Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dog Day Afternoon Newscast

As you may have heard, groundbreaking film editor Dede Allen has just passed away. Although it was her work on Bonnie and Clyde that cemented her place in film history, no less impressive was the editing she performed on Sidney Lumet's masterpiece Dog Day Afternoon. For those who haven't seen Dog Day Afternoon, it chronicles the bizarre true story of the attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank. Thanks to the internet, I found actual news coverage of the bank heist depicted in this film. For those who haven't seen this movie, this newscast contains spoilers. Incidentally, why haven't you seen this movie yet. Stop depriving yourself of joy. Watch this fucking movie.

[The newscast:]

[The trailer for the movie:]

Timecrimes (2007)

dir. Nacho Vigalondo

Along with Shane Carruth's masterpiece of low-budget film-making, Primer, Nacho Vigalondo's Spanish feature Timecrimes is one of the few time travel films not to be riddled with contradictions, improbabilities, and the like. [At least I don't think Primer was full of contradictions. As much as I appreciated it, it left me rather confused.] Indeed, one of the joys of Nacho's feature, is piecing together all of the past, present, and future events happening concurrently. Unlike other examples of the genre, Nacho's story is weighted with inevitability. I guess it goes to that whole grandfather paradox—you can't very well go back in time to kill your grandfather because then you wouldn't exist, meaning you wouldn't be able to kill him. Although someone going back in time may think he will change certain events, the mere fact that he travels to the past means that he already took part in this event. [My brain is starting to hurt.] Of course, I ain't much of a science person and don't know diddly about time travel theory, so I can't attest to the veracity of Nacho's take on the subject, but it seems correct enough.

Seeing as this is a film in which every seemingly minor moment is so carefully thought out and in which every event is laced with sometimes surprising meaning, I will keep my plot description brief so as to avoid being spoilery. Middle aged couple Hector (Karra Elejalde) and Clara (Candela Fernandez) arrive at a summer home and lounge around. When Clara drives to town, Hector is left to lounge around by himself (translation: it's peeping tom time). After spying on a nekid lady (Barbara Goenaga), he decides to go off into the woods to take a closer peek. Here a scissor wielding masked man pursues Hector, who escapes into a science facility. He is told by the man who works here (the director Nacho himself) to hide in a vat full of white liquid. Hector jumps in, travels a few hours back in time, and shenanigans ensue. Although, at times we are a couple steps ahead of Hector, Nacho does manage to throw in a few interesting surprises to keep us on our toes.

If Timecrimes can be faulted with anything, it is its clinical, cerebral structuring. Because so much of the focus of the screenplay is on the mechanics of the structure, the characters sometimes feel like plot devices. This is often the case with other such jigsaw puzzle structured films. Once you know the twists and whatnot you're less inclined to revisit these movies. The sorts of films I tend to revisit, anyway, are the more character-centric fare. Of course, even if jigsaw puzzle films don't have much replay value, they are always a treat the first couple times through.

Incidentally, Timecrimes is slated for an American remake in 2011. Nacho's film is so well-structured that any minor plot change could cause a ripple effect, rendering the rest of the film incomprehensible. Thus a remake would have to keep the entire thing intact, save for the language in which it's spoken. If this inevitable remake ain't the definition of unnecessary, I don't know what is.

[The trailer [Warning: this is somewhat spoilery]:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Awesome Movie Trailers: Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

dir. Jim Jarmusch

Along with the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, Wayne Wang's Chan Is Missing, and Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise ushered in the eighties' independent film movement. Although I have quite enjoyed many of Jarmusch's subsequent movies, none of them struck me with the same force as this minimal masterpiece. The trailer, thankfully, mimics Jarmusch's endearingly odd aesthetic. Rather than edit together random bits from the movie, the trailer director opted instead to use portions from just three of the single shot scenes in this movie. Everything is book-ended, of course, by Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You."

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Great Movie Scenes: The King of Comedy - "I want you out of here." (1982)

dir. Martin Scorsese

In yesterday's review I questioned why I, or indeed anyone, watches horror movies. Why would we put ourselves through this when we don't have to? Although I couldn't pinpoint the exact reasons I watch these movies (aside from a desire to anesthetize myself to the horror), I did start to think about other forms of cinematic (and TV) torture that we, as movie-goers, regularly subject ourselves to—the most notable example of the last decade being cringe comedies (Freaks & Geeks, The Office, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Observe and Report).

In these pieces of entertainment, the most embarrassing "get me out of here" moments from real life are mined for comedy gold. You know those times when you wish could just curl up into a ball, close your eyes and make the world go away? Well guess what, that shit makes for really good comedy. Even though I get uncomfortable as hell while watching these movies, I am a fan of the genre. Why we as movie-goers would want to watch stuff that so thoroughly makes us want to cover our eyes and ears and run like hell, is a mystery. Many times while watching these movies, the laughter is more of the nervous variety. We do it to break the tension. [Interestingly, as with horror movies, many people will find themselves yelling at the screen while watching a cringe comedy. Instead of yelling, "bitch, don't go in that door," however, they'll say, "Dude don't say that. What the fuck is wrong with you?"]

Although the cringe comedy movement is a somewhat new phenomenon, some important forerunners exist—most notably Martin Scorsese's early eighties picture The King of Comedy. Calling The King of Comedy a cringe-comedy is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, though. Although it contains some funny moments, Scorsese's picture falls far more into the cringe category. Still, it is an undeniable influence on this current subset of movie and TV entertainment. Robert De Niro's main character Rupert Pupkin is essentially a less brooding version of Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. This delusional comedian has dreams of one day making it on the Tonight Show-esque Jerry Langford Show. Playing Pupkin's idol Langford, is Jerry Lewis (in undoubtedly the best role of his career).

The best scene from this movie, and perhaps the greatest example of the cringe style is the "home invasion" scene. Although "home invasion" might seem too strong a phrase for what actually occurs here, this scene is harder to watch than most any horror film version of a home invasion (the closest rival being Michael Haneke's Austrian film Funny Games. [Side note: I haven't seen Haneke's shot for shot English language remake because what's the fucking point.])

In this scene, Pupkin has convinced Rita (Diahnne Abbott), a woman he's trying to impress, that not only is he a close friend of Langford, but that the showbiz legend has invited the couple to his home for a weekend party. After arriving at the mansion, Pupkin manages to connive his way inside. The nervous waitstaff quickly phone Jerry who returns from his golf trip. Perhaps the hardest thing to watch in this scene is Rita's reaction as she realizes that not only is Pupkin not a friend of Langford, but that essentially, she and Pupkin broke into Langford's estate so that the aspiring comedian could audition for the boiling-under-the-surface talk show host.

An unnerving calm exists at the surface of this scene. In his line of work, Langford regularly has to deal with fame hungry crazies intent on making names for themselves. He has become adept at handling these folks. Pupkin, unfortunately, is perhaps the most extreme example of a fame-seeker that he has come across. He is the kind who makes national headlines. Langford does not erupt at Pupkin until well after making several quiet police threats. While watching this scene, we as viewers want to scream, "Take a fucking hint. Leave. I can't watch this." Pupkin (and Scorsese), unfortunately, lingers for an exceptionally uncomfortable stretch of time. Although a more conventional director would have cut this scene at half the length, Scorsese knew that for it to truly work, he had to draw it to the breaking point.

It should be noted, incidentally, that I haven't really seen The King of Comedy more than a couple times. [Indeed, I found it hard even to rewatch this one scene for this piece.] It is an undeniably great work of art, but one which I find hard justifying subjecting myself to. When something so succeeds at being unnerving can it still be considered entertainment?

[The scene:]

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

dir. Renny Harlin

My writing partner recently told me about the release of a new Serbian film aptly titled A Serbian Film. Although neither of us has seen it, we've both read a bit about it. It is supposedly a well made film, but one which is so extreme, so nihilistic, so lacking in any redeeming values that the gist of many reviews has been, "You think you want to see this, but really you don't." Usually, I take such warnings as dares [don't tell me what I don't want to see]; but after watching the trailer for this film, I think I'll take their word for it.

The existence of this film does raise some interesting questions, though. What makes us scared? Why would filmmakers seek to brutalize us? Why would we, the audience, seek to be brutalized? Isn't it a lot easier just to be brought into a happy place where puppies shit rainbows and unicorns puke candy? Considering my penchant for horror movies, these are questions I ask myself from time time—usually after watching a particularly upsetting example of the genre (I'm looking at you Eden Lake).

Although I love this genre, because it raises so many of the aforementioned questions, I find it the hardest to defend. Aside from my writing partner, very few of my friends are horror fans. A horror film has to be ridiculously well-made for me to recommend it someone, whereas I will watch most any of these films, no matter how poorly-made, or how disturbing [A Serbian Film being a notable exception, of course].

Of course, I haven't always loved horror. I needed a lot of training to grow into this genre. In all honesty, it started as a game of personal one-upsmanship. Alright, I made it through The Exorcist, now I'm gonna try The Shinning. I wasn't so much trying to prove myself to friends (not that I had many as a kid), as much as prove to myself that I could do it. Mostly, I wanted to stop being scared. I was quite the chickenshit when I was younger. Very gullible, I believed that many of the horror movies I saw, represented things that could conceivably happen (Yes, I'll admit that the early nineties alien abduction-splotation of Fire in the Sky kept me up a few nights [Side note: feel free to hurl "you're such a gullible pussy" insults in my direction]).

I still remember the moment I decided that I wanted to make myself immune to horror films. It was 1989. I was nine years old and watching, through hand-covered eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 at my friend Curt's house. Like most any kid at the time, even though I had not seen any of the Nightmare movies, I was well aware of the Freddy phenomenon. These films had (and remain to have) a huge cultural presence. Mostly, I always found the iconography pretty badass. Green and red striped sweater, fedora, and claw hand? You had me at green and red-striped sweater. Fancying myself an artist, I would occasionally draw Freddy pictures while bored in class.

[Side note: At around the same age I had dreams of one day being a comic book artist. I wish could find the picture I once drew of my master creation—a man with an axe for a head, a mini-gun for one arm, a katana for the other arm, a chainsaw for one leg, and a shotgun for the other leg.]

At this time, my siblings and I had not seen many of the cultural touchstones of my generation. My mom, rather, showed us movies from the decades before she was born. Not that this was an attempt to get us full of culture and shit, mind you. She merely showed us the movies that she enjoyed as a kid. Although I was unaware of the John Hughes movies, I could recite routines from Abbott and Costello and Marx Brothers movies. I was cool like that. I hated feeling like I was out of the loop, however. Whenever modern movies were brought up in conversations on the school-yard, I always feigned knowledge. "Oh yeah, it was really funny when Ferris had a day off. He wasn't at school and stuff. That's rad."

When Curt asked if I wanted to come to his house to see the newest Nightmare movie, I was all like, "Well 'cha. That shit ain't scary. I've seen that shit a bunch of times. I'm not a pussy." At some point half-way through the movie, while working hard not to soil myself, many thoughts came to mind—among them being, "Why the fuck would your parents let you watch this shit?" Although I haven't seen this movie since then, I still remember specific visuals that were particularly upsetting at the time—foremost being one in which a dude, while lifting weights, grows bug arms. [Side note: I rewatched the trailer and apparently this happens to a woman.[Second Side Note: My memory sucks.]] Curt and I both found the scene of a dog pissing fire, quite funny, though.

Nightmare on Elm Street 4 has a reputation for being a blah entry in the franchise—a letdown after the third entry but nowhere near as bad as the abysmal second film. This is a film that likely holds no place of importance for anyone. Seeing as I haven't seen it since I was nine, I don't know if it's actually scary. Considering the fact that Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cutthroat Island, and Deep Blue Sea) directed it, though, I'm gonna chalk up my being scared to the fact that I was nine fucking years old. Although this is just the fourth entry in a profitable, factory ground out franchise, it is the movie most responsible for my current horror fascination. For better or worse, it will always be important to me.

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Music to Write to: Ennio Morricone - "The Trio"

Pretty much anything by Ennio Morricone will get my creative juices flowing. Lately, though, I've been listening to the soundtrack to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on a loop. Although, the whole thing is great, "The Trio" (the second musical piece to play over the film's finale) gives me a huge boner. [This piece, incidentally is partially inspired by Dimitri Tiomkin's "Deguella", a piece written for Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo.]

[The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Trio (main title)]

Monday, April 5, 2010

5 Against the House (1955)

dir. Phil Karlson

Phil Karlson, reliable genre director of such films as Kansas City Confidential and The Phenix City Story sure picked an odd one with his mid-fifties heist picture 5 Against the House. The DVD release of this film came packaged in a Columbia box set with the films The Big Heat, The Sniper, Murder by Contract, and The Lineup. Although Karlson's picture has its moments, it is undoubtedly the runt of the litter.

Four bored college students decide to showcase their ingenuity by robbing a Reno Casino. For Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews), the mastermind of this "prank", the point isn't the money (indeed, he plans to return the loot after the group has completed the job). Rather, he just wants to prove that he can outsmart the system. His plan is foolproof, or so he thinks. As is always the case with hubristic plans hatched by foolhardy intellectuals in this genre, Ronnie's calculated scheme never allowed human nature to enter the matrix. The four friends enlisted in this plan are the unwitting couple Al (Guy Madison) and Kay (Kim Novak), the jokester Roy (Alvy Moore), and the token crazy person Brick (Brian Keith). You'll never guess which of these characters throws a monkey wrench into Ronnie's plan.

Interestingly for a heist film, the actual escapade, not to mention the planning of it, doesn't occur until well over halfway through the film. [Also interesting, is the fact that the actors playing these college students are so clearly in their mid to late thirties.] Most of the film is spent following the college shenanigans of these students as they alternately haze a freshman in the tamest manner possible and contemplate on their ennuiific place in this modern society of ours. Although the melding of two genres (the college comedy and the heist film) could have been an interesting experiment, most of the college material, excepting the relationship between the Korean war vets Al and Brick, is rather bland and uninvolving.

Although 5 Against the House drags through much of the first half, it is mercifully short at 84 minutes. Anyone bored by the college story, needs only to wait a half an or so to get the good stuff. Indeed, by the time that Karlson works to his climax, the story has gathered enough steam to justify its existence.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating: