Sunday, September 24, 2006


High School Film Noir Mystery Movie of the Week.

This movie walks a very fine line between being really really stupid, or extraordinarily brilliant. It has the balls to try something that many film-makers would be afraid to do and runs the risk of falling flat on its face. But if you don't take a risk every once in a while, you never make anything that's different, or new, or unusual. As for me, I think it succeeds at being cool.

I hate telling you what this movie is about. If you follow the link above to the imdb site, you can read the film synopsis - regardless, here goes: I high school loner infiltrates the underworld of the school crime ring to find out what happened to his ex-girlfriend.

Well that doesn't sound too exciting.

The are a couple safe ways to handle this plot. "Safe" meaning, "let's not take any chances. Let's just get it into the theaters for as little money as possible." One way would be to take the "Mod Squad" approach. That is, go undercover, join the crime ring, find out the culprit, get close to them, and exact your revenge. That would be the easy way out - as if this were a laborious chore that had to get done, instead of art. They could also have made a "Beverly Hills 90210" type of movie. Let's be glad that they didn't. No, the powers in charge here take a different approach - that is - they decided to make a period film - but in present time. The story takes place in present time, but everybody talks (all the dialogue) as if they were in a 40's, hard boiled detective movie. Think of Humphrey Bogart and the Maltese Falcon - except that he's in high school and has to solve the case during study hall. Philip Marlowe meets John Hughes.

This movie is slick, original, and great fun. Here's why I think you should give it a try.
  1. High coolness factor.
  2. There's a character called "The Brain", and guess what? He's smart!
  3. Meet me this afternoon and we'll follow Laura and see if she leads us to the Kingpin. - uh, can we do it at 3:30? Seventh period doesn't get out until 3:15.
  4. This quote:
    I betcha you got every rat in town together and said show your hands if any of 'em actually seen the Pin, we'd get a crowd of full pockets.
  5. SHAFT! He's a mean m........ (shut your mouth) - I'm just talkin' bout SHAFT.
  6. Fun collection of classic character types. Heavies, femme fatales, dimwits, and masterminds.
  7. This quote:
    (I trust you) less than when I didn't trust you before.
  8. The bad guys aren't all that bad. The good guys aren't all that good. Be careful who you root for.
  9. A parody of film noir would have been funny. That the film-makers took the material seriously throughout, preserves the feel of the genre. Cool!
  10. They have a "sit down" at the crime lord's house, where his mom serves Tang.
  11. The ending is classic - it makes one smile in spite of oneself.
Make some popcorn, mix up some Tang, and
Enjoy Brick.


Movie of the week:

Most people probably remember Peter Sellers from the Pink Panther series of movies. They were very very funny. Sellers played the buffoon, Inspector Clouseau, and had fun with his outrageous French accent, and even more outrageous situations. The humor was mostly physical. He was very good at that, but it was his other work which showcased his immense range and creative talent for comedy.

Basically, by trying not to be funny, Peter Sellers makes not only the greatest performance of his career, but one of the best comedies of all time. Sellers plays Chance, an aging retarded man. He's known only as Chance - he doesn't even have a last name. Chance has lived his entire life in the employ of a rich man, and now he takes care of his garden. He's never been outside the walls of his estate, and everything he knows, he's learned from watching TV. When the old man dies and the household is disbanded, Chance is set out on the street, alone, with nothing but a small suitcase and a television remote control. When he sees something disturbing, he tries to use his remote to "change the channel".

Somehow, through a series of circumstances, he finds himself within the inner circle of the Washington DC elite. When asked his name, he can only reply, "Chance, the Gardener". This is misinterpreted as "Chauncey Gardiner", and his simple statements about tending the garden and such are misinterpreted as profound wisdom. Here is the basis for the comedy. Sellers plays his role as straight and focused as possible, while all around him, people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear (ever see Paris? ever see New Delhi?). In a way, this movie in a precursor for Forrest Gump.

I won't tell you where this movie goes or what eventually happens to him. But I will say this: The ending is very enigmatic. Much discussion has taken place in film circles and in cinema courses about what the ending means. If you've seen the film, you'll know what I mean.

The film is rated PG, so it's family friendly. However, the satire may be beyond the reach of young'uns - but then again, I never want to underestimate the comprehension ability of children. Here are some positive attributes of BEING THERE.
  1. funny, very funny
  2. political and social satire - about the only thing it has in common with the show "South Park"
  3. has inspired other great movies such as Forrest Gump.
  4. can cure cancer
  5. just kidding about #4. Wanted to see if you were paying attention.
  6. rated a 100% on the tomatometer. Nobody didn't like it.
  7. I said I was kidding about #4.
  8. Bring home BEING THERE. It will make you a hero for the day.
  9. The DVD disc is so well balanced physically, that it doesn't rip apart as it spins at high speed.
  10. maybe it can cure cancer - what do I know?

Do yourself a favor by watching BEING THERE.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Movie of the week.

There has been a trend, in the past decade or so, to remake good foreign language movies into English. The major studios perceive that American audiences don't have the patience to read subtitles on the movie or television screen. Unfortunately, they're right. This isn't necessarily bad, many very good remakes were made. The best ones try to capture the feel and the spirit of the original, even if they change the setting, don't change what the movie is about. Some examples are:
  • Japan's The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven, transforming the tale of roaming samurai through rural Japan, coming to the aid of a small town, to the American Old West - a creative remake (good - not quite as good as the original, but pretty good nevertheless).
  • Japan's Ringu became The Ring - a faithful remake (as good - and creepy - as the original)
  • Japan's Shall We Dance became ....... well, Shall We Dance - not a bad reproduction (good).

The are many more examples. However, not all remakes work, that is - they're bad, you're better of reading the subtitles on the original. For example, Vanilla Sky , which was a remake of the Mexican film Abre Los Ojos, just missed the boat. AND everyone involved with the disastrous star vehicle, City of Angels, with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, should be ashamed of themselves for claiming to have made a remake of this week's classic, WINGS OF DESIRE. Here's why the remake (City of Angels) sucked.
  1. over acting
  2. overly dramatic
  3. It took a genuinely deep and profoundly moving movie and made it corny.
  4. Nick Cage was the wrong choice for the angel
  5. it was driven by the plot - The original had a plot but was not driven by plot. Each scene was a complete thought.
  6. tear-jerker ending as an attempt to compensate for lack of substance everywhere else
  7. They obviously didn't "get" WINGS OF DESIRE. They certainly don't know what it's about. I have to doubt that they even watched it.
  8. it just plain sucked
In WINGS OF DESIRE (WOD), angels stand and watch. They observe people, listen to their hopes and thoughts, and occasionally silently offer comfort. Sometimes they get together and compare notes. The people don't see or hear them, of course, but sometimes they can sense them. The film is not religious in any sense. The angels just seem to exist and ruminate about life, the universe, and everything. And occasionally, they fall in love.......

Here's why WOD is a classic.
  1. It evokes the sadness, loneliness, joy, desperation, fulfillment of real people in cold-war Berlin.
  2. The director, Wim Wenders, uses subtle visual cues to differentiate between the angel and the human perspectives.
  3. Comes in at #219 on the IMDB top 250 movies of all time, right between Sweet Smell of Success and All Quiet on the Western Front . Not bad company!
  4. It's mostly in German - not that hard to follow in the sub-titles.
  5. Scored 100% on the tomatometer. Not 99% - 100%!
  6. low corn factor
  7. Angels watch us and listen to our thoughts. What am I thinking right now? ......... heh, heh - yeah.
  8. The Peter Falk character is inspired.
  9. high coolness factor.
  10. "Sissy Angel Slap Party" NOT an extra feature on the DVD.
Ascend to a higher plane and watch WINGS OF DESIRE.

view trailer

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Adaptation of the week.

First of all, in case I don't mention it later on, and it's not made blatantly obvious in my discussion, this is a comedy - a funny one.

Have you ever seen a performance of Shakespeare's "Hamlet", either a stage play, or perhaps one of the fine movie versions? You know the story. Hamlet's uncle kills his father, marries his mother, tries to have him killed, yadda yadda yadda.... His mother thinks Hamlet is going insane because he's been acting depressed (ya think). So she sends for his companions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to keep an eye on him. Every now and then, you'll read "Enter Rosencrantz and Guildenstern". They then have Shakespeare-like banter with Hamlet or Queen Gertrude or Polonius or ........... whatever. Then you'll read "Exit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern". Ever wonder what happens to them after they exit, when they're not on stage?

No? .......... Neither did I.

This movie is their story, from the moment they were "sent for", to their ultimate demise (I'm not giving anything away here, they get killed in Hamlet - it's the name of this movie, for cripe's sake). But despite that, it's very funny. Tim Roth and Gary Oldman never come out of character. They are in Shakespeare mode all the way through, but the conversations they have are priceless. In fact, the entire film is completely driven by dialog. Not unusual, since Shakespeare's main strength is dialog.

Not everyone will like this film. The dialog is fast and funny, and you have to be quick and pay attention. Not everybody is willing to put in that kind of effort. If you don't, you'll miss the point, and it may be rather boring. Some people think Shakespeare shouldn't be "messed with", and won't like the satire and comedic puns that are rife throughout the script. Some people will think it's rather vulgar - it's not. "I hated it! There's no plot!" What are you talking about? It's Hamlet! But do you know who liked it? My kids. I played it for them when they were fairly young and they loved it. They didn't get everything, but they got enough.

Here's why I like this film.
  1. An excellent screen adaptation by Tom Stoppard, of the play by Tom Stoppard, and then directed by Tom Stoppard. Think of all the money they saved.
  2. The banter between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is very reminiscent of the banter between Dante and Randal in the movie Clerks, - not exactly, but reminiscent. Sort of like Kevin Smith writes Shakespeare.
  3. Rosencrantz always seems to be on the verge of some discovery, which we recognized, but which then eludes him.
  4. Hamlet's story, somehow not as interesting as R & G's.
  5. So many great quotes - if only I could remember them.
  6. Here's one - by Richard Dreyfuss as the head of the acting troupe. "We're actors! We're the opposite of people!"
  7. Here's another by Rosencrantz. "I can't think of anything original! I'm only good in support." - a reference that neither character ever appears without the other.
  8. Shakespeare wishes he wrote this play. He told me so.
  9. If you ever do a coin toss with R & G, call out "heads" before they do ........ trust me on this one.
  10. It's just four floggin' beats.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Romance movie of the week:

I've decided to give you a break this week. I have been recommending videos that are deep, profound in some way, or otherwise, historically significant. No, this week's movie is different. This movie has three distinct layers that you can delve into, depending on how much you want to think. You can enjoy it on 1, 2, or all three levels. In fact, it'll be hard NOT to like this film.

On the surface layer, it's a light romantic comedy. The dialog is very funny, very New York. You could picture Jessica Stein being, say Woody Allen - except that she's a women, and somewhat more attractive. The romance has all the usual aspects you come to expect and love in a romance. It's very satisfying, with feel-good karma. If you liked "Sex and the City", you'll probably like this.

The next level down is just a little edgier, because the romance is between two women. Helen, a sexually progressive professional woman decides she wants to try a same-sex romance. Jessica is tired of the singles scene, and her mother is pressing her to meet a "nice" man. She's intrigued by the ad placed by Helen, and so they agree to meet.

On a deeper level, there's the story of anxiety of the single dating urban woman. Mr./Ms. Right may be out there, but there are so many Mr./Ms. Wrongs that you spend all of your emotional energy sorting through the debris. Jessica is so tired of that struggle that she accepts Helen's invitation as a possible way out. She's not comfortable as a lesbian, but maybe she can warm up to the idea.

The script is very well written. The back story goes like this. Real life best friends Heather Juergensen (Helen) and Jennifer Westfeldt (Jessica), developed these characters, first in comedy routines, and then in an off-Broadway play. The play was a huge success and ran a long time, allowing them to further refine their characters and plot. Eventually, they got an offer to make this movie. Now, here's your chance to watch it - why?

  1. The two main characters are childhood friend in real life and wrote the script themselves, just like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck with Good Will Hunting. And see good that movie was?
  2. It's a great "date flick". Not just a "chick Flick", men will like it too. In fact, the anticipation of lesbians will hold any man's attention for an hour and a half (yes, even me).
  3. The film is about characters, not about sex. Don't expect to see heavy action.
  4. I'm not exactly sure why #2 is true, but it is true. Anybody have a comment about this?
  5. Very good supporting cast, especially Tovah Feldshuh who plays Jessica's mother, and Jackie Hoffman who plays her co-worker.
  6. It's in English. You won't need your reading glasses for this. Unless you don't understand English - in which case you probably would be reading this anyway. Unless you have an interpreter. Make sure you take this interpreter with you when you see this movie. Oh wait! I believe there are subtitles in Spanish. OK, let me recap. If you speak: English - you're covered, it's in English; Spanish - get out your reading glasses, there are Spanish subtitles; everybody else - interpreter services are available in your local yellow pages. Not many, but some, will work for popcorn.
  7. It's very very funny.
  8. It doesn't throw any message in your face one way or the other about same-sex relationships.
  9. I'm probably going to hit you with a "heavy" film next week - so enjoy this one now, while you can.
  10. This film is rated R by the MPAA. Not because is deserves it, but because the MPAA was afraid not to. Those chicken s*** bastards!
Enjoy Kissing Jessica Stein.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


From the Archive:

Max (John Cusack) was a promising artist in early 20th century Germany, but he lost an arm in WW1, and now he runs an art gallery. He sponsors and encourages young (and not so young) artists. Among them is an aspiring art student named Adolph ......... something or other. He likes Adolph - they served in the war together and he "understands" him - and so takes him under his wing. He wants him to be a better artist, and thus a better man.

I don't know if the events in this story actually happened. It doesn't matter. We catch these two men in a particular moment in history. They're friends of a sort, one is a Jew, and the other is ..... well, Hitler. This is Hitler, before he got sucked into the anti-Semitic movement, growing in Germany at that time. The alluring thing about this film is that it allows you to wonder how history may have changed at any point, if only a character had made a different decision, or maybe bought some paintings, or maybe if circumstances had been only slightly altered. Armed with hindsight, it's easy for us to watch and shout at the screen, "No! You idiot. Don't do that!"

The performances are perfect. John Cusack shines when he has a good roll and script. He is convincing here as Max, the art gallery owner (except that it's in English) who always tries to do the right thing, and as the man who may or may not hold the fate of the world in his hands. Noah Taylor is brilliant. His accent, expression, and mannerisms are exactly what Hitler may have been like as a young man (except, again, that the movie is in English).

This movie received a lot of criticism when it was released. People were upset that the movie seemed to humanize a monster. Unfortunately, most of these critics were people who had not seen the film. Many of those critics, who then watched the movie, retracted their statements. They probably found that the film doesn't exactly make him a likeable character. Plus, you have to realize that even Hitler was a human before he was a monster. Besides, the focus of the story is Max. Hitler is just a subplot.

Rent MAX and watch it this week. Even if you don't like it, it's bound to start a dialog. Besides, in what other film could you possibly find the follow line of dialog? "Come on, Hitler. I'll buy you a glass of lemonade."


Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Movie of the week:

I saw this movie many years ago when I was a young man. I watched it again this past weekend and was amazed by how relevant it still seemed and by how much I enjoyed it. It may seem like a cliche', but they just don't make them like this anymore. Even if it didn't weigh in at about three hours, "epic" would be the right word to describe it.

Considered by many to be one of Federico Fellini's greatest films, LA DOLCE VITA is a study of decadence and indulgence in 1960 Rome. Very funny and fascinating, it could just as well be called, "Lifestyles of the rich and famous ......... in Rome".

Marcello, is a talented writer with a promising future, but he spends his time writing a gossip column for the newspaper. It's mindless and unfulfilling, but it pays well, allowing him to live his lavish lifestyle, and it allows him to mingle with celebrities. That's something that he's reluctant to give up.

Fellini doesn't give us a single continuous plot. Instead, he uses a series of smaller stories to set the tone of the film and to illustrate the ideas he wants to convey. In each successive segment, Marcello becomes more and more disenchanted with his lifestyle - but he can never give it up. Although long, the movie is never boring. If you've never seen a Fellini film, this is a very good place to start.

An interesting bit of trivia: Marcello's friend and colleague in the film is a celebrity photographer named "Paparazzo". You might think that Fellini is being clever here, using the word "paparazzo" for his character - except that this word didn't exist before this movie. The now commonly used word, "paparazzi" originated from this character's name in the movie.

The film is mostly in Italian with some English and a smattering of other languages, with the appropriate subtitles. The dialog is easy enough to follow with the subtitles, but the experience may be enhanced somewhat, by familiarizing oneself with a few simple Italian phrases. For example:

  1. Ciao, bella! - hey baby!
  2. piĆ¹ di vino per piacere - keep the wine coming, baby
  3. guardare mia macchina sportiva - check out my wheels, baby. Let's go for a spin
  4. vedo la madonna dappertutto- I see madonnas everywhere ......... , baby
  5. festa - party, baby, party
  6. fare l'amore - do me, baby, yeah
  7. gatta - you make me want to drool
  8. Marcello, come here - granted that it's already in English and it's only a useful phrase if you are Marcello, or you're with a Marcello, but if Anita Ekberg says "Marcello, come here." - believe me, your name is going to be Marcello.
  9. da cento per cento - 100%. That's what this film scored on the tomatometer.
Open some Chianti, rent LA DOLCE VITA, and .....

Monday, September 04, 2006


From the Archives: 5/13/2005

Love story of the week:

Danish movie director (don't worry, the film is in english), Lars von Trier makes films that are sometimes difficult to watch. Why? They are very unconventional. People don't generally like unusual films, they like the comfort of conformity. You don't have to think as much, and thinking is too much like working. Many people don't like to work too hard at watching a movie, they just want to be entertained. Another reason is that he tends to be minimalistic in his sets and backgrounds. Two good examples are his recent Dear Wendy, which takes place on a small downtown street which seems to have about as much expanse as Main St. in Pleasantville; and Dogville, which was litterally filmed entirely on a sound stage, with painted outlines of houses.

Lars von Trier is the founder of what's called the Dogma 95 movement in film-making. This movement urges film makers to shun special effects and other artificial components, and concentrate more on story-telling and the performances of your actors. He proposed 10 rules (known as the Vow of Chastity), listed at the link above, to be used as guidelines for a good Dogma film.

BREAKING THE WAVES, by Lars von Trier, is considered the first of the Dogma movies. The footage is sometimes grainy, the images stark, and there's no upbeat soundtrack. The story and the performances however, are spectacular. This was Emily Watson's first movie role. You may remember her from such films as Angela's Ashes and Punch Drunk Love. She got an Oscar nomination for this role. Many people believed she deserved to get it but was passed over because the academy perceived the film as "dark". So do I.

I called it the "love story of the week". It is primarily a story about love and also about faith. This is probably the most devistatingly emotional film you'll ever see. It is NOT however, a tearjerker. Far from it. You can check the link above to see a synopsis of the plot but it won't tell you what the "movie is like". I can't tell you weather or not you will like this movie. You will love it or you will hate - probably nothing in between. It will either be the best movie you've seen in ages, or you'll watch it and say, "Good God! What the hell was that?!! I couldn't make heads nor tails of it!" All I can say is that it has garnered much critical acclaim, and that I liked it. Film critic, Roger Ebert liked it too. You can find his review at the link below.


Film Critic Roger Ebert's review of BREAKING THE WAVES.