Saturday, April 12, 2014

523. WANDA (1970)


Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Barbara Loden
Written By: Barbara Loden
Main Cast: Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins

GET THE BALL ROLLIN'

So I meant to be back before tonight, but when I popped "The Fireman's Ball" into the DVD player the other night, the player wouldn't read the disc. I popped it back out and discovered a large, very visible crack on the disc, so I just decided to turn in. I seriously hope Netflix somehow tracks down the people that damage their DVDs and closes their memberships. It's ridiculous the amount of broken DVDs I get from them. Anyway, read on...


I didn't know much about this one going in, other than it was directed by the wife of Elia Kazan. Therefore, my view of it was quite fresh and I'll say right off the bat, I quite liked it. The film stars Loden as Wanda Goronski, a down on her luck woman who abandons her husband & children and spends her days drifting around town. We first happen upon Wanda as she wakes up on the couch of a friend and feeling unwanted, decides to leave. She hits up a second, male friend for a few dollars cash and finds herself in a bar, with intentions of washing down the money she's just borrowed. While in the bar, she manages to get the attention of a gentleman, who buys her the drink and ends up in a bed with her. In a scene we don't often see, it's the gentleman who awakes a little later, trying his best to be quiet, so he can sneak away easily. Wanda wakes up and chases him down, but later he ditches her. She then happens into another bar, later that night, to find a barkeeper just about to close up shop. She begs him to use the restroom and he reluctantly obliges. He rushes her out of the ladies' room, but before he can get rid of her, she asks for a drink, a comb and perhaps a towel so she can dry her hands. It turns out that this guy isn't the barkeeper at all, but a man who has just robbed the joint, with the real barkeeper on the floor, behind the bar, gagged with a towel. The two exit together and somehow Wanda ends up shacked up in a hotel with this guy, him demanding that she go out and get him some hamburgers and a newspaper. He's a bully, who uses physical and notably verbal abuse to control Wanda into becoming his muse and together, the two plan a bank heist.


After watching "Escape from Alcatraz" and hearing some people compare it to "A Man Escaped" and reading on Wikipedia that some compare "Wanda" to the films of Robert Bresson, I really can't wait to get a look at that guy's work - which I'll be doing later this season with "Bresson Week" (probably sooner than later). Anyway, yeah this was pretty great. I have to say, I put this in the DVD player last night and then I was doing something (can't remember what). Anyway, the DVD menu just played on a loop and I kept glancing at it and even the disc menu intrigued me - a lone woman in white walking across a pathway, surrounded by mounds of dirt (I think it was actually mounds of coal, but it looked like dirt from just the DVD menu). I think when even a DVD menu can start getting you excited for a film, then you definitely have something. The film was low key, quiet - at times so low key, I felt like a voyeur, snooping on real people, as opposed to film characters - and consisted of lots of realism. I really don't have much nitpicking to do...well, maybe just a hair. I was going to say how much I loved the lighting of the scenes with Barbara Loden and Michael Higgins in that hotel room and how I wished it had gone on longer. In fact, I think I could've watched these two characters interacting in that cramped, grungy, ugly, yet somehow cozy hotel room for the entire duration of the movie. However, I quickly got used to the second half of the film, which revolves around the two planning the bank robbery.


Perhaps I'm missing something, but I kind of have to wonder why Loden would portray such a character. Obviously she wasn't a big feminist, because her creation and portrayal of Wanda is quite the opposite of any positive statements one might want to make in favor of women's power. She's an uneducated, quiet little woman, who believes she'll never amount to anything, nor have anything. She allows herself to be treated like a prostitute and a punching bag (mainly for verbal jabs) by both main character Norman (Higgins) and by the other guy, whom we only see for a bit. I mean, I applaud Loden for not turning her film into an activist's statement and just telling us a good story, but it seems to me that a powerful woman existing in 1970 would want to empower her character too. I mean this was right out of the 60s and wasn't that the big "burn your bra", women's liberation period? I'm probably venturing outside of my comfort zone, as far as my knowledge of this subject goes, so I better turn back. Anyway, that's not a criticism - more of a compliment for keeping the movie statement free.

But yeah, this is definitely one you're going to want to check out. It's not big budget Hollywood, nor is it experimental. It's perhaps an integral film in the birth of independent cinema - a type of film that would fall comfortably between those two polar opposites. Loden shines as the title character - a character you're not going to forget easily. Don't let me forget Michael Higgins who also does a standout job as the bullying bank robber, who takes Wanda under his wing. Recommended.

RATING: 7.5/10  I could see myself going higher eventually, but for right now that number feels right.

MOVIES WATCHED: 824
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 177

April 12, 2014  10:40pm

Thursday, April 10, 2014

March 2014 Recap

I know I said two days ago that I'd have this up in the next twenty-four hours, but what I clearly meant was forty-eight hours. Anyway, let's not dilly-dally.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in March 2014
1) Eraserhead (1977 - David Lynch) 5/10 - I decided to up this one just a hair because the images from this one managed to stick with me throughout the month and I still have that chipmunk cheeked lady and that cow fetus looking baby etched into my brain.
2) Fat City (1972 - John Huston) 7.5/10
3) Das Boot (1981 - Wolfgang Petersen) 3/10 - This was just a rough watch, no matter how you slice it. I stand by my thoughts.
4) Earth Entranced (1967 - Glauber Rocha) 3.5/10
5) Shaft (1971 - Gordon Parks) 6.5/10 - I stand by liking this one. Despite being cheaply made, it was harmless fun!
6) Don't Look Now (1973 - Nicholas Roeg) 7.5/10
7) India Song (1975 - Marguerite Duras) 3/10 - Hypnotic with great imagery, yet boring as hell!
8) Little Big Man (1970 - Arthur Penn) 6.5/10
9) Breaking Away (1979 - Peter Yates) 6/10 - In the long run, I couldn't get over the overly cliched majority of this one. My initial '7' was way too high.
10) The American Friend (1977 - Wim Wenders) 7.5/10
11) Pickup on South Street (1953 - Samuel Fuller) 5.5/10 - Wanted to love it, but went away barely liking it. Great characters and atmosphere, it was the story that fell flat and the fact that Fuller's voice was too prevalent.
12) Shock Corridor (1963 - Samuel Fuller) 8/10 - Here I was able to drown out Fuller's opinions and focus on the core, which was a fantastic idea for a movie.
13) The Big Red One (1980 - Samuel Fuller) 4/10 - Went a little lower, as a '5' was just too much. I wouldn't be against seeing more of Fuller's work though, mainly on the merits of "Shock Corridor".

The goal is still to get to 901 watched by the time I'm 30 (July 12) and with 78 still to go, that's going to take some heavy lifting on my end. I plan to start up again tonight and be back tomorrow with a review though, to get the ball rolling again.

NON-1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in March 2014
1) Gravity (2013 - Alfonso Cuaron) 2.5/10 - For those of you reading this on Letterboxd, you won't know about my current project to watch all 1001 films in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book. As I write this, I have about 180 movies left to watch from that list, meaning I've tackled about 820. Perhaps when you see that many movies - just like when you meet a lot of people - you develop a talent to see through the bullshit. You don't swallow everything you're spoon fed and you develop solid opinions, not "kinda liked it"/"kinda didn't like it" ideas.
Maybe the reason I disliked "Gravity" so much is because I was really looking forward to it and it completely failed to live up to any of my expectations, except maybe in it's visual presentation. Then again, I may have hated it because of the shoddy writing, the very Hollywood aspects and the mere presence of Bullock.

If you want to see a good survival story from last year, don't go to space, go to the ocean and rent "All Is Lost", because that's the minimalist survival tale that people should've be carrying on their shoulders to all the big awards shows. With "Gravity" we get too much CGI and not enough realistic impressions. And I realize that when you're filming a space movie, CGI is a must have, but couldn't they have given us real ism elsewhere - in the acting, in the script. Clooney and Bullock made me want to gag with the way that they didn't really alter their normal performances at all. For all I could tell, the man in the space suit, who liked to tell stories was Danny Ocean and the girl was any other run of the mill California actress that you can find anytime/anywhere when you drive the Hollywood hills.

God forbid a character die or we aren't given some sappy line of dialogue, something to make the casual fans recommend this to a friend and rake in a few more dollars. Give me the realism, the grit, the grime and keep this crap to yourself. Maybe the reason I didn't give a hoot about this movie, is because I didn't give a hoot about the characters. This wasn't really a story that was told, but rather something the camera just happened upon and therefore, we were really never tied emotionally to these characters. When George Clooney drifted off into death, did anyone care but the women in the audience who realized that they just paid $8 bucks for only thirty minutes of Cloontang? I know I didn't.

Anyway - rant over. I didn't like it and here's hoping "12 Years a Slave" is better and actually earned it's big award.


ME vs. TV

So I figured I'd add this feature in this month, since I've skipped it for the past few recaps.

I must say, I've given up on most of the shows that started this past fall. I had started out watching most of the ones that looked even halfway decent, but now all I'm still watching regularly is THE MILLERS, ABOUT A BOY, GROWING UP FISHER, CUTTHROAT KITCHEN, BILLY ON THE STREET, RAKE, FAMILY GUY, AMERICAN DAD and HELL'S KITCHEN. And even with most of those, I have a bundle sitting on my DVR, just waiting to be watched. My wife and I have kind of adopted this new policy of letting entire runs of shows just record onto the DVR and watching them once we have the whole series. We're just not reliable enough to have to watch something week after week. HELL'S KITCHEN and BILLY ON THE STREET are just about the only two we actually watch as soon as we get a new episode.

However, as far as DVD TV watching, we've been keeping pretty busy. We decided about a month or so ago to start up BREAKING BAD and are currently on Season Four. Like most of the population that's seen it, we're loving it. My brother promised one of the most intense television watching experiences he'd ever witnessed and he wasn't lying. I have to say though. while I LOVE every season, I liked seasons three and four less than seasons one and two. I feel like by having Skyler find out about Walt's meth making, they lost a lot of the suspense of the show. Still though, don't get me wrong - I'm still heavily addicted and can't wait to see how it all wraps up.

When the wife isn't home or sleeping, I've been doing BOB'S BURGERS in my free time and also picked up the first four seasons of THE SIMPSONS - a show that I've been wanting to watch from the beginning for a while now. I was a big SIMPSONS fan growing up and I want to try and get back into it. Of course, with over 500 episodes, catching up is going to be a task.

Other than The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (which wife and I watch daily - haven't missed an episode yet) and a hearty helping of WWE Network (which I recently subscribed to and spent the first week totally owning my life), that's about all I've been into.

---

Like I said, I plan to get back into THE BOOK watching tonight (still not sure what I'll watch. It will depend on when wife goes to bed) and get the ball rolling again. In the meantime, check out the 1001 Albums page (located above), which I plan to update every Friday. This Friday (tomorrow) I SHOULD have thoughts on Eric Clapton's 461 OCEAN BOULEVARD posted - the only album I managed to get listened to this week.

Until next time.

April 10, 2014  6:14pm

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #8: CLOSER (2004)


Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Mike Nichols
Written By: Patrick Marber
Main Cast: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen
Click here to view the trailer

WHAT IS A "SIN OF OMISSION"?
As noted many times in the recent past here at the "1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die" blog, in the next 12 - 18 months the ultimate goal of this blog will transform from 'one man's journey to watch all 1001 movies in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book' to 'one man's journey to create his own, personal canon of 1,000 favorite films and show "those 1001 people" just how it's done! Sins of Omission will become a regular feature on the blog where I'll take one film that WAS NOT included in any incarnation of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and DOES NOT appear on the next list of 1000 films that I plan to tackle, give it a formal review and make it a permanent part of my list, which is entitled: 1000 Films You REALLY Should See Before You Die: A Personal, Ongoing Canon of My 1,000 Favorite FIlms.

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

So, like I said at the end of yesterday's post, I plan to do three more of these (four if you count this one) between now and the next week or so, so that my "1000 Films You REALLY Should See Before You Die: A Personal Ongoing Canon of my 1,000 Favorites" list can be sitting at 250 movies. Anyway, I'm plucking all of these off my DVD shelf because as one might expect, I own quite a few of my own favorites. I first saw this one when it was released on DVD, back in 2005 (when I was working at my second video store) and fell in love with it right away. Read on...


The film, in my estimation, is just a piecing together of many different conversations between the four main characters. We start out with Daniel (Law) and Alice (Portman) approaching one another, while walking down opposite, equally busy sidewalks. They make eye contact & share a moment and before she knows it, Alice is in the street and getting struck by a taxi cab. Fortunately it's not a serious crash and Alice comes to about ten seconds later, locking eyes with Daniel - this time a lot closer. He escorts her to the hospital, where the two mingle while waiting to get Alice's split open knee tended to. They're introduced and there seems to be some chemistry. We learn that Daniel is an obituary writer and that Alice is a former stripper, now on a journey in England (where the film takes place). Fast forward many months and we find Daniel in a photographer's studio, getting his picture taken for the book jacket of his new novel. The photographer is Anna (Roberts) and the two talk and, once again, Daniel finds chemistry with a complete stranger. The two share a kiss, before Daniel's now girlfriend Alice comes to pick him up. She happens to overhear a conversation the two have, where Daniel requests to meet Anna again, in private. Fast forward again and we meet Dr. Larry (Owen), a dermatologist who we first encounter as he chats with a woman named "Anna" in an adult chat room. What Larry doesn't know, but what we, the audience, do is that "Anna" is actually Daniel. Daniel (as Anna) offers to meet Larry the following day at an aquarium and Larry agrees. When he gets there, he runs into Anna (the real one this time) and after a confusing start, the two hit it off. The film keeps fast forwarding little by little, peeling back layers of this love quadrangle, until all four hearts are shattered, mended and then shattered again.


Man, Mike Nichols seems to be the master of showing us the breaking of hearts and the ins & outs of rocky relations. He started his career off by showing us four very different characters in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and nearly forty years later he introduced us to four more interesting, sometimes hard to watch characters. I wonder why it is that I'm so fascinated by relationships falling apart in movies? I can watch something like "Scenes from a Marriage" and just let my heart break right along with Liv Ullmann, likewise for Natalie Portman in this and somehow, through all of the heartbreak, find a certain fascination. Perhaps it's because I've never REALLY had a broken heart. My wife and I get along more than swimmingly, with barely a disagreement and so maybe is all draws back to fascination of the unknown. Yeah, that makes sense.

The film gives us four fairly complex characters and allows us to turn them over in our hands, feel the rough edges and get to know them for a couple of hours, through the use of, what I consider to be, fantastic character development. Trust me guys, you will be hard pressed to find better acting. Sure, there are probably hundreds of better performances, but let's just suffice it to say that all four of the mains here pour their hearts out for our viewing pleasure and it's a treat to watch all of them. I have to give a special kudos to Julia Roberts, whom I promise you've never seen better! I'm usually not a fan of hers and as far as I'm concerned, she's WAY overrated. But then I watch her in "Closer" and realize maybe she's underrated. She's fantastic here. The scene where she and Clive Owen have a screaming match - Owen prying for details of his wife's affair - is acting gold! Not to mention Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen - which this picture had a hand in making me fall in love with all three. I never really cared much for Law, but after seeing both this and his version of "Alfie" back in '05, it was difficult not to like him. Like Roberts, he's probably never been better than he is here. Portman and Owen are always solid in my opinion, but they shine here too amongst their two peers. For more Portman magic check out "Garden State", from around the same time and for more from Owen, I'd recommend either "Croupier" or "Derailed" (one that never got enough love, if you ask me).


Be a fan of dialogue if you decide to give this one a try, because if you can't appreciate good words being hurdled like whiffle balls between four fantastic characters, then you won't enjoy yourself here. Also, don't expect happy endings or flowery exchanges, as this movie just doesn't have them. It's a hardcore look at relationships, both in and out of the bedroom. Can I also add that for a movie that relies so much on the sexual goings-on of it's four main characters, I think it's amazing that it features not one sex scene and barely features nudity (save for a rogue breast in a strip club scene - but it's of an extra, not even one of our mains). However, male fans of Portman will be delighted to know she shows up in a skimpy thong, during a particularly memorable scene involving Clive Owen in "The Pleasure Room" of a strip club, where he hounds her for her real name while throwing twenties at her. Trust me, Portman has never looked better - and I'm not just talking about the thong scene.

Anyway, it's a gem of a movie, as far as I'm concerned, one that I don't think a lot of people have discovered. If you haven't and if you can handle the downtrodden nature of the whole affair, check it out. I for one love the atmosphere and despite NOT being a depressive myself, usually feel more at home with blue movies. The English location also lends itself to the story, as a cloudy sky is sometimes featured to add that extra bit of gloom to the whole thing. Big thumbs up!

RATING: 8.5/10  Fantastic acting, great characters, realistic dialogue that really makes you feel the passion of the characters make this one an easy choice for my personal list. Welcome aboard.

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #7: Escape from Alcatraz (1979)


Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Don Siegel
Written By: Richard Tuggle, from book by J. Campbell Bruce
Main Cast: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Roberts Blossom, Fred Ward, Larry Hankin
Click here to view the trailer

WHAT IS A "SIN OF OMISSION"?
As noted many times in the recent past here at the "1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die" blog, in the next 12 - 18 months the ultimate goal of this blog will transform from 'one man's journey to watch all 1001 movies in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book' to 'one man's journey to create his own, personal canon of 1,000 favorite films and show "those 1001 people" just how it's done! Sins of Omission will become a regular feature on the blog where I'll take one film that WAS NOT included in any incarnation of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and DOES NOT appear on the next list of 1000 films that I plan to tackle, give it a formal review and make it a permanent part of my list, which is entitled: 1000 Films You REALLY Should See Before You Die: A Personal, Ongoing Canon of My 1,000 Favorite FIlms.

WE GOTTA' GET OFF THIS ROCK!

Trying to get back into the swing of things here guys, so pardon my mini absences. I hope you're finding enough archival stuff to keep you busy and I hope this review comes as a treat. Also, just so everyone knows, I haven't forgotten about the March recap and will have it posted sometime in the next twenty-four hours. Now then, onto the good stuff...


If you haven't seen this little gem from 1979 starring Clint Eastwood, then you owe it to yourself to track it down. The title pretty much sums up the entire plot, so I won't have to do much more explaining, but I'll add in a few details just because. Based on a true story, the film begins with Frank Morris (Eastwood) being brought into Alcatraz via boat (for the unaware, Alcatraz Prison is located on Alcatraz Island, just off the San Francisco Bay). It seems that Morris has been sent to Alcatraz because he's been a problem child at other prisons, racking up more than a few escape attempts, some successful. Now on "the rock", Morris spends his first few weeks getting acquainted with the regulars. First there's Litmus, an aging man who carries around a small mouse in his pocket. feeding it scraps from his lunch tray (think Michael Clarke Duncan in "The Green Mile"). There's also English, an aging black who is serving two, back to back life sentences for killing two white men. There's Doc (Blossom), an elderly man who likes to paint and there's Wolf, who flirts with Morris and gets a black eye for his troubles. Of course, the characters are just a piece of the pie, as it's the escape that takes center stage and gets underway after we're done meeting everyone. Morris, along with new cell neighbor Charley Butts (Hankin), John Anglin (Ward) and Clarence Anglin, make intricate plans to dig their way to freedom. Morris starts with a nail clipper, using it to chip away at the corroded cement around a small grille in his cell. After busting through the grill, it's only a short hike to a tunnel that leads to the roof. Together with the resources of his three fellow escapees, Morris plots to create some dummy heads out of paper-mache (to lay in their beds the night they leave, so as not to arise suspicion from the guards) and some life preservers and life jackets out of old raincoats, which John gets from the laundry.


Despite loving this movie, I was planning to begin my review by being my normal, picky self and saying that the movie is just a bit too contrived. It seemed that every time our characters needed some supply, despite being in prison, they managed to get it. Hell, Morris even manages to make a drill out of a fan and talk Litmus into tracking him down a drill bit, for God's sake! Add to that the facts that they manage to make life vests and a raft out of old raincoats, chip through the walls of their concrete cells with finger nail clippers and fool perfectly capable, adult guards into thinking that dummy heads are actually sleeping cons and you've got yourself some heavy contrivances. However, with the little bit of research that I've done, it looks like most of these things actually happened in the real case of the Alcatraz escape. The dummy heads thing was definitely true to life, as was the digging out the cell with a spoon and recreation of ventilation grille's, to make it look as if nothing was out of the ordinary. It actually makes this movie even better, because the whole time I just kept picking on the film, saying things like "Oh, that could never happen" or "Oh, they'd have definitely been caught by now", and to know that all of my nitpicking is busted by true facts makes me love this movie even more!

I'll never forget watching this movie for the first time. My brother had been watching it on television and I walked in toward the very end. I asked what it was and he told me what it was & what it was about. At the time, one of my favorite films was "The Shawshank Redemption" and so even at that younger age, I was hooked on prison films and fascinated with escape movies. I remember seeing the scene with the guard pulling back the covers and the camera focusing on the dummy head and the guards face as he realizes what's happened and knowing I needed to see this movie in it's entirety. It just so happened that whatever channel was airing the film was re-airing it immediately afterwards and so I stuck around to catch the full show and was hooked! It doesn't take a lot of explaining to say why: I love prison films and more specifically I totally dig escape movies (see what I did there? - escape movies, "digging"). This one is particularly good because it has Eastwood and Eastwood in the seventies was almost never miss. It also features a host of other fine actors including Fred Ward, Larry Hankin, Roberts Blossom, Paul Benjamin and Patrick McGoohan, not to mention some seriously great character development, even though that's really not what the focal point of the film is. This is one that could have gone another hour, as they could have easily piled in even more character development and a few more escape details.


Stephen King fans will notice MANY similarities between this and both "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption". For starters, you've got the whole mouse in the pocket thing, which not only borrows from the John Coffey character, but also the Brooks Hatlen character from "Shawshank" and his bird Jake. You could also say that the Brooks character is also somewhat patterned after the Doc character, in that he's the oldest member of the film and that he takes drastic actions when he feels there's no other solution. The wardens of both "Alcatraz" and "Shawshank" are also very similar in their demeanor and personality. Both rough, stern men who TRY to have a rapport with the inmates, but usually end up being even bigger jerks. Yep, it's safe to say if you love "Shawshank" (and who doesn't) then you'd also love this and it's a shame that half as many people have heard of this one. Seriously, why THE BOOK didn't stick this one in there, in place of one of their out of left field choices, I'll never know. This would've been a perfect one to tout as something many have yet to discover and something that truly is a quality film. Oh well, that's why I'm making my won list and why this one is a definite inclusion!

RATING: 10/10  I could've lowered it a bit for some nitpicky things, but why squabble over it. I love it and that's that. On a side note, I'm going to try and knock out four more of these sometime in the next week or two, to bring my personal 1000 list to 250 films total.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #6: Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)


Running Time: 137 minutes
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Main Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Perla Haney-Jardine
Click here to view the trailer

WHAT IS A "SIN OF OMISSION"?
As noted many times in the recent past here at the "1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die" blog, in the next 12 - 18 months the ultimate goal of this blog will transform from 'one man's journey to watch all 1001 movies in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book' to 'one man's journey to create his own, personal canon of 1,000 favorite films and show "those 1001 people" just how it's done! Sins of Omission will become a regular feature on the blog where I'll take one film that WAS NOT included in any incarnation of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and DOES NOT appear on the next list of 1000 films that I plan to tackle, give it a formal review and make it a permanent part of my list, which is entitled: 1000 Films You REALLY Should See Before You Die: A Personal, Ongoing Canon of My 1,000 Favorite FIlms.

ROARING RAMPAGE OF REVENGE!

Did you miss me? Something told me you guys could use some new reading material, so here I am to present you with the sixth entry in the SINS OF OMISSION series - a series that allows me the opportunity to propel some of my old favorites (pre-1001 BOOK) directly into my personal 1,000 best list, which is carefully being constructed. Since I'm currently working on an some outside projects, particularly one that involves David Carradine's Bill character, I thought I'd take the opportunity to put this one on my list. However, this will not be a new entry. On my list, KILL BILL VOL. 2 appears as one entry, combined with KILL BILL VOL. 1. Makes sense, right? Anyway, read on...


So Volume 2 picks up right where Volume 1 left off, with The Bride (Thurman) having already killed two of the five people on her Death List Five. The only three that remain are Bill (of course), his brother Budd (Madsen) and his current muse, Elle Driver (Hannah). The film begins by flashing back to that fateful wedding day (which was in fact a wedding dress rehearsal) and Bill's first appearance (onscreen) in the whole bloody affair. Bill has a talk with The Bride (whom we later learned is actually named Beatrix Kiddo), which seems to be fairly pleasant, before we learn that Bill is still harboring some sour grapes, thus sending in his team of assassins to wipe out the wedding party. Flashback to the present, as we follow The Bride as she tracks Budd, who lives in a mobile home, out in the middle of nowhere. Budd actually gets the jump on Kiddo, by unloading a shotgun blast of rock salt into her chest, right before he ties her up and buries her alive, under a grave stone marked Paula Schultz. While underground, Kiddo remembers the "cruel tutelage of Pai Mei", which actually took place years earlier, when Bill dropped her off to become the warrior she is today. She remembers how her ultra cruel instructor would make her break wood with her fists, thus allowing her to summon her teachings and break out of her coffin and crawl up out of the ground. Meanwhile, Budd makes a deal with Elle Driver - he'll give her The Bride's Hattori Hanzo sword in exchange for $1 million in cash. Elle agrees and this all leads to a showdown at Budd's mobile palace between him, Elle and the recently unearthed Bride. Of course, that's not to mention the grand finale which involves a regretful Bill.

SPOILER ALERT!


You know, speaking of The Bride crawling up out of the ground, I think that's the one thing about this movie I really don't like. I mean, why weren't we given the part of Kiddo's back story where she goes to groundhog training and learns to burrow up out of the ground? Anyway, it's nitpicky shit, but last night, when I watched this, it really took me out of the whole picture.

Besides that, I mean - how awesome is this flick? I can remember KILL BILL VOL. 1 being released on DVD about a month or so before KILL BILL VOL. 2 was to hit theaters. My brother both watched it and made plans to get our asses to the theater to see how this all wrapped up. I remember the anticipation of waiting for the Friday that this was to be released, so we could see Bill finally get what was coming to him and see Tarantino's ingenuity at play. I also remember a co-worker of mine at the time, making the critique that "you can't give me that much blood in part one and nearly none at all in part two". You see, that's the thing though. I think it's best not to think of these movies as VOLUME ONE and VOLUME TWO, but rather one big, long film. That way the blood of VOLUME ONE and the story development of VOLUME TWO can coexist and make for one exciting affair when combined.

You know, on second thought, there's another thing I hate about this movie. The fact that Kiddo doesn't actually kill either Budd, nor Elle. Elle kills Budd and Kiddo leaves Elle in the trailer, still alive when we last see her. Sure, it's assumed that she gets bitten by the snake, but we never see it and after all that Kiddo's been through, it's hard to believe that she'd actually leave a survivor, even a blind one who's alone with a black mamba. Another thing that kind of gets me (and I don't know whether I love it or hate it) is the fact that the biggest fuck up of the whole group - Budd - is the one who actually comes the closest to killing The Bride. Oh, oh, oh and another thing! What's the deal with the big fight between The Bride and Bill only lasting a total of like twelve seconds? Really? I just sat through four hours of a movie called KILL freaking BILL and you're going to give me a ten second fight scene between these two, that should've lasted at least ten minutes!? Man, it sounds like I'm crapping all over this one, but I promise, it is a favorite! I just have a tendency to really pick on the movies that I like and ones where I know the opportunity for maximum potential existed. Those are just a few things that kind of piss me off about this one.


However, it's a Tarantino flick and I'll always have a soft spot for that man's movies. He's the man that got me interested in movies and one that I'll always show up for. He's one of the few guys going today who still brings that special something when it comes to modern cinema and allows the true cinephiles to realize why they fell in love with moving pictures in the first place. I've heard the term "pure cinema" used a lot, but have never bothered to look up it's text book meaning. I have a feeling KILL BILL qualifies though. It nails perfectly everything from score to acting, dialogue to storytelling, not to mention larger than life characters (can I just say I LOVE the Elle character - Hannah NAILED it!). It provides an engaging, exciting, riveting, suspenseful, nearly flawless trip to the movies and when watched in conjunction with VOLUME ONE, as a whole, the damn thing is impossible to exclude for any list and shame on THE BOOK for leaving this volume out of every one of their editions!

RATING: 8/10  I deducted a few points for the nitpicky stuff I mentioned, but an '8' is hard to come by recently, especially by my picky ass standards.

March 30, 2014  10:53pm

Monday, March 24, 2014

665. The Big Red One (1980)


Running Time: 163 minutes
Directed By: Samuel Fuller
Written By: Samuel Fuller
Main Cast: Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward
Click here to view the trailer

Note: So I'm a little late, as I intended to have this one watched and reviewed by Friday afternoon. Turns out, I didn't feel like watching this Thursday night, nor did I feel like watching it Friday morning and after that my wife was off work and ready to spend the weekend with me, which meant no BOOK movies. The two of us were going to watch a whole bunch of new releases, but decided at the last minute to binge on Breaking Bad instead and opted to just do one movie instead, which ended up being GRAVITY (which stunk - my thoughts in the recap, at the end of the month. Anyway, I managed to slip this one into two sittings, between yesterday afternoon and last night and here we are. Before we get into the review I just want to let everyone know that, while I'm not going to take a hiatus, my appearance on the blog may be a bit more sparse than you're all used to. I was going to take a hiatus, as I'm starting to get a little burned out, but have decided to just slow down my pace instead. I really think that will do wonders for me, while still allowing me to post a reivew or two (or three) per week. Now then, over the course of the next week or so, I will be stepping away from THE BOOK to work on a couple of side projects (which I'll detail better at a later date). However, you will see me on the blog, as I plan to turn both side projects into two SIN OF OMISSION posts - more on that later in the week. Just keep your eyes peeled for some special reviews. Anyway, read on...

FULLER HAT TRICK: PART THREE OF THREE

So we come to the end and it was literally five minutes ago that I realized I watched a version of THE BIG RED ONE that was about an hour longer than the original, theatrical release. I REALLY wish I'd known that, as that could've helped to wash this one down a little easier.


I'm not going to get into a whole history lesson in detailing the plot, because honestly I just don't feel like it. All you really need to know is that this is a war movie, starring Lee Marvin as Sgt. Possum, a veteran of World War I leading a squadron through World War II. Of course, we're talking about the First Infantry Division a.k.a. The Big Red One and this particular group consists of Pvt. Griff (Hamill), Pvt. Zab (Carradine) Pvt. Vinci (Di Cicco) and Pvt. Johnson (Ward). These five seem to have lady luck riding on their shoulder, as they always seem to squeak their way out of the rough spots and end up alive. There really is no point A to point B plot, as the movie really just follows this particular squad, without giving them one, out and out mission. Think SAVING PRIVATE RYAN without the search for Pvt. Ryan.


So it's a bunch of brutes killing (not murdering) a bunch of Nazis and I'm supposed to care, why? Honestly, for a war film, it wasn't THAT bad. However, I found my mind wandering in and out, at times wanting to pay attention and catching some interesting bits and other times, just not caring in the slightest and wanting it all to just end ASAP. I will say Lee Marvin did a bang up job and managed to be an effective Sergeant, who was less brutish than your run of the mill, movie Sarge. The scene where he carries the dead child on his neck is heartwarming, as is the scene where he accepts his helmet, which has been decorated with flowers by a village child. However, the best scene in the whole flick is actually a piece of comedy and comes when the squad is responsible for delivering a woman's baby. I literally laughed out loud during that scene - great stuff.


All in all though, this was very average filmmaking, as far as I could tell. Like I said, I wish I'd known there was a shorter cut and I'd have tried my best to get my hands on that version. As it is, I'd call this cut entirely too long and unnecessarily so. I'm all for giving the filmmaker final say, but I'd have to say the studio knew what they were talking about in this instance. If you're into war films, then you'll probably love this one, as it has likable qualities (memorable characters, quotable lines). Even if you're not into war films (like me), you still may be able to pick out a moment here and there that really works and that's really all I could ask for here. I was never going to love it, but that's only because war isn't my bag.

RATING: 5/10  Let's call it right down the middle. I'd have to say that Fuller turned out to be an average filmmaker, although "Shock Corridor" was good enough to make me want to see more of his filmography.

MOVIES WATCHED: 823
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 178

COMING SOON
The Outlaw Josey Wales  (1976 - Clint Eastwood)
Wanda (1970 - Barbara Loden)
Babette's Feast (1987 - Gabriel Axel)
Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955 - Thorold Dickinson)
The Ear (1970 - Karel Kachyna)

March 24, 2014  5:45pm

Thursday, March 20, 2014

407. Shock Corridor (1963)


Running Time: 101 minutes
Directed By: Samuel Fuller
Written By: Samuel Fuller
Main Cast: Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Best, Hari Rhodes
Click here to view the trailer

Note: It is my intention to get "The Big Red One" watched before Friday afternoon, as my wife and I have plans to spend our upcoming three day weekend (three days for me, only two for her :( Sorry, honey) catching up on some new releases that we've been wanting to see. For the curious, every once and a while my wife and I do a Redbox run and rent about 7 - 8 titles and chain watch them. This go around we picked four a piece; Her picks: "Prisoners", "Dallas Buyer's Club", "The Conjuring" and "Enough Said"; My picks: "Gravity", "Nebraska", "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle". I'm skeptical about "American Hustle", because I only kind of liked "Silver Linings Playbook" and it's the pretty much the same crew, but I'm still curious enough to see it. The rest (even her picks) I have enough of an interest in to be at least somewhat excited to see all of them. Should make for a blast of a weekend and I really can't wait. Following that, I'll be spending the majority of next week away from THE BOOK and focusing on a few films that are to be the basis of some articles I'll be writing in the coming months. One article has to do with the "Great Villain Blogathon" banner, you may have seen posted in the sidebar. I'll be writing a piece for that in April and you can see it here on the blog. The other piece will be an article I'll be penning for The Dark Pages newsletter. Both films will more than likely also get the SINS OF OMISSION treatment, which is why I say I"ll be taking a week off from THE BOOK and not a week off from the blog. Anyway, I'll talk more about those projects when the time comes, lets get down to brass tax...

FULLER HAT TRICK: PART TWO OF THREE

So after lukewarm feelings on "Pickup On South Street", I was somewhat skeptical to tackle the second Sam Fuller flick from THE BOOK. It turns out my skepticism was unwarranted, as "Shock Corridor" was a breath of fresh air, after the dankness that was "Pickup...". Read on...

Johnny asleep, dreaming about his stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers). I somehow liked the way this was shot. Although admittedly it's a style I'd normally hate, it somehow worked here.

Get a load of this premise and tell me it isn't genius material. Johnny Barrett (Breck) is a newspaper reporter looking to nab a Pulitzer Prize. The big story making the rounds, is a murder that was committed at an insane asylum, except that no one actually knows who committed the murder. It turns out that there were three witnesses, however, they were patients and they ain't talking. Enter Barrett who conjures up the idea to get himself committed to the asylum, so that he can do some first hand snooping around and get some one on one time with the witnesses and get them to crack. His girlfriend is against the idea completely, but in order to pull it all off, they'll need her cooperation. It is Johnny's idea to get his stripper girlfriend, Cathy (Towers) to pretend to be his sister who he has incestuous feelings for (complete with a story about a fetish for her hair). After a bit of coaxing, Cathy finally gives in and goes to the cops to report her would be attacker "brother". He's given an interview with the asylum's lead psychiatrist, which he's been prepped for by a psychiatrist friend and manages to convince the doctor that he needs to be kept at the hospital (success!). From there, all Johnny has to do is catch the three witnesses during brief moments of rationality and get them to tell him who did the murdering. Meanwhile, Johnny must keep up the charade of being a loony toon long enough to get the answers he needs. However, as Johnny becomes more and more accustomed to the day to day goings on of the asylum, not to mention the bevy of tests and experimental treatments he undergoes, he slips deeper and deeper into senility.

SPOILER ALERT!

Let me make it perfectly clear that I don't condone the words on the sign. I only post the picture because I thought the idea of a black white supremacist was just genius and very unique.

I mean, is it not an absolutely fresh and fantastic idea for a movie?! You wanna' talk about something being ahead of it's time, look no further than this Sam Fuller venture, which combines the dark, seedy world of a film noir with the eeriness and unknowing of a great Twilight Zone episode. I think I've learned, just after one film, that Fuller's the type of guy who isn't going to let a film go by without using as a perfectly good vehicle to get a few statements in and he does that here too, but it's nothing that can't be overlooked. Sure, I could've done without the monologues from James Best and Hari Rhodes and the two color sequences (actually three, there's one later on too), but I went with the flow, swallowed it and kept chewing. Speaking of Rhodes, he's the catalyst for another fantastic Fuller idea - a black white supremacist! The thing of it is, is that since the film takes place in an mental hospital, you can kind of get away with a lot of things and chalk any uncouth shenanigans up to the fact that, "Hey, it all takes place in a crazy ward, nothing is to be taken too seriously". The idea of this black man going around, thinking he's a KKK leader, is just brilliant writing, in my opinion. And hey, I haven't even gotten into the whole incest thing, which had to be SUPER RISKY for it's time. Not to mention Constance Towers and a few of the outfits she dons. I mean, I had absolutely no problem letting my eyes guzzle her up, but she was so scantily clad, I couldn't believe I was watching a '63 film.

The thing I love is that it all makes sense too. I mean, a man would go insane wouldn't he. Not only do you have the pressures of your job and the desire to succeed, but you also have your smokin' hot girlfriend, who's a stripper, who you're leaving on the outside to get hit on and flirted with by every Tom, Dick and Harry that watches her dance, all so you can get that Pulitzer. On top of that, you're constantly surrounded by patients who are singing in your ear (of course I'm talking about Pagliacci, played brilliantly Larry Tucker) and chomping gum. Then you actually have to coax information out of a few of them, catching glimpses of sanity, that's about as easy as catching a peek at a shooting star. Pile on to that the fact that you're constantly acting, getting reality and fantasy mixed up and then the coup de grace, the shock treatments, which would be bound to send him over the edge.

The big rain scene at the end, that I mentioned. This, in my opinion, perfectly demonstrates what is going on inside Johnny's head during his "irrational moments". 

If I'd had my way the ending would have been a little different. I LOVED the rain scene, but I'd have maybe cut the big fist fight between Barrett and Wilkes. It went on a bit too long and reminded me too much of the fist fight at the end of "The Quiet Man", meaning I half expected Barrett and Wilkes to get up at the end, toss their heads back in laughter and share a beer. If only it had been half as long, I'd have still ended it with Johnny banging Wilkes' head on the ground, asking who killed Sloane, but I wouldn't have had Wilkes admit it. I'd have had Johnny bang his head till he died, thus rendering Johnny a lifetime member of the insane asylum, sentenced by a judge. I also hated the whole good cop/bad cop routine played by the two attendants and I just knew that the killer would end up being the nice one - a bit too predictable. But really, that's all just nitpicking. I have to ask, was anyone else reminded of "Shutter Island"? I was, for sure. It also makes me realize that fiction that takes place inside asylums is usually really good stuff, at least 95% of the time. Anyway, check this out. I'd say approach it with caution, because there are a few curve balls that threaten to take you out of the whole picture. However, in my opinion the story itself is so good, that you'll be very willing to dodge the curves and just go with the flow. Recommended.

RATING: 7.5/10  Well, that brings us to "The Big Red One", which I am NOT looking forward to, considering it's a war flick. However, I do love me some Lee Marvin, so it's got that going for it. We shall see...

MOVIES WATCHED: 822
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 179

March 20, 2014  12:12am