Friday, June 28, 2013

Movie – Mystic Pizza (1988)

Before Pretty Woman made her a household name, and before she got an Oscar nomination for Steel Magnolias, I first saw Julia Roberts flash her famous smile in 1988’s coming of age film Mystic Pizza.  And playing a younger brother in this movie was a seventeen year old Matt Damon in his big screen debut.  This film also features early performances by Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish, and Vincent D’Onofrio.  Roger Ebert noted in his review that this film might one day be better remembered for the talent within it than for the movie itself.  I think he pretty much nailed that prediction.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Movie – Monsters University (2013)

Monsters University is the latest film from Pixar, the once independent animation company that was acquired by Disney a few years back.  It is a prequel to their very successful 2001 film Monsters, Inc.  You do not have to have seen that film to watch this one, but I would still recommend it.  Some of the basics of the “scaring” events might not make much sense if you have not watched the first film.  There are also a number of references and in jokes that you would miss.  In Monsters University we see how Mike and Sully from the first film met and became friends.  It’s not as good as the first film, but if you like that one then this is still worth seeing.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Movie – Dead Again (1991)

It’s not too common for me to be completely blindsided by a reveal or twist in a movie when much of the action hinges on the fact that we don’t know yet what is going on.  Whether it’s because I subconsciously recognize little clues and hints, or whether it’s simply the sheer number of movies I’ve seen, I tend to correctly anticipate twists.  It’s a pleasure then when I encounter a movie with a twist that completely surprises me.  I love that.  Now imagine a movie with two huge twists, neither one of which I remotely saw coming.  Dead Again is that film.  (Don’t worry – I won’t be spoiling them in this post.)  It features great double mystery stories – a murder in the 1940s and an amnesiac woman in the present – and the possibility that the two are connected somehow.  This film is a psychological thriller with honest to God genuine goose bump raising moments.  It’s also the first movie in which I ever saw Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, who play the double leads.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Movie – 2 Days in the Valley (1996)

After Pulp Fiction came out in 1994 any film that featured intersecting narratives got branded as a “ripoff” of “Tarantino’s idea”.  Of course, he was hardly the first person to use this story device in a film – watch Robert Altman’s 1975 film Nashville, 1992 film The Player, and 1993 film Short Cuts, for instance.  Usually any charges of a film being directly related to Pulp Fiction because of its story structure can be ignored, but in the case of 2 Days in the Valley that might actually be correct.  It came out only two years after Pulp Fiction – enough time to develop and shoot a film based on the popularity of another.  It features at least a dozen familiar faces playing characters in and around Los Angeles whose lives end up connecting over the course of 48 hours.  Among those faces is Charlize Theron.  Other than an uncredited appearance in a horror movie sequel, this was her first film role and also the first film in which I ever saw her.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Movie – The Night Before (1988)

Before he was an action star, before he was in the Bill & Ted movies, even before a key supporting turn in Dangerous Liaisons, I saw Keanu Reeves in the comedy The Night Before (not to be confused with 1986’s About Last Night.)  It was written and directed by Thom E. Eberhardt as his follow-up movie to 1984 cult classic Night of the Comet.  (You can read my review of that here.)  The Night Before has obvious influences from both Risky Business (1983) and Adventures in Babysitting (1987).  It has just as obviously influenced a whole bunch of later films from a low of Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000) to a high of The Hangover (2009).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie – Lone Star (1996)

Back in 1996 Lone Star was my first exposure to writer/director John Sayles.  Even though I had heard of some other films of his like The Brother from Another Planet (1984) and Eight Men Out (1988), I had not seen them.  (Still haven’t, actually.)  Sayles’ critics, much like Kevin Smith’s, complain that he is a better writer than he is a director.  I say give me an engaging story any day, rather than a bunch of “look at me, I’m an artiste!” camera movements.  In fact, the screenplay for Lone Star received numerous nominations, including ones for the WGAs, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Academy Awards.  This film also happens to be the first one in which I ever saw Matthew McConaughey.  It is a well-written story of parent/child relations, white, latino, and black relations, and the legacy of a man vs. the reality of that man, all wrapped in a 40 year old mystery story.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Movie – Man of Steel (2013)

After the 2006 Superman Returns film failed to re-launch the character of Superman, probably because director Brian Singer couldn’t decide if he wanted to make a sequel or a remake, we now have the latest attempt: 2013’s Man of Steel.  This time around there is no doubt: this is a 100% reboot of the character.  Director Zack Snyder attracts blind hatred from critics – I read many negative reviews of Sucker Punch where they got so many basic plot points about the film wrong that it was obvious they had written the bad review without actually seeing the movie – so it’s no surprise that his latest film is currently sitting at 57% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.  It’s at 82% Fresh with audiences, though.  Man of Steel is not a must see movie, but neither is it an embarrassment.  It’s a shut your brain off and eat popcorn movie, much like the other blockbusters that have preceded it this summer.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Movie – Gattaca (1997)

Although the concept of genetic engineering had been around for decades in science fiction writing, movies had tended to either stay away from the potentially controversial subject, or they had presented a very simplistic view of it as something only evil scientists wanted to do.  Gattaca was the first film I saw that treated the subject intelligently, and that dealt with the social impact this would have on the world.  It is also the first film in which I ever saw Jude Law.

There are some other firsts that go along with this movie.  It was the first film for writer/director Andrew Niccol (writer of the Truman Show, writer/director of Lord of War – a much overlooked movie that is well worth your time.)  Gattaca was also the first film that Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live) ever did.  Finally, it was the film where Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman first fell in love.  They eventually married and had two children.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Movie – Dead Calm (1989)

The Australian film Dead Calm, based on the Charles Williams’ novel of the same name, is the first movie in which I ever saw Nicole Kidman.  She was just 21 years old – pre-Oscar win, pre-Tom Cruise, pre-Hollywood, even pre-boob job, as we find out.  (Don’t worry ladies, there’s equal opportunity nudity for you from 22 year old, full head of hair, buff Billy Zane.)  The two, along with Sam Neill, are pretty much the only cast in this intense thriller, so even though Kidman was relatively new to films she gets a chance to shine.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Movie – Hackers (1995)

Hackers is a film very much of its own time.  Because of rapid advancement in computer technology young people watching it today probably do not even understand some of the terms the characters are using.  The film has a bunch of references to the history of computers, the history of hacking, and the cyberpunk literature movement that was started in the 1980s.  As both a computer person and science fiction fan, I got a great deal of enjoyment from this film.  All of that paled in comparison to something else this film provided to me – it’s the first time I ever saw Angelina Jolie onscreen.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Movie – My Father the Hero (1994)

My Father the Hero is the first film in which I ever saw Katherine Heigl.  She was in her teens and was playing the daughter to Gerard Depardieu in this comedy vehicle for him.  The film is actually a remake of the original 1991 French film of the same (translated) name, which also starred Depardieu.  In that one Belgian actress Marie Gillain played his daughter and it launched her career.  While Heigl eventually needed a TV show to make her a household name, she did work steadily after making this film.  The problem is that a story that works for a French audience isn’t necessarily one that works for an American audience.  This remake was polarizing for some people.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book – 150 Movies You Should Die Before You See

No, that title is not a typo.  It is having fun with the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die books.  The title appears on the cover as “150 Movies You Should See” then has the little insert here sign poking up between “Should” and “See” with the words “Die Before You” written below it.  It then has a circle that says “Includes such classics as: The Evil Bong, Monster a Go-Go!, and Cadaverella”.  This 2010 book is written by Steve Miller (not the musician) in an entertaining, fun, and very knowledgeable way.

Miller starts out by saying that he’s one of the people who enjoys watching movies that most people would consider bad.  He does this because they can be entertaining in a “so bad it’s good” way.  He writes that even he has trouble finding anything to like about some films, though.  He cautions that he is not trashing movies in this book; that in fact some of his favorite films of all time are in it.  He is doing the book more to have fun with these films than anything else.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

May Movie Status

I saw 66 new movies in the month of May, plus 6 movie re-watches.  I mentioned last month that I didn’t have a specific goal for May in regards to the 1,001 Movies list.  I thought I might try to finish off the 1930s and 1940s, but I did not do that.  Netflix won’t ship me 1938’s Angels with Dirty Faces despite the fact it’s been at the top of my queue for almost three months, and there didn’t seem to be much point in completing the 1940s if the 1930s were still incomplete.  That one film also prevented me from completing the first 200 films in the list.  On a positive note, I did pass the 1,000 entries seen mark during the month.  As I write this I am at 1,025 seen (or 78 left to see, if you prefer).

I’m not sure if I’m going to try any short term goals in June.  In theory I could actually complete the list this coming month, but I doubt I will go to that much effort.  I also am really starting to wonder if I will complete every other entry and still be waiting for Angels with Dirty Faces.  I’ve tried finding it online with no success and it isn’t coming up on TCM’s schedule in the next couple of months.  1981’s Three Brothers is another potential issue since it’s been sitting at number 2 in my queue for the same length of time and Netflix won’t ship that to me, either.

As for the Oscar Best Picture nominees, I did set a goal for May of completing all the remaining nominees from the 1950s and 1960s and I was able to achieve that.  I now have a total of 76 nominees left to see, with 1947’s Crossfire being the newest of them.

Completing the 1940s may not happen for quite some time since there is one nominee – 1941’s Hold Back the Dawn – that is not available from Netflix, not coming up on TCM’s schedule, and that I have been unable to track down online.  I may never see it.  I have a similar situation in the 1930s with Trader Horn.

On a related movie list note, I completed the Entertainment Weekly list of the Top 100 films of all time (125 actually, since they added 25 more to it.)  If you are interested in seeing this list you can click on the name.

Here are the 66 new movies I saw in May.  Highlighted movies are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.  I will single out the four and five star films, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

1,001 Movies (39): The Shop on Main Street (1965), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Winchester ’73 (1950), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – also in the Oscar list, A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Stella Dallas (1937), Blow-Up (1966), Daybreak (1939), Song at Midnight (1937), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Cria Cuervos (1975), Caravaggio (1986), The Dead (1987), Day for Night (1973), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Destry Rides Again (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), High Sierra (1941), The Man in Grey (1943), The Seventh Victim (1943), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Naked Spur (1953), The Golden Coach (1952), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Odd Man Out (1947), Chimes at Midnight (1965), Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Eraserhead (1977), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), The Ladykillers (1955), Rio Grande (1950), Up in Smoke (1978), El Norte (1983), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Stroszek (1977), Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977)

Oscar Nominees (15): Kings Row (1942), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – also in the 1,001 list, Beckett (1964), Darling (1965), A Thousand Clowns (1965), Room at the Top (1959), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Suspicion (1941), Separate Tables (1958), Sayonara (1957), The Country Girl (1954), All This, and Heaven Too (1940), The Rose Tattoo (1955), The Letter (1940), Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939)

Other Movies (13): Iron Man 3 (2013), Hatari! (1962), Footnote (2011), Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (2005), Carousel (1956), POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011), The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine (2005), The Damned United (2009), Limitless (2011), Take Me Home Tonight (2011), 30 for 30: The Two Escobars (2010), Tonight You’re Mine (2011), Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

Re-watches (6): The Avengers (2012), Belle Epoque (1992), 11 Minutes Ago (2007), Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (2012), Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville (2012), Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall (2012)

TV Series (0):

I had no five star films in May.  My four star films were Iron Man 3 (2013), Day for Night (1973), Sayonara (1957), POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011), and Tonight You’re Mine (2011). 

You can read my review of Iron Man 3 by clicking on the movie name in this sentence. 

Day for Night is Francois Truffaut’s behind the camera look at what goes on while making a movie.  There’s both humor and drama, especially when it comes to the various on-set relationships and in the many issues that arise for the director (played by Truffaut himself.)   

Sayonara is a different kind of John Wayne movie.  It’s not a western, and despite the fact that it takes place during the Korean War, it is not a war film.  It’s a movie about the many challenges servicemen went through when they fell in love and married Asian women.  The extreme racism of the military high command caused them to ostracize anyone who crossed a line they did not want crossed.  The movie features Oscar winning performances from Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki – the latter being the first Asian performer, male or female, to win an Oscar.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a documentary from Morgan Spurlock, the man behind 2004’s Super Size Me.  This film is similar in that it contains some wry humor as we watch Spurlock try to accomplish something.  In this case it’s showing how product placement in movies works and Spurlock does it by funding this entire film via product placement (hence the title).  Had I seen this during 2011 I might very well have had it in my Top 10 for the year.

Tonight You’re Mine is a romantic comedy.  Some people probably won’t like it just because of that, but I enjoyed it.  It was shot in only five days during the Scottish T in the Park music festival.  Two musicians (from different acts) get handcuffed together by a mischief maker and have to spend 24 hours joined at the wrist.  This includes when she has to perform on stage.  It’s a short, fun movie and has a lot of good music in it.

The 1,001 Movies list is reliable for providing me with at least one 1 star movie every month.  In May I had four.  They were The Man in Grey (1943), Eraserhead (1977), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977).  (I also saw 1977’s Stroszek – which can best be summed up as “Life sucks, then you die”.  The lead singer of Joy Division killed himself after watching it.  After enduring these films this month, 1977 has a lot to answer for, Star Wars notwithstanding.)

The Man in Grey is the soapiest of soap operas, except that it’s also a period piece and made at a time when they couldn’t put anything remotely salacious in it to distract us from the cheesy plot. 

Eraserhead is a typical David Lynch movie where he just puts a bunch of nonsensical stuff on screen and then sits back waiting for critics to pee themselves over all the different theories they can make up regarding what he’s really trying to say. 

The Hills Have Eyes is a very low-budget horror movie.  It’s a genre that doesn’t do much for me and this one was worse than some others I’ve seen. 

Last Chants for a Slow Dance may have been where Vincent Gallo got the idea for his 2003 film Brown Bunny where he seemed to spend most of the film driving around in front of an out of focus camera.  Last Chants states at the end that only $2,000 was spent making it.  My reaction to that was, “What happened to the $1,950 that didn’t end up on screen?”  If you want to see a much better, very low budget movie try 1992’s El Mariachi.