Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rolling Thunder (1977)

I have been trying to see this movie for a while. It's actually not readily available yet on DVD, so when I had some free time on a Sunday evening and saw that it was on our cable's On Demand, so I decided to go for it. Quentin Tarantino has long cited it as one of his top ten (or 12) movies, even as recently as this year when the new Sight and Sound Director's Poll came out, he cited it once again (check out his list it's usually one of the most interesting at least to me. And bless Matthew Vaughn for putting Rocky III on his list-the one's that go off the beaten path, so to speak, are always the most interesting. Anyway, I should have written a post about the Sight and Sound poll months ago, so I will continue...) Anyway, Rolling Thunder, where William Devane returns from Vietnam where he was imprisoned for years in a POW camp along with a young Tommy Lee Jones. He returns to San Antonio and the town gives him a bunch of pieces of silver, one for each day he was away. Then some redneck thugs steal his silver, mangles his hand, and kills his family and the last part of the movie is him exacting his revenge on said thugs. It's written by Paul Schrader who also wrote Taxi Driver, and there are a few similarities between those movies. This movie is a lot more open about the torture Devane endured in the camps, showing a bunch in flashback, while in Taxi Driver it was only hinted at - just showing Travis Bickle's scars when his shirt is off. But Devane's character is a lot less nuts until he is pushed over the edge and decides to enact revenge. I looked up Paul Schrader because I thought for sure he must have been in Vietnam but I couldn't find any evidence of it, but he definitely spent a good portion of the seventies in a depression and these movies seem to be the product of it. That being said, Rolling Thunder seems to be more of the straight forward, pulpier companion piece to Taxi Driver, and it's good at being the lean revenge thriller it's trying to be. Oh also. Tommy Lee Jones as another vet who is returning home from a camp, he is at his Tommy Lee Jones(iest) being the more strong, silent type. If anyone is the more Travis Bickle character here, it's probably him really. It's well worth a look if you happen upon it.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Parallax View (1974)

The Parallax View is one of a small bunch of movies in the 70's, like The Conversation, which were made and came out around the time that Watergate was heating up. So hence, the idea of government conspiracies and cover-ups, and of people spying, were bubbling up pretty close to the surface. Overall this is a great, paranoid piece of 70's work where Warren Beatty plays the dogged journalist (shades of Woodward and Bernstein) who tries to uncover the truth about a series of assassinations that had been happening around the country. On the one hand, I liked the paranoid thriller, there is a pretty great twist ending to it all, and there is also a virtuoso 5 minute scene in the middle where the corporation that trains the assassins (or finds people to be assassins, so to speak), shows Beatty, who is pretending to want to be a trainee, a film that is supposed to suss out whether or not he is up to the job. You'd think for five minutes the film would stop cold, but it is a really eerie set piece as this film that Beatty is supposed to be watching is shown in it's entirety, and it really gets across the worldview of the people behind the conspiracy. it's really amazing. I'd put in a video of it, but if you ever decide to watch the movie I'd want  you to catch it by surprise like I (sort of) did. On the other hand, and I guess this happens in any movie or TV show where one or two people are the only people looking for THE TRUTH, it's natural to think that a conspiracy like this would surely just fall down under the weight of how big it is. And also people seemed to be getting murdered or assassinated at an alarming rate in this movie's America, you'd think there would be more than one journalist on this case. But, then again, after a year like 1968 and with Watergate going on, maybe people really did think (or maybe it was the truth) that only a handful of people were actually looking for the real truth truth behind what was going on. Wow, this 70's conspiracy thriller really made me think!

I was inspired, one night, to watch it because of this AV Club list. But, again, don't watch that part that they talk about in detail there!


Reading Roundup

I realized just recently that I have gotten backed up on the books I have read towards my 25/50 project and there is only a little more than a month left in the year, so I need to get moving. At this rate I am going to start reading whatever my youngest nephew is reading (Everybody Poops!) and just calling it a day. But I am SO CLOSE to doing this, so without further adieu, hopefully I am on the home stretch:

The Man In The High Castle by Phillip K. Dick (18/25 books)
Only Phillip K. Dick would write an alternate history book where the Allies won the (longer) second World War. And inside his alternate history book, the people and characters' in his book's favorite book is an alternate history book where the Allies won the Second World War. It's enough to make your head spin. It takes place in 1962, 15 years after the Axis won World War II because of an ill prepared United States and now there is intrigue between the Axis powers and how they are going to  or if they are going to strike against each other. It's all pretty fascinating, but I was (Spoiler!) a little let down by it's open ended conclusion. I hear Dick had planned a sequel for years but had never gotten around to it.

Deliverance by James Dickey (19/25 books)
Over the Summer, looking in my parents' basement, I found a bunch of books they had stuck away in their bookshelves down there (great story!) I remember growing up always seeing a copy of Deliverance on the shelf, and I realized reading a fellow blogger's review of the book that I had never actually read it myself. For some reason I thought I had (this story continues to fascinate, I am sure) In one of those rare instances, this book is just as good as the movie, a movie, I might add, that I love. I actually would like to read about James Dickey himself, because he is supposed to be a fascinating character and there is a couple books about him floating around out there (one of which is written by his son). ANYWAY, yeah the book is just as good as the movie and includes a section before and after their trip that the movie doesn't cover. I especially liked the prologue where the men are meeting up in Atlanta to talk about their trip and their reasons for going and what not, it really helps set up and deliver (ha!) on the rest when they can't escape to civilization from their predicament. Great stuff.

The Human Stain by Philip Roth (20/25 books)
Just in time to Philip Roth to announce he is retiring, I read my second Philip Roth book! He is considered one of America's greatest writers and it is not hard to see why. For one thing I didn't realize that the narrator here, Nathan Zuckerman, actually appears in other Philip Roth books I haven't read yet, like American Pastoral, which, to me, is actually kind of cool. But he plays the narrator telling the story of a friend of his, Coleman Silk, who is actually the main character and it his story that is slowly revealed through the book. It's a really interesting book that initially plays out with the Bill Clinton sex scandal as a background but goes deep into not only University/academic politics but also race and class. It plays out like a mystery with the narrator only doling out bits and pieces of information as the novel goes on, slowly doling out the whole picture. I found it pretty fascinating, like it seems a lot of other people did, I am sure others might find it overwrought.

Communion by Whitley Strieber (21/25 books)
So Whitley Strieber himself is a fascinating character to me, he's a writer, a screenwriter, and then one day, in the eighties he releases a supposedly true book about his abduction by aliens (later made into a movie starring Christopher Walken). He is fascinating, I can't say his writing style is that compelling. At least here, I'd like to try some of his fiction stuff because it sounds like he has done some interesting stuff. I particularly want to find this one called Warday that deals with the aftermath of a nuclear war (written in the 80's again) Now this novel, it is interesting but something about the way he writes just irks me. Also I am sure he is a huge liar like the guy that wrote about his haunted house in The Amityville Horror. it's fun to imagine but I think he just went to his ski cabinet and drank a lot of scotch and then voila: Communion! 


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

Being late to the game in internet terms, a whopping five days after its US premiere, a lot of this has already been said about the new Bond movie: overall I liked it, but I didn't love it. It left me hoping that the next Daniel Craig-Bond movie will be the real "Bond Is Back" moment. I feel like the last three Bond movies have been setting up for just that moment, but we don't quite reach it in Skyfall.

Skyfall lies somewhere in between Casino Royale, which I love, and Quantum Of Solace, which I didn't care for. Sam Mendes has learned to shoot an action sequence where previously in Quantum Of Solace, every action sequence was wasted with whatever he was trying to do with a camera.  The action sequences here, especially the initial one, are done really well.  Someone gave him really good advice on how to film them.

I will just add my same opinion to the top of the same cinematography opinion pile - the film looks amazing thanks to venerable cinematographer Roger Deakins. I wouldn't be surprised if he got an Oscar nomination for this, which would be funny after all the dazzling work he's done with the Coen Brothers (No Country For Old Men, True Grit).

Every actor nails his/her part. Daniel Craig should just be James Bond and not get distracted by other movies. I initially liked Javier Bardem as the villain, Silva. In theory he had a really good reason for wanting revenge. He was at his best when he spouts off an insane monologue about rats. But his story arc was weirdly wasted in making it too personal, too narrow.

I was excited for the final battle on the Scottish moors, which again looked amazing when the muted blues and grey erupted into fiery yellows and orange (the ice scene - breathtaking!), but it had too many people along for the ride.  And the stakes seemed pretty low when it was simply two people fighting to the death.

In conclusion there is a lot to like, even more to love, and with all the components finally coming into place (the new Q, Miss Moneypenny), I feel like they are getting closer and closer to something more thrilling. There was a brief scene where he fights in a pit with some Gila monsters that has a payoff that felt like something out of the Roger Moore era where he could have been running across some rubber alligators like in Live and Let Die.

I just hope that every subsequent Bond venture from now on doesn't focus on him trying to overcome childhood trauma but rather puts it all behind him and gets down to the ass-kicking business. 

Oh, and our generation's sake, Adele should do all the Bond themes from now on thankyouverymuch.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Argo (2012)

Well, Ben Affleck continues to prove that he is most definitely better as a director than as an actor. To be fair, he is three for three for me now. And he's not bad as an actor for sure, but even in his own movie he is probably the weakest link. I'm not sure how closely he worked with the casting director (I am assuming a lot) but one thing he has an eye for is filling this movie with amazing actors and character actors, including people we haven't seen in a long time, from Kyle Chandler and Bryan Cranston to Phillip Baker Hall to John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Clea Duvall and relative newcomer Scoot McNairy as one of the hostages who has a great arc. Simply put: this is just really great entertainment that turns into a suspenseful white knuckler in the last part of it. The thing that makes it really successful is Affleck is able to keep it suspenseful even though the ending is a foregone conclusion, it's in the public record we can all look it up, but it's still suspenseful, which I think is a good trick. Because if it wasn't it would just be boring, and it never was.

Also, until the nineties when this story was declassified the Canadians, who did play a big part, got ALL the credit for this operation. This isn't important to what I think of the movie but thinking of Canada will ALWAYS make me think of this: