Saturday, July 30, 2016

MOVIES FROM THE 1990'S (MONTH 2)

Since I STILL had quite a few movies from the 90's left on my 1001 list, I decided to re-watch ten this month that I've seen but haven't seen for awhile.

Thelma and Louise
Thelma and Louise is a sort of 90's feminist Easy Rider about a pair of women whose unfortunate circumstances lead them to be on the run from the law. The movie is a bit of a fantasy ride, yet still rings true more often than not. Mark this one down as one is even better than I remember. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are both excellent and Callie Khouri won a well-deserved Oscar for her strong screenplay.

The Sixth Sense
Another from the if you know what is going to happen it might not be as good a movie experience files, The Sixth Sense is a supernatural story that never pulls it's punches enough for you to figure out exactly what is going on underneath the surface until close to the end. That was true the first time I saw it and I still feel a bit dense about not figuring it out sooner. It's been hard for director and M. Night Shyamalan and star Haley Joel Osment to top their respective contributions here. Maybe some day.
Clueless
Clueless is one I'm less sure about. What is the connection to Jane Austen's Emma again? But I can see that this has a similar appeal to a later generation to the appeal that I have to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I honestly didn't know both films were directed by Amy Heckerling until I watched Clueless again. I also got the opportunity to watch this one with my niece (she's a big fan of the film), which is always a plus.


Boogie Nights
Boogie Nights is the complex and funny character study of the pornography industry during the 70's and 80's. I liked writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's flair and style in this film as well as his subsequent film, Magnolia. And where is my old Betamax copy of Debbie Does Dallas, anyway?

Short Cuts
After finally reading Raymond Carver's collection of stories on which it is based, I was looking forward to watching Robert Altman's adaptation of Short Cuts again after many years. Not of all of what Altman's fly by the seat of your pants filmmaking worked during his career, but it really works for Short Cuts. He takes Carver's stories and changes them where he needs to, has the characters interact with each other in ways they never did in the short stories and puts it all together as a cohesive whole. Some Carver purists may not approve, but I'm not among them. I think it's a brilliant film.

Magnolia
Magnolia is a film I also compare to Short Cuts because of multi-character nature of the piece. I like this one almost as much as Short Cuts, though the second half, where all the characters break into song for no reason and are attacked by a shower of frogs, doesn't quite live up to the first half. Still highly recommended with a fine cast headed by John C. Reilly as the world's nicest cop and Tom Cruise, who plays a cross between Tony Robbins and Andrew Dice Clay.

Rushmore
I have to admit, I liked Wes Anderson's Rushmore seeing it now more than when I first saw it. Teenage overachiever Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) and millionaire businessman Herman Blume (Bill Murray) vie for the affection of teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams). It's a movie with a great deal of charm and warmth. Probably (now) my favorite of Anderson's movies.

The Crying Game
Part of The Crying Game game is watching it with someone who hasn't seen it before and see if they can guess the radical plot twist that happens about half way through the movie. Spoiler: My wife didn't see it come it and failed this test. Sorry, dear. Overall, the film works well as a thriller and as a social commentary on human sexuality as well. I also really like the scorpion/frog joke and try to use it in my own conversation where applicable.

Jurassic Park
Yes, dinosaurs are cool, I've always thought they were cool since I got those little dinosaur booklets at Sinclair stations when I was a kid. But maybe I'm just Jurassic Park'd out. I've read the book...seen all the films...seen Michael Crichton's Westworld, which is definitely a forerunner of Jurassic Park. Maybe I'm taking the special effects for granted and know how the plot is going to go and was a little bored by it this time out. I will say the triceratops was always my favorite dinosaur too, Dr. Grant! In fact I always rooted for him in my imaginary battles against T-Rex as depicted in the colorful picture from the Sinclair Dinosaur booklet below.




Saving Private Ryan
Who can forget that long and horrifying opening of Saving Private Ryan, which depicts D-Day in an unglorified and violent way that few war films had done before. We also get on board for an epic journey following the squad led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) that spends most of the movie searching for the elusive Pvt. Ryan (Matt Damon), who gets to go home because his brothers were all killed on Omaha Beach. And Spielberg won his second Oscar for this and a lot of people think it should have won Best Picture, too.  So, we can pretty much put this in the war classic category and move on, right? 

Not so fast.

I wanted to read famed screenwriter William Goldman's essay on Saving Private Ryan after I saw the movie again because I heard he dishes out some tough criticism on the film.

Goldman's major problem with Saving Private Ryan #1: The movie starts with an older man in modern times and his family visiting a veteran's cemetery in an emotionally charged scene. We fade to a close up of the man and cut to a flashback to the story which begins with the D-Day invasion. The logical assumption is that it this Captain Miller's (Tom Hanks) story until we discover at the end of the film that Captain Miller is killed and the man in the opening scene is Pvt. Ryan himself. The problem Goldman sees in this is that Ryan only comes into the movie at well past the half way point. How can he be recounting the story if he wasn't even there for most of it?

Goldman's major problem with Saving Private Ryan #2: The squad (minus two who have already been killed) finally locates Pvt. Ryan to take him back. However, Ryan stubbornly wants to stay with his squad and help his brothers in arms fight in the upcoming battle with the Germans. However, the ridiculous part for Goldman is the fact that Captain Miller's squad decides to join the other squad and fight the oncoming Germans! What? Now they are going against their mission after rigidly sticking to it for almost three hours of film time? Goldman points out that there would have been an easier out if they had just let Ryan stay and tried to get back but were blocked in by oncoming Germans and forced to stay and fight out of necessity.

Goldman's major problem with Saving Private Ryan #3
 Here is Goldman's direct quote.
The other disgrace of this storytelling is this: there is no pregnant moment to the story. (I'm not going all intellectual on you—remember, the Zipper scene and Matt Dillon trying to electrocute the dog back to life were my happiest moments this year in a theatre.) But all stories do and must have them. They are the reason the story is being told. The pregnant moment of Shakespeare in Love is this: Will has a block. We do not tell of Joe and Gwyneth after he's written King Lear—the whole point is the guy can't write anything. Armageddon happens when it happens because the meteor is on its way.

There is absolutely no reason for this story being told now since Matt has no specific reason for visiting the cemetery.


Goldman also has problems with the film's patriotic over-sentimentality during the modern day scenes (I disagree with him here. I find those scenes effective). He also hates Ryan's one long speech (the girl hit by an ugly stick one) which is the viewer's one opportunity to know something about Ryan and doesn't put him in an overly positive light. (I think he's right about that one.)

Anyway, food for thought from the always interesting Mr. Goldman.

Glad to revisit these films from the 90's, but there are plenty from this list that I've never seen....I'll take a look at some of those next month.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

MOVIES FROM THE 1990'S (MONTH 1)

MOVIES FROM THE 1990'S REVISITED

Since I still had quite a few movies from the 90's left on my 1001 list, I decided to re-watch ten this month that I have seen but haven't seen for awhile.

The Big Lebowski
If you're a movie lover, you gotta like The Big LebowskiYou gotta be able to quote it, love the characters and just have a fun time with the stoner dude and all his eccentric friends. I liked it when I first saw it and the subsequent cult status of the film is well deserved. And who wouldn't want to go bowling with The Dude, Walter and Donny? I will certainly see it again at some point as I spill a beverage in your honor.

Jacob's Ladder
Jacob's Ladder is a roller-coaster hallucinogenic head trip dealing with life and death, unconsciousness and consciousness, reality and imagination. I didn't remember many specifics from my first viewing other than the weirdness of it, but it is truly a worthwhile film that isn't always easy to figure out. Several scenes I watched over to fully appreciate how it all comes together...sort of.

Seven
Seven is one that I've only seen once before and if you know the big spoilers going in, you might not enjoy a movie like Seven the second time around. But knowing what was going to happen made it a different viewing experience. It loses some of the shock value, but you get to figure out this intense police procedural with the officers more as you go when you know where it is headed.

The Usual Suspects
The same repeat viewing spoiler problems may be found for The Usual Suspects, which (like Seven) also stars Kevin Spacey. Yet, it makes it easier to answer the questions of what exactly is going on with these crooks? What force is leading them together? And who or what is Keyser Solze? Another one to watch with someone who hasn't seen it to see if they can figure out the many puzzles presented here.

L. A. Confidential
Since I'm a fan of film noir, I'm especially prone to have affection for L. A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy's crime novel of the same name. Lots of twists, lots of action that goes far, but not too far and boasts a formidable cast led by (who else) Kevin Spacey. Just a thought: I wonder if Rolo Tomasi and Keyser Solze have ever met?

American Beauty
And my 90's Kevin Spacey film festival ends with the Academy Award winning film, American Beauty. This film has one of my all-time favorite screenplays (Sam Ball). The characters are vivid and cleverly written (though not overwritten) and very-well acted by the cast led by Mr. Spacey...Now that I think about it, I might need to watch Glen Glenngarry Ross or House of Cards again.


Goodfellas
Goodfellas is one of director Martin Scorcese's most critically lauded films and I would say deservedly so. I'm impressed with how the film mirrors the actual events of mob informant Henry Hill to dramatic effect. Many think that Goodfellas should have beaten out Dances With Wolves for Best Picture in 1990, but for the record, my wife thinks Dances With Wolves was the right choice.

Casino
I wanted to make sure I re-watched Casino right after Goodfellas, as the movie features the same subject (organized crime-though in Las Vegas this time), the same director (Scorcese), the same star (Robert De Niro), the same psychotic co-star (Joe Pesci) and the same original author (Nicolas Pileggi). But Casino is more than just Goodfellas-lite and definitely stands on its on in the classic crime drama category. And Sharon Stone is surprisingly good!

Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day is a movie whose title has become synonymous with living the same day over and over. It's obviously very funny, but their is a lot of poignancy and character growth in Bill Murray's Phil as the movie progresses. And how could you not love the perennially obnoxious Ned Ryerson?

Babe
After seeing a bunch of harder-edged movies in a row, it's a good break to re-watch the talking pig movie Babe. It's a movie with cute talking pigs, dogs and sheep! It's sweet and touching and when Babe the pig asks Fly the dog if he can call her mamma...well, I'm going to need a tissue now.

Plenty of more 90's movies to revisit. Will work on tackling some more of those next month.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

THE 2016 EDITION


There's a buzz among movie fans each year on the topic of which film will win at the upcoming Oscars. The anticipation towards this mounts as we go through the various film festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, etc. ultimately vying for good Oscar positioning. But since I've been doing this 1001 blog for so long, when I see the Oscar nominations come up, I don't think as much about who will win, as I think about which films will be in the next edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book! I guess I've become sort of brainwashed myself in that respect.

Before I look at the Oscar nominees for 2015, I want to briefly look at 2014. There were eight Best Picture nominees for that year. When you also throw in the Best Foreign Language winner and Best Documentary winner, seven out of these ten films made the new 1001 movie list.

These films were:
Birdman
Boyhood
Grand Budapest Hotel
Whiplash
The Theory of Everything
Citizenfour (Best Documentary)
Ida (Best Foreign Language Film)
(The nominees that didn't make it into the book were Selma, American Sniper and The Imitation Game.)


The only three other new entries last year for the new 1001 edition were Leviathan (a Best Foreign film nominee), Under the Skin (a cult sci-fi film) and Guardians of the Galaxy (a mega-hit comic book film).
So if the previous year is any indication, many of the following list of movies from the 2015 nominees (including Documentary, Foreign and Animated) will be in the new addition for 2016. I've listed them in order of the likelihood I think they'll be in the next book ed (I'm assuming there will be a 2016 edition, but even if there isn't-I'll play along anyway.).

 
Spotlight
1. Spotlight-The last fifteen or so Best Picture winners have all made it onto the 1001
book in at least one edition and I don't think Spotlight will be an exception. This is a riveting investigative drama which reminded me a lot of All the President's Men and also boasts a very strong ensemble cast. The subject matter of the film also has the weight that the 1001 movie book likes (as does the Academy). It did only win two Academy Awards, which isn't a big total for a Best Picture winner, but I think it makes the next edition easily.

The Big Short
2. The Big Short-Maybe my favorite of the Best Picture nominees...and who'd have thought a movie about Wall Street, financiers and the housing bubble could be so depressing, yet often tragically funny at the same time? And Adam McKay proves that directing a string of Will Ferrell comedies is apparently a great stepping stone to directing critically acclaimed Oscar nominated films.

The Revenant
3. The Revenant-The 1001 list likes Leonardo DiCaprio and director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (both Oscar winners for this) and I think they'll also like this brutal tale of survival in the wilderness. And I still can't get that freaking bear attack scene out of my head!
 

Son of Saul
4. Son of Saul-Best Foreign film winners sometimes make the list (Ida, A Separation, Amour) and sometimes they don't (The Secrets in Their Eyes, In a Better World). But this film about the Holocaust and a concentration camp occupant that tries to find a rabbi for a burial ritual amidst the chaos of a prisoner revolt seems to have what it takes to make the list.

The Martian

5. The Martian-Now the list begins to get a little harder to predict. Crowd pleasing commercial adaptation of Andy Weir's geeky technical novel that doesn't scrimp on the details of space and survival, but was still accessible enough to a mass audience to make it a hit. Might make the book, but I'm on the fence on this one 


Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Mad Max: Fury Road-Fury Road won more Academy awards than any other movie this past year (6). It is a non-stop chase explosion of special effects and was a tremendous commercial and critical success. I seem to be in the minority, but I could never really identify or care too much about the characters. I would put director George Miller's original Road Warrior in the book before Fury Road, but who knows? And what is the deal with that heavy metal guitar player again?

Room
7. Room-Popular book, intense story and Academy Award winning performance by Brie Larson puts this on the maybe list for the book. It has a similar feel of Gone Girl, which did not make the book.
 
Bridge of Spies
8. Bridge of Spies-I liked Steven Spielberg's Cold War drama featuring Tom Hanks and Academy Award winner Mark Rylance, but I would still be surprised if this film makes the book. My wife thinks it has a chance for inclusion due to the weighty topic, but we'll have to wait and see.


Brooklyn
9. Brooklyn-Old fashion love story and a nice little film with pleasant shots of the Irish
countryside and a likeable cast...but I don't see it making the book. Personal note: My wife still thought the Dodgers played in Brooklyn! She clearly doesn't keep up with the latest baseball news or maybe watches too many films set in the 1950's.


Amy
10. Amy-Recent Academy documentary winners with a popular music theme (Twenty-Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man) haven't made the book and I don't think this documentary about the life and career of Amy Winehouse makes it either. I did like the film and it made me appreciate a performer that I knew very little about before I watched this.


Inside Out

11. Inside Out-Undeniably clever film about (literally) the inner emotions of a young girl, but Best Animated Feature Film winners never seem to get into the book. I liked this year's Zootopia even more and I hope that one beats the odds and lands in the 2017 edition.


I have a feeling the next edition won't include as many 2015 Oscar nominees/winners as the 2014 nominees in the previous edition, but who knows? I would personally like to see them go off the list a little more, but who knows? I would personally like to see them make a few less predictable choices this time out.