Monday, December 6, 2010

Drum Roll, Please (part 1)

I've actually watched a fair amount of films in the last month or so. It's a lot easier to watch them than to write about them, for sure. I tend to enjoy most of what I watch, but don't always have something specific to say about it. I also prefer face-to-face conversations about film because I find that I often have more to say about a film than I think I do once I hear a little more about what someone else has to say. All that said, here's my list, in the order (more or less) in which I saw them:

Vengeance Valley (1951)- I have come to love watching Burt Lancaster act. He won me over with Vera Cruz, and I think I've had a crush on him ever since. I've seen The Professionals, The Train, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Apache, and this one. This is the weakest of the lot, but it's not Burt's fault. He plays similar characters in all of his films, but isn't that why I keep watching?

The Fly (1958)- Everybody loves this film, and I did, too. I don't know that I'd gave anything intelligent to add. I want to see more of Vincent Price.

Sanjuro (1962)- I watched this with the family and we all loved it. Kurosawa has an amazing ability to be able to insert humor- even slapstick humor- into an otherwise serious film. Amy and I discussed a little bit afterwards how it seems like films these days tend to stick to their marketed genres but that some older ones seemed to have an easier time trying to be all things to all audiences. Sanjuro is really a movie with wide appeal- adventure, drama, humor, philosophy... there's a little something for everyone. It's not as epic as Seven Samurai, not as intense as Rashoman, and doesn't take itself as seriously as Yojimbo (though it stars the same character)- but it manages to be all of those things in little ways, and in that manner holds its own against them.

She's One of Us (2003)- This French film has a great mood and features a stellar performance by Sasha Andres (a French indie rock musician, I gathered), but it loses some focus towards the end, as it tries to speed up the timeline at the expense of the mood it creates initially.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)- I watched this with my family and we all enjoyed the characters immensely. One thing I will say for older films is that they were better at being all things to all audiences than today with all of its genres and subgenres. Drums manages to be action, historical fiction, comedy, drama, and romance all rolled into one. It's unfortunate that the Indians were relegated to their typical pre-civil-rights roles of aggressors or comic relief. More than the story, though, the characters win the day here: Christian Reall and widow McKlennar, among others.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)- It does its own thing while furthering the mythology of the first. This is no Blair Witch 2. It's smart and scary and creative with its self-imposed limits. I may even like it better than the first.

Puppet Master 1 (1989), 2 (1991), and 3 (1991)- I watched all three of these in succession one morning before work. It was intriguing to see how each film almost tried to reinvent the franchise, something that (if what I've read about the other films is accurate) each successive film tried to do as well. IThe puppets are bad, then they're good, then they're bad... Maybe the point is that it's the people behind the puppets who are truly responsible for the evil that goes on. But that's probably giving the films too much credit. t's hard to put together any kind of timeline or mythology because of all the retconning going on. That said, while the first and second languish somewhat under the burden of the horror status quo of the day, part three (Toulon's Revenge) stands as a decent film in its own right. The entire film takes place in WW2 Germany, and the puppets are a part of a lowly puppeteer's effort to exact revenge on the Nazis who killed his wife. It's more than just "good for a horror film."

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)- Well, I saw the first two, so... It's what you'd expect from a big budget Disney sequel. Disney has a hard time making a downright bad film, but there's a lot of Hollywood gloss here. My favorite scene by far is the sequence where Sparrow is all alone in limbo and the crabs carry the ship. It was a refreshing and unique intermission in an otherwise overstimulating film.

Oldboy (2003)- You know, this film blew me away right when I saw it, and I still think it's pretty spectacular. The famous scene in the hallway, where the protagonist fights like twenty guys with a knife stuck in his chest, is one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen. But the more time that goes by, the more I'm unconvinced that the antagonist could actually have realistically accomplished what he did (in terms of brainwashing) to the principal characters. Again, the narrative technique was nearly flawless. I was pulled along helplessly and completely from beginning to end. And Park's other two films in the "vengeance series" are high on list. It's a shame that sometimes one element of a film can diminish so much of the rest of it (I have completely changed my opinion of a film because of a bad ending), but sometimes it happens. I imagine, though, that a second viewing of OldBoy might balance things out a bit more.

Well, I have to go to work and I'm only a third of the way through. Once again, stay tuned!

Another Chair

Welcome, Ben! It's nice to see that I'm no longer in the minority when it comes to old films. I do try to go back and watch this one and that one, but I have to confess to being attracted more to the bright colors and code-less storytelling of contemporary film. That is in no way a criticism, Brandon and John, it's just an honest admission.
John, you suck. Leave my Facebook friends (all 500 of them) alone! I came your way by starting this blog; I dare you to comment on one of my Flixster reviews. Or could you not debase yourself so?

I'm gonna have to start taking notes if you guys keep up this posting pace! I always have a ton of thoughts while I'm reading and then forget them all when I start writing. So I'll just stick with the stuff that's foremost in my mind.

Tree of Life: I'm missing something here. You guys are all excited about it. What's the deal?

True Grit: Check out this blog post by Adrienne--
with all our talk about westerns, you'd get a kick out her perspective. If you do read it, leave her a comment and tell her I sent you. She'd get a kick out of that.

Netflix Instant Watch: It's funny how we all have this. I've only recently started subscribing, and I never would have known anyone else had it except for when John mentioned it. It's kind of like how until you've tried pot, you don't know anyone who smokes. But after just the first time, all of a sudden they come out of the woodwork. Like, um, people who have Netflix. I noticed that a few of Truffaut's films are on Instant Watch. I'm hoping to watch them as soon as I stop getting distracted by Drawn Together.

Aronofsky: I would call myself a fan, but I do see Brandon's points. Visually, his work is very compelling and beautiful. But there is a certain degree of detachment evident in his work. Even the Wrestler, perhaps his most accessible and straightforward film, has a main character who is detached from reality. I find myself always getting excited about his stuff and liking his films, but not recalling them much afterwards. The Wrestler was a bit of an exception, but it too faded after awhile. His films still typically make it onto my wanna-see list based on his involvement alone. Pi is still brilliant and might be his best work, as far as the whole package goes.

John, I'd forgotten about the music videos in Beavis and Butthead. Like I said, I'd only seen a few episodes, and because in those days I was only listening to Christian music, I didn't have a frame of reference for the bands. You're right, it's a big loss. They're still funny without it, but it's too bad they had to cut the videos. Watch the episode where Beavis and Butthead make an animated short (it's in season 2, one of the first three Netflix episodes).

Will I finally catch you all up on my movie watching? Or will I get up from my bed and get a bowl of ice cream? Or both? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Netflix on My Mind

I started a different post a little while ago, but I'm way behind, so catching up seems more and more daunting the longer I let it go. Not because I haven't been watching movies, but because I've been watching them instead of writing about them. I'm glad that you found Holy Rollers, John, because now this post can be a little shorter.

I know you hate Facebook, John, but it's a easy way to share what I've been watching with a much wider audience than I'd get by just posting on the blog. I want to be able to do both, but Flixster is fast and easy, and I can always come back to it to mine and expand upon my reviews for the blog.

I've been kind of addicted to Netflix lately. After seeing it in action on my friend's iPad, and seeing the amazing selection (yes, it's more recent films, but there are a TON of foreign and special interest films and TV shows), I decided it was well worth $8 a month. I'm definitely getting my money's worth out of the free first month! My biggest problem is that I'm watching stuff I've discovered on Netflix and still putting off the films from the library that will need to be returned soon. I've told myself that I won't sign up for the DVD option until I've caught up with what I own and what I've got from the library. At this rate, that's going to take a while. But it has cured me of impulse buying $5 DVDs at WalMart, so that's something anyway.

One thing Netflix has opened up for me is its wonderfully wide variety of TV shows- there's really a lot of good stuff there, John, and not just South Park and The Office. Since I can't review TV on Flixster, I'll give a brief rundown of the shows I've dabbled in:

Beavis and Butthead- I didn't see enough of these as a teenager. It's nice to know I can finally catch up with my generation. I love Mike Judge's work, pretty much across the board.

The League of Gentlemen- only watched one episode and was intrigued. British TV comedy is so superior in many ways. They're always pushing the boundaries, and this show is no exception.

Man v. Food- I've watched two episodes and was thoroughly entertained. I don't think it could sustain me over the course of three seasons, but it's nice to be able to pick and choose the cities that are interesting to me. Syracuse is in there. He eats at Dinosaur Barbecue, of course.

Bunny Shorts- If you haven't seen these, you'd get a kick out of them. They're 30-second humorous recaps of about a hundred popular films from the last thirty years. All starring bunnies.

Whale Wars- I watched the first episode with Ethan. There are a lot of shows like this that are educational and family-friendly. Also a decent selection of National Geographic documentaies.

Man vs. Wild: Alaskan Mountain Range- see above

Little Britain, series 1- My whole family has been watching and loving this. It's a sketch show, but with recurring characters. It doesn't always work, but has been good for lots and lots of laughs. We've had to skip over certain skits that push the boundary a bit too much for my son, but for the most part it's been good family entertainment. Watch for the Scottish hotel owner with the flute. We're almost done with the first series, and there's a second, too.

Blue Mountain State- I don't know how I got hooked on this show about a division 1 college football team, because it's offensive to me on several levels- it pretty much rides the stereotype of the college jock and his sex, drug, and alcohol-fueled excesses to a ridiculous extreme. But it's mindless entertainment and the humor is solid. It's all very tongue-in-cheek, and the writing has gotten better over the course of the show. The second season has been probably twice as good as the first. Guilty pleasure for sure.

Drawn Together- I watched the first episode of this Big Brother inspired reality show involving cartoon characters. It's all right, and the episodes are short. It will probably prove to be another Blue Mountain State type distraction.

30 Days- This is one of the kinds of shows that really makes Instant Watch worth what I'm paying (or will be paying- I've still got about 20 days left of my free month). Morgan Spurlock of Super-Size Me fame hosts this show about people on different sides of a number of controversial issues spending 30 days with the other side. It's really an incredible show, and I've been impressed that even the staunchest advocates of a position can move toward the other side if they have even the slightest openness towards it. It's something that I can watch with my family, it's education, socially relevant and very aware, and entertaining. So far we've watched the episodes on illegal immigration and eco-consciousness. I highly recommend it.

Life After People- After reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, I got really excited when I saw this Discovery channel show advertised. It's a little unfocused and a little melodramatic, but I love the subject matter, which involves exploring what would happen to the world over time if humanity instantly disappeared. I watched the first episode and will definitely be finishing the season.

I'll get to my movies eventually. Or you could check out my reviews on Facebook ;).