Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ten Favorite TV Shows Pt. 2: Seinfeld

Come on. Do I really have to explain?

Favorite character: George Costanza

Favorite episodes: The Contest, The Marine Biologist, The Opposite, The Hamptons, The Pez Dispenser, & a dozen more.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gee whiz!

From the Fringe: Hausu

A new feature. One that I promised would be up back in January. Better late than never. This basically highlights exploitation, cult & forgotten gems in a directors work. Digging down in the deepest cul de sacs of cinema. Hopefully this will point you in the direction of these 'misfit toys' and leave you wanting more. While the blog is not solely dedicated to exploitation & cult, this feature was created as an avenue to discuss these types of films. First up, we have a film called Hausu by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Criterion recently put out a DVD of this and as always, they don't mess around. Superlatives abound when trying to describe this delicously demnted piece of pop art. Director Obayashi made this in the same year as Eraserhead and it's got the complete opposite tone and vibe of that movie. As opposed a nightmare of industrial decay. One of the things both do well is stream of consciousness visuals. The difference in this one being bright, poppy colors with a different paintbrush.

The plot revolves around seven girls visiting an aunt in a house that comes alive. The narrative, if that ever need be important in a film of this kind, takes a back seat while maniac Obayashi drives us head first into a house of pianos that eat girls, dancing skeletons and floating severed heads. All through a style consisting of mattes, animations, and collage effects. It's one of those movies that will ring you out to dry so to speak. It's a film to be experienced. One with a lucid energy that uses the visual medium to its fullest potential.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What I've been watching

I've been on a huge kick this month. Knocking out two fims a day. All are first time viewings. Here's the ones seen so far:

The Pledge
The cast alone made me want to see this- Nicholson, Tom Noonan, Rourke, Del Toro, Harry Dean Stanton, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Aaron Eckhart. It's a nice thriller where Jack isn't playing Jack. 4/5

Doug Liman made it clear in Swingers- if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. This is clearly a Pulp Fiction rip off through and through but instead of the kinetic hustle and bustle of that script we get one that is just above mediocre. 3/5

Linklater films are usually a treat because of the loose facia of dialogue and characters. Here, the characters were not as interesting as the ones in Dazed or Before Sunset & some of the situations felt less naturalistic. Still, a solid effort.3/5

Ever since seeing Rourke in The Wrestler, my appreciation for him skyrocketed. Here, he is given a fair amount to do in a drug movie that uses frenetic style ala Requiem For A Dream. Only difference is that a number of sequences are played as dark comedy. The consequences are still harsh. Not great, but a worthwhile watch. Particularly for Rourke's 'heartwarming' speech when he is in a porno shop. 3.5/5

Shock Waves
Nazi zombies. Yes, you heard it right. Directed by one Ken Weiderhorn. While I have some reservations for Return of the Living Dead II, the premise for this effort I feel is more enjoyable overall. 3.5/5

An astounding debut for director Boaz Yakin. Someone who I've never heard before. My ears are listening now. Fresh captures life in the projects the way few films do. Great performances from Sam Jackson and especially the kid, Sean Nelson. Even Gus from Breaking Bad is in this. A highly reccomended overlooked gem! 5/5

A documentary about the Staten Island boogeyman. The biggest problem I had with it was the (at times) hokey narration. Other than that, this doc kept me interested in learning about the accused Andre Rand and the folklore that surrounded the case. The most impressive thing here is the news reports, full newspaper spreads mixed with current footage & interviews. 4/5

Midnight Run
The buddy movie really ended here. & what a grand finale it is. DeNiro & Grodin are perfect in this. Along with a stellar backup crew of Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano & Philip Baker Hall! 5/5

Bubba Ho Tep
One of the most imaginative genre scripts to be cranked out in a long time. Pure fun all the way through with Elvis in the driver seat. Can't believe I didn't see this one sooner. 4.5/5

The Cooler
Bill Macy has made a living out of playing the schmoe in films. Here, he steals the show as a down on his luck cooler who brings luck after falling in love. 4/5

In addition to these, I have also seen Super 8 & I Saw the Devil but plan on doing mini reviews on those at the end of the year.

Oh & stay tuned. Some new features for this blog are in the works.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ten Favorite TV Shows Pt. 1: The Wonder Years

This show just completely floors me with its honesty about childhood. The only other show able to touch it is Freaks & Geeks. It doesn't hurt that it's set in my favorite period of history (late 60's to early 70's).

Favorite episode(s): The Accident, Goodbye, Don't You Know Anything About Women?, The Journey

Favorite character: Danica McKellar was my first TV crush, but her character in retrospect (& Fred Savage's for that matter) always had those head-slap moments. Kevin treating Margaret Farquar like garbage, Winnie cheating on Kevin, and so on. The genius of the show is showing how parallel your life is to it. I had my own Margaret Farquar in grammar school. & I could relate to countless episodes of this show. I'm sure everyone could relate to something on The Wonder Years. Which, in the end, is what gives the show its mass appeal. Regardless of the period setting.

Friday, June 10, 2011

the grand scheme of things

'07 was a year stained with oil, blood, and had tire marks all 'round it. Since then, the years have given us only a handful of great films. I'm not doggin' the great films released since. What I am saying is that the paint is starting to run dry and the canvases are starting to shrink and contract.

There is no refuting the evidence at hand- the broken down pieces of meat, the disappearing pencils, the blood stained bats. All circumstantial? I for one, think not. These weren't simple magic tricks that disappeared from our memories like most of the films released the past few years- jammed into our eyes faster than you can say "ta-da!". These were films that made a lasting impression. You wanna come out of a movie theater still thinking about it weeks, hell, months afterward. The problem is, there just weren't enough of those moments.

So we waited. & whatever mediocre movie popped up, it was garnished and lathered with praise. I for one was getting...a little antsy.

Well sometimes there's a movie. & sometimes there's a movie. A Serious Man was the last of that brand for a while. Since then, the ringing telephone has only given us bad news.

It was around that same year I heard the rumblings of a long awaited film. One that would arrive with great force. Not unlike a young Danny gazing upon a 'finger of God' headed his way. It was from a totemic force in cinema- Terrence Malick. Set to release a film called Tree of Life.

I think I can summarize my review with two quotes from people sitting next to me. When it ended, the elderly couple next to me said "This is the most pretentious movie I have seen." The woman in back of me said "I felt like I just went to church." Just from walking to the exit, I heard reactions ranging from "awful" to "wonderful". My theater also had its fair share of walk outs. But those who stayed to the end would not stop talking about what it stirred inside them. & it is in the humble opinion of this blogger, that if you can have a film do that & to that extent, then the director must be doing something right.

This isn't an angry opus like Apocalypse Now. The closest film I can compare it to is the one being mentioned in the reviews. & that is 2001: A Space Odyssey. When you look at both films, a good chunk of them have more in common with music than other films. Because at the end of the day, we want to walk out of the theatre feeling inspired. Moved even. That tasty full meal that keeps you coming back to that restaurant for more. Instead of just, as some would say, "egg noodles and ketchup."

Well, Malick gives us a full meal alright. One that doesn't go down easy. But before the compliments can me made to the chef, one has to gauge where this film stands.
Like 2001, Tree of Life deals with incredibly deep themes. Creation, evolution, religion, fatherhood, brotherhood, fathers & sons. The editing & movement is graceful. Shots that pan upward to the skies. Shots of ladders, stairways. The camera is never still. When watching any of Malick's features, it is obvious the guy has a knack for capturing nature to its fullest beauty. It's something that has always outlined his canvases. Here, the story suits it in a most ambitious way. Two ways through life as the woman narrating in the beginning says- nature and grace.

The two ways being exemplified in the mother and father who runs a family set in a 50s midwestern town that seemes refreshingly real. A time & place modestly captured.

One of the many things taken from this experience is the music. The use of John Tavener's ethereal music gives the film a religous tone. You feel, as the woman behind me said, like you are at church. Spiritualism runs rampant throughout the picture.

The spiritualism was the thing I responded to the most. It's what made it transcend. The film is practically a visual sermon. It is where this film dwarfs most other cinema released in the past few years. Malick reaches where most filmmakers dare to even think of. Attempting to no less encompass human origin & man's very role in existance. The creation footage is truly a wonder to behold. In the tradition of Baraka, Koyaanisqatsi & the Jupier & Beyond the Infinite sequence of 2001, this footage is a spectacle of awe & wonder. It stirred something inside that has been rarely felt.

It's been hard to try & spew out what this film provoked in me. I'm sure a second viewing will certainly benefit. All I know is this: Malick created something that will stand the test of time. Something that will be scrutinized & studied over for years.

The state of cinema may not be what all of us filmgoers hope for. We have to wait patiently for some of our favorite filmmakers to release their next work. Some 2 years apart, some 6 years apart. When walking out of the theater after seeing this, I realized that sometimes that 6 year gap is worth it.

"So, what did ya think?" said a friend.

"Still thinkin' about this one." I told her. "Still thinkin'."