Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Movie: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Director(s): Sam Peckinpaw

An old western about former friends where one is now the sherrif and must hunt down the other. Has some dramatic moments and characteristic Peckinpaw violence (I'm not a fan of the ultra-red blood which looks too fake and takes me out of the scene), but the story meanders too much, the inevitable conclusion takes too long to arrive, and in the end I just wasn't that moved by the "friendship" of the two gun slingers.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Movie: Vicky Christina Barcelona
Writer(s): Woody Allen
Director(s): Woody Allen

Odd movie, which I sort of expected. It has wonderful dialog and performances, but the story is slight and the ending is too much like real life, which is either boring or depressing. Still, it was an interesting ride: I'm not sorry I saw it, though I do wish it had a conclusion that actually went somewhere. The basic plot is about two American girls in Spain who meet a radical painter and both fall in love with him, though of the girls is about to be married. Of course that leads to all sorts of love triangles and complications, and it gets even worse when the artist's violent ex-wife returns and we have a threesome. It is an unusual character piece and I really liked some aspects of the main characters: we see Vicky's inability to decide what she wants, Christina's search for fulfillment, and the painter's doomed love affair with his ex. But ultimately, despite this wonderful canvas and palette of colors, nothing comes of anything.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Notes from Underground

Book: Notes from Underground
Writer(s): Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This is a terrific understated Dostoyevsky novel about a strange man who overanalyzes everything in life and proceeds to tell us about it. He's an absurdity, with certain instrospective insights and alienation taken to the extreme limit, and the result is a classic character whose thoughts will make you ponder life, the universe, and everything. Definitely the type of thing you can read multiple times and get more from each time.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Shot Andy Warhol

Movie: I Shot Andy Warhol

I was curious about this because I don't know much about Andy Warhol, but unfortunately this is really about a bizarre feminist who shoots him for no real reason (she's pretty much angry at the world). The whole movie is about her, but though she has some interesting characteristics, she's so nasty and mean and bizarre that I just don't care about her and thus I don't care about the movie. By the time I got to the end I was just terrifically glad the movie was over. I kept thinking that perhaps she was a genius or special or something, but eventually I just decided she was a nutso feminist who hated men (for no real reason) and I can't figure out why anyone bothered to make a film about her.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Audrey Rose

Movie: Audrey Rose

I'd never heard of this film but it stars a 1970-era Anthony Hopkins, so I recorded it. It's got an interesting idea: a man (Hopkins) whose daughter has died, claims another couple's daughter is his reincarnated. The "evidence" to prove this is flimsy: a psychic's information, the new daughter being born at the same time his daughter died, and the new daughter suffering from strange visions and physical manifestations of being burned. The latter doesn't make any sense at all, but supposedly fits because the first daughter was burned to death in a car accident, so the new daughter is flashing back to that previous memory. It's all a little hokey and overly dramatic, but it's seriously approached and mostly low-key, and there are some fascinating moments (my favorite was when Hopkins' character approaches the family to explain why he's been stalking their daughter as the tension and drama in the scene was interesting). Unfortunately the little girl in question is one of the worst actresses I have ever witnessed -- she varies from looking cute and innocent to screaming insanely as she's "possessed" by the soul of the previous girl and she can't really pull either off believably and her screaming is unbearably annoying (I had to mute the TV at times). In the end the plot gets odd as the whole thing ends up in court where the jury will decide who's the daughter's father. (How many horror films are set in a courtroom?) The bottom line: an interesting piece for its time and some of the actors, but extremely uneven, a bit too strange, and definitely gimmicky.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Red Dawn

Movie: Red Dawn

This is one of those films I've heard about but never saw: it's actually not that bad. It assumes that the Russians have invaded the USA (this was made back in the 80s) and they take over a small Colorado town were several teens escape into the mountains and survive as guerilla warriors and become national heroes as rebellion leaders. The most interesting thing is the cast of soon-to-be big stars, like Patrick Swayze and others, but the acting is hideously poor, the premise too outlandish, and the film alternates between slow and boring and fast and mildly interesting. The result is okay and has some good moments and neat ideas. I can see why it's somewhat of a cult classic, but it's also easy to see why it's not more famous.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Eyes of Laura Mars

Movie: Eyes of Laura Mars
Writer(s): Brian DePalma

Old 1970s horror flick with Faye Dunaway as "Laura Mars," an edgy fashion photographer who starts seeing murders from the killer's viewpoint as they are happening. Apparently she has some sort of psychic link with him, and her visions have been subconsciously effecting her work for years. Kind of a neat idea, but too gimmicky, and the "surprise" ending is more weird than creative. Okay. It might have been innovative 30 years ago, but feels dated now.


Saturday, August 16, 2008


Movie: May

Strange black comedy about a bizarre afflicted girl named May who's been damaged by her domineering mother and grows up to be weird and struggles to make friends so she kills them and stitches the body parts together to make a "perfect" doll to be her friend. It's got some good moments, but it's a little too realistic in the murders and serious tone to be a comedy and in the end it's just depressing. My favorite moment was the very cool art movie the girl's boyfriend directs and shows her: it's black and white and starts out as a cute couple having a romantic date and then start getting physical, and suddenly the two are biting chunks of flesh out of each other and ripping off limbs -- hilarious. (May's reaction is to take the film literally, as though that's actually how people make love, and she's puzzled when her boyfriend rejects her.) Worth seeing if you like strange.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Movie: Tropic Thunder

This is not exactly a pleasant film -- it's raunchy, foul-mouthed, violent, gory, and has a lot of angry characters -- but it is hilariously funny. The premise is brilliant: it's about the making of a Vietnam war film called Tropic Thunder with an eclectic collection of big Hollywood stars who are each parodies of Hollywood stereotypes (action hero, brilliant method actor, rapper-turned-actor, fat comic/drug addict, etc.). Of course with that bunch, the film's a mess, and with a multi-million dollar bomb on his hands, the desperate director dumps his actors in the Vietnamese jungle so they can get a dose of "reality." Unfortunately, it turns out the remote location he picked is full of real-life millitant drug dealers, and so the actors, still thinking they are filming a movie, are suddenly in a real gun battle. What makes the film work and be so originally funny is a combination of the parodies of Hollywood actors, producers, agents, etc. and the hideously bad movie they are making, and the brilliant cameo roles by numerous A-list stars which lend a realistic feel to the film. Many stars play such opposite roles that you can hardly recognize them. Tom Cruise steals the show as a fat, balding, foul-mouthed, encentric billionaire who's financing the film, but there are many others. It's worth seeing just for that! But it's a lot of fun plot-wise, too, as the actors learn to be real action heros. This film is sort of a cross between the innovative humor of the original Airplane! and more modern shock comedies like Something About Mary. It's outrageous, but it's also outrageously funny.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Point Blank

Movie: Point Blank

This is an old Lee Marvin flick from the 1970s. He's a criminal who is betrayed by his wife and his best friend who shoots him and leaves him for dead and he comes back for revenge. It reminds me of the excellent Mel Gibson film, Payback, but it's lower key and the violence is less violent. This one isn't bad, but it's not great either. It's got some neat moments but overall it's not a classic or anything.


Saturday, August 9, 2008


Movie: Fallen

This is an older Denzel Washington picture I liked and hadn't seen in years. It still holds up fairly well, though it's too gimmicky to be a great film and the "trick" ending isn't much of a trick. The basic premise is that an evil demon is responsible for a series of killings which get blamed on his host. A cop (Denzel) has put away the man, but after the man is executed, the demon takes a new host and begins killing again... and it's the same M.O., which causes the cop to investigate as people are wondering if the original killer was wrongly convicted and executed. It's a neat idea, because the demon can switch from host to host at will, so we have a cop seemingly going after random people and his bosses can't figure out what he's doing. Unfortunately, beyond that central gimmick, the film doesn't offer much, and the ending, while it tries to be clever, isn't -- and it's a bit too grim to be satisfying. Still, a fun psychological thriller.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Movie: Red
Writer(s): Jack Ketchum (book)

This is a new film based on Jack Ketchum's novel and it's excellent. It tells the slow tale of an old man whose dog is pointlessly killed by a punk rich kid who thinks it's nothing. But the old man won't let it go and tries criminal and legal proceedings and eventually takes the law into his own hands. It's a fascinating character study, a deep look at revenge and motivation, and is extremely well-acted and produced. It's not a fast or flashy story, but that fits the old man perfectly. Recommended.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Great Gatsby

Movie: The Great Gatsby

I've never read the book but saw this film on my HD movie channel and it's really good. I liked the way the story seems so simple but is really deep. The story, set in the 1920s, is told from the viewpoint of an outsider, a young man just out of school and starting life, and observing the life of the super-rich around him. Gatsby's his millionaire neighbor and Daisy is his beautiful cousin. It turns out Gatsby has a thing for Daisy and so our narrator ends up in the middle. It is then the mysteries start to unveil as we learn that Gatsby's money may come from criminal enterprises and that Daisy rejected him years ago when he was young because he was poor. Now he's rich and a good candidate, but she's married. The tragic ending is sad but feels right and inevitable. It's a thoughtful film I thought would feel ponderous, but it moves surprisingly well, and there are some terrific performances from a young Sam Waterson (the prosecutor on Law and Order) and Robert Redford is the consumate Gatsby.


Saturday, August 2, 2008


Movie: THX-1138
Director(s): George Lucas

I saw this years ago -- it's George Lucas' debut film -- but watched it again to see how it holds up. I don't know if this was a re-edit or updated version, but the special effects were extremely impressive and modern-looking in places. Like in the car chase seen I swear the stuff looked digital -- so either it's been recently enhanced or Lucas was a genius back in the 1970s. As far as the story goes, this is still just as bleak and depressing as ever. It's quite remarkable that this movie got made. It's set in a future where humans all take government mandated drugs to keep them docile, and the story's about one man who rebels. But it's not an exciting rebellion, since he's sluggish and half-drugged, so the story's not really an action film (except for a couple sequences) and is slow moving. The sets are and performances are the most fascinating. On this viewing I was also really impressed with the background dialog and "cinema verite" style Lucas used (much of the film we see is security camera footage), so we have things like technicians chatting about computer glitches and stuff -- fascinatingly advanced for the early 1970s and well done. The film holds up astonishingly well.


Friday, August 1, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Movie: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The earlier Mummy movies were kind of fun and this one tries to fit in with the tradition, but its campy feel, lame jokes, and pointless plot feel flat and tired. It's not the worst movie ever made by a long shot and is mildly entertaining, but it's disappointing compared to the previous ones in the series and that right there should tell you something.