Virtual Bourgeois

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Archive for June, 2013

Summer Movies 2013 Pt. V

Posted by Gerald on June 23, 2013

Summer Movie #50 – The Foreigner (Amos Poe, 1978): Would you believe this was on TCM last night?  Poe was one of the significant figures in the New York underground film scene chronicled in the documentary “Blank City” that I watched earlier this week.  This is a sort of Dada noir joint featuring an unabashedly existentialist (quote: “When we dream that we dream we are beginning to wake up”) and largely improvised story about a secret agent who never understands any of the strange events around him – right up until the inevitably bleak ending.  The style has Godard and Warhol all over it and looks like it was filmed for about $75 – which it probably was.  If you can embrace the deliberately – hell, studiedly – unvarnished aesthetic and guerilla style, this has something to offer.  If you need a more polished intro for this type of stuff, and don’t feel bad at all if you do, try Jim Jarmusch (who cites Poe and this film as influences) and work your way backwards.  I did.

Summer Movie #49 – Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941): Despite the ending (which evidently reversed the ending of the book it was based upon and which Hitchcock claimed, though this has been disputed, was forced on him by the studio) this is a great psychological thriller.  Cary Grant is wonderful as a loveable cad who might be a murderer.  Joan Fontaine won an Academy Award as his somewhat stiff wife who may be justified in being suspicious – or who may just be paranoid.  Hitchcock does what he does best, building suspense and uncertainty right up until the end.

Summer Movie #48 – The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966): This is a fictionalized account of the Algerian War between the Algerian FLN and French colonial forces.  It focuses on the insurgency and counter-insurgency in the city of Algiers from 1954 to 1957 (France recognized Algeria’s independence in 1962).  It shows the pattern of actions and responses that escalated the conflict and also shows how the insurgency worked from the inside (organization, tactics, etc…).  Several 1960s and 1970s era militant groups, including members of the Black Panthers and the Provisional IRA, claim to have been influenced by this film.  It is shot in a pseudo-documentary style with black-and-white photography processed to look as much like newsreel footage as possible (in reality, no newsreel footage is used – which is quite surprising when you see the finished product).  Despite the cinematography, the actual camera work is where you can see this isn’t a documentary – little hand-held footage, mostly fixed angels without dolly or moving crane shots.  The feel of the film is very sparse – very French New Wave.  The emotional reactions you have to film come from its subject matter, not from the sound-track or the camera-work.  Probably the most striking thing about the movie is how it deals with the violence by both sides.  We are shown the brutality of the French colonial system through the story of the radicalization of one of the leaders of the insurgency.  We then see those men committing murders of Algerian civilians and French authorities.  A particularly significant portion of the film shows a revenge (for the murders of French police officers) bombing against innocent Algerians by a group of French colonists followed by three retaliatory bombings against similarly innocent French civilians.  The camera spends as much time showing the rubble and the dead bodies on both sides – the film even uses the same music in showing the aftermath.  This sparks the deployment of French paratroopers who, successfully, use brutality and torture to subdue the FLN.  In one of the most frank statements I’ve ever seen about colonialism, there is a scene where reporters ask the commander of the paratroopers in the city about this issue.  While skirting the use of the word torture, he basically responds that this is what is necessary if France is to remain in Algeria – that, in essence, colonialism cannot exist without violent coercion.  Even these troops are not demonized in the film so much as they are shown to be part of the colonial machine.  This is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about colonialism and colonial resistance.

Summer Movie #47 – Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1936): This is a movie I love in spite of, and because of, its flaws.  Its real claim to fame is the art direction and production design.  Here you see all of the elements that became cliché in later science fiction.  The other thing is the script by H.G. Wells, which depicts a world war beginning in 1940 (and lasting until 1970).  This war featured a frequent element for Wells – the idea of overwhelming air power bringing down civilization.  This becomes more interesting when you consider that the script was mostly written in 1934 – before Hitler began rearming or expanding, before the Spanish Civil War, even before Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.  The second act of the film deals with a sort of post-apocalyptic vision of what the endless war did to the world.  I find it fascinating because the visual elements – people living in the ruins of the old cities, wearing rags, filthy, and dominated by warlords who combine elements of military uniform with “barbaric” furs and skins – are not that different in some ways from what George Miller did in The Road Warrior, and the look of the whole modern genre of post-apocalyptic films starts with his him.  I’m not sure if there had ever been a depiction of that sort of post-apocalyptic world on film before this movie.  I can’t think of one, anyway.

Still, this film has no subtlety, least of all in its acting.  The pacing is often very slow – which gives you lots of time to drink in the model work or to fall asleep.  It has a message that it hits you over the head with repeatedly; one celebrating a utopian vision based on technocracy and a positivistic vision of the power of science.  The recovery from the war is long montage of huge machines stripping the mineral wealth of the world and turning it to “productive” ends by building vast new underground cities.  We hear that mankind can only meet its true potential by “conquering” and “mastering” (lots of colonialist language) first this world, and then the universe.  The white city at the end of the film is perfectly controlled and perfectly artificial.  A grandfather explains to his granddaughter about how people once needed things like sunlight and fresh air, but the world is better in the artificial state where they live.  Evidently people in this future don’t sneeze (he explains this).  When crowds, worked up by a demagogic sculptor, try to destroy the huge “space gun” at the end, they are depicted as reactionaries with no more of a guiding philosophy than fear of change.  There is so much here about the early science fiction views of the future and progress.  You can draw a line from this right to Rodenberry’s vision in Star Trek – and see the critique of it in everything from Silent Running to Firefly and Battlestar Galactica.  This is flawed, but still a gem.

Summer Movie #46 – Blank City (Celine Danhier, 2010): Jon Foster suggested this to me as a good companion piece to the documentary I watched yesterday, Kill Your Idols.  This deals with the underground film scene in New York in the 1970s and 1980s with No Wave Cinema and the Cinema of Transgression.  It is well shot and interviews filmmakers, actors, and other artists who were involved in this period.  It also ties these films to what was happening in New York at the time and to parts of the wider culture such as Reaganism and the early AIDS epidemic.  I’m starting to wonder if all current culture might begin with Lydia Lunch?  Hmmm….

Summer Movie #45 – Kill Your Idols (Scott Crary, 2004): The reviews for this on Netflix are sharply divided, but generally negative.  I’m on the positive side.  This documentary starts with some footage and interviews concerning the “No Wave” scene in NYC in the 1970s – about which I knew nothing.  It then shifts focus to the NYC alternative music scene of 2003 – about which I know nothing.  It seems to have been at this point that most of the negative reviewers stopped watching.  Having heard about each group from its own members, Crary then has them speak about each other.  The result is, to my mind, an interesting discussion on originality and creativity, the relationship between the music industry, media, and “alternative” artists, and how things have changed across thirty years.  Contrary to both the title and the Netflix write-up, this doesn’t end with the newer musicians attacking the older ones for not being original, but the other way around.  Many of the negative reviewers wanted this to be a history of NYC alternative music – it isn’t.  It is a rumination on art and originality.

Summer Movie #44 – 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002): There was a moment early in this film where I went from liking it to loving it.  The movie depicts the music scene in Manchester between about 1976 and 1992 centering on Tony Wilson and Factory Records.  In this scene, the Wilson’s first wife is depicted having sex with Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks in a club men’s room.  The camera pans to a man at the sink that we discover is the actual Howard Devoto who says “I don’t remember that happening.”  At that point the actor playing Wilson (Steve Coogan), who narrates the film and shatters the fourth wall along the way, explains that it didn’t happen – and then cites the line from Fort Apache about how if the truth conflicts with the legend, you print the legend.  Knowing nothing about any of this except some band names, I couldn’t tell you what was real and what wasn’t – except I doubt that Manchester was actually visited by a UFO, that God looks that much like either Steve Coogan or Tony Wilson, or that Boethius is a wino in Manchester who looks like Christopher Eccelston.  The sense of unreality is heightened by great hand-held camera work that sometimes moves into vintage footage and back again.  The whole thing was just artsy and fun.

Summer Movie #43 – Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947): Here is another one I’m sorry I’ve waited so long to watch.  This is one of the great film noir and it has it all.  Dark cinematography to tell a dark story about dark (ethically) people.  Robert Mitchum is the former private eye trying to find redemption for his corrupt life with a new job in a sunny small town and a beautiful girl (Virginia Huston) who loves him even when she learns his secret past.  Jane Greer is the classic femme fatale with the face of an angel and the soul of a killer.  Kirk Douglas is the gangster with a score to settle with Mitchum and brings him out of his new life and back to his old one.  This is film noir, so don’t look for a nice clear plot or a happy ending.  This is all about the weight of the past and that you have to die before you can be redeemed.  Just great.

Summer Movie #42 – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressberger, 1943): I love this movie!  I’m embarrassed that is has taken me this long to watch it.  I’d heard of the film, particularly in interviews from Martin Scorsese, but it wasn’t until Jon Foster recommended it (my thanks!) that I put it in my Netflix queue.  First, it features glorious Technicolor cinematography.  The camera work is wonderful – especially a long crane shot out of a high window that melds into a beautiful model shot of 1902 Berlin on a snowy night and then focuses into an interior of a carriage – just beautiful.  It has great performances, especially by Roger Livesey.  Finally, it has this wonderful tone that looks at the British Army and the Empire and combines satire and sympathy in equal measures.  It takes a character that is a bit ridiculous (hence their use of a famous character from British political cartoon – “Colonel Blimp” who was meant to display “the stupidity of colonels” by its creator David Low – in the title of the movie) and renders him as a human being.  The movie tells a story about how age will make us all ridiculous to a degree as we find ourselves increasingly out of step with our times.  It humanizes and forgives those who become a bit stuck, without denying that times do, in fact, change and people have to adapt.  Just amazing – I’ve got to watch more of Powell’s & Pressburger’s work soon; Black Narcissus next, I think.

Summer Live Movie #7 – Star Trek: Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, 2013):

MAJOR SPOILERS HERE

Okay, I loved it it was loads of fun – great action, great pacing, and it dealt with one of my biggest problems from the first movie.  I always felt that giving command of the Enterprise to just-out-of-the-academy Kirk was a cheat and this movie addressed this head-on.  I’m even getting a little less opposed to the Spock-Uhura romance.  Okay, not that last one.  Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Zoe Saldana were all excellent.  I enjoy and appreciate what Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine did in the first movie, and their Spock and Kirk performances were better in this one.  Peter Weller has now played two of the better villains I’ve seen in Star Trek (his turn in the last – and best – season of Enterprise as Col. Green was one of my favorite thing in that uneven series).  Benedict Cumberbatch was predictably great as Khan and by every objective measure his Khan is better than Ricardo Montalban’s.

But I’ll never really feel his Khan was better, even though I know it was.  I can’t.

Finally, I don’t think this movie could have worked if Wrath of Khan weren’t already there.  Most of its emotional power lays on the foundation of that movie.  That is a good thing.  There is no way of denying that the Star Trek movies were in decline.  Abrams took what was great, and made something new and, in many ways, better.  This will never be my Star Trek – but its a great Star Trek and I can’t wait for the next one.

Summer Movie #41 – Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009): I watched this earlier today before going to see the new one. I enjoy this movie for what it is – a really fun action movie that wears some of the clothes of a franchise in which I am deeply invested. Watching it again, I was struck by the thought that J.J. Abrams is going to have an absolute smash with Star Wars VII. The hectic pace, the huge action, even the big monster chasing (not)Kirk, are all reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels. The people who loved those are going to love his take. At the same time, he has some good character moments and real human depth – which is why I think his take on Star Wars will be more appealing to those who didn’t like the prequels. He is going to get big chunks of both groups – and make Disney some new boatloads of money. Including mine.

Summer Live Movie #5 – Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012): There is a scene in one of the later Buffy episodes where she talks about being cookie dough that isn’t finished baking yet. This is very much where the titular character of this movie finds herself. It is about love, friendship (I think a particularly female sort of friendship), and growing up in your twenties. Just this morning I was watching a show where a character talked about how people are supposed to be a mess in their twenties, and Frances is a mess, creating a comedic and touching character portrait. Even though this story wasn’t close to my life – even in my twenties – it touched places I could recognize and that is art. Finally, Frances is an aspiring dancer and the dance sequences reminded me of something that Jon Foster was also saying as we left the movie: I just don’t get dance. I know there is something there, but I just don’t have the right sensibility, I guess.

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Summer Movies 2013 Pt. IV

Posted by Gerald on June 13, 2013

Summer Movie #31 – The Fast and the Furious (Rob Cohen, 2001): Although I watch the action movie and eat of the beef (Buffy reference) I’ve never seen any of these, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Also, I’ve been playing a game called Sleeping Dogs that has lots of driving elements and was partly inspired by the franchise, so there is that. This movie is fine for what it is, and what it is would be Point Break with cars in place of surf boards. The lack of Keanu gives this movie a real plus over Point Break, but the lack of Gary Busey is a problem and Vin Diesel is no Patrick Swayze.

Summer Live Movie #4 – The Guns of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson, 1961): What is there to say? One of the great classic war films. Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn starring in a major Hollywood movie that took time to ask questions about whether it is moral for good men to do bad things in a good cause.

Summer Movie #32 – Fury (Fritz Lang, 1936): Thanks to Jon Foster for this one – both letting me know about it and borrowing his dvd. This is a great film about mob violence and the destructive power of revenge. It stars a young Spencer Tracy who gives a typically great performance. It is a 1936 Hollywood film, and shows it (a deeply flawed – from a legal standpoint – trial dominates the second half; there is an important visual moment centering on a bedroom set for newlyweds which features two twin beds, etc…) but the quality shows through the studio trappings. I still need to watch the commentary track, though.

Summer Movie #33 – The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941): Again, what is there to say? One of the great film noir, Huston’s directorial debut, another iconic role for Bogart, and great supporting performances – especially from Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Put those two with Bogart and you just get classic films. Also notable is Elisha Cook as the young thug, Wilmer. I just finished reading the novel a couple days ago and this carries so much of the same feel – even with the restrictions of the Production Code (they really couldn’t make it so clear that Cairo was gay as in the novel and the scene from the book where Spade makes Brigid O’Shaughnessey strip naked in front of him just wasn’t going to happen).

Summer Movie #34 – The Big Lebowski (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1998):
The Dude abides.

Summer Movie #35 – The African Queen (John Huston, 1951): This is one of the great romance and adventure films of all time and, deservedly, gets a spot on many a “100 greatest” list. This film gave Bogart his only Oscar, which I find odd. He is good in this, but he had better roles, and better roles working with Huston such as the one I watched earlier this week – Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Still, that is the Academy in action.

Summer Movie #36 – Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner, 1940): This movie was mentioned in the documentary “Those Amazing Shadows” which I watched a week or so back. On the surface it looks like a fairly conventional film about a chorus girl finding her big break. There are, however, a few things that set it apart. First, it was directed by Dorothy Arzner, the only female director who worked in Hollywood during the height of the studio system. It also has a couple of fascinating women involved in the writing (Tess Slesinger co-wrote the screenplay which was based on a story by Vicki Baum – look them up, they are both intriguing). The story is notable for centering on strong (for 1940) female characters – and includes some criticism of the exploitation of women’s sexuality (again, this is a Hollywood film made in 1940). It also features good performances by Maureen O’Hara as the serious dancer and Lucille Ball as a sexy burlesque star (this is a point in her life when she was not far removed from a career as a model and when she was becoming the “Queen of the B’s” at RKO). This is not a great film, but it is a damned interesting one.

Summer Movie #37 – Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011): Thanks to Jon Foster for suggesting this one. This is a documentary about the 85-year-old chef and founder of a prestigious sushi restaurant. It is also about fathers and sons, about being an artisan (even if you are a tuna merchant), and even about environmentalism – like any great documentary, this takes a subject and then shows many different and often unexpected connections. The interviews are well-executed and interspersed with beautiful bits of cinematography. If you are a “foodie” you’ll love it. If you appreciate watching dedicated people at work, you’ll love it. If you like seeing film penetrate and illuminate human lives, you’ll love it. Check it out.

Summer Movie #38 – Blitz (Elliot Lester, 2011): This is a Jason Statham vehicle that features him as a “cop on the edge” (well within his range) and some decent performances by a familiar supporting cast, such as Paddy Considine, who has done several films (Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum); Aidan Gillen from Game of Thrones and The Wire; and David Morrissey from The Walking Dead. The movie itself is a bit of a mish-mash – a psychological drama, a standard serial-killer thriller, a cop “buddy film”, and a vigilante-themed action film – and none of the pieces were very interesting. It isn’t bad, just a bit unfocused and very ordinary save for a few decent performances. Oh, well, they can’t all be winners.

Summer Movie #39 – Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992): This was Woo’s last Hong Kong film before heading to Hollywood. It has all of the elements of his prior work – highly-stylized, very violent (if you’ve not seen any of these, think Michael Mann meets Sam Peckinpah), and starring Chow Yun-Fat. This film has cops rather than gangsters as the heroes, which was a departure for Woo. The story is a bit uneven, but the action sequences are just great. I’m pretty sure the big climactic battle, which takes place in a crowded hospital which explodes in the end, had to have inspired Nolan in The Dark Knight. This is just a fun action movie.

Summer Movie #40 – Les Miserables (Tom Hooper, 2012): This is a really good, but not perfect, movie. The pacing is off at times – especially early in the movie – and it sometimes feels like Hooper loses control of his own movie and it becomes a bit bombastic. Still, the cinematography is lush and beautiful, the music is extraordinary (for the most part), and the performances really make up for any weaknesses. When everything works the results are phenomenal. Hugh Jackman was great – as one would expect. Anne Hathaway’s performance, both acting and acting, of “I Dreamed A Dream” is just shattering. She isn’t on-screen for very long, but when she is, she just takes it over. Russell Crowe deserves more credit than he has gotten. His voice is just not of the caliber of some of the others, but his acting in this is some of the best he has done. His facial expression and body language while he sings one particular line tells you everything you need to know about Javert. With so many bravura performances by A-list stars, I think some of the lesser stars also didn’t get the attention they deserved, particularly Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, and Samantha Barks as Eponine. I have to end with a criticism, though. The ending is rather anticlimactic. Having built to this powerful moment of death and redemption, the film cuts to this final number that just felt false to me. Still, despite its flaws, this is a beautiful and stirring film.

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Summer Movies 2013 Pt. III

Posted by Gerald on June 12, 2013

Summer Movie #21 – District 13: Ultimatum (Patrick Alessandrin, 2009): This is a sequel to the 2004 film, District 13. The films are set in Paris in the near future where all of the poor and “undesirable” elements in the city are walled into a ghetto (District 13, or Banlieue 13 – hence the title B13 is sometimes used) .Both films were written and produced by French action filmmaker Luc Besson. Both films feature a buddy pair made up of Damien, a dedicated but rogue cop, and Leito, a sort of Robin Hood gangster, played by parkour artists David Belle and Cyril Rafaelli. Both films have a plot centered on rogue elements in the government who have evil designs on the people of the district (in this one abetted by a company called “Harriburton”) while also featuring gangsters, corrupt cops, etc… Both feature cool stunt-work, particularly by the two stars, and car chases. Both are mindless fun, but you do need to read the sub-titles if you want to watch them.

Summer Movie #22 – Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011): A sweet fable using some beautiful CGI. The account of George Melies given here is a bit romanticized and more than a bit simplified, but still largely correct in spirit and mostly correct in detail. Ben Kingsley gives a great performance as the legendary filmmaker. A nicely uplifting film. Tomorrow I’ll get back to the soul-crushing darkness or empty violence I normally prefer.

Summer Movie #23 – Eight Men Out (John Sayles, 1988): Here is another film my friend Dana has been mentioning to me forever – and I’m glad he did. This film recounts the 1919 “Black Socks Scandal” and features great performances by David Straithern, John Cusack, and D. B. Sweeney, among many others. I’m not versed enough in the actual scandal to have an opinion on the accuracy of any of this, but the depiction of human emotion here – how greed, resentment, and fear can undermine idealism – is powerful and real. Kevin Tighe has a nice turn in the movie as one of the gamblers involved in the plot, which I found notable because the first role I really noticed him in as a film actor ( of course, I knew him first from Adam-12) was in a favorite of mine that was also written and directed by John Sayles, Matewan.

Summer Movie #24 – City of Life and Death (Chuan Lu, 2009): Wow. If the mark of a great film is to find truths that make us feel things we might not want to feel (and I think it is) this is a great movie. The experience of it is a lot like Schindler’s List, a film that pretty obviously influenced this one quite heavily. The movie deals with the Rape of Nanking in 1937, when Japanese troops engaged in a six-week orgy of mass killings and raped thousands of Chinese women (exact figures do not exist – the official Chinese numbers are 300,000 killed and 20-30,000 raped but these are very controversial). The movie, much like Schindler’s List, deals with these events on a human level from the perspectives of Japanese soldiers and Chinese soldiers and civilians. It shows demonic acts being committed by human men. It also has very graphic depictions of rape and of the functioning of the “comfort stations” of the Imperial military. None of this is gratuitous. I have way more to say about this movie than I can fit into a status update, but this film should be seen, for all the reasons Schindler’s List should be seen. It is a masterful and harrowing account of a horrible moment.

Summer Movie #25 – Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963): I preordered the 50th Anniversary blu-ray release of this several months ago, and had completely forgotten until the UPS guy knocked on my door this afternoon. This is not a great movie, but it is a movie I feel a sense of connection with. Somehow this symbolizes the big 1950s and 1960s Hollywood epics for me in a way that much better movies, such as Ben-Hur, just don’t. Maybe it is because this is such a great example of everything that was right and wrong with those movies – it is huge, lavish, spectacular, ambitious, lumbering, bloated, and pretentious; all at the same time. Also, I love Rex Harrison’s turn as Julius Caesar. It isn’t the one I’d consider the most accurate, that would go to Ciaran Hinds in HBO’s Rome, but it is fun to watch. This, rather than Dr. Doolittle or My Fair Lady (one of my mom’s favorites), is the film from my childhood that I remember him for. Also, I think that a few of Richard Burton’s scenes as Mark Antony are among the best in his remarkable career.

Summer Movie #26 – I Huckabees (David O Russell, 2004): Here is another film I’ve been hearing about for years and am only now getting around to watching. This movie walks a line between quirky originality on the one hand and being too cute for its own good on the other. It occasionally wanders onto both sides of that divide. It is funny and features some great performances, especially by Lily Tomlin and Naomi Watts. It is also a bit tiresome in spots and the story seems a little unfocused to me. Still, the good certainly outweighs the bad and it is worth checking out.

Summer Movie #27 – End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012): This is a “cop film” with a decent narrative and some very good performances. The action sequences are good and fairly economical. On the down side, the film adheres closely to genre conventions, right down to the good times at the wedding and the bag-pipe wailing police funeral. Also, the movie strives for a pseudo-documentary feel by incorporating hand-held camera work with a “found-footage” conceit that doesn’t really work, and isn’t really necessary. Still, the movie’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses and it is worth a look if you like this sort of movie.

Summer Movie #28 – Crips and Bloods: Made in America (Stacy Peralta, 2008): This documentary is less a history of these gangs than an examination of where the L.A. gangs fit into American history and society. The movie is at its strongest when it links the rise of the gangs to the destruction of the 1960s and 1970s era social justice movements and the beginnings of de-industrialization. We easily forget that the destruction of the American working middle-class began with the African-American community. Overall, the film doesn’t really say much that hasn’t been said before, but what it says is valid and important. Unfortunately, its attempt to deal with the rise of the Gang Intervention movement at the end is edited in a way that seems like the happy ending part of a VH-1 Behind the Music episode – montage of images of dedicated people and smiling children with tinkling piano music in the background. Yes, this is a stylistic point, but style goes a long way toward determining rhetorical power. Still, this was a weak ending to a good documentary – well worth checking out.

Summer Movie #29 – Gangster Squad (Ruben Fleischer, 2013): The trailers worried me and the reviews confirmed those worries, so I didn’t see this in the theater. Still, I love this genre, so I put it in the Netflix queue. Everything I was worried about has just been confirmed. The film is worse than bad, it is dull. You’ve seen all of these characters before and there isn’t a surprise in any of them. Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, and everyone, except the unfathomably over-rated Ryan Gosling, were completely wasted here. Everything ends exactly the way you know it is going to end, and so the “uplifting” ending is drained of any real emotion. The film also manages to lionize two icons of racial tension, L.A.P.D. Chiefs William Parker and Daryl Gates. These are two hours I could have spend playing Bioshock Infinite, or picking my nose, and I’ll never get them back. If you want a movie about L.A. in the Cohen era, watch L.A. Confidential. If you want a stylish gangster action film, watch The Untouchables. Pass this one by.

Summer Movie #30 – These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America (Paul Mariano & Kurt Norton, 2011): This is a decent documentary about the National Film Registry, film preservation, and the movies. There is nothing particularly new or revelatory here, but the interviews are good and the film clips are fun to watch. The film’s rhetorical purpose seems to be to convince the viewer that films are important but I’m not sure it would convince anyone who wasn’t already part of the choir. Still, if you do like movies it is worth a look. One interesting thing it did for me was make me aware of Dorothy Arzner and “Dance, Girl, Dance”, which I’ve just put at the head of my Netflix disc queue.

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Summer Movies 2013 Pt. II

Posted by Gerald on June 12, 2013

Summer Movie #11 – On the Edge (Herman Yau, 2006): This was not the action film I expected, but was much more of a drama. No big action sequences or stylistic camera work, this is more about realism. A Hong Kong cop who had been undercover in the Triads for eight years finishes his operation and then leaves the life he had built behind and comes back to a police force where he isn’t known or trusted. Most of the film is about his trying to find his way. This isn’t a flawless movie, but it deals with issues of the confusion of personal identity – both to ourselves and to others and with the weight of our past decisions. It was really good.

Summer Live Movie #2 – Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975): What is there to say but “Ni”? Had a good time with Julie, Jo, and Philippe. I think maybe the pre-movie meal for shows at the Carolina needs to be moved to McCouls. It is just so much more conveniently placed.

Summer Live Movie #3 – No (Pablo Larrain, 2012): An excellent film that deals with a 1988 plebiscite in Chile over the continued rule of the dictator Pinochet; focusing on the shaping of the television campaign to get out the “no” vote by a young ad executive played by Gael Garcia Bernal. It is filmed in a very documentary style that fits well with some archival footage integrated into the whole. It moves between a personal story and the story of the campaign quite seamlessly. It also raises the question of what it means to present political ideas as advertising and just how much difference there really is – or can be – between the two.

Summer Movie #12 – Election (Johnnie To, 2005): Another excellent Hong Kong crime drama. Quentin Tarantino christened this “the best film of the year” and it was quite good. It deals with a power struggle over leadership of one of the Hong Kong Triads, but also delves into the place the Triads have in that community. It also addresses their own sense of their role and how true that may be. Frankly, I was constantly thinking about The Godfather, although the story is very different. This was much more slick and action oriented than the last Hong Kong film I watched but still had some real human moments in it. I’ve really been surprised by the quality of these films. They aren’t the cheap “chop-socky” films many might be imagining.

Summer Movie #13 – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005): Another movie I’ve been meaning to watch for years and could now kick myself for not having watched earlier. This was the first film directed by Shane Black (director of Iron Man 3) who wrote several 80s action films like Lethal Weapon (he was the screenwriter for this film as well). The movie is a sort of film noir comedy and managed to mash together several genres (action film, detective film, buddy film, etc…) into a fun movie with a few really affecting moments of drama. Robert Downy Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan all turn in fine performances. This movie deserved a lot more attention than it received.

Summer Movie #14 – Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944): I continued my current run of films with a heavy noir influence by going right to the source. I really can’t add anything to the heaps of praise this movie has gotten ever since its release. It goes with movies like Citizen Kane (with which it shares a visual similarity) in being every bit as good as it is cracked up to be. Also, like all of Wilder’s classic films, it is just fun to watch. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are both great, but this is another movie where you see just how much of an actor Edward G. Robinson was and how his being remembered only for his gangster roles is a real mistake.

Summer Movie #15- Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959): Today has turned into a Dana approved film festival thus far. He has given me two copies of this movie (both thoroughly legal, to which I am prepared to swear on the Bible) so it was about time I watched it. A great courtroom drama with fine performances by too many great actors to name and frank examination of the complexities of sex, marriage, human relationships, and the truth. I also couldn’t help but compare the characters and the marriage of Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick with those of Kirk Douglas and Barbara Bouchet in my favorite Otto Preminger film, In Harm’s Way – both booze-soaked and dysfunctional marriages with a young and rather wild beautiful wife and an intense and jealous husband in the military; and both with unfortunate outcomes.

Summer Movie #16 – The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973): Today’s third Dana Hatcher approved film is an unsentimental look at a small-time crook surrounded by other small-time crooks and moving in a world of larger crooks and cops who share a similar ruthlessness. In other words, it is a 1970s crime drama. The photography is all bare-bones and realistic. Robert Mitchum is great as an okay guy who is at the end of his rope. Anyone looking for a big fake emotional payoff, happy ending, or a moral to the story should look elsewhere. This is a story of bigger fish eating littler fish. Peter Yates is interesting. This guy seemed to resist being pigeon-holed. He went on to make Mother, Juggs, and Speed, Breaking Away, and Krull – among many other films. Before making this he had already made Bullitt.

Summer Movie #17 – L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997): Modern noir for breakfast – this is not a new one for me, but one of my favorite movies ever. Several A-list stars give some of their best (in my opinion, anyway) performances ever here – Spacey, Crowe, and Cromwell, for example – so I think the excellent performance by Ron Rifkin as the D.A. is easy to overlook but shouldn’t be. He mixes being charming, menacing, repellant, and weak in equal measures.

Summer Movie #18 – Tales from the Script (Peter Hanson, 2009): This is a well-constructed documentary made up of interviews with screenwriters. It has some excellent moments, especially in the second half. My favorite bit comes from Guinevere Turner, who wrote the screenplays for American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page (among many others), when she tells the story about writing the screenplay for Bloodrayne. That vignette says a lot about how good writers can be part of bad movies.

Summer Movie #19 – The Eye of Vichy (Claude Chabrol, 1993): This documentary examines the World War II era Vichy Regime in France through its own propaganda. The majority of the film is simply excerpts from Vichy newsreels with only a minimum of narration. This is fascinating both as a document of its time and also for the insight it provides into the modern ultra-right in France.

Summer Movie #20 – The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy, 2012): I really liked the first three Bourne films. I enjoy this style of adventure thriller. I also liked that all three are complete movies – they tell a whole story and have a definite ending. In each case, there was room for more story, but none was required. This movie doesn’t do that. It has franchise disease in that it is obviously just an opening chapter, not a complete story. Still, this movie was fun. I think that the story arc finished in The Bourne Ultimatum called for a new character and Jeremy Renner was a solid choice to be that guy. I liked the story and the way they carried on with what they’ve done since The Bourne Supremacy by weaving the opening part of this story into the earlier films. Solid action and a very cool chase scene of the sort we’ve seen in the earlier film are also pluses. Finally, this movie also allowed me to look at Rachel Weisz for a couple hours and that is always a good thing.

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Summer Movies 2013

Posted by Gerald on June 12, 2013

I thought I’d transfer my movie posts from Facebook here, for various reasons.  I’ll post several at once.

Summer Netflix Queue movie #1 – The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, 2008): I really enjoyed this movie, it made me happy – especially Rachel Weisz. I know the critics were lukewarm about it, and maybe it is a bit twee. Still, if you’re not happy at the end of this movie, well, to quote Weisz’s character, Penelope: “I think you’re constipated, in your fucking soul… I think you might have a really big load of grumpy petrified poop up your soul’s ass.”

Summer Netflix queue movie #2 – Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967): I’ve been meaning to watch this for years, ever since I heard of it as an inspiration for John Woo’s The Killer. It is a minimalist film noir – all long silences and deliberately unresolved plot elements. Bleak realism without a hint of sentimentality – the stuff I love in some 70s American films, and which got there from French New Wave, was inspired, at least in part by Melville. Very good – and very different from the hyper-stylized The Brothers Bloom which I watched, and enjoyed, earlier tonight.

Summer Netflix queue movie #3 – Red Cliff (John Woo, 2008): I saw the “International Version” which is a two and a half hour long single film rather than the original four hours in two parts, but I do want to see the whole thing. Epic, lavish, and sentimental, I loved it.

Summer Netflix queue movie #4 – Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1994): Another film I’ve meant to watch for years, which has sort of been the theme across the last two days. Visually great and morally blank, this movie doesn’t try to create a false narrative of either forgiveness or redemption, but instead embraces the idea that some experiences can only make sense from within. Excellent.

Summer Netflix queue movie #5 – Le Professionnel (Georges Lautner, 1981): A French action thriller starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and featuring a score by Ennio Moriconne. It is all rather bleak with odd moments of humor. Add in the score and it feels a lot like a spaghetti western set in 1981 Paris. I give it a solid “meh”.

Summer Netflix queue movie #6 – Flash Point (Wilson Yip. 2007): This was a straight-up Hong Kong action flick, and I loved it. Donnie Yen, who also produced, stars as the-cop-who-can’t-be-bound-by-the-rules as he and his partner (played by Louis Koo) go after three Vietnamese immigrants Triad types. If you’ve ever seen a Hong Kong crime film, you’ve seen all of this before and if you’ve ever seen any cop film you’ve seen most of it before – but it was a well-executed trip over familiar territory and loads of fun.

I’m thinking Chinese cinema might be my “sub-theme” for this summer’s movies.

Summer Netflix movie #7 – Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, 2009): This is a documentary following the annual trips home of Chinese migrant workers during the New Year period over several years. It is also about family, generational changes and struggles, and the costs of China’s rapid social and economic change. It is beautifully filmed and fascinating.

Summer Netflix queue movie #8 – Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012): A much superior adaptation of the comics to the 1995 Stallone POS, this film features the under-appreciated Karl Urban in the lead role and a good take on the “trapped with the bad guys” story (see Assault on Precinct 13 – original, not re-make). Also good here is Lena Headey as the head of the evil block-gang – demented but not scenery chewing. There were some definite “let’s film it this way for 3D” moments and it was a bit excessively bloody, but still fun. A “B” movie – but a good solid “B”.

Summer movie #9 – Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006): Another Hong Kong action film that successfully integrates elements of spaghetti westerns to tell a story about the endurance of friendship against the backdrop of the Triads. If you can appreciate the genre conventions of those two types of films, this is very good. If you go in looking for an American style action film, you’ll hate it. Visually, the film is lovely – all beautiful use of color and lighting and varying camera angles. The story is fairly cliche, but that is the point.

Summer Movie Live #1 – Iron Man (Shane Black, 2013): Lots of fun, especially with the company. I think this one was better than the second. I loved Ben Kingsley, even though the Marvel purists are unhappy about what the film did with the Mandarin. Stray thought during the closing credits: Back as CGI was becoming more common I heard many film folks grumbling about how “they won’t even need people to make movies anymore.” Look at the number of names in those credits. More people are being employed on these films than ever were before – its just that most of them work during post-production rather than on the actual shoot.

Summer Movie #10 – The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012): Great acting, beautifully shot, and unwilling to give any easy answers to the difficult questions it raises; this was a great movie. There is a lot here about American culture, cult behavior, the whole run of human relationships, and more, but the thing that stood out to me was one of my good friend Steven Kapica‘s favorite questions – what does it mean to be human? Like another excellent piece of art that asked that question, this movie doesn’t give you the viewer an answer, but does provide another way to frame the question.

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