Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 End of Year Wrap Up

My End of Year Wrap Up

Well, ladies and germs, this blog, this, my own personal blog, is something I am still committing to six months after I started it.  That right there is kinda sorta a big deal for me.  So as silly as this may sound, I’m rather proud of myself.  I’ve done more writing about films this calendar year than I ever have in the past.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and something I had dabbled with in the past, and if anything, my New Year’s resolution is to continue maintaining this blog, to remain committed to writing and updating.

So here are some highlights of my cinematic year.

  • In February, I discovered Squish’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Blog Club, and for the very first time, I realized that I was not alone.  That there were others out there in Internet Land who had become rather obsessed with the idea of watching and writing about all the films from the book.  This simple fact reinvigorated my passion for film and for the book, both of which had taken a bit of a back seat in my life for a few years.
  • I saw over fifty new movies from 1001 Movies, which is far more than in the past couple of years.  That rocks.  I hope it keeps up for next year. 
  • I wrote over one hundred new reviews, probably more like 150.  I try to write detailed reviews, not in terms of plot, but in terms of my reaction to the film.  I do this so I can remember the film by reading my review; too many times I’ve watched a movie then forgotten about it.  I don’t want that to happen anymore.

And here are some of my end-of-year Bests and Worsts.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
Director: The inimitable Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhardt

Yes, I love Christopher Nolan.  I think the man has managed to find a way to produce intense, dramatic, and intellectually thought-provoking films within the current Hollywood system, all while still making movies with mass appeal.  The Dark Knight is, perhaps, his best example of this.

The second in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, following 2005’s Batman Begins, we see Bruce Wayne/Batman (Bale) in full crime-fighting mode.  This time, though, he’s up against a new kind of enemy – the Joker (Ledger), a mad criminal who follows no rules and worships no false idols.  The Joker gets under Batman’s skin most when he starts going after Gotham’s new white knight, district attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhardt), a man so idealistic that Bruce Wayne can’t help but idolize him, and Dent’s girlfriend Rachel (Gyllenhaal), who just so happens to be the love of Wayne’s life. 

I’m not really a huge superhero movie fan.  Sure, they are a diverting couple of hours at the cineplex, but I find most to be middling at best, and that’s what I think about the ones I like.  When I heard that a new Batman movie was coming out (Batman Begins) I rolled my eyes in recollection of the putrescence that is Batman and Robin.  I needed convincing from multiple people that this new Batman film was unlike others, and eventually, after being coerced into watching it, I agreed.  I actually liked Batman Begins!  I actually think it’s a good movie!  Shocking!  By the time its sequel came out, I had gotten to know Christopher Nolan more as a director, I had started to appreciate his body of work as a whole, and I was looking forward to it. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Director: Jean-Paul Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovitz

Every now and then, a foreign language film comes around that manages to break down language barriers and win the love of the rather xenophobic American public at large.  Amélie is one such film, a movie entertaining enough to get the average American viewer to forget that they have to “read” the movie.  Thank goodness movies like Amélie exist; we need more infusions of a larger cultural awareness, even if that cultural awareness is a Paris fairy tale.

Amélie (Tatou, in her star-making turn) is a shy loner.  She grew up as an only child and now lives alone in Montmartre working as a waitress at a cheerful bar.  When she finds a rusty tin box hidden in her apartment, full of trinkets and toys from the 1950s, she becomes obsessed with finding the original owner to return to him his treasure trove.  The success of this prompts her to continue work as a do-gooder, but for Amélie, it isn’t just about helping others, she has to make a convoluted maze of it as well.  When she meets fellow oddball loner Nino (Kassovitz) and falls in love, she must face her inner fear and slowly open herself up to allowing others in her life.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Wind Will Carry Us

The Wind Will Carry Us
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Behzad Dorani

I can’t help myself – the more I see Kiarostami’s work, the more I’m fascinated by it.  Part of me doesn’t really understand why.  The latest of his I’ve seen, The Wind Will Carry Us is, on the surface, frustratingly meandering, with no clear sense of purpose – or, for that matter, narrative.  Usually that sort of movie drives me nuts.  But my goodness, take a moment to peel back the outer layer, and suddenly this new world opens before your eyes, one with meaning and poignancy and symbolism and, well, just so much more to offer than simple “plot.”

The story – which is not the focus of the film, to be very clear – is about a man from the city (Dorani) who comes with a small crew to a small village in the country.  His purpose there is a bit of a mystery, and he tells everyone he is an engineer.  He befriends a small boy and keeps asking him questions about the boy’s dying grandmother.  He keeps getting cell phone calls, but has to drive his Jeep up the side of a hill in order to answer the call.  He drinks tea, borrows milk, chats with his neighbor, enjoys the hospitality of the townspeople… and, well, that’s about it.

Usually films like this infuriate me.  Nothing happens.  If anyone reading this is stunned by my enjoyment of such a film, trust me, I’m a little in shock myself.  But with Kiarostami, he does it in such a way as to draw me in, to hypnotize me, to get me thinking about, well, lots of stuff.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Children of a Lesser God

Children of a Lesser God
Director: Randa Haines
Starring: William Hurt, Marlee Matlin

Melodrama usually isn’t my cup of tea.  I tend to go into a film with a very skeptical eye if it at all smacks of a Lifetime Movie of the Week.  From everything I had heard of Children of a Lesser God, it was an elevated version of said genre.  I wish I could say that my expectations were proven wrong, but nah, not really.

James Leeds (Hurt) is a new teacher at school for the deaf.  There he meets Sarah (Matlin), a former student of the school who is now a janitor.  She is tremendously angry and refuses to learn to read lips or try to talk.  He is fascinated and pursues her.  They begin a turbulent love affair that, both literally and symbolically, focuses on the issue of communication.

What I liked, and what I thought Children of a Lesser God did pretty well, was the portrayal of the prickly nature of relationships.  Relationships aren’t easy sometimes, and James and Sarah certainly know about that.  Theirs is a relationship typified by passion of both the angry and romantic nature.  James likes Sarah, but he keeps trying to change her.  She is bound and determined to stick to sign language, and does not want to learn to read lips or speak, but James, as someone who teaches deaf and hard of hearing students to read lips and speak, can’t really understand this.  He tells her several times that he’s sorry, and he won’t try to change her, but then he just plain does it anyway.  It’s like he can’t help himself.  In the “Big Fight Scene” (oh come on, this is a romance, you must have figured out there would be a “Big Fight Scene”), Sarah accuses James of not allowing her to be an individual.  She realizes that she has lost herself in the relationship.  Thank goodness for that scene, because up until that point, that was exactly what I was thinking.  Why on earth was James continually trying to take charge and lead Sarah around?  He was making all these decisions for her rather than asking her.  He was making changes that affected her life FOR her.  Thank goodness Sarah realized it, because if she hadn’t, I would be writing a very different review right now, one that would involve every synonym I could think of for “ridiculous.”  She pulls away from him, from their relationship, because she is such a strong character, she won’t allow that to happen to herself.  I liked that, and Matlin does a great job with her performance.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride - a re-post from my old site
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon

There are some movies that I appreciate on a pseudo-intellectual, pretentious level.  I like these movies.  I like them a lot.  The way someone likes a really good, interesting college lecture.  And there are some movies that I honest to god truly love, regardless of what the content of the film is.  I honest to god truly love The Princess Bride.

A modern-day grandfather (Falk) reads a fairytale to his sick grandson (Fred Savage).  The story he tells his grandson is of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Wright) who loves the handsome and virtuous Westley (Elwes), but she believes him killed by pirates.  She is engaged to the evil Prince Humperdinck (Sarandon).  In order for true love to prevail, duels must be engaged in, giants must be fought, and evil must be vanquished.  As the grandfather says, “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!” 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

El Norte

El Norte
Director: Gregory Nava
Starring: Zaide Silvia Gutierrez, David Villalpando

El Norte tells a story we all know, but manages to do it in a manner I have never experienced before.  The issue of illegal immigration into the United States is confronted head on, with a touch of melodramatics but also a great deal of steely-eyed realism.  The film was released in 1983, but given that immigration has become such a hot button topic in politics today, it’s a film that demands to be seen again. 

The film is broken up into three discreet episodes.  In part one, we meet Enrique (Villalpando) and Rosa (Gutierrez) living in a small village in Guatemala.  The country is going through some frightening political wars, and their father is killed for being a rebel.  Their mother is carted away by the army, so the two siblings decide to head for “El Norte,” dreams of money and comfort in their eyes.  Part two is focused on their passage through Mexico, itself dangerous, and their plight in crossing the American border.  Part three deals with their economic and daily realities living in Los Angeles, and itself contains a clear story arc.

Apparently, this film was originally produced by PBS with the intention of airing it as a mini-series, but it was so well-received on its own, the decision was made to give it a theatrical release.  For me, this helped explain the film.  I could clearly see how the first part was the first installment of the mini-series, and it also explained away the tendency toward the melodramatic at certain stages.  In my head, I guess, I think of this as a really strong mini-series.  It makes more sense that way, at least for me.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story
Director: Bob Clark
Starring: Jean Shepherd, Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, the gauntlet has been thrown down.  In a few weeks time, A Christmas Story is the movie of the week at my blog club.  I have been avoiding writing about this film for years, ever since I started to dabble in writing my own reviews six years ago.  Every Christmas I have tried to write about A Christmas Story in my head, but have never been able to get anything onto the page.  Last year I came pretty close – I wrote about two paragraphs or so – but then couldn’t write anymore.  No more fooling around though; this year I *will* finish this review!  Challenge accepted!

Why is it so hard for me to write about A Christmas Story?

Because I love it so dang much.

And not in a way that I love any other movie.  In its very own, very unique, incredibly particular way that even I have yet to figure out completely.  I love it with a passion so intense, it actively prevents me from writing about it in any coherent manner.  There are only a very small handful of films I love this much.  A Christmas Story is in rarefied company, believe you me.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Best of Youth


The Best of Youth
Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
Starring: Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni

Phew.  That’s what I have to say after cannonballing all of this movie in one day.  Why do I say “phew?”  Two reasons.  First of all, the dang thing clocks in at just over six hours.  That’s right, I just sat and watched a six hour movie with minimal breaks.  Why would you subject yourself to that, you may ask.  Good question.  The answer is reason number two: this movie has the capacity to pull you in, emotionally, so emerging from it, I feel as though I am surfacing once more to the real world.  I have been completely engulfed in the world of The Best of Youth for the past day.  Hence “phew.”

The story focuses on the two brothers in the Carati family, Nicola (Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Boni).  Nicola isn’t the best student, but he works hard and is good-natured and dreams of becoming a doctor.  Matteo is a supremely gifted student, but also highly strung with some anger issues.  Right off the bat, we witness Matteo drop out of school and enlist in the army, and later the police force, while Nicola takes off for a backpack trip through Norway on his way to becoming a psychiatrist, an inspiration after he meets a young mental patient Giorgia.  The movie starts in the 1960s and follows the brothers’ lives, the lives of their parents, their two sisters, various love interests, and, ultimately, children, through to 2003, all against the backdrop of recent Italian history.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams
Director: Steve James
Starring: Arthur Agee, William Gates

I do not have the patience to be a documentary film maker.  Take Hoop Dreams, for example.  The filmmakers collected four plus years worth of footage, over 250 hours, and then had to craft it into a commercial length story.  To have an idea for a documentary story, then devote that amount of time to it without knowing how it will unfold?  I do NOT have the courage for that!

The film follows Arthur Agee and William Gates starting when both have just graduated from grammar school and are about to enter high school.  Both are aspiring basketball players from inner city Chicago, and both are recruited to play at prestigious prep school St. Joseph’s.  We go year by year with these two through high school, enduring trials and tribulations, playoff battles on the basketball court, financial difficulties, problems with home life, struggling to make grades, and making post-high school plans. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina

I shouldn’t like Alphaville.  By my own admission, I have problems enjoying the films of the French New Wave, and Alphaville is very French New Wave.  And of the French New Wave directors, my least favorite is Godard, and Alphaville is very Godard.  But there’s something about the mash-up of science fiction and film noir with Godard’s New Wave style that, inexplicably, works for me.

Lemmy Caution (Constantine) is an undercover agent from a region called the Outlands.  Masquerading as a journalist, he is sent to enemy region Alphaville with the mission to locate scientist Professor Von Braun and take him back to the Outlands or kill him.  Along the way, he encounters Von Braun’s daughter Natacha (Karina), and through her, he starts to realize the strange workings of Alphaville.  Alphaville is controlled by a central computer, Alpha 60, that has outlawed free thought, poetry, and illogical emotions, such as crying after the death of a spouse.  Caution must find a way to take down Alpha 60 in order to complete his mission and free Natacha.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A very belated "About Me" post in lieu of an end of month Status Report

Why am I doing this?

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for a little while now, as I realize I started this blog with absolutely no explanation as to why I created it, or what personal edification it was fulfilling.  So here we go.

Me and Movies

I’ve always had more than a passing interest in movies, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I got really serious about it.  For the 2005 Oscars, I saw just shy of 90% of all nominated films – including documentaries, shorts, etc.  I carried this sudden zest for film forward after the Oscar ceremony when I purchased the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  In flipping through its pages, I realized that although I had seen nearly every nominated film from 2005, I was sorely lacking when it came to seeing so many older and foreign films.  I had only seen 160 of the 1001 films.  It didn’t take long for me to decide to make a concerted effort to see as many movies from The Book as I possibly could.  I went through the films chronologically by decade, and about three plus years of solid progress saw my numbers go from 16% to around 80% seen. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wild Reeds

Wild Reeds
Director: Andre Techine
Starring: Elodie Bouchez, Gael Morel, Stephane Rideau, Frederic Gorny

There are certain topics that tend to get made into films more frequently than others.  While war movies and rom-coms certainly are done over and over again, the coming of age tale isn’t that far behind.  Wild Reeds is most definitely a coming of age tale, mostly plotless, focusing on four young adults in France in 1962.

Francois (Morel) and Maite (Bouchez) are friends, but everyone thinks they are dating.  Francois is at an all-boys boarding school where he meets Serge (Rideau); considering Serge looks like a Greek god, Francois soon starts to develop romantic feelings for him.  Meanwhile, there is insolent Henri (Gorny) who, at 21, is still in school because he has failed to pass his baccalaureate exam.  He talks back to teachers, but spends all his time listening to reports on the conflict in Algeria. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil
Director: Orson Welles
Starring: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh

Generally considered the last true classic film noir (as it was the last one made before the term was coined, everything that followed would be mindfully neo-noir), Touch of Evil is completely and utterly embodied to me by one of its main characters. Hank Quinlan is fat, bloated, sweaty, confused, and corrupt. These adjectives most definitely apply to the general tone of the film as well.

Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Heston in obnoxious brownface) is a Mexican narcotics cop working to take down the infamous Grande family in a border town. When an American business man is killed by a car bomb deposited in Mexico but detonated in the US, jurisdiction gets confusing. Vargas is helping on the case, but American veteran cop Quinlan (Welles) takes charge of the case. Quinlan is stubborn and untrusting of Vargas, who is as straight edge as it’s possible to be. Things aren’t helped when Vargas’ new wife, American Susan (Leigh) is kidnapped by the Grande family and psychologically tortured in order to tarnish both her and Mike’s reputation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Director: Stephan Elliott
Starring: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter

At its core, you’ve seen the story of Priscilla before. It’s fundamentally a mash-up of a classic road movie and a classic outcast movie, with all the expected scenes and tropes popping up. But thanks mostly to Terence Stamp, the fabulous (in every sense of the word) costumes, and an irrepressible sense of joy and optimism, Priscilla elevates above its predictable narrative.

Professional drag queen Mitzi (Weaving) gets a call from his long-abandoned wife, now a casino manager, asking him to be her new cabaret act. He enlists his co-worker Felicia (Pearce) to get in on the act, and friend and transsexual Bernadette (Stamp) needs the distraction after the death of her younger lover. The three set out on a bus (which they name “Priscilla”) to make their way to the desert casino, meeting people and causing scenes along the way.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Au Revoir, Les Enfants

Au Revoir, Les Enfants
Director: Louis Malle
Starring: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö

Julien (Manesse) is a privileged young boy whose wealthy mother sends him to a Carmelite school to get him out of Paris in 1944. He’s a bossy little kid who acts tough but really misses his mom. One day, three new students arrive at the school, and Julien is somewhat fascinated by Jean (Fejtö). Which, of course, means, that Julien starts picking on Jean. Ultimately, though, the two form a friendship, each an outsider in their own way. Julien slowly starts to realize that Jean is hiding a secret. This is 1944 Paris. I’ll give you three guesses what Jean’s secret is, and the first two don’t count.

The performance of the two young boys, Manesse and Fejtö, is outstanding, and ultimately, that is what makes the film really succeed. The characters they depict, Julien and Jean, are never, not once, stereotypical movie children. They are never sweetly precocious or overtly mugging. Instead, both are completely naturalistic; mean at times, sympathetic at times, but never forced. Manesse, in particular, turns in one of the most refreshingly low-key child performances I’ve ever seen. I was reminded several times in this film of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (not surprising, given that Malle was also part of the French New Wave movement), and Julien certainly shares a movie lineage with Antoine Doinel.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Director: Otto Preminger
Starring: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson

 “How singularly innocent I look this morning.” Thus speaks Waldo Lydecker, one of the central characters in Otto Preminger’s film noir Laura. Well, yes, it’s film noir, but it’s also more. It’s a mystery, beyond anything else, and a psychological thriller. It’s an immensely satisfying film, one that feels more fresh and modern than other noir films of the era.

Laura Hunt (beautifully played by Gene Tierney in extensive flashbacks) has been murdered. Detective Mark McPherson (the immensely attractive and brooding Dana Andrews) is the man on the case, going back to interview all the suspects again. And hoo boy, are there lots of suspects. There’s Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price – yes, THAT Vincent Price), Laura’s fiancé, who seems to be more a gold-digger than an honest man. If Laura had broken off the engagement, could he have killed her? There’s Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), an older newspaper writer who seems obsessed with Laura, and was troubled by her engagement to Shelby. Was he trying to keep Laura all to himself? There’s also Laura’s aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), who seems to be carrying something on with Shelby on the side. Did she want Laura out of the picture?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter
Director: Charles Laughton  
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin

The Night of the Hunter is many things. One of Robert Mitchum’s finest and most iconic performances, the phenomenal sole directorial work of Charles Laughton, some of the best work of cinematographer Stanley Cortez, and a children’s version of a film noir. It is that last point that keeps me coming back to this movie for more.

Preacher Harry Powell (Mitchum) is a serial killer masquerading through 1930s West Virginia as a man of God. After sharing a jail cell with Ben Harper (Peter Graves of Airplane! infamy), he hears of Harper’s hidden $10,000. After Harper is hung, Powell makes a move on the rest of the Harper family, seducing widow Willa Harper (Winters), but he cannot win over young John Harper (Chapin). John knows where his father hid the money, and he’s not telling. He doesn’t trust the preacher. When Powell’s serial killing inevitably claims his mother as his next victim, John grabs his little sister Pearl and runs away down the river, eventually finding their way to the safety of Rachel Cooper (Gish), a woman with a will of steel and a shotgun that she’s not afraid to use. Powell tracks down the children, but must face Rachel first.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Director: Gavin Hood  
Starring: Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto

 It’s always interesting for me to see a film from a country I know little about, or even one which produces few international films in general. The South African film industry is hardly on par with Hollywood, but they have a solid entry into international cinema with Tsotsi. Although I didn’t feel that it brought anything tremendously novel to the screen, it tells its little story of moral redemption well.

Tsotsi (Chweneyagae), a young hoodlum in Johannesburg, steals a car, not knowing that there is a small baby in the backseat. When he discovers the child, he cannot bring himself to abandon it, and instead, starts to care for it, forcibly enlisting the help of a single mother (Pheto). In doing so, he begins to question his current life of crime and how he wound up there, all while wrestling with whether or not to return the child to its affluent parents.

The narrative focus of this film is squarely on Tsotsi attempting to turn his life around. Chweneyagae turns in a fine performance in this aspect, but I felt his “pre-epiphany” Tsotsi much more a caricature. He is hardened and violent, but somehow, I felt a massive disconnect between this Tsotsi and the one he turned into. The name “Tsotsi” even means “Thug.” I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I know that the Tsotsi we meet at the beginning of the film felt oddly unreal. To give credit where credit is due, I will end by reiterating what a nice job Chweneyagae does with the metamorphosis of the character, especially considering that this is likely one of his first films, but it seems like he didn’t quite know where to start.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Grundgens

It took a few years for sound technology to really find its footing. While talking (and singing) in films hit the big time with The Jazz Singer in 1927, other common sound uses that we expect today – like soundtrack music – would take several years to catch on. It’s interesting watching movies from the first seven or eight years of sound technology because of this; what they use, what they lack, primitive sound technology. At the same time, films were still relatively young, and the stories they were telling were not always the most sophisticated. Each of these considerations makes M stand out that much more from its early sound counterparts. It tells a gripping and morally layered story, using sound in a smart way to further the narrative through the use of voice over for one of the first times in film, and using a piece of music to signify a certain act.

A murderer is on the loose in a German city. He kidnaps young children off the street, molests them, then kills them. The police, headed by Inspector Lohmann (Wernicke) are flabbergasted and frustrated; their investigations are proving fruitless, so they decide to perform a massive crackdown on all criminal activity. This causes the criminal underworld a great deal of inconvenience, so they, headed by mastermind Schranker (Grundgens) decide to take matters into their own hands. Just as the police begin to hone in on our psychopath (Lorre), the criminals too discover his identity. Getting their hands on him first, Hans Beckert is put on trial by the criminal underworld to answer for his sins.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When Harry Met Sally...

When Harry Met Sally…
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby

Back in my college days, I lived in a suite. Of girls. At one point, there were 8 of us sharing very cramped quarters. Despite the inevitable drama (there was one vicious knock down fight over – get this – cake frosting), there was also a LOT of romantic comedy-watching. A LOT. It was pretty much the only genre of film that was ever on our tiny little television. I think it was during this phase of my life that I started to see the cracks in the genre due to my overexposure to it. I also distinctly remember watching When Harry Met Sally… during that time in my life and starting to see just how great a romcom it is.

Harry (Crystal) needs a ride to New York from Chicago, and Sally (Ryan) has a car. They’ve never met, but they share a contentious cross country trip then part ways. Five years later, they bump into one another on a plane trip and continue to bicker, then part ways again. Five years later AGAIN, they meet up, but this time, become friends. And, because this is a romantic comedy, the friendship starts to build and evolve into something more.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Director: Robert Bresson
Starring: Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, Jean Pelegri

A race track. The bell sounds. Everyone is jostling for position, craning to see the horses. Everyone except Michel (LaSalle). Although he is looking in the same direction as the crowd, it is clear that his attention is focused on the people around him, not the horses. His hand reaches for a lady’s purse in front of him. With incredible care and suspense, he slowly unhinges the clasp on the purse, visibly jumping when the clasp breaks free.

Ah, Michel, the “hero” of Bresson’s crime drama Pickpocket. Of course, because this is a Robert Bresson film, Pickpocket does not fit the mold of a traditional crime drama. Michel is a pickpocket by choice, not by situation or circumstance. He sees himself as being better, somehow, than other men, and actively uses it as an excuse for his crime. Even the death of his mother does not imbue a sense of law and order into him, but it does introduce him to Jeanne (Green), a young woman who tries to show him the way to his moral salvation.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Quiet Earth

The Quiet Earth
Director: Geoff Murphy
Starring: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Pete Smith

It’s 6:11 in the morning. Suddenly there’s a flash of light. Something has happened. Zac Hobson (Lawrence) wakes up in his motel room and prepares for work. As he sets out on his day, however, he slowly discovers that everyone else is gone. Just… gone. No bodies, no nothing. Given that the film stars two other people, you can probably anticipate that Zac does not stay by himself the entire time. Indeed, he discovers two other survivors, and the three must work against their infighting in order to figure out what happened.

This is a science fiction film, to be sure, but it’s done on a very modest, meager scale. Sci-fi does not necessarily mean alien spaceship props and bizarre costumes and makeup. In fact, I rather think that when sci-fi is forced to be made without those trappings, it tends to produce a far more intellectually provocative product. The Quiet Earth asks the question: what would YOU do if you were the last human being on the planet?

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian

Borat (Cohen) is a television personality for Kazahstan national television. In order to, well, make benefit glorious nation of Kazahstan, he and his producer Azamat (Davitian) set off for America. Once there, Borat becomes infatuated with Pamela Anderson from watching old Baywatch reruns, and becomes insistent on traveling across America to California in order to meet her. Along the way, he interacts with several unwitting Americans, exposing uncomfortable cultural truths about our country.

In order for me to write about Borat, I have to explain something about myself. I’m kinda snooty. And I’m okay with that. After all, a little pretension never hurt anybody. I’ve always liked things that are kinda snooty. I love intense film dramas, classic literature, classical music, and bel canto opera. I do not listen to pop music, I think it’s a waste of time, and I realized that when I was in sixth grade. You give me a choice of anything in the world to listen to, and I’ll probably pick Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore or Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. See, I’m such a snob, I call the operas by their Italian names.

Common or lowbrow humor usually does phenomenally little for me. Superbad was gawdawful. I had to physically leave the room about thirty minutes into The Hangover, I was enjoying myself that little. Real Housewives, Kim Kardashian, Jersey Shore - I weep for the future because of the success of such things.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Director: Julian Schnabel
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), or Jean-Do to his friends, is a highly successful editor at French Elle. The film opens when he wakes up from a stroke, completely paralyzed from head to toe, save for his left eye. Jean-Do, after running the gamut of emotions about how completely his life has changed, starts working with a therapist (Croze) to learn to communicate again. She reads him the letters of the alphabet and he blinks when she gets to the one he wants to use. He decides to dictate a book using this method about his experience as a man trapped in his own body.

The first half hour of the film is entirely from the point of view of Jean-Do. As the film opens, we see a hazy, foggy, slanted view of a hospital room. The camera goes in and out of focus repeatedly. We are seeing through Jean-Do’s functioning eye, and it is tired. We are disoriented and confused because he is disoriented and confused. We continue to experience exactly what he does as a string of doctors and specialists come in to see him. The camera continues to be blurry and at odd angles. The first time we actually see Jean-Do in his stricken state is as he sees himself in a reflection along a shiny wall. He shudders at his reflection, and frankly, I did too. When a friend visits him and puts a fuzzy hat on his head, part of the camera shot is blocked by the hat because part of his vision was blocked by the hat. Both Schnabel and Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer, did an amazing job in creating the first-person camerawork. I’ve never really seen anything else like it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

42nd Street

42nd Street
Producer: Busby Berkeley
Starring: Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel, Dick Powell, Bebe Daniels, Warner Baxter

I’m going to admit something right now that is going to make me incredibly unpopular in film blogger circles. I love musicals. I do, god help me. I was raised on them; they are the cinema of my childhood. A weekend afternoon wasn’t complete without Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire singing and dancing. They remain my ultimate cinematic feel-good flicks.

Having said all of that, though, I will now say that despite my adoration, all musicals are not created equal. I can’t get enough of the Golden Age MGM musicals, with all their Technicolor glory and extended fantasy ballet sequences, but give me Rodgers and Hammerstein and I will leave the room. Early Hollywood musicals, which started as soon as sound in film began, were one of two varieties. There were the “Let’s put on a show!” musicals, the type to which 42nd Street belongs, where all the musical numbers take place in the context of a stage act and have precious little to do with what is going on in the film. Because this is what Busby Berkeley liked to do, these types of musicals also typically involved a ridiculously stagey and showy final dance number. The other variety of musical is the type where the musical numbers further the plot; or at very least, deal with the plot. You know the kind, where the hero sings about how much he loves the heroine right after meeting her. A theater needn’t be a part of the plot of these musicals; they can be about anything, and the song and dance numbers fit in with the overall emotional arc of the film. Think René Clair’s 1931 duology of Le Million and À Nous la Liberté.

Guess what: I love the latter type of musical, and am really not a fan of the former.

In case you forgot, 42nd Street is the former.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Horror of Dracula

Horror of Dracula
Director: Terence Fisher
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough

Vampire myth and legend has been squarely in the public consciousness for more than a century. While Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was hardly the first incidence of vampires in fiction, it was perhaps the most successful, and with such recent additions as *shudder* Twilight and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, vampires still continue to fascinate, whether they sparkle or no. In the 1950s, possibly the most iconic vampire film comes from the fabled Hammer studio of England, Horror of Dracula.

Inspired by but hardly faithful to Bram Stoker’s original novel, the movie tells the story of first Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) and then Van Helsing (Cushing) as they track and stalk the vampire Count Dracula (Lee). Harker tries his hand at destroying Dracula by going out to the Count’s castle on his own, but he is quickly overcome by the Count and his female underling. We then cut back to Harker’s fiancée Lucy, who is sickly because she too is being haunted by the Count. Van Helsing explains to Lucy’s brother Arthur (Gough) that she must be protected from the vampire as well.

Hammer Horror is one of the most famous horror studios of all time, putting out a tremendous number of films for decades. Horror of Dracula was hardly their first film, the studio having been making films since the 1930s, but the studio underwent a rebirth in the fifties, one that was helped along greatly by the tremendous box office success of this movie. This rebirth helped to define what has now become recognizable as the trademarks of Hammer Horror.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Shining

The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

The Shining and I have a bit of a history. I haven’t seen it a billion and one times, but the few times I have committed to watching it all the way through have been memorable in one way or the other. The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s take on what a horror movie is, and, because he’s Kubrick, he can’t help but put his own stamp all over the film. What results is an incredibly atmospheric and FUCKING SCARY movie.

But why? Because this is Kubrick playing with horror, interpreting horror in his own way, we get something that is relatively unique in its horror. We don’t have the typical trappings of terror in The Shining. Consider the very opening of the film, for instance. We open on gorgeous helicopter shots of the Rockies, gradually zooming in on a car driving through winding roads, and Wendy Carlos’ score starts playing, those plodding, synthetic tones, and holy shit, it’s already scary. Scary, with nothing but gorgeous helicopter shots of the wilderness and minimalistic music. This is not typical horror.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man
Director: George Waggner
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy

When you think “classic horror,” you think Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy. Rounding out the list would undoubtedly be the Wolf Man. Unlike the other monsters on this list, though, the Wolf Man is unique in several ways. Instead of being based on centuries-old mythos or classic literature, the Wolf Man came mostly from the mind of screenwriter Curt Siodmak. Similarly, because he was a relatively new invention, the Wolf Man is treated far less as a monster and far more as a very real human tragedy. For these reasons, The Wolf Man is easily my favorite of the early classic monster films.

Larry Talbot (Chaney) is the prodigal son returning home to his scientist father’s (Rains) estate in Wales. He meets and woos shop girl Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), which takes him out into the fog-filled forest in search of a gypsy fortune teller on their date (Bela Lugosi, in a rather fitting cameo). Unfortunately, Bela’s a bit crazy, and he turns into a wolf and attacks. Larry kills the wolf, but when he realizes he also killed the gypsy, he is wracked with guilt. Bitten by the wolf, Larry starts to realize that he himself is turning into the Wolf Man.

On the most literal level, I respond incredibly well to the tragedy found in The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. proves he’s got chops as he holds nothing back from poor Larry’s story. Larry is just a regular guy, the younger brother, good with tools but not science, who has to take on the mantle of elder brother due to a family tragedy. Larry wants to do right by his dad and his family and his birthright, but when he starts to realize that he is the one causing the violence, he is horror-struck. His remorse at killing the gypsy is all-consuming, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a werewolf himself. He closes himself off from his friends and family, even insisting that he be locked up and bound at night to prevent his wolf form from escaping and killing his loved ones. Larry is sad and sympathetic all the way. He never feels like a traditional movie monster.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall  

Rope is alternately absolute classic Hitchcock, and very novel Hitchcock. Famous (or, perhaps, infamous) as being shot in only ten takes, this is a fact that sometimes seems to overwhelm the story itself. While being an exercise in a novel technique for presenting the story, Hitchcock plays with his classic themes of suspense and psychological battles, all while peppering black humor throughout.

The film opens with the murder by strangulation (using rope, of course) of David (Dick Hogan) by Phillip (Granger) and Brandon (Dall), David’s school friends. Phillip is horrified by what he’s done, but Brandon is pleased. It appears they committed the murder in order to see if they could, and David was deemed disposable. After hiding David’s body in a large chest, they begin to prepare for a dinner party attended by David’s friends and family. Brandon is so smug, he even serves the food off of the chest in question. But when Rupert Cadell (Stewart), an old teacher of theirs, shows up at the party as well, he shrewdly starts to deduce what Phillip and Brandon have done.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Director: Tod Browning
Starring: Harry Earles, Olga Baclanova, Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Henry Victor

Chip from Tips from Chip recently reviewed this film, and he spoke well as to the issue of exploitation in it. That point sums up this movie rather perfectly. Tod Browning’s Freaks is a disturbing film. While not a pure horror film, the final act puts us squarely in fear and dread territory, making this film a worthy part of any Halloween marathon.

Freaks tells the story of a group of travelling circus performers. While there is the obviously the strong man, Hercules (Victor), the trapeze artist Cleopatra (Baclanova), and the bearded lady, most of the troupe is comprised of the “freaks” of the title, people with physical deformities, played by actual circus performers. The story focuses on Hans (Earles), a little person who is in love with Cleopatra. She mocks him and makes eyes at Hercules, but when she finds out Hans is wealthy, she marries him then plots with Hercules to kill Hans for his fortune. When the other “freaks” find out about this, they exact their revenge on the dastardly Cleopatra and Hercules.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou

I don’t like to know everything about a film before I see it, but I like to know the basics: stars, genre, director, at the most a vague outline of the story. All I knew of Caché was that it starred Juliette Binoche (who rocks) and, in the first sentence of the DVD jacket, it was a “psychological thriller.” That was good enough for me, I like psychological thrillers, but that was all I knew.

Then the "directed by Haneke" message hit me, and I realized that, uh, yeah, I really had no idea what I gotten myself into.

Even knowing it was a “psychological thriller,” therefore meant to be, well, thrilling, left me feeling completely blindsided.

This movie freaked me the eff out.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot (even Roger Ebert, who spoils films fully and freely, managed to write one of his Great Movie essays on this without giving anything of significance away). The main characters are Georges Laurent (Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Binoche). He is the host of a television book discussion program running on public television in Paris, she is a publisher. They have an adolescent son, Pierrot. The film opens with the discovery that someone has been filming them. They know this because videocassettes have been dropped at their front door showing the surveillance of the Laurents. Georges starts to suspect someone he used to know, someone from his past, Majid (Bénichou). The cassettes keep coming, egging Georges and Anne on, keeping them uncomfortably and aggressively aware that they are being watched.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy
Director: Martin Scorsese  
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard

I don’t know what’s more frightening about this movie – De Niro’s completely nutso Rupert Pupkin, Scorsese’s all-too-accurate illustration of American society as dangerously celebrity-obsessed, or Scorsese’s prediction of our current culture of reality television and the fulfillment of Andy Warhol’s decree that everyone will indeed be famous for fifteen minutes.

We first meet Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) at the stage door of Jerry Langford (Lewis), a late night talk show host. It soon becomes abundantly clear that Pupkin, while claiming to be an aspiring comic and performer, is really a delusional who manufactures a relationship with Langford in his head and the basement of his mother’s house. After being turned down by Langford’s show, Pupkin and a like-minded obsessive friend Masha (Bernhard) resort to kidnapping Langford himself in order to make it in the biz.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck

Hitchcock was an incredibly prolific director. Dude made a lot films. He was interested in certain genres, certain themes, and he produced some tremendous films on these themes. Having said that, if we’re playing a sheer numbers game here, he also made some stinkers. This film falls squarely in the mediocre section of his work, with just a few unique tricks that make its inclusion in the 1001 Movies list somewhat understandable.

Dr. Constance Peterson (Bergman) is a devoted psychologist, living at her hospital while working with her patients. When a new department head arrives (Peck), Peterson is smitten immediately, both from a physical, professional, and emotional standpoint. Problem is, the newly arrived doctor is soon revealed to be an impostor. He is no psychologist; instead, he is an amnesiac who reacts badly to certain things but cannot remember why. Will her love affair with this strange man end with her murder at his hands?

This movie has a lot of flaws. How flawed is it? About halfway through my rewatch, bored and annoyed, I reached for my copy of 1001 Movies to remind myself exactly why such a tedious film should make the ranks. So let me address both sides of this: what are its problems, and why it’s in the book.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Exorcist

The Exorcist
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Jason Miller

About a year ago, my husband and my sister accompanied me to a screening of The Exorcist. Neither of them had seen it before, and I hadn’t seen it in over 10 years, and even then, it was under less than ideal circumstances. Essentially, all three of us were seeing it for the first time, knowing little about it other than the classic sequences of Linda Blair’s head turning all the way around and the spewing of the pea soup. After the film ended, the three of us stood in the lobby and just looked at one another blankly.

After a few minutes, we finally got up the nerve to speak.

“That was… um… intense.”
“Uh, YEAH.”
“Oh my god, that was so good.”

All right, so our critiques weren’t exactly eloquent, but The Exorcist had temporarily removed our ability to link thoughts with words. It’s that good a film.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Director: James Whale  
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke  

Frankenstein is not a film I’m totally in love with. It’s a little slow in parts, underdeveloped, and downright laughable in others. However, I think it’s worthwhile revisiting some of the true granddaddies of the horror genre, and that’s where Frankenstein is a very very special film. Many of the iconic traditions of horror are established in this movie, and the Monster… oh, the Monster is just amazing.

Essentially throwing out Mary Shelley’s original novel and only using cherry-picked parts, the somewhat stodgy plot focuses on mad scientist Henry Frankenstein (Clive) who creates Monster (Karloff) despite vapid and uninteresting fiancée’s objections (Clarke). Clocking in at a brisk 71 minutes, the film reminds you that it was still made during the nascent Sound Era; there were quite a few kinks yet to be worked out. The plot jumps in with absolutely no explanation, which, while I’ll agree that exposition is not always necessary, feels a bit shallow here.