Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Awesome Movie Trailers: 99 Women (1969)

dir. Jesus Franco

If you havin' girl problems, I feel bad for you, son...

[Side note: It's looking highly likely that I'm gonna have a Jesus Franco marathon on this blog in the coming weeks.]

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Other Favorite Movie of the Decade: The Room (2003)

dir. Tommy Wiseau

"You are tearing me apart, Lisa."

The best times I have had at the movie film theater this decade have been at midnight screenings of Tommy Wiseau's important landmark in ineptitude. Drinking at the movie theater is awesome. As is throwing spoons at the screen. I also like yelling shit while watching a movie. Why can't all movie going be like this?

Johnny is being betrayed by his best friend, who is sleeping with his girlfriend. He likes to throw a football with his friends. Drinking scotchka results in bad consequences. Why can't Johnny not end it all? He should have used his gun to scare the bookie attacking Denny.

Tommy Wiseau is a genius.

I need to make a movie like this.

I need to do a lot of things.

I need to stop taking the bus when going home to Maine for the holidays. Yes, it's a lot cheaper, but the emotional toll is far greater than the money spent taking the plane. No screaming babies on the bus this time, but still plenty of dope-fiends and parolees. Mostly though, it's just a huge waste of time. Time like this I could be spending reading or something. I can't ever concentrate enough to read while taking the bus. I don't know why. I'm also never able to sleep on the bus.

I haven't read any books in a while come to think of it. David Sedaris' latest book has been in my bag for quite some time. When operating on such little sleep as I do, though, I'd rather sleep when taking the train to work. I don't have time to read. Maybe I just don't care for Sedaris' newest book that much. It's ok so far, but he's clearly already used up his best stories in previous books.

Not that I would have any stories as interesting as Sedaris has. I did see a hobo masturbate on the train one time. That's as far as exciting stories go as far as my life is concerned. At least the hobo was being tasteful about pounding off. He was doing it under his sweat pants. I guess you can't get arrested so long as you don't cum on anybody.

[I am aware of how shitty this write-up is. I have no doubt, however, that I put more time, effort, and care into puking this out than Mr. Wiseau did in movie directing his The Room. This review was actually something of an experiment. I wanted to see what would happen if I did a stream of consciousness type of thing, without changing a goddamn word I entered (no fixing errors or nothing). This was the result. You read it; you can't unread it.]

[Honestly, the real reason I wrote this was so that I could post Patton Oswalt's awesomeatastical parody:]

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Favorite Movie of the Decade: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

dir. Andrew Dominik

"I don't know what it is about you, but the more you talk, the more you give me the willies."
-Frank James

Slate, one of my favorite time-wasting websites, recently put together a guide compiling all available "best films of the decade" lists. The top ten contains most of the films one would expect: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, and Brokeback Mountain—no argument here, quality movies all. Also as can be expected, the movies further down the list are either less notable (Casino Royale), or highly polarizing (Irreversible)—not a whole lot of surprises here either, except for one. Appearing nowhere on this list is my favorite movie of the decade, Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So far, Slate has compiled only six available best-of lists (with more to be included); but how could such a striking, singular film have been missed by six prominent list-makers?

Truth be told, when I first saw Dominik's film (on DVD, not theatrically, unfortunately), I admired the photography but not much else. Quite honestly, it rather bored me. It took me about three nights to watch because I kept falling asleep. Jesse James definitely wasn't something I had any desire to re-watch. Over time, though, I found that I would continue to think about certain scenes, wanting to see them again. It may have been because of my sleepy state while watching the film, but I remembered the movie as having a dream-like quality. After re-watching certain scenes on youtube, I thought, 'Wow this is even better than I remembered. Roger Deakins' photography is amazing.' It still didn't occur to me to re-watch the whole movie, though.

When I went to see The Informant (one of my favorite films of this year) some months back, I got to the theater far too early (as is my anal, always-be-on-time nature) and decided to kill some time at the neighboring Borders. I didn't plan on buying anything, of course, but while searching through the racks of over-priced DVDs, not only did I find a twelve dollar, four movie set including: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Wild Bunch, Jeremiah Johnson, and The Train Robbers; but also a seven buck copy of Dominik's movie. 'What the fuck', I thought, 'it's got some good scenes, I wouldn't mind owning the Jesse James flick.' [Side note: Borders, I would like some free shit in exchange for this free publicity I just gave you.]

I still didn't have any intention of re-watching the movie, however. I wanted to own it for two reasons: one was to re-watch the scenes I remembered loving and the second was to use the movie as a sleep aid. Although my condition is not quite as bad as it used to be, I am a bit of an insomniac. Seeing as I can't pass out from drunkenness every night of the week, I find it helps to have other methods of sleep inducement. Movies are perfect for this (My favorite sleeping pill movies include 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tarkovsky's Solaris).

Sure enough, I was having trouble sleeping one night, and so I decided to have Jesse James lull me into a deep slumber. I ran into a bit of a snag, however. Not only was I not becoming sleepy, but I was getting super fucking engrossed in the film. It was getting me excited. That wasn't supposed to happen. I still didn't finish the movie that night, however, but it wasn't because I passed out. Far from it. By the time 2:30 rolled around, I realized that I would have to force myself to stop watching the movie, and get to sleep if I wanted to function at all the next day. All throughout work the next day, though, I couldn't stop thinking about this movie. I couldn't wait to get home and finish re-watching it. After I finished watching it that night, I couldn't wait to re-watch it yet again.

How had I so completely misjudged this film the first time through? Sure, my feelings on certain films had changed over time before, but never to this extent. Since purchasing the DVD, I have watched it about five times, enjoying it more with each viewing. Andrew Dominik's film grew on me like a motherfucker. This film not only rewards multiple viewings but demands them.

Because Jesse James gains with each viewing it is perhaps understandable that it wasn't included on anyone's list. Those without time to re-watch certain movies that did not affect them the first time through, will go with their first underwhelming impressions of such pictures. It's not hard to also see why this film didn't do well at the box office. Whereas most movies about Jesse James have encompassed either his entire life or only the most exciting robberies, Dominik's picture begins with the end. Indeed, Jesse James' only action scene (the gang's last escapade, the Blue Cut train robbery) is front-loaded in the first twenty minutes of this nearly three hour film. The rest of the picture is filled with slow, contemplative character studies.

Dominik approaches the mythic figures from our Western past with a modern understanding of psychology and human interaction. He is aided in his character piece by top notch performances from Garret Dillahunt, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, and, of course, Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. The first time I saw this film, I was confounded by all the seemingly superfluous scenes exploring the separate lives of all the side-characters, but upon a second viewing I realized how essential all these supposed tangents were to the plot and forward thrust of the narrative. In the words of The Wire's Lester Freamon, "All the pieces matter." I could write at length about these secondary characters (and of their actors' performances), but in the interest of keeping this piece relatively short, I will focus on those whose names are in the title of the film.

Pitt's Jesse James is an unstable, paranoid (some might say mentally ill) figure whose death [SPOILER ALERT: ROBERT FORD SHOOTS JESSE JAMES] is less an assassination than a kind of suicide. James recognizes that the sycophantic, enigmatic Ford can potentially prove dangerous, yet Jesse invites him (and his dim-witted, affable older brother Charley) to live in his home. Ford even puts James' wife on edge (she extends Ford only the civilities that polite society dictates). Does James invite Ford to live with him because he ultimately wants to get assassinated? Is James enough of an ego-maniac that he just enjoys the praise being heaped on him, no matter how unhinged the source of it is. Is there another reason? James' intentions remain mysterious.

The true revelation, though, is Casey Affleck's performance as Robert Ford. Robert grew up reading dime novels of Jesse James' robberies, hoping to one day join him, or maybe become him. He is a kid who has not quite yet learned to distinguish between myth and reality. When Robert Ford comes to realize that Jess James is not quite the person he grew up idolizing, his world falls apart. He also recognizes that the erratic James would just as much kill him as invite him to the breakfast table. Perhaps, Ford's eventual betrayal stems from a fear for his life. Maybe he considers this his chance at fame. Maybe he seeks to redress a perceived wrong. Maybe, tired of being known as a nincompoop, Ford feels he has to prove himself. As with James, Ford's intentions are inscrutable.

In its examination of the idea of celebrity (and, indeed, of one of our first national celebrities), Jesse James is a distinctly American film. It examines the way people will, without knowing the person, form such a bond with their perception of a celebrity, as to take as a personal offense any actions from this person that do not live up to preconceived notions. People readily live vicariously through these fantasies, so as to escape the banalities of their ordinary lives.

As with his earlier film Chopper, Dominik also examines our tendency to heap fame on criminals. One of the greatest ironies of this story is that, while a man who laid claim to seventeen murders and countless robberies could be revered as a folk hero, his assassin, a man who killed only two people, would become reviled as a national monster. [Of course, Ford did also shoot James in the back, hence the coward epithet.]

As a side note, it should be mentioned that I was not completely wrong about this film the first time through. From the get-go I rightly recognized Deakins' photography as being top notch. In a career that has included most of the Coen brothers' films, I would dare say that this film showcases Deakins' best work (not counting, of course, the time-lapse fast motion cloud shots used throughout Jesse James, one of my most hated cinematography cliches, and one of the few faults I can find with the film).

Interestingly, Terrence Malick, a man whose work Dominik is indebted to, made a film this decade, The New World, that was included on the aforementioned best of the decade compilation list. Malick's late period movie is quite an impressive achievement and I would likewise include it as one of my favorite films of the decade. With Jesse James, however, I believe that Dominik has out-Malicked Malick.

Who knows? I may be naming this film as my favorite of the decade because my opinion of it has changed so drastically since my first viewing (or because no other people included it on their lists), but there is no denying what a masterful artistic achievement it is. Through its beautiful photography, focus on character, naturalistic acting and dialogue, re-examination of popular myths, haunting score, and inclusion of beautiful scenes of folks hanging out, Jesse James brings to mind such revisionist westerns as McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Bad Company (1972), The Missouri Breaks, The Hired Hand, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, and Days of Heaven (calling this last film a Western is a bit of a stretch, I know). The Assassination of James by the Coward Robert Ford is the best seventies western made in the aughts.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Trick 'r Treat (2008)

dir. Michael Dougherty

"Happy Halloween."
-Mr. Kreeg

Because of their fragmented nature, anthology pictures are frequently hit and miss. Inevitably, certain segments will be much better than others. Although all movies are full of good and bad scenes, traditional narrative fare can get away with having some clunkers. If the over-arching narrative is good enough, a mediocre scene can be forgotten. Anthology pictures don't have that luxury. Since each piece is stand-alone, a weaker segment is more likely to stand out. Even Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, which undeniably has some of the greatest sketches that this comedy group created, is weighed down by a few noticeable duds. In Michael Dougherty's feature length horror anthology film debut, Trick 'r Treat, attempts are made (to varying success) to narratively connect the disparate horror stories presented.

The four stories included in the film are: Dylan Baker as a high school principal who gives young trick 'r treaters poisoned candy [Jeez, although he is really good at these, I hope Baker can break away from the creepy motherfucker roles.]; a group of children travels to an abandoned quarry, the site of a famous town urban legend, to play a prank; Anna Paquin plays a "virgin" who joins her group of party friends in the woods to get her rocks off for the first time; and Brian Cox plays a child-hating curmudgeon who learns the true meaning of Halloween [easily the best sequence].

To connect the stories, some characters and actions, featured in the background of earlier scenes, will show up later in the film. Although sometimes clever for the sake of being clever, these connective tissue segments are genuinely a delight—bringing certain certain pieces an interesting new perspective when revisited later.

Dougherty also gets props for creating a genuinely beautiful, though creepy, looking pic full of vivid colors and lovingly detailed sets. Although none of the stories in his film are terribly original, it is clear that Dougherty put a lot of care into the look and feel of his picture.

Trick 'r Treat plays like a Halloween urban legend/ghost story greatest hits compilation. Sure, we know how everything will play out but it sure is fun to see it all again (the conclusion of the Anna Paquin segment did genuinely surprise me, though). Trick 'r Treat doesn't produce a lot of scares (though the Dylan Baker segment sure is creepy), but it generally hits all the right notes. Creepshow it ain't, but Trick 'r Treat certainly gets an A for effort.

Incidentally, Trick 'r Treat was initially slated for a theatrical release only to be shelved for a couple years and then dumped onto DVD. I honestly have no clue as to why the studio did this. Although not one of the greatest horror flicks, Dougherty's film is an undeniable treat for horror lovers. If we're going to get bombarded with umpteen Saw sequels a year, surely, we can also be treated to lovingly crafted traditional scare flicks such as Trick 'r Treat.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Favorite Movie Scenes: Bad Santa - Santa beats up a bully (2003)

dir Terry Zwigoff

It really says something about a main character (not to mention the tone of the movie he's in) when a scene of him mercilessly beating a child while dressed as Santa is not only cathartic but also one of the few redeeming moments for this character.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Song

I'm sorry to bombard you with Christmas shit. I'm really not much of a holiday person. It's just that after reviewing It's a Wonderful Life I've had the awesome Kinks song "Father Christmas" on my mind. It's one of the few Christmas tunes that I wholeheartedly enjoy.

"Father Christmas" - The Kinks

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

dir. Frank Capra

"You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?"
-George Bailey

Those of a certain age (old) are sure to remember a time when December meant being bombarded on a daily basis with Frank Capra's supposed paean to small town virtues It's a Wonderful Life. Although I used to complain about this movie being shown on every channel in damn near every language, truth is I always loved this flick. As I've mentioned before, this is one of the few movies that has consistently been able to make me cry over the years. [Crying at It's a Wonderful Life. Aren't I obvious.] When NBC obtained exclusive TV rights to Capra's movie in 1993, thereby ensuring that this movie would no longer be a ubiquitous TV fixture, my body went into shock. I didn't know how to cope. It just wasn't Christmas without the white noise of this movie in the background. So, even though I've seen It's a Wonderful Life more times than anyone needs to see any movie, I bought the DVD some years back just so I could play it (whether I was actually watching it or not) at regular intervals during December.

Although my love for this movie has been unwavering, I've found that as I've aged, the parts of the movie that affect me have changed. As a kid, I always shed a few tears during the hokey "No man is a failure who has friends" finale. [Capra's message here being, of course, that shut-ins should definitely off themselves.] As I've gotten older, however, the George-gets-robbed-of-his-dreams scenes have been more likely to affect me.

Because it's become such a Christmas classic, known mostly for the corny, yet effective, finale, people forget just how unrelentingly claustrophobic and dark the rest of the movie is. Leave out all that redemption shit and this movie is as bleak as any noir produced in the era. In Capra's film, a small town (here represented by Bedford Falls) is a suffocating vortex that saps the soul of even the biggest dreamer. It is impossible to escape such a place.

Every time it seems that George Bailey will achieve one of his goals, he becomes burdened with another chain around his neck. His dad dies and he gets saddled with managing the rinky dink building & Loan. His kid brother Harry gets married and accepts another job, ensuring that George will be stuck at his job for good, most likely to die there. He gets married and then, when kid after dream crushing kid is born, becomes doomed to spend the rest of his life in Bedford Falls.

A man who once spoke of going to College, traveling the world, and designing skyscrapers is now brought to the brink when his absent-minded Uncle misplaces a few thousand dollars. A man who once dreamed of conquering the world is now facing possible prison time for a screw-up employee's accidental malfeasance. More than anything, It's a Wonderful Life examines the way people change—the way they learn to deal with grown-up matters and forced responsibilities. Capra is interested in the ways in which people's outlooks and goals evolve ever so gradually as life presents them with predictable unpredictabilities. As people age, they must come to grips with the fact that all of life is filled with compromises; where they thought they would be and where they end up tend to be places far removed from each other. Folks must learn to be content to arrive at the better decision between the unwanted choices that life will present to them. When George can't find a way out of his criminal situation, his choices become prison and suicide.

It is here, of course, that the angel Clarence intervenes and shows that life would have been much worse had George Bailey never been born. I beg to differ.

I've always had some quibbles with Capra's view of life without George Bailey. When George decides to visit one of the homes in Bailey park, for instance, he instead finds a cemetery. That's right, the old Bedford Falls had no need for cemeteries; no one died there. It is only in Potterville that people can no longer cheat death.

In a world without George Bailey, Mr. Potter has taken control of the town, molding it into his image. Sure Potter is a soulless, banker scumbag. What George fails to realize, though (possibly because his outlook is clouded by his ego), is that unlike Bedford Falls, Potterville is quite a happening place. This town finally has some gambling and prostitution, not to mention more hot night spots than you can shake a stick at. Sure, after doling out an unending series of 50 cent back-alley BJ's in Potterville, Violet Bick has become a walking petri dish of VD; but no system is perfect.

The alternate reality thing that really pushes George over the edge, though, is the sight of his wife as a working girl. Clarence warns him before-hand that this will be too painful to see. Predictably, George reacts in horror to find out that, gasp, Mary is working at a library. Maybe it's because I've always had a thing for hot librarian types, but I fail to see anything wrong with this picture. Perhaps George would have preferred that Mary become a trophy wife for Sam "Hee Haw" Wainwright. "Well good for her. Sam really knows how to lay some fucking pipe." [To be fair, George is mostly upset in this scene because the woman with whom he built his life does not recognize him.]

Seldom mentioned elsewhere, but also important to remember is the emotional strain that George places on his daughter Zuzu's teacher. This thoughtful teacher gives Zuzu a flower as prize. And Just because the kid doesn't have enough sense to button her coat, getting herself a cold, the angry, crazed George treats the poorly paid teacher (and her husband) to a tongue lashing. [Tongue lashing, that sounds hot.] What with all the love that this town has heaped on George, it would not be surprising if it likewise ostracized this unfortunate teacher and her husband after he rightfully punched the dickish George. Sure, folks in a small town can band together to help friends in need, but they also have the ability to outcast those who cross them.

It's a Wonderful Life has more than earned its classic status. At this point, it's not so much a movie as it is a part of the nation's DNA. The finale may show us as we would like to see ourselves, the rest of the movie shows us as we are.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Favorite Movie Scenes: Wet Hot American Summer - "How was Waterville?" (2001)

dir. David Wain

Seeing how subjective comedy is, it should come as no surprise that funny movies are far less likely to get the sort of universal accolades that are heaped on more dramatic work. It nevertheless surprises me when certain comedies I love get critical dog-shit thrown at them. When Wet Hot American Summer was released in 2001 it was damn near universally panned. I guess I can theoretically understand why this movie wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. The frequently bizarre jokes in service of a movie spoofing/paying homage to an incredibly specific movie genre can be...fuck it, no, it really fucking baffles me that there exist people who don't find this movie absolutely, gut-bustingly hilarious. You people are wrong.

Luckily, as we all know, Wet Hot American Summer has developed quite a cult following over the years. Perhaps, it's most lasting legacy is the murderer's row of comedic talent it contained: Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Judah Friedlander, H. Jon Benjamin, and of course State members Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, and Joe Lo Truglio. Even had this film not had a pitch perfect script, it would have been funny just to see this group of people make it up on the fly.

Each scene in this movie is a perfect comedy nugget. I could have picked any one of a number of scenes from this movie as my favorite. I picked the "going to Waterville" scene, though, mostly because it takes place in my hometown (lord knows it wasn't filmed there, though.). This scene takes the familiar teen movie trope of kids experimenting with drugs and takes it to the logical extreme. And it's all perfectly set against Rick Springfield's "Love is Alright Tonight".

[The scene:]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Robert Evans as God

I love to look through my DVD collection and find movies that I forgot I owned. I don't know how I forgot that I had The Kid Stays in the Picture. It's the perfect background movie. I just re-watched it, and guess what. It's still awesome. I could listen to Robert Evans' pomposity all day—either that or Bob Odenkirk as God Robert Evans.