Monthly Movie Journal: September 2011
First Time Views
Films watched for the first time, including most all sub-categories.
95 7.6 7.62. Mondays in the Sun (2002)
Los lunes al sol (Trailer)
A very well-performed and meditative film that captures its place and characters remarkably well. Unfortunately the film is so subtle it nearly starves itself and we realize early on that there aren't many interesting places this can possibly go. I certainly liked it more than I didn't, but it's not one I'd hurry to recommend.
738 6.8 6.74. Stay (2005)
A Marc Forster directed film starring Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, and Ewan McGreggor. And I'd never even heard of it?! Something went seriously wrong with the marketing campaign here. I'd maybe understand how this could happen if the movie was garbage. But it's an awesome piece of cinema! In fact, this probably makes the list for Top 10 best films I've seen that absolutely NOBODY bothered to tell me about. Sheesh.
Anyway, as many reviewers have noted, this movie is something of a mind-fuck. But its purpose is not to deceive, nor is the type that plods along only to be redeemed by a twist ending that brings it all into focus and tries to convince us that the whole thing was worthwhile after all. Nope, rather this movie is meant to be appreciated in the journey. DON'T expect a 6th sense knock-off, DO keep your mind and eyes open and alert. You'll find plenty to enjoy and, if you're like me, you'll anticipate re-watching it soon.
Just finished watching for the second time this week. Not much to add without spoiling anything, but this is a modern marvel in visual story-telling. The musical score is fantastic as well. And it was great fun picking up on things along the way that I missed the first time around. My original 9/10 rating stands strong.
3 8.3 7.35. American Beer (2004)
Being something of a craft beer enthusiast, I was excited when I finally tracked down this documentary. Five guys set out on a road-trip across the United States and visit 38 breweries in 40 days. Pretty cool, eh? Better known craft breweries such as Dogfish Head, Bell's, Rogue, and Sierra Nevada are included here, as well as many that most will be completely unfamiliar with (including a few minor brew-pubs).
Interviews with founders, presidents, and head brewmasters of various breweries account for the strongest points of the film, delivering the most interesting information and even humor. The road-trip aspect involving 5 guys joking around on sleep-deprived hangovers provides some spontaneity and humor, but ultimately wears a little thin. I was left wishing there was a bit more interesting beer talk, debate, and passion expressed for good beer.
If you enjoy diverse styles of beer and have a general disdain for Anheiser Busch this "bockumentary" will be worth your while.
333 7.2 7.16. Dressed to Kill (1980)
Well, this is what I get for breaking my self-imposed rule and jumping the gun on Halloween month. It's like awful karaoke of a bunch of Alfred Hitchcock songs...if that makes any sense. But packed to the gills with dodgy psychology and attitudes aplenty. Certain shots and sequences reveal some definite talent, but much of the plot movement and transitions become downright clunky, especially during the second half.
I came close to turning this one off halfway through and it's rather a shame that I didn't.
This sums up my feelings on the movie pretty well:
591 6.8 6.87. Spider (2002)
Just watched Clean, Shaven a couple weeks ago, so one might think I was "schizophrenia-ed out". To the contrary. I'm a fan of Cronenberg's work so it was only a matter of time before I got around to this one. Figure may as well watch it now as a companion-piece, compare/contrast activity.
Just as with Clean, Shaven I once again found myself deeply engaged in this film and in the struggle of the central character. Both films pack an emotional punch, though their approach is quite a bit different. Comparing the two isn't very helpful actually once you get past the mental illness factor and some similarities in tone.
As far as Cronenberg goes, this one is in some ways among his most 'traditional' feeling films. (As well as his most underrated) But of course, even as we think we have a handle on things, he provides us much more to chew on.
If you're the type to violently complain about "slow-moving" films, don't bother with Spider. But if you feel like really walking with a character and seeing inside his mind in ways that good films allow us to do, be sure to check this one out!
452 6.5 6.88. Super (2010)
Far darker and oddly demented than I would've ever guessed... so of course I wound up liking it. A lot. Sure the movie isn't perfect, but it's smart, funny, violent, and off-beat enough to make for a perfect Midnight Movie. This one's destined for cult-classic status!
1990 7.2 7.69. Munich (2005)
I'm still haven't seen a number of key titles, but along with Jaws this is my favorite Spielberg film to date. He proves over and over that he's a master of visual story telling. The guy seems to knows exactly where to put the camera every damn time. The performances here are probably the best I've ever seen within his body of work. And the stunning script pushes this film beyond the realms of the blockbuster entertainers we've all come to love.
Here we've got a film of true import teeming with personal and global drama, but one that remains perfectly accessible throughout. And don't let the somewhat bloated run-time (164 minutes) scare you off. I've watched 85 minute films that have felt longer.
See here for all you need to know:
63 6.7 6.910. Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011)
Trailer for Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
I like Conan O'Brien. I always have. My brother and I used to stay up every night for Late Night with Conan O'Brien (back when Andy Richter was literally his right-hand man) and wake up for school the next day under-slept and, consequently, crabby. (Which, incidentally is often the condition we find Conan in here.)
By the time it was announced (2004) that he would be taking over the Tonight Show duties, I'd been moved out of the house, living on my own for nearly 3 years. Television was not part of my life. My interest in television celebrities in general had plummeted to somewhere between marginal and zero. All the same I was happy.
By the time Conan made his debut as the Tonight Show host in 2009 I'd gone nearly a decade without broadcast or cable televison (which I still don't have). But suddenly I found myself in the same spot I was all those years ago. Staying up past my bedtime, watching every one of his shows as it became available on Hulu. So when he was fired from the show after only a handful of months I was angry. Ha, for years now I had only given a shit about literally three television personalities: John Stewart, Tim Russert, and Conan O'Brien. Of those three, one died, and now another got banned from television and internet for 6 months. What was I to do?
Well apparently nothing. I still haven't seen a single episode of Conan's new TBS show, and I haven't watched The Daily Show in over a year. But... I of course couldn't pass up on this documentary. And if you're a fan, you shouldn't either. It's a pretty damn good look into the obsessive, workaholic guy that's seems to always be "on". Whatever personal demons O'Brien continues to contend with, he still insists on turning his suffering into our amusement.
448 6.1 6.511. [REC] 2 (2009)
Well, I broke my self-imposed rule again about no more horror until October. And once again I suffered for it. Oh, but I loved the first one SO much! I just couldn't wait any longer!
Now I see that I clearly could have. This is an absolute mess of a movie. All the simple, unassuming terror of the original has been completely drained out of this one. Where we once had an exciting, fresh, scary, and utterly badass zombie flick that actually restored my faith in the found-footage genre, we now have a zombie/demon/priest-collar/paint-by-numbers hunter vs. hunted/identity crisis movie. With an 'alternate perspective of the same time-frame' video-documentation source thrown in as some kind of feeble intermission side-show. Gah, did that suck!
Replace creepy as hell payoff from the original with stupid, stupid flashback/story manipulation trick that breaks all the rules of the 'found footage' drama and the major let-down is complete.
*Sigh* The make-up is pretty awesome, some of the special effects work is pretty awesome, and a couple of the 'attacks' are satisfying. This should push the movie into the 4/10 realm, but I dunno. The wound is still pretty raw.
621 7.6 7.812. Open Your Eyes (1997)
The first third of the movie feels like a dreadful soap opera in many ways. From there it improves, though I felt too much of the characterization and relationships were painted in broad strokes. The twists and turns of the plot and mind-fuck aspect of the film were executed very well, but ultimately I wasn't ever truly engaged at an emotional level. By the end I felt there was sufficient fun to be had in a purely cinematic sense, but... so what?
114 6.6 6.613. Bubble (2005)
Ha, I had a big silly smile on my face throughout much of this movie. Not sure if that was Soderberg's intent, but the characters and natural acting was a dose of simple joy- especially Martha. I was actually a little bummed out that the movie was so short; I'd have gladly watched her on screen for another hour.
767 7.2 7.514. Notes on a Scandal (2006)
It struck be as a bit odd that an illicit, ongoing sexual relationship between a 15 year-old boy and an art teacher (Blanchett) manages to get brushed away like a minor sub-plot by the final act of the film. How does that even happen? Well for one thing you damn well better have some compelling revelations to take it's place. Luckily that's true here. Less fortunate though is that these developments are a bit more transparent and ultimately less satisfying than one might hope.
It's the kind of film where the performances, music, and instances of dialogue/narration are so good that it's all splendid enough as we watch. It's only later as I thought about the film that I began to feel disappointed. 94 minutes just isn't enough to say everything that the story wants to tell.
But my, what a wickedly odd predator/prey seducer/seducee triangle we have on our hands here.
15 6.2 4.615. The Orgasm Diaries (2010)
Not nearly as self-indulgent or shallow as I was afraid this might be. Certain moments strike blissfully true notes, others feel painfully and depressingly real. And the performances here are brave and honest and very good. It's too bad that a generally lousy scripts holds this film back from becoming truly noteworthy.
Where I see what all the fuss is about.
500 8.3 8.316. The General (1926)
*The recent 2002 orchestral score featured on the Neflix Instant watch version of this film was excellent, and did a lot to punctuate the ever-present humor and excitement of the film.
945 8.4 8.217. Persona (1966)
Bah, probably the most "post-modern" movie I've ever seen! This is a dream come true for anyone interested in identity theory, post-structuralism, postmodern art theory, deconstructionism- especially in regards to ideas about binary opposition, subject/object relationships, being versus nothingness, authorship and text, the self and the other...
Christ, an entire Literature Theory class came rushing back to me as I watched this film. A thousand and one ideas seem to be swirling around within its frames, and as many ways to read them. Yet at the same time, so much of the movie is a tightly controlled minimalistic project. Whew. What a buncha... I don't know what.
While I decide how much I wish to try and wrestle with all this movie invites an audience to wrestle with, I will say that at a basic level this is a very emotionally compelling film, and one that truly seems to have sprung from a source of dark desperation. Also, not enough can be said about Bibi Andersson's performance. Truthfully I have no idea who she is or what else she's done, but wow!
Definitely a film worth revisiting.
702 8.1 8.118. Network (1976)
I've put off watching Network for some while now, mostly because executives in suits yelling at one another across conference tables is among my least favorite genres of film. And yes, this qualifies.
But fortunately Network is also a razor-sharp satire that remains eerily relevant today and is fueled by an intelligent script and a number of powerhouse performances. Sure there are more monologues in this film than you can shake a stick at, and much of the dialogue is overly idyllic (think high-brow version of a Kevin Smith film), but often these moments are where the actors really shine and hey, this film is about big ideas that sometimes need a lot of air.
That said, the theatrics did get to be a bit too much for me at times. And I'm not sure if the no-frills mise-en-scène helped balance it all out, or only drew more attention to the border-line melodrama going on.
Again, not my type of film, but there's no disputing the importance and social implications at work here.
Where I see what all the WTF is about.
426 7.7 7.320. El Topo (1970)
Boobs, blood, barb-wire boxing gloves, and bacchanalia. Religious symbolism, rape fantasy, and Russian roulette. Mass execution and mutant dwarfs, slapstick shows and sex slaves, amputee piggy back rides and... cunnilingus pantomime. This one pretty much has it all.
More bizarre and even funny than it is downright disturbing, this surreal Western/mystical journey toward redemption is one weird ride. It's no wonder it's the godfather of the Midnight Movie.
229 7.4 7.421. Tesis (1996)
180 7.9 7.322. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)
Ah yes, one of those rare instances where the overall merit of a film is overshadow by it's notorious reputation as "extreme cinema".
Certainly there's plenty here to shock, and there are moments that are difficult to watch. But this is really a fascinating film with a lot to say. Truly a work of art worth checking out!
Obscure, bizarre, off the beaten path.
87 6.4 6.123. Afterschool (2008)
Seems to me that director Antonio Campos has spent too much time watching Michael Hanake films for his own good. In what could've be a darkly fascinating observation of the inner-turmoil of an emotionally withdrawn prep-school sophomore far too much time and effort is wasted on unconventionality and "indie-cred" that serves no greater purpose. I can appreciate the cold and detached style the director aims for, but here the only style that's ultimately achieved is no style.
Often the director is too self-consciously busy with achingly slow pans and oddly framed or unbalanced shots that refuse to allow us to see character faces in their entirety, or witness the expression of whoever happens to be speaking. I get what's going on here but I have a certain threshold for how long I can stare a light switch on a wall or unoccupied chairs. The rest of the time we see the movie through a meticulously centered and entirely stationary camera in a series of stubborn long (distance) shots. It could be that there's a powerful story somewhere here, but the director's refusal to participate in the dynamics possible with film-making strikes me as amateurish rather than artistically inspired.
There's no musical score here, and that's fine, but the sparse, inarticulate dialogue and poor sound doesn't do the film any favors. I've seen minimalist films that say a great deal, but this one didn't say anything of any importance to me.
10 4.5 5.124. Aswang (1994)
This is a great example of a horror myth in need of a better film.
This read was far more interesting than the movie itself. And apparently there's a documentary out there somewhere that I'm interested in checking out and that I can only hope is better than this highly forgettable movie.
37 6 6.225. King of the Ants (2003)
83 4.9 4.326. Anatomy of Hell (2004)
Dour and self-important, this film seems to go to great lengths to resist appreciation. It's the dialogue that really tripped me up, rather than the intense images. Most of the film focuses on two characters. And most of the time they speak to one another in lofty, obtusely philosophical generalities that don't really point toward any truths or insights. This isn't how two people talk, and it's not how effective essays about sexual-politics are written either, so, what then?
This is my first experience of the director's work, and something tells me I didn't pick a great place to start. A lot of this photography and camera work here is undeniably great, however.
96 7.3 727. The Reflecting Skin (1990)
Beautiful, strange, and complex film. This one is rich in symbolism and social and political implications, but the narrative and film can very much be enjoyed at a surface level. At times it feels like a Stephen King film adaptation, but the many instances of highly original and sometimes way out there imagery makes the film more fascinating. If you enjoyed the fantastic cinematography and the child perspective of I'm Not Scared this is definitely one to track down.
Criterion Collection Releases
I don't place a huge stock in whether or not something is deemed "Criterion Collection worthy" but I will admit that when the Janus Films logo comes up on my screen, I do tend to assume I'm about to watch something that's somehow important.
278 8.4 8.628. Night and Fog (1955)
562 7.6 7.629. Hunger (2008)
One of the most powerful and visually striking films I've seen in the last year or two or 20. Michael Fassbender delivers what I'd consider one of the finest, most fearless performances of the decade. Riveting, tragic, and striking in the raw humanity captured and communicated on film.
Foreign Language Film of the Month
In order to expand my horizons, satisfy my urge for discovery, and approach a film with zero to little expectation-- all at once!
167 7.3 7.230. Little Otik (2000)
Little Otik is a bizarre, sometimes dark, and often hilarious tale from Czech director Jan Svankmajer. It's the kind of film that resists summation, in that any attempt to reveal what it's about would only be met with eye-rolls and various forms of "um...okay, whatever"-s. It simply needs to be seen. The stop-motion animation used here is not only a delight, but the only form of visual storytelling that would suit this material.
I will grant that at 126 minutes, the film is longer than it probably needs to be. But it's so much fun that this is barely even a criticism.
Film Snob Pick of the Month
You know the type of film I mean.
234 7.6 7.231. Russian Ark (2002)
Trailer "Russian Ark"
The above trailer outlines the remarkable achievements of this film. What it doesn't mention is that this film almost never was. Due to technical mishaps of some form or another, the first two attempts at shooting the movie were scrapped part way through. With time remaining for only one more attempt it was literally do or die time on this third and final attempt.
But beyond the facts, numbers, and style, just what do we have here? Well, that much is difficult for me to judge. I wish I had more general knowledge of Russian history (and to a lesser extent a broader knowledge of art history) to bring to this. At times, I felt I was a bit over my head. And it's easy to imagine that watching this film as a non-Russian language speaker like myself is much much different from the experience that someone who speaks the language would have.
But the best portions of the film are the ones that sweep the viewer up in a sort of trance. Portions of the film become dream-like and meditative, quietly poetic. But much of it also simply feels like nationalistic musings that never really engage me.
Can't say I'd watch it again, but it was worth it for the novelty appeal. And gosh if the camera work, large-scale blocking, and entire scope of this project wasn't damn impressive.
Documentary of the Month
Because sometimes a good doc is just the thing.
59 7.8 8.232. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Ho... (1996)
A great documentary dealing with the largely publicized and criticized West Memphis Three case. The wrongly convicted teenagers were finally released last month, in light of newly surfaced DNA evidence/analysis, but only after serving over 18 years in jail for murders that they didn't commit.
This film is an important documentation of one of the most embarrassing and frightening instances of the utter dysfunction within the American judicial system. (not to mention an exploitative media that preys on inane and misguided public sentiment)
In 2000 a follow up documentary was released, along with a third that ran through the Toronto film festival this past month. I plan on watching both films soon.
As a side note, West Memphis Arkansas now tops my list of top places in the U.S.A. that I fucking never want to visit, ever.
22 6.9 7.633. Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000)
Not quite as impressive as the first documentary, but still a very compelling watch. One Mr. Beyers is an especially obnoxious and troubling lunatic which adds a whole level of disturbance to this entire ordeal. I felt the documentary gave him more attention that I would've liked. At certain point it almost seems irresponsible and wrong-headed to allow him to parade his fucking crazy all over the place as much as he does.
At the Movies
Films I caught on the big screen!
284 6.9 734. Another Earth (2011)
Front-runner for most disappointing film of the year, at a personal level anyway. This indie-drama redemption story dressed up in an intriguing sci-fi premise had the potential to become one of my favorite films of the year.
Instead a series of unfortunate decisions, both stylistically and in regards to the narrative, was enough to hijack any promise the film held. Frustrating would be the easiest way to put it.
61 6.4 6.535. Terri (2011)
Trailer for Terri
Terri is a very slice-of-life film that both shines and suffers by its quietness. It's a film I'm of two minds about. On the one hand it struck me as a wonderfully authentic and honestly observant film that presents both the strengths and short-comings of its characters with an unadorned dignity. When this is working at its best I felt like I was seeing something pretty special.
On the other hand, the film seems to resign itself to one or two basic ideas or messages about life, as though it never occurred to anyone that not only will audiences really like this film, but that there may in fact be more interesting things going on here that are worth further exploration. I left the theater wanting more. Much of the problem has to do with the film getting stuck in one of its final scenes for far too long. It's the "experimental teenagers drink and pop pills scene" that we've seen before, even if it's not often with as much candidness and subtle realism as we see here. The movie steers itself so far into this emotionally delicate sequence that it seems to lose its bearings and sacrifices a large chunk of the 'bigger picture' as it were.
964 6.3 6.736. Contagion (2011)
Well, I enjoyed the first 25 minutes or so, particularly the cold and detached tone of the film (which it gradually abandoned). Kate Winslet was very good, and I enjoyed most of the screen-time allotted to Matt Damon and Marion Cotillard.
But aside from those aspects (and maybe the decent musical score) the movie just wasn't very interesting. Or exciting for that matter. And I don't feel much need to spending any more time thinking about it, so...
1675 7.8 7.937. Drive (2011)
It's the best film of the so far very underwhelming year. But regardless of what else comes out, I don't see it leaving the top 3. It's very very good. Good enough that it would stand out in any recent year filled with stronger movies.
That said, I imagine a lot of people won't like this movie. Much of this will have to do with differences between expectations and the film itself, while others will simply not have the patience for it, or begrudge the film for it's lack of background information about our nameless hero. In these ways, last year's The
American - which I enjoyed much more than most people- came to my mind more than once while watching this movie. But overall I think Drive is the stronger picture, and easier to recommend (though if you have a distaste for graphic violence it might be best to stay away).
And my, does this modern noir have style to burn. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Valhalla Rising) seems to incorporate a litany of other filmmakers as he draws from his influences while gleaning his own vision. Tarantino, Lynch, Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Peros) and Francis Ford Coppola all came to mind at various points. And the title credits and soundtrack even seem to owe a bit to John Hughes. And it may be worth noting that Refn dedicates the film to cult-film hero and -so far as I can tell- complete weirdo Alejandro Jodorowsky. Despite its wide release and big name cast (who are all excellent here) Drive does very much strike me as cult-phenomenon type of film. In any case, I think it will get talked about for years to come, which is something I don't see happening with too much else from 2011's output.
802 7.1 7.638. Moneyball (2011)
Brad Pitt delivers a good performance, though we've seen him far better. Let's see, what else? Actually I have remarkably little to say about this movie, except that it's just not very good. And that's coming from someone who loves baseball and has no hard-feelings toward statistics.
I guess the real underlying problem is that this movie never should've been made. Really. There just isn't a movie to be found in this material. Ha, if this movie gets pushed forward as Oscar material we'll know it's been a bad year for cinema.
Just couldn't stick with it.
581 7 7.339. Crazy Heart (2009)
Almost turned it off in the first 10 minutes. Then Maggie Gyllenhall showed up (had no ideas she was in this movie) and I thought "oh good, I think I like her."
And then they inexplicably sleep together. It's not long before she's crying because, "oh no, you're gonna be on the road and how can I possibly cope?!" What? Really? Just like that she's in love with this overweight, alcoholic, has-been with 30 or so years on her? When did that happen again?
Anyway, I quickly lost interest after that. Colin Farrel didn't seem to add much from what I saw, and I guess Robert Duvall is in here somewhere too but I wouldn't know. This all just seemed terribly ordinary, and sleep is sounding better right now. Ha, besides, I'm obviously crabby.
Oh, but before I go, who else thinks that's the worst movie poster of 2009?
Shaped by theatrical/DVD release dates, recommendations from fellow listal members/friends, and random urges.
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