Sunday, March 7, 2010


Because posting a blog feels vaguely like an achievement and because the personal blog I have in my head is a bit bleak for the public, here is an assortment of movie reviews past and recent featuring some favorites and some lesser known.

Encounters at the End of the World

This film is amazing in many ways. It is not a documentary about Antarctica, it is a documentary about life that happens to talk place in Antarctica. Herzog marvels at the oddities and beauties of existence and portrays them lovingly while never losing sight of their reality. He takes as much time showing the way bubbles or shards of glass flow against the ice as he does with the bizarre underwater creatures of the area. One element that takes a bit of patience is Herzog's narration...he often tells us things we could easily have figured out ourselves, but that is what makes it a Herzog film. It is very personal to him...he made it because he had questions he wanted answered. The most amazing part of this film is that there are so many stories that are discovered...any one of which would easily make it's own fascinating documentary. This film shows us that there are tiny, amazing lives and details going on everywhere at every moment whether they are known to the rest of the world or not and that fact alone is really the answer to most of our questions. Along with the ideas, the visuals and music are absolutely wonderful. Another fantastic Herzog film. The conversation with Jonathan Demme on disc 2 is definitely worth a watch for fans as well.

The Last Detail

If youre going in to this expecting a comedy, dont come looking for Meet the Parents or even Harold and Maude. This is funny in the same way Jim Jarmusch films are funny...which is to say, its funny because its true and well-observed. The humor in this film comes in its similarity to real life...the only real joke comes at the very end at the expense of the Navy and even that is fairly restrained considering the time period and the director. The Last Detail maintains a very slow and quiet pace. This is a bit worrying in the first 10 minutes or so, but after about an hour your realize that this is how more (not all) movies should be, it allows the viewer to watch a character develop in almost real time, bringing the audience along for every detail of the journey, so that, by the end, we have seen a genuine slice of these very realized characters. Its almost redundant to say that Jack Nicholson is great in his role as Navy badass. He creates a complete and fairly engrossing persona that never rings short of true. It was also nice to see Randy Quaid in an almost uncomfortably restrained performance as opposed to his over the top later years. It takes some work to watch, but definitely worth it by the time it ends.

Jason and the Argonauts

The dialog is stilted and the performances wooden, but the fact that this 1963 film's special effects are more impressive, cohesive, and non-distracting than a lot of today's most expensive popcorn-fare makes it worth watching and, indeed, a classic. You don't get much better than Harryhausen...he had not only the creativity, bu also the extreme patience and dedication. Watch the subtle movements and textures of the monsters (especially the giant Talos statue) that the Argonauts encounter..and even the camera tricks like forced perspective and the like are spot on and not remotely silly looking. That's a feat. I also love how the gods talk to each other. They are so casual and even petty about their all-powerful wills...which is how the Greek myths portray them, but it's nice that an effects film took the time to actually create characters for the gods rather than just have them barking orders from the clouds. This film knows it's working with fantasy and does it with all sincerity. Not as bad as its first ten minutes would suggest!

Brief Encounter

This film lands firmly in the "they don't make them like this anymore" category, and that's probably okay. Brief Encounter could only exist successfully in the period from which it came. One can only accept the constant narration (basically reading the short story on which the film is based) of the main character in a classic romance...otherwise it would seem bizarrely obvious and a little lazy. And that's not to say that it doesn't at times feel that way, but if you are able to put on a "this is an older movie from a different time" lens, the stellar acting from Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard and the absolutely beautiful direction by David Lean matched with gorgeous cinematography (the lighting is perfect) more than make up for any dated awkwardness. It's not earth shattering or life-changing, but its a completely solid, great little movie that shows much of what it takes to make a successful and effective intriguing story, an intriguing twist on the way the story is told, a reason for that twist, and acting and direction that does nothing but aid the story. It also shows that David Lean knows his way around a story...whether it be subtle and quiet or giant and expansive (Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia)...the characters are what matter. Highly recommended for film lovers and romantics.

Quick Change

Without Bill Murray this would be a nice, quirky, manic little comedy about New York and its eccentricities, but Murray gives the film its real anchor. He plays his bank robber with his usual understated, sardonic glee and it's immense fun to see him spend the first 15 minutes of the film in a clown suit. Quick Change is great at confounding one's expectations and is very rarely predictable. The great cast and quick pacing allow it to switch from a heist caper to a train-wreck "one crazy day" to a surprisingly real and never sappy love story. Randy Quaid gets on my nerves from time to time, but his goofishness is downplayed by the general good nature of the film that never lets stupidity become mocking or pitiable. If you like Bill Murray you'll love this and, it's a great early 90s comedy to boot. Its a cliche and I know it is, but they do not make movies like this anymore. It's not mean, it's not gross, it's not's funny and exciting and silly without ever losing its maturity.

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

Once again I'm left unsure of who write synopses for this video mailing company (I am not allowed to use the name)...this is listed as a story about the "fine line between madness and genius" and I suppose one could say it is, but the genius being put under scrutiny is not the film's subjects, but it's director. This is not a story about four guys who are experts. This is a look at what it means to control life and what exactly is controlling us looked at through the eyes of four individuals. Not for one second is it about the subjects. Their personal experiences merely form the lens and evidence from which the audience draws its own conclusion. It is not an easy watch simply because of the constant cut-ins and jumping back and forth (you really don't know what's going on until at least 10 minutes in), but if you just hang on and go with it the viewer soon realizes that everything is very much connected and slowly painting a very cohesive and, really quite amazing, picture of life and the larger questions of existence. Morris brilliantly (for the most part) juxtaposes the film and audio to really lead the viewer through his idea of what this all means. Its an incredibly exciting way to tell a story and it's flattering to see a flimmaker that allows the viewer to make up its own mind. The title is a bit misleading, but I think any title would be arbitrary when asked to represent all that is stuffed into this film. Less a documentary then an experiment in visual stimulation and universal consciousness, this is highly recommended for anyone who wants a little challenge and a lot of thought in their movie-watching.

The Call of Cthulhu

If you're an H.P. Lovecraft you must see this. It is an incredibly faithful and loving adaptation that has the good sense to realize that most of what goes on in a Lovecraft novel would sound ridiculous when translated into traditional movie dialogue and modern movie pacing. So, they made a 1930s silent film...incredibly well. The casual strangeness and horror of Lovecraft is perfectly captured in the clever use of camera tricks and the occasional stop-motion sequence. One master-stroke was the decision to use more modern-day realistic and subtle acting, rather than the theatrical over-the-top style of the early silent makes sure that the film never seems like a parody and serves to further heighten the anachronistic unease that is present in Lovecraft's work. Also, much like the giddy thrill one received the first time one saw Ian McKellan as the embodiment of a real, living Gandalf (in spite of the rest of the movie...), it is exciting to have a visual representation (a very close one I might add) of the creatures and idols one could only imagine while reading. Highly recommended for anyone that loves film and essential for anyone that loves Lovecraft.


Its true that there are some definitely comic moments in this film, but there is in pretty much every film if its any good. An exaggerated situation and over the top characters does not necessarily equal a comedy and I think those that feel the need to label genre titles probably dont understand the films themselves. That said, this film has an interesting premise and some great acting. No one plays an a##hole that doesnt know he is one like Steve Buscemi, but he also has the pathos and skill to make the character a believable human being. Also, Michael Pitt finds in his role a good fit for his usual doe-eyed, hyper-sensitive, but not spineless persona (see HEDWIG and the ANGRY INCH)and serves as something of an angelic moral touchstone that the other characters sort of compare themselves to. Its an ambitious project to be sure...any one of the main characters stories could be a movie unto itself and the film does at times feel a bit overstuffed, but the writing is strong enough to not lose its way and the actors (for the most part) are able to hold the interest when the writing lags. Delirious tries to talk a little about fame and exploitation and the idea of what success really means and it does pretty well for the most part...the Alison Lohman character falls a bit flat because there isnt time to establish her story as well as Pitts or Buscemi, but she doesn't bog anything down enough to hurt the film too badly. I think the most intriguing thing about it is how Pitts character never really changes, but he forces others to reexamine themselves and adapt to his overwhelming sense of self actualization. Its a nice little movie and a nice use of talent. Also one of the few films in recent years with some genuinely sappy moments that really makes you think in the long run. Not all movies that make you laugh are comedies and not all movies that make you think have to be serious.

"Why Can't He Be You" by Patsy Cline from many places, but I have it from Patsy Cline's 12 Greatest Hits. Patsy Cline is one of the greatest vocalists all time. When I first discovered her I wondered if she had had a horrifically depressing love life because all her songs sound so incredibly personal. I have since learned that she only wrote a very few of her own songs and those she did are not the most famous tunes. This is a testament to her talent. She feels every moment of every song and transfers that to the in point: "Why Can't He Be You". This is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. Most of the tragedy comes from the lyrics, but Patsy Cline sells it in a way that makes it sound like autobiography. It is also one of the rare (as far as I know) songs in which the heartbreak does not belong to the singer. Patsy relates the story of the perfect guy. He's a gentleman, he's thoughtful, he's romantic, and he's kind, but all she can think of is the selfish jerk she can't help being in love with. How awful is that for the nice guy? He's doing everything he was always told a woman wants and befits a man and it doesn't matter...Patsy Cline really sells the situation by not sounding as though she has pity for the man, it isn't about him, this is her chastising herself for not being able to forget a man that treats her wrong. She wants the perfect guy to be all that he is in the body of the jerk she loves...of course, the most tragic thing of all is that the nice guy doesn't know any of this is going on... Credit to Hank Cochran who wrote the track.

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