Friday, December 26, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)


Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Woody Allen
Written By: Woody Allen
Main Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins
Click here to view the trailer

Notes: Quite a few little tidbits before I begin, if you don't mind...

1) Don't expect many more updates to the 1001 Albums page of the blog, as I kind of got sick of doing it and have taken to reading during my free periods at work. I used to exclusively listen to the albums during the morning when I'm waiting to punch in (I arrive at work anywhere from one hour to ninety minutes early, as I ride in with my wife who works at a nearby nursing home and it's just easier that way) and during my lunch hour. About a month ago, I decided that I wasn't up for music and instead opened my phone to my Kindle app and began reading Stephen King's Firestarter. I've always wanted to make more time for reading and now I've found a way to make that happen and I must say I'm really enjoying it. The page will remain intact, if nothing else but to document the little progress I did make and also because you never know when the mood to restart may strike me.

2) Tonight my wife and I began the task of reorganizing our DVD collection into DVD albums. It's something I really didn't want to do, but it's going to be an incredible space saver and allow us to eliminate an entire DVD shelf from the room where I watch most of my movies (what I usually refer to as my "little TV watching room"). It's just so cluttered in there now that something had to be done to free up some space and along with taking some non-essential items to a local thrift store and just plain doing some organizing of the stuff we're keeping, putting the discs into albums is going to help immensely. It's just so hard to take, say the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection, which came packaged in a beautiful velvet padded box, remove the discs and pack the luxurious casing away in a closet somewhere. We're certainly not getting rid of the DVD cases, but still, it's a lot less elegant than having them displayed on a shelf. On the bright side, the album will make it easier for browsing, I think.

3) To anyone who celebrates, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas yesterday and if you don't celebrate, here's hoping you had a super Thursday the 25th! I for one had a marvelous time between Christmas Eve playing round after round of Catchphrase with the family to Christmas Day, waking up early on Christmas morning (something we haven't done in several years) to open presents with my wife and parents. Certainly a good time had by all and a memorable Christmas for the record books. I don't want to go into the details of what I received, because I hate rubbing that sort of stuff in and don't want to risk coming off as a braggart or anything, but lets just say my wife nailed it this year and made me a very happy camper.

and, finally....

4) You may be wondering what the hell is going on and why am I reviewing a movie that isn't in THE BOOK and isn't labeled as a SIN OF OMISSION. Let me explain. For a while now, I've been wanting to slowly start plowing through the mass filmography that is Woody Allen's, doing formal reviews for all forty plus of his movies. I felt that if I wished to call myself a Woody Allen fanatic, I should at least be able to say I've watched and pondered all of his films, as well as have ratings handy for all of them, not to mention perhaps a ranked list, best to worst. So this will be the beginning of a long process of my reviewing all of Woody Allen's films that I haven't tackled already. Since my wife had Woody's newest offering, Magic in the Moonlight, waiting under the Christmas tree for me yesterday, I figured that was as good a place as any to begin. After this I'll be returning to THE BOOK, to finish off the current season of movies (eighteen to go now) and then probably taking a month off to focus on this little Woody Allen project. I don't plan to finish the Allen project in that month, but rather just put a dent in it. So...enough dilly dallying, lets get to it...

THE WOODY ALLEN FILES

Hopefully I didn't lose you back there in the midst of all my gabbing, but I just felt the need to share a speck of my personal life with the blog. If you skipped it all and scrolled straight to the review, I can't say I blame you much, as I'd have probably done something similar. Anyway, each year, like clockwork, Woody Allen produces a new movie and each year I'm forced to wait approximately six months before I go out and purchase it on DVD, so that I can watch it. I don't even go to the theater that often, but even if I did decide to just go and see the latest Allen offering, his films are usually only released on a limited number of screens and that's usually not around here. I've been trekking out to buy the latest Woody Allen offering on DVD since Vicky Cristina Barcelona and bringing it home and sticking it in my DVD player is always one of the highlights of my cinematic year. I'm almost never disappointed, but this year I didn't really know what to expect as I hadn't heard much of anything about Woody's 2014 film, Magin in the Moonlight, which starred Colin Firth and Emma Stone, both making their Woody Allen debut.


Firth plays Stanley Crawford a.k.a. Wei Ling Soo, a famous magician who is world renowned for his illusions. During his performances, Stanley dresses up in full Chinese garb and pretends to be from the Orient, adding a bit of mystique to his shows. In reality, Stanley is quite the cynic, believing in nothing but pure science and writing things like magic, the existence of God and, in the case of Sophie Baker (Stone), psychics off as nothing more than hokum. When his old magician pal Howard Burkan pays him a visit after a show in Berlin, Stanley is, at first, delighted to see him. When the two begin to talk, Howard informs Stanley that a clairvoyant has taken over the home of a wealthy American family, living in the French Riviera, convincing them all that she's the real deal. In fact, Howard even admits that she's got him convinced, a man once as skeptical as Stanley when it came to such mystical things. Howard asks Stanley if he'll travel with him back to the home of the American family, the Catledges and help him debunk Sophie Baker, who has the son of the family, Brice (Linlater), so convinced that he intends to marry her and spends his days serenading her with his ukulele. Stanley accepts the challenge, considering the debunking of mystics to be a hobby of his. He puts he and his fiance's vacation on hold and travels with Howard to the French Riviera, where he meets the Catledges and Sophie. Once there, Sophie immediately begins to get visions about Stanley, going into fugue like states and revealing personal details that she couldn't possibly know unless she was legit. Soon Stanley begins to fall under Sophie Baker's spell and realizes that she must be the real deal, admitting that he's been wrong all these years and that now anything is possible, even the existence of God. However, there's more to Sophie than meets the eye...

SPOILER ALERT!


Unless I'm forgetting something (which with forty plus movies under his belt, I very well may be) Woody Allen has just recently taken a deeper interest in certain things that he didn't used to bat an eye toward. I'm talking about things like clairvoyants, seance's, reincarnation and the existence of an afterlife. Sure, he's always pondered the existence of God, I mean that's one of the things that sets him apart. Just look at Hannah and Her Sisters, where most of Woody Allen's onscreen part is him playing a man who begins questioning his own atheism and trying to discover a new religion, a deeper meaning to life. In Magic in the Moonlight, I saw a (and I could be way off base) a Woody Allen who is seventy-nine years old and starting to do some wishful thinking that maybe there is a God. Okay, maybe it's less wishful thinking and more him say "what if" or "what if I've been wrong this whole time". One thing Woody Allen fans know is that he is a tried and true atheist, but I also think they'll agree that he's always been one that has constantly questioned and never been afraid to make the point that he COULD be wrong, as impossible as that may be. Look at the scene where Firth's Stanley prays to God that his aunt make it out of surgery alive. Stanley quits mid-prayer and when his aunt pulls through he denounces prayer as a factor since he never finished the prayer. However, in the following scene Sophie reminds Stanley that Brice WAS praying for Aunt Vanessa and that maybe it was the prayer that made her pull through. In my view, Stanley represents Woody Allen here and Sophie represents the possibility that there is a God. In the end, Sophie is found to be a fraud, but Firth still flirts with the idea of her, despite knowing that she doesn't exist as a mystic.

One of Firth's final lines in the film (in fact it may be his final line, I can't remember) is him saying "if only she'd given me a sign...just one small sign". As it pertains to the film, it's the character of Stanley wishing that Sophie had given him a sign that she loved him, as he retells his most recent meeting with Sophie, where a plan to propose went awry. The closing moments of the film show Sophie reappearing at Stanley's aunt's place, wrapping on the door once for "yes" and the film ending with the two embracing. Now then, back to that final line: "if only she'd given me a sing...just one small sign" (I'm paraphrasing, but it was similar to that). In my mind, that's Woody saying, "if only God had given me a sign, then maybe, just maybe, I could've believed in him". In my mind, Emma Stone's character doesn't return, but that the closing moments of the film where she does are just a daydream of Colin Firth's character. It's almost as if Woody Allen wishes there was a God, but the cynic in him and the forward thinker just won't allow him to give into that train of thought. Perhaps we're seeing a man nearing the end of his life (it pains me to say that) and hoping, despite all logic that suggests otherwise, that there's something more when he's gone. It also helps that he always seems to paint the non believers in a bad light and the believers in a good light. Just look at the Helena Shepridge character in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the only character who really ends up happy. To me, this is where Woody really started to explore these more existential themes. It was almost as if the Helena Shepridge character and her outcome was Woody Allen's way of stating, "I'm officially okay with people who think like this, but it doesn't mean I have to agree with you" or simply, "I get it, but I don't agree". Why is it that with Woody Allen I can pick his movies apart, paragraph after paragraph, pulling out all sorts of symbolism, but then I watch something like Visconti's The Leopard and I'm left bored and speechless?


As for the final thoughts of this one, I can see why it didn't get praise. As a Woody Allen fan, I enjoyed it as a deeper look into Woody Allen himself, as some of his thoughts and ideas seemed to creep across the celluloid, but for the casual viewer, it isn't going to amount to much more than your average affair. The primary actors did a fine job, as Emma Stone has gotten somewhat back into my good graces (there was a period there where I just really couldn't stand her for some reason), as she turned in a fine performance and seeing as how she's slated for the 2015 Woody Allen project, she may be his newest muse. Allen fans may agree that this has got to be right up there among the prettiest Woody Allen films there are. I usually don't watch his movies for aesthetic purposes, but it seemed here that every other shot was a real eye popper (dig the scenes with Firth and Stone where lightning strikes behind them or they walk through a vine enclosed walkway). Also the scene I talked about where Firth prays is a pretty powerful one and I've always admired actors who could pull of delivering lines to themselves onscreen, that must be awkward, not to mention a challenge. Keep your eyes closed and this will certainly SOUND like a Woody Allen film, as the soundtrack comes equipped with tunes from Cole Porter and Conal Fowkes, two whose voices have appeared in Allen films before.

RATING: 6.5/10  Can't go much higher than that, but I did enjoy it and there's certainly a lot to ponder here, especially for longtime fans of Woody Allen. Certainly not a total loss and a fine outing for the filmmaker genius.

December 26, 2014  11:16pm

Sunday, December 21, 2014

294. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)


Running Time: 106 minutes
Directed By: Robert Aldrich
Written By: Mickey Spillane, A.I. Bexxerides, from novel by Mickey Spillane
Main Cast: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Maxine Cooper, Gaby Rodgers
Click here to view the trailer

BOX OF HELL!

My wife surprised me last night when she announced that she was in the mood for a movie and offered to check out one of the eighteen films I had scheduled to watch to finish out the ninth and next to last season of BOOK watching. After telling her what I had from Netflix, she decided on Kiss Me Deadly, a 1955 film noir and a pretty gritty one at that.


The fun begins when Cloris Leachman, making her big screen debut, comes trotting down the highway wearing only a trenchcoat, her bare feet slapping against the pavement. She runs out in front of an oncoming car, which just happens to be driven by our main character, Mike Hammer (Meeker). He gives her some lip for almost causing him to crash and then finally gives in when she begs for a ride. Up ahead, a police checkpoint reveals that the woman is actually escaped from the local mental institution. A wink and a nod from the girl, named Christina and Hammer tells the police that the girl riding shotgun with him is his wife. They're dismissed and continue on their way, with the girl asking to be dropped at the nearest bus station. Before Hammer can get the girl there, however, the two are ran off the road, Hammer being knocked unconscious. In an abandoned building, Christina is tortured (all we see and hear are her kicking feet and her screams of torture), while Hammer lays out cold. When Christina can't take anymore and dies, the two are loaded back into Hammer's car, where they're pushed over a cliff, thought to be sent to their fiery demise. However, Hammer makes it out alive and since he's a private dick, he's obviously on the case. Enter a slew of mostly seedy characters including Hammer's girlfriend Velda (Cooper), Christina's roommate Lily Carver (Rodgers) and a demented Dr. Soberin, who in the end gets his hands on a glowing case that has to be seen to be comprehended.

SPOILER ALERT!


You just can't tell me that David Lynch wasn't inspired in some way by this movie. I mean, look at these wacky characters who aren't all completely there and tell me those aren't early composites of David Lynch style persona's. Not to mention the night driving scene at the beginning of the film (we all know Lynch is keen on those) and the mysterious hell box, which just oozes Lynchian flavor. I can't say I was gaga about this one, but it definitely wasn't bad. One of my major complaints would have to be the appearance of too many characters, each not lasting that long but all being a major piece to the grand scheme of the whole movie. Names come at rapid fire pace and I'll be damned if I didn't get a little confused trying to keep everyone in order. By the end, I didn't know Lily Carver from Carmen Trivago and it got a little irritating. I guess you could say that's my problem as opposed to the movie's problem, but I feel like the simpler they could've kept things the easier this one would have been to enjoy. By the end of the movie, I'd forgotten how we'd even really gotten there or what we were trying to figure out. I mean, did they ever reveal who actually killed Christina anyway? Was it Dr. Soberin and Lily Carver a.k.a. Gabrielle? I mean, I realize WHY they killed her - in order to get the glowing box - but I'm pretty sure it's never 100% confirmed who did the torturing. By the way, THE BOOK says that Christina was vaginally tortured with a pair of pliers and what I'd like to know is how do they know that? Am I being stupid in asking that question? I mean, sure, one can assume that they're doing unspeakable, vulgar things to her in places that aren't allowed to be shown on camera, but one could also assume that the camera was kept low simply to let our imaginations run wild. Did THE BOOK let their imagination and the facts get blurred?


All in all, I think most will enjoy this. It's a really gritty noir, that doesn't come with all the fast talking of most, more mainstream noirs of the time. It also doesn't really have any names to speak of, which I kind of like, because it gives it that more realistic quality, like this could just be another episode of the Twilight Zone (especially considering that glowing box!). By the way, here's another stupid question: Was anyone else really shocked to see an answering machine pop up in 1955? I definitely was! Also, what was with that great apartment being leased by Mike Hammer? Private dicks are supposed to live in shoddy digs, across the street from some big glowing sign that constantly flashes in their window, not chic places with answering machines built into the wall. Oh and for you single guys, keep your eyes peeled for some serious eye candy in the form of Maxine Cooper (also her screen debut), Marian Carr, Leigh Snowden and even Cloris Leachman (for a little bit).

RATING: 6.5/10  Can't get it into '7' territory I'm afraid, but a rewatch when I'm a lot less tired and a lot more apt to follow the weaving storyline wouldn't be out of the question.

MOVIES WATCHED: 884
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 117

December 21, 2014  9:48pm

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

640. Up In Smoke (1978)


Running Time: 85 minutes
Directed By: Lou Adler, Tommy Chong
Written By: Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin
Main Cast: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach, Strother Martin, Edie Adams
Click here to view the trailer

MUST HAVE TO BE STONED...

I was having a pretty great day, lounging in bed with my wife before I had to drag myself out long enough to write a review for a movie I was pretty sure I'd hate going in. Unlike Tampopo, I was dead on in my assumption of the original Cheech & Chong movie - Up In Smoke.


You probably already know the gist of the film, but I'll play along and give you the low down anyway. The film revolves around - you guessed it - Cheech and Chong, two stoner losers who meet up when Cheech mistakes Chong for a female hitchhiker. Cheech is Pedro, a family man living in the L.A. slums, but who drives a decked out car nicknamed the "Love Machine". Chong is simply known as man and pretty much the minute the two meet up, they begin blazing together. An early gag has Chong whipping out a kielbasa sized joint and passing it to Cheech. The two latin hippies manage to somehow stumble right out of the path of trouble, but always staying on the police's radar - the police headed up by Sergeant Stedenko (Keach), a hot under the collar officer with idiots for deputies. Later, the two leads pick up a couple of women who tell them about a battle of the bands coming up. Since Cheech has a band that he's trying to get off the ground, the two are all in and travel from Tijuana (they somehow end up there) back to L.A., in a van made out out - you guessed it - weed! At one point, the exhaust catches the van on fire, leaving everyone in Pedro and Man's path stoned and craving junk food. I'm guessing going in with a couple doobies in your shirt pocket wouldn't be a bad idea, as the movie just isn't funny on it's own merits.


I don't want to sound like a goody two shoes or anything, but I've never - not once - smoked pot. It's not that I'm against it or anything, in fact if anything I'd advocate it. There are some folks out there who'd probably do good to be mellowed out with some Maui wowie or Humboldt green, but I'm just not one of them. I'm mellow enough as it, just breathing fresh air. What I'm getting at, however, is that I've always felt kind of left out of the joke whenever I encounter movies featuring stoners. I tend not to get the jokes, nor am I in the in crowd that would get those jokes. Films like Knocked Up (which I liked enough) and this just go straight over my head and I feel like the only one not laughing at a party. However there is a big difference between Judd Apatow's ultimately heartwarming, Seth Rogen comedy which mentions pot smoking in passing and Cheech & Chong's movie, which hangs every word on the assumption that it's audience is college kids and stoner doofuses. If I laughed once throughout this entire movie it was because of the great Stacy Keach, who even THE BOOK praises as one of the best parts of this otherwise dull, sometimes offensive and downright unfunny comedy. Believe it or not, Cheech & Chong would go on to make FIVE MORE of these things and believe it or not, I'm sure there's more than a few college kids who own them all on special edition DVD and love popping them in, just as they're about to burn one. I, for one, could've really done without this and while I'm sure there will be people who defend this movie's place in the 1001 BOOK, I would disagree with that defense, for sure.

RATING: 3.5/10  Can't go much higher than that. At least it's kept short and like I said, Keach is pretty great, but otherwise just not my type of movie.

MOVIES WATCHED: 883
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 118

December 17, 2014  3:13pm

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

751. TAMPOPO (1986)


Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Juzo Itami
Written By: Juzo Itami
Main Cast: Nobuko Miyamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken Watanabe, Koji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka
Click here to view the trailer

I'M STARVING

So I got a little preoccupied, hanging with my wife, cat napping and such that I fell a little behind, but still two movies in one day is kind of a big deal nowadays and with plans to catch a third later this evening, I'm on fire. Anyway, I've been toying with the idea of tackling this one for a few weeks now, thinking for some reason I'd hate it, but quite the contrary.


The film begins with a gangster dressed in white taking his seat in a movie theater, alongside his mistress clad in the same color. The gangster expresses his love for movies and how he doesn't want to be interrupted, berating a fellow moviegoer for rattling a chip bag. After a few minutes his movie begins and so does ours: The central plot revolves around a widowed noodle shop owner, Tampopo (Miyamoto) and her young son, struggling to make ends meet. One rainy night a couple of truck drivers stop by for a bite and end up sticking around longer than they planned. One truck driver, Goro (Yamazaki), tells Tampopo what's wrong with her fledgling business and after some begging, he agrees to stick around and teach her how to run a successful noodle shop. He teaches her how to read her customers, how to remember their never ending orders, how to perfect the soup and cook the noodles, how to slice the pork and just what ingredients to add, not to mention redecorating. As the film goes on, this main plot is interlaced with little vignettes, featuring characters that have nothing to do with Tampopo, Goro and company, including a man with a toothache, an elderly woman who vandalizes a grocery store and a group of businessmen ordering lunch. Also, the couple from the beginning - the gangster and his mistress - are brought in and out throughout the film, playing sexual games with the help of various foods - including an intense scene featuring an egg yolk.

SPOILER ALERT!


There was definitely a point during the course of this movie where I said to myself, "Boy, this is pretty silly". I mean an entire film based around the premise of a fledgling ramen shop? But I'll be damned if this didn't pull me in and didn't let go until the baby was sucking the boob at the end of the film. It was totally original, unlike anything I'd seen before and in a good way to boot. The noodle shop story may have been silly to base an entire movie around, but it was never dull and the story was constantly being progressed, along with the characters. In the meantime, we were treated to these sometimes weird, sometimes hilarious vignettes spliced throughout the picture, which serve to keep the viewers on their toes and always interested. You got the sense too that Itami was drawing a lot of inspiration from other films - calling his picture a "ramen western" and was just me or did Itami's gangster remind you of Godard's gangster in "Breathless"? Especially as he ran dying down the street. Speaking of that scene, who knew that you could kill of a character and have his last words be a recipe for yam sausages, all the while making the viewer feel the pain of the characters in one of the only funny/heartbreaking scenes I've witnessed.


Also ending the whole thing by showing a baby breastfeeding was pretty genius, considering the film revolved around the relationship between food and sex. We start out life looking to the breast as a source of nourishment and as we grow we look at it as a source of lust. Therefore, one of the basis' for our entire existence is the correlation between food and sex. I've never thought of it like that before, but it was the clear message that Itami was going for and it came across loud & clear. For the third time, I will say that the film isn't without a bit of silliness, which maybe keeps it from being that perfect '10', but it was a lot of fun and breath of fresh air in a sewer after the likes of "The Leopard" and "Lola Montes". Thumbs up and hopefully a more permanent step in the right direction as far as quality goes.

RATING: 7/10  I was going to go '6.5' right up until I started gushing about it and then I realized I liked it more than I was letting on. If I weren't wrapped up in THE BOOK I'd head over to my Netflix queue right now and add a few more Itami flicks.

MOVIES WATCHED: 882
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 119

December 16, 2014  7:33pm

301. Lola Montes/The Sins of Lola Montes (1955)


Running Time: 110 minutes
Directed By: Max Ophuls
Written By: Max Ophuls, Annette Wademant, Jacques Natanson, from the novel La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes by Cecil Saint-Laurent
Main Cast: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, Oskar Werner, Henri Guisol

TUESDAY BLOWOUT, TAKE TWO

So it's once again Tuesday (my Saturday) and I plan, once again, to knock out at least a few movies from THE BOOK and get closer to that short term goal of 901 down, 100 to go. I tried this a couple of weeks ago and only managed to get two movies watched, so lets aim for four between today and tomorrow and see what happens? First up - Lola Montes.


The ONLY place this movie is referred to as "The Sins of Lola Montes" is in THE BOOK, as all other sources have it listed merely as Lola Montes. Seems to be another case of THE BOOK making things up, as it tends to do with many of the running times and some of the plot synopsis'. Anywhoo...on with my, probably more accurate plot details. The bulk of the film is told in flashback form, with Lola Montes (apparently a real life historical figure, which I didn't know while watching) portraying a circus act. Lola Montes (Carol), an infamous scandal starter, dancer and lover, sits in the center ring while the ringmaster (Ustinov) tells her life story to the paying crowd. He goes from lover to lover and even touches briefly upon her childhood, before moving back to exploit her controversies. We hear of her affair with composer Franz Liszt through to their breakup, when the two promise to reunite one romantic evening and of her affair with the King of Bavaria (Walbrook). The whole thing really wasn't up my alley, but was beautifully photographed and featured some decent enough acting to give it only a mild thumbs down.



Boy, I've got to stop watching these movies set in the 19th century! I just can't take this overload of ancient history and the films are just as boring as they come. Granted, this one was a lot more easy to get into than Visconti's The Leopard, but still I could've done without it and it's place in THE BOOK is questionable, in my view. I've seen a few people complaining about the emotionless acting by Martine Carol, but to me that was the intent here. Here's a woman who's lived a full life filled with heartbreak and at this point, she has no emotion left to muster. A few notable pieces of the film that drew me out of my fugue like state were the scene where the Bavarian King demands a portrait of Lola Montes, only to choose the painter who will take the longest in doing so, so that he may have more time with her and basically anything in the center right with Ustinov, who really got into the role as the loud and boisterous ringmaster. People preparing to tackle THE BOOK will be pleased to know that this is not available on Netflix for "at home" delivery, as opposed to when I started and was forced to record it off of TCM. My TCM copy looked pretty crappy by the way, but served it's purpose in a pinch.

RATING: 4/10  I'm being extra generous there, because it's probably closer to a '2.5' or a '3', but what the heck, it's my Saturday! Gonna' go try to tackle something else, hopefully something set in, at least, the 20th century.

MOVIES WATCHED: 881
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 120

December 16, 2014  1:05pm

Friday, December 12, 2014

408. Il Gattopardo/The Leopard (1963)


Running Time: 185 minutes
Directed By: Luchino Visconti
Written By: Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti, from novel by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa
Main Cast: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli
Click here to view the trailer

I'LL TAKE THE BLAME...

Wow, nearly ten days since my last review. I'm such a slacker! It's been rough going at work though (you try tackling retail at Christmas time!) and what with Christmas shopping and making time to spend with my wife, movies have not been first priority, to say the least. However, they're still a high priority and I really want to wrap this season up sooner rather than later, which is why I tackled the longest beast on my short term to do list first, rather than saving this uphill climb for later.


Here's the deal guys, if you actually thought I was going to like this one in the slightest, then you haven't been paying attention. This one had been lying on my desk for days. I put it into the DVD player one day last week when my wife was working the night shift and got about fifteen minutes in before deciding I just wasn't up to a three hour movie and opting out. Fast forward to Tuesday night and I got up the gumption to just do it and oy vey, what a chore this was! Dare I say the biggest chore of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book thus far? Perhaps. I actually couldn't even give you a credible plot synopsis, because my mind wandered so easily with this one. I just couldn't have possibly cared less about what was playing out onscreen and it's a shame, because Burt Lancaster is a broad shouldered man who commands full attention, Alain Delon is a fine actor whom I loved in Le Samourai and Claudia Cardinale is breath taking, here more than ever. It's just that I don't do history and the older it gets the less attention I care to give. When you send me back to 19th century Italy and pieces of history that I know absolutely zero about and have absolutely zero interest in learning about, I tap out. At one point, I realized that I was never going to like this one for plot reasons, so I decide to start looking for reasons to give it a few points. Here's the thing though, for all the praise that this film gets for great looking cinematography, I didn't see it. Hey, maybe my perception is a bit skewed, as I've seen some really gorgeous pictures this season, dozens of which trump this as far as good looking movies go (Days of Heaven and The Conformist come to mind, both of which I disliked plot wise, but gave decent enough marks too just because they had other positive attributes).


What took three nights to finish (one hour per night is all I could muster) wound up being a huge bust, but one that I anticipated. I kind of knew going in that if I ended up liking this one, it would be a pleasant surprise and that just didn't happen, folks. During the third room and with so much stuff on my mind lately (Christmas, work, etc.), I could barely keep my thoughts on the movie and by that point, has basically decided to call it a wash, accept the low rating and move on. So that's that and I take full responsibility for this one. Perhaps I'd made my mind up before going in, but after years of being a movie fan, I know what I like and this isn't it, so maybe making my mind up early wasn't that much of a sin. I'll stop rambling now...

RATING: 1/10  Again, I take the blame and if you loved this one, more power to you. I, for one, found nothing redeeming and that's three hours of life I won't get back.

MOVIES WATCHED: 880
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 121

December 12, 2014  7:43pm

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

624. Saturday Night Fever (1977)


Running Time: 118 minutes
Directed By: John Badham
Written By: Norman Wexler, from the magazine article Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night by Nik Cohn
Main Cast: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape
Click here to view the trailer

DISCO LIVES!

Man, I really crapped out yesterday. My goal was to watch something like four movies within yesterday alone and I only managed to bang out two. Luckily, I talked my wife into joining me in a film today and together we picked Travolta's 1977 breakout hit, Saturday Night Fever and to my surprise, I enjoyed it.


It all begins with a pair of shoes walking down a busy NYC sidewalk, a can of paint dangling from the clenched fist of the owner of said shoes. The shoes belong to amateur, nightclub dancer Anthony Manero, who's going to his day job as a hardware store employee. During the day's Anthony is boring: he's nineteen years old and still living with his parents, making measly wages mixing paint for common folks. It's not until the sun goes down that Tony Manero emerges, gold chains dangling around his neck and slick shirts draped over his shoulders, ready to pound his dancin' shoes against the bright lights of the disco dance floor. He's gawked at as he enters the club, one woman gets nervous in his presence and asks permission to wipe the sweat from his brow - he obliges her. The 2001 Odyssey is his club of choice and it just so happens that a big dance contest is on the horizon. Tony eyes a newcomer to the dance floor, a vivacious woman named Stephanie (Gorney) he sees for the first time decked out in white and flashing some groovy moves. She plays hard to get at first, but eventually caves and agrees to be Tony's partner for the contest. The two practice together and Tony begins to fall in love, but Stephanie is a tough nut to crack and despite Tony bending over backwards for her, he can't seem to get any closer to her. Meanwhile, a race war between the Italians (Tony's group - obviously) and the Hispanics is in full swing, with one of Tony's friends taking a beating. All this and we haven't even touched on Tony's tough home life, with a verbally abusive father, an overbearing mother and a brother who's just quit the priesthood.

SPOILER ALERT!


There's just something about a movie made in the 70s, early 80s and set in NYC that appeals to me. I love the hustle and the bustle of the city during that era (not that it's not hustling and bustling now). I love the melting pot factor and I love the talk of Catholics and their church ways (don't ask me why, it's just always been sorta fascinating). I love the ugly, funky colored wallpapers and I just love the style of the time. I love the clothing styles and the music (here the BeeGees are used to maximum effect and almost become another character themselves - see How Deep Is Your Love and More Than a Woman). I love it all and I love how at that time, the rules of movies weren't established yet. You go see a movie today and things are to be assumed; the good guy gets the girl at the end, the team wins the big game and everything ends up roses & kittens. The end of Saturday Night Fever is a big downer, to say the least. Tony & Stephanie "win" the big dance contest, however Tony instantly gives up the winnings to what he thinks are the better, Hispanic couple, so technically nothing is won and it just underlines the racial tension of the times. Then, one of the gang dies and ultimately, Tony only gets as far as friendship with his dream girl, riding a subway as the movie closes and thinking about how everything went wrong and how this whole dancing thing isn't a career, but just a pipe dream and no matter how many gold chains he drapes over his neck, all he's doing on Saturday nights is escaping reality. He'll still end up every morning getting called a bum by his father and feeding paint cans to the paint shaker at his $4.00 per hour job. Plastics young man, plastics!


What can I say I'm a Travolta fan. There's something about the guy that makes me want to watch. I love Grease, I love Pulp Fiction and I quite liked Saturday Night Fever...and well, that's really all that comes to mind right now, but three ain't bad. What Muriel's Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla did for me in turning me into an ABBA fan, this movie did in turning me into a BeeGees fan (I'm listening to How Deep Is Your Love right now, as I type this and being transported back to the 70s, sitting on my windowsill in my groovy, NYC apartment with the orange painted walls and the green couch). Speaking of apartments, dig that pad that Karen Lynn Gorney lives in, like George Costanza I've always dreamed of having steps in an apartment and this girl had two flights, both within her flat!

I'm rambling now, so I'll wrap it up. You can knock this movie all you want and call it simply a dance flick, but in my view it's much more than that. It's a time capsule piece about love, friendship and being a teen in the 70s with no direction. It has dancing, but that's certainly not the meat & potatoes of the picture. If you don't dig John Travolta, then fine, but I really don't know why. He was a good actor who just happened to be a heart throb (I'm straight as an arrow, but even I'll admit that girls had to be wetting their pants over this guy back in the day and according to my wife he was quite the hunk). Anyway, give it a shot and be open minded and I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

RATING: 7.5/10  It's currently streaming on Netflix for the interested, so check it out. Not sure how my schedule's gonna turn out this week, but with just about twenty movies left to go before the season wraps, expect my pace to quicken.

MOVIES WATCHED: 879
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 122

December 3, 2014  10:29pm

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

332. GIGI (1958)


Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
Written By: Alan Jay Lerner, Anita Loos, from novel by Colette
Main Cast: Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold, Isabel Jeans
Click here to view the trailer

FROM WEE WEE'S TO OUI OUI'S

I realize I should've been back before noon for my second review of the day, but after watching Gigi I got sidetracked doing some chores around the house - a bit of a surprise for my wife, who's due home within the hour. Anyway, we're off together tomorrow, so that means I'll probably retire to my little TV room later on to continue today's binge of must see movies. For now, let's talk Gigi.


The plot sort of reminded me of My Fair Lady, except there's no Audrey Hepburn and instead there's Leslie Caron (Gigi), a poor man's Audrey. Gigi comes from a long line of socialite, spoiled, wealthy, well to do women, including her "grandma-ma" Madame Alvarez (Gingold) and her "auntie" Alicia (Jeans), the latter of whom is her teacher in the fine art of sophistication - you know, putting your pinky up when you sip tea and never lifting the saucer before you lift the coffee pot, those sorts of things. Once a week Gigi takes lessons from her Aunt Alicia, as Alicia hopes that one day Gigi will be groomed enough to be a brilliant lady. However. Gigi has different dreams & desires and those don't include learning how to be more lady like. Meanwhile, you've got Gaston (Jourdan), who is bored with life (that sounds serious - perhaps some prescription anti-depressants would've been just what the doctor ordered and this movie would've been over in jig time). He hates how trees are always green, how the sky is always blue and how he's always so rich & always being chased after by beautiful women (poor sap). He's engaged to Liane d'Exelmans (Eva Gabor), whom he breaks up with when he finds out that she's cheating on him with her skating instructor. Seriously, if you guys can't figure out the entire rest of the plot spoilers and all, then you haven't been paying attention to movies. However, for the ones who don't care to guess for lack of spoilage, I'll stop there. Maurice Chevalier co-stars as Gaston's uncle and he's far & away the best part of the whole production.

SPOILER ALERT!


I mean, seriously, is this meant to be a ripoff of My Fair Lady? The casting of Caron who bore of resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, the basic plot which dealt with a girl being taught to act more sophisticated and even Louis Jourdan's belting out the tune "Gig" which seemed to have the same basic message as Rex Harrison's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face". Add the fact that both were written by Lerner & Lowe and it seems like much more than a happy coincidence. What's with Lerner & Lowe anyway and why are they so preoccupied with girls being taught to act proper? I wonder if they had a rough childhood, with their mother forcing them to listen to show tunes and walk around with dictionaries on their heads, while balancing three champagne glasses in one hand and twirling a parasol in the other?


All kidding aside, I more put up with this one then enjoyed it. In fact, I barely enjoyed it at all. Outside of Chevalier's appearances (what a gem he was), I wasn't the least bit interested in what became of these characters, partly because the damn thing was so predictable that I could see the ending coming before the ink was dry on the opening credits. Best song honors also go to Chevalier, but not for his famous "Thank Heaven for Little Girls (which comes off more like a creepy anthem for pedophiles everywhere), but instead his duet with Hermione Gingold and "I Remember It Well", a cute little ditty where Gingold's character remembers much more about a date with Chevalier's character than he does. It's also worth noting that during and after watching this, I came up with a new test for judging musicals. It's called the "hum test" and revolves around my desire and ability to hum songs from the movie after watching it. If can remember some of the tunes and have a desire to hum and/or sing them, then "yay", your musical is tops with me. Otherwise, it fails and well...like Gigi, it's forgettable and dull. I dig a good musical, but honestly, they're few and far between and with the exceptions of My Fair Lady and Grease, I'm hard pressed to think of anymore really good ones. Nuff said...

RATING: 3.5/10  Someone online said it's movies like this that make people discredit the Oscars and I can hardly disagree. Nine Oscars for this pile? Gimme' a break!

MOVIES WATCHED: 878
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 123

December 2, 2014  12:47pm

614. Ai no corrida/In the Realm of the Senses (1976)


Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Nagisa Oshima
Written By: Nagisa Oshima
Main Cast: Eiko Matsuda, Tatsuya Fuji, Aoi Nakajima, Yasuko Matsui, Meika Seri
Click here to view the trailer

UNDER 18 MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY PARENT OR GUARDIAN

So here's the deal: My wife and I are SUPPOSED to have Tuesdays and Wednesdays off together, but since her boss is a dumb son of a bitch and wrecked the schedule this month, she's off to work today and I'm left alone with a vow to watch as many movies as I can in the eight hours that she's gone. I'm hoping to get in something like five today, so suck it in and get your spectacles on, cause there's reviewin' to be done! Up first...a bit of erotic fiction!


The plot is actually taken from a real life story circa 1930s Japan and tells the tale of a young prostitute named Sada Abe (Matsuda) who begins having an affair with the husband of her brothel madam, Kichizo san (Fuji) (I guess he's the one having the affair then, she's just the willing participant). At first, everything is under the encouragement of Kichizo, professing his attraction for the young. pretty Abe, but after a while the feelings of lust become mutual and the two take to sneaking off to quench their thirst for one another. After a longer while, it becomes clear that Abe is letting this affair go to her head, threatening to sever her lover's penis if he continues to make love to his wife. Kichizo usually laughs off these threats and goes on "giving it" to Abe, but clearly Sada is mentally losing her grip with reality. Toward the climax (no pun intended), Sada and Kichizo begin to toy with sexual asphyxiation, as Sada's insanity is brought into serious question. To be totally honest with you, there's a TON of sex scenes and at times, it feels like that's all the film is - just a series of scenes where the director can push the envelope a little more, sneak in a penis shot or a vagina close-up. Therefore, that's just about the gist of the plot and if you tackle this one, remember, there are explicit sex scenes and it's probably something you don't want to watch with mom.

SPOILER ALERT!



Boy, what can you say about this one? Is it simply the case of a director hiding behind "artistic expression" and feeding his own perverted fantasies or are there actually good intentions here, with sex just used as a work of art or a way to get the point across? We'll never know, really. Of course someone who just wanted to shoot a glorified pornography and pass it off as a genuine film is going to say that it was with all the intention of artistry and self expression - perverts don't tend to admit to being so. I guess the film really wasn't THAT bad, if you can put up with the constant sex scenes. I'm no prude, so I was able to look past it, but I will tell you that I watched with remote in hand, constantly fluctuating the volume, hoping my wife wouldn't walk in on me (I started this last night) and wonder if I'd decided to pop in a porno after she went to bed.

At the heart, there actually IS a pretty genuine love story. The very few scenes where the two mains weren't having intercourse, were quite powerful. How bout that beautiful scene where the two walk in the rain, carrying a parasol and decide to scare a passerby. Was that not a beautiful scene, that showcased the pure love that existed between the two characters. Would that scene have been just as effective without all the sex stuff surrounding it? I tend to think not. I feel like the director suffocated us so much by keeping us in the bedroom and forcing sex down our throat that it made scenes like the rain scene and the scene where Sada is on the train, taking deep whiffs of Kichizo's kimono, all the more powerful. Perhaps it was the intention of the director to purposely suffocate us with sex, to make us feel not unlike Kichizo did. You really got the sense that after a while he was really regretting his decision to approach Sada in the first place. She CONSTANTLY hounded him for sex, wanting to get creative and then ultimately the strangling stuff. Watch as she forces him to say things like "please strangle me" or "I like being strangled", of course he doesn't! But, he either truly loves this woman OR he's frightened of her and what she'll do if he even hints at breaking off their affair. It's up to the viewer decide which one. At the end, when Kichizo dies, are we viewing a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his lover or are we viewing a murder victim? The interpretation is up to the individual viewer.


I can't really say which side I fall on, because this is really a case where writing the review has really opened me up about this movie. It's rare that I have unformed opinions about the 1001 movies when I sit down to write about them, but if I do, I find that the writing usually brings my true feelings to the surface. Sure, you could chalk this up as a porno and it kind of is, but I'm on the side of Nagisa Oshima when he pleads "art film". Beware if you watch it and be ready for massive loads of pee pees and wee wees, but I think the mature, intelligent viewer can find things to really dissect about this movie and find that the suffocation that the viewer feels by the overuse of sex is intentional and used as a device to get us into the main male character's head.

RATING: 6.5/10  I can't go '7', maybe because I'd feel like a perv myself, but one that could definitely grow on me and one I'll be contemplating throughout the day, week.

MOVIES WATCHED: 877
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 124

December 2, 2014  7:12am

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #65: Les nuits de la pleine lune/Full Moon in Paris (1984)

Running Time: 100 minutes Directed By: Eric Rohmer Written By: Eric Rohmer Main Cast: Pascale Ogier, Tcheky Karyo, Fabrice Luchini,...