Sunday, February 28, 2010

02-28-10: What I've Seen in the Last Few Weeks

D: Francis Ford Coppola. S: Tim Roth, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara.

A seventy-year old man is struck by lightning, miraculously he survives.  What is more amazing is that when he awakens and eventually heals, he looks to be in his thirties.

In this film based on the novel by Mircea Eliade, Coppola pulls out all the stops.  It's almost comes off an experimental film.  It doesn't have the feel of a Coppola film.  I haven't seen this much visual flair in his films since Dracula.

There is so much more to this film then just the story of a man who has somehow tapped into the fountain of youth.  It's fantasy, science-fiction, metaphysical, metaphorical, romantic, fascinating.   It does the film not justice to go into detail about the story and what was great about it.  However, I will say the conclusion leaves you to ponder just what it is you've seen.

The performances were great and I really enjoyed the way Coppola shot the film.  It can at times come off as a bit jarring yet enjoyable.  It's his best film in quite some time.

RIO BRAVO (1959) ****1/2
D: Howard Hawks: S: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson.

This is a classic western that slowly builds up the tension until it is finally released in an action-filled finale.

After taking a cold-blooded murderer into custody, a sheriff and his deputies have to stay on their toes while awaiting the arrival of the US Marshals.  

The Sheriff is played by John Wayne.  I've never seen him looser or less "Duke" like here.  He's vulnerable, makes mistakes but is still a man who'll take no crap from anyone.

Dean Martin is one of his deputies.  He's a struggling alcoholic who is going through severe withdrawals that he fears could cost them in the end.

Angie Dickinson is the woman who's captured the Sheriff's heart.  When I saw her I didn't realize it was Angie Dickinson. 

This film is filled with many great scenes and great performances.   The only drawback, for me at least, was a sing-a-long led by Ricky Nelson.  It felt like a showcase for the singer sensation.

Other than that, it's a rip-roaring western that ranks amongst the best westerns ever made.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) ***1/2
D: Ti West. S: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov.

A college student trying to make ends meet decides to answer a want ad for a babysitter. 

So begins this homage to classic '80s horror films.  This film has the look and feel of an '80s horror-thriller. 

What makes this film so distinct from all of the horror films made in the last 10-15 years is the willingness to allow the film to simmer.    The "horror" element of the film isn't unleashed until the film is nearly over.  When it finally arrives, it is violent, disorienting, bleak, unnerving and dare I say fun.

I was reminded of "The Burning."  Someone days in the beginning but no one dies for the next hour.  It's all about characters and the situations they are in.  When the killing begins, you find you care.  The "House of Wax" remake actually did this too.  One of the reasons why I liked that one when most hated it.

Do yourself a favor and DO NOT watch the trailer for this film.  Definitely check this out if you miss old school horror.

SYNC OR SWIM (2008) ****
D: Cheryl Furjanic.

Synchronized Swimming.   In all the years I've watched the Olympics, this and curling were two events I never bothered watching. 

This documentary follows the 2004 Olympic Synchronized Swimming team from trials through the 2004 Olympics and beyond.

If you love the olympics, you'll love this movie.   It really gives you a sense of what goes on when putting an Olympic team together.  You literally get the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. 

I was rather amazed at just how much strength and coordination is required just to do one element.  I have a new found respect for sync swimmers.

This is a great documentary, see it if you can.

WAITING FOR...BUDD (2009) ***1/2
D: Garry Pastore. S: Vincent Pastore, Garry Pastore, Robert Funaro.

This short feature documentary is a testament to the old adage "The show must go on."

A group of actors put on a outdoor reading of the classic "On the Waterfront."   This staging will take place on the docks of Hoboken where the classic film took place.

The production company receives word that Budd Schulberg, the film's screenwriter, will be attending a performance.   Needless to say, the group is excited.

However, the day of the performance the region's biggest storm hits and a downpour threatens to cancel the show.   With short notice, they find a new indoor venue, have a packed house with very little advertisement and the guest of honor was there to see the show.

As it turns out, this was the last time Budd Schulberg would see his work performed which brought even greater sentimentality to this production.

I would have liked to have seen more about Budd but the focus of the film was about the production.

Still a good film overall.

SHUTTER ISLAND (2010) ***1/2
D: Martin Scorsese. S: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams.

A US Marshall descends into hell when he investigates the disappearance of a dangerous mental patient from an island-based mental institution.

This is another movie that one shouldn't discuss without risking giving away too much.

It was an enjoyable thriller, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane.  It's definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

02-13-10: Wolfman doesn't have nards!

THE WOLFMAN (2010) **1/2
D: Joe Johnston. S: Benicio DelToro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving.

A noble effort by all to bring the classic tale back to the big screen but ultimately it doesn't have much bite.

Lawrence Talbot returns home to investigate the brutal murder of his death.   He encounters the deadly beast, is bitten and according to legend will become a beast himself.

When the visual effects doesn't over rely on CGI they are quite good.  Rick Baker, creator of the legendary make up for An American Werewolf in London, is behind the latest incarnation.  The make up looks great but it loses much when the wolfman changes to CGI for more complex action.

Unfortunately you find that you really don't care at all about anyone and would just assume see them all dead.   There were some pretty cool moments but overall they aren't enough to save the film.

When it ends, you just shrug your shoulders and go hmmm.

It's unfair to compare the film to something like American Werewolf but if you throw out the humor you find characters to you genuinely care about.  If they did that here, the film may have been better.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

02-11-10: A Serious Man Walks Hard into a Mirrormask

D: Jake Kasdan. John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows.

***I watched the 2 hour director's cut which is about 25 mins. longer than the theatrical cut.***

This parody/satire chronicles the life of Dewey Cox from his childhood to his long overdue return to the stage.  It sends up films like Ray and Walk the Line.  Unfortunately, there are way more misses than hits and I barely even mustered a chuckle throughout the film.

Oddly enough, I liked the songs. They were played straight with the exception of one that is loaded with innuendo and that was rather funny.

Because this was the extended cut there certainly was a lot that needed to be cut for pacing.  However, cut it down isn't going to improve the comedy of it all.  As a result, I didn't bother to watch the theatrical version.

MirrorMask (2005) ***1/2
D: Dave McKean. C: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon.

From the imaginations of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean comes this visually arresting, entertaining, dark and fun fantasy that the entire family is sure to enjoy.

The story follows Helena as she enters a magical world that can only be a dream...or is it?

She journeys through a world that could only be a dream; bizarre, peculiar, amusing, creepy and dangerous.

She takes on a quest to help save the kingdom and the deeper she goes the clearer things become.

This was a very satisfying fantasy adventure.  In some ways it reminded me of Coraline, which was also written by Gaiman.  I think it would be an idle double feature with Labyrinth.  Check it out.

A SERIOUS MAN (2009) ****1/2
D: Joel & Ethan Coen. C: Michael Stuhlbarg,  Richard Kind, Fred Melamad.

The Coens latest is a black comedy that follows a professor who's life is unraveling before him and he seeks answers as to why everything is falling apart.

This is a funny, dark, sad and sometimes enlightening film.   The circumstances of the events throughout are cringe worthy but feel very real and surprisingly funny.

Only the Coens could make a broken marriage funny.

The picture is well acted, with sharp funny dialogue and a number of memorable moments.

This is up there with some of my Coen favorites.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

02-06-10: ...if you can find them, maybe you can hire The Professionals.

D: Richard Brooks. S: Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Palance.

A Texas millionaire hires four men, each with their own particular set of skills, to rescue his wife who has been kidnapped by a notorius Mexican bandito.

Sounds like your typical western plot, doesn't it?   The Professionals is far from typical.   It's a western filled with adventure, drama, suspense, comedy, morality, romance and justice.   It's kinda like a low-key Silverado, one of my all-time favorite westerns.  Silverado was the high-octane fun adventure whereas The Professionals would be the slow-burn fun adventure.

There are numerous memorable set pieces in the film but I don't wish to discuss them out of risk of spoiling them.

If you have a few hours to fill, this certainly will fit the bill.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

01-31-10: 1900 in 5 hrs. 15 mins.

NOVECENTO (1976) ***1/2
D: Bernardo Bertolucci.  S: Robert DeNiro, Gerard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Burt Lancaster.

This is a very long, slow moving but never boring epic.   At 5 hrs. 15 mins. it's a commitment that is ultimately rewarding.

The story follows two friends, one born to a peasant and the other born to a landowner.   It follows their lives from childhood to adulthood as a social upheaval in Italy begins to take shape around them.  

Across the board the acting is excellent.  Donald Sutherland leaves a lasting impression as a foreman with fascist ties.

The film does lose some steam in the final half hour as it begins to bog down in its politics.  It even goes so far as to have Depardieu break the 4th wall and address the audience.     Its unfortunate that after committing so much time to the film it has a some what weak conclusion.

If you have the time, it's worth checking out.