Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Big Lebowski

Let's see what condition my reviewing is in.

 So, the interesting thing to me about this movie is that not a single character is aware what kind of movie they are in. It's like the Coen's grabbed characters off the sets of a bunch of different films and stuck them all in a heist movie, and each character is gamely trying to make the movie they thought they were making originally in. You've got the Dude, who's making a stoner comedy, Walter, who is making a Rambo-type ignored veterans of Vietnam flick, the Stranger, who is narrating a Western, Maude, who is making a second-wave feminist art house piece, the nihilists, who are making a German existentialist movie, the Big Lebowski, who is making Citizen Kane, the Jesus, a guy who is making a particularly dirty telenovela, and Treehorn and Bunnie, who are making a porn. And Donny is just a guy who likes to bowl who wandered onto the set. There are a lot of critical pieces about how it's about men feeling emasculated by women in the late 80's and early 90's, between the castration threats, Maude using the Dude as a sperm donor without his consent, the Big Lebowski being little more than a kept man whose only illusion of power comes from keeping a woman of his own - who in turn further emasculates him by running out on him whenever she pleases and openly offering sexual services to other men. That may be true. There may also be some major criticism of the odd sexual attitudes of second wave feminism, where sex was good provided it was the right kind of sex, and the wrong kind of sex was to be severely punished as "regressive" and "patriarchal oppression". Maude is certainly a character who does not see her own hypocrisy, where it's all right for her to use a man for her own ends, but Bunnie is a slut and a nymphomaniac for doing the same.

But to me, the interest in the movie comes from the fact that these are all people in the wrong movie. Each one of them has been a tragic hero in another flick, and here, they are all just kind of absurd figures wandering around, shouting "fuck" and horribly annoying each other. I've wondered why I don't hate this movie, when it isn't that fundamentally different from A Confederacy of Dunces, which also features absurd people who all think they're supposed to be the hero but are in the wrong story to be. I guess because no one in The Big Lebowski is as repulsive as any of the characters in A Confederacy of Dunces. Even Walter, who is by all measurements a pretty horrible human being, is understandable to some degree. You've seen the character trope before, just usually you don't see him as a nutter in a bowling alley. He's usually cast as tragic because of what he saw in 'Nam, and depending on the sympathy of the director, he is either one dropped coffee cup away from killing everyone or he is so beaten by the system that his PTSD has gone untreated for however many years and it's an indictment of American society.

 I can't say whether a person will like this movie or not. It's a curious film. I'm not sorry that I've seen it, and I probably won't re-watch it. It does have a pretty awesome soundtrack.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


I'm a better reviewer with you as an audience than I am as an audience with me as a reviewer. Does that make any sense?

 So this is one of those fun films that seems both contemporary and somewhat dated at the same time. The biggest thing dating it is, of course, the 80's fashion, but there's also a certain sensibility that doesn't seem like it would fly today. A man cross-dressing to get a part, and subsequently doing a really good job playing a woman wouldn't be treated as breaking sexist stereotypes today, but today would be looked at as sexist. Which strikes me as odd, since through seeing things from both sides leads Michael Dorsey to become a more fully rounded human being. But some would probably suggest this film is transphobic because Michael Dorsey does not actually have any form of gender dysphoria - he is just broke and he has a bad reputation as difficult as a man. But he learns quickly in the movie that his alter ego, Dorothy, is "smarter" than he is, as she doesn't waste time arguing - she simply does things her way and reaps the benefits or the punishments as they come.

 I suppose part of this is an odd film, in part because it takes place over such a strange timeline. We're told that the character of Emily Kimberely has been on the soap for a few weeks, and yet she's become a sensation and is on the cover of a bunch of magazines. Then again, I wasn't alive for most of the 80's, and I don't know if soap opera stars ever did become big break-out hits to the point of being featured on big magazines. But it is a fun little montage, watching Dustin Hoffman going between his schlubby out-of-work actor to his polished Southern lady who manages to attract both a father and a daughter, and an actor, and several other people. The nice thing with it is that we're never supposed to believe "Dorothy Michaels" is a pretty woman. This isn't like Breakfast on Pluto, where Cillian Murphy played a stunningly beautiful transgender woman. Dustin Hoffman is many things, but "pretty" isn't one of them. But the audience isn't insulted with people talking about her great beauty, but instead we're given a narrative where people are attracted to Dorothy because of her wit, her charm, and her forthright personality. When was the last time you saw a movie where men chased after a woman who could be described as plain just because she was charming? And now riddle me this - when was the last time that character wasn't a man in drag? We have a character we're supposed to believe is a middle aged woman who is being treated as sexually desirable because of what's between her ears, while in the real world, stunningly beautiful middle aged women can't get romantic parts, and stunningly beautiful women approaching age 30 can't get cast opposite men in their 50's, because apparently it's unbelievable that a man in his 50's would chase a 30-year-old with supermodel looks, so she should be recast as 23. And in 1982 they made a movie where men in their 50's were chasing Dustin Hoffman in a dress. I don't think some of the sexism messages in this movie were absorbed as well as they hoped, though this is as close to a screwball comedy as has been made since the 1950's.

 I'd say this is a definite watch. This is the third time I've seen it, and I've enjoyed it every time. It just gives me a lot to think about re: what's expected of women in film vs. what's expected of men. But it is one nutty hospital.

Bridge on the River Kwai

What have I done, taking so long between reviews? Oh right, doing stuff in meatspace. So, this was one of those films that I had always heard was a masterpiece, but seeing as it's a masterpiece that is just shy of three hours long, it's one I never got around to watching. I was actually really surprised to see it was on the Film Registry, because I had thought it was a purely UK film and thus ineligible. Turns out it was a joint effort with a British production company and an American distributor. That may explain why the character of Shears was made an American when he's British in the original novel - we Americans do love seeing the British in WWII pictures, but only if there's also a really plucky American somewhere about. Which may account in part for the popularity of WWII pictures over WWI pictures. America wasn't in WWI for long, so the most compelling stories often don't have a role for a Steve McQueen-type to hop onto a motorcycle and look really cool, while the British are being all stiff upper lip and saying devastatingly witty things. That's how this dynamic is supposed to work, and when we don't have an American lead in our war movies, they just don't become American classics. I thought War Horse was an excellent picture, for example, but it seems to have been mostly forgotten, and I think part of that is because American audiences of war pictures like to have an American to root for, and not just for the last few minutes of the movie. So, throughout Bridge on the River Kwai, we've got three main stories going: the daring escape of our charming American, Commander Shears (played by William Holden, who appeared in three other preserved movies: Sabrina, The Wild Bunch, and Sunset Boulevard), the battle of wills between Colonel Nicholson and Colonel Saito (with Nicholson played by Alec Guinness, who also appeared in three other films on the Registry: Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back), and the ultimate building and destruction of the bridge. The film has had it's fair share of controversy, since the historical accuracy actually played the Japanese prison camps for the Burma railway as far too lenient, even with the lines of graves and the memorable hotbox, and because everyone involved in the building denied that a man like Nicholson could make it to Colonel, let alone build the bridge without getting shanked. However, putting that aside, it is a truly great piece of film-making. The only flaws I really saw were technical flaws in shots and color, and it can't have been easy to shoot in the jungles of of Sri Lanka in the 1950's. Plus, the DVD I had wasn't any sort of re-mastered cut, so the colors are all kind of washed out. The night scenes are very obviously day scenes with a dark filter over the camera, but that's just nitpicking at this point. The movie is effective as a dramatic piece, where pride and devotion to duty drive a man completely mad, to the point of full collaboration with the enemy in time of war. Nicholson's last little speech, when he's leaning over the beautifully built bridge and reflecting on 28 years of service that have little to show except this monument of engineering... suddenly, you can see that he's not seeing collaboration, but seeing his only monument. His men cheered for him surviving the hotbox, but his feat of will to maintain the Geneva Convention on a technical point is not the sort of thing which leaves monuments. Yet in the end, his monument is only the hearts of his men. The only thing of worth he has done is be remembered by them. The mutterings answered by "The old man knows what he's doing" are probably answered for the men who didn't stay to see Nicholson desperately try to stop the destruction of the bridge. Instead, they saw him construct something the Japanese felt pride in and were trusting enough to send their VIPs over, only for it to be blown up. Is that then to be the legacy of Nicholson - a man redeemed by death? Or would the muttering of "What's he playing at?" continue, and the men believe they had built the bridge under the orders of a traitor? That is what makes a truly great film, where you can sit awake after watching and ask yourself questions like that. I didn't get into the character of Commander Shears because I frankly don't find his plot arc that interesting. I actually found the parts with him rather tedious and felt they slowed down the movie - I didn't care what happened to him, I wanted to see what was happening between Nicholson and Saito. That's not William Holden's fault, as he was an excellent actor. That's more a testament to Alec Guinness, and the unique sensitivity he brought to this role. Even if this movie is just shy of three hours, you owe yourself those three hours to watch it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Blade Runner

Hold on to your electric sheep, because it's time to look at Blade Runner. I had the benefit of seeing The Final Cut first, and wow. At this point in time, most "Director's Cuts" seem to mean they add back in the violence or sex that would have earned them an R or an X-rating, add another three hours to the running time (which I don't mind in the case of Lord of the Rings), or the Director wanted to pursue his artistic vision to the detriment of the film (*cough* George Lucas *cough cough*). Blade Runner is one of those rare occasions where the Director's Cut fixes the shoehorned in studio meddling and makes for a stronger film, rather than a more special effect laden film, a less cinematic film, or a "Don't ever watch with your parents" film. Is there ever a way to add in a happy ending to a Philip K. Dick story without it feeling forced? I've read multiple novels by him, and he was just not a cheery sort of writer. While the first cut of Blade Runner may have opened up the trend of lugubrious, gritty science fiction, as opposed to shining futuristic sets, it's also kind of painful to have Harrison Ford narrating over key scenes and then to watch him and Rachael driving away into a pastoral paradise for their happily ever after. Can you imagine if The Graduate had ended with the characters smilingly holding hands on a beach in Hawaii, instead of giggling uncertainly and refusing to look at each other in the back of a city bus? But then again, people seem more comfortable with ambiguity and downer endings in stories of the real world, while audiences always seem to want a shining light in their science fiction. No matter how awful the environment gets, there has to be a spark of hope for a science fiction film to do well. Which is really odd in the continuing trend towards dystopian fiction. But either way, Blade Runner should be watched in The Final Cut form, if only because Harrison Ford acts better with his face than he does reading off cue cards. And having him flatly inflect questions about why Rutger Hauer just led him on the most insane game of tag in cinema history and then gave up is really off-putting. It works much better when he's just kind of lying there stunned and confused and presumably wondering where the hell Roy Batty managed to find a dove while he was running around half naked and howling. Sometimes you have to wonder if Rutger Hauer was confused about that too. He spends a good deal of time looking confused, but it does work for his character, since he's basically Superman with the mind of a terminally ill toddler. There are a lot of peculiar choices actors make, but when you're watching, you just don't question it. One thing I noticed on my second watch - I don't think I've ever seen this many East Asian people in an American film where none of them are doing kung fu, prostitutes, or getting their New Year's dragon smashed by a car chase. None of them really have particularly prominent parts in the movie, but it struck me as interesting. Some of the costume choices also struck me as interesting, especially given the meme circulating last year about how Back to the Future II told us we were all going to dress. And then there's the really uncomfortable sex scene between Deckard and Rachael, where without the soundtrack of smooth jazz telling us it's sexy, we have a man blocking a door, throwing a woman into a window, and then making her tell him to kiss her again. But even with the oddness and the flaws, it's definitely a movie worth the watch. Not just because I'm an absolute science fiction nut or because I really like Philip K. Dick. It's a strong film with still pretty impressive special effects, and even better, a ton of attention to tiny details. Just skip any cut that has the voice-overs.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Klaatu berada nikto roughly translates to “There's another review up”. I think. So, talk about a movie where the poster doesn't match the film! The poster of this science fiction classic has a shrieking, buxom blonde woman being carried away by a hulking robot, as explosions erupt around them from a hellish landscape of crushed humanity. The actual movie not only stars a brunette, it's pretty short on the shrieking and explosion-ridden hellscapes, and pretty long on philosophical discussions on the nature of xenophobia and international cooperation. In fact, unusually for a science fiction film of this time period, the heroine only shrieks once in the face of the Deathbot, and that's only because she panicked for a second. She quickly regains her composure, and the Deathbot is shown to be a creature wholly dedicated to justice and purely a defensive, reactionary weapon. Just the sort of creature to fly Space Jesus around. Apparently the director was hoping the whole Space Jesus allegory would be a little more subtle, and maybe it was to the first audience. But to an audience watching after the release of Stranger in a Strange Land (erotic Space Jesus), Jean Grey in The Phoenix Saga (psychic lady Space Jesus), Neo in The Matrix (computer Jesus), RoboCop (American Robot Jesus), and Harry Potter (wizard Jesus). Note that I'm only bringing up examples that came out after 1951, so no Lion Jesus or Ring Jesus. We do love a good Messiah story, and it really isn't subtle any more when our peace-speaking hero fighting dark forces is killed and then resurrected to deliver a message to mankind, even though we've gone a few different paths (Jean Grey goes crazy and commits xenocide, RoboCop shoots everyone...). That nice Mr. John Carpenter (geddit? Because Jesus was a carpenter and his initials were J.C.?) falls under the more proactive category of Space Jesuses (Jesusi?), as he is willing to be actively physically threatening. But the movie is essentially a sermon on how we really need to straighten the hell up, because our petty international rivalries will blow us up someday. It can get a bit wordy at times, but it is overall good in tone. And it is lovely to see a heroine of an early science fiction picture not be ruled by terror and actually understand the gravity of the situation she's in. So, overall, I'd say this is a good watch, if just for the cultural curiosity. It does have some issues with pacing, but it's still a good film.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Quiet Man

Or as they put it over at the Youtube Channel "Facts." after seeing the trailer, more like the shouty, hitting man. Well, let's start making paddy-fingers in the Holy Water, and dive right in. So, I've got to write this review quick, because it's really not sticking with me. Maybe it would if I had grown up watching it, but this is another of those movies where I am not really seeing why it's on the Registry. Apparently it was supposed to be the first of five collaborations between John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, but it ended up being the third, as the studio made them make two Westerns first to make up for the money they'd lose on making a film about Ireland and paternalistic marriage culture. And none of the movies lost money, but this one did start a trend of occasionally sending a film crew over to Ireland to film locals being canny and twee and full o' the blarney, with a lilt in their voices and a twinkle in their eyes. At least they didn't attempt to make John Wayne speak with an Irish accent, like they do with most actors unfortunate enough to appear in these pictures. This is also one of only two films on the Registry to be listed under the letter "Q", so I suppose that's something? The plot is the bog-standard "Irish-American goes to rediscover his heritage, but he is hiding his past and he falls in love with a fiery redheaded lass who is crushed under the unrealistic expectations of patriarchal, backwards Irish culture". Which I guess was fresher in 1952, when this movie came out. And at least it wasn't another old saw on "Idealistic young man joins IRA to fight the evil Brits, discovers he has become as bad as them". Part of me thinks we make these movies just for scenery. And another part is wondering if this is our own version of an exploitation film. Enough Americans are of Irish descent and have a fascination with Irish culture that yeah, we'll wear green on St. Paddy's Day (and misspell it as "Patty's"), but we also had a vague sense of superiority before the whole Celtic Tiger thing happened. After all, we didn't blow each other up over religious differences... and neither did they if you get right down to it, but Captain Planet said they would. Our ancestors managed to get out, so obviously we aren't as backwards or superstitious and we don't believe in wee green men, nor are we as backwards as to drag our wives five miles through dirt and sheep dung or to settle our differences with our in-laws with a fist fight and a few pints. I'm not going to pretend to be any sort of expert on Irish culture, but this movie seemed vaguely offensive to me. It also suffered dreadfully from Idiot Plot, in that the major conflict could have been resolved with a simple conversation. I know a lot of people adore this movie, but for me, it was a resounding "Eh".

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Magic Computer on the Desk, who is the one who can't think of a good rhyme for "desk"? This is another movie that's hard to talk about, because it's reached the point of being iconic for being iconic. It is so pioneering that any criticism leveled at it is just kind of "Well... yeah, it was uncharted territory". And everyone has heard the criticisms. The fact that the Prince is so bland he doesn't even get a name and barely exists as anything but a plot device. The fact that Snow White talks in rhyming phrases a lot of the time and squeaks a lot. The fact that characters aren't really developed so much as they just sort of exist. But that doesn't really matter, because it is all new. You can obviously tell the animators are more used to animating shorts, since the animals and the Dwarfs move more naturally and fit more seamlessly into the backgrounds than Snow White, the Prince, the Queen, or the Huntsman (whose neck isn't the same color as his face). The animators are obviously more comfortable drawing the gags then they are drawing the dramatic scenes - just compare how smoothly the jaunty little turtle walking with the other forest animals is drawn vs. how Queen Grimhilde is during her transformation sequences. Which isn't to say the movie isn't a work of art. The backgrounds are incredibly lush and detailed. Just look at the stairs while the Dwarfs are creeping up them - every single stair has a carved face on the edge. The animators did an incredible job of giving an overall Bavarian feel to the set design. The castles all look like they were designed by King Ludwig II and the Dwarfs cottage looks like it was transported from a Bavarian forest, right down to the steins and the cuckoo clocks. For the story, it's just very simple and very padded by musical numbers. But that's to be expected, because after all, they were doing something completely new. No one was sure if you could keep the audience's attention for a full-length animated feature. So they threw in a bunch of generally catchy songs and a bunch of gags from their shorts to keep the audience's attention. As a feature film - just as a piece of film-making, I think it holds up artistically, but not so much cinematically. However, it is obviously worth the watch based on cinematic importance. Disney has obviously made vastly superior films, but they wouldn't have been able to without this one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Time for another review, my huckleberry friends. I haven't meant to be so sporadic, but life happens sometimes. So here's another classic with an elephant to address. I mentioned in Roman Holiday that Audrey Hepburn eventually developed a modus operandi of playing prototypes of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl while always looking impossibly chic in some huge city. However, she always manages to subvert the type because the man in the story is in equal billing with her. Yes, she affects them with her winsome charm and changes their lives, but only because they have changed hers in some way. Just another trope they did better back in the day. Here, Paul Varjack is ostensibly the focus of the story, but he just fades into the background besides the much more vital Holly. He helps her less than she helps him, but that's because he isn't much of a character. I'm sure Truman Capote meant for him to be, but he comes across as just rather bland mixed with eerily possessive. If you were wondering when I was going to get to Mr. Yunioshi, well, wonder no more. He does spoil an otherwise charming film with his buckteeth, cokebottle glasses, and MISH GORIGHRY!! But it's still a movie worth watching. I've heard it argued that by watching movies that include horrible stereotypes, we perpetuate those stereotypes. I think that's only the case if the viewer does not recognize the stereotype. I didn't really need an intro on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection telling me some of the gags were racist – I knew that already. But most people don't seem to realize Forrest Gump is ableist. Maybe it's the prevalence of awareness of stereotypes. Most people can recognize racism and sexism, most can't recognize ableism unless they have someone directly in their lives making them recognize it. I don't think Breakfast at Tiffany's needs a disclaimer at the beginning to say “Hey, all, in the early 60's we still had some very negative feelings about the Japanese, and that led us to some really ugly things in movies”. Though I guess there's some part of my going “Well... even if they weren't using actual Asian actors for most of those roles, at least there were Asian characters on the screen”. It's a weird thing – is it more offensive to use offensive stereotypes, or is it more offensive that Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu (at least 10 years ago, haven't heard from her lately), and whoever is playing Mr. Sulu in whichever film are apparently the only East Asians alive in Hollywood? Is the choice bad representation or no representation? This does create some dissonance when you're watching the movie. Actually, there are a lot of those jarring moments, like Buddy Ebsen having married a 13-year-old “going on 14”. Or the way Holly's attempts at gold-digging go amiss because she is too emotional to be a gold-digger. Truman Capote apparently desperately wanted Marilyn Monroe for the role, but while she had a very underrated capacity for playing wounded innocence, she had also played gold-diggers with the sense to actually dig. I don't think it would have worked quite the same. I wouldn't say skip this one. I do enjoy it, but it's one of those movies that I see as more iconic than good. Audrey Hepburn and Cat carry the whole thing, and when they aren't on screen, the film lags. But when Audrey and/or Cat is on screen, suddenly, it seems like a sparkling picture. It's odd that way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Man Godfrey

Sit still, it'll all be over in a minute. This is the first of the great screwball comedies I'm reviewing. I thought I would review It Happened One Night first, as that codified the screwball comedy, but I own my own copy of that, while I found out my dad had a copy of My Man Godfrey when I was visiting this weekend. So I'd rather work on this one while it's fresh. Besides, it's somewhat related, since Carole Lombard was Clark Gable's favorite wife. This is one of two screwball comedies starring Carole Lombard on the Registry, the other being her final film, To Be or Not To Be, which was released just weeks after her death in a plane crash during a USO tour. If I'm remembering trivia rightly, she was honored as one of the first civilian casualties of WWII in the continental US, along with her mother and press agent, as her death was related to her war work. Another bit of trivia about Carole Lombard that is actually connected to this film is that at the time of filming, she and "Godfrey" (William Powell), had already been married and divorced, though they remained close friends. Apparently the conceit of this movie, that opposites attract, is true... but it doesn't hold. The film does seem very relevant today, but in a way that would never get made today. Spoiled super-rich socialites turn up in a tent city in a dump, and try to bribe a homeless man to come with them for a scavenger hunt. The younger sister is impressed with the pride and composure of the man they find, as well as the fact that he spooks her sister into falling into garbage, so she offers him a job as their butler, and immediately falls in love with him... as does everyone else, but that's fairly overlooked. Godfrey turns out to be a former First Family Socialite himself, who in his moment of crisis discovered the tenacity of men clinging on with their fingernails. As Godfrey says in the movie, but would never say if it was remade, "The difference between a derelict and a man is a job". Maybe I have more sympathy with that because my physical disabilities prevent me from most jobs, but it really is soul-sucking in a way that I don't think a lot of people understand to not be able to be productive. That would probably be called victim-blaming in the current climate, but as one of those oft-spoken-for "victims", I still say he's right. I wasn't really planning on waxing philosophical about the nature of a bum vs. the self-respect that comes with any form of productivity that one can take pride in. Instead, I was going to make the overall point that this is a charming film, full of sparkling dialogue and absurd situations in the best tradition of the screwball comedy. They don't make them like this anymore, but thankfully we have a great selection to choose from already.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Groundhog Day

Wake up, campers! It's COLD OUT THERE THIS MORNING! Okay, it's not, it's like 75 here in Virginia, but if you woke up to that every morning for 30+ years, you'd get used to it. This movie fascinates me as the only movie I've ever heard of noted to be religiously instructive for both Catholics and Buddhists. Both for generally the same reason - the perfection of the human soul through the cycle of time, though for the Catholics it's through Purgatory, and Buddhists through the cycle of reincarnation. I've also heard that it's become military slang for tours where the days all run together because absolutely nothing is happening, but that may be outdated lingo. Either way, what started out as a goofy concept by Harold Ramis about a guy cursed by a vengeful ex-girlfriend (a plot point thankfully cut) has become far more than that. This is another movie that serves as a cultural touchstone, which is what I thought most of the movies on the Registry were going to be. Sometimes I find myself confused as to why a particular film was chosen, but this one obviously falls under "culturally significant". Which is odd, because according to Wikipedia, this was a film that didn't generate a lot of buzz when it came out. It's one of those movies that you see and think "Yeah, this was a decent flick", and then eventually you want to watch it again, and on the repeat viewings, you realize it's brilliant. This film holds personal interest for me, as my mother actually grew up in Punxatawney, and I still have family living there. Disappointingly, none of the movie was filmed there - Punxie does not look at all like it does in the movie. I haven't been there in about 20 years now, but I remembered being surprised by that. But they do get the way a small town manages to be simultaneously charming and boring down pat. I don't know - sometimes I don't think I'd mind getting stuck in a time loop myself, just for the chance to acquire as much knowledge as possible. But then the one major hole that's overlooked in the film would come up. Phil is estimated to spend 34 years in the time loop. While he is shown to have spent a fair amount of time goofing off, rather than in self-improvement, he still has 34 years of extra study and knowledge in a young brain that other people just don't have. That's bound to make readjusting to others a bit difficult. With the time he had when he went in, he re-emerges a genius. It's actually kind of eerie if you delve too deeply into it. If Harold Ramis's original estimate of 10,000 years had been correct, Phil would have emerged from the loop practically a different species. Just something to think about. I would suggest that anyone watch this movie, and more than that, I would suggest they watch it a few times. This is a movie to be watched and re-watched so it can be fully appreciated.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Pulp Fiction

Get on the chopper, babies, it's time to look at Tarantino. So, one thing about this project really makes me realize how much of Tarantino's movies are about how much he likes other movies. He really, really likes a lot of genres of movies, and apparently he wanted to see them all re-done with a big bucket of gore and an explosion of expletives on the screen. Everyone in his world seems very aware that they're in a movie, and they want to play to the camera by being either as dramatic or as shouty as possible. Sometimes both. But hey, Deliverance, just gave you rapists shot by arrows. Pulp Fiction has them cut down by katanas and felled by shotgun blasts to the genitals. The movie does follow a postmodern structure which is very stylish. The whole film, like all of Tarantino's work, is long on style. That's probably what gets this film remembered – the out-of-order structure, the three separate stories that form a cohesive whole, and the way shots are framed. Everyone is smoking, the movie is peppered with women in dark lipstick looking mysterious, and of course, there are plenty of shots of bare feet. Everything is so stylistic that it's hard to talk about the movie as a whole. But the whole of the movie, beneath the layers and layers of academic discussion, is that Quentin Tarantino has watched a boatload of films and taken something from most of them. I don't know if that qualifies him as a genius or as an encyclopedia. I don't know that I'm in a position to judge, since I'm working on becoming a functional movie encyclopedia myself, and I don't even work in the film industry in any capacity. I would say for people who aren't squeamish to give this one a shot. It's a good movie about other movies. It's very hard to speak on its own merits, however, because it's a jigsaw puzzle of hundreds of other movies. Only you can decide whether you like that or not.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Court Jester

The review with the preview is in the blog with the budget. This is a fun little movie that I wished I had had closed captioning for. This is the second time I've seen it, and I do regret it not being a film I grew up on, because considering I trained myself to be ambidextrous when I was 9 in case my right hand was ever damaged in a sword fight, Little Me would have adored this film. As an adult who fenced in college, I also really enjoyed the fight scenes. Do I see where this film is revolutionary? Not really, but it is a lot of fun. Danny Kaye as Hawkins is a riot, seeing baby Angela Lansbury is incredibly odd, but interesting, and the cunning Captain Jean, played by Glynis Johns, is very fun to watch. According to Wikipedia, this was the most expensive comedy produced at the time, and it is pretty obvious that the budget was spent on costumes and sets. It all looks lavish and fantastical, and is improved by the constant banter, dance numbers, and sword fights. The basic plot concerns a usurping king who has inadvertently left an infant of the royal house alive. The baby is being protected by a group of outlaws, including a former carnival performer, Hubert Hawkins. Hawkins ends up impersonating the king's jester, who is also an assassin, and has to steal a key, woo the princess, protect the baby, try to protect his own lady (who is far more competent at protecting than he is), assassinate rivals of an evil courtier, open the castle to invasion, and fight in mortal combat. Get it? Good. There's a ton of stuff jam-packed into this movie, but that's mostly an excuse to watch a farcical take on Robin Hood, complete with flashing a baby's butt at regular intervals to prove he is the rightful king. I can't honestly say the movie makes a whole ton of sense, because it really doesn't. The whole point just seems to be to make as many absurd situations as possible in a medieval sort of setting, to get Danny Kaye dancing, singing, and fencing, and to get tongue-twisting repartee flying through the air. But it's a ton of fun. Definitely what I would classify as quality family entertainment, and well-worth a watch.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Exorcist

Your mother reads reviews in hell. So, I had been avoiding watching this movie, because I am as far from a horror movie fan as you can get. I hate horror movies. But, when this one popped up on Netflix Instant Streaming, I didn't figure I had any more excuses to avoid it. I had been dreading it, but I ended up with the same feeling I had after watching A Clockwork Orange - that was it? That was the movie that shocked and terrified audiences and led to a moral panic about degeneracy and the need for increasing disgusting spectacle in movies? And then I thought, of course, yeah, that's the point. If a pansy like me can watch movies like this and go "Meh", we've obviously gone well-past what Roger Ebert lamented in his original review of The Exorcist: "Are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all?". I've seen more gore and filth seeing the YouTube commercials for The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. The only horror movies I've watched are because my sister likes horror movies, and sometimes used to take me to see them, and who was I to say no to a free movie ticket and popcorn, but while I've never seen a horror film as complex as The Exorcist, it wasn't the gross-out fest I was expecting. This is another movie that pop culture osmosis and special effects have not been kind to. The Regan puppet is obviously a puppet, and while the psychological aspects of the film are interesting, everyone knows the major lines, the basic plot, the gross-out parts, and is on the look-out for them. While I will forever tout the supremacy of practical effects (look at Mad Max: Fury Road vs. Transformers or just compare the old Star Wars to the prequels), some just don't age particularly well. I guess you couldn't really get Jim Henson on the horn and ask him to make a seamless masturbating puppet (though by all accounts, he did have a strange sense of humor, so he might have done it). There just aren't really surprises in the film anymore, so watching it is more an exercise in curiosity than an exercise in horror and suspense. And that creates a huge weakness. If you have a pretty good idea what's going to happen in a horror movie, can it be at all frightening? It can be shocking or disgusting, but can you really, truly, viscerally experience the emotion of fright? I can't say whether The Exorcist has scares left for the right audience. It's an interesting piece of film-making. It's one of the few times I've seen tilted angles used effectively. I would say it's worth the watch as a curiosity piece at the very least, especially considering the huge impact it's had on pop culture. But if you are the type who watches horror movies looking to be disturbed and frightened, I wonder whether this film can actually do that. It's a tough question, and there are only a couple other horror movies on the List for me to ponder this question over.

Monday, March 7, 2016


Suicide may be painless, but this movie sure isn't. I know most people are judging by the television show, which started out clever, then gradually turned more and more preachy and annoying. A lot of people never watched the movie or read the book the show was based on. I haven't read the book, and after seeing the movie, I have no intention to. I have a lot of respect for the Armed Forces in general, and the MASH units of the Korean War did some truly amazing things. They pushed medicine ahead with their innovation and technical skill. And sure, I suppose it was more interesting for jaded viewers sick of the Vietnam War to watch army doctors boozing and chasing women. I'm sure plenty of that went on. When I worked in a photo lab, a patron who had worked in a MASH unit asked if I wanted to see some of the slides he had converted to photographs. They included slides of a double amputation in progress, which he called “Pretty neat to watch”. So I understand the grim sense of humor and the thrill-seeking. What I don't understand is the cruelty and pettiness accompanying them. The problem is when they pull down the tent for everyone to see Hot Lips naked, they gather the camp so everyone can laugh at her. Even her nickname is from them pulling a dirty trick and broadcasting her sexual encounter with Frank all over the camp. And “Trapper” John is explained to have gained his nickname from raping a girl in a subway car. These casual throwaway lines and situations about sexual assault just disturbed me deeply. I know we're supposed to be thinking about the brutality and mindlessness of war, but instead I was thinking about the brutality and mindlessness of the men. I'm sure it was a novelty having a war movie where only one military character earns any sort of respect, but if I watch a movie about lowlifes, I want the movie to know that they're lowlifes. I can't recommend this one. Sure, it filled a cultural niche at the time, but some works are better as curiosities. Besides being a generally plodding, dull affair about hateful men, it's also really uncomfortably rape-y.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Forrest Gump

Reviews are like a box of chocolates. You know what you're getting if you have a good sense of smell. I somehow never connected that this was a Robert Zemeckis film. Somehow you don't think Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. I'll get right out there and say I fall into the camp that finds Forrest Gump cheesy, schlocky, corny, trite, whatever adjective you want to affix to a schmaltz-fest of self-indulgence. I also find this movie really problematic as a disabled person, since it hits so very many tropes about how rotten life is for us disabled people if we don't find someone else to glom onto like a big ol' leech. Now, I'm physically disabled, not in any way mentally disabled, but the whole movie reminds me of the now famous scene in Tropic Thunder. I've heard people ask "If you're not supposed to go 'full retard', how much are you supposed to go?". The answer, not just about the mentally handicapped, but about the congenitally handicapped in any way is "Enough to make the able-bodied feel inspiration mixed with pity. Not enough to get them angry or uncomfortable". And Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan both fill that role. Forrest by being such a good-hearted nitwit that he becomes an easy target for just about every person that he bumbles into, but he makes out well, so no one has to get outraged, and Dan by being detestable until he becomes inspirational. Look out, it's SUPER CRIP TO THE RESCUE! On a technical level, the movie is amazing. The insertion of Tom Hanks into historical footage is still pretty damn impressive. The lip-synching is pretty good if you're not watching a few inches away on a tablet screen. The sets are great. The soundtrack is great. The cinematography is usually quite good. It's just these problematic as hell characters. You've got the trope of the abused child will grow up to be a promiscuous drug addict and a self-absorbed user, you've got the Super Crip tropes, you've got the stereotypes about Southerners, and through it all, this self-congratulating air that seems really unique to Baby Boomer films. It's weird, when I've watched a ton of WWII propaganda films that portray whatever unit as brave and courageous and the best ever, but somehow, they didn't seem as self-absorbed. This movie is a love letter to Baby Boomers, while conveniently glossing over any negative parts of Boomer culture, except of course Jenny's spiral into drug addiction and death from something (the frontrunners are AIDS and Hepatitis C). Part of me wonders how much of the praise of this movie is purely on technical merit, and how many is from warm fuzzy-wuzzies over how great Baby Boomers were. There is technical merit to this film - I would never say there wasn't. But the best recommendation I can give it as a piece of writing is that Weird Al made a really funny parody of it. I hate this movie, but not even the blood-boiling hate that other movies have made me feel. My hatred for this movie is like my hatred of Gatorade. Syrupy-sweetness to be choked down when necessary, then forgotten about the rest of the time. I've seen far worse movies, but at least they could make me feel the distaste.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Producers

And now it's Springtime for Reviews. And maybe Hitler, but hopefully not. This is the first of three Mel Brooks movies on the List that I'll be reviewing (alphabetically, Blazing Saddles comes first, but I've seen The Producers both more often and more recently). Where did it go right? The question is more where didn't it go right - it doesn't have the cheerful vulgarity of Blazing Saddles or the direct spoofing of Young Frankenstein, but it presents the best of the Mel Brooks formula. Take an inherently ridiculous situation and see how much more ridiculous one can make it. He has also been unafraid to continue the WWII propaganda machine's work of turning Adolph Hitler into an object of ridicule instead of terror. Scholars have debated that question endlessly: do we do disrespect to the dead or to the survivors by making that evil man out to be a clownish goofball? My own personal opinion is no, we don't. Hitler was a very comical person in a lot of ways. There are multiple personality quirks that make him ripe for mocking, not to mention the key absurdity in the movie - casting a drugged-out hippie as Hitler (or in the musical, casting a flamboyantly gay man, but the movie of the musical is nowhere near as good as the original film). I think the major disservice is done when you make Hitler out to be this cackling evil orc sitting in a darkened bunker muttering "Jews..." under his breath. That comes down to the human tendency to recast evil humans as complete monsters, lest we see any reflections of ourselves in them. It's much easier to think of Hitler as some sort of bridge troll than it is to think of a hypochondriac who really loved dogs and Walt Disney films, and also thought a bunch of people deserved to die. That really is why this movie is so enduring, I think. It gives us permission to laugh at Hitler. Not just the situation that the fanatical Nazi playwright (whose name translates to "Love Child" - not a very subtle joke about him being a bastard) somehow doesn't notice that his producers are Jewish. Or that his director is very, very flamboyantly gay (and again, has the very unsubtle name of "De Bris", a fun joke in both English and Hebrew!). This is up there on the level with Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator doing a delicate balloon dance, including butt bumps, with a globe. For years, we censored the Looney Tunes and Disney shorts that were made for propaganda purposes, because we feared that not taking Hitler seriously would mean we didn't take the Holocaust seriously. Except by making MECHA-ROBO-DEVIL-HITLER, we've turned that page of what makes things like the Holocaust happen in the first place. Mel Brooks understands this better than most, and so he doesn't just give us permission to laugh. He forces us to laugh by making the situation as intolerable as possible to the sensibilities. He doesn't make Nazis look like an awesome force of nature, he makes them look like bumbling idiots who somehow don't realize that they are working with the things they hate the most. This is a lot on the philosophical nature of what makes the movie good and enduring, without mentioning things like most of the jokes land, including the dated ones about hippie culture. It's not mentioning the fabulous performance of Gene Wilder, who goes through the movie like a neurotic version of the Hulk. It's not mentioning Zero Mostel's fabulously sleazy Max Bialystock. It's just talking about why we laugh so hard when we see this film. Mel Brooks can be very hit or miss for me. I enjoy about half of his movies, and can't even make it through the other half. But The Producers is a must watch.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Saturday Night Fever

You can tell by the way I use my keys, I'm a nitpicky person, no time to talk. So.... this is the second time I've seen this movie, and I still don't get why it was Gene Siskel's favorite film. Everyone in the film is just so incredibly hateful. The cinematography is rarely good (it's best at while shooting dancing scenes, but then it decides to flip around so you can't actually see the dancing, just the shoulders). The sound editing is terrible - the music blares at you like a very disco-oriented foghorn, while the dialogue was apparently recorded three blocks away with a mini-mike inside a coffee can. I also have to wonder just what the hell it was with John Travolta's early career and him sexually assaulting girls in the backseats of junky cars. Did directors really think we wanted to watch John Travolta try to rape a girl in full color two times? It's even weirder than Tom Hanks's thing of peeing scenes, though thankfully Travolta has stopped doing the sexual assault scenes, and Hanks has not stopped doing the peeing scenes. Ah well. On the the actual movie, which is probably the most depressing movie to ever have a wide level of cultural osmosis. Watch John Travolta strut down the street to "Staying Alive"! Watch every conceivable character in film and television do so as well! Watch him stuff his face with pizza and chew with his mouth open, then sexually harass a few women! Watch them leave that little part out in parodies... So the basic story is that he's Tony, the all-around family loser and disappointment, soaked to the bone in what social justice types call "toxic masculinity" (drinking, fighting, chasing women, harassing women, bragging about how much sex he gets...), working a dead-end job, hanging around with even bigger losers, and the only thing he's good at is dancing. He's really good at that. And I will not knock him for that - he is an amazing dancer. It would be a lot more fun to watch him if the camera didn't think I wanted to see what a split kick looked like from a crotch-eye view, but there are a good number of scenes where the camera actually pans back and lets him dance. He realizes how lousy and unfulfilling his life is when he meets a social climbing dancer, who he blows off his former dance partner for. There's a side plot about how big a jackass he is by ignoring his friend who is desperate about his pregnant girlfriend, and another side plot about him treating the girl who likes him like garbage, and his brother dropping out of the priesthood, and him getting jealous when his dance partner, who has made it abundantly clear she does not want to be in a relationship with him, does anything with another man. And one of his friends is jumped by a Hispanic gang, so the little knot of Italian knuckleheads go and bust their heads, and then find out maybe they got the wrong guys. And then Tony realizes how false and hollow his life is when a Hispanic couple outdances him and yet only win 2nd place. This movie just strikes me as a total mess. I can see why it's "historically significant", because it did heavily affect the trend of disco in the country. It affected fashion, dance styles, music, and made Travolta into a superstar. But I am just not seeing where all this "deep, affecting drama" is coming from. I'm just seeing a bunch of foul-mouthed jackasses make even bigger jackasses of themselves, interspersed with some often weirdly shot dance numbers. If I'm going to watch a dance movie, I think I'll stick with Astaire or Kelly. At least the characters in those movies are likable, while I found myself wanting to hit every character in Saturday Night Fever with a hammer.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Roman Holiday

Accept a new review, thank you, don't accept, no, thank you. So, here we are at Audrey Hepburn's American film debut (though she had appeared earlier on the CBS Television Workshop). I re-watched it a few days ago, since I hadn't seen it since childhood. It was the first movie I remember seeing where the hero and the heroine fall in love and don't end up together, and I remember it made me unreasonably upset as a wee lass of 7. After all, they were in love! They should be together! I didn't quite grasp the whole political nuance thing back then, though at the time it also didn't seem remotely unreasonable that a couple should fall eternally in love after 24 hours. That's how it works, right? Especially when the nice young man has a gorgeous voice and takes you around on a scooter and you eat ice cream. But this is a fairy tale, and like all other fairy tales, there is a certain leeway in logistics. It also opened up the the era of movies where Audrey Hepburn dodges around some major European city looking impossibly chic with a man who is much older than she is. And a few times she dodges around a major American city looking impossibly chic with a man who is much older than she is. I don't know why they always cast her along side men who were at least 10-20 years her senior. Maybe they thought that played up even more how elegant and fascinating she looked in just about anything - even in her raggedy costume for My Fair Lady. But aside from Audrey Hepburn as style icon (which she was, as well as being a humanitarian, which often gets left out, and a member of the French Resistance, which is just badass), she is everything she was famed for being in this picture. She is elegant, she is coy, she is winsome, she is elfin... she basically just seems like the kind of girl you really would like to spend an afternoon running around Rome with. Gregory Peck starts out delightfully sleazy, before Anya's loveableness appeals to his better nature. I guess you could in some ways call her a forerunner of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but the film handles it so much better than the usual fare. Yes, she is a spirit yearning to be free who breaks down the crusty curmudgeon's walls and ultimately gets him to do the right things in life, but rather than Hepburn bearing the brunt of Peck's character development, Peck provides Hepburn's character with growth of her own. He is the means to her end - she has run away, seeking one small adventure, and his motive for helping her is purely selfish, but while his growth is moral, he provides her with personal growth. The movie is not about him, but about both of them. He gives her a taste of freedom, she gives him a taste of decorum. Neither has complete function without the other, and I think that's this movie's greatest strength. I would definitely say watch this movie. At the very least, you'll have seen a charming film where the hero and the heroine do not throw caution to the wind and run off together (a rarity), or have seen some stunning costume design. And keep a special eye out for the Mouth of Truth scene - that was improvised.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Forget it, it's a new review. So, it's been a few days, but my internet is getting all wonky. I have no idea why, but it's not relevant to my thoughts on Chinatown. It's hard to talk about this movie without addressing the elephant in the room. The giant, child raping elephant in the room. You'd think directing a film that deals in stark detail with the brutal fall out of child rape would have had some effect on director Roman Polanski, but maybe he figured it wasn't so bad if it wasn't incestuous. Who knows? I am usually pretty good at divorcing Art from Artist, but I get a kind of sick feeling over the idea of providing economic support to someone who has done something so morally repugnant. I had somehow missed that Polanski was the director of Chinatown, so I queued it up in Netflix and had started watching it before I realized it. I'm guessing I'll wait on watching Rosemary's Baby. There are over 500 films left to watch - it's possible he'll die before I get to it and then I won't have a moral crisis over whether to give him monetary support by watching the film. So beyond my ethical dilemma, let's talk about the film. There is a reason Polanski does well as a director - he is very, very good at it. Chinatown itself is a film that works on every level. It feels like watching a sleazier version of "The Tell-Tale Heart", like there's a driving pulse behind the action. Jack Nicholson is superbly on the edge, as usual, though he's more restrained than usual in this performance. It's a film that helped convince me that you can make film noir in color, though most directors shouldn't. However, here, all the glitzy colors manage to look sinister. The brighter the lights, the deeper the shadows. The shots in this film were almost as beautiful as in a Kubrick picture. And the plot... it's gripping and terrifying and stunning and horrible. It would be enough of a task to make the audience interested in a film noir about water rustling (which it manages to do), but murder and incest really ramp up the creep factor. Though there is a moment of what TVTropers refer to as "Narm" (a moment meant to be serious or dramatic that ends up being goofy) where Jack Nicholson is slapping Faye Dunaway as she screams "My sister! My daughter!". Faye Dunaway is kind of a Narm Queen, isn't she? But that's all erased in the haunting final line, which is definitely one of the best in film history. But what does it mean to forget the injustice and the evil and just walk away? Is there some sort of significance in Polanski insisting on that ending? I don't know. I'm not a film critic, I'm a blogger. I can't say "Watch this movie" because of my ethical quandary, but I also can't say "Don't watch this movie" because it is a top-notch example of film-making. Now I really understand why Death of the Artist is so popular in literary criticism, but as an English grad student, I usually have the luxury of my objectionable artists being actually dead.