Sunday, February 22, 2009

Best of 2008

Mike here with the best of 2008. Not timely, but I'm not paid, so screw it. For a while, I wasn't sure I had a top 10 I would be comfortable with. A top 6 maybe, with 4 decent ones. Luckily ,the end of the year rewarded us with high quality. I didn't expect to do a block in the middle of foreign films, but go figure. I did a lot better in terms of catching up with stuff. Which caused films I had hoped would make it, like The Counterfeiters, Man on Wire, and Vicky Christina Barcelona, to just miss out. Oh well, I feel confident about the quality. Here we go:

10) REVOLUTIONARY ROAD- A film one should not see in a depressing mood. American Beauty without most of the humor, but still very good. I saw a blog that had the house where Kate and Leo's characters live as among the top evil houses on film. The empty promises it promotes that helps one confuse career achievement (or a spouse's career achievement) with emotional fulfillment. Couples may come and go, but the house with false promises will continue, on Revolutionary Road and elsewhere.

Should have been acknowledged more by the Academy, but not at the expense of films 9-1 on this list. Kate Winslet should not win over Anne Hathway in Rachel Getting Married, but Kate should have been nominated for this over The Reader. Thanks for nothing Harvey Weinstein (but at least you approved one of my faves of 07, I'm Not There, so there you go.).

Like American Beauty, well written with a strong cast. I like Michael Shannon, but here, even though it's not a major role, a little of his screen time goes a long LONG way. And it doesn't help that despite different eras depicted, Mad Men covers similar territory better. But I find it better than say Slumdog Millionaire, uplifting be damned.

9) GRAN TORINO- My second biggest surprise of Oscar completely ignoring a film. Better than Clint Eastwood's other 2008 directorial release, Changeling. And not just because Clint turns in a better performance here, than Angelina does in her film. I won't argue that Ms. Jolie isn't a more talented actor. I would agree she has more talent and at least possess the skill set to access said talent. But having so much self-awareness that you know what roles you can blend into without distraction is not a gift, it's developed over time. Clint has decades of said experience and knows when to tower and when to blend in this, while Ms. Jolie feels like she gets away from her character to become ANGELINA in the film's second half. Don't give me lip about actors should be able to take risks and therefore grow and become better. This is the wrong forum, again I don't disagree, but Clint fits like a glove in this story; Angelina in Changeling, not as much.

Good to see Clint taking chances. Taking a chance with two first time screenwriters, and not turn their story into some geriatric Death Wish. And while Clint has the reputation of giving little direction to his actors (letting them do what they do which is why they were cast), for him to cast mostly non union actors and non-actors, just to fit the specific nationality (Hmong). That he pulls credible performances out of most of them, bravo. Not everything runs smoothly throughout with their performances, thus the low ranking. But the story engages, as a bigoted old man sees his value sets not in his own flesh and blood, but in the immigrant family he despised but learns to respect and care for. Surprisingly funny at times, when Clint does his best Archie Bunker, most of his line unrepeatable in a list like this. Understandable why some audiences have rejected most Oscar nominees in favor of this.

8) MILK- The best of the 5 Best Picture nominees, the only one I would put on this list. Seeing this on opening night in Chelsea, with a sold out crowd revering the screen was tremendous. Now I know what it feels like to attend Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Finally, a Gus Van Sant film I truly like with no reservations. The better of the two Van Sant films released in 08 (I admired the attempt with Paranoid Park, as opposed to actually liking or recommending it).

A very good biopic, that instructs the newbies, and feels right to those who know and/or lived the history, while never failing to maintain interest. Doesn't try to tell every decade of Harvey Milk's life. Just the section where he not only comes out of the closet, but moves to San Francisco for a complete change of lifestyle. And while shooting in San Francisco areas lend great authenticity, making the city another character, the editing of news reports and interviews from that era depicting Prop 6 and those who were for it, gives the viewer a sense of time, immediacy and conflict better than any scripted re-enactments. Probably would have made the film 3 hours long.

The only complaints I have, is the slight feeling of a whitewash that seems to make Milk into Saint Harvey (don't know if that's true, but the feeling is too much to shake for this ticket buyer, so if you don't like it, tough.), the idea of hinting that Dan White was repressed and in possibly in the closet (this much of the history I'm confident to say, bullshit. Which is a shame, considering how accurate the depiction of depression in White feels.), and James Franco's only ok performance. That tends to stick out like a sore thumb in the otherwise impeccable cast. Speaking of cast, Sean Penn may not be as tall, or as thin as Harvey Milk, but otherwise, not a false note in his performance. While I personally lean toward Frank Langella's performance in the entertaining Frost/Nixon, if Sean wins Best Actor, it would feel right.

7) TELL NO ONE- I'm a sucker for the kind of suspense film that Hitchcock made. I'm also a sucker for the kind of suspense thriller Hitch might have at least considered making if he was alive today. That's why in 2003 I rated Swimming Pool a little higher then say, Lost In Translation and Mystic River. And this follows the style of one of Alfred's man on the run flicks, while also working as a mystery and as a meditation on loss.

Adapted and directed by Guillaume Canet, a man, mourning on the eight year anniversary of his wife's murder, receives a video of someone looking like his wife at an airport, along with a three word message, Tell No One. That man must find out, and the journey begins. The sense of loss is palpable, so the need to find the truth is great. And it's nice in a film like this where not all the twists and turns are predictable. Vastly under seen in theaters, even for an art house release. You can correct that when it comes out on DVD at the end of March.

6) WALTZ WITH BASHIR- A nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and not to be missed. The best documentary of the year, and the only one on this list. Mostly animated; used to stay away from typical shots of talking heads, and bring the vivid descriptions of war, life at home and the dreams to life. Director Ari Folman talks with other fellow Israeli war veterans about their experiences. Some mutual, and some repressed. There's a depiction here of a group of men raised mostly likely by parents who survived the Holocaust. As soldiers, they fought in the first Lebanon war, rarely winning any battles, and lucky to survive the pounding they took from the Palestinians. Once they made it through into the major cities, these Israelis ended up providing cover fire for Phalangist fighters, who pull out Palestinian old people women and children out of town into camps, where they were massacred. The soldiers didn't know until way too late into all of this. When they told their superiors, they appeared to be ok with it, and didn't have stopped until hundreds had been killed.

No, the full history of the back and forth violence between all the parties are not explored, because it is of no interest to the filmmaker and his fellow veterans who lived through a portion of it. They share the same feeling as Eastwood's Gran Torino character, where war leaves a permanent emotional scar. The filmmaker is interested in bringing out fleshing out their memories, repressed and otherwise. The animation isn't Pixar, but the film making is vibrant. If you don't come away shaken, i don't know what to say about you. Though for me, if I don't feel like you saw something well done when NOT IF you see this, then frankly, I don't know what to say about you either.

5)GAMORRAH- If you know some that says that mob movies are waste and that nothing more can be said in the genre, Gamorrah is the proof that this person is an idiot. Or Mobbed up. This just recently opened in New York, but since it received a one week release in L.A. to qualify for the Oscars, it counts toward this list and not next year. Dark Italian film based on the book that exposed the dealings of the Camorra crime empire, based around Naples. All elements of honor or coolness from previous mob films, comes off as bullshit next to what's depicted here, an area that God seems to have forgotten. Similar to both Traffic and Traffik (Google it people), in its multi-arcs and semi realist style of telling the story. It's almost as though director Matteo Garrone decided: I can have the speed and style of say, City Of God, but you can't have the editing jump cuts. You must let the camera roll and let the story be told that way. Very Visconti or very Kubrick in its overall final state.

We see different aspects of the organization, but never in any exotic locales. The daily dealing rub outs in what is essentially a ghetto. The payments made to people with jailed gang members. It's different business holdings are brought up; from couture (Scarlett Johansson in a Italian dress is featured: now you know who will profit from this exposure), to profiting off dumping toxic waste (tough if you happened to live near there), to their investment in the re-building at Ground Zero, to the everyday practice of killing an average of one person who steps out of line every three days. We meet individuals, like the 12 year old boy, ignoring his mom to become a new recruit. The dapper man who runs the waste management company, without a care about where he dumps. The older man who gives payments, and thinks he's special because he doesn't kill anyone. The two teenagers who literally don't know what to do with a woman (as we see in a scene in a strip club), but whose idolization of Scarface makes them think they can be just like him. Hey kiddies, Al Pacino isn't a mobster, he's paid to play make-believe. The sweaty gangsters you're trying to rip off don't play at all. And don't bother looking for the police. They're only good for taking dead bodies away.

A few professional actors mixed in with mostly non-actors, kind of like with Gran Torino. You should walk away from this film a little sickened by what you experience. Especially since it's been happening, it's going on while you read this, and nothing will happen to change this, probably in our lifetime. But the mastery of the film making should make you feel this is time well spent. Slowly expanding over the next few weeks as of this writing, so do go.

Shocking that this didn't make it to the semis for the Foreign Language Film nomination. Truly disappointing, but even if it did get nominated, I don't think it would beat . . .

4) THE CLASS- The best of the Foreign Language nominees that have received a release. Anyone who intends to become a teacher should be forced to see this. Afterwards, if they still intend to teach, especially somewhere between grades 5-9, make them see the film again. Francois Begaudeau took his experiences as a teacher and wrote a book. He collaborated with director Francois Begaudeau, cast non-actor (see a pattern here?) kids, had them work improvs over the course of a school year, then they shot.

Begaudeau plays a version of himself, struggling to teach multi cultural class. The kids are smart, but are more interested in showing up the teacher and establishing dominance. Combine short attention spans, the lack of experience with verbal subtleties, and an unwillingness to cross the cultural chasm by both students and faculty, makes the job (taking place over the course of a school year with the camera never leaving school grounds) almost impossible to do. Taking place in a country where there seems to be a melting pot, but the pot appears to be only simmering, and no one wants to stir. At times, more gut wrenching then some recent horror films.

3) HAPPY-GO-LUCKY- I'm becoming a big fan of director Mike Leigh. Let actors improvise while only telling one or two of the leads the entire story from beginning to end, then when the improvs go to his satisfaction, Leigh goes off to write the script, then a few months later, shoots the film. With this style, have come a number of Top Ten of a year flicks over the years: Career Girls, Topsy Turvy, Vera Drake. And now, my favorite Mike Leigh film, Happy-Go-Lucky. Imagine if I could truly get into Secrets and Lies and Naked . . .

I grow less inclined to say someone was robbed of an Oscar or a nomination. Whoever has the best personal or studio press agents . . . But Sally Hawkins not getting a Best Actress nomination is shocking to the point of saying "Bullshit." (Who would I drop? Sorry, Melissa Leo . . . ). She plays a single kindergarten teacher who absolutely refuses to be down or nasty. She will be cheerful and chipper to the point that some strangers and the viewer might think she's delusional and insane. Not that she's blissfully unaware of troubles in the world and in other people. She actively tries to help her students and friends. But she will not make the world by being cruel or mean herself, even if one perceives her as a victim at one point.

Leigh lets the viewer decide if she is silly, naive or is in a place in her life we should consider aspiring to. Many smiles and more then a few laughs abound. And Hawkins makes this special creature shine. And her scenes with Eddie Marsan, as her polar opposite driving instructor, are the highlight of the film.

And now for my top 2. The top 3 has been in this order since mid November. But the top 2 both have a good chance of entering my personal top 100:

2) THE DARK KNIGHT- A more politically relevant wasn't made this year. Instead of typical action fare, we got epic film making, something some people said we'd never see again. More a semi realistic crime drama than a typical superhero film. We just happen to have a cape, masks and some makeup here as well. Is a lot close to the dark vein Frank Miller tapped into back in the late 80s. Can easily let me forget Christopher Nolan's last film, the mediocre Twilight Zone episode, The Prestige.

I will stop going further because better writers can and have gone into its themes better. Praise for look and sound, especially on IMAX, cannot stop. And while one can take the time for Heath's Joker, I won't just because I'm in no mood to join the chorus proclaiming him the next James Dean. Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent disintegrating into Two Face deserves the same accolades. And for jock itch like Stephen A. Smith, who said they needed someone like Beyonce instead of Maggie Gyllenhall as the romantic interest, three things in her defense:

First, Beyonce can sing, but she can't act. There were reasons why most of the energy in Dreamgirls disappeared the second both Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy left the screen, And Beyonce is one of them. And you're going to have her act opposite Bale, Ledger, and Eckhart? HA!

Second, for those who ripped Maggie must have forgotten Katie Holmes' performance in the same role? The complexity of the character (more sensitivity, a little more sadness) has increased. Katie had enough problems with the somewhat more simplified character in Batman Begins, but you complainers' selective amnesia is annoying.

Third, c'mon, she's playing a workaholic lawyer who stays in the office late. If you're looking for an office relationship and you think you can do better, God bless, but keep your ignorance out. Moving on. To number one . . .

1) WALL-E- Saying this is my favorite Pixar is redundant. Ranking it as the best of the dystopian genre (among my faves, Brazil, Children of Men, Blade Runner, and yes, Soylent Green), is also fairly redundant. One of the best films ever made, that sounds about right, though I'd like to possibly reconsider that about four years from now.

The first half hour plus is among the best silent film homages ever, especially with a nod toward Chaplin and action-wise, Keaton. A better use of Hello Dolly songs here then Gene Kelly did when he directed the film version, whose clips are seen in Wall-E! With a never uninteresting pessimism about our future, with just enough room for change via love that's believable. Yes, believable. The idea of two robots falling in love of course strains credibility. But the fact that this love is more believability depicted than in any studio romantic comedy is both a miracle and a damnation for recent films (go ahead, defend Bride Wars and the Sex In The City movie morons.). All praise for the nominated screenplay from Jim Reardon, Pete Docter and the film's director, Andrew Stanton. This film will age quite well. Don't know if we need a Wall-E 2 like Toy Story 2 and the upcoming 3. This is sufficient.

I invite feedback and criticism and questions about why I left some films off in favor of these. Although annoying comments get deleted. It's possible to believe in democracy on the web and not actually practice it. I know most of you haven't seen all of them. If you're the typical person I know, you're lucky to have seen three or four of them. So let me know. Later all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Feb revivals: second half

Mike here with a quick list for the remainder of the month. Small, but I think I really got eclectic here. So let's get on with it:
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM- Fri Feb 20 and Sat Feb 21 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- It's been a while since I've seen this prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. After I saw the last one, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I came away thinking "This isn't on the level of either Raiders or Last Crusade, but I had fun. It's about on the level of Temple of Doom.". Then again, I had more time to think about Shia Lebouf swinging with monkeys, he and Cate Blanchett requiring CGI to do their fight scene, and that bullshit climax involving the UFO. And I spent many a day having to defend why I had no problem with Indy surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge: "The director blew up a shark. If he can do that, why are you stunned by this?". Then Temple of Doom didn't seem so weak.
Then I started to remember the parts that didn't work. Like the little Chinese boy Short Round, setting Asian stereotypes back to the Mr. Moto era. Or Kate Capshaw's never-ending screeching performance. And why it seems to take a long while to get some action once Indy and gang survive the plane crash. So I would say, it's time for a re-evaluation. Who's up for it, people?
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS- followed by a post-punk afterparty with DJs Dan Selzer (Acute Records) & Aileen Brophy (Corita), sponsored by Viva Radio- Wed Feb 25 at 8:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- A rare screening of this 1982 cult film. A comedy-drama satire, before This Is Spinal Tap, except with more rock respectability. The way this whole thing's been set seems more apropos for a Friday or Saturday night, but it's party
time on a Wednesday night instead.
An all teen girl band (2 sisters and a cousin) gains national exposure while on tour with a metal band and a Brit punk band. The exposure increases when the lead singer, having difficulty getting over her mother's death, changes her look and style to punk mid tour. Those of us familiar with acts ranging from Debbie Gibson, Tiffany and Brittney, know that once you get built up, you have to be taken down. And then there's the little matter as to whether to the band as any talent . . .
This film may not have even been released, or if it had, probably in a few theaters in and out. The cult began with frequent screenings in the 1980s on USA network, which ceased sometime in the early 90s. A token VHS release, unavailable on DVD until last year and the rare TV screening over the past 13 years (before it's late Jan TCM screening, I can't remember when it was last on), have only increased the mystique. As did litigation that has helped keep the soundtrack from being released. The film did not test well, so Paramount had a more upbeat ending shot, that made the screenwriter (Nancy Dowd- Slap Shot) take her name off the credits. Didn't help.
Interesting cast. Christine Lahti, Elizabeth Daily (voice of Rugrats' Tommy Pickles, but a Pamela Anderson with real breasts here), David Clennon (thirtysomething, slimy here as he was there), Ray Winstone (The Departed and Sexy Beast, here as the punk singer) and Brent Spiner among the supporting cast. But the most attention has been paid to 16 year old Diane Lane and 14 year old Laura Dern as members of the band. Lane in particular, has to carry the film as the lead singer who gets the most attention, and pushes people away the longer she's on tour. At times you think she's a nasty piece of work, which works in punk.
After the screening, they'll be some kind of party with 2 DJs providing the entertainment. So if you're interested in a mid week party, let's catch this.
MR. DEEDS GOES TO WASHINGTON and THEODORA GOES WILD- Fri Feb 27 at 7:30 (Mr. Deeds) and 9:40 (Theodora)- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's series of Depression-era films. First, Mr Deeds Goes To Town. Yes, some of are more familiar with the Adam Sandler remake from a few summers ago, but try this one please. Gary Cooper is a Northeastern hick (supposedly), who moves to New York after he inherits a fortune. He becomes a target for people who want to his money, and media snobs who want to expose him as a fraud. Something tells me Sarah Palin would sympathize, but would probably think this comes from Hollywood elitist liberals and not bother with this. Jean Arthur plays the cynical reporter who chases him, only to fall in love. Oscar nominations for Picture, Cooper for Actor, and Screenplay. Capra won the second of his 3 Oscars for Best Director here.
Followed by Theodora In Love, a forgotten screwball comedy. A new 35mm print for Theodora.
The people in a small town hate a scandalous new book, but don't realize it was written by young Theodora from their own town, under a pseudonym. In a brief trip to Manhattan, she falls for a man. She goes back. He finds out where she lives and who she really is, and goes down there to liberate her from the small town gossips and narrow mindedness, whether she likes it or not. Eventually, Thedora gives payback of her own. Melvyn Douglas plays the suitor. But Irene Dunne (Oscar nominated) carries the film as someone who truly grows, who shows both the narrow minded and the "liberated" what emotional freedom and self-happiness truly is.
A forgotten film like I said. For some reason, rarely played over the years on PBS, might have gotten nothing more then a cursory VHS release, apparently NOT available on DVD, and only recently screened occasionally on TCM. It's understandable if you've never heard of it, but now you can change that.
42ND STREET and KING KONG (1933)- Sat Feb 28 at 4:40 (Street), 6:25 (Kong), 8:25 (Street) and 10:10 (Kong)- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's series of Depression-era films. A double feature of the biggest films of 1933. First, 42nd Street. The most enduring of all the Busby Berkeley flicks. The stage show is probably more famous, but let's not ignore the fact that they had some strong material to pull from. And by strong material, I'm not calling this the Hamlet of musicals. But it's a sturdy story executed well. Stage director Warner Baxter tells chorus girl/understudy Ruby Keeler that she has to come back a star, jumping in just before opening night after the leading lady breaks her ankle. With memorable Berkeley numbers set in the show-within-the show, and Ginger Rogers in a supporting role. 2 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Next, the original King Kong, the one where Fay Wray screams her head off. I liked it as a kid, thanks to those endless Kong triple features WOR-TV used to do on Thanksgiving weekend. But I hadn't seen it since 1991, until a few years ago, at a midnight screening at Landmark Sunshine. There, I began to appreciate this film real fast. Moves great, thanks to not being bogged down by back story that the remakes felt were needed. And while I quite like Peter Jackson's version, and I can have some fun with the 1976 version (despite some MASSIVE problems), this is superior if for no better reason then how Kong itself is handled. This is an ape, and no attempt is made to humanize it. It's an ape, and it doesn't have any moral issues about squashing people or flinging them like confetti, and doing this multiple times.
One of the best action films ever made. On both AFI top 100 lists, and on my personal top 100 list as well. Like I've said, I've caught King Kong on the big screen before. But the chance to catch both this AND 42nd Street is too good to pass up. I would want to catch both, not just one.
Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

08 films to catch

Hey all. Mike here with a helpful last second list to help you catch up with the films you need/needed to see in 2008. Not just the Oscar nominees, but a few that didn't make the Oscar cut. I break it down in terms of Major Nominees in theaters, Minor nominees in theaters, Major Nominees on DVD, Minor Nominees on DVD, and those that were ignored. Most times I don't do a write up on them, but you'll see when I felt the need to bring attention. For the purposes of making this list, the following is what I consider to be major nominations: Picture, Director, the four Acting categories, the two Screenwriting nominations, Documentary, Foreign Language, and Animated Film. Here we go:

What to see Major nominees in theaters: Benjamin Button, Milk, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Doubt,

The Reader (Boy, this feels like this will be work),

Rachel Getting Married (Better then I expected. Anne Hathaway deserves the nomination, and I'd be just fine if she won. I was just fine with the cinema verite style, and with the plot and family background coming in drips and drabs. Not only did I feel the addict struggling to handle the day-to-day issues with her addictions was accurate, I also felt the family, in varying levels of an under siege mentality for not knowing what the addict will say or do next, was well done. It is possible to like the film and hate the main characters with a passion. But the wedding and especially the reception, just went on way too long. You telling me director Demme had to use every shot and every take?!?!?),
The Dark Knight (yes, it's on DVD. But it had now been re-released in some NYC theaters. I think it's back on IMAX as well. See it there if you haven't already, it's fantastic on that size screen),

Revolutionary Road, Waltz With Bashir,

Happy-Go-Lucky (only at the Quad at this point, supposedly won't hit DVD until early March),

The Class (just came out in Manhattan. Comes to Kew Gardens on Feb 20.)

What to see Minor nominees in theaters: Australia (Good luck making me sit through this.), Defiance.

What to see Major nominees on DVD: Wall-E, Tropic Thunder, Dark Knight, Kung Fu Panda,

The Visitor (ok script and story, but great subtle acting work by Richard Jenkins. If Clint couldn't be nominated for Best Actor, glad to see Jenkins get it in his stead. Too bad I saw it in Westbury with a group who only joined me because I talked them all into it. Some of us had seen the barely passable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, some of us had seen the very decent Iron Man, and some of us had seen the only ok Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so our options were limited. One guy in our group pushed to see Speed Racer on the Imax. He said it wasn't very good on the regular big screen, but he still pushed to see all of us to see it on Imax. Oh please. Unfortunately, one hour into The Visitor, the same person said aloud "I'd kill right now for a moment of gratuitous violence. When the same basic group of us sat through the Madagascar sequel, which is mediocre kids fare, I went to them and said" For those who didn't like The Visitor, we're even now."),

Frozen River (playing in the Quad. Not on DVD yet, but will arrive on Feb 10th),

Changeling (not out yet, but comes out on DVD Feb 17th. Thumbs up, with a mostly very good script from the creator of Babylon 5. If you know the show, then you can be assured of the multiple story layers that are brought in here, criss cross and eventually form into a strong whole. But part of the last fifth, devolves into a Few Good Men kind of courtroom drama that becomes cliched very quickly. I liked Angelina, but when her character finally gained enough strength to stop being a complete victim, her persona and public image got in the way of the story. I felt she was no longer acting, and I was taken out of the film for most of her remaining scenes.),

Vicky Christina Barcelona (Match Point was ok, but not the comeback Woody Allen film some people have overpraised over the past few years, this is. Flawless performances up and down. I even liked ScarJo, and that doesn't always happen, especially during The Prestige. It's almost as though Woody took a look at the play/film Closer, agreed with its negative take on lousy relationships, channeled through his filter to make it easier to take and like, while having the balls to keep his vision intact through to the end, unlike Closer. I'm sorry. Test audiences didn't like that Natalie Portman died at the end, so they changed it to have her suddenly walking up Times Square looking like an Angelina Jolie wannabe in that Rolling Stones, and this dilution was a good thing?),

In Bruges (finally gave it a chance on Cinemax, and I liked it. Didn't think I'd say that about any Colin Farrell film not named Minority Report, but there you go. Interesting mix of drama, comedy, with moments of sensitivity, and extreme violence. Not as light hearted as the trailer tried to suggest. Very controlled pacing that the impatient might consider too slow. It may be strange to say, but you literally have to tell yourself "I'm in the mood to see In Bruges.", in order to like it. But I hope you do. That said, while I understand why the screenplay was nominated, I don't agree that it should have been nominated over Vicky Christina Barcelona.),

Man On Wire (still playing at Landmark Sunshine, but you might as well catch it on DVD instead. Entertaining doc about Phillippe Petit's back and forth wire cross between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974. You see clips of his previous walks across Notre Dame and the Sydney Harbor bridge, home movies of the practices and strategy on how to do the World Trade Center, and pictures of the group's first recon trip to the Towers when they posed as journalists! We also get interviews with those involved, including the very likable and probably insane Petit and a blow by blow of the actual "break in" by the gang who figuratively could barely shoot straight but got VERY VERY lucky. Most of the last 20 minutes show the pictures of the actual crossings, and the pictures are amazing and awe-inspiring.),

Encounters at the End of the World (interesting Oscar nominated documentary from our favorite wackjob Werner Herzog. Here he does an unconventional Antartica doc. Despite wonderful Arctic visuals, and not so wonderful but just as interesting {the research station looks like a cross between a strip mine and Detroit}; Werner's real interest is finding out what kind of person would go so far away and be cut off from society at large. A highlight: when Werner asks the penguin expert, a man who has cut himself off from most humans for about thirteen years, if there are any gay penguins. The look on that man's face is priceless.),

The Counterfeiters, Mongol (These last two were the Oscar winner for and fellow nominee for Foreign Language film last year. Their U.S. releases were also in 2008, so they count toward ones' possible best of 08 list.),

Taxi To The Dark Side (last year's Oscar winning Documentary got a U.S. release last Jan., so it counts toward the 2008 Best of list. On DVD. I was surprised it beat the other nominated Iraq doc No End In Sight, but after seeing it, I get why now. Will not be popular with the Fox News crowd, but pretty good. From director Alex Gibney, of the well done Enron documentary, so sorry, you can't dismiss this. In fact, for those who may not like this. I DARE you to see it and give it an honest chance. I'll know from your comments if you didn't . . . )

What to see Minor nominees on DVD: The Duchess, Hellboy 2, Iron Man,

Wanted (Visually outrageous action film. Works on its own loopy logic. Check your brain at the door and have fun. Try seeing it widescreen, because seeing at full screen won't cut it.)

Also what to see despite not being nominated: Gran Torino, Summer Place, Gonzo, (both on DVD),
Gomorrah (Had a one week Oscar qualifying run in L.A. last year, so it counts toward a Best of 2008 list. Comes out at both IFC Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Feb 13. The subject of controversy on two fronts. First, the depiction of young Mafioso types, applying their trade in Naples caused the real life director to be threatened by actual Mafioso. Second, when the film didn't make the short list for Best Foreign Language Film, critics who so it are wondering who the hell is doing the voting. The first part, plus having Scorsese's seal of approval {he's "presenting" it; must be some sort of executive producer}, is good enough for me.),
Tell No One (only playing in the late afternoon at Cinema Village, but will have 2 screenings a day starting this Friday. One in the middle of the afternoon, one in the evening. Go. Doesn't come out on DVD until March 31.),

Four Months Three Weeks Two Days (remember what I wrote earlier about Gomorrah, where L.A. critics where wondering who the hell you had to screw {figuratively} in order to qualify for the short list for Best Foreign Language Film? Well the same exact controversy happened the year before over there, regarding this film. Sorry it's been ignored here. On DVD. Well done drama, about two University women, trying to arrange an illegal abortion in Communist Romania. Very similar to a typical Robert Altman film, with its long shots of some scenes, as well as sequences of overlapping dialogue. I really liked Anamaria Marinca as the woman trying to arrange the abortion for her friend, and flailing to keep her head above water and out of jail. But we had another entry into the modern villain hall of fame with Vlad Ivanov, as the abortionist who becomes more repellent the longer he's onscreen.),

The Last Mistress (on DVD. You may not expect the director of Fat Girl Catherine Breilant, to pull off a costume drama. But it off she does, because she doesn't forget there are human beings in the fancy costumes, like Sofia Coppolla seemed to ignore in Marie Antoinette. Believable erotic tension as a playboy-type tries to marry a good girl, but can't shake the ex-wife/mistress who will not be ignored. Asia Argento makes a perfect anachronistic choice for the title role. Catch this ignored film.),

Mamma Mia (by the time Meryl Streep sings the title song, even the most cynical viewer should be won over. One part weather porn with great Greek isle visuals, one part light-hearted escapist fun. Strong support by the other women helps. The fact that the male leads, Pierce Brosnan in particular, CAN'T sing hurts. And Streep really shines when she sings "The Winner Takes It All". Add a half to one star if you're female and/or an ABBA fan.)
There's your guide, hope it helps. Later all.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Feb revivals: first half

Hey, all. Mike here with what to catch for the first half of February. No time to waste, here we go:

MOULIN ROUGE!- Thurs Feb 5 at 7 and 9:30- Chelsea Clearview for 7.50- A cheap screening of what seem feel is the best musical of the decade. The musical that breathed life into the genre for the first time in a live action way since All That Jazz. I strongly disagree with that, I'm just stating others' feelings on the matter. Whether you pick Chicago, or Once, or even Across The Universe instead, I personally prefer that to choosing this. Not that I hate it, mind you. I've only seen this on TV. After the Can-Can sequence, the film dips into ok at best, and never goes back up.

I also have a bias regarding Baz Lurhman films. Rome and Juliet is ok, but overrated, and I don't care about the rest. When catching Quantum of Solace (merely decent; a disappointment when compared to Casino Royale), I walked into the closing credits of Australia. Hearing the music and seeing the giant Australia map behind the letters, I thought "What pretentious crap", so good luck getting me to see that. But I've told others before that I'd give Moulin Rouge a chance on the big screen. And so it's posted here, waiting for someone to call me on it.

I'M NO ANGEL- Fri Feb 6 at 7:45 and 10- Film Forum for 35 cents- The start of the Forum's series of Depression-era films. And to kick it off, the Forum starts off with this Mae West film, and tries to do something special around it. Along with the film, there will be trailers from other films in the series, as well as old time Movietone News shorts from the era. Then, the film itself.

Screenplay fully credited to West (a rarity for a studio film to be written by a sole female, so just think of how rare in 1932!), and the second teaming of Mae and Cary Grant. Simple comedy, as West's character basically goes from the outhouse to literally the penthouse. But remembered and liked for the suggestive lines. "When I'm good, I'm very good. But, when I'm bad... I'm better." and "It's not the men in your life that counts, it's the life in your men." are just some of the memorable lines. A big hit that helped Paramount Pictures get through the Depression, and supposedly helped caused the need for the Production Code to put more censorship, er I mean, put restrictions on racier and/or violent elements, yeah, that's it . . .

And the cost of all this? Thirty Five Cents. Not a typo. 35 cents. This needs to be decided ASAP. If you don't decide by late Wed afternoon, good luck getting in, especially if you're not a member. It's 25 cents for members, by the way.

MY MAN GODFREY with or without EASY LIVING- Sat Feb 14 at 4:35 (Godfrey), 6:25 (Easy), and 8:20 (Godfrey)- Film Forum- More from the Forum's Depression-era film retro. My Man Godfrey is the one I'd really like to catch. In this screwball comedy classic, Carole Lombard's rich girl character (think Paris Hilton, minus STDs and plus 100+ I.Q. points), on a whim and in scavenger hunt mode, brings in homeless man William Powell to become the family butler. He turns out to be more than meets the eye, not the least of which being brighter then the rest of the family. Why Powell's a hobo probably wouldn't hold up today, not without a big storyline about him getting treatment, put on medication, etc. But the rest of the comedy holds up quite well. Powell may always seem to have the upper hand on Lombard, but that's the script, and not for lack of trying. But Powell has the advantage of playing a straight man while also going into depth with his character, while everyone else around him are batshit nuts.

6 Oscar nominations; Powell for Actor, Lombard for Actress, Gregory La Cava for Director, plus 2 for Supporting Actress and one for the Screenplay. When this is shown on TV, it looks every bit it's age of over 70 years. While we're not getting a new 35mm print here, I'm hoping it's a lot better here then on TV.

Double featured with Easy Living, co-written by Preston Sturges and has been argued as the best screwball comedy of the 30s that doesn't get acknowledgement. Basically, you have Jean Arthur who works in a Wall Street firm, who is accidentally thought of as her boss' mistress, who ends up living in a fancy hotel, and falls in love with Ray Milland who works in the Automat, but is actually the son of the man people think has Jean Arthur's character for a mistress . . . Confused yet? Anyway, you can see with My Man Godfrey for one admission.

GONE WITH THE WIND- Sun Feb 15 at 4- Symphony Space- Do I really have to go on about this. If you're looking at this page at all, you know this. The question is, will you be willing to spend the three hours, forty-six minutes to see this classic? The Leonard Nimoy Thalia may not be the Ziegfeld or even the old AMMI, but it will do.

There you go. Short list. You have little time to tell me if there's interest in I'm No Angel, more time regarding the others. Let me know. Later all.