Author Archive

2009

July 16, 2009
Redbox DVD
USA
English
91 Minutes — January 16, 2009
Action / Comedy / Crime
Steve Carr

Safety Never Takes A Holiday.

In my defense, sometimes marriage can be a collection of compromises. Sometimes my wife gets to pick the movie. Plus, we are big fans of KING OF QUEENS, which is probably the lightest TV show I’ve ever watched regularly. For a three-camera studio audience sitcom, it was hilarious to me. Mostly because the guy was overweight and loved the same kinds of foods that I do–that is, stuff a 10 year old would eat. And neither character was all good.

So with that goodwill felt towards Mr. Kevin James, I tried my first experience with the Redbox machine near my Lucky’s. I have recently read a New York Times article about how Paul Blart is the number one rental in Redboxes, which only hold about 50 different titles and how the CEO of Redbox was pretty sure that Paul Blart was not the number one rental at the much snobbier Netflix.

The plot, ha ha, is that James has hypoglycemia and that keeps him off the police force in New Jersey, but he takes his job at the West Orange Mall just as seriously as if her were a real cop. He rides a Segway, helps little old ladies, finds lost children, and keeps his uniform pressed and looking good. Everyone around him ridicules his weight and the dedication he brings to his job. He has a crush on the hair extension kiosk girl. He has a circle of friends who work in the mall. He has a daughter at home, the product of a green-card-acquiring Mexican immigrant who left them behind soon after her birth.

It’s Black Friday and a group of highly-trained, tattooed, X-Game participants takes over the mall so that they can steal the credit card codes on the biggest shopping day of the year. But with our hero’s knowledge of the mall layout and how to get a Segway to do what you want, the bad guys don’t stand a chance, do they?

The reason this film wasn’t as funny as it could be is because Blart himself has no discernible sense of humor. At all. Since he takes his job so seriously, he doesn’t think what he’s doing is funny. His shyness isn’t funny. His dating bad luck isn’t funny. James isn’t given a chance to be ridiculous. Knowingly, that is. It just isn’t very funny. Filled with unknown actors, this film made a fortune. I’m sure a sequel is in the works. Nice use of incredibly sappy old Survivor song.

3.9 Metacritic
5.4 IMDB

Paul Blart: Mall Cop @ Amazon

PAUL BLART: MALL COP

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2009

July 16, 2009
HBO
USA
English
45 Minutes
Documentary
Alexandra Pelosi [Journeys With George; Friends Of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi]

After being exiled from his home and the church he built, the former minister tries to redeem himself and rebuild a life for his family.

Something happened while I was watching this short documentary that I never expected to happen: I started feeling sorry for Mr. Haggard. Of all the social issues that are dividing our country, the one that I have the most trouble with, above all else, is the group of people trying to stop gay people from having the same rights as straight people. Adoption, marriage, and leading a church. Racism, abortion, creationish, etc, all take a back seat in my mind to two adults in love. How do you legislate that?

Before seeing this, Haggard was a hypocrite who spoke out against gay equality while having an ongoing relationship with a male escort. This documentary shows us some of his early sermons on the topic and in retrospect it’s easy to snicker at him as he explains the great danger of homosexuality. A particularly awkward speech he gave ten years ago mentions that a buddy and he were knocking on doors while going about the lord’s good work, or whatever, and they suddenly found themselves in the parking lot of a gay bar. Someone called out to them “are you two together?”, then we see the audience at the sermon bust out laughing like it was the craziest thing they’ve ever heard. Can you imagine? Two men being a couple? Madness?

But here’s the thing: Haggard seems like a charismatic, slightly dorky, leader of people. If he encourages you to do things, I bet that you do them. He is still strongly religious, still reads the bible, and is still almost superhumanly honest. Some of the questions Pelosi asks (and she is great at this in all her films) are so on point, that the subject can’t help but answer with the first thing on his mind. He doesn’t sugarcoat what he did or his “struggle” or when the news came out that he was “completely cured of his homosexuality” that Haggard himself never said it, but one of his former co-pastors did. He knows he isn’t “cured” and he may not believe that being gay is “curable”. He continually talks about the sins he’s committed, his wife seems pretty cool and supportive, his kids are exactly like every other kid, though probably more understanding as the family is banished from the State of Colorado and forced to live in loaner houses, a residence hotel, and then a tiny apartment.

And here’s the part I can’t get my head around. He had sex with a man, he admitted to buying crystal meth. And for those transgressions, he was fired from his job, required to enter treatment, banned from ministering again, and here’s the kicker, forced out of the entire state of Colorado. On who’s authority can a church with 14,000 members tell a man and his family they must leave the state and the church which he founded and led for decades? I’m sure there are bylaws and such that spell out what happens, but wouldn’t a man who has, according to their beliefs, fallen, need his home church and familiar surroundings now more than ever? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do?

As an atheist, I’m finished shaking my head while listening to people talk about why theirs is the one true religion. I’ve moved past his or anyone else’s religion. But here’s what I saw: A man who could again be a very compelling leader, a man interested in the downtrodden, who could be an asset to any organization (even a church) that might want him.

At the beginning of the documentary we see scenes from Pelosi’s previous project where Haggard is hugging young men and speaking in front of all male arena crowds and riding his scooter around the huge empire that he’s had a large part in building. We can snicker at the male hugging, but there is no doubt that all the people who speak to him after his sermons or speeches think that he’s the greatest. They can scarcely control their enthusiasm.

Did the punishment fit the crime in this case? As someone who wishes everyone could just bang who they wanted, obviously I don’t understand how big a crime it is to enjoy the company of the same gender. But the way he was treated, after admitting to touching a man, seems just about as unchristian as you can get. They gave him a severance package, they forced him into exile in Arizona, the White House distanced themselves from him, the other evangelical leaders suddenly decided that he never really was that powerful, and he became a story that his former supporters wished they could simply forget.

The greatest post-script possibility of this documentary would be the news that Ted Haggard has started a ministry for all sexual orientations. He could keep the meth out, but let in the gay and the bi and the poly and whatever else consenting adults should be allowed to do. Shouldn’t those children of god have access to the same scripture and fellowship as his initial flock? If you believe this kind of thing, and I don’t, Haggard could conceivably save souls for Jesus. He still has the skill set. Let him lead.

Back to the filmmaking for a second. Pelosi is great at asking the pushy, yet not-rude question. I’ve always felt like her subjects consider her some kind of west coast, liberal Jew, who simply doesn’t know how social graces are followed and they are therefore extra forgiving when she acts in such a forward manner. This film is short, and Pelosi and another person handle all the filming. There are shots in cars and shots on walks in the desert and old clips and explanatory title cards. He really opened up to her and it made him, and his family, a much more sympathetic subject.

7.0 IMDB

The Trials of Ted Haggard @ Amazon

THE TRIALS OF TED HAGGARD

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SUMMER HOURS
2008

July 14, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 3
France
French / English
103 Minutes — May 15, 2009
Drama / Family
Olivier Assayas [Clean; Paris, Je T’aime]

A woman celebrates her 75th birthday at her country home just outside of Paris. Her two sons and one daughter are there, as are her five grandchildren and housekeeper. She is concerned about getting old and takes her eldest son on a tour of the home, pointing out valuable art pieces and furniture and suggesting what he should do with the home and its furnishings when she’s no longer around. This type of conversation is always fraught with meaning and emotion, and the son puts off any serious discussion, but knows that he will some day need to take control as executor.

Mom dies and the siblings must decide what to do with the house. Frederic is the only one of the three who lives in Paris. His younger brother, Jeremy, works for the shoemaker Puma in China, where he’s just been offered a five-year committed promotion. Adrienne, played by goddess Juliette Binoche, is a artsy designer presently living in Manhattan. The home is full of artwork by their great-uncle, a man that the oldest can barely remember, but who the world remembers as a genius. Should they sell the house and auction the art or keep it as a family meeting place.

Anyone who’s been in a similar situation with their own family can relate to this issue. If you keep a home that few family members will be able to take advantage of, are you simply putting off the inevitable split that all families face? Should you keep it as the legacy of your beloved mother? What if one kid needs cash and another kid would rather have the family home available for use? How do the grandkids feel about visiting grandma’s house, without grandma being there?

On paper, this seems so dry as to be unwatchable, but somehow, director Assayas finds a way to show us exactly how these siblings interact. There are no black sheep, no one is out to get the others, no one is pilfering the really good stuff before the others can see it. But by the same token, no one is going to roll over and let the other two decide what’s best for them. They have three separate lives now and live on three separate continents. How will they come to an equitable conclusion?

The interaction between siblings is very honest. They kid, the get upset, they comfort each other. We don’t need them to say things out loud, we can watch how they deal with each other. The daughter isn’t serious about men, the younger brother has some guilt about living and working in China, the older brother has some anger about being put in the position to figure everything out.

There are three scenes that stick out in my mind.

–After the funeral, when all the siblings are in Paris, perhaps for the last time, they have a dinner at Frederic’s house. Wine is consumed, food is prepared (Quiche, natch), and the discussion begins in earnest about what to do with all that mom left behind. Frederic’s idea of keeping the house completely as it is, complete with housekeeper is met with differing levels of unhappiness by the other two siblings. Subtly, the wife of Frederic and the wife of Jeremy, realize that she should probably be in the kitchen instead of out at the table discussing the inner-workings of their in-law’s family. This was so realistic as to be shocking. One picks up a coffee cup, the other takes a dirty plate in. We see them in the kitchen, not talking, simply letting the three siblings reminisce and decide important things without their input. Anyone with in-laws know that they’re influence on family members is exercised behind closed doors.

–A group of art experts descends on the shuttered home and in one continuous shot, we go from room to room as the siblings and the experts go through art pieces, commenting on their relative scarcity and value, then we leave and go to the next room where pictures are being packed up and such. By the end of the film, you feel like you have some mental image of the layout of the home and its grounds.

–The teenage grandchild “borrows” the home for a party and another long continuous shot followers her as she flutters from group to group, unpacking food, changing the music, taking a hit off a joint, flirting with boys, etc. while in the background a surprisingly large number of kids arrives via moped, car, and bicycle. The girl feels every bit as powerful as her grandmother once did on the same land. The way the camera floats over everyone and notices things and moves effortlessly from room to room, not really focusing in on any one teenage participant in particular. The camera continues outside, down a hill, and to the swimming hole where some kids are cooling off. Really good stuff.

This film had no agendas, and the most important character was the house and its furnishings. Families might be destined to break up in our global world. I didn’t feel the filmmaker lamenting that fact, merely observing it.

After my grandparents died about 15 years ago, there was some serious thought to the rest of the family (their three kids, and we five grandkids) keeping the family cottage on a lake in Michigan so that we could continue to visit. But then we realized that the family was spread out in Seattle and San Jose and DC and the chances of us ever visiting again were pretty slim, especially as one big group. But the fact that even today we talk about that house, with its grassy hill, it’s murky lake water, the aluminum dock, makes us long for those days. We clearly don’t lament the loss of the house as much as the loss of our visits there with Grandma and Grandpa.

8.4 Metacritic
7.0 IMDB

SUMMER HOURS

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GOOD WORK
1999

July 13, 2009
Netflix Roku
France
French / Italian / Russian
90 Minutes
Drama
Claire Denis [Chocolat]

Dreamy, beautiful story about the French Foreign Leigion in Djibouti. Mostly wordless, though sometimes with voiceover that doesn’t match what we see on screen. Excessive and oppressive routines for the soldiers who seem to need it for their psyches. Men from the world’s different cultures must learn to co-exist and work together through discipline. Directed by a woman, this might be the gayest straight film I’ve ever seen. The men are almost always photographed shirtless and sweaty, in tight shorts, doing manual labor or Tai Chi or cathesthenics. But how beautiful they are. On a dusty outpost far above the ocean, they seem to be training for a fight they’ll never have. Their leader, who seems to partake in every form of physical exertion his men are forced to, has them doing tasks with dubious military benefit. They break rocks and march through lava-like landscape. The plot is nearly non-existent, save for a superior who asks a grunt his name and background, which gets the leader angry (or is it jealous), which leads to a showdown between soldier and superior. Note to self: don’t talk back to guy in charge of unit.

Worth watching alone for the photography and the final ten minutes which is either symbolic or literal, but is trippy either way. If you are a homosexual man, put this on the top of your Netflix Queue. You won’t be disappointed.

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BEAU TRAVAIL is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 75. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE HURT LOCKER Discussion
• Break
• 27:52 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:30 BEAU TRAVAIL Discussion
• Break
• 36:00 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:09:43 Listener Feedback
• 1:15:47 Credits

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~~

9.1 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Beau Travail @ Amazon

BEAU TRAVAIL

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THE SIDE EFFECTS OF BEING AMERICAN
2008

Netflix Roku
USA
English
105 Minutes — May 30, 2008
Documentary / Sport
Chris Bell
12 Month Movie Pace: 152

Entertaining documentary about the hypocracy of America’s relationship with steroids. The main facts can be narrowed down to two. 1) What if steroids aren’t actually bad for you; and 2) If they are bad for you, why don’t we better regulate other drugs which are much more dangerous, but used much more widely and therefore encouraged, much less tolerated?

Chris Bell is the middle of three boys born in upstate New York. They come from a big-boned family. The oldest got a nickname early of “Mad Dog” because he got in fights with schoolmates who called him fat. The younger one had a learning disability and ended up with the nickname “Smelly”. They all became obsessed with TV wrestling to the point of putting on shows in their basement and even performing in school talent shows.

Then Mad Dog went to play college football where he was all but ordered to begin taking steroids. Which he has never stopped to this day. He is now 35 or so. He also had a career in the WWF as one of the guys who lets the stars beat up on him in the ring. The director turned 18 and moved to California to attend USC and to work out at the fabled Gold’s Gym in L.A. where his hero, Arnold, used to work out. His dream of WWF glory never panned out. Smelly is also a steroid user and competes in powerlifting competitions. (We see him bench press 705 pounds–unbelievable).

Somehow the Bell boys are a perfect “normal family” example which plays off well with all the well-known examples the director finds of steroid obsession. Bonds, Maguire, Conseco, Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Lyle Alzado, Hulk Hogan, as well as porn stars, Air Force pilots, Congressmen, psychiatrists, and medical doctors of all stripes. The medical doctors to a person are confident that steroids are as safe as any other treatment and can’t understand the mania around them. Congress spent more time talking about steroid use in baseball than Hurricane Katrina or health care.

Bell goes to an anti-aging clinic (really a chiropractor) where after a few rudimentary tests, which he does himself, he gets a package in the mail of injectable steroids. He visits researchers, Olympians, parents of teenage suicides, Mexico, a supplement store, and he even creates his own supplements with the help of three day laborers from the local Home Depot. For $4 worth of supplies, he can sell a bottle for $60 and there is absolutely no governmental regulation. He visits a photo shoot for a fitness magazine, he gets two pictures taken ON THE SAME DAY for a before and after mockup. Pouty bad posture before–smiling, spray tanned, shaved, and flexing after (along with some photoshop work).

What I’m saying here is he gets so many different perspectives on the need for Americans to look and perform their best (legally or illegally) that it’s a wonder he kept them all straight. Which he does. A particularly strong argument is the sheer number of prescription drug advertisements we see on TV and why those are fine, but it’s a crime to possess steroids. One lawyer says “Peanuts kill people each year–do we sue God for making them?” We then see a list of reasons for emergency room visits. Alcohol, cocaine, vitamin C, then way down in the 160s, steroids. Deaths by tobacco: 435,000, alcohol: 75,000; steroids: 3.

We see George C Scott in Patton, Stallone in all kinds of things, Arnold in Conan and Predator. What’s a boy in America to do? Even GI Joe has completely changed from a normal looking guy in the 70s to a buffed beast today.

A documentary like this takes a taboo topic and asks “what’s the big deal?” In many ways RELIGULOUS did the same thing.

Very well done.

8.0 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* @ Amazon

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER

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1975

DVD — LiveTweet
USA
English
124 Minutes — June 30, 1975
Thriller
Steven Spielberg [Close Encounters Of The Third Kind; Raiders Of The Lost Ark; E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom; The Color Purple; Empire Of The Sun; Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade; Always; Hook; Jurassic Park; Schindler’s List; The Lost World: Jurassic Park; Amistad; Saving Private Ryan; Artificial Intelligence: AI; Minority Report; Catch Me If You Can; The Terminal; Munich]
#106 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A man-eating shark causes havoc off the Long Island coast.

Still incredibly fun after more than 30 years. This was a Live Tweet (660 tweets during the film) whereby people announce information and frivolous minutiae about the film and many that have nothing to do with the film. The ratio of watching the screen to watching the laptop is probably 1 to 5. But it was a fun pick. Hollywood considers the industry to be cut in half between Pre-Jaws and Post-Jaws. Now the marketing is at least as important as the plot and acting. Jaws either heralded great entertainment or the death of real artistry.

7.9 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB #107 All Time
** Halliwells

Jaws @ Amazon

JAWS

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2008

July 11, 2009
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
USA
English
131 Minutes — June 26, 2009
Action / Drama / Thriller / War
Kathryn Bigelow [Near Dark; Blue Steel; Homicide: Life On The Street; K-19: The Widowmaker]

An excruciatingly intense film about a bomb squad unit in Iraq. Bomb squad movies are always a little tense, from THE ENGLISH PATIENT to any movie-of-the-week where the characters aren’t sure if they should cut the blue wire with the white stripe or the red wire with the yellow stripe. THE HURT LOCKER will have none of that. These guys are professionals, with tools and technology at their disposal. Most times they disarm the bomb, save lives, and come back to base simply a little sweaty for the experience. Other times, the only thing left of them is charred hair inside their helmet, as one character mentions.

There is a ten to fifteen minute sniper scene in this film that can’t be overpraised. The men come to the aid of some English soldiers for hire, come under attack by a group of men in a far-away building in the middle of the desert, and must team up to fight back. The tension that Bigelow brings to this, from the generous use of time, from the silences, from the angles, from the shot into the scope so that we see a soldier’s huge eye, to a shaky hand trying to drink a juicebox, to the guy who may be a sheep herder or may be another sniper, to the question of whether any of them will make it out of their little crevice alive. It is stunning and worth the admission price alone. Film students will study this scene for years to come.

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THE HURT LOCKER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 75. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE HURT LOCKER Discussion
• Break
• 27:52 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:30 BEAU TRAVAIL Discussion
• Break
• 36:00 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:09:43 Listener Feedback
• 1:15:47 Credits

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9.3 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

THE HURT LOCKER

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2005

July 10, 2009
IFC
Australia
Vietnamese / English
114 Minutes — February 24, 2006
Crime / Drama / Romance / Thriller
Rowan Woods

A former heroin user’s efforts to rebuild her life are hampered by her drug-dealing brother and boyfriend and her best friend, a onetime sporting hero turned addict.

Cate Blanchett is her usual fantastic self, this time as a 32-year-old recovering heroin addict, forced to continue to live with the mistakes she made five years prior. She lives at home with her mother and has worked for four years in a Little Saigon video store. She longs to own her own place but no bank will look past her previous financial trouble. Her ex-boyfriend, Dustin Nguyen (yup, 21 Jump St), comes back to town after his own drug issues and they try to avoid old habits. Sam Neill plays a crime boss who dabbles in young men and Hugo Weaving plays a former rugby great, now reduced to selling jerseys for drug money. Each of the characters is afraid of being ordinary, small, like the title says. Blanchett’s family has had their share of tragedy, but so have so many others in Sydney.

One very bright spot is the Vietnamese/Australian relations in this film. Drug dealers come from both camps, business leaders come from both camps, both sets of parents are demanding and caring, and no one utters a word which would cause you to think they even noticed the difference. Cate and Dustin were/are in love, Cate learns Vietnamese to better deal with customers, Dustin’s uncles reflect on their own immigration story. That phase of the film was incredibly well done.

It’s not quite as sad as it all sounds. It’s dreamy and out of focus. We don’t see any detox scenes which have become filmmaking cliches. But somehow, Blanchett shows us how hard it is to try to rebuild a life after being an addict.

7.7 Metacritic
6.4 IMDB

LITTLE FISH

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2007

July 10, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA / Canada / Netherlands
English
84 Minutes — July 13, 2007
Drama
Steve Buscemi [Trees Lounge; Homicide: Life On The Street; Oz; The Sopranos; 30 Rock; Nurse Jackie]

Buscemi is a journalist who feels he’s slumming by being assigned to interview starlet Sienna Miller instead of attending some kind of important press conference in Washington DC. Miller would like any interviewer to at least have a cursory knowledge of her career. He’s stubborn and cocky. She’s bratty and conceited. She’s also beautiful and “always on”, even in the restaurant where the interview begins. Within minutes she storms out of the eatery to face the photogs while he gets a cab back home. A plot device keeps them together for the next 80 minutes. We learn about both of them and whether or not they are really speaking to each other or “acting” like they are.

Miller is someone I’ve never seen before and I know nothing of her background. She impressed me by being both brash and self-assured, but then frail. She is sexy, then despicable. Buscemi is someone we all know can do this kind of role in his sleep, but in this case there is something from his own life that keeps intruding into his interaction with Miller.

The film is basically the two of them talking to each other. The film claims that one of them has to “win” the conversation by exposing less of themselves while learning the most about the other one. I’m not sure we learn about either of them. But I wasn’t bored at any point and Miller’s loft is one of those dream places everyone wishes they had.

I feel like this story will evaporate from my mind any minute.

6.4 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Interview @ Amazon

INTERVIEW

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2009

July 7, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
140 Minutes — July 1, 2009
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Michael Mann [Thief; Manhunter; The Last Of The Mohicans; Heat; The Insider; Collateral]
12-Month Movie Watching Pace: 152

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PUBLIC ENEMIES is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 74. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 PUBLIC ENEMIES Discussion
• Break
• 17:39 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 19:27 DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER Discussion
• Break
• 31:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 31:41 The Last Five®
• Break
• 55:11 Listener Last Fives (Scott in Florida and Cynthia in California)
• 1:04:02 Credits and Outtake

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7.0 Metacritic
7.9 IMDB

Public Enemies [Book] @ Amazon

PUBLIC ENEMIES

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1972

July 1, 2009
De Anza College Film Class
USA
English
116 Minutes — June 21, 1972
Crime / Horror / Romance / Thriller
Alfred Hitchcock [The 39 Steps; The Lady Vanishes; Rebecca; Notorious; Rear Window; Vertigo; North By Northwest; Psycho; The Birds]

A disillusioned and aggressive ex-RAF officer is suspected through circumstantial evidence of being London’s “necktie murderer.”

Hitchcock’s second-to-last time in the director’s chair. Notable for a few things. The violence is close-up, face-to-face, and we don’t cut away. There is no implication of violence, there is violence on screen for all to see. Also, Hitch appears to have given in to the temper of the times by showing us nudity, albeit, just after or before violence has occurred. Much like every slasher film from the 1980s. The story is about a guy who may or may not be a serial killer. The star’s resemblance to John C. Holmes may take some viewers out of the story. There is 70s era clothing and hair and ADR work. And there are scenes of real tension proving that even at his advanced age, Hitchcock really had a certain film-making skill set. A scene in a potato truck could have gone horribly wrong, but didn’t.

7.5 IMDB
* Halliwells

Frenzy @ Amazon

FRENZY

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1951

June 29, 2009
September 1, 2008
De Anza College Film Class
USA
English
111 Minutes — June 29, 1951
Drama / Film Noir
Billy Wilder [Double Indemnity; The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Sabrina; Some Like It Hot; The Apartment]
#580 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

In order to prolong the sensation and boost newspaper sales, a self-seeking journalist delays the rescue of a man trapped in a cave.

Second Viewing:

On a larger screen of the De Anza screening room, the film looked just as sharp as on my TV. I’ve since read a lot about this film and I was struck by the non-heroic nature of just about every single character. Perhaps the man’s father and the newspaper editor were blame-free. But every single other person who appears on screen has more faults than normal. Even the poor man stuck in the cave. The second viewing just made everyone seem less redeemable. The family who sets up camp (literally) outside the cave, the wife of the man, even the photographer who began wet-behind-the-ears ends up nearly as ruthless as the others. Douglas is spectacular.

Previously Written:

This was suggested by David Simon who was doing interview after interview about the final season of the Almighty WIRE. That show dealt with an eager Baltimore Sun reporter who began bending the truth a bit in order to be noticed by either the New York Times or the Pulitzer committee.

This film stars a young, handsome, and strong Kirk Douglas as an out-of-work reporter who lands in New Mexico after a series of firings from other papers. He is bitter about living in the middle of nowhere until he stumbles upon the story of a man trapped in a cave while collecting Indian artifacts. Sensing his big break, he enlists the help of the less-than-worrisome wife, the crooked County Sheriff, and the dense engineer. Told that the man could be rescued in 18 hours, Douglas gets all to agree to drill from a much higher place, thus taking about a week to free him. The man is rugged and tough, what could go wrong? The Sheriff helps Douglas keep the story exclusive and before you know it, the area surrounding the diner, hotel, and cave are overrun by onlookers, all paying an entry fee to wait out the rescue. Some say that the phrase “media circus” was invented after this film as a carnival complete with ferris wheel and other attractions pulls into the parking area near the mountain.

It is amazing how relevant this film still is. Douglas isn’t a bad guy–he just knows the value of a good story. The film has no heroes. No one on the right side. The man in the cave was collecting sacred artifacts. His wife sees her chance to get out of the tiny, dusty town and back to the big city where her personality would be more welcome. The Sheriff is crooked in both elections and in never paying a check. The engineer is spineless. Even the crowd itself is there for the festival atmosphere, the excitement, and the chance that either the man will be pulled out alive, or his body will be taken out if he dies. Either way, what a show!

The landscape is filmed spectacularly. There are sweeping vistas from the top of the mountain. A long pan shot reveals an endless line of cars heading towards the action. At one point a train stops just across the street and passengers hop off and literally run towards the cave opening.

Douglas is fantastic. We see him grovel for the job, accepting lower pay than he’s used to just for the work. Later we see his chest swell with pride as the onlookers (and a microphone-wielding TV announcer) applaud and cheer him as he heads back into the cave to speak with the frightened trapped man.

Very impressive.

“One of Billy Wilder’s masterworks, in which he was in a serious mood, exposing the sensationalism of the tabloid press. Wilder’s target was not merely the press, radio, and television, but also its readers, listeners, and viewers who enjoyed nothing so much as a dramatic disaster. Time has confirmed that it is an incisive, compelling melodrama.” — Halliwell’s Top 1000 #352

“Unrelentingly cynical (yet mostly believable) tale of how the reporter exploits the “human interest story” for his own benefit — and how the potential tragedy turns into a three-ring circus — has a peculiarly contemporary ring to it. Biting and extremely well acted.” — Leonard Maltin 2007 Movie Guide.

*** Halliwell’s
*** Maltin
7.2 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB

Ace in the Hole – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

ACE IN THE HOLE

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1925 & 1942

June 28, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
72 Minutes — April 18, 1942 re-release
Adventure / Comedy / Romance
Charles Chaplin [City Lights]
#27 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A lone prospector in the Yukon becomes rich after various adventures.

Most famous for the scene in which a starving-to-death Chaplin boils his shoe and he and his companion eat it. Sort of a collection of gags more than an actual story. Chaplin is out of his depth as a prospector. He narrowly avoids being eaten by a bear on several occasions, and once, his starving roommate swears that Chaplin’s turned into a five foot chicken just waiting to be eaten. There are dance hall girls who will break his heart and rich guys who will spit on him. But because it’s Chaplin, we know he’ll have the last laugh.

This was released in a much longer version in 1925 as a silent. Once sound in movies was perfected, Chaplin went back, wrote a score, took away the title cards, and narrated a brisk 72 minute version. I’ve never seen the original silent. The narration was less intrusive than you might imagine. Though it does tell us things we can already understand while watching. The special effects are astonishing for its time period, especially as a cabin balances on the edge of a cliff.

8.2 IMDB #157 All Time
**** Halliwells

The Gold Rush @ Amazon

THE GOLD RUSH

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2006

June 27, 2009
Netflix DVD
Ireland / UK / Germany / Italy / Spain / France
English / Irish Gaelic
127 Minutes — March 16, 2007
Drama / History / War
Ken Loach [Ladybird Ladybird]

In 1920, a radical young Irish doctor cancels his plans to practice medicine in London when he witnesses British troops brutalizing Irish volunteers waging a guerrilla campaign.

Not sure about its historical accuracy, but this film sure makes the British look like total dicks. ROB ROY and BRAVEHEART and BLOODY SUNDAY and to a lesser extent, GANDHI, did the same thing. But this seemed somehow more brutal. Because it’s Ireland, there are, of course, two brothers, one of whom is about to become a highly-paid doctor in England and the other is becoming something of a leader in the Irish resistance. I’ve since done a bit of reading on the subject and the film followed pretty closely the Declaration of Irish Independence and the different battles and skirmishes they had. The film is supposed to show us a reluctant man, forced into taking up arms after all that he witnesses. It’s hard to dispute his actions, but I’d like to see a film from a reluctant English occupier some day. Several powerful scenes involve torture by the British on the Irish leader in a dank jail cell. Perhaps more morally horrifying is the way that the “good guys” have to deal with their own men who may have been forced to tell secrets under fear of that same torture. If someone tells the opposing army, and it results in the death of some of your men, what do you do to the young man who let the cat out of the bag?

You’ll need the subtitles, by the way.

Winner of 2006 Palme D’or

8.2 Metacritic
7.6 IMDB
** Halliwells

The Wind That Shakes the Barley @ Amazon

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY

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2007

June 26, 2009
Sundance Channel
English
85 Minutes
Documentary
Ian Connacher

Documentary about how human’s love and use of plastic, the world’s most versatile substance, is choking the planet. I thought it might make me feel bad about my water bottles, but it goes much deeper. The difficulty of recycling bottles which have different kinds of plastic used for their body and the cap. We look at pristine beaches that are clean, then the next day, covered in washed up plastic. The filmmaker head out to one of the earth’s five swirling ocean sights where plastic congregates due to the currents–something I’ve always wanted to see. It was a four day boat ride, and once they got there, they began collecting items. The actual area of trash is huge–about the size of Alaska, so the pieces were still one-at-a-time and not a huge pile like I may have been expecting. They do take a huge net and drag it behind the boat where it collects tiny pellets of plastic which fish mistaken for eggs. As one of the Greenpeace people say, the ocean looks crystal clear, but is completely full of plastic pellets that animals eat. We go to India where villagers make new items out of old plastic bags. There is a Himalayan village where plastic bags have been outlawed by a forward-thinking panel of elders.

There is some cause for optimism. A guy somewhere in America takes all kinds of trash, even the grossest stuff, and makes it into railroad ties, which last longer than wooden ones. These ties are the exact same size in every country on earth. Another man shreds stuff down into such tiny pieces that it becomes a mulch that plants can thrive in. Two men are shown “eating” a plastic they devised by using plant cells.

Much like the guys in KING CORN tested their own lives and bodies to learn the influence of corn in their lives, the filmmaker in this case gives us a tour of his small apartment and labels all the things made from plastic. I dare you to do it in your own homes. Yikes.

Link to film info is here.

Addicted to Plastic @ Amazon

ADDICTED TO PLASTIC

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HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB
1964

June 24, 2009
TCM — LiveTweet
UK
English / Russian
93 Minutes — January 29, 1964
Comedy
Stanley Kubrick [Paths Of Glory; Lolita; 2001: A Space Odyssey; A Clockwork Orange; Barry Lyndon; The Shining; Full Metal Jacket; Eyes Wide Shut]
#39 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A mad USAF general launches a nuclear attack on Russia, and when recall attempts fail, and retaliation is inevitable, all concerned sit back to await the destruction of the world.

First things first. This was a live-tweet whereby people around the world all watched Turner Classic Movies at the same time (or if that channel wasn’t available, they started their own DVD at the appropriate time). This is not the best way to watch a film you’ve never seen before. You find yourself looking down to read comments and respond rather than letting yourself get into the film you’re discussing. Luckily, this was, perhaps, my fifth viewing of Kubrick’s classic.

It is impossible to watch many of the scenes of politicians and generals arguing and not think of the Bush administration. It must be said, however, that the film is pretty dated. There is exactly one woman in the film, but Peter Sellars plays three roles. There are several hilarious phone calls where the US president speaks to the Russian leader about the “mistake” of sending nuclear weapons towards them.

The sets are Kubrickian in their hugeness. The entire pace and feeling of the film changes when Kubrick goes hand-held for a few scenes of a US base under attack. We’d see this again in Full Metal Jacket.

But this is mostly rightly held up as a farce about a single crazy guy and how much power he has when his subordinates follow orders without thinking them through. A young James Earl Jones plays one of the pilots. George C. Scott is really the reason to watch. He uses all of this macho-ness in the service of playing General Buck Turgidson (in fact most characters have snicker-worthy names).

Everyone should see it, but it was clearly made in 1964.

9.6 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB #28 All Time
**** Halliwells

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb @ Amazon

DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB

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2008

June 29, 2009
DVD Screener
USA
English
104 Minutes
Drama
David Spaltro

There are few e-mail scarier than the ones I sometimes get that say “I made a film which I am distributing by myself and I was wondering if you’d watch it.” After more than a decade attending the Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, I know just how many lousy, nay, unwatchable, films are made each year. Not a year goes by when I don’t shake my head wondering how on earth someone was given money to make the trash that just unspooled in front of me.

I can happily report that …AROUND (note the dots first) caused me to neither shake my fist at it, nor wish for my 104 minutes back. In fact, I am incredibly thankful to Director David Spaltro for introducing me to an actor named Rob Evans, who is charismatic and sexy in a Ryan Gosling/Ben Afleck/Edward Burns way. He seemed to be acting at a higher level than the others (and perhaps at a higher level than the material.)

The story would normally be another clue to send a viewer in the other direction. A guy moves to Manhattan, enrolls in a film school of dubious quality, runs out of money, uses credit cards to fund his cinematic vision, and ends up homeless but wiser for having met new people and experienced new things his suburban self wouldn’t have. The struggling first time filmmaker may be the single most popular storyline of struggling first time filmmakers. For obvious reasons.

Spaltro is not above having characters say things that would never be said. Witness two separate characters, one homeless, living in a train station, who somehow both know they exact highfallutin classic quote that our protagonist also lives by. That this understanding of great literature happens in a public men’s room doesn’t make it any less probable. But these mis-steps are few and far between.

I’m not as smitten with the main love interest, played by Molly Ryman, who I felt was out of her depth beside Evans. I did, however, enjoy a spunky actress (who may have been Indian-American), who we first meet having sex in the back of a car. She had an energy that seemed to suit the story. Saul, a homeless bookseller, is a welcome addition to the circle of friends. His character made me think of the real-life street people I’ve seen running a tiny business from a card table on the street.

The “homeless are people too” portions of the script didn’t override the story of a young man’s quest to live by his code, even if that code involved rotating several dozen credit cards and living under a roof only sporadically. Scenes where he picks up beauties in bars rang especially false due to the duct tape covering one of his Converses. I wonder if his target knew that he had showered that day in a shelter.

I look forward to what Spaltro does next. Word is that through some kind of distribution channel, this film should soon be available at both Amazon and Netflix. And then perhaps he can pay back all those creditors.

6.2 IMDB (43 Votes)

…AROUND

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1956

June 23, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
119 Minutes — March 13, 1955
Adventure / Drama / Western
John Ford [Stagecoach; The Grapes Of Wrath]
#7 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A confederate war veteran tracks down the Indians who have slaughtered his brother and sister-in-law and carried off their daughter.

There are no two ways about it: this is one racist film. Wayne is so disgusted by Indians, that he barely acknowledges a quarter-cherokee member of his own family–a young man he saved after his parents were killed in an attack. He refuses to let the young man call him “uncle”, though the rest of the kids do. Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, also believes that death is a better result for a young woman than having sex with an Indian. Which is basically what the entire film is about.

Wayne has returned to his brother’s ranch several years after the Civil War has ended. He has with him some gold coins, never bothering to explain where they came from. We assume that Edwards’ work isn’t always above board. A man’s cattle are stolen and he joins the party to go find them. While out in the brush, they all realize that the cattle were just a diversion so that Comanche could attack the undefended homesteads. What follows is an incredibly tense, scary, though not explicit scene of attack. When Edwards and Martin (the aforementioned part-Cherokee) return, it is too late. We again don’t see anything but reactions and know what state the family is in. Missing are the two teenage girls. Edwards must find them before they are “married” into the Comanche world.

Euphemisms like “married” or “indoctrinated” or “she’s all Indian now” really mean that another race, in this case Native American, has had sex with the virginal, snow-white teenage girls in checkered prairie dresses. And while modern audiences might say “I can sorta see how that wouldn’t be cool back then”, the anger and frustration that Wayne shows while trying to find the girls is much deeper than all that. He feels it his duty to kill his own family members rather than have them live with who he considers savages. With their own language to boot.

The story, which is sort of a chase film that takes place in Monument Valley, amongst some of the most beautiful scenery ever captured, is basically: will Edwards find the girls; how long will it take; and once he does, will he kill them? That’s it. The bad guy, the Comanche chief is a man named Scar. Two things here: he is played by a blue-eyed guy who looks like he lives in Brooklyn thus completely taking us out of the picture (Bogdanovich in a fabulous commentary explains that “that’s just how it was done back then”) and two, and probably more important, Ford sets up this “Scar” character as a renegade evil Comanche as opposed to the honorable (docile?) Comanches which were filling the governmental aid stations back then. This sort of gets him off the hook in terms of the savagery of one particular group of Indians not speaking for the whole clan.

Lest you think that the film is a progressive portrayal of Native Americans, you need only look at the scene where Edwards and Martin are shown a small group of teenage girls who have been “liberated” by government troops from their Indian captors. To say that they’ve ended up loopy would be an understatement. They act like children raised by wolves, thus affirming everything that Edwards thinks will happen to his own nieces. “They ain’t white anymore” one character says.

Setting aside the underlying racism of the whole enterprise, one can marvel at the photography. Granted, Ford had perhaps the greatest natural backdrop in film history at his disposal, but that didn’t mean that he just sat back and watched the magic. The justly famous shots of darkened doorways with the silhouettes of characters remains quite striking. The vistas are broad, the shootouts easy to follow, and certain chase scenes where groups of Indians are several miles back on bluffs are fabulous in their composition. How Ford got everyone to be at the right place at the right time for a shot is beyond me.

There is an extra interlude where dancing and a wedding take place that felt out of place, but perhaps the film was too heavy for 1956 audiences and they needed some comic relief. This relief is in the form of a borderline retarded mailman suitor and a looney old drunken deathbed old guy who spouts non sequitors. But scenes with these two are few and far between. Don’t get me started on the bratty acting of Jeffrey Hunter as Martin who seems to pout his way around the west.

Wayne is pretty awesome as someone trying to protect everyone around him from how the real world operates. He shields young men from the heartbreak they’re destined to experience, he protects people from violence and the aftermath of savagery. In Wayne’s eyes you can see that he feels like he’s experienced things and seen things that he doesn’t wish on anyone else. He knows that gold gets things done, that murder is bloody and awful, and that naive young love is no match for a harsh world.

He also rides a horse well and dresses in bright colors.

This is rightly considered a classic (Number 7 on the Big List of 1000 Movies). The photography is spectacular, the action exciting, the story morally ambiguous, and the acting is mostly great.

8.0 IMDB
**** Halliwells

The Searchers @ Amazon

THE SEARCHERS

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2008

June 21, 2009
Cinemax
USA
English / Portuguese / Spanish
112 Minutes — June 13, 2008
Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Louise Leterrier

Sometimes you just want to turn on the dish and sit back and watch something. Back in the 70s, whenever I read comic books, I was a Marvel guy and not a DC guy. Those guys were snobby, what with their Superman and Batman. My two favorites were Spiderman and Hulk. I like the whole “big guy misunderstood and forced to turn green due to others’ stupidity” of The Incredible Hulk. I’m sure I’ve seen every episode of the Bill Bixby series.

But here’s the thing: CGI has not risen to a level whereby a normal-sized man (Ed Norton) can change into a guy 30 feet tall and still make it believable. Say what you will about Lou Ferrigno in green makeup and torn pants, but at least he was a human being and so was Bixby. Once Norton gets the green eyes, they at first try to hide Hulk, but then we see him and its a cartoon that runs around fast with swooping cameras and quick editing which tries to confuse us enough so that we’re not really sure what we’re seeing.

The plot isn’t bad. I didn’t see the Ang Lee version, so I don’t know if this is a continuation or not. Banner is living in Brazil, hiding from some kind of governmental authority led by William Hurt. He sends his blood into an unseen scientist who tries to get him to try different experiments in the hopes that it will cure him. He is discovered and when the special ops team Hurt assembles proves to be no match for a 30 FOOT MONSTER HUMAN, he calls in Tim Roth, for some reason. Roth volunteers to be experimented on and this leads to the number one plot device in comic book history: the evil twin. When Hulk and Bad Hulk fight, I just wanted it to be over. It was all just too loud and ridiculous.

Norton tries the best he can to bring some kind of intelligence to the proceedings but he’s no match for helicopter gunships and CGI where no human actors are required.

6.1 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

Incredible Hulk @ Amazon

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

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AVENUE MONTAIGNE
2006

June 20, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French / English
100 Minutes — February 16, 2007
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Daniele Thompson

I still don’t know why this film showed up in my mailbox. I obviously added it to my Netflix Queue, but for the first time, I have no idea why. It didn’t star anyone I’ve seen anything else from. The director was new to me. I don’t love Paris-based films. I don’t add things because Netflix says “I also might enjoy…” So I’m not sure what happened, it may have even been a mistake. Having said that, it was an enjoyable story about a single block on a street and the stories behind a play, a piano recital, and an auction all taking place on the same night. One spunky “amelie-esque” waitress is the connection to all three stories. All of the characters are wealthy and attractive, but even rich people have a hard time being happy all the time.

The actress in the play, feels like she’s slumming by appearing on a soap opera when all she really wants is to be cast in the newest Sydney Pollack film. The pianist would rather play in shorts and flip flops to a group of children or hospital patients than tour nonstop for rich audiences. The old man who is auctioning off his priceless art collection is trying to stay young in the arms of a beautiful woman who is open about only loving his money.

It’s good, it’s french, and the main waitress character is adorable. What’s not to like?

6.4 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

AVENUE MONTAIGNE

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1947

June 18, 2009
TCM
USA
English / Cantonese
87 Minutes — June 9, 1948
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir / Mystery
Orson Welles [Citizen Kane; The Magnificent Ambersons; The Tragedy Of Othello: The Moor Of Venice; Touch Of Evil]
#418 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A seaman becomes involved in the maritime wanderings of a crippled lawyer and his homicidal frustrated wife.

One of the lesser-beloved of Welles films. First things first. I am still flabbergasted when I see a 30s or 40s actress who is as beautiful as Rita Hayworth was here. For some reason, I don’t think actresses became sexy and beautiful until Sophia Loren or maybe Anita Ekberg or someone of that era, usually from Europe. Then I catch a glimpse of Grace Kelly and realize that I’m completely wrong. Rita Hayworth was breathtakingly beautiful. And married, though breaking up with, Welles at the time.

Because of its tone and the use of an attractive woman who knows more than we do, we know they’ll be some sort of double-cross, but we don’t know what. After seeing this, I’m still not sure who was doing what to whom and for what reason. But the ride was nice. Welles tries for an Irish accent, which isn’t particularly believable. There is a lawyer and a dicey assistant and a hall of mirrors scene at the end which has been copied dozens of times since. It was filmed on locations as the boat headed from Mexico up to San Francisco Bay.

See it to complete your Welles list or see it to see Rita Hayworth in extreme closeup while singing a nonsense song.

7.8 IMDB
** Halliwells

The Lady from Shanghai @ Amazon

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

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THE RULES OF THE GAME
1939

June 16, 2009
Netflix Criterion DVD
France
French
106 Minutes — January 18, 1961
Comedy / Drama
Jean Renoir [The Grand Illusion]
#3 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A count organizes a weekend shooting party which results in complex love intrigues among servants as well as masters.

What’s memorable about this film is the complete lack of sexual morals of any of the characters. Everyone, of both genders, has a little something on the side. Some come out and say “I don’t love you, but I want to sleep with you” while others are more coy. Characters sneak off to one of the many rooms on the estate to mess around, often in front of spouses. The basic premise is that rich people are just as horny as you and me. It must have been scandalous back in the day.

8.0 IMDB
**** Halliwells

The Rules of the Game @ Amazon

THE RULES OF THE GAME

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THE ANNABEL CHONG STORY
1999

June 15, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
86 Minutes
Documentary
Gough Lewis

This one creates an internal struggle with me that I don’t usually experience. Say you knew a full-fledged feminist. Say she went to law school and then grad school at USC. Say she studied sexology and psychology and then changed her name and then entered the porno world to try and shake it up from the inside. She doesn’t claim to be damaged, she just wants to “take back porn” from all the men who are in control. Not only does she appear in some of it, she sets out to film herself having sex with 251 men in 10 hours or so. It’s not fulfilling sex, it’s in no way erotic sex, but it takes the essence of porn and distills it to a ridiculous degree. Nevermind that a gangbang is by far the most homoerotic genre of filmmaking. There is one woman and dozens of guys all in various states of arousal. It is barely straight. So back to Annabel, or Grace as her mother calls her. She had a sheltered upbringing in Singapore, moved to England, then moved to Los Angeles. She is also certifiably wacky. Sort of like all the real smart people you talk with who are working on a level you’re not privy to.

Her claims of being a well-adjusted woman crack a bit when we learn of a teenage rape and the coldness of being brought up in such a repressive place. This documentary does a really good job of showing us how friends from her former life react to her new life, and whether or not they know how she’s been earning a living lately.

The director commits the sin of entering a relationship with his subject, something that makes staging doc scenes seem like small potatoes. How can you objectively capture someone’s life if you’re falling for them?

Grace is a smart, tiny, attractive, smart girl, who took her talents into an arena few would pick. It is heartbreaking to see her agonize over telling her parents about her new life.

The DVD includes pretty good extras including the film festival circuit whereby she answers questions from the audience. She is combative, but intelligent.

This film wasn’t happy or in any way arousing, but if you’ve ever wondered what sends a woman into porn, this gives you one reason why.

3.7 Metacritic
5.6 IMDB

Sex – The Annabel Chong Story @ Amazon

SEX: THE ANNABEL CHONG STORY

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2009

June 14, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA / UK
English
98 Minutes — June 26, 2009
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Sam Mendes [American Beauty; Road To Perdition; Jarhead; Revolutionary Road]

5.7 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

Away We Go @ Amazon

AWAY WE GO

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2009

June 10, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
100 Minutes — June 5, 2009
Comedy
Todd Phillips [Old School]

7.3 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB

The Hangover @ Amazon

THE HANGOVER

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2009

June 10, 2009
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
99 Minutes — May 29, 2009
Horror / Thriller
Sam Raimi [Darkman; A Simple Plan; Spider-Man; Spider-Man 2; Spider-Man 3]

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DRAG ME TO HELL is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 73. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 DRAG ME TO HELL Discussion
• Break
• 27:13 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:07 SIFF 2009
• Break
• 50:38 Credits and Outtake

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~~

A Gleiberman
A- Tobias
***^ Phillips
8.3 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

Drag Me to Hell @ Amazon

DRAG ME TO HELL

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2007

June 9, 2009
PBS — P.O.V.
USA
English
84 Minutes
Documentary
Katy Chevigny

7.1 IMDB

Election Day @ Amazon

ELECTION DAY

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ANATOMY OF HELL
2004

June 6, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French
77 Minutes
Drama / Adult
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; Brief Crossing; Sex Is Comedy; The Last Mistress]
Woman . . . Amira Casar [The Last Mistress]
Man . . . Rocco Siffredi [Romance; And 384 Adult Titles]

By far the lowest rated of Catherine Breillat’s canon. She has become something of a hero to me, saying things that others don’t dare. Showing us films that others won’t (can’t) make. Admitting that adolescent girls are every bit as messed up and horny as adolescent boys. Some of her bravery comes from the the fact that she is one of just a handful of female directors with the power and vision to write and direct their own films. Because she is coming from a different perspective than male-dominated Hollywood (or Paris or London or Mexico), she makes films that seem so different from the mainstream as to be created simply for men to argue about.

This is my 9th experience with Ms. Breillat and it was perhaps the hardest to watch. If this was her sole goal, then, mission accomplished. But when you watch enough of her films, a central pattern begins to emerge. She is setting out to document the psycho-sexual inner life of women. Or perhaps, just one woman–herself.

She has shown us young teenage girls awakening to lust while still being horrified by their changing bodies (A REAL YOUNG GIRL & 36 FILLETTE). She showed us a relationship between an older woman and younger man and how his jealousy and shame can be dangerous to her (PERFECT LOVE). She told the story in ROMANCE about a man so diabolical that he stopped craving sex from his attractive wife and gave her permission to meet her needs elsewhere–his betrayal so severe, that she never forgives him. In FAT GIRL, two sisters discuss the goal of losing their virginity while on summer holiday–the pretty one requiring her suitor to promise her the stars and moon while the chubby one watches and hears everything. BRIEF CROSSING gave the woman the upper hand in a seduction over a brave-talking but ultimately scared teenage boy. SEX IS COMEDY was a rare mis-step which recounted the filming of FAT GIRL. THE LAST MISTRESS used a costume drama to remind us that sexual power, specifically female sexual power is surely the mightiest weapon of all.

ANATOMY OF HELL, however, has just two roles. One is a suicidal woman, who slits her wrists within the first five minutes because “I’m a woman”, and a gay man, who comes to her aid, gets fellated as a thank you, and is then hired to watch her and come to grips with everything revolting about women to gay (and indeed, straight) men. “Watch” is probably not a strong enough word for what she’s going to ask him to do. She’s asked him to inspect, to probe, to use her in any way he wants in order to come to some great understanding between men and women.

He will be paid to watch her for four consecutive nights. He seems unhappy to be spending his evenings in a sparsely decorated beach house, watching a clearly-damaged woman exorcise her demons.

The characters are named “woman” and “man” and they are symbols of every male and female, I suppose. Women are leery enough about their bodies and what they do and what they produce and how the bleed and how they look without having a man, let alone a gay one not interested in sex, violate them with eyes, digits, and other items. The violations are ultimately psychological, not physical, and who ends up with the power in such a rare relationship is a question I didn’t find the answer to.

The two actors are attractive. Amira Casar is pale and sexy and has a mischievous smile–though she’s usually in such a dour mood that smiling is out of the question. We are told in a unique pre-credit that the really close close-ups of a woman’s anatomy were “performed” by a body-double. Miss Casar is free to find acting work again. The man is played by Rocco Siffredi, who is by far the world’s most well-known straight porn star. He is saddled with heavy, serious, existential dialogue that perhaps no actor on earth could convincingly utter. In the mouth of Rocco, who I confess to knowing in a completely different way, it sounds better than it has any right to.

He is a better actor than he should be and in this film, more so than in ROMANCE where his main acting challenge was tumescence, he gets a chance to actually act. Half of the film is dependent on him. Though his quick arousal on several occasions doesn’t help him prove the avowed homosexuality his character claims. And if you’ve seen any of Rocco’s other “work” you’ll know that some of the acts he’s expected to do in this film, though shocking to mainstream audiences, are not even close to what he willingly does in adult fare with titles that begin with “Rocco’s Adventure In…” So don’t cry for Rocco. On the other hand, you might just cry for the dialogue which sounds artificial and stilted and grad-student deep. I didn’t buy for a minute that either of these characters would speak this way.

On the squeamish meter, this one is off the charts. Saliva, mucus, tears, sperm, vaginal fluids, a squished stomped on baby bird, a nude six-year-old, a garden tool, an exaggeratedly messy menstrual act of intercourse, an eggplant-shaped stone, a water glass, and a used tampon all make appearances. If you gagged while reading that, you might just take this film off your queue. I didn’t remember seeing earwax, tree sap, vomit, urine, or honey, which have all shown up in previous Breillat films.

On the other hand, several of the scenes (which are divided by titles reading “First Night”, “Second Night”, etc.) revolve around The Woman’s menstrual cycle, which is scary and off-putting and inconvenient to a lot of women, and positively horrifying to many men. “Bleeding without the benefit of a wound” is how the female character describes it. Men, here is your chance to “experience” the miracle that is the monthly cycle of human renewal. I almost watched the whole thing without the use of my patented hand in front of face with fingers splayed technique. Almost.

Now is The Man violating The Woman? He is clearly doing things that one doesn’t do to and with a stranger. Is she mentally violating him? She’s asking him to do things that she wouldn’t ask her lover to do. Is there any exploitation going on between the two of them? Are we as viewers complicit in the experience as we are voyeurs watching from the comfort of our couches? And by the way, this might be the first non-porn that I’d not have the balls to watch in a public theater. I again thank the inventors of the DVD.

Though there is insertion and erection and vasocongestion, there isn’t an arousing scene in the film. And, though the narrator’s voice is Breillat’s own, the character she is speaking for is not Woman, but Man. There is a late scene in a bar where Man recounts his exploits that seemed to me to be completely honest and well-played. Think about a sexual exploit described to others in a social situation. Neither men nor women ever recap the important parts of the coupling. They can’t. You can’t describe how you felt, you can only describe what you did. Watch The Man’s attitude change as he realizes that he’s describing a completely different experience to his bar buddy than the one we just watched.

The film runs a normally-brief 75 minutes, but it’s a squirm-inducing 75 minutes. The DVD includes an interview with Ms. Breillat wherein she completely deconstructs what we’ve just seen. This interview, which I loved, ran 65 minutes on its own. Which says something about the impenetrableness of ANATOMY OF HELL. If an interview about a film and its meaning and symbolism last as long as the very film being broken down, what does that say about its accessibility? This interview will prove to be an endurance test if you think that Breillat’s philosophy doesn’t amount to anything. But if you’re a fan of her work and attitude (as I am), you’ll like it.

There are plenty of films where a self-described student of film is supposed to feel some sense of accomplishment merely for having sat through its complete running time. I’ve never seen SALO, but I’ve heard things. I’ve also never watched TWO GIRLS AND A CUP or whatever that web video is that makes people spontaneously combust while watching. IRREVERSIBLE was an ordeal, but it had a purpose. I don’t think that Breillat is hitting us over the head with so many hard-to-watch images simply to see if we’ll make it to the credits. I have way more respect for her than that. I really believe that she is a singular talent who tells stories that others are afraid to, from a perspective that others don’t have. There are few filmmakers I’d like to meet, but Ms. Breillat is one of them.

She believes in the transcendence of sex. She believes that lust and deviance are marks of humanity. And she believes that only when you give up power and puritanical ideas of shame, can you be free.

Or at least I think she believes that stuff. She says all of this in French, after all.

* Ebert
D Gleiberman
2.9 Metacritic
4.3 IMDB

Anatomy of Hell @ Amazon

ANATOMY OF HELL

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2009

June 3, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7 — 3D
USA
English
96 Minutes — May 29, 2009
Animation / Action / Adventure / Comedy / Family
Pete Doctor [Toy Story; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; WALL-E] & Bob Peterson [Finding Nemo; Ratatouille]

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UP is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 72. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 UP Discussion
• Break
• 20:31 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 21:23 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:49 Listener Feedback/Eli Stone discussion
• 1:00:34 Credits and Outtakes

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**** Ebert
**** Phillips
A Schwarzbaum
8.8 Metacritic
9.0 IMDB #15 All Time (ha!)

Up @ Amazon

UP

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2007

May 29, 2009
PBS — American Masters
USA
English
90 Minutes
Documentary
Arthur Dong [Family Fundamentals]

Informative documentary about the history of Chinese-Americans in Hollywood films. Unlike the Jewish film community or the Black “Race Films” of the early 20th century, Chinese-Americans had few, if any, people who looked like them represented on movie screens. Great old footage and interviews with the pioneers of Chinese-American filmmaking are included. Also included are the examples of white actors pretending to be Asian. I suppose if you lived in the 1940s in Iowa, perhaps you didn’t realize that Charlie Chan didn’t look Asian at all. A nice eye-opener.

8.4 IMDB

HOLLYWOOD CHINESE

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Written by Michael W. Cummins