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)