Wednesday, September 30, 2009

#456: 28 Days Later (2002)

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson & Megan Burns

Jim wakes up in a London hospital after a crash, and finds that nobody is attending him. In fact, nobody is in the building, or on the streets. He walks through Central London to find that the city had been evacuated. He soon finds out why: an infectious disease has spread, rendering its victims into a zombie-like state. Jim is saved from his first attack by Mark and Selena, who inform him that it's been 28 days since the disease began to spread, and they don't know of any other uninfected people besides themselves.

My synopsis doesn't really do it justice, because I can't give away the climax of the film. It takes a very different twist from most zombie films, turning man against man. It was certainly a creative and interesting move in the script, and I'd recommend it to any zombie fans out there.

However, I'm not one. I was never a fan of horror movies, really, so I'm a bit biased. The acting just never seems that good in horror flicks, and usually the only reactions I elicit from them are:

1) Boredom
2) Laughter
3) Queasiness (not a good thing, IMO)

This movie didn't give me any of those reactions. I didn't really react at all, actually, besides a hint of respect for the film because of the aforementioned twist.

Eh. One thumb up just because I know that people who like these movies are sure to like this one.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • For the scenes in London, poilce would close the roads at 4am and filming would begin immediately. It would last for one hour, and at that time the police would reopen the roads. As well as having to deal with traffic, the producers also had to ask clubbers to find alternative routes home. In terms of the traffic, the producers correctly predicted that asking drivers to either wait for up to an hour or find another way might cause some considerable consternation. As such, they employed several extremely attractive young women (one of whom was Danny Boyle's daughter) to make the necessary requests. This plan had the desired results, as the drivers responded quite amicably to the young girls.
  • The tower block where Hannah and her father lived was condemned and has now been demolished.
  • Horror novelist Stephen King bought out an entire showing of the film in New York City.
  • The crew filed all of the necessary papers to destroy the petrol station in Canary Wharf, but the police were unintentionally not notified. When the explosives were detonated, police responded as if a petrol station had really exploded and sent fire brigades (although there was already one present). Danny Boyle finally resolved the matter after several hours.
  • The angelic song that plays in the background, particularly during the car trip, is called "In Paradisum" by Gabriel Fauré.
  • The scene where Jim and Selena celebrate with Frank and Hannah was shot on September 11. Danny Boyle has said it felt extremely strange to be shooting a celebratory scene on that particular day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#457: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Matthew Modine, Arliss Howard & Adam Baldwin

A classic among Vietnam War movies, Full Metal Jacket begins with the new recruits for the Marines at Parris Island. Among the recruits are Pvt. Pyle, the overweight and slow-learning innocent and Pvt. Joker, a man who’s all about getting a laugh and is assigned to help Pyle. Sgt. Hartman trains his soldiers to love their guns more than they love sex, having them sleep with their rifles and pray for their future victories. He is a strict instructor who is determined to get Pyle into shape to join the infantry, eventually having the other recruits punished for Pyle’s mistakes. After Pyle is abused at night for his continuous failures, he kills Sgt. Hartman and shoots himself in the head.

The second half of the film depicts the war in Vietnam, as Pvt. Joker, who is now a reporter, follows Pvt. Cowboy’s squadron. In a bombed out village, a sniper is taking out Cowboy’s men one by one, and the men struggle to move out of their cornered location.

It’s easy to see even from my brief synopsis that the heart of the film really is in the first half. In fact, I haven’t read any reviews that prefer the second half, and even many analyses chose to simply drop the second half and focus on the recruits’ basic training. Pvt. Pyle is by far the most memorable character in the film, and the image of him in the restroom has become iconic for the film.

In these first scenes, Sgt. Hartman dehumanizes his recruits. They are constantly suffering verbal abuse, and any sense of their old selves must be lost to become killing machines. In fact, we never learn any of the recruits’ real names, only the names assigned to them by Hartman. He glorifies all Marines of the past, including Lee Harvey Oswald and the sniper at the University of Texas, Charles Whitman. These scenes are absolutely horrifying, giving the American army a more Nazi-like feel. However, after losing all character in themselves, the audience loses all its compassion for the protagonist of the second half of the film.

In my opinion, it’s just not necessary to watch the second half. The first half, however, is worth the viewing. I’m surprised to see that despite a nearly universal agreement on this, the film still received 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll give it one thumb up for the first half – the other thumb is still disappointed with the second half.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Former US Marine Corps Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey was not originally hired to play Gunnery Sgt. Hartman but as a consultant for the Marine Corps boot camp portion of the film. He performed a demonstration on videotape in which he yelled obscene insults and abuse for 15 minutes without stopping, repeating himself or even flinching - despite being continuously pelted with tennis balls and oranges. Stanley Kubrick was so impressed that he cast Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann.
  • According to director John Boorman, Stanley Kubrick wanted to cast Bill McKinney in the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. However, Kubrick was so unsettled after viewing McKinney's performance in Deliverance (1972) that he declined to meet with him, saying he was simply too frightened at the idea of being in McKinney's presence.
  • 'Vincent D'Onofrio (I)' gained 70 pounds for his role as Pvt. Pyle, breaking Robert De Niro's movie weight-gain record (60 pounds) for Raging Bull (1980). It took him 7 months to put the weight on and 9 months to take it off with physical training.

#458: Batman (1989)

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson & Kim Basinger

(NOTE: From now on, I'm going to include a trailer for the film. I hope you like this idea!)

In the first of the Warner Bros. Batman series, Bruce Wayne is fighting crime in Gotham City, terrorizing the city's criminals as "The Bat". Batman's first nemesis is born when he drops Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals, discoloring his skin and hair. Henceforth known as The Joker, he poisons the city's hygiene products, all while trying to convince the public that it isn't he, but Batman that they shouldn't trust. Photojournalist Vicki Vale is trying to uncover the truth.While researching, she falls in love with Bruce... and in turn, The Joker falls in love with her.

The film is very outdated, but only 20 years after its release, it can be considered historically significant. It was a complete turn-around from its predecessors in the superhero film genre, which can more simply by summarized as the Superman film series. Aside from Superman, there were very few notable films in the genre (though one made it onto The List - Danger: Diabolik). Burton made Batman a much darker style than Superman, with its artistic achievements much more prominent than its script.

The art direction for this film certainly has that Burton-esque quality to it, with exaggerated lines in the architecture, but the subject matter is much less in the fantasy realm than many of his other films (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow... even Pee-Wee's Big Adventure). This new blend of fantasy with a New York-like Gotham City allows us to be drawn in to an almost familiar world.

Props to:
  • Art director Les Tomkins for a style that has been the inspiration for the following five Batman films
  • Music composer Danny Elfman for an exciting and immediately recognizable theme
  • Jack Nicholson for being The Man
One-and-a-half thumbs up for a great time, despite a mediocre script.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another Delay

Just for those wondering why I've slowed down so much in the past week, I actually haven't. I've got some catching up to do on my pre-existing film knowledge. Apparently I had no childhood, because I've never seen an Indiana Jones movie. With the allegedly craptastic Kingdom of the Crystal Skull coming up on the list, I'm going to need to go through all of the others first. So that's going to slow me down in the next week.

I also am a bit behind because of my Netflix "schedule" being a bit wonky. One DVD that I ordered was scratched and threw stuff off a couple days, on top of no mail on Sundays. I caught myself up a bit in the past few days by watching whatever I had available to me via Netflix's streaming option. So, I'm ready to post Dog Day Afternoon and Full Metal Jacket once I'm there.

For now, sit back, relax, and read Laura's blog. It's pretty rockin'.

Friday, September 25, 2009

#459: Ikiru (1952)

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Takashi Shimura, Miki Odagiri...

Kanji Watanabe is in a waiting room when another patient tells him what symptoms characterize stomach cancer, and what the doctor always says to cover up this fact: "it's a mild ulcer" and "eat whatever you like as long as it's digested easily". Watanabe is ashen-faced as he listens, hearing his very own symptoms listed. When the doctors tell him it's a mild ulcer, Watanabe knows he only has a year left to live.

His work at Tokyo's town hall consists of stamping files without looking at them to prove that they've been examined. Nothing is ever done, and nobody seems to want to change this. Watanabe has worked there for thirty years, and only now realizes that though he is going to die, he's been dead his whole life. He encounters a fellow employee, Toyo, who hates working at the office, which doesn't match her vibrant personality. Watanabe is inspired by her energy, though he can't seem to find any for himself. When Toyo explains that she keeps her energy by doing something that she loves and helps others in doing so, Watanabe is determined to make changes at the office.

The second act of the film takes place at Watanabe's wake. The employees are pondering Watanabe's change in personality in the last few months of his life, unsure what caused such an abrupt turn of character. Through flashbacks, we see Watanabe's trials to make a change in the office, and the impact it made on his co-workers as well as the residents of Tokyo.

This is an incredible film. It's the first on the list that received 100% on RottenTomatoes, and there's no doubt why. The film is like a combination between Citizen Kane, Atlas Shrugged and It's a Wonderful Life. Although it's apparent how far behind Japan was from Hollywood at the time as far as the quality of the image goes, this really deserves to be better known.

One of the things that is just mind-boggling about the film is its place in a historical perspective. This was made just seven years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in those few short years the country made huge strides towards the empowerment of the individual. Ikiru's story must have simply melted hearts - even more so than it does today.

The great thing about the acting is how ordinary Watanabe is. He could be just about anyone, and that's what makes this film so strong. Watanabe is in no way extraordinary aside from his extreme desire to be useful to the community. Any one of us could be that, and in doing so, we have the potential to inspire others. However, this takes a surprisingly realistic twist. A description of the final scenes, starting at Watanabe's wake, from the fantastic analysis by blogger "Mystery Man on Film":

The mourners know the events immediately leading up to his death but not his inner mind. Kurosawa depicts drunken mourners disparaging the bureaucratic system, usurping credit for the playground from Watanabe, and finally claiming superficially, “I’ll work at it like I’m a man reborn…sacrifice the self to serve the many.” However, the next scene presents a mirror image of the opening scene: the chief officer, sitting in Watanabe’s place, passes off a potential project to the Engineering Department. One man stands up in silent protest, only to be submerged behind stacks of paper. Such an explicit failure to internalize and act on Watanabe’s lesson provides the strongest incentive to viewers to avoid such similar fate.

I'm extremely excited to watch more of Kurosawa's films, which allegedly are all just as brilliant. Two huge-ass thumbs up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#460: Crash (2004)

Director: Paul Haggis
Cast: Pretty Much Everyone

Crash weaves together multiple stories of residents in Los Angeles, each of whom have their lives affected by racism. Cameron and Christine Thayer are an upper-class black couple who are pulled over by police officers John and Tommy. John pulled them over due to racial profiling, and uses his authority to molest Christine while searching for a weapon in her cocktail dress. Jean Cabot is the wife of the district attorney, a white man who is involved in racial politics. When the Cabot's car is stolen by a couple of black thugs, her racism goes wild. She changes the locks on her door, but when she notices that the man changing the locks is Mexican, she wants them changed again the next day. Farhad is a Persian store owner who buys a gun to protect his store, all because of the racial prejudices against people from the Middle East. And the story just keeps on going.

I don't get why this film is such a big deal. It shows everyone as a complete moron. I almost feel that it's a dragged out version of Avenue Q's "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist". There's only one character that doesn't act like an idiot at some point, and that's the Mexican locksmith, Daniel Ruiz. I would go into detail on how all the others show their idiocy, but considering it's a cast of about 426, I'll save it for a later date.

What I can give this film is good cinematography. I'm trying to think of anything else to give it. But I just can't come up with much. I can say that one or two scenes did get me thinking about how racism can be employed for personal gain. So I guess besides cinematography, it's also a possible conversation starter. Wahoo.

It seems to me that Paul Haggis at some point in his life realized that he was a bit racist, and decided to exploit everyone's racism in one big on-screen romp. [Oh my gosh, I was right. After writing this, I started looking up my Fun trivia. Just take a look at the first bullet.] It's an extremely pretentious film. Two thumbs down. And to the Academy - what in God's name were you thinking?

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • One of the things that inspired the movie was that Paul Haggis was carjacked himself.
  • First Best Picture film since Rocky (1976) to win only three Oscars (they usually win four or more).

#461: Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes & Donald Pleasence

Fifteen years after 6-year-old Michael Myers murdered his sister with a kitchen knife, he escapes from the mental institution and returns to his Illinois hometown. He begins to stalk Laurie, who stepped onto his abandoned house's porch, as well as her two friends Annie and Lynda, all of whom are baby-sitting that Halloween night.

This film was the inspiration for a slew of horror films, as well as quite a few parodies. The cliches created by this film are first-person camerawork, the apparently invincible murderer and the female heroine who usually is the virgin, substance-free member of her group of friends. Films which follow these rules are Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream (which also outwardly explains what these rules are).

Aside from its influence on the genre, I personally didn't like the movie. Maybe it's too outdated. But when a guy gets stabbed in the head twice, shot about four times and falls out of a second story window, he should be dead. It's just stupid when he's not.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Due to its shoestring budget, the prop department had to use the cheapest mask that they could find in the costume store: a Captain Kirk (William Shatner) mask. They later spray-painted the face white, teased out the hair, and reshaped the eye holes.
  • Tommy Doyle's name was from Rear Window (1954) and Sam Loomis' name is from Psycho (1960).
  • Inside Laurie's bedroom there is a poster of a painting by James Ensor (1860-1949). Ensor was a Belgian expressionist painter who used to portray human figures wearing grotesque masks.

#462: Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

Director: Shane Meadows
Cast: Paddy Considine, Toby Kebbell, Paul Hurtsfield & Gary Stretch

When a criminal enters a pub, Anthony whispers to his brother Richard, "that's one of them." Richard glares at the man, and when he the criminal asks what Richard is looking at, he lashes out "you, you cunt!". The criminal leaves the pub, but meets Richard later, who apologizes for his behavior. The criminal quickly accepts the apology and runs away to tell his friends that Anthony's brother is back. Through a series of flashbacks, we witness the abuse Anthony - who is developmentally disabled - took while Richard was away. Richard is now out for revenge, taking out the gang of criminals one at a time.

Despite its simple and arguable overdone plot, this film is extremely well done. Credit can be given to this movie for filming England without Hollywoodizing it. The men live in a small town of dirty brick buildings with extremely ordinary characters living there. Guns are not used in the film, which is a much truer look at England's gang life.

The soundtrack is notable in this film for the atmosphere it provides. It almost makes Richard's plot for revenge seem dreamlike, giving Richard more of an 'Angel of Death' feel to him.

The acting is also quite good. The only character that I thought was a bit overdone, sadly, was Anthony. It may have been a better performance if I hadn't recognized the actor, Toby Kebbell, whose career launched after the release of this film. Since, he has appeared in Alexander, RocknRolla, The German and Chéri.

Two thumbs up for giving a moving performance without any crazy special effects.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
When Richard breaks into the flat he spray paints "Cheyne Stoking" on the wall. In very sick patients, this is the name of the breathing pattern that is a sign of impending death.
Toby Kebbell was cast only one day before filming started.
The end credits state the message "In memory of Martin Joseph Considine", this isPaddy Considine's father. Just before Martin died, he kept saying he wanted Paddy to work with Shane Meadows again.

Monday, September 21, 2009

#463: Juno (2007)

Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Jason Bateman & Jennifer Garner

Juno is a junior in high school when she and her best friend Bleeker decided to have sex in an armchair. When she finds out that she’s pregnant, she first decides to “nip it in the bud”, but gets cold feet when she gets to the clinic. Instead, she finds a couple in the Pennysaver who are looking to adopt. The film chronicles Juno’s hardships at school, her relationship with Bleeker, and her correspondence with the surrogate parents.

There’s too many good things to say about this film, it’s hard to know where to start. In fact, I’m going to just make a list.

  • Casting/Acting

There isn’t a single character that isn’t extremely strong in personality. Each has their quirk, yet they’re all not only believable, but likable characters. Of course, the best example of this is Juno herself. Though Ellen Page is, in fact, a mirror image of Juno’s personality, she’s able to provide a depth to the character that nobody saw coming going into the film.

Even though there are disagreements throughout the film, not one of them ever does anything that isn’t to like, and the only mean-ness displayed is only a miscommunication. This people-friendly portrayal of the entire cast provides the audience with a strengthened faith in humanity, which is pretty darn cool if you ask me.

  • Art Direction / Cinematography / Props

The film is rife with color and texture. Though my history is in music, I’ve always been a visual learner, and this film provides so many iconic images that not only give the film a unique feel, but also add to the personality of each of the characters. For example, Juno’s hamburger phone. Honestly, it was probably a $5 purchase at a dollar store, but it’s something that anyone who has seen this film will remember for a long time.

  • Music

The majority of the soundtrack is performed by The Moldy Peaches, which was chosen thanks to a recommendation by Ellen Page. The songs are all sweet and childlike, which resonate with Juno’s carefree attitude. The soundtrack is loads of fun to listen to, and is right up there with Little Miss Sunshine when it comes to soundtracks that I’d like to purchase (if I ever purchased soundtracks).

  • Dialogue

The dialogue is probably what people will remember most from this film. On many instances I’ve heard that Juno can be called a study on the English language in the high school scene, and I can agree with that. The witty style of writing is all thanks to the Diablo Cody, ex-stripper and present-day author, screenwriter and journalist. You really can’t get a style to match it from somebody that hasn’t been a stripper.

I’d also like to include some quotes that make me laugh just about every time I see this film.

Leah: Honest to blog?

Mac: Who is the kid?
Juno: The-the baby? I don’t really know much about it other than, I mean, it has fingernails, allegedly.
Bren: Nails, really?
Juno: Yeah!
Mac: No, I know I mean who’s the father, Juno?
Juno: Umm… it’s Paulie Bleeker.
Mac: Paulie Bleeker?
Juno: What?
Mac: I didn’t think he had it in him.
Leah: I know, right?

Juno: You should've gone to China, you know, 'cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those t-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events.

Rollo: (Juno shakes her pregnancy tester) That ain’t no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, Homeskillet.

Leah: So, are you going to go to Haven Brook or Women Now? ‘Cause you know, you need a note from your parents for Haven Brook.
Juno: Yeah, I-I know. Ummm… no, I’m going to go to Women Now, just cause they help out “women now”.

  • Message

As I said, this film shows a strong faith in the kindness of people. What compliments this is that the film in fact helps bring liberals and conservatives together. Though Juno is clearly a liberal, her change of heart at the abortion clinic demonstrates that not all liberals think of an abortion as an easy choice. This film is both liberal- and conservative-friendly, even while focusing on a sore topic in politics.

If you haven’t seen this film, get yourself out of that hole and do it. You won’t regret it. Two thumbs up.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • At one point before Juno visits Mark, he is sitting at his computer reading Diablo Cody's (the movie's screenwriter) real-life blog, known as "The Pussy Ranch".
  • Jennifer Garner dropped her A-list salary to a percentage point agreement for Juno when it was expected to be a small, low grossing indie film, but the decision paid off when Juno became a breakout smash at the box office - giving Garner her best payday yet.
  • Director Jason Reitman mentions on the DVD audio commentary that several objects in Bleeker's room, including a Hebrew alphabet poster on his door, a framed Bar Mitzvah certificate on his wall, and a dreidel on his shelf, are supposed to indicate that Bleeker is Jewish.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

#464: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Director: Stanley Donen
Cast: Howard Keel & Jane Powell

It can be hard living in the wilderness of America's northwest in the 1850's, especially with out a missus around the house. Adam Pontipee is determined to take the long ride into town and find a bride by the end of the day. Somehow, he succeeds when he finds Milly. When she returns to his house, she is surprised to find that not only is she a bride, but she is also responsible for serving Adam's six younger brothers (each biblically named in alphabetical order based on age: Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frankincense [or Frank] and Gideon). Milly unsuccessfully attempts to civilize these rugged men of the outdoors and help them find themselves brides. Instead, they all kidnap women from the town and cause an avalanche to keep them at their home for the winter.

This is one of the cheesiest, strangest musicals I've ever seen. The plot is absolutely absurd, and the songs - while catchy - are remarkably cliché. The sets are also nothing to brag about. Most of the scenes have a painted backdrop, thanks to MGM's low faith in this film and sourcing most of their budget towards Brigadoon.

The choreography is what anyone should watch this film for. Michael Kidd may not have choreographed many well known films, but this film as well as his hit Hello, Dolly! are undoubtedly a great credit to his name. He uses the story and set to their fullest by actually using the dances to continue the story in the famous scene in which the six younger brothers are trying to impress their brides-to-be. I would include a clip here. But I can't find one.

From what I hear, this film is really best known by kids who grew up on this film. For me, it was just kind of weird.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The censors weren't too happy about the line in the song "Lonesome Polecat" where the brothers lament "A man can't sleep when he sleeps with sheep". By not showing any sheep in the same shot as the brothers, the film-makers were able to get away with it.
  • Rehearsals for the barn-raising sequence took 3 weeks.
  • For the brides costumes, designer Walter Plunkett went to the Salvation Army, found old quilts and turned them into dresses.
  • Caleb says, "There was no 'F' names in the Bible, so Ma named him Frankincense, 'cause he smelled so sweet." However, there are in fact three "F" names in the Bible: Felix (referenced in Acts 24:27); Fes'tus (referenced in Acts 24:27, 25:1, 25:4, 25:9, 25:12, 25:13, 25:14, 25:22, 25:24, 26:24, 26:25, and 26:32); and Fortunatus (referenced in 1 Corinthians 16:17).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

#465: 12 Monkeys (1995)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe & Brad Pitt

Time travel movies always provide a good time, and Twelve Monkeys is no exception. Psychologists in 1990 aren’t sure what to make of the case of James Cole. He seems to be suffering from severe mental illness, claiming that he is from the future, and that five-billion people will die from a disease in 1997. But that’s not where the curiosity lies. James Cole vanished from his locked cell while strapped into his bed.

The storytelling in this film is wonderful. The nonlinearity isn’t a hindrance at all to the film. Despite jumping through time, it’s an easy plotline to trace. Unfortunately, 14 years after the making of this film, I feel like I’ve seen every twist a time travel film can provide, so it’s also pretty easy to see where the story is taking you. Thankfully, there’s one big twist at the end that I doubt anyone could have seen coming.

In my opinion, it’s not some amazing film that you can watch over and over again and catch something new every time. But, it’s a whole lot of fun, so I’ll give it a thumb and a half.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Terry Gilliam gave Bruce Willis a list of "Willis acting clichés" not to be used during the film, including the "steely blue eyes look".
  • Terry Gilliam was afraid that Brad Pitt wouldn't be able to pull off the nervous, rapid speech. He sent him to a speech coach but in the end he just took away Pitt's cigarettes, and Pitt played the part exactly as Gilliam wanted.
  • In the 24 hour Hitchcock Theater, Katheryn (Stowe) and James (Willis) are watching Vertigo (1958), then she transforms herself with a blonde wig and James saw her emerge within a red light. The scene perfectly match the scene where Kim Novak transforms herself as a blond and Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) saw her emerge within a green light. It can hear the same score written by Bernard Herrmann. Also Katherine wears the same coat as 'Kim Novak' wearing in the first part of Vertigo.

#466: Snatch (2000)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Statham, Stephen Graham, Brad Pitt, Alan Ford, Rade Serbedzija, Ade, Robbie Gee, Lennie James, Dennis Farina & Benicio Del Toro

Snatch is an action-packed, witty, gritty movie with two stories being interwoven. The first story is following the movements of criminals trying to get their hands on a recently stolen 86-karat diamond. After being brought to London, a former KGB agent hires a trio of stupidity-laden thieves to rob a bookie and retrieve the diamond. Meanwhile, a gangster threatens a boxing promoter when the promoter's most recently found fighter fails to intentionally lose the match, which the gangster had planned to rig.

While glancing through Rotten Tomatoes, I came across Tarantino's name a lot. Loads of people are discrediting Guy Ritchie for this film because the style reflects Tarantino's throughout. I, on the other hand, must disagree. The only similarity I can find is a high level of grittiness in combination with a witty dialogue. Aside from that, none of Tarantino's trademarks are to be seen (such as blood being splattered everywhere, a retro soundtrack, and any kind of color scheme throughout the film).

The character probably most remembered for this film is Brad Pitt's role as Mickey, a gypsy with a completely unintelligible accent. His character is completely ludicrous, but somehow believable at the same time. The accent alone is not traceable, but there's no doubt that it sounds authentic.

There's really nothing outstanding about the film-making of Snatch, but it holds its own as an incredibly entertaining film with brilliantly colorful characters. One-and-a-half thumbs up.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Every mistake that Sol, Vincent and Tyrone make were inspired by various late-night TV shows about real-life crimes gone horribly wrong.
  • When Guy Ritchie told Brad Pitt that he would be playing a boxer, Pitt became concerned because he had just finished shooting Fight Club(1999) and did not want to play the same type of role again. Pitt book the role anyway because he wanted to work with Ritchie so badly.
  • During the opening credits, the Hasidic-clad diamond thieves are discussing the Virgin Mary. This is a reference to Reservoir Dogs (1992), where during the opening scene the thieves are discussing the Madonna song "Like a Virgin".
  • According to the DVD commentary, Bow, the dog was very difficult to work with. During car scene with Vincent, Sol and Tyrone, the dog was actually attacking Lennie James, and James was actually bitten in the crotch by the dog but didn't suffer any serious injury. The dog was replaced after that incident.
  • Brad Pitt's character and indecipherable speech was inspired by many critics' complaints about the accents of the characters in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Guy Ritchie decided to counter the criticisms by creating a character that not only couldn't be understood by the audience but the also couldn't be understood by characters in the movie.

Friday, September 18, 2009

#467: The Deer Hunter (1978)

Director: Michael Cimino
Cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage & Meryl Streep

Considered one of the quintessential Vietnam films in the industry, The Deer Hunter depicts the lives of three men from western Pennsylvania and how the war affected their lives. The film is told in three clear acts.

The first act shows the lives of the three men just a day before they leave for Vietnam. It’s the wedding day for Steven, whose fiancée is just showing signs of pregnancy, though the groom had saved himself for the wedding day. The men and their friends decide to go hunting on the same day. Michael, the clear leader of the group, has a discussion with Nick on how important it is to kill deer with just one shot.

The second act is entirely placed in Vietnam. In a disturbing scene, the three friends are shown to have become POWs, caged in waste-deep water, only to be brought out when it’s their turn to be placed against each other in a game of Russian roulette. Upon their escape, they soon become separated from each other. Michael doesn’t know what’s happened to Nick, and Steven is severely traumatized by the events that passed while imprisoned.

The third act depicts Michael’s return to his hometown. The return is celebrated by the townspeople, but Michael is a changed man. When he goes hunting once again with his friends, his mentality of the sport has undergone a radical change. Just as it appears he might be able to settle into his renewed lifestyle, he discovers that Nick is alive and still in Vietnam. He remembers a promise he made to never leave Nick behind, and makes his trip back across the world to bring Nick home.

The acting in this film is really fantastic. There isn’t very much dialogue, though each character’s personality shines through with apparent ease. The acting hadn’t gone unnoticed, leading to an Oscar win for Walken and nominations for Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep (her first nod – and her second film).

The most interesting thing about the film is its ambiguous stance on the war. Cimino never declares himself as pro- or anti-war in this film, but simply remarks on how it influences the individual people, including both those who served in the war and those left behind. The thing that isn’t left ambiguous is Cimino’s prioritization of personal relationships over politics.

The Russian roulette scene is certainly the one which will stick in most peoples’ minds, though it’s become a bit of a cliché. Aside from that, and the films extraordinary length (three hours), this is a great watch, and a must-see for anyone interested in war movies.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Director Michael Cimino convinced Christopher Walken to spit in Michael's face. When Walken actually did it, Robert De Niro was completely surprised by it, as evidence by his reaction. In fact, De Niro was so furious about it he nearly left the set. Cimino later said of Walken: "He's got courage!"
  • Meryl Streep improvised many of her lines.
  • During some of the Russian Roulette scenes, a live round was put into the gun to heighten the actors' tension. This was Robert De Niro's suggestion. It was checked, however, to make sure the bullet was not in the chamber before the trigger was pulled.
  • The slapping in the Russian roulette sequences was 100% authentic. The actors grew very agitated by the constant slapping, which, naturally, added to the realism of the scenes.
  • The scene where Savage is yelling, "Michael, there's rats in here, Michael" as he is stuck in the river is actually Savage yelling at the director Michael Cimino because of his fear of rats which were infesting the river area. He was yelling for the director to pull him out of the water because of the rats... it looked real and they kept it in.

#468: The Crow (1994)

Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Brandon Lee, Rochelle Davis & Ernie Hudson

On the night before Halloween, Eric Draven (…get it?) and his fiancée Shelly are attacked by gangsters. After throwing Eric out the window to his death, the gangsters rape and kill Shelly. But, as everyone who has seen Casper knows, anyone with unfinished business can come back from the dead to wrap things up.

I was originally going to give this a pretty scathing review. And it’s still not going to be a good one, but my reading up on the film pushed me to be a bit kinder.

A bit of trivia that most people know by now is that Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee’s son) was killed on set when one of the prop guns was mistakenly loaded with a real bullet. When I first finished the film, I was prepared to write that this fact has brought the film a bit more credit than it’s due. And I still do think that it did certainly help give it a boost. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason I was so critical was because this film is severely dated. The theme is not at all a new one any more. The style is similar to loads of other films based on comic books/graphic novels. The soundtrack is also a tad dated (Ebert wrote that it’s entirely ‘hard rock’… which I guess must have softened over time).

But here’s the thing. It really was extremely innovated at the time of its creation. I had three films come to mind while watching this film: The Dark Knight, Kill Bill, and Casper. Aside from the Casper thing, those films are GREAT films to be compared to considering it was made 10 years before the release of Kill Bill, and 15 years before The Dark Knight (and for anyone keeping count, one year before Casper).

So, Mr. Proyas, I apologize for my rush to criticize your film. I have two different “thumb” scores to give it. As a viewer who is trying to imagine seeing the film in 1994: two big thumbs up. As a viewer today: one thumb down.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Cameron Diaz was offered the role of Shelly, but turned it down because she didn't like the script.
  • According to the biography of Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee's death was predicted by his father Bruce Lee after awaking from his coma. His death was foreseen before Brandon even considered taking up acting as a career.
  • One of the crows used in this film, Magic, was used in all of the following movies.
  • During the boardroom shootout, Draven rolls onto his back to kick a shooter through a window, then nips back up to his feet in one movement: a similar move to one performed in Enter the Dragon (1973) - which, coincidentally, was his father Bruce Lee's last film before an untimely death.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

#469: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Johnny Depp & Benecio Del Toro

Sports journalist Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr. Gonzo are on a trip. Pun intended. They’re on a business trip, heading to Las Vegas for the Mint 400, while they are completely wasted on hallucinogens. That’s really all you need to know about this film’s plot.

Johnny Depp’s performance as Duke is remarkably similar to his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, sans dreads and a boat. Comparing the two, I prefer this much more. His movements are nearly identical in many scenes, which I think supports my views of him. He peaked in his performances just as he became a superstar, and since then has gone downhill, reusing earlier lesser-known works to keep himself a float. I am honestly interested in hearing other opinions on this. Also, I’m so sick of him pretending to be British. He’s a good actor as an American, too…

Many of the reviews I’ve read on the film mention how the film captures the essence of the drug-inducing society of the 1970’s, and how they came to be. Starting with a sequence of footage from Vietnam and protestors against Nixon’s warmongering, as well as a sequence from the 60’s, it shows that the hopeful youth of the previous decade has disappeared. Once the mid-70s hit, it was all about escapism.

I’m not so sure that the film hit home on this front. I think that the film did a great job of visualizing the highs and lows of a crazy drug trip in Vegas, but that’s just about it. The film doesn’t have any structure, and understandably so; how could it have structure when filmed as if the audience is partaking in the drugs? The attempt made to reason out the drug craze of the 70’s was lost on me.

I’m hesitant to give this film thumbs at all. I’m pretty much in agreement with Rotten Tomatoes on this one: 48%.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Hunter S. Thompson himself shaved Johnny Depp's head. They were in Thompson's kitchen, Depp refused to look in a mirror, and Thompson wore a miner's hard hat.
  • During the early stages during the initial development hell to get the film made, Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were originally considered for the roles of Duke and Gonzo, and Nicholson was attached, but he, and Brando, both grew too old. Afterward, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were considered for the duo, but that fell apart when Belushi died. John Malkovich was later considered for the role of Duke, but he too grew too old. At one point John Cusack was almost cast, but then Hunter S. Thompson met Johnny Depp, and was convinced no one else could play him. Cusack had previously directed the play version of "Fear and Loathing", with his brother playing Duke.
  • According to Johnny Depp, the gorilla statue outside the Bazooko Circus, now "lives" in his front yard.
  • According to Terry Gilliam's commentary on the Criterion DVD, in the scene where Raoul and Gonzo raise havoc at the Debbie Reynolds concert, the voice heard in that scene that is supposed to be Reynolds singing actually IS Reynolds. Gilliam is friends with Carrie Fisher, Reynolds' daughter, who spoke to her mother about recording a couple lines for the movie, and Reynolds agreed.
Lastly - Happy 1 Month Anniversary, Blogger!

#470: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Director: James Foley
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris & Kevin Spacey

In an adaptation of Marnet's Pulitzer-winning play, sleaze oozes out of the mouths of four real estate salesmen and their branch's boss. With virtually no deals being made, a "motivator" is brought in. After the agents are verbally abused for their efforts, they are told that only two of them will still be working at the branch by the end of the week, based on their closers within the next two days. Fed up with the way they're treated, one of the agents plans to break into the office that night and steal the company's leads and sell them to a local competitor.

The dialogue in this film is priceless, and the execution is remarkable. There's no better way to put it than Ebert did: "You can see the joy with which these actors get their teeth into these great lines, after living through movies in which flat dialogue serves only to advance the story". The best performance of the film is Lemmon, who gives shows great sympathy for one of the sleaziest characters ever written.

Two thumbs up for me, though it's not a movie anybody would want to watch over and over. It's a shame the film didn't even make their budget, even with its extremely positive reviews (98% on RottenTomatoes). Anyone who likes good dialogue should take this one out of the library.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The word "fuck" and its derivatives are uttered 138 times.
  • The word "shit" and its derivatives are uttered 50 times.
  • The character of Blake was not in the original play. When adapting his play for the screen, David Mamet created that role specifically for actor Alec Baldwin.
  • Co-star Jack Lemmon said the cast was the greatest acting ensemble he had ever been part of.
  • During the production, the actors referred to this film as "Death of a Fuckin' Salesman".
  • As of 2008, the cast includes four actors (Alan Arkin, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey and Al Pacino) who have won Academy Awards and two others (Alec Baldwin and Ed Harris) who have been nominated for Academy Awards.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Sorry for the delay, folks. I messed up with Glengarry Glen Ross and somehow didn't have it on my Netflix queue. It will get here tomorrow. In the meantime, I've already watched and wrote about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Crow and The Deer Hunter. Tonight, since I'm out of Netflix DVDs, I'll be watching the next that I can get my hands on, which is 12 Monkeys. I'll post my pre-written ones over time so as to avoid clogging your "Blogs I'm Following" page.

Also, I've decided that I'm going to try to work out my own order of favorites among these. It's not a perfect plan, but for now I'll post my top 10 of each 50 films I watch. If I deem it necessary to include more than 10 (for example, if there are 5 movies that didn't make the cut but would definitely replace some from previous "top 10s"), I'll do it.

Later, kids.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

#471: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint ...

Harry is back at Hogwarts for his third year, and danger seems to be following him around every corner. Over the summer, the mysterious Sirius Black escaped from the island prison of Azkaban. Black was convicted as a supporter of You-Know-Who, and is believed to be hunting Harry to help Lord Voldemort come back to power.

Out of every Harry Potter movie, this is the only one that deserves particular attention. Firstly, the plot is spectacular. Out of most Potter fans (based on personal experience and my quick rummage through the cyber-world), most claim that this is the best book of the series. There are twists everywhere in this film. There's a twist in the main plot, a twist in Hermione's subplot, and even a twist that was first set up from the very beginning of the series.

The budget was clearly larger in this film than the previous two. The special effects are far superior in quality than the previous two, and Cuarón wasn't afraid to strut his stuff. The most obvious scenes in which Cuarón laid the special effects on thick are the dementors and Buckbeak's flight. The dementors are legitimately creepy - I couldn't imagine being a young kid watching the scenes with them. Buckbeak's flight has some great music, but aside from that, it's really just an excuse to use some great special effects.

It's not just the special effects that set this film apart from the rest of the series. In my personal opinion, this is the last film of the series in which each character is a caricature. After this film, all of the characters are known so well that there's no surprises to be found, perhaps partly because of the longer plots that had to be squeezed into a film.

This film also separate from its predecessors because it is the first to reach out to its English audience. Previously, there was nothing but a mention of Harry living in London. Finally, in this film we see some shots of London itself in Harry's ride on the Knight Bus. Aside from the visuals, the film also includes some of Rowling's ideas on British culture that was occasionally hinted at in her novels. For example, it is the first time we see the Minister, who represents the conservative views of members of Parliament who rarely look at what is actually happening in their own homeland. I also personally believe that the opening seen with Aunt Marge is paying homage to one of England's greatest achievements, Wallace & Gromit.

This is the first Harry Potter film that can be taken seriously, thanks to its abandonment of solely child-friendly material and an introduction of a dark style and a sense of foreboding. This is also the only Harry Potter film that I had absolutely no complaints over, as far as changes from the book.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Honeydukes "is floor-to-ceiling psychedelia" and includes Mexican skulls made of sugar. The cast was told that the Honeydukes candy was lacquer-coated, when in fact it wasn't, to prevent candy from disappearing between takes.
  • The tattoos on Sirius Black's body and hands are borrowed from Russian prison gangs. They are markings which identify the person as a man to be feared and respected.
  • Alfonso Cuarón coached Daniel Radcliffe in one scene where the latter had to act awed: "Pretend you're seeing Cameron Diaz in a G-string". It worked.
  • The film contains several commemorations to director Alfonso Cuarón and his Mexican heritage. On the fountain in the courtyard in front of the clock tower, there are several statues of eagles eating snakes. This exact image appears on the Mexican flag. Also, among the many candies offered at Honeydukes are skulls made of sugar, which are a popular treat in Mexico on "El Dia de los Muertos," or the Day of the Dead. And, after Dumbledore says his final lines outside the infirmary, he goes down the stairs humming "La Raspa", the Mexican Hat Dance.
  • When Harry, Hermione and Ron are returning to the school from Hagrid's hut after witnessing Buckbeak's execution, Hermione hugs Ron and Harry hugs Hermione, a reference to Alfonso Cuarón's movie Y tu mamá también (2001).

#472: Le Doulos (1962)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo & Serge Reggiani

You never know who is intended to be the protagonist in this film noir brought to the French New Wave era. The film begins with a murder. Faugel, an ex-convict, kills his old friend Gilbert and buries the jewelry and cash they stole together from a previous job. He then plans a robbery with his accomplice, Rémy, using tools borrowed from Silien, a police informer. When the robbery goes wrong, Faugel is sure Silien is behind the busted operation.

Melville really never lets you know exactly what's going on. Aside from a plot packed with twists and turns, he even dresses the two main characters similarly, oftentimes focusing the camera anywhere but their faces, so you don't even know who you're watching. "This, coupled with a habit that some of them have of straightening their hats before a mirror, perhaps suggests they are interchangeable, playing different games by the same rules." I snubbed that from Ebert, who is on the ball with this idea.

But even Ebert says that he'd give a "shiny new dime" to whoever can explain the film all the way through. This makes me feel a bit better about myself, as I had no idea. I rarely do in film noir, to be honest.

I have a bit of beef on this film. Yeah, the plot (once explained via this fantastic film summary) is impressive. But the style? I'm a bit WTFified. Melville (who changed his name because of his adoration for the author) is obviously obsessed with American culture. The characters are wearing American-style clothing, and they are driving American cars (which barely fit in the Parisian roads). Is that necessary? Why not just make an American movie? Or make this film more authentically French? I just don't understand the need to mix the two.

Also, when people shoot each other in this film, it's ultra fake. C'mon, this film was made 30 years after film noir started hitting it big... so you can at try to up the quality.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from - SURPRISE! - that film summary I mentioned. IMDB had nothin'.)
  • Melville was obsessed with men's costuming. While he was completely one-sided on his opinion that all men wearing a gun also need to wear a hat, he didn't care at all what women wore.
  • Though the novel was full of underworld slang, Melville decided not to use any in his film.
  • In response to accusations that the film is mysogynistic, Melville wrote that the critics are "totally false. the women in my film aren't as ordinary as they seem."
  • "Le Doulos" (pronounced doo-LOHS, where the S is pronounced) can be translated as somebody who wears a fedora-like hat called a "doule". Originally, this was what policemen wore, but soon gangster's took on the style as well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

#473: Into the Wild (2007)

Director: Sean Penn
Cast: Emile Hirsch

Chris McCandless's adventures were first immortalized by Jon Krakauer. Penn's adaptation of the non-fiction bestseller follows the book accurately and with great passion. McCandless graduated from Emory in 1990, and soon after, he disappeared. He donated all of his money to a charity and set off to the west, and when he couldn't go any further, he headed north. With the aid of strangers, he made his way for his great Alaskan adventure, where he lived for over 100 days before his death.

I didn't even know this was a nonfiction going into the film - I always leave my (little) research until after I watch and make impressions of my own. It was a big shock to me. The most disturbing part of the film is Penn's admirable view of McCandless throughout his always-unprepared journey to find true happiness, away from his parent's pride and bank accounts. It really seemed pretty typical - a rebellious young man trying to find a better life. That type of story rarely turns for the worst - at least in the fiction world, which I've been stuck in for many, many years.

Emile Hirsch's acting is incredible. It's easy to get a strong sense for McCandless, and there's no way to not like him. This film would really be nothing without Hirsch. There's no question he's going to be making his way up in Hollywood. His first big-named flicks are Lords of Dogtown (#417 on the list) and Alpha Dog, and his since worked with Penn again in Milk. He also starred in Speed Racer, but we can pretend that didn't happen.

Great, serious flick.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Emile Hirsch lost 40 pounds to play his role.
  • Shot entirely on location.
  • No stunt-men or doubles were used for Emile Hirsch, including the scenes where Chris goes through river rapids, confronts a grizzly bear or rock-climbs.
  • The role of Jim Gallien, the Alaskan who gave Chris the rubber boots in the opening scene, is played by the real Jim Gallien.
  • The watch Emile Hirsch wears in the movie is Christopher Johnson McCandless' real life watch, given to him as a present.
  • According to the DVD behind the scenes, the moose that is shot and killed by Christopher was actually roadkill found on the Alaskan highway.