Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hiatus time again...

I HATE to do this, but I feel like I need to take a much needed break from THE BOOK, for a little while. I know, I know, I'm so close to hitting the 801 watched mark and I very much wanted to do that before I took a break, but I'm in dire need of a rest and I don't want my opinions of the movies to suffer as a result.

The thing is, though, is that I've just been bumped up to full-time at work, which means an extra work day a week, which means a much more tired film watcher/reviewer. I'm sure eventually I'll get used to the extra work load, but add that to the fact that it's also the holidays and that doesn't make it any easier. For the unaware, I work in retail, which, for anyone who has ever worked in retail, you know the holidays can be a total bitch! Not to mention the fact that I've got family functions and stuff like that to plan around (Christmas shopping with my wife, all that good stuff) and by the end of the day, my energy is just about zapped.

I've sort of made it an unofficial rule to watch 100 films every time I come back from hiatus, but guess what - my blog, my rules and I need a breather. I'll be back in probably late January, early February and we'll knock out this 100 easily and keep on truckin' toward the 901 watched mark.

As always, I check the blog daily (or try to), so don't hesitate to leave comments and I'll be sure to reply and approve them (if they're appropriate).

I'll say goodbye but don't you cry, I'll be back again someday!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

December 11, 2013  9:44pm

Saturday, December 7, 2013

826. Wong Fei-hung/Once Upon a Time in China (1991)


Running Time: 134 minutes
Directed By: Hark Tsui
Written By: Yiu Ming Leung, Pik-yin Tang, Hark Tsui, Kai-Chi Yu
Main Cast: Jet Li, Joseph Sayah, Yuen Biao, Jacky Cheung, Rosamund Kwan
Click here to view the trailer

KEEP YOUR KUNG FU

Here I thought the watching my backwards through the 90s films would be a breeze, yet I'll be damned if there hasn't been a fair share of stinkers along the way. Add to that list, "Once Upon a Time in China" - hands down the worst film with the "Once Upon A Time..." prefix ever made.


Look guys, here goes another one where I honestly couldn't even be bothered to pay close enough attention to even really detail the plot here. I tried it for a good thirty - forty minutes, decided that kung fu films STILL weren't my thing and then my mind just sort of wandered while I waited for the minutes to tick down, so that I could check this off in THE BOOK'S built in check-list. In a way, watching these Jet Li and Jackie Chan movies is kind of like watching a porno: You're really only waiting for a select few scenes and everything else is just filler, bridging the gaps from money shot to money shot. Although I'll admit, I'd rather watch Jackie Chan's entire, 100+ film catalog than be forced to sit through this again. At least Chan's films had better action/choreography scenes, better plot and better comedy, while Hark Tsui's feature played out like a poor man's version of a Chan film.

There's some sort of a plot there, but what was actually going on, I have no idea. It had something to do with the Western impact on Chinese culture. A key scene shows a man with a gun challenging the main character, Master Wong Fei, while the Master uses his sick kung fu abilities to stave off death via bullet. Another really fun scene involves a punch & kick showdown while the two combatants balance on various ladders, jumping back and forth, maintaining balance, while trying to maintain the upper hand in the physical altercation. I'm not gonna' lie and I REALLY don't want to sound racist (because I'm not), but telling the characters/actors apart was a bit of a challenge, since they were all sporting the same bald in the front/braid in the back hairstyle.


All in all, I had a rough time with this one and how I finished it in one sitting is beyond me. Probably because I didn't want to have the idea of having to rejoin this one haunting me. It's something that I knew I'd hate before I even popped it into the DVD player and I know that's unfair, but call me predictable - I know what I like and what I don't like and one thing I don't like is kung fu movies, although in hindsight, Chan's weren't awful. This was brutal though and I'm just glad I'm done with it. Skip the Jet Li stuff and stick with Jackie Chan. While not blow away, Chan at least provides an all around better time at the movies.

RATING: 2.5/10  I'll give it a few hits for some of the action sequences, but all in all I just wish the damn thing had been nixed all together from THE BOOK.

MOVIES WATCHED: 777
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 224

December 7, 2013  10:32pm

Friday, December 6, 2013

822. Nema-ye Nazdik/Close-Up (1990)


Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Abbas Kiarostami
Written By: Abbas Kiarostami
Main Cast: Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Abolfazi Ahankhah, Mehrdad Ahankhah

DOCU-FICTION

Just a heads up, expect me to start jumping around a little more sporadically through the 80s and the rest of the year 1990. If I get a chance later today, I may swing in and present a FINAL 25 list, just so you guys know what to expect in the coming weeks, leading to the creation of the 8th TOP 20 list. If I don't get the time to do that today, however, we'll just do the standard FINAL 15, when the time comes. Anyway..."Close-Up"...


Wow, this was definitely a unique film. I can't say it totally blew me away, but I definitely liked it a lot and it's unlike anything I've ever seen. If you haven't seen it, I highly suggest tracking it down, which won't be difficult, since it's been released via the good folks at Criterion. The film is a documentary, however it also features some scenes which are reenactments of the documentary subject; which is a man named Sabzian passing himself off as the film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, in order to gain entry into a family's home and take advantage of them. Everyone involved plays themselves and participates in acting a few scenes, which are reenactments of what transpired. Even Abbas Kiarostami appears as a voice behind the camera, even allowed to ask questions at Sabzian's trial, of which we see extensive footage from.

It really is a hard film to sum up, as it's one of those few films that I feel like you should just see, as opposed to reading my inferior words about it. However, I'll try my best to give my feelings about the film, although a short, blundering review is probably what will result...


They hook you early with a scene in which four men ride in a cab to the house where Sabzian has committed his crime - a journalist, two police officers and a cab driver - with the purpose of arresting him. The journalist thinking that this will be his big story, goes in first. We don't see anything that takes place inside the house (yet) and instead, are forced to wait outside with the cigarette smoking cabbie. Then the credits roll and after that, we're behind the camera with Kiarostami. I knew right away that it was something special. That here was a guy - Kiarostami - who had an idea and totally saw it through, in a way that no other filmmaker probably could have. What is it about Kiarostami's films that always leave me with an odd feeling of not being able to decide exactly how I feel. I always walk out of them with the feeling that I just saw something cinematically amazing, yet also underwhelmed. I can never describe the underwhelming feeling, it always just happens and I always try to extinguish it and just tell myself that, no it was a great movie and that's that. "Close-Up" was a great, unique film and like I've said, it was unlike anything I've seen, easily earning it the "must see" tag. However, why am I not here now, prepared to give it a '10' or even a '9'. I myself don't even know. Let's just say that I fully expect this film to stick with me, linger in the forefront of my mind until I give in and admit that it was a masterpiece. For now, though, all I can say is see it for yourself and make your own opinions. You won't be disappointed by it, I'm sure.


RATING: 7.5/10  Not a bad rating at all, but I feel like I'm short changing it, while at the same time feeling like I'm giving it more credit than it deserves. Kiarostami is a tough nut to crack.

MOVIES WATCHED: 776
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 225

December 6, 2013  3:39pm

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

November 2013 Recap

Before we get into the recapping, I wanted to let everyone know that I've finally rounded out my ALTERNATE 1000 GREATEST FILMS LIST by including nine movies from this year. With Sight & Sound, Cashiers du Cinema and Empire Magazine putting out their top of the year lists, I decided to just peruse those and choose the nine that seemed to be the most prevalent, they are:

1. The Act of Killing
2. Gravity
3. Blue is the Warmest Color
4. Rush
5. Captain Phillips
6. Stranger by the Lake
7. A Touch of Sin
8. The Great Beauty
9. Before Midnight

So, that brings the total on that list to 1000 and now that list will lie in wait, until I'm ready for it. Anyway, on with the show...

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in November 2013
1) Short Cuts (1993 - Robert Altman) 9/10 - Still not committed enough to go full monty on this one, but it's being pegged for a prime spot in the upcoming TOP 20.
2) The Long Goodbye (1973 - Robert Altman) 7.5/10 - Pegging this one for, at least, a "Ten Worth Mentioning" nod. Still got that "curry brand cat food" scene still fresh in my mind - loved that.
3) Nashville (1975 - Robert Altman) 7/10 - Let's just keep on right on talking about each and every one of these movies and their chances at TOP 20/Ten Worth Mentioning. This one I can't see making any waves. I'll give it the '7' nod, but not really a personal favorite, more of a technical favorite.
4) The Player (1992 - Robert Altman) 7/10 - Big MAYBE at a Ten Worth Mentioning, otherwise nothing.
5) Three Colors: Blue (1993 - Krzysztof Kieslowski) 7/10 - Would really like to fit this one into the Ten Worth Mentioning section. Better than the two previously mentioned '7' rated films.
6) Three Colors: Red (1994 - Krzysztof Kieslowski) 6.5/10 - Definitely a great candidate for a rewatch. Can't see it making any list waves though.
7) Man Bites Dog (1992 - Belvaux, Bonzel, Poelvoorde) 5.5/10 - Grew on me a little, actually and surprisingly.
8) Farewell My Concubine (1993 - Kaige Chen) 1/10
9) The Double Life of Veronique (1991 - Krzysztof Kieslowski) 6.5/10 - I've been told I didn't understand this properly...
10) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990 - John McNaughton) 8/10 - Definitely can see this one getting something come TOP 20 time.
11) Thelma & Louise (1991 - Ridley Scott) 5/10
12) The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994 - Stephan Elliott) 6.5/10 - Just now noticing that a lot of my ratings have slightly risen since my initial thoughts. I guess that's a good thing...
13) The Beautiful Troublemaker (1991 - Jacques Rivette) 7/10 - If they'd just shaved an hour off of this, it could've been GOLD! As it is, call it bronze.
14) The Rapture (1991 - Michael Tolkin) 3/10
15) The Blue Kite (1993 - Tian Zhuangzhuang) 4/10 - The Chinese kicked my ass this season.
16) Delicatessen (1991 - Jeunet, Caro) 6/10 - Good, but disappointing.
17) Boyz N' the Hood (1991 - John Singleton) 6.5/10 - Opinion goes down on this one, for now. Still deciding just how much I liked this one.
18) A Brighter Summer Day (1991 - Edward Yang) 1/10 - Screw it, I'm going all the way down, because I just could NOT get into this one, at all.
19) Total Recall (1990 - Paul Verhoeven) 8.5/10 - Call it a guilty pleasure, if you want, but I'm determined to fit this one into my TOP 20.
20) Raise the Red Lantern (1991 - Yimou Zhang) 9/10 - And after the Chinese kicked my ass, this film consoled me. Great movie and almost guaranteed a TOP 20 seed.

And that's all I watched in November, so let's talk about some TV and then I'll get outta' your hair. By the way, I think I'm canning the TOP 20 Tracker thing, because I like taking a fresh look at the movies, as opposed to continuously looking at them all season.

ME vs. TV

Family Guy, right? We gotta' talk a little bit about the....

SPOILER ALERT!

...death of Brian. I have mixed opinions. On one hand, I was recently thinking how weird it is that NOTHING ever changes on animated shows. Marge Simpson never gets a new haircut, Bob doesn't start selling hot dogs, characters RARELY die and even then, their ghosts are always subject to an appearance or two. So, in that respect, I like it. You have the pen in your hand, you can mess with these characters and that's what sets animated series' apart from live action series'. On the other hand, why get rid of a beloved character if you don't have to? Imagine a world where Steve Carell never left The Office and where Will Smith forever resides in Bel-Air. It's the main advantage that animation has over live action - that none of their characters are ever gonna' go anywhere, get better job offers, die or what have you. So I'm mixed, but I know most people are pissed and I can see their points.

Hostages - In a way, I can't wait for this to just end. I love it while I'm watching it, but when I see it waiting for me on the DVR, I find myself putting it off for as long as possible.

The Blacklist - I'm a little behind, but I still like this. I don't like the whole thing where literally EVERYONE knows for a fact that Ray is Keane's father. I think they should've kept that under wraps. I say, you have to let that cat out of the bag by the end of the season. If they're thinking of saving it, I think it's gonna' lose the impact after a while.

END SPOILER ALERT!

American Horror Story: Coven - Compared to "Murder House" I'm not liking this near as much. I have yet to see Asylum, but am wondering what the general consensus on this current season is. It's good and all, but "Murder House" spoiled me. I'm waiting for this to get better.

Dads - I quit watching this, because I heard it's basically been canned and because I had like three of them on the DVR and no real desire to watch them.

Mom - I'll stick it out through the season, but unless this gets worlds funnier, I think I'll quit after that. My wife loves it and at this point, I'm basically just watching it so that we have yet another show that we watch together. However, we just watched this week's episode last night and I don't think I laughed once - not even a teehee.

The Millers - It's a fine sitcom and I can only see this one getting better with age, once everyone settles into their characters.  Best new comedy by a mile.

Quit watching Night Court DVDs and took a break from Two and a Half Men DVDs. The wife and I have been watching American Dad, however, from the beginning and laughing our asses off. Seriously that show is hilarious. Decided to rewatch them, since my viewing of the show got really sporadic during the fourth or fifth season and I've missed quite a few episodes since then. I'm a stickler for being up to date and all caught up with my TV.

We also quit watching Coupling and The Killing too. Coupling due to time issues and The Killing just didn't hook us.

Rumor has it that Santa Claus will be bringing me the complete series of the original Twilight Zone - an all-time favorite show of mine.

---

That's that mattress man. See ya next month.

December 4, 2013  8:56pm

840. Tongues Untied (1991)


Running Time: 55 minutes
Directed By: Marlon Riggs
Main Cast: Essex Hemphill
Click here to view the trailer

BLACK MEN LOVING BLACK MEN

Netflix had this one on a wait, but finally broke down and shipped it to me from another facility (all the way from San Jose, CA - I'm in Pennsylvania) and I can finally check this one off the grand checklist. Of course, I'm talking about "Tongues Untied" - the ultra poetic documentary from Marlon Riggs.


It's not something that I can really write a plot synopsis on, nor something that I can write intelligently about. The film clocks in at a mere fifty-five minutes (mere chump change compared to some of the flicks I've taken in) and uses a lot of poetry to tell it's tale. Add to that clips of talking heads and some snippets from Eddie Murphy's "Raw" and "Delirious" routines that make light of homosexuals and you've got Riggs' finished product. I think it goes without saying that I'm not the core audience for this one, being neither black nor homosexual. I don't have problems with either minority and feel that a man's color is his color and his sexual orientation is his own business. However, I have to say that even at fifty-five minutes, this one had me all but staring at the clock, just wanting it to be over. I couldn't connect with it and it's obvious that this film was made for a certain audience and white straight men aren't it.


However, Riggs obviously had something to say (with help from the poetic styling of Essex Hemphill) and more power to him for making a film that obviously got noticed. I won't trash the film, for the reasons stated above: THE BOOK forced me to watch something that I don't feel I had any business watching. The film almost played out like a "black, gay men only club" and everyone else need not waste their time. And that's okay. I'm fine with the fact that Riggs' made his statements, used poetry to maximum effect and has a hit. Nuff said.

RATING: 3/10  There were a few "sit up and take notice" moments, but barely and even at fifty-five minutes, it's like doing homework.

MOVIES WATCHED: 775
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 226

December 4, 2013  5:27pm

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

816. King of New York (1990)


Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: Abel Ferrara
Written By: Nicholas St. John
Main Cast: Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Victor Argo, Janet Julian
Click here to view the trailer

IT'S GOOD TO BE THE KING?

Moving right along, back tracking my way through (probably) my favorite decade - the decade of the 90s. Hey, I was born in the 90s, so for all of you 90s haters, I'm sorry, but almost all of my childhood memories took place in that decade. Anyway, we're talking about Christopher Walken and "King of New York".


The film is your basic, run of the mill crime drama, except it features a few knockout performances, which helps to set it a little higher than your usual "drug lords running rampant in the city" picture. Walken is Frank White, who's just been released from prison and wants to reintroduce himself into the criminal underworld of The Big Apple. His partners in crime are a group of gold chain wearing thugs, lead by Jimmy Jump (Fishburne), White's brother in crime. Frank makes it known to all of the different factions of the criminal under belly, that he is back in town and wants a piece of everyone's action. "If someone sells a nickel bag in the Central Park, I want in on it" says White, moments before blowing away a top notch foe in the crime business. Meanwhile, the film also follows a group of cops who want nothing more than to bring Frank White to his knees, by any means necessary. The cops are lead by Bishop (Argo), followed by Gilley (Caruso) & Flanigan (Wesley Snipes).


I had seen this movie once before, many many years ago and as I started it up last night, I remembered that viewing and remembered hating this film. The truth is, I was probably much too young to really appreciate it (or even be watching it, for that matter) and so I didn't hold my previous opinion against the film, but rather decided early to be ready to form a new one. In the end, I can say that the film isn't bad in the slightest and is only a few notches away from being really good. The things I didn't like were more nit picky than anything, but a few major flaws kept it from really winning me over. For starters, I'll say that the film didn't feel like anything special. It just felt like one of those direct to video films that were popular in the 90s, with excessive nudity and violence, put in place to lure viewers. The thing is though, is that you've got Christopher Walken in there giving this AMAZING performance and so, it kind of washes away that straight to video feeling and you quickly realize that there's a parade of talent being displayed right in front of your eyes. Not just Walken, but David Caruso and Laurence Fishburne turn in ultra fine performances, everybody proving that they can play both good & bad with just the flick of their eyebrows.

SPOILER ALERT!


While I'm not a fan of the "everyone dies at the end" ending, it does work here and when it came to wrapping up this film, I think we can all agree that the bleaker it was, the better. I'm also not necessarily a fan of movies that give us literally no one to root for, but again, this film pretty much makes it work and I guess Frank White is the one whose side we're supposed to be on. THE BOOK notes that Frank, by wanting to build a hospital, is trying to atone for his past sins, but I didn't see it that way. I saw Frank as this guy who wanted to be in the crime business, who liked being the crime business, but who also liked doing the right thing. He notes that he's killed no one that didn't deserve it and I feel like he's an honest criminal, yet a powerful one. THE BOOK also notes that the NYC that "King of New York" depicts is like a Gotham City and I couldn't agree more and thank THE BOOK for pointing that out. I kind of wish they'd have included "Bad Lieutenant" instead, as I've always wanted to see that and even THE BOOK notes it as being another of Ferrara's strong films. Guess I'll have to see it without THE BOOK'S guidance.

Anyway, this is a fine film. While I really can't point to any particular flaws, I just don't think it feels special enough to be considered a classic or anything. The performances are about the only thing classic about it and the rest is just slightly above average. It's a fine way to spend two hours and I think most will come out agreeing that they've just seen a totally solid film.

RATING: 6.5/10  If it would grow on me just a little bit, it might be strong enough to make a TEN WORTH MENTIONING spot, but otherwise I can't see it having any lasting impact on me.

MOVIES WATCHED: 774
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 227

December 3, 2013  6:18pm

Monday, December 2, 2013

792. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)


Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
Written By: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, from the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf
Main Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy; (voices): Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner
Click here to view the trailer

ANIMATION MEETS REALITY

In case this entry didn't tip you off, I've decided to continue moving chronologically past the 90s and through the 80s as well. I realize we're not chronologically back to 1988 yet, but this was streaming and my wife wanted to watch it, so here we are.


The film is probably unlike anything you've ever seen, as it expertly blends animation and live action seamlessly. The film stars Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant, a private detective who's been hired by Maroon Cartoon Studios, to find out if Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Turner), wife of A-list toon Roger Rabbit (voiced by Fleischer), is cheating on him. It doesn't take long for Eddie to snap a few risque photos of Jessice with Marvin Acme ("risque" in Toon Town; in fact, the two are just seen playing patty cake together) and confirm Roger's suspicion, breaking his heart. The next day, Marvin Acme (of cartoon's famous Acme products) is found dead and all fingers point to Roger. However, Eddie has different suspicions, which are confirmed after he talks to Roger and realizes that the white rabbit is innocent. Meanwhile, Judge Doom is trying to rule Toontown with an iron fist and is rallying for Roger's immediate execution, as he's developed the only way possible to kill a toon. The film blends elements of film noir and of course, animation to create a movie that you won't soon forget. The really fun part, though, is spotting all the toons: everyone from Loony Tunes characters to Disney characters make cameo appearances.


Despite the fact that the film WILL stick with you and you won't soon forget it, it still is something that didn't leave me as giddy as I'd have been if I had seen it at a younger age. Sure, it's cute and sometimes funny, but for me - a twenty nine year old male - it just doesn't hold up and ultimately, I was waiting for this to be over, more than I was wanting it to last longer. The film tries very hard to appeal to both adults and children and succeeds on some levels, but I think it's going to be a case by case basis, as to whether or not the grown ups are going to like it. I, for one, could've done with it's exclusion, but that's just me. On the other hand, I totally get WHY it was included and am more than willing to admit that it's expertly done. In a day when CGI and 3D are run of the mill, it's really hard to see any flaws with this animation work and it's interaction with live action subjects. I think I've said my peace on this one, so lets call that a short review.



RATING: 5.5/10  Better than average, but not by much. Like I said, don't take my griping to heart. I get it if you love it and I certainly wouldn't detract anyone from seeing this for the first time.

MOVIES WATCHED: 773
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 228

December 2, 2013  6:24pm