Friday, September 30, 2016

MOVIES FROM THE 1990'S (MONTH 4)

 MOVIES FROM THE 1990'S NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILMS 

Since I still had quite a few movies from the 90's left on my 1001 list, I decided to watch ten this month that I haven't seen and aren't in the mother tongue.

Open Your Eyes
If you like a movie that will keep you guessing, Open Your Eyes might make for a good nights viewing. The lead character is rich, handsome and about to embark on a relationship with the hopelessly beautiful Penelpe Cruz...until a disfiguring accident turns his world upside down. Or does it? What is actually happening here? What does it mean? It's worth finding out even if you've seen this film's remake, Vanilla Sky. I do prefer Open Your Eyes to Vanilla Sky overall, though the latter film manages to be pretty creative on its on.

Man Bites Dog

What are you doing to me, 1001 list? Man Bites Dog is a Belgian film that is a mock documentary featuring a serial killer who we go on his rounds with as he and his filmmakers provide narration as they are bumping people off! Very unpleasant to look at, but maybe the director wanted to show this guy in his environment being so matter of fact because he doesn't feel he is doing anything wrong. Did I mention this was unpleasant to look at?

Sombre
And yet another movie about a serial killer is Sombre, an odd little French film about a serial killer who kills mostly prostitutes but gets involved with one woman who actually develops an interest in him. A lot of the film is intentionally dark (as in it's hard to see what's going on on the screen) and is done with a hand held camera to give it more of a documentary feeling. But could someone please explain the ending?


Rosetta
Rosetta is the story of a poor teenage girl who lives with an alcoholic mom. The mom is also prostituting herself to make extra money. Rosetta's obsession is getting a job that will give her needed stability for her most unstable life. Rosetta's dealings with a young man who works at a waffle stand and her manipulations in the seeking of employment make up a lot of the drama of this simple but effective film.


A Taste of Cherry
I was sorry to hear about the recent death of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, the director of Close-Up and Through the Olive Trees. The journey of the protagonist, Mr. Badii, of A Taste of Cherry, is a slow trek by car and is a search for someone to bury him after he commits suicide. The amount of admiration one can have for Kiarostami's movies depend on whether or not you can get interested in stories that don't exactly go at a swift pace. I for one appreciated the slow moving journey in A Taste of Cherry. Mr. Badii's  journey was sad, tragic, difficult, but sometimes funny as well. It wasn't the director's final film, but it would certainly have served as a nice epitaph for him, anyway.

Farewell My Concubine
Farewell My Concubine is a Chinese epic that features politics, revolution, poverty, sexuality and opera. It's a long ride at almost three hours, but the entire movie has a wonderful attention to detail and a plot that is often sad, but is a most worthwhile story...but one that requires your full attention.

Beau Travail
Beau Travail is a French film about a French Foreign legion officer who becomes jealous of his superior's admiration for new recruit and tries to destroy the recruit in any way possible. The story is based somewhat on Herman Melville's Billy Budd. One thing about this film that you can't mistake is the underlying homosexual overtones. It isn't explicitly stated, but it is definitely there.  Okay...that's two films in a row from this list with a gay theme.


Happy Together
Make that three in a row with a gay theme! Nothing subtle in the homosexual theme of Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet, which is about a Taiwanese man living in the United States who marries a woman to satisfy his parents even though he actually has a relationship with another man who poses as his landlord when the parents are around. A movie that successfully explores cultural differences as well as sexual differences and is a pretty engaging comedy to boot.


Happy Together
What is it about all these nineties foreign films that have a gay angle? Happy Together starts off with a sex scene between the two male protagonists. It is about the only scene of the entire movie where this off-again, on-again couple seem to get along well at all! Sparked by jealousy, misunderstandings and distinctly different personalities, their relationship is doomed from the beginning. The movie does have some nice closure at the end in a scene near a waterfall in Hong Kong. And if you are waiting for them to play the song Happy Together, you'll get your fix at the end of the movie. Does that last point qualify as a spoiler?


The Wild Reeds
The Wild Reeds is the coming of age story featuring four young people, one of which discovers he's gay (in keeping with the theme of the last few movies I've seen!) . The main drawing point of this film is that the young people in the film seem real as do their struggles and uncertainty. But watch out for the Commies!

Note: Forty 1990's films in the last four months, but I still have more from that decade to go!  Will I ever get through this flippin' list? And it's about time for the new 1001 addition to come out, so they may even add more! Oh, well...moving on...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

MOVIES FROM THE 1990'S (MONTH 3)

I  had quite a few movies from the 90's left on my 1001 list that I had NEVER seen before that I decided to watch the this month.


Reversal of Fortune
Reversal of Fortune is the story of Klaus and Sony Von Bulow, the rich couple of whom there was much speculation at the time that Klaus knocked off Sonny for her inheritance. This was a huge story back in the day, but I never got around to seeing this movie based on lawyer Ron Dershowtiz’s book about the case until now. It is interesting in that it does present different scenarios to what may have happened and is punctuated by the lead performances by Glenn Close as Sonny,  Ron Silver as Dershowitz and best of all, Jeremy Irons (you’ve no idea…) as Klaus.

Strange Days
The James Cameron/Kathryn Bigelow Sci-Fi  film Strange Days was a bit of a bomb when it was first released at the box office. It’s hard to see why…the film certainly has the pedigree of a hit, with a good cast led by Ralph Fiennes and Angela Basset, a gritty story that keeps you guessing, loads of action, but not too over the top….So why wasn’t this a bigger hit again? I guess William Goldman was right-nobody knows anything when it comes to what movie is going to be a hit. The movie did get mixed reviews (63% on Rotten Tomatoes). The movie gets the consolation prize of making one of the editions of the 1001 movies book.

Boyz in the Hood
John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood is the rough story of three kids and their family, friends and enemies over time living in the mean streets of Los Angeles. A penetrating, sobering  and tragic look at life in the hood. Often compared to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, though my preference is for Boyz between the two films. Fine performances, especially Laurence Fishburne as the political philosopher father.

Three Kings
Three Kings is the story of Gulf War soldiers on a hunt for treasure in Iraq, who through a series of chaotic events eventually find their humanity and change the course of their actions and try to do the right thing. Three Kings works as a war film, an action film and as a human drama.

Trainspotting
Trainspotting is one of those films that gets away with more with me because of its Scottish pedigree. What I mean is that the story of malcontent heroin addicts has the potential to be a real downer (which Trainspotting is much of the time anyway), but does have a quirky sense of Scottish humor, as well as occasional glimpses of hope in the mire of sadness and lives wasted.

Lone Star

I really liked John Sayles' Lone Star, a Texas story of a current discovery that dredges up the skeletons of the past in a small Texas border town in more ways than one.  Well presented  blends of interracial conflicts along the Texas border, and the flashback scenes feature an uncharacteristically evil turn from Kris Kristofferson. Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Pena make a memorable couple in the modern story.  Forget the Alamo, indeed.

Slacker

Richard Linklater’s low-budget early film Slacker is an interesting experiment. Our minds are used to following a central character around, but in this film the central character interacts with another character and the next character leaves the central character and they become the main character! It took me a little while to get my mind around these multiple artsy Austin, Texas people at first, but had to admit I really began to like this film more and more as it progressed. Could be dismissed as gimmicky, but it works for me.

The Last Seduction
The Last Seduction… What movie does this film-noirish story of a sexually dominating and manipulative woman with more than a few sociopathic tendencies remind me of? Basic Instinct?…A little…Fatal Attraction?…Yes, a bit….Body Heat? Yes, that’s the one. It held my interest, but wouldn't quite make my book.
The King of New York
Since Christopher Walken has become associated with a lot of silly (but mostly funny) things in recent years, it's interesting to see him in a straight crime boss role that makes you forget about cowbell skits and Country Bears movies at least for the time being. He is the best reason to watch The King of New York, a gangster movie that may not be at the top of the crime movie classic list, but is still a good watch for fans of the genre. And it did make the 1001 list, so there you have it.

Safe
After watching the early Todd Haynes indie movie Safe, about a woman played by Julianne Moore who seems to be allergic to just about everything modern, I had the following conversation about it with my wife.

Wife: So what was the point of that?

Me: What do you mean?

Wife: I mean were her phobias mental or physical?

Me: I think it's supposed to be both, but it is intentionally unclear.

Wife: What about that community she goes to? Is the guy running it a sincere guru or a charlatan?

Me: You could interpret it either way, but I think it's intentionally unclear.

Wife: Okay. What about her family? Are we supposed to sympathize with her husband or is he part of her problem?

Me: Good question. I think it's supposed to be...

Wife: Intentionally unclear, I know!  I'll just look at the extras.

(After watching the extras)

Wife: Looks like a lot of what was going on was supposed to be intentionally unclear.

Me: I think you're right.

THE END

I still have a lot of NON-English language films left to see from the 90's. I will take a look at some of those next month.

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.