Monday, July 27, 2009

Everything is Illuminated

Searching for one’s past, one’s roots is one of those themes that never grows old because there are so many people, so many pasts, so very many roots.

Traveling with Jonathan as he searched for the story behind a simple photograph is thrilling in a quiet and so very controlled way. Especially made so because the land of his adventure is not a new, unexplored land but an old land, a used-up-for-the-most-part land that is as mysterious as one never settled. The land is a mystery because it is so different from America but also because it has been closed to the West for so long and only now slowly opening. And as it slowly opens, Jonathan enters with a guide his age traveling with his grandfather.

There are so many searchers here, both intentional and accidental. By the end of the film there is exploration and discovery all over as so many circles are dawn together. Revelations all over. I guess everything is illuminated.

And because it is simply a fine story with rich characters in a unique is a really fine film that flows with ease and depth.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Face in the Crowd

When the list is made of most versatile actors, Andy Griffin is going to be there. For anyone who only knows him as Sheriff Andy Taylor in the nearly 250 episodes of The Andy Griffin Show, seeing him in No Time For Sergeants might not be a stretch. He seems more like one of the residents from the hills outside Mayberry than the Sheriff. But as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd, he is the drifter who would have passed through the small town, stolen all the girlfriends, and had all the businesses willingly empty their cash registers for him. Even though just a face in the crowd, he knew how to make his way, to seize the day, to make every moment count for him.

Not an admirable character by any measure, Lonesome’s insight into pop culture is astonishing. Or perhaps not. Each age (and ages are getting shorter and shorter) believe it is the first one to be run-over by mass media and its ability to get so many thinking the same way so fast. What people do today on YouTube, Lonesome did on radio and then television.

Again, a fine story, great cast, unusual setting all in the hands of Kazan makes for a great film.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Face in the Crowd

When watching a movie someone suggests to me, I try not to read the synopsis of the film. Partly because sometimes those give away key parts to the plot, but mainly because I know there is a reason that this person wants me to watch it, and reading the synopsis won't help in my movie viewing. In fact, I love going into a movie as blindly as possible.

With A Face in the Crowd, I did just that. I read the netflix sleeve to the point where it says "...proves that celebrity isn't all it's cracked up to be," and stopped. I wanted it to be a surprise. So in my head I imagined a film noir, gritty drama type movie, because that is what Pablo had been picking and that is what Kazan's last film I saw was like. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it seemed like a light-hearted romcom with Andy Griffith.

Only, it wasn't a romantic comedy, and it certainly wasn't light-hearted. The movie reminded me of Network, in the sense that it concerned power and greed in the television (and radio) life. Andy Griffith had a side to him I had never seen, and personally, didn't want to see. He was terrifying and awful, and yet you sympathized for him because he obviously had had a hard life. 

By the end of the movie, though, Walter Matthau had come out of nowhere and suddenly there he was, with the climatic monologue telling Lonesome Rhodes about his future, and that it probably wouldn't be good. Part of me thought it would end in LR's suicide, and yet it left us hanging, as great movies sometimes need to do. Because, after all, aren't movies supposed to be just snippets of life? And doesn't life go on, long after the movie ends? Sometimes, we don't need to know how everyone's lives turned out. We were able to just view a small portion, when all three of those lives collided, and we are satisfied with the fact that after the movie ended, all three of the lives continued to go on living.

Hot Fuzz

I seldom laugh repeatedly through a movie, but Hot Fuzz reached me about half way through. The early chuckles stirred by interesting characters in a clever setting grew into full blown laughs when the action part of this action film began.

The juxtaposition of action and setting was brilliant. Those huge guns in such a quaint village being wielded by quaint village people was so absurd. But the action scenes were executed as good as any in a straightforward action film. No letting a cheap imitation pass for good action. This was gun’s a’ blazing first class action.

And while the Sandford villagers’ objective to remain the “model English village” seems a little over the top given the violence used to retain the title, it really isn’t when you realize that all conflicts, in one way or another, is about maintaining a way of life.

The team of Simon Pegg (writer, actor), Nick Frost (actor) and Edger Wright (writer, director) did what they did in Shaun of the Dead...remarkably entertaining story with a seemingly most incongruous plot, setting, action, characters.

Really made me laugh.

Hot Fuzz

Shaun of the Dead was one of those movies that I constantly heard about, but didn't see until a few years after it was released. So many people praised it, and after I saw it I swore that I wouldn't put off seeing another one of these guys' films again.

So, when Hot Fuzz was released, I saw it in theaters. And loved it almost as much as Shaun of the Dead. By the time it was released on DVD, I had seen it a few times and loved it a little more every time.

This movie is one that requires multiple viewings. The foreshadowing is brilliant, and is so densely hidden into the plot and dialogue that it seems almost silly when you notice it later in the film. For example, I noticed on the second viewing that every single thing Danny asks Nicholas if he'd "done" while being a cop, Danny and Nicholas later do in the final shoot-out.

The jump cuts and editing in this film are also incredibly entertaining and pleasing to me. I am always a fan of editing that you can tell was worked diligently on, instead of just cutting every time the camera moves. Instead of showing people driving to a certain place, the jump cuts show people getting into a car, the car braking, people getting out. It seems more fast-paced (which is especially needed in a movie such as this, which is all about murder and the law) and it cuts out an unnecessary driving scene.

While some people may write this movie off as a silly action flick, it is instead a deeply intelligent work of comedic and artistic genius.

On the Waterfront

I know nothing of Elia Kazan except his work and this is all I need to know. More than once I have started watching a movie not realizing it was his, but was drawn into the story told through the film and the look and the feel of the film. It hardly gets better than On the Waterfront.

All the elements come together and Kazan, sitting as a weaver at the loom, pulls the separate threads of actors and script, setting and lighting, camera work and set decoration into one fine story.

Seeing it just days after the death of Karl Malden made each time he was on the screen something of a tribute to him. This is what he did so well...hold the moral compass, be the one who will do right or be the catalyst for another doing right.

And Brando’s Terry is the character reeling from the torment between head and heart, a guy who just wants to be a player in his own life but is caught in a place and a time manipulated by others.

There are films I like because of a certain elements; I like this one because all the elements are certain.

On the Waterfront

There are typical ideas of "men": usually older movie stars when they were younger, usually working class, usually troubled, and almost always hot-headed and masculine. Marlon Brando is a very classic example of this, perfectly executed in On the Waterfront.

Unlike his character in A Streetcar Named Desire, where he is incredibly manly but also incredibly antagonisty, in On the Waterfront he is a guy to root for. You don't know much about his life--where his parents are, how old he is, how he grew up, even what town he currently lives in--but you can infer what kind of life he led and leads. He works a dead end, dangerous job. He also works as a lackey for the union at said job. He once aided in killing a man, without realizing it.

And yet, women, both fictional and real, are drawn to him. Maybe it is because he is a sensitive and tortured soul, forced to grow up hard and tough, because that is the life he was born into. Characters like this are always intriguing, because they have become cliche. But when Brando plays it, it isn't cliche. It is true and you can tell that Brando is killing himself in this role. That is what makes this movie so memorable.

It doesn't hurt that Elia Kazan directed it and the plot is killer and the supporting cast is fantastic.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jeux d'enfants

It is so “un” film-cool to prefer dubbing to sub-titles, and I am not that un-cool. I need the character’s voice to look like the character sounds, and vice versa. But I do not like subtitles and so often (always) choose not to watch a film with subtitles. Reason is simple...I cannot read text along the bottom of the screen and see all that is on the screen at the same time. I know the director and the cinematographer, crafted the shot...and I want to see it all...but I can’t while I read. If an actor makes the slightest eye roll that proves he’s lying, I missed it because I was reading.

Ok, so having said that, Jeux d'enfants was challenged with a bit (bit?) of prejudice from me from the start. None the less, I let its primary colors and near cartoonish (I mean that in the nice way) action carry me along. There is a type of film technique that when used draws attention to the fact that you are watching a film, not just eavesdropping on someone’s life. This film did that. I am inclined more to fourth-wall-cinema.

Initially drawn to Julien because of his defense of Sophie, I grew to like the two of them less because their “game” was always at the expense of another...the other’s clothes, garden, pet, wedding reception...whatever. Then as they grew up, the “game” was at the expense of the other, not another, but on each other with longer periods of time between episodes coinciding with the escalading of pranks. Finally, the only way they can be happy together forever is to become incapable of any more pranks, but in each other’s arms.

I see all the charm and cleverness and technique, and offer respect to them as well.

Jeux d'enfants

Max (brother) and I first watched this movie on IFC one day, randomly stumbled upon it. I was completely transfixed on the colors and the whimsical nature (shoot me for saying that, please). The story line, also, was something that intrigued me. I could never imagine having someone dare me to do something. But of course, these people were not like me.

Each of these characters feel as though they have some sort of vendetta against the world. Julian's mother was taken from him while he was so young, and Sophie's parents were literally nonexistent in the movie. They found solace in each other and their ability to make each other laugh. Unfortunately, it was usually at the expense of another person.

As their dares got bigger and more ridiculous, you are torn between cheering for them and feeling bad for the rest of the world. By the end of the movie, I felt relieved that the two characters could spend eternity together, literally entwined in each others' arms, but felt awful that they had to leave behind their two spouses.

I leave this movie feeling confused, but still in a daze at the visual aspect of it, and the characters. Saints they are not, but they sure are interesting to watch.

Midnight Cowboy

Not the happiest movie in the world, but maybe one of the sweetest. A buddy flick with the least appealing characters ever, but maybe among the most admirable. There’s the longing for the road and the rainbow at the end, initially NYCity, then Florida. There’s the sacrifice of one buddy’s fulfilling dream for the other's dream of survival. There’s innocence and experience. There’s realization and there’s enlightenment.

And there’s Voight and Hoffman.

It was the twelfth actor-listing for Voight in IMDB...sixty-two more followed. For Hoffman it was his thirteenth...and then another fifty-two credits. Such a body of work these two guys have created since then; such a pleasure to see them work so well so early.

Memorable characters that live in lit like Huck n' Tom and Dean n' Sal.

Midnight Cowboy

Movies these days are really getting a kick out of the "buddy" mentality. Or, more recently, the idea of a "bromance." Obviously, this only applies to two or more men. 

But way back in 1969, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman had perfected the bromance, especially the idea of two men coming from different backgrounds, forming a friendship that can last through anything, and is stronger than either had imagined. It popped up out of nowhere, and neither regretted it.

I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Dustin Hoffman the more I watch him. He is able to slip in and out of characters so completely, when you watch him you don't think "Oh, it's Dustin Hoffman playing a New York bum," but "My goodness, of course it's Ratso. I mean Rizzo."

Neither of these characters have a life you want to lead. I can't imagine moving to New York to be a "hustler," nor can I imagine living in the slums of the city. But these are characters you root for. They are the epitome of characters you root for. From the beginning, Rizzo talks about Florida, and from the beginning you are begging that he can make it down there.

I haven't seen Jon Voight in many movies, but I can safely say that just from this movie it is obvious that these two actors are diamonds in the rough that is (and was) Hollywood.

Friday, June 12, 2009


After the first time I saw the opening scene of Snatch., I knew that this was going to be one of my favorite movies. Very rarely do I find myself getting so wrapped up in a movie that I find myself talking back to the movie, cheering on the characters and grimacing when bullets are shot. But there I was.

Snatch. is one of those great movies where the main character thinks "How did I end up here? I don't belong here. This is not my scene." A guy involved in illegal boxing some how gets mixed up in a very bloody chase for a giant diamond? And yet, the transition between Tommy and Turkish to Sol and Vinny is seamless that you begin to believe that everyone really is connected and there really is something to Kevin Bacon's game.

Brad Pitt's character, Mickey, stands out to me. He is such an emotional character, one that everyone rags on (almost everyone in this movie hates the "pikeys" except the actual pikeys themselves) and yet by the end of the movie he is basically the one that saves the protagonists from some of the most terrifying bad guys. I mean, Brick Top has a speech impediment and he still scares the daylights out of me.

Even though I don't have to use the closed captioning to watch this movie anymore (and props to Pablo for not even asking for it the first time he saw it), Snatch. still finds a way to seem new to me each time we watch it.

Monday, June 8, 2009


There is the story, and then there is the way the story is told. Sometimes the two...the story and the together so that the two complement each other. Such is the case with Snatch.

For the first 20 minutes of the film I still wondered exactly what was happening, but then so were the characters in the half dozen plot lines. But then as the varied lines begin to converge, so did my understanding.

Same can be said for the language of the film. The various British dialects were nearly unintelligible because of the accents and the slang which punctuated every phrase, but as I listened I gradually understood more and more just as I understood the story more and more. Except with the Gypsy language. That I had to rely on a sense of what was happening. My co-watcher offered, early in the film, to select the subtitle option, but I choose not to rely on that tool because I like to watch and hear films...not read them. (Note: Since I do not speak only English, I realize that limits my film watching tremendously...but that’s how it..and

As the film progressed and the story threads tightened, so did my understanding so by the end I could sigh, a little exhausted, and say “good story.” But man, it sure was a lot of work. That might not be bad. Good things are worth working for.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Maltese Falcon

This is our second film noir film (both from Pablo) and I am really getting into this genre. It has been parodied so much that the actual original films from the genre seem like fakes. This one, however, packs a punch.

Bogart has proven himself to be one of my favorite actors. Pablo made the comment while watching the movie that he didn't think the romance between Spade and O'Shaugnessy was necessary or even made sense, and I found myself agreeing with him. Sam Spade is such a character by himself--witty, incredibly intelligent, strong-willed and seemingly distant from female characters, it seemed like he wouldn't actually know what to do with a woman that wasn't his secretary or his mistress on the side.

Having said that, the film is exactly what you want out of a noir film. Spade has some classic moves (like de-gunning the guy in the hallway) and Peter Lorre is just as awesome as usual. I loved that no character was perfect, but you could see where everyone was coming from. Although, you were always rooting for Spade. How could you not?

One thing that I will recommend to anyone pursuing the career of a private investigator: never, ever trust the woman who comes to your aid the first time she asks for your help. She is most likely lying.

The Maltese Falcon

Cannot remember the first time I saw this film or how many times since, but I do not tire of watching Samuel Spade try to figure out what his cast of characters are after and why. And the style? Well, seems a dictionary's definition of film noir could simply read "The Maltese Falcon."

Other than John Huston's masterful working of Dashiell Hammett's story, making the dialogue as snappy as Dash's original, when I think of the movie, I remember small visuals like the shadow of the agency's painted name falling on the office floor, Spade and Archer, just before it becomes only Samuel Spade. I remember the dangerous teasing of Wilma, the low angle shows of Greenstreet that makes him look even bigger than he is, and I can almost smell the lilac perfume on Joel Cairo's calling card, and feel the caressing of the black bird when it is finally in the group's hands. For a black and while film, there is plenty here for the senses...all five of them.

Yet, in all the watchings, I am never convinced of a romance between Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Perhaps it is because I am not particularly moved by Mary Astor, but I think it is largely because I don't need a romance in the story. I don't need Sam Spade to feel...just to outwit and act quickly. But that small bit does not distract from my keeping this film close to the top of any list of Pablo's films.


Call me a "typical hipster," but Wes Anderson is my favorite director. Probably because he has a way of turning an unattractive, sad character into a charming protagonist that you want to root for, despite their (many) short-comings.

For Rushmore, it's Max Fischer. On the surface, he is a creepy fifteen year old that never wants to leave his school, but is drawn to an older woman, probably to fill the void left by the death of his mother. But after a closer examination, you find that Max is wise beyond his years, tending to bond with smart, love stricken adults than his fellow classmates. He writes plays, gets drunk, sets up elaborate ways to win the heart of his love, and spends his time immersing himself in extra-curriculars. How can you not like a guy that starts a Kite Flying Society?

Anderson has a way of making the most inane conversation sound enlightening and thought-provoking. Even the line "My top schools where I want to apply to are Oxford and the Sorbonne. My safety's Harvard." shows what kind of a character Max is. And he is a character I can get behind.


Two years ago, driving McNoface's car on a five-hour trip through North Florida, out of range of any NPR stations, I searched through her stack of CDs for company. I choose the soundtrack from Rushmore, thinking a soundtrack would be instrumental and thus good drive music. It was and it was my intro to the movie. So in watching the film I heard the music in context and see that Wes Anderson delicately weaves a varied soundtrack from many artists into a fine background for his storytelling.

From early in the film, Max is an admirable character: talented, quietly ambitious, a romantic in a way, an adventurer whose interests are broad as evidenced by his extracurricular activities. But when his interest turns to a fixation on Rosemary, his interest is nearly that of a stalker and his pranks have near deadly results on his nemesis, Herman Blume.

But Max is on a journey. This is his coming of age journey. And while he seems almost dangerous at times, to others and to himself, physically and emotionally, in the end finds his place, and a place for others in his world, just as he is able to cast just the right people, even his enemies, in his dramatic stage productions.

Note to self: Add Wes Anderson to list of clever, insightful storytellers.


This movie is rich, not just in the depth of its film noir storytelling style, but in its ability to manage that style in color, rich color. Visually the film is a pleasure to watch, from the clean shiny rounded fenders of cars to the razor sharp lapels of J.J. Gittes' suits. It's a real shame we "lost" Polanski. He knows how to let a story unfold, slowly, as a detective works, slowly, uncovering details, knowing where to look for the next one, knowing how to piece them together.

The twists of the story do not rely on violence or a masterminded robbery, or some fantastic scheme. It all comes down to a personal family matter, a corruption of morals on the most personal level within a family that is manifested in the perpetration of fraud on an entire city with its most basic need...water.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The first time I had ever heard of Chinatown it was in Lost, when Sawyer calls Jack (who had been cut on the nose) "Chinatown." 

The first thing I noticed in this movie is that nothing was ever seen or heard that Gittes didn't see or hear. There were a few scenes where this was most prominent, when Gittes would be spying on someone, and you weren't able to hear what the people were saying, or could only see people through binoculars. Director Polanski made it very apparent that we were following Gittes, and not following the actual story. 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Let the watching begin

Pablo and McNoface have each chosen 10 films to watch with the other this summer. With each viewing, each of the viewers will comment.

Can't wait!
What about you?