Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Summer Filled With Movies...or, What I Did During Some of My Summer "Vacation"...

School is out--hallelujah--and I am not teaching--hallelujah squared. As a result of this free and easy, well easier since I still work at the Honest Weight Food Co-op and the Siena Research Institute, existence I am once again doing what I try to do every summer, watch movies and TV shows. A lot of the films I am watching come from the DVD bins of Big Lots so please cut me some slack. It is far too so easy to take a chance on films or TV shows when they are $3 dollars apiece. Not all of these chances pan out. So here are my impressions of the films I have been watching.

Explanation of ratings
0 equals an awful film, a bomb
1 equals a not very good film
2 equals a watchable film
3 equals a good film
4 equals a very good film
5 equals a classic film

All I Want aka Try Seventeen (2002):17 year old Jones (Elijah Wood) with Walter Mitty complex goes to college, drops out, rents apartments where he meets two young women, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Jane (Franka Potente). What follows is the usual coming of age suspects: sex on the brain, longing looks, sexual innuendo, older women on the prowl, virgins, almost sex, old boyfriends, missing dads, gin swilling mums, a family with secrets, old boyfriends, growing up, making love, payback, true love, and happy endings. 1 star.

American High School (2009): MTV's Laguna Beach and The Hills, literally and figuratively, meets softcore Playboy porn. American High School is full of mid-twentysomethings playing high school teen somethings who act like twentysomething college students. The cliches are all here: There's proms, mean girls, parents with arrested development, hot teacher's, cheating, and devious outsiders. American High School's girls are almost all blonde bimbos with fake tans and in one case fake breasts. The film's guys are all hairless chested mimbos. The purpose and function of this film seems to be to help college teens or those with arrested development jerk off forgetting that the internet serves that purpose these days. Perhaps that is why American High School went straight to DVD. One of the worst films I have ever seen. O stars.

Beevis and Butthead Do America (1996): An OK film that sees MTV's Beevis and Butthead crisscrosing America all the while causing the FBI and their hated neighbour Tom Anderson all kinds of trouble. Beevis and Buthead Do America seemed to me like a Three Stooges skit meets an aren't people stupid so let's laugh at them film. I found the meeting between Beevis and Butthead with the fathers they have never met in the desert near Vegas a bit troubling since it seems to suggest that idiocy and stupidity are genetic rather than social and cultural. Like the similar film Napoleon Dynamite Beevis and Butthead Do America did bring an occasional smile to my face. 2 stars.

The Bride (1985): Franc Roddam's reworking of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is somewhat interesting thanks to its wonderful mise-en scene and its intellectual and feminist pretensions. Unfortunately the narrative of this horror version of Pygmalion is somewhat hollow and the humour of the original is sadly lacking. 2 stars.

Children of the Corn (1984): The less said about this film about children who take over a rural town and the two travellers who wonder and blunder into it the better. This is a film that makes even the most strident critic of right wing Christianity feel sympathy for this narrow minded intolerant faith. Total drek. One of the worst movies I have ever seen. 0 stars.

Cold Souls (2009): Sophie Barthes' interesting and humourous film about an actor named Paul Giamatti (played by Paul Giamatti) whose soul is weighed down by his playing of Uncle Vanya. He decides to rid himself of his soul until he realises that the cost is part of his humanity. Getting it back turns out to be difficult since Russian black marketeers have taken it and installed it in an actress in a Russian soup who thinks she has Al Pacino's soul. 2.5. Worth a second look.

Crush (2001): There are no weddings but there certainly are a lot of funerals in Crush. Crush centres around three friends--Kate (Andie McDowell), a headmaster at a local school, Molly (Anna Chancellor), a G.P. and Janine (Imelda Staunton), a policewoman--who meet regularly and commiserate about their forty something sex lives until Kate begins a sexual fling and eventually falls in love with a younger man, Jed, who plays the organ at local funerals and who was once her student. The film, which is way too cutesy for its own good, becomes more interesting when Molly and, reluctantly, Janine, try and eventually succeed to put doubts in Kate's mind about Jed. There is one final funeral in the film, Jed's, who dies when he is hit by a truck after Kate has thrown him out. At film's end Kate has Jed's son and Kate's friendship with Molly and Janine endures. 2.5 stars.

The Cry of the Owl (2009): An interesting if flawed adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel of the same name about a lonely depressed about to be divorced man (Paddy Considine), his obsession with a happy young woman (Julia Styles), her obsession with him, and the resulting situation which soon begins to spiral out of control. Director Jamie Thraves and director of photography Luc Montpellier bathe their tale of depression, voyeurism, betrayal, fate, and murder (the owl cries) in depression blues and a Hermannian-Hitchcockian score. Way too many unnecessary f-bombs presumably to make the film contemporary. Excellent performance by the wonderful Caroline Dhavernas as Consadine's estranged ex-wife. 2.5 stars.

Darkman (1990): Sam Rami's comic book revenge film speaks volumes about the state of Hollywood these days. Darkman may be visually interesting but its tale of a scientist (Ralph Fiennes) taking revenge on those who turned him into a freat is, at least for this adult, about as interesting as doing laundry. 1 star.

Demolition Man (1993): Los Angeles, 1996, home to dystopian urban wars. Super criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) and John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), a supercop with a penchant for destruction (hence the title of the film), have been placed in cryostasis for their crimes. Fast forward to 2032. Los Angeles has become the uptopia of San Angeles. Phoenix has been unfrozen by the man who runs San Angeles, Dr. Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne), in order to rid his smiley faced utopia where sex and swearing are banned of underground living smelly libertarians led by Edgar Friendly (Dennis Leary). Spartan is thawed by the ill equipped cops to go after Phoenix. Action, adventure, romance, and references to Aldoux Huxley, Jackie Chan, US TV commercials, and Jeffrey Dahmer ensue. Comic relief is provided by Spartan's new partner Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) who plays Sly's love interest and spouts a host of double entendres in one dimensional shiney happy fashion. Like most action adventurers Demolition Man ends with a shoot out, this time at the old Cryoprison Corral. Demolition Man sports plot holes big enough to drive a Pontiac through. Some of this may be because the WB didn't like the original cut of first time director (and artist) Marco Brambilla's film and reedited it. Mommy, why do most of the good guys seem to be white and the bad guys seem to be ethnic? 1.5 stars

A Dirty Shame (2004): A bump on the noggin' sends people in one Baltimore neighbourhood into flights of "deviant" "sexing" activity. This religious film meets horror film meets aliens are taking over my body film represents director Water's return to form to some extent. Extra points for satirising and parodying "neutered" American theocratic puritanism. 2.5 stars.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005): I really like Laura Linney. I have liked her ever since I first saw her in the role of Alice in gay wonderland in the brilliant Tales of the City (C4, PBS, 1993). I am not sure why, however, she signed on for Scott Derrickson's--Derrickson is a graduate of evangelical Biola University--apologia for the reality of Satanic evil and demonic possession in its Christian inflected universe. At least it tries to present "both sides" of the argument, if in somewhat straw man form, in its courtroom drama meets horror flick form. 2 stars.

A Fine Mess (1986): Blake Edward's homage to the Keystone Cops and Laurel and Hardy (look at that title again) is a tale of two low level scammers (Ted Danson and Howie Mandel) trying to make a killing at the racetrack and the comedy of errors that results is a mess though not a fine one. Ted Danson plays his character from Cheers without any of Sam's redeeming qualities. 1 star.

The Flying Scotsman (2006): The Flying Scotsman is based on the life of innovative world champion Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree, a cyclist who fought not only forces arrayed against him in the cycling world, which the film suggests were out to get him, but also against forces of depression and darkness within, forces the film suggests were the product of Obree being bullied during childhood. 2 stars.

Hanoi Hilton (1987): American "criminals" endure torture from North Vietnamese and a bad ass Cuban who seems to come from the mean streets of 1980s New York. Viewers have to endure the horrid tortures of Hollywood sentimentality and nationalism. 1 star.

Happy Hour (2003): It's happy hour at Tully's favourite New York City bar. There Tully (Anthony LaPaglia) a writer with alcoholics block meets a school teacher named Natalie (Caroleen Feeney) who can match him drink for drink. He takes her home, beds her, falls for her, and introduces him to his best friend and co-worker at an ad agency, Levine (Eric Stoltz). Happy hours always end, however. Tully learns that years of drinking have left him with cirrhosis of the liver. Dying he rages at that not so good night--his distant father and his suck-up co-worker Scott (Thomas Sadoski)--and at that good night--Natalie, at Levine, and his boss (Sandra Holt). An interesting and sometimes witty film with great performances by all. Somehow, however, Happy Hour is worth less than the sum of its parts. 2 stars.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008): Director Guillermo del Toro's second take on the Dark Horse comic book about your standard superheros in love (hey, its Hollywood), domesticity, and, of course, war with a host of bad guys in a world of CGI and puppets all with the standard guns, swords, running, jumping, twirling, and fighting of fanboy comic book films. About the only interesting thing to me in this film was its plea for tolerance of "deviant" outsiders. By the way, composer Danny Elfman seems to be channeling Holst at one point in the film. Dreadful. 1 star.

A Hole in One (2004): Director and writer Richard Ledes takes us back to Cold War 1950s America and into the fragmented mind of Anna (Michelle Williams). Anna lives in Icetown, or is it Ice Town, USA, where almost everyone, including herself, is cold as ice. Traumatised by the death of her brother who returns to Icetown traumatised by World War Two, the Cold War, and by her tough guy gangster boyfriend Billy's (Meat Loaf Aday) murder of restauranteur Sammy the Greek (Louis Zorich), Anna decides to get a lobotomy. It is mental health week in Ice Town after all and a travelling lobotomist and practitioner of the all-American technique of trans orbital lobotomy has come to town promising everyone a cure for their ills whatever they might be. Before Anna can get a lobotomy she finds sexual happiness with Tom (Tim Guinee). Ledes's Lynchian film shows that the ice pick is mightier than the gun as superego Billy is conquered by an Icetown ice pick and this ancient man is encased in ice. If you are a fan of Lynch you might find A Hole in One interesting. I am not a fan of Lynch so I did not find this film particularly interesting. 1.5 stars thanks to some fascinating images.

Incendiary (2008): An interesting film about betrayal, secrets, guilt, and more than anything else, the devastating consequences of bereavement. A young wife (Michelle Williams) from the Council blocks betrays her husband (Nicholas Greaves) with a journalist(Ewen MacGregor) from the posh side of her square while husband and her son are killed in a terrorist bombing at the Arsenel/Chelsea football match. Bereaved and guilt ridden the young wife finds solace in her husband's boss, the head of the Met's anti-terror unit (Matthew Macfadyen). Feeling betrayed the journalist exposes a secret about his rival to the young wife sending her spiraling into more bereavement, guilt, and semi-madness. 2.5 stars.

Logan's Run (1976): It's 2274 and everyone, well almost everyone, who is left on earth lives in a domed city where life is a life of hedonistic pleasure. There's only one catch in this utopia, no one can live past thirty. Sandman Logan 6 (Michael York) is given the assignment to root out a group of dissidents who provide sanctuary to runners, those who try to avoid the "renewal" of Carrousel and "termination" by sandmen. In order to root out bubble city's dissidents Logan becomes a 30 and attaches himself to one of the dissidents, Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter). Unlike the dystopias on which Logan's Run borrows its narrative structure from, We and 1984 to be specific, Logan's Run has a happy ending. Logan becomes a real runner and after fleeing bubble city he and Jessica discover an old man (Peter Ustinov) in a Washington, DC returning to nature. Finding true love as beloved husband and beloved wife in the old ways the old man tells them about Logan, Jessica, and the old man return to "utopia" where they set the young one's free. 2 stars.

Lookin' to Get Out! (1982): I have never seen the studio edited release of the Hal Ashby directed and Al Schwartz and Jon Voight and penned version of Lookin' to Get Out!. By and large critics panned it at its time of release. I didn't like the Hal Ashby edit of the film about two gamblers on the grift and on the hustle in New York and Las Vegas deposited at UCLA by the director. The comic tone of the film just didn't, in my opinion, sit well with the patheticness of Jon Voight's Alex Kovac. On the plus side Lookin' to Get Out! carries on the more realist harsh light of day tendency in American cinema and for that it deserves praise. 2 stars.

Lost in Yonkers (1993): Jay (Brad Stoll) remembers when he and his brother Arty (Mike Damus) were sent by their debt ridden father to live with their grandmother (Irene Worth) and Aunt Bella (Mercedes Ruell) for ten months just after Pear Harbour in Yonkers. There they learn that the grandmother has become tough as steel in order to survive, that their Uncle Louie (Richard Dreyfuss) is a tough gangster with a heart of gold, that they don't have the moxie to help their woman-child Aunt Bella when she wants to obtain permission to marry from her grandmother, and finally they learn to be moxie themselves. Good coming of age tale. 3 stars.

Mad Dog and Glory (1993): Ironically named "Mad Dog" (Robert DeNiro), a nebbish police photographer with a penchant for Louis Prima, saves the life of Frank, a cosa nostra with a desire to become a stand up comedian and a therapist who is helping him with his problems. Frank befriends "Mad Dog" Wayne and sends him a gift for a week, the beautiful Glory (Uma Thurman) whose contract he owns. Wayne falls in love with Glory and all sorts of complications result. Mad Dog and Glory doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a male buddy film or a melodramatic love story. Some of this confusion may be because Universal apparently forced director McNaughton to make Thurman's character less manipulative and to make DeNiro's tougher in that old Hollywood staple, the final knock down drag out fight at film's end. 2 stars.

Maverick (1994): A film which gets better as it goes on. That may seem like a complement but is more of a back handed complement than anything else since this film about a gambler trying to raise money for the pig poker game has very little room to manoeuvre after its dreadful beginning. 2 stars.

Milk Money (1994): An awful coming of age film where boy and father meet yet another hooker with a heart of gold who finds love and meaning in the Pittsburgh suburbs. 1 star.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004): I watched Napoleon Dynamite for a second time because I am interested in Mormonism. Napoleon Dynamite was written and directed by Jared and Jerusha Hess, both Mormons. I don't have much to say about this film about outsiders except that I once visited Preston, Idaho and stayed there for a few days at the invitation of a friend who was from Preston. I found Napoleon Dynamite filled with far too many stereotypes and caricatures and don't need to watch a film to laugh at idiots. I see enough of them in real life to know they really aren't really funny anymore. They are dangerous. 2 stars.

National Treasure (2004): It is not pirate treasure that a group of treasure hunters led by Nicholas Cage are seeking. It is the treasure of the Freemasons, including some of America's founding fathers, that has been collected since Egyptian times. There are the standard good guys (Cage, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha), bad guys (Sean Bean and his group of treasure hunters), burgeoning romance (between Cage and Kruger), a treasure that lies under Trinity Church in Manhattan, and an ending that was more crowd pleasing than the original one. Hurray for Hollywood? 2 stars.

November (2004): Photography teacher Sophie (Courtney Cox) says, at one point in this film, that we create frames by excluding other things from our frames. This is just what Sophie seems to do in the denial and despair segments of November. During the acceptance segment of November we learn that what Sophie has excluded from her frame is that she lies bleeding and dying, next to her bleeding and dying boyfriend who she has reconciled with, on a convenience store floor, shot by a robber. I found that I wished that the last segment had come much earlier in this short film than it did. 1 star.

P.S. (2004): Dylan Kidd's interesting film about the relationship between a young male artist and an older woman (played superbly by the always wonderful Laura Linney) that flirts with the supernatural a la Changes Are (1985), Heaven Can Wait (1978), and Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941). 2.5 stars. Worth a second look.

The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio (2005). First impressions: A good film about a 1950s mother who struggles to make a living for her, her eight children, and her alcoholic and sometimes abusive husband which I would give it 2.5 stars. It is certainly much more interesting than most of the blockbusters coming out of Hollywood these days and that makes the film worth a second look. What makes the DVD more than worth keeping is Julianne Moore's excellent commentary on the film. You quickly understand from Moore's commentary how wonderful an actor and how intelligent a person she is, something very rare in this age of lowest common denominator Californicated celebrity.
As an aside Lou Lumenick, in his review of this film in the New York Post, called The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio a "maudlin, fact-inspired and anti-feminist dramedy [that] is no Far From Heaven or The Hours." The film I watched and Lumenick apparently didn't was actually critical of late 1950s and early 1960s masculine American culture. Where do intellectuals and academics come up with this stuff?

P.T.U. (2003): a yawner of an action/adventure/comedy film about a cop, his gun, presumed lost, the Police Tactical Unit's search for the lost gun, the killing of a gang land leader named Ponytail, Criminal Investigation Division's investigation of Ponytail's murder, P.T.U.'s investigation of smashed car windows, police intimidation, bribery, and brutality, a kid on a bicycle who smashes car windows and robs them, gangland revenge, and a gang waiting for something to come in on the docks. The finale brings all the major players in the film together on Canton Road for the big shootout that the film's presumed demographic has been waiting for. The result, of course, is buckets of blood. 1 star.

Rush Hour (1998) and Rush Hour 2 (2001): Two tales about two worlds which meet, collide, and ultimately harmonise in the course of two police investigations. I enjoyed Rush Hour despite its play in Chinese and African American stereotypes and cliches. Rush Hour 2, however, was a tired retread of the original with more than a dash of what seems like misogyny presumably aimed at its male demographic thrown in for good measure. Still Rush Hour 2's line about following the white man with money in order to solve the crime almost makes the remake/sequel worth the price of admission. 2.5 stars for Rush Hour, 1 for Rush Hour 2.

Shallow Hal (2001): Hal (Jack Black), like his best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander, shades of Seinfeld, wearing an awful hairpiece), is a shallow immature guy fixated on external female beauty until, that is, he meets self-help guru Anthony Robbins. Robbins de-hypnotises Hal making him see the beauty within those women (and men) who take care of their ailing grandmothers, join the Peace Corps, and volunteer in burn wards in local hospitals. Cured of his shallowness the once shallow Hal falls for one of these internal beauties, Rosemary(Gwyneth Paltrow). Yet another awful film from the Farrelly Brothers. In the world of the Farrelly's all goody goodies are ugly and fat and you can have your cake (a sexy sometimes scantily clad Gwyneth Paltrow) and eat it too (Gwyneth Paltrow in fat suit). Reprehensible. No stars.

S1mone (2002): Lieutenant Kizhe goes Hollywood. A down on his luck director named Taransky (Al Pacino) uses a computer programme developed by a computer geek named Hank Aleno to create the perfect directors actress, the simulated Simone who the director can move around at will and incorporate aspects of actresses of the past into. S1mone takes a perfectly good idea--the world is more interested in simulation than reality--and plays it for sitcomish parody, read 30 Rock, rather than the satire the subject deserves. And that is precisely its problem. 1 star. By the way, the art film doesn't seem to be director Andrew Nichol's alternative to the made by the demographic numbers films of contemporary Hollywood since the artsy fartsy films made by Taransky seem to channel the spirits of Bergman, Antonioni, and Tarkofsky to parodic effect as well. So where does that leave us? With S1mone? I hope not.

Sommersby (1993): an excellent reworking of The Return of Martin Guerre (1982) with Richard Gere as a Southern soldier returned to his wife (Jodie Foster) and Southern home at the end of the Civil War. 4 stars. But is he the real thing?

Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970): It is the late 1960s and 1970s and America is in the midst of a culture war. There's also a coldish culture war in a small town somewhere in the US between the army and the town's anti-communist racist Christian crusader (Tom Ewell) and the brutal sheriff he put in office (Ernest Borgnine). Nace (Brian Keith) is sent to bring peace between the two cold warring tribes. When the sheriff, Big Harve, arrests one of his army buddies (Gambroni, played by Tony Curtis), however, Nace and Sgt Jones (Ivan Dixon) drive a tank into town and set Gambroni free. In hot war Nace unintentionally does what he was unable to in cold war, Big Harve is fired and the mayor appoints someone as sheriff who isn't in the pocket of he who once controlled the town, Billy Joe. 2 stars.

The Ten Commandments (2007): An animated retelling of the Moses story that does not rise above the level of a Sunday school lesson. The Egyptians are just plain mean or toadies whose function seems to be that of comic relief. Moses (the voice of Christian Slater) is a a good civilised guy who speaks personally to God (Elliot Gould). All the men look like stiff versions of WWE wrestlers except for Dathan (Lee Tocker) leader of a band of Hebrew whiners and whingers who get on Moses's nerves. Bizarrely and fictionally the promised land looks like a cross between an imagined Garden of Eden, Shangri-la, the American Midwest, and the Rocky Mountains. Strictly for Christian true believers, particularly Christian adolescent true believers. 1 star.

There's Something About Mary (1998): Another Farrelly Brothers comedy stuck in adolescent gear. This excursion into arrested development is about a girl (Cameron Diaz), a guy (Ben Stiller), Murphy's law, and true love. There's Something About Mary is stupid, gross, misogynist, and ultimately creepy thanks to its near celebration of voyeurism, stalking, and lying proving once again that if you aim for the lowest common denominator you can make millions and millions Mary made. This film wasn't any better the second time around than the first. No stars. Reprehensible.

Welcome to Collinwood (2002): Anthony and Joe Russo's mediocre remake of Mario Monicelli's 1958 Italian comedy film I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street) transplanted from Roma to Cleveland, Ohio. 2 stars thanks largely thanks to the far too brief interruption of the bleak reality of contemporary Cleveland lives into this comedy film about how, as the DVD box proclaims, "idiots make lousy criminals".

Wonderland (2003): An interesting film based on porn star Johnny "Wadd" Holmes's involvement in the infamous brutal Wonderland murders in LA in 1981. Wonderland is yet another riff on Akira Kurosawa's classic Rashomon (1950) and leaves one wondering just how much and to what degree Holmes's was involved in the murders. 3 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment