Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So Long., farewell...

So I looked up movie deaths, and besides a bunch of gruesome horror movie deaths, this is one of the first pictures to come up. Poor Spock. He sacrificed himself to save so many. Anyway, I have decided to move my blogging "duties" here where I will be sharing space with two friends (and now, blogging buddies!(ugh)) I still hope to be doing much the same, but expand out a little into other parts of the pop culture wheel. A wheel, of course, that were aren't reinventing but we thought it might be a fun idea. So feel free to follow me over there if the feeling hits you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My B-Movie Vacation

So here I am. I have been back from vacation, officially, for about an hour and a half. It was amazing, everything on my checklist and then some. Most of which involved, beaches, swimming, eating, and drinking. So, you know, amazing vacation. I even took in a few end-of-summer movies. Both of them falling strictly in the B-movie/exploitation vein.

Piranha (3D) (2010)

Truly embarrassing true confession time: we ended up seeing this movie three times in one week. Sadly its true. We went one late night. Then a friend came to the beachhouse to visit and we decided she needed to see it, then the same situation happened the next night with one more friend when we all decided he should see it as well. Up until now Monsoon Wedding was the only movie I had ever seen in an empty theater. Add Piranha to that list. Yes, there might have been alcohol involved, why do you ask? Anyway, this is probably exploitation in its truest form, it takes place during Spring Break, on a lake, and I won't reveal where the piranha come from because thats part of the "fun". There is a lot of blood and a lot of bare breasts. And it is ridiculous in the most fun way possible. I'm not kidding, this movie was audacious, and just plain crazy. Sure the two leads, one of which I will get to in a minute, were awful. But they were surrounded by the likes of Elisabeth Shue, still beautiful, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd-doing his best Doc Brown, Richard Dreyfuss in a super-brief role, and Jerry O'Connell, who deserves some sort of special recognition for his off-the-wall performance as a Joe Francis-like svengali running a "Girls Gone Wild" type of operation. It never, for a second, takes itself seriously. And in the greatest exploitation tradition pads its running time out with a tequila body shots and, I kid you not, water ballet. Its so nuts and so ridiculous, and so much fun at least to see with a group of people. I don't know how it will play in different conditions. I do know it probably didn't need to be 3D, but thats true for most movies.

A couple of interesting things:
This, of course, being a remake of one of the better Jaws ripoffs from the 70's, one thats actually great campy fun, made in 1978 and directed by a young Joe Dante through the Roger Corman factory. Although the reason the piranha exist is different in the remake than the government engineered ones in the original....its something even more ludicrous. Well, there are a couple little homages, from Richard Dreyfuss (as "Matt" in the credits) brief appearance, to Ving Rhames remarking that a body being pulled of the lake couldn't have been mutilated by a boat propeller, is just one of the many nods to the king of them all. Although, they pretty much remove the financial reasons for not closing down the town, even the Dante Piranha had a plot about a crooked real estate man who wouldn't shut down the river...there wasn't time for anything like that. Things moved at a pretty swift rate. But, the boat that Jerry O'Connell took out his crew to shoot for his videos was called the "Barracuda". This is funny only because there was actually another z-grade Jaws ripoff in 1978 also called, yup, Barracuda.

No joke.

Thats a deep cut right there. (Also, I found this truly niche-y blog, The Jaws Ripoff Blog" Which is devoted to these sorts of movies.)

So I mentioned the two teenaged leads. Well, the female "lead" was Jessica Szohr, who played Kelly, and she was truly awful. (Another exploitation flick mainstay: bad performances!) Well, the lead is someone I found out is on a show called the Vampire Diaries, believe me, he's no prize either. But his name is Steven R. McQueen (seriously) Check out this family tree:

Who's father, is Chad McQueen, also known as Dutch, the arguably a bigger dick than Johnny on the Cobra Kai in Karate Kid (also an Elisabeth Shue co-star! I wonder how that made her feel?)

And, their father and grandfather, happens to be a legend, of course, that's Steve McQueen:

Weird, huh?

Machete (2010)

Now, what's weird is Robert Rodriguez set out to consciously make an exploitation movie (Mexi-ploitation? Maybe?) He and everyone involved is having a good time, clearly. The one thing Machete could have taken from Piranha is the power of keeping things movie. When Machete was good, it was really good. But the thing is it tended to drag a little bit in the middle, and the plot was sort of needlessly complicated. But the rest was fun in a way Rodriguez seems to be going for. Danny Trejo was awesome, and Steven Seagal and Don Johnson were clearly having a blast playing the bad guys. And, I have to admit, this was the most I have enjoyed a Robert De Niro performance in a while. But I do appreciate the mini-Jeff Fahey comeback that seems to be going on and he milks his part for all its worth. Its also ludicrous, but thats sort of the point.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted. Vacation, All I Ever Needed.

So in a little more than four hours I am going to be out of here, officially on our annual late-Summer vacation. This is what I want to do in no particular order: go to the beach, swim, see friends, eat seafood, drink beer, maybe see some crappy late-August summer fare (Takers? The Expendables?) You never know. So the excitement has me thinking about Vacation (obviously, as I have established) and Vacation movies. Here are a bunch of good ones:

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Vacation (of course) (1983)

Summer School (1987)

Summer Rental (1985)

Stand By Me (1986)

Roman Holiday (1953)

One Crazy Summer (1986)

Meatballs (1979)

Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation (1962)

Adventureland (2009)

FInally, a music video which always reminds me of Summer and Summer Vacation:

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Sean Connery: Zardoz (1974)

Thanks for the heads up

Well, if Sean Connery was eager to shed his James Bond image, Zardoz certainly goes a long way in helping him out in that endeavor. Wow, just wow. I was trying to find an image that could capture how weird this movie was, and the above one only goes part way in showing that. Yup, its just as odd as everyone says it is, both the picture and the movie. Ostensibly, an extended treatise one class and religion, it takes place in the year 2293. Connery plays Zed, an Exterminator, who just kills for his god and to keep the population down, he finds himself with a group of immortals, who alone keep track of humanity's achievements......from there it even further down the rabbit hole, if thats possible, and it is. This must have been some personal vision for John Boorman, it seems after getting some particularly good Thai stick and then staring at his lava lamp, he had a totally mind blowing vision of how to break people out of their cages of class and religion! I mean maybe who could know. But he DID write, direct AND produce this. Between this and Exorcist II, he seemed to spend the mid-seventies in a very weird place after the success of Deliverance. This movie plays out like a weird fever dream, and yet its sort of impossible to avert your gaze, because, being so odd, you really have no idea where they are going to go next. And, don't get me started on the "twist" at the end where they reveal where their "god" Zardoz got his name...oh man, its just, well, kind of amazing.

Ten Good Non-James Bond Sean Connery Roles:

(no particular order)

1) Professor Henry Jones, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
2) Marko Ramius, The Hunt For Red October (1990)
3) Jim Malone, The Untouchables (1987)
4) King Agamemnon, Time Bandits (1981)
5) Pierce, The Great Train Robbery (1979)
6) Major General Urquhart, A Bridge Too Far (1977)
7) Daniel Dravot , The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
8) Mark Rutland, Marnie (1964)
9) Pvt. Flanagan, The Longest Day (1962)
10) Robin Hood, Robin and Marian (1976)

Here's one more just because it's odd to see him like this, to me, in a different way: Michael McBride, Darby O' Gill and the Little People

Casualties of War (1989)

This has been sitting on my Netflix Watch Instantly Queue for quite some time. Brian De Palma is an interesting filmmaker to me, its strange because he always inspires such strong opinions on both sides of the fence. There are people that can't stand him, and then there are people that will defend even his worst work (Mission To Mars). I'm somewhere in the middle, I think. When he's good, I feel he's very good, and when he's not, he's not. Basically like any other human endeavor, I guess. But I guess what I am trying to say is that he is, at the very least, always interesting. Casualties Of War is an interesting movie, and I feel like it would take someone with De Palma's, excuse me here, balls, to be able to even attempt. Its interesting watching this after reading this which is about an episode of M*A*S*H, but talks about a British documentary about the Vietnam War, made in the 60's, that congressmen wanted to keep off the air. Its interesting that by 1989 that De Palma could make a movie like this to little or no fanfare. I was twelve, so I am not sure if there was a lot of controversy surrounding the release. But, after having finally seen, it, its a pretty powerful movie which manages to make a point not only about ethics, but about war as a whole. Michael J. Fox plays Eriksson, the lone man in a unit who refuses to participate in the kidnapping, rape, and eventual murder of a Vietnamese villager woman, and then tries to bring the perpetrators to justice. This is makes up part of Fox's unofficial "dark" trilogy (along with Bright Lights, Big City and Light Of Day) I think he's good here as the junior man in the group, the one it seems who still has is morals intact, he plays it well for the most part. Although there are some Vietnam War cliches in the beginning, as the main plot sets in they are done away with. Fox's sense of betrayal is pretty palpable as people he initially sort of looks up to, start to turn on him, particularly Diaz, played by a young John Leguizamo, who at first says he isn't going to along with the rest of the group, but eventually gives in. Also interesting to note that this is John C. Reilly's first movie, and he is pretty good, obviously, at playing the easily-led lummox. One sequence, in particular, is pure De Palma, and its really good: the scene where they actually kidnap the girl from her home is pretty amazing. All in all, this is pretty dark, and made even more so since it is apparently based on a true story, but I feel like it deserves a higher place on the De Palma canon, or at least a second look.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Vicious Kind (2008)

This has all the earmarks of an indie movie, because, of course, thats what it is. It threatens to be overwhelmed by the sort of indie cliches that pop up so very often, but the performances are so good, particular from Adam Scott and J.K. Simmons that it never topples over. I also happen to like that it is set in a small town in Connecticut in the Winter, around Thanksgiving time to be exact. The story centers around Caleb, played by Adam Scott, who is, not to put too fine a point on it, an asshole, but his terrible attitude stems from a recent breakup and....a family secret that he has been carrying around for eight years. Until about the last part of this I really thought this would end like so many indie movies with nothing resolved, and it only playing like the first act to a familial tragedy. Yet in the very end, while, for part of the cast it might not be perfect, but for the other two, the father and son, there looks like there might be a step forward and a breakthrough. I have to admit, I liked that. I liked the fact that, as written, J.K. Simmons and Adam Scott, the estranged father and son, are more alike then they care to admit, and thats probably part of the problem. And those two, probably more so than Brittany Snow and Alex Frost as the brother and the girlfriend, are really good here. Sure, they are playing variations on characters they have already established, the unrepentant asshole and the out-there father, here they play it dramatically and I think they are really really good. This was written and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, who is like 24 years old, and it definitely feels like something a 24 year old would write and make. And thats not necessarily a bad thing, I would like to see what he does in the future. Because this looks really good, even if the story isn't the best in the world, I liked the setting (the cold Northeast is always fitting for these sorts of familial dramas). There's one dolly shot in particular, thats not too long, of Adam Scott rushing out of a bowling alley that I found pretty impressive. So the acting saves this one, I think, in the end.

On a sidenote that has nothing to do with anything besides the fact that this was set in the chilly, Northeast. I have been reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and have been wondering 1) Why has no one made that into a movie. Small colleges dotting the New England landscape have to be ripe for a lot of things-drama and horror being right up there. I mean look at what Lovecraft did. And 2) I guess my number 2 was in there but yeah, like The Vicious Kind why not more films set in the Northeast, I feel like its ripe for these kinds of things, the Northeastern mentality and all, and hasn't been used to its full potential. Even watching Jaws the other night, and this might also be because of the good writing, I was thinking of this watching the cast of colorful characters, many who seemed uniquely New England, who filled out the town/island of Amity. Of course, it would probably take someone from the area to get it exactly right, I suppose, but that goes without saying.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

This is the kind of movie that, back in the day, one would stumble across on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon on WLVI or WPIX and was so fast moving you would get caught up in it. While not great cinema by any stretch of the imagination, this is actually a fun, quickly paced movie, following the adventures of American prisoners who escape from their prison transfer convoy and try making their way across France to Switzerland. Sure the voices are badly dubbed, and for whatever reason there is no subtitles when characters speak in German, making it difficult to sometimes follow EXACTLY what was going on. But, it moves swiftly, starting out like The Dirty Dozen, becoming an adventure of men trying move incognito through a battlefield to safety, to a mid-movie twist which turns it into a "man-on-a-mission" movie. It really pulls out all the stops, even finding a way, at one point, to show topless women. Fred Williamson, a veteran of blaxploitation/grindhouse movies by this point is particularly fun to watch here. While I'm glad Tarantino didn't decide to do a straight remake of this (there is only a couple of small elements, besides the title, he took from this) it actually is a fun little time waster on its own.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lock and Load.

Guns, guns, and more guns from the movies.

This is long, but it's worth it:

Lock & Load from Steven Santos on Vimeo.

A couple things:

-I should really see Love and Death. I am not sure how I missed it.
-I mentioned this earlier today, but Hot Fuzz is so good.

-Everyone always talks about the shootout in the hospital at the end of Hard Boiled. But the opening shootout in the noodle place is as good if not better.

The Other Guys (2010)

Ugh. So I was really looking forward to this. For the most part, I think Will Ferrell is funny and I usually enjoy his "man unaware" shtick. And I think the first half hour to forty-five minutes of this are really good, but then the plot kicks in and it just seems to go on for too long. I know thats a weird thing to say, but its hard to do action-comedy right. Usually its not funny enough by comedy standards, and the action isn't good enough by, uh, action standards. I really do think this starts off well, but, in some ways, the mystery was too much "in the real world", if that makes sense. If you want to see this thing done right, watch Hot Fuzz, where everything is just sort of nuts. I don't want to watch a Will Ferrell comedy and try to parse out the specifics of some intricate plot. I keep mentioning there is some good here, I like Will Ferrell, he probably got the most chuckles from me, I like Rob Riggle and Damon Wayons Jr. (I know, holy crap) as Wahlberg and Ferrell's rivals, I like that this is the summer of the Michael Keaton mini-comeback, and I thought he was funny.(Slight Spoiler Ahead) They lost Duane Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson way too early, they could have been funny to play off of for a while more. But I don't know, it just couldn't sustain itself, and ended up, for me, being disappointing. I mean I can't expect every Ferrell-McKay collaboration to scale the heights of Anchorman, but this definitely didn't come close. So I wonder what next? Because I think Ferrell is at his best when working with McKay, but also think it might be time for McKay to try something different-so we'll see, I guess. I'm a fan of of the Sideshow Bob Rake Theory (which I just named) which basically is that if something repeats itself enough it goes from funny to weird/possibly annoying to funny again. They seemed to try this here with a few gags and it just didn't work for me. Ah well, they can't all be winners.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Invention Of Lying (2009)

Ricky Gervais plays a man who lives in a world where the concept of lying doesn't exist. In an act of desperation, he tells the first lie and turns the world on its head-sort of. I found this particularly frustrating, this actually starts off so well, and what could have been a somewhat scathing satire (for a mainstream comedy) about religion in the first half, devolves into just another romantic comedy by the end. And the thing is, it probably would have still been disappointing that they decided to go that route anyway, but Jennifer Garner is just awful here. Her performance here is just grating, and her character so annoying that I just could not understand why Mark, Gervais' character, would keep pursuing her. Ugh. Also, I'm an adult and I understand that movies need money from all over the place to get made, but the part where Gervais read his religion's rules to a crowd off the back of a pizza box with "Pizza Hut" hugely displayed for minutes on end was also a bit much. This started out so well, but, just could not sustain until the end unfortunately.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Working Girl (1988)

Yeah, I know, I can't believe I hadn't seen this before either. In some ways, its probably good that I didn't, other than the fact that my 11 year old self would be acutely aware of watching something "adult" (i.e. sexual situations) beyond that I would have probably wondered what the big deal was. Now having seen, while I didn't think it was hilarious or anything, I thought it was a nice adult story l, but not uproarious. I can see why it was popular and I can see why it made Melanie Griffith famous. Everything I thought about was really things on the periphery, like 1) Man, Alec Baldwin looks so young, or 2) Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver used to be SO AWESOME.YOu don't usually associate Harrison Ford with comedy but he does pretty well here. What was Harrison Ford's last good movie? Man, I'd have to say The Fugitive in 1993 (!?) Sigourney Weaver, it was probably a little sooner than that depending on your scale. It's definitely not Avatar. 3) This is one of those movies with so many of THOSE people in the background and in side roles, a young Oliver Platt, Ricki Lake has one line, Suzanne Shepherd plays a receptionist, she was the school administrator in Uncle Buck with the big mole, Philip Bosco-but he's been in a lot, Joan Cusack with the big hair, Kevin Spacey in a brief scene as a coked-up executive, and a blink-and-you'll-miss him David Duchovney filling in some of the crowd scenes that take place in Staten Island. He never talks but you can see him in the background a few times-so weird.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Robert Mitchum!

"He's the only man in town I'd be afraid to fight for real. I might knock him down, but he'd keep getting up until one of us was dead." Frank Sinatra on Robert Mitchum.

So today is Robert Mitchum's birthday. Besides being known for awesome film noirs ( a couple represented below), there was a couple other things I found out about him when I was looking up his movies today. I guess everyone knows how he was arrested in 1948 for marijuana possession in a sting operation. I think its weird that he could get arrested in 1948 and still have his career flourish afterwards. It seems like a death knell for someone's career back then. He must have had a hell of a publicist I mean, he went to jail and even a prison work farm. I suppose, since photographers from "Life" came out to take pictures of him doing work in a prison jumpsuit that he just parlayed it into a way of adding to his toughguy persona. (Funny, he described his experience in jail to a reporter as "like Palm Springs, but without the riff-raff")

The other surprising thing was that he actually released two albums, and one of them was a calypso one. Oh man, it would be great to get my hands on this album, that cover is amazing. I knew he did sing songs sometimes in his movies, and even sang the title songs sometimes, like the theme from Thunder Road, but him putting out two whole albums-renaissance man.



What about his movies? Well, come to find out I am kind of deficient as far as what I have and haven't seen in the Robert Mitchum oeuvre: like The Lusty Men, Thunder Road, The Sundowners, Not As A Stranger, Pursued-you get the picture. There's some gaps, lets say. So here are my five favorite Robert Mitchum films which can also serve as a good gateway/starting point to his films.

1) Out Of The Past (1947)

Quintessential film noir that helped make Robert Mitchum a star.

2) Night Of The Hunter (1955)

This probably helped seal the deal as far as Robet Mitchum playing bad guys. He's chilling as the psychopathic preacher that kills women and preys on children. I would also be remiss in not mentioning how this is the only movie actor Charles Laughton ever directed, and it is amazing. Some of the scenes, like the one on the river, are like something out of a surreal nightmare.

3) Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

Here he plays Corporal Allison, stranded on an island in the South Pacific with a nun played by Deborah Kerr. Its a nice "opposites attract" drama where the leads are forced to work together and end up developing a mutual admiration (attraction?) to one another. My description probably makes it sound a lot more rote than it actually is, its really good.

4) Cape Fear (1962)

Here he originates the role of Max Cady, the criminal later played by Robert De Niro, in a movie that probably didn't need to be remade. He goes toe to toe with Gregory Peck, who plays the lawyer who put him away. Not only does he drip malice, the movie drips atmosphere, and Peck and MItchum put on an acting masterclass.

5) The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

I've noticed that as Mitchum's career reached into the seventies and he's gotten older, his acting work keeps getting described as "lived in". Which is actually apropos, because it seems that way-the look and feel (it was directed by Peter Yates, who directed Bullitt) not only of the old school criminals, including Mitchum as Coyle, who are going for that one last score before they retire-but also captures amazingly a lot of old school feeling and location in the Boston area. Just seeing him and Peter Boyle go to a Bruins game and cheering for Bobby Orr is awesome. But thats a little bit of near-hometown pride, but what can I say? It works.

Bonus (on the lighter side, I suppose):

Holiday Affair (1949)

The Grass Is Greener (1960)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bronson (2008)

If there is one genre where people definitely need to figure out new and inventive ways to present a story its the biopic. Thats one of the things that Bronson has going for it. The movie is the story of England's most notorious prisoner, Michael Peterson, who renamed himself Charles Bronson (as his "fighting name"). Its an interesting take on the biopic, Brock Norman Brock (apparently his real name) and Nicolas Winding Refn frame the movie as if Bronson is speaking to audience at a fictional play, or fictional one man show, and its actually an interesting way to go. Its definitely stylish, with a definite Kubrickian feel to it. Tom Hardy, as Bronson, is starting become one of my favorite actors, and this is just an amazing, tour-de-force performance. Here's the thing though: your mileage will vary, while its definitely interesting, well-acted, and even funny at times-here's the thing: Bronson is an unrepentant and cruel bastard, so how much time you want to spend with him might definitely vary. While I really like how they took something as stale as the biopic and turned it on its head, one nude fight scene is one thing, but the next one, I just start to wonder if Hardy is cold or not. I wouldn't say the experience is overwhelming, but after a while I was like: "Okay, I get it."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Winter's Bone (2010)

You can never tell as far as "buzz" out of Sundance goes. Sometimes these films can arrive with a thud. Every once in a while, like with Winter's Bone they are the real deal. I was happy to find out that everyone that was raving about Winter's Bone during after Sundance were right on the money, this is really good stuff. When it comes down to it this is a mystery story, people have been referring to it as "Ozark noir", set in the hills and the backwoods of, you guessed it, the Ozarks. It features an amazing performance from Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, the teenage girl who has to figure out what happened to her father, or risk losing her family's house and land-which is pretty much all they have. Unfortunately that means trying to talk to people who really don't want any of their secrets getting out. It works both as atmospheric piece, of a community of people truly living on the very furthest fringes of society, and it works as mystery. One of the things I really like about it is nothing is ever overexplained, the audience puts information together as Ree finds it out, there is no big reveal like there would be in a more "standard" thriller. We are thrown into this community, and what we know about the characters is also only portioned piecemeal, such how people are really afraid of Thump Milton. Or one piece of dialogue where John Hawkes, truly amazing here, as Ree's uncle, Teardrop, shows up while she is being questioned. One of the men goes (or words to the effect), "I'm not dealing with Teardrop naked." As in, without a gun, because Teardrop is a true badass. Finding out like this, somehow helps to ratchet up the tension even more, everything sort of adds up, and then comes to its grim solution . Like I said, John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence are amazing here. (Interesting casting job, I had assumed this was her first acting job but apparently she came from working on the execrable TBS sitcom, The BIll Engvall Show, you never know where talent might spring from.) I mentioned before that not only is this a movie mainly a mystery, but it is also about community, and more specifically, family, showing that family can be both a source of liberation, but can also be a force that can trap you too. (Which I know isn't a particularly original sentiment-but the last scene in here really drives it home.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ten James Mason Films

Due to this article in the "Scenic Routes" column that the AV Club runs about every week or so. (Which, on its own, is usually a pretty interesting read.) That made me think of James Mason and what my favorite James Mason movies might be, here is what I came up with. Its sort of difficult, his career lasted for a good fifty years or so. Oh, also, my colleague posted a poem that seems to be about or inspired by The Prisoner of Zenda, I believe the 1952 version that James Mason was in, and starred Deborah Kerr. Weird coincidence that I was thinking of this today. (One interesting aside, that is only interesting to us in the here in now, Mason did a lot of television, in 1956 he even had what seemed to be his own variety show appropriately called The James Mason Show. He was even in 1979's Tobe Hooper-directed, Salem's Lot. So he did a lot of teleplays, and one of the ones he did was on something called The Schlitz Playhouse. Again this only funny in hindsight, the juxtaposition of a somewhat low-rent beer like Schlitz offering high class entertainment.)

My Favorite James Mason Movies:

(in chronological order)

1) Odd Man Out (1947)

Neat little failed-heist movie directed by Carol Reed. Mason plays Johnny McQueen, the leader of some sort of clandestine Irish organization. He sets up a robbery, and that goes sour, as they do, he is wounded and can't make it back to their hideout. So he takes to the back alleys of Belfast to try to evade the police, in particular a police chief who really has it out for him. While its not The Third Man, this is a nice little precursor to it, because the atmosphere is just oppressive, with Mason running through the back streets trying to stay one step ahead of the police. Really good stuff.

2) The Desert Fox (1951)

I don't know exactly why, but I always found it interesting that they even made a biopic about Rommel just 6 years after the end of World War 2. I suppose, I shouldn't, I mean they made movies about World War 2 DURING World War 2. As a rule, I am usually not much of a biopic person, but this one is pretty interesting. They probably made it because Rommerl plotted to assassinate Hitler. But it follows Rommel's career from the Afrika Korps, including his work on the defenses of Fortress Europe, that plot to assassinate Hitler, and his subsequent suicide. Its like watching Das Boot in a way, fascinating, even though you in your mind shouldn't be identifying or rooting for these men. I do think it was a somewhat bold choice for Mason to play Rommel. He has a career full of them.

3) Julius Caesar (1953)

This is a 50's method-acting powerhouse showcase where James Mason (and Deborah Kerr) hold their own against Marlon Brando in this Shakespeare adaptation.

4) A Star Is Born (1954)

Mason is great as Norman Maine, the alcoholic movie star who helps out Judy Garland's Vicki Lester's career. The two meet in the middle, develop a romance, but it all starts to go sour as Lester's career takes off, and Maine's keeps plummeting.

5) 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

1954 was a good year for James Mason, it seems. Its interesting ina big budget (particularly for the time) Disney adventure that Mason can walk the tightrope between being a semi-mad, out-in-out villain, and being a sympathetic character. He also serves as a nice counter to Kirk Douglas here.

6) North By Northwest (1959

Here,as Phillip Vandamm, silky-smooth as one of the best villains in one of the best Hitchcock movies.

7) Lolita (1962)

This probably could have killed his career, playing the noted and tortured pervert Professor Humbert Humbert. This is a highwire act since he is supposed to be the one the audience identifies with, since he also narrates. Kubrick might have helped (I am quite sure that he had to do this) by making Lolita older here than she is in the book (In the book she's twelve). But for Mason, he plays it note-perfect, while being able to work opposite Peter Sellers, and work with Stanley Kubrick.

8) Georgy Girl (1966)

If there is one thing James Mason can pull off it is being a part of the stuff, British upper crust. Here he wants the titular Georgy, played awesomely by the late Lynn Redgrave, to be his mistress. He even offers her a contract! Which is made somewhat creepier since her parents are domestic servants living there at his estate. There is an undercurrent of class conflict to the whole film, which is obviously focused on Georgy and her attempts to fit in with her swinging single London roommates, and eventually grow and mature as all their lives begin to change.

9) Heaven Can Wait (1978)

This is somewhat of a trifle, I guess, but I really enjoy Mason's turn here as Mr. Jordan (or god!?)

10) The Verdict (1982)

This is one of Mason's final roles (he died in 1984) What a way to go out, this is really an amazing movie. It features one of the best Paul Newman performances ever as an alcoholic lawyer that stumbles from one seedy case to the next until he happens upon his chance for redemption in the form of a malpractice suit against a Catholic hospital in Boston. James Mason plays Ed Concannon, who is defending the hospital. Mason brings the perfect balance of elegance and cunning to the table.

Eddie Izzard does a pretty good impression of James Mason. Check it out around the 4:45 mark:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Truck Turner (1974)

I actually watched this due to a misunderstanding. Let me explain: Quentin Tarantino used the track "Run Fay Run" in the last part of the anime sequence (Chapter 3: The Origin of O-Ren) in Kill Bill: Vol 1. You can check it out here, "Run Fay Run" starts at the 7:13 mark. (But the whole thing is awesome):

For some reason I got it into my head that that track came from the Isaac Hayes movie, Truck Turner. Well, having just watched Truck Turner, I can tell you that its definitely not on that soundtrack. Slightly confused, I looked closer, and it turns out that "Run Fay Run" is on another Isaac Hayes soundtrack for a movie from 1970 called Tough Guys. Ah well, at least I know now. Fascinating, no?

Anyway. I do have to admit that Truck Turner was at least entertaining. Isaac Hayes brings a boatload of charisma-he's great at playing the smooth, bad-ass bounty hunter (with an affinity for cats) who runs afoul of some pimps and their ladies and has to take them on-you know, standard issue 70's fare. I can't put my finger on it, but what makes this outing interesting is, at least in the beginning, there is a real sense of humor to the proceedings that make it especially fun. Particularly in the relationship between Turner and his partner, Jerry (Alan Weeks) I liked their chemistry, they really seemed like they has been friends for a long time.

This was crammed with character actors one would recognize. Scatman Crothers as on old pimp/helpful informant to Turner. Yaphet Kotto was great as the awesomely named pimp, Harvard Blue. But the biggest surprise to me was Nichelle Nichols, thats right Uhura from the starship Enterprise. On the one hand I had never seen her in anything else. On the other it was crazy to see her go from her role on Star Trek to the foul-mouthed lady of a pimp named Gator. Its his murder that sets off the revenge plot against Truck Turner. And she puts out the hit against Truck Turner. Its pretty astonishing to see her here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inception (2010)

I actually tried to write something up about Inception last night and even posted it but decided to take it down and try again. This movie excited and flummoxed me so much that I wasn't really putting together the most coherent sentences or paragraph. If you wanted to mention that I rarely put together coherent sentences anyway, please keep it to yourself. I thought maybe I would try it again in list form:

1) Christopher Nolan, right now, is the most interesting "blockbuster" director out there. Bar none. Nolan has a unique talent for melding spectacle with big ideas . And judging by this particular foray, just give him the next Bond movie, let him write and direct it and you'll have the best Bond movie in years. And thats not even based on the snow fortress sequence, I base that on the chase sequence in...what? Morocco, I want to say, but I might be wrong. Heck, Nolan could make Leonardo Dicaprio the next Bond and it might still be exciting. Yeah, I have drunk the Kool-Aid on Nolan thoroughly, because I think he brings the goods, his writing his excellent, although not perfect, there are times when he leaves loose threads, and the plot threatens to buckle the whole endeavor but it never quite does. He might have, once again, turned in one of the best movies of the year.

2) If I gave out letter grades I would give this endeavor an A-, I think it is just shy of a homerun, but besides a few minor quibbles, one being that sometimes the visual imagery doesn't quite-QUITE-keep up with the ideas he is putting out there.

3) That being said, I do like the idea that Nolan made something that is original, ambitious, and, most of all, made for adults. He thrusts us into this world with a minimal amount of handholding. There are a few things in there-the device maybe that connects the sleeping people and enables the person to jump into their dreams is one that pops into my head-that might have benefited from maybe a little exposition, but, again, it doesn't sink the whole thing at all. I mean we are dealing with dreamworlds on top of dreamworlds. And I think in the end everything ties together pretty well-or does it!?

4) That ending-really the whole movie is immune to an instant reaction. Rarely has a big film like this going to start so many conversations and interpretations. Leave it to my teenage nephew on my ride home from the theater to say it in the best way: "You could interpret the ending either way and it would still work." And thats true. Smart kid.

5) I mean it is a completely ridiculous idea- "dream heists"? It shouldn't end up working so well. I do like from a writing standpoint that Nolan can take old tropes (one last job, putting a crew together) and put them in service of something much twistier and new.

6) Even after I watched the movie I couldn't help but wonder if Nolan's seed of an idea for this movie (besides James Bond) was planted by watched Dreamscape and thats not a criticism. That movie was awesome, and Nolan took an idea (people invading other people's dreams) and ran with it. I'm not sure if thats true but I definitely kept thinking about Dreamscape afterwards-only in that they are similarly, sort of, themed.

7) For the most part, it looks really amazing.

8) The cast is uniformly good. I never expect too much from Leonardo Dicaprio, but I thought he did an admirable job here. I feel like he has been getting better, but I could be deluding myself. I particularly enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, but everyone was good. Ellen Page usually annoys the crap out of me, but even here she was good. Or didn't annoy me-which is really something. My goodness, Nolan populated his cast with pretty people.

9) Hans Zimmer's score is really remarkable.

10) I have to mention especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt floating around (and fighting) weightless in the hotel was an pretty awesome sequence. The whole thing was great, but that fight was especially great.

11) I meant to to go only to 10 but I thought of this as well: I like how Nolan constructed specific rules/"logic" for the dreamworlds and stuck to them.

12) AGH! I can't stop. I also have disagree with people who thought there was no real emotion to the movie. I think the movie had a very real emotional core. I do think despite all the beautiful people it lacked a certain sexuality, but not a genuine core of emotion. Whether you thought it was too overwrought, I didn't, but I could see an argument for it.

13) Oh yeah: Tom Berenger!

Interesting sidenote: well, interesting only to me really, in the trailers before the movie, a good portion of them were movies that I would actually see. Thats pretty rare too.