Monday, July 30, 2012

Two Very Different Movies

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) (41/50 movies)
I have seen this twice since it came out. I went to see it on night it opened, and I had just come from a coworker's going away party, then I proceeded to have two more Narragansetts at the theater...let's just say that, while I enjoyed it, some of it was, how shall I say, lost to me. For real, I was reading about it later and realized there was stuff there I simply didn't remember. So I remedied this by going to see it again, obviously, and I thought the second time was even better, again, obviously.  I usually don't see movies twice these days, this was more of a necessity since I was so excited to see it. But I am willing to see it again if anyone wants to go. Anyway: the movie. Christopher Nolan really sticks the landing for his more "realistic" Batman trilogy here, keeping in spirit of the world he created, kept evolving in The Dark Knight, and looped back around coming full circle from Batman Begins in finally closing out the trilogy. There was some really great stuff here: some of the acting is amazing, I think, honestly Christopher Bale might do his best work here, Michael Caine, as Alfred, definitely does their "breakup" scene is really some of his best stuff. I am not a big fan of Anne Hathaway and I was really worried about her here as Selina Kyle, more cat burglar than Catwoman, but she did a really good job, much better than I expected. Oh and Tom Hardy as Bane, due to the fact that he has a huge mask over his face he had to do most of his acting with his eyes and with his body and it it is amazing, to me, what he is able to pull off. (Really all the principles do really well here)  Christopher Nolan had started getting better staging action scenes better from The Dark Knight to Inception, and here are they are well done. I honestly think Hans Zimmer does some of his best work on the score here. So yeah, I think it was well done, it's not without it's flaws, sure, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives, and I am not just saying that because of how excited I was to see it. I know there was (and is) a lot of talk about Bane, and his army, and how much the movie is a commentary on the Occupy Wallstreet movement and what not. I'm not going to go into a treatise about this movie and class warfare and what not, I don't think I could do it well anyway, but my 2 cents is that Bane and his army, in this movie, struck me as more analogous to the French Revolution than the Occupy Wallstreet movement.

Now I Rate Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy:
1) The Dark Knight
2) The Dark Knight Rises
3) Batman Begins

Thank you.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) (42/50 movies)
A small, indie comedy about three coworkers at a Seattle magazine (it might actually be called Seattle Magazine) who go to a small seaside town in the Pacific Northwest to do a story on a man who claims that he is building a time machine and wants a partner to go back in time with. My black, cynical heart tells me that I should just throw this movie out a window. But, I have to admit there is a sweetness to it that I can't deny, and, against my best efforts it wormed it's way back into my heart. Mark Duplass plays the man who may, or may not, be unstable and may or may not be actually building a time machine and Aubrey Plaza plays pretty much the same role as she does on Parks and Rec but gets to show herself getting worn down by Duplass' character's openness and charm, if that's the best word for it. In some ways it's pretty typically indie, in some ways it stays weirder and funnier then your typical low key indie comedy. And the end will definitely have people talking one way or the other. In fact the ending might be the dealbreaker for a lot of people. I will say I also enjoyed the two people that came with Aubrey Plaza's character to the town, I enjoyed their chemistry and interplay.

I will say though the Pacific Northwest locales here are really beautiful. They keep showing these shots of the characters in and around the beach, it seems to be Autumn, and the shots are really pretty. Reminds me of this old Saves The Day album cover with the sun bleeding past the people's heads.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Tribute To Ernest Borgnine

I'm not sure where I was first exposed to Ernest Borgnine, who passed away, of course, on Sunday. It had to be either when he was on Airwolf:

Sidenote: when Airwolf was on TV, that was when I learned that Ernest Borgnine was originally from Hamden, Connecticut. This is only significant because Hamden was where my Grandpa and his wife, Lenore, lived. They lived in a condominium complex and Ernest Borgnine's sister lived in that same complex. I never ran into Ernest Borgnine around there, but Lenore was friendly with his sister and had met him. She had told me a story about a grandchild of someone else in the complex was a big fan (again from Airwolf) and had gotten to meet him, and he was really nice and signed a picture for her (I remember it was a girl because I was young and surprised that a girl would be so into Airwolf).

or when I saw him in Disney's The Black Hole, when I was younger. Man, that robot Maximilian scared me back in the day. :

At any rate, being that he was in TV and movies for the better part of five decades, much like the characters and supporting characters he played he kept coming in and out of my entertainment universe. Whether it was with an amazing cameo on my favorite show:

Or when I actually started to get interested in movies and movie history and would go back to his older stuff. He really was pretty amazing, just looking over his IMDB filmography it is remarkable how many different types of movies and television shows he was able to be involved in. Partially it was because he acted  pretty much right up until he passed away, and part of it, despite his looks (they weren't exactly Hollywood glamorous) he was talented and was able to do turns in all sorts of different things.

This list is by no means definitive, but here are ten Ernest Borgnine movies (some with WITH Ernest Borgnine since he wasn't always the star, obviously) that would make for a good Ernest Borgnine retrospective. All of these are also fairly obvious, I guess, but most would make for a good gateway into the Ernest Borgnine catalog. Here they are in reverse chronological order:

From Here To Eternity (1953)

Someone, maybe Burt Lancaster, really liked Ernest Borgnine early one, two of his earliest movies were Lancaster starring vehicles. Funny thing about Borgnine, he actually came to the acting game late, going to acting school in Hartford before getting parts in plays (some on Broadway, he played an orderly in Harvey) before he decided to move out to L.A. and try his hand at the movies. Which, obviously worked out pretty well. Everyone remembers the romance in this movie, like the famous kiss on the beach, but they tend to forget the other struggle between Lancaster and the people that keep trying to get the former boxer he plays back in the ring.

Marty (1955)
My Dad actually introduced me to this one. By today's standards it seems pretty cony, but there is an undeniable heart to this, and it would not have been there if it weren't for Borgnine playing the titular shlub. Although, looking at it in a different way, anyone who is single and might be getting pressure from anywhere might be able to identify with Marty's struggle to find someone at 34. It's just a nice movie, and I don't mean to say that and make it sound like a negative because it's really not, it's a nice movie in the way Harvey is just a really nice movie. And it's hard to forget how big this movie was at the time, it won four Oscars, one being the Best Actor for Mr. Borgnine and Best Picture, and was nominated 4 others and even won the cannes palme d'or at Cannes in France.

Bad Day At Black Rock (1955)
Here Borgnine does a 180 from his Marty character, playing a bad ass named Coley Trimble.

Flight Of The Phoenix (1965)
Ernest Borgnine looks like a Trucker Cobb

The Dirty Dozen (1967)
There's a reason why this movie is so famous, it's one of the great "men on a mission" World War II movies with a bunch of hard guys like Lee Marvin, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, plus a bunch more, plus, of course, Ernest Borgnine. It's ridiculous how packed this thing is.

The Wild Bunch (1969)
Talk about a movie that changed the game in terms of violence and subject matter on the eve of the filmmaking of the 70's that would bring it more to the fore. Borgnine is one of a group of aging outlaws who go after one last big score in a West that that is disappearing and changing as they grow older.

Willard (1971)
It seems like by the 70's Ernest Borgnine was getting into more genre-type fare. Such as this weird little movie about an outcast young man whose only friends are rats, which he teaches to exact revenge on his enemies. No really, it's well worth a look.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Thinking about it, this might have also been an early introduction to Ernest Borgnine. I remember falling in love with this movie while watching it on Dialing For Dollars after school one day with my brother. I am not quite sure why this one in particular has stuck with me but it has. I also remember that one of the stunts was later appropriated by The Fall Guy later in it's opening credits. Borgnine plays a cop who marries a prostitute he busted, he yells a lot, but also becomes one of the leaders of the survivors trying to get to the top of the boat. (Also check out Leslie Nielson in a straight role)

The Devil's Rain (1975)
Hahahahaha A bunch of Satanists in the countryside somewhere have evil powers which enable them to melt people. One of the children of an earlier victim comes back for revenge one day. It's pretty amazing, plus William Shatner is in it, so you know scenery will be chewed.

Escape From New York (1981)
Seriously one of my favorite movies, right in that sweet spot when John Carpenter was on fire in the late 70's to the 80's, and also when he was beginning to be on fire with his collaborations with Kurt Russell. The cast is amazing: Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Donald Pleasance, Lee Van Cleef, Isaac Hayes, Tom Atkins etc. etc. This was another one I watched early on a video that my friend had taped off television and it just stayed with me for whatever reasons things happen to stay with you, but I still think it's really fun and really good.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Catching Up On Movies

We didn't have anything planned for this past weekend so we did this thing where we would go out in the morning (usually for breakfast-okay for breakfast) then retreat from the heat/humidity for the afternoon in the cave we have created in our living room, and then went back out for the evening, we lived like some sort of urban lizards. What can I say, heat and humidity can be a deadly (duh) combination. But it allowed me/us to see a few movies, and hence, they have piled up waiting to be looked at:

21 Jump Street (2012) (35/50 movies)
People were right about this one: this was way funnier than 1) I thought it was going to be and 2) it had any right to be. And Channing Tatum as a bro out of his element in a new High School world actually ended up working out pretty well. And it worked well both as a spoof on police movies but also on high school ones, which is no mean feat. Bonus points for using Ice Cube, again good here, as the angry, black police captain AND using "Straight Outta Compton" at one point.

Inside Deep Throat (2005) (36/50 movies)
Whoa this wasn't a documentary about Watergate!? Just kidding, I knew what I was getting into. Obviously this is about the stir cause by the release of porn movie, "Deep Throat" that caused such a stir at the time, gaining mainstream notoriety (to the point where even Johnny Carson and Bob Hope were joking about it) causing censorship trials and so on. The movie delves into not only it's release, but also the making of it, the principals involved, and then branches out into issues of censorship, feminism, and so on and so forth. It really is a pretty fascinating documentary. What is sort of depressing, and this is a cliche I know, but how things change and yet how much they REALLY stay the same as far as how people view say individual rights, personal freedom, and censorship, and how those battles are still faced and waged in quite the same ways.

Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983) (37/50)
I remember seeing the box for this video back in the VHS days at the video store. Look at that poster: "High Noon at the End of The Universe"!? I can't believe it took me so long to watch this. If I had seen it when I was 8, I mean it would have still been unfavorably compared to Return Of The Jedi, but seeing it when I am 35 I am struck by three things: 1) Jared Syn, the bad guy here is played by Michael Preston who played Pappagallo in The Road Warrior-his agent must have had post apocalyptic movies in his rolodex just waiting for him, 2) This whole movie was obviously filmed in one canyon in California (Ah, my research tells me it's Bronson Canyon in California-you've seen it in other things before) The post apocalyptic world is made up of about a half mile of said Canyon, and 3) I forget wha the third was, maybe that Richard Moll was in it as some sort of mutant warrior king? At any rate, it's a good enough time waster on a Saturday afternoon, there isn't much more you can expect from a sic-fi cheapie from 1983 that was originally made in 3-D. It made me think of something I might catch on a Sunday afternoon in middle or high school in WPIX from New York. Which isn't always such a glowing recommendation.
Here is another shot of the cinematic wonder:

Magic Mike (2012) (38/50 movies)
What can I say? If your main reason for seeing this is to check out some beefcake then I don't think you'd walk away disappointed. But, I feel like with sort of thing to make it really entertaining it has to really go campy, Showgirls-style or be really gritty. Magic Mike is neither, and when the plot kicks in it's fairly boring boilerplate. Which is too bad because there is some good stuff here, the dancing being one but also I have to mention Matthew McConnaughey as the club owner/leader of the band of strippers (head dancer?). This is the part, well if it wasn't for Wooderson, he was born to play. It's like Wooderson grew up, moved for Florida and got really interested in body sculpting. The man has a large bust of his head (and a huge painting of himself in his house), he hangs around after work doing the books in his bathrobe. There could have been something fun and interesting here, but then the plot gets in the way and I couldn't care less about whether Channing Tatum gets with the boring girl that can't act or finally gets his furniture making business on track. Although Channing Tatum is definitely believable as a dude-bro with a heart of gold. And, obviously, he can dance. Know what was weird though? I've noticed that none of the advertising says that this is a Steven Soderbergh movie. But it doesn't matter, it could have been directed by anyone, besides a few spots, it definitely doesn't have the Soderbergh visual flair.

The other weird thing was that one of the 5 dancers at the club was Kevin Nash, a professional wrestler. I guess it's not so weird on second thought, professional wrestling has got to be a cousin to male dancing/stripping

The Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012) (39/50
Now this one is going to stick with me for a while, and I feel like I am going to have to take some time to wrap my head around it. I will say this though: it is a pretty remarkable movie, a feature debut even, and if there is one movie that I can say is definitely "one of a kind" it's this one. It takes place in an area of Louisiana called The Bathtub, and follows HushpuppyQuvenzhan√© Walli also making an amazing debut.  The People of the Bathtub live in trailers mounted above ground to fight the rising tides, and eat food culled from the animals that live alongside them, or pulled from the ocean, or taken from a seemingly endless supply of canned goods, most of which look aged and beaten, and some of which were never intended for humans in the first place. In school Hushpuppy learns about ancient beasts that might be reawakened if the ice caps melt and the waters rise once again. The people of The Bathtub are fiercely independent, and celebrates life to the fullest (unlike those "beyond the levees") . All these things in the movie coexist with each other (you see icecaps melting, and you see these enormous creatures), and things happened but aren't really explained, but the movie isn't really in the question-answering business or the explaining business. Hushpuppy is the narrator, so for me I took it as a look inside her head most of the time as she explains the story as she feels and sees it, extraordinary circumstances and all, even though real life events might be playing out, I mean, it's open to question if The Bathtub even exists. But it looks amazing, the last shot is one of the year's best, and it definitely does not hold your hand, it will let you decide what you've just seen. Which in this day and age, in and of itself is pretty interesting. It might not be for every taste but it's definitely something different and worth checking out.

Spanking The Monkey (1994) (40/50 movies)

Talk about a movie frozen in time. For whatever reason I had never seen David O. Russell's super darkly comic debut before. But this movie feels like such an artifact of independent cinema in the 90's, I enjoyed watching it for just that reason. I am surprised I didn't see this in college, because it FEELS to me like something I would have watched in college. A wonderfully weird Jeremy Davies (whose always wonderfully weird) plays a kid who is trapped at home, a place he definitely doesn't want to be he should be at an internship in Washington for the Surgeon General, taking care of convalescing mother after she broke her leg. Of course everyone in his family is nuts, particularly his father, and it's about that and dealing with being back in his small town which he obviously hated and wanted to get away with (at one point I noted it was Danbury, and hoped it was Danbury, Connecticut, because that would be so perfect)...anyway, I won't give away the sensationalistic hook to this whole thing, but, yeah it feels like the start, which it was for David O. Russell where he would go on, to me, what felt like a real hot streak. 


Thursday, July 5, 2012

2 Very Different Books

Under The Dome by Stephen King (11/25 Books)
I, obviously, have no idea how writers do it, best selling writers or other wise. I'm not sure of where they're inspiration comes from. But it's interesting how it ebbs and flows, after a few years of floundering (I am sure whatever he was writing was still becoming best sellers) Stephen King puts out two long, and pretty amazing books in a row. Coming in at 1072 pages, this is the story of a small town in Maine where one day a dome appears over it and traps its' denizens in there. These are people that have know each other for years, of course, it being a small town, and the dome becoming a pressure cooker as the good and the bad vie for power, old schemes and old grudges start coming to the fore. What's amazing is that King handles a cast of hundreds with a really deft hand, sure some go by the wayside, but for the most part the people he focuses on are really well drawn. Not to mention the fact that this book, even as long as it is, is an unbelievably tight and quick read, he really ratchets up the tension and propels things forward at a breakneck speed. It's a pretty amazing piece, although the ending is a bit abrupt and some might not buy the explanation of why the dome was there, but if you're already along for the ride, it's a fairly minor quibble. What is interesting is it is all in service to a story that's basically about the power of simple human decency. It's interesting, like I started saying in the beginning, King mentions in his notes that he originally started writing this thing in 1976 and put it away with only 75 pages written, then decided to go back to it later and this what he came up with, it's pretty impressive.

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream of Freedom  by Peter Guralnick (12/25 books)
For awhile now, Tina had been telling me to read this, and for no real reason, I kept putting it off. But then were watching something on Stax Records and I had a bunch of questions, so she told me to read it again, and I am SO glad I finally did. It is, honestly, one of the best music-related books I have ever read. It is really astonishing to hear about the soul scene that was rising up in the South (and remember this is the late 50's and early 60's so you can imagine that atmosphere people were coming up in) These stories of people like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, and focusing on Stax Records (which was effectively the sort of "flipside" of Motown) It's amazing to read that, almost to a person, how people started in the gospel scene then went on to make "secular" music. And then what they had to endure to make these records possible, and then, of course what would ultimately hurt them, especially in the way how they weren't getting compensated for their music. The chapter on the Stax tour of Europe is both triumphant and at the same time heartbreaking. It goes on and on, but it helps that Pete Guralnick is a fan first, who happens to be able to write abut his favorite subject and artists in a way that expresses that fandom but it doesn't overwhelm the writing. It's a really great read, focusing on a part of soul music that often gets lost to history or overshadowed by what was going in Detroit.