Saturday, February 6, 2010

#45 The Conversation: Give me hints, make me guess

1974. dir. Francis Ford Coppola, starring Gene Hackman, Cindy Williams, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest.

Seen it before? No.

Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, who is an expert in surveillance. He records a conversation between a man and a woman in Union Square in San Francisco. The degree of difficulty indicates that they knew somebody might try to record them and are trying to avoid it. Harry feels guilty because a previous wiretap of his resulted in three people getting killed. He's worried that something similar might happen this time, and he's right, but not in the way he thinks.

It's your typical 70's quiet, contemplative movie. Great cast, especially Gene Hackman. Supporting cast is good too. This is the first movie on the list featuring John Cazale. He only appeared in five movies, and all five are on the list. Also featured are a very young Harrison Ford and Shirley from Laverne and Shirley...

Position on the list: 226
Plot hole: The woman in the green dress. Duh, Gene Hackman, why did you trust her?

#44 Requiem For A Dream: Be excited, be, be excited

2000. dir. Darren Aronofsky, starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans.

Seen it before? No.

It's the feel-bad movie of the year. Ellen Burstyn plays Sara Goldfarb, a retired widow who lives in Brighton Beach and watches infomercials all day. She has a son Harry (Jared Leto) who steals her stuff to pay for heroin. He has a coke-head girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and a friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) who also uses heroin.

So it's basically D.A.R.E.: The Movie as all four of them suffer horrific consequences from their addictions. Sara gets an invitation to be on a TV show, so she gets hooked on diet pills. Harry and Tyrone start dealing, but then Tyrone almost gets killed in a gang shooting and gets arrested. This costs them all of their money and their dope connection, so they resort to, uhh, unpleasant things.

This movie is pretty grating and obnoxious to watch. First of all, any time somebody uses drugs, it does this quick-cut thing where they show the drugs entering the bloodstream and then the pupil dilating. It gets tiresome the fortieth time you see it. Second,the music is annoying. Third, they keep replaying that Tappy Tibbons infomercial. Stop it! Or at least tell me the third thing.

(The first thing: No Red Meat. The second thing: No Refined Sugar. The third thing: Never revealed, because Sara goes psychotic every time they get to it.)

(EDIT: IMDB Trivia saves the day! It's "no orgasms." OK then.)

The consequences of drug addiction seem pretty exaggerated here. OK, really, the diet pills will turn you into a raving psycho and they have to electro-shock you? Seriously? Harry goes to the hospital because his arm is infected, and they don't treat him because he's a drug addict? What about the Hippocratic oath? The guy who made this movie is a sadist.

Position on the list: 61
Hey! It's that Guy!: Samir from Office Space plays the mailman.

#43 The Bicycle Thief - Easy come, easy go...

1948. dir. Vittorio De Sica, starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell. Italian with subtitles.

Seen it before? No.

Antonio Ricci gets a job putting up ads around the city but there's a catch...he must have a bicycle. His wife sacrifices her linens for a mere 7500lira. Ricci then affords the 6500lira to reclaim his bicycle from the worlds largest pawn shop. Everything goes well for the rest of the day and then he starts his job the next day. Of course his bicycle gets stolen by some twerp wearing a "German" cap. He reports it stolen and gets no assistance from the police. He does get assistance from a guy who looks like a garbage man - a friend...along with his son they search a market area to no avail. They go to another area where they see an old man dealing with a kid who looks so much like the kid who stole his bike. They harass the old man to no avail. So Ricci decides to take his son out for a meal and realizes that their future happiness rests on finding the bike. They go to the mystic and she says if they don't find the bike in the morning then they won't find it at all. He spots the kid again and accuses him of taking the bike. He gets accosted by the kids' neighbors who want to lynch him for defamation when no bike appears...And as a last ditch effort he steals a bicycle...

The title led me to watch so closely the first few minutes of the film after he reclaimed his bike since, obviously, his bicycle would get stolen right? I was so irritated when it did and he lost the pursuit. It was interesting that there would be such a place where bicycles are taken apart and re-sold that would be that large...I thought it was cute that his kid would help look for the bike. It was irritating that the police could really do nothing to help him without using a lot of manpower. The scene at the restaurant with the snotty kid eating, my god that was a snotty looking kid, and Ricci allowing his son Bruno to have half of the carafe of what I presume to be wine when he's maybe, what, 10?

None of this stuck with me as much as seeing the look on the faces of Maria and Ricci when he announced that he had indeed gotten a job. There was such hope and joy and an overwhelming feeling that all the sacrifices they had made up til the moment he got his job was worth what they had to go through. I feel like that still rings true today, especially in this economic time when people are struggling to find jobs and when even a small job makes a big difference in someone's life. I think Gary Ross said it best in 1993's Dave:
Dave: If you've ever seen the look on somebody's face the day they finally get a job, I've had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it's about respect, it's about looking in the mirror and knowing that you've done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don't really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try.

Would I watch it again? No, it made me sad.
Would I own it? No thanks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

#43 The Bicycle Thief: There's a cure for everything except death.

1948. dir. Vittorio De Sica, starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell. Italian with subtitles.

Seen it before? No.

It's post-WWII Italy, and the economy is in the crapper. Lots of unemployment, and people are poor and hungry. This guy, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani, who was not a professional actor) gets a job hanging posters. Catch is he needs a bike to do it, and his is in hock. He un-hocks it and hangs some posters, but then the bike gets stolen! So then he has to go the basement of the Alamo, and then he gets a ride from a scary trucker named Large Marge, and then he dances to "Tequila" in a biker bar, and... oh. wait.

No seriously he spends most of the movie trying to track down his missing bike. He gradually becomes quite dickish about it, but I guess I can't blame him. The cops were funny when they kept basically ignoring him. It reminded me of the "Leads?" scene from The Big Lebowski.

Position on the list: 104
Daniel can read: Italian. The word "FINE" came on the screen, and Daniel says "That's the end!" Harvard, are you reading this?

#42 2001: A Space Odyssey - almost 2 hours of silence + an unexplainable black rectangular prism

1968. dir. Stanley Kubrick, starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain.

Seen it before? a lot of it but not the end...

Yes ladies and gentlemen I did manage to stay awake for this movie too! I'd seen the beginning with the apes (clearly actors as no CGI and the movements were completely unbelievable for apes)...and what were those other animals anyway? Anteater/pig hybrids? I don't know...they were weird though.

I had seen the middle where the guys are in the chambers "sleeping" and the two guys (Dave and Frank) are awake and walking around the space capsule "exercising" and watching broadcasts from earth and messages from parents...I saw that HAL 9000 freaked and started saying, "I'm sorry Dave" etc.

I had not seen the psychedelic sequence leading to the end where Dave finds himself as an old man in a "Hilton" like futuristic hotel...alone...

I HAD seen the end where there was a fetus that appeared after the last black rectangular prism showed up in Old Dave's hotel room.

Point being...I didn't understand the movie. Back when I was watching parts and now that I have actually sat through the entire was meant to be vague and ambiguous and it certainly did it's job...

I did read an interesting review that suggested that all the humans were in fact inhuman - emotionless and thinking logically much in the same way programmed computers think - ex. Floyd's conversation with his daughter about missing her birthday; Frank Poole's non-reaction to the birthday greeting from his parents; the boredom of the people who are sending Poole and Bowman and the three others to Jupiter after discovering the monolith; and that HAL 9000 was the only 'human' in the film because it expressed emotion - despite having killed Frank by cutting his connective hose...

I enjoyed the musical score. I did not, however, enjoy the God this movie moved slowly!

See it again? Meh
Own it? Eh
What my mom had to say about it: You'd enjoy it move if you were high...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

#42 2001: A Space Odyssey: Give me your answer do

1968. dir. Stanley Kubrick, starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain.

Seen it before? Yes.
"Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?"
-Rock Hudson, while storming out of the 1968 premiere of 2001
A movie in four acts:
  1. The Dawn Of Man: Some chimps find a mysterious black monolith. Then they invent weapons.
  2. Clavius: A scientist goes to the moon, where they have found a similar monolith. It emits a radio signal to Jupiter.
  3. Discovery: Five astronauts, plus the sentient HAL-9000 computer, go to Jupiter to investigate. HAL malfunctions and murders four of the astronauts, so the last one, Dave, shuts him down.
  4. Jupiter And Beyond the Infinite: Dave arrives at Jupiter... a bunch of psychedelic bullshit happens, Dave gets stuck in a weird hotel room for decades. As he dies, another monolith appears above his head. Cut back to Earth, where there's a weird fetus-baby thing in orbit. The End.
So yeah. I was able to summarize the "plot" in a few sentences there. The movie is almost two and a half hours long! There are so many long stretches where nobody says anything and nothing important happens. Kubrick needed to tighten this shit up!

The special effects are great. Years ahead of their time. You can see the influence this had on Star Wars and so forth. The classical score gives the movie some much-needed gravitas. The HAL-9000 sequence is quite enjoyable and memorable, but unfortunately the rest of the movie is just this boring, intentionally confusing mess. Take the rest out, expand the HAL-9000 plot into a nice, tight 90 minute sci-fi thriller, and there's your movie. Alas.

I won't bother dissecting the symbolism, or the meaning of the monoliths or the Star Child, because it apparently is deliberately left ambiguous. Word Of God says so:
"We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered." -Arthur C. Clarke
OK, here's a question: What were you smoking?

Position on the list: 76
Intermission: Why? That was pointless. It breaks up the tension for no reason.

#41 Metropolis - truly inspiring, almost entirely unwatchable...

#41 Metropolis: We shall build a tower that will reach to the stars
1927. dir. Fritz Lang, starring Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm.

Seen it before? No.

Great political message...amazing creation of setting - a pretty realistic looking future city considering 1927. Life imitates art imitates life...The wealthy control everything. The workers are treated poorly. A voice (Maria) of reason and conscience finally tries to do something to make things better for the poor...and a mad scientist has to go and build a crazy (but eerily similar looking) robot to undo the good...

Unfortunately this movie is why I can't believe that people actually went to the movies when there were no sounds...Now, don't get me wrong...I was thoroughly surprised by Charlie Chaplin's The Kid and even Buster Keaton's The General was OK...but this "restored" copy of the film was not very well restored (in my humble opinion) and it irritated me that there was clearly more dialogue than was written on the black cards inserted throughout the film.

Would I watch it again? Only if they restore it further
Would I own it? Nah, not my thing.

Back from NJ

... new post later tonight.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

#41 Metropolis: We shall build a tower that will reach to the stars

1927. dir. Fritz Lang, starring Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm.

Seen it before? No.

One of the earliest and most influential sci-fi movies. Oh and apparently one of Hitler's favorite movies, but don't let that influence you. It's the far-off future year of 2026, in a grand city called Metropolis. At the top, literally, are the rich people. Below them are the machines that keep the city running, and below that is the worker's city. The workers are basically kept like slaves, and worked to the point of exhaustion in unsafe conditions. The son of the leader of the city ventures down below to visit the workers, and is appalled at their treatment.

Meanwhile, there is a woman, Maria, who seems to be inciting some sort of resistance. The leader of the city catches wind of it and tasks his mad-scientist employee with creating a robot duplicate of her to act as an agent provocateur and undermine the resistance. The plan sort of backfires.

A lot of newer movies have been inspired by this, for example the futuristic L.A. and robot replicants of Blade Runner. The mad scientist has a robotic hand, just like Darth Vader, or Dr. Strangelove. The movie has a political message about the treatment of workers and industrialization, which they state pretty directly:
There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.
It's an interesting piece of history, unfortunately it is nearly unwatchable due to the poor quality of the film.

Position on the list: 95
Now that is a good idea: Metric Time. Some of the clocks have 10 hours instead of 12. That's brilliant. Why haven't we gone to metric time yet? It would be so much easier.

#40 There Will Be Blood - verdict - PTA brilliant but still crazy

2007. dir. P.T. Anderson, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Kevin O'Connor.

Seen it before? Yes, kind of...I fell asleep the first two tries watching this film.

Daniel Day-Lewis is a phenomenal actor but he creeps me out much like Christopher Walken and the others I mentioned in an earlier post on this blog. I think the brilliance of this movie is not just the story but the fact that you are constantly in turmoil whether you like the characters, Daniel, Eli, etc or if you hate them. I believe the term for this is that the characters were flawed.

How could you not like Daniel when he took the young H.W. in as his own son when H.W.'s father died in a well while digging? He took care of the boy and raised him. Yeah, sure, he was essentially using the kid to project a "family-man" image, but he did care for the boy and make sure he was fed, and when he lost his hearing, Daniel got an interpreter for his son - after he sent him off to a special school by leaving him on a train...but his right hand man was there with H.W. and then reported back that the room he was in, while sharing it with another student, was actually pretty spacious. Daniel is greedy but good at what he does. He doesn't have a crew rebellion so you get the feeling that he is an okay boss too. As with a lot of greedy people he ends up alone...figures.

As for Eli...a preacher of a church, a dutiful son, but really an a--hole who, like Daniel, is actually quite greedy...but with a pretense that he is a messenger of God and therefore his greed is justified - to the point that he doesn't consider it greed. The church must be bigger and better and more people should come and join the cause of the Church of the Third Revelation. My least favorite scenes in this movie involve Eli...especially when he baptizes Daniel and when he "removes" the arthritis 'ghost' from the old ladies hands...It was great to see Daniel knock him down when he couldn't cure H.W.'s deafness. Eli is WEAK...he even proves it when he says, "I am a false prophet! God is a superstition!"

Would I watch it again? I would over some other PTA movies I've seen...
Would I own it? No
How did I manage to stay up for it? I was playing Bejewelled on Facebook.
Hilarious (and expensive) movie trivia -
While on location in Marfa, Texas, No Country for Old Men (2007) was the neighboring film production. One day, director Paul Thomas Anderson and his crew tested the pyrotechnical effects of the oil derrick fire, causing an enormous billowing of smoke, intruding the shot that Joel Coen and Ethan Coen were shooting. This caused them to put off filming until the next day when the smoke dissipated from view. Both this film and No Country for Old Men (2007) would eventually become the leading contenders at the Academy Awards a year and a half later. -IMDB

#40 There Will Be Blood: Drained dry, you boy

2007. dir. P.T. Anderson, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Kevin O'Connor.

Seen it before? Yes.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-century prospector. The opening of the movie is ten minutes long and virtually wordless as we see Daniel unsuccessfully dig for gold, and then successfully dig for oil. Daniel has men working for him, and he is forced to adopt one of their sons where the man dies in the well. The movie jumps forward 11 years...

The main part of the movie concerns Plainview's attempt to drill the "ocean of oil" underneath Little Boston, and his dealings with Eli Sunday, the local preacher. Eli is one of those charismatic cast-out-demons sort of preachers. Daniel refuses to take him seriously. The movie becomes a duel between them, and it builds to a jaw-dropping finale.

Daniel Day-Lewis got Best Actor for this movie, and it's richly deserved. Daniel Plainview is one of the most memorable and complex movie characters ever created. There are some scenes where you see his humanity and vulnerability, and others where he seems like a devil or a vampire.

My three favorite scenes:
  • The scene where the oil well bursts into flames. Johnny Greenwood, the guy from Radiohead, did the score for the movie, and it's particularly memorable here.
  • The conversion scene in the church.
  • The infamous "milkshake" scene.
Check out the extras on the Blu-Ray. There is a montage of old photographs from the era, and a film from 1926 about the process of drilling for oil. A lot of the scenes of prospecting and surveying seem to be directly lifted from this material. Some of these scenes go on too long, contributing to the excessive length of the movie. P.T. Anderson needs to hire an editor.

Position on the list: 129
Meaning of the title: I'm not quite sure. This isn't a particularly violent movie (one scene excepted) but there are references to blood in a few other senses. Daniel says he drinks "blood of the lamb" from Bandy's tract, referring to oil, and Eli makes Daniel beg for the blood of Jesus during the conversion scene. Another recurring motif is water - there's the water that is the only thing the Sundays can extract from the land and that Daniel says can bring irrigation to the town, there's the ocean that Daniel is trying to pipe the oil to, there's the baptism scene, and there's the huge bottle of it that Daniel guzzles during the finale. Maybe it's something to do with blood being thicker than water? We only see two relatives of Daniel in the movie, and (spoiler) both turn out not to be any blood relation at all. I don't know.