February Summary

















ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Captain Phillips
Platoon
RocknRolla
The Dark Knight
The Lego Movie
The Natural

Best: "The Dark Knight"
Worst: "The Natural"


CLASSIC:

Bringing up Baby
Giant
Godzilla
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
La Dolce Vita
Last Tango in Paris
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Psycho
Shoot the Piano Player
Stagecoach
Sullivan's Travels
The 400 Blows
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Awful Truth

Best: "Psycho" and "La Dolce Vita"
Worst: "Giant" and "The Wrong Man"


COMEDY:
Life of Brian

Best: "Life of Brian"


CRIME:
Mean Streets
Taxi Driver
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Best: "Mean Streets"
Worst: "The Killing of  Chinese Bookie"


DRAMA:
An Education
August: Osage County
Chariots of Fire
Dallas Buyers Club
Paris, Texas
Stand by Me
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best: "Chariots of Fire"
Worst: "An Education" and "The Wolf of Wall Street"


FOREIGN:
City of God
Das Boot
The Lives of Others
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Best: "City of God" and "The Lives of Others"
Worst: "Das Boot" —it's not a bad movie, just not as good.


HORROR:
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Best: Both titles


????
David Holzman's Diary
Brazil: Love Conquers All
Sleuth
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Videodrome

Best: "Sleuth"
Worst: "Brazil: Love Conquers All"



City of God (2002) (R)
















"City of God" is a staggering movie. A monumental film in the history of cinema, and deserving of the praise it is given. Predating other films like "Slumdog Millionaire" by years, "City of God" is the answer to all the problems that I've had with how adolescence is portrayed in films.
I didn't mean to line up these last two reviews the way I have...these things just kind of happen. With "The 400 Blows" we have an adult looking back on the time of unfairness in his childhood that turned him sour...Truffaut made sequels to the film, but they never reached the peak of fame that his debut piece sits at. With Reiner's "Stand by Me" the children are perhaps even younger and they are well on their way down the same path that Antoine is headed down. But in both these cases, we have children acting like adults and adults acting like children. Why is that?
The perspective has shifted. There are adult ideas inside a child actor being told to act as an adult. They are adults as children and not vice versa. "City of God" shows children trying to be more adult, but still being children. It's a movie with breakneck speed and all the cinematic joys you could possibly ask for.
Set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro "City of God" has only one clear main character: Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues). For much of the film, we hop around in time, trying to grasp the meaning of all the stories that our narrator keeps throwing at us.
There are flashbacks inside flashbacks, characters that seem unimportant that will shape the entire scope of the movie—the script must have been a pain to write. It's easy to see how this film got forgotten at the Oscars when you consider that "The Return of the King" was sweeping up all the awards that night; but I think that "City of God" is trying to leave the viewer with something a little more meaningful than Peter Jackson is.
Rocket lives around danger. Guns will go off in the night, men murder their wives and bury them in the house for sleeping around, hoodlums (or "hoods") are abundant everywhere. Once you reach the age of twelve you are a hood in training. If you should choose not to be, you might get somewhere if you sell fish on the street or if you stay in school, but that isn't likely. Where the easy and fast action is is selling drugs and being a hood.
Rocket grows up in the slums, is brother is part of the Tender Trio, a group of celebrated young hoods who feel like the kings of the world. They steal whenever it pleases them and evade the cops by tearing through the maze of houses and staying on their feet. One night, things go bad for the Tender Trio, it becomes impossible to escape the cops—their time will end.
Told in a Tarantino-esque/quasi-Boyle fashion, "City of God" is relentlessly entertaining; but more than that, it is unsentimental to perfection. It condemns the violence without having to condemn the violence. It lets the death and the shoot-outs slowly creep inside the viewer. Considering this is how some children grew up, with a gun in their hand, told to shoot their neighbor, it's surprising that the film doesn't go overboard at many times.
We begin the movie, instantly connecting with Rocket. We are concerned for him when it looks like he's in danger. But as flashback leads into backstory after backstory, we begin to realize that "City of God" is not a story that can be told about one boy—it involves an entire city. The remarkable achievement is that this portrayal of the city never comes across as false or phony.
Inspiring so many works, our hero is 'the nice guy' who thinks that good men always finish last—he could be right. 
When given the opportunity to hold people up gun point, Rocket always chickens out. He finds some excuse, the people he is going to take from always seem like cool people. 
His actions are contradicted with the actions of Li'l Zé, the biggest hood in the slums. Li'l Zé doesn't mind killing, in fact, sometimes it seems like he gets a great pleasure out of it. The embodiment of evil, Li'l Zé is the driving force of the film, the one that we all grow to hate.
Rocket never wants to be a hood, he never craves that life—essentially all he wants to do is lose his virginity; but that's another issue entirely.
"City of God" never damns any of the actions you see on screen, even the horrendous ones. It takes a documentarian's style and places that inside a film. Though based in part on fact, "City of God" has taken obvious liberties, yet it pulls them off nearly perfectly.
A stunning film, a memorable experience.









Score: ★★★★

Stand by Me (1986) (R)
















It's ironic that "Stand by Me" should be the film that I see right after watching "The 400 Blows". Both deal with adolescence from the point of view of an adult—in the first case it was Truffaut and in this case it is Stephen King.
I think it's very easy to pick out King's influence when you're watching the movie, I don't this it's easy to notice Rob Reiner's directing hand. This man can do anything.
Poorly titled and sentimental to a hideous fault, "Stand by Me" tries its very best to pull out every cinematic manipulative trick to make the viewer care for the rag-tag group of aspiring young psychopaths.
"You guys wanna go see a dead body?"
The line that should have begun the movie is brought to us after many minutes of pointless voice-over narration and a man sitting in his car breathing deeply.
Told in flashback form, "Stand by Me" has nothing original, or even slightly original about it. Though it boosted two of its four stars' career, it really has done nothing else for film except fuel the jokes on many episodes of "Family Guy".
The movie is looked at through the adult eyes of Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss as the elder and Wil Wheaton as the younger). Gordie recalls the first time he ever saw a dead human being, this is the story we are being told.
The opening lines of the movie let us know what happens. Gordie sees a dead body. Whoops, SPOILER! Seriously, people...
Gordie has three friends, Chris, Teddy, and Vern. Each of them have their little quirks. Chris is raised by an abusive father who beats him on nearly every opportunity...sometimes just because. Teddy is raised by a crazy father who fought in WWII, his father is abusive too, having almost burnt Teddy's ear off completely on a stove. Vern is just fat.
Gordie is brought up in a house with two unloving parents and an older brother who is recently deceased. As such, the flashbacks are shot in soft, yellow light—mimicking the angelic amazing-ness of the dead brother (played by John Cusack)—and they involve the movie's worst offenses in sappy scoring. Gordie now had to learn to live in the immense shadow of his brother's death. His parents don't care for him anymore. He says in the movie that the last time his father touched him was when he was three years old and it was only because he ate bleach.
Vern, who probably was abused by his father too, hears news of a missing kid's body up the road twenty miles. His older brother, part of a gang called the Cobras (headed by a blond-haired Kiefer Sutherland) and his friend stumbled across the body, but were too scared to do anything about it.
Deciding that if they find the body, they'll be heroes and get their picture in the paper, the four friends pack up sleeping bags and hike along the railroad track to the dead body.
We are told, numerous times just in case we forgot by older Gordie, that they all really want to see the body—we're never told why. It would seem, by the film's conclusion, that the sight of the corpse is enough to propel Gordie into adulthood; but that much is ridiculous. Already suffering from the death of his older brother, perhaps it's the need to have an emotional release that compels Gordie to see the boy...but I doubt that too.
Chris (River Phoenix) is the toughest of the kids, the most abused, and the smartest. He brings a gun with them, you can practically see King's hands writing as you watch the movie.
The four have many adventures along the way, most of them involving trains and memories of their parents.
King likes to pick on the small towns, perhaps they're more evil...he also likes to write about writers. There's a "Big Fish" quality to a scene in which Gordie tells his three companions a story. Chris thinks Gordie should be a writer because he tells such good stories; but when the tale is finished we all wonder what Chris sees in him.
Trying to establish the quirks of a small town which appears to be in the south or mid-west, King has gangs and children talking like no one I know. It also tries to establish a time period and it does that rather seamlessly.
"Stand by Me" makes a whole lot of no sense. Why is it called "Stand by Me"? Why does everyone besides Gordie want to see the body? Why do they think they'll become famous?
Still, the movie is very famous and Reiner's name became even bigger because of it.
"Stand by Me" isn't a bad movie, it's just not a good one.









Score: ★★½

The 400 Blows (1959)

















It's easy to shrug off a movie. Easier still is it to ask someone to justify why it is that the movie they love is great. Try it next time when someone is trying to convince you how amazing a movie that you didn't like is..."Why?" It's shuts them right up. What's hard is justifying a movie to someone who "just didn't like it". My father has this down to an art form. I'll show him a movie and he'll just go "meh" and then walk out. However, I think the hardest thing is standing up for a film that you had no emotional connection with because you can still tell it's good.
This is where 'The 400 Blows" comes into play. This is essential viewing, necessary to anyone who is trying to grasp cinema as a whole. But why? Why should it have to be seen? Perhaps because of a little honesty.
Children are often the embodiment of adult minds. Short of a child writing and directing a movie, which I'm not opposed to, there is no true way to re-capture the essence of being a kid. François Truffaut's debut piece, arguably one of the most famous debuts in cinema history, is known for being a portrait of childhood, based in part of Truffaut's own life. This wouldn't be the first time that children have been bleak in movies, "Lord of the Flies" and "Zero for Conduct" both say otherwise.
Antoine (a staggeringly adult performance by Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a boy who doesn't care for school. It doesn't help that his school teacher resembles everyone's worst nightmare of school. A dictator who seems to verge of sadism, he rarely has the kindness to compliment any of the boys and they all hate him. The hatred is evident in the first scene, all the boys have gone past the point of being afraid of his power—they resent him for it.
He makes Antoine stand in the corner, this is step in of the downhill spiral that the boy takes. He's standing in the corner for something that he didn't do, but his teacher doesn't care about that. He is sent home to find a mother who doesn't really care for him and a father whose mood swings place Antoine on top of a very precarious tightrope. Though his father seems to have genuine affection for him, sometimes it comes across to us as the lesser of two evils.
The parents—always a villainous force—don't bother with the time to listen to their son. He's not given enough moments to finish his assignment for the next day so he and his friend decide that they'll take the day off. This is a mistake, but aren't we all allowed to make mistakes, especially in our childhood? Antoine and his friend loaf around for the day—in these scenes, it's really the only time that we see Antoine happy.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing that movie evokes is the feeling of being a prisoner, literally and figuratively. I can remember moments in my childhood where I felt like I could please no one, trapped between my own wrongdoings and the contemptuous thoughts of the adult society towards children. Your opinions don't matter, you don't count...you eat free, things of this nature. I had a great childhood, but there are moments of it that I look back on with immense hatred, through no one's fault I think that this trait is common in all of us—at least Truffaut agrees with me here.
Truffaut seems to live for the desolation, the dismal-ness of being a child. He must have hated it.
Antoine starts to get in further trouble and the treatment of the adults in his life don't help him. They only tell him that he's an idiot and a screw-up, they never tell him how to be better. He plagiarizes on an essay because he thinks that it's the right thing to do—he gets taken to the principal for that, but he escapes and never goes back to school. Living on his own, free from the adults, older figures make their way into his life. He gets confined again.
Nothing good ever happens to Antoine. He is taken to a correctional facility for young boys where the rigor of the rules hardly makes for any fun. He nibbles on his bread too soon and is then given a hard smack across the face.
"The 400 Blows" doesn't really know what it is. The film is obviously a commentary on adolescence and the hell that it can be; but it doesn't seem to have any point. It could all be a political allusion, yes, I see that; but I doubt that it is.
The maternal and paternal figures are always evil, manipulative, and detrimental to the well-being of Antoine.
Still, "The 400 Blows" is a good movie. If there had been just a touch more emotional helplessness, I might have empathized a little more; but Truffaut insists of presenting a bright and cheery score to accompany his dreary piece.
It seems like a movie that is warning parents to raise their children the right way...or else!
The immovability of the movie takes you by the throat. There is no resolution, just as there shouldn't be; but perhaps "The 400 Blows" is about a boy and his traumatic childhood. It would still be good.
There are so many genuine performances that combat the hyperbolic ones.
It's a movie of opposition, and it is classic; but perhaps not great.











Score: ★★★

August: Osage County (2013) (R)



















We all love dysfunctional family movies. We all love drama (well, almost all of us). We all love Meryl Streep. We all love Julia Roberts. We all love the point in the film where characters have had too much and they go on a screaming rampage because most of the time we don't get to have those moments. Our emotions build and boil but they never bubble over and emerge in such flashy performances that we all see and adore on screen. So in this way, "August: Osage County" seems like and is a sure hit. It features tremendous performances, precisely honed dialogue, and a sense of impending helplessness that overtakes you near the end of the movie.
Set in the Mid-West, we are introduced to the Weston family. Violet and Beverly (Meryl Streep and Sam Shepard) are the mother and father of the family. They have three daughters. The movie begins as Violet and Beverly are reaching a point in their long marriage where something's got to give. They've come to an agreement, Violet will take as many pills as she wants and Beverly can drink as much booze as he wants—being up front about their vices makes their bumpy relationship just a wee bit smoother.
At the movie's opening, which gives us stunning shots of the local scenery, wide and blank yet filled with beauty, Beverly is hiring a woman to help around the house. He confesses to the drinking and confesses for Violet about her pill-popping tendency. On cue, Violet stumbles into room and slurs out some unfortunate and incredibly mean sentences. She makes a fool out of herself before bumbling back out of the room, ushering in the main titles.
The Weston's daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts) is woken from her sleep by a phone call from her mother with an unfortunate message: her father has disappeared. Whether he's off on a fishing boat or gone for good, the family is unsure so they rally around their emotionally disturbed matriarch.
Cousins, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, granddaughters, etc. etc. They all come from various parts of the country to offer up their support and a nice casserole to Violet.
What ensues is secrets spilling out the closet and nicely timed meltdowns that line up back-to-back. It could feel for some that Tracy Letts' Pulitzer winning play converted by herself to the screen is a mockery of the Mid-West family. Indeed there is a very hard edge of bitterness that permeates the script and the screen; but beneath all the horrible happenings of the Weston family, there is a certain amount of times when we feel that our families are not that different. There is truth in the film, beneath all the lies and the shoutings and swearing.
Yet if anything, we see the movie with a voyeuristic pleasure of seeing the family unfold. We see Meryl Streep's absolute brilliance once again; and Julia Roberts stuns as a daughter spurned. Perhaps the best performance in the star-laden film is Julianne Nicholson as the youngest daughter.
What the picture leaves you with is questions. What is the film saying? What happens at the end? At first I thought it was all about a dysfunctional family; but then I was reminded of how the movie began.
T. S. Eliot may have an insight into the film.
Whatever the reason, "August: Osage County" is easy to watch, easy to empathize with, and filled with great performances.









Score: ★★★

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) (R)















"Dallas Buyers Club" more than the transformative performances it showcases so forwardly, is a transformative movie about a man who learns to stop being such a jerk. How does he learn this? He gets AIDS, naturally.
Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), is a rodeo man. He's a rootin', tootin', shootin' machine who thinks, like most of his cohorts, that the worst insult he could ever be called is a homosexual. Imagine his surprise when he contracts HIV which then turns into AIDS.
Right from the beginning of the movie, Ron is portrayed as an primal man. He has sex with a girl under the bleachers at a bull riding competition. The camera and sound make sure to note the way he grunts which is then juxtaposed against the bulls grunting.
He cons some men out of money and gets a cop to protect him. Ron gets around.
But when he gets back to his apartment, he passes out on the floor. Not thinking anything of it, Ron shows up to work the next day and is sent to the hospital when a fuse box explodes in his face. It's here that he finds out he has AIDS, which comes as quite a surprise to him.
He thinks that the doctors are playing a cruel joke on him or, even worse, that they're calling him gay. The bigotry that we see is all too obviously going to change now that Ron has a disease primarily effecting homosexuals.
Determined to get the better of the disease, once he's gotten to the point that he can accept it, Ron does loads of research and comes across an experimental drug called AZT. Ron figures, in a flashback, that he got HIV when he had unprotected sex with what is more than likely a prostitute. For much of the movie, it feels like a commercial for protected sex...and it very well could be.
AZT is in the beginning phases and Ron is not able to get his hands on any; but this is a resourceful guy.
Given thirty days to live, Ron bribes one of the hospital janitors to deal him out some AZT, which keeps him alive longer than the allocated fortnight plus.
But then AZT is locked up and Ron is given the address to a doctor in Mexico where he can be treated.
He decides to visit, pausing only to cry for himself as he does so.
In Mexico, the doctor, who has been stripped of his medical license, tells Ron that AZT is a toxic drug that destroys every cell it comes in contact with. In its place he offers some healthy 'vitamins' and a protein that gets injected. Ron gets better but wants to bring that ex-doctor's non FDA approved drugs back into American to sell them—he is met at the border by the FDA.
Ron can't be put down.
He smuggles the drugs in and then starts a club with the help of a transsexual young drug addict named Rayon (Jared Leto). It's clear that Rayon will help Ron see past his own stereotypes.
Being a straight men, Ron is very opposed to telling people that he has AIDS; but his dirty secret doesn't take long to circulate.
Ron has kind of a thing for one of the doctors who's trying to treat him, Eve (Jennifer Garner). Ron has to keep his head above water while the FDA try to shut his charitable actions down.
Ron's transformation is not unnatural, but it does take a lot to turn a homophobic man into a friendly kind of guy. His profane, illogically angry at times, and full of himself; but don't worry because he's not an anti-hero, that much all the posters and even that name of the movie give away.
What is celebrated here is the weight loss by McConaughey and Leto. Neither of them are incredibly enjoyable to watch, though the right elements are there. Leto is a sassy, cross-dressing boy with no real motive. He seems to want to get better, he seems to be in it for the money—it's a very confusing character and one that's only there to move Ron along on his way.
"Dallas Buyers Club" tries too hard on each count. It forces you to love and hate the mood swings of its character. Its string-plucking moments are all too much—it has a very unprofessional feeling inside a hipster-ness.
The performances are solid, yet the movie is somewhat forgettable—it's a good attempt.











Score: ★★½

Mean Streets (1973) (R)
















The breakthrough piece of Martin Scorsese, "Mean Streets" cements the style that the director would become famous for. It uses rock n roll/jazz music to score it, bringing the unsettling to the surface while happy tunes blare out uncompromising chords. The camera makes no real commitment to its style, jostling around at times, slow-motion at others, long shots some times.
What makes the movie absolutely breathtaking is the story that it tells, the compelling need to follow its main character, and the unachievable salvation he strives for.
Beginning with the line "You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it on the streets", Martin Scorsese imposed his own voice for the narration. It makes you realize how much the director believe in the movie, he wrote the script as well.
A circle of four friends—Charlie, Johnny Boy, Tony, and Michael—think that they rule the streets. They are quasi-drug lords and mafia men. They think because a nice suit holds them upright it gives them the authority to reign. It's how they all stand, they are unafraid...pretentious. Yet when we see the situations start to escalate, physical violence being needed, they rarely win. They are quick to run away from the cops, they are quick to ditch a scene...they do fear the law, but they only fear that it will put a stopper on their short-winded rule of the streets.
Charlie (Harvey Keitel, absolutely brilliant here) is a man who wants to be holy. He wants to be rid of the guilt that rides on his back, perhaps he can forget about it from time to time; but it's never gone completely.
"Mean Streets" follows Charlie's doings as he interacts with his posse, the three other guys. Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) is in a lot of debt to Michael (Richard Romanus), who lent money out because Charlie asked him to. Charlie vouches for Johnny Boy, there's something about the kid that he finds worthy of a second chance...we don't see what he sees. Perhaps he sees his niceties towards the boy as a way for him to earn salvation, he'll go to the church but the religion doesn't soak into his brain.
"Mean Streets" could be a parable of hell, or purgatory at the least. It has so much fiery imagery that if it doesn't reference a hellish place, it most certainly is about running from danger.
The youth of the protagonists also makes the movie compelling. If we look at the plot, not a lot happens, which is kind of typical for Scorsese. His character development is so closely intertwined with the story that it's hard to separate the two.
The prejudice of the picture also makes it great...which sounds like something I would never say, but I'm saying it now. Charlie desires to be beyond his own racism and the racist thoughts of the streets, but he's not. When he's given the opportunity to kindle a romance with a beautiful woman, he turns it down partly because of her ethnicity.
Charlie yearns for the right thing. What he thinks is the right thing to do and what the audience thinks are right are two different things.
Keitel is flawless, the movie is hypnotic.
"Mean Streets" could be Scorsese's pièce de résistance which I guess means more since it's in French.










Score: ★★★★

The Awful Truth (1937)



















It's somewhat odd to watch "The Awful Truth" thinking that it was made well before the 40s had even rolled around. This was in the era of film—two years later, in 1939—that the producers had to get special permission for Clark Gable to say the word "damn" in "Gone with the Wind". There's no denying that the special permission paid off because the line is the most famous line from any film ever made...success.
In an era run by censors and regulations—our minds recall what happened to "Bringing up Baby"—it's so very, very odd that "The Awful Truth" managed to sneak in. The film, which won Best Director at the Academy Awards, is one-part farce and two-parts romance. It's a wonderful translation from stage to film and it leaves non of the tell-tale signs of the transfer.
Leo McCarey, the director, has Cary Grant paired against Irene Dunne who outshines him in every scene she's in. From the slapstick nature of the film to the tender love that sneaks up to the obvious sexual references that close out the movie, "The Awful Truth" is entertaining throughout.
The Warriners have a terrible relationship—one based on mistrust. If there was a person to blame, it would most assuredly be Jerry (Grant). He's told his wife Lucy (Dunne) that he's taking a vacation to Florida, but he lies. We don't really know where he spends the time while away on vacation, but we do know that the first scene of the movie has him trying to paste on a fake tan as quickly as possible...in order to convince the suspicious little wife.
Inviting his friends over to his house, he arrives to find that his little wife is not at home. Immediately filled with suspicion and jealousy, he laughs the matter off for the sake of saving face in front of company. Lucy arrives when all the members have gathered with her voice coach, announcing that the two got marooned on the trip back from the cottage that Lucy's aunt owns thanks to car trouble. They had to spend one night alone together.
Scandalous!
Jerry is furious, but he hides it as well as he can, which is not very well. Soon, everyone empties out of the house and the fighting begins...fighting played out for laughs with verbal barbs and quick writing—it's not that uncomfortable to watch.
The couple quickly decide that they need to get a divorce, and that they do. "The Awful Truth" is also shocking because it is, in essence, a mockery of the institution of marriage and quite a perceptive one at that.
The only problem the two have in court is which one of them will get custody of Mr. Smith, their dog. Lucy bribes the terrier into staying with her (yes, it does make sense if you see the movie) and Jerry is left out in the cold...but not for long.
The biggest joy of "The Awful Truth" is Cecil Cunningham as Aunt Patsy, a woman with as many sayings as she has years as a single woman. Aunt Patsy is one of few female characters from this decade of film that doesn't serve as a warning against not marrying—if you don't marry, you'll turn into an unhappy old spinster like me etc. She's charming, funny, and wickedly clever.
Patsy spies an eligible young man from Oklahoma and introduces him to her niece. Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) is not exactly the brightest bulb in the drawer and reminds us of Rock Hudson from "Giant".
As Jerry and Lucy move on from their marriage they may realize that they were the best people for each other—even if that means the fighting is intense...or they may not.
"The Awful Truth" treats divorce so laissez faire and marriage so disdainfully that it's actually quite a lot of fun to watch.
A mockery, a comedy, a romance.









Score: ★★★½

Platoon (1986) (R)
















Though Charlie Sheen serves as the protagonist for Oliver Stone's award winning Vietnam War film, he is not the central character. Nor is Tom Berenger or Willem Dafoe. There is no main character to "Platoon" though Sheen, as Martin Sheen did in "Apocalypse Now", gives us the only voice over in the film. Ironically enough, the film anticipates Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" with the way it floats from person to person, having long scenes without Sheen's presence needed.
"Platoon" is more about the communal impact that war has, namely how it turned men into savages. Stone himself served in Vietnam, which must have had a terrifying impact on him because "Platoon" wouldn't be alone in the films he made on the subject. As such, Vietnam is portrayed as a mistake, a large one. Not exactly a subtle man, Stone dives straight into the thick of the war, pulling out the idea, raising is triumphantly above his head, that the system is corrupt and must die.
The movie opens as a plane sets down in Vietnam and Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) steps out while Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" swells emotionally...it's basically cheating. Though the song is best known coming from Stone's film it was used in several films prior, including David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" and one of the genesis piece in gay cinema "A Very Natural Thing".
As soon as the men get off the plane lands, Chris is met with the atrocities of war. Body bags line the air strip and some of the men comment: "Aw, man, is that what I think it is?"
We cut to the men working their way through the jungle, sweating and being attacked by the bugs. From this scene to the next to the one after that, "Platoon" firmly stakes the idea of a non-plot. Sure Chris has orders to follow and we generally get the idea of war, but it's a very meandering plot, one that doesn't follow a strict sequence of events—this much is purposeful.
We are supposed to empathize with Chris as he writes letters to his grandmother about how terrible/exciting war is at first. It's a new experience and not one that Chris enjoys, but it is entertaining to him. Being a new recruit he is treated as fresh meat, getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop one too many times.
In the camp there is a system failure. Sgt. Barnes, Sgt. Elias, and Sgt. O'Neill all have more experience and practicality than there commanding officer, Lt. Wolfe. Wolfe is a man who likes to give the orders, though he may not know how to give them. He makes horrible decisions, mainly because we see him as a more naive character. Barnes is a ruthless man, the truest embodiment of the war in the movie. Everything this man does I see as being metaphorical. O'Neill is the coward of the lot. The big-mouthed guy who goes along with whoever he picks as the winning side. We don't really care for Barnes and O'Neill.
Then there's Elias (Willem Dafoe), the man we all like. He's a very curious character with an oddity sexuality that Stone makes pains to observe. One scene has the men getting high in a shack, certain things happen that lead us to believe that Elias could not be as manly as all the people think. If you want my opinion, which you may not but brace yourselves anyway, I think Elias is a female character. Not that he is actually a woman, but that he is a maternal figure for the men and for all purposes, their mother...or a one who consoles the men at least.
Chris begins to understand Vietnam a little better with each passing day. The jungle becomes a hideous place, something to despise. The men turns into animals, if Freud were to watch he would say that war brings out the Id in men—it would seem that Stone agrees as well.
Radically anti-war, Americans have never looked so terrible in a film about Americans. This is probably because Stone blames war for this...not his own country.
François Truffaut made a famous statement about a true anti-war film being unachievable to film. The action of war is a very stimulating event. Indeed, the men in "Platoon" seem to exemplify this, some of them taking relish in bludgeoning innocents to death or raping children—but does this make "Platoon" even more anti-war? Yes.
The first time I saw the movie, I was in tears. The second time, I was less impressed by it. It's still a great film, one of the best war movies made, but it does lake a little subtlety. Stone's own bitterness really shines through.










Score: ★★★½

Psycho (1960)















Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece "Psycho", probably his best picture, taps into the pleasure an audience has watching a horrible situation. Based on the novel—during production, Hitchcock bought as many copies of the book as he could find in the hopes that people wouldn't read the book and spoil the ending before seeing the movie—"Psycho" is the most suspenseful, best done, and most watchable of anything he's made.
Beginning in a hotel where two lovers have met to further enflame their relationship, you can really tell how Hitchcock influenced cinema— even in these first scenes when he pushes the boundaries on what audiences were comfortable seeing. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh in an Oscar nominated performance), is a woman who wants to settle down. An old maid in medieval terms, she really wants to get married and decides to propose the question to her lover while their together. He's been married before—once bitten, twice shy—and he's still paying alimony. He doesn't think that he'll be able to provide the life that Marion will want while their together. But they both promise that they'll think deeper about it.
Marion leaves the hotel and goes off to her job as an office secretary. Her boss has a wealthy client who stops by and drops of $40,000 in cash, waving it in front of the two secretaries and their boss to impress them. Dizzied at the prospect of having that much cash in hand, Marion's employer asks her to take the cash to the bank deposit box. She doesn't.
Instead, in a moment of rushing irrationality, she takes the cash and flees Phoenix. She drives all night, stopping to take a quick nap that turns into a full night of sleep. Marion starts to think that she's being followed by a policeman, paranoia as a result of a guilty conscience sets in.
Driven off the road by a downpour of rain, Marion stops at a little motel off the beaten path called The Bates Motel. It is run by an odd, yet charming young man named Norman (Anthony Perkins) who seems elated at having someone to talk to. The motel isn't frequented very often, any soul is worthy of communication.
Back at home, Marion's disappearance hasn't gone unnoticed. Her sister Lila (Hitchcock's favored Vera Miles) gets called up by Marion's boss. She wants to find Marion before anything bad happens. The people involved don't want the police to get pulled into the matter, they're fine hiring a private investigator to track her down.
Marion has changes of heart, she struggles with wondering how she will keep herself hidden, she over-thinks situations. What will she do?
"Psycho" is sort of an anomaly in Hitchcock's career. A woman takes center stage for both halves of the movie (for the movie does feel split into two acts), there is no mistaken identity, and it is his most open work about analyzing the psyche of a mind. No where to be found is his beloved motif of the wrong man and while fleeing from the long arm of the law is a vital part of the movie, it doesn't have nearly the amount of spotlight that it does in others of his films. Of the idea of suspense rather than horror, "Psycho" is Hitchcock's closest attempt at horror. It's the unexpected that hits you, we are just as clueless as the protagonists in this film, which is unusual for the director.
Though Janet Leigh does a tremendous job with the movie, it's Anthony Perkins that is a startling revelation. He gives us one of the best screen performances, rivaling the classic turns of Brando and Hopkins.
"Psycho's" impact has not faded through the 50 plus years since its release. It is an essential film, one of the few that demands to be seen, too imposing to ignore.
Perfection.











Score: ★★★★

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)


















I had seen "The Adventures of Robin Hood" some time ago, when I was but a wee lad. To me, it was a thrilling adventures that gave me the right to brandish any implement I wanted as a sword and wreck havoc to the house and my siblings...my parents didn't agree with me. Still, a decade plus late, re-watching the movie was a trip down memory lane, and quite an enjoyable one at that.
Sticking fairly close to the Robin Hood myths, summing everything up in less than two hours, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" could seem like a piece too light for its own good. Robin Hood, played effortlessly energetic by Errol Flynn, seems invincible to all. Even when he's captured when know that they can't kill him, his men can rescue him. He trained them so in essence he's saving himself.
The peril of the film is non-existent...I'm getting ahead of myself.
The film begins with most everything already in the past. King Richard, always followed by "The Lion Hearted" has left for the crusades, but he hasn't given Prince John the throne. No, but John is a clever boy and it doesn't take much man power to force the ruler-in-stead from the throne. John usurps the reign and he starts taking the livelihood away from the people in his land.
Not keen on the idea of being a loyal subject who just pays taxes and wallows in misery, Robin Hood decides to introduces a little communism into the system. He robs from the rich and gives to the poor and he has a merry gathering of men.
Robin assembles the best robbers who all have the best intentions. They are determined to level the playing field.
Perhaps the biggest success of the movie is Claude Rains playing Prince John with calculated coolness.
The oddity of the film is most likely due to the duo direction it receives from Michael Curtiz (of "Casablaca" fame) and William Keighley (not of "Casablanca" fame).
The action sequences, which usually involve bunches of men falling from the trees onto unsuspecting horses and soldiers, have a dance-like choreography to them—it's too much sometimes.
The King's ward is a beautiful woman named Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland). When a large sum of the people's money is being transported, Robin Hood and company descends on the men and steals the loot from under their noses. He is captivated by the beauty of Maid Marian and wants to win her heart, so he shows her the great deeds he has done. He is lifted up on a savior's pedestal, asking nothing in return for his heroic acts, only the semi-adoration of a beautiful woman. The audience is somehow okay with this attraction being based on looks alone, we don't doubt the love the two come to share—perhaps it's the stories we've all heard before.
Little John, Will, Friar Tuck—all the important people are here. Most adaptations of Robin Hood now have the Sheriff of Notingham as the uber-bad guy, but here it's Prince John's right hand man Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone, delightfully evil).  Sir Guy has it in for Robin ever since he was humiliated in front of his men. He believes in power, he is given power and that power he abuses.
The romance, the action, the thrills—though at times it plays like a saccharine sweet overdose of adventure, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is a classic and a mighty enjoyable one at that. It is the perfect example of the escapism of film.










Score: ★★★½

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)













One of the quintessential silent dramas, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" has an incredible amount of respect surrounding it. Not only are the movie's virtues praised, but the restoration of the piece is also heralded. Not existing in its true original release form, the reconstruction of the film was a labor of love and it is quite spectacular. Now the film appears crystal clear.
You can only really find the Criterion Collection version of the film, which is fine because I appreciate all the work they do for film. On their version, you can watch "The Passion of Joan of Arc" accompanied by Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light. If you can get your hands on this, this is the copy that you should watch. Einhorn was inspired by the film and composed the music post-viewing. Since the film's director, Carl Th. Dreyer, never picked a definitive score (as far as we can tell) Voices of Light is used in lieu of traditional score. The result is stunning.
Perhaps an overly emotional ride for some, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" doesn't really bring anything new to the story that we're all fairly familiar with. Teenaged Jeanne (Joan in English) is brought to trial for heresy/blasphemy. She believes that Saint Michael appeared before her with a message from God. She fights for France, she gets killed because of it.
Tried by a jury of priests, they manipulate Joan into signing a confession which she quickly rebuts. Then they burn her at the stake.
So what makes "The Passion of Joan of Arc" worth watching? It's the same for Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"...we've all heard the story, what makes it good?
The film is good because it is a character study. It examines the emotions, the horrible despair that flooded Joan's mind during those days she was on trial. It exposes the close-mindedness of the church at the time and it also proves that a historical drama when we know the ending can still be moving.
The most famous images from the film are close-ups of Maria Falconetti's face as she cries and cries and cries. Taking some cues from more cerebral films, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" has some very interesting cinematography that at times just manages to get the eyes of a person into the shot. Other times, characters shout right at the camera, and some instances include Joan's face in the very corner of the screen...small and scared.
As the trial proceeds and Joan gets more and more worried about her fate, the rage of the priests is sparked. One man descends onto the trial floor and spits on Joan. Another man, comes down and kneels at her feet, convinced that she is a saint.
The overriding consensus of the jurors is that Joan is guilty of heresy and could be possessed by the devil. They are evil men, portrayed in a Pharisaical fashion. Joan is the epitome of the virginal, blessed girl. There is little shown in the film that could convey the fierceness of a warrior and that I fear is the biggest problem I had. 
While Falconetti's performance is fantastic, her wide eyed stare of terror can get a little....laughable at times. It's almost like she has one emotion.
The film is classic, that much is evident; but perhaps not as influential as everyone thinks it is. The reason for this being the decades that it was lost, only to be rediscovered and then preserved. It's a great film and essential viewing, but I don't consider it one of the greatest movies ever made.











Score: ★★★½

8½ (1963)
















For many, Fellini's "8½" seems self-indulgent right from the first sequence which hastily throws the viewer around a dream, plummeting back into reality. The film, which is perfectly shot in crisp black-and-white, centers around a film director who's just trying to get a movie made.
This movies seems like a very personal film for the director, Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), but he cannot be met with anything except criticism.
He sends to script off to a critic who immediately tears it apart and deems it sentimental hogwash. Still, there's a team to think about—the producers are on board—Guido will push on.
As much as "8½"—which bounds back and forth from dreams to reality, the past to the present, fantasy to reality—is about the making of a movie, it is more about the mind of a man. It is about the struggles that Guido has balancing his work and his personal life, his girlfriends and his wife, his childhood and his current beliefs.
Fellini makes no hesitation to throw us into flash-backs, one right after the other. These are triggered by a phrase perhaps, or the sight of someone who reminds Guido of a character from his past. There is no generous rippling screen to show us that we are going into the past, nor any large sweeping noise that I can only deem the "Lost" noise. In this fashion, I find "8½" very true to the mind of an actual person. Sometimes we just space out and reminisce for a moment or two. Sometimes we try not to remember, but we do anyway.
You get the feeling that "8½" is just a movie about a personal experience that Fellini had, but I don't think that's what it is.
As the days tick by and Guido gets farther into the film making process, he begins to realize that this film doesn't have an ending. The voices of his critics are always in his head, the memories of his childhood are swelling up around him, the chaos of his relationships is beginning to overtake him—his life is kind of a mess.
As "La Dolce Vita" did, "8½" follows the life of a confused man, trying to find meaning—both movies had Mastroianni as the lead actor. The meaning always escapes him, though he tries several ways to understand his life. He seeks the counsel of a cardinal, reflecting his inner child's need for consolation. He tries to force its hand by having sex with many women (that much is heavily implied though only seen once). He tries to rationalize his life in his own mind.
It would be terribly easy to label "8½" as anti-woman. It places them like objects around the stage, just present to amuse Guido; but this view I think is inherently wrong.
Guido is a confused man, a hopeless man, a selfish man—Fellini makes us empathize with him without liking him. Women play such a vital role in the shaping of his character. He has casual flings with some of his actresses, his wife comes to pay a visit and is portrayed as the cold and unloving one—though she is not the one being unfaithful. The camera, via Guido, makes pauses on nearly every female form that comes across the screen. Why?
In Guido's mind, they are remind him of someone else. They could be old—maternal. They could be young—sexual. They could be middle-aged—professional. It doesn't matter who they are, Guido feels like he can categorize them.
In one memory, Guido revisits the time he and a group of boys went to solicit the attention of a whore named Saraghina. She dances the rhumba for them and Guido gets punished at the Catholic school he attends for the excursion. The adult Guido is trying to justify what was so evil about the trip. He puts Saraghina into his film as he does with his wife. He thinks himself clever enough to hide their identities behind script and make-up, but it is always bitterly obvious.
Perhaps the best way to show that the film isn't objectifying women is a fantasy sequence that Guido has. All the women in his life are gathered together, getting along. He admits to himself that it is a harem. None of the women are actually who they are. For instance, his wife plays a maid whose only wish is to make Guido's existence easier. They all want to be caressed, they all caress him. But things start to turn a little sour, so Guido has to pull out his whip and coral his women into place. Chauvinistic? Certainly, but only on Guido's part and not on Fellini's.
Whatever the gender commentary the film is making "8½" is a true masterpiece. Its brilliance is immediately seen, and it is now considered one of the greatest films ever made...understandable.










Score: ★★★★

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) (R)




















Films love villains. Audiences love villains. Who doesn't like a good serial killer? Why is it that we enjoy scary movies? Anthony Hopkins hypothesized an answer to the question that goes something like this: being scared is part of being human. When an adult looks down at an infant, why is it that we sometimes say "boo!". The intention is not to scare the child, but it reveals that there is something perhaps perversely enjoyable about being scared and scaring.
"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" tries to capture the mind of a killer while still holding the man at arms length. That's the only problem with the film. To see it done almost perfectly, watch "Clean, Shaven" which embraces the shattered mind without the pretenses that it can define it.
The movie's opening shot is a cadaver, naked, laying in a field. It's clear that the victim has been murdered and by the title of the movie, we assume that the next person we see will be the killer...and we're right. Henry (Michael Rooker) drives in his car. As he's cruising for another kill, we see the destruction of his previous murders, played out with strongly synthesized echoes of the women's screams, for yes, he does seem to favor the fair sex.
He drives and picks up a hitchhiker (a woman) who has a guitar with her. Not much violence is actually seen for the first part of the movie, the fade-out implies much more than we'd like to think about. The film is more potent this way.
We are introduced to Becky and Otis, brother and sister. Becky has just moved to Chicago to be with her brother while she escapes a bad marriage. Otis seems to be an oaf, he's constantly teasing his sister about being an exotic dancer. There is something uneasy between them.
The apartment that Otis lives in he shares with another man, Henry. Clearly neither of the siblings realizes that this man is a serial killer and that's the entire point of the movie. On his surface level, Michael appears to be a functioning adult, but just beneath the skin, he's a unhinged mind, justifying his killings with competition. It's kill or be killed in his mind, that gives him the right to take a life...it's self-defence.
Becky is immediately attracted to the man, perhaps it's his shy charm or his non-typical good looks. She asks Otis how the two of them met—he tells her they became friends in prison. More curious than her own good she asks what Henry was in prison for—he killed his mother.
She is shocked by this revelation and although she swears not to tell Henry that she knows his secret, it doesn't take long before questions tumble out of her mouth.
One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie involves Henry and Becky playing cards after dinner on night. Perhaps she thinks that revealing her own secrets will make Henry more open—she decides to tell him of her abusive father. Her story gets more and more gruesome as the incestuous rapist skeletons fall out of the family closet. Then she asks him why he killed his mother.
In Henry's story, his mode of killing keeps changing from stabbing to shooting, we also hear of him beating her to death with a baseball bat.
Throughout this scene, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" is slyly asking if murderers are caused by the nurture in 'nature vs nurture'.
Otis goes out with Henry one day and experiences first hand the killings. He becomes an apprentice of sorts of Henry, one that is a different type of murderer all together. Henry kills out of necessity, Otis kills out of perversion and pleasure.
"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" is not a pleasant movie, though it does seem to sympathize with Henry a lot. It blankly states that Henry cannot help himself, he is who he is.
This film got halted by the ratings system for years, eventually released as "unrated". Since then, it has been deemed "R" by some sources and seeing the movie, I don't think it merits a stronger rating.
Perhaps a bleak picture and certainly a hopeless one, but a low-budget masterpiece, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" binds its own villain in heroic clothes and then slowly strips him bare. The result is an uncompromising and shocking look at a person and not a generalization.








Score: ★★★½

Paris, Texas (1984) (R)
















It begins with a sole figure emerging in the dusty terrain of Texas. In the first shot, we are reminded of how John Ford managed to capture the intensity and the isolation of the landscape. There is great beauty to it, but there is also great uneasiness.
The man walks across the plains, holding in in his hand an almost empty gallon jug of water. He drains the last few drops, screws on the lid and walks off into the distance. He stumbles across a little shop that appears to be literally based in the middle of no where. Walking into the house-like building he finds a bar...all he wants is water. The best he can get is a few ice cubes, which he eagerly crunches down on before he passes out, hitting the ground loudly.
When he regains consciousness, he is on a table being examined by a doctor. This man never ceases to talk, but the man from the desert doesn't say a word.
Finding a phone number in the man's wallet, the doctor calls said number and accidentally reunites a family.
As constantly dreary and dreadfully lonesome "Paris, Texas" is, the film is actually about reconciliation, forgiveness, and new beginnings...and those softer touches are given to us by Win Wenders, the director, who is considered a great artist and it shows why here.
For much of the movie there is an achingly poignant portrayal of family, for some of the movie it's just the dry, dusty terrain.
Wenders isn't afraid to take those long pauses, those awkward moments that stretch out, for that he should be credited...though in all fairness, I don't think it works perfectly here.
The walking man is now identified as Travis, although he refuses to say a single word. His brother is called and he flies down to pick up a sibling he had long since thought was dead.
Travis had vanished four years ago, everyone thought he either wanted nothing to do with his family anymore or he was in a ditch somewhere covered in petrol on fire (if you got that reference, you are amazing).
When Walt, his brother, gets to the small town Texan hospital where Travis was being treated, he finds that his brother has wandered off again, walking into the distance with great purpose. Walt tracks down his brother who acts like a caged animal when confronted. He doesn't want to get in the car, he doesn't speak and when left alone, he wanders off again.
Mute for a good thirty minutes into the movie, I was reminded of the musings of Michael from "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" in which he references a movie where the main character doesn't speak for the first thirty minutes. "The Cook..." was made in 1989 and this was made in 1984, could it be the same movie? Perhaps. Does it matter? Not really.
Moving on...
Travis does eventually speak, though he doesn't truly understand what to say. His communication skills have suffered from whatever happened those four years. Walt and his wife Anne have been raising Travis' child as their own...his reappearance will make for some interesting conversations.
Perhaps the best facet of the movie is Harry Dean Stanton's performance as Travis. Internalizing all his emotions, hell-bent on a whim, desolate and full of emotion, everything you see is in his eyes.
"Paris, Texas" has a sweet-sour ending. It seems to be happy, but it also makes you wonder what the whole point of it was. Certainly we have growth, certainly everyone is happier outwardly by the end of the movie...is that good enough?
"Paris, Texas" is a movie by an artist, but it isn't enthralling enough to be great.








Score: ★★★

Last Tango in Paris (1972) (NC-17)















One of the more controversial titles held within Marlon Brando and Bernardo Bertolucci's respective oeuvres, "Last Tango in Paris" is remembered for its semi-explicit love scenes, though it shouldn't be. Branded with the hated "NC-17" rating is probably unjustified for this film, because, though it makes no qualms with nudity, sex is portrayed as a very frightening act and rarely erotic.
The movie begins under a bridge in Paris. A train runs above and a man that the camera has quickly zoomed in on, holds his head in his hands and screams out to the heavens. Our minds go back to scenes in "Cabaret" where Liza Minnelli runs underneath a train and lets out joyous shouts. This is not the same, this has grief in it. Such tremendous heartache that we shudder at the sound.
A woman walks by.
The man and the woman, who could very well go nameless for the movie, cross paths again, unbeknownst to all but the audience when they bump into each other in a telephone booth some few minutes later.
The woman, Jeanne (Maria Schneider) is looking for an apartment. She thinks she's found the place and takes a closer look. Besides an annoying woman who runs the concierge, the place looks pretty great. She takes the key and heads upstairs to the apartment.
When she gets there, she's surprised by a man sitting in the corner. This is the man that screamed under the train, he seems distant. They both acknowledge each other and look around the flat.
Right before they're both about to leave, the man grabs the woman, forces her up against the wall and the pair has sex.
It really is just that random.
After this odd scene, they walk out the front door together and Jeanne runs off to the train station where her boyfriend is waiting for her. The two embrace and kiss, only to be ogled by a camera, not the one the story is being told through. Jeanne's boyfriend has gotten the notion that it would be a good idea to make a television show about their life. He wants every aspect of their life to be on the camera...except for the bedroom, that would be improper.
Perhaps this is what "Last Tango in Paris" is about—the emotional exploitative advances of a man against a woman and the animalistic orgasmic undoings of that exploitation between a man and a woman...or vice versa.
Either way, the film has a sexually violent buzz to it, directed right at Jeanne who suffers the most in the film, physically and mentally.
Distorting time and space, Bertolucci makes us unsure of the man's backstory. We are uncertain what makes him so violent, so controlling, and so sexually perverse. He spills his life's story to Jeanne, but demands that she not do the same.
They both return to the apartment time and time again, hatching a love nest as the lovers do in "In the Realm of the Senses" a film that definitely merits its "NC-17" rating. This is a place designed just for pleasure and release. The man, later named as Paul, demands that no names be given, no ages be given. This apartment is just for those who need something.
As the story progresses and both of them need the apartment less, stranger things start to happen to compensate, to force the release.
The apartment is an area of sanctuary for them. The sorrow is discarded here, the worries are left at the door.
Not exactly trashy, but not a wholesome movie to say the least, the hardest part of engaging with the film is the style with which its shot. Bertolucci tricks you into thinking there are time jumps, motives, and romance sequences...there aren't.
The film is almost platonic in the story it brings, and certainly referencing Ôshima makes sense, since the stories have equally morbid end results.
"Last Tango in Paris" does feature two very strong lead performances, Schneider's getting forgotten by the brilliance of Marlon Brando. Both stars later stated how much they disliked making the movie and how uncomfortable they were shooting some of the scenes. Schneider is treated worse—it's understandable for her.
The oddity of the movie, the way it skips from one scene to the next, the emotions that flood in and disperse just as fast makes it all feel...I don't know, somewhat beyond itself.











Score: ★★½

Videodrome (1983) (R)
















Let's talk about the "what-the-heck" moment. It was present in "Antichrist" when there was a pair of scissors. It was certainly accounted for all throughout "In the Realm of Senses" particularly when a hard boiled egg made a cameo. Probably the movie filled with the most moments is "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus". But most movies have explained "what-the-heck" moments, usually in the form of a dream of a drug-induced hallucination. In films that don't offer an explanation, they abandon reality which makes a lot of sense when you take another look at "Antichrist". The melting camera angles, the talking animals...reality is abandoned for insanity. And who knows what's going on in Terry Gilliam's film?
What makes "Videodrome" so deadly interesting and also filled with such grotesque imagery is the fact that it achieves the "what-the-heck" moment so often and with such inventive new ways that the result is perhaps nauseating. Still, the film strives for realism which is what makes it incredibly frightening—the visual effects you see are accompanied with the placid acceptance of them.
In interviews about the film, its star James Woods always reference the nightmarish way "Videodrome" is made. Yes, a nightmare would probably be the best way to put it—seeing as everything is so outlandish and freaky that a mind teasing nightmare could be one of the only explanations.
Max Renn (James Woods) is one of the producers of a sleazy TV channel named Civic TV...the one you take to bed. They air the smuttiest shows from soft-core pornography to hard-core violence as a character describes it in the film.
Max doesn't have any qualms about showing this kind of thing. He thinks that it's not influencing people to think a different way. Besides, Civic TV isn't a big television channel, their audience is limited to loyal viewers.
Keen on the idea of bringing something entirely new to the television world, Max seeks out the nastiest shows he can find. What he stumbles across is "Videodrome".
More like a snuff TV show than anything else, Max comes across a pirated video of people getting whipped in a room...that's all. They are stripped down and beaten like prisoners—he thinks it's genius.
Why genius? Because the production value of the show is minimal. There is no plot to "Videodrome", there are no returning characters, just S&M type torture for an hour. He is perplexed and hypnotized by the images.
While giving an interview about his TV station, Max meets the sexy radio star Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry). He starts going out with her, which leads to uncomfortable sex scenes involving needles poked through various parts of the body and cigarette burns on skin. "Videodrome" has already started to take over Max's life.
Nicki is intensely drawn to the allure of "Videodome" and Max's doubts about the show itself don't register.
But this isn't even getting to the weird stuff...no, not even close.
David Cronenberg is known for invasion of the body type horror films. With "Videodrome" we have the invasion of the body, but I wouldn't consider it a horror film. It's intension is not to scare, but to unsettle...there is a small difference.
"Videodrome" is a scary look at technological dependence, one that remains poignant and frightening today. If we are to trust Cronenberg, TV has the possibility to emasculate us and rape us. It places things inside out body, ideas that can never be truly separated from out flesh again.
In that way, "Videodrome" could be counterproductive because it is a film about how bad film can be. This much is oddly forgivable. Some shots of the movie, as James Woods is walking down the street, shadows cast on his face, reflections in the store-shop windows, are surprisingly the most haunting images of the film.
"Videodrome" isn't for everyone, it's commentary is odd and perhaps not fully thought out; but its impact stretches far beyond its own thoughts.
Once seen it cannot be forgotten.
Long live the new flesh.









Score: ★★★½

The Rules of the Game (1939)




















So many films get their inspiration from "The Rules of the Game", it's impossible to measure the impact that Jean Renoir's film has had. From "Gosford Park" (and by a further stretch "Downton Abbey") to "The Celebration"—we should just stop making comparisons here because they would go on for pages.
The film, which seems too cheerful for its own good, is mainly about a party at a house where a plethora of rich and vibrant characters go to mingle, sleep around, and have a good time.
The first scene of the movie introduces an aviator, André Jurieux, in love with a woman. He's so obsessed with this girl that he flies over the Atlantic, breaking Lindberg's record, and lands in France a hero. He's greeted by his friend, Octave (played by the director Jean Renoir), but not the love of his life, Christine.
Hell hath no fury like a man not greeted by his love—he announces his disappointment and anger at his love not being present to a radio interviewer, his words getting transported thousands of miles in a second.
But those spiteful sentences don't fall on deaf ears. No, interestingly enough they are heard by the woman who left him out to dry as it were. Christine, a married woman, though not to André.
Her lady in waiting is married as well, and both of these women find plenty of time to sleep with men who aren't their husbands. Monogamy is for nincompoops.
Right in these first scenes, we are presented with the idea of non-fidelity. There is not a character in the movie that is truly loyal to another person. The servants are loyal to their masters, but that is just a job to them. They never have love or respect and are hardly given the screen time to develop.
The real cast of characters, which assembles at a vacation home (much like the backdrop for a murder mystery, family drama, or farcical comedy) are mostly 'the elite'.
Though the film bills itself as just a movie and not a commentary on manners, it's very evident that Renoir, who wrote the script as well, is trying to poke fun at the aristocracy.
What's great about "The Rules of the Game" is that is functions perfectly without its commentary. You can view it as a movie with a deeper meaning, or just a movie—I'm sure you'll be equally entertained either way.
As André and Christine don't really get a chance to talk to each other and cousins, friends, and generals arrive at the house things start out fine but will take very interesting turns throughout the movie.
"The Rules of the Game" is a quick movie, not terribly long and sensationally fast paced.
I've been making a lot of references to "La Dolce Vita" in my reviews, probably because I recently saw the masterpiece. There's many scenes in "La Dolce Vita" where parties occur. These party sequences are almost incoherent, studying the movings of one man. In "The Rules of the Game" the parties occur as a collective. Everyone is impacted by the actions of everyone, minimally perhaps, but still moved.
Half of the film plays out like a slapstick comedy, the other half is darker.
The characters that Renoir creates are so lifelike, so memorable even when they appear on screen for less than a minute.
Hunting parties, drunken messes, and the like.
"The Rules of the Game" is great...and that's really all I can say about it.









Score: ★★★★

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) (NC-17)













This review contains SPOILERS!
If "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" could be condensed down into one word it would most assuredly be disturbing. Frustrating might also work, but I stick with my first choice. The film, which has often been called a social commentary, follows a few characters and their meaningless interactions.
The largest presence of the film is Albert (Michael Gambon) far and away from the Dumbledore niceties. He is perhaps a mob boss, perhaps a professional criminal, perhaps symbolic of the upper class, perhaps just a really nasty guy. This man, and maybe it has to do with Gambon's stunning performance, gives the screen its nastiest villain yet. There has never been anyone I've hated more than this guy. He is not a villain that we love to hate, there is no redeeming quality to him. He's just disgusting.
His wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren), is the rose in his life, the one he likes to abuse publicly.
The opening scene to "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" has us assuming that there is something a little bit stagey about the entire film. A curtain is drawn back for us to see and then the curtain falls at the ending. The lack of scene changes, the massive tracking shots, the immensity of the sets themselves—it all points toward this being some sort of mockery. A grating farce that chills your very blood.
The first scene, which contains such monstrosities that will not be retold here, sets the tone for the entire movie—bad things happen to good people, at least when Albert is present. This is a greedy, temper-prone, violent man who always gets his way—always!
Owning a restaurant named La Hollandaise, Albert spends every night at his establishment, telling his goons how to eat gourmet food.
For as miserably wretched as Albert is, he really tries to be a snob when it comes to food; but his wife is the one with all the class. The cook (Richard Bohringer) always present Georgina little treasures of the culinary world because she has an appreciate palate.
One night when Albert is making a particular fool of himself, Georgina catches a man's eye. He's sitting in the corner, reading a book and observing the shouting table across from him. There's a connection between them which eventually leads to them sneaking in the bathroom to have sex.
They begin an affair, carried out under Albert's nose, always at the restaurant.
Indeed, a huge part of the film is shot at the restaurant in one of three areas: the dining room, the kitchen, or the alley outside the restaurant.
We follow the affair and the abusive doings of Albert over the course of a few days.
It becomes clear that something bad is going to happen.
We've all seen dramas where a character loses his/her temper and becomes physical. It's not pleasant to watch, but usually at the end of the scene there is some teary apology...not here.
When a kitchen hand gets unwillingly pulled into the marital problems of Albert and Georgina, the scene escalates quickly into a semi-rape format...if not molestation occurring, than certainly mental abuse.
This same boy is later force fed buttons from his own clothes and his navel is implied to be cut out from his stomach.
When you pair this to the degradation of the first scene and the semi-explicit sex scenes between Georgina and the book-reader in the corner, one begins to have questions why you would ever want to watch "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover".
There is something to the movie, I'll give it that. It feels as scathing as a piece of art can feel. Not only does the upper class become mocked because of the facade they are wearing, but their sheer existence plays out like a sexually violent and repressive act.
"The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" is a film that's hard to enjoy. Yes, it may be great because of how unashamed it is and what it is trying to accomplish; but this is definitely not a film you want to go see with mom and dad.
The performances are all great, if a bit beyond the film itself. It seems like the actors didn't quite grasp what they were doing.
The last scene, much like the first, has nasty cringe-worthy moments; yet there is a purpose being served.
If revenge is the point, it is a meaningless revenge; if it is about repression, this film is warning those who try.
The film probably merits a re-watch, but I'm not sure I'm up to that anytime soon.









Score: ★★★½

David Holzman's Diary (1967)




















I would argue that this rarely seen film is the quintessential movie about movies. It bridges so many genre gaps including documentary, drama, cinephile's picks, and avant-garde. It's fake, it's real, it's truth, it's a lie...
"David Holzman's Diary" is in part a film just about the lies of movie making. I've said before that film can be incredibly manipulative, even in its most naked form, documentary. There is so much you can do with scores, film editing, dubbing, computer graphics...it comes to a point where you cannot trust anything about film. This is what "David Holzman's Diary" is about.
Film can also be about truth. When actors accurately capture the essence of a human gesture or when a real situation is portrayed on film, there can be truth there—this is what I consider to be great film making, when truth is revealed. This is also what "David Holzman's Diary" is about.
The film follows David Holzman (L. M. Kit Carson) as he decides to make a video diary with his camera and sound equipment. This man is obsessed with film in a way that not many people can understand. He quotes from famous directors, but it's obvious that the man he is most inspired by is Jean-Lus Godard.
He uses Godard's own words: film is truth 24 times a second, as his mission statement while he starts to make his diary.
His girlfriend, Penny, is not accepting of this idea. In fact, she's very opposed to it and the constant recording is a source of tension between the two.
David still wants to find a great truth though, he continues to tape, even recording a very long monologue that his friend gives about how utterly ridiculous the whole project is. The friend, while smoking and posing against a mural, tells David and the camera itself how stupid David's life is. Though the film David wants to make is the predecessor to a vlog, the friend knows that there will never be complete truth in the film because you alter your personality when there's a camera in your face. It is never you, always just some close-to-you.
Penny gets more and more distant as the days wear on and David isn't making it easy for her. He films her while she sleeps, seeing her at her most vulnerable, her most truthful.
"David Holzman's Diary" makes significant commentary on how a camera is actually used. We are the camera in many movies, an observer, someone who is present but unseen. This film destroys that notion, and if it doesn't completely shatter it, it does prove how ludicrous it is. How absurd that we should assume ourselves as a bystander; yet that's what film has evolved into.
"David Holzman's Diary" makes us a true observer, and in that way, it pulls us away from the film itself. It lets us know we are watching though a camera— this distinction means that the camera and the viewer are actually separate so that when David starts to address the camera as a personality, we don't feel uneasy...but we should.
It's actually a staggering achievement in film, genius in many ways; but that doesn't make it enjoyable.
"David Holzman's Diary" is a tad bit confused, suffering underneath all the layers of its commentary. It's cinematography and poignancy haven't aged through the decades. This is a movie that will remain suspended in time.
Though Godard is referenced and his statement is the most important line in the film, "David Holzman's Diary" is a neurotic, film-laden journey...and a somewhat unpleasant one at that.










Score: ★★★

Sleuth (1972)
















It's odd and almost unheard of for a film to disappear from the ether like "Sleuth" has. It's rare that you can get your hands on a copy of it, so when offered the chance, jump on it...that's just some friendly advice. On a side note: another film that I cannot seem to find is Bruce Conner's 1967 short film "Report"...that has nothing to do with "Sleuth" I just thought you'd like to know.
You can tell when a stage play transcends the medium and becomes a film, it has a certain quality to it. There's something about the theater that remains in the piece. Take "Wait Until Dark" for example...when you see the movie, you notice all the particulars. There are small sets, small casts, and wonderfully written situations. Yet most films made from stage plays have odd endings with no precise conclusion. The best example of this, which coincidentally is the best example of a stage play becoming a film is "Doubt". Flawless acting, wonderful dialogue, and a sense of urgency that never quits.
"Sleuth" is close behind in this regard, because it juggles genres so deftly that it actually wears the viewer out as it speeds along towards a highly climactic, and not completely satisfying ending.
The beginning of the movie is a farce, in fact, much of the whole film feels like a puppet show which would make sense from the incessant need for close-ups on marionette-like figures scattered around the house.
Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier) is having a nice evening at home, writing his murder mysteries. He's a successful detective novelist with a superiority complex...and he loves games. He has summoned Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) to his house in the hopes of shedding light on a certain issue.
Formatlies are exchanged and pleasantries are said, drinks are fixed, and then the bombshell is dropped—"You want to marry my wife!" It's not exactly a question as it is a statement and a nicely disguised accusation. Yes, Milo is the lover of Wyke's wife; but he's come to the house to see what the writer has to say about the situation. Surprisingly, the man seems quite okay with Milo whisking his wife away for the rest of his life, you see, the two had grow a bit apart over the years. Wyke suspects that his wife may have married him simply for his money—what a grotesque thought!
Yet the more cunning and sneaky of the two of them, Wyke is not about to let Milo simply take his wife away from him without a little bargaining.
Another bombshell—Wyke asks Milo to break into his house and steal his wife's jewelry. To what end? Milo will get the jewels which he can exchange for cash and Wyke will get the insurance money. Everyone wins! Wyke is rid of his unloving wife and both the parties have cash in hand...what's not to like?
Yet there's an evil to the film, an underlying suspicion that we all have of Wyke's true intentions, here is where the film takes a rather nasty turn...somewhat reminiscent to the charades seen in "Vertigo". This evil reveals its ugly head as the night wears on and soon we are fully entrenched in a psycho-drama that becomes screamy really quickly.
But that's the beauty of the stage-film. That's the risk you take, will it work or not? With a film like "Carnage" it doesn't really work, but it works tremendously well with "Sleuth".
The film is held upright by two jaw-dropping performance by Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier (they both lost to Marlon Brando for "The Godfather" which is classic, but come on!) Olivier dances around on the balls of his feet and expels all his energy early, his transformation is deep and disturbing. Vice versa is true for Michael Caine.
The music is happy, the film is disturbing and challenging, and the accomplishment is great.
If there has ever been such a fun movie to see while still feeling winded by the end, it's "Sleuth".








Score: ★★★½