Thursday, January 30, 2014

755. Sherman's March (1986)


Running Time: 157 minutes
Directed By: Ross McElwee
Written By: Ross McElwee
Main Cast: Ross McElwee, Burt Reynolds, Charleen Swansea

FILMING HIS LIFE OR FILMING SO HE'LL HAVE A LIFE?

So I wake up Wednesday morning feeling like death warmed over and throughout the day I progressively get worse, running a fever of nearly 102 degrees, aching from head to toe and coughing up a lung. It was the result of having caught SOMETHING from my wife, but not the way I wanted to end out seven day vacation from work. Anyway, last night I was starting to feel better and when I awoke this morning, I wasn't feeling too bad either. However, at about noon today the fever came back and just getting up to go to the bathroom was the equivalent of a running a marathon. I somehow still found the gumption today to just lay back with a cold wash cloth and an ice pack and watch "Sherman's March" and as I write this, the fever has once again broken and I'm not feeling too bad! Anyway...on with the show (this is it)...


Ross McElwee is fascinated with the life of Civil War General William T. Sherman and the path of destruction he left behind him during his famous "March to the Sea" and ultimately the North's march to victory. Before heading down south to document Sherman's famous march to the sea, McElwee swings into New York where he plans to spend a few nights with his girlfriend. When he gets there, however, she breaks up with him. He shacks up in a buddies' studio loft for a few days, while sorting things out and ultimately decides to continue on with his film - he is, however, devastated. McElwee heads south, where he meets up with his family and they immediately try to console him by setting him up with a pretty young girl, named Pat. Pat's cute and has aspirations of being an actress. Ross becomes infatuated with her after a while, despite her being a little dim upstairs and even goes so far as to follow her to Atlanta, where she'll audition for a Burt Reynold's film. After a while, the two must part, but Ross continues, meeting up with another woman, Claudia - your typical southern bible banger, whom Ross went to school with and had a crush on then. Later, he travels to an island off the coast of Savannah, where he meets a hippy chick named Wini, who inhabits the island with her on again/off again boyfriend Michael. You're probably getting the pattern by now. What started as a journey to track Sherman's March, turns into a journey to mend a broken heart and for Ross to try and find his love life.


At one point, during this film and also while staving off that boiling temperature, I asked myself "so what's the point?" So this guy got his heart broke and now his documentary about a Civil War General has turned into his journey to try desperately to get laid and look pathetic in the process. I kind of hated the whole idea of it at first and was almost dead set on rejecting it and then I really started to feel for the guy and by about the halfway mark, I really felt sorry for him. His emotions, reactions and sentiments are genuine and your heart really goes out to this guy. You almost have to be an adult and one that's gotten his/her heart broken to really get the film and realize that once our heart's are broken it's only natural that we go in search of validation elsewhere - whether it be through a dim actress or a hippy islander.

How perfect was the situation with Wini, Ross and Michael? Someone needs to adapt that entire segment of the picture into a feature length, fictional film, because it could be such a perfect, heartbreaking movie. Ross loves her, yet she's very difficult - perhaps we've all experience women like her. Not sure what they want, feelings out of whack. And all the while, Michael loves her too, plus she was kind of attractive in a primitive woman sort of way. And how she just scurried around the island with nothing on, what that must have done to Ross, as he tried to ignore it and read her Sherman quotes. On the other hand, forget the feature length, fictional film, because you just can't write stuff this perfect.


I also have to admit I loved Charleen Swansea. As annoying as she was, she was like an amalgamation of so many women I've actually encountered in my real life: pushy, caring and bull headed. It makes you realize, after observing all of these characters and then telling yourself, "they're all real", how great documentaries can really be. I actually really liked this a lot and kudos to it for making me forget about being sick for a little while. Hell, who knows, I may have even actually liked it more if my brains weren't boiling.

RATING: 7.5/10  I'm not sure how it will fair in my TOP 20, but I'll try hard to find it a spot somewhere.

MOVIES WATCHED: 790
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 211

January 30, 2014  11:04pm

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

287. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)


Running Time: 82 minutes
Directed By: John Sturges
Written By: Howard Breslin, Don McGuire, Millard Kaufman, from the story Bad Day at Hondo by Howard Breslin
Main Cast: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin
Click here to view the trailer

SPENCER TRACY IS HAVING THE WORST DAY EVER!

Yet another film from "very long wait" pile, via Netflix. I managed to track this one down OnDemand for the price of $2.99, so I decided to just order it, watch it and simply delete it from my Netflix queue, so I don't have to worry about it. This one was directed by John Sturges, director of "The Great Escape", which I just reviewed last week.


John J. Macreedy (Tracy), a one armed man, arrives, via the Southern Pacific train, in the town of Black Rock one morning, with the intention of staying just twenty-four hours. We're not sure at first what Macreedy is there for, but we do know that the townspeople, though few, don't want him there. It seems that they're trying to hide something and judging by the fact that the train hasn't stopped in Black Rock in four years, the folks aren't used to company. We soon find out that Macreedy is looking for a Japanese American named Komoko and that he plans to find him at a place called Adobe Flats. When the townspeople hear the name Komoko, they tend to clam up and act a little funny, leading the one armed man to believe that they're definitely trying to hide something. It seems that everyone in town is against Macreedy, save for the town mortician Doc (Brennan) and the town drunk, who just also happens to be the town's Sheriff. Everyone else, including Reno Smith (Ryan), Coley (Borgnine) and Hector (Marvin) are desperate to get Macreedy back on the Southern Pacific and out of town. Except that, after a while, they realize that they're going to have to kill him, before they let him leave.


My IMDB ratings list has me giving this one a '3/10' when I watched it six or so years ago. Seriously, what was wrong with me? Not only did I severely stiff "Prizzi's Honor", but now this little gem? If I was too ignorant to give these movies the credit they deserved, I should've just stayed away from them. Luckily, with help from THE BOOK, I've been able to expand my horizons and I'm really glad, because otherwise I'd still be regarding this as a terrible movie and it's certainly not. What you have with "Bad Day at Black Rock" is probably one of the finest examples of racial tolerance ever committed to celluloid. It's a movie that still holds true to this day and should be used to set an example as to how narrow minded, ignorant and prejudiced we as a people CAN be. Tracy shows us what it means to be a good human being, without the slightest bit of self righteousness. Macreedy is just a guy who wants the truth and will stop at nothing to get it, even putting his own neck on the line. When the full story comes out, it's really no surprise, as I think most of us put it all together as soon as we heard the name "Komoko" and saw the half dozen babbling, early rednecks. However, everything made total sense and while the film is slow going at first, it really picks up steam when we realize that Macreedy, a one armed man, is in serious danger.

And how bout that one arm? Back in the day when the only special effects you needed were your own coat pocket! I loved that that's the only thing that they did to show the fact that he had one arm - simple, yet genius! I'll also admit that while the film started out kind of like a Twilight Zone episode - a one armed man arriving in a desolate town, via a train that hasn't stopped there in four years - it all ended up being very normal. Sad that bullying and racism is considered normal, but I'm an American, so that's the way it is.


"Bad Day at Black Rock" is probably the only example of a western thriller that I've ever seen and THE BOOK even calls it a noir. It's something quite unique and it's well acted by everyone. Then again, how could it not be well acted - just look at that cast list. Okay, so I wasn't that impressed with Robert Ryan, but you can't win 'em all. This is the kind of simplicity I was talking about in my "Ride Lonesome" review. How in this western, nothing is over saturated with unneeded plot points. We go from point A to point B and finally to point C and then THE END and that's the way I like 'em.

RATING: 7/10  Lots of good stuff rolling down the pike in the final moments of the season. I've got twelve to go before we reach the "801 watched mark" and honestly, if they all suck, I'll still have enough to make a kick ass TOP 20 list.

MOVIES WATCHED: 789
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 212

January 28, 2014  2:40pm

Monday, January 27, 2014

791. Une Histoire de vent/A Tale of the Wind (1988)


Running Time: 80 minutes
Directed By: Joris Ivens
Written By: Joris Ivens, Marceline Loridan Ivens
Main Cast: Joris Ivens, Henxiang Han, Guilian Liu, Zhuang Liu, Hong Wang

THIS BLOWS

Look, I hate to be rude with that subtitle, but when it comes to certain movies I'm just plain ignorant. I think it's been well documented that I don't do experimental films very well and that in order to settle into a good movie, I need a plot, some characters, something to really take a bite out of and "A Tale of the Wind" just didn't provide that.


The film, as I just noted, IS experimental and features Joris Ivens (also writer and director) and his quest to film the wind or to film the impossible. The film notes that Ivens is a lifelong asthmatic and shows him in several different scenarios, including in the middle of the desert, hoping that he can conjure up some hard blowing air. In a different segment, Ivens pays homage to "A Trip to the Moon", by taking his own flying spaceship (in a dream sequence) to the moon and learning that the wind doesn't exist up there. There's a several different segments and scenarios, but they all lead to me wanting desperately to just fall asleep. I just couldn't dig in and enjoy any of it. Well, that's not entirely true, as I will admit the film did flow along quite nicely and honestly, every time I did look at the clock, I was surprised to see that quite a few minutes had ticked by. The little piece with the angel shooting arrows at nine suns, because there were TEN suns threatening to burn up the Earth was pretty interesting stuff, I guess. It was also kind of interesting to learn that Ivens has been around for quite sometime, as they show snippets of some of his old films from the 30s.


But, like I said and I'm very willing to admit it, I'm just ignorant when it comes to certain things and this is one of them. If you liked this, then obviously you're much more accepting and cultured than I am and good for you, because things like "A Tale of the Wind" will never be something that I can embrace or enjoy. Films like this are always going to get the snub from me and ultimately, I'm probably going to give them less of my attention, because I'll always know in the back of my head that they'll never amount to anything enjoyable, at least for this movie goer. Not that I didn't give this one my full attention, that's not necessarily what I mean. It's just that I kind of write them off from the get go, knowing I won't like them.


RATING: 3/10  There, I tried hard to be generous and at least give it a few points for not making me want to tear my hair out and for a few interesting pieces.

MOVIES WATCHED: 788
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 213

January 27, 2014  3:22pm

Sunday, January 26, 2014

733. Prizzi's Honor (1985)


Running Time: 128 minutes
Directed By: John Huston
Written By: Richard Condon, Janet Roach, from novel by Richard Condon
Main Cast: Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, Anjelica Huston, John Randolph, William Hickey
Click here to view the trailer

YOU NEVER GO AGAINST THE FAMILY!

This was one of the movies on the wait list from Netflix, but also one that I would've gotten to eventually before the end of this season anyway, as I back tracked through the 80s. The last time I saw "Prizzi's Honor", I gave it a '1/10'. Did my opinion change at all? Read on...


It would probably give me Excedrin headache #24 if I tried to detail all the ins and outs of the plot for you here, so I'll tell you what you need to know and we'll go on from there. The film begins with the birth of Charley Partanna, who is born into corruption as the son of mob boss Angelo Partanna (Randolph). From the time he is born, Don Corrado Prizzi (Hickey), boss of the entire Prizzi family - the biggest crime family in the country - vows to treat Charley as if he were his own son. Later in life, Charley (Nicholson) is a made man, slipping $10's and $20's into the pockets of anyone who does him a favor. Charley is working as an assassin for the Prizzi/Partanna clan and as an assassin he doesn't have much of a social life. Enter Irene Walker (Turner), who Charley swoons over at a wedding and pays a few guys to find out who she is. The two eventually meet, fall in love and vow to get married when the time is right. Meanwhile, some scammers con the Prizzi family out of a large chunk of dough, at one of the Vegas casinos that they own. The family sends Charley out to retrieve over 700,000 missing dollars and in the process, Charley finds out that Irene was in on the whole scam. Not only that, but Charley also finds out that Irene is a paid assassin, one that the Prizzi family has actually used in the past, due to her being the best. Now the stage is set for a lot of dark comedy, a lot of back biting and a lot of fun as John Huston presents his fortieth film.


I oughtta' have my head checked for giving this movie a '1/10'! Sure it has a few flaws, but nothing that can't be looked over and nothing that is deserving of such a lackluster rating - the most lackluster of all ratings, in fact. Oh well, I was young, stupid and probably didn't even understand what I was watching, to be honest with you. Back then, I had a comfort zone and if I dared stray from that, I usually made up my mind not to like whatever it was I was straying for. Anyway, this movie is incredibly fun, well thought out, clever, funny in the right places and has top notch acting from everyone involved. Well, maybe Turner wasn't that great, but I've never cared for her anyway. Honestly, how did she become so famous in the 80s? I guess it was because of her sex appeal, because I'll admit, she's definitely not hard to look at. Nowadays, however, she's kind of disappeared from the public eye and with a quick check of her recent filmography, I find that she hasn't done anything notable recently and has only been in six films since the year 2000. With even a little more research, I find that she apparently had a reputation for being hard to work with, probably because she knew she could get away with it at a time when she was red hot. Anyway, everyone else was great and that includes Nicholson, Hickey, Randolph, Robert Loggia and Anjelica Huston, who has never looked as good as she does here.

Final shot featuring the elegant Anjelica Huston, daughter of the director

Critic Pauline Kael wrote about the movie that "it's like The Godfather acted out by The Munsters" making me realize that perfect lines like that are why I'm not a professional film critic. It really is just like that though. The personalities are quite cartoonish, at times, however the subject matter is like anything that we'd watch in any other gangster movie, perhaps even more intricately crafted. I'm really not sure how the film will fare come TOP 20 time, but I'm glad I was able to reunite with the movie and reconcile any past misunderstandings.

RATING: 7/10  I just knew that a Nicholson film couldn't be THAT bad. I'm also starting to realize how big of a Nicholson fan I'm becoming. The man truly is one of the greats!

MOVIES WATCHED: 787
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 214

January 26, 2014  4:27pm

Letterboxd + Other Notes

Finally, I made it here to make the little post I've been talking about. I just wanted to make a few notes. Normally, this is the time when I'd be making the regular "FINAL 15" post, however, I'm really not sure what the final fifteen movies will be for this season. As noted many times, I'm working on clearing my Netflix queue and getting rid of a lot of the ones that have wait times. Anyway, let's get on with the few things I really wanted to talk about.

LETTERBOXD

Most of you have probably heard of the social media for movie fans called Letterboxd. It's basically a site where you can track what movies you've watched, write little reviews (if you want), make lists, make friends and probably some other stuff that I have yet to discover. Anyway, I love it and have started using it. You can find me on Letterboxd by click HERE and I encourage you to bookmark that page, because any reviews that I write, that ARE NOT from THE BOOK, will be posted there and probably there alone. I'm also reposting the reviews from THE BOOK over there (minus the plot synopsis'), so it's really a one stop shop for anyone who digs my opinions. Recently reviews for "Life of Pi", "Her", "Rust and Bone" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" have been put up over there. I'm not putting any requirements on my reviews either - if I feel like writing three paragraphs, I do, but if I only feel like writing a sentence or two, then I do that.

NEW, LITTLE PROJECT

My wife and I were watching the Golden Globes a couple weeks ago and it dawned on me that I'm severely out of the loop when it comes to new movies. I literally had seen nothing that they were talking about and while I'm usually underwhelmed with new movies anyway, I still wished I'd been more in the know, so I could've known what they were talking about. Anyway, my wife and I got to talking about that and one thing lead to another and our conversation went to "how cool would it be to make TOP 10 lists for each year". You see, it's my ultimate goal to have a list ready for any given situation. So my wife and I decided to start a little movie project of our own. We went through and found the most popular, well lauded films of 2012 and are watching them. There's about 40 of them and when we're done, we'll make TOP 10 lists. Then we'll go to 2011 and so on and so forth. This is where the Letterboxd account come in handy, because I don't plan to write full formal reviews of these films, but still often feel like writing SOMETHING. I've made sure that this project won't get in the way of the 1001 project, mostly because I usually watch the 1001 movies when my wife is at work or asleep.

THE DARK PAGES

A huge, huge THANK YOU to Karen Burroughs Hansberry (whom you may remember from her guest posting on this blog) for inviting me to work on the giant size, year end issue, devoted to "The Killers". I wound up writing a (what I consider to be) pretty nice piece about Burt Lancaster, if I do say so myself. You guys can click on the picture that I've included on the side bar for subscription information. It really is a great price for what you get, as you can get a year long, electronic subscription for $10 and if you want a hard copy, there's a great price for that too. I can vouch for the hard copy too guys and I have to tell you, it really is an amazingly put together newsletter and one that I'm contemplating subscribing too myself. Anyway, THANK YOU Karen, it was a pleasure and an honor to be involved.

January 26, 2014  3:43pm

Saturday, January 25, 2014

344. Ride Lonesome (1959)


Running Time: 73 minutes
Directed By: Budd Boetticher
Written By: Burt Kennedy
Main Cast: Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, James Best, Lee Van Cleef
Click here to view the trailer

TYPICAL WESTERN

This one was listed as a "short wait" from Netflix, however, I managed to track it down, playing on one of the commercial free cable stations, so I recorded it and watched it on this snowy Saturday morning. Of course I'm talking about "Ride Lonesome".


The movie kicks off right away (and with a seventy-three minute time limit, it kind of has to) with lead character Ben Brigade (Scott), tracking down and capturing crooked, whiny murderer Billy John (Best). Before Billy Boy (as he's called) is cuffed and rode down the dusty trail, toward Santa Cruz where he'll hang for his crimes, he tells his gang to get in touch with his brother Frank (Van Cleef) and let him know what's going on. Brigade hears the warning and continues to Santa Cruz. Along the way, Brigade runs into a few other fugitives, Boone (Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn in his first screen role), who are ready to hang up their criminal hats and become good 'ol boys. In fact, it turns out that in addition to a cash reward for bringing Billy Boy into hang, the powers that be are also offering amnesty to anyone with a criminal record. This is where Boone and Whit's interests come in, as they want to start a new life - one where they won't have to sleep with guns under the pillows and constant looking over their shoulders. In addition, there's also a widowed wife, of a husband who was murdered by Indians, Carrie Lane (Steele), who all of the men ogle at will and whom Boone and Brigade form a crush on.


You know, I haven't seen too many westerns. In fact, I've seen the ones that appear in THE BOOK and that's probably all. However, growing up my grandparents and even my dad were way into westerns, so I've seen enough clips to know that this looked like a pretty typical old west, shoot 'em out, good guys vs. bad guys western, with nothing really unique or special to warrant it's inclusion as one of the 1001 must see movies. Everyone involved knew their parts and did them well, but weren't they simply going through the motions of this seemingly cookie cutter movie? I'm no great fan of Westerns anyway, but every now and then a good one will come along and when that happens I love it, because I feel like I'm expanding my tastes. It seems to me that when it comes to westerns, the simpler the better. If the whole film had simply been Brigade taking Billy to Santa Cruz and the troubles they encountered along the way, that probably could've been a pretty good flick. However, once you add in the widow and the two other bad guys and the Indians and Billy's brother - well it just gets too muddled and I lost interest real quick. No need to stretch out the review, as I've said my peace on the film and that's that.

RATING: 4/10  Can't even go '5' because that would be calling it average and it certainly isn't even that good.

MOVIES WATCHED: 786
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 215

January 25, 2014  12:52pm

Friday, January 24, 2014

710. AMADEUS (1984)


Running Time: 160 minutes
Directed By: Milos Forman
Written By: Peter Shaffer, from his play
Main Cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Ray Dotrice, Jeffrey Jones
Click here to view the trailer

"AND THE OSCAR GOES TO...": 1984

I know I've said that the intended plan was to move backwards through the 80s, but so many of these "short wait/long wait/very long wait" from Netflix keep coming available and I think I need to get them out of the way before Netflix ditches them altogether and places them on the "save" list. I know I was also supposed to come in with an update post yesterday, but I never got around to it. Hopefully, I'll get back to you guys later tonight or sometime this weekend. Anyway..."Amadeus".


So the film is about Wolfgang AMADEUS Mozart (Hulce), genius composer who lived in the 1700s and was composing music when he was barely out of diapers. However, we're being told this story by Antonio Salieri (Abraham), a second, less famous composer who lived and worked at around the same time as "Wolfie". The film picks up with Salieri, now an elderly man being held in an asylum, who babbles day in and out about how he was responsible for the death of Mozart. He is visited by a catholic priest, who gets the entire story told to him first hand and we're into flashback mode, as we pick up with Salieri working as the court composer for Emperor Joseph II (Jones) of Italy. From the time he hears his music, Salieri is astounded by Mozart's talent and travels to Vienna to meet the great composer. Once in Vienna, Salieri learns that Mozart, while a fantastic composer, is a foul mouthed, disrespectful buffoon and begins to wonder why THIS man was so deserving of his God given talent. Throughout the film, Salieri questions God, as to why he gave Mozart talent and why he has yet to fulfill Salieri's dreams. The two feud throughout the film's duration, with Salieri driving the rivalry and Mozart disregarding Salieri as any sort of competition or even a peer.


This is the second time I've seen "Amadeus" and I can still remember watching it for the first time. It was 2008, I think (or late 2007) and my wife and I were living in our first apartment. This was an early attempt (albeit a failed one) to expand my knowledge of film and see some so called classics that I'd missed over the years. My wife decided to join me, so we sat down one day and watched this. I remember it took us something like four or five hours, because we kept stopping it. Long story short, we hated the movie and just could NOT get into it. So, when Netflix changed the status of "Amadeus" from "short wait" to available and sent it off to me, I was kind of dreading it. I wondered if my tastes had changed enough to finally embrace this film for the Oscar winner it was. Well....the answer is no, I couldn't.

However, I can tell you that I liked it a lot more and that I managed to finish it off in short order, not taking the five hours that it previously took me and my wife. I think ultimately I'm just not at all interested in the subject matter here and it just ends up boring me more than it captivates me. I'll tell you that the cast, however, was brilliant and I really dug F. Murray Abraham here. I thought he turned in an absolutely memorable performance and complimented Tom Hulce's annoyingly giggling Mozart just fine. Other than that though, the story was slow, the opera scenes were too many and in the end, I think had they could've told a much more succinct and better film had they chopped off about forty minutes and presented a strict, two hour film. You certainly could've taken out a lot of the opera scenes, as they dragged anyway and were as boring as you'd expect opera scenes to be. Sorry, but I'm not an opera enthusiast and tend to resemble Woody Allen's Larry Lipton when it comes to fat ladies singing and stuff like that - "I can't listen to that much Wagner, ya know? I start to get the urge to conquer Poland".


Chalk it up to a "not up my alley" picture and call it a day. If you like it, that's great and I have no criticisms to make you change your minds (not that you should listen to me anyway, even when I do). It's something that's going to work for some and definitely not work for others. I've definitely seen worse, as far as boring movies go and the acting is top notch, so at least that's SOMETHING.

RATING: 5/10  I'll take the easy way out and call it right down the middle, with my opinion leaning toward the negative side of things.

MOVIES WATCHED: 785
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 216

January 24, 2014  10:43pm

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

406. The Great Escape (1963)


Running Time: 172 minutes
Directed By: John Sturges
Written By: James Clavell, W.R. Burnett, from book by Paul Brickhill
Main Cast: Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, James Donald, Charles Bronson
Click here to view the trailer

A GREAT ESCAPE, BUT NOT THE GREATEST

No, because the greatest escape in the history of cinema goes to "Le Trou", but this one is right up there in the top 5 greatest escape movies ever, with the likes of "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Escape from Alcatraz". This is another one that was originally intended to be saved until the grand finale, but a Netflix wait made me get it here a little sooner.


The film is set in Germany, during World War II and takes place at a POW camp, where many Allied soldiers are being held prisoner. The camp is pretty decked out when it comes to security, complete with barbed wire fencing and armed guards. We jump in just as the camp is getting a big batch of new arrivals, including Captain Virgil Hilts (McQueen), Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Attenborough), Lieutenant Robert Hendley (Garner) and Captain Ramsey (Donald). Of course, the main objective to all of the men is to escape, but thanks to that decked out security I spoke of, that's not going to be an easy task. Just ask Hilts, who takes every opportunity to get out and always gets nabbed and thrown in the cooler (solitary confinement). However, it is Bartlett who proposes the "great" scheme of the title, when he announces plans to sneak out upwards of 250 men, by digging three tunnels, nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry. If the goons (what the prisoners call the guards) happen to spot one, they can pick right up with one of the two remaining, unidentified tunnels. That's basically the long & short of it and I don't want to say anymore and risk spoiling anything.


SPOILER ALERT!

Did anyone else find it extremely odd that Charles Bronson's character was totally fine with digging the tunnel for the entire duration of the film and then all of a sudden he snaps and becomes an out of the closet claustrophobic? They make up some bullshit excuse, but I don't care because it really makes zero sense. But guess what, this films is so good that it gets a free pass on little nonsensical things like that. I mean, come on, who doesn't love an escape movie, let alone "The Great Escape". What's not to like? Okay, I'll admit that everything past the men actually escaping the camp is a little less entertaining than the escape itself, but it's still really good and it continues the suspense nicely. I'm a sucker for the ins and outs of what it takes to bust out of somewhere. If they ever send me to prison, I think I'll become the new "cooler king", because I'll be fascinated with escaping, but probably fail.


I mean, the cast is great, the plot is outstanding and the excitement & suspense haven't been this present in a BOOK movie in quite sometime. I LITERALLY jumped when the guys were escaping and the air raid horn began to sound. I felt like I was at the other end of Hilts' rope, waiting for my turn to play groundhog, peek my head out and run to freedom. The film clocks in at just under three hours, but it's the easiest three hours you'll ever spend watching a film, I guarantee it. I defy you to find someone who doesn't like this movie, because everything I'm looking at, has everyone singing it's praises. Favorite member of the cast? Either McQueen or Garner, I loved them both. In fact, Garner's character's little back and forth with the guard Vernor was ONE OF my favorite moments in the film, but as THE BOOK points out, almost every scene is a memorable one. Oh and I loved the theme song too!

RATING: 8.5/10  Can't go '10' because I've become an ultra picky son of a bitch, but it's damn good and quibbling over numbers is ridiculous anyway. By the way, I'll be in, probably tomorrow, for a little update post to talk about few things, so keep an eye out for that.

MOVIES WATCHED: 784
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 217

January 22, 2014  5:50pm

Sunday, January 19, 2014

536. Dirty Harry (1971)



Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Don Siegel
Written By: Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, Dean Riesner
Main Cast: Clint Eastwood, Andy Robinson, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, John Larch
Click here to view the trailer

"DO I FEEL LUCKY?...WELL DO 'YA, PUNK!?"

So this was initially meant to be a part of the big finale when I was wrapping up THE BOOK. However, since it was on a wait from Netflix and currently available OnDemand, I took the opportunity to mark it off my list.


Most of you are probably already aware of what "Dirty Harry" is about, but I'll play along and go over the synopsis just to be thorough. Plain and simple, it's a cop movie and maybe one of the greatest cop movies to ever come down the pike and certainly a precedent setter in the genre. The main character is "Dirty" Harry Callhan (Eastwood), a tough as nails cop who doesn't like playing by the rules (how come the best movie and TV cops are tough as nails with a penchant for rule breaking?). It may take an unruly detective like Dirty Harry to crack the case of the Scorpio killer (patterned after the real life Zodiac killer), a maniac who is targeting random victims and demanding ransom from the city of San Francisco (where the film is set). The psycho Scorpio is asking that the city pay him a ransom of $200,000 or else he'll continue his murderous spree. The film is divided up into various pieces, as the city first decides not to pay and then decides TO pay, with Harry acting as the "bag man". In what THE BOOK deems a tour de force sequence, Callahan is forced to run all over town, to different pay phones, so that Scorpio can make sure he's not being followed. It all boils down to one bad ass detective squaring off against one psychotic killer, in a plain & simple, yet intricately crafted cop flick.

SPOILER ALERT!


You know what's odd about that scene where Scorpio makes Callahan run around to different pay phones, just to make sure he's not being followed? It's never mentioned that Scorpio's plan doesn't work, because in fact, Callahan's partner is tailing them the whole time. Or did I just totally miss something? Anyway, I guess you have to start with the acting, which is brilliant. Believe it or not Andy Robinson actually comes really close to upstaging Eastwood (in fact, he may upstage him, I just don't have the heart to say Eastwood was one upped by someone who I've never seen in anything else), as he totally owns every single scene he's in and portrays one of the sickest killers in the history of cinema, turning this from an action flick into a borderline thriller/horror movie. If I had to make a complaint about the acting, I'd go so far as to say Eastwood is almost too fake and too cliche. The "you have to ask yourself one question" scene has been played to death and when you watch it, it's not one of those classic scenes that makes you feel grateful that you've finally seen it, but rather it feels like something you've seen a thousand times, even if it's your first time ACTUALLY seeing it. Maybe that doesn't make sense, but it makes sense to me, so...there.

In a perfect world, not only would "Dirty Harry" have been included in THE BOOK, but "Escape from Alcatraz", another Eastwood/Siegel collaboration, should've been in there as well. If you haven't seen that one, please do yourself a favor and check it out. I really, really need to break down and check out the rest of the Dirty Harry flicks, as I loved this one so much, the others are bound to be at least good.


Anyway, this is a seriously good movie, not just a popular one. It's amazing that back in the 70s what was popular is what was also good. Nowadays the mainstream, popular stuff is usually the worst stuff and it's the independent flicks that end up wowing us. Damn, do I love the 70s! It seems like anytime I watch something from that decade, I love it. What a great year that must have been to be a film fan.

RATING: 8/10  I gotta' say, I feel lucky punks! Between this and "Drowning by Numbers" I've had a good few days.

MOVIES WATCHED: 783
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 218

January 19, 2014  5:57pm



Saturday, January 18, 2014

795. Drowning by Numbers (1988)


Running Time: 118 minutes
Directed By: Peter Greenaway
Written By: Peter Greenaway
Main Cast: Joan Plowright, Juliet Stevenson, Joely Richardson, Bernard Hill, Jason Edwards

THE GAMES WE PLAY

I had been looking forward to this one for quite some time. Not only is the title one that just seems to get my attention, but it would also be the second Peter Greenaway film I'd taken in. Despite not making the cut on my TOP 20 lists, a particular favorite of mine from THE BOOK was "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and I was anxious to see what else would come from the mind of Greenaway.


It's going to particularly difficult to relay the events of "Drowning by Numbers", mostly because the three main actresses all have the same character name - Cissie Colpitts. For the sake of making this easier, we'll call them Cissie #1 (the elder), Cissie #2 (her daughter) and Cissie #3 (the younger and the niece of the elder). The film begins with Jake - the husband of Cissie #1 - being unfaithful and having an affair with Nancy, a neighbor in town. Cissie #1 (Plowright) happens to catch Jake in the act and as he takes a bath, while intoxicated, she drowns him. Realizing she's just committed murder, she calls upon her friend Madgett (Hill), who also happens to be the town coroner. She requests that he cover up the murder for her, stating on the death certificate that Jake had a heart attack while bathing and drowned. Madgett hesitantly agrees. From there, we meet the rest of the Colpitt girls: Cissie #2 and Cissie #3. Later, we arrive at the home of Cissie #2 (Stevenson) and when she becomes enraged at her obese husband, she decides to drown him as well. When he's in the ocean, taking a swim, he gets a cramp and instead of rushing out to save his life, she rushes out to end it. Again Madgett is called upon to cover up the crime, except people are starting to suspect foul play. One who knows what the ladies' have been up to is the husband of Cissie #3 (Richardson), who threatens to go to the cops. Not wanting her family to be incriminated, Cissie #3 drowns her husband too - a life long non-swimmer. Meanwhile, we also meet the son of Madgett, Smut (Edwards), who becomes a prominent character by always showing up. The boy is fascinated with numbers and has a penchant for counting everything and documenting violent death, be it of humans or animals.


You know, I couldn't help but be reminded of Wes Anderson when observing the Smut character. He just seems like someone who would exist within the confines of one of Anderson's movies. Anyway, I really liked this one. It made me realize just how much I loved "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and how that movie REALLY should've been put into one of my TOP 20 lists. But seriously, what's not to like here? You have a very good little story. Three women, feeling betrayed by their spouses in one way or another take matters into their own hands. So you have a revenge story and a good one at that. However, the thing that really adds the cherry and the whipped cream to this movie is Greenaway's unique touch, how he makes everything seem very cinematic, while never undermining the story or his characters. THE BOOK makes note of Greenaway's dark perception of Britain and the seedy underbelly that exists and that's so true. This world doesn't seem to be quite real, it's too dark, too inelegant to actually be feasible. Everything about this film screams, "This is just a movie", yet not in a bad way. It's very much a film, but one that is easy to get lost in, almost like an "Alice in Wonderland" type world.

The home of Cissie #2, which seemed to resemble a house of cards.

Sure, it's not going to be for everyone, but I had a blast with it and wish there were a dozen more Greenaway films in THE BOOK. Looks like I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands and seek some out for myself. It's worth noting that this film was taken out of the "Life of Pi" edition of THE BOOK, in exchange for Greenaway's "The Draughtsman's Contract". I haven't seen that one, but I can't be happy about "Drowning by Numbers" being ousted. A true gem and yet another reason to thank THE BOOK.

RATING: 7.5/10  Really good and something that I needed after a round of stinkers. Nuff said.

MOVIES WATCHED: 782
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 219

January 14, 2014  5:19pm

Friday, January 17, 2014

820. ARCHANGEL (1990)


Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Guy Maddin
Written By: Guy Maddin, George Toles
Main Cast: Kyle McCulloch, Kathy Marykuca, Ari Cohen, Michael Gottli, David Falkenburg

OTHERWORLDLY

Just so we're all on the same page, I am going to continue back tracking through the 80s, HOWEVER, I did move everything that was on any sort of a wait from Netflix, to the top of my Netflix queue. So if I can track down any of that stuff or if any of that stuff becomes available, it will get slipped in. I can tell you now that "The Great Escape", which was on a wait a few days ago, did become available and WAS shipped, so that one will be coming up very soon. Anyway - "Archangel".


I'd HEARD the name Guy Maddin before and somehow knew he was Canadian, but had never seen one of his movies. That ended last night as I sat down and took in my first Maddin film, not knowing at all what to expect. As it began, I realized that what "Archangel" was, was a modern silent film, without the silence (I'll explain more later). Anyway, the film is set in 1919 and takes place in Archangel, Russia, a small town in the Northern Russia, during the Bolshevik revolution. The film follows a Canadian, who belongs to a troop of Canadians, who intervene on the conflict. We learn that this particular Canadian, Lt. John Boles (McCulloch) has just lost his dear girlfriend, Iris and is still in mourning. Upon his arrival in Archangel, Boles becomes involved with a family, while trying to help cure their son of a seizure. He offers them some remedies and prepares to leave, but before doing so, runs into Veronkha (Marykuca), a beautiful woman who bears a striking resemblance to the late Iris. Boles faints and upon waking, seeks out Veronkha, because he's developed an immediate love for her, due to her looking like his beloved Iris. What Boles doesn't know is that Veronkha is already married, to Philbin (Cohen), an amnesiac who can't even remember that he is married.

Well, there's a little more to it than that, but that's the meat & potatoes of it. The thing about it being a silent film, without the silence - to those who may not know what the hell I'm talking about - is because that's exactly what it is. I talked in the "The Asthenic Syndrome" review that it was hard to tell that that was a film produced in the late 80s. Once again, we have the same problem with "Archangel" as it looks like something that came out in the 20s. Except in this case, that's actually a good thing. What Maddin does is take the concept of the silent film, uses the look, but chooses to add sound and even dialogue. Everything else is very much resembling a silent. A particular quote from J. Hoberman, cites Maddin as "redeploying forgotten cinematic conventions" and that's exactly what he's doing. He's taking ideas and styles that were once a dime a dozen and making them fresh again. It really is a beautiful film.


However, I can't go all fanboy on this one, as it did have it's down times too. The plot just wasn't up my alley, in the least and while I DID find the film to be quite otherworldly, it was something I'd rather marvel at, rather than actually kick back and enjoy. While Maddin impressed me with his ingenuity, I'm not so sure I'm chomping at the bit to go and take in the rest of his filmography. He's definitely going to be an acquired taste for most movie goers and while I hope the majority of you can appreciate what he pulled off, I also hope you'll understand that this is bordering on boring. It's the styles and look that set this film apart and make it a "must see", while everything else is a few notches below average.

RATING: 5/10  Let's slice it down the middle and call it a so-so day at the cinema. I've read a few comments that say this is far from Maddin's best, so maybe I do need to check out one or two more of his movies.

MOVIES WATCHED: 781
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 220

January 17, 2014  10:26pm

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

807. Astenicheskij sindrom/The Asthenic Syndrome (1989)

Running Time: 153 minutes
Directed By: Kira Muratova
Written By: Aleksandr Chernykh, Kira Muratova, Sergei Popov
Main Cast: Sergei Popov, Olga Antonova, Galina Zakhurdayeva, Natalya Buzko, Aleksandra Svenskaya

JUST GET THROUGH IT

And I quote...

"It may drive you nuts - as it was undoubtedly meant to - but you certainly won't forget it."

That's how THE BOOK sums up "The Asthenic Syndrome" and really, they hit the nail on the head. Talk about a rough season of films. First, I'm forced to sit through seven hours of "Satantango", where thoughts of quitting the project altogether flashed through my head. Then a group of Chinese films, including "Farewell My Concubine", "The Blue Kite" and "A Brighter Summer Day". And now comes "The Asthenic Syndrome", quite the maddening affair, to say the least.


The plot synopsis, I warn you in advance, is going to be bare bones, because the damn thing was barely feasible. The film starts out with about a forty minute, sort of short film about a woman who goes into a rage following the death of her husband. She's a doctor and she spends the duration of this forty minutes yelling at strangers, tendering her resignation from the hospital where she works and picking up a stranger to sleep with, only to get him back to her apartment and her bed and kick him out, screaming at him. It's actually kind of interesting and engaging and I didn't mind it that much. The only thing that kind of bugged me is that despite being shot in black & white, the footage looked to be about forty years old, as opposed to twenty-ish. From there, it is revealed that everything we've been watching has just been a film within the film, as the lights come up and the audience is revealed. Everybody files out, save for one sleeping man - Nikolai (Popov). This is where the film becomes almost incomprehensible, as we follow Nikolai - a teacher who falls asleep at random times, no matter what is going on. I honestly, despite having just watched this film a few hours ago, cannot tell you what the rest of the movie was about. It was gibberish, if you ask me. Welcome to the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" project, where, no matter how advanced the film watcher, everyone...EVERYONE will find SOMETHING that will make them want to rip their hair out. This was a chore and a half and I'm so so glad it's over.


What else can I say? I mean, obviously I didn't like the movie. I guess the opening forty minutes were okay, but the footage just looked so old. I actually had to stop at one point and check to make sure I was watching the right film, because there's no way this film looked like it was produced in 1989/1990 (THE BOOK says '89, everywhere else says '90 - so who knows). I mean, I'm fine with old looking movies, but it just shows how behind the times Russia may have been when it came to things like movie making. Or, hell, maybe it was intentionally meant to look aged, I don't know. The copy I had was off the computer and at one point, about thirty minutes before the end, the subtitles crapped out and went WAY off sync. However, I highly doubt I missed much.

RATING: 1/10  There's nothing else to say really. It's worth nothing that I'm going to continue to back track through the 80s and all I really have left from the 80s, is a lot of harder to find films. I have them found, but I expect a lot of crap between now and the end of the season, although I will gladly be proven wrong. It's also worth noting that I've moved everything that is on ANY KIND of a wait, to the top of my Netflix queue, so as to make sure I get them and can watch them before I'm ready to finish this thing up once and for all.

MOVIES WATCHED: 780
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 221

January 15, 2014  5:35pm