Posts Tagged ‘movie

14
Dec
16

#33. The Wild Bunch (1969)

wild_bunch

Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Robert Ryan, and Edmond O’Brien

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

The Short, Short Version:

Holden is Pike, an Old West gang leader living in a time coming to a close. After a small-town bank heist is found to be a setup him and his gang (Borgnine, Johnson, Oates among them) make their way to Mexico. On their trail is Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former gang member who worked with Pike before being captured. Now in the employ of the railroad Thornton has 30 days to capture Pike using a ragtag group of come-alongers interested in the money. Pike strikes a deal with a Mexican General named Mapache for a load of 16 guns. Pike must keep his own crew together while getting the guns and not getting caught by Thornton. However, the General has some plot twists of his own…

Why This Made the Top 40:

I remember first buying the DVD from a Wal-Mart rack in Carbondale, IL while being in school there. One of my friends, Jason H., was emphatic. “There are like 300 Mexicans that die in one scene alone! It’s the bloodiest movie ever made.” I took it back to my dorm room, threw the disc into my computer, and watched it from my computer screen. Loved it. The final showdown scene was everything he said it was.

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched the film and now I have a 4k TV. Plasma aside, Warner Bros. did a great job transferring the film to blu-ray. For the most part it looks amazing. Sure, sometimes the excessive clouds of dust and smoke seem a little flat but overall the deep focus of the film makes it feel vibrant. One could complain about this and the sound being a little flat but it was a product of its time. Maybe one day it’ll all be cleared up but until then this transfer is a good enough one.

As for the film itself it turned me onto more of Peckinpah’s work. I almost considered “Major Dundee” and “Straw Dogs” but in the end I came back to “The Wild Bunch.” I do also recommend “The Getaway.” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” not so much.

14
Dec
16

#34. THX 1138 (1971)

thx_1138

Starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, and Maggie McOmie

Directed by George Lucas

The Short, Short Version:

It’s some point in the future and everyone has a shaved head, wears white, and is on drugs for everything to avoid human emotion. THX 1138 (Duvall) repairs androids and lives with a female roommate LUH (McOmie), who switches some of his pills for hers. The result is a spiral from them having sex and being caught, to a “watcher” named SEN (Pleasence) trying to force THX to be his roommate, to LUH being pregnant, to THX being “taken away” to stay with other “undesirables.”

Why This Made the 40:

I have always wanted to watch this movie. While in film school at SIU-C I had viewed the original student-film version, “Electronic Boutique,” which I thought was interesting. This seems as if first-time director Lucas was taking jabs at California culture or maybe prophecizing Big Pharma. Either way it’s an interesting treatise on societal disconnection not unlike “Brave New World.”

I watched the “Director’s Cut” version and from what I can tell as compared to the original there are more effects that Lucas tried to “blend in” with what he shot at that time. It makes for a funky looking film, but not in a bad way. It’s not the greatest sci-fi movie you’ll watch but it’s not the worst either.

08
Dec
16

#36. The Tragedy of MacBeth (1971)

the-tragedy-of-macbeth-movie-poster

Starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, and Terence Bayler.

Directed by Roman Polanski

The Short, Short Version:

Finch is MacBeth, the Scottish Thane of Glam who happens upon three witches who tell him that he’ll be the new Thane of Cawdor as well as the King of Scotland. Next thing he knows he IS the Thane of Cawdor as well but once King Duncan’s son Malcolm is crowned Prince MacBeth is less about redemption and more about retribution as he kills Duncan and becomes King. Following the Despot’s Guide to Complete Rule he sets to murder anyone else who may be able to claim the throne from him. One last trip to the witches gives him the prophecy, “… till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane,” which boggles and infuriates him but faster than you can say, “Ides of March,” MacBeth is overturned and beheaded.

Why This Made the 40:

In what also feels a lifetime ago it was a pick by my high school senior English teacher, Mr. Gleaves. Usually Shakespeare’s stuff feels stilted (c’mon… how many times do you use “thane,” or “thee,” or thou sayest?” without some sense of mockery?) but watching it on a 13” TV suspended from the ceiling I was transfixed. This was what Shakespeare was at its core – dark, bloody, gritty, dirty, and violent. I would later happen upon the reason for that – Polanski directed the movie following the murder of his wife, model Sharon Tate. For those of you who don’t know Polanski was in a relationship with Tate who, on a certain fateful night, became a victim of slaying by the followers of Charles Manson. Manson sent his followers to a house that was initially owned by a certain record producer who Manson wanted dead but was since sold to another person. Manson’s followers didn’t know the difference and murdered everyone there. Polanski, grief-stricken, decided to plunge himself back into his work. Playboy owner and founder Hugh Hefner, feeling sorry for the death of Tate, assisted in bankrolling/producing the movie. Polanski’s hurt, anger, pain, and rage are reflected in the film and, knowing that, gives a context to the violence on screen. I recommend this film not as a celebration of a tragedy but as a darkly personal catharsis wrapped in a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not the grass on the ground but the dirt and worms underneath. Forget any of the Hammer film sets or anything Kenneth Branagh put out – this is the must watch.

06
Dec
16

#38. Carlito’s Way

carlitos-way

Starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, and John Leguizamo.

Directed by Brian De Palma

Short, Short Version:

It’s notably the Eighties and former “J.P. Morgan of the smack business” gangster Carlito Brigante (Pacino) has his 30-year sentence overturned via his lawyer Kleinfeld (Penn) proving that the police conducted illegal investigations on him. “Free at last!” Brigante espouses his renewed faith in the world and swears he’ll never go back to what he did before. Problem is that the rest of his social circle doesn’t feel that’s the right move to make. The story of one man’s quest for redemption comes to the conclusion that sometimes you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out.

Why this made the 40:

Aside from being in my favorites category the film is literally in my Top Ten Favorite Films of All Time. Sure, Pacino may be a stretch for being Cuban however the film is done so well you forget about that idea. Brigante enters as a flawd character trying to do the straight and narrow – invest on a friend’s car sales business in the Florida Keys. As he tries redeeming himself to society and keeping out of jail he finds himself dragged back into the thick of it: his best friend/lawyer Kleinfeld (who has now turned into a gangster himself) not only enlists him to help dispose of some guys yet also offers him to the D.A. on trumped-up drug charges. His second-in-command at the club he winds up owning sells him out to another up-and-coming gangster, Benny Blanco (Leguizamo). The girlfriend he broke up with 6 years ago is dancing at a high-end strip club (surprise!) and they get back together. For everything he’s trying to do right by not doing anything at all everything goes wrong. Call it fatalism.

I’ve enjoyed De Palma’s work: “Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” “Scarface,” “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Femme Fatale,” etc. While being more of a “modern Hitchcock,” De Palma crafts interesting moments of drama and action while sneaking in the style (except for “Dressed to Kill,” which is pretty much a Hitchcock film in its own right). In the case of “Carlito’s Way,” as Penn’s Kleinfeld becomes more and more coke-addled/insane, the camera takes on more and more “Dutch angles.” De Palma also goes the extra mile and does 360-degree movement around the characters while doing Dutch angles (I don’t know of any other instance of this) thus heightening paranoia. Also of note: the scene where Kleinman is going to Riker’s Island Barge and the camera pulls back as he’s walking alone is a very Hitchcockian shot.

From it’s one-liners (“Favor’s gonna kill you faster than a bullet,” “You think you’re big time? You’re gonna fuckin’ die, big time!”) to the shots to the script (David Koepp) to its actors, “Carlito’s Way” is a helluva movie all-around and not just my favorite De Palma but one of my faves overall.

03
Dec
16

#40 Key Largo

#40: Key Largo

keylargo

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, and Claire Trevor

Directed by John Huston

The Short, Short Version:

Bogey plays Major Frank McCloud, a soldier-turned-drifter whose conscience leads him to the Keys, specifically Key Largo to the Hotel Largo which is ran by the father (Barrymore) and wife (Bacall) of fallen comrade George Temple. Upon entering the Hotel Largo he’s eyed by several of the guests there whose reasons for staying are above suspicion until he, the owner and daughter-in-law, and a cop are all held hostage by Al Capone-inspired gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco, surrounded by his gang and former singer/moll Gaye Dawn (Trevor), has other plans: getting the dough for his counterfeit money and heading back to Cuba where he was deported to. Add to the mix an impending hurricane, a sheriff, and Seminole brothers on the run, and you have a taught, tense thriller.

Why this made the 40:

The Forty for 40 list has four categories. This came from the Top Ten Influential Directors category for being directed by John Huston. Huston is the noted director of such classics as “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The African Queen,” and “The Man Who Would Be King,” among others. While “Key Largo,” is also a Bogey movie, it has a sensibility that “Maltese Falcon,” does not that makes for it to be an underrated film. What makes this film, more than the others, are the characters. From the thug “Angel” to the moll to the coward soldier McCloud having to confront his internal demons and summoning everything he can to take on underworld emperor Rocco, “Key Largo,” rides the line between noir crime drama and thriller. The interactions between Bogey and Robinson alone are worth watching – Bogart’s downtrodden “wiseguy” versus Robinson’s “larger than life” Napoleonic- Al Capone really makes the film.

Other important notes: the music. It was used for effect as much as the silence and the sound effects. Moments of empathy/sympathy would be underscored by a small musical piece. Silence swelled the dry awkwardness of the divergent characters all being in one room. The sound effects of the hurricane hitting the hotel amplified Rocco’s paranoia and lack of total control.

And, the photography. Based on a play (loosely, I’ve read) the film only alternates in what room(s) the characters gather in. Almost all interactions happen when most of the characters are all assembled in one place and as such they all have to be/seem/feel separate from one-another. The lighting does well-enough to give that three-dimensional feel when you see the various angles shot within the room they’re in. Every now-and-then you can also get that noir feel by the shadows from staircases, faces half-hidden in the shadows, etc. Working within noir sensibilities there are the mirror shots whereby a character is looking at the mirror and we see not only them but everyone behind them; a kind-of action/reaction tit for tat. Innovative stuff. I also recommend the final scene between Bogart and Robinson; it’s one of the best shot.

Aside from these things I think that I really enjoy “Key Largo” because it feels like the movie you watch to enjoy as opposed to the one you watch just to have seen it. Sure, I enjoyed the other Huston movies and in some ways they are superior. Maybe it’s like the band Steely Dan – yeah, they made good music and people like them but not everyone lists them as their “go to” band. While it’s not the “go to” for Bogart, Robinson, or Huston it does deserve mention and appreciation.

Here’s the trailer:

And also this little ditty from the Eighties…

12
Oct
10

Will You Logoff for ‘Social Network’?

If only logging on to Facebook was this compelling…

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rashida Jones and Justin Timberlake. Directed by David Fincher. Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich

If this review is read in the far future… you know, the one with the flying cars, jetpacks, and teleportation devices just like “Star Trek,” I wonder how we’ll look back at applications such as Twitter and the current ultimate networking platform, Facebook. Will we look upon these days and reminisce about wasting time on Mafia Wars or Farmville just as others wax laconic about Tetris and Mine Sweeper? Will Facebook concede its crown just as MySpace did? How archaic will “tagging” photos or creating groups like We Graduated High School So Why Are You Still Living In It? seem passe? To lean on the cliché only time will tell and who knows? Maybe I’ll get a chuckle out of reading this review.

At first the choice to helm a movie about culture current technological fad may seem odd. David Fincher. The guy who directed “Seven,” “The Game,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you look at his resume he’s the perfect candidate for the job: the man knows his technology. He’s Robert Zemeckis with a socio-political message wrapped in the veneer of a mystery. The conspiracy inside “The Game” showed that anyone and anything could be reached and turned against someone. “Fight Club” used technology not only for effects but to emphasize its effects on masculinity. Jodie Foster found herself trapped inside a high-security box fighting for her survival in “Panic Room.” In “Zodiac” Fincher used technology to recreate the San Fran area in the Seventies as well as aging Brad Pitt backwards in “Benjamin Button.” And now the spotlight is shown on our electronic fascination with “Social Network.”

Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) is a computer student at Harvard. With a certain nebbish nature he talks a mile-a-minute on a timeline the solely exists inside his head which makes him difficult to deal with or relate to. Any moment he shares with someone appears spent before he even starts it. One night his girlfriend Erica Albright (Mara) breaks up with him because she can’t stand him anymore. Pissed-off and drunk he returns to his dorm room and blogs about his ex-girlfriend, complaining about the size of her breasts and comparing her with farm animals. With the help of his best friend/roommate Eduardo Saverin (Mazzello) he creates a program which takes all the pictures of the women on Harvard and makes a “Hot or Not” website where people can vote as pictures of women are pitted against others. Within four hours the website gets over 22,000 hits and shuts down the Harvard server.

The Harvard review board brings Zuckerberg up on Code of Conduct charges to which he seemingly doesn’t care. The guy is technologically smarter than every person in the room and has no qualms about letting them know. He’s put on academic probation and left to his own devices. Upon hearing of this in the student newspaper Zuckerberg is confronted by Divya Narendra (Minghella) and the Winklevoss Twins Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer, technically playing both roles) who found out about his website and want him to help create a student dating website for them. What’s in it for him? Re-establishing his Harvard “image.” From this Zuckerberg begins stirring an idea around in his head…

“Relationship status.” That’s the key ingredient Zuckerberg and Eduardo need to create their website, thefacebook. Within moments Zuckerberg finishes the programming and sits back. And waits.

Like a “viral web hit” people begin logging on and joining up. The duo don’t know what they have on their hands. Mark wants to keep it free and expand the technology while Eduardo wants to monetize it so it can begin paying for itself. Steadily the amount of members increase as they broaden who can join (because you need an “.edu” address to be a member) to other colleges. It even goes overseas. Meanwhile the guys with the prestigious rowing club try pursuing litigation saying that Zuckerberg stole their idea.

Enter Sean Parker (Timberlake). He created Napster and sat in the middle of multiple lawsuits while living the party lifestyle. Sean has ideas and against Eduardo’s better judgment has sway on Mark. He convinces Mark to move out to California so they can take “thefacebook” global because Sean has contacts. He’s setting up meetings. He’s getting Zuckerberg networked. Meanwhile, Eduardo is back in New York running around, seemingly hopelessly, trying to get funding for the website.

And therein lies what the movie is about: more than Facebook, more than money, it’s about the destruction of a friendship. It’s about two men who shared a vision in the beginning only for each to find out who the other was too late. Eduardo is sold on the idea and wants to keep a certain amount of control on it while Mark wants to play “Civilization” with social networking. Piece by piece Eduardo is sold out by Mark and Sean finally ending up suing Mark.

And Mark has no initial worries about the place he’s found himself in: the middle of two lawsuits. One is against the person who used to be his best friend while the other is against the brothers who hired him to do their website. Mark can be labeled “cold and indifferent” without pause or difficulty. That’s as deep as he goes…

Fincher weaves the tale back and forth between Mark’s and Eduardo’s testimonies as well as those of the Winklevoss. It’s an intriguing tale. It’s compelling. Think “Aviator” for computer nerds. While you may not get a full view on who Zuckerberg really is the actions speak for themselves. One of the best lines to illustrate this arrives at the very end when Rishad Jones says, “You’re not an asshole, but you’re trying so hard to be.” Apropos.

The question that comes to mind: is this the TRUE story of the founding of Facebook? I haven’t read the book and therefore cannot say. It’s a movie so I’m sure a good chunk is embellished but I also believe that several events did occur; I just can’t say which ones. But more importantly: what does Zuckerberg think of all this?

I did enjoy the movie overall. If it were any director other than Fincher I may have decided against seeing it but Fincher is one of the better storytellers of my generation. The guy can make the bland provocative. Aside from the technological aspect Fincher called up industrial rock artist Trent Reznor and had him do the soundtrack (Fincher had done several Nine Inch Nails videos) and the result works. While Eisenberg, Timberlake, and Garfield give good performances of their characters since I have not really seen their real-life versions I can’t speak to how accurate they were.

My grade: B+

14
Sep
10

Affleck Takes Moviegoers to ‘Town’

Hardboiled Affleck?

Starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Chris Cooper. Written and directed by Ben Affleck. Based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan

Gritty. Low-tech. Real. Honest. Violent. Southie crime drama. And it works.

Ben Affleck returns to the director’s chair with his second feature, “The Town.” If you haven’t seen his first, “Gone Baby Gone,” I recommend renting it. “The Town” is another crime drama set in South Boston and while it proudly follows in the footsteps of “The Departed” and “Boondock Saints,” it has its own distinction with a “whiff” of “Carlito’s Way” running through it. It all kicks off with two quotes about Charlestown: first, that it’s the capital of blue-collar crime and secondly that those who grow up there are proud of being from there, no matter how f’d up their lives become.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) is a former high school hockey star who returned to his hometown of Charlestown and decided to kick it by working in construction. And organizing armored car and bank heists. His crew includes his volatile best friend Jim Coughlin (Renner), who is like a brother to him, Desmond Eldon (Owen Burke) and getaway driver Albert Magloan (Slaine). The opening heist has them holding up a bank and taking hostage bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall). Immediately after they drop her off by the water and ditch the van, abandoning and setting it on fire in Charlestown.

Enter FBI investigators Special Agents Adam Frawley (Hamm) and Dino Ciampa (Titus Welliver). Frawley looks over any evidence left, which isn’t much and deduces that the people he’s dealing with are “not f’n around.” His only lead is with Keesey who can only repeat what little she doesn’t know. No prints, knowing when bank events were timed… he’s out for blood but with no direction to go. On a hunch he’s able to track down the crew having a cookout.

But the movie isn’t so much about what’s going on with everyone else as it is MacRay. Doug is haunted by the fact that his mother left him and his dad (Chris Cooper) when he was six. He tried breaking away from the small town but failing at hockey he returned and got sucked back in. His dad worked for Fergie the Florist (Postlethwaite) and is now doing hard time. His friend Jim’s family took him in and he even dated Jim’s sister Krista (Lively) who is a product of the area: in her twenties with a kid, drunk and strung-out on drugs. He wants to get out. He needs to get out. Just one last job…

Doug takes it upon himself to track and watch Claire to see what she knows and what she says. He finds that she’s a “yuppie” who lives in Charlestown and does volunteer work with kids. She has a good, decent. Doug finds himself falling in love with her, wanting to take her with him when he leaves Charlestown. He makes his mind up to get out but again, one last job.

The stakes are raised after a second armored car heist brings more attention to the crew who are already dressed as facially-decrepit nuns sporting assault rifles. Jim comes down on Doug for dating Claire citing that it could destroy everything they’ve built up. “Fergie” tells Doug that he can’t leave working for him because he won’t let him. Special Agent Frawley questions Claire a little more and informs her that her boyfriend Doug is a bank robber. Doug is being pulled down by the very forces he’s working to escape from. Will he make it out alive? Will Claire come with him?

From the opening action sequence of a perfectly planned bank heist to its somber end, “The Town” is a class-act thriller/noir/heist movie that makes no apologies for a “feeling” of being independent so much as it showcases good filmmaking. Following critical acclaim for directing “Gone Baby Gone” Affleck may be one of the better actor-turned-directors that exist in Hollywood. Watching the movie it feels real: car crashes don’t lead to explosions, weapons-fire doesn’t come with witty lines, and the characters and locale aren’t misunderstood –they are exactly what they are with little regret.

And maybe it’s that angle that works for this film. “Carlito’s Way,” which I mentioned earlier, seemed to inspire the vibe flowing through this film: the guy who just wants out and away from it all, who is trying to do good, to do the right thing around others who don’t want him to change for their purposes. It’s a cruel life-lesson that Doug MacRay learns but not entirely in the same way as Carlito Brigante.

Do I suggest this movie? Hell yes. Action scenes are done well and while they rush they do not feel like a “Bourne” scene. There’s enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat every-other scene. The music works with the film. As for acting the actors seem to be at home with the characters.
Someone asked me last night what I thought of it. I would pay full price to see this movie again. It’s that good.

My grade: A