Posts Tagged “Crime”

1958

Netflix DVD
USA
English
129 Minutes — May 28, 1958
Crime / Mystery / Romance / Thriller
Alfred Hitchcock [The 39 Steps; The Lady Vanishes; Rebecca; Notorious; Rear Window; To Catch A Thief; North By Northwest; Psycho; The Birds; Frenzy]

#2 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A detective with a fear of heights is drawn into a complex plot in which a girl he loves apparently falls to her death. Then he meets her double.

“Double identity thriller which has many sequences in Hitchcock’s best style. A film as unsettling as the phobia it deals with, keeping its audience dizzy and off balance throughout.” — **** — Halliwell’s.

“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My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first.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.

James Stewart…John Scottie Ferguson
Kim Novack…Madeleine Elster
Barbara Bel Geddes…Midge Wood

The Top 10 films of all time (based on that holy list I love) goes: Kane, this film, Rules Of The Game, 2001, 8 1/2, Godfather, Searchers, Samurai, Singing In The Rain, Potemkin.

One of these things is not like the other. And that thing is VERTIGO. There is no way that VERTIGO is the second best film ever made. No way.

Stewart is his usual charming, natural self. Novack is wooden at best and terrible at worst. Bel Geddes is entirely charming as the BFF of Scottie who has real feelings for him.

Positives:

–Hitchcock took the most beautiful city in North America and made it look even more beautiful somehow. It makes me want to drive up to The City to find Scottie’s apartment right now.
–The give and take between Scottie and Midge is pretty great.
–The sexual obsession of Stewart is pretty strong for a film made in 1958. He essentially can’t get turned on unless his date is made into another woman for him.
–Novack is pretty hot, especially in either a white coat or a black dress.
–Colors and angles are all superb, as you’d expect from Hitchcock (who apparently never looked through the camera during filmmaking).

Negatives:

–They fell in love too easily.
–How did Scottie get off the ledge in the first scene?
–Way too much following of people.
–Stewart: 50 years old; Novack: 25 years old. Um, of course he’s attracted to her.

Scottie is recuperating from his brush with death after chasing a criminal over the rooftops of San Francisco. An old college friend (though clearly living in England) asks him to follow his wife who is apparently under the spell of or possessed by a woman who died long ago. Scottie follows her and she’s gorgeous and she’s troubled and she jumps into San Francisco Bay and he had to take her wet clothes off and put her in his bed, so naturally he believes he’s in love with her. And we are asked to believe it as well. Her possession and sadness cause her to do herself harm and he spends half an hour seeing her in every other blonde in San Francisco.

And he doesn’t realize that an attractive, artistic, intelligent woman is his for the asking. Plus, she’ll fix him dinner and pour him bourbon.

Fabulous San Francisco locations. Great music.

I mean, it doesn’t suck. It’s pretty good and it was probably a big deal when it came out. But why all the praise?

I was surprisingly disappointed.

8.5 IMDB (Number 45 All Time)

VERTIGO

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2010

February 5, 2011
Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Canada
English / German / Dutch
75 Minutes
Crime / Thriller
Ed Gass-Donnelly

Peter Stormare = Walter
Jill Hennessy = Rita
Martha Plimpton = Sam

Much better than expected. A small Canadian town is shocked by the news of a dead girl found at a local fishing lake. Sheriff Walter and his deputy appear to be the only police in town. The town is a farming community where trucks rumble past main street, there’s a barbershop and a diner, and a large Mennonite community.

Walter has a dark past involving his temper, though we’re never sure exactly what that past infraction was. We know he’s born again, lives with a simple-minded waitress named Sam, attends church regularly, and knows everyone in town. It seems that the 911 call after the body’s discovery was made by his former lover Rita, who is now shacked up with a druggie bad boy (with especially bad teeth). Walter may be known by everyone, but he is also ridiculed by quite a few. Whatever his past indiscretion, you can believe the whole town, if not the larger community knows what happened. His deacon reminds him, “you can’t change who you are.”

After the incident, Rita left him, and his father stopped speaking with him. A single, terrible violent event in a community known for pacifism. Redemption is the theme of this film.

The vistas are vast, the people appear to be real small-town folks. Hardly anyone is recognizable to movie audiences. The authenticity drips from the screen. Farmers speak in their native tongue, people pretty much act like normal people, the sun appears to be in a constant state of settingness. And though I’ve probably never written this before, even the dead body appears authentic. How do you stop your eyes from blinking and your neck from pulsating? From the bartender to the old woman serving tea, these characters are perfect.

And the music, what about the music?

If the native tribes of North America converted to Christianity, were recorded by Peter Gabriel’s World Music label, and only brought their drums and five part harmonies, the music would sound like it does in this film. It’s mostly religious in nature, many traditional songs, with a few aching love songs thrown in for good measure. And the drums are loud in the best possible way. It is foot-stomping to be sure. The music is by Bruce Peninsula.

The film is broken into chapters with huge text declaring bumper sticker bible verses. “God Meets You Where You’re At” and “Live In The World But Not Of It” or some such advice. This strangely doesn’t take away from the film in any way. The performances are fantastic. Stormare, especially, who appears to be [this close] to going haywire finds the tone between born again calmness and vein-popping hot-head. He is something to watch.

But the town is the real star. Shots are perfectly composed including a double-wide mobile home being driven through the town with police escort. Sunsets, boats on lakes, tractors going this way and that, horse-drawn buggies. It couldn’t have been shot on a soundstage. I loved the look.

My only complaint might be that it’s too short. The stuff around the murder mystery is as important as the crime itself. I would have liked to have spent some more time in the town.

This is a good one.

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS screens as part of the San Jose Cinequest 21 Film Festival on March 4, March 6, and March 11.

7.8 IMDB

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS

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2010

January 11, 2011
San Jose — Cinearts Santana Row
Canada
English
108 Minutes
Biography / Comedy / Crime / Drama
George Hickenlooper [Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse; Some Folks Call It A Slingblade; Mayor Of The Sunset Strip]

Spacey chews the scenery in this semi-true story of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Spacey plays him as a super-jew, super workout guy, super schmoozer, super loyal husband, and super cocky. Barry Pepper matches him overacted scene for overacted scene. Not sure if it’s a black comedy or a realistic portrayal of broken Washington. Not hard to watch, though John Lovitz is pretty much replaying every slovenly medallion wearing character he’s ever been.

As a political wonk, I enjoyed seeing real-life people portrayed by look-a-likes. George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, etc. Real footage of congressional hearings is spliced in. Hints are given that Abramoff had his hand in all sorts of malfeasance, including the recount in Florida in 2000.

Spacey appears to be having fun, though.

Kevin Spacey; Barry Pepper

6.5 IMDB
5.0 Metacritic

CASINO JACK

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2009

July 18, 2010
Showtime
USA
English
88 Minutes
Comedy / Crime / Drama / Sport
Robert D. Siegel [wrote THE WRESTLER]

Paul Aufiero = Patton Oswalt

Oswalt is perfectly cast as a die-hard New York Football Giants fan who spends his working hours in a small box in a parking garage listening to sports radio and writing the script for one of his nightly calls. He is one of those movie-level losers, like MARTY, who lives at home with his mother, has filthy friends, and posters of his sports heroes on his walls. He also sleeps in sheets that I myself had back when I was twelve. The ones with all the NFL teams on them.

His sister is married to a businessman and his brother is a personal injury lawyer as seen on TV. They all wonder what he’s doing with his life. But Paul seems to be content simply following the Giants, talking about the Giants, calling in to sports shows as a representative of the Giants, and wearing only clothes that come in Giants colors. On homegame Sundays, he and his buddy, Sal, played by indie-everywhere Kevin Corrigan, put on jerseys and facepaint and drive from their homes on Staten Island, down 95 to the Meadowlands, where they cheer with the other fans, walk around throwing the football, but strangely, don’t seem to eat or drink anything. Just when I was wondering how a guy who works in a parking garage could pay the astronomical NFL ticket prices, we cut to a shot of the two men, in the parking lot in camping chairs, watching a TV which is hot-wired onto their car battery while the real game goes on 100 yards away. This is the kind of humor the film has to offer. It’s very dark, it’s borderline mentally ill, and just this side of unbelievable.

The scripts that Paul writes for his call-ins (which he claims he says off the cuff) are full of grammar and spelling errors. And he works on them for hours. His calls end up lasting a minute or two and typically end with Scott Farrell saying “always great to hear from Paul in Staten Island.” Unfortunately, his mother often pounds on the wall imploring him to keep it down.

Paul’s single greatest hero (and here’s where we as viewers have to substitute our own–I’ll use Bono) is a killer linebacker named Quantrell Bishop. He has posters of the guy and he always wears his number 54 Bishop jersey to the parking lot. One day, the two losers are out for pizza when they spy Bishop and his posse getting gas for his Escalade. “What are they doing in Staten Island?” they ask each other before giving chase in a run-down Corolla. They stop off at a row house for something that seems vaguely criminal and then head into Manhattan. The film really gets going when we see the two men, who are complete products of their Staten Island surroundings, get nervously excited as they cross the bridge into the bustle and parking difficulties of Manhattan. Never mind the high prices. They follow Bishop into a strip club, where they are shocked to drop $29 within minutes of entering and they grab two seats facing the VIP lounge and the Bishop entourage.

In real life, this must happen all the time. I once bumped into (literally–it was crowded) Derek Jeter and his entourage at the Palms in Las Vegas (which makes me sound much cooler than I actually am.) Everyone who’s seen a celebrity in public knows that they just seem to shine brighter than those around them. I did get to glance into the famous blue eyes of Jeter, but what I also noticed was just how the energy of him being there, smiling, added a kind of buzz to the surroundings. People see celebrities in airports and hotels and concerts and they do appear to be different than we mere mortals.

But here’s the question the film asks: what if your hero turned out to be not only rude, but to beat the shit out of you until you went into a coma? I have been in the presence of celebrity probably 50 times. The soundboard at U2 shows, their hotels, in airports, at film festivals. And I’m always asked why I didn’t get an autograph. My answer is that I never want to be disappointed. And how a signature and a two-second human interaction means that I’ve “met” Bono or Stewart Copeland or Colin Farrell, I’ll never know. Gene Siskel used to say, when asked about interviewing actors and then giving them bad film reviews, something like, they’ll never be your friends–you won’t be going out for coffee with them. Plus I know they all have as many problems and they are as assholish and as messed up as the rest of us.

I say all this because in the film, the pair try to send a drink over to Bishop, who refuses a screwdriver (the only mixed drink they’ve ever heard of), so they decide to walk over anyway. They are at first ignored, then ridiculed (“look Bishop, you do got fans, ha ha ha ha.) This scene is unbearable to take. We know that Paul the schlub meeting Bishop the multi-millionaire cannot go well. But the scene takes a terrible turn when it’s discovered how long the two had been following him and Paul is punched and kicked into unconsciousness.

This alone makes a good movie, but what makes it even a bit better, and where the connections to my choice of Bono no longer work, is that the more trouble Bishop gets into, the less successful the New York Giants are on the football field. If I were to go up to Bono and say, please sign my copy of OCTOBER, and he beats me unconscious, they need to postpone some concerts. After Bishop stomps Paul, he is suspended and the Giants playoff hopes dim, the longer the investigation goes on. This part I loved. Paul is such a Big Fan, that he may decide to put his own health and a well-deserved payday aside so that he can continue to follow his beloved Giants (on TV at least) as they make a run for the Superbowl. If his name gets out, will his fellow fans hate him? Was he too much of a pest and somehow had the beating coming?

Oswalt is absolutely perfect. I’ve always known there was an actor hiding inside his schlubby comedian body. (He does a bit on a 1980s video from Night Ranger that is making me laugh right now as I remember it.) He almost dies, yet he wants his Giants to win. He has made the success of the Giants his reason for living, and without them, his family would be even more right about him. No girls, no adequate job, no life. And if it turns out that his lawsuit is the reason for the Giants demise, could he live with himself?

Added to the picture is another caller to the sports program, a guy named Philadelphia Phil, who revels in any Giants defeat and who is the arch-enemy (radio-version) of Paul from Staten Island.

Sidenote: I was at a San Francisco Giants game this year, and there was a presentation about cancer research, I think, and the spokesman was Tommy Lasorda. Now, Tommy Lasorda may be the single most hated person in San Francisco Giants history. Wanna get beat up? Wear Dodger Blue to Pac Bell Park. Or Chiefs Red to the Black Hole in Oakland. Maize and Blue in Columbus? You get the idea. However, Lasorda was years removed from being a Dodger. He was raising money for medical research. And you should have heard the boos. Oh my. Whenever the jumbotron showed him, the profanities began (from the normally white-wine sipping Giants fans). Sidenote over.

I bring it up because the hatred between the Giants and Eagles was shown pretty perfectly in BIG FAN. The two fans of different teams at first simply spar on the radio show, but over time, they get more angry and mean and how long can Paul keep the truth of his beating from the AM radio audience.

The specificity of Staten Island and the portrayal of a unique type of obsessive, the American football fan, make BIG FAN a fabulous, though not exactly fun, film.

What if your hero (Steve Jobs, Obama, Thom Yorke, Lebron) ignored you–made fun of you–almost killed you?

7.0 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Big Fan @ Amazon

BIG FAN

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MOTHER
2009

Cinequest 20
South Korea
Korean
128 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Joon-ho Bong [The Host]

The closing night film of Cinequest 20, was a film by Joon-ho Bong, who also directed the much-better HOST in 2006.

This is basically the story of a mother’s loyalty to her mentally-retarded son. I’ve read a bit about this film and the phrases that continually come up are “challenged,” “simpleton,” and “slow” which I dismiss. The boy in this story is a barely functioning retarded youth who hangs out with a small-time criminal who uses him for whatever bad idea he can think up. I have seen hundreds of filmed portrayals of mentally challenged characters and few dramas have asked me to believe as ludicrous a character as Do-joon who stares at people with his mouth open and answers questions in slow motion. He forgets events and activities the second they are finished. But when he needs to be, he appears to add IQ points instantly. I almost couldn’t get past him. But Hye-ja Kim, who plays the mother, kept me at least partially entertained.

As did director Joon-ho Bong, who may have created a terrible, long, and frustrating mystery, but who can’t possibly be accused of not having the technical skill to pull of beautiful scene after beautiful scene. In one, a police interrogator karate kicks the apple out of the son’s mouth. This had nothing to do with any of the other 127 minutes, but it sure looked awesome! The opening scene showed Mother dancing, with abandon, in a field for reasons that we hope will be made clear by the end, but in actuality never are. But it was still hilarious, stunningly beautiful, and strangely emotional to watch this actress look at the camera and dance as if no one was watching.

The film is full of such moments. A building is engulfed in flames off in the distance as Mother walks through some woods. An incredibly tense scene follows a gratuitous sex scene (nothing wrong with that), in which a spilled bottle of water and it’s resulting puddle make you hold your breath as it spreads toward the dangling fingers of the bad guy.

Plot-wise, not much there. Mother runs a herbal store and moonlights as an illegal acupuncturist. She lives with her 20something son, who would forget to feed himself if she wasn’t around. Son is hit-and-runned by rich guys in a Mercedes. Boy and Thug drive out to the golf course to confront them and end up in the police station where Mother bails Son out and gives out free samples of some sort of herbal drink. Later, after a night of drinking, Boy is accuses of killing a loose schoolgirl and then displaying her for the neighborhood to see. Mother begins an investigation to find the real killer, going so far as to enlist bad guys to beat confessions out of people.

After all, her son couldn’t have possibly done what he’s been accused of, right?

And on and on. For more than two hours. Once the “mystery” has been solved, we are still subjected to another 20 minutes of slow-paced often inexplicable scenes which seem to have no connection with the original story.

I am a huge fan of Asian cinema. I enjoyed The Host and most of the creepy Korean horror films of the past decade. But this one just sucked. I don’t care if it’s from an established and much-heralded director, if this had been made in the US, no one would be giving it a second glance. Somehow it garnered an 8.1 at IMDB and a not-terrible 6.9 at Metacritic. There’s no accounting for taste.

—–

The Cinequest Program Said:

Some secrets can only be uncovered by a determined force of nature…

For twenty years Cinequest has empowered the Maverick via innovation and discovery. It fits this tradition to close a milestone program with a Maverick moment that will truly electrify…and give you one of those special moments when you leave the theatre knowing you’ve discovered something very original, very powerful.

There are many forces of nature. Perhaps the most organic and committed force is that of a mother for her child. And this power and experience of motherhood carries a universal understanding, respect and community. What would you do if your child were accused of a brutal crime?

Mother delivers a breathtaking and hugely entertaining mystery, delving into the realms of truth within the shadow side of humanity.

When it comes to her mentally challenged adult son, Do-Joon, there is nothing this middle-aged matriarch won’t do. Her devotion is put to the ultimate test when a schoolgirl is found murdered and all signs point to Do-Joon as the killer. Denied help by the authorities, she sets out to prove her son’s innocence. Using her amateur sleuthing skills, she uncovers a host of unpleasant secrets among the tormented townspeople. As the quest deepens, the heroine’s own maternal instincts become increasingly blurred.

Rather than stun with shocking sequences, director Joon-ho Bong (director of the hit film The Host) emphasizes and amazes with detailed cinematography. Shots of open fields and mystifying landscape are equally dazzling and fundamental to the mother’s journey. While her eternal love for Do-Joon may come across as shameful and outrageous, the powerful performance of the matriarch overshadows all else on screen.

—–

8.1 IMDB
6.9 Metacritic

MADEO

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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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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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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

~~
~~

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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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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A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER
2008

May 27, 2009
Download
USA
English
95 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
Kurt Kuenne [Drive-In Movie Memories; Validation]

By some reports, the most powerful documentary ever viewed by human eyes. Entire theaters full of people sobbing, unable to leave the theater after it was over until composing themselves. I can’t really dispute that claim, though I wonder if the story itself is powerful or the film-making execution. Kurt Kuenne, a local guy, set out to film the story of his friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby so that his unborn son could learn about him. Allegedly, Dr. Bagby was murdered by his off-kilter (duh) substantially older than he girlfriend. The film alleges that she drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania without stopping, all the while calling him from a cell phone. For thirteen hundred miles she drove and called, but he never answered. She shows up, they meet, she shoots him with a gun she didn’t deny owning. Then she drives all the way home again without stopping where she gets on her home phone and calls the man she just killed in order to leave a message on his voicemail thereby establishing an alibi. At first she denies seeing him, then she changes her story to say that she handed him the gun and then drove away, claiming that he shot himself. Five times. In the back. Then she flies to her hometown in Nova Scotia where she announces that she’s pregnant with her murder victim’s baby.

Here’s the thing about this film. Murders happen all the time. This guy was nice enough, sure, and there’s ample footage of him acting in the films of his buddy Kurt when they were boys. And there are groups of people ready to speak to the camera about how warm he was. But what’s different about this story is that almost to a person, man, woman, old, young–when they begin speaking about him, they inevitably begin crying. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. And that’s because there’s much more to this story than we are let in on, but the interview subjects are privy to. In deference to spoilers, I won’t say what it is, but it’s revealed as if it were THE SIXTH SENSE or something.

This is where the controversy arises. This film makes Michael Moore’s work seem positively objective. This film is exactly the opposite of the Maysles Brothers or Barbara Kopple or even Errol Morris. The days of a documentarian simply turning on his or her camera and letting the story tell itself appear to be over. Kuenne has scary music and closeups of words in court documents like “murder” and he does the voiceover and he often sobs while speaking and there are flashes of red and he ridicules governmental officials and the murder suspect with language and footage and attitude. Like Moore does with Bush 43.

So what we end up with is a documentary, about a compelling subject, which is every bit as manipulative as a Ron Howard sweeping-score-telling-us-what-to-think fictional drama.

Make no mistake. I was absolutely riveted. My mouth was agape during several portions. I talked back to the screen. I cried. I yelled. I actually paused the film and walked around for 15 minutes because I didn’t want to learn any more about the story. I can’t remember a documentary making me feel that way. There are hundreds of docs which cause outrage or sadness. But this one sort of grabs the outrage and sadness and anger right out of you while you’re watching. How much of that was due to technical know-how and editing brilliance and how much of it was due to the story itself, I can’t really say.

I can say that you won’t soon forget it and as soon as its over you can argue with yourself about the film-making style that Kuenne employs in the service of his story.

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DEAR ZACHARY 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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8.2 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB

Dear Zachary @ Amazon

DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER

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BREATHLESS
1960

May 14, 2009
May 10, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French / English
90 Minutes — February 7, 1961
Crime / Drama / Romance / Thriller
Jean-Luc Godard
#33 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 young car thief kills a policeman and goes on the run with his American girlfriend.

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BREATHLESS is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 71. 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 BREATHLESS Discussion
• Break
• 18:27 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 18:59 The Last Five®
• 47:26 Credits and Outtakes

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“Casual, influential, New Wave reminiscence of both Quai des Brumes and innumerable American gangster thrillers. One of the first and most influential films of the French New Wave.” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

**** Halliwell’s
8.0 IMDB

Breathless – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

BREATHLESS

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BREATHLESS
1960

May 10, 2009
Netflix Roku
France
French / English
90 Minutes — February 7, 1961
Crime / Drama / Romance / Thriller
Jean-Luc Godard
#33 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

BREATHLESS will be the subject of Cinebanter Number 71, which will be posted shortly.

8.0 IMDB

Breathless – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

BREATHLESS

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2009

May 6, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
Mexico / USA
Spanish
96 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Cary Fukunaga

The Greatest Sin Of All Is Risking Nothing.

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SIN NOMBRE is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 70. 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 SIN NOMBRE Discussion
• Break
• 19:09 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 20:08 The Last Five®
• 1:04:59 Credits and Outtake

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**** Ebert
***^ Berardinelli
B- Gleiberman
B- Tobias
** Phillips
7.7 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

SIN NOMBRE

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2008

April 28, 2009
Download
France
English / French / Albanian / Arabic
91 Minutes — January 30, 2009
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Pierre Morel
Liam Neeson [Excalibur; The Bounty; The Mission; The Dead Pool; The Good Mother; Next of Kin; Darkman; Husbands and Wives; Schindler’s List; Nell; Rob Roy; Michael Collins; Les Miserables; Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; Gangs Of New York; Love Actually; Kinsey; Batman Begins]

His Daughter Was Taken. He Has 96 Hours To Get Her Back.

Neeson on phone: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

Bad Guy after long pause: Good luck.

Greatest trailer in history? Maybe. It got me to watch to see if this movie could possibly be as bad as it sounded. It was.

Take a look at the difference between the critical response and the user response scores below.

5.0 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

Taken @ Amazon

TAKEN

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ZERO WOMAN: A DANGEROUS GAME
1998

April 15, 2009
Netflix Roku Player
Japan
Japanese
80 Minutes
Drama / Thriller / Crime
Hidekazu Takahara
Rei: Chieko Shiratori

Sometimes the DVD cover is enough. I mean, just look at it. Couple that picture with the previously listed job of actress Chieko Shiratori (nude model), and really, what harm could 80 minutes spent with this movie cause?

If Jason Bourne was a hot chick, took long baths, walked around topless while feeding her fish, and then dressed in boots to assassinate bad guys, you’d know what this movie was about. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Criterion Collection version any time soon.

5.4 IMDB

Zero Woman: Dangerous Game @ Amazon

ZERO WOMAN: DANGEROUS GAME

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2009

March 31, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA / Germany
English
125 Minutes — March 20, 2009
Crime / Thriller
Tony Gilroy [The Devil's Advocate; Armageddon; The Bourne Identity; The Bourne Supremacy; The Bourne Ultimatum; Michael Clayton]

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DUPLICITY is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 68. 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 DUPLICITY Discussion
• Break
• 22:14 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 22:46 The Last Five®
• Break
• 45:15 Listener Feedback (3)
• 59:56 Credits and Outtakes

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*** Ebert
*** Phillips
6.9 Metacritic
6.7 IMDB
6.6 Critical Consensus

Duplicity @ Amazon

DUPLICITY

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THE INVESTIGATOR
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Hungary / Sweden / Ireland
Hungarian
110 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Attila Galambos

Notes:
Incredibly dead-pan pathologist dates and works without cracking a smile. He favors one word answers and seems to take pride in his job, putting on makeup carefully and helping discover how people died. He has a “relationship” with a cafe waitress with whom he sees movies without reacting in any way. She likes him and wants to have sex (or “get together”) but he replies that he “doesn’t get together.” One day a man offers him $50,000 to kill a person. Our hero’s mother is dying of cancer and he needs the money to send her to a clinic in Sweden. He is cool, doesn’t speak much, is desperate for cash, and comfortable around dead people. A perfect person to ask. He commits the crime and then begins learning about the victim and several ties he may have had with the deceased. Its a why done it, rather than a who done it. What could the dead man have done to have made someone want to kill him. Fabulous, mostly on the strength of the main actor, Zsolt Anger (a misnomer if ever there was one). I’m adding this to my Netflix queue.

8.2 IMDB

THE INVESTIGATOR

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2008

February 14, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
86 Minutes
Comedy / Crime
Julian M. Kheel

Three devious schemes; three badly executed heists; and a pawnshop with one surprising treasure.

Every year that Cinequest comes around, I sort of have to split my personality as a viewer. Half of me remains the snobby holier-than-thou viewer, seeking out the darkest Ukrainian dramas about life’s futility and documentaries whose sole purpose is to anger or delight me enough to physically pull others into the theater to experience what I just experienced.

But the other half of me at Cinequest (this will be my 13th year), when dealing with ultra-independent American films, has come to realize what the festival is here for. Cinequest looks for fresh faces–filmmakers who will go on to greater things. We get early exposure to them and can remember future superstars when they could barely hold a camera straight or keep a narrative flowing to save their lives. There is also the whole social aspect of the festival–there are parties and the chance to see and meet semi-famous people, there are casual movie fans who are looking to impress their dates, there are dinners and cocktails before and after the screenings–and this is where I differ from the crowd.

I have rarely, if ever, enjoyed a dinner and cocktails, and then headed to a movie. Or at least any movie where any thought was involved. Spiderman? Yes. Frozen River? No. However, on those rare occasions when I venture to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night, I am typically surrounded by buzzed audience members who insist on continuing their dinner conversations in the darkened theater. I personally need to be alert, sober, and ready to be taken wherever the filmmaker wants to take me.

But Cinequest is different for me. I still don’t drink-first-view-later, but I understand that there are parties and people are spending their money in a down economy at one of the many fine San Ho restaurants. There are also first dates being planned whereby one party will prove to the other party just how much of a film buff they are by taking a chance on a movie none of their friends have heard of. There are aspiring young people filmmakers and artsy seniors who finally feel like the Camera 12 is their venue–at least for the 11 days of Cinequest. For some filmmakers with movies in the fest, this will be the furthest they get. For others, it’s merely a stepping-stone on the way to greatness. People will come into theaters late and leave early. People will get texts, answer them, and then go to the next-door screen where a friend has told them genius is unspooling. People will sit in aisles, stand against walls, laugh at jokes that they’d never laugh at in a normal multiplex, and ask questions of filmmakers which have no basis in the reality of the film they just experienced. That’s become a bit of a sport for me. Watching something I hated and then waiting for someone to attempt to impress his or her companion by asking a question about the director’s influence from Bunuel or Ozu or Kiarostami. It’s all I can do to not laugh out loud. At Cinequest 18 I sat next to a girlfriend sitting on her boyfriend’s lap for a 130 minute film. By the end, I thought she was at least half mine. Needless to say, she went home with lap number one leaving me, lap number two to enjoy the next film uncovered.

What all that means above is that I have come to realize that there are certain films which appear to be made especially for this kind of melting pot of an audience. Snobs, hipsters, old folks, wise-beyond-their-years teens, NYU grads, and people who wandered into the wrong theater by mistake make up quite a schizophrenic group of viewers.

But CAPERS should make almost all of them happy. It’s a perfect Cinequest comedy. It tries new things, it stars people who you think you’ve seen before, it looks good, but not too good, it’s plot is easy to sum up in both a Tweet and in the big program with the woman putting on (taking off) her face. There are a lot of laughs, some minor girl-on-girl action, hip hop rhymes, and stone-faced Soviets.

CAPERS has four easy-to-remember sets of characters. Connie is an over-the-top racist mafia widow who runs a pawnshop with her semi-retarded grandson. The Amateurs are over-the-top robbers who dress and act like they’re from a 70s movie, down to the Popeye Doyle hat on Danny Masterson’s head. The Moolies (I didn’t realize that it was okay to name a gang after an Italian insult directed at black people, but this film claims that it is) are over-the-top small-time crooks who dress and act like they’re filming a rap video. All the time. They wear colorful outfits, carry a huge boom box, and hold their guns sideways. Every time they enter a scene, music plays loudly and the familiar MTV font appears at the lower left of the screen. The third group of crooks are referred to as the Sputniks who act as if the cold war hasn’t ended, wear drab clothes and live in drab surroundings, and have no discernible sense of humor. Each of the gangs has had interactions with Connie, each has noticed that she keeps a safe in her shop, and each has decided that the safe must contain something incredibly valuable. Each gang plans a can’t-fail robbery of the place.

Here’s the cool and unique thing about CAPERS: whenever the Amateurs are on screen, the film uses lenses, film exposures, angles, clothing, and language as if it were filmed in 1974. This same idea was tried, less successfully, by Tarantino and Rodriguez for their Grindhouse experiment a few years back. The Amateur scenes have poor splicing, a 70s soundtrack, hairs on the camera, and long, grainy shots. It is actually quite a feat.

Whenever the Moolies are onscreen, the picture is razor-sharp, the music is loud (so loud that in one scene two characters continually yell louder than the music until one of them gets out of bed to turn it down), the clothes are loud, and the style changes to the slow-motion, fast-motion scenes we’ve come to expect from rap videos. There are slow-motion house party dances for no reason, the language is street, there is a blacked-out SUV, the beverages are all Diddy-approved.

Finally, the Sputniks are kept in black and white. Sparse language, spoken with a Rocky and Bullwinkle accent, a robot-like woman trying to be sexy, and static camera shots.

Somehow, director Julian M. Kheel keeps all the balls in the air. The Amateurs try to gather a team together (“you need a tall guy and an oriental for computer skills and karate”), the Moolies shop for weapons at a Hassidic plastic explosives store (“we’re open until sundown every day but Saturday”), and the Sputniks try to buy Uranium at their local hardware store. Each time we join one of the teams, the entire frame is changed to suit the style of the group. This works to fantastic effect, but it’s more than simply a visual gimmick. The editing changes, the pacing changes, the soundtrack changes. Eventually, all three teams will have to be in the same place at the same time–what will that look like?

Plot-wise, CAPERS is nothing to shout about. There are enough jokes to keep us laughing, none of these teams are Oceans Eleven quality brain trusts. The object of their planning doesn’t seem like much, and many of the characters are complete cartoons. But sometimes cartoons are funny and can keep your interest for 90 minutes.

CAPERS is sure to be a Cinequest hit. The theater will be full of laughter and people will talk about it when the lights come up.

And there is nary a whisper about the futility of life in the entire film.

CAPERS will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=470

IMDB

CAPERS

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2008

February 7, 2009
DVD
UK / USA
English / French
94 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
James Marsh

1974. 1350 Feet Up. The Artistic Crime Of The Century.

Unbelievably compelling.

The story of a Frenchman–one of those juggler, unicycle, magician, street performer types who felt it was his duty to walk between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope. He had previously walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and between the two towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

But the WTC walk required incredible planning, inside men, a bow and arrow, perfect timing, a team for each building, sleeping guards, fake id badges, and a lot of luck. And that was before the guy began his walk. One might ask how a film about a tightrope walk can be made exciting. I would have asked the same thing before seeing it. To make matters (on paper) worse, there is no moving footage of the walk. There are handful of stills only. And yet.

One of the many talking heads in the film is the man himself, Philippe Petit. So we know he survives. And he doesn’t appear to be speaking from prison, so he probably didn’t get a life sentence. And yet. We are riveted as he plans, argues, draws up designs, gathers helpers, and walks between the frickin World Trade Center towers.

Mr. Petit is a show-off. He is a loudmouth, he treats women poorly, he has no respect for the law. Because he feels he has a higher calling. How a walk on a rope can be called art, I didn’t know before watching this movie. But now I do. Petit tells the story of learning of the building of the WTC and believing that it had actually been built so that he could walk between it. It was designed and built so a man from France could come over and perform in between its towers. And as goofy as that sounds, you will believe it once you see it. It is somehow art. There is a beauty and a sense of awe. He appears to be dancing–1350 feet up.

As a story, it needs no extra bells and whistles from the filmmakers. But luckily, the style of the film is also superb. There are a few re-creations, there is enough original footage of training sessions and prior stunts for us to get an idea what it might look like in NYC. There are talking heads who are still angry at each other. And there is Mr. Petit to guide us in his hyper-poetic manner.

I have this thing about jumping off high places into water. A bridge in California, a cliff in Greece, every waterfall in Hawaii. I am afraid of heights but find the challenge of overcoming that fear a pretty cool thing. I’m also one of those people who looks down from a great height and isn’t sure that his legs will walk themselves over the edge against his brain’s instructions. But I was absolutely not prepared for how scared shitless I was when I simply saw photographs of the men planning their caper. They lied their way to the top several times and pretended to take photos of workmen, but were really taking photos of anchor points and such which they’d use later to string the wire. And some of these photos, with Petit at the edge of the building, caused me to shake. I can’t explain it. Photos from the early 70s cause a physical reaction.

At one point in his walk, Petit lies down on the wire. All alone. Silently. At 1350 feet, he lies down suspended between the tallest building in the world. A plane flies overhead.

And strangely, the first word that came to my head was, “beautiful.” I may have been tearing up a bit while saying it.

Just an incredible experience.

My Number 10 for 2008.

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary of 2008.

8.9 Metacritic
8.1 IMDB

Man on Wire @ Amazon

MAN ON WIRE

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2008

January 11, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English / Hmong
116 Minutes — January 9, 2009
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Clint Eastwood [Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu; Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo; Play Misty For Me; Dirty Harry; High Plains Drifter; Magnum Force; Thunderbolt and Lightfoot; The Eiger Sanction; The Outlaw Josey Wales; The Enforcer; The Gauntlet; Every Which Way But Loose; Escape From Alcatraz; Bronco Billy; Firefox; Sudden Impact; Heartbreak Ridge; Bird; The Dead Pool; Pink Cadillac; White Hunter Black Heart; The Rookie; Unforgiven; In The Line Of Fire; A Perfect World; The Bridges Of Madison County; Absolute Power; Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil; Mystic River; Million Dollar Baby; Flags Of Our Fathers; Letters From Iwo Jima; Changeling]

MichaelVox Twitter Review in 160:
Gran Torino (08 Eastwood C) Clint as Catskills comic–A Don Rickles Capt. Amer–inhabited by stereotypes, not characters–Get Off My Lawn!

I’ve listed all 33 movies that I’ve seen where Clint Eastwood appeared as an actor or as director. That is a lot of baggage and Hollywood history to overcome when you need to take on a new film role. Which is the fatal flaw of GRAN TORINO. We’ve seen Mr. Eastwood for too many years. While watching GRAN TORINO, it borders on the impossible to “forget” Dirty Harry or The Man With No Name, or more specifically for this story, the hot-headed drill sergeant he played in Heartbreak Ridge.

Eastwood plays a grumpy widower who has just buried his wife and is now free to complain about how his Michigan neighborhood and the country at large has changed for the worse. We are hit over the head with this belief of his when, at the very funeral itself, the first scene, one of his grandkids shows up in a Lions jersey and another in a belly shirt, navel ring glinting. Then we see a woman in the back text someone something. At this point, it’s okay to agree with him. We really have become a nation of ugly Americans. But that agreement will end shortly. Eastwood will turn into a jokester Archie Bunker–one who carries a gun and uses language that Television doesn’t allow.

His next-door-neighbors are Hmong. Grandma, mother, daughter, and weak teenage son. We know that every time we hear Eastwood use another all-asians-are-the-same racist remark, he’ll make up for it at the end by respecting and helping and realizing that the world is one great big melting pot. Or something. There are the scenes where he is indoctrinated into the customs of the Hmong; where he tells his drinking buddy the one about the jew, the mexican, and the colored fellow who walk into a bar (punchline: The bartender says “get the hell out of my bar”); where he will flashback to his days during the Korean War, where he’ll have a racist-off with his buddy the barber. Many of these scenes work. None of these scenes are unique or surprising.

The first hour of the film is like watching Eastwood the Catskills comedian. He even narrates his own life. “Why does that grandma hate me so much?” he says to his trusty golden retriever. Eastwood is playing a stereotype, not a character. And unfortunately, so do the other characters. We have the wigger, the three tough black guys, the sassy asian girl, the Hmong gang who sound like they’ve listened to too much T.I., the veterans, the construction supervisor, the shaman, the catholic priest who even has red hair, the money-grubbing daughter-in-law, the selfish grandkids. Everyone who comes on screen is playing a genre, not a person.

But can I say something here? The crowd I was with loved it. They wanted to hear Eastwood say “Get Off My Lawn!” while holding a rifle. They wanted to see him squint and say with his gravely 79-year-old voice “I’m the guy you don’t want to f**k with.” They laughed when he called his neighbors zipperheads and slopes, his barber a dago half-jew, and the young man next-door a pussy. He was like Don Rickles trying to be Captain America. It didn’t work. Eastwood is supposed to be so taken with the son-next-door that he teaches him a trade, gets him a job, protects his honor and even gets him a date. And this was after the boy tried to steal his beloved car.

I’m under the impression that the Hmong cast was non-professional and while it made it a bit more realistic, it also made the film a bit harder to decipher. With Eastwood grumbling and the Hmong speaking too quickly and with inconsistent accents, I’m not entirely sure about half of the dialogue. Sometimes you want realism and sometimes you want people to be able to act. I wanted actors this time. The ending is exactly what you’d expect, but what will stay with you is the dumbed-down script. Way overrated.

7.2 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB #125 All Time
7.1 Critical Consensus

Gran Torino @ Amazon

GRAN TORINO

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THE BICYCLE THIEF
1948

January 1, 2009
Netflix DVD
Italy
Italian
93 Minutes — December 13, 1949
Crime / Drama
Vittorio De Sica
#14 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.

An Italian workman, long unemployed, is robbed of the bicycle he needs for his new job, and he and his small son search Rome for it.

The story could scarcely be simpler. A man (Antonio Ricci), out of work for a year is finally offered the job of poster-hanger. The only catch: he needs to use a bike at his job. Unfortunately, his bicycle is in a pawn shop, where he put it to get money for living expenses. When he tells his wife his dilemma, she wordlessly takes the sheets off their bed and heads down to the pawnshop for the exchange. That evening, his adoring young son, Bruno (you could spend the whole film watching him watch his father) cleans it and oils it. He knows every inch of it. The next morning, the whole family is excited. The man in his new uniform; the wife proudly packs his lunch; Bruno is happy to ride on the handlebars to his own job where his father promises to pick him up that evening.

Antonio’s job is to hang posters of Rita Hayworth. He is taught how and then sent on his way. Within minutes, a group of men watch him for awhile, and then one of them takes off on the bike while the others misdirect Antonio who chases the wrong man. 15 minutes of film time has passed. The rest of the movie is taken up with the man’s quest to find and reclaim his bicycle. He enlists friends to help him look in the usual marketplaces. He consults with a psychic. He threatens and follows people. He is in the middle of Rome–his chances are not good.

The story of the film is not the important part. It’s as if non-professional actors are appearing in a documentary about a bicycle theft, not a fictional story about a man’s lost bicycle. The difference is important. The townspeople Antonio comes into contact with don’t have an acting bone in their bodies and therefore the impact is much greater. We go into a church for Sunday services and it’s like we’re disturbing the worshipers while our protagonist is there. A rainstorm hits and we hide under an awning along with the rest of the neighborhood.

It’s hard to find a modern-day equivalent of the importance of this man’s lost bicycle. He will lose his job without it. His joy at finally having work that morning is dashed by noontime. The unconditional love of his son (looking like a ten-year-old Bruno Kirby) is something to behold. No trained child actor spends as much time looking into his father’s face as this boy. He walks at the same pace as his movie father, he checks the man’s face for understanding every few seconds, he makes sure it was okay to partake in a bit of wine at a cafe, and the look on his face in the last 5 minutes of the film is heartbreaking. I may never forget the boy.

THE BICYCLE THIEF is not an uplifting drama. But it shows us post-war Italy in a very specific way. We are in specific neighborhoods populated by specific people. We feel for this specific man and his world. Almost in spite of myself, and the hangdog expression of our protagonist, I found myself not only caring deeply about what happened to him, but feeling like I knew him and, more importantly, felt for him. I wanted him to get his bicycle back. I wanted to shout at the people acting as obstacles–those who didn’t believe his story or realize its importance. The survival of his family is at stake–this is no simple “find the toy for the sad man”. I wondered what I would do in the same situation. How long could I hold on to my dignity? What if my young son was watching my every move?

I was reminded thematically of WENDY AND LUCY about the woman and her dog who breakdown in a small Oregon town.

This film is rightly considered one of the best of all time. You’ll be sucked into its dreamlike pace and its documentary feel.




ON: Screenplay

“The epitome of Italian neo-realism, the slight human drama is developed so that it has all the force of King Lear, and both the acting and the backgrounds are vividly compelling” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008.

**** Halliwell’s
**** Ebert
**** Maltin
A–Tobias, The Onion
8.4 IMDB #106 All Time

The Bicycle Thief @ Amazon

THE BICYCLE THIEF

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COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE
2001

December 29, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan / USA
English
116 Minutes — September 1, 2001
Animation / Action / Comedy / Crime / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Shinichiro Watanabe

R-rated animation story about a terrorist explosion that releases a virus that kills people within a nearby radius. The virus contains microscopic machines that somehow kill people. There is one guy who is immune and he’s the one doing the exploding. But I may have the plot all wrong because I’m not entirely sure what was going on. But as a piece of animation, the creativity is high-level. There is a ragtag team of bounty hunters. The women are buxom, the guys are slender, there is a dog along for the ride. The city is futuristic and we are sometime in the future.

This is in no way as cool as any of the Howl’s Moving Castle or any of the other Miyazaki stuff. Those are aimed at children and are almost superhumanly creative. This one is sort of based in reality. There are scientists developing things, bad guys at drug companies, army and secret police arguing over jurisdiction. There was hand-to-hand combat and realistic gunshot wounds.

But it never amounted to anything. We know who blew up the truck, do we really care why?

6.1 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

Cowboy Bebop – The Movie @ Amazon

COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE

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2008

December 3, 2008
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
UK / USA
English / Hindi
120 Minutes — November 12, 2008
Comedy / Crime / Drama / Romance
Danny Boyle [Shallow Grave; Trainspotting; The Beach; 28 Days Later; Millions] & Loveleen Tandan

It’s hard to describe just how “cool” this movie is. Which is a terrible way to refer to any kind of film. “Cool”.

A young man from the slums of Mumbai is a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The host can barely contain his contempt. Everyone expects him to exit the game early. But he continues to answer questions correctly, captivating all of India in the process. Most of the film is told in flashback as each question he is asked on the show reminds him of a part of his life. If the question is about US currency, he flashes back to a time when he was a hundred dollar bill. This is clearly unrealistic but sometimes, as the screen shows us early “It is written”. These flashbacks provide and opportunity for us to watch the visual styling of Danny Boyle, who is working out of his European element here. Jamal and his brother are first played by tiny Indian boys who live in an enormous slum just outside the gates of an airport. They spend their time playing cricket, trying their luck at money-making schemes, and outrunning the corrupt police.

There is thumping music, colorful fabrics, slow motion and shaky camera work. It is incredibly exciting.

The boys are compelling and respond to heartbreak with a seen-it-all attitude. They become orphaned and pick up a “third musketeer” along the way.

The film continually moves between the present-day quiz show and the incidents in Jamal’s life that led him to know answers that he has no right knowing.

It is loud and exciting and is a great mixture of western and Indian filmmaking. I loved it.





8.5 Metacritic
8.6 Critical Consensus
8.6 IMDB

Slumdog Millionaire @ Amazon

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

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2008

November 5, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
141 Minutes — October 31, 2008
Crime / Drama / Mystery
Clint Eastwood [Play Misty For Me; Dirty Harry; Magnum Force; The Outlaw Josey Wales; The Enforcer; Escape From Alcatraz; Sudden Impact; Heartbreak Ridge; Bird; The Rookie; Unforgiven; In The Line Of Fire; The Bridges Of Madison County; Absolute Power; Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil; Mystic River; Million Dollar Baby; Flags Of Our Fathers; Letters From Iwo Jima]
Angelina Jolie [Gia; Pushing Tin; The Bone Collector; Girl, Interrupted; Gone In Sixty Seconds; Mr. & Mrs. Smith]

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CHANGELING is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 63. 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 CHANGELING Discussion – Part 1
• Break
• 16:12 CHANGELING Discussion – Part 2
• Break
• 33:12 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 33:58 The Last Five®
• 1:03:16 Credits and Outtake

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6.3 Metacritic
6.3 40 Critical Consensus
8.1 IMDB

Changeling @ Amazon

CHANGELING

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1944

October 28, 2008
Netflix DVD
USA
English
107 Minutes — September 6, 1944
Crime / Film-Noir / Thriller
Billy Wilder [The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Ace In The Hole; Sabrina; The Spirit of St. Louis; Some Like It Hot; The Apartment]
Fred MacMurray [The Caine Mutiny; The Apartment]
Barbara Stanwyck [Meet John Doe]
#94 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.

An insurance agent connives with the glamorous wife of a client to kill her husband and collect.

Even though it’s more than 60 years old, it still is almost unbelievably tense. Our hero confesses while talking into an old fashion dictation machine. He meets Stanwyck and just about devours her with his eyes. It must have been incredibly revealing to have a character enter a scene wrapped in a towel in 1944. Sure it’s dated, but I felt like I needed to know how it all fit together. Impossible to stop watching in the middle. All the pieces fit.

“Archetypal film noir of the forties, brilliantly filmed and incisively written, perfectly capturing the decayed Los Angeles atmosphere of a Chandler novel but using a simpler story and more substantial characters. The hero/villain was almost a new concept.” — Halliwell’s DVD & Video Guide 2007

“The script packs fireworks in account of insurance salesman MacMurray coerced into murder plot by alluring Stanwyck and subsequent investigation by Fred’s colleague Edward G. Robinson. An American movie classic, with crackling dialogue throughout.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2005 Movie Guide

**** Halliwell’s #43 All-Time
8.5 #53 All-Time IMDB
**** Maltin

Double Indemnity @ Amazon

DOUBLE INDEMNITY

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2008

September 23, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA / Italy
English / German / Italian
160 Minutes — September 26, 2008
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller / War
Spike Lee [Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads; She’s Gotta Have It; School Daze; Do The Right Thing; Mo’ Better Blues; Jungle Fever; Malcolm X; Crooklyn; Girl 6; Get On The Bus; 4 Little Girls; He Got Game; Inside Man; When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts]

World War II Has Its Heroes And Its Miracles

This mess of a film was good for the first ten of its excruciatingly long 160-minute running time. Then it went downhill fast. And rather than redeem itself with the second half of its modern-day bookend, it just grew more preposterous, more preachy, more loud, and worst of all, more disjointed. It’s like ten films in one, none of which is related to any of the other nine. Comedy? History lesson? Romance? Film about honor? Is it about a long-held grudge? American Imperialism? 1940s lunch counter politics? I have no idea. But none of these different ideas are close to being clearly depicted on the screen. To say this film is disappointing is far too weak an analysis of its failures.

I need to preface a couple of things. You’ll see by the list of films of Lee’s that I’ve seen that I am a loyal and rabid fan of his. Malcolm X was an almost completely successful sweeping epic that captured 40 years of American history. Do The Right Thing expertly captured New York City race relations in 1989. His documentaries, 4 Little Girls and When The Levees Broke are proof that he can master the non-fiction realm as well. I didn’t mind School Daze or She’s Gotta Have It. Inside Man showed that he could do big budget as well as small. Crooklyn didn’t work for me so much. But Jungle Fever and it’s portrayal of both taboo love and Sam Jackson and Halle Berry as crackheads was pretty spectacular.

So I come from a position of wanting Lee to succeed, even when he plays outside his comfort zone in this case by trying to construct a film in three languages, with modern and 1940s elements, and bombastic war movie special effects. You want to give him props for trying. But then it gets worse and worse.

A gray-haired black man is watching a John Wayne WWII film on his television and says to no one in particular, “We fought for this country, too.” That’s how the film starts and it is typical Spike Lee. It’s almost like you have to go into this film never having read, heard, or seen any depictions of the African American experience in the 20th century. Of course black men fought in World War II (and every other war afterward), but would a man watching a late-night movie alone actually talk back to the screen? When he listens to old Benny Goodman records, does he say “We made music too”. Yes, I understand that portrayals of the brave black fighting men of the war are few and far between, but he starts the film by treating the audience as idiots.

The man works in a post office (which is confusing because during the war scenes there’s a guy named “Stamps”) and he goes through his assigned window tasks with little happiness or human interaction. A customer with an accent asks to mail something, the worker pulls out a German pistol, shoots the man point blank in front of horrified witnesses and then calmly closes his window and awaits arrest.

Enter John Turturro as a cop and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cub reporter. They will have a conversation scene shot as only Lee can, with fast-moving circling camera angles. A search of the man’s apartment turns up the head of a statue and we know it’s important because the cynical academic expert is rendered speechless when the head is unwrapped in front of him. We are hammered on the head over and over while watching this film. We get it: it’s a priceless artifact that was in a shopping bag in this guy’s closet. We will never see Turturro again and Levitt won’t return for more than two hours. A newspaper story ends up in Rome on the desk of John Leguizamo, who here plays some sort of Nazi-art collector who has a girlfriend who can’t get enough loving from him and before he can read the story he is jumped on by his hottie who causes the newspaper to fly out the window onto the table of a man enjoying a coffee at a street cafe. If that isn’t ridiculous enough, just wait 45 seconds because that’s how long it takes this man to stand up, read the article, and then–I’m not joking here–be so shocked by it that he pours his cup of coffee out in extra-slow-motion followed by the cup and then the saucer smashing on the cobblestone. Please re-read that scene. Man attacked by girlfriend throws paper out of window it lands on the one guy in all of Italy who knows the story of the statue, he stands up, spills his coffee, breaks the cup, and runs out of frame. What in the world is going on here?

We then flashback to the “Buffalo Soldiers” platoon as they bumble their way across a field. To say that they aren’t a tip-top fighting corps is an understatement. We see the same statue in a bag attached to an overweight, and seemingly borderline-retarded soldier named “Train”. But he’s the least of their problems. There are sobbing soldiers, loud soldiers, absent-minded soldiers–this is the gang that can’t shoot straight. They are being sent to cross a river in a suicide mission drawn up by their racist superior. (There are only a handful of white Americans in the film and just about all of them are virulent racists).

Fans of the late, great WIRE on HBO will want to know that not only is Omar Back! but Omar Scared! and then Omar Dead!

This scene has all of the problems of the film in one place. 1) the music is appallingly loud. Not just a bit loud, but loud enough to not be able to hear what the characters are saying; It swells up for no reason as if the composer had no idea what scene he was writing for. This happens more than I’d like in all Spike Lee films, but in this case it took me right out of what was happening. It’s loud, then soft, with no corresponding reason depicted on the screen. 2) The man in charge of them is played by Detective Shane on The Shield, so we know he’ll be an incredible racist who will endanger his men, not believe they could succeed, and then court-marshal them on a trumped up charge. 3) Limbs are blown off and mortars explode in bloody slow-motion as if Lee is saying “look what I can do with a big budget and military advisers.” 4) But most artificially, is the fact that a loudspeaker truck is moved into position and we cut to a radio studio where an attractive, blonde German woman begins her propaganda war. Instead of Tokyo Rose, we get Axis Sally. I have no doubt that this was part of Germany’s strategy to have troops second-guess themselves. But it’s not that she’s speaking, it’s what she’s saying. She begins to give the soldiers (and viewers) a lesson in the African-American assimilation experience. She brings up lunch counters and job opportunities. She says that America will never treat black people equally, she encourages them to put down their weapons and change teams over to Germany. As if no one knew of the Final Solution or Hitler’s views on non-white people. She then switches to speaking more sexually–if you put down your weapons, German women will worship you because deep down they all want to sleep with a strong, black man. Not to mention, we have fried chicken and biscuits just like momma used to make. The words she says are absolutely ridiculous.

Some of the men succeed in crossing the river, radio back to base where the superior assumes that they’re mistaken or are lying, and orders an artillery strike on their very position, killing several of his own men. The ones that make it do so by sheer luck.

At an abandoned farm house they come into contact with an Italian boy who is injured and who may have special mystical powers. The big soldier says that the boy is the first white person he’s ever touched. The Italian boy calls him “Chocolate Giant” in Italian. They end up communicating with taps on each other’s shoulders. The Chocolate Giant, Train, is played in what appears to be an homage to Lenny from Of Mice And Men. The boy won’t let anyone else carry him, Train doesn’t let any harm come to him, and whoever stays close by the child somehow stays out of harm’s way.

The small group bumbles their way to an Italian village where they’re told they’re surrounded by the German army by the one person in the village fluent in English (she claims to have been a nanny) who also happens to be the one model-quality female for miles. Both leaders have their eyes on her, one is tacky and forward, the other is polite and respectful. Guess which one she sleeps with first.

Most will die, there will be honor and betrayal. The movie is all over the place. It’s the kind of film where one soldier says to the other “It’s a SNAFU–situation normal all fucked up.” So he says the acronym and then explains the acronym thereby setting aside the point of an acronym. Lee wants to give us a lesson at every turn, not a story. The woman will take off her shirt at the clothesline, pause as she sees the polite soldier is watching, taunt him with a “haven’t you seen a naked woman before?”, and then change her mind and bang the more aggressive soldier. But that’s not all. The guy comes out of the house pulling up his pants, the woman comes out wearing his helmet, smoking a cigarette, and holding his rifle. Then the two men have a fight over her honor. Yikes.

But wait, there’s more. An entire church full of people is led to a courtyard and told they have one minute to turn over an Italian freedom fighter, even though he’s not there. The priest begs the men to kill him and let the others go. He begins to lead his congregation in prayer. When it looks like the Germans are about to open fire, they hold a pistol up to the priests head. But before they kill him, he has time for a quick prayer about forgiveness which ends exactly when the slow motion bullet goes through his brain. Every character has time for a death-bed declaration or another story about racism or the futility of war.

Everything is obvious. The good guys, the bad guys, the good women, the bad women. Who’s a good soldier, who’s a racist, who’s a caring German, who’s a turncoat Italian.

There is at least one striking and perfect scene in the 160-minute running time. There is a flashback to a time before the soldiers are shipped out from America which takes place in the south. The men want ice cream and stop at a lunch counter where German prisoners are being fed lunch on their way to prison. The cracker owner threatens them with a gun and tells them to go around back if they want any food. The soldiers point out that the Germans are served inside and they’re the enemy. The racist says to his son “That’s how they need to be treated” or something. The soldiers drive away pissed. This incident is one of many that I’ve read about up through the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 60s where soldiers who are literally on their way to die for their country can’t even get a meal in the south. This is one instance of historical instruction that I’m glad Lee handled. Even though the owner is just this side of a characature, the scene rings true. As does a wordless scene when the jeep pulls a U-turn, heads back into the town, and the soldiers come charging in–rifles aimed–and demand their ice cream. The man can’t serve them quickly enough. We cut back to Italy and the four surviving men and the child are staring at the camera for a long, long time with a look of disgust on their faces as if they’re collectively remembering the ice cream incident at exactly the same time.

The shot is framed as if it were a snapshot of the common black soldier experience in WWII Europe. That experience, rather than just being shown to us by Lee, is then unfortunately hammered down on us when a character has to explain how torn up he is about fighting for a country in which he can’t even vote, while experiencing Europe where he feels more welcome than he does in his own country. The scene ends with the men moving out of frame one at a time. It’s pretty striking.

We know we’ll see the man who spilled the coffee, we know we have to be book-ended back to NYC in the 1980s to see what happens to our hero. But what we don’t expect, and what has no real purpose that I can tell, is a meeting on a Bahama beach. “Where Am I?” the character asks, seeming to forget that he just got off a plane whose ticket probably had the destination on it. “Someone wants to meet you.”

I want to commend Lee for trying such a sweeping story, with flashbacks, history, and three languages. But it fails on just about every level. A complete disappointment.

For a much better take on soldiers fighting and dying for a country that doesn’t think of them as equals, please see DAYS OF GLORY.

3.7 Metacritic
5.0 IMDB
*** Ebert
** Phillips
**^ Berardinelli
C- Gleiberman
C- Murray

Miracle at St. Anna @ Amazon

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA

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TELL NO ONE
2006

July 23, 2008
September 17, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
France
French
125 Minutes — July 2, 2008
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Guillaume Canet

Eight Years Ago, Alex’s Wife Was Murdered. Today…She E-mailed Him.

Can a murder-mystery be as spell-binding the second time? In this case, yes. Though there was a single plot point that I didn’t notice the first time, which I found to be illogical and impossible the second time. I promise you won’t notice it on the first viewing. Still one of my favorites of the year.

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TELL NO ONE is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 56. 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
• 00:26 TELL NO ONE Discussion, Part 1
• Break
• 17:00 TELL NO ONE Discussion, Part 2
• Break
• 30:15 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 31:10 The Last Five®
• Break
• 53:45 Listener Feedback
• 1:01:30 Credits and Outtakes

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8.2 Metacritic
8.0 40 Critic Consensus
7.5 IMDB

Tell No One @ Amazon

TELL NO ONE

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2008

September 17, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA / UK / France
English
96 Minutes — September 12, 2008
Comedy / Crime
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Intelligence is relative.

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BURN AFTER READING is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 60. 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 BURN AFTER READING Discussion
• Break
• 22:19 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 22:44 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:15 Fall TV Update/Show Notes
• 1:02:40 Credits and Outtake

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*** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
** Phillips
C Schwarzbaum
6.2 Metacritic
7.9 IMDB

BURN AFTER READING

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1996

September 14, 2008
DVD — Thank You Nazhat S.
USA
English / Spanish
91 Minutes — February 21, 1996
Adventure / Comedy / Crime / Drama / Romance
Wes Anderson [Rushmore; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou; Hotel Chevalier; The Darjeeling Limited]

They’re not criminals, but everybody’s got to have a dream.

Three young incompetents decide to embark on a life of crime.

* Halliwells — “Enjoyable and witty small-scale independent film that manages some original variations on a familiar theme.”
6.0 MC
7.2 IMDB

BOTTLE ROCKET

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Written by Michael W. Cummins