Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some Movies I liked from 2005-2009

Not too long ago, a friend of mine was asking for movie recommendations because she hadn't watched anything in the last five years being busy with raising her family. So I wrote this for her.


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Sort of a comedy film noir with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. People like to trace RDJ’s comeback to Iron Man, but it was this movie that first got me to reconsider him.

Documentary about paraplegics who play a version of rugby.

Paradise Now
Two Palestinians are chosen to be suicide bombers. I didn’t think I was going to like this movie because I'm not very politically interested in the issues at hand. However I was won over by the daily details of the human story.

Man Push Cart
A heartrending story of a guy who owns one of those hot dog type places just trying to make good in difficult circumstances.

The Cave of the Yellow Dog
Very similar to The Story of the Weeping Camel by the same director. A quotidian look at Mongolian life with the barest pretenses of a plot.

Tiger and the Snow
I love Roberto Benigni. I’m not just saying that for no reason. He directed and acted in this movie. It is an homage to the power of love and poetry and Tom Waits in a cruel and war-torn world.


Little Miss Sunshine
I think I loved this movie because it stars such a panoply of failures. “Divorce? Bankrupt? Suicide? You’re fucking losers!” as Paul Dano’s character succinctly puts it. And despite that, it is funny and charming and a total sleeper hit.

The Fall
I think Dayna Papaleo [movie critic] described this movie as being a cross between Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride. She probably said other things about it but the basic idea of storytelling and mythical surrealities are what drive this movie.

This is pretty much the only Pedro Almodovar movie I can stand. And I’m not even sure why. Penelope Cruz was excellent.

If you’re not on drugs when watching this movie, you won’t need to be. A cornucopia of color and surrealism meant to tap into the subconscious language of dreams. Don't worry about plot. Just sit back and let your mind bake.

The Bridge
Documentary footage of people actually committing suicide off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. At first blush it sounds unethical. And probably at twenty-fifth blush it still seems like a bad idea to make and release such a movie. And yet here I am recommending it.


No Country for Old Men
I wasn’t going to see this movie but a friend of mine, David Langley, called me a bad name and told me to just do it. Ok, David, you were right.

Blades of Glory
After watching NCforOM, you may need to lighten up a bit and why not go for a Napoleon Dynamite (whatever his real name is) and Will Ferrell tag team comedy about a male-on-male figure-skating duo?

Eagle vs. Shark
Speaking of Napoleon Dynamite, here’s another movie along the same lines. Starring Flight of the Conchord’s Jemaine Clement, this dead-pan comedy is definitely quirky.

Darjeeling Limited
Underappreciated Wes Anderson flick. I saw it nine times in the theater. Maybe that’s what’s required to start picking up on how cool it is, but I don't think so.

Lars and the Real Girl
Mislabeled as a comedy, on paper it sounds funny. Shy guy orders sex doll and passes it off as a real woman. But this isn’t a funny movie. It is good though.

Further plunging down the depressive hole is this not exactly bio-pic of Joy Division. Not only is it interesting for “factual” info regarding a cool band, but it’s a decent movie film-wise.

King of Kong
Ok, let’s have a little levity again. This documentary follows players of that classic arcade game, King Kong, trying to establish a new record high score. It is both pathetic and fascinating.

The Dark Knight
To all those fools who said that Heath Ledger only got an Oscar because he died, I pose the following question: where was Bernie Mac’s Oscar for Soul Men? There are some things about Dark Knight that make it less than perfect but Heath’s performance more than makes up for them.

Let the Right One in
Going up directly against Twilight, this vampire movie has (at least) one thing Twilight doesn’t: it’s Swedish!

Sunshine Cleaning
I really liked this movie but I can't quite specify what I liked about it. It had a sort of Little Miss Sunshine feeling (same producer, same Alan Arkin) but different.

Synecdoche NY
Phillip Seymour Hoffman had a nice little run and this movie may have killed it. This was Charlie Kauffman's (writer of Being John Malkovitch, Adaptation) directorial debut and you can tell he really wanted to make a splash without diverging from his typical themes of existentialism and navel-gazing.

I've never found Bill Maher to be funny. More annoying. However in this documentary, I think he’s really trying to reign it in just a tad (not always successfully). He takes a look at the big three religions (Xianity, Jewdiocity and Muslimism). It’s both insightful and funny.

Here’ an underrated movie that slipped under the radar. Filmed in low-budget Blair Witch style, this meta movie documents the filming of a low-budget Blair Witch style horror movie. There’s a lot of sitting around and talking but it also has a pretty cool denouement.


The Informant
I read one review calling this movie a fat Bourne Identity. Be that as it may, Matt Damon has some really great lines in this corporate espionage (maybe a bit misleading) I-wouldn’t-call-it-a-thriller.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson breaks the mold by not only making an adaptation (of a Roald Dahl book) but also by using stop animation instead of live actors. Despite these breaks from tradition, Anderson manages to completely own this movie. It is simultaneously nothing like and exactly the same as everything else he has made.

Paper Heart
Quirky faux documentary about an awkward girl searching for love in all the wrong places (not really). I heart Michael Cera.

District 9
Sort of a surprise for me because I was expecting a Hollywood effect-a-thon (which it was), but it also managed to be The-Office-like funny. And on top of that there was a kind of post-colonial social commentary.

Star Trek
Somehow managed to both heavily reference the original Star Trek oeuvre without clinging to its coattails. I have to admit, I had long, nerdy talks abut the ramifications of its plot points.

What better person to round out this year’s deluge of awesome science fiction than the Star Man David Bowie’s son? This debut has conscious nods to such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. But, once again, paying tribute without being completely unoriginal.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Fielding Melish falls for a female activist and in order to win her love goes over to San Marcos where he gets involved with the revolution going on there.

If this sounds like a turn to the serious for Allen, just know that the movie starts out with Howard Cosell giving a play-by-play narration of the assassination of a South American dictator.

Like in Take the Money and Run, Allen pits the serious against the funny. Unfortunately, I feel that the serious aspects are overshadowing. They don't work as harmoniously with the jokes as his first movie. Most of the funniest scenes have nothing to do with the plot. Like his dream of being carried on a crucifix by monks who get into a skirmish with similarly crucifix-carrying monks trying to parallel park.

There are a few little homages to various other movies like Modern Times and The Battleship Potemkin. But otherwise, not an entirely intersting movie. I might give it three stars.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Take the Money and Run

The first movie I watched was Take the Money and Run. I chose not to watch What's Up Tiger Lily? because, although it was Allen's directorial debut, it is not a traditional film. He is not in it. He bought the rights to another movie and overdubbed it with his own script. It is really funny though and I would recommend it. The real reason I didn't watch it was because it wasn't at the library and every time I went to the rental store it was checked out already.

Take the Money and Run is Woody Allen's first real movie. It brings into contrast the hard-boiled crime drama like Dragnet and Allen's portrayal of bumbling ineptitude. This probably isn't the first instance of such a pairing, and it definitely isn't the last.

He makes use of stock footage and interviews to build up the reality of the straight lines and then introduces zany takes off of them. There is this one scene that could be straight out of Cool Hand Luke with a chain gang that runs away. You see them being chased by bloodhounds and then in the next frame five out of six of the gang members are riding bicycles, with Woody running in between them holding his chains up.

If I were to attempt to isolate a theme or message, it might have something to do with religion and sex. But that might be with the foreknowledge of his later work. He does couple the idea of God and being beaten a few times. Also he has his first idyllic woman who will rescue him. Allen doesn't believe in spiritual salvation, only temporary physical salvation in the arms of a beautiful woman.

And, of course, this movie is the birth of his nebbish character. "Unable to fit in with any aspect of his environment," the narrator describes Allen's character, Virgil Starkwell. He is a victim much more than a criminal.

On the whole, I feel that this is one of Allen's forgotten films. Out of five stars, I give it three and a half.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Woody Allen Project

After watching Woody Allen's latest movie, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, I decided I wanted to watch all of the movies he directed in chronological order. There's like 46 of them and I've already seen them all. I'm hoping to sort of plot out his themes and style. I want to find out why I keep watching his movies despite the fact that they've been accused of being formulaic and repetitious. I also want to point out which ones I think are worth viewing and which ones can be skipped. Maybe there will be other lessons learned along the way.
For those of you watching at home, here is the list in reverse chronological order:

2011 Midnight in Paris
2010 You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
2009 Whatever Works
2008 Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2007 Cassandra's Dream
2006 Scoop
2005 Match Point
2004 Melinda and Melinda
2003 Anything Else
2002 Hollywood Ending
2001 The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
2000 Small Time Crooks
1999 Sweet and Lowdown
1998 Celebrity
1997 Deconstructing Harry
1996 Everyone Says I Love You
1995 Mighty Aphrodite
1994 Don't Drink the Water (TV movie)
1994 Bullets Over Broadway
1993 Manhattan Murder Mystery
1992 Husbands and Wives
1991 Shadows and Fog
1990 Alice
1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors
1989 New York Stories (segment "Oedipus Wrecks")
1988 Another Woman
1987 September
1987 Radio Days
1986 Hannah and Her Sisters
1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo
1984 Broadway Danny Rose
1983 Zelig
1982 A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
1980 Stardust Memories
1979 Manhattan
1978 Interiors
1977 Annie Hall
1975 Love and Death
1973 Sleeper
1972 Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask
1971 Bananas
1969 Take the Money and Run
1966 What's Up, Tiger Lily?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dark Entrails

This weekend I was camping in a cabin in the Poconos. While I was there I found a book in one of the closets. It was an unsettling book called Dark Entrails. I think it might have been by D. F. Lewis, but I'm not sure.
It starts out on a rainy night with a girl giving birth in her basement. She is ten years old. The rain seeps through the walls and floods the basement, carrying the baby away. The baby is just a conglomeration of bones and skin. It is more of a flesh boat than a human.

There isn't so much of a plot as a series of snapshots like a jaded news reporter taking photographs in the wake of some hideous and inconceivable crime.

The girl crawls through a sewer pipe dragging her teddy bear that she talks to. The bear has a soul and a broken leg. Meanwhile, her parents ravage the girl's bedroom, tearing the wallpaper off the walls, pulling out drawers from her bureau, taking the clothes off of dolls. They put their hands inside of her shoes.

A car drives on the highway, slickened with rain. Medical operations are performed amateurishly in back alleys. Teeth are found where they have no right being. Darkness chafes, scraping off skin. Fires rage, the sky breaks, packs of dogs roam inside hotel buildings, a woman wakes up to find her arm replaced by chicken wire. On and on like drunk nightmares with the thread of the dead floating baby stitching rotten meat onto flayed skin.

It is horrible and beautiful. It is brutal. It is unreal and yet true.

The thing about it is, I don't know how it ends. I had every intention on taking the book with me when I hiked out on Sunday morning. But when I unloaded my pack at home, I discovered I had forgotten it. And now when I Google the title or D. F. Lewis, I can't seem to find it. It's one of those bizarre mysteries.