Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Truffaut Week - COMING SOON!

645. STALKER (1979)

Running Time: 163 minutes
Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written By: Arkadi Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, from the novel The Roadside Picnic by Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky
Main Cast: Alexander Kaidanovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko, Alisa Friendlich
Click here to view the trailer


Finally we made it! It was only four films, but I'll say it was four of the most challenging films that I've had to get through. Not only were they boring, but they also came with the pressure of having Tarkovsky's name attached to them and thus, I REALLY wanted to like them - at least one of them.

Stalker is nearly three hours and starts out as a black & white film, a man getting out of his bed while his wife and daughter go on sleeping, preparing for what seems like a day of work. This man is identified only as the Stalker and is going to meet a man, identified only as the Writer. The Stalker's purpose is to navigate people into The Zone, a paranormal place where there exists a room, a room that will make the hopes & dreams of anyone who enters come true. The Writer has requested to be taken into the Zone and brings along with him a second man, the Professor. The three meet in a bar, despite warnings from the Stalker's wife not to go, as it's very dangerous. You see, the Zone is guarded by a police force who are put in place to prevent trespassers into the Zone. Basically the whole movie is the three men's journey into the Zone, past the guards, through a wooded area and eventually down, what looks like a sewer drain and eventually into the Zone. Along the way, the film is filled with reflection from the characters, as well as philosophical thoughts and questions, arguments between the men and curiosity about what exists in "the room".


So I watched this film in three sittings and I want to take you through my thoughts during each sitting. I started the film on Sunday afternoon, following my writing of the Chinatown review. I went in expecting to dislike it, especially after my low opinion of The Mirror, but I'd seen stills that looked glorious and have heard great things, so I was hopeful. I made it through about forty five minutes before having to stop to go pick up my wife and I was bored out of my skull. Not a lot was happening and the dialogue was really hard to get into. A whole monologue by the Writer about how he doesn't believe in the paranormal comes to mind as a particularly mind numbing piece. Anyway, Sunday night rolls around, my wife hits the hay and I decide to fire the movie back up and manage to take down about another hour and it was during this hour that I actually started to, kind of like the movie. I wasn't in love with it or anything, but my curiosities started to grow about what we'd find at the end of this journey. What would the Zone be like? What would "the room" be like? How would Tarkovsky film this place that has been built up intensely? Speaking of the camera, I hated how we were kept at such a distance. There were times that we were so far away from the actors, that I couldn't tell who was talking and trying to piece together a conversation was a bit difficult, at times. Anyway, I got too tired on Sunday night, so I tapped out, opting to finish the film the next day when I was wide awake. Fast forward to Tuesday morning, when I finally got around to finishing the film and man what a huge letdown. They don't even go into the room!? What a ripoff! The filming of the Zone was pretty cool though, with those mini mountains of, what looked like sand and the seasick looking color of the whole screen, making the whole thing feel definitely otherworldly.

I have a feeling this is one that not a lot of people liked on first viewing. Hey, I hated 2001: A Space Odyssey the first time I saw it, but I persisted, seeing it a few more times and when I watched it most recently for THE BOOK, I actually liked it a lot. I feel like a few more viewings of that film will have it near the top of my favorite films list and I feel like this movie is along the same lines. I could see myself liking this. Hell, unlike Andrei Rublev and The Mirror, there's actually some serious plot development going on here, as opposed to Tarkovsky's usual reminiscing style, his pondering attitude. It's three men traveling from point A to point B on a long journey. It's The Wizard of Oz and The Lord of the Rings, except it's nothing like those, because it's Tarkovsky and love him or hate him (I'm closer to the latter), you must admit he has a style all his own and no one is ever going to duplicate his style. I also don't think anyone is ever going to 100% understand or decipher his pictures, because I think in order to do that, you'd have to exist inside his head. I feel like his movies are the most personal movies I've ever seen. Not only is he making movies he wants to watch, but he's making movies injected and marinated in his own thoughts, his own opinions, his own observations, his own theories. Stalker has a ton of dialogue that lost me or left me scratching my head and I feel like that was maybe the intended reaction, to get me thinking, to get me scratching. I'm babbling now, so I'll quit.

RATING: 5/10  I'll cut it right down the middle and say that I really need to probably see this one again, maybe in about ten years. Sorry Tarkovsky fans, but I'm glad I'm done with him. The Sacrifice is streaming on Netflix and being an Erland Josephson fan, I wanted to check it out, but now I don't know.


April 15, 2015  9:14am

Sunday, April 12, 2015

584. CHINATOWN (1974)

Running Time: 130 minutes
Directed By: Roman Polanski
Written By: Robert Towne
Main Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman
Click here to view the trailer


I promise not to return to the blog after today until I have watched and am prepared to write a review for Stalker, as Tarkovsky Week has officially stretched into "Tarkovsky Two Months" and even I'll admit it's ridiculous at this point. My PLAN (emphasis on the word "plan") is to get it watched by tomorrow night, even if it takes me two or three sit downs. Anyway, Polanski's 1974 noir, Chinatown, has been streaming on Netflix for months, so I decided to give it a whirl - not the first time I've seen it, I might add.

Chinatown is told in the same vein as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe stories, with Nicholson playing the role of the lead dick, Jake Gittes. When he's hired by the wife of the chief engineer of the L.A. Department of Water & Power, to find out if the man is cheating, Jake is on the case, tailing Mr. Hollis Mulwray around town until he finds him kissing on another woman and photographing the action so he can get his easy payday. However, things turn out to be less than easy, when the photographs somehow wind up in the early edition and the REAL Mrs. Mulwray (Dunaway) comes a knocking. It turns out that the woman who hired Jake originally was an impostor and now Mrs. Mulwray wants answers and plans to get them in the form of a lawsuit against Gittes. Jake, not particularly fond of being duped and then sued, sets out to find out why he was fooled, which in turn leads him to bigger and fatter fish to fry. The whole movie takes place during the course of a drought and it turns out that the city's short water supply may be somewhat to blame for all the nefarious goings on. While snooping around the L.A. water reservoir, Gittes discovers that large quantities of water are being purged every night. It is also during this scene that Jake is attacked and has his nose slashed, causing his character to sport a bandage and/or a nasty nose scar for the duration of the film.


I'd seen Chinatown once before and judging by my IMDB rating, I didn't like it that much - only giving it a 4/10 on the movie site. Yesterday's rewatch proved I must have been a little out of my mind or perhaps a little confused. Actually, anyone who claims that Chinatown is hard to follow or confusing (THE BOOK actually notes this) must be giving less than full attention, as I found the film fairly easy to follow along with and didn't stumble once. It's no Big Sleep, I'll tell you that much. As long as you pay attention (and how could you not with Nicholson's mug onscreen - a talent too good to not encapsulate your attention) you'll be fine and most should be pleased, as it happens to be one of those classic movies that is actually good and merits it's praise. The only thing I'd really complain about, as far as the story goes, is the fact that the whole thing hinges on this big water department scandal and it's all sort of silly if you think about it. I mean, the Gittes character gets his nose slashed, gets shot at, is nearly killed several times and thanks, in part, to the city's water department heads, who don't want him finding out that their irrigating their recently purchased land. I mean, must we get this carried away over a simple water supply? Must there be death and doom all because the city is re-routing water to their orange groves? It's all a bit silly, isn't it? However, I will say that the whole thing with the incest sort of puts this movie into a whole new category. Up until that point this is a simple, modern film noir, but once they introduce the fact that Mrs. Mulwray has a daughter who is also her sister AND basically say that it wasn't a rape from the old man, this movie gets a lot darker and a lot more unusual, slipping into a category all it's own.

Oh well...if you can look past that (and honestly, at times I couldn't) then it's all good and Chinatown will surely provide you with an easy, fun, enjoyable, thrilling couple of hours at the movies. The cast is excellent and I'm learning lately what a fan of Faye Dunaway I am. Not necessarily in this, but loved her in Mommie Dearest and it doesn't get much sexier with your clothes on than watching her play chess with Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. It kind of makes me want to go bust open my Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection and check out Family Plot, starring her and a Hitchcock film I haven't seen, to boot. I'm always a fan of Nicholson and especially after watching and pondering over his films from THE BOOK. I realize now, more than ever, that the acclaim that is showered upon him as completely deserving and if anything, not enough. Is he officially retired? Is there a particular reason that he hasn't done a movie since 2010, other than he "just hasn't"? As far as Polanski goes, I wouldn't call this his best work, by a long shot. I'd easily put Rosemary's Baby above this and even Knife in the Water, my personal favorite Polanski film. In a perfect world, in fact, Knife in the Water would've gotten Chinatown's spot, but no book that calls itself a definitive guide to the best and most "must see" films is going to exclude Chinatown, so que sera sera.

RATING: 7/10  Not a personal favorite or anything, but certainly deserving that extra nudge into '7' territory and something I'd happily sit through again someday, just to make sure I got everything straight. PS. John Huston was fabulous in this too!


April 12, 2015  5:53pm

Thursday, April 9, 2015

519. Gimme Shelter (1970)

Running Time: 91 minutes
Directed By: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Main Cast: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman
Click here to view the trailer


Feeling a little more chipper last night about movies and writing about them, I was prompted to press play on the DVR and finally watch the Rolling Stones' documentary that I nabbed off of TCM last month - Gimme Shelter; the 519th entry in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book (going chronologically) and the only Maysles brothers' offering.

THE BOOK notes that Gimme Shelter is probably the best rock documentary and concert film ever made and while that's really not saying much, I guess I'd have to agree - if only because it's one of only like two or three concert films I've ever seen. The film covers The Rolling Stones 1969 U.S. Tour, which culminated with a free concert in San Francisco at the Altamont Speedway for a record number of 300,000 drugged up, flower children. The film follows the Stones in the few days leading up to the Altamont concert, which for the unaware turned out to be a disaster with four people losing their lives via a group of rough and rowdy Hell's Angels unleashing fury on an already raucous crowd. The Altamont concert unfolds just like Woodstock, with hundreds of thousands showing up in basically the middle of nowhere to drop acid, make love and listen to good music. Prior to the event, some were even billing it the Woodstock of the west, with even one of the organizers of Woodstock, Michael Lang, showing up at the last minute to help with some last minute relocating. On film, we see some of the highlights of The Stones' concerts leading up to Altamont, notably a few numbers from their Madison Square Garden show that year, as well as performances from Ike & Tina Turner (also from MSG) and performances at Altamont from Jefferson Airplane and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Keep your eyes peeled for a quick glimpse of Jerry Garcia, who's band The Grateful Dead refused to play at Altamont due to the unease of the crowd.

So yeah, I definitely had my phone in hand as I watched this, navigating my browser to Wikipedia and plugging in entries like "Altamont Free Concert", "Gimme Shelter" and "The Rolling Stones". This whole era is such a fascinating time for me and Gimme Shelter displays pretty much the end of the "peace, love and rock 'n' roll" movement of the sixties. Honestly, if you really want to get deep, you could say that Altamont was the beginning of violence in America. Okay, maybe that's a ridiculous statement, but hear me out. When you consider some of the most violent nations in the world, the United States has to top the list, right? I mean, you read nonsense in the papers everyday, hearing stories about shootings, murders, killings, stabbings, etc. Throughout the sixties it was the prime motive of the younger generation to promote peace & love, yet as the 70s hit, the peace and love died out and a more violent era came to fruition, something that is still rearing it's ugly head. Was America a violent place prior to the sixties? Do these things come in stages? Watching Gimme Shelter and the violence that was taking place on December 6, 1969 is just unbelievable, when you consider Woodstock was just a few months prior and was the height and probably final swan song of an era that promoted making love and music, as opposed to violence and war. Were the Rolling Stones or even the Hell's Angels to blame for bringing this era of tie dye shirts to an end? I don't think so. I think the population just had enough of playing nice and maybe you can even blame it on the state of things - the Vietnam war, for example.

Anyone who recalls Don McLean's song American Pie, may remember some of the lyrics. One of the most notable things McLean sings about is "the day the music died" and some believe that he's singing about the date of the Altamont free concert. Some other lyrics include: "I saw Satan laughing with delight" which some believe is a reference to Mick Jagger, who wore red & black that night and "oh and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space, with no time left to start again"...well that one kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it? There are a few sites on the internet that decipher every single lyric in the song and if they're accurate, it's really a deep song, FILLED with symbolism and telling a story which culminates with the Stones and the events depicted in Gimme Shelter. The film is recommended by me, if nothing else, because it's a time capsule to when an almost exact moment when the world, specifically America, changed. You can almost freeze frame on the exact moment that love went out the window and an era of violence reared it's ugly head, which Maysles does, almost knowing that he's capturing something significant and important in the history of our country and not just shooting a concert film.

RATING: 7/10  A good one, but may or may not be one that I'd include on my own list of personal favorites. I'd recommend watching this in conjunction with Woodstock and probably spinning McLean's American Pie in between.


April 9, 2015  9:50am

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

My Month at the Movies - March 2015

I honestly wasn't even going to do this this month, but it's late, my wife is in bed and I'm still wide awake, so why not. I'm kind of burnt out on writing about movies, I'm not gonna' lie. I don't know if it's something that a sabbatical would cure or if I'm permanently fed up, but nowadays the idea of just watching movies and leaving it at that is becoming way too appealing to me. Anyway, that's why the reviews have been more than sparse lately and I plan to continue taking my time on finishing THE BOOK. However, I vow to you that I WILL finish eventually, I'm just in no hurry. Anyway, on with the show, shall we?

1. Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965 - Otto Preminger) 8.5/10
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001 - Chris Columbus) 8/10
3. Killer's Kiss (1955 - Stanley Kubrick) 8/10
4. 127 Hours (2010 - Danny Boyle) 8/10
5. When a Stranger Calls (1979 - Fred Walton) 7.5/10
6. Sexy Beast (2000 - Jonathan Glazer) 7.5/10
7. 28 Days Later... (2002 - Danny Boyle) 7.5/10
8. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968 - Norman Jewison) 7/10
9. All the President's Men (1976 - Alan J. Pakula) 7/10  review
10. Donnie Brasco (1997 - Mike Newell) 7/10
11. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001 - Sharon Maguire) 7/10  quick thoughts
12. Mommie Dearest (1981 - Frank Perry) 7/10
13. The Sea Inside (2004 - Alejandro Amenabar) 7/10  quick thoughts
14. Away From Her (2006 - Sarah Polley) 6.5/10  quick thoughts
15. Milk (2008 - Gus Van Sant) 6/10
16. Solaris (1972 - Andrei Tarkovsky) 6/10  review
17. Klute (1971 - Alan J. Pakula) 6/10  review
18. Argo (2012 - Ben Affleck) 5.5/10  quick thoughts
19. The Evening Star (1996 - Robert Harling)  quick thoughts
20. Foxcatcher (2014 - Bennett Miller) 4.5/10  quick thoughts
21. Jerry Maguire (1996 - Cameron Crowe) 4/10
22. The Mirror (1975 - Andrei Tarkovsky) 3/10  review


So not a lot of reviews or even quick thoughts this month, as, like I said, I was more interested in just watching and not so much doing the homework part of it. A few really good first views this month, as Turner Classic Movies proves to be a nice thing to have, as I caught both Bunny Lake Is Missing AND Killer's Kiss off of the classic movie channel, not to mention The Thomas Crown Affair. I've been setting up my DVR to catch a few movies off of there each week, trying to broaden my classic movie knowledge. LOVED Bunny Lake and Kubrick's Killer's Kiss would probably rank in my TOP 5 Kubrick films (behind Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, The Killing and The Shining). You could really tell, even back then, that Kubrick's style was different, as the film featured shots I just wouldn't have expected to see in a film that old. My wife and I picked up DVDs that contained all eight Harry Potter movies on the cheap, so I plan to rifle those off one by one, however long that may take. I surprisingly took to the first one, as I didn't expect to like it much and look forward to the rest. Biggest disappointment of the month turns out to be Foxcatcher, really letting me down after I'd waited and anticipated it for so long. Such an unnecessary film, with not really enough material for an entire film, let alone a compelling one. No 10/10 this month, but one 8.5/10 and a trio of 8/10 make it a pretty good month with a few more movies to consider for the personal favorites list.

No stills this month, as it's almost 2:30 in the morning and I'm getting tired.

April 8, 2015  2:22am

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

581. Zerkalo/The Mirror (1974)

Running Time: 106 minutes
Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written By: Aleksandr Misharin, Andrei Tarkovsky
Main Cast: Margarita Terekhova, Filipp Yankovsky, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova
Click here to view the trailer


I know, I know, you didn't know whether I was lying in a ditch or what and I should've called if I was going to be late. I'm sorry. Things have just been busy for me and when I do get down time to watch movies, I've been watching random stuff, with my wife and I didn't even suggest watching The Mirror, as I knew it wouldn't be for her. I also fully realize that Tarkovsky WEEK is turning into Tarkovsky MONTHS, but that's okay, we'll just pretend it's all normal. Anyway, on with the show.

Not going to have much to say here, as I was sort of baffled by The Mirror and honestly, it was a real clock watcher for me. I can't even begin to string together any sort of plot synopsis, so I'll get right into my review so that I can wrap this up quick and with any luck I'll get in another BOOK movie later today.

Supposedly The Mirror was very autobiographical, but when it jumped back and forth between characters, black & white, dreams and reality, it got difficult to piece together and unfortunately, it just wasn't compelling enough for me to care to bother with trying to understand what the hell was going on. I was bored throughout and honestly, unless Stalker REALLY blows me away, I can honestly say that Andrei Tarkovsky simply isn't the filmmaker for me. As much as he's lauded for his artistic abilities and is an inspiration for other filmmaker's I do enjoy (Lars Von Trier, namely), I'm disappointed that I can't get into him, but I'll leave his movies to the ones who herald them as art pieces and I'll stick with guys like Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock to fill out my Best Director ballot. I will say, however, that any points I give to The Mirror will all be presented for the imagery alone. Such beautiful shots, as Tarkovsky proves he can frame the perfect shot in both color and black & white. One image that comes to mind as a favorite is a shot of the main character, played by Margarita Terekhova, running down a street lined with trees. It was definitely a shot that, despite my boredom, made me pop my eyes open a little wider and take notice. There were two handfuls of great shots in The Mirror and if the film is indeed a "must see" then it's for the imagery alone and not necessarily for any other reasons, although I'm sure Tarkovsky lovers are all about this one, as it's mind bending and personal enough to really encapsulate what Tarkovsky was all about. Me, I prefer Solaris and even that didn't blow me away.

RATING: 3/10  Anything lower would seem unfair and anything higher wouldn't be an accurate depiction of my opinion. I'm going to try REALLY hard to have Stalker watched and reviewed by Monday night. Bear with me.


April 1, 2015  9:52am

Sins of Omission - Entry #94: ZODIAC (2007)

Running Time: 157 minutes Directed By: David Fincher  Written By: James Vanderbilt, based on the book by Robert Graysmith Main Cast : Jake...