Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Ides of March Movie Review

The Ides of March, a political drama written and directed by George Clooney arrives just as many people in the country are beginning to wonder if President Obama is capable of sticking to the principals he lauded in his campaign or if he is no different than any other politician, making compromise after compromise for political expediency without regard for the values he claims to uphold. That the movie’s subject matter fits snugly into the current political landscape is a bit serendipitous, being based on a play originally produced before Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency.

Drive Movie Review: Ryan Gosling as Swarthy Thug

At one point in Drive a character makes a snide comment about the movies he used to produce being “European,” as if that’s automatically understood to mean pseudo-intellectual garbage. It’s an ironic comment and one of the myriad ways director Nicolas Winding Refn thumbs his nose at Hollywood. Drive may flaunt its gorgeous matinee idol of a lead (Ryan Gosling), its car chases and violent action (all hallmarks of popular American cinema) but everything else about it screams European, from its 80s retro tone and soundtrack to the abundance of slow-motion and dearth of talk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just when you thought he couldn't sink any lower...

Here's a trailer for what looks like one of the worst movies in recent memory. It looks awful even by awful Adam Sandler standards. And the trailer drags on for more than 2 full minutes as if it's necessary to reveal every crude, retarded, and humorless joke to the hopeless people who will lay down money to see this garbage. Someone should tell Columbia Pictures that the crowd who are interested in this will be sold the moment they see that Adam Sandler plays not just one, but TWO (!!), roles in the movie. And one of them is a woman!! ROTFLMFAO hilarity is sure to ensue.

John Cusack Focus: Bullets Over Broadway Movie Review

This may be less a John Cusack film than a Woody Allen film, but it's far enough against type for Cusack that I think it's interesting to include it in this short compendium. I could just as easily file this review under my "Modern Classics" heading. This film almost made my list of the top 5 Woody Allen films. So close!

Of all of Woody Allen’s films, Bullets Over Broadway might be the most underrated. And though John Cusack is just one in a long line of actors to basically perform the Woody role on screen, his is probably the best. Not only does he get the mannerisms, the rhythms of speech, and the mania one hundred percent right, but somehow he makes the role his own. It’s less straight imitation than internal adaptation.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Godfather Film Analysis: Introduction

This is the first introduction to a complete film analysis of The Godfather from 1972. It is still a work in progress and I hope to get it completed with all parts posted by the end of November. This is not meant as a full academic study, but the beginnings of exploring how sequencing, lighting, shot composition and music contribute to cinematic storytelling in great movies.

Unfortunately I am too young to have had the opportunity to see The Godfather when it first opened in 1972. I can recall seeing it in bits and pieces throughout my childhood on television, cable and probably on video. Certain images resonated and stuck in my mind: the garroting of Carlo and his kicking out the windshield; Sonny’s violent death at the tollbooth; Sonny’s beating of Carlo on the street; Jack Woltz waking to find himself covered in blood and the head of his prized racehorse under the sheets; Michael’s killing of McCluskey and Sollozzo; the final montage of the baptism inter-cut with the killings of the heads of the five families. It is certainly no coincidence that the most violent scenes are what stayed with me all my life. I never had any awareness of the plot of the film until I watched the film in its entirety sometime when I was a teenager.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Classic Movie Review: The Godfather (Special 200th Posted Review Edition)

This reviews marks the 200th full length movie review I've posted to this blog since I began it in April 2010. When I hit my 100th earlier this year, I marked the occasion with a review for Pulp Fiction, followed by a scene-by-scene analysis of the film. Starting next week, I will begin posting a similar analysis for The Godfather.

Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is regarded as such an important cinematic classic that it’s easy to forget what a bold undertaking it was and how unconventional Coppola decided to make it. Here is  adramatic and violent story, epic in scope, that begins with a thirty minute wedding celebration that has very little plot advancement, no action, and introduces about twenty key characters. The payoff comes later when we feel like we know these people like our own family.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

MLS's Charlie Davies Takes Advantage of Stupid American Law

This story is an interesting bit of serendipity because it was just yesterday that I attended a course for my job that is designed to educate and inform workers in the hospitality industry who are responsible for serving alcohol.

In the course we learn about Dram Shop Laws. This is the law that allows a third party to bring a civil suit against an establishment for serving alcohol to a person who caused injury to said person. If I am hit by a drunk driver, I can sue the restaurant, bar, or party host that served him, regardless of whether I was at the same establishment or venue.

What this does is put the onus on servers, bartenders, and proprietors to responsibly serve alcohol. It does NOT put much responsibility on the person drinking.

This is one of the most absurd aspects of United States laws related to alcohol consumption and points to a larger problem we have in this country - namely, that when someone is injured or does something wrong, the blame is rarely placed on the person himself, but rather on some other individual or company (usually the one with the deepest pockets).

That is what seems to be happening with Charlie Davies. Davies was a hot young soccer prospect two years ago. He was making waves with the US National Team and was poised to be picked for the World Cup squad when a fatal accident the night before the final US qualifying match changed his life. Davies was severely injured and didn't return to soccer for nearly a year. At this point he's playing in MLS, but not at quite the same level he was before the accident.

He was hit by a drunk driver. According to the article linked above, he is suing the restaurant that served the drunk driver as well as Red Bull, the company that hosted the party where the woman drank to the point of intoxication.

It's a difficult balance to strike because I think there is a point at which a person serving an intoxicated customer is pushing things too far and intoxicated people (the ones who've had 12 drinks on the night, not 5 or 6) are incapable of making rational decisions. But I resent that in my job I can be held both criminally and civilly responsible for what one of my guests does when he leaves the restaurant. It puts me in the position of having to be the world's police. You know what? I'm just a waiter.

Monday, October 17, 2011

John Cusack Focus: Better Off Dead Movie Review

Revisiting favorite old films from your childhood can go one of two ways. In most cases you can be fairly certain that it’s not nearly as good, interesting, clever, or funny as you remember. But you can be sure that you’ll either be supremely disappointed to discover there’s little redemption to be found within its frames or that there’s actually a lot more to discover than your innocent and immature brain was capable of comprehending at the time.

Better Off Dead… is one of two bizarre comedies (along with One Crazy Summer) from the mid-80s written and directed by Savage Steve Holland and starring John Cusack. What was Holland thinking? Can you imagine a film being made today whose main character is a depressive teen who tries to kill himself several times over the course of the film’s 90 minutes – and oh yeah, it’s a comedy?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Joy Ride Movie Review: Revisiting an Old Non-Classic

The director John Dahl had a fantastic start in feature films, making the neo-noirs Red Rock West and The Last Seduction back-to-back and then Rounders later. After a big-budget commercial fiasco in The Great Raid, Dahl has stuck mainly to television since 2005. He has directed several episodes each of “True Blood,” “Dexter” and “Californication,” all centered on subject matter that Dahl has been drawn to and executed quite well in his film career. It was mainly on the strength of his early work that drew me initially to Joy Ride, a fairly standard genre film that Dahl elevates slightly above the average thriller. Coming back to the film about a decade later, I’m somewhat disappointed, though not particularly surprised, to find it doesn’t hold up as well as I remember.

John Cusack Focus Continues: The Grifters Movie Review

The Grifters is a brilliant little hidden treasure of neo-noir. It’s a film that doesn’t find its way onto anyone’s ‘best of…’ lists, but it is worthy. I knew of its reputation and I’d seen it once before many years ago, but had almost no memory of it. Now I can’t believe what I was missing. If you’re a lover of film noir, The Grifters is a beautifully rendered cross between old-style noir and modern renditions of the genre.

That it takes place in Los Angeles is not only par for the course within the genre, but also integral to the specific thematic elements of the film. L.A. is a mixed bag of old and new. There’s neo-classical architecture juxtaposed with garish modernity. It’s a young city within the context of America, but with a storied history made to seem even older because of the presence of Hollywood, which is able to recreate any time period it wants. How many of the great noir pictures have taken place in southern California? From Double Indemnity to Chinatown and Blade Runner, the genre has plumbed the depths of the city.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Moneyball Movie Review

I’ve never really had any great love for the game of baseball. But the one time I remember really getting into it was the post 9/11 playoff season when it seemed like a Yankees victory in the World Series would magically heal the emotional wounds left over from that tragic day; when, in spite of the still-smoldering Ground Zero, we were able to focus on something that is otherwise meaningless in the grand scheme of things, whose very meaninglessness was all the more reason to assign more significance than it would otherwise merit.

We watched together at work as the Yankees took the ALDS against the Oakland A’s after dropping the first two games at home. Then they went on to defeat Seattle in the ALCS, but lost the Series to Arizona in 7 games. Nothing has brought back memories of that season more than Moneyball, Bennett Miller’s first feature since 2005’s Capote. Moneyball forced my perspective on the Division series to change, positioning the audience into empathizing with Oakland, three times on the brink of knocking down the mighty Yankees, but unable to make their $40M payroll compete with the Yanks’ eleventy billion. Who on the east coast knew that 3000 miles away, there were legions of fans immensely disappointed by the result of that Game 5? In the wake of disaster, New Yorkers certainly didn’t care. Watching the opening scenes, instead of reliving the joy of seeing the Yankees win, I felt the frustration and defeat of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), General Manager of the A’s, as he sits alone contemplating how he can possibly manage a team with less than one third the payroll of the biggest behemoth in professional sports.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

John Cusack Week Continues with High Fidelity Movie Review

I’ve rarely had as strong a personal connection to a movie or a character as I had to John Cusack’s Rob Gordon in High Fidelity. At the time it was as if Rob was speaking directly to me. In fact, he regularly breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to camera, a wonderful little touch by the screenwriting team (J.V. DeVincentis, Cusack, Steve Pink, and Scott Rosenberg) in adapting the Nick Hornby novel and deftly handled by Stephen Frears so that it never feels forced or gimmicky. However, it wasn’t only the direct connection to Rob that Cusack and Frears made me feel as an audience member, but a story that was, quite frankly, what I imagined I would write at the time if I were to write a screenplay.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

R.I.P. Charles Napier

Character actor Charles Napier died yesterday at age 75. He had a recognizable face, often playing military officials or cops. He was Hannibal Lecter's unfortunate victim when Lecter escapes his cell in The Silence of the Lambs and also the recipient of John Rambo's threat, "Murdock, I'm comin' to get you," in Rambo: First Blood Part II.

But I've seen him most recently in a small role in The Grifters, which will be featured as part of my John Cusack focus this fortnight. Check back for a review in the next few days.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Our Idiot Brother Movie Review

Paul Rudd is simply wonderful at playing the easy-going  supporting characters. He’s been dramatic, forlorn, hilarious, and steady in films ranging from The Object of My Affection to The 40 Year Old Virgin. Remember what a perfect foil he was for the flaky Phoebe on “Friends”? Years of playing second fiddle in a variety of comedies has finally paid off for him with a recent series of leading roles, most recently as the bearded hippie peacenik Ned in Our Idiot Brother.

Monday, October 3, 2011

25 Years Ago This Month: October 1986

25 Years Ago I was probably just beginning to learn my multiplication table in Mrs. Hansen's third grade class. I don't remember much else about what I learned that year. I remember studying European geography, learning the countries and possibly their capitals. Yugoslavia was still a unified country and I remember, even at age 8, that my classmates were immature in laughing at the name because it was like, "You go slav." The things that stick in our memories.

I certainly wasn't going to the movies so much, but I've seen a half dozen or so of the films that opened in October of 1986. There's little that's particularly notable. The list of releases contains the usual mix of prestige projects aiming for the awards season and popular fluff (action and comedy, mainly) to keep the investors happy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Grosse Pointe Blank Movie Review

Martin Blank’s biggest problem is that he’s far too intelligent, introspective and philosophical for his profession. Sure, it’s served him well for a few years after a stint in the army and a government job, but now that he’s been invited to his ten year high school reunion, he’s beginning to question his path in life. Was he right when he stood up his high school girlfriend on prom night and disappeared without a trace? Does he want more from life than simply to be a professional killer?