton of a western mold taken to an illogical existentialist artistic extreme after which the snake is left eating/gagging on its own tail. Essentially either two or a dozen different movies/genres/concepts blended together, the "story" and "plot" are loosely tied by the traditional nameless gunslinger hero going through a "journey" of the mind and soul besides just the physical obstacles ahead of him that need to be disposed of (in typical bloody/violent ways). Then betrayal of the hero happens (from his own actions and from those he thought were closest to him), followed by... a switched reel? An entirely different film? Who the hell knows? :? "El Topo" might at first appear like psychodelic new age hippie crap from the era it was made, but the visuals and ideas on display (including Jodorowsky's portrayal of a "savior/hero" and buckets of too-artificial-to-not-notice blood & guts to go with the violence, picturesque vistas and unpleasant imagery) are unique and memorable-enough to qualify as timeless esoteric film art not meant for mass consumption. If you can see it at midnight on the big screen like I did (the way it has gained notoriety over five decades) for its full effect to wash over your fragile little mind.

Sidney J. Furie's SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987) on DVD for the first time. You know your superhero franchise is in trouble when you wish the Salkinds were still in charge. Looking every bit like the underfunded, rushed and troubled production it was (complete with lead actor getting story credit; "After Earth," anyone?), "The Quest for Peace" mines leftover affection for the comic book, for Christopher Reeves' portrayal of Supes/Clark Kent (still the best), for John Williams' music, etc. while delivering so much less in return it might as well be called "Supergirl 2." In an already ridiculous and stupid movie "Superman IV" reaches its apex of stupid/silly/sad when Supes' heat vision is used to, somehow, repair Nuclear Man's damage to The Great Wall of China with "Tetris"-like reappearing blocks (the f***?!?!). To be fair though, a handful of individual scenes (the opening rescue of a Russian space crew, Lois Lane pouring her soul to Superman/Clark Kent twice, the 'double date' with Mariel Hemingway, etc.) are actually OK and put this slightly ahead of the execrable "Superman III," which is unwatchable and hateful toward all mankind. "Superman IV" was doomed the moment Cannon, Sidney J. Furie and even Chris Reeve (whose liberal idealism got the better of him) tried to squeeze one more bounce out of a dying franchise.

Edward James Olmos' AMERICAN ME (1992) on HD-DVD for the first time. Olmos stars in his directorial debut, a brutal and powerful crime drama about the youthful criminal offenders that, over their decades of incarceration in the L.A. prison system, created and ran the Chicano Mexican mafia "La eMe." In one memorable scene with a handball rubber ball EJO uses the "2001: A Space Odyssey" bone throw as inspiration to show the passage of time from juvie jail to adult jail. The struggles of Santana (Olmos), JD (William Forsythe) and Pepe Serna (Mundo) to adapt to prison life and later the outside world when they come out, as well as the circumstances that led to their going to jail (caused by both bad personal choices and society prejudices from decades past) allow the excellent cast and Olmos' skillful direction to give the movie an epic scope of lives lived (mostly wasted, though some with a sliver of hope) that subvert the expected violent movie prison cliches "American Me" still depicts. Spawning several decades and shot on real locations (East L.A. gang-controlled streets, Folton Prison, etc.) using real inmates and actual gang members as extras, "American Me" exploits audience expectations of a rags-to-riches Latino "Goodfellas" by delivering instead a dramatized 'Scared Straight' vision of why being part of a gang or doing drugs is a bad thing.

VIOLET & DAISY (2013) in theaters for the first time. Teenage hit girls Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) are such bad-ass chicks (what "Kill Bill's" Gogo Yubari would be like if she was American and killing was a means to a material end instead of a personal compulsion) they can gun down rooms full of thugs while chewing bubble gum and, afterwards, obsess over celeb-endorsed dresses while remaining guilt-free and "innocently" pure in their own youthful world. In the movie's bookends you feel that Violet & Daisy are more than qualified to earn the #1 hired killer ranking each aspire to one day earn. Here's the twist though: the movie isn't about the cool, collected and Tarantino-patented killing professionals that these two are in 99% of their jobs we don't get to see. It's all about the one hit (James Gandolfini, who doesn't steal the movie like he did "Not Fade Away" because he's totally in synch with Bledel and Ronan's pitch-perfect performances) that they allow to get too close to them that changes their lives from that point on. "Violet & Daisy" doesn't try to reach beyond the limited scope of the genre it thinks it's commenting ironically on by having young women being amoral criminals that play paddycake during and after murdering people, but it's a stylish, fun and decent waste of an afternoon.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Mach6 » Thu Jun 13, 2013 8:29 pm

mavrach wrote:Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - I think this is a better movie that most give it credit for. It gets defined as a odd-numbered Trek movie and gets lumped in with part V and the good but awkward part I. It's got a couple flaws, but its biggest problem is it's not as good as part II, and most movies aren't.

Amen on that Mavrach. I loved the Enterprise heist sequence, all the sacrifices that Kirk & his crew had to make, & a charismatic performance by Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon commander.
I never understood the original odd-numbered Star Trek movies were awful theory. Yeah, Star Trek V lives up to that reputation but I found a lot to like in Star Trek TMP & especially Star Trek III. Just chop off about 10-15 minutes of showing off the “new” Enterprise & the trip through V’Ger & TMP is tighter & has the heart of the original series.
J.M. Vargas wrote:Sidney J. Furie's SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987) To be fair though, a handful of individual scenes (the opening rescue of a Russian space crew, Lois Lane pouring her soul to Superman/Clark Kent twice, the 'double date' with Mariel Hemingway, etc.) are actually OK and put this slightly ahead of the execrable "Superman III," which is unwatchable and hateful toward all mankind.

On man, I thought I was the only one who hated III more than IV. I am not alone! Yes! :D III & IV are both horrible but IV is so poorly made it has that it’s so bad trainwreck watching “quality” while III is so obnoxious with Richard Pryor at his worst that I change the channel every time it’s on.

mavrach wrote:Superman Returns - I think I'm about done with this movie.

The more I think about Superman Returns the more I hate it. The bad casting with Brandon Routh looking more like Superboy than Superman & having zero chemistry with Kate Bosworth who was a boring Lois Lane. With the exception of the airplane sequence, there wasn’t much Superman type action for the rest of the running time, & the finale was so flat.
MINOR SPOILERS:

Just like Star Trek Into Darkness, Returns wastes a lot of time on trying to convince us a major character is dead & nobody is buying it not even for a second. At least Trek only wastes about 5 minutes with this garbage while Returns takes forever (a.k.a. more than 10 minutes) to get to the point & give us a not so shocking resurrection.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby mavrach » Fri Jun 14, 2013 6:23 am

Mach6 wrote:
mavrach wrote:
J.M. Vargas wrote:Sidney J. Furie's SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987) To be fair though, a handful of individual scenes (the opening rescue of a Russian space crew, Lois Lane pouring her soul to Superman/Clark Kent twice, the 'double date' with Mariel Hemingway, etc.) are actually OK and put this slightly ahead of the execrable "Superman III," which is unwatchable and hateful toward all mankind.

On man, I thought I was the only one who hated III more than IV. I am not alone! Yes! :D III & IV are both horrible but IV is so poorly made it has that it’s so bad trainwreck watching “quality” while III is so obnoxious with Richard Pryor at his worst that I change the channel every time it’s on.


That makes three of us. Neither parts 3 nor 4 are worth ever seeing again, but at least part 4 is trying to be part 2. It wants to be a serious and fun action movie, as much as it fails in doing so.

Part 3 is just an insult to our intelligence. The slapstick opening, the focus on Richard Pryor. It's trying to be the Adam West Batman, and it does a terrible job even trying to be that. You can see the struggle the Salkinds had trying to fight to Superman to become cheeseball like this, and they hated that Donner wanted to take the epic approach, which was everything good about the first movies.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby J.M. Vargas » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:20 pm

Alejandro Jodorowsky's EL TOPO (1970) on DVD. My imaginary tarot card readings foresee a lot of Jodorowsky movies in my immediate future (already working on it). Having watched this on the big screen a few weeks back I just had to track down a friend-at-work's DVD copy so I could both rewatch it and then listen to Jodorowsky's Spanish commentary. Disarmingly dishonest, smart, self-critical and unpretentious (with personal childhood stories that bring new meaning to many of "El Topo's" many little quirks), Alejandro delivers the type of analytical and detached commentary only the likes of Cronenberg and Soderbergh deliver regularly. While Alejandro's disdain of commercial filmmaking (particularly against theater owners dictating what content will play on their screens) is extreme but understandable I can appreciate his push for an independent cinema even further removed from the already-existing market for small specialty movies. The more I read, see and hear about Jodorowsky the more I want to see his movies. "The Holy Mountain" and "Fando and Lis" (both new to me) are next.

STREET GANGS OF NEW YORK, aka THE DELINQUENT (1973) on Amazon Prime for the first time. What a waste of time, not to mention false advertising (the poster/plot summary advertised a totally different movie!) and THE single shittiest video transfer (clearly a rental VHS) I've ever seen on a streamed movie. There are no gangs (just random groups of thugs), there is no Hong Kong and there aren't even any streets since the movie takes place in the past (and most of the battles happen indoors). All we get is a typical male good-at-fighting-and-nothing-else lead character that robs tombs to steal corpses' jewerly so he can bet at the local casino (because a gambling addiction is such a hero turn-on) that accidentally revives the spirit of the man in the ashes of the cemetery pot he pisses on (twice... on camera!) that then makes him his tool for revenge against the men that killed him... ahem, OK? I fell asleep three times, rewound the movie to the portions that I missed and, at the end, wished I had slept through the whole movie or not picked it at all. Decent kung fu scenes here and there, but the fact the hero is such an unlikable, moronic dude that just happens to be good at pretend-fighting is a constant turn-off. Avoid as if it were "Glitter."

Jack Hill's FOXY BROWN (1974) on Amazon Prime for the first time. The fabric of cliche-but-fun elements (them opening credits, those clothes, that jive talk, them shitty scores, etc.) led by a sexy Pam Grier are weaved together by Jack Hill to deliver a quintessential and fun blaxploitation classic. Look, there's Antonio Fargas (HUGGY BEAR!) getting laid and betraying his own sister to score dope money. There's the ludicrous "Face Off"-type undercover agent whose sole function in the flick is to be the fuse that lights up Pam's revenge crusade. There's the generous amount of gratuitous violence and female nudity that, while seemingly edgy (the scene with the judge comes to mind, not to mention castration and rape), always end as old-fashioned morality plays. Foxy Brown comes out ahead at the end but, unlike most (male) heroes in mainstream movies, the price she pays to get there reflect the genre and times the movie was made... eek! Sid Haig is also in the movie but I can't tell if he's the scummy mechanic rapist or the pilot of the plane (they kind-of look alike).

H.B. Halicki's GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974) on Blu-ray. Listened to the commentary track with the cameraman and D.P. to hear the same war stories told in the Blu-ray's other featurettes and documentaries. It's still a fun sight to check out the crowds gathered on corners, New French Wave-style, gawking at the car mayhem. Or to watch a subplot being made out of how big a star Lyle Waggoner was. Oh, the 70's... just when we think we miss you, you remind us how happy we are to have left you behind. :D

William Lustig's VIGILANTE (1983) on Blu-ray for the first time. Every time I've started watching a Lustig film and I'm halfway through it I think the guy is a misunderstood and underrated director; inevitably, my movie's end, I've changed my mind and realize he and his movies get exactly the attention/reputation they deserve. A naked attempt to cash-in on "Death Wish" and what was left of blaxploitation in the early 80's (i.e. Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson), "Vigilante" is set in the poor neighborhoods around Queens (Manhattan is just the distant backdrop) in which a blur of stereotypes, dated fashions and random scenes happen without major consequences for the working class heroes that take it upon themselves to deal with the scum the police and courts won't take care of. It's an evenly split narrative between the already-organized group (led by Williamson) getting violent justice and Robert Forster's Paul Kersey-type average guy who suffers a devastating crime. After briefly turning into a prison movie (complete with Woody Strode beating up dudes in showers) Forster joins the vigilante group to get revenge. And that's it. By the time "Vigilante" ends you feel there's a third act missing and that The Hammer, whose charisma and screen presence can't hide the fact Fred can't act, showed up just to growl and collect a paycheck. You'd think Lustig would have made room for Williamson somewhere in the final 15 minutes considering he gave the guy 2nd billing after Forster.

Rob Reiner's THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) on Amazon Prime for the first time. Having just watched this a few minutes ago I don't have much to say other than what I have just seen/heard is simply perfect. Great idea, great execution of that idea (catch-phrases like 'goes up to 11' and the premise of "The Office" and its clones spawned from it), great music (good-enough to stand on its own) and a 100% committed performance by creative talent both in front of the camera and in-between takes. Harry Shearer's 'stache will haunt me in nightmares for days to come. Though even the smallest role is crammed with talent (Shaffer, Kirby, Crystal, Huston, etc.) this is clearly "The Christopher Guest and Michael McKean Show" as both guys are just magnetic and so much into character I forgot I was watching a spoof mockumentary several times, until a well-timed line ('McLean Stevenson reads Robert Louis Stevenson' :lol: ) brought me back to reality with a big laugh. Only thing is I wish we'd gotten a peek at the original cover art for the album they were promoting. In this case black ain't beautiful, mate. 8)

Lamberto Bava's DEMONS 2 (1986) on DVD for the first time. The 80's will be remembered for a lot of great horror flicks. This ain't one of them, which is fitting because "Demons 2" is what 90% of 80's horror movies were: a lousy execution of a derivative premise overloaded with pastel-colored fashions, generic rock/synth tunes and big neon signs on living room walls (which constantly strobe-flicker during a blackout). A virtual repeat of the first "Demons" except set in a luxurious sound/bullet-proof apartment building named 'The Tower' instead of a movie theater, "Demons 2" apes on a shoestring budget all the pre-'86 horror milestones: "Alien" (acid blood), "Videodrome" (pulsating TV), "The Thing" (dog transformation), "Gremlins" (don't ask!), etc. It's a poor attempt to cover for the fact the direction/script are the height of ineptitude at building tension or being remotely scary, not to mention the gore/make-up effects are a step down from its predecessor. "Demons 2" literally makes up its rules as it goes along about what demons can turn into or when/how a person becomes one, and there's not one likable character except for 11-year old Asia Argento in her film debut (and she's only likable because she doesn't say anything). The movie's only redeeming feature is that it highlights how, flawed as it was, the first "Demons" had a demented energy to pull off its premise that is MIA this time around. Avoid.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987) on DVD for the first time. My God, what pile did I just step into? Does it get more sleazy and exploitative than a slasher flick that not only courts the unwarranted-controversy of the first "SNDN," but then literally recycles about 40 minutes of footage from it to get it to the halfway mark? You will believe a 6-month old baby can have flashbacks, or recall childhood memories he wasn't there to see. And holy shit, is Eric 'Garbage Day!' Freeman's Ricky on another planet (in which he's awesome and/or Patrick Bateman) or what? From the brightest-lit movie theater in history (in which the first "SNDN" is being shown... what??!!) to the sight of Eric becoming The Terminator at the sight of red cloth, it took four writers and a few thousand dollars to make the stupidest and nastiest "MST3K" episode that was never actually made. So feel free to make your own, and speaking of which...

MST3K #806: THE UNDEAD (1997/1957) on DVD. One of my favorite "MST3K" experiments of all time (primarily because it's the one in which Bill Corbett cemented the voice/personality of the Sci-Fi era Crow T. Robot) yields, independently of the TV show as well as combined, a cheap B movie that is like a perfect metaphor for Corman's career: an interesting premise (a prostitute travels back in time via hypnosis to the Medieval Period, takes over the personality of a woman accused of witchcraft) that is totally concocted to take advantage of the costumes/sets from an earlier movie. Cheese in the performances, SFX and plot don't stop Corman (who's a much better director than producer) from delivering an amusing time-waster with a thought-provoking (and equally laughable) ending that actually influenced better, more reputable films ("Somewhere in Time" anyone?). Then again, my "MST3K" upbringing has prejudiced me to substitute the word "Corman" with "funny." And 'STAAAAYYY' has remained one of my favorite all-time MST3K catch-words ever since I heard it uttered here first. :)

BLACK WATER (2007) on Amazon Prime for the first time. I came for the advertised "Jaws"-meets-"Open Water" killer croc low-budget Aussie carnage (which I got). I stayed for the excellent acting (particularly Diana Glenn & Maeve Dermody as sisters) and tense-filled moments before and after the mayhem, both of which are the parts these ripoffs usually neglect the most. The taunting, stalker-like behavior of the croc would be unbelievable if the flick wasn't based on an actual event in which a real one behaved similarly. A short sequence set at night that's illuminated only by lightning occasionally breaking the pitch darkness is both beautiful and scary as hell. I've seen episodes of "Swamp People" that are more exploitative than "Black Water," but as a modern-day Ozploitation sample this was a pleasant surprise.

James Cameron's TITANIC 3D (1997/2012) on 3D Blu-ray. I love "Titanic" to death (it's my #9 favorite movie of all time) but it can afford to be taken down a few pegs. Specifically, since the movie's lead characters Jack & Rose are supposed to be teens (played by Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet passing themselves as such), how Cameron 'teensploits' for the benefit of his movie narrative and box office potential both the appeal for teens of seeing themselves on the screen as the center of the universe (the fictitious core of an otherwise accurate reenactment of a real-life tragedy) and anybody older's fond memories of being a love-lorn teen. Even underage viewers get to fantasize that (a) Leo is their movie boyfriend if they're girls or (b) gawk in Winslet at their first pretty naked movie girl if they're boys (or girls too). With a 'teensploitation' mindset, watching "Titanic 3D" was remarkable whenever I wasn't crying tears of sadness/joy at all the usual spots. From Jack's European adventures drawing French naked chicks to Rose becoming a sexy teen clone of Ripley's female-lone-wolf-overcoming-obstacles to save her wrongfully-detained man, and from the dreamy 'one night that changed our lives' romance (complete with steamy car-backseat nookie) to historical figures like "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown becoming Jack's wardrobe assistant, "Titanic" is a monument to the inherent appeal of the narcissism of being a young person in love that knows better than the clueless, bullying grown-ups around him/her. Rose noticing she and Jack are on the same spot of the boat they met while thousands of people are dying around them? Come on!

Cameron's ham-fisted dialogue and Billy Zane's/David Warner's over-the-top villainy (with Frances Fisher's matriarch routine somewhere in-between) could almost be considered Douglas Sirk-esque and deliberate, except for the tragedy of the boat sinking being the equalizing factor to all characters (not to mention the reason "Titanic" was made in the first place).
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Re: SPRING (AND SUMMER) BREAKERS? WATCHIN' IN 2013

Postby Polynikes » Fri Jun 28, 2013 3:21 pm

Aeon Flux (2005). Good reader, I urge you to avoid this. It was billed as science fiction, which prompted me to watch as I like good sci-fi, but I can't help wondering whether this film was actually made as part of a sophisticated interrogation package, compelling prisoners to yield information lest they be subjected to a second viewing; or perhaps the threat of showing it twice is a powerful disincentive to prison riots. By the time I saw Pete Postlethwaite on screen ensconced in what appeared to be a Yorkshire pudding, I seriously began to wonder if my wife had drugged our dinner that night. Far from being sci-fi, it was more of a cheesy martial arts film, as far as I can remember, but I lost interest at an early stage in the characters or what was meant to be happening. It was not even bad enough to be funny - merely unremittingly tedious.
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