Sunday, March 27, 2016

Movies Seen: March 19-March 25, 2016

One high and one low this week:

Nixon's the One: The '68 Election (2010) is a pathetic hit job on the already dishonored president. Don't be fooled by the title (Hubert Humphrey gets little mention, as does Robert F. Kennedy), we talk to two biographers who obviously hated their subject (one calls him a con man), Tom Hayden (of all people), and narrator Dick Cavett refers to him as "Tricky Dick" constantly. At fifty-two minutes, it's too short yet mercifully so. When Cavett's dulcet tones lambast "Slick Willy," then we'll talk. Otherwise, I gave this a 1 out of 10.

Pet Shop Boys: Somewhere (1997) is a recorded concert as the electronic music duo played the Savoy Theatre in London. Full of hit songs, and familiar favorites to life-long fans like myself, this a well-shot documentary as well. The stage is small, but PSB's big sound opens it up. I give this a 9 out of 10.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Movies Seen: March 12-March 18, 2016

Still trying to finish half-watched stuff in a streaming queue, but didn't have a lot of time this week!:

Do Not Disturb (1965) should be left undisturbed. I read online that Doris Day didn't want to make this stale romantic comedy, and I'm thinking she wasn't the only one. A dated, misogynistic relic, Day plays the good wife to a clothing company executive who decides to make up a lover after suspecting her husband Rod Taylor is fooling around with his assistant. Extended sequences where Day plays drunk, and a "wacky" bedroom farce finale go on too long and are a pain to watch. The editing is a mess, and by the time everyone imitates Day on the dance floor as she tries to shake a piece of food out of her dress (one of the oldest jokes in comedy history), the film lost me. I gave this a 3 out of 10.

The Usual Suspects (1995) is still a crackling good story, simply told. Five criminals are recruited to pull a job in order to repay a mysterious crime boss that each of them unknowingly ripped off. The cast is great across the board, Bryan Singer's direction is imaginative without being show-offy, and Christopher McQuarrie's script deserved the Oscar it won. Any one of the cast could have also won a Supporting Academy Award, but Kevin Spacey's great performance had the luck of the draw. Great stuff, worth a revisit every once in a while. I gave this a 10 out of 10.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Movies Seen: March 5-March 11, 2016

Sometimes my eclectic tastes in film scare even me a little:

Finding Vivian Maier (2014) is a perfect film. I have had a years-long fascination with hoarding and collecting, wanting to be an appraiser for a number of years a while back. I grew up an Air Force brat, where hoarding was kind of impossible when you have to move every couple of years, and I think that experience has triggered a sort of anti-hoarding behavior in myself. When I do get something, I automatically look to get rid of it. Not because I don't like an object (whether it's a book, or DVD, or could be anything), but if I get use out of it and don't need it anymore, I look to sell or donate it. Vivian Maier, a nanny, was a hoarder who moved around the country and kept her hoard with her. A young man, John Maloof, finds a few hundred photograph negatives at an auction that he snaps up for a history paper. He realizes the pictures were taken by this mysterious Maier, and goes about buying her other possessions that were also sold. Soon, this woman's things have taken over Maloof's life. She kept everything. He begins researching her life, not because he is the inadvertent custodian of her estate, but because of those original negatives. Her street photography is stunning. She had a natural gift for capturing a shot, and much of what Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel show us is fantastic (I dabbled in photography a few years ago, and some of Maier's work floored me). This film is like a mystery, Maloof unfolding the story of this strange woman, warts and all. I saw this on Netflix and wholeheartedly recommend it. On IMDB, a rare 10 out of 10.

The Beast (1977) is something else entirely. Walerian Borowczyk's much-maligned take on the Beauty and the Beast tale is a sexually explicit and unsuccessful film. Some scenes go on too long, his anti-church opinions are on full display, and much of his script seems convenient and odd. I do give him credit for trying to tell a story with the explicit sexual scenes, but I am still looking for that one film that can do it successfully. Opulent locations, and a beautiful (and often nude) leading lady in Lisbeth Hummel keep this from being a completely unwatchable disaster. I gave this a 4 out of 10.

Spectre (2015) completes Daniel Craig as James Bond's story arc that began with "Casino Royale." Here, Bond finds out the source of all of his problems dating back to that film as he investigates the titular crime organization. Craig is still a morose Bond, and I wish Monica Bellucci had a larger role. The biggest problem here is the length of the film. A half hour could have been lost easily. The story is interesting, the production is spectacular, the Oscar-winning title song is okay, and the action sequences are good. As of this writing, Craig may not return to the role, it will be interesting to see what the next film will bring. An 8 out of 10 on IMDB.

Immoral Tales (1976) is the second Borowczyk film I watched this week. Like "The Beast," it is full of nudity and anti-church storylines. Four different tales ranging from the then present-day to the Borgias, De Sade, and Madame Bathory are featured. Not as sexually explicit as "The Beast," this still provides a ton of sex and the "immorality" of the film's title comes through with issues like incest and murder. Once again, the female cast is beautiful and easy on the eyes, and it's hard to remember that what you are seeing is in fact immoral while appreciating the female form. Borowczyk's best film that I have seen is still "Goto, Island of Love," perhaps because it is the least sexually explicit of the three films I have screened so far? Not "great," this gets a 6 out of 10.

I have a few films half-watched that will hopefully make it into next week's column. Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Movies Seen: February 26-March 4, 2016

Since I only came up with this new capsule review column this morning, I don't have many films to list here (I have four half-watched on Netflix alone). I am hoping to post at least something every Friday detailing my film watching habits for the week before, as I finally pound out that screenplay that's been gestating in my mind for years, and catch up on films I "should have" seen by now. My goal is to have a screenplay entry in the Nicholl Fellowship competition by next January, so I'm not making any promises (to the ones of people reading this right now):

Deadpool (2016) proved something I have known for years: that Ryan Reynolds can have a huge hit. I've been watching him since he was a kid on a Canadian teen soap opera. His comic timing is impeccable, he is a handsome dude the camera loves, and he finally found a franchise that he can play in (and I'm the only person on the planet who didn't hate "Green Lantern"). The quips are non-stop, but while I know it's faithful to the comic book, the violence is stomach-churning. I suppose it has to be to earn the "R" rating, and the cast and screenplay lift this above mindless blood-for-blood's sake, but with all the real world violence happening in the world, sometimes you want a movie to take your mind off of it, not revel in it. Either way, I still gave this a 9 out of 10 on IMDB.

All Good Things (2010) has a nice sense of dread and a fantastic performance by Kirsten Dunst, but still feels like one of those network television mini-series based on a best selling true crime paperback that populated the airwaves in the 1980's. Ryan Gosling has the "weirdo" character down pat, but the third act feels rushed after slogging through the first hour of the film. The direction, and especially the musical score, are very good, and I gave this a grudging 7 out of 10 on IMDB, but I can see why this wasn't more successful considering the cast.

Soaked in Bleach (2015) makes the case that Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain was murdered in 1994, and the rush to deem his death a suicide was a conspiracy involving his wife Courtney Love, and the Seattle Police Department. Private investigator Tom Grant has audio tapes of himself talking with Love, and plenty of compelling evidence that should see the case reopened (although since much of the evidence has been destroyed over the years, I don't think any "findings" would hold up in court). The tapes and incidents are recreated well enough (although "The Arbor," this ain't), and any conspiracy theorist, and grunge rock fan, will want to give this a look. 7 out of 10 on IMDB.