Monday, January 31, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

C is for... [part 2]


In the opening minutes of Coffy, Pam Grier's star-making role, she blasts the skull of a sleazy drug pusher into pulp like a watermelon and shoots his junkie assistant with an overdose of heroin. Jack Hill knows how to open a movie, and he never lets up on the down-and-dirty action. Coffy is an emergency room nurse by day and vigilante by night, targeting the dealers who made her sister a comatose junkie. She works her way up to the Italian mobsters muscling into the ghetto drug trade while she's romanced by glib, smooth-talking politician Booker Bradshaw and wooed by nice-guy cop William Elliot, whose refusal to sell out to the corrupt force earns him a crippling beating.

There's plenty of sex, a catty girl-fight that leaves the losers topless, and car chases and shootouts galore, but what makes Coffy a blaxploitation classic is Grier's Amazonian presence and fiery charisma, and the gritty, low-budget action scenes marked by visceral, wincing violence. Mob strong-arm Sid Haig (Spider Baby) cackles while dragging his victim (a strutting peacock pimp played by Nashville's Robert DoQui) behind a speeding car in a sadistic lynching, and Grier runs down one bad guy with a speeding car and takes care of another with a shotgun to the groin. Hill had previously directed Grier in The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage. Their next and last picture together, Foxy Brown, was originally written as the sequel to Coffy (synopsis provided by Amazon.com)


directed by Jack Hill


released 1973

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

C is for...


Arguably the greatest of American films, Orson Welles's 1941 masterpiece, made when he was only 26, still unfurls like a dream and carries the viewer along the mysterious currents of time and memory to reach a mature (if ambiguous) conclusion: people are the sum of their contradictions, and can't be known easily. Welles plays newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, taken from his mother as a boy and made the ward of a rich industrialist. The result is that every well-meaning or tyrannical or self-destructive move he makes for the rest of his life appears in some way to be a reaction to that deeply wounding event. Written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, and photographed by Gregg Toland, the film is the sum of Welles's awesome ambitions as an artist in Hollywood. He pushes the limits of then-available technology to create a true magic show, a visual and aural feast that almost seems to be rising up from a viewer's subconsciousness. As Kane, Welles even ushers in the influence of Bertolt Brecht on film acting. This is truly a one-of-a-kind work, and in many ways is still the most modern of modern films from the 20th century. (synopsis provided by Amazon.com)


directed by Orson Welles

released 1941

Thursday, January 20, 2011

B is for... [part 2]


This quietly daffy comedy should have been an indie hit, but ended up ignored by audiences. Too bad; it's a wonderfully sustained caper movie about friends whose career choice is all wrong. Low-key Anthony (Luke Wilson) and high-strung Dignan (Owen C. Wilson--the two actors are brothers) are brought into a life of crime by Dignan's ambition to be a small-time thief. After a few amusingly laid-back trial burglaries, they (and a third buddy) find themselves over their heads when they hook up with an experienced crime boss (James Caan). Because this movie is so relentlessly deadpan, you really have to be dialed in to its brand of humor--but once there, Bottle Rocket shoots off plenty of sparks. Above all, Owen Wilson's portrayal of Dignan is a terrifically original comic creation; Dignan is so sincerely focused on his goals that he can't see how completely absurd his ideas are. Owen Wilson, who went on to supply similarly knuckle-headed performances in Armageddon and Permanent Midnight, wrote the screenplay with director Wes Anderson. (synopsis provided by Amazon.com)


directed by Wes Anderson

released 1996

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Social Network [2010]




The film delves into the creation of the popular social networking web-site Facebok – via the lawsuits stemming from the web-sites creation - against its “creator” Mark Zuckerberg.


It’s bold and interesting – due to the fact that all these events happened just a few years ago – it’s also a matter of timeliness that really helps give this film a lot of weight. I’m not sure if this film was to come out in 10-years and Facebook isn’t as relevant – that the film would mean the same.


The story isn’t as interesting as the Zuckerberg character and the expert portrayal by Jesse Eisenberg. You present Zuckerberg into these situations – and his actions and motivations are what really carry the film. The obvious question is how can such a socially inept person go on to create the biggest phenomena in social connection since the creation of the internet?


Is it the petty jealousy’s that drives Mark Zuckerberg’s motivations? Is it a complete social incompetence/ignorance that he displays that allows him to do these things seemingly unaffected of consequence? Or is he really a tortured genius that has such a drive that he would steamroll anyone to get to his ends? I think it’s a bit of all of it – which is what makes him such an interesting character that we aren’t treated to such blatant explanations – only hints and innuendos – no sad sack speech explaining it all in the end.


Jesse Eisenberg gives an amazing performance – and though I’m not usually one to pick a favorite in the acting categories during award season – but he’s my pick for every acting award he gets nominated for. The portrayal was frenetic – pitch perfection when it comes to the realistic awkwardness of a nerd – he plays Zuckerberg as motivated, focused and confident - but such a dangerous way – that he seems one step away from being a lunatic that would have a compound out in the woods of Montana. He’s unsympathetic – a true anti-hero – but love him or hate him – he is who he is and he obviously embraces himself – which makes the character portrayal so very interesting.



My only real complaint is with the nothing the film is at fault for. I disagree in quite a few ways with some of the praise I hear regarding the film – not that I didn’t find it to be a great character study film – but in regards to how much it’s compared to the film Citizen Kane. Sure, both films are about a present day mogul – who would be quite embarrassed about how unflattering the film portrays them to be – but only portrays them to be so unflattering because it’s true – but the calls of “revolutionary” as a film, The Social Network is not.


I think that the web-site whose creator is this film’s focus – is revolutionary – so I hope we have the two separated in our minds when critics are spouting this praise. Orson Welles rewrote the handbook of filmmaking with Kane – his use of camera angles, lighting, editing, montage, music, distance – these days you’ve really got to look for these things and realize that this was not commonplace techniques back then – today a massive crane single shot that takes you from the street – up the side of a building – then into the skylight is nothing! Back then, groundbreaking! Films have not been the same since Kane – David Fincher on the other hand gives a tight – well paced - interesting film that is a great movie watching experience – but doesn’t redefine the art of filmmaking itself.


Lest we forget Kane was the work of one man, Welles, who dared thumb his nose at Hearst probably the biggest media mogul of that time – he fought and fought and fought – not only to make the film but to make it the way he envisioned. Not once have I heard of reports that the real life Zuckerberg was gunning for this production – and with how spineless and unoriginal studios seem to be these days – they probably would’ve accepted a bribe to bury this film – and Zuckerberg could afford a tidy sum. The Social Network may be a bold film – but not on any level as bold, groundbreaking or revolutionary as what Kane ended up being.


Fincher directs the film that could easily been a complete lambasting of Zuckerberg into a film that really explores the character and compliments Eisenberg’s performance. The film is fast paced – keeps it entertaining – finds surprising areas for humor to come up naturally – but keeps it bold and serious – but works best with the characters.


Compared to some his previous works – I find the film to be much of the same in deeply exploring a character – but different in the execution. He’s adept at letting the characters tell their own tales – but usually in a slower pace that allows the viewer to walk along with them – in The Social Network – you’ve really got to hang on and if you miss something – that’s all right – it’s not the point – it’s all about the characters telling the story and since it’s intercut with the court proceedings and told in flashbacks – it’s a film of the journey of said characters not so much of the story.


All in all - this is a great film - interesting and fun - I'm giving it full marks and it lands in my Top 5 of the year.


For more on why I don't think this film is justly compared to Kane - please check out my fellow bloggers post who takes a look at the plot - and how it doesn't match up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

B is for...




Visually spectacular, intensely action-packed and powerfully prophetic since its debut, Blade Runner returns in Ridley Scott's definitive Final Cut, including extended scenes and never-before-seen special effects. In a signature role as 21st-century detective Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford brings his masculine-yet-vulnerable presence to this stylish noir thriller. In a future of high-tech possibility soured by urban and social decay, Deckard hunts for fugitive, murderous replicants - and is drawn to a mystery woman whose secrets may undermine his soul.
(synopsis provided by Amazon.com)


directed by Ridley Scott

released 1982

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A is for... [part 2]


Away We Go has an incredible mix of ingredients: A script co-written by Dave Eggers (author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), starring the not-hugely-famous-but-always-excellent Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live) and John Krasinski (The Office), and featuring an astounding supporting cast that includes Catherine O’Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, and more. What’s even more incredible is that all these ingredients blend together into a truly marvelous but very non-traditional romantic comedy. For one thing, Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are already a couple and expecting their first child. What they don’t know is where they’re going to live--so they set off on a tour of disparate locations (Tucson, Montreal, Miami) where they have friends or relatives, sampling not only different cities and climates but also different families. The social and emotional collisions that follow are sometimes very funny and sometimes heartwrenching. Away We Go starts quietly and, through subtle yet consistently delightful scenes, builds to a surprisingly potent end. This is a gem of a movie, not to be missed. (synopsis provided by Amazon.com)




directed by Sam Mendes


released 2009

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth (and my movie collection)


I’ve decided due to a lack of content the last half of 2010 – I would try and at least make some effort in making a meme that will last a while and reward the people who foolishly decide to check out my blog to see if I’ve got anything going on.

The rules are pretty simple – I’ve got to put up a movie from my DVD collection for each letter of the alphabet each week – and since picking just one is tough – I’ve made it two movies one on Tuesday the other on Thursday.

I went into a panic when I got to ‘K’, ‘Q’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ – I’ve actually had to go into my box of closet movies, consider purchasing films that had been sitting on my want list, digging through my public domain movie box-sets and scrolling up and down my Netflix ratings list to see if I have strong feelings about a film that begins with that letter. I ruled out going with films that double as MST3K episodes – so if you should see one or two that look MST-ish – just know it’s the real deal.

It’s also very tempting to just pick the same films that I frequently have referenced – which in some cases I do – but I will try not to (but a few favorites will be on the list). As I sketched it out – I found a lot of the same – so I scratched out a few letters and re-picked my selections – though some letters I really have no choice – and some letters I still have no clue.

I think this will be a fun way of looking at my movie collection – it might get others thinking of doing a bit of the same – possibly finding out what on your shelf you would’ve picked – or guessing what next week’s picks will be... I guess I also run the risk of everyone rolling their eyes in embarrassment in knowing me – but hell – it’s been a fun ride... ha ha...

And wouldn’t you know it – there are 26 letters in the alphabet and 52 weeks in the year... That means I can at least push out half a year of content – even if it’s a bit of a cheat.

I promise that I will be inspired from time to time to do a real movie review – or rant about something – or maybe do some more interesting stuff – but lately I’ve found that I don’t have much to say about movies (which I knew would be a risk of committing to a movie blog). So, as a consolation prize – you get to stand in front of my DVD shelf and run your fingers across the spines...

Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A is for...




A movie that only true horror buffs could love, Army of Darkness is officially part 3 in the wild and wacky Evil Dead trilogy masterminded by the perversely inventive director Sam Raimi, who would later serve as executive producer of the popular syndicated TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Raimi's favorite actor, Bruce Campbell, returns as Ash (hero of the first two Evil Dead flicks), a hardware-store clerk who is magically transported--along with his beat-up Oldsmobile and a chainsaw attachment for his severed left forearm--to the brutal battlefields of the 14th century. He quickly assumes power (who else in the Middle Ages packs a shotgun and a chainsaw?), and unites his band of medieval knights against the dreaded Army of the Dead. Raimi gleefully subverts almost every horror-movie cliché as he serves up a nonstop parade of blood, gore, and vicious sword-bearing skeletons--an affectionate homage to animator Ray Harryhausen's classic Jason and the Argonauts. The frantic action is fun while it lasts, but even at 80 minutes Army of Darknessnearly wears out its welcome. You know that Raimi can maintain the mayhem for only so long before it grows tiresome, and fortunately this madcap movie quits while it's ahead.
(synopsis by Amazon.com)


directed by Sam Raimi

released 1992

Thursday, January 6, 2011

# is for... [part 2]



The director/producer team that created Trainspotting turn their dynamic cinematic imaginations to the classic science fiction scenario of the last people on Earth. Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to find London deserted--until he runs into a mob of crazed plague victims. He gradually finds other still-human survivors (including Naomie Harris), with whom he heads off across the abandoned countryside to find the source of a radio broadcast that promises salvation. 28 Days Later is basically an updated version of The Omega Manand other post-apocalyptic visions; but while the movie may lack originality, it makes up for it in vivid details and creepy paranoid atmosphere. 28 Days Later's portrait of how people behave in extreme circumstances--written by novelist Alex Garland (The Beach)--will haunt you afterward. Also featuring Brendan Gleeson (The General, Gangs of New York) and Christopher Eccleston (Shallow Grave, The Others). (synopsis provided by Amazon.com)



directed by Danny Boyle

released 2002


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

# is for...





Inspired by Chris Marker's acclaimed short film La Jetée (which is included on the DVD Short 2: Dreams), 12 Monkeys combines intricate, intelligent storytelling with the uniquely imaginative vision of director Terry Gilliam. The story opens in the wintry wasteland of the year 2035, where a virulent plague has forced humans to live in a squalid, oppressively regimented underground. Bruce Willis plays a societal outcast who is given the opportunity to erase his criminal record by "volunteering" to time-travel into the past to obtain a pure sample of the deadly virus that will help future scientists to develop a cure. But in bouncing from 1918 to the early and mid-1990s, he undergoes an ordeal that forces him to question his own perceptions of reality. Caught between the dangers of the past and the devastation of the future, he encounters a psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe) who is initially convinced he's insane, and a wacky mental patient (Brad Pitt in a twitchy Oscar-nominated role) with links to a radical group that may have unleashed the deadly virus. Equal parts mystery, tragedy, psychological thriller, and apocalyptic drama, 12 Monkeys ranks as one of the best science fiction films of the '90s, boosted by Gilliam's visual ingenuity and one of the finest performances of Willis's career. (synopsis provided by Amazon.com)



directed by Terry Gilliam

released 1995