Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Daniel Day-Lewis is my favorite actor working today, maybe of all time. Here's a list and comment on his notable films (in chronological order) and why he's my favorite:
My Left Foot (1989): DDL's portrayal of Christie Brown, the Irishman that overcame Cerebal Palsy to be a successful writer, is nothing short of a revelation. The brooding performance captures the essence of his condition and the complexities of emotion and rage he feels. This marks the first of 3 collaborations with director Jim Sheridan.
Last of the Mohicans (1992). In this one, DDL plays the virile and passionate Hawkeye (the adopted caucasian raised as a Mohican). His intensity and understanding of the love story and sadness underscoring the film combined with Michael Mann's direction (not to mention one of the best scores of all time) get my blood flowing.
In the Name of the Father (1993). Returning to his Irish roots with director Jim Sheridan, DDL plays Gerry Conlon, in the true story of Irish kids wrongfully convicted in 60's bombings in London. Here he goes from cocky youth to worn out and boldened young man, along the way learning to respect the quiet dignity of his father (Pete Postlewaithe). His march out of the courthouse in the last scene gives me chills.
The Crucible (1996). In an otherwise forgettable movie, his portrayal of the principled and flawed John Proctor is (again) intense and moving. He knows when to be quiet and when his flashes of anger need to come. Favorite scene is the one wherein he refuses to (falsely) admit his sin. In order to get into character, he helped build the sets with the crew prior to filming.
The Boxer (1997). Ireland is to DDL as New York is to Robert DeNiro. In The Boxer he plays a boxer that has his career robbed by IRA injustice. Once released from prison he quarrels passionately with the old IRA hoods and fights to protect other innocents from his same fate. Again...his restraint and rage are perfect pitch and he imbues the story with authenticity. Directed again by Jim Sheridan.
Gangs of New York (2002). After a 5 year hiatus, DDL tackled the role of Bill the Butcher, a ruthless survivor of the 19th century New York streets. The accent, walk, and attitude all come together to provide a picture of a ruthless and jaded soul. Every scene he is in is tense, and the final stage scene when he burns Leo is genius. This marks his second collaboration with Martin Scorsese (Age of Innocence).
There Will Be Blood (2007). Not out yet. But his presence in the trailer and his collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson point to another classic performance.
Posted by Lawyer at 12:56 AM
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The first half of the list (previously posted) was as follows: Robin Hood, Carlito's Way, The Caine Mutiny, Rope, The Age of Innocence, Holiday Inn, Moulin Rouge!, To Catch a Thief, The Fog of War, and Unforgiven.
Minority Report (2002) Spielberg may not be at his best in science fiction, but sci-fi is at its best with Spielberg. In 2054 Washington DC has a “Pre-Crime” unit headed by Tom Cruise that can predict crimes and make arrests before they happen through the use of three “pre-cogs”. The chase sequences are classic Spielberg, and the robot “Spiders” that search a seedy hotel are worth the price of admission. Still, Spielberg has bigger fish to fry. Namely, free-will and the foreknowledge of God. The religious imagery is ubiquitous, the most important being the “trinity” of pre-cogs that may know the future or may only know possible futures. If you know all future murders, are you doomed to live them all constantly? If so, doesn’t that make God’s job a particularly sucky one?
The Maltese Falcon (1941) Directed by the great John Huston, I almost pulled this one because of it’s inclusion in the (original) AFI list. But I couldn’t. In much the same way Casablanca feels like a movie of cliché’s until you realize the clichés are based on the movie, The Maltese Falcon is the blueprint for every hard-boiled private dick pic(Bogey at his greatest) to follow. Also co-starring Casablanca players Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, The Falcon twists lies on top of lies on top of half-truths on top of lies. But forget the plot, it’s Bogart’s ice cold Sam Spade that makes this one dynamite to watch.
Munich (2005) While many people want to lump Munich with the Clooney duo of Syriana and Goodnight and Good Luck to form a trifecta of political films from 2005, I think they miss the point. Spielberg’s real interest here isn’t politics. It’s religion. “I thought we were suppose to be the righteous ones,” says Eric Bana as the spiral of retribution and violence begins to spin out of control. Righteousness isn’t a political category, it’s a theological one, but nowhere is the overlap as thorough or in such need of analysis as the Middle East. Plus, the bombing-as-triggered-by-a-phone-call scene has tension you can cut with a knife.
Rio Bravo (1959) Directed by Howard Hawkes, this would be worth watching if only for the seemingly unrelated 50’s icons that star: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Rick Nielson, and Angie Dickenson. John Wayne plays a sheriff with Dean Martin, the alcoholic with girl problems as his number two. They’ve locked up an outlaw who’s friends are coming. Rick Nielson is a young hired gun they pick-up, and a smokin’ hot and unbearably sexy Angie Dickenson’s the showgirl who falls for the sheriff. Dean, Rick, and John have a sing-a-long in prison that is pop-culture Zen.
In America (2002) is the true story of an Irish immigrant family of four (mom, dad, and two girls) who illegally move to New York City to chase the father’s (Jim Sheridan) dream of working in American theatre and to run from the memory of the tragic death of their son. Making a home in an old tenement housing vagrants, addicts, and prostitutes, the family seems to be just holding on for the summer. The startling thing about this film is how much it makes you feel. The heat of the summer. The frustration of a father who couldn’t save his son and can’t feed his family. The pain of an undesired wife. Loss. And hope. Directed, produced and co-written (with his daughters) by Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, The Boxer), it is a love letter to America. Something we could all use about now.
A Place in the Sun (1951) Based on the play “An American Tragedy” (the studio was concerned the original title wasn’t upbeat enough). Similar to Gatsby, this movie showcases the defunct side of the American dream. Montgomery Clift’s character comes from poverty to work his way up from the mailroom. Elizabeth Taylor (proving why she’s famous in the first place) is the boss’s daughter who falls for Clift. Unfortunately, his hag of a girlfriend’s got one in the oven, leaving him trapped between marrying a woman he now hates or killing her to join the good life he’s worked so hard to attain.
Out of Sight (1998) (Steven Soderbergh) based on the Leonard Elmore novel, this stars Clooney before he was Clooney and Jennifer Lopez before she was J. Lo. George is a prototype of the suave con man he (and Soderbergh) rode to a much larger payday in Ocean’s 11. Lopez is the federal agent who is sent to capture him, and Steve Zahn has me rolling as the dumb-as-a-sack-of-batteries sidekick. But it’s a scene between Lopez and Clooney (with George wearing a rip-off of the grey flannel suit Cary Grant made famous in North by Northwest) in the lobby of a hotel where they pretend, for a night, to be two strangers that pushes this one over the top. Smokey and subtle, it’s grown-up love and grown-up desire at its best.
Collateral (2004) The most accessible Michael Mann film is also one of my favorites. Jamie Foxx served notice he was for real here just months before everyone believed him (and he became insufferable) in Ray. Foxx is a taxi driver saving for someday when he picks up hit man Tom Cruise, in town to take out five targets in a night. When a body falls several stories onto his taxi, Foxx’s unwittingly pulled in. But when he realizes that the last name on Cruise’s list was an earlier fare (Jada Pinkett Smith) he’s in a dilemma. Cruise is great as the cold-blooded murderer who doesn’t flinch, just reacts; but it’s the City of Angels shot at night that steals this picture. I love the image of a dead Cruise, sitting on a subway forever circling.
Blade Runner (1982) Recently named to the new AFI top 100 (I compiled this list previously), this is Ridley Scott’s first great film. Taken from a Philip K. Dick (Minority Report, In a Scanner Darkly, Total Recall) short story, Harrison Ford stars as a blade runner, a man sent to hunt down and destroy rogue cyborgs made to be so human they sometimes don’t know they aren’t. Every science fiction film since has ripped off the dystopic visuals (see especially The Fifth Element and AI), but what makes this great is that the issues it deals with (what makes us human, do ethics apply to artificial intelligence, the nature of the soul) continue to fuel movies such as IRobot and The Island and are the major issues among bio-ethicists today.
Sabrina (1954) Directed by Billy Wilder, this Audrey Hepburn film is probably my favorite love story. A Chauffer’s daughter (the exquisite Hepburn) has forever loved her father’s employer’s lothario of a son, (a great William Holden), but he finally notices her upon her return from a couple years in France. Humphrey Bogart is the older, more business-savvy brother who steps in to head-off the inappropriate love by making Hepburn fall for him instead (the plan is to break her heart). The scene where Bogart lets Audrey down easy, and she decides she best ought to pack and return to Paris is one of my favorites. The point of any romance is really to fall in love for an hour or two, and no one is easier to fall for than Audrey.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
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On DVD (1982). Rated PG, 188(!) minutes.
Being relatively ignorant about Gandhi and out of respect for its 1982 win for Best Picture, I watched Gandhi, the movie starring Ben Kingsley (in a powerful performance).
This film is a sprawling epic that tracks Gandhi's adult life and struggle for human rights and the independence of India. He begins as a dapper English lawyer travelling in South Africa, and there he fights against apartheid. He then returns to India and adopts the 'diaper' look to show simple Indians that acceptance of the British way of life is not necessary for happiness. The remainder of the film shows his work with a group of Muslim and Hindu leaders to work against the colonial British government to obtain independence. Ultimately, the conclusion of World War II provides the necessary catalyst to produce such independence. The split of India (Muslims into Pakistan, Hindus remain in India) broke Gandhi's heart, and has ultimately led to instability in the world, even today. He is ultimately assassinated by a militant Hindu group for his continued fair treatment of Muslims.
I have to assume the facts as portrayed in the film are true; I don't have a deep base of knowledge about his life and travels. The power and impact of his method of non-violent civil disobedience is explored and (very) gently critiqued. The director (Richard Attenborough) presents an almost Messianic portrait of Gandhi, although he is shown throughout the film rejecting such notions.
The most interesting aspect of the film for me was the portrayal of Gandhi's shrewd use and partnership with the media to bring pressure upon the British to accomplish his goals. The best scenes are with Ian Charleson (Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire). Their friendship and partnership in the cause is the most authentic and deeply played in the film. The worst scenes are with Candice Bergen. They were intended to provide an American summary for the film, but they are contrived and uninteresting.
Viewer note: My favorite actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, makes a 25 second appearance in what may have been his debut film as a prejudiced South African 'street tough.'
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On DVD, 125 minutes, PG-13.
If I have seen a more beautiful film than The Painted Veil in the last two years, I can’t think of what it is. Set primarily in a Chinese village during a Cholera outbreak in 1925, the story begins in London when a bacteriologist, Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton), falls in love with Kitty, an impetuous, spoiled, beautiful woman (Naomi Watts). She is the type of woman F. Scott Fitzgerald made his reputation writing about. Kitty agrees to marry Dr. Fane to escape her mother even as she views him with indifference shading towards loathing. They leave immediately for Shanghai where the good doctor works and Kitty finds another man to occupy her time. The fallout from this indiscretion drive the young couple into the Chinese backwater where Fane attempts to stop the epidemic, leaving his punished wife alone. It is here, among piles of corpses and gorgeous hills that rise up like uneven, moss-covered teeth, that the effects of betrayal, hatred, and love are played out.
Naomi Watts is perfect as Kitty. Edward Norton, disappointing in The Illusionist, is back at the top of his game here. He is impressive in playing a detached and analytical man while nailing the emotions that lie deep below the surface.
“We didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but we fell in love,” Kitty cries, but this film sneers at that line just as Norton does. There are no “free love”, watered-down romantic notions here. Similar to Waitress, this film explores the effects and causes of infidelity. But, unlike Waitress, it holds a hard line, blaming both parties even as it holds out hope of redemption. And then there’s the cinematography of Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano), stunning and intrinsic to the plot as we are reminded that death and life and beauty and pain lay side-by-side in this world—and change from one to the other in a heartbreaking second. The Romantics argue that life’s too short to get caught up on fidelity and rules. The Painted Veil counters that it’s too short not to. This is a lovely film that captures the feel of Hollywood’s golden age. A-
Monday, June 25, 2007
With some lists and films becoming distant and esoteric, I’ve decided to dial it down. Here are 10 I hope I don’t find flipping channels, because I’ll drop everything. Not surprisingly, you may need a Y chromosome to enjoy most of these.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997): Most series start the self-parody on the third film (Return of the Jedi, Lethal Weapon 3). As with Indiana Jones, Spielberg has the confidence to do it in the second film. The Godzilla ending is way too much but the sequence where the cabin is hanging on its side in mid-air and Julianne Moore is trying not to break through the glass as it is cracking is one of the very best action sequences in the 90s.
Real Genius (1985): Genius teenagers are sent to live with other geniuses to learn about science, but it’s all really an evil scheme to make lasers and money for William Atherton, the bad guy from Ghostbusters. Val Kilmer is truly great here as the care-free genius who mentors the new boy genius, who looks like a more feminine version of Sarah Jessica Parker. Sorry, Mr. Broderick, it’s true. The climax involves a house exploding from cooking popcorn. You read that right. Cue Tears for Fears and roll credits. Awesome.
Rocky III (1983): This movie has a lot to answer for: the rise of pro wrestling in the 80s, the A-Team, Rocky IV. But I still love the last half of the movie beginning with Apollo Creed’s proposal to “win it back together”. The inevitable training montage gets a little (i.e. very) homo-erotic on the beach (Are those close-ups of the thighs/crotches really necessary?), but that’s part of the beauty of it all. I even like some of the dialogue. “I’m gonna bust you up.” “Go for it.” Wait a second- this movie might be gayer than Top Gun.
Under Siege (1992): Die Hard on a boat. The only good Steven Seagal movie has him taking on the bad guys with the occasionally topless Erika Eleniak. The knife fight with Tommy Lee Jones is great and Jones and fellow villain Gary Busey have a lot of fun chewing up the scenery. Harrison Ford watched dailies of this and got director Andrew Davis on The Fugitive. After this, Seagal became a full-blown douche-bag.
Posted by Doctor at 10:29 AM
Saturday, June 23, 2007
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In theaters starting June 29th. Rated PG-13, 113 minutes.
Michael Moore is a talented filmmaker with a penchant for straw men and hyperbole. In Sicko he takes aim at the healthcare system in the United States, comparing and contrasting it with socialized medicine in Canada, England, France and Cuba. His basic premise is that the US should provide universal health care paid for by the government, and claims that we are the only Western democracy that does not do so. The film argues that the country should pull together and 'think in terms of we, not me' on this issue, and, presumably pay higher taxes and pay our doctors less and we'll have a perfect universal healthcare system. As with all of his films (Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11), there is some truth to parts of the picture that he shows, which makes for an entertaining yet skewed movie experience.
Like a magician, he takes leaps and hides things to accomplish his illusions. The primary foils in Sicko are US HMO's and the politicians that helped establish them (Nixon) and perpetuate the system (all of them). As you might imagine, there are myriad tragic anecdotal health care stories in the United States, a country of 300 million people. Surely there are similar tragic anecdotal stories in all of the countries he shows as shining lights of healthcare, but he doesn't worry with that inconvenient truth (rim shot). The stories Moore uses are compelling and moving. While I agree that HMO's are terrible and that a system that incentivizes denial letters over people's health is inherently flawed and needs to be changed, I don't agree that socialized health care is a perfect system (although it might work in the US in some form).
The juxtaposition of someone being denied a medically necessary procedure and free healthcare from attractive and smiling physicians and nurses obviously leads you to the conclusion that governmental health care is better than the US system, which leaves 45 million uninsured and several million afflicted with an HMO. The scenes in the other countries are funny/sad because of the excellent care that is being shown at no immediate cost to the recipient.
Another downfall of Moore's films is the tendency to overreach on his points, which ultimately hurts the overall impact of the film. He has two of these moments in Sicko. The first is a dinner party in France with Americans living there. They gush about the free health care, the 5 weeks of paid vacations, the state provided nannies (who even do your laundry), the 35 hour work week, and all of the other perks of living in France (never mind the banlieus and Islamic demographic trends). He goes on and on showing the greatness of this system without showing the real cost it has, either in taxes or in national productivity. The second overreach is his use of 3 people who went to ground zero on 9/11 to volunteer. They have been denied care from the $50 million fund set up for volunteers (Moore fails to explore why) and he takes them to Guantanamo Bay to get the same care (state of the art) that the prisoners there do. That stunt is actually funny and drives home his point. Where he goes askew is when he takes them to Cuba for world class healthcare and has them go to a firehouse as returning heroes. The fawning and sycophantic portrait of a communist country is a joke.
I will admit to having my viewpoint on this issue challenged. Moore says repeatedly that a society is judged by how it treats its less fortunate, and I agree. He also quotes De Toqueville in saying that America's greatest strength is its ability to correct its course. The most effective scenes are with Michael Benn, a former member of British Parliament, who speaks knowledgeably about democracy and healthcare and the confluence of the two.
This is definitely worth seeing, and I am really looking forward to Doctor's comments or separate review of this one.
Viewing Note: I had the odd experience of talking in person to President Bush and seeing this movie with a sold-out house of hard core liberals in the same week. The pitcher in the gay couple sitting in front of me was a 'yepper', who nodded vociferously and said 'yep' or purred an emotional 'wow' at every single possible point. The GWB potshots were met with cheers and it got long applause at the end.
Both recently released on DVD for the first time.
Al Pacino first gained national notice in 1971 in The Panic in Needle Park where he played a heroin addict. The title refers to addicts freaking out about the lack of heroin supply around town. The father of Requiem for a Dream, this film is less focused and effective, but does feature a relaxed, charismatic, and raw performance by the pre-Corleone Pacino. Somehow he remains likable even when he gets his pure girlfriend hooked and encourages her to start turning tricks so they can keep their habit. The documentary style shooting is appropriate. Long lenses are used to great effect and you can really feel the New York streets. Surprisingly, there are no lessons learned or redemption found. It’s just an honest, gritty portrayal of addicts in early 70s New York. B
The film was made over a 4 year period and you can see both Ricky Roma and Vincent Hanna during the documentary part. You also see Pacino in a beard where he appears to be straight off the set of Carlito’s Way. Clearly a labor of love, it’s great to see a huge movie star follow their heart and finance their pet project. It’s even better to see a film that actually works and achieves its goal. B
Friday, June 22, 2007
As we reach the halfway point of the year, I thought I would rank my top 6 films of the year to date. I didn't really like anything else enough to rank it.
2. Knocked Up
3. King of Kong
4. Away From Her
Posted by Lawyer at 10:05 PM
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The first half of the year has not yielded a large crop of great movies (I'll post my top picks next week), but the second half seems promising. The following are ranked in order of my anticipation, with the actors/directors/writers causing my anticipation in bold:
1. There Will Be Blood (November 21). Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia). Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. Plot: A story about family, greed, religion, and oil, centered around a turn-of-the-century Texas prospector in the early days of the business. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYW2ltW5SPo
2. No Country For Old Men (November 9). Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem. Plot: Llewelyn Moss, while hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin and more than $2 million in cash. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRNxZKisSC0
3. American Gangster (November 2). Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Steven Zaillian. Starring Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. Plot: True story of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, who smuggled heroin in the caskets of soldiers killed in Vietnam and was eventually caught by NY detective Richie Roberts, who used Lucas to catch the cops and drug dealers who profited from his scheme. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOSOYSLDuQE
4. The Bourne Ultimatum (August 3). Directed by Paul Greengrass (the other Bournes, United 93). Written by Tony Gilroy. Starring Matt Damon. The third in the series. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmqbY39kuV4
5. Fred Claus (November 9). Directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers). Starring Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, and John Michael Higgins. Plot: Santa Claus' deadbeat & jealous older brother, Fred (Vaughn), must put his bitterness aside when he is forced to move into Santa's home at the North Pole. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d94SlI54e2Q
6. The Darjeeling Limited (Christmas Day). Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Anderson and Jason Schwartzman. Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Schwartzman. Plot: The death of their father sends three brothers on a journey through India.
7. Charlie Wilson's War (Christmas Day). Directed by Mike Nichols. Written by Aaron Sorkin (boo). Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Plot: Based on the life of Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, who survived a scandal that almost ruined his career and went on to oversee the largest CIA operation which funded and armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
8. Shine a Light (September 21). A documentary about the Rolling Stones from Martin Scorsese.
9. Sicko (June 29). Documentary about the US healthcare system by Michael Moore. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joaAfBr9tAE
10. Walk Hard (December 14) Directed by Jake Kasdan, produced by Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up). Written by Kasdan and Apatow. Starring Jenna Fischer (Pam from the Office), John C. Reilly, and Kristen Wiig. Plot: The second half of the 20th Century is given a send-up in this eye-opening romp, as we witness the rise and fall of music great, the wonderfully conceived Dewey Cox.
11. The Mist (November 21). Written and directed by Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile). Starring Andre Braugher and Marcia Gay Harden. Plot: Everyday-guy David Drayton is caught up in a freak storm that unleashes a species of blood-thirsty monsters in his small town.
12. Reservation Road (November 9). Directed by Terry George. Written by George and John Burnham Schwartz. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, and Jennifer Connelly. Plot: A compelling tale of the lure of revenge and the power of redemption. The drama revolves around two fathers whose families and lives tragically converge with the death of a child. In the aftermath, Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Dwight (Mark Ruffalo) each react in unexpected ways as their families struggle to cope and an emotional reckoning looms. Jennifer Connelly plays Grace, Ethan's wife; Mira Sorvino plays Ruth, Dwight's ex-wife.
13. Lions For Lambs. Directed by Robert Redford. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan. Starring Redford, Tom Cruise, Michael Pena and Meryl Streep. Plot: Injuries sustained by two Army ranger behind enemy lines in Afghanistan set off a sequence of events involving a congressman (Cruise), a journalist (Streep) and a professor (Redford).
14. The Heartbreak Kid (October 5). Written and Directed by the Farrelly Brothers. Starring Ben Stiller, Michelle Monaghan and Jerry Stiller. Plot: Single and indecisive, Eddie (Ben Stiller) begins dating the incredibly sexy and seemingly fabulous Lila. Upon the urging of his father and best friend, Eddie proposes to her after only a week, fearing this may be his last chance at love, marriage, and happiness. However, while on their honeymoon in sunny Mexico, Lila reveals her true beyond-awful nature and Eddie meets Miranda, the woman he realizes to be his actual soul mate. Eddie must keep his new, increasingly horrid wife at bay as he attempts to woo the girl of his dreams. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-I6oRjR4LQ
15. 3:10 To Yuma (October 5). Directed by James Mangold (Copland, Girl Interrupted and Walk the Line). Written by Stuart Beattie and Michael Brandt. Starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Plot: A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who's awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeroJ1BK6GQ
16. The Assassination of Jesse James (September 21). Written and Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91mg2zgfI8M
17. Michael Clayton (September 28). Written and Directed by Tony Gilroy (writer, Bourne Identity/Bourne Supremacy). Starring George Clooney, Sydney Pollack, and Tom Wilkinson. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is an in-house "fixer" at one of the largest corporate law firms in New York. A former criminal prosecutor, Clayton takes care of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen's dirtiest work at the behest of the firm's co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack).
18. Superbad (August 17). Directed by Greg Mottola. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Golberg. Starring Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill (Knocked Up), and Michael Cera (George Michael Bluth). Two co-dependent high school seniors are forced to deal with separation anxiety after their plan to stage a booze-soaked party goes awry. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LP74GjzgfdM
19. King of Kong. (August 17). I saw this earlier this year (see review here: http://dlpreviews.blogspot.com/2007/03/king-of-kong.html) and loved it. It is a documentary about the video game subculture and the personalities therein. Trailer: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809834006/video/3053794/
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1. "Citizen Kane," 1941.
2. "The Godfather," 1972.
3. "Casablanca," 1942.
4. "Raging Bull," 1980.
5. "Singin' in the Rain," 1952.
6. "Gone With the Wind," 1939.
7. "Lawrence of Arabia," 1962.
8. "Schindler's List," 1993.
9. "Vertigo," 1958.
10. "The Wizard of Oz," 1939
Here are some facts and trivia about the American Film Institute's new list of top-100 U.S. movies, with some comparisons to the institute's first such list in 1998:
— Out of the 43 newly eligible films released from 1996 to 2006, only four made the new top-100 list: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "Saving Private Ryan," "Titanic" and "The Sixth Sense."
— Nineteen other movies that failed to make the cut in 1998 landed on the list this time: "The General," "Intolerance," "Nashville," "Sullivan's Travels," "Cabaret," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "The Shawshank Redemption," "In the Heat of the Night," "All the President's Men," "Spartacus," "Sunrise," "A Night at the Opera," "12 Angry Men," "Swing Time," "Sophie's Choice," "The Last Picture Show," "Do the Right Thing," "Blade Runner" and "Toy Story."
— Twenty-three films on the 1998 list dropped out of the top-100 this time: "Dr. Zhivago," "The Birth of a Nation," "From Here to Eternity," "Amadeus," "All Quiet on the Western Front," "The Third Man," "Fantasia," "Rebel Without a Cause," "Stagecoach," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The Manchurian Candidate," "An American in Paris," "Wuthering Heights," "Dances With Wolves," "Giant," "Fargo," "Mutiny on the Bounty," "Frankenstein," "Patton," "The Jazz Singer," "My Fair Lady," "A Place in the Sun" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
— The earliest film represented is 1916's "Intolerance" and the newest is 2001's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."
— The 1970s is the most-represented decade, with 20 films. (San Jose Mercury News)
For the rest of the list, go to the comments section.
Posted by Lawyer at 8:41 PM
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
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On DVD. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Against any plausible odds, two movies came out this past year starring Victorian magicians. The other, The Illusionist, was okay and already reviewed on this site. This one, however, is truly great. I watched it in the theatre originally (with Lawyer, actually) and truly enjoyed it, but the second viewing really opened it up for me. Directed by Christopher Nolan who co-wrote with his brother Jonathan, this marks an impressive string for these siblings who also worked together on Memento (A) and Batman Begins (B+). Christopher also directed the English version of Insomnia (B+) during that time. The direction by Christopher here is flawless. While he continues to play with chronology, the structure of this film mirrors the structure of a magician's trick. The pledge, which is the set-up; the turn, in which an ordinary objects does something extraordinary (such as disappear); and the prestige, in which the original object is brought back or restored. The film comes back repeatedly to particular images and themes (a bird in a cage, the necessity of death or sacrifice to pull off a big trick, what happens to the pledge while the prestige is taking the bows) to bring continuity to the film and remind you, gnawingly, that a filmmaker of this power isn't going to go through this much trouble just to entertain you.
The plot is as follows. Two magicians, both well-played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, have a rivalry which, due to the accidental death of Jackman's wife in an underwater trick in which Christian Bale was involved, turns sinister. Bale's character marries, driving Jackman to jealousy and violent attempts at retribution for the death of his own wife. As the rivalry escalates and becomes more deadly, both men risk more and more in an attempt to best the other. Eventually death and even their souls are not off limits. The twists are constant but never cheap. And the ending, or endings more like it, have so many dimensions and enough open question that I'm still not sure what all transpired.
The cast is superb. Michael Caine narrates and figures heavily in the plot as a designer of illusions. Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly?) does a pretty good job as Bale's depressed and confused wife. David Bowie is here as well as eccentric American inventor Tesla (wikipedia that dude, and, yes, the rock band is named after him), and Andy Serkis (Gollum) has a nice turn as his assistant.
What really sticks with you after this, though, are the recurring images of being caged and either escaping or dying trying to. Tied to this are the recurring themes of glory, sacrifice and death. The film not only explores filmmaking through the categories of the pledge, the turn, and the prestige, but also life and, ultimately, issues of the existance of God and the afterlife. I say once more, this is a great film. After watching it again, I would put only The Departed before it of the films that were made last year. That it was nominated for only two Oscars, and in technical categories, is a travesty. A.
Monday, June 18, 2007
The 10th Anniversary of the original unveiling of this list is airing from 7-10pm this Wednesday, June 20, on CBS. This is one of my favorite things to watch, and it appears that they will be adding several films from the past decade to the list.
Posted by Lawyer at 10:54 AM
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Carlito’s Way (1993) Forget the straight-to-video sequel, this Brian DePalma gangster pic features a still-in-his-prime Pacino as mobster Carlito who, freed from a life sentence on a technicality, is determined to go straight. Mix in Sean Penn as a drugged-up wannabe gangster of a lawyer and one of my favorite chase scenes on film, and you’ve got a poor man’s Scorcese.
Robin Hood (1973) My favorite Disney film. Narrated through speech and song by a Roger Miller as a giant bard of a rooster, the film tells the oft-told tale of Robin Hood and his number two Little John as they steal from the rich to give to the poor of Knottingham. The story is good, but it’s the songs that steal this one and make it a classic.
The Caine Mutiny (1954) Both Fred McMurray and Humphrey Bogart play against type in this WWII-set courtroom drama. McMurray (Father Knows Best) is here a spineless author-turned-GI who convinces an officer on the USS Caine to assume command of the ship from Bogart’s Commander Twigg as he snaps. But it’s Bogey, grasping for courage with nerves shot from too many battles, that truly destroys his carefully-cultivated, anti-hero personae.
Rope (1948) While not among Hitchcock’s greatest, this 80-minute short-story of a film is one of my faves. Two cerebral types determine to strangle (with a rope) a less-intelligent college chum as an intellectual exercise the night they invite his father, fiancé, and other friends to a party in his honor. Their old teach Jimmy Stewart knows something’s up, though, in this meditation on class and evil. The film is shot in eight, ten-minute continuous shots, the length film was sold in in those days.
The Age of Innocence (1993) Although considered a disappointment, I love this story of a young man (Daniel Day-Lewis) who’s engaged to a sweet, simple girl (Winona Ryder) when he falls for a completely unacceptable divorcee (Michelle Pfeiffer) in 19th Century New York City high society. It examines the invisible chains that bind us and the nature of love, happiness, and fidelity.
Holiday Inn (1942) It’s not Christmas for me until I watch this one. A Bing Crosby, Fred Estaire musical about singer/dancers that fall in and out of love with the same girls to original songs by Irving Berlin. The comedy is great, Crosby voice is at its finest, and Estaire is a heck of a mover. But it’s “White Christmas” sung in a sprawling New England farm house with snow falling outside and Christmas tree lit that defines Christmas for millions. Here’s why.
Moulin Rouge! (2001) Baz Luhrmenn’s ADD/pop music homage to the love story distills every sugary-sweet or tragic romantic cliché into one caffeinated, high-fructose ride. Too cheesy for some, it’s the very employment of the clichés that makes Luhrmenn’s point: there’s something true in those songs and stories. The orgiastic explosion of visuals and sound in the opening mirror the beginning infatuation of love even as the ever-increasing darkness foreshadows the inevitable when a guy named Christian falls for a courtesan.
To Catch a Thief (1955) Ostensibly a mystery regarding the re-emergence of a jewel thief (Cary Grant), the third and final Grace Kelly film Hitchcock made was mainly a pretense to photograph his favorite girl in and out of the greatest clothes and locales (around the French Mediterranean) he could find. Grace is stunning; the supporting players, stellar; the cinematography, breathtaking; and the finale, a cliffhanger. Still, lest the true theme be forgotten, Hitch provides an iconic shot of a phallic cigarette thrust out in an egg yolk. Catch it now on the just-released, remastered Special Edition DVD.
The Fog of War (2003) This Errol Morris documentary follows Robert McNamara as he looks back on his involvement as a young statistician in World War I and, under JFK and LBJ, as Secretary of Defense during Vietnam. Over seventy, his mind is still razor-sharp as he speaks on the ethics of war. A must watch for anyone examining the morality of civilian deaths and collateral damage. As voters in a democracy at war, we all should be.
Unforgiven (1992) In Clint Eastwoood’s final western (he stars, produces, and directs), he deconstructs himself and the genre. Breaking a vow to his now-dead wife, he leaves hitman retirement to kill a cowboy who cut-up a prostitute. While the plot feels familiar, there’s no glory in violence or honor in killing here—only the weak succumbing to the strong, with no pretense made at morality. Eastwood introduces the nihilism he explores further in Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, but I’ll take Unforgiven every time.
In Seraphim Falls, shortly after the Civil War, former Union officer Pierce Brosnan is relentlessly followed by former Confederate Liam Neeson and a posse he is paying. You are drawn immediately into the action in a beautiful snowy sequence in the Rocky Mountains. Brosnan will go on to kill off the posse, one by one. Flashbacks will eventually inform why Neeson is so persistent and hell-bent on revenge despite bad luck and changing odds. The two Irishmen give good performances with respectable American accents. Brosnan continues his strong post-James Bond string of good performances (especially in The Matador).
But the movie gets bogged down in too much symbolism near the end when the Faust plot, magical potions and even more magical Indians make appearances. Furthermore, the event that occurred between the rivals years earlier is both horrific and overly depressing. I felt guilty for not caring more, but zero time was spent with those victims. In the end, the movie is convinced that there are no heroes or villains, but all men are good and bad simultaneously. That clichéd message as well as the lack of character development left me disappointed. C
Apocalypto has a straightforward narrative and takes time developing husband-wife, father-son, and brother-brother relationships. The weakest part occurs early on, as fart jokes and phallic jokes try to make modern-day Americans relate to the Mayan world. Director Mel Gibson seems to be slumming for the first 20 minutes. But strong family connections that will pay off later are formed during this time. Then, the group of peaceful Mayans are attacked and the male population is taken captive so they can be sacrificed. Women are sold into slavery and children are left to fend for themselves.
Unlike Seraphim Falls, there are definitely good guys and bad guys in Apocalypto and this gives you a vested interest in the outcome, ultimately drawing you in. The last third of the movie has the protagonist (Rudy Youngblood) being pursued by a posse. Like Brosnan, he begins to creatively kill them off one by one. But Gibson has spent quality time setting up character, props, and plot points – and they all pay off. B+
Medical mistake: Well, at least the sacrificial victims in Apocalypto didn’t live quite as long as they did in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when their hearts were cut out. Oh, by the way, it’s kind of violent.
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On DVD (Released 2001). Rated R, 118 minutes.
Movies with demonic bunnies aren't my favorite, generally speaking. Donnie Darko, however, was interesting and different enough for me to make an exception. Written and directed by Richard Kelly (this was his debut, he has gone on to make Domino and Southland Tales), this is a hard-core indie that only a small sliver of people will enjoy.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a brilliant but disturbed 16 year old in suburban Virginia. The film tracks the month of October, 1988 in his life. He is heavily medicated by his therapist and given no direction by his smart but oblivious parents. In his subconscious, he is visited by a demonic bunny named Frank, who coaxes him to do several destructive things that disrupt the town. He is obsessed with time travel and is too smart for his school and the other kids around him. All of the things he does at Frank's behest end up being part of a grand plan to correct a time/space issue that you won't figure out when you watch it.
The best parts of the movie are the mystery that is difficult to unravel (impossible without visiting http://ruinedeye.com/cd/) and Donnie's dialogue. He gets the tone perfect when rightly questioning the simple-mindedness of his teachers and a self-improvement coach (played by...Patrick Swayze). This is a really interesting and dark movie, with shades of The Shining, Heathers, and Blue Velvet. Bonus...Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) as one of the bullies.
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On DVD (Released 2002). Rated R, 149 minutes.
At some point, movies about a historical event become hard to watch because of redundancy. There is no better example than the Holocaust. No modern historical event has the drama and simple 'good and evil' characters, and nothing compares to the gravity of the death of millions of people based only on their race (Notwithstanding the activities in Africa over the past century). I think it might be time to blow the whistle on Holocaust movies. Schindler's List was such a towering achievement and handled the subject with such depth and unflinching accuracy that any Holocaust movie watched now is unavoidably compared against it.
The Pianist is a good movie, and if it was the first Holocaust movie I had ever seen, I would have been floored by it. This movie is more like a historic "Survivor", as it traces the true-story survival of acclaimed Polish Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody - won Best Actor for this role) from the eve of war to the end of the war. Director Roman Polanski introduces us to the cocksure and dapper Szpilman as bombs are exploding outside his studio. The next 2 hours are booo-rrrring, not because the movie is bad, but just because we have been there and done that (first a move to the ghetto, then ghetto survival, then avoiding the trips to the concentration camps), and there is no meaningful character progression that occurs.
Until the last 30 minutes, there was nothing remarkable happening and this one was destined for the "C" bin. But, as Szpilman escapes captivity and goes into hiding in 1944 Warsaw and ultimately digresses into a homeless man subsisting in the desolate and bombed out ghetto, it turns into a decent story and film. Polanski uses Szpilman's appearance to demonstrate the depths of his struggle. At first he is well groomed and immaculately dressed all the time, but as the movie progresses he gets gradually worse until he ends up literally looking and acting homeless. The best part of the story is Szpilman's interactions with a compassionate Nazi commander that allows him to live and ultimately (via food) saves his life.
Brody (whom I love to hate) does an admirable job, especially in those last scenes. He is able to capture the dehumanizing effect of hunting for food and living like an animal. The remainder of the cast is fine, and the best part of the boring 2 hours is their attempts to rationalize each situation as being okay, until they are ultimately led to their death.
My advice? Watch the first 30 minutes and the last. You'll get everything you need.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
If you've ever been sick to your stomach watching little kids walk into a horror movie with their idiot parents, here is an entertaining (if profane) "Open Letter to parents who bring their little children to extremely violent horror films" from film critic Anthony Burch:
Posted by Lawyer at 9:11 AM
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
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Wonderwall - Oasis (1995) - The simple guitar, strings and drums combined with Liam Gallagher's sneering yet vulnerable (dumb phrase, but true) voice to create the perfect song.
Where You Get Love - Matthew Sweet (1996) - I don't like much of Sweet's catalogue, but this is a pop masterpiece. The synthesizer riff is as infectious as anything I've ever heard.
The Gift (acoustic) - Seether (2006) - The unplugged format can reveal either fraud or greatness. In the case of The Gift, Seether shows how strong their music and lyrics are, and Shaun Morgan stakes a claim as the best 20 something songwriter working today.
Tangerine - Led Zeppelin (1970) - Starts out soft and finishes with one of my favorite musical interludes ever. I could listen to the instrumental playing at the end of this song for weeks. The song has several transitions in its tight 3:10 running time, and I can't hear it enough.
Without Me - Eminem (2000) - Eminem's cadence and tone of voice in his songs is aggressive and uniquely rhythmic. This song is funny, aggressive and a perfect rap/pop song.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
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Clifford (1994) - Martin Short is genius in his portrayal of a diabolical 10 year old named Clifford. His interactions with the always frustrated Charles Grodin, who plays his uncle, are consistently funny and edgy. Throw in a slimy Dabney Coleman and you've got a masterpiece.
Favorite scenes: Clifford stays up late drinking a slurpee and watching National Geographic and tries to 'smile like a normal boy.'
Bottle Rocket (1996) - Where to begin. The debut for Owen, Luke and Andrew Wilson as well as director Wes Anderson is funny in ways no other film is. The earnestness of the characters, especially Dignan, makes you buy into his fantasies, while Anthony's weariness and good guy tendencies anchor the film. This is one movie I literally have memorized. Favorite scenes: Mapping out the bookstore robbery, Applejack in the freezer, Bob's pitch to Dignan regarding his criminal skills, and 'little banana.'
Affliction (1998) - Written and directed by Paul Schrader (who also penned Raging Bull and Taxi Driver), this film maps the tortured soul of Wade (Nick Nolte). His character is still plagued by his emotionally and physically abusive father (James Coburn), and the failures in his career and family are crushing down on him. The film captures the abusive relationship between the abused, being Wade and his mother, and the abuser, Coburn, in the most raw and honest portrayal I have ever seen. I was lucky enough to have seen this with Paul Schrader and his comments about the film afterward indicate the story comes from his own experiences. Tragic and powerful.
Straight Story (1999) - David Lynch making a G rated movie is remarkable enough, but the resonance and emotion in this film make it one of my favorites. Richard Farnsworth is immobile and needs to get to Iowa to settle a dispute with his brother. Faced with no alternative, he drives his riding lawnmower the whole way. Lynch meshes the blue collar midwestern landscape and Farnsworth's noble quest perfectly. He also captures the decency and values that (tear drop) I grew up with. Farnsworth reminds me of my grandfather in this film, and its quietness is pitch perfect. Sissy Spacek co-stars as a mentally challenged woman who had her children taken away from her. See it, quick.
So I Married an Ax Murderer (1993) - Funny from the first scene, and packed with clever lines and characters, this is a great movie. The soundtrack and location (San Francisco) are both great, as are the role players working with Mike Myers. The final scene drags, but everything else is pure heaven. Favorite scenes: Michael Richards as the calloused newsman, "what this place needs is a really big poster of Atlantic City" (see photo above), Phil Hartman as "Shirley", and Mike Myers as his Scottish dad..."Head, Paper, Now!".
Sling Blade (1996) - Billy Bob Thornton wrote, directed and starred in this morality tale which builds upon the themes explored by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird and Boo Radley in particular. The relationship between Karl and his young friend is touching and real, and Karl's prescience regarding moral issues despite his mental impairment challenges generally held notions of 'competence.' As with Straight Story, I am a sucker for any movie that earnestly explores the inherent goodness of simple people, and the difficulties they face.
Reality Bites (1994) - Ben Stiller's directorial debut is massively underrated. Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofolo, and Steve Zahn are all excellent in their portayal of Gen-X disillusionment. The Hawke/Ryder/Stiller love triangle is the big draw for me, as well as the perfect use of U2's "All I want is you". Funny, true to life and romantic...the best movie out about Gen-X.
Houseguest (1995) - I like Sinbad. I don't care who knows about it. This movie is consistently funny and heartfelt without being (too) hokey. What I like about Sinbad, and this movie, is that he can be funny without being profane and without stepping on other people for a joke. Houseguest is a classic fish out of water story, with Phil Hartman as the straight man. Favorite scenes: dinner party, dentists office (rip-off of Spies Like Us), and drive home from the airport.
Winged Migration (2003) - Winged Migration is a beautiful and peaceful film tracking the migration of several species of birds across Europe. The camera work is amazing, featuring several shots from cameras mounted on certain birds. The music and sound of the birds flying is strangely interesting, and the scenery as the migration proceeds is breathtaking. Environmental issues are explored, but you don't get hit over the head with it. A quiet but effective film.
About a Boy (2002) - I use this movie as a barometer for whether I will get along with someone. The movie embraces a cynical/moral combination and has several funny scenes. Hugh Grant's interactions with Marcus are first-rate, and the sequence where he takes him under his wing is greatness. Favorite scenes: Marcus' mom confronts Hugh in the restaurant, Hugh joins Marcus' family for Christmas, and Hugh visits Rachel Weisz.
Hat tip to Doctor for the post idea and format.