Saturday, March 6, 2010

#66 Gladiator: We who are about to die

2000. dir. Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed.

Seen it before? Yes.

Russell Crowe plays Maximus, a Roman general. After he wins a battle, the dying emperor (Richard Harris) tells him that he will be named the new emperor instead of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the emperor's son. The emperor is an idiot, and he only tells two people about his plan: Maximus, and Commodus, who reacts to the news by killing the emperor and ordering Maximus and his whole family slaughtered. Maximus escapes, finds his family murdered, and then gets captured and sold into slavery. Then he becomes a gladiator, and wins a whole bunch of fights. This puts him in a position to exact his revenge on the emperor.

Things I liked about this movie:
  • The performances, mostly. Joaquin Phoenix is appropriately creepy. Lots of veterans like Derek Jacobi and Oliver Reed lend a level of gravitas. Russell Crowe was fine; he didn't deserve friggin Best Actor but that's OK. (I would have given it to Tom Hanks for Cast Away.)
  • The recreation of Rome looks pretty amazing. Lots of detail. Some fakey looking CGI (the shots with the flocks of birds) but not that much.
  • The battle scenes were pretty great.
And here's what I didn't like:
  • The use of slow motion. the director uses it too much, and it doesn't look good. Maybe somebody who knows more about movies can explain this better, but it looks like they just took regular footage and slowed it down, which means the framerate is too slow and it looks choppy.
  • A lot of the gladiator fights were shot in a way that was too confusing and blurry. I think a lot of the unwatchable action movies of the '00s took their inspiration from this.
  • The characters. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, and it's all pretty much black and white. Maximus is pure and innocent; he's Cincinnatus. Commodus is 100% evil. A little more sophistication would have been nice.
  • The soundtrack. Vaguely middle-eastern sounding music with a woman wailing in some indistinct language. It's become overused to the point of becoming a joke by now (see Tropic Thunder). But here it's totally annoying and distracting.
  • The hypocrisy! You can't have all of these violent action scenes, and then try to make some point about "Are you not entertained?" That's having your cake and eating it too.
  • You know, for somebody that the movie paints as this entirely blameless white knight, Maximus certainly does kill a lot of people...
Position on the list: 102
Died during filming: Oliver Reed, who played Proximo. They had to use a double for a lot of his scenes.

#64 WALL-E - give a hoot, don't pollute, or we'll all be condemned to 700+ years of being in outer space and getting fat

2008. dir. Andrew Stanton, starring Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, MacInTalk.

Seen it before? Yes.

So I was at my parents house typing up the review of WALL-E but it wouldn't save and so now I have to write another's not going to be the same I tell you but I'll try...

Pixar does it yet again with this manages to captivate young audiences with interesting characters but then sends a message to grown-ups - stop your insane polluting habits now while earth still grows vegetation to sustain its inhabitants.

How sad it must be for WALL-E to be the only remaining cleaner robot in 700 years...and how interesting that he was so curious about the earth's inhabitants that he began collecting items such as Rubix cubes, light bulbs, Christmas lights, and egg beaters and learned about love from Hello Dolly. 700 years of building and he built quite the city of garbage...Daniel was amazed that it was ALL garbage.

So when EVE shows up looking for some sign of life, and happens to be a robot too, WALL-E thinks he could have found the one thing he was looking for...someone to love. He risks his existence to go and 'save' EVE when she gets taken back to the Axiom...

I'm glad we watched 2001: a Space Odyssey before this otherwise I wouldn't have gotten that AUTO was acting like HAL. I thought that watching the captain look up things like soil and plants and dancing was like watching someone going through Wikipedia and clicking link after link (same can be said about

Would I see it again? Yes, and Daniel has made sure of it since it has replaced Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles
Would I own it? Sure, in fact I'm thinking it's going to be Daniel's birthday present.
Two highlights:
1) lightning and umbrellas don't mix
2) fire extinguishers are great for dancing in outer space
Last thoughts...what is up with BNL? How did they rule the world so excessively that the entire planet has to live in the Axiom and why did people lose their ability to do things for themselves to the point that their bones deteriorated?

#63 Full Metal Jacket - Note to self: Don't bring jelly doughnuts into boot camp

1987. dir. Stanley Kubrick, starring Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, R. Lee Ermey.

Seen it before? Parts of it.

While Sam thinks the first twenty minutes of this movie are hilarious I found them sad. Not knowing what life is really like in boot camp I found myself wondering what exactly my friends in the armed services endured in their first weeks of boot camp (it doesn't matter if they were marines or in the navy). If, like in this movie, you are made to feel like the lowest of the low with the thinking "that which does not kill you can only make you stronger" then I say I should be like Vincent D'Onofrio's character and go mad and kill the drill sergeant and myself for I could not bear to be treated in such a poor fashion.

That being said...why wasn't Joker (Modine) counseled after he witnessed Pyle committing a murder/suicide? Did the government not know at that time what PTSD was? Or did they know but not counsel?

Joker was an interesting character for sure. Wearing a peace sign on his helmet but also stating that he was born to kill...I found him to be a coward when the Vietnamese sniper girl asked him to kill her and he did...Sorry to those of you who haven't seen this movie.

See it again? No thanks...
Acknowledge that it's a good movie? Yes
Did you know? Vincent D'Onofrio was THOR in Adventures in Babysitting?!?!?!?

#62 Annie Hall - Oh Woody Allen, you're such a whiner!

#62 Annie Hall: I was a lot more attractive when the evening began.
1977. dir. Woody Allen, starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton.

Seen it before? Yes.

The first time I saw this I fell asleep halfway through. The second time I watched this I also fell asleep. While Sam was writing his blog post I tuned back in to the last part I remembered being awake for and finished the movie. I've only seen three Woody Allen movies and two in which he acts in the film...but I wonder if he's really acting or if he's playing himself....a neurotic New Yorker with verbal diarrhea...okay fine, the last part was a bit over the top since he doesn't actually swear a lot when he's playing himself...but I stand firm on my neurotic New Yorker comment.

Alvy is whiny. Whiny. Whiny. Whiny. But Annie isn't any different at first. And the problem Alvy gets himself into is really that he tells Annie to take some courses to better herself and she does and starts to grow from her newfound experiences whereas Alvy stays the same neurotic guy. Those who don't grow together drift apart eh?

I did like Diane Keaton in this movie. She was refreshing if not annoying. Her fashion choices were interesting. I'm sure if I was around in the 70s I would have wanted to wear what I saw her wearing but in 2010 I have to say "No Thank You!"

Would I see it again? Eh
Would I own it? No
Favorite movie scene - any of Diane Keaton's driving scenes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

#65 A Streetcar Named Desire: We got a noisy woman in the place

1951. dir. Elia Kazan, starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden.

Seen it before? No.

Vivien Leigh plays Blanche DuBois is this adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play. Blanche is one of those Southern women whose gentility and manners are a mask for her vast snobbishness. Having lost her job, her home, and most of her money, she is forced to move in with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and her loutish husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). Stanley's shouting, abusiveness, and general low-class behavior offend Blanche's delicate sensibilities, but there's lots of sexual tension between them. Blanche's whole world has fallen apart (and it's revealed that it's mostly her own doing) so she's gone a little crazy. Her delusional ramblings and overall uselessness annoy Stanley to the point where he can't stand having her around anymore. Stella is mousy and weak, and remains loyal to Stanley.

This is a fantastic movie. They really don't make movies like this anymore. It's hard to identify with anybody here, because all of the main characters have such huge flaws:
  • Stanley: loud, abusive, greedy, just an all-around asshole.
  • Blanche: compulsive liar, judgmental, arrogant, annoying.
  • Stella: pushover.
These days they would make the characters entirely good or entirely bad, so you'd know exactly who you were supposed to root for. Honestly? I identified with Stanley the most. Oh, I'm not saying he's a good person or anything. Definitely needs some anger management classes, and a swift kick in the ass. But I can't really disagree with most of what he says. Blanche really is a pain in the ass, and she really did piss away her family fortune. I certainly wouldn't put up with her for six months.

Position on the list: 203
The Streetcar itself: Traded. To the city of San Francisco, for one of their cable cars.

EDIT: OK I read the Wikipedia page, and apparently they bowdlerized the play to make the movie. In the play: Blanche's husband is gay, and that's why he kills himself (this made no sense as presented in the movie); Stanley rapes Blanche, making him much much less sympathetic and making Blanche's insanity more understandable; and Stella stays with him at the end, which is much more in character than what happens in the movie. Hays Code strikes again! I really think that code ruined movies from 1935-1960. Now I want to see the play, it sounds much more interesting...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

#64 WALL-E: There's lots of world out there

2008. dir. Andrew Stanton, starring Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, MacInTalk.

Seen it before? Yes.

We open with a bouncy show-tune: "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello Dolly. This leads into one of the most horrifying things you'll ever see in a kid's movie: The Earth, vacant and ruined, with enormous mountains of garbage as far as the eye can see. It seems that in the future, mankind's wastefulness and reckless consumerism (epitomized by the "Buy 'N Large" chain of big-box stores, a Costco-eque entity that has apparently taken over all aspects of life, including government) have caught up with them, and the Earth has become polluted and uninhabitable.

But don't worry, humanity itself survives: Buy 'N Large loaded everybody onto huge spaceships. The plan was that they would float around in space for a few years until Earth becomes inhabitable again, and leave a fleet of robots behind to do the cleanup. The last robot remaining, WALL-E, is still there after hundreds of years, and still diligently piling up the garbage. WALL-E apparently has some sentience - he acts lonely, he loves to sing and dance, he makes friends with a cockroach. He falls in love with EVE, a probe sent down by the humans to detect plant life. EVE finds a plant, and reports back to the spaceship. WALL-E stows away onto the ship, and has some wacky adventures...

The spaceship is also pretty weird. The people on the ship are essentially giant babies - they just sit in floating chairs all day and watch TV. They are so bloated and atrophied that they can barely walk, and they are constantly bombarded by Buy 'N Large corporate propaganda. This raised questions that I think are too disturbing to answer:
  • Do these people have jobs? If so, what? It seems like robots do all of the work. If not, why does Buy 'N Large feed them, house them, entertain them, etc.? It's a corporation, not a charity.
  • The ship has been in space for 700 years, so humanity has apparently been propagating itself. So where do babies come from? Are these fat lumps of people doing it? Doesn't seem likely, because they can barely move on their own power.
  • The ship looks like it holds, on the outside, maybe a thousand people? Which means that in order to rescue all of humanity, they would need to launch at least 6 million ships. But that doesn't seem possible, so... what happened to everybody else? Who did Buy 'N Large save? Just rich Americans?
  • EVE reports back her plant to only one of the ships, but we know there were others. Did they also go back to the Earth?
  • So they return to Earth, which is still a wasted, scorched dustball. The end credits imply they brought back all of the plant and animal life that presumably had been extinct. Uh, how?
  • It seems like they were throwing a lot of stuff out. You couldn't really do that on a spaceship that's supposed to sustain life indefinitely - you'd have to reuse or recycle everything. Think about it: you only have what you brought on board. If you're going to make new things, you'll need resources - metal, plastic, glass, etc. - and if you throw things away you'll run out quickly with no way to replace them. This goes for biological material too, like oxygen, carbon, and water. So what I'm getting at is, what happens to sewage, and what happens to dead people?
Anyway don't let my nitpicks throw you, this is a great movie. Very striking visually. Lots of little nods to other sci-fi movies - the room of misfit robots from Star Wars for example, and AUTO is pretty much a ripoff of HAL from 2001. One interesting thing about this movie is that it has virtually no stars in it. I mentioned Fred Willard, but he's basically a cameo. The "voice" of WALL-E is mostly squawks and beeps like R2-D2. (The same guy, Ben Burtt, did both.) It's refreshing. Too many animated movies rely on dubious celebrity voices, as if people are going to care that Brad Pitt or Ben Stiller does somebody's voice.

Position on the list: 44(!)
The override code: A-113. This is apparently the number of a classroom at Cal Arts, and there's lots of references to it in Pixar movies. (The conference room in The Incredibles for example.) I'll be looking for it in the others...

FMJ: One more thing

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that dialogue from Full Metal Jacket was sampled into this song:

Which, of course, led to this:

Bless you boys...

Monday, March 1, 2010

#63 Full Metal Jacket: I am become death

1987. dir. Stanley Kubrick, starring Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, R. Lee Ermey.

Seen it before? Yes.

The first 20 minutes of this movie are almost a short film unto itself. Private Joker (Matthew Modine) endures Marine boot camp with the sadistic Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). Honestly I have no idea how you could get through without cracking up, because Hartman is hilarious. He's constantly bellowing insults and obscenities at the recruits, and a lot of them are really funny:
You had best unfuck yourself or I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!
I would not have made it in the Marines. Anyway, Private Joker is assigned to keep an eye on Private Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio, plus about 50 pounds) who is lazy and slow-witted. This part of the movie is a cul-de-sac plot wise, but is thematically important, as it shows how the cruelty of war is not restricted to the fight with the enemy.

The rest of the movie follows Private Joker around Vietnam - he is assigned a job as a war correspondent for Stars and Stripes. Incredibly, the movie was shot entirely in England. It looks amazing - that is to say, terrible - just like bombed-out Vietnam. Joker is a callow, sarcastic guy, and isn't really taking the war seriously (his response to the Tet Offensive: "So this means Ann-Margaret isn't coming?") but he gets the sarcasm kicked out of him pretty thoroughly. This is arguably Kubrick's best film, and one of the best Vietnam movies ever.

Position on the list: 84
An ironic counter-point to the action onscreen: The soundtrack. Surfin' Bird? Wooly Bully? Hahahaha

#61 Ran - If he only listened to his youngest son

1985. dir. Akira Kurosawa, starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu. Japanese with subtitles.

Seen it before? No.

Lord Ichemonji has three sons and wants to will his empire to them...but not really. He wants his cake and to be able to eat it too...wouldn't you know that his youngest son Saburo, who Ichemonji kicks out for being honest and not kissing his ass, was right in warning his father that dissolving his rank and bequeathing his sons with the castles would only lead to the destruction of the empire he created...WHOOPS!

Greed is a powerful being. Taro, the eldest son, is a puppet. His wife is dissatisfied with his position because even if he has the house and the warriors he doesn't have the final say. When he asks his father to relinquish control chaos ensues. When he's out of the picture the wife goes to his brother and poisons his thoughts as well.

It was truly beautifully done. The scenes are amazing. The wars brilliant considering it was 1985 and no CG was around. The jester was obnoxious. My one sticking point is that the woman was, of course, the epitome of pure evil. Of course she would be...Adam wouldn't have eaten the apple in the garden of Eden if not for Eve...I SO hate men...

Would I see it again? Yeah cause I missed the scene when Saburo comes back (having been taken in by the father of the girl he was set to marry for having the backbone to speak up to warn his father of impending doom) and fights...
Would I own it? Meh

Sunday, February 28, 2010

#60 It Happened One Night - more like, It Happened One Bus Ride

1934. dir. Frank Capra, starring Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert.

Seen it before? No.

Yes, Sam, this is the mother of all romantic comedies...and come to think about it, every romantic comedy I love is like this one...with one exception...seeing as it's one of the first of its gripe about the movie is that when the characters fall in love toward the end of the movie it's not believable because of what a jerk Clark Gable it! Yes, fine, there are other movies where the leads are completely unlikely in terms of falling in love, but at least when they DO fall in love you can practically feel it. The screen burns with passion...I would list examples but Sam's eye rolls really get to me! OK FINE...Here's one...When Harry Met Sally Harry is SUCH an Ass to Sally but when they get together you are rooting for them, the chemistry appears and you believe that they are in love. And you're right Sam, Runaway Bride TOTALLY was ripping this movie off but I prefer Richard Gere's meanness to Clark Gable's...

Claudette Colbert was cute when she showed Peter just how to hitchhike. How she didn't get caught during the scene where her dad's men searched the motel room is beyond me. Did the little kid swindle her or what? The premise is cute. IF Clark Gable's Peter wasn't such as ass to Ellie this would have been the best romantic comedy ever! I would gladly watch it again and own it.

One thing I'm really glad about...We watched this BEFORE Gone With the Wind
Two movies Claudette Colbert did not star in that we already watched - His Girl Friday and All About Eve

#59 Wild Strawberries - Dreams and memories of an aged man

1957. dir. Ingmar Bergman, starring Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin. Swedish with subtitles.

Seen it before? No.

They say that people who don't learn about mistakes in history are doomed to repeat them. Professor Isak Borg is about to get an honor for his lifelong dedication to medicine. It's great except he keeps on having nightmares where he dies...alone. He has a maid who has been his companion for over forty years. A daughter-in-law who is expecting and married to his son who is growing up to become as cranky as his father. He has a 95 year old mother who is a sourpuss...And he has memories of his love Sara who ends up marrying his brother.

Deciding to drive to the awards ceremony he ends up taking along his daughter-in-law, picking up hitchhikers (one who oddly resembles Sara and whose name IS Sara), and getting into an accident with a constantly bickering couple. He dreams when he sleeps and his nightmares are telling of a life of regret...that coupled with his daughter-in-law telling him why she is not fond of him and is thinking his son doesn't want children because he seemed not to have been wanted by his parents (Isak and his wife)...

The thing is Isak is turning out like his mother...cranky, bitter, and because of the first two traits alone. In the dream scenes you see what formed Isak into the man he becomes...but I see something better for Isak by the end of the movie. The hitchhikers remind him of youth and are so in awe of his accomplishments that they see him as someone other than a cranky old man. Communicating with his daughter-in-law proved fruitful. Their relationship ending better than it began in the movie. Even the relationship between Isak and his maid is cute...they seem more like an old married couple than a man and his maid.

This movie is bittersweet and because of the dream sequences sometimes confusing. I was at first taken aback by the hitchhiker Sara but found her incredibly endearing and her two travel partners were extremely entertaining...sparring over God. Think about it...if you have parents who have interesting relationships with their siblings wouldn't you want to make sure your relationships are better? If not, don't you just assume they'll be strained? So why not fix it so that the history that repeats itself for your children turn out better than that of their grandparents?

Would I see it again? Yes
Would I own it? Hmm...that's a tough call.
Lesson learned: be won't end up alone...