Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chris' #77: WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard
Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter (story)
Release Date: June 23, 2008

IMDB Synopsis: In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.

First Time
It took me a while to see this, and the same can be said of other Pixar greats like The Incredibles and Monster's Inc. From 1999-2010, I passively avoided a lot of Pixar (and other animated films) because I mostly felt that I didn't need them in my life. Brave helped to turn that around a bit; I saw that in the theater and since then, I have been much more receptive to Pixar and animated features. I believe Jeff recommended WALL-E to me in 2010 or 2011, and we probably watched it together.

Why it's on the List
I'll get the obvious out of the way first--the film is visually-stunning, especially on blu-ray. There have been a handful beautiful films set in space over the years, and WALL-E is no exception. Andrew Stanton and his team also manage to turn a dusty, garbage dump of a city into art. This wasteland is all we get for the first twenty minutes of the film, as there are very few spoken words until that mark. I admire the risk that Pixar took with those twenty minutes--the opening five minutes of Up is another example of this kind of risk paying off. Instead taking a dialogue-heavy approach, Stanton and Jim Reardon rely on some great physical comedy and exceptional use of exposition.

The film is great at slowly feeding information to the audience through the use of Buy-N-Large promotional videos featuring Fred Willard. Willard is the perfect casting choice for BnL's satirically-named CEO, Shelby Forthright, because he's so adept at playing charming yet incompetent characters.

With only antiquated video recordings of Shelby Forthright and his favorite musical to keep him company, WALL-E's solitude is easily felt (it's weird to assign gender to a robot, but whatever); we pity WALL-E until EVE arrives on Earth. I love the relationship between the two and the juxtaposition of their personalities; WALL-E is sweet and a bit of coward, while EVE is trigger-happy and a badass. Stanton and Reardon did a great job in general of applying different personalities to the robots in the film, and the different robot designs are great, too. The closest thing we get to villains in this movie are a couple of robots that stick to their programming. I like the slight twist that AUTO (a nice nod to HAL from 2001) is purposefully sabotaging the Axiom's return to Earth, thanks to BnL's failure to clean up the planet.

The social commentary in WALL-E is obvious but effective, nevertheless. I especially love the moment when two dudes are talking to each other over face chat, even though they're a foot apart. The film effectively calls out our society's increasing sloth and consumerism. The Buy-N-Large slogan is perfect: "Everything you need to be happy."

The social commentary has hints of something you might see or hear on The Simpsons. This makes sense, given Jim Reardon's involvement. Reardon has directed over thirty Simpsons episodes, including many of my all-time favorites: Homer the Heretic, Mr. Plow, Duffless, King Size Homer...okay, really 95% of the episodes he's directed are among the show's best. Brad Bird wasn't the only Simpsons director to go on to produce some great work for Pixar.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • Fred Willard will make one more appearance on my list.
  • I only have one more animated film to discuss and it's not Pixar. I have several other Pixar movies on my 200-101 list, but WALL-E is my favorite.
  • I still have not seen Finding Nemo. I refuse to watch Cars.

Brandon's #77: Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)

The entire film is built around an event; one discovered, slanted, and orchestrated by a desperate/cocky (bad combo) ink slinger. But it's mostly about the reporter himself, watching his every move, scheme, and follow through. Like Holden's character from STALAG 17, he goes out of his way to announce loud and clear that he's an irredeemable piece of shit. ---- I never understood why Holden's character had the gall to act surprised when his fellow POWs beat the tar out of him, considering he has spent the entirety of the film goading and taunting them, giving them every reason to confirm his guilt ---- It sometimes plays out like a race to the bottom between Douglas' Chuck Tatum and Jan Sterling's equally awful Lorraine Minosa.

Each display an unhealthy affection for the rocks that have fallen on and trapped an unlucky treasure seeker, himself an exploiter. It's a big stupid carnival for bored suckers. Wilder's notorious cynicism is spread evenly around the New Mexican vistas, with inhabitants of all intellectual capacities. The dumb crowds, cop pricks, trapped victim and his restless wife, and even old crafty Chuck himself are handed equal daily portions of culpability.

It's easy to try and make cheap connections to modern times, specifically the relationship between the news and its audience or the way the police chief advantageously goes along with the entire charade at the expense of the trapped man's life. But like I said, Wilder's cynicism spreads wider and also he's more interested in Chuck's poison heart.

Why am I drawn to this? Maybe it appeals to some dark personal inclinations toward culture as a whole. That also feels too easy and self-congratulatory. I'm part of it. Certainly because it's so alive onscreen, bizarre and persistently ugly. Wilder will always be a debated figure, perhaps rightfully so, but I've rarely found his naval gazing a turn off. Especially when it, especially in the case of this film, predicted the future.

This film's media circus shines less light on manufactured consent and much more on the hysteria spun out of simple tragedy. Molly Haskell hit the nail on the head when she called it, "a public drunk on sensation." It all starts with Chuck; his anger, his desperation, his love for power and money, his disdain for ordinary people. I'm not sure "impressive" is the right word, but I'm impressed that ACE IN THE HOLE follows through. Considering that most of our judgement and criticism stems from within, I can only imagine what this says ultimately about Wilder.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Brandon's #80, 79, & 78

Copying Jeff....

80. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
79. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
78. El Dorado (Howard Hawks, 1966)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Jeff's #83, 82, 81, 80, 79, & 78

In an effort to catch up, I'm just going to drop all my belated picks at once in a single post. This upcoming weekend, I can resume as normal. Grateful that we switched to one pick a week now.

83. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, 1938)
82. Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)
81. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)
80. The Big Country (William Wyler, 1958)
79. Leave Her To Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945)
78. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chris' #78: The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan. Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (story credit)
Release Date: July 14, 2008

First Time
Opening weekend in Binghamton. I thought I was going to be able to tell you guys the exact date and time, but I lost my old movie stub. Before anyone accuses me of being some insane Dark Knight fanboy, know that I've held onto many movie stubs over the years. I was collecting them at one point, but haven't done as much of that lately.

You guys ever move something to a new spot so that it's more accessible, only to later forget where that new spot is? That just happened to me with the movie stub. Damnit.

Why it's on the List
It's not fun or easy to write about a film as ubiquitous as this one. Not only has The Dark Knight been discussed ad nauseam, but for too long we had to put with Heath Ledger/Joker Halloween costumes and plenty of bad impressions. With the enthusiasm for this film being so high among fanboys, it feels natural to pull away from it and pick at its flaws. And believe me, even as someone who loves this movie, there are a myriad of flaws, which I will eventually get into.

I'll never forget the build-up and anticipation for The Dark Knight. I remember scouring movie websites for rumors on who would play The Joker. Jeff and I were excited about rumors that Phillip Seymour Hoffman would play The Penguin at one point, though maybe that was for The Dark Knight Rises. It's crazy and sad that Hoffman and Heath Ledger are no longer with us. Ledger's passing wasn't exactly the Kennedy assassination, but I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I had just started my last semester at SUNY New Paltz when I got a phone call from Jeff. We were both shocked and pretty beat up over it.

The Heath Ledger worship was pretty prevalent, well beyond the theatrical release of The Dark Knight. I don't mean to suggest that that worship wasn't deserved; if you wade through your own exhaustion over this film, you'll find an amazing performance that was worthy of an Academy Award. I'll also never forget my theater experiences; anytime Heath Ledger was on the screen, it felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. In those moments, I could sense that everyone around me was completely mesmerized.

Ledger's Joker really is one of the best movie villains I've ever seen. Speaking to the character in general, he's a good villain because he doesn't have ridiculous superpowers; he's just a guy, and a guy who could easily exist in the real world. Often the scariest things we can encounter are dangerous people we don't understand, and as Michael Caine explains, "some men just want to watch the world burn." I like that theme, and we can see plenty of examples of that in the people around us in one form or another. The "scars" runner in the The Dark Knight maybe grows a little stale after a while, but I still enjoy it because I like that The Joker just fucks with people. He's completely off-kilter, and you can see that in everything he does--the way he drives, the way he fights, the way he shoots a gun, the way he walks. Ledger's commitment was exceptional, and I'm happy that this performance will exist for a long time.

I'm not a huge Batman, DC, or even comic book fan, but this film really connects with me. As John knows and once gave me shit for it, I've only purchased one comic book in my life, and only did so because Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang! Bang!Michael Bolton's Big Sexy Valentine's Day Special) wrote it. So all of this is to say that I could easily be talking out my ass here, but The Dark Knight gets to the core of both Batman and Gotham City. I like the gritty realism--the mob controlled banks and businesses, the corrupt cops, the copycat vigilantes. There's some nice world building in this, and in the trilogy in general (love the return of Cillian Murphy). Some might argue that there's too much going on in this film, but I feel it's all balanced pretty well. Maybe it works for me because my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. The pacing of this is fast as hell.

The cast is phenomenal, from top to bottom. I won't shit on Katie Holmes' acting, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is a welcomed addition; she really suits the role of Rachel Dawes. Gyllenhaal gets you to believe that Rachel is a smart and talented prosecutor, and that she cares deeply for Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent in different ways. I also like that Rachel calls Bruce out on his shit, telling him, "Don't make me your one hope for a normal life." She also doesn't fall for Bruce's "wait for me" bullshit. She is her own person.

I also really enjoy Eric Roberts in this. Up until 2008, the only familiarity I had with him was thanks to a joke on South Park. This was his Travolta-style comeback, and those redemptive moments are always nice to see.

Some of the best written scenes are those between Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman, and Bale and Michael Caine. The Bale/Freeman scenes have some lovely banter that will always make me smile. The Bale/Caine scenes have a lot of that as well, but my favorite thing about their interactions is that they hit on one of the best themes in the film--which is that of an existential Batman. The graveyard shift as a masked vigilante takes a huge toll on Bruce, mentally, physically, and emotionally. He wants Harvey Dent to take over so that Gotham will have "a hero with a face," and also a hero who's actually passed the Bar Exam and isn't just a masked man who felt it was his right to take justice for himself.

I like that this movie actually labels a white guy as a terrorist. You won't hear that on CNN. Those Joker "terrorist videos" are well done, and really amp up the tension. I actually find it to be a little scary when Heath Ledger barks, "LOOK AT ME!" at the fake Batman.

The film also has two amazing action sequences: 1) Batman's capture of Mr. Lau in Hong Kong, and 2) the car chase sequence where the cops are trying to safely move Harvey Dent across the city. The flipping of the tractor trailer is a very impressive stunt, and it's a great way to end that entire sequence.

Sorry to save all of the criticisms for the end. You guys probably wanted to read that and then move on. I'll give most of the dialogue in this movie a pass because it is based on a comic book, but some of it is cringe-worthy--especially during the film's worst sequence, the two boats carrying civilians and criminals, respectively. The less I say about that, the better. Also, the fact that the expression, "close to the vest," rather than the more common, "close to the chest" is said twice in reference to two completely different characters is absolutely insane.

At different points, The Dark Knight also suffers from some of the same sloppy editing that plague all of Christopher Nolan's films.

Sometimes Christian Bale's Batman voice doesn't work; for example, when he says, "I'm not wearing hockey pads;" it's almost impossible to hear that clearly. We'd make jokes back in the day about alternative lines like, "I'm not wearing underpants." But mostly I like the choice Bale, or whomever, made; obviously the voice has been heavily parodied, but it makes sense for Bruce Wayne to be in full disguise, vocals included.

The hearing or trial for Maroni (Eric Roberts) near the beginning of the movie is very silly. Maroni's lackey on the stand pulls a gun on Harvey the middle of court! No one patted that guy down?? And then Harvey Dent tells Maroni that if he wants to kill him, he should "buy American." That's some crazy, inexplicable shit.

When I rewatched The Dark Knight this week, I still found it to be very entertaining. When I make changes to my top 100, I'll probably move a few movies ahead of this one, but I don't think I would take it off my list. Brandon commented on my Fountain post arguing that Darren Aronofsky needs a writer. I think that's more than fair. That same rule could easily apply to Christopher Nolan, but I almost admire how ambitious the guy is. He doesn't always succeed, but the good ultimately outweighs the bad for me.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Christopher Nolan movie in my top 100, which is a little surprising to me. The Nolan fanboys suck, but I still admire the guy and will defend him. I had Memento on here at one point but then I rewatched it and kicked it off this list. I still like Memento, but not as much as I once did; Guy Pearce just wasn't doing it for me this time. I considered adding Inception to my list; it's certainly sloppy like his other work, but is arguably his best film. I'm excited for Dunkirk.
  • Speaking of movies I removed from my top 100, I also took another Morgan Freeman movie off--Seven--though I didn't remove it for the same reason as Memento. I love Seven and David Fincher is my boy; I just thought about it and realized that I probably wouldn't have much to say. It's an honorary top 100 pick and will definitely be on my 101-200 list.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal will make one more appearance on my list, albeit thanks to a small role.
  • This is it for everyone else in the cast. There are some good Christian Bale movies that didn't crack my top 100. In the Company of Men was on my Netflix DVD queue before I cancelled it. I grew up with and enjoyed 10 Things I Hate About You. That's probably my other favorite Heath Ledger movie. It's been a while since I've seen Brokeback Mountain.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

JRO's #78: Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese, 1999)

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Joe Connelly (novel), Paul Schrader (screenplay)
Release Date: 22 October 1999

IMDB Synopsis: Haunted by the patients he failed to save, an extremely burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic fights to maintain his sanity over three fraught and turbulent nights.

First Time
Most likely a video store rental in 2000. I watched it repeatedly back then and bought the DVD and the soundtrack. I used to buy film soundtracks pretty often. That's something I haven't done in a while.

Why it's on the List
"For this, for everything, we are out of tune;"
-William Wordsworth

"Sanctity is made up of heroic acts. Therefore, in our work we are asked for the heroism of finishing properly the tasks committed to us, day after day, even though they are the same tasks. If we don’t, then we do not want to be saints."
-Josemaría Escrivá

"Williams assumed that we could and should take on one another's emotional and spiritual burdens of pain and fear.  For him this might include something as limited as sympathizing with another, but it moves far beyond that to the idea that we might actually bear the weight of another’s pain and fear. It is not just being willing to pick up one end of a heavy load; it is taking upon yourself the full weight of that load. In that process the burden of the other is relieved – so there is substitution. This is an act of will and an entering into another’s reality as if it were our own. We live by Christ’s death on the Cross. And in a more humble sense we may lose our lives for one another as citizens of the City."
-Robert Gallagher on Charles Williams idea of the City and Way of Exchange

This is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It doesn't quite have the energy of the early films (it's close). What it gains in its place is a sort of simmering weariness punctured periodically by bouts of mania.

I've included the above quotes because they capture the feeling of this very spiritual, very earthy film. What I've always specifically loved about the film is the idea of bearing witness, of co-suffering as something of value. Living in the City means relationship, human beings relating to one another for good or ill. Outside of the city, one can live in isolation and never see one's neighbors. In a city environment, neighbors are always present and the neediest make themselves known. There can be an anonymity to the city, but BotD stresses the community. The paramedics in BotD cover the same beats, deal with the same emergencies, and see the same people. They must learn to do the same tasks properly day after day with no relief. Much of this film is dark comedy, because dark comedy is one serious way of making it through shared suffering.

The above is a positive way of looking at the themes of the film. There is also a clear negative strain. Cage's paramedic is not burdened by death. "We're all dying," he says almost cheerfully at one point. He is not haunted by death. He is burdened by life. He is haunted by the City being too alive, which includes daily dying. Not only are the living suffering and weighing down on him; the dead won't stay dead. It's a City of Ghosts. Every street corner is full of life, even in death, and life means pain. The problem explored in the film isn't how to live with death. It's how to live with so much life.

The ending is powerful. Throughout the film, the Paramedic wallows in despair, ignoring or actively destroying his own health as if doing so will allow that health and vitality to be transferred to those without it. It is only in a final moment when he stops choosing to die for others and instead chooses to live for another, literally taking on pieces of medical equipment so that his life signals are regarded as the life of the other, does he find some peace. Paradoxically, this moment in the film perfectly illustrates the way of exchange. The paramedic gains the father's body's fight to survive while the father gains the paramedic's heart's desire for the rest of death.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • "I realised that my training was useful in less than ten percent of the calls, and saving lives was rarer than that. After a while, I grew to understand that my role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness. I was a grief mop. It was enough that I simply turned up."
  • This is a flawed film. I know that. It's more interesting to me for that. The performances especially are a mixed bag. Goodman is mostly okay. Arquette passively floats through this. Rhames gets some funny stuff to do, but that's offset by the weakness of goofy goth kids, etc. Sizemore and Anthony are okay. This is not an actor's movie and I sort of like that. These actors are there more like Bressonian models, for Scorsese to pose in various ways to achieve an overall effect of the city that he is going for. Each character is not so much individual as part of a greater whole.
  • I guess I'm a fan of the Scorsese-Schrader team. I [mostly] like their work together more than I like any of their work apart.
  • According to IMDb trivia, "This, along with Sleepy Hollow (1999), was the last movie to be released on the LaserDisc format." RIP LaserDisc.
  • This is the only Scorsese movie of the 90s to have no Oscar nominations. Obviously my taste and the tastes of the Academy are out of synch.
    I just watched this this morning. More than anything else, it reminded me how sad it felt to lose Gene Siskel in 1999. (Nothing against David Poland.)
  • “If you think of it, ‘Last Temptation,’ ‘Kundun’ and then ‘Silence,’ our next one, will be the sort of trilogy of religiously-based films, and I think ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ is almost in there,” Schoonmaker says. “That is the one that has never gotten recognition. But I can’t tell you how many people talk to me about that movie. There is a ripple that’s going on. Bertrand Tavernier, the really wonderful French director, just wrote a review of it again. I have friends, when they have friends over for dinner, they make them watch it. It never got its due because it’s about compassion. That’s why.”
  • This is the only Scorsese on my list. He's never been a favorite of mine, but I get why he's so beloved. I'll watch every new film he directs. I still regret missing Silence at the theatre. I was out of town at a game convention the week it opened. I planned on going the following week and Regal had already pulled it. I decided not to put any documentaries on my list (there were only a tiny handful that were even considered), but his Personal Journey through American Movies is absolutely essential, my favorite thing that he has ever done.
  • This is the second and last Nicholas Cage film on my list. Raising Arizona just barely missed being on the list.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Chris' #79: The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006)

Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell
Director: Tarsem Singh
Writers: Tarsem Singh, Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis
Release Date: September 9, 2006 but it didn't reach the U.S. until May 30, 2008

IMDB Synopsis: In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story of five mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality blurs as the tale advances.

First Time
2009 or 2010, at my brother Brent's old apartment in Greene, NY. I think he had recently purchased an HDTV and a blu-ray player, and Jeff suggested this as a movie we should test them out with.

Why it's on the List
Films 82 and 81 on my list were connected by similar themes of identity and white privilege. 80 and 79 are appropriately paired because of their visual beauty and their polarizing directors. The difference between Darren Aronofsky and Tarsem Singh, however, is that I don't stand by Singh's other films (though I've never seen The Cell). Singh, like Aronofsky, has made a string of bad films recently, which may have soured people's opinions of his earlier work. For me, Singh could put out a bad movie every month for the next year and I'd still love The Fall.

As was the case with The Fountain, I wondered if a rewatch of The Fall would hold up for me in my thirties, and it absolutely delivered. Cantinca Untaru, who plays the little girl, Alexandria, in this is fucking amazing. This might be my favorite performance by a kid actor in all of film, but it'd be interesting to think on that some more. Untaru is so natural in this, and while I'm sure a lot of her lines are improvised, she also does some nice acting work as well. Much of the appeal of this film comes from her performance, as well as her interactions with the stuntman, Roy, played by Lee Pace.

Yes, the film is visually gorgeous, but I'm not sure that I would enjoy it as much if you removed Untaru and Pace. I don't understand why critics only wanted to praise the cinematography, though I can also see that as a reason why certain people don't like it. Maybe it is "too perfect" or it's beauty overload for some.

Pace and Untaru have such great chemistry in this. Normally I wouldn't care about this kind of thing, but I actually hope that the two still communicate with each other to this day. It seems like they really struck up an emotional bond, one that I'm sure was pretty difficult to walk away from. But Lee Pace is also very patient with Catinca; he listens to her and treats her as an equal. Pace has been playing a lot of villains lately, and while he does make a good bad guy, I love him here as a likable but very flawed character. Their relationship is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming.

I love the story that Roy tells and I love that Alexandria contributes and eventually becomes a character in it; it's a fun play on narrative. But the story itself presents a band of heroes, all with different skills and backgrounds. It gives a multicultural feel to the film that I appreciate. The film feels very inclusive, but probably could use one or two more heroines.

Outside of the story, the hospital setting works very well. Normally they are awful places, but this particular one functions like a small community. It's a living, breathing place.

The locations in this are beautiful but big props to the costume, set, and production design people. I don't need every film to look like this, but everything here works for me.

I also love that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. I'm sure others would argue that, but there are plenty of silly lines and moments in it--for example, when Governor Odious comments on his own death.

Without touching on the ending too much, I still get emotional when I watch it. The last scene between Pace and Untaru doesn't hold anything back. Cantinca's reading of, "She loves him," is heartbreaking and Lee's line of, "We're a strange pair, aren't we?" is a wonderful note to end the story on.

And not that this is a spoiler, but The Fall ends with everyone in the hospital watching a film play out on a hand crank projector. Then it cuts to a montage of stunts from films in the 1920s and teens. Like Scorsese's Hugo, it's a nice love letter to stunts and to film. I mean, really, what's not to like?

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Tarsem Singh movie on my list and the only one I've actually seen. I might watch The Cell at some point, but I don't care about the others. If one of his upcoming movies gets some good buzz, I might check it out. I don't stand by his other work, but I am rooting for him.
  • This is it for Lee Pace. I like him in the things I've seen him in, but most of the movies he's done kinda blow. Pushing Daisies is the only other thing I enjoyed.
  • As great as Catinca Untaru is in this, I'm kinda glad she wasn't cast in a bunch of movies as a result. Maybe that would've taken away some of the magic of her performance in this.
  • This is one of two films on my list about a movie stuntman. More controversial directors on the way.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Jeff's #84: High and Low

#84: High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963)

This is should be much higher on my list.  If I had watched it again, I probably would have put it in the top 50.  It's one of the great procedural films ever made, and also just boasts some of the best uses of geometric space in film history.  Sorry I don't have much more to write - just trying to get caught up on all the picks.

Jeff's #85: Europa

#85: Europa (Lars von Trier, 1991)

They just added this to FilmStruck, so I'm hoping to watch it again soon.  I haven't seen it in a long time, so I'm not even sure if I'd keep it on the list if I saw it again or not.  But, I can remember being completely mesmerized by the experience.  It's such a  bold vision and a completely unique stylistic experiment.  I've got a lot of love/hate for von Trier but this is him at his most inspired.  Looking forward to seeing it again.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Brandon's #81: Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)

I saw this right after Flora was born, a missed nap opportunity. By this I mean that both kids were asleep, which presents an advantageous opportunity to catch up on lost sleep. Instead, I watched this, a movie that I've long wanted to see. It's great. That's all I got for now.

Chris' #80: The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Sean Patrick Thomas
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel (story credit)
Release Date: November 22, 2006

IMDB Synopsis: As a modern day scientist, Tommy is struggling with mortality, desperately searching for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife, Izzi.

First Time
I saw this in the theater during the first few weeks of its run; I want to say that it was the one inside the mall in Syracuse. My brother Brent was a sophomore at Le Moyne at the time and I think I watched this with him and Jeff. If it wasn't there, it may have been at Cinemapolis in Ithaca.

Why it's on the List
Right off the bat, I feel the need to defend this pick. I suppose it's because opinions on this are so divided; people either love or hate it. I'm happy to see that Glenn Kenny is on my side. I tried to track down his review of The Fountain, but couldn't find it online. There is a pull quote from his review on the front cover of my DVD copy, however, so at least his praise is etched in paper.

The Fountain marked the point when a lot of people started to turn on Darren Aronofsky. I don't remember much of Pi and Requiem for a Dream, other than the latter being very brutal. Black Swan brought on a second wave of detractors, and maybe rightfully so; it's definitely a ridiculous movie, but I don't hate it.

I was excited to rewatch The Fountain this week. The last time I saw it was nearly a decade ago and I was curious to see if it would hold up. I was twenty and a freshman in college when I saw this for the first time. Back then, I was still in a serious relationship with the girl I started dating during my freshman year of high school. I was a young romantic; the film appealed to me then because I loved the idea of an immortal couple living together for centuries. But what would I think of the film now that I'm a jaded thirty-year-old?

Visually, the film is stunning; most of the negative reviews at least acknowledge that. Critics pointed to the lack of substance behind the cinematography as the reason why they disliked it. I could understand if someone said that the relationship between Tommy and Izzi isn't exactly new territory--but how often do we see fresh stories about couples? And back to the visuals for a second; I will say that all of the effects still hold up after all these years.

On the story and the relationship between Tommy and Izzi, I feel that that still holds up for me as well. During my rewatch, I was actually a bit surprised at how emotional I got. The film just hits all the right notes for me. Neuroscientist Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is a very sullen figure. His life is consumed by the pursuit of a cure for his wife Izzi's (Rachel Weisz) cancer.

I appreciate the film's reflections on death; Izzi, unlike Tommy, does not fear it. She even suggests to him that death can be an act of creation, with the idea of planting a tree over a body's final resting spot. Izzi's hope and spiritualism balance out Tommy's fears quite well. I love her curiosity and her interest in anthropology and thanatology. The chemistry between Jackman and Weisz also works very well. You can sense a lot of history, love, and devotion. Izzi is also able to get Tommy to drop his humorless act every now and then. The film doesn't beat you over the head with depressing shit.

Rarely do I recall seeing trailers for the first time, but I can still remember what I thought when I saw this one. Based on the trailer, I was led me to believe that we'd be seeing High Jackman and Rachel Weisz at multiple stages in history--instead of the three time periods presented in the film. But I actually like that the story sticks to the three periods, and that it even rehashes many of the same shots and scenes. It creates the sense that, when we think back on our lives at the end, we'll conjure the regrets, the sweeter moments, and the harder ones.

It's clear to the audience that Tommy should've spent more time with Izzi than he did working in a lab to find her cure, but it's still heartbreaking when he tells Ellen Burstyn that he's always in the lab because of Izzi. When all you have is hope, it's difficult to step out of it. We can also understand where Izzi is coming from when she hides her declining health issues from Tommy. We've all hidden things from the people we love because we're afraid. It's very easy to relate to both characters, and to see both sides of the mortality coin: fear and acceptance. I often vacillate between the two.

As far as my own criticisms are concerned, I wish the scenes in Spain and New Spain were in spoken Spanish with English subtitles. That kind of thing bothers me in general. The whitewashing is also a valid criticism, now that it's 2017 and we're more aware of that kind of thing.  Mostly the score works for me, but I'm not a huge fan of the main theme when it hits its crescendo. It starts to feel a little hokey at that point. Also, the most far-fetched thing about this movie, in my mind, is that a grown man would go by, "Tommy."

Overall, I still love this movie and would defend it until I am dead and shot into space, heading toward a supernova.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Aronofsky film on my list. I do have a complicated relationship with his work, but I still root for the guy. He's got another movie coming out later this year and I look forward to it.
  • No more Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, or Ellen Burstyn either, but I enjoy all three in the movies I've seen them in. None of them ever phone it in.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Chris' #81: Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979)

Starring: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Dysart, Jack Warden
Director: Hal Ashby
Writers: Jerzy Kosinski, Robert C. Jones
Release Date: December 19, 1979

IMDB's Synopsis: A simple, sheltered gardener becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics.

First Time
Sometime before April 2012; that was the first mention of it on my old blog, so I can at least say that with certainty. If I recall correctly, I watched this when I was going through some of the more notable movies in Hal Ashby's filmography.

Why it's on the List
In my last write-up, I talked about how Catch Me If You Can doesn't acknowledge race and white privilege. Being There, on the other hand, faces these themes head-on in a very frank way. I didn't intentionally pair these two films, but watching them back-to-back felt like kismet. Frank Abagnale Jr. and Chance the Gardner (Peter Sellers) are exact opposites, yet they achieve similar levels of success that oft goes unchallenged.

I can also understand how the character of Chance could be considered problematic to some, but I feel the overall tone of the film is respectful. During my rewatch this past week, I had forgotten what the audience actually learns about Chance. Going off of what Louise (a black cook and former co-worker of his) has to say about him, he's just a simple man who never learned to read or write. I suppose that sums him up quite well, but I do wonder if he has some other disability.

But it is Louise who sees Chance on a late night talk show and proclaims, "It's for sure a white man's world in America." I'm glad that the film bluntly acknowledges this fact and seems to make it reoccurring theme.

I haven't looked this up to confirm it yet, but I have to believe that there are a handful of articles out there arguing that this film predicted the rise of Donald Trump. It's actually pretty humorous, until you remember what a vile scumbag Trump is. But like Donald, Chance is illiterate, is mistakenly seen as a wise & successful person, and even has a brief meeting with the Russian ambassador at one point. Also, Chance proudly admits, "I don't read papers; I watch television." The parallels are a little scary, and I'll need to move on before I get really pissed off. I don't want to associate Peter Sellers' lovely performance with our sack of shit President.

Anyway, I enjoy how meticulous Sellers' performance is. The simple, good-natured energy of Chance is naturally infectious. The level of mystery surrounding him also adds to the character; we, the audience, can understand why people are drawn to him, but we also know something they don't know. There's an improv term called, "finding the game." Here, the "game" is that Chance can only effectively speak to basic gardening techniques, and everyone else applies his/her own deeper meanings to those words.

The comedy in this is very dry. No one is ever intentionally telling a joke; and yet, there are some nice laughs throughout.

I love the sequence where Chance leaves the old man's house for the first time and wanders through the streets of D.C. The use of Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" over those shots is the perfect match of sight and sound. In fact, the use of 70s music in this is great overall - "Basketball Jones" being another highlight. The rest of the soundtrack is composed of classic piano pieces, which set the right mood for the more somber scenes.

The film does a great job of balancing comedy with heartfelt scenes and solemn moments. You get a little bit of everything in this. The emotional weight is provided by health condition of Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), and the toll his prolonged death is taking on his wife, Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Rand is "an older man dying on a young man's disease," who just wants his younger wife to be happy and cared for after he's gone.

Ben and Eve have a very loving and earnest relationship - I love the early scenes with Douglas and MacLaine in this. Eve is also a complex, fleshed-out character. She's very sheltered and admits that the only friends she has are her husband's older friends. I definitely pity her in that regard. But like Sellers, Douglas and MacLaine are great in this, especially Douglas. We don't get to spend a lot of time with Benjamin Rand, but it's a treat every time we do.

I also enjoy how big and crazy the ending is. I won't spoil it here, if you haven't seen it, but I do approve. Many see this film as biting political commentary, and while it does effectively make its points, I think the film truly excels because of its more human moments and its poetic musings. As Jack Warden, who plays the President of the United States, finishes Ben's eulogy, he leaves us with the line, "Life is a state of mind." There's a lot of truth to that, and the film has a bigger message than just, "the dumbest, most incompetent people in Washington are the ones in positions of power," relevant and as true as that actually is right now.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Hal Ashby film on my list. I have another one on my 200-101.
  • Peter Sellers will make one more appearance on this list.
  • Shirley MacLaine is also great in Terms of Endearment, The Apartment, and The Trouble With Harry, none of which are in my top 100. I'd like to see Postcards from the Edge.
  • 12 Angry Men is probably on my 200-101 list, but this is it for Jack Warden in my top 100.
  • I probably should've put Ninotchka on my list, giving me another Melvyn Douglas movie, but that'll have to go down as an oversight for now. I might look to move that up my rankings. Also still need to see Hud.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Brandon's #82: L'Enfance Nue (Maurice Pialat, 1968)

The thing is, Francois is such a little shit. I'd like to smack him for what he did to Fang. He deserves much of what he acquires, good and bad. His caretakers are similarly complicated, not the monsters we are used to seeing. In one scene, his "grandpa" is holding him down and slapping him with a hand towel, the next he's teaching him how to repair his broken door, gently letting him know that bygones are always going to be bygones and that the slate can always be clean.

Pialat isn't afraid of the ugly details and offers their warm counterparts with no warning. This is the freshest entry for me, so I may regret it. I doubt it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

JRO's #81: In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute, 1997)

Remember that time when Neil LaBute announced himself with this film as a sick, twisted American Eric Rohmer? That was a great time that didn't last.

JRO's #82: Rawhide (Henry Hathaway, 1951)

I really wanted to re-watch all of these. I haven't. I've fallen behind. In the past two weeks, I've watched a couple of episodes of Better Call Saul and one episode of Fargo. And one late night insomnia binge re-watching a couple of seasons of Breaking Bad. So, yeah, TV Club, Top 100 TV shows/episodes???

Rawhide has everything that I want in a Western. My old blog's review doesn't give much detail, but you can at least get the clear sense that I enjoy the movie as much as a movie can be enjoyed.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Chris' #82: Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Jeff Nathanson (based on the book by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding)
Release Date: December 25, 2002

Availability: Streaming on HBO Now/Go

First Time
I was in the tenth grade when this was released. Maybe I saw it in the theater during Christmas break, but I have no memory of anything like that. Brent, my older brother, owned the DVD and I remember watching it on the small screen in 2003 multiple times.

Why it's on the List
This beats out Jurassic Park and E.T. as my favorite Spielberg film (for now). When I rewatched Catch Me If You Can the other day, I kept that thought in mind and tried to assess the accuracy of that ranking. If I had to choose to rewatch one of those three movies right now, I'm not sure that I could decide. All three scratch a very different itch, and I think that speaks to what Spielberg has accomplished over the last 4-5 decades.

Brandon talked about how the recent work of Spielberg has put the "patsy" talk of his critics to bed. I enjoyed Lincoln and Bridge of Spies quite a bit, but 2002 was also a pretty good year for Spielberg. Minority Report isn't on my list, and I haven't seen it since the early 2000s, but I remember being impressed by it. Catch Me If You Can has really stuck with me over the past fourteen years. It's highly entertaining, and even though the running time is two hours and twenty minutes, that time really flies by when you watch it.

I had forgotten how young Leonard DiCaprio looks in this. He was 28 or so when this was shot, but he looks at least ten years younger than that. The real Frank Abagnale Jr. was able to pose as a substitute teacher, a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer because he looked much older than he was. If there's a flaw in the film, it might be Leo's youthful countenance. I've read that the real Abagnale expressed doubts that Leo was the right guy for the role, but after the two met, Frank became convinced. And that is what's so great about Leo in this film--he convinces you that he is who he says he is. We're all aware that DiCaprio can be a real charmer, but looking through his filmography, this role might be one of the most endearing.

Frank Abagnale Jr. is pretty likable, even though he was a criminal; I enjoy movies that can effectively pull that off. There are some interesting parallels between Abagnale and Jordan Belfort--both spent years ripping off banks and wealthy people. And while Belfort is definitely more of a scumbag, there are some gray areas (for me) concerning some of his crimes. The stigma applied to criminals is not always a fair one, and I feel that Catch Me If You Can does a nice job of showing that.

Of course, Frank's story is also exhibit A in the case of white male privilege; if anyone denies its existence, simply put this movie on or lend the book. Confident white men have and will always be given the benefit of the doubt in ways that women and people of color could only dream of. It's pretty comical that Frank gets away with pretending to be something he's not, but we can also understand how easy that is for him, especially now. The film never acknowledges race (in fact, I'm pretty sure this is an all white cast), but fifteen years ago, "white privilege" and "white male privilege" were not colloquial terms.

I don't fault the film for any of this, and I like some of the points that it is able to make about public perception. In one scene, Frank tells FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) that, "People only know what you tell them." The information that we choose to reveal about ourselves is all very calculated, and is often taken at face value. I hate to keep bringing up the last election on here, but many Trump voters/supporters will tell you that they're not racist. Simply stating that is enough to convince lot of people, but that doesn't work for me. Telling me you're not racist or that you're a good person doesn't mean anything. Prove it. Live it. I also find the discussions over "why the Yankees always win" to be intriguing. Frank and his father would have you believe that it's because of their uniforms--they dress like winners--but Agent Hanratty, a more rational man, will tell you that it's because they have talented players like Babe Ruth. We shouldn't overlook the possibility that they can both be right.

Speaking of Hanratty, I do enjoy Tom Hanks in this. That might seem like an obvious thing to say, as Hanks is one of the beloved people in this country, but I'm not really a fan (I don't dislike him, I'm just indifferent). But in Catch Me If You Can, Hanks plays a guy who's all business and completely humorless. As the exact opposite of Frank, Hanratty makes no attempts to be likable...and that's what I like most about him. I love the scene where Frank and Carl meet each other for the first time in a Los Angeles hotel room. There's some nice tension there, and it's a fun, well-shot sequence.

I also found myself contemplating Frank's motivations during my rewatch. He seems to enjoy conning people (and he makes check forgery an art-form), but the only thing he truly cares about is his parents getting back together. As Hanratty notes near the end of the film, "sometimes it's easier living the lie." Frank Jr. gets lost in a fantasy world because his reality is too difficult for him to handle. He's certainly not alone there, and mostly there aren't any causalities as a result of Frank's fantasy--though you have to feel for Amy Adams' character Brenda. We don't know if Frank loved her or not, and that part of the story feels a little cruel. But Adams is wonderful in this, as usual.

John Williams' score is another reason to dig this film. The theme gives it that Hitchcockian thriller feel. The music combined with the animation of the opening credits sequence is pretty memorable.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is it for Spielberg. Jaws is also great, but it's on my 200-101 list. I need to rewatch Schindler's List because I haven't seen it in a long time and I don't remember much of it. But count me as one of his supporters.
  • I'm a little surprised that there are only two DiCaprio movies on my list. I'll be talking about the other one in a couple of months.
  • Amy Adams will make one more appearance on my list. Where my Leap Year fans at?
  • That Thing You Do is another Tom Hanks movie that I enjoy....and obviously the Toy Story trilogy--none of which made my top 100. Is that wrong? This is it for Tom. I should rewatch Philadelphia and see more of his work from the 80s.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Brandon's #83: Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara)

This is the stuff of nightmares, thus it's all the more terrifying to see it's similarities to reality. Nightmares begin innocent enough, the pursuing terror seems to come unexpectedly out of nowhere. I try to flee but my legs are like cinderblocks. I try to drive but I keep falling asleep at the wheel. I try to punch but my hands turn to paper. Likewise, you try to crawl or climb in sand and it caves in and eventually buries you. You are trapped.

I suppose you could attach this metaphorical hysteria to anything in life that lures you in, never to let you out. It could be drugs, booze, love, a job, depression, religion, etc. By avoiding exposition, Teshigahara let's us attach whatever ails us to the narrative. At the time I saw it, there were three very pressing/oppressive problems holding me down. It reminded me of the things that I need and how I obtained them, and ultimately where they got me. I'm bound to a cycle, now and forever. It's a depressing thought, one that I sometimes try to suppress. This movie hasn't left me as a result.

Do we shovel to survive or survive to shovel. Sounds simplistic. It probably is, but it's heavy to me.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jeff's #86: Rio Grande

#86: Rio Grande (John Ford, 1950)

For some reason, I couldn't get the movie poster to paste on here.  Oh well.  I love John Ford.  Along with Hitchcock, he may appear on my list more times than any other filmmaker.  Some days, I truly feel like he is my favorite.

I wish I had watched this again, so that I could say more about it.  But, I do think it is underrated and one of Ford's best films.  Every shot is essentially perfect- the work of an absolute expert.  I love the central conflict between duty and family and the way it depicts the initial hesitancy of reunion as the characters slowly learn to embrace reconciliation.  It also features the first pairing between Wayne and O'Hara, one of cinema's finest couples.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Brandon's #84: Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Jeff brought it to my attention that there are a sect of people who think this movie is too upbeat. I've never been shy about questioning the motivations behind pack verdicts. I think the stigma surrounding both the director and the best pic win play a larger roll. Some of us prefer the underdogs. But assuming some truly penalize this for being too existentially soft, I submit the scene when the women, recently purchased and thus saved from Auschwitz, are separated from their children. Schindler swoops in and offers some bogus excuse regarding the size of their hands and cleaning artillery shells. They are saved. They board the train and it departs, but Spielberg lingers on the people entering the death camp, people that Schindler was given the chance to save instead. It's a Bunuelian moment, one poor creature saved whilst one is led cruelly to its doom.

It's not that I give a shit if the populist iconoclast interjects enough pessimism and gloom to the proceedings (though he does). He's crafted an exquisite document of the best and worst of humanity.

I know its problems, like all of the director's films there is an impulse to skew facts, lighten the overall load, rectify the ugliness. I don't ask for perfection. I accept his optimism. The greatness outweighs the slag.

At the end of the day, this is a film about survival, the moral burden of survival. It's about the wounds that probably won't heal. I find it very moving and that's enough.

Jeff's #87: Hail the Conquering Hero

#87: Hail the Conquering Hero (Preston Sturges, 1944)

Sorry for disappearing on here for the past few weeks.  Unfortunately, I've been going through some rough personal stuff and have spent the last couple weeks reeling and recovering, but happy to say that I'm in much better spot now.  I'm a little too far behind to do lengthy write-ups for each catch-up pick, so I'll just post my belated picks with a sentence or two for now.  Once I'm caught back up, I'll do my best to resume normal writing.  Glad to be back.

Didn't get a chance to rewatch this, but I've long considered it my favorite Sturges film.  Not sure if it's his best, but it wins out in my book for the incredibly sweet nature and compassion it boasts underneath all of the zaniness.  Plus, Ella Raines.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Chris' #83: Road to Utopia (Hal Walker, 1946)

Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Robert Benchley
Director: Hal Walker
Writers: Norman Panama, Melvin Frank
Release Date: February 27, 1946

Quick Synopsis: At the turn of the century, Duke and Chester, two vaudeville performers, go to Alaska to make their fortune.

First Time
I didn't see any mention of this film on my old CR5FC blog, but I have to imagine it was sometime in 2012. Jeff has that On the Road with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Collection on DVD, so I watched his copy.

Why it's on the List
I'll be honest; I took a stab in the dark here by listing Road to Utopia ahead of The Paleface. When I made my list, I hadn't seen either in years and based the order off of memory alone. I also assumed that Bing and Bob would outrank Bob and Jane Russell, and I have to admit now that this was the wrong call (for me). After rewatching both this weekend, I enjoyed The Paleface more.

Don't get me wrong, Road to Utopia is also a lot of fun and I do enjoy it. It's not as if I'll move this down my list; rather, I'll probably move The Paleface, Gremlins 2, and Big Trouble in Little China up.

A big reason why The Paleface works so well is due to the audience's investment in both Bob Hope and Jane Russell. When Bob isn't in a scene, Jane carries the film (and vice versa). For most of Road to Utopia, Bob and Bing share the screen. In the moments when only one is on screen, it obviously still works. But when neither are featured, I tended to get distracted during my rewatch this morning.

I also don't mean to offend Dorothy Lamour in this way; I do like her quite a bit. She's great in the other Road pictures and My Favorite Brunette as well. Her talent as an actor and a singer are unquestioned. And there's no reason to compare Lamour and Jane Russell, but after pulling off this double-feature, it feels difficult to avoid. Jane Russell is so much more dynamic, though Lamour does have that double-threat quality.

This is an unorthodox write-up; I shouldn't spend too much time talking about how I like other movies more, especially since there is a lot to appreciate about Road to Utopia. This is the only Road representative on my list, and of the ones I've seen, it is my favorite (though I'd be nice to truly confirm that with a marathon). If memory serves, this is definitely the zaniest and most meta of the franchise. I love in the inclusion of Robert Benchley as the narrator. That kind of call seems way ahead of its time.

As I wrote yesterday, Hope plays off of other actors so well, and the partnership of Bing and Bob is one of the best on-screen pairings of all-time. The banter is top-notch, and I love that they frequently take shots at each other's characters and real-life personas. Bing and Bob movies ooze competition, and because they both have very different qualities to offer, it's always captivating.

Bing Crosby's voice is so soothing and melodic. Last year, my grandfather was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Thankfully he's still with us, but whenever I see or hear Bing Crosby, I'll think of my grandfather for the rest of my life. Bing is his favorite singer. These old movies are a great way to bridge the gap between generations. When I told my grandfather that I liked the Road movies a few months back, his face lit up. My dad's side of the family is of Irish descent, so of course they have more love for Bing than Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. (I don't have the heart to tell them that Dean is my favorite of the three, ha.)

And speaking of Sinatra, I love the joke about him in this (at the expense of Bing Crosby). I also how big they go with this script - talking animals, references to the studio, etc. Unless I'm missing something, there were three more Road movies after this one (none of which I've actually seen, I'm pretty sure), but Road to Utopia has that kitchen sink vibe to it. The film is jam-packed, and it feels like a fitting culmination of the franchise.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • I'd like to add more Bob Hope to the next iteration of my top 100. Brandon brought up The Princess and the Pirate in the comments section of my Paleface write-up; I want to rewatch that and many others, in addition to seeing more in general.
  • This is it for Bing Crosby. Holiday Inn stands out in my mind as another one of best. But feel free to send me other deep-cut recommendations.

Jeff's #88: Grave of the Fireflies

Jeff's #88: Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)

This came out the year I was born, but I only saw it for the first time a few years ago.  I first watched the Japanese version with English subtitles (the superior viewing experience), but there is a free English-dubbed version available to download on, so thankfully I was able to download and rewatch.  Here's the link to the download if anyone's interested.  If you've seen it, you're fully aware that it lives up to its reputation as one of the saddest movies ever made.  If you haven't seen it, be prepared - it's achingly tragic.

You probably only ever need to see GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES once, but I'm glad I rewatched it. This time around I was mostly struck by its use of silence and stillness and the gleeful moments of childish play.  It's partially an anti-war film, but I think it's even more general than that.  It's a cry for compassion and goodwill towards our fellow human beings on earth, especially all of the children around us who are so vulnerable.  The lives of the two children in GOTF are as fragile and fleeting as fireflies.  They burn at dusk with a momentary radiance and then extinguish in the morning light.  No one in their isolating, war-ridden community seems to notice or care.  How precious their lives are.  How tragic they have been made so expendable.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chris' #84: The Paleface (Norman McLeod, 1948)

Starring: Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Robert Armstrong, Iris Adrian
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Writers: Jack Rose, Melville Shavelson
Release Date: December 24, 1948

Quick Synopsis: Calamity Jane is dispatched to find out who's smuggling rifles to Native Americans, and winds up married to a hapless correspondence school dentist as part of her cover.

First Time
March 2012. It was a Netflix DVD rental and I may have watched this one with Jeff? I can't remember. Between late 2011 and early 2012, I was on big Bob Hope kick and saw many of his movies for the first time.

Why it's on the List
I love Bob Hope. How could you not? I love his cowardly movie persona and it'll never feel stale to me. His physical appearance, his voice, his delivery--they're all wrapped up in a great comedic package. He's one of my favorite performers of all-time, and if I'm ever in a bad mood, all I have to do is put on a Bob Hope movie to get out of it.

Another great thing about Bob is that he plays off of other actors so well; The Paleface is a prime example of this. Pairing Bob's cowardice with the true grit of Jane Russell is a match made in heaven. I haven't seen Russell in much, but every time I have, she's been amazing. To be pervy for a second (I'm adopting that from Brandon since it's accurate here), she's obviously very sexy in this. But more than that, I like her whole vibe; she's a badass who's perfect for the role of Calamity Jane.

Hope gets top billing in this, but I like that he and Russell both have their own storylines and character arcs. The romance between the two isn't overdone; Russell's feelings for Hope play out in a very natural way. There isn't a scene where Calamity Jane confides in someone that she's developing a fondness for "Painless" Potter. The script doesn't patronize the audience in that way.

My favorite moments occur when our two characters arrive in Buffalo Flats. Hope then gets to play the role of an intrepid cowboy, and it's very well done and hilarious. I regret not writing down my favorite jokes when I rewatched it this morning, but that entire sequence had me laughing a ton.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is one of two Bob Hope movies on my list. I'll be writing about the another one tomorrow. I could have easily added more, but ultimately I decided to go with my top two for this list.
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is another great Jane Russell movie, but it didn't make my list. This is it for her, and really, I need to see more of her work. His Kind of Woman and Double Dynamite look interesting.
  • I haven't seen the sequel, Son of Paleface, nor the 1922 Paleface with Buster Keaton.

JRO's #84: Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963)

I'm not sure why I picked this one. I think it was just a dumb mistake. 7th Voyage of Sinbad was actually the more influential and more watched film of my childhood. I think I meant to put that one on the list, but somehow wrote Jason and the Argonauts instead. Sinbad should be here. Or maybe it's a tie. The thing about both Jason and Sinbad is that they're both not so great as movies. The scripts are bad to okay. The acting is bad to okay. But none of that matters. Because the reason this film is on the list is the obvious reason that this film makes it on any list: Ray Harryhausen's magic effects. Another honorable mention is Valley of Gwangi.

JRO's #85: Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)


'nuff said.

JRO's #86: Decision at Sundown (Budd Boetticher, 1957)

It's a happy coincidence that Brandon and I chose a Boetticher film for #86. My list has been set in stone since I first made it so I'm not simply responding to his pick.

This is the only Boetticher on my list, but I maybe would have made room for all of them if I had re-watched them. I've only seen them all once (and by "all," I mean the five in the boxed set I have).

I did re-watch this one.

But I'm behind on posting here and just need to put up my picks instead of stressing about writing about them.

Decision is a revenge picture. I like it as much as I do because of how things shake out at the end. Frustrated and frustrating, the ending is satisfying.

'nuff said.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chris' #85: Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986)

Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Suzee Pai
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, Adaptation: W.D. Richter
Release Date: July 1, 1986

Quick Plot Synopsis: Uhhh....

First Time
Last year, around the same time as my first viewing of Pretty in Pink. Again, I was trying to catch up on 80s movies that I had missed. But I did see various scenes of Big Trouble in Little China before then. I remember catching some of it at Brandon's old place a few years back.

Why it's on the List
Big Trouble in Little China is a film that is very confident with its identity. It's intentionally trashy, action-packed, and hilarious--with the perfect balance of each. I'm not a big fan of action movies, but because BTiLC approaches the genre with a consistent level of humor and self-awareness, I find it very palatable.

I never truly appreciated Kurt Russell until I saw this from beginning to end. He's perfect, and I can't imagine that he gives a better performance in anything else (but feel free to let me know if you disagree). As Jack Burton, Russell pulls off one of the greatest John Wayne impressions ever, albeit a parody version.

Jack Burton is also the perfect embodiment of the United States. He's confident, even though he doesn't understand much of what is going on, and when the fighting starts, he's either unconscious or too busy trying to push a dead body off of himself. I love the fact that even though Jack Burton talks and acts like an action hero, he really isn't one.

Not only does Russell get to play a John Wayne-type in this, but he also gets to act like a square, in the form of Henry Swanson.

This scene is a lot of fun and it'll amuse me every time.

But Russell isn't the only one who shines in this; Dennis Dun also does a tremendous job. The two actors make a great team, but Dun's charisma and likability allow him to easily hold his own. And while I've never been much a Kim Cattrall fan (not that I've really seen her in anything anyway), I love her in this. Sure she's attractive, but she's also very cool in this. She's perfect for the role of Gracie Law. I love her tough and assured demeanor. 

The dialogue in this rules, with such great lines as, "You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we're not back by the president," and "May the wings of liberty never lose a feather." Moments of exposition are equally entertaining; for example, when Lo Pan is discussed for the first time: "You mean the Lo Pan that's chairman of the National Orient Bank and owns the Wing Kong Trading Company, but who's so reclusive that no one has laid eyes on him in years?" Exposition is best when it's this detailed and over the top.

I also shouldn't fail to mention the special effects, the set design, and the costumes in this. Great work all around, especially the effects, which is obviously Carpenter's specialty. There's a lot to highlight, but when old Lo Pan's head glows a bright red, it looks amazing.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only John Carpenter movie on my list. Halloween is great, but it's on my 200-101list for now. I am trying to catch up on more of Carpenter's work. I'm a newfound horror fan.
  • Kurt Russell won't be making another appearance on my list, I'm sorry to say. I really want to rewatch Death Proof.
  • Dennis Dun should be getting more work. I see that he was on the short-lived HBO series Luck, but I've never seen an episode of it.
  • Every time I watch this movie, I enjoy it a little bit this will probably move up my list.
  • There are talks of a Dwayne Johnson remake of this movie...ugh.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Brandon's #85: Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller, 1961)

"Sam Fuller made a film as good as he talked it." That was Martin Scorsese talking about his hero on the DVD for UNDERWORLD U.S.A., the movie that I think finds him comfy in that perfect balance between nutty and in complete control. I debated using THE STEEL HELMET or MERRILL'S MARAUDERS, even PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, FORTY GUNS, WHITE DOG, THE BIG RED ONE, THE NAKED KISS, and RUN OF THE ARROW would suffice. Fuller had many famous peers worshipping him; Godard, Truffaut, Eastwood, Wenders, Rohmer, Spielberg, and Tarantino, who dedicated JACKIE BROWN to him in 1997, the year of his death. He was one of the best, not just celebrated for his unhinged approach to everything. There is a true balance to the chaos.

Fuller was a crime reporter at 17, ten years later he was fighting in the second Great War, where he earned a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. He wrote pulp novels and screenplays before directing. His movies were alive and busy. The violence was always a little horrific and even scary. The characters were damaged goods, almost always doomed. He saw it all and spared us none of it, the ugliest of us especially.

I first saw a Fuller film when I was ten, THE BIG RED ONE, where I remembered two things: Mark Hamill and some guy getting his dick blown off. I've now seen most of his work, though I'd love to give SHOCK CORRIDOR, THE NAKED KISS, and HOUSE OF BAMBOO another glance. I chose UNDERWORLD U.S.A. for now. That's the beauty of this wing-it method.

It's a revenge-driven plot, of the chilliest order. The kind where our hero befriends and betrays, gets up real close and then turns the knife. If the mob wasn't so much worse we might actually object, but these are the kind of gangsters that wipe out women and children so it's easy to relish the carnage. In the midst of such evil, you kinda need a nut like Tolly to bring balance and order back. I think I probably prefer THE STEEL HELMET so maybe we will revisit our beloved Uncle Sam.

Chris' #86: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante, 1990)

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert J. Prosky, Robert Picardo, Christopher Lee
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Charles S. Haas
Release Date: June 15, 1990

First Time
I don't remember the exact year, but it was sometime in the early 90s. There's a good chance that this was the only Gremlins movie I saw when I was younger. I watched both movies last year and pretty much all of the first one felt very new to me.

Why it's on the List
In my ET write-up, I mentioned that there was another instance on my list of a creature being dressed up as woman that creeped me out back in the day. This is that movie.

In this case, kid me was weirded out by the sexualization of this^ nasty ass creature. I vividly remember feeling uncomfortable during these moments in the film and not liking them.

Rewatching this as an adult is a lot of fun, especially after seeing the first film as well. It is truly insane and I mean that in the best possible way. The New Batch is the perfect sequel because it's not just a recreation of the first one; it builds off of Gremlins in a very ambitious way. The first one wasn't much of a horror film (if at all), so it doesn't feel like a betrayal to the franchise for the second movie to go off in such a ridiculously cartoonish direction. Dante and crew were willing to take the sequel off the edge of a cliff, only to land safely and carve out its own place in the world.

I love how the film progresses. Eventually smaller scenes are inserted for the sole purpose of executing a joke; for example, the parody of an iconic scene from The Phantom of the Opera. I love the commitment to the comedy, and many of the best moments are in the details. When Grandpa Fred (Prosky) sits down for an interview with Brain Gremlin, a little gremlin hand comes into frame to apply some last minute makeup to Grandpa Fred's face. It makes me laugh every time.

Being too meta can be problematic for a lot of projects, but that's not the case here. Leonard Maltin reviewing the first Gremlins movie is a nice touch, as is Hulk Hogan intimidating a couple of gremlins in the projection booth to put the film back on.

Most of the performances are fairly broad, but there's also some decent depth to most of the characters. Robert Picardo (who I just saw in an episode of Justify) plays a heartless prick very well, but the female gremlin's obsession with him kinda humanizes the character a bit. John Glover is amazing in this - most of the time his character is too busy stuck up his own ass, but his child-like wonder and enthusiasm is infectious.

As an adult now, Billy (Zach Galligan) really grows into the role of the likable everyman. His relationship with Kate (Phoebe Cates) is very strong and withstands the test of Marla, allowing it to feel more authentic than most movie relationships. I also appreciate the fact that the film avoids that tired cycle of a couple being tested, fighting, and then reconciling. But I will say that while Kate is very supportive of her fiance, it's not as if she is given a lot to do in the movie. But Cates makes the most of every scene. Her shining moment comes in the form of monologue about Lincoln that is eventually interrupted.

I would watch a spin-off movie with Murray Futterman (played by Dick Miller) going to different vacation spots with his wife (played by Jackie Joseph), only to find that all his holidays are ruined by gremlin outbreaks.

Gizmo acting like Rambo will always bring me a lot of joy.

The movies ages very well, I would say. There are some cool effects - the paper shredder death, for example. But also, the animation with the flying gremlin still looks great.

There is a bit of a nostalgia factor here, but I feel it fully withstands all of that and truly belongs on this list.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the third of nine sequels on my list.
  • The only Joe Dante movies I've seen are the two Gremlins movies and Small Soldiers. I'm not too familiar with his other work. I'm sure Brandon will educate me during the course of this project.
  • This is the only Phoebe Cates movie on my list. I've never seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High from beginning to end, and haven't seen any of her other movies.
  • Speaking of Cates (and her family), shout out to Hunter Davidsohn for his great work on Frankie Cosmos' album Next Thing. I listened to it again today on the way home from Philly.
  • This is the second Christopher Lee movie on my list (LOTRThe Two Towers being the first, obviously). This is it for him; I'm not too familiar with the horror movies that made him a legend.
  • Tuco from Breaking Bad is in Gremlins 2. He plays a delivery guy and has a couple of lines. I thought that was pretty neat and noteworthy. Gotta get caught up on Better Call Saul.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Brandon's #86: Seven Men From Now (Budd Boetticher, 1956)

John's mention of Randolph Scott got me thinking about his six collusions with Budd Boetticher. I dare it was one of the best director/actor partnerships in the movies, known as the Ranown Cycle. The movies mostly found Scott riding lonesome and stumbling across some hapless group, unfit in the Darwinian sense for frontier life. His character occupies a space between the essentially good and mostly evil, evil meaning selfish and prone to violence. He reluctantly becomes their protector, often fulfilling acts of vengeance foretold in backstory.

And yet these acts of retribution often feel fruitless and empty, I think by design. I hesitate to call it "moral complexity," both because it's a worn out term and because the beauty of these films are, in fact, their simplicity. SEVEN MEN FROM NOW also has Lee Marvin bestriding that moral divide. I hated seeing him lured to the wrong side, knowing this ultimately sealed his fate. Boetticher's use of the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine landscape is crucial, like Mann and Ford's more celebrated work. It's also lean and mean, no fuss no muss one hour and eighteen spare beautiful minutes. Thus you cowards have no excuse to miss out on this.

On a side note, Lou left us and I miss him a lot.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Mike O's #91: Three Ninjas

I don't have much to say to you if you hate this movie, but if you did I may ask "wered you ever a kid?" I can understand why some girls may have no connection to this movie, maybe they grew up
With only sisters? But if your a man and were once a boy and can't back this flick than fuck you. What little boy doesn't want to be a Ninja and take down an evil ninja syndicate with the help of there badass Ninjutsu grandpa?? Classic

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

JRO's #87: My Favorite Wife (Garson Kanin, 1940)

It's hard to write about comedy.

I did re-watch this one a few weeks ago. I had only seen it once before.

It'll probably be higher on my list next time.

This is probably my favorite Randolph Scott performance.