Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Future According to Woody Allen

Few pictures are really as delightful as this one. Woody Allen infuses it with wit, humor, and glorious amounts of classic slapstick, and gets away with what appears to not be a very serious film. And yet, through his unique brand of comedy, built on the shoulders of past greats, he manages to skewer everything from politics to the future. Unflinchingly mocking sci-fi type utopias and dystopias at will, Allen fittingly displays what could be considered his own philosophy and unleashes comedic chaos.

Aside from many a marvelously zippy one-liner and sharp, biting dialogue, the film is built around rather elaborate sketches. Moments like Allen’s clumsy escape attempts, masquerading as a futuristic slave robot, and his bemusement and bewilderment at the controlled madness of the future are all very hilarious, and well executed. The jokes never get stale or old, and Allen is helped by his usual chemistry with the pretty and talented Diane Keaton, who has always had a knack for comedy that I feel is somewhat understated.

Although lacking the emotional and dramatic pathos of say, Annie Hall, Sleeper is still a great comedy/spoof. It’s a film made in the same madcap and fine tradition of comedy masters such as Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers (there’s a fitting homage to the mirror gag from Duck Soup in here), and of course Charlie Chaplin. Allen has of course long since been added to that illustrious list. 97

Memories Time. Like the Rain....

Lost Highway is one of David Lynch's most brilliant films, and yet its a puzzle wrapped in a mystery sitting deep inside an enigma. This is due to the fact that in many ways Lynch is musing about memory and how fragmented the past truly can be, yet also because Lynch operates as if he his putting dreams and nightmares on display. In this case that is especially true since this movie is really two halves centered around similar events and people while on the surface appearing to display only weakly tangibly linked.

The first half concerns itself with a jazz musician played expertly by Bill Pullman, who is dealing with a stormy troubled marriage to a gorgeous blonde, played by Patricia Arquette who he suspects is having an affair. What transpires next is a mix of the tragic, film noir, and the bizarre. The film oddly switches over to another tale, one of a young man in over his head with-get this-a gorgeous troubled blonde, also played by-well, Patricia Arquette. Both stories blend together, making the truth and the film's reality completely blurred in typical Lynch fashion, as Lynch is not content to merely display the movie in a linear fashion-the famous Talking Heads' lyric "Stop making sense" applies here.

Never minding the attempts to truly sort out the movie's twisty narrative, its rather astounding how Lynch handles such complex material. Really though at the same time Lost Highway is also him giving way to his most basic desires as a filmmaker, letting loose and in the process creating a rather bold and brashly unique movie that many critics didn't either get or failed to understand altogether. That such a different vision, fueled and inspired by the classic film noir Detour and other staples of the genre was misread is not surprising; Lynch has been an outsider ever since Dune in the 1980s.

Truth is relative, subject to differing opinions and resting on quicksand, despite our attempts to capture what we believe to be reality through pictures and videotapes. Pullman's Fred Madison tells a cop that "I like to remember things my own way," that he forms memories by, to also quote him, "How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened." In this sense, Lynch manages to actually cover a subject matter that was touched upon merely four years later by Christopher Nolan in his equally fantastic neo-noir Memento. How we see the past can potentially impact the future, yet it always seems that we neglect the present truth for reasons that only we can remotely understand or comprehend. That's the genius of Lost Highway. 100

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Violence Begets Violence

For reasons I do not know, The Coen Brothers-American cinema masters who have so expertly given us both great dramas and comedies-have only made one gangster movie: Miller's Crossing. Made in 1990 and sporting The Coen Brothers' brand of serious drama with humor mixed in one way or another, Miller's Crossing also happens to be one of their most violent and bloodiest films. Which is fitting considering it is a gangster film set in an undisclosed location with Italian and Irish gangs at each other's throats, although normally The Coen Brothers don't make movies with this high of a body count. The always splendid and grouchy Albert Finley's old Irish gang leader, Leo is forced into a corner by a rival Italian gang even though his right hand man-played with a fierce sense of determination by Gabriel Byrne-over what appears to be a rather simple matter.

As in most gangster and crime movies, this simple issue quickly morphs into a rather large problem, naturally resulting in high displays of extreme bloodletting and stark violence. Several times raids are done by the police simply because a rival gang tipped them off just to get the other gang in serious trouble with the law, and Byrne's Tom treats them as non-events that fail to get his attention despite him bearing witness to such events. Never once does Tom fear the law, as he's rather more concerned with the rival Italian gang threatening his life and his own boss. He also is forced into a corner however concerning the matter of him advising Leo to hand over Bernie, who just happens to be the brother of Marcia Gay Harden's Verna, who is loved by Leo and who is also sleeping with Tom.

Really it is this love triangle that is the center of all of the problems that not only Tom has but also that Leo has, and Tom is quickly forced to work his way out of a mess that only he truly understands. The Coen Brothers skillfully craft a gangster movie that is more than just a typical gangster film, with some philosophical musings through in, not to mention bleak comedy and the rather underlying sense that Tom could be Leo-although whether or not he chooses to be is never really properly discussed, and I will not reveal his final choice in the matter.

Filled with excellent performances, a rather clean cut and sharp script, Miller's Crossing has more in common with Blood Simple and No Country For Old Men, and also reminds me a bit of Fargo and strangely enough Burn After Reading. Few directors in this modern age can so expertly craft portraits of mayhem, murder, and deceit as the Coens can, and that is a testament to their high levels of ability. 95

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Horror....the horror....

This review is brought to you by Mystery Theater 3000 in that in one episode they actually skewered Manos: The Hands of Fate. The fact that the show's main badguy, Dr. Forrester
and his sidekick Frank had to apologize for forcing the show's merry band of bad movie mockers to watch this movie does not even begin to cover how awful and terrible Manos really is. This is a film that reportedly caused one of its stars-the man who played Torgo-to commit suicide after watching the final product in a theater. Whether or not that is actually true remains sort of irrelevant aside from using that story as just further proof about the terribleness of Manos. Somehow I have viewed this movie twice and emerged with my sanity intact, although I would not recommend viewing Manos outside of the MSTK format.

Seriously for your own mental safety, stay away from this film: it might just give you brain damage. Existing more so as an inanimate object than as an actual movie that was made by people (I still believe this film was actually created by aliens from another dimension), Manos: Hands of Fate doesn't really unfold. There is not a truly coherent narrative or story line here: random things happen, people react to them in the movie, and eventually the end credits roll, thankfully. Apparently there was something about how Manos is "The Master" that this weird creepy goat man named Torgo won't shut up about, and yet for being the title character he doesn't even show up until much later in the movie. This is the completely stupid and god awful horror movie equivalent of Apocalypse Now, only in that film having Kurz only show up near the end resulted in more greatness, and didn't result in me wanting to drink myself into a stupor to forget that I ever watched Manos in the first place.

Some say that bashing or teeing off on a bad movie is fun, and that is usually true. However Manos is the worst movie I have ever seen, and thus I ended up using this entire review to tell you to stay away from the movie and not even give it a chance. You know how when a reviewer or critic completely tears a movie apart and this results in you wanting to see this movie out of a rather weird sense of curiosity that should be ignored? Well, if you see Manos: The Hands of Fate sans MSTK commentary and you realize how wretched this film truly is, you will not be able to say I didn't warn you. Manos deserves a special place in the "0 Stars" Hall of Fame, and if every print was burned tomorrow I wouldn't even shed one tear. 0 for the movie, 95 for the MSTK commentary

Into The Woods

Sure there were far better comedies made in 2004, and I will admit that when it comes to the comedy genre I am much easier on such films than other, far better critics and film reviewers are. Without a Paddle is not particularly high art, nor does the movie reinvent the wheel-in fact it could have better not only better written, but also more funnier-yet the movie clearly has its heart in the right place. The cast is pretty solid overall, with Seth Green, Matthew Lillard as part of a trio of friends who set out to try and satisfy a promise they made to a now deceased friend when the entire group was just kids.

Throwing really wacky and crazy adventures at the hapless trio results in some amusing moments, yet the film isn't as hilarious as it could have been due to some of the jokes falling flat. Really its not enough to have some idiots who clearly don't know anything they are doing run around in the wilderness-you have to set up the gags and properly execute them better. The other problem is that the pair of brothers are not really that humorous at all, nor are they even decent villains. Perhaps the movie would have been better off poking fun at say, Deliverance or other wilderness survival type movies where things go horribly wrong, but maybe the film's director did not want to completely go down that route.

Even after making Boogie Nights its clear that Burt Reynolds needed more money for whatever -a house payment, some new girlfriend, typical bills to pay, etc. since he willingly choose to be in this movie, playing a mountain man that really looks more like a drunken homeless person living under some bridge. Look, making a movie that is about a bunch of guys truly finding themselves is all well and good, yet if you are going to make it a comedy it should contain more laughs, really. I don't hate Without a Paddle, and I recognize that its type of humor appeals more to those even more easily amused than I am. Hey there's a comedy niche for everyone these days, which isn't completely a bad thing I guess. 60

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Final Curtain

Although Charlie Chaplin is most famous for his great work in silent cinema, he also managed to make many talking pictures before finally being forced out of not only America but movie making altogether. Limelight exists as both a tragic and yet lovely commentary on his entire career, which is remarkable considering that by 1952 he had been making movies for over 30 years. Many artists share the sentiment that they are "Sad Clowns," people making others laugh while dying and crying on the inside, and Chaplin was no different. His once great clown, languishing away from booze and witnessed the times pass him bye, is oddly revived by a fragile beauty who for reasons unknown is suicidal.

Their slowly blossoming friendship forms the movie's delicate center, with Chaplin once again mixing drama and comedy together quite well, something he did throughout his entire career. People forget that his most famous films, such as The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times, all had a good amount of drama in them, despite largely being comedies of one sort or another. Too many people forget that comedy is rather difficult, which is why Chaplin's old clown's inability to make his more modern audience laugh at his old jokes illustrates the reason for his decline. Still the ballet dancer that Chaplin liberated from despair and thoughts of killing herself gives Charplin's clown a new leash on life, only to watch as he rejects her mercy at first.

Interestingly enough this film is as much about the end of Chaplin's long career as it is also about his entire time in the film business. Using the sad old clown who champions a younger starlet and enables her to become someone is a plot device that is now ancient, but at the time was rather fresh and new. The scenes with Chaplin and Buster Keaton are even more particularly noticeable in a considerable light due to both stars having been once far more famous, and how it was even more so Chaplin's bleak commentary on both of them having seen far better days. Especially with Chaplin choosing at one point in the film to actively go back to his old ways, unable to fully deal with a world that no longer recognizes the genius of his comedy or cares about his own thoughts on the human condition.

Without revealing anything, the final act is both funny and rather touching. Chaplin managed to make several other movies after this one, yet it was Limelight that best offered the final word on his illustrious career in the movies. How Chaplin's career ended was quite depressing and also a warning to anyone who dare challenges America's particularly strong brand of conformity to both politics and also fear of the other. Yet the film's message of perseverance and striving to overcome great odds is a rather strong brand of positivity that most people can easily get behind. 95

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Soul of a Man

Created before Wim Wenders made his other excellent and famous 80s film that I have previously viewed, Wings of Desire (1987) Paris, Texas actually is the superior film of the two. Perfectly capturing the American Southwest in terms of the stunning and hauntingly lonely mesa centered landscape, complete with shots of dying towns and flashes of neon, Wenders takes this unique area and makes it the backdrop of a film that is really about one man's mediation upon his life-his past, his present, and his possible future. Making Harry Dean Stanton, who by 1984 was relatively famous for appearing in both Alien and also Repo Man, who was more of a character actor than anything else, the star of the film was a rather interesting choice by Wenders. Since Paris, Texas is a magnificent film and is one of the best of the 1980s, that decision is easily validated.

Found by his brother Walt, portrayed by another famous character actor, Dean Stockwell (in a rather understated and wonderful performance) in the desert, Stanton's hapless father figure named Travis is informed that he has been away for five long years. During this time his brother has taken care of the son that Stanton and his wife, played by the rather tender and achingly beautiful Nastassja Kinski, both choose to left behind for reasons that during most of the film remain a taunt mystery. Although film exists of all of them together during a particularly happy trip, the use of the old stock footage only serves to jar Travis' memory, giving him a glimpse into what his life used to be without really offering any true clues or answers that could actually aid him in any understanding. Having his son express rather stark resentment is only natural, yet Travis' persistence in winning back a child that used to be his and that so loved him is both touching while also a tad bittersweet at the same time.

Having the American Southwest provide the backdrop for Travis' own new journey resulting in him giving birth to an entire new experience was a rather excellent choice on the part of Wenders. Stanton's weathered, beaten down features match the countryside in a rather obvious yet fitting way-its as if this odd man, who goes from barely speaking to delivering an entire speech to someone about the years he used to know, is an embodiment of an entire place and time. Bringing together skilled performances and displaying a top notch ability to mix mis-en-scene and montage that bridges together the film's complex narrative and script with the characters, Wenders creates a true masterwork that manages to feel and be truly American even though it was directed by a German director. Perhaps it is fitting that a foreigner would be able to properly articulate and display the feelings of an American family unite that, although having been torn apart, were still desperate to seek togetherness and closure. 100

Weaver of Shadows and Dreams

Personal Note: This review, although slightly edited, was originally written 11/29/06.

If I was forced to listen to one of those dull audio books, I would insist on them being read by Orson Welles (yes I know he's dead but that's beside the point). He had a rich, deep voice that is very much one of a literally giant well versed in everything from poetry to the ancient texts. Welles' voice is that of a wise, clever and witty man who is amused by certain things, trickery and fakery being one of those sort of things. Which is where F For Fake (1973) comes in.

Here Welles serves up a piece of documentary style film making that mediates upon deceit, truth, plus smoke and minors. What a troubled and comical web liars and geniuses weave: this is expressed in the film by covering not only examples of Welles' falsehood during his long and storied career, but also the works of the forger Elmyr de Hory and his hoax creating biographer, Clifford Iriving. While not excusing their creative misdeeds, Welles finds them to be relatively harmless, their works a funny slap at the so called experts they managed to fool. Furthermore, by focusing on Oja's story near the end Welles shows that a master of fake painting and the legendary Picasso are not so different after all: art is simply a matter of skill, as even Picasso discovers that he is no more honest than Oja's grandfather.

Another interesting matter of note is how much of a coda this film is in regards to Welles' life and career. Death and the end of everything is mentioned more than once, and Welles even sits on a bench and reminisces about his start in acting, plus how he ended up in Hollywood. Naturally his classic "War of the Worlds" radio program is included, for it is one of the most famous hoaxes in American history. Through this segment, Welles to a certain extent becomes part of the documentary himself, and really only Welles could have made a movie covering his own life, even though he rejects using standard movie and documentary styles of foolishly trying to cover someone's life in 90 minutes.

Charlatan is a term that Orson Welles may us to describe himself, and the term could also cover many of his characters in his movies as well. But perhaps a more accurate term is magician, really. Welles actually performs several magic tricks in the film while gleefully telling the audience that "The events in this film are true," (the film even has a sign at the beginning that contains the words "Everything In This Film is Strictly Based on the Available Facts"). With F For Fake, it is clear that he has pulled off a most wondrous trick indeed. 100

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Best of The West Production: MadMan's Top 20 Westerns

As started on, starting at 20 and working up to #1:

20. High Plains Drifter (1973, Eastwood)

Unlike John Wayne, Clint Eastwood wasn't afraid to play a straight up villain more than once or twice. Even though he was always the protagonist and the main character, Eastwood's characters were men who didn't typical do the right thing, and were more accurate in terms of the people who populated the west in general.

With High Plains Drifter, Eastwood crafted a dark, at times rather bleak, and nasty movie that is highly unromantic and perverts the western mythology that Peckinpah, Leone, and Ford bought into and presented on screen. This is fascinating since the movie does not have a single likable character at all, giving us people who are either cowards, ruthless gunslingers, murders, or general scum of the earth.

What truly stands out for me here is the painting of the town red, with Eastwood's nameless brutal avenger accurately renaming the town "Hell." Which is a rather unsubtle statement, and a commentary on the bloody nature of the west before it was actually settled. Eastwood does not flinch from showing brutal violence on screen, or even giving us a satisfying ending: by the final shot, the only one who has achieved their goal and aim has been Eastwood himself. The town is left in shambles, and even though peace has been restored it is a shaky, unassured calm that promises nothing good for the future.

Nothing Says I Love You Like Violence

In the wake of Black Christmas, Halloween, and Friday The 13th came a whole new batch of slasher films that either put their own stamp on the genre (A Nightmare on Elm Street) or just copied the ones that had come before them (numerous others from the 1980s). 1981 saw two pretty decent/solid slasher films in both The Burning and the rather underrated cult film My Blood Valentine, with both actually being just a bit savvy than people expected. Unfortunately My Bloody Valentine was forcibly censored by the MPAA and by the studio to get the film an R rating, yet luckily for us today the current DVD/Blu Ray release features the scenes that were left on the cutting floor.

What emerges is a sleeker, more deadlier and easily more violent/gory version that is far more shocking, although I choose to watch the theatrical cut first and found that one to be just fine, although it was still great to be able to view what had been left out as well. My Bloody Valentine has what all slasher films possess: the creation of a mythology focused on a homicidal maniac bent on achieving rather violent ends. In this case, its a mining town haunted by a man named Harry who was once a miner-yet due to extreme circumstances he turned into a savage killer. Now the town fears that Harry has returned to wreck more of his vengeance upon the living on the eve of the town's first planned Valentine's Day dance in two decades.

Even though some of the typical stock characters are present, My Bloody Valentine is actually a fairly effective slasher movie with some truly creepy moments. The mine is used to great effect later on, as is previous scenes with the killer roaming about and proving that no one or nowhere is truly safe. Much of the movie properly deals with the town's twisted legacy of having failed to prevent one man from turning into a serial murder, and despite the young people acting a bit dumb at times most of the film's main characters are surprisingly well rounded for a low budget slasher horror movie. Whether or not the remake, which came out in 2009 and was created solely to exploit the 3D craze reborn is just as good remains to be seen, but that doesn't matter because the rather effective and eerie original still exists. 83

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Game is Afoot....Again

Despite what purists think, or opine, I rather enjoy the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. They may not be completely true to the character, yet they are really entertaining and fun to watch. The first film was merely very solid, yet the sequel takes everything that the original did so well up a notch. Doing so also makes sense considering that Game of Shadows features Professor James Moriarty, Holmes' greatest nemesis, a man equal to Holmes in almost every regard. Key word here however is "Almost," and Sherlock goes through the entire movie thinking, or maybe knowing, this as he tries to stop Moriarty's plans with the help of his usual companion, Dr. Watson.

Not only do Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. have great chemistry together once again, but there is also a further addition to the cast in Madam Simza Heron, played by Noomi Rapace. Oddly enough unlike the first film, where Rachel McAdams was not given much to do in the role of Irene Adler, Rapace's role is properly structured so that an appropriate balance is struck. This is especially crucial since the movie truly is dominated not by the two male leads, but also Jared Harris who expertly embodies Professor Moriarty, based on what I have read from the famous Sherlock Holmes stories, although in this case Moriarty has a far bigger role than he actually did in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work.

Even though some of the film is a bit over the top (not to mention the fact that the evil scheme is truly outlandish to a certain extent, also, Game of Shadows manages to be truly fine entertainment. Bringing in Sherlock's brother Mycroft (played wonderfully by Stephen Fry) was also a nice touch, and really there is something for both casual and die hard fans of Holmes and Watson. Whether or not a third film gets made remains to be seen-however if another installment happens, it better have the same duo of Downey Jr. and Law involved, not to mention Guy Ritchie directing. 90

Friday, March 9, 2012

Borne and Bred of Blood, Sweet, Tears and Sacrifice

In spite of not having read the book series written by George R.R. Martin that Game of Thrones is based off of, in watching and enjoying the HBO series' first season not having read the source material was not a requirement, nor did it hinder my enjoyment of the show. HBO magnificently has brought to life a fantasy series brimming with everything that one finds in great television, and that is not surprising considering their excellent track record over the years from The Sopranos to Boardwalk Empire. Those who do not care for fantasy could even possibly find something to like in Game of Thrones, which might be a bit remarkable.

Centered around a mythical realm that is composed of seven kingdoms united under one ruler, Games of Thrones at its center revolves around heavy politics, quiet schemes, violence and murder, and the motives of men that are both honorable and rather unscrupulous. Not to mention talk of dragons, the king's throne which bears the name of the show, winter walkers that are basically zombies, and of course an entire horde led by a woman obsessed both by dragons and also with reclaiming the home that was stolen from her. All of this rich, complex tapestry is also focused heavily on two powerful and ancient families, the Starks of the North and the Lannisters of the South, who later on in the season actually clash in warfare due to circumstances not entirely of their own making.

Not only is the show incredibly well written and directed (not to mention the unique opening credits) but it is also anchored by a truly wonderful cast anchored by famous actors Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and actress Lena Headey. Clearly most of, if not all of, the show was shot on location too, which adds to its lush visuals and gorgeous cinematography as well. With how the season finishes out, and also noting the multiple story lines that still remain unfinished, I am heavily anticipating the next season, and in that time I might even start reading the books. Winter is coming, and the Games have just begun. A-