11.30.2011

like clockwork

an overwhelming love of the magic of movies issues forth from martin scorsese's delicately intricate new machine, hugo (2011).

adapted from brian selznick's excellent children's book, the invention of hugo cabret, it tells the story of an orphan who secretly lives within the walls of a paris train station. he passes his days surreptitiously performing maintenance on the station's clocks and scavenging wheels, pins and gears from toys he has stolen from the station's toy shop. he must take care to avoid the overzealous station inspector, who takes great delight in sending wastrels off to the orphanage. he must also avoid being caught by the embittered, sorrowful old man who runs the toy shop long enough to accumulate the materials he needs to refurbish his mechanical man, which he believes bears one last message from his father. he doesn't manage that bit very well. the old man lures him into a trap and confiscates hugo's notebook that contains his father's sketches of the automaton, partly out of spite, partly because he finds the contents of the notebook upsetting. hugo enlists the help of the old man's niece to retrieve his notebook and their resulting adventures together, sneaking into the cinema, haunting bookstores and libraries and repairing the automaton uncovers wounds, connections and significance they could never have imagined. if you want to be surprised by these revelations, stop here and come back after you've seen it. i cannot effectively talk about what i enjoyed about the film from this point on without revealing one of its essential secrets.

as it happens, the proprietor turns out to be georges méliès, retired magician and one of the pioneers of early cinema. it was méliès who first saw film's potential to go beyond documenting the everyday, to understand that the magic of film and the worlds it could transport you to were limited only by the filmmaker's imagination. his genius in editing and developing fantastic special effects made it possible, for the first time, to put dreams on the screen. by the time we find him, though, he is a relic. his art is lost to the world and he sits all day in the station, morose and forgotten. the kids slowly begin to unravel the mystery of his identity with the help of one of the coolest booksellers ever, christopher lee, and an academic and film historian who originally believes méliès to be dead. their diligence leads to a revival of both the man and his work. as a result, some of the world's most important pieces of cinema are saved from oblivion and the message hugo was waiting for has led him home.

it is a beautiful film and the leading candidate this year for film most likely to be lost on most of its audience. ostensibly a kid's movie, i don't think that's quite right. yes, there are things in it kids will enjoy, mostly embodied by sacha baron cohen's gangly station inspector. his (at times incongruous) broad physical comedy and cartoon menace provide the best place for kids to find purchase in a film that otherwise might test their patience. it's also not truly for holiday viewers in search of a blockbuster to while away a couple of hours, though it may be marketed as such. it is appropriately magical and entertaining and those folks will enjoy looking at it. its 3D is only the second legitimate use of the technology that i have seen this year and it certainly qualifies as spectacle but it's also much, much more than that. at its heart, it is essentially a paean to antiquated technologies, the magic of movies - from their very inception - and is the most eloquent and lovely argument in favor of film preservation that you may ever see. it was made for people like me and i am grateful. i would accuse scorsese of reading my diary, if i kept one. it's made for those of us who love things made of iron, wood and burnished brass and painted by hand, steam trains, sleight of hand, leatherbound books, snow falling and that special girl with a good vocabulary whom you can share all your secrets and greatest adventures with. most of all, it's made for those of us who genuinely love the movies and who envy those fortunate people who were there when pictures moved for the first time. it's funny to think that it took all this time and adapting a piece of children's literature for martin scorsese to make the movie that might be his most personal. if you are familiar with the man, you know how much he is in love with the movies and how infectious his enthusiasm for them is. i could listen to him talk about the movies for as long as he could go on. case in point: his documentary my voyage to italy (1999), in which he talks for four hours about all the italian films he grew up loving and it seems like it's over in thirty minutes. his lengthy reminiscences are interspersed with long clips, many without the benefit of subtitles, and the whole thing is absolutely riveting, even if you only have a cursory interest in world cinema. with hugo he is finally able to combine his prodigious technical abilities with this seemingly limitless enthusiasm for being transported by the magic of the movies. he brings all of his skill, knowledge and love to bear on the material and it is wondrous. it comes at an opportune time, as well, as it seems film is in danger of extinction. i hope people are paying attention. years from now, i'd like to think back on this as a love letter to film, not a valediction. if you love movies and all that they are capable of, you owe it to yourself to see it.

if you have some time, and are so inclined, you might also check out the film foundation. it is a nonprofit that scorsese founded in 1990 dedicated to film preservation and education. they do good work.

trailer tuesday

blogger wasn't working for me most of the night, so this one is a little late to qualify for tuesday. by way of apology, we will turn things up a notch. this week's entry is for steve mcqueen's shame (2011), which i cannot wait to see.

11.22.2011

i'll love you until the end of the world

if i made lists, i have no doubt that come the end of the year jeff nichols' take shelter (2011) would be on it.

in the film, michael shannon play curtis laforche, an everyman living in small town ohio (though it could be anywhere). he is a loving husband, devoted father to a young, hearing-impaired daughter, good friend and solid worker. he is the embodiment of main street, u.s.a. in these troubled times when a lot of bad things are happening to a lot of good people. in addition to the very relatable pressures of making ends meet and health care costs that must be dealt with, he begins to suffer from dreams of an apocalypse. every night's sleep is fitful and he is plagued with visions of a gathering storm, the likes of which has never been seen. a viscous rain similar to motor oil falls, cyclones and tremendous arcs of lightning fill the horizon, birds careen through the air in dazzling and troubling patterns only to fall from the sky and humans and animals are driven violently insane.

the dreams begin to edge their way into curtis' waking life. pain from wounds obtained in the dreams lingers throughout the day. he begins to doubt his sanity. true to his character, he quietly, pragmatically tries to address it. there is a history of mental illness in the family, as his mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and has been in the hospital or assisted living for twenty-five years. he takes reasonable steps; visiting his doctor, doing research at the local library, seeing a counselor. none of it is enough, though. as much as he wants to keep a lid on things, the overwhelming fear of the coming storm compels him to obsessively work on the family's storm shelter. his increasingly erratic behavior results in him losing his job and friends. small town whispers about his precarious mental state come to a head at a lions club dinner and the approaching storm becomes very real, resulting in a long, dark night of the soul for the family as they wait in the shelter for it to pass.

from the first frame, it is riveting. it begins with one of the increasingly terrifying nightmare sequences, quickly establishing an atmosphere of cold dread and unsure footing that nichols expertly maintains throughout. michael shannon proves once again that he is one of the best american actors working today. he and nichols pick up right where they left off with the excellent shotgun stories (2007) and craft an even more assured and quietly harrowing portrait of american unraveling. he conveys every painful nuance of a good man who fears his own mind. all the little things that you count on in a husband and a father are there and, though much of it is elliptical, as the film finds him turning inward for the first half, all that he does is clearly for the benefit of his wife and daughter. his secrecy is never meant to deceive, only to protect, as he struggles to maintain and understand his own thoughts. as his compulsion to expand the shelter overrides all other concerns, putting his family's house and daughter's health at risk, it is only because he knows that the storm in his visions will render these other concerns moot. you can see his constant struggle to contain himself in every nearly-imperceptible wince and in the simple rigidity of how he sits just a little too straight. when he finally breaks and reveals the extent of his madness to the whole town in a very public meltdown, it leaves you with such a sick, sad feeling and when he shouts at them, in a perfectly written phrase, that "if this thing comes true there ain't gonna be any more" it is frightening enough to make every single person in that room wonder just how much he has right.

the photography is simple and elegant and the nightmare sequences are very effective, relying mainly on tapping into fears that must be universal to a simple family man, rather than computer-generated animation (they use that judiciously). the electrical storm is also a beautiful metaphor for both looming socioeconomic troubles and curtis' mind, constantly growing more imposing, firing uncontrollably. the whole cast does a fantastic job with well written material. shannon isn't a surprise, of course. the guy is a powerhouse. the film's best kept secret, however, is jessica chastain.

she is just outstanding in this, matching michael shannon step for step, no small feat in itself. it wouldn't be half the film it is without her. she is steadfast and true, protective of her family, patient but no pushover. she is a wife that a husband can trust implicitly. it is her strength that makes it believable when curtis finally confesses his fears to her. she deserves to know and makes it easy to take her into his confidence. she deftly walks the delicate line between being tough enough to keep her household intact and being the understanding, loving caregiver to a husband who may be losing his mind. as frightening as it must be to feel your mind slipping away, and being acutely conscious of it, there is an entirely equal set of anxieties and helpless fears for the person who has to watch it happening to the person they love. the pressure on her to be a wife and mother, while having no one to help carry her burden, would have to be immense. chastain gives us every bit of this and more. it's never cartoonish or exaggerated, just good, real people, devoted to each other, an understated and fine portrayal of a marriage that could survive everything up to the apocalypse.

i know that some folks have had a problem with the ending of the film. i am not one of them. i think that it works and i think that, while a more ambiguous ending would have left you with a puzzle about curtis' mental state that was satisfying in a different way, this resolution reinforces all the things i liked about the movie and was in keeping with the horrors that curtis couldn't suppress. it is a beautiful, stark and terrifying survey of an american landscape that finds a lot of people full of fear, one bad break away from being on the street.

what is in that storm on the horizon?

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for one of japan's most surreal celluloid fever dreams, teruo ishii's horrors of malformed men (1969).

11.21.2011

amen, brother

once again, david lynch gets to the heart of things.

11.20.2011

thankfully, starlite

our hardy band of cinephiles reconvened this evening for this year's thanksgiving edition of the starlite cinema series.

it was an unseasonably warm (as if that exists in central texas anymore) evening for late november so it didn't feel as much like thanksgiving as it might have. the smiths didn't let that slow them down, though, as they made a batch of the best apple cider i have had in my life.

a beautiful evening, excellent company, the house full of the smell of apples, cinnamon, citrus, clove and nutmeg. what else do you need? movies, that's what. we started our program with the looney tunes cartoon, holiday for drumsticks (1949). then, in keeping with our gustatory theme, we took in a short from czech animator, and vitagraph favorite, jan svankmajer. for those of you unable to make it tonight, i can't show you the feature or make your house smell as good, but i can pass the short along. here, for your enjoyment, is svankmajer's food (1992)



we then moved on to our feature for the evening, jodie foster's home for the holidays (1995). we were fewer in number this time around, what with a lot of our friends being on the road, but a good time was still had by all. tonight also marked a milestone for us as it was exactly a year ago that lauren and stephen first opened their home to us, providing us with a perfect space in which to get together and watch films. thanks to everyone that comes out, we're always glad to see you, and happy anniversary to my partners in cinema!

i am putting together our late december program right now. expect to see that information in the next week or so. if you're not overwhelmed with holiday demands, or especially if you are, you should come by, relax and take in a movie with us. there's always room for one more.

11.15.2011

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for my favorite woody allen film, stardust memories (1980).

11.14.2011

hello, joe, what do you know?

so it's time to put another installment of queue de grâce to bed. many thanks to my guest curator, joe turner.

look at him there, in his element, slinging books, rocking out. here is the complete list of what joe selected for me this week:

the life of reilly (2006)
g.i. joe: the rise of cobra (2009)
moulin rouge! (2001)
crank 2 : high voltage (2009)
the secret of kells (2009)
oliver! (1968)
the three musketeers (1973)
the four musketeers: milady's revenge (1974)
jesus christ superstar (1973)
fritz the cat (1972)
don't play us cheap (1973)
streets of fire (1984)
burn, witch, burn (1962)
flash gordon (1980)
the secret of NIMH (1982)
hardware (1990)
bedazzled (1967)
across 110th street (1972)
gambit (1966)
zulu (1964)

there are a lot of things represented there that joe and i share a deep fondness for - peter cook, michael caine, oliver reed, yaphet kotto, the witty sixties, the gritty seventies. he certainly threw me into the deep end with the musicals, though, and if weren't for one fortunate/merciful choice i might have gone into black and white withdrawal. still and all, it's always fun to see how the other half lives. something interesting always comes out of this experience. this time around i was surprised at how often i would have liked to have been watching these films with joe. there may be a point where i incorporate that as part of the proceedings, at least with one or two titles. maybe a separate one-off deal, a podcast debate (which would have been ideal with joe), a group viewing, a trip to the theater written as a joint entry. who knows? the queue continues to evolve and i am open to ideas, so fire away if you have them. i am game to expand the scope of the queue and/or incorporate them as new recurring features. maybe we can work in a new wrinkle or two next month as the queue returns in early december for another go-round. in the meantime, my sincere thanks to everyone for following along and a special thank you to joe for assembling this cinematic mixtape for me. had a wonderful time, wish you were here.

11.13.2011

joe-up: day seven

and on the seventh day joe rested and let michael caine take over. the first half of our double feature finale is ronald neame's gambit (1966).

michael caine and shirley maclaine are in fine form in this nimble and clever caper film. caine is international burglar harry dean and he has formulated a plan to relieve the richest man in the world of a priceless bust. maclaine is nicole chang, the hong kong dancing girl who is crucial to the ploy. she bears an uncanny resemblance to both the target's late wife and the statuette and her presence all but guarantees them an audience with the man and entry into his home. the plan works seamlessly and as maclaine provides the distraction, caine makes off with the bust. a perfect plan executed to the letter. or, at least that's how it works when caine explains it to an accomplice. in reality, things are a little different. nothing goes according to plan. their relationship is contentious from the start and their mark is on to them from the second their plane touches down. he lays a trap for them which they apparently stumble right into. from there it's a series of dizzying, yet mostly plausible, twists that make for a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. this movie is great fun. caine is fantastic, overestimating his abilities as an international criminal without ever coming across as arrogant, unappealing or a broadly comic bungler. he is constantly being exposed as not quite as talented or sophisticated as he thinks and shirley maclaine picks up his slack admirably, providing an occasional burst of charm and worldliness in a character that could have easily been undone by playing her as too world-weary. neame's direction is fleet, playful and on the money. it all makes for a lean, funny and entertaining film. it would make a great companion piece to yesterday's bedazzled (1967) actually, as neame as stanley donen share some similarities - an efficient, light touch, an excellent understanding of the importance of capturing chemistry and an approach to comedy with an emphasis on cleverness, style and wit that smartens you up rather than dumbing things down. as heist films go, though lightweight, this is one of the better ones. highly recommended.

we end our experiment this week with caine's first major starring role in cy endfield's epic, zulu (1964).

it's an account of the battle of rorke's drift in 1879 between british military forces and the zulu nation. a handful of british soldiers have been left to defend an outpost that really isn't much more than a church, a supply station and a m.a.s.h. unit from an immense wave of zulu warriors, headed their way after a victory over a much larger british contingent. the odds are terrible for the british and retreat is not an option. the number of sick and wounded make that an impossibility. they have no choice but to fortify their position and wait. the zulu fighters descend on the encampment, in waves at first then in overwhelming numbers in one final clash. through a combination of luck, superior technology and one solid piece of strategy, the outnumbered british manage to finally fend off the zulus with both sides sustaining significant casualties. there is much to recommend about this film. it is exceedingly well made. caine does well playing against what would become type as a somewhat effete lieutenant, stanley baker is appropriately sturdy and pragmatic as the engineer who inherits the responsibility of commanding the detachment and gert van den bergh does a fine job as the voice of experience, as a survivor of the previous defeat. the photography is excellent and the vistas are simply stunning. they certainly took maximum advantage of the south african location shoots. the battle scenes, especially the climactic one, are fairly well staged, though there is a lack of blood common to that period in filmmaking that makes it harder to suspend disbelief. there are some historical inaccuracies, most of which fall within the normal, acceptable range of artistic license. the one thing that i can't get past, though, is a nagging feeling of post-colonial damage control. history is most certainly written by the victors and that is on full display here. it is true that endfield consulted with zulus during the making of the film, including direct descendants of participants in the battle, but it's hard to cheer an even moderately accurate portrayal of the defense of rorke's drift when you can draw a straight line from that to apartheid. it is telling, and hardly coincidental, that in a film literally called zulu you aren't given a single zulu character that you can name. there is a great deal to the film that is deeply troubling in this regard. i have my cultural biases too, though. it could be that as a comanche i am more sensitive than the average guy about white folks relating their version of how the deal went down in a fight with indigenous peoples. all in all, philosophically it is deeply flawed while remaining eminently watchable. it is a considerable cinematic achievement, very exciting but very vexing.

and with that, we put another queue to bed. well done, joe. i am now off to watch something that is the exact opposite of a musical, whatever that is.

11.12.2011

joe-up: day six

day six kicks off with the bleak, post-apocalyptic drawing room drama from richard stanley, hardware (1990).

i kid, a little. the movie opens to find a mysterious masked stranger sifting the sands of a wasteland for scrap to sell. he turns up a mechanized skull and other pieces of a robot and cashes them in. dylan mcdermott (not dermot mulroney) buys a handful of the pieces to take to his girlfriend, an artist who might find them useful. unbeknownst to everyone, these are far more than a conversation piece. they are the remnants of a m.a.r.k.-13 droid, a killing machine that can reassemble itself from whatever machinery it has handy and is intent on a little population control. as the handful of characters navigate their way through life, love and perversion in an ugly, violent future made of cast-off motherboards and memory chips, the droid gradually becomes more powerful and homicidal until the final act implodes in a hodepodge of two other, far superior final acts - the terminator (1984) and rear window (1954), with a touch of the shower scene from psycho (1960) for good measure - as the robot repeatedly tries to dispatch our heroine. it's an ill-conceived, but surprisingly technically well-executed, mishmash. it has too much ponderous dialogue, it revels in dimestore nihilism and silly religious imagery that is meant to be shocking but isn't and features a "killer robot" that somehow can't seal the deal with a target that never even manages to get out of her apartment. what it does have in its favor is an ingenuity of design that gets far more out of that one-room set than you would imagine and robot effects that are impressive on what had to be a very limited budget. i remember this being rather controversial at the time of its original release, having to be trimmed to avoid the dreaded x rating. watching it now, i can't see what they objected to so strenuously, unless the mpaa has strict rules about too much misdirected adolescent anger. as it is, if you were a college freshman in 1990, you came from a small town where you were the only one who knew who the revolting cocks were and you sat in your room and consoled yourself with the notion that one day all these sheep would pay, then this would have been your holy grail. these days, it's just one more for the scrap heap.

next up, actual wit! thank heavens for stanley donen's bedazzled (1967).

dudley moore plays stanley, unlucky in life and love, obsessed with the waitress he works with but unable to muster the courage to do anything about it, depressed to the point of suicide. along comes peter cook, my favorite screen devil of all time, to offer him a faustian deal he can't refuse - seven wishes to capture the heart of the girl of his dreams in exchange for his piddling mortal soul. if it's not working out to stanley's satisfaction he just has to make with the old bronx cheer and he can go back to square one and try the next wish. as you might suspect, old scratch has a way of finding the meaning in each wish that stanley never intended. soon, his wishes are running out and he is no closer to finding true love than when he started. having reached his quota of souls, the devil lets stanley off the hook, only to find he needs him more than stanley needs his diabolical assistance. stanley ends up with his self-respect and the eternal struggle between good and evil goes on, as funny as ever. this was a real high point of the week for me. peter cook is one of the sharpest, funniest men i have ever had the pleasure of watching and his chemistry with dudley moore is so perfect it's like they could do this in their sleep. cook's ear for satire was among the best of his generation and he delivers it all with impeccable timing and a bonhomie that belies the savagery of his wit. the wish vignettes are the weak point of the film, if there is one, because too often moore is left to carry the scene on his own. fortunately cook shows up in a number of them and when he isn't busy cannily deceiving stanley, he is engaging in all sorts of other constant minor mischief. there's not a second he is on screen that is not entertaining. i can't help but delight in his delight at being evil.



that glint in his eye is just right and there's always some little touch that you don't expect that only makes it funnier. him throwing his hat as well in that clip, for instance, and that tone is set from the very beginning. when stanley demands proof of his powers, asking him to manifest a popsicle for him, the devil takes him downstairs, gets on a bus, rides across town and buys him one. ta-da! hardly a bum note in the whole thing. donen keeps it appropriately breezy and the script is incisive and full of mildly blasphemous, completely hilarious bits. in the end, though, it really is all about the chemistry here. if you want to see a whip-smart comedy duo operating at the height of their powers, look no further. oh, and avoid the craptacular remake with brendan fraser from 2000 at all costs. it doesn't even deserve to be associated with this.

finally, we go from witty to gritty with barry shear's across 110th street (1972).

yaphet kotto and anthony quinn play a pair of police detectives who are investigating a botched rip-off of a mob bank that ended up with seven people dead. the three small-timers that perpetrated the crime have gone to ground in harlem and the mob is kicking over every stone until they can flush them out. it's a race between the gangsters and the police to put an end to the episode in the manner that serves each best. this tense, brutal film works hard to transcend its miscategorization as standard blaxploitation fare. it is as incendiary a portrayal of racial divisions - within criminal sub-strata, in the police's treatment of the community they serve and in society at large - as any major studio film from the period that i can remember having seen, leaving characters not only in conflict with each other, but with themselves for being silent partners in their own collateral degradation. anthony quinn, as the old-guard racist captain who has lived to see himself become obsolete, occasionally lays it on with a trowel, as he is wont to do, but a tightly coiled, by-the-book yaphet kotto and powerfully sympathetic stick-up artist paul benjamin easily make up the difference. no other city is ever going to topple early seventies new york as the acme of pitiless urban squalor and you couldn't find a more ideal backdrop to tell a story like this. everywhere you look in this film you find someone who is just not quite making it. someone's hungry, someone's broke, rancor and mistrust are the best you can hope for from the person who is your partner, the person you have to do business with. it's a grim scene and there are no happy endings and it's shot in such a perfectly oppressive, claustrophobic manner that you are never unaware of the pressure, tense at best, suffocating at worst, but never, ever free. it's a top notch crime thriller with a pair of outstanding performances, bold in its depiction of the inescapable climate of violence motivated by hatred as much as business and more grit than you can wash off. don't let people sell it short because of a genre tag.

our finale tomorrow finds us spending some quality time with an old favorite as we coast home.

let's hope his heist goes better than this last one.

11.11.2011

joe-up: day five

finally! day five doles out some of the glorious black and white that i crave with sidney hayers' burn, witch, burn (1962).

and not just any old film but one of my absolute favorite underrated blasts of psychological horror. known in the UK as night of the eagle, this film focuses on norman taylor, a very rational, very logical college professor and his wife tansy, who has been busying herself between bridge games with the black arts. he uncovers her witchery and will have nothing to do with her silly superstitious nonsense. he forces her to burn every artifact he can find in their house, no small number. apparently, she's been at it for quite a while and attributes her husband's academic success to her spells and potions. it has acted as a safeguard for them in the bitter, cutthroat world of campus politics. he writes it off as ridiculous but a strange thing happens as soon as all her enchantments are removed - norman's life starts to come off the rails. a scandal erupts when he is falsely accused of improprieties with a student and everything he has worked for begins to slip away before his very eyes. his wife seems to go mad and goes as far as attempting suicide, an act which is apparently only prevented by norman finally relinquishing his reason and participating in one of the rituals he previously scoffed at. driven by unseen forces, she later attempts to stab him to death but her movements give away who is actually pulling her strings and norman sets out to put an end to things. it is the last in a series of ineffectual moves he makes, since, as it turns out, all of this has been beyond his control since the very beginning. not to worry, the villain of the piece gets her comeuppance, and it comes with such a sudden, sickening finality that it knocks you back in your seat. evil vanquished with a thud, roll credits. it's fantastic. if you love the atmospheric tenseness of val lewton you will find yourself right at home here. it's fraught with those things that live in the corner of your eye, waiting to ambush you as soon as you let your guard slip. the helplessness of having to abandon everything rational is truly horrifying. is your mind playing tricks on you? is all of this just terrible coincidence? it's beautifully done. all you are left with is the queasy feeling that you are a fool to have ever thought that you are the master of your own destiny. and, in a real rarity for 1962, the women rule this film. they are the engine that drives the entire thing, silently going about their rituals, fortifying their homes, chipping away at each other's defenses, as the men go about their business, unwitting pawns in a game of "get the guests" that makes who's afraid of virginia woolf (1966) look like an ice cream social. highly recommended, my favorite thing i have seen all week.

and that isn't just because of things like mike hodges' flash gordon (1980).

new york jets football star, flash gordon, and intrepid girl-next-door reporter dale arden are hijacked by wacky scientist hans zarkov in a scheme to investigate a series of strange cosmic goings-on. on the other end of the interstellar mischief they find ming the merciless, tyrannical despot and outrageous dresser. in true saturday serial fashion, there are last-minute escapes, feats of derring do and colossal battles with the fate of the planet hanging in the balance. will flash save the universe?! of course he will. actually, i liked it more than i thought i would. it has a certain goofy, naive charm to it. joe made the argument earlier in the week that if everyone in g.i. joe: the rise of cobra (2009) had been on the same over-the-top wavelength as joseph gordon-levitt that joe could have been a camp classic for the ages. well, after seeing this, i tend to believe him, because everyone in this film knows what they've signed on for and they are going for it. they make no bones about it and it makes for pretty decent afternoon matinee fodder, which is all flash gordon ever wanted to be, be it 1980, 1936 or in the funny papers. it looks incredible. i don't know that i have ever seen a film less interested in convincing you that there's a shred of reality in what you're looking at, and i mean that as a compliment. it fares a lot better than streets of fire (1984) did yesterday in melding the old and the new simply because it doesn't waste a single second trying to be cool. therefore, it's cool. it doesn't try to update its message for a modern audience. this was a time before the term "reboot" existed in the movies. it stares you dead in the eye and delivers the goods with exactly the same good-natured, broad-shouldered, hearty handclasp that it learned from buster crabbe. brian blessed, who i already loved from i, claudius (1976), is absolutely on fire here as prince vultan, the leader of the hawkmen and max von sydow put the role of ming out of reach for any who dare try to follow him. as an added bonus, brian may's guitar on the soundtrack sounds capable of destroying planets all by itself. long story short, i can't say that i'd watch it again but i had a good time in spite of myself.

we close it down today with don bluth's directorial debut, the secret of NIMH (1982).

mrs. brisby is a widowed field mouse who finds herself in a jam. it is time to move her family's home to a new location because plowing time is soon approaching but her son is too ill to move. she appeals to the wise (obviously) old owl who recommends she speak to a colony of rats that live nearby. upon visiting the rats, she discovers a number of surprising facts - the rats possess a highly developed intelligence and have learned to use human technologies such as electricity and they owe their survival and prosperity to her late husband who was also part of the experiment that afforded them their powerful new intellect. they agree to help her based upon their mutual connection but danger is lurking around every turn in the form of farm cats and the nefarious forces of NIMH. eventually, evil is thwarted, mrs. brisby finds reserves of courage she never knew she had and everyone lives happily ever after. i loved this movie. there are instances when i am particularly glad that i missed a lot of these things the first time around. i appreciate being able to sit down without the baggage of nostalgia and take a good look at things like this. you know how you hear me preaching all the time about how it's alright to let these things go if it turns out they're not very good, if they don't hold up? well, this one holds up. it is beautifully drawn, with wonderful, colorful backgrounds and loving attention to detail. if it had been given a disney budget (especially for marketing) the average moviegoer might talk about this the way they do bambi (1942) or snow white and the seven dwarfs (1937). as it is, it ought to be discussed in those terms anyway. it is terribly exciting, a great deal of fun and runs you through an entire gamut of emotions, be you an adult or child. i think i may even prefer it over some of those other established classics, most probably because of an overall darkness. and i mean darkness in every sense. true, it doesn't hesitate to be properly frightening and wicked but it's also a significantly subterranean film. i love that about it. i love the cold and dark of being underground. it makes me feel comfortable. it makes me feel at home. it's also very sophisticated, for a kids film, in its treatment of ethics and politics. it is gentle and patient in tone, but never condescending. as a former smart kid, i always love it when a kids movie gives kids credit for being smart. this was a real delight.

well, that was a pretty great day. three for three, give or take. can we keep it going?

paul benjamin is a good start. come get cozy with us tomorrow.

11.10.2011

joe-up: day four

day four begins with everyone's favorite x-rated feline, ralph bakshi's fritz the cat (1972).

bakshi's first feature film is an adaptation of robert crumb's (who later disavowed himself of the film) influential underground comic. divided into three episodes, it is an occasionally successful satire of certain elements of american culture as the sixties gave way to the seventies. the first episode revolves around fritz's efforts to simultaneously bed a trio of rabbit coeds. promising them glimpses of the sacred truth, he takes them to a party and manages to get them all into the bathtub where things are going swimmingly until the other partygoers horn in on their action. it's not long before the police show up to roust the party and fritz makes his escape. episode two details fritz's adventures in harlem, hanging out with crows, stealing cars, getting in bar fights, getting high and chasing more sex. the final act sees fritz taking to the road with his girlfriend to escape the fallout of the riot he tried to start in harlem. he soon tires of her, though, and strikes out on his own only to be roped into a plot to blow up a power station. hospitalized after the explosion, his girlfriends assemble at his bedside to comfort him and, lo and behold, more sex. it's hard to imagine now what ever merited the x rating. the sexual activity is never graphic, always comical. there are a few moments of full frontal cartoon animal nudity, but come on. did you read the phrase? "full frontal cartoon animal nudity". the people must be protected! as a film, it's no great shakes. it's real worth is as a museum piece and as a pioneer in the realm of animation for adults. this movie pushed back hard against the prevailing climate of disney-fication and had the nerve to actually portray cartoons engaging in the same behaviors that adults were in ever-increasing numbers. it took on the changing times - university culture, sex, drugs and race relations - in a manner heretofore unheard of in animated films. sometimes it works. i particularly enjoyed the segments of the film in which bakshi took actual recorded conversations with people and animated them. these vignettes gave the film a much-needed grounding in the everyday. the skewering of both liberal and conservative hypocrites and bullies was welcome and little touches like the contradiction of the police pig being jewish were amusing, if only sophmorically so. so half of it worked. the other half was like watching late night dutch television.

you knew we couldn't go that long this week without a musical. melvin van peebles keeps the party going with his film adaptation of his own stage play, don't play us cheap (1973).

it's the story of a pair of devil bats who are sent, in human form, to crash and break up a house party in harlem and it makes about as much sense as it sounds like. i really wanted to like this more than i did. i am a fan of melvin van peebles and this was one of his earlier works i hadn't seen before. it just didn't quite pull it off. its biggest limitation was obviously being so stage bound. it would appear that he found a couple of different angles to photograph the stage version from and just let the camera roll. necessity was almost the mother of invention in this case but every time the techniques edged up against the truly experimental, which would have served this film much better, they couldn't quite commit. it is not without its merits, though. it is boisterous and entertaining in spite of its technical and story limitations. first and foremost, the music is great. the songs are fantastic and the performances are unrestrained. esther rolle as miss maybell is the perfect hostess, mabel king is the life of the party and george ooppee mccurn, whose legs are so skinny he makes don knotts look like charles atlas, is effortlessly cool. much like our first film, though, this functions better as an artifact. it captures the spirit of an early seventies harlem house party in amber and is valuable as an example of black filmmakers making their own films by their own rules. i'd say more about it but there really isn't that much more to say. the bottom line: i'd sooner go to this party than watch this filmed version of it. if anything, check out the soundtrack.

finally, we move from musical to music video with walter hill's rock and roll fable, streets of fire (1984).

michael paré plays baby-faced tough guy mercenary tom cody (dash riprock was already taken) who returns home to a town that is most likely chicago, set somewhere simultaneously in the future and the past, to retrieve rock star ex-girlfriend diane lane who has been kidnapped by a gang of young toughs led by a bondage gear-clad biker/vampire played by willem dafoe. hill returns to some of his stock themes here and occasionally it plays a little like an mtv-funded version of the warriors (1979). once again, a "cult classic" that just really didn't do a lot for me. the leads have no chemistry together and michael paré is simply a really bad actor. the side players are lazily written - bill paxton doing bill paxton one more time and amy madigan as the tough as nails, wisecracking sidekick, saying exactly everything you expect her to say. ed begley, jr. shows up in a small cameo and is awesome for about thirty-five seconds and then we never see him again. rick moranis supposedly plays against type as a nebbishy little prick but i'll tell you something - i never bought him as lovable in the first place. that bulbous face hides some dark secrets, mark my words. there were a couple of things i did enjoy, though. the retro elements of the production design worked pretty well and chicago is my favorite cinematic city, so i enjoyed the backdrop, even when it was an approximation they built on the universal backlot. the music was probably the high point. the opening number is staged and shot well and leading straight into the kidnapping it makes for a very exciting beginning. it's just a shame it couldn't maintain that energy. this jam from the sorels also holds up pretty well.



the thinking man's stallone, right there. oh yeah, the original one-sheet is pretty badass, too. if the movie lived up to the poster it would have been a lot better.

tomorrow? tomorrow you get this.

don't even try to pretend you don't want some of that.

11.08.2011

joe-up: day three

it's day three and the joint is lousy with musketeers!

in another queue de grâce first, joe has paired a film and its sequel back to back for us today with richard lester's the three musketeers (1973) and his follow-up the four musketeers: milady's revenge (1974). i say follow-up but these films were actually shot all at the same time and when producer alexander salkind discovered they had enough material for two movies they split it up. funny how he forgot to pay the actors for working in two films, a move which directly led to the screen actors guild implementing a clause which would prohibit that sort of behavior in the future. these adaptations, or at least the first installment, are considered by a great many people to be the definitive cinematic version of alexandre dumas' signature work. i would tend to agree with them (i'll bet you thought i was going to say it was the 1939 version with don ameche and the ritz brothers, didn't you?). that isn't to say that i think it's altogether that great, just the best one so far. you probably know the story: country bumpkin d'artangan strikes out for the city of light to attain riches and fame and the status of musketeer. arriving at breakfast time, he is such a bumbling clod that he has secured no fewer than three duels for himself by lunch, one with each of the titular musketeers. after assisting them in a showdown with the henchmen of the scheming cardinal richelieu (portrayed here by charlton heston, who wasn't half the richelieu that michael palin was),

he is taken under their collective wing. they proceed to laugh, love and swashbuckle their way to england and back, foiling a nefarious plot by the cardinal and milady de winter to expose the queen's indiscretions and throw the court into turmoil. d'artagnan is made a musketeer as a reward for his faithful service and all is well throughout the land. the four musketeers picks up right there and concerns itself chiefly with milady de winter's fiendish plot to gain revenge upon d'artagnan and his love, constance. these movies are moderately faithful to the source material and the eye for historical detail is decent, but man, are they silly. three moreso than four, i guess. at least the second installment has much more of a grim, therefore satisfying to me, tone than the first. the first is shot through with knockabout comedy and bawdy humor not quite on par with benny hill, at times.

ribald!

i think the fight choreography is supposed to evoke a much more realistic notion of what swordplay was actually like but the fight sequences are so awkward and uninteresting that they become a microcosm of the film as a whole - occasionally mildly entertaining, somewhat historically accurate and completely clumsy. much like nighthawks (1981), which jon assigned me, i think this is one that you remember as being a lot better than it is. if you're fond of it, maybe just leave it that way and don't go back and watch it. that weird john denver-itis that michael york has where your hair is the same color as your skin is just the first reason you will come away from it less pleased than when you went in. at least it got adequately dark by the final reel. one of these days someone is going to nail this one, though don't look to this year's reboot to do it. until then, you could do worse than this if you are in search of lightweight entertainment. i just wish alexander korda had taken a shot at it.

in what has now become a tradition, we end the day with a musical. at least i had not been previously assigned norman jewison's jesus christ superstar (1973).

you guys know most musicals have never done it for me. this one certainly didn't seem to have much going for it - hippies, the gospels, rock opera production numbers. add michael j. fox and you have a movie that i wouldn't hang with your cross. it's one of the oldest stories most of you know, though there were one or two minor deviations that subtly altered the events in question, so i don't need to rehash it. first and foremost, christ was a bust. this walleyed savior had little to nothing to offer in terms of charisma. i wouldn't follow him if he was dropping a trail of criterion dvds. it strikes me as a mighty big problem if your jesus seems like he is a shave and a suit away from playing a weasel defense attorney on csi: jerusalem. fortunately, the other characters in the film's holy trinity saved the day. carl anderson was a good judas iscariot and yvonne elliman as mary magdalene was, hands down, my favorite part of the film. her voice was fantastic, she had enough personality to make up for the lord's lack thereof and she was unconventionally beautiful in a way that suited the role perfectly. there were a handful of striking pieces of photography, especially of the desert landscape. a couple of the anachronistic touches worked well and i enjoyed king herod's song because it was straight up cuckoo.



so i was ready to call it even. didn't love it, didn't hate it. wasn't going to change my mind about musical theatre but there were some things i liked about it and then, inches from the finish line, it dropped this left hook on me.

i was already wondering to myself why judas was the only prominent black character in the film and then we are hit with an image of him hanging himself that cannot avoid stirring up connections in our brain to horrible photos of lynchings we have seen from the past. as he momentarily thrashes at the end of god's rope, i was struck by what a bitter, lonely scene it was and in the blink of an eye this became the pivotal scene in the film, not jesus' crucifixion. everything that followed was just denouement. casting him as the villain and the traitor made for an easy accusation of just one more example of hollywood's checkered history of racism, overt or otherwise. then this scene blew my lazy assessment to smithereens. deep in his grief and regret, he screams "you have murdered me!" and turns what seemed like the coward's way out into an accusation, his last defiant swing at an establishment and god that has left him with no other recourse. this one loaded image calls up centuries of fear, manipulation and man's inumanity to man in the name of god and you realize that judas had to be a black man in this case to drive this point home so deeply to an american audience. at the end of that rope swings an entire people abandoned by god. from an overblown, terminally hip adaptation of the gospels, this suddenly exploded into something i will probably think about an awfully long time. nice job, joe. caught me completely unawares.

so we're putting this savior on the waiver wire. tomorrow i expect to trade him for an x-rated cat, more music than one house can hold and a jesus to be named later.

diane lane, why have you forsaken me?

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for jeff nichols' take shelter (2011) featuring vitagraph favorite, michael shannon.

11.07.2011

joe-up: day two

day two finds us rocketing out of the gate with mark neveldine and brian taylor's crank 2: high voltage (2009).

or maybe instead of rocketing out of the gate it would be more accurate to describe it as being shot out of an ugly, hateful gun. jason statham plays jason statham, but the characters insist on referring to him as chev chelios, and usually derisively. in fact, a great deal of effort is spent trying to make "fuck you, chelios" into a catchphrase, going so far as to having it lovingly rendered in an 8-bit cascade of profanity that i guess is supposed to be funny as well as a nod to the fact that what you're watching is both a video game of a movie and primitive in every thought and deed, at least to people whose cultural memory only extends back as far as 1985. at any rate, statham picks up where crank (2006) left off, as a superhuman poisoned hitman plummeting from a helicopter into a grand theft auto version of los angeles. he is shoveled off the street and into a van by a group of chinese gangsters who steal his heart during an open-heart procedure that he is awake for. when they intimate that his wang is next, he objects most strenuously by killing everything. outfitted with a battery-operated heart, he sets out on a quest to retrieve the original part. upping the ante - as sequels must, apparently - it takes the original film's premise of keeping his adrenaline above a certain level and makes it so that every time his new ticker is running down he must electrocute himself to keep himself, and the action, alive. what follows is a sex-and-violence® besotted parade of mayhem that no one could possibly care about, suffused with racism, homophobia and misogyny. every character that is not a white male is considered human garbage by this movie, fit only for exploitation, humiliation or being used as a human shield. i know that the casual manner in which these elements are presented are meant to make it seem like "hey, look how over the top this is. this is extreme satire" but how it comes off is "hey, look how easy this is". i know, i know. i hear your internal dialogue now (those of you who would defend it, anyway): "it's supposed to be ridiculous. you can't take this seriously". in response to that, i say "fuck you, chelios". this absurd philosophy of letting garbage off the hook just because it doesn't aspire to be anything more has to go. if we don't hold anyone responsible for backing up the "art" they make we are going to end up with more kevin smiths than we know what to do with. joe obviously intended this to be the final volley in a set of movies that are redefining camp, but something is wrong here. this film doesn't redefine it. in fact, it's the opposite. it is one of the most literal embodiments of camp that i have ever seen. "artlessly mannered, self-consciously artificial, vulgar, banal". you can say that again, merriam-webster. congratulations, everyone involved, you took camp to its terminal point. it's dead. you killed it. i hope it is revived as easily as jason statham but after what it went through in this 96 minutes things look bleak.

and then, ever the contrarian, joe spins us around 180° with tomm moore and nora twomey's luminous the secret of kells (2009).

it is the story of brendan, a plucky young apprentice in the monastery at kells, who longs to be a master manuscript illuminator. chafing under his uncle's loving but stern yoke, he rebelliously ventures into the forest outside of the abbey and discovers a world inhabited by sprites, monsters and some of the most wondrous animation i have ever seen. unfortunately, it is also inhabited my marauding vikings, a fact brendan's uncle is all too aware of as he races to fortify the abbey against their inevitable onslaught. taking on these very real invaders, as well as the more nebulous, mystical dangers of the forest and his own uncle's hard-nosed discipline, brendan navigates his way through the perils of adolescence in the middle ages to become the last illustrator of the book of kells. as kids movies go, it's a pretty standard story arc, sometimes a little meandering but unique in its historical setting. the primary reason you should give it your time is the art. i don't have enough superlatives for how gorgeous a film it is to look at. drawing its inspiration from the book of kells, a lavishly illustrated 9th century sacred text, the film is dense with intricate and beautiful design. as befitting the subject, every frame is exquisitely hand-drawn and it is a startling testament to what can be done by dedicated artists who have no need of computer-generated assistance. it is truly spectacular, bursting with vivid color and so rich with detail that you better be handy with a pause button because you are going to want to just stop it and look at it on more than one occasion. i know i did. it is overwhelmingly lovely and i suspect that even if the story isn't enough to bring you back, the artwork will yield something new and exciting every time you watch it. simply stunning. thanks, joe. this was yet another one i might have never seen on my own that was wonderfully enriching, not to mention an effective palate cleanser after the previous film. that is some powerful magic, to be able to completely erase all statham-related thoughts from my mind.

so i guess this time around the basic daily structure of the queue is going to include a film i love, a film i loathe and a musical i have already been assigned with an exclamation point in the title. rounding out that third slot today is carol reed's oliver!(1968).

shen gave me this one not too long ago. if you'd like to refresh your memory, here you go, guv. i still like this one an awful lot but, partly because it was such a relatively recent queue entry, i'm sure, i don't have a great deal to add about it myself. rather, i spent this viewing thinking about what it is that joe might like so much about it. all of the following is speculation but maybe he will let us know how hot/cold i am. at various points i thought:

i think he likes it because it makes him think of christmas (maybe more accurately christmas break?), maybe even more so than a christmas carol (1951) does. it is comforting in that "stay in the house, have something warm to drink/eat and let it snow" kind of way.

i think he likes it because it makes him think of his family. maybe it's an extension of that holiday feeling, maybe it's because they sang the songs together. maybe not.

i think he likes it because he genuinely loves the songs.

i think he likes it because he had a crush on nancy and whatever you would call the victorian-equivalent-of-white-trashy-with-a-heart-of-gold vibe she gives off. probably still does.

i think he likes it primarily because he, much like i do, sees some of himself in a great deal of it. he relates to a number of the characters, some of those associations being more romantic (with a capital r, if i used capitals) and some of them not. if you know joe, it's not hard to picture him as part oliver, part dodger, part fagin and part bill sikes. the percentage of each part just depends on the day, the reading material, the soundtrack and the liquor.

like i said, i may or may not be way off the mark here and i may just be projecting. either way, it was fun to think about. it was nice to imagine a snowy afternoon sitting around with my friend, considering ourselves at home, considering ourselves one of the family, singing these songs late into the night. it gave me a real sense of kinship with joe to consider it in this light. just one more thing we achieve through the power of cinema, and for that i am grateful.

that was a pretty great note to end on today. come back tomorrow as we double up on the oliver reed and quadruple the fraternal feeling.

leave your swashes at home unless you want those mofos buckled.

11.06.2011

joe-up: day one

queue de grâce lucky number seven kicks off today and we get off to a flying start with frank l. anderson and barry poltermann's the life of reilly (2006).

full disclosure: i love charles nelson reilly, so i was predisposed to enjoy this. it is the documenting of the final performance of reilly's one-man show, save it for the stage. it turned out to be the final public performance of reilly's life. it begins with him trading on the running joke that people were constantly surprised to find he was still alive and i was immediately struck by the fact that i am exactly at the other end of that spectrum - i am always sadly surprised to recall that he actually died in 2007. in my mind, he is one of those people that cannot die. the man's outsized joie de vivre was his stock-in-trade and it seems impossible to me that it could ever be snuffed out. case in point: as the credits were rolling, i caught myself saying out loud to myself, "that is a funny man". present tense. it is hard to tell how younger/uninitiated viewers might feel about this one, but i thought it was fantastic. for an hour and a half, reilly takes you on a guided tour of his personal history, replete with alcoholics, lobotomies, his mother's galloping racism, encountering homophobia in show business, acting classes and burt reynolds and makes it, by turns, poignant, insightful and hilarious. picture spalding gray with a more-than-academic appreciation for camp and you're on the right track. growing up in the seventies as i did, my first exposure to the man was watching him on game shows with my grandmother in the afternoons. i was aware of him as a personality first and i am sure it was the same for a lot of kids in my generation. to stop there, though, does the man a terrible disservice. he was incredibly witty, a generous performer and, in retrospect, probably the first person to make me at least vaguely aware of the idea of gay. as a little straight kid growing up in southwest oklahoma, that is a significant door being opened. those milestone moments when you learn that this person that is so different from you in some ways is not really so different in a lot of others can never be underestimated. it was never explicitly stated (and he took some flak from people who thought he should be more declamatory about it, but it's really none of their damn business). the cultural climate still truly didn't allow for it and i don't remember talking about it with anyone but it registered subconsciously. it registered that i had nothing to fear from it and i'd hang out with this guy any day because he is bananas. so he was much more than a personality. he was an unwitting ambassador, at least for me, a true actor and a magnificent storyteller. all of which is on full display in this endearing portrait. it's a potent reminder that it really is our stories that tie us together. thanks, joe. this was a great way to begin.

and then, just as we are getting things going, joe throws a computer-generated bucket of cold water all over the proceedings with stephen sommers' g.i. joe: the rise of cobra (2009).

certain elements of the plot aren't so outlandish. i am indeed convinced there is a shadowy cabal at work, their sinister machinations endangering us at every turn. it's just that they are out to destroy film, not steal advanced weapons technology. everyone involved in this project quite obviously hates movies and are working to see a world in which they are eradicated. simply put, this is one of the most simple-minded pieces of shit i have ever seen. from the opening titles informing me that this was made in association with hasbro, it is clear that this is a parade of checks being cashed and action figures being marketed. there are more ridiculous accents in it than ten tommy wiseau interviews. i could never quite get a fix on the reading level this was aimed at. nothing anyone said or did was too complicated for a third grader to understand and yet there were too many impalings and white-hot iron masks being applied to faces for it to be for children. i can only assume that it was made for grown men with the brains of a nine year-old. the plot is incidental - bad guys doing bad things, good guys trying to stop them. it's basically just an excuse to break glass, blow things up and employ more half-assed computer animation than a saturday night on the syfy channel. cgi joe: the rise of my blood pressure would have been a much more apt title. it was just one shopworn cliche after another. if you remove every stock camera movement, musical sting, plot device, piece of fight choreography, and hackneyed line of dialogue you would have been left with about four minutes of explosions and the eiffel tower being eaten by weaponized dust mites. lest you think i exaggerate, here is every word spoken, in sequence, during an explosion-punctuated five minute-long section near the end:

alright, keep tight boys.
all guns on that cannon.
torpedoes away!
i just lost my wingman!
retargeting joe submarine.
i've got a shot!
pulse cannon fault. pulse cannon fault.
cannon now offline.
the whole damn system's down!
i'm trying to bring it back online.
now you die.
launch immediately.
chart a course up to the ice pack.
yes sir.

take out the word "joe" and this could quite literally be any science fiction movie battle sequence, any time, anywhere. you could pick just about any five minute section and get a similar result. i have no idea how they got some of these actors to be in this thing. oh wait, yes i do. stinking fat checks, that's how. joseph gordon-levitt makes an appearance as a mad scientist that is half trent reznor, half darth vader, half freddy kruger (yes, the movie is 150% ridiculous). he wears an enormous face mask most of the time so to communicate the fact that he is speaking he looks like a bobblehead doll. channing tatum's acting "skills" and lack of charisma make it seem like someone put clothes on a football. never before have i found myself thinking i would rather be watching hayden christensen. yes, that bad. you know how voiceover artists go in and record about five hundred radio spots in three minutes? i swear that was the approach they took with every scene jonathan pryce was in. they must have only had him for an afternoon. this was supposed to be pure escapism but it failed miserably at that because all i could think for two hours was that i live in a world where this grossed 150 million dollars. horrible. i suspect joe only put this in the queue because the title has his name in it. what? was joe dirt (2001) not streaming?

can't get worse than that, can it? hmmm...let's see. how about a return trip to baz luhrmann's moulin rouge! (2001).

this is the first time it's happened in this experiment that i have been assigned to watch a film that i have already recently viewed. i decided to just go with it and see what came of it. you never know. i might find something altogether new. you can read what i said about it when jon originally assigned it to me here. beware of rick springfield's ass. unfortunately, i don't have a lot to add to that. i would like to mention that the title sequence with the fanfare, conductor and orchestra is a great idea and that ewan mcgregor is an easy guy to like. when he's not taking part in the overheated buffoonery of the piece he actually puts across a lot of genuine feeling with just a simple smile and an earnest gaze and it's easy to believe his chemistry with nicole kidman. it's still not enough to overcome the film's myriad, agitated faults.

ok, so day one was all about over the top, in one way or another. perhaps day two will tone it down a little bit and we will settle into a more subtle and dignified groove.

exactly.

11.02.2011

cup o' joe

queue de grâce returns soon after a month off. prepare yourselves.

if you've never been around for one of these, here's the way it works: for one solid week i turn over control of my streaming netflix queue to one of you stalwart folks. during that week, aside from visits to actual theaters or screenings i host, i only watch material you select, no other film, no other television. if you didn't put it on my list, i don't see it. i then report in on a daily basis, reflecting on our cinematic journey together.

our next programmer is my favorite contrarian, joe turner.

for the record, the only sport i have ever seen him play is kickball.

austinites can find joe edifying the community at bookpeople where he administrates an excellent horror-centric book club, the nightmare factory, among other things. he also contributes insightful reviews and more to bookpeople's blog. if you are looking for a good read, he will do right by you. joe is in the driver's seat for the week of 11.7.11 through 11.13.11. for once, i really have no idea what to expect except that it's going to be fun. stop back by and play along with us if you get the chance.

11.01.2011

trailer tuesday

this week's entry takes to the track for jerrold freedman's kansas city bomber (1972).