Sunday, September 30, 2012

COMING SOON


674. REDS (1981)


Running Time: 195 minutes
Directed By: Warren Beatty
Written By: Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths, from the book Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed
Main Cast: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinski, Jack Nicholson
Click here to view the trailer

COMMUNISM AND STUFF

It was October 17, 2009 when I sat down to write my review for "Oktyabr". It was my third Sergei Eisenstein film in the span of about a month and at that point I'd had my fill of Russian propaganda. Well, here we are again, just about three years later and I'm forced to sit through, yet another movie that deals with the "Ten Days That Shook the World", this one a little easier to understand, but not much better.


Warren Beatty is John Reed, a journalist and political activist, born in Oregon and rising to popularity in the early 20th century. Diane Keaton is Louise Bryant, a San Franciscan writer who is a big fan of Reed's writing and first encounters him at a lecture in Portland. Bryant introduces herself to Reed and the two spend the night talking about politics and his views. The two are fascinated with one another and Reed eventually invites Bryant to come and stay with him in New York, his base of operations. There, the two live together in Greenwich Village and Bryant is introduced to all of Reed's friends and acquaintances, including playwright Eugene O'Neill (Nicholson) and anarchist Emma Goldman. The couple go through several rough patches, arguments and clashes, but always seem to end up happy and loving each other. Later, the two get married and buy a home together, vowing to devote their lives to one another, their writing and their politics. One evening, during a spat, Reed admits to being unfaithful to Bryant and she leaves him, ending up in France as a war correspondent. Reed never stops thinking about her, with the two exchanging letters and eventually reuniting in France when Reed offers Bryant the chance to accompany him to Russia to witness the fall of the Czarist regime and the 1917 revolution. That just about covers the first half of the film and doesn't even begin to summarize the second half, as John Reed tries to bring communism to America in the form of the Communist Party of America and continues to fight for his ideals, both at home and in Russia.


I'm twenty-eight years old now, so when people pose the question, "Do you vote?" or "Who are you going to be voting for?", answering a simple "no" or "no one" just isn't enough anymore. I used to be able to get away with it, because they'd just assume I was too young to worry myself with that and move on. But, at nearly thirty years old, I need a more in depth and "responsible" answer. Well, the truth is, I just don't care. I won't be voting in November because outside of their name (Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) I haven't a clue about the two guys. Obama is the one who presides over our country now, he lives in the White House and he's married. I think the couple have two children and I'm pretty sure that since living in Washington, they've purchased a dog. I know that red states are republican and blue states are democratic and I know that every four years each of those parties have a convention that interrupt my regularly scheduled programs. That's all I know, for the most part. But people say, "Well you're a tax payer, you're an American citizen, you should take an interest in your government!" Why? I'll leave the "taking an interest in government" to the people that care to take an interest in their government and you leave me to the things that I care to take an interest in. I just have absolutely no desire to pay even the slightest bit of attention to politics or the government and that's how I'll always be. I have no opinion. I'm neither a democrat or a republican, nor do I care to learn more about either of their parties.


Anyway, my point is, I just didn't like this movie - it wasn't for me. John Reed was the exact opposite of me. You see, he cared about certain things, he went to political rallies, lectures and the sort and he voiced his opinion and vocally tired to bring about change. He was the exact opposite of me and therefore, I didn't care about his story. Add to that the fact that these characters might as well have been speaking Greek, because I didn't understand a lot of their lingo. Sure, there were SOME interesting facets to the film, most notably realizing that there was someone who TRIED to bring communism to America - something that I previously didn't know. And hey, there was also a fairly decent love story integrated into the three hour running time and in fact, it took up almost the entire first half of the film. Nicholson was marvelous as Eugene O'Neill, despite the fact that his camera time was limited and the camerawork was, at times, sublime. A particular shot of Eugene and Louise standing in the ocean, bare naked, embracing one another was a personal favorite shot of mine, among dozens of other memorable ones. I also liked the fact that Beatty interspersed pieces of interviews from first hand witnesses throughout the film, as it actually served as a nice break in between the action.

But ultimately, "Reds" was just TOO LONG!! By the end of the film, the damn thing really started to drag ass and my eyes began flashing even more furiously toward the clock, wondering how much more of this movie I had to endure before I could just write it and forget it.

RATING: 4.5/10  Nearly got it to the average marker, but not quite. Hope I didn't ramble on too much there.

MOVIES WATCHED: 540
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 461

September 30, 2012  10:52pm

Friday, September 28, 2012

742. Le Declin de l'empire americain/The Decline of the American Empire (1986)


Running Time: 101 minutes
Directed By: Denys Arcand
Written By: Denys Arcand
Main Cast: Remy Girard, Pierre Curzi, Dominique Michel, Dorothee Berryman, Yves Jacques
Click here to view the trailer

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX

So "Secrets & Lies" comes along and serves the purpose of busting me out of my slump. Then I get to "Bull Durham" which threatens to throw me back into a slump, as it was ONE OF the worst films I've seen this season. Fortunately, Denys Arcand and his very dialogue driven film, "The Decline of the American Empire", came along and made sure that my slump only lasted for one day.


Like I said, the film is very dialogue driven, so I COULD just come here and say that the film is about a bunch of intellectuals who spend the duration of the film talking about sex and be done with my plot synopsis, but I'll give a few more details. The film is set in Montreal and does focus on eight intellectuals who are preparing to gather for a dinner party - four men and four women. On the male side you have Remy (Girard), a married man who loves having sex, especially when his wife isn't involved. Pierre (Curzi), a divorced man who is currently seeing a much younger student, Claude (Jacques), a gay man and Alain (Daniel Briere), a single student. On the female side you have Remy's wife, Louise (Berryman), Pierre's girlfriend, Danielle (Genevieve Rioux), Dominique (Michel), a friend of the group who has had relations with both Remy and Pierre and Diane (Louise Portal), a second friend of the group who is currently involved with a sexually dominating male partner. The first half of the movie shows the men at home, preparing the gourmet cuisine for a dinner party that is to take place involving everyone and the women at the gym, working out before dinner. At home, the men discuss their sexual exploits, their affairs, their turn-ons, turn-offs and basically anything that pertains to their sexual activity. At the gym, the women do the same, discussing their affairs and their current and past sex lives. The second half of the film sees the women arrive home and the commencement of the dinner party, where the intellectual and sexual talk continues.


THE BOOK offers up a fantastic line about this movie that I couldn't agree with more: "...we may not like these people, but they're ceaselessly fascinating to watch." As I was watching this movie, I was, for an unexplainable reason, attracted to these people. I quickly formed a interest in them, almost like a scientist would observe a lab rat and despite the fact that I thought they were despicable human beings (specifically Remy and Pierre), I couldn't help but be fascinated by their conversations and interactions. I was able to draw comparisons between these characters and the types of characters that we'd normally see in a Woody Allen movie, except these characters were far more snobbish and insincere, they were heartless. I kept asking myself do people like this really exist, it's as if these characters were from another planet, yet, I say again, I loved every minute of this film.

I love hearing people talk, what can I say. You could sit two actors down at a dinner table, give them a script with interesting dialogue and given the proper care, that would be just the type of movie for yours truly. In fact, isn't that what "Dinner with Andre" is about? If so, I really need to see that. Anyway, there's not much else to say. I had a really good time with this one, I was drawn to the script, to the characters (despite their unlikeable characteristics) and the barely there plot. The film also reminded me, very much, of "The Big Chill" except with a lot more talking, a lot less plot and more devious characters. The other interesting facet about this movie is the title and how it relates to the characters. The characters, throughout the film, tend to discuss the decline of the North American society. The ironic thing is that these characters are actually perfect representations of that decline, the fact that people like this exist in our society and how despicable of human beings some of them actually are.


SPOILER ALERT!

You know me and my theories, so here's one for you. I had this crazy idea as I watched the movie unfold. At the end, when Louise discovers what a cheating bastard Remy has been, she goes to Claude and buries her tears in his sweater. Now, Claude is an admitted homosexual, but also (early on in the film) eludes that he could be bisexual, noting that he'd have sex with anyone, if they were the right person, at the right time. Claude also presumably has HIV/AIDS or at least he has some sort of venereal disease, which is made clear when he pees blood, early in the film. Now then, lets say Louise goes to Claude in a moment of weakness, crying into his sweater and pleads with him to fuck her, citing that she needs to have some revenge sex. Claude was one of the most understanding, caring characters in the film, so it's not a long shot that he'd indulge her. Maybe he'd even tell her about his pending disease and she wouldn't care, because her world has just been shattered, as she's just learned that her husband has filled every hole in Montreal. Anyway, they have revenge sex and then Louise, knowing that she's just had sex with a man who probably has AIDS, goes back to Remy and pretends to be okay with his exploits and begs him to have sex with her, spreading the disease to him as her ultimate act of revenge. This way, we're given a pretty heavy bit of plot, a great little revenge anecdote and the most despicable of all the characters, Remy, gets his just desserts. Just a thought. As I was watching, this is actually what occurred to me as soon as I saw Louise run to Claude.

RATING: 8/10  Anywhoo, great movie and if you're a dialogue lover like myself then this is, indeed, a must see.

MOVIES WATCHED: 539
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 462

September 28, 2012  4:23pm

Thursday, September 27, 2012

777. Bull Durham (1988)


Running Time: 108 minutes
Directed By: Ron Shelton
Written By: Ron Shelton
Main Cast: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl
Click here to view the trailer

STEEEE-RIKE

Continuing on with our heavy on the 80s season, we come to Kevin Costner's first baseball movie and perhaps the most popular film on the subject of America's favorite pastime - "Bull Durham".

The film is set in Durham, North Carolina and follows the Durham Bulls as they kickoff the season, with a few new players in tow. The narrator of the film is Annie Savoy (Sarandon), a classy woman who claims to be a devout member of the church of baseball and who knows everything there is to know about the sport and particularly the Bulls. Each year Annie picks one standout player from the Bulls team and shares her bed with them for the season, citing that everyone she's ever picked has had the season of their career. Her top prospects this year are hotshot, rookie pitcher "Nuke" LaLoosh (Robbins) and minor league veteran "Crash" Davis (Costner), a catcher that's been brought in to give Nuke a few pointers. Annie ultimately chooses Nuke to share her bed with, but ends up spending the rest of the season pining for Crash, a man that has tickled her fancy and raised her intrigue level. Meanwhile, Nuke and Crash verbally (and physically) duke it out on the baseball field, with Nuke being a hotheaded, egotistical rookie who doesn't feel he needs help and Crash being the veteran who knows he does.


SPOILER ALERT!

Man, this movie wasn't that good at all and is perhaps the greatest head scratcher from THE BOOK, thus far. It's very typical, very cliche, your average piece of Hollywood cannon fodder and I can tell you definitively that there is nothing about this film that must be seen before you die. In fact, if you were to ask me, I'd say avoid it at all costs before you die.


Well, maybe that's a little harsh. It wasn't THAT bad, I guess, but it certainly wasn't a must see. Tim Robbins was pretty good in it and actually made me believe, for the duration of the film, that he was a minor league ball player. Susan Sarandon knocked one out of the park too, even though her character was pretty much just an excuse to write a woman into the script. The real meat and potatoes of the story here involves Crash and his mentoring of Nuke and had they focused more on that and less on which player Annie was going to go to bed with, it may have worked out better. I also wish the film had been less of a comedy and more of a serious movie. This movie made minor league baseball look like a joke and it's shocking to me that a former minor-leaguer would write and direct this. Or maybe Hollywood messed with his script and I'd find that very easy to believe because the movie had plenty of cringe worthy moments, most notably the fact that the film ends with Costner and Sarandon dancing! Really? That's how we're going to end our movie? Oh yeah, I forgot, we wouldn't want to risk sending the audience home unhappy, that would just be a crime.


And have I ever mentioned how much I dislike Kevin Costner? As I said above, Robbins actually made me believe that he was a minor league player. With Costner, on the other hand, it just felt like he was out there pretending to be a baseball player. He didn't own his role and therefore I didn't buy him as a baseball player, which is shocking considering every other movie he does involves him doing something with baseball and apparently he's a big fan in real life. No, I didn't buy him as a ball player and that extra helping of "bad ass" that they tacked on to his character just made him come off as even more of a phony. Take a pass on this one and if you're jonesing for a baseball flick, check out "Major League" or "Bad News Bears" or really anything else will probably do.

RATING: 4/10  It seems that the 80s was the decade when Hollywood really started producing immense amounts of bull crap and "Bull Durham" is a perfect example. And by the way, what's with the title? I don't get it.

MOVIES WATCHED: 538
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 463

September 27, 2012  4:21pm

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

908. Secrets & Lies (1996)


Running Time: 142 minutes
Directed By: Mike Leigh
Written By: Mike Leigh
Main Cast: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Claire Rushbrook, Phyllis Logan
Click here to view the trailer

JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED

Fresh, new and exciting - these are just three of the attributes that I've been longing for over the past couple of weeks, as I've yearned to see a movie on a first time viewing that blew me away. Well, I'll immediately cease my harping because I've been granted my wish in the form of Mike Leigh's 1996 Palme D'Or winner, "Secrets & Lies".


The film revolves around one family and several main characters and is set in England. Hortense (Jean-Baptiste) is an African-American optometrist who's mother has recently died. However, it isn't her real mother, but rather her adoptive mother and with both of her adoptive parents now deceased, she feels it's time to track down her real mom. Enter Cynthia Rose Purley (Blethyn), an uneducated, factory worker, sharing a flat with her daughter, Roxanne (Rushbrook). One day, Cynthia receives a call from Hortense, who informs her that she is her biological daughter and that she'd like to meet her. Cynthia freaks out at first, not wanting the rest of her family to know about Hortense, but later, comes around to the idea of meeting her. When they meet, Cynthia is shocked to learn that Hortense is black and, at first, can't recall ever having "been with" a black man. Meanwhile, Maurice Purley, Cynthia's brother, is doing very well for himself. He's a married man (sometimes happily, sometimes not) who owns a photography business and has just purchased a new, grand home. The film takes place over the course of several months, leading up to Roxanne's birthday party, where she plans to reunite with her uncle Maurice, whom she hasn't seen in years. The birthday party also plays host to the climax of the movie, where many secrets...and lies are revealed.

SPOILER ALERT!


Am I the only one who thought that somehow they were going to reveal that Roxanne was actually Maurice's daughter and not Cynthia's? It just seemed obvious throughout the picture, in the way that Maurice reminisced about Roxanne, that she was his. Oh well...I was wrong - it's rare, but it happens :) Anyway, what a fantastic film this was and to think that Netflix doesn't even have the audacity to carry it and that I had to seek it out and watch it on YouTube (rush right now and you might catch it before they take it down). I kind of had a feeling about this one from the get go. The deep characters, the atmosphere, the story and the score were all right up my alley and honestly, it was a tough film not to like. Besides the occasional moment where you'd have to stop and ask yourself what the characters with the thick English accents just said, the movie flowed along quite nicely and used it's two plus hour running time quite nicely, never dragging.


I think the film says that EVERY family has their secrets and lies and that sometimes they come out and sometimes they're kept behind sealed lips, never to be mentioned. But the real focus here isn't necessarily on the secrets and lies, but rather the characters, their interactions and their personalities. Mike Leigh gives us characters that we can easily become interested in and always leaves us with one or two questions, just to keep our umbilical chord to the screen intact. The acting is as top notch as you'll find and could be held up against any one of the other 1000 movies in THE BOOK. I also like how Leigh doesn't shove the characters down our throats, but rather gives them to us gradually and then takes them away for long segments. We don't see scene after scene with Timothy Spall's character, but instead we get a scene or two with him and then we leave him be for a while to examine Marianne Jean-Baptiste's character for a little while. At this point, I really feel like I'm rambling, so lets just say that I liked it, it was a breath of fresh air in a 100 that has left me gasping for breath in a manhole covered sewer.

RATING: 8.5/10  Lets hope this is just the beginning in a long run of movies that score a '7' or higher. I really wish Mike Leigh had some more movies in THE BOOK, cause I'd really like to check out some more of his work now. However, this is his one and only "must see" movie, apparently.

MOVIES WATCHED: 537
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 464

September 26, 2012  7:07pm

Monday, September 24, 2012

747. A Room with a View (1986)


Running Time: 117 minutes
Directed By: James Ivory
Written By: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, from novel by E.M. Forster
Main Cast: Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Maggie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis, Simon Callow
Click here to view the trailer

A LITTLE TOO PRIM AND PROPER FOR MY TASTES

I hate to say it, I really do, but this 100 is shaping up to be the worst 100 of them all. Oh sure, there have been some excellent movies this season, movies that could easily stand up against some of the best films I've watched thus far, however, there have definitely been more bad than good, which leads me to "A Room with a View".


Miss Lucy Honeychurch (Bonham-Carter) and her chaperone (and cousin) Charlotte Bartlett (Smith) arrive at their hotel room in Florence, Italy (by way of England) to a ghastly surprise. It seems that their room, which they were promised provided a glorious view of the city, doesn't provide that at all. They squabble over it quite intensely at dinner and can't help but be overheard by Mr. Emerson and his son George (Sands). The two Mr. Emersons offer to switch rooms with the ladies, citing that their room provides a great view, an offer that they later accept. Later, when Lucy faints after witnessing two Italian men get into a bloody brawl, George Emerson tends to her, carrying her to a safer place and seeing her back to her room. Days later, while enjoying some outdoor time, Lucy and George happen upon one another in a meadow and share a kiss. When Lucy returns to England, she vows to keep the kiss a secret from her overbearing mother and plans go forward for engagement to Cecil Vyse (Day-Lewis). However, coincidence rears it's ugly head and the two Mr. Emersons end up moving in near Lucy. Will Lucy make the appropriate and proper choice and go ahead with her plans to wed Cecil or will her heart and passion take over and choose George?


There's one thing I do love about these prim period dramas and it's that they seem to really improve my vocabulary, if only for a few days following the viewing. On a more serious positive note, I can also give all the credit in the world to the fine cast that was assembled for "A Room with a View", my favorite members being Daniel Day-Lewis as the ultra prim Cecil Vyse, a delicious character and Simon Callow as Reverend Beebe. Seriously, someone find me a tape or CD of Simon Callow reading Moby Dick and I'll put it on every single night and fall asleep to it. No one's voice should be that charming and soothing. There's also no denying the talents of Denholm Elliot, Judi Dench (who isn't in the film enough) and Maggie Smith. And hey, who knew Helena Bonham-Carter would be able to carry her weight, sharing the stage with such graceful actors. I always thought she was nothing more than Tim Burton's muse. This period piece is done well, as everything from the music to the costumes and the sets look authentic and actually, technically there's nothing wrong here. James Ivory obviously cast his bait well when it came time for the 59th Annual Academy Awards.

SPOILER ALERT!


My biggest problem here was with the story, which seemed so counterfeit and done to death. Girl meets boy (or vice versa), shares a moment (a kiss, a one night stand, etc.), returns to the man she originally intended to wed (thereupon realizing all of his faults and yearning for the man she shared the moment with) and finally, returning to the man she shared the moment with and living happily ever after. Maybe it wasn't so in 1986, but hasn't this story been done repeatedly? Or is it just me? Also, these period pieces are really touch and go with me. I'm can very easily get bored with them and want, like nothing else, to shut them off and never see another one and that's the effect that "A Room with a View" had on yours truly. I can admire the acting and all of the technical flawlessness, but in the end their just incredibly dull. It's like a box of bran flakes with a rainbow colored box - it may look yummy on the outside, but trust me, once you delve inside it's quite bland, I assure you.

RATING: 4.5/10  I've crunched the proverbial numbers and I can't even get it to the halfway mark. Oh well, chalk down another one in the loss column for this 100 and please, oh please, send me something soon that will blow me away!! I beg to you movie Gods!

MOVIES WATCHED: 536
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 465

COMING SOON
The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982 - Taviani, Taviani)
Bull Durham (1988 - Ron Shelton)
Cinema Paradiso (1988 - Giuseppe Tornatore)
The Decline of the American Empire (1986 - Denys Arcand)

September 24, 2012  5:07pm

36. NAPOLEON (1927)


Running Time: 235 minutes
Directed By: Abel Gance
Written By: Abel Gance
Main Cast: Albert Dieudonne, Edmond Van Daele, Alexandre Koubitzky, Antonin Artaud, Abel Gance

SILENCE FALLS AGAIN

NOTE: With "Napoleon" we come to the issue of running time, yet again, as the film actually has a slew of different versions, each with different lengths. I managed to finally track this one down on the net, so I really didn't care which version I came across, I was watching it no matter what. Anyway, I found the 1981 reissue of the film by Francis Ford Coppola, which clocks in at nearly four hours. THE BOOK cites the film as 378 minutes, but also notes that as the running time of the original version, a version that's basically obsolete at this point. In 2000, film historian Kevin Brownlow restored the film, which clocked in at 333 minutes and a version that most people will tell you to track down, if you can find it, as it's essentially the most complete version that exists. In my case, I was just fine with Coppola's version. 

It's kind of cool that three years to the month since I started my journey through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book, I return to where it all started, the genre of silence. Ever since I saw and fell in love with Abel Gance's "La Roue" back in October 2009, I've been trying...and trying...and trying to track down his second and last feature from THE BOOK - "Napoleon". Last night, while making my umpteenth attempt at finding it somewhere on the net, a Google search paid off and got me one leap closer to journey's end.


I just wish it would have been good...

I didn't like "Napoleon" folks, not even the slightest little bit. Well, I take that back because, in fact, "Napoleon" started out with a glimmer of promise. We zoom in on Napoleon Bonaparte as a school age child, engaging in a snowball fight with his childhood enemies. Bonaparte as a child last about twenty-five minutes, before we're thrust into his adulthood and his military career. I'm not even going to get into the whole film and the full plot synopsis for the simple reason that I just spent four hours with this film and I can't even bear to relive it for five more minutes. My one saving grace is that I stumbled upon a version that was only 235 minutes and not a version that exceeded 300 minutes, for that may have literally bored me to death. "Napoleon" is LONG....too long, in fact and it drags like snail carrying a backpack full of bricks. I tried to imagine myself watching this film back in 2009, put into place between "The Jazz Singer" and "The Kid Brother" and asked myself, "Would I have liked it then?" "Do I just not like it because it's been so long since I've seen a silent film?" The answer was a resounding "no" on both accounts. "Napoleon" wouldn't have had a hope in hell of making my first TOP 20, no more hope than it has of making my sixth TOP 20.


The one thing I will give to Abel Gance and his filming of "Napoleon" is the innovation that was used and it didn't take a film historian to realize that Gance was using some techniques that were ahead of their time. Perhaps none more mesmerizing than the finale and the use of widescreen, as Gance used three cameras, setting up three side by side shots and creating a widescreen effect, a technique that he hoped would enhance the climax of his feature. Had I enjoyed the film more, I'm sure I would've literally been in awe of Gance's innovation. He uses some other editing techniques that you wouldn't give a second look to today, but that probably had audiences eyes popping in 1927.

RATING: 2/10  I'll give it two notches for innovation, but in reality it SHOULD get a '1' and probably will come RECAP time. I just didn't like this picture in the slightest.

MOVIES WATCHED: 535
MOVIES LEST TO WATCH: 466

September 24, 2012  12:36am

Sunday, September 23, 2012

676. Tre fratelli/Three Brothers (1981)


Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Francesco Rosi
Written By: Tonino Guerra, Francesco Rosi
Main Cast: Philippe Noiret, Michele Placido, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Charles Vanel, Marta Zoffoli

REFLECTION

Started watching this one last night, but getting up at 7am can really work on your eyelids, so I was forced to finish it this morning.


Raffaele (Noiret), Rocco (Mezzogiorno) and Nicola Giuranna (Placido) all receive telegrams from their father, Donato Giuranna (Vanel), informing them of their mother's death. At the time, the three brothers are all dealing with issues of their own. Raffaele, a judge prepared to accept a terrorism case, risks assassination if he accepts and presides over the case. The middle son, Rocco, is the director of a home for troubled youths and the youngest son, Nicola, is dealing with the crumbling of his marriage, a marriage that has produced one child, Marta (Zoffoli). The three brothers return home, to the family farm, where they reflect on their lives, try to reconnect with their past and of course, say goodbye to their mother. Donato uses the time to reflect on his many years of marriage, recalling some of the sweeter moments that he spent with his late wife. By the time we reach the film's finale, all three brothers experience lucid dreams about the troubles that surround them.


I'll try to keep this review short and sweet today, because really I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. As the film began, I have to say that I wasn't that impressed with it. Instead of dealing with three brothers returning home for their mother's funeral and at the same time, trying to reconnect with each other and their past, the film goes a different route, mixing in current (at the time), social issues that plagued Italy. If you know me then you know that I'm not one for mixing political issues with my films and all the terrorism talk in this one really took away from the more light-hearted, sweeter moments. What is it with foreign filmmaker's and their obsession to include certain, real life issues in their films? I mean, I liked the idea of giving each brother their own problem to deal with, aside from the death of their mother, but I would've enjoyed it better had they down played the conversations that dealt with these certain issues.


On the other hand, the film wasn't bad in the least. I actually enjoyed a lot of the cinematography, the light, barely there score and the acting. I could see this film growing on me with time and me forgetting my nitpicking and just accepting it for what it is. Keep your eye on Michele Placido (Nicola), perhaps the best of the lot of actor's on parade here. The scene where he goes to see his estranged wife was a particular favorite of mine, very simply and very dialogue driven - right up my alley. Also, the scenes where Donato lay in bed with his granddaughter, reflecting on certain, key moments in he and his wife's life was also very sweet and very sad.

RATING: 6.5/10  Not fantastic, but not horrible either, so it gets a thumbs up from me. It was a film that was really hard to dislike, because it encompassed a lot of what I look for in cinema, but also had a little of what I dislike.

MOVIES WATCHED: 534
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 467

September 23, 2012  1:27pm

Friday, September 21, 2012

783. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)


Running Time: 108 minutes
Directed By: Charles Crichton
Written By: John Cleese, Charles Crichton
Main Cast: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Maria Aitken
Click here to view the trailer

IF YOU'RE NOT LAUGHING, CHECK YOUR PULSE

For the past few days I've been begging SOMETHING to come along and break me out of my slump, something that I've never seen before, something fresh and new. Well "A Fish Called Wanda" is certainly worthy of the title "slump buster", however, this wasn't the first time I'd seen it.


The plot is quite intricate for a comedy, so stick with me here while I do my best to try and piece this one together for you. First you have the cast, an eclectic group consisting of Wanda (Curtis), a she-devil with a knack for seducing men and a fetish for foreign accents, Otto (Kline), a weapon's expert with a jealous streak and a penchant for smelling his underarms and Ken (Palin), a stuttering lap dog. Along with George, Wanda's lover and their ring leader (or at least that's what he thinks), these quartet of criminals plan to rob a bank in England and make off with thirteen million pounds worth of diamonds. The heist is pulled off without a hitch, save for an elderly woman walking her dogs spotting the group and the gang make it back to their rendezvous, prepared to let things blow over for seventy-two hours, before they cash in and leave the country. You see, George thinks that Otto is Wanda's brother, but in reality he is actually her lover and when the gang go their separate ways, Wanda and Otto take matters into their own hands, phoning the police and turning George in, with plans to take the loot and split. What Otto doesn't know is that Wanda is actually playing him too, with plans to get a hold of the loot single handedly. When Wanda and Otto go back to pick up the diamonds they find an empty safe, with only George, now being held in jail, knowing their whereabouts. George shares with his lackey Ken the whereabouts of the diamonds too, giving him a key to hold, which unlocks the safe deposit where the jewels are being stashed. Enter Archie Leach (Cleese), George's lawyer and the plot only gets thicker.


There are many comedies that walk a fine line between comedy and drama, but if you're looking for a straight, out and out comedy, there is perhaps none better than "A Fish Called Wanda" and I'll boldly stand behind that statement. What you have here is an absolutely incredible group of talent, working together like a well oiled machine to produce a movie that is GUARANTEED to make you bust out laughing at least once, if not dozens of times. With not one, but two Monty Python alums (Cleese and Palin) and an on fire Kevin Kline how could this movie not be a laugh out loud time at the movies? And yes, Kevin Kline actually took home an Academy Award for his performance here and it's unbelievable because how often do you hear of comedies even getting Oscar nods, let alone winning? You also have an outstanding script, written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton (who also directed), with intricate details, running gags, well developed characters who have quirky, hilarious traits, one-liners and a movie that never lets up from the word "go". There is no downtime here and every scene proves to be worthwhile, noteworthy or just flat out funny. "A Fish Called Wanda" is one of those films that would be easy to watch over and over again, reliving the humor, laugh after laugh. And did I mention that Jamie Lee Curtis looks stunning as ever, sporting dozens of costume changes, each one sexier than the last.


I have to go back and harp on how jam packed this script is though, because it's really amazing how much they were able to pack in. Take Otto (Kevin Kline) for instance. Here's a guy who has a repeated catchphrase throughout the film of "Don't call me stupid!", pretends to be Wanda's brother, although secretly he's her lover, pretends to be homosexually attracted to Ken to throw him off the fact that he and Wanda are really lovers, smells his armpits throughout the film, when he's feeling especially manly and yells "ASSHOLE!" at any English driver whom even nearly causes him to have an accident. They just took what would normally be a very regular character and kept adding elements to his personality until he was interesting, funny and unlike any other character in film history. The same goes for all the characters, as they're all packed full of personality traits that make each of them unique and the whole thing just meshes together for a great time. This is currently streaming on Netflix and trust me, this is perhaps the most "must see" comedy in the history of cinema.

RATING: 10/10  If I were rating this as one of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", I'd have probably given it an '8.5', but instead I'm just rating it on the comedy scale and on that scale it's a ten plus.

MOVIES WATCHED: 533
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 468

September 21, 2012  11:19pm

Thursday, September 20, 2012

672. Chariots of Fire (1981)


Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Hugh Hudson
Written By: Colin Welland
Main Cast: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Ian Holm
Click here to view the trailer

TRIUMPH

Man, I know I said it last night, but it bears repeating: I'm really begging something to come along, something new, something I've never seen before and really blow my socks off. Not counting "Jarmusch Week", it's been nearly two weeks since I've seen a true contender for the next TOP 20 list and "Chariots of Fire" continues the trend, as I languish in the mediocre range.


This would have been a fitting movie to watch about two months ago, as it centers around the 1924 Olympic games, which were held in Paris, France. Zoom the lens in a little more and you'll find that the film centers around two runners: Harold Abrahams (Cross), cocky, Jewish student at the University of Cambridge and Eric Liddell (Charleson), devout Christian and rugby player turned runner. Both are magnificent runners, two of the fastest men in the world and ready to sacrifice for the chance to triumph in Paris in 1924. At one point in the film, the two meet in a publicized race, with Liddell easily beating Abrahams. After his defeat, Abrahams can't handle the thought of his loss and doesn't know what the future holds for him. Enter Sam Mussabini (Holm) who, by request of Abrahams, watches the race and offers tips on how Abrahams can improve. Beyond that, we follow the two men on their journey to the grand stage of the Olympics. That's pretty much the just of it.


I watched some of the 2012 Olympics this summer. Occasionally, if there was nothing else on and there was an event that even slightly interested me, I'd flip it on and give it a watch. I didn't root for a specific team or country, I just watched and tried to understand the rules of whatever event happened to be playing out in front of me. I'm not really a sports guy, you see, as I barely have time to fit in work, movies and quality time with the wife, let alone spending three hours glued to the television hoping that "my team" scores another point. I rarely got excited for the Olympians and oftentimes it was just a distraction until I had to go to work or until something better came on. I can also assuredly say that not once did I yearn to know the back story of any of the Olympians. Which brings me to "Chariots of Fire", a movie that gives us a two hour back story on two European Olympians, circa 1924 - a subject that I had absolutely no interest in garnering more knowledge on. This film was as dull as plain toast, but perhaps even duller than that because I happen to like plain toast. The following statement is nothing against the British people, as I happen to admire the landscapes of the country and think that British people are far too proper and charming to be insulted by me, however, their films are, more often than not, dull, slow and boring. They have a way of being very methodical in their filmmaking, methodical on the brink of sleep inducing.


So that's basically it. Technically, the film is the definition of mediocre, at least from behind my eyes. The acting is fine, no better or worse than your average movie, starring average actors (except for Holm, he was pretty outstanding. Look for the scene where he puts his fist through is wicker hat - good stuff). The cinematography doesn't necessarily warrant awe, nor is it offensive. The Vangelis score, in my opinion, has been played to death over the years, more often than not for comedic purposes, that hearing it where it was intended to be heard actually dulled it. It may have had more of an impact had it not been played to death. That's not the fault of this movie though and had I heard it for the first time during the course of this movie, I probably would be praising it right now. There's also a few other cliches that tend to work on my nerves, including a few montages and a lot of slow motion runners, flexing out their chests, mouths agape, yearning for the finish line. These were very much "give me a break" moments. It's not a terrible film though. The filmmaker's just didn't do a very good job of hooking me and interesting me in the story of Abrahams and Liddell and therefore I really couldn't have cared less rather they bagged the gold or the bronze.

RATING: 5.5/10  Damn. And I had high hopes for this one too. Why would the Academy Awards give the Best Picture Oscar to such a mediocre British film. I don't get their reasoning sometimes, I really don't.

MOVIES WATCHED: 532
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 469

September 20, 2012  2:28pm

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

849. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992)


Running Time: 87 minutes
Directed By: Nick Broomfield
Main Cast: Nick Broomfield, Arleen Pralle, Aileen Wuornos, Steven Glazer

MONSTER

Wanting to watch a movie last night, but needing something short, I went for the streaming portion of Netflix and found a documentary by Nick Broomfield, recounting one of America's first serial killers, Aileen Wuornos.


To recount the plot for a documentary is really unneeded, so I'll just hit the basics and leave it at that. Nick Broomfield travels from England to Florida, in an attempt to shed some light on the case of Aileen Wuornos. If you don't know who Aileen Wuornos is then you should rent "Monster" and get a little of the back story and in fact, I'd recommend it. For the time being, suffice it to say that she was a prostitute turned serial killer, murdering seven of her johns, citing the reason as self defense. During her first trial, for the murder of Richard Mallory, she gave a tearful testimony, recounting a brutal rape inflicted upon her. However, the jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to death. In fact, she would go on to to be sentenced to death six more times and during the course of this documentary she was sitting on death row, awaiting the electric chair. When Broomfield arrives in Florida, he meets up with Steven Glazer, Wuornos' attorney and Arlene Pralle, Wuornos' adoptive mother. What Broomfield achieves over the course of his time in Florida isn't anything new in the case of Wuornos, nor does he shed any new light onto her innocence or guilt. Instead, Broomfield uncovers a crooked cast of characters who are out for #1, seeking to gain monetarily from the Wuornos case.

Arlene Pralle
You know, in watching this documentary I was more appalled with the behavior of Arlene Pralle and Steven Glazer, than that of Wuornos. In fact, when I watched the footage of Wuornos on the witness stand, giving that tearful testimony in the case of Richard Mallory, I tended to believe what she said and actually bought her story; that she was being raped and that she murdered Mallory in self defense. Her story seemed to be far too detailed for a woman of her seemingly low intelligence. Yes, indeed it was more appalling to me to see a woman who claimed to be a good, old fashioned, Christian woman refusing to talk unless she was paid. And what about Steven Glazer, an ex-musician and a man who seemingly only appeared in this documentary so that he could strum his guitar and show off his "talent". Prior to representing Wuornos, Glazer was one of those TV attorney's. You know the ones, the guys who make a joke of themselves on television, almost begging for clientele. Glazer too is only out for the greenbacks, using the Wuornos case to further his own career and fatten his pockets.

Steven Glazer - this man COULD be standing next to you in court....for a fee, of course.
In the end, I'm not really sure that this Wuornos documentary really deserved inclusion in THE BOOK. I enjoyed it and took it as an education in the case, but the education wasn't that extensive, because Broomfield himself really didn't get anywhere. In fact, I think Broomfield stumbled into THIS documentary and it doesn't seem to resemble the picture that he first set out to make. What he stumbled into was a documentary detailing all of the instances and facts where people tried to gain monetarily from the selling of this serial killer. Was Wuornos guilty? Probably. But is it very possible that the state of Florida was simply hungry to convict a female murderess? Yes, I think so.

RATING: 6.5/10  I'm really begging something to come along and just blow me away and the Jarmusch movies don't count because I'd seen them before. I need something new, fresh and exciting and I need it soon.

MOVIES WATCHED: 531
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 470

September 19, 2012  7:54pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #63: ALADDIN (1992)

Running Time: 90 minutes Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker Written By: Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Bu...