Sunday, September 30, 2012

Unsafe at Any Speed

Film: Crash
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Going in to Crash, I knew only that it was controversial. The film itself is somewhat controversial, at least. What’s really controversial is that it beat Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture at the Oscars. Whenever something like that happens, there’s fallout, and so within a matter of moments Crash became filma non grata. Had Brokeback walked off with the coveted prize, this film would be remembered as a solid, well-made film about everyday, casual racism. Instead, it’s put in the same category as films like Around the World in 80 Days. It’s a poser, a film that’s not as good as the Academy thinks. Or, more damning, it’s an Oscar winner because it was the safe choice. It’s about a topic Hollywood loves, and it doesn’t involve any of that…y’know…gay stuff. The truth might actually be simpler—nothing with Tony Danza in it deserves to be Best Picture.

Crash is one of those films with a couple of dozen stories going on at the same time. It’s the sort of film that makes me wonder why I started doing summaries of what I watch in the course of these reviews. So, I’m not going to, because it would take me the length of this review plus another half just to get through all of the characters, all of the stories, and all of the ways these different stories meet up. Yes, it’s one of those movies, where each of the many stories takes a different twist and intersects (or, perhaps, “crashes into”) another one. Each character meets up with a few of the others at times, and we get everyone’s story, at least in part.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dude Looks Like a Lady

Film: The Crying Game
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Every now and again, a film comes out that has a moment that transcends everything else about the movie. The Crying Game is very much that sort of a film. There’s a reveal about halfway through that defines it completely. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you more than likely know exactly what I’m talking about. I knew the big secret of The Crying Game within a month of its release. Silly, stupid me thought that the reveal was actually central to the plot of this film. It so totally isn’t. I mean, it’s certainly more than a simple plot point, but the movie hardly revolves around it.

Instead, we’re thrown immediately into a situation with a young black British soldier named Jody (Forest Whitaker) romancing a young Irish girl named Jude (Miranda Richardson). It’s evident that we’re in for a good old film cliché right off the bat. There are some white guys who seem to have a real issue with the black guy hanging on a white woman, and the pair gets followed when they leave. It’s a lousy trick, really. The easiest way to get the audience to dislike someone is to play to an old, failed prejudice like the one about interracial couples. It’s such an easy way to sway an audience. I was, I admit, a little put out.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Don't Mess with Texas

Film: Lone Star
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

There were moments when I was watching Lone Star that I felt very much like I was watching the precursor to No Country for Old Men. These moments were fleeting. Really, the only points of commonality are that one of the main characters is a cop and that it takes place in Texas. It’s got one very significant issue that could be easily fixed, even now, years after the film was released, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

Out in the middle of a former shooting range, a couple of men find a body. Well, what they really find is a skull of someone buried there years ago. Not too far away, they discover a very worn sheriff’s badge, which means that we’ve got an investigation that will be underway soon. We learn shortly after this discovery that current sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), the son of former sheriff Buddy Deeds (played in flashbacks by Matthew McConaughey) once had a beef with the sheriff before him. This man was named Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson). He was a corrupt sheriff, and when he tried to bring Buddy in on his scams, Buddy refused. The two essentially swore eternal enmity. Shortly thereafter, Charlie Wade vanished. So, the mystery here isn’t the identity of the body in the old shooting range, but how that body got there and who put him there. Buddy Deeds had his gripes with the man, but so did almost everyone else in town.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

This Year's Model

Film: Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

The ninth edition of The Book releases on Monday, October 1 with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on the cover. Knowing that, it made sense to get the review in early.

I think I would have made a terrible spy, which makes it a good thing that I never attempted to go into that sort of service. For one thing, I’m far too trusting in general, and that’s not the best personality trait for a wannabee spy. Second, I don’t think I would hold up well under torture. I have a decent pain tolerance, but I’m not a fan of knives or needles and have a desperate fear of being bound or confined. I’d be way too easy to break. But I do enjoy espionage films because they’re all about clandestine meetings and surreptitious assassination attempts and all that sort of fun stuff. Y’know, gun battles and car chases and stuff.

And then there are films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that have a soupcon of action but focus far more on the cerebral side of the spy game. While there’s some action here, this is a film in which our protagonist and his nemesis sit around and talk a lot and think cinematically until the Gordian Knot of the film’s plot resolves itself. I don’t want to imply that this is a bad film or even a boring one, but I was expecting a lot more running/shooting/climbing/fighting and less teasing out of riddles.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gangs of Taiwan

Film: Tong Nien Wang Shi (A Time to Live, a Time to Die)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

One problem I have with the more difficult to find films is that I tend to write a lot of these reviews while I am watching the film, sort of an on-the-fly reaction. I can’t do that with streaming internet video; the laptop is sort of busy when the film is playing, meaning I can’t take notes that turn into these reviews unless I do so by hand. Here’s a news flash—I don’t generally like writing by hand, which means I simply watch and wait, trying to formulate thoughts on the film without having a trustworthy method to capture those ideas.

For particularly memorable films, this is not a problem. For Tong Nien Wang Shi (A Time to Live, A Time to Die, listed as The Time to Live and The Time to Die in the Tome of Knowledge), a lot happens, but the camerawork is so unlike what I’m used to that the film seemed to simply wash over me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t help my memory any. I hate to think I’m so much of a Philistine that I require explosions and/or monsters to jog my memory, but in this film, such things would have really been helpful.

Alas, there’s nary a burning oil refinery, mutated hell beast, or explosion of violence to help me along.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cops and Robbers

Film: Bonnie and Clyde
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

For whatever reason, filmgoers have a fascination with people who commit crime. For years, I could guarantee that someone in every class I taught claimed Scarface as his (it was always a guy) favorite film. The Godfather and its sequel are legendary films in their own right—great films, but legend in no small part because of the subject matter. British crime films are fun and violent, and there are many worth seeing. Few films epitomize America’s love of their criminal heroes as Bonnie and Clyde.

Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) meet when it becomes evident that Clyde is trying to steal her mother’s car. There’s immediate sexual tension between them, in no small part because of Bonnie’s nudity at the time, and the two wander off together. Clyde admits to having been in prison, and proves his criminal past by showing her his gun and robbing a store. They drive off in a stolen car, and the crime spree is on.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Films I Didn't Want to Watch

Film: Funny Games; Audition
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen (Funny Games) and on laptop (Audition).

Watching films from a list presents a unique situation. In one sense, it’s liberating because the goal is to watch the films from the list. It reduces the need to make choices because the choices are made for me. On the other hand, there are times when I am forced into watching a film or two that I have no interest in seeing. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Then there are the films that I object to seeing but must make my way through anyway. Such was the case with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

I’d be lying if I said this was a film I wanted to see. In fact, it’s a film I’ve been dreading since I first started this project. It’s also one I’ve started several times in the past, gotten a little way in, and then backed out and watched something different. In the case of this film, it’s very much a situation where the foreshadowing of pain was far worse than the pain itself. I fully expected this to be one of the most unpleasant film experiences I’d had in some time, and thus getting into the film, knowing what was coming was very difficult. Once the real horror starts, though, I realized that my expectations were far worse than the reality. This isn’t to suggest that the reality is a walk in the park. It isn’t. This is a grim and bleak film with an outlook as dark as anything I’ve encountered in the last three years.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hard Times

Film: Sullivan’s Travels
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on big ol’ television.

Just as there are plenty of musicals about the ups and downs of putting on a musical, so too are there plenty of movies about the movie business. It makes a certain sense that at some point filmmakers would be interested in creating something that is so connected with them. There are plenty of films that use the idea of making a film as a backdrop or tangential to the plot and those that are more or less about the movie industry itself. Sullivan’s Travels is sort of in between the two. It’s unquestionably about making a film, but it’s also about a bit more.

John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a director of silly musicals and screwball comedies, and he’s a pretty successful one. But he’s bored. He’s bored with what he’s doing and he’s bored with the films he’s been making. He wants to do something real, something with substance. His dream script is “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?” a film that talks about suffering and the plight of the poor, but no one wants him to make it, mostly because he’s never really known what it is to suffer.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Film: No Man’s Land; The Deer Hunter
Format: DVD from NetFlix (No Man’s Land) and DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library (The Deer Hunter) on kick-ass portable DVD player.

War is a constant in human history. But individual wars? Specific wars? There are hundreds of conflicts most of us know nothing about. Right now, think of everything you know about what happened in Bosnia in the last dozen years. If you’re like most people, including me, you were done in less than a minute. No Man’s Land takes place during this conflict, and is both tangential to the war and a complete definition of the war.

A group of Bosnians is moving to the front as a replacement unit, but the night is foggy and the group gets lost. In the morning, they realize that they’ve gone too far and have wound up between the Bosnian and Serbian lines of battle. Serbian forces open up immediately, killing almost everyone and wounding a man named Ciki (Branko Djuric), who winds up in an abandoned trench. Neither side really knows what is going on, and eventually the Serbians send out a pair to check the trench to see what is going on.

Friday, September 21, 2012

...Get Out of the Kitchen

Film: Heat
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

Some movies get an audience by trading on the plot, some on the special effects, some on a popular license. Plenty of movies gain an audience by shilling the stars of the film. Few had the sort of star bank as did Michael Mann’s Heat, the first film to feature Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen together. That’s the sort of thing that makes a film geek drool.

Fortunately, Heat lives up to the hype. But we’ve got a long way to go to get to the end of this. After all, this is a Michael Mann crime film, which means that we’re going to spend a good deal of time in the personal lives of the principle characters. It’s also a film that clocks in at just under three hours, so we’re going to get a lot of it. But, since it’s a Michael Mann crime film, we’re also in for a good ride.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Off Script: Ravenous

Film: Ravenous
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

A number of months ago, I was a guest on the podcast The Lair of the Unwanted with Jason Soto and Nolahn. We watched the film Parents, a 1950s nostalgia horror/comedy about cannibalism. Near the end of our discussion, when it came time to rate the film, I said that I liked it (I did), but that it wasn’t my favorite film about cannibalism—that would be either Delicatessen or Ravenous. I like Ravenous a lot. I’d forgotten just how much fun I have with this movie until tonight. I mean, I knew I liked it, but I had forgotten all of the particular reasons why I like it.

John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is a decorated war hero, but is one only because of a fluke. During the Mexican-American war, he panicked during a battle and froze on the field, falling to the ground and playing dead. His body was picked up by the Mexicans and carted back to their camp, whereupon Boyd stood up and captured the command post. It’s important here that he says in admitting the story to his superiors that he was under the body of his commanding officer whose blood was dripping into his mouth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I'm Your Huckleberry

Film: My Darling Clementine
Format: VHS from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

Some time ago I watched Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which I remember most from its awful, awful theme song. John Ford’s My Darling Clementine is the same basic myth—Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday team up to shoot it out with the Clanton family near Tombstone. This is one of those cultural myths that always changes a little with the retelling. Most of the versions are essentially tall tales. This event is a piece of American folklore, and so an accurate retelling is not going to happen, especially coming from Hollywood in the mid-1940s.

Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers are leading a herd of cattle across the desert on their way to California when they are accosted by an old man (Walter Brennan) and his boys not too far from Tombstone. The old man proves to be the patriarch of the Clantons and he offers to buy up the cattle, but is politely refused. Hearing that Tombstone is near, three of the Earps head off to town for a shave and a drink, leaving the fourth, James (Don Garner) to tend to the herd.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Bite of the Big Apple

Film: Manhattan
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Woody Allen is one of the most consistent filmmakers going. He puts out about a film a year. Some years he does a little more, but consistently, he knocks out a film every year. According to IMDB, the last year he didn’t direct a film was 1981. Think about that—for just over 30 years, Allen has put out at least one film a year. He’s also consistently good. A handful of his filmography is genius, and most of the rest is at least watchable and entertaining. And with all of this he frequently appears in his own films and is consistent there, too.

It wouldn’t be a hard guess after that to suggest that I am a Woody Allen fan. I’m not always in the mood for him, but I’m in the mood enough that I don’t generally say no to one of his films. Manhattan is his follow-up to Annie Hall, which is almost certainly his most iconic film. Manhattan bears some surface similarity, but also goes in a very different direction. Still, this is a treatise on the nature of relationships and why they frequently don’t work. In the case of Allen, as always, they don’t work because everyone is neurotic and spends too much (or not enough) time listening to his or her therapist.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Climb Aboard

Film: The Band Wagon
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

The Band Wagon from 1953 is one of those musicals that strikes at the whole meta-quality of a lot of musical theater. We sit and watch a film called The Band Wagon in which a cast of characters puts on a stage show called “The Band Wagon.” It’s also the sort of musical in which virtually every uttered syllable is done as broadly as possible to make sure that we in the audience get that it’s funny. An early scene in which the two playwrights talk about their idea is filled with shouting and whooping and a shit-ton of congratulations but pitifully little about their actual idea. Rough ride, right?

Well, yes and no. See this is also a musical comedy that features the talents of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. It’s physically impossible for me to completely dislike something with Fred Astaire in it because I like Fred Astaire. I feel the same way about Gene Kelly, just for the record. Astaire is a likeable actor, and even with a thin plot and considerable overacting from most of the cast, he’s a pure pleasure to watch dance. I mean, really, if you can’t sit back and smile when Fred Astaire is swinging Cyd Charisse around, you may not have much of a soul.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Light 'Em Up

Film: Smoke
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on various players.

It’s easy for me to forget sometimes just how versatile an actor Harvey Keitel really is. When I think of him, I’m compelled to think of films like Pulp Fiction or Bad Lieutenant, and I forget that he’s a really capable actor in a lot of other, far less violent roles. He’s the central character in Wayne Wang’s and Paul Auster’s slice-of-life dramedy Smoke, which centers on a tobacconist on a street corner in New York. We interact with the lives of the owner and with a number of the customers as they attempt to survive and find meaning in what the world presents to them.

The New York smoke shop is home to Augustus “Auggie” Wren (Keitel), and the bulk of his clients are locals. One of these is Paul Benjamin (William Hurt), a formerly successful writer going through a permanent dry spell. We learn that a few years before, Paul’s wife was gunned down as a bystander during a bank heist, and he stopped writing. One day after buying his cigars, he almost walks into the street in front of a truck, but is pulled back by a young man who calls himself Rasheed (Harold Perrineau). Paul believes the young man to be homeless and offers him a place to stay, which Rasheed takes him up on a few days later.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Family Values

Film: Little Miss Sunshine
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass DVD player.

Comedy is a subjective thing. I realized this yet again recently when I recommended the film My Favorite Year, a personal favorite of mine, to my podcasting partner, Nick Jobe. Nick was lukewarm on the film, liking Peter O’Toole’s performance and not much else. Me? I think that film is riotously funny. But comedy is subjective and what I find funny, others don’t and vice versa. Little Miss Sunshine is a film that only those with a hint of a black soul will really enjoy for the comedy it contains. It’s an homage to the idea that all comedy comes from the pain of others, or pain in general. This film is a wrist-slitter of a comedy, at the same time bleak and riotous, depressing and screamingly ridiculous.

We spend a few days on a road trip with the Hoover family. Mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) is overworked and overstressed, in no small part because husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is currently jobless. He’s not out of work—he’s just jobless. He’s attempting to pitch his self-fulfillment program called “The Nine Steps,” but is unable to get anywhere with it. Older child Dwayne (Paul Dano) is a devotee of Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he fulfills his dream of becoming a test pilot for the military. Richard’s father Edwin (Alan Arkin) is living with the family because his constant desire for sex and new hobby of heroin snorting got him kicked out of his retirement home. And then there’s Olive (Abigail Breslin), who is obsessed with child pageants.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Embarrassment of Riches

Film: La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.

A large percentage of my readership here is fellow film bloggers of one stripe or another. When you write about the same general thing day in and day out, you get into a particular rhythm. So when you come across a film that leaves you wondering what to say about it, it comes as a bit of a shock. It happened to me a couple of days ago with Wong Fei Hung. In that case, I didn’t have much to say because I couldn’t follow the plot. In the case of La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game), it’s that I don’t know where to start.

In a lot of ways, it’s a good problem to have. La Regle du Jeu is an astonishingly deep and layered film and moves in multiple directions at once, each successfully and with astonishing nuance. This film is currently ranked fourth in the Sight and Sound poll of greatest films ever made. It started in tenth on the first list and spent most of the rest of the last century in second. Second-best film in history. It’s one thing to see that and consider it. It’s another thing to have the film play out and realize that its position is entirely justified and that second might be more appropriate than its current fourth. It’s surprising when one considers that this is a sort of farce and a play of manners of the pre-World War II French aristocracy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sex On the Beach

Film: Y tu Mama Tambien
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Let’s get this straight right off the top: Y tu Mama Tambien is in a large part about sex, at least on the surface. I don’t mean it’s about love or marriage. It’s about bumping uglies, the beast with two backs, all of those dysphemisms for the act of sex uttered by giggling schoolboys who aren’t 100% sure what sex actually is. Virtually every scene has some sexual content in it, and there’s a surprising amount of naked butts. I just wanted to be clear on this.

We start with some oinkin’ and boinkin’ right away. We are introduced to Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal), two young friends who seem to exist for sex and drugs (and possibly rock ‘n’ roll). Each has a girlfriend who is leaving Mexico for Europe, and each demands his girlfriend give him an affirmation that she will not have sex with anyone while gone. The boys make the same pledge, then do everything they can for the rest of the summer to break that pledge.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Martial Arts Porn

Film: Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon a Time in China)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Every now and then I get a film that I just don’t get. I spent the last two hours watching Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon a Time in China), and I have no idea what the hell happened. There’s an awful lot of fighting and some pretty tasty wire work, but as for plot, I’m at a complete loss. If you’ve never seen this film, You can guess just about as well as I can. Seriously, there are some truly kick ass fights and some stunts that are difficult to believe including a massive battle on a series of ladders, but I still have not a single clue as to the story.

Here’s what I know, and it’s not much. There’s a guy named Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li) and there are a bunch of people from America in China. The Americans are the bad guys because they are trying to Westernize China. You can tell they’re the bad guys because they’re obviously bad in a melodramatic way. There are also some Chinese people who have been to American and have now returned, including a woman called Aunt 13 (Rosamund Kwan). And there’s another guy (Shi-kwan Yen) who wants to start a martial arts school and decides that to do that he needs to kick the snot bubbles out of Wong Fei Hung. There’s also a guy who might be a martial artist and might be a circus performer, but really just seems to get in the way. Everyone calls him Foon (Biao Yuen), which might actually be his name, but also sounds like something really awesome to call someone pissing you off. There’s also a criminal gang that is evidently kidnapping Chinese girls to ship them off to use as prostitutes. I’m going to revert to Wikipedia for a quick plot summary and see if it makes any more sense.

Yeah. It doesn’t. It probably should, but it really doesn’t.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sorta True Stories

Film: Caro Diario (Dear Diary)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

After my cynicism reared its ugly head yesterday, I needed a film like Caro Diario (Dear Diary) today. I needed a film that took my cynicism and slapped it around a bit, making me remember that films can be watched with joy without reading anything more into them and that I don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying something with unpleasant gender politics. I needed something that reminded me that film is an artistic medium, yes, but it’s also more. I needed a reminder that I watch movies from a recommended list because there are movies that I will genuinely like that I would otherwise pass over.

Nanni Moretti’s film is a sort of autobiographical journey through part of his life. It consists of three roughly equal parts with a slightly longer middle section. The first half hour (“On My Vespa”) concerns Moretti driving around Rome on his Vespa looking at various neighborhoods and narrating a stream of consciousness collection of thoughts about the decline of Italian film, where people live, and anything else running through his head. The second (“Islands”), is about Moretti and a friend visiting several Italian islands looking for a place to work and runs about 40 minutes. The final half hour (“Doctors”) is about Moretti’s personal battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his frequent misdiagnoses by various doctors.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Template

Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Format: DVD from personal collection on big ol’ television.

If I were as cynical as I like to imagine myself, I would hate Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There are many things that really should piss me off. First and foremost is Snow White’s voice, which approaches dog whistle range. That’s at least the first thing I notice. The sexual politics are even more disturbing, and I’ll get to that later.

If you don’t know anything about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you’re not allowed to read this blog any more. I’m not saying you need to have seen the movie (although you really should have), but you should at least be vaguely familiar with the story through some medium at this point in your life no matter how old you are. If you’re capable of finding this blog, you should know this story so that I don’t have to go into it.

Filthy Lucre

Film: L’Argent (Money)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

The primary function of films naturally enough is to involve us in the lives of the characters. When a film shows up that is in some ways about the life of an object, it’s often an intriguing change of pace. Winchester ‘73 was based in large part on the “life” as it were of a prized rifle and its various owners. L’Argent (Money) follows the course of a counterfeit 500-franc note, at least initially, and shows how it affects the lives of those who touch it.

Really, it’s only about the bill for the first few minutes of the film, and focuses on the one innocent person who touches it as well as a few of the more criminal-minded people with whom it comes in contact. We start with a student named Norbert (Marc Ernest Fourneau) who gets his allowance from his father but needs more. Both of his parents refuse to advance him anything. He goes to a friend who gives him the counterfeit bill. They use it at a store which has received several such bills in recent days. They in turn pass off the bills to the gas man, Yvon Targe (Christian Patey). He is our ultimate patsy in this film, a man who is unaware of the criminality of those around him.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Shrinky Dink

Film: The Incredible Shrinking Man
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

A “high concept” film is one that essentially asks “what if?” and goes from there. A surprising number of classic B-movies have this basic idea at heart. The Incredible Shrinking Man is certainly one such film. The premise couldn’t be simpler: What if something happened to a man and he started shrinking? What if there was no way to stop the shrinking?

Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is out on a boat with his wife, Louise (Randy Stuart). When she goes in to get him a beer, the boat sails through a strange mist, covering Scott in a fine spray of strange liquid. He shrugs it off, not putting it up to much, but six months later, he notices that his pants don’t quite fit and that his shirts are loose. He’s concerned, naturally, and after a few check-ups with his family physician, he realizes that he is indeed shrinking. Exposure to some sort of insecticide followed by his exposure to the radioactive mist has caused this bizarre, almost comic book-like transformation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When Eddie Murphy Ruled

Film: Beverly Hills Cop
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

If you’re younger than 35, I’m going to make a statement that you won’t believe: there was a time when Eddie Murphy could do no wrong. Even with the misstep of The Golden Child, Murphy’s string of great movies ran for a good six or seven years. Right smack in the middle of that run came Beverly Hills Cop, which may well be his best.

Detroit detective Axel Foley (Murphy) is the stereotypical loose cannon cop, operating outside police procedure to get the job done. As the film starts, Axel has hijacked a truck full of stolen cigarettes in an attempt to make a bust on smugglers. It goes haywire and he gets chewed out by his equally stereotypical angry boss (Gilbert R. Hill). Shortly thereafter, he meets up with his old best friend Mikey Tandino (James Russo). Mikey has been working out in Beverly Hills, and has shown up with a fistful of German bearer bonds. Shortly after he shows up, Mikey ends up dead.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sword and Sandals

Film: Spartacus
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

You expect certain things from certain directors once you’ve seen enough of their work. It’s difficult once one has seen a great deal of Kubrick’s work to fit a film like Spartacus in with Dr. Strangelove and The Shining. And yet, Kubrick it is. I still find it difficult to reconcile this fact with what I expect to see from good old Stanley, and this is despite the fact that I’ve seen this film before.

Our hero, Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), is a Roman slave sent to work in mines at the tender age of 13. When a fellow slave collapses and he is commanded to essentially let the poor guy die, he fights back, and for his trouble is strapped to a rock and left to die as a lesson to the other slaves. Fate intervenes with the arrival of Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), a slave master and owner of a gladiatorial school. He arranges to purchase Spartacus, sending our hero off to life in the gladiatorial pits after a good six months of learning how to swing a sword.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Watching Oscar: Radio Days

Film: Radio Days
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s a part of me that loves a nostalgia film. There are plenty of them, a filmmaker reliving his or her past through rose-colored glasses. There are plenty of great ones--Stand By Me comes to mind, as does A Christmas Story. One of my favorites is Woody Allen’s Radio Days, a sweet reminiscence of the time when radio was king, and everyone danced to the tunes that came out of the box in the living room.

That’s really all that Radio Days is, a series of memoirs about life during World War II and before the advent of television. We spend most of our time with Allen’s youthful personality, Joe (Seth Green), but we also meet his extended family, learning a bit about the lives and tribulations of his father (that-guy Michael Tucker), his mother (Julie Kavner), his uncle Abe and aunt Ceil (Josh Mostel and Renee Lippin), his cousin Ruthie (Joy Newman) and especially his aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest). Since the film is a memoir rather than a story, we get vignettes of their life and their attachment to the radio, and how these radio programs define them.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

South American Way, Part III

Film: Gilda
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

Old school Hollywood glamour was a real thing. If you don’t believe me, you should get a load of Rita Hayworth’s entrance in Gilda, flipping back her hair and looking mildly innocent, coquettish, and sexy all at the same time. It’s a great moment, one of the great film moments from the era.

The film follows Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), a small-time gambler who finds himself in Buenos Aires. He makes some money on a craps game and is immediately mugged, but is rescued by a man named Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Mundson runs a high-class illegal casino in town, and warns him against trying to cheat there. Farrell doesn’t listen and goes anyway, gets himself in trouble, and manages to swing this as a job helping run the place. He soon becomes Mundson’s right hand.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cheese(y) Danish

Film: Gertrud
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I think I have a pretty high threshold for certain things. I try very hard not to be frustrated by certain peculiarities of film. I don’t mind long shots, or films that sometimes seem to have no point. I don’t specifically bore easily. That’s worth noting, because I also have to admit that I was bored within the first 20 minutes of watching Dreyer’s Gertrud.

The problem with this film isn’t the story. Really, it’s not. Done in a different way, this could well be a fascinating tale of a woman so bent on finding a love worth keeping that it controls her entire life. It’s not, on its face, uninteresting. The problem comes with the way it is filmed, or in the direction given to our actors. Evidently, the direction that Dreyer gave everyone in this film is to imitate a mannequin as much as possible. Their roles are to stand still in one place, look in one direction, and speak lines at each other. Passion tends to be expressed by rubbing foreheads together and then gazing off into the distance instead of at the person in question.