Monday, February 26, 2007

Notes from Oscar night

Took me 6 days to come up with this. I'm nothing if not timely. Ignore the fact that's it's listed as Mon Feb 26, it took me 6 days to get around to finishing it.

Met some friends at one of their homes for Oscar night. Attended the gathering at about 7:30. Same thing I've done for 7 Oscars now. It's becoming tradition. Later in terms of time then we usually meet, something that was more pronounced when one of our group was late with the ballots. Generally, 5 of us go against each other in picking the winners. But three of us bet. It used to be a dinner, but it's since switched to a DVD. Third place provides a DVD of an Oscar winner from that year's ceremony for both second and first place, while second place provides a DVD for first. We also provide each other with our top 10 of the year. Is any of this geeky? Bite me punks, it's fun! Rather then break down each list, I'll combine them all for our combined best 10. A point system is used, based on placements on each list. 10 pts. for 1st, 9 pts. for 2nd, etc.:

1)The Departed: 18
2)Pan's Labyrinth: 17
3)Casino Royale: 17 (the only reason this is third is because Pan's appeared on more top 10 lists.)
4)United 93: 16.5 (a half point for being #1 on Hollywood Says' list.)
5)Volver: 14.5 (a half point for being #1 on one of the other top 10 lists.)
6)Cars: 13
7)Children of Men: 13 (Cars was on more top 10 lists then Children, certainly not on mine.)
8) TIED- The Heart of the Game and Jet Li's Fearless: 10.5 (Both made #1 on at least one of our lists, and didn't appear on any other list, because no one else in the room saw these films.)
10)Letters from Iwo Jima: 10

Films ranging from Borat, to V for Vendetta, to Rocky Balboa, to Talledega Nights, made other people's lists. Not mine of course, but anyway . . .

For once, I didn't finish 3rd in the betting of who picks the winners, I finished 2nd. Meaning I get one DVD and give one, as opposed to my usual coughing up two. I owe it all to unclean living, fancy flying, and Dreamgirls winning for Best Sound Mixing. The lass who did lose, did not hide the hurting ego too well. And now, she owes me a copy of Pan's Labyrinth, widescreen edition. Since there is no announced date for its DVD release, this will take awhile.

But like I said, I finished second, not first. I lost to Hollywood Says, yet again. So I owe him a DVD. You would think I owe him a Oscar winning DVD, based on what I wrote in the first paragraph. Instead, he wants Borat. It didn't win, but that's what he wants. Ever see a bald man cry? Not pretty, man. Not pretty.

Other thoughts from the group over the course of Oscar night:

Cate Blanchett was the first best dressed I saw that night. Kate Winslet was a close second, shortly after, though the little girl in the room saw Kate on TV and said: "Mommy, she looks like a lime." From the mouths of babes . . .

J Lo's hair looked real nice, and the makeup, a major improvement. The dress was crap, but from the neck up, she looked great.

My head really turned when I saw Montse Ribé, who won for Best Makeup for Pan's Labyrinth. Very nice indeed.

Abgail Breslin and Will Smith's son looked real cute up there. They were the best presenters of the night. The boy already has the strut, which was apparent when he blew right by the little girl, struggling to walk in her dress. He's going to be just like his dad, you can just tell that night. He's got good looks, an acting career and a failed marriage in his future, just like dad.

Very good intro for the screenplay nominations. Teaching people how a screenplay works.

The award that stunned us the most? Pan's Labyrinth losing Foreign Language Film to The Lives of Others. I wanted to see the film before, now more then ever. But why during the acceptance speech do they cut away Faye Dunaway, looking unhappy, and thanks to both age and plastic surgery, looking like the Cryptkeeper? What the hell?!?!?

In retrospect, I wished I was paying attention to the speech of one of the sound editors who won an Oscar for Letters From Iwo Jima. One of their fathers actually fought on Iwo Jima and I'm sure it was interesting. But honestly, it was Sound Editing, so we were seeing who got it right, wrong, talking about something else, etc.

Rachel Weisz introducing the Best Supporting Actor looking NIIIICCCEE. But trying to pronounce Djimon Hounsou's name was not just a job, it was an adventure for her. But I know what you're saying, let thee who has not mispronounced Djimon's name cast the first stone. I think it's from the bible. Or from Star Trek.

Was surprised by Alan Arkin's win, but loved the genuine emotion of the speech. Eddie Murphy got so pissed he walked out? Didn't even notice until the 3 Oscar nominated Dreamgirls songs were performed and they didn't have Eddie to cut to. Sore losers are not appreciated.

Loved Jennifer Hudson's 2nd dress, not thrilled with the first that had pockets. Yeah, a dress with front pockets to make a big girl look bigger. Stick on some shoulder pads from some sci-fi show from the 70s, and the fashion disaster is complete! And what was that one line from Jennifer's acceptance speech? " . . . look what God can do . . .". Personally, I'd like God to be a little more selective, but I really liked Jesus Camp, so my one way trip to Purgatory is already set. Also, "Bill Condon's a genius . . ."? Okay . . .

And on yeah, could the 3 Dreamgirls songs be performed in a less interesting manner? No wonder Melissa Etheridge won. Jennifer Hudson was one of the uninteresting performers, but remember what she said, this is what God can do.

I was not expecting much from Ellen as host (I took heat for that comment in the room), but after a slow start, she was okay. Fantastic when compared to Jon Stewart. Amazing when compared to Seinfeld, who stopped yawning long enough to deliver a truly lame set of jokes, before introducing the nominees for Best Documentary.

ABC's pre-game show starts with an interview with the two most boring women on the planet, Naomi Watts and the botoxed (probably) Nicole Kidman. They may not actually be boring, but I couldn't tell based on their quick interview. And how does Nicki still stay on the A list, when she doesn't seem to draw flys to her films, except for Happy Feet, and that wasn't hers?

The room split on Cameron Diaz's dress and hideous brown hairstyle, guess which side I was on? And who attacked Lisa Ling's dress with a weed whacker?

I thought I wouldn't care for the tumblers. That seemed to be the kind of slowing down act that would piss me off. But they were pretty good. Snakes on a Plane was pretty good, but The Departed was great. Damn, they fired the gun!

The In Memorium segment was as good as always. For a Star Trek fan like me, I felt like an idiot that I forgot that James Doohan had died. At first, I thought that Robert Wise was being honored, when they showed a clip from Star Trek The Motion Picture. But considering that not everyone is remembered and put in (Peggy Lee and Lawrence Tierney are examples), so it was nice to see Scotty remembered. Even though he died in 2005 and it he should have been in last year's In Memorium. Come to think of it, I didn't notice that Scotty was left out last year. Pathetic on my part.

The Ennio Morricone segment was terrific. Right up until Celine tried to put a billion people into a coma with her rendition of Ennio's song from Once Upon A Time In America. So slow, I'm wondering if she's still singing the song. But nice to see Morricone sitting in the Abe Lincoln seats of the theater (A joke I steal from Robin Williams at a Richard Pryor tribute). Seated next to him was Quincy Jones, wearing . . . I don't what he was wearing. Hollywood Says said it reminded him of something from Dusty Rhodes 's closet.

According to Leo and Al Gore, for the first time, the Oscars went green. You could cut the indifference in the room with a knife.

The 2 presenters who looked like they did not want to be anywhere near each other? Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. The first time they presented, back in 2002, Spider-Man was about to come out, but they had broken up months ago. The body language between them: frosty to say the least. Now 5 years later, they've shot 2 more Spider-Man films (he was almost replaced by Dunst's then-boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal), and Toby's fiancee gave birth, and the body language between him and Dunst is still awkward. Holding hands coming out, then dropping them as fast as possible. Eeeh!

Overall, not a bad show, but it still felt like it was stretched unnecessarily. Thanks to the snow, I needed to stay over. Luckily as you can see, I had a buddy next to me as I slept. Later all.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hey all. Mike here, finally, with a Top 10 for 2006 list for me. Like I said before, I save it for Oscar time, so that I can catch up with as much as humanly possible. The biggest films for this list I couldn't get to, with major regret, are Half Nelson (no time), Volver (either it wasn't convenient or I couldn't get anyone to go), Deliver Us From Evil (this documentary dropped out without a trace it seemed, and when it resurfaced in Manhattan, it cost either 11 or 15 dollars to go. Uh-uh.), Water (a Foreign Language nominee that I took one look at the DVD box, and thought it looked like work to get through) and Venus (my friend left the DVD with someone and couldn't find the FUCKER!!!!!). Anything else I'll catch up to at some point.

A couple of things about the year. In retrospect, the top 5 filled automatically. And this year was more memorable for me in terms of entertainment then actual artistic work. There was plenty for me to enjoy. The button pushing of V For Vendetta. The unexpected scares of the highly underrated British horror film, The Descent. Large sections of Borat the first time I saw it. And watching the audience howl and squirm at the homo-erotic hotel sequences, when I caught the second half of Borat again. The terrific 3-D work on the re-release of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Daniel Craig playing James Bond, a la Batman Begins, in Casino Royale. Jennifer Hudson's big number in Dreamgirls. The uplifting pleasant surprise that is Rocky Balboa.The visual spectacle of Happy Feet; it really helps that instead of an animator, they had an actual film director like George Miller painting the pictures, so to speak. Plus, the idea that Happy Feet will have more of a subliminal influence over kids then an Al Gore documentary will on adults("We can't support these policies. We'll kill off the cute dancing penguins!!!") I don't mean to demean the Gore documentary, it is worth catching. I just think Happy Feet will more effective in the long run.

Like I said, all entertaining. And NONE of it good enough to make the list. Being pretty good wasn't enough. It's as though almost all the films that came out last year were battling for 6-10. And you needed more then just moments to to stand out as a whole.

That being said, I still managed to put together a list of 10 that I feel comfortable with, and comfortable enough to push. But there is one other damning aspect about the quality of films this year, but I'll save that for later in the list . . .

Now I do reserve the right to change my mind a year or two down the line, and add and drop something at another time, or change the order of 1 or 2 films, based on what else I see. 2 examples:

First, for my 2004 list, I had The Passion of the Christ 7th and Team America 8th. But then I finally saw Ben-Hur at the Ziegfeld, and saw how subtle the crucifixion was handled. So I flipped the order of Passion and Team America, a year after I first put the list together.

Second, for my 2005 list, I had King Kong fourth, Good Night and Good Luck fifth, and Crash tenth. But five months later, I finally saw The Constant Gardener, and three and a half months later, I saw the original King Kong, and had time to re-evaluate and appreciate it. After that, I flipped the order of Peter Jackson's version and Good Night, and dropped Crash off my list in favor of Gardener.

Normally, I have a some kind of runner-ups, but not this this year. I do want to make note of the worst film I paid to see this year: Inland Empire. Yes, I see something of a thread in David Lynch's new film, but my God is it exasperating. Watchable only if you have the sentiment I had of being curious of the next image, despite not enjoying what you see. Talking giant rabbits (pictured above), a woman doing a subtitled monologue about her sister and her shitting monkey, and storylines that go forward backwards, sideways, go away, sometimes return, sometimes not and do things i long stop caring about. For me, this is exactly like Robitussin cough syrup: neither one actually works, and the memory of the horrible taste of both is easy to conjure up.

I can understand those who paid for it liking it. They've probably felt they put something out there, and got something back. But critics who are paid who are praising Inland to the hilt. They're almost criminally negligent as far as I'm concerned, drawing people to pay 11 dollars to catch this. That being said, for Mulholland Dr. fanatics only. Everyone else, run away.

Now for the list:

10) JESUS CAMP- Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady depict the narrowing of the separation between church and state, that is, if those who run this place have anything to say about it. A look into a training camp where born-again Christian children are brought to become "an active part of America's political future". We see these children at home where you see them getting home schooled, and show in their views that they will slowly be closed off and exclusionary. In some cases, they're at this point already. Though the one girl who talks about how bad a role model Britney is over 15 months ago . . . The saying ' From the mouths of babes' come to mind.

We also see the summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where they are trained they hone their 'prophetic gifts'. Part of that training includes praying to a cardboard cutout of George W., and taping the kids' mouths with the word "life" on it, while protesting abortion in front of the Supreme Court building.

There is no narration. The camera stays on for long periods, and the subjects speak for themselves. The adults depicted actually felt this was a fair representation. All except one, Pastor Ted Haggard. We see him giving a sermon, and talking to one of the kids. He denounced the group depicted as a "sub-group", negative”, and not “normative". Yes, the same Ted Haggard who about 5 weeks after the film's release, was dropped from his church after his male prostitute outed him. Remember the excuse he supposedly gave his wife? "No, honey. I didn't have sex with this man. I bought crystal meth and massages from him! For three years! Isn't that better???"

Sorry, I digress. A strong documentary that ranks among the best horror films around. Not the best documentary though. That's later on the list.

P.S.: A good companion piece is Friends of God, shown from time to time on HBO and its sister stations.

P.P.S.: Shortly after Haggard's indiscretion came out, the summer camp featured in "Jesus Camp" announced that it would shut down for "at least several years". The camp was vandalized. The pastor running it, after being inundated with negative phone calls, emails, etc., had to ask the makers not to distribute the film in Bismarck for fear of the documentary camp kids's safety. Wonder if anything has changed since the film came out on DVD?

9) THE DEPARTED- This would be higher ranked, but the last third dropped in quality. The exact part? When Jack Nicholson (as a Boston Mephistopheles) started doing his rat impression, and then accelerated with the ridiculous multiple shootings in the elevator; a sequence that drew huge laughter the longer it went. Matt Damon's mostly stiff performance didn't help. And don't buy Marty's assertion of this only being mildly influenced by the equally well done, Honk Kong crime film "Infernal Affairs". An assertion he backed off from once award season came along. That being said, it's Scorsese best film since Kundun, and DiCaprio's best lead performance ever. Hopefully, Vera Farmiga, as the woman torn between DiCaprio and Damon, will keep getting more attention from here on in.

8) LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE- The best comedy on the list. Dark to be sure, a film I initially dismissed as National Lampoon's Vacation. A little deeper then that. Vacation fit the early 80s with a family trying desperately to fit the American Dream into their lives, but seem to realize, through comedy and Christie Brinkley in her underwear, that the best way to survive is to stick with the assholes you really know then the assholes you don't know. And oh yeah, don't let your little girl enter a beauty pagent, unless you want them to become sex object/freakazoid hybrid of the ungodly kind.

Not the cheery, uplifting message you would want, but it is cheery in its own fashion. If that's too dark for you, then the grandpa who lusts after his grandchild and the suicidal brother/uncle really isn't going to help you. However, the mixture of light and dark and laughs works for me. Great cast helps. All notice has gone to Alan Arkin and Abigail Breslin as grandpa and grandchild, and it's good to see that. Personally, I leaned closer to both Toni Collette (a favorite of mine, pictured above when she attended the BAFTAS for Sunshine), and especially to Steve Carrell as the suicidal gay brother/uncle Proust expert. Do I care that some others don't find this film? No. Next . . .

7) LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA- The best of the Oscar nominated films, though that might come off as less of a compliment then in previous years. More meditation then grisly war epic, though there are enough emotional and physical gut wrenching moments to go around. Eastwood continues to show cinematic storytelling vitality, depicting the Japanese army stationed on the island for what becomes a long, painfully drawn out, defensive suicide mission. I still feel Ken Watanabe was unfairly left out for a Best Actor nod, as the the newly transferred general, who seems to have not as many problems with the invading Americans, then with the pig-headed stupidity of most of his own officers. And don't think for one second that Eastwood isn't comparing the Japanese officers and/or leaders, who are keen on fighting wars aggressively, but aren't smart enough to know how to actually win, with future generations of screw-ups, including the present day generation of leaders. But that isn't is first intention, it is (according to him via a release):

In the end, it is not about who won or who lost; it’s about the sacrifices a soldier makes for his country.

6) CHILDREN OF MEN- Among the better of the dystopian sci-fi flicks, going along side films such as Brazil, Blade Runner and Soylent Green. I wouldn't place it above Brazil, though it shares both at least a bit of a British sensibility, and the same studio backing it (and an inability to market either one).

As the years have gone by, one can find more elements in Brazil in our lives. Hopefully, that won't be the case with this film. Though the resemblance in the film's left leaning terrorist group with the IRA, the double-talking news network and ineffective government, and the shot of the hooded man from the Abu Ghraib torture pictures makes you think the creators might believe otherwise. Definitely the best Cinematography of any film this year.

5) UNITED 93- The film I probably avoided seeing the most out of everything on this list. At the end, I surprised myself at thinking how often I'll be seeing this film on cable when this comes on. The answer: quite a bit. I agree with another film critic whose name I can't remember, in wondering if this wasn't based on a true incident, would director Paul Greengrass have been as successful in capturing and retaining our attention? Could a similarly themed fictional thriller be as powerful. In the end, it's irrelevant. It happened and it's powerful film making.

Granted, a healthy chunk of what happened on the plane itself is imagined, in terms of who said what to each other, who was too fearful to do something and whether the passengers actually succeeded in killing at least one hijacker. But about half the film takes place in areas where we do know exactly what happened, such as several air control centers and NORAD. Using several of the real life controllers, bosses and soldiers bring even more heightened realism. First you dread cutting back and forth from the flight, before and after takeoff. Then you dread going through the actual events of 9/11 all over again, in naturalistic real time. Then you get angry over the depth of how incapable we were in responding, and how desperately we needed those passengers to act.

If I had seen this on the big screen instead of home video, I might have rated it higher. As is, it's pretty high up.

4) LITTLE CHILDREN- Imagine if American Beauty had a heart for its characters AND wore said heart on its sleeve, no matter what dubious choices are made. You get a rough idea about Little Children, a film that New Line Cinema seems to have mismanaged from the get-go. Are you telling me Warner Bros can get the word out on a long Japanese war film from Clint Eastwood, but New Line can't do squat with a film that is at least funnier and comparable in terms of quality acting? If this film was with Focus, Fox Searchlight or even Disney's variation of Miramax, this film would actually be seen.

Sorry, I digress. The best screenplay adaptation, with a top notch cast. You even get good performances out of Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly, and that's not an automatic anymore compared to Kate Winslet, who's wonderful as always. And yes, Jackie Earle Haley is a revelation, and yes, for him, the nomination and critical attention will have to be the reward.

Sorry, I digressed again. Even though I give the impression that the film is warmer then American Beauty, I'm not saying that is warm and cuddly. Director/Co-writer Todd Field seems to follow a part-time edict of his former director Stanley Kubrick: you can still show your love of humanity by depicting them in their harshest light. And any sympathy shown is a natural by-product, not one forced by the creator. If he lived long enough, I think Stanley would be proud of his former actor.

3) PAN'S LABYRINTH- A terrific mix of fantasy and brutal reality, neither given heavy preference or short shrift over the other. Never an uninteresting shot from Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Sergi López gives us one of the best villains ever; never sympathetic, rarely unbrutal, and strangely never anything less then human. But if we don't care for the little girl, the filter we're watching most of this through, the film won't be nothing more then just good. Ivana Baquero turns in a performance that's mature for her age, while never forgetting she's a little girl, trapped in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The Best Foreign Film made in the past 18-24 months. But NOT the best Foreign Film to come out in the U.S. last year. That distinction belongs to . . .

2) ARMY OF SHADOWS- Yes, this is how weak I think 2006 is in films. That a film from 1969, making its U.S. debut now, is better then anything to come out in the past 14 months. I wondered if I should put the film on here, or just give honorary mention. But there have been plenty of times when a foreign film came out later in the U.S. then elsewhere. Downfall coming out about 1 year later is one example, Solaris coming out here 4 years after its initial release is another. So I will not hold that against Army of Shadows.

Like I've said in previous posts, this is a war film shot through the filter of a film noir. Ordinary people facing huge odds to fight a better armed enemy. Where your allies in other countries are too busy dancing and enjoying pop culture, and don't have much faith in your Resistance cause. And why should they believe in your cause, if you yourself don't know if the next countryman you meet, will be helpful, sympathetic yet ineffective, or will sell you out? Starts strong, settles into a particular rhythm with subtle changes, and just when you've been lulled, wallops you in the end. The film will linger with you long after the end.

Despite the praise, I couldn't call this number one. I needed to pick something made more recently. So I go for this . . .

1) THE HEART OF THE GAME- A film that I couldn't get anyone to see to save my life. It drew no audience and didn't even make the short list of nominees for Best Documentary at the Oscars. A shame.

The film covers over five years of the Roosevelt Roughriders, a girls high school basketball team in Seattle. One of the two people it centers on is their eccentric coach, who teaches tax law, but spends his spare time leading his usually small teams to success. We meet many of his players and see their problems. The other person the film centers on is one of the star players. She has difficulty with grades, not spending time with her friends who go to the rival inner city school, and then she gets pregnant.

We see the training, we see them at and away from school. We see them win, and occasionally lose. This isn't Rocky, this happened. Best documentary of the year, best film of the year, and among the best sports films ever. And you couldn't make this story up if you tried.

The Heart of the Game will be out on DVD Tuesday Feb 27.

There. I think this is long enough, don't you? Later all.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Feb revivals: second half

Mike here with a list of films for the second half of Feb. Let's not waste time, here we go:

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE- Thurs Feb 15 at 2, 4:30, 7 and 9:30- Film Forum- 209 west houston bet. 6th and Varick- Part of the Ennio Morricone retrospective. The middle part of Leone's Man With No Name Trilogy. Here, Clint Eastwood is forced to team up with a middle aged gunslinger (Lee Van Cleef), who might be better than him in a gunfight, to track down a killer and get that bounty money. The weakest of the three films, but it's similar to Return of the Jedi in their respective places in their trilogies; weakest of the series, but better then a lot of what others have put together.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG- Thurs Feb 15 at 6 and Wed Feb 21 at 8:30- MOMA- The more fun, light-hearted of the sequels (rip-offs?) to the original King Kong. An Oscar for the visual effects. There's a reason why this is remembered, and why the Charlize Theron remake is gathering dust in Blockbusters across the country.

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY- Fri Feb 16 and Sat Feb 17 at 1:30, 4:50 and 8:10- Film Forum-Part of the Ennio Morricone retrospective. The epic of Leone's Man With No Name trilogy; you definitely go on a journey here, aided with Morricone's most famous score, especially the theme. Eastwood's not so nice Good, Lee Van Cleef's evil to the core Bad, and Eli Wallach's not much better Ugly, fight each other, and try to work their way around something called The Civil War, to get their hands on buried gold. Probably, the best of the Spaghetti Westerns, due in no small part to Wallach's great performance (note that I RARELY use that phrase), the cinematography and Morricone's score.

This is the Reconstructed Italian version (don't worry, the words are still spoken in English). 2 hrs. 55 min. long, including 15 restored min. that Eastwood and Wallach had to go back and redub a couple of years ago. The print has been cleaned up, and has a remixed 5.1 Digital Dolby sound. I've done this at the Forum a couple of years ago, but I need no excuse to go back. A favorite of mine.

THE WARRIORS- Fri Feb 16-Sun Feb 18 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- For those who haven't caught this cult classic from 1979, here's another chance. Controversial in its day, with its depiction of gangs run amok in New York, several real life gang killings at screenings of the film, and Paramount's overreaction. Looking at it today, it's quite quaint, and at times, stupid fun. One person who saw this with me, described the film as capable of going from stupid to incredible; sometimes in the same scene, sometimes in the same shot!

BUFFY SING-A-LONG- Fri Feb16-Sun Feb 18 at 12:05AM- IFC Film Center- W. 3rd St. and 6th Ave- I caught Inland Empire at IFC in mid-Dec. I did not have a good time to say the least. Long story short, I caught the Buffy Sing Along afterwards. I was very surprised how much of a good time I had. Basically, the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "Once More, With Feeling" from 2001, is projected onto the screen. Subtitles are posted on the bottom for you to sing with the episode, and there's a live cast a la Rocky Horror to perform. I have two pictures above from the Dec 06 show, I wish my camera phone took better pictures. That's a friend of mine by the way, in the rabbit ears scaring the girl playing Anya. It's interactive with props (replace Rocky Horror's toast and tp with underwear, kazoos and other items) and moments to talk back at the screen. They do other things to provide a full, entertaining evening, but I won't spoil the surprises.

It helps to be either a fan of the series (which I am), or a fan of karaoke (please don't get me started on a rant). And if you are a fan of both, you've hit the mother lode here. Thanks to the Presidents Day weekend, there will be three nights of this. Generally, they sell out quick. As of this writing, they are tix still available all three nights, so plan ahead if there is interest.

THE UNTOUCHABLES- Mon Feb 19 at 5:25- Film Forum- Part of the Ennio Morricone retrospective. Here's an interesting way to celebrate President's Day. David Mamet reinvented the 50s TV hit as a morality tale, with good having to go into grey areas in order to stop evil, in the form of Robert De Niro's Al Capone. But aided by Morricone's terrific, Oscar-nominated score, this is more Brian De Palma's triumph. High opera, directed to near perfection. The train station sequence is a classic. According to producer Art Linson, it was De Niro who gently forced Mamet to make massive re-writes, for which Linson and De Palma are eternally grateful.

Introduced us to both Andy Garcia and Patricia Clarkson. Part of the one-two punch in the summer of 87 that elevated Kevin Costner to A list status. But putting Sean Connery back to A list status in the U.S. might be what's best remembered here. His scene in the church with Costner and his death scene (sorry for the spoiler, but if you don't know the film by now . . . . ), probably won him his Oscar.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA- Thurs Feb 22 at 7:15- Film Forum- The last of the Ennio Morricone retrospective. Essentially a lost classic of Sergio Leone's, the last film he directed. Robert De Niro and James Woods play friends who we see grow up to be gangsters, grow apart, and grow old with regret, especially De Niro's character. A strong supporting cast: Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Tuesday Weld, Danny Aiello, Treat Williams, and a young Jennifer Connelly in her feature film debut.

Leone was contracted to turn in a cut no longer then 2hrs. 45min. After shooting 10 hrs. of film, Leone would only (could only?) submit a slightly under 4hrs. cut. The American distributor, Warner Bros., took the film away, and cut about 95 min. for it, and threw it into theaters in June 1984. No surprise, critics destroyed it, and the film tanked big time. It wasn't until the version that was only slightly shorter then Leone's submitted cut, was released in Europe, briefly in the U.S. and then on home video, that the film got respect.

The Forum is claiming to be showing the complete director's cut. Considering it starts at 7:15, expect it to be long. Hope one of you is interested in this.

LOST HIGHWAY- Fri Feb 23 (tentative on my end) and Sat Feb 24 at Midnight- IFC Film Center- This kicks off several weekends of David Lynch Midnight films at IFC Film Center. Unlike Inland Empire, this was is not only watchable, no talking giant rabbits!. Seriously, I've brought this film up on a previous revival list. So if you know this, you know it's worth catching. Moving on.

MONDO CANE and/or ARMY OF SHADOWS- Sat Feb 24 at 2 (Mondo- Introduced by Lou Lumenick) and 6:30 (Shadows)- AMMI in Astoria- 35 Ave. at 36 St.- First,Mondo Cane. Part of the Critic's Choice: Great Documentaries series. One of you told me that you were really interested in catching Mondo Cane. I don't know if I'm going to be able to catch this, I don't know if I'm running to this the more I read about it. But who knows. This screening will be introduced by NY Post critic Lou Lumenick. First, I'll put up the plot outline on IMDB:

The original "shockumentary" consisting of a collection of mostly real archive footage displaying mankind at its most depraved and perverse, displaying bizarre rituals, cruel behavior, and animal violence.

Next, I'll put down AMMI's description. You'll decide from there:

Italy, 1962. 35mm IB Technicolor print. Directed by Gualitero Jacopeti, Franco E. Prosperi, Paolo Cavara. You know the Oscar-nominated theme song (“More”), a staple of wedding and lounge singers, but this ground-breaking and controversial anthropological film, which has been described as a “shockumentary” and the precursor of reality TV, is still an eye-opener. It created a sensation in its time by offering glimpses of such shocking sights as bare-breasted natives, pet cemeteries, restaurants serving roast dog, a pig killing in New Guinea, “blood rites of secular Italian Catholics,’’ teenage girls mobbing actor Rossanno Brazzi, and much more. –Lou Lumenick, The New York Post

Now, Army of Shadows, I'll will make time for, especially if you've never seen it. Which is most of you. Basically, a war film about members of the French Resistance battling the Nazis and traitors within. But it was shot thru the filter and style of a film noir. Some Resistance members come off more as ordinary people or gangsters as opposed to downtrodden soldiers.

Apparently, art house distributors not had little interest in Melville as a director, they apparently thought there would be no American audience for this during the heights of Vietnam. The inital lack of positive reaction in France didn't help. Never released in the US until last April. It's found somewhat of an art house audience, every critic who's seen it seems to have put it in their top 5 of 2006, and it was the surprise winner of Best Foreign Film by the New York Film Critics (a funny story how the critics managed to unintentially pull that off, but you can find some other film bloggers to tell you if you look hard enough.). The kind of film that stays with you days after it ends. I have no problem making plans to catch this again.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER- Mon Feb 26 at 8:15- MOMA- Part of a Pictures In Print series. Hugely successful Otto Preminger courtroom drama, with possibly Jimmy Stewart's best performance. He plays a defense attorney using his Golly gee mannerisms and basically plays dumb to try to win his case against prosecutors who feel superior. And this precursor to Matlock has a doozy of a case, defending an Army Lt. (a young Ben Gazzara) for the murder of his wife's rapist. The wife played not so innocently by a young Lee Remick, who got the role after Lana Turner said no after Preminger's refusal to let her wear designer gowns for the parts. That's right; designer gowns worn by a rape victim in a small Michigan town. You can't make this stuff up.

Also notable for having Joseph Welch, who who won his verbal throwdown against Sen. McCarthy in 1954, as the judge, and for Duke Ellington's standout score (he has a cameo).
Controversial in its day, for the casual use of words such as rape, bitch and sperm. So much so that Stewart's own father told a local newspaper that he thought this was a "dirty picture". The picture's release was blocked in Chicago, similar to Brokeback Mountain in Utah last year.
Despite this, 7 Oscar nominations, including Picture, Stewart, 2 for Supporting Actor including George C. Scott (his loss here made him so disillusioned with the process, he would refuse to ever accept an Oscar, which he did in 1971 for Patton) and Screenplay Adaptation. No wins though, it ran into the Ben-Hur buzzsaw that year. According to MOMA's website, "Seven years after Anatomy’s release, Preminger took his distributor to court in an effort to prevent the film from being shown on television with commercial interruptions.". Worth seeing if you have the time. I know it conflicts with 24, but that's why they made the VCR, Tivo, and DVD-R.

Written below is a description of why some these films have been put together at this time. The rest I have no time for, or it conflicts with other choices, but you can go to and find your way to film section to see and read more. I believe Lillian Ross, who covered the film and its making and controversies for Picture magazine will read what she wrote before the film, though I might be confused on that part. There might be a Q and A afterwards, but since Anatomy is so long, I don't know why they'd do that on Monday anyway. I'm so confused. But I digress, here's is MOMA's description, cut and pasted, below:

Pictures in Print: Lillian Ross & the MoviesFebruary 23–28, 2007
Reporting on the film industry over the last six decades, Lillian Ross has captured epic personalities and landmark moments in the history of cinema. Shortly after her start at The New Yorker in 1945, Ross wrote a series of articles on John Huston and the making of The Red Badge of Courage (1951), covering all aspects of its production as well as the critical and financial reception that greeted the finished product. Collected and republished as Picture (Rinehart, 1952), Ross’s pieces caught the studio system at a critical turning point, and they are widely regarded as the most informative and engaging record of a now-extinct filmmaking era. In subsequent decades, Ross reported on the battles mounted by Otto Preminger and Francis Ford Coppola against the film distribution system and spent reflective moments with Akira Kurosawa and Tony Curtis. Filled with crisp observations and astonishing quotes, her profiles reveal individual passions and provide a larger picture of the ever-changing landscape of American filmmaking. As a tribute to the vivid and enduring images created by her words, MoMA presents five films that have been illuminated by her writing. Related profiles are available at

Long writing. Basically, I push the Westerns and Army of Shadows. I push Buffy, Once Upon a Time, and the Jimmy Stewart film as well. Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

New list to catch up on: making up for the old list thanks to Oscar

Hey all, Mike here. A new list of films to catch up on, now that the Oscar nominations have come out, and we have a better idea of what will come out on video in the coming days.

First, I do like this time of you as a filmgoer. A lot of the better films were released here in November and December, or go into mass release in January. Plus, some films that I missed throughout the year, are being pushed out on DVD faster then before. So for a film buff, this is like 6-10 weeks of film nirvana, unless you have a friend who is demanding to see Night at the Museum or Blood and Chocolate. Yes, I have fun with the ceremony as well, even it's train wreck sections, like the musical number for Crash's Best Song (an interpretive rape dance sequence with burning cars and dancing homeless? ARE WE KIDDING?)

So we'll split the list in several sections. They won't seem much different then the previous one, but now we can be more exact. Again, it's a guide and a list that is more useful as what can be crossed off, or serve as a reminder of what else there is to catch. First, films that made the major categories that are playing in theaters as of this writing (first in order of what I cut and paste from the previous post, plus add in whatever I missed):

Notes on a Scandal
The Queen
Children of Men
Little Children
Pan's Labyrinth
Letters From Iwo Jima
Happy Feet
The Departed
The Last King of Scotland
The Pursuit of Happyness
Blood Diamond
The Departed

Also of note in terms of what's playing in theaters soon:

The Lives of Others

A German film that is nominated for Foreign Language Film. It comes out in limited release on Feb. 9. Trailer looked interesting.

Next are a list of films nominated in the major categories that have been or will be released on DVD:

Little Miss Sunshine
The Devil Wears Prada
United 93
Monster House
Water (nominated for foreign Language Film; Blockbuster actually carries it.)
Jesus Camp
An Inconvenient Truth
The Departed (Yes, I know I put it in the first section. But it comes out on DVD Feb. 13)
Half Nelson (Also comes out Feb. 13)
Babel (Again, yes I know I put it in the first section. But it comes out on DVD Feb. 20)

Next are a list of films still playing in theaters, but were only nominated in at least one of the minor categories:
The Good Shepherd
The Curse of the Golden Flower
The Good German (Good luck finding it outside of Kew Gardens)

Next are a list of films to catch on DVD that were only nominated in at least one of the minor categories:
The Black Dahlia
The Illusionist
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Don't hold your breath my catching this until it hits cable)
Click (Ditto)
Poseidon (Ditto. Oh hell no, not before cable)
Superman Returns
Flags of Our Fathers (Comes out Feb. 6)
Marie Antoinette (Comes out Feb. 13)
The Prestige (Comes out Feb 20)

Next are a list of films that are on DVD that weren't nominated, but should be seen to either round out your Top 10 list or make it potentially more difficult to leave it out:

The Descent
V For Vendetta
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
Joyeux Noël

The Descent is one of the better horror films to come out in a while. V is a button pusher of another type; you may not like, but you won't be able to ignore it. Sophie Scholl and Joyeux Noël was nominated at last year's Oscars foforeigngn Language Film, but not released in U.S. theaters
until Feb. or March 2006. Both based on trustorieses, both worth catching.

Finally, 1 other film:

Army of Shadows

Again, a 1969 film that finallreceiveded a U.S. release last May, and was on many critic's's Top 5 list. Imagine a war film involving the French Resistance, but shot thru the filter of a gangster film noir. AMMI cancelled it's Friday Feb 23 screening, but will still play on Saturday Feb 24 at 6:30. If you haven't seen it, set time on youcalendarer and go.

That's all for now. Hope it was useful. If it wasn't, well, what do I care? Later.

P.S.: I'm kidding about the part on the second paragraph about Blood and Chocolate. No one demands to see Blood and Chocolate. Relatives of those who made Blood and Chocolate weren't demanding to go once they saw the trailer.

P.P.S.: I wasn't going kidding about what I said about Night at the Museum. At least one friend has been pushing to Night at the Museum. I saw the trailer and thought OH HELL NO!!
I know you said sometimes you prefer a little comedy over a drama, but give me a break! It's from the director of those Cheaper By The Dozen films. You didn't like them! You don't even like Ben Stiller and you still want to go! Shut up already!