Thursday, January 31, 2013

Month 37 Status Report

January was absolutely nothing like I planned, but I'm okay with it--I'm taking it for what it was. I like to get through about 25 movies per month in general, and I knocked out 25, which is great. I'm putting a little more focus on the rarities these days because I need to cross them off. That said, things are not quite winding down, but they're getting there. I can't quite see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm starting to see that that things are getting a little brighter overall.

At the moment, I sit at 207 films to go, which should get me done a few weeks before or after the next edition of the book comes out. I wouldn't be surprised with significant, wholesale changes in the next edition--perhaps four or five dozen film replacements. It is, after all, the 10th edition, and a bigger splash wouldn't shock me. There is some deadwood that could use chopping.

Of course, I'm hoping this doesn't happen. I don't want to get to the end only to have to add several more months to the quest. But if it happens, it happens, and I'll plow through. Unless there are changes to the book in three figures, I'll still finish by the end of this year. On to February!

Long Con

Film: The Sting
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

If you were a kid in my house in the 1970s, you watched The Sting. Both of my parents loved this film, and for a wonder, so did I. It’s a difficult film not to like; it plays on a lot of the things that movie audiences have loved for years, does so with an inventive and complicated (but easily followed) plot, and wraps everything up with two of the best actors of their generation playing two of their best characters. Best of all, it never really cheats. The film is always at least one step ahead of the audience (or was in 1973), but it gives us everything we need to not be surprised at the end.

I think people like to be fooled. People tend to like magic shows, not because they think the magic is real, but because they can’t understand how the trick was done. People like mystery stories for the same reason, trying to see through the puzzle at the end and realizing that all of the clues were there for them to pick out the right culprit all along, even if they reached the wrong conclusion. The Sting is exactly like that, offering up a grand con game and conspiracy, throwing in a number of different threads to keep us all guessing. The way everything ties together is there for us the whole time, and really, that’s part of the fun.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nothing Says "Love" Like Blackmail

Film: The Reckless Moment
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

I went in to The Reckless Moment completely cold, so I was surprised when the great James Mason turned up about 20 minutes in. I like James Mason and tend to like films that he’s in. Even when I don’t like the film, I still like Mason. He makes a good villain; there’s something about that peculiar speech pattern of his that seems menacing when he wants it to be, even when (as here) he uses it to affect an accent. As it turns out, I’m glad that he was in this picture, because there’s not much else to watch.

So here’s the story: Lucia (pronounced “LOU-sha”) Harper (Joan Bennett) discovers that her precious and precocious daughter Beatrice (Geraldine Brooks) has been carrying on with a much older and shady individual named Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick). Lucia heads out to tell Darby to stay away from her daughter. Darby says he will, but only if she pays him off. Offended, Lucia returns home and confronts Bea, who tells her that she intends to continue seeing Darby.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Zen and the Art of Garden Maintenance

Film: Being There
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Being There is a film that I watched far too early in my life. I was just a kid when I saw it the first (and only) time prior to today. If memory serves, I watched it because my mother really liked it. I can’t remember if I saw it with her or on my own, only that I did see it and that I really didn’t get it completely. That being the case, I wasn’t a huge fan of the film. I couldn’t get why no one twigged to the reality of the main character. It all seemed so silly.

So now I’ve watched it again, and my opinion hasn’t changed a bit. I still can’t see why no one understands that the main character is a child in a man’s body, an intellectual tabula rasa. As an adult, I see that this is where the comedy comes from. I still, though, don’t get what’s so funny about the whole thing. I freely admit that my earlier experience with this film may well be coloring my interpretation of it now.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Watching Oscar: East of Eden

Film: East of Eden
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I will admit that it almost feels like a cheat that I have a DVR again. I can pull things off broadcast and come at them later when I have time for them. I don’t know why it seems like a cheat, but it does. Of course, when I started this, I didn’t even have a NetFlix account, so adding a service like Turner Classic is really nothing more than the equivalent of adding a Hulu account, which didn’t feel like a cheat at all. What I’m finding is that TCM is great for some of the little-known and hard-to-find Oscar films, as well as some much more common ones. I’ve been recording a film or two every week, which means that despite having had TCM for about a month, I already have a backlog.

So, watching East of Eden was in part an effort to start getting through some of those films that I have waiting for me. This is a film I knew little about; beyond knowing it was based on a work of John Steinbeck (and there’s a whole family history involved in that), I came into it with almost nothing. Oh, I knew that it starred James Dean, which is what really makes it noteworthy. Beyond everything else, East of Eden features Dean’s first major film role.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Old Racism in Old Clothes

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

There’s still a few Westerns on The List for me, and that’s something of a point of pride for me. I’m not a big fan of the genre in general, although I don’t specifically dislike it. Still, I’ve made it a point to get through a bunch of them, or to at least watch them regularly so that I’m not stuck with a couple dozen of them at the end. It’s been a couple of weeks since I spent time with a horse and saddle picture, so I figured I might as well hop back into that saddle, as it were, and cross off another one. In this case, the film in question is Hombre from the year of my birth.

Just as a lot of good science fiction is more or less a story that happens to take place in a futuristic setting and several good Westerns (like The Ox-Bow Incident) are tales that simply use the Western setting as a backdrop, Hombre is a morality tale about bigotry and racism that simply happens with a stagecoach and horses. John Russell (Newman) is a white man who was raised by Apaches, and the inherent racism of others for his upbringing drives the entire narrative.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

City of (No) God

Film: Onibus 174 (Bus 174)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

When I watched Cidade de Deus, I was taken by it. It’s a brilliant film, and one that is difficult to watch because so much of it is stark and ugly. It’s a brutal and unrelenting tale, one that seems like it can’t possibly end well, but with just enough in it for any viewer to hope that the ending will be a happy one. Today, I saw its darker cousin, Bus 174. It speaks in many ways to the same story of street kids in Rio de Janeiro, but in this case, the story is a real one.

Bus 174 tells the story of Sandro do Nascimento, a street kid from Rio who one day decided to hijack the eponymous bus of the title. The film switches between archive footage of the actual event of the hijacking, anecdotes about his childhood, and interviews of people involved in the hijacking and others. As the story plays out and more and more of Sandro’s life comes into focus, it becomes evident that this is the story of someone who has never had anything go right for him, and a day in which everything that could have gone wrong did.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

...and All is Well in Our World

Film: Safe
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Julianne Moore loves her vagina. I say this based solely on the number of times I have seen her reveal it in films. The difference between the Mona Lisa and Moore’s mons pubis is that not everyone has seen the Mona Lisa. I half believe that rather than shaking hands with a new person, Moore just pulls up her skirt and offers the goods with a murmured, “There’s a little Moore down here, too.”

That said, it’s something of a surprise that Safe, which features women’s locker rooms, aerobics classes, doctors’ offices, and hospital gowns fails to have Ms. Moore going out in a blaze of glory by displaying her personal blaze of glory. Seriously, if any film past Boogie Nights contained the potential for frontal nudity, it was this one. Safe, as it turns out, is the closest thing I’ve seen to a horror movie that contains no specific horror. A nudge or two in one direction would put this firmly into the camp of terror-inducing thriller.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dark Continent

Film: The African Queen
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass DVD player.

If you’re a huge fan of The African Queen, you’re not going to like some of the things I say about it. I don’t dislike this film, as a matter of fact, but I also don’t think it specifically worthy of all of the accolades it gets. It’s a fine film, a good little actioner and a grand adventure. What it isn’t, though, is much of the romance it bills itself as. It has some other problems, too. But I want to go on record as saying that this is a film that I do enjoy some. I just don’t think it’s anywhere near the pinnacle of Bogart, Hepburn, or John Huston.

The action starts with the beginnings of World War I in Central Africa, which was controlled by Germany at the time. This was of little importance to most of the people living there, including the Sayers. The Reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) is a missionary working at converting the natives with his sister, Rose (Katherine Hepburn). Their only connection to the outside world comes in the form of Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a Canadian who works on the river on his ship, the eponymous African Queen. The Sayers are very British and very religious, always proper and filed with decorum while Allnut is coarse and crude. Nevertheless, he is tolerated because without him, the Sayers would lose all contact with the world outside.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Film: Marketa Lazarova (Marketa Lazarov)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

The IT guy where I work is a dude. When I told him that I had received this collection of rare films and wanted to put them on the system, I expected him to say no initially, forcing me to keep them on the flashdrive and burn through them as quickly as possible. However, he didn’t allowing me to install them, at least temporarily, on the computer. So while I call the source of these “The Magic Flashdrive,” they’re actually sitting in memory. While I don’t feel any specific pressure to get through them at the rate of one or more per day, I do nevertheless think it’s a good idea to get them watched sooner rather than later. Since I had to spend the night at a place with a lousy internet connection, getting through another one made perfect sense.

That said, I’m not sure I chose well. I’m not sure I have any real concept of what Marketa Lazarova (for some reason shortened to Marketa Lazarov in some places) really is. It’s surprisingly difficult to follow. Don’t get me wrong here—it’s not Sergei Parajanov difficult, but a lot of things happen that don’t really seem to have any specific reason or purpose or connection to anything else. I gathered pretty quickly that this is a Medieval story. Since it’s a Czech film, I gather that it takes place in and around what used to be Czechoslovakia. And beyond that? I’m doing my best.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Drugs are Bad, Mkay?

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

I know that taking down my Christmas decorations on January 20th puts me a week or so behind when many pull down the fake evergreen branches and put away my Santa C’thulhu, but today was really the first chance I had. Knowing that I had to carefully wrap and pack a bunch of stuff, I wanted to watch something long and involved to keep me interested. So Traffic seemed like a pretty good choice. It’s close to 2 ½ hours long and interweaves three distinct plots, so I knew I’d be able to watch the whole thing in the time I had and I’d have enough to keep myself occupied while my hands got covered in newsprint.

Traffic, one of two of Steven Soderbergh’s films nominated for Best Picture in 2000, is a drug story told from multiple perspectives, focusing on a trio of overarching stories. These three stories tie together in a number of aspects, each bleeding over into the others, mixing characters and events. One a deeper level, the three main stories are really just aspects of the same overall story, which is an indictment on the American drug war and its many, many consequences.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Agnes Varda

Film: Cleo de 5 a 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7); Sans Toit ni Loi (Vagabond)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen (Cleo) and on laptop (Vagabond).

So let’s talk for a moment about Agnes Varda, a director I’d never heard of three years ago who has, since that time, become one I like quite a bit. Both of today’s films come from her, but as is frequently the case when looking at the films of a particular director, they have more in common than just who directed them. Both of these films deal in a specific way with women who are lost in some way, women who seem to be searching for something they are unable to obtain.

The first, Cleo de 5 a 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7) is in many ways the more explicit in terms of meaning and searching. Cleo (Corinne Marchand) is a pop singer with a couple of successful singles being played on the radio. However, she has been ill of late, and is particularly worried about a series of tests recently done by her doctor. The is to get the results of those tests later in the day. The film opens as she is having her tarot cards read. It’s important to pay close attention to all of the readings that are done here, because they accurately follow the plot of the film (more on this in a bit). The news she gets from the fortune teller is not good, and when she leaves, the fortune teller confides in us that she has seen cancer in Cleo, and that she is doomed.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Watching Oscar: Gentlemen's Agreement

Film: Gentlemen’s Agreement
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

The latest batch of Oscar nominations were announced a few days ago. It’s at times like this that phrases like “Oscar bait” are bandied about. A nicer way to put this is “message film.” When the discussion comes to this topic, 1947’s Best Picture winner, Gentlemen’s Agreement is one that should come to the forefront. This is a message film in the original sense of the phrase, a film that exists not to tell a story but to hammer a particular message home into its audience.

Widowed magazine author Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck) has moved from California to New York with his son Tommy (Dean Stockwell) and his mother (Anne Revere) to work at a national weekly magazine. His boss, John Minify (Albert Dekker), wants him to do an exposé, a multi-part story taking a serious, in-depth look at anti-Semitism. Phil struggles with the story. He realizes that in the past when he had a story like this to write, he tried to live the life he was looking at. He did a story on coal miners, so he became a miner. So he decides that to truly understand anti-Semitism, he’ll tell everyone he’s Jewish and really experience it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wish I May

Film: Stalker
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Films like Stalker drive me nuts. I know there’s something here, something I should be divining from it. There’s unquestionably something very deep here, but I don’t know that I have the vocabulary to describe it. I know at a very deep level that Andrei Tarkovsky is saying something here, but I feel like I’m just too damn stupid to know exactly what he’s getting at.

The world of Stalker is something like our world, but in a very degraded form. Much of the initial section of the film is in a strange black-and-white that doesn’t feel like black-and-white. It’s almost a sepia, but there’s an odd sensation of color, almost as if it was filmed in color and then stripped of 95% of it. Naturally, since this is a Russian film, we’re somewhere in the Soviet Union, but not somewhere like Moscow. We’re instead in an industrial wasteland, a place that looks and feels toxic. It is here that we meet the Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky), who is leaving his wife (Alisa Freindlich) to make a trip somewhere, and she doesn’t want him to go.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Film: Deseret
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Of all the rare films that exist on The List, none is more rare than Deseret. There were a number of films that, as I started looking around, I had trouble finding, but none were more frustrating than this odd little film from James Benning. To my knowledge, this film has not only never gotten a DVD release, it’s never been put on videotape. There is a mythical copy of the film on 16-milimeter film somewhere in California, one that requires a massive deposit to rent, which doesn’t include the cost of the projector itself. I am, thus, massively grateful to Chip Lary at Tips from Chip for forwarding me this electronic copy.

Deseret is an odd film, one that is difficult to parse. On its surface, it’s a simple film—little more than a series of landscapes and a voiceover narration that seems to have little or nothing specific to do with the words being spoken. As it turns out, the words being spoken are excerpted passages from nearly 100 news stories printed in the New York Times over a span of just shy of 150 years. Each story is pieced down into a few sentences. Benning presents us with a static camera, switching shots for each sentence, and giving us a long pause on a shot between stories. Each of the stories is introduced with the individual story’s initial date of publication.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Goodbye, Glasgow

Film: The Last King of Scotland
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

When I first saw The Last King of Scotland, I was very much interested in it. While most of my interest stemmed from seeing Forest Whitaker in a role he won an Oscar for, a little bit of it was for James McAvoy, who had a brief run as the flavor of the month between his role in the first Narnia film, this, Atonement, and Wanted. The film did not disappoint; this is an impressive film, but a very disturbing one. I have distinct memories of parts of this film, and had put this on my short list of films I’m happy to have seen and never want to see again. Thus it’s taken me this long to return to it. I wasn’t anticipating this rewatch, but I couldn’t put it off any longer. (Okay, I could, but I’ve waited long enough.)

The Last King of Scotland is a semi-fictionalized account of the beginnings of the rule of General Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) in Uganda, told through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), his personal doctor. The film starts with Garrigan’s graduation from medical school and his immediate dissatisfaction with working in his father’s practice. He spins a globe, vowing to go practice wherever his finger lands when he spins it. He comes up with the prosaic Canada first, so he tries again and lands on Uganda.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Git Along, Little Doggies

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

I don’t love Westerns. I don’t dislike them specifically, but I rarely want to watch one. I suppose that this is something I have in common with most modern film viewers. The Western genre seems like one that hangs around at the edges of consciousness, with a couple coming out every year. Every now and then, one will pop up into the mainstream only to quickly fall away, taking the rest of the genre with it. While Westerns will never disappear forever, I think it’s safe to say that their heyday is gone and gone for good. I need to will myself to watch a lot of Westerns unless they are ones I’ve seen before and know I like. Red River is one I had to force myself to watch, and sometimes had to remind myself to keep watching.

Oh, this isn’t a bad film. It’s just a very standard horse-and-saddle picture with a few very weird conclusions drawn at the end. It’s a morally vague picture that never intended to be morally vague, I think. At least now, 65 years after it was filmed, the moral lessons of this film are decidedly sketchy. The other thing is that this is a story I’ve seen played out before. It’s really little more than Mutiny on the Bounty with horses and cows and a different ending. But mostly, the reason my mind wandered at times and I had to jump back to pieces I’d zoned out over is that this is a film that telegraphs where it’s going minutes before it gets there. There’s no Western or film cliché that this film starts that it doesn’t finish right on cue.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Off Script: Black Sabbath

Film: I Tre Volti Della Paura (Black Sabbath)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

The anthology film is its own thing. While I may be wrong, it seems like most anthologies are of the horror variety. Horror lends itself to a shorter format well. All you need is a good couple of scares over the course of 20 minutes or so and everyone walks away happy. The problem with anthology films is that even good ones tend to be a little uneven at best. Take Creepshow for example; while a couple of the stories are really fun, a few are weaker and drag the film down a little. With Mario Bava’s I Tre Volti Della Paura (technically The Three Faces of Fear but distributed as Black Sabbath), we don’t have that problem. We get three pretty good little spook tales, all roughly the same length and about the same amount of fun.

It helps that there are only three stories here, so each one is given enough time to work up a good scare without overstaying its welcome. We start with a little opening monologue from Karloff, who tells us that ghosts and spirits are real. Specifically, he talks about vampires, saying that they may well be in the theater with us, since they look just like us and like to feed on those whom they loved during their lives. It’s fun and cheeky, and probably served to get a few theater goers to snuggle up closer to each other, or to eye each other a little more warily.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Film: Dip Huet Seung Hung (The Killer)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

John Woo is less a director than he is a brand name. There is nothing quite like a John Woo film, with its balletic gun battles, slow motion, and by now almost trite use of doves. Woo’s style is instantly recognizable to many Americans as being similar to that of Quentin Tarantino, which makes perfect sense; a lot of what Tarantino does is informed by Woo’s films. Woo himself is a student of Scorsese, but I think he’s also a student of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Regardless, Dip Huet Seung Hung (The Killer) is the film that made him on the international scene and the film that established his two-pistol “Gun Fu” style of action as something specifically a trademark of Hong Kong cinema.

An assassin named Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) performs a hit at the behest of the Triad. During the battle, the muzzle flash of one of his pistols severely damages the eyes of a young singer named Jennie (Sally Yeh). While he wants to leave the life of assassination, Ah Jong realizes that only money will get Jennie a corneal transplant, and since he holds himself responsible for her current affliction, he takes it on himself to perform one last job.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Technical Knockout

Film: Fat City
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

I didn’t realize just how boxing-heavy The List was until recently when I noticed at least four of them. Considering that there are very few sports films listed in general, that seems like a lot. Evidently, there is something about the fight game that makes for cinematic greatness that doesn’t exist in hockey (no films), basketball (one documentary), football (no films), or baseball (two films). It’s possible I’m wrong on these numbers, but I think those are accurate.

Fat City is, like most boxing films, filled with the sort of rags-to-riches possibility and rags-to-rags reality that is reality for most pugilists. There’s a definite sense that films like Rocky took something from Fat City. But it’s more than that—it’s not just about boxing, but about life on the skids, down-and-out people and up-and-comers crossing paths. But it’s more than that, too. Fat City feels like an early Warren Zevon song, like a boxing version of Carmelita. There’s a sense of pain and loss, dreams broken through bad decisions and too much drinking, shattered hopes, and resigned suffering. It’s a Tom Waits song come to life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Film: The Wrong Man
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I have to admit that I’m enjoying having both Turner Classic Movies and a DVR again. TCM seems to show a lot of great movies at odd hours, making them perfect for recording. I snapped up The Wrong Man the other day when I knew no one in the house would be awake to object, and since my NetFlix film showed up damaged, I figured I may as well get to this one. On a more personal note, I had been carefully doling out the Hitchcock films, not wanting to see all of them right away. As it turns out, I now have more John Huston on the remaining list, so perhaps I haven’t been as careful with the Hitch as I intended.

Anyway, unlike most Hitchcock films, this one is actually based on a true story, and while there’s a little bit of license here and there, it sticks mostly to the actual story that happened. Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is a bass player at the Stork Club. He leads a pretty simply life without the glamour that many might think he lives with. He has a wife and two kids and pretty typical bills and problems. The current issue is his wife Rose’s teeth (Vera Miles), which need a $300 wisdom tooth removal.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Watching Oscar: Theodora Goes Wild

Film: Theodora Goes Wild
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

As should be evidence by the format line above, we’ve hooked up the cable again after about three years. This is the first time (if memory serves) that I’ve seen one of the films on The List off television. If it’s not, it’s one of the first. I can’t say I’m 100% behind the choice to hook the television back up, but I did miss TCM and I’m glad to have it back.

When I step into a screwball comedy, I’m never sure what to expect. I love some screwballs and there are others that I just can’t abide. The more I watch them, the more I realize what it is that I like about certain ones and dislike about others. In general, I like films that are about smart people. There’s no attraction for me to stupid characters, and often, screwball comedies are loaded with self-absorbed characters who (because they are in screwball comedies), act in the dumbest way possible. Fortunately, this is not the case with Theodora Goes Wild. I get these characters, and the film works for me because of it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Andy Kaufman

Film: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I knew going in what Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (hereafter referred to as Borat to save my typing fingers) was going to be. I understood the point of it, and had seen probably a third of the film in clips. But as I sat and watched and shook my head, I realized I didn’t really have a proper way to react to it.

My guess is that most people reading this have seen Borat. Whether you have or haven’t, there isn’t much need of a plot summary here. Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a Kazakh television personality who travels to the United States to learn American culture to benefit his country. Cohen’s creation of Borat is, of course, entirely fiction, and that’s really the point of the film. This is social parody at its highest level, the sort of thing that Andy Kaufman would have produced or directed had he still been around for it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Weekend Update

Film: Broadcast News
Format: DVD NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Broadcast News is a perfect example of why I’m rewatching everything on The List before I review it. I wanted a sense of where I am with a film now rather than memory of it, in part to see if my opinion has altered. This is a case where my opinion of a film has improved somewhat over my initial reaction. Don’t get me wrong—I thought this was a well-made film the first time I saw it, but I didn’t like it a lot. I still can’t say that I like it a ton, but I like it more than I did the first time I saw it. I don’t think I saw this in the theater. I remember seeing it with my girlfriend at the time, who was a newspaper reporter. We watched any film that had a reporter angle. We’re married now, she’s not a reporter anymore, so she doesn’t care that much about films like this anymore. I think she liked it more than I did.

Anyway, this is a workplace romance dramedy involving a love triangle that centers around three people who are missing something vital in their personalities. Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) is a talented, intelligent, connected television reporter who just doesn’t have the charisma to be the focus of a network news broadcast. Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is smart, tough, and great at her job as a producer, but unable to overcome feelings of physical inadequacy when she compares herself to the more telegenic women she works with. Tom Grunick (William Hurt) looks great on camera, has poise, and takes direction, but he’s as dumb as a post and represents everything that Jane hates in news media. So naturally, these are the three people who will be in one manner or another vying for each other’s affections. Put simply, Aaron has an unrequited crush on Jane, who is taken with Tom’s looks but repelled by his ignorance while Tom is attracted to Jane but intimidated by her knowledge and skill.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ten Count

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

My original plan today was to knock out two films--Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby, but I’ve discovered exactly why the person who gave me MDB gave it to me: it doesn’t work. So I’m stuck with just Raging Bull on the day. Fortunately, there’s enough film here that it can handle being reviewed on its own. I’ve seen most of this movie before, but never all at once and never in order.

But first, a story. More than a year ago, on a podcast concerning the film Bronson, James Blake Ewing of Cinema Sights compared that film to Raging Bull, saying that the Bronson character reminded him in many ways of Jake LaMotta. In his mind, the difference was that Raging Bull has more interesting characters around the main character. Having now seen this film in full and front to back, I’m not so sure I agree. LaMotta’s brother is interesting, but I don’t give a rat’s about anyone else, except LaMotta himself, and even there not for the reasons you might think.

Friday, January 4, 2013

It's Really not that Unbelievable

Film: The Unbelievable Truth
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Let’s cut right to the chase on The Unbelievable Truth: I don’t know why it made The List. I honestly can’t come up with a single reason why this film made it here other than as an example of the work of Hal Hartley. Even that reason fails, though, because his much better Trust is on the list as well. In a lot of ways, Trust appears to be a remake of this film, or at least there are a lot of similarities in plot and character. Regardless, I’m pretty nonplussed as to its making it onto the Holy of Holies.

Audry Hugo (Adrienne Shelly) is a disaffected young woman who seems not to care for anything that most girls do. She’s evidently still in high school, but only goes whenever she feels like it because she’s convinced that the world is going to come to an end any day. Despite her non-attendance of school, she manages to get accepted to Harvard (and treats it like it’s no big thing). Her father, Vic(tor) Hugo (Chris Cooke) isn’t sure how to react. He wants Audry to go to college, but is incensed that she applied to Harvard, because he doesn’t want to pay for it. He’d rather she go to the local junior college (because college is college, right?). Adrienne breaks things off with her boyfriend Emmet (Gary Sauer) because he’s a yuppie-in-training.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Sound of War

Film: Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on various players.

I’ve heard of Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp) before, having seen it on a number of lists of great films. I can’t say that it was a film that I particularly looked forward to watching, but also knew that it had to come someday. Well, today was the day. Once again, I wonder at my own hesitation. This film is a true work of power and beauty. Dare I call it a masterpiece? It’s been a good year (I think) since I’ve used that word to describe a film, but it’s a word that seems created for this film. I can think of no other word to fully encompass just how good Biruma no Tategoto is.

At the end of World War II, a group of Japanese soldiers fights in Burma. These men operate under the direction of Captin Inoye (Rentaro Mikuni), who has a background in music. He teaches the men to sing complex choral compositions as a way to boost morale. One of the soldiers, a man named Mizushima (Shoji Yasui), learns to play a variation of a native harp. With this, he accompanies the men’s singing. Additionally, he uses the harp as a way to signal the troops when he scouts. Each song he plays has a different meaning—stay back, it’s safe to advance, etc.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Obligatory Utah Joke

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

Frequent readers of this blog will probably know that one of my favorite words is “lurid.” Three years ago, I wouldn’t have known what I’m about to say—I love the lurid stuff. Evidently, the more lurid the film, the more I seem to like it. So when I suggest that The Bigamist is that special sort of lurid that only seemed to exist in the late 1940s and the 1950s when the same stuff that happens now happened, but no one was really able to talk about it. That’s what makes it so damn fun—it’s the tiptoeing around the actual subject that makes it seem so much more prurient and dirty.

There shouldn’t be a big shock when the plot twist reveals itself about a quarter of a way in. After all, this film is called The Bigamist, so learning that traveling salesman Harry Graham (Edmond O’Brien) has two wives should be expected. We start with him and his first wife, Eve (Joan Fontaine). They are unable to have children and are looking to adopt. Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn) works for the adoption agency and tells them they must both expect him to dig thoroughly into their private lives, something that appears to visibly shake Harry.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Whom Do You Trust?

Film: Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)
Format: DVD from Reddick Library through interlibrary loan on kick-ass portable DVD player.

It’s really difficult for a film to surprise me these days. I’ve seen so many films in the last three years that I feel like I’ve seen all of the tricks. So when one really surprises me, I’m prone to like it. Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) surprised me. It went somewhere I didn’t think it was going, and I enjoyed that aspect of the film quite a bit. However, it makes the summary of the film quite difficult, because this is not a film to have spoiled. In fact, this is true to the point that I’m not going to put anything under a spoiler tag. I’ll do my best.

Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) is wealthy, thanks to inherited money, and attractive, making him quite the hit with the ladies. On the night of his birthday, he meets Sofia (Penelope Cruz), the current girlfriend of his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez). Cesar is also being pursued by an unstable one-night stand named Nuria (Najwa Nimri). He and Sofia hit it off, but there’s some fear of his being disloyal to his friend, a fear that he quickly overcomes. He spends a night with Sofia, although they do not sleep together. The next morning, he goes outside and sees Nuria, who offers him a ride. Shortly thereafter, Nuria purposefully crashes her car, killing herself and disfiguring Cesar terribly.