Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie – The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939)

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, sometimes translated incorrectly as The Story of the Late Chrysanthemum, is a Japanese film originally titled Zangiku monogatari.  It is based on the Shofu Muramatsu novel of the same name and directed by Kenji Mizoguchi (Sansho the Bailiff, Ugetsu).  It is considered Mizoguchi’s best film made prior to WWII.  In fact, of his seven films on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list it’s the only one made prior to 1952.  It tells a simple, but timeless tale of love and achievement.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Movie – Daybreak (1939)

Daybreak (aka Le jour se leve) is the second French film I am reviewing as part of my A Great Year for Movies – 1939 category.  The other was the more famous The Rules of the Game.  Both of them were controversial and both ended up being banned by the French Vichy government during WWII for being either immoral or demoralizing.  Being banned has probably led to both being better remembered today.  Why was Daybreak considered demoralizing and immoral?  Well, it starts right out with one man murdering another…and the murderer is the lead character in the film.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Movie – Ninotchka (1939)

As you can see from the poster to the right this film was marketed as “Garbo Laughs”.  Although popular with audiences she had a reputation for playing stern or melancholy characters in dramas and melodramas.  This marketing plan was quite successful, but also misleading.  Greta Garbo had laughed onscreen in quite a few of her movies – Queen Christina (1933) comes to mind – but she had not been in a big out and out comedy.  With a co-writing credit from Billy Wilder and direction from Ernst Lubitsch Garbo was certainly in good hands.  This is a predictable, but entertaining, movie.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Movie – Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

In the crowded year that was 1939 Only Angels Have Wings still managed to get two Oscar nominations.  It didn’t win either of them, but this isn’t the kind of film that would really win Oscars anyway.  This is far more Adventure Theater than Masterpiece Theater.  It has manly men performing daring feats of flying and the women who love/lust after them.  It is directed by Howard Hawks who had a talent for comedy, drama, and adventure.  This is a film that should certainly entertain you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Movie – Stagecoach (1939)

Stagecoach was the first of many collaborations between director John Ford and actor John Wayne.  It was very influential both in presentation and plot.  The concept of having a group of people in a hostile situation, some of them with secrets, has been used many times since, in almost every setting.  There’s an adage that says that a villain is the hero of his own story.  Well, the travelers aren’t really villains, but what Stagecoach gets right is that each of them is the lead of their own story.  They just happen to come together on a stagecoach that is traversing hostile territory.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Movie – Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind, based on the Margaret Mitchell novel of the same name, was the pop culture phenomenon of the late 1930s.  The book had created a sensation when it came out, and almost immediately people started talking about making a movie from it.  There was no doubt in people’s minds who should play Rhett Butler – Clark Gable.  On the other hand, the casting of Scarlett O’Hara has become the stuff of legend – so much so, that no one alive today even knows the true story anymore of exactly how Vivien Leigh got the part.

Monday, December 1, 2014

November Movie Status

I watched 32 new movies in November, plus rewatched 1 movie, plus watched a TV miniseries/season. 

I continued to work on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  I passed 900 of the 1,000 entries.  As of this writing I have 83 left to see.  And after a year of trying to get Heimat from Netflix they moved it to Unavailable status this month.  I appealed for help in getting it to watch and a very kind person was able to do that for me.  I finally knocked off the longest entry on the list – all 16 hours of it.  I now have only one entry longer than 2.5 hours left and only ten longer than 2 hours.

I once again worked on completing directors with at least four entries on the list.  In November I finished off the last of: 7 von Sternberg, 15 Bunuel, 7 Mizoguchi, 5 Melville, 5 McCarey, 8 Huston, and 9 Scorcese.  I still have 17 more directors like this to go (out of 77), including the two with the most entries – Godard and Ford.

Here are the 32 new movies I saw in November.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

Monday, November 24, 2014

There Will Be a Pause in Posting, and I Have a Request

Hopefully it will be a short pause.  I was going to write my next review tonight, but when I got home I found my house had been broken into.  No one was harmed, but damage was done.  I’m going to have to deal with this first.  Then when you throw in the Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday it may be a week or more before I post again.

Oh, and there is also what I believe to be transmission problems with my vehicle that I was trying to get the dealer to look at before Thanksgiving.

And it’s only Monday.

So now that I’ve depressed some/all of you, how is your week going so far?  J

I suppose now that I’ve banked a little sympathy I might as well go ahead and see if anyone can help me with something movie related.

Heimat, the 1984 German TV Miniseries, has just gone to Unavailable status on Netflix.  The first disk had been in Very Long Wait status ever since I added it to my queue a year ago.  The other five disks were all readily available, but Netflix has now made all six Unavailable.  Maybe I should have watched disks 2-6 when I had the chance.

Amazon is selling Heimat…for $369.95.  That’s somewhere north of ridiculous.  And that only gets you what reviewers say is a crappy DVD transfer that apparently came from a video cassette.  The price also means Netflix will not be replenishing their inventory of it anytime soon.  Finally, I can’t find it at any of the online sites I’ve used to find other movies Netflix does not offer.

Heimat is on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list, the New York Times Top 1,000 Movies list, the Empire Top 500 movies list, and the Empire Top 100 World Films list.  I’ve been working on the TSPDT list and I’m down to less than 100.  I had located all the remaining ones, but Heimat has now become an issue.

Does anyone know of a place to find Heimat?  If you are uncomfortable leaving a comment here you can email me at with the particulars.

Please note that there were follow-up TV miniseries Heimat 2 (1992) and Heimat 3 (2004).  It’s the original from 1984 I’m looking for.  Its full title is Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (aka Heimat: Eine Deutsche Chronik).

I hope all the folks in the U.S. have a Happy Thanksgiving.  And for the folks outside the U.S., I hope you have a better than usual Thursday.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Movie – Wuthering Heights (1939)

Wuthering Heights is based on the 1857 novel of the same name by Emily Bronte.  I have not read the book, so I cannot compare the two.  I checked and apparently this film adapts only the first half of the book.  It concentrates on Heathcliff and Cathy and removes all plot related to the second generation that followed them.  I knew none of this when I saw it so I had no expectations.  I was able to go into it not knowing what was supposed to happen and I feel that allowed me to enjoy the film more.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie – The Rules of the Game (1939)

The Rules of the Game, despite being so acclaimed by critics, actually has a pretty simple premise that has been copied many times – show a group of people, many of them unlikable, from different social strata interacting with each other.  Off the top of my head other films like this one include Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Big Chill (1983), The Decline of the American Empire (1986), and Gosford Park (2001).  What puts The Rules of the Game at or near the top of so many film critics’ “Best of…” lists?  I have a couple of theories that I will share on that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Movie – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is based on the 1831 Victor Hugo novel of the same (translated) name.  I have not read it, but it’s my understanding that this film adaptation differs from it in several ways, including the ending.  If that is the case then perhaps it is for the better because this film has one of the all time great closing lines in film history.  I will not spoil it here, but anyone who has seen the film knows what I am referring to.  And if you saw it and was unmoved then you must be made of stone yourself.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Movie and Book – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

What can be written about The Wizard of Oz that hasn’t already been said in any of the many, many extras and stories and documentaries on the making and history of it?  Those have covered everything from the happy (impact on children) to the sordid (Garland being on drugs to make it through the long working hours) to the ridiculous (Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon supposedly being written to sync up with it – it wasn’t).  There’s no way to top those, especially the Pink Floyd one, but I can write about the personal aspects of it.  I can also write about the far less well known book upon which it was based.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Great Year for Movies - 1939

Scarecrow: I haven't got a brain...only straw.
Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?
Scarecrow: I don't know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?
Dorothy: Yes, I guess you're right.

                                                                       --- The Wizard of Oz

If you stop to think about it, the movies that came out in 1939 were released 75 years ago.  Many of them have been forgotten, some justly, some unjustly.  And some of them are among the all time classics in movie history.

In honor of their 75th anniversary I am going to be recommending my five top rated films from 1939, along with the ones from the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list that received three stars from me.

Why am I doing this category?  Why this year?  It is because I consider 1939 to be the best year for movies in all of cinema history.  1994 would be second, in case you are curious.  I discussed that year here.  By the way, 1954 and 1974 are also standouts. 

I won’t be reviewing them now, but so that these good films at least get some notice, here are other 1939 movies that I would recommend:  The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Young Mr. Lincoln, and Of Mice and Men

Here are the 1939 movies I have seen that I would not recommend: Destry Rides Again, Gunga Din, and Babes in Arms.  All are 2.5 star movies, which means they were okay, but not good enough to recommend.

There are some notable 1939 movies that I have not seen.  If you have a particular favorite among them, please let me know:  The Four Feathers, The Women, Son of Frankenstein, Gulliver’s Travels, The Roaring Twenties, Buck Rogers, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, Beau Geste, Drums Along the Mohawk, and Midnight.  I have not seen Love Affair yet, but since it is a Best Picture nominee I will watch it eventually.  I am pretty sure I have seen both The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but I am not positive.

As I post the reviews, I will come back and add links here for those posts:

1.  Mr.Smith Goes to Washington – (posted May 6, 2012)

Gone with the Wind
Only Angels Have Wings
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

On to the reviews…

Saturday, November 1, 2014

October Movie Status

After watching only 8 movies last month I got back into the swing of things and watched 34 new movies in October, along with a re-watch of the sixth season of the TV show Castle. 

With various goals that I knew were achievable I made good progress on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  I’ve now seen all of the 600 highest ranked films on the list.  I finally managed to get almost all of the Netflix Very Long Wait entries, either from them or from other sources.  This meant I was able to complete all entries that are more than three hours long, with the exception of the very longest – Heimat.  I still can’t get the first disk of it from Netflix.  Without it there’s no point in getting the other five disks which are all readily available.  Counting Heimat, I have only 5 entries longer than 2.5 hours left, but I have to rely on Netflix for all of them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book – Wild Storm

Note: This is part of my ongoing reviews of the Castle television show’s seasons, the books written by “Richard Castle”, and some events related to the show.  For the parent post with links to all of these, please click here.

This is the second real Derrick Storm novel to be published under the author’s name of Richard Castle – the fictional character on the TV show Castle.  When the show opened Richard Castle was the popular author of a series of thrillers that all had the main character of Derrick Storm.  He was just publishing his final Storm book, though.  He had killed off the character since he was bored with him.  He soon got an inspiration for a new character of Nikki Heat, an NYPD detective based on the Detective Beckett character he was working with on the TV show.  During the course of the show we have seen the Castle character write six Nikki Heat novels. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Book – Raging Heat

Note: This is part of my ongoing reviews of the Castle television show’s seasons, the books written by “Richard Castle”, and some events related to the show.  For the parent post with links to all of these, please click here.

Raging Heat is the sixth Nikki Heat book by “Richard Castle”, the fictional writer on the TV show Castle.  The actual author of these books is speculated to be one of the real authors who have appeared on the show (i.e. Michael Connelly, James Patterson) or one of the show’s creators (i.e. Andrew Marlowe).  Like the first five books, this one has events or plot points similar to things that have happened on the Castle TV show in the prior season.  This book is more standalone than the last one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Here are the Official Changes for the 2014 Edition of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Plus the Renumbered List

I received the 2014 edition of the 1,001 Movies book from Amazon U.K.  Note to anyone else who is thinking of buying it from them: unlike Amazon U.S. they don’t ship books in a box that protects them; they simply wrap a thin piece of cardboard around the book apparently to keep dirt off it.  The book arrived battered at both ends from knocking against other packages.  I paid full price (plus shipping “across the pond”) for a new book and received one in used book condition.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

TV – Castle Season 6

Note: This is part of my ongoing reviews of the Castle television show’s seasons, the books written by “Richard Castle”, and some events related to the show.  For the parent post with links to all of these, please click here.  In the coming days I will also post reviews of the latest books.

Note 2: There are spoilers for Season 5 in this post.

This season picks up right where Season 5 ended.  Castle has just proposed marriage to Beckett.  The context at the end of Season 5 was one where it seemed more likely they were going to break up than they were going to get engaged.  It was then surprising for the fans that show runner Andrew Marlowe actually had her accept.  Most fans had grown cynical of Marlowe’s apparent continued dislike for the two of them as a couple.  It’s possible the network had a word with him and told him that they wanted ratings, which meant giving the fans what they wanted to see – Castle and Beckett as a couple, or “Caskett” as some fans referred to them. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Is This the Most Iconic Music Video of All Time?

I happened to catch part of a music video recently that did a different kind of spin on the image from a popular 1980s music video.  That reminded me of how many times those images had been repeated in videos over the years.

Now “iconic” means different things to different people.  Those old enough to remember when Mtv actually stood for “music television” might be thinking Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.  It certainly was played a ton of times and it wouldn’t surprise me if it holds the record for most times played on Mtv.  While the claymation aspect of it was entertaining, other than Gabriel’s next video I don’t think too many other people have copied the look of it. (Weird Al Yankovic did do the train around the head bit in his Lady Gaga parody “Perform this Way”.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Movie – Yojimbo (1961)

Yojimbo from writer/director Akira Kurosawa has been remade twice – the first time as a spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood (1964’s A Fistful of Dollars) and the second time as a Prohibition era action film starring Bruce Willis (1996’s Last Man Standing).  Those two films show the universal nature of the story by seamlessly shifting the setting from feudal Japan to the old American West to 1930s small town America.  The fact that one version was an out and out western shows once again how Kurosawa’s films were often influenced by American westerns, especially the films of John Ford.  I consider Yojimbo to be the best version of the three movies, although Eastwood’s is certainly the best known.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Movie – The Sundowners (1960)

The Sundowners is based on the 1952 Jon Cleary novel of the same name.  There is also a 1950 American film of the same title, but it has nothing to do with either the novel or the 1960 film.  The story is set in the Australian outback in the 1920s.  The Carmody family are sheep drovers and they live in what is, for all intents and purposes, a covered wagon.  Change the sheep to cattle, and the setting to the American west in the 1800s and you’d have an instantly recognizable western.  Director Fred Zinneman had previously done High Noon (1953) and Oklahoma! (1955), so he knew his way around the look and feel of the old west.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September Movie Status

I saw 8 new movies, re-watched 1 other, and re-watched two TV show seasons in the month of September. 

I managed to get a couple of “Very Long Wait” DVDs from Netflix for the TSPDT list, and one of them was among the longest movies I had left.  I also was able to track down a few more of the ones I was having trouble getting from Netflix.

With TV shows coming back in September they release the sets for the prior season as a marketing gimmick to remind people of them.  I spent a sizable amount of time rewatching the entire seasons for a couple of shows.  That cut into my movie viewing quite a bit.

Here are the 8 new movies I saw in September.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

TSPDT (5): Heaven’s Gate (1980), Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954), Entr’acte (1924), The Thief of Bagdad (1940), They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

Other Movies (3): Mosquita y Mari (2012), Sixteen (1973), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Rewatches (1): Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

TV (2): Marvel’s Agents of Shield Season 1, The Big Bang Theory Season 7

Mosquita y Mari (2012) – Interesting film with some potential but unfortunately the director didn't seem to know where she wanted to go with it. The two actresses do a good job with what they are given to work with. I just wish there was a better overall story for them to be a part of.  2.5 stars

Sixteen (1973) – Hicksploitation film from the early 1970s ostensibly starring Oscar nominee Mercedes McCambridge, but really more a film looking for an excuse to show off Simone Griffeth's beauty. She plays a daughter of a swamp family. The whole family goes to a carnival where she is seduced by an older male performer, while her teen brother is seduced by an older female performer. 2.5 stars

The Amazing Spider-Man (2014) – The first Spider-Man retread was really poorly written - laughably so - and yet they chose to bring back the same writers for the sequel.  This time around they decided to repeat almost everything wrong with Spider-Man 3. Too many villains running around? Check. One of them Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin, pissed at Peter? Check. Completely forced relationship breakup? Check. Too many different subplots, leaving them all undeveloped? Check.  2 stars

Heaven’s Gate (1980) – Beautifully filmed, but incredibly bloated, movie. This is a basic story of the Johnson County War, with a love triangle thrown in. There's about 90 minutes of story, but director Cimino famously delivered a hugely overfilled movie. The official version is three hours and 39 minutes long.  And the sound mix is horrible. There were many times where the background noise drowned out the dialogue. There were no English subtitles on the DVD I got from Netflix to help with the sound problem, either.  2 stars

Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954) (aka Honor Among Thieves) – This isn't a heist film - that's already happened before the movie opens. Instead, it's a movie about what happens afterwards. In these kinds of films either the criminals turn on each other, or one's an idiot who blabs too much to others and gets everyone in trouble. This movie is the latter.  Jean Gabin is terrific as the world-weary mastermind whose partner gets them both in trouble. Watch also for an early in her career Jeanne Moreau as a showgirl who finds out about the heist.  3.5 stars

Entr’acte (1924) – Think Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali invented film surrealism? Think again. Rene Clair made this short 5 years before they did Un chien andalou.  I am certainly no fan of surrealism, but the imagery in Entr'acte is actually entertaining and in some cases even kind of fun.  3 stars

The Thief of Bagdad (1940) – I’m sure I would have liked this film much more if I had seen it as a child.  It has adventure and characters to root for.  Unfortunately, I saw it for the first time just now.  It’s a simplistic story that does not hold up to even the slimmest amount of thought.  Everything is overacted.  The score is incredibly loud and irritating – to the point where I literally had to hold the remote the entire film, increasing the volume to try to hear the dialogue, but then decreasing it to try to not get my ears blasted by the score.  It’s a very colorful film and some of the special effects, such as the magic carpet ride, still hold up today.  And if you like male beauty, this is the film for you.  2.5 stars

They Died with Their Boots On (1941) – Even by the standards of film biographies of the time this movie is pure Hollywood hokum.  About the only thing they got correct with this bio of General Custer is that he died at Little Big Horn.  Everything else is fiction.  Errol Flynn as Custer has charisma oozing out of every pore, and Olivia de Havilland once again joins him on screen, but even they couldn’t quite rise above the “gee whiz and aw shucks” scenes.  I would like to note this might be the earliest made film I’ve ever seen that is reasonably sympathetic to American Indians, even referring to them once as “the only true Americans.”  2.5 stars

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Movie – The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)

When is a western not a western?  When it’s an “eastern”.  Take all the standard western story points, and even horses, guns, and wide open spaces, and transplant them to Manchuria (northeastern China) in the late 1930s.  For those who don’t know their world history the Japanese had invaded the region in 1931 and set up a collaborationist government there.  The result is that many people operated outside the law, including the Koreans whose country was to the southeast of Manchuria.  This means that the wide open spaces of Manchuria were literally the “wild west” for Koreans in the late 1930s.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Movie – Star Wars (1977)

Science fiction films are sometimes referred to as “space operas”, not unlike westerns sometimes being called “horse operas”.  The reason is that there are often similarities in the kind of stories being told; it’s only the setting that is different.  I wrote in the parent post for this category, “Consider the following story: farm boy from the boondocks meets an old gunslinger who shows him the ropes.  After riding into town where all the bad guys and action are they join up with a disreputable criminal with a heart of gold and later a fancy woman out of her element.  Farm boy wants to get revenge on the man who killed his father.  And that man is the former protégé of the old gunslinger who was once very close to him until the protégé betrayed him.  If that’s not a western, I don’t know what is.  If you haven’t figured it out already, I just described Star Wars.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Movie – Tampopo (1985)

Tampopo is a Japanese film that is clearly rooted in the American Western film genre.  It is set in contemporary Japan, but all of the basic story points are pure classic western.  A mysterious stranger rides into town, helps save a widow and her son, fights the bad guys, and rides off into the sunset.  While it is interesting to see the genre reinterpreted this way, the most fun comes from the comedic aspects of the film itself.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Westerns That Are Not Set In The West

“Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  We must be cautious.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars

Think of all the different kinds of movie genres: drama, comedy, horror, romantic comedy, musical, thriller, action, science fiction, fantasy, etc.  What do these genre names have in common?  They all describe the content of what is in the movie.  And that content can occur in any possible setting or time period.

At first glance, the one exception to this is the Western genre.  Instead of describing what is in it, it describes where and when it is set.  Say “western” and people picture the American West, Monument Valley, desert, cacti, mid 1800s technology, etc.  It’s the only major movie genre that is like that.  (No, “Foreign” doesn’t count since that describes the language being spoken in the film, not where it is set.  Watch The Wedding Banquet sometime.  And some people miss the fact that a movie set in outer space does not have to be science fiction.  It was sad how often I saw Gravity described as “sci-fi”.  It’s a drama set in contemporary near Earth orbit.  And while we’re at it, science fiction doesn’t have to be set in the future.)

But at second glance, is “western” really describing only the setting?  I’m sure it started out that way, but over the decades it has also come to describe the kind of story you can expect almost as much as when you hear “horror” or “romantic comedy”.  When hearing the term “western” some people certainly are picturing desert, but others are picturing tales of good guys vs. bad guys, revenge on someone who has hurt a family member, gunslingers, desolation, a stranger riding into town and helping a widow save her land, etc.

And there are films with the classic western setting that have nothing to do with any of the classic western stories and themes.  Take From Noon to Three (1976).  It certainly starts like you would expect, but it goes in a whole other direction that people probably are not expecting when they think of a western.  And that doesn’t hold a candle to Dead Man (1995) when it comes to a classic western setting presenting a story far removed from that of the classic western film.

Consider the following story: farm boy from the boondocks meets an old gunslinger who shows him the ropes.  After riding into town where all the bad guys and action are they join up with a disreputable criminal with a heart of gold and later a fancy woman out of her element.  Farm boy wants to get revenge on the man who killed his father.  And that man is the former protégé of the old gunslinger who was once very close to him until the protégé betrayed him.  If that’s not a western, I don’t know what is.  If you haven’t figured it out already, I just described Star Wars.

Aside from science fiction, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa were certainly influenced by American westerns, to the point that some of them even ended up getting remade as out and out westerns (Seven Samurai = The Magnificent Seven, Yojimbo = A Fistful of Dollars, Sanjuro = For a Few Dollars More, etc.)

And the American West isn’t the only place with lawless wide open spaces.  A film such as The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) is set in Manchuria – which is both literally and metaphorically the Wild West for the 1930s Koreans that are the main characters in it.  The Sundowners (1960) is set in the Australian outback in the 1920s and features a family living and riding in what might as well be a stagecoach while driving sheep.  Django Unchained (2012) is certainly set in the right time period, but it’s in the American South not the West.  It echoes so much of the classic western, though, that writer/director Quentin Tarantino referred to it as a “Southern”.

All of these films and more are Westerns in everything except name.  These are the kinds of movies I will be recommending in this category.  As I review the films I will come back and add the links for them here.

Tampopo (1985)
Star Wars (1977)
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)
The Sundowners (1960)
Yojimbo (1961)

Firefly (posted May 5, 2011)
Serenity (posted May 5, 2011)
Seven Samurai (posted October 7, 2011)
Django Unchained (posted February 4, 2013)

On to the reviews…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Some Thoughts on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They (TSPDT) Movie List

As some of you know I’m a lists person.  I’ve compiled my own lists of films to see, and referenced ones from many other sources.  I’ve also completed quite a few different lists, including the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, all the AFI lists, both the 2012 Sight and Sound Critics’ Top 250 and Directors’ Top 100 lists, the Top 100 Movies of all time lists from Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, and every single film that has been on the IMDB Top 250 at every year end since 1998.

In fact, my Lists from Chip site was an extension of all the tracking lists I had compiled.  I figured “Why not share them with others?”

At the moment I am working my way through the films in the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  This list, commonly referred to as “TSPDT”, has been issued on a mostly annual basis by Bill Georgaris since 2006.  He consolidates and weights lists from critics on what the best films are.  The result is, in theory, the 1,000 most acclaimed films of all time, in ranked order.

Monday, September 1, 2014

August Movie Status

I saw 33 new movies in the month of August.  After saying last month that I was going to concentrate on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list, I ended up dipping a toe back into a couple of other lists in August. 

It turns out the new additions to the 2014 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die edition possibly became available.  I posted on that here.  Based on those unofficial changes I watched the five films of the thirteen new ones that I had not yet seen.  I also watched a film from the 101 Genres lists because it was expiring from Netflix Instant.

I mentioned last month that I was just short of a couple of milestones on the TSPDT lists (both 2013 and 2014).  This month I did indeed see the remaining entries in the Top 500 of both lists, and I passed 850 films seen of the 1,000.  I saw a couple more of the longest entries, too.  And I happened to notice that I finished off a few more of the directors that have many entries in the list, primarily Bergman.  That has given me a new focus for September – trying to complete all the entries for the big directors.  I’m going to probably write a separate post on the They Shoot Picture Don’t They list and the heavy prevalence of a few directors (i.e. 13 different directors have at least 10 films apiece on the list; 77 have at least four films there and those make up more than half the list – 525 entries.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie – Avatar (2009)

Believe it or not I’ve finally come to the end of my Movies with Interracial Relationships category.  And what better way to end than with a relationship that’s not only interracial, but also interspecies and interstellar?  I think just about every person on the planet has heard of the movie Avatar and odds are not bad that they have seen it, too.  It became the highest grossing film in both U.S. and world history (in today’s money; adjusted for inflation it still gets beaten by earlier films such as Gone With the Wind.)  Just about everyone agrees that it raised the bar on movie visuals.  Most everyone also agrees that this is pretty much the reason to see it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Movie – Live and Become (2005)

Live and Become has a curious mixture of nationalities behind it.  It’s co-written and directed by Radu Mihaileanu – a Romanian man.  It’s the story of a black Christian boy pretending to be an Ethiopian Jew growing up in Israel, being raised by adoptive Moroccan Jews who speak French.  Anyone who thinks Jews are a specific race as opposed to simply being followers of a religion will probably have problems with this film.  As the opening narration explains there have been black Jews in Ethiopia for thousands of years.  In 1985 (when the movie starts) Israel is conducting rescue missions to save as many of them as they can and to bring them to Israel.  Will the people there welcome them, though?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hike – Champlain Mountain, Huguenot Head, Beachcroft Trail, Champlain North Ridge Trail

The Thrumcap as seen from Champlain Mountain
This post describes a loop hike that traverses Champlain Mountain from west to north, with a walk back along part of the Park Loop Road.  In my opinion, on a clear, sunny day there is no better place to be in Acadia National Park than atop Champlain Mountain with its views of the ocean and surrounding area.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hike – Four Summits, Bald Peak, Parkman Mountain, Gilmore Peak, and Sargent Mountain via Hadlock Brook Trail, Bald Peak Trail, Bald-Parkman Connector, Parkman Mountain Trail, Grandgent Trail, Sargent South Ridge Trail, Maple Spring Trail

The first three peaks summited (all in foreground)
This post describes a loop hike that summits four of the mountains west of Jordan Pond, including Sargent Mountain (the second highest peak in Acadia National Park), and then ends with a beautiful walk alongside a stream.

Directions: Take Routes 3 and 198 north out of Northeast Harbor.  Just after passing the end of Upper Hadlock Pond, which will be on the right, there will be a small parking area on the left off the side of the road.  Since this is the trailhead for several trails to Parkman Mountain, Bald Peak, Norumbega Mountain, and others, there may be cars also lined up along the side of the road.  The trailhead for this hike is across the highway from the north end of the lot.  Take care crossing since traffic will be going fast.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hike – Norumbega Mountain, Goat Trail, Norumbega Mountain Trail, Hadlock Ponds Trail, Norumbega Connector

View from the summit of Norumbega Mountain
This post describes a loop hike that traverses Norumbega Mountain, which hugs the east side of Somes Sound in Acadia National Park.  This hike provides a physical challenge at the start, and varied conditions along the way, but the views are in short supply compared to other mountains in the park.

Directions: Take Routes 3 and 198 north out of Northeast Harbor.  Just after passing the end of Upper Hadlock Pond, which will be on the right, there will be a small parking area on the left off the side of the road.  Since this is also the trailhead for several trails to Parkman Mountain, Bald Peak, and others, there may be cars also lined up along the side of the road.  The trailhead for Norumbega is on the same side as the parking, at the north end of the lot.

The hike starts on The Goat Trail.  You will soon see that it is aptly named.  It rises 600 feet in a quarter of a mile.  In fact, almost all the elevation gain for this part of the hike is achieved in just this short starting section.  If you are part mountain goat it will help you to get up over the many steps and switchbacks.  In fact, at one point I passed a mountain goat that had stopped and was sucking wind.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hike – Cadillac Mountain Summit to Summit Loop Hike Using the South Ridge Trail, Canon Brook Trail, A. Murray Young Trail, and Gorge Path

Looking southwest from Cadillac Mountain
There are four major ways to summit Cadillac Mountain on foot.  I have done all of them and you can find my posts for them here: North Ridge Trail, South Ridge Trail, West Face Trail, Gorge Path (east approach).  They all have one thing in common: they start at a lower elevation, summit Cadillac, then eventually return to their start.  Cadillac Mountain has an auto road to the top of it, so I decided to take advantage of that to do a different kind of hike.  For this one I would start at the summit of Cadillac, descend on the South Ridge Trail, loop back up between Cadillac and Dorr Mountain on the Canon Brook and A. Murray Young Trails, then return to the summit of Cadillac on the Gorge Path.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Here are the Unofficial Changes for the 2014 Edition of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Believe it or not I was finally going to post a movie review again tonight, but when I checked email I saw that a comment had been left on the Books section I maintain on the 1,001 Movies wiki.  Lo and behold an anonymous commenter (Sep 20 edit: the person who deserves credit for the first notice is Andy Stout;  see his comment below) left what he or she said were the upcoming changes for the 2014 edition which they had gotten from the official site.  The book doesn’t officially come out for two more months, so I was slightly skeptical, but very intrigued.

I went out to the official site and did not find anything listing changes, but I noticed that the list of the current entries did include one of the new ones – 12 Years a Slave.  I tend to discount the list on the official site since whenever I had looked at it in the past it was always a few years out of date.  In this case though, I checked and several of the films I was told were added were indeed in the list at the site, and several of the ones I was told were removed were indeed not on this list.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

July Movie Status

This post is a day late.  I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy last night instead.  Marvel delivers another real winner.  Unless you hate fun, entertaining movies you should go see it.  Trust me.

I saw 28 new movies in the month of July.  After some months of watching very few films because I was working on my book, I got back into the swing of things a little in July.

For whatever reason I didn’t have much interest at the beginning of the month in working on my remaining Oscar Best Picture nominees.  I decided to concentrate on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  I got the 2014 version of the Top 1,000 movies and went through it.  There’s a lot of volatility from year to year, but my overall totals seen for both the 2013 and 2014 lists were very close. 

I decided to see if I could knock off the remaining films I had not yet seen that were in the Top 500 of these lists.  I didn’t quite make it.  I was one short on the 2014 list and three short on the 2013 version.  I’m just under 850 seen on both lists.  I did manage to knock off a few of the very longest remaining entries.  I’ve still got 8 titles that are at least three hours long on the 2014 list, 3 of which are at least 6 hours long, and 1 of those is the TV miniseries Heimat which is almost 16 hours long.  The 2013 list has all of those remaining, plus four others, for a total of 12 entries at least three hours long.

Here are the 28 new movies I saw in July.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon

I was chosen by Steve Honeywell at 1001plus to participate in the Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon, which was started by Nostra at My Film Views.  This is an interesting one; most everyone who watches movies tries to make connections with others.  The idea here is pretty simple: connect one actor to another through six or fewer steps.

The task before me is to connect Vinnie Jones with Jean Gabin.  We got here via the following list of previous posts in the series:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Weird Al Is Back With a Message for All Bloggers

Weird Al Yankovic pretty much spans my musical consciousness.  I was in high school when a friend brought in something he had taped off the radio.  It was the song Another One Rides the Bus – a parody of Queen’s then current hit Another One Bites the Dust.  It was by some guy calling himself Weird Al Yankovic.  It was played on the Dr. Demento show. (Anyone other than me remember that?)

Al is back once again showing that no matter what genre or artist is popular he can turn it around and make a song and video at least as entertaining as the original (if not more.)

Here’s Word Crimes, his version of Blurred Lines, and it’s the one with the message for all bloggers.  Other than featuring annoying pop ups from Vevo instead of naked models, it beats the original by a large margin.

Now here’s Foil, his version of Royals.  Yes, that’s Patton Oswalt as the director.

Finally, here’s Tacky, his version of Happy.  You’ve got to love all the familiar faces he got to be in the video.  Can you name them all?

Rock on, Al.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Movie – Far from Heaven (2002)

The film Far from Heaven is set in the 1950s, but explores topics that no 1950s film would have been able to touch – homosexuality and interracial romance.  Writer/director Todd Haynes is a big fan of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), who was in turn a big fan of Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows).  Fassbinder’s film, which I reviewed earlier for this Interracial Relationships category, was a tribute to Sirk’s melodramas from the 1950s.  And Haynes deliberately made Far from Heaven have the same look and feel of Sirk’s films, while employing some techniques from Fassbinder.  The result – a film with both Fassbinder and Sirk in its pedigree – is one almost guaranteed to make professional movie critics get all tingly in their special areas.  Here’s the thing – it’s not just a “critics’ film”; it’s well worth watching for regular people, too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie – Monster’s Ball (2001)

Nowadays the film Monster’s Ball is probably best remembered for “the sex scene”.  It involved Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton and there was no Austin Powers like goofiness with objects blocking our view (unlike many films with major stars in them).  Both Berry and Thornton committed to the scene and the film.  Almost inevitably the scene was censored in the U.S. in order to get an R rating, but was released as is around the rest of the planet.  The thing is, there’s a lot more to this movie than just a sex scene.  In fact, this is the film for which Berry won the Best Actress Oscar.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Preview of the 2014 Edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Book

Here’s the cover of the 2014 edition of this series.

I found it on Amazon UK.  The text with it mentions the films Gravity (the cover image), Nebraska, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street.  All of them were Oscar Best Picture nominees.  The Palme d’Or winner is usually a lock so that means Blue is the Warmest Color will probably be joining them.  That’s six films; a year usually adds 10-12 new ones.

Speculating on others, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rush added.  The list skews more European, and they do love their Formula One racing.  And considering one of the two characters is a major British driver, and that the main editors of the books are British, that also seems to point in the favor of this film.

It would surprise me to not see Her added, but it’s yet another Best Picture nominee and the editors seem to only allow a certain number of them in for a given year.  This might only be 50/50.

The Great Beauty was the foreign film winner for the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs.  I didn’t think it was that special, but the director already had another film added to the list last year (The Consequences of Love), so I think this one is probably a reasonable pick to be added.

Three films that didn’t get a lot of notice, but that I had in my Top 10 for the year are Stoker, Mud, and Much Ado About Nothing.  It would be nice to see at last one make the list.  Other than Much Ado About Nothing, though, I don’t know that they bring anything unique to the discussion. 

Upstream Color sharply divides people (I’m on the “con” side), but enough editors might be on the “pro” side to add it.  I’d much rather see Shane Carruth’s earlier film Primer make the list instead.

I’ve already seen every film mentioned here, so if the new additions are close to these guesses then I won’t have much catching up to do this fall.

The Amazon U.K. entry says that the book will be available October 6, 2014.  A similar date was given last year, but it started shipping in early September instead.  Of course, that was the hardcover American edition.  This year is likely to only have the U.K. softcover edition.  There is no entry for the book on the main Amazon site in the U.S., but I know that it eventually offered the U.K. editions in prior years, so it is very likely that will happen again this time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Movie – When Night Is Falling (1995)

When Night Is Falling is a Canadian film from writer/director Patricia Rozema.  It features a love triangle between a white man, a white woman, and a black woman.  The two women could not be more different.  Camille (Pascale Bussieres) is a respected professor at a conservative Christian college.  Petra (Rachael Crawford) is a bohemian circus performer.  And the triangle isn’t the two fighting over Camille’s fiancé – Martin (Henry Czerny); it’s Petra trying to seduce Camille away.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Movie – The Lover (1992)

Once upon a time movie studios were able to produce serious films for adults with a minimum of teenage boy smirking or older prudish condemnation.  That era is now gone, but while it lasted it produced some good films.  The Lover is one of them.  It is based on the semi-autobiographical 1984 novel of the same name by noted French author Marguerite Duras.  The film received an Oscar nomination for its cinematography and some of the natural beauty it captured was that of the lead actor and actress.  The Lover also received six Cesar (the “French Oscar”) nominations.  In case you are allergic to subtitles, the film is presented in English.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

June Movie Status

I saw three new movies in the month of June, plus I re-watched four films.  My movie watching has been much lower the last few months as I’ve started a new job and as I’ve been working on my book – a 15 year supplemental update to my 1999 Parkman genealogy.

I am semi-actively working on the following lists: Oscar Best Picture Nominees, the six 101 [Genre] Films You Must See Before You Die lists, and They Shoot Pictures Don’t They.  All of these different lists can be seen by clicking on the names of them.  They link to my Lists from Chip posts on them.

Here are the 3 new movies and 4 re-watches I saw in June.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

Oscar Nominees (0):

101 Genre (0):

TSPDT (1): The Circus (1928)

Other Movies (2): The Monuments Men (2014), The Purge (2013)

Rewatches (4): The Parent Trap (1998), The Phantom (1996), Warm Bodies (2013), Commando (1985)

I saw so few films this month that I will just write a bit about each.

The Circus – Chaplin delivers another comic gem.  There are some slow sections where the movie shows us how boring the circus performers are without the Tramp character among them, but the beginning and end of the film are quite good.  3.5 stars

The Monuments Men – Just an okay movie.  The cast are separated through most of the film as they peel off in ones and twos and we see vignettes with each one.  It never feels like we are watching a movie, but rather a bunch of almost unconnected shorts.  2.5 stars

The Purge – This was only a one star movie until a scene right at the end that resulted in a bloody nose (for anyone who has seen it.)  This film isn’t scary or suspenseful.  Every “twist” is telegraphed from a mile away.  It’s too bad because the premise was sort of interesting.  1.5 stars

The rewatches – I like both versions of The Parent Trap and the remake has more for adults in it.  The Phantom is based on the decades long running newspaper serial.  The story has large parts of it that were ripped off to later make Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  This is the first time I’ve seen it since way back when it came to VHS.  I didn’t realize Catherine Zeta Jones was in it.  It was interesting to see her before she was a star.  Warm Bodies still makes me laugh a lot on what is now the third watch of it.  And seeing classic Arnie kicking ass and spewing one-liners is the reason to re-watch Commando.

Looking forward into July I might be watching more movies again.  I’ve ordered proofs of my book.  I just need to finalize that and then get communications out to the family association about how they can buy it and I’ll finally be able to get some free time back.  And I have started posting movie reviews again.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Movie – Zebrahead (1992)

Zebrahead is a small independent film that made somewhat of a splash when it came out, but then was pretty much forgotten over the next couple of decades.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I even came across a reference to it, so if you’ve never heard of this movie you’re probably in good company.  It features some good performances by the young stars (Michael Rappaport and N’Bushe Wright), both in their first feature films.  It also features three dimensional portrayals of teenagers – something that is rare in movies.  It is the combination of the lead actors and the naturalistic presentation of teenagers that make this film worth seeking out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Movie – The Crying Game (1992)

The film The Crying Game actually represents something unique in all my movie-watching experiences.  (No, it’s not the twist, for those who have already seen it.)  It’s that I specifically went to see this movie in the theater before it got spoiled for me.  It may be hard nowadays to imagine a time when every single film wasn’t already spoiled well in advance with social media reporting casting and storylines well before the movie is even released, but this was the way it was in 1992.  You could actually go see a movie not knowing anything more about it than what you saw in the trailer, if you even saw that.

The Crying Game was a little different in that it was making news for the fact that it had a fantastic twist in it that supposedly you wouldn’t see coming.  I decided I’d rent it right away when it came out on VHS tape, but then it went and got nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture.  (It would eventually win for Best Original Screenplay.)  I knew there was little chance of it having that kind of attention being paid to it by the press and it not getting spoiled for me.  I decided on a pre-emptive strike: I’d go see it in the theater.  To this day that is still the only time where the primary reason I bought a movie ticket was to see a movie I knew would be spoiled for me if I didn’t see it as soon as possible.  And you know what?  It was well worth it. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

He Emerges from the Depths

I’ve been away for a while working on my book.  Now that I’m returning I might get a reaction like this…

But if I do I hope to eventually win you back.

My genealogical supplement is now in the proofing stage with the printer.  I’ve still got some small things to do with it, but I’m waiting on a couple companies to get back to me first.  In the meantime I’ve got some bandwidth back and I’m going to start making posts again. 

I was in the middle of a category on interracial relationships when I had to stop to concentrate on my book.  I’ve also been putting in quite a few hours at work, so getting the book to this point took me even longer than I had been expecting.

Anyway, next up are three separate posts for movies from 1992.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

May Movie Status

I saw 10 new movies in the month of May, plus I re-watched two films.  My movie watching has been much lower the last few months as I’ve started a new job and as I’ve been working on my book – a 15 year supplemental update to my 1999 Parkman genealogy.

I am semi-actively working on the following lists: Oscar Best Picture Nominees, the six 101 [Genre] Films You Must See Before You Die lists, and They Shoot Pictures Don’t They.  All of these different lists can be seen by clicking on the names of them.  They link to my Lists from Chip posts on them.

Here are the 10 new movies I saw in May.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

Oscar Nominees (0):

101 Genre (0):

TSPDT (3): The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), The Party (1968), In Vanda’s Room (2000)

Other Movies (7): Trance (2013), The Stranger Within (2013), The Decoy Bride (2011), The Vow (2012), Straight from the Heart (2003), Grown Ups 2 (2013), Planes (2013)

Rewatches (2): The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Project X (2012)

I saw so few films this month that I will just write a bit about each.

Trance – Gets a little too tricky for its own good.  There’s not really much suspense about who’s playing who, but there is about the reasons why.  This is the kind of movie where you need to pay attention, so put down the phone while you are watching it.  3 stars

The Stranger Within – Made for TV movie I stumbled upon while switching channels.  I liked the concept: former Amish woman banned from her religious life returns a dozen years later as the newly appointed sheriff and immediately has to solve a murder that looks very familiar.  Ultimately, there’s not quite enough “there” there to recommend it.  2.5 stars

The Decoy Bride – Harmless piece of fluff with a number of characters all running around on a remote island in Scotland.  The cast has some people that might attract notice (i.e. Kelly MacDonald, Alice Eve, and David Tennant).  I was in the right mood for it when I watched it.  3 stars

The Hour of the Furnaces - Four hours of propaganda badly disguised as a documentary. The Argentinean filmmakers hate, well, just about everything. From Europe, to the U.S., to the "sluts" living openly in sin in the late 60s, to trade with other countries, to the current and most former governments, to "neo-colonialism", to, well, you get the idea.  The only thing that they express a liking for is the former fascist dictator Juan Peron and they openly call for the viewers to rise up, overthrow the government, and return Peron to power.  1 star

The Vow – Another one I stumbled upon while switching channels.  I caught it just as the gorgeous Rachel McAdams was waking up in the hospital with no memory of the last several years, including her husband.  I had somehow gotten the impression this was just another Nicholas Sparks tearjerker, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it actually had some substance to it and it kept my interest.  I stuck around after it ended as the channel immediately started showing it again.  I watched the opening 20-30 minutes I had missed.  3 stars

Straight from the Heart – I was in the mood for something brainless and heartwarming so I flipped to the Hallmark channel.  This movie was showing.  It hits all the clichés of a romance movie – immediate dislike masking their attraction, a man’s man who’s hiding an inner emotional loss, the driven career woman who needs to learn to unclench, etc.  I just didn’t feel much chemistry between the two leads.  2.5 stars

Grown Ups 2 – I was one of the few people who liked the first film.  Instead of playing the moronic teenager in a man’s body like he usually does to appeal to his core audience – moronic teenagers – Sandler had played a middle aged man and it hit close to home.  The second film, though, is more obviously just thrown together to repeat the fun of making the first one for all of them.  2.5 stars

The Party – It might as well have been another Pink Panther movie with director Blake Edwards and star Peter Sellers playing a bumbling idiot who ruins the lives of everyone around him.  The only difference is that Sellers plays a man from India instead of one from France.  If I had seen it when I was eight years old I probably would have been laughing my ass off.  Nowadays, this shtick from Sellers has worn thin a long time ago.  2 stars

In Vanda’s Room – Three hours of two sisters smoking crack and having incoherent conversations, all while their neighborhood is periodically being demolished.  (The film tries to pretend it’s a documentary, but it’s not.)  There are some interesting camera shots in the film…of ugly things.  If that’s your cup of tea then check this out, otherwise avoid it like, well, like you would real crack addicts in condemned neighborhoods.  1 star

Planes – This probably would have been a direct to video Disney sequel like they do with many of their films, but it was following a couple of Pixar films, so it made a brief appearance in theaters.  Of course, those two films (Cars and Cars 2) are generally considered among the worst Pixar has produced.  So, a quasi-direct to video Disney sort-of sequel to two not great Pixar films?  The results are predictable – okay at best and not good enough to recommend.  2.5 stars