Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For the BGG Film Guild

All-Time Top 10

I couldn’t do it. Even what I’ve come up with below is full of compromise and ignores so many films that I feel guilty leaving out.

But, in its limited way, this list below is a decent representation of what sort of filmgoer I am.

1. Stalker/Andrei Rublev/The Killers
Tarkovsky is the greatest. There is no one greater, living or dead. I’ve seen all of his films except for The Sacrifice, Nostalghia, and Voyage in Time (and a couple of his student films that are impossible to find). Stalker is my favorite film. It pleased me a great deal to read Jonathan’s comment above. Andrei Rublev is glorious in its celebration of life and art and spirit. Tarkovsky’s The Killers is probably the best screen adaptation of anything Hemingway that I’ve ever seen.

2. Return to Oz/The Empire Strikes Back/Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
I was born in 1979. These three films were the most beloved films of my childhood. I can’t approach them with anything other than familiarity and adoration. Say what you will about them, these films won’t leave me.

3. There Will Be Blood/Treasure of the Sierra Madre/Aguirre: The Wrath of God
I’ve seen several films multiple times at the theatre, but There Will Be Blood is the only film that demanded that I stay in the theatre for an immediate second viewing (with a third to follow a week later). I’ve read much of the criticism written against this film. Some of it is fair. A lot of it misinterprets the film and is just plain wrong. It’s one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. After watching it, I thought about how much it reminded me of two of my favorite films, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Aguirre: The Wrath of God. It felt good to hear an interview with Anderson later in which he states that he had been watching the Huston film every night while making Blood.

4. Terror in a Texas Town/3:10 to Yuma/Rawhide
These might not be perfect Westerns or always high up in any official canon, but each has exactly what I want out of a Western. It should go without saying, but, yes, that’s the Delmer Daves 3:10 to Yuma.

5. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind/Pinocchio/Duck Amuck
I had the butchered Warriors of the Wind VHS version of Nausicaa when I was young. It’s been wonderful sharing movies with my children. Nausicaa has been my oldest (almost 7) daughter’s favorite movie for a couple of years now. Pinocchio was the most important Disney film for me as a child. Duck Amuck stands in for too many shorts to mention.

6. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge/Les Carabiniers/Ivan’s Childhood
Owl Creek Bridge is pretty perfect. Les Car is the greatest war movie I’ve ever seen and Ivan’s Childhood is here just as an excuse for me to list Tarkovsky here again.

7. The Hustler/On the Waterfront/Force of Evil
It seems like most of my favorite American films are about moral compromise.

8. Badlands/Days of Heaven/The New World.
Malick is our (America’s) greatest living filmmaker.

9. Samurai Rebellion/Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai/Throne of Blood
I’ve recently become more interested in samurai films, but I’m still very ignorant. (and I had to sneak a Jarmusch film in somewhere on this list)

10. Roman Holiday/Minnie and Moskowitz/The Good Fairy
Roman Holiday and Minnie and Moskowitz are my two favorite romantic comedies (yes, Cassavetes made a great romantic comedy!), a genre that is so full of bad movies that the good ones shine extra bright. The Good Fairy is the last romantic comedy I watched, so it gets a place here just for being the last movie to really make me smile and also gets to stand in for other zany screwball types.

That's it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Girls

I spent about half an hour last night talking with the girls about Up. They talked far too quick and excitedly for me to write even half of it down, but it was fun to listen. Mostly, they took turns talking about their favorite parts while the others shouted, "I love that part, too!"

Mildred summarized Up as "an adventure where a little boy gets mixed up in adventure in which they go to Paradise Falls with balloons tied to an old man's house and with the old man."

Annika shared that Up is "a house that a little boy was in with an old man and the boy was out on the porch and said, "can I come in?" and the old man said, "no," and the boy asked again and the old man said "yes.""

Susannah hung around and parroted things that her sisters were saying.

Piper slept through the movie and offered no opinion.

As far as favorite parts, I'd have to recount most of the movie here if I listed them all, but they agreed that the climactic battle in the skies was the absolute best part. They all giggle every time they talk about the boy trying to earn his merit badge in the beginning. Can I help you cross the road? Can I help you cross your yard? Susannah loved the dogs talking funny. And they all loved the beginning when the girl lets the boy into her club and shows her adventure book to him.

Finally, Mildred shouted, "I liked all of it!"

I ended our conversation by asking,

Is Up better than Wall-E?
Mildred - No way!
Annika - Yes!

Is Up better than Ratatouille?
Mildred - No way!
Annika - Yes!

Is Up better than Nausicaa?
Annika - Yes, Yes, Yes.

[historical note - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is Mildred's favorite movie of all time. Labyrinth is Annika's favorite movie. The two often have wars in which they ask their mother to sing either the theme from Nausicaa or "dance baby dance" from Labyrinth, resulting in some often funny mash-ups of the two. Mildred is offended that anyone could think that any movie could possibly be better than Nausicaa.]

Mildred than relented and gave Up quite the compliment.

"I do like it. It is only one level below Nausicaa."

I'll take another Drag, please!

Drag Me to Hell is so much fun I almost cried. I saw it yesterday afternoon in a theater with six other individuals, most of them far older than myself.

I wasn't so sure about the movie during its opening, but as it develops and pushes its cartoonish boundaries, I was sucked in and overwhelmed. I haven't had such a physical response to a film in a while. I only jumped once. It's hard to make me jump, but a sudden reveal of a grotesque gypsy face was enough to do me in. I didn't ever really squirm, but I felt uncomfortable a few times. My primary response was one of laughter. I couldn't hold it in. I giggled. I chuckled. I guffawed. I had to hold my belly from the excitement of giant belly laughs. It pleased me that others in the audience were laughing as well (primarily the two older women sitting in front of me), but I know that my laughs were sometimes disproportionately louder than they should have been. I couldn't control myself. Yes, Brandon, the anvil gag is great and is the true turning point of this insane expression of no-holds-barred slapstick horror, but I almost wet myself during the seance scene. I lost it watching the man dance in the air over the table.

I'm not even arguing that Drag Me to Hell is a comedy, but it pleased and entertained me more than any recent comedies. I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to feel guilty or relieved.

The story obviously starts with a horrifying premise, but the tone is so boldly screwball that even when the horror is at its worst, I needed to smile.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I'm gotten behind on writing about movies that I've seen, but I will not fail to write about every single one that I do see. That's my promise for 2009 and I'm sticking to it. Here are four of the five movies that I've seen since my last post. A post about Up should be coming soon. We saw it last week, but I'm going to wait to write about it to see if I can get some good quotes from my daughters.

When a literal carnival shows up, I gave up on all of the doubts that I'd been having about Ace in the Hole's supposed greatness. It is as good as everyone says it is. Maybe better. As Spike Lee points out in his segment on the disc, Ace in the Hole paired with A Face in the Crowd makes for a devastating double feature. I still prefer Face, but Ace easily earns a spot beside it. The following song is simply magic.
Vocalist: [singing] We're coming, we're coming Leo/Oh Leo don't despair/While you are in the cave-in hopin'/We are up above you gropin'/And we soon will make an openin' Leo./We're closer, we're closer Leo/And soon you'll breathe fresh air/While you are in the devil's prison/Keep the spark of life a fizzin'/We'll soon have you out of prison, Leo./Oh Leo, Leo, Leo, Leo.

Iron Man continues to stand up, after my third viewing, as a nearly perfect piece of entertainment. The writing and performances continue to impress, but I was particularly impressed this viewing by how well the film is put together visually. It's nice to notice little touches like the reflection of the ferris wheel lights on the armor. And I don't think I can quibble over any editing choices. I really do love this movie, easily the greatest superhero film we have so far.

Three Monkeys is like rolling around underground in a steaming pile of shit after soaring the skies with Iron Man. Miserable people do miserable things to one another. There are a few magic surreal moments and the sadness and despair were earned. It's not a bad film at all. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood to be bummed about bad people and bad decisions.

Enemy at the Gates is enjoyable enough. My brother-in-law Eli let me borrow it after I was telling him about a wargame I had recently played. The main cat and mouse plot left me alternately engaged and bored and the love interest/friendly rivalry subplot was sort of standard. Still, the film managed to succeed in creating a pretty chilling representation of life as a soldier in Stalingrad and I liked it for the ways in which it does succeed as a window into a certain time and place.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two close shaves.

[With gratitude toward my mother and her gift of a portable DVD player, an invaluable camping accessory.]

There isn’t much story to Sweeney Todd. A man is wronged and seeks revenge. Add in a murderous meat-pie subplot and that’s about it. Sweeney Todd is all surface glam. The songs and shaves provide some fun, but only barely enough to carry me through one viewing. The film’s greatest flaw, in my estimation, is that there is no emotional hook on which to hang my hat. There’s a broken love back-story that provides justification for all of the present mayhem, but the ridiculousness of the song and dance numbers and general over-the-top atmosphere distanced me from any real engagement with the story or the characters. That’s a shame because I think that the whole point of music in a musical is supposed to draw one further into the story, not away from it. Then again, I’ve always been biased against musicals. I almost always hate them so I won’t now pretend to understand them. I’ll leave Sweeney Todd to its fans and defenders.

La Moustache is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. It’s a classic example of what divides an artsy-fartsy film snob like myself from the rank and file of the mainstream moviegoer.

A man, Marc, has had the same moustache for 15 years. One morning, after his bath, Marc, on a whim, shaves his moustache. His wife doesn’t notice.

In the first 19 minutes, the film addresses issues of identity and insecurity with such skill and wisdom that I’d still consider the film a minor masterpiece if it ended abruptly after those 19 minutes.

What is amazing is that the film only gets better as it goes on. The seemingly silly premise of a man shaving his moustache develops into a taut psychological thriller.

The film’s third act is then comprised of a nearly wordless 20 minutes that is sure to frustrate some viewers, but I was held in rapt attention. The ending, too, is admittedly unsatisfactory, but I was somehow satisfied.

In the end, La Moustache manages to be both a conventional and deeply unconventional thriller. It is excellently structured, but remains fairly light on plot. Instead, it relentlessly builds a mood of alienation and isolation while exploring the transitory natures of identity and trust, all summed up neatly in the loss of a moustache.