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.