Monday, March 27, 2006

Miami Vice

In 1984 a TV series started that changed my life. Looking back I find it odd that at 8 years old I was so captivated by Miami Vice. Most of the 8 year olds I know now days don't watch too many Cop dramas. But, that was back in the 80's and things were very different then, and I wasn't the only 8 year old that watched the show. Most of my friends also found Miami Vice to be a very compelling, hip, and sexy television series. After watching Miami Vice, I wanted to become a narcotics cop, I wanted to live in Miami, and I wanted to drive a testarosa. But the greatest influence the show had for me was the fashion design. This represents the first memorable moment in my life where I was mentally trying to accomplish a certain style. So when my parents took me to Payless to get some shoes, I picked out "Sonny Crocket" shoes. Since then my fashion ideals have changed but I attribute Miami Vice with the beginning of my interest in style. All these years later I still look back at Miami Vice with a certain amount of fondness but I have been afraid to re-watch the show and ruin that memory. Many things from the 80's have not withstood the sands of time (like Vacation, and Weird Science) and I was afraid Miami Vice might be one of these. Well, last week I got Season 1 on DVD. And after watching the pilot I can say that Miami Vice is still good. Certainly some things are very dated and the direction seems a little primitive but I still found the show compelling, hip and sexy. One difference I noticed was that I now found Tubbs to be the cooler character whereas in the old days Sonny was about the coolest thing I had ever seen. (I find this happens to a lot of my 80's hero's, like Tom Cruise in Top Gun is kind of a jerk whereas Val Kilmer is actually kind of cool.) Another interesting thing is to see the styles of Miami Vice coming back into fashion. Also, for fans of Michael Mann, there are a number of actors showing up throughout the show that tend to be in many of his more recent pictures. All in all, I am happy and excited to report that Miami Vice is still cool and I am quivering with anticipation for this summers release of Miami Vice the movie.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Word Verification

No "Word Verification" is not a new thriller starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche. It is however, a feature that you'll see when you comment on each other's posts. Basically, you'll have to type in a code that it gives you so that we can be sure that you're a real person and not a robot trying to advertise on the blog.

We had our first attack from an advertising robot but I deleted his comment and enabled the word verification function. So that's that.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Captains Courageous

Since I started collecting DVDs 5 or 6 years ago I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Captains Courageous. At long last it was released on DVD at the end of January. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to get it. Ironically, after waiting so long to get it, it was not until last night that I finally watched the movie. It never fails to bring a tear to my eyes. Captains Courageous is a story based on Kipling's book and represents one of the few instances where the movie is better than the book. Made in 1937, in the wake of Mutiny on the Bounty (which was not very good), Captains Courageous gives us a good look at how story telling, character development, and fine acting are more important to keeping the interest of the audience than special effects (which were not bad). The film skillfully uses lighting to set the mood of the scenes and the camera movements gives us a realistic feel of life at sea. Spencer Tracy, playing a Portuguese fisherman, delivers his best performance ever for which he won an academy award. Feddie Bartholomew, playing the lead, takes us on an adventure that is sometime fun and sometimes heartbreaking. Captains Courageous has just the right balance of humor and seriousness unlike many pictures of the period. In addition to being nominated for best actor, the movie was nominated for best picture, best screenplay, and best editing. A truly remarkable movie that is without a doubt one of my favorite movies of all time.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Night of the Hunter

I'm just recommending this movie if you havn't seen it. I recently revisited it and found it to be very current stylistically. The themes hold up very well and its an easy watch if you're getting bogged down in challenging films. If you havn't seen it, enjoy it now while in it's purity before it gets remade. You can easily see it's influences on modern thirllers. Here is a quick synopsis.
Ben Harper has committed murder for $10,000. He hides the money and makes daughter Pearl and son John promise not to tell anyone where it is hidden, not even their mother Willa. In prison and awaiting hanging, Ben meets his cellmate, the Preacher, who tries unsuccessfully to get Ben to reveal where he stashed the money. When Preacher is released from prison he heads for the Harper home, intent on finding the money. Preacher charms Willa and wins her hand in marriage, only to kill her when she learns what he is really like. With only Pearl and John separating him from a small fortune, the Preacher unleashes the full force of his true, evil self.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Roger Ebert's Great Movies

Roger Ebert has a list of great movies. It is my goal to see all 250 of them. He adds a new one every other week. The last couple of weeks I've tried to watch a bunch so here are some review minis.

Top Hat: I understand why people choose the 70s as their favorite decade for film. But no decade without Fred Astaire in his prime could be my favorite. So sorry seventies. You will always take a back seat. Nobody can touch Fred Astaire except for maybe Jackie Chan in Police Story 4 aka First Strike. This isn't one of his best like Swing Time, but it's certainly not one of his worst. It's enjoyable fluff. If you've never seen a Fred Astaire movie rent Swing Time, or The Band Wagon, or Three Little Words, which although not his best has my favorite dance number.

In Cold Blood: One of the coldest, most brutal movies I've ever seen. I read that it was filmed in the house that the murders actually happened in. Creepy.

Yojimbo: My favorite Kurosawa film so far. Pretty funny and exciting. There was one point where the samuri tells someone to go tell the boss that six of his bodyguards have died. As a viewer I was like, what? I wonder who did that? Then you see the Samuri walk up to the six bodyguards who are very much alive and start to slaughter them. Good stuff.

The Last Laugh: Silent German Murnau film. I didn't think I'd like this at all. Maybe I was sucked in because I was listening to Belle and Sebastion instead of the background music. This movie is famous because it only had one title card. It's about a man who loves being a door man in a posh hotel. One day he's demoted to bathroom attendant and it really screws with the guy. There's a moment that should have been funny but turned out touching and I have no idea why. The man's wife has no idea he's a washroom attendant and one day she surprised him with a sack lunch. When she sees him, he gasps and she gasps and she runs all the way home, with her arms stretched out like the mummy. Weird when you think about it. Really surreal.

Monday, March 13, 2006


My screenwriting teacher would never let us talk about films that were less than five years old. The relevance of a film is not evident until it has aged enough to escape the mileau under which it was released. We all have certain films that we loved as kids but in review don't seem to hold up well. It's not the film that has changed but the wave it rode in on. Last night I watched Terrence Malick's Badlands. This is a film that holds up extremely well. It is very contemporary in style and tone. I'll let you decide what modern films it reminds you of. Sofia Coppola stated that while writing Lost in Translation, she was focused less on plot and more on creating moments that add up to a feeling. This seems to be Malick's approach as well. The dialog is revelatory but not to plot and not really to character. It seems to be indirectly in the service of tone and mood. The dialogue is also very risky because it is very deadpan and dumbed down. Martin Sheen's character is fascinating because he seems unmotivated by anything. Watching it last night I realized that his actions were totally unpredictable to me because they were unpredictable to him. There is a point near the end however when he seems to have an epiphony about his purpose. This becomes one of my favorite scenes in all of film and in a strange way, satisfying.

One side note: if you watch the scene at the end where he is riding with the cops, you realize that David Fincher stole more than the blocking for this scene for use in Seven. I wouldn't be surprised if Andrew Kevin Walker didn't have it in mind while writing it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Chronic-what-cles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia took me to a dreamworld of magic, and I must admit that one vehicle that helped take me there was Tumnus's nappy body hair. Allow me to explain. I love the C.S. Lewis books, and was a bit worried that the movie wouldn't be sayisfying (as I felt with all Harry Potter movies). However, Narnia felt real, and the movie made me want to pack my family and move there almost as much as the book did. I loved the landscapes, the beavers were amazing, and Tumnus's body hair made everything more believable. I'm glad they didn't try to make him stately or beautiful, and I loved him for the same reason Lucy did--not for his pasty skin, but for being the first friend in Narnia and for making it all believable.

Aslan was great, the queen was evil and scary, and the adaptation was tastefully cinematic. I don't totally remember if Peter's acting bugged me, but maybe it did. But let's be nice--they're just kids. Overall a delightful movie that I would love to see again (and take my kids to if they were old enough).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.
---- Oscar Wilde

I know some people loved Crash. Maybe some people on this list. And I would agree that certain scenes were great. I loved Matt Dillon' s part. But I couldn't get over the scene where the Mexican dad gives his daughter, who's scared of gangs, a fairy designed bullet proof cloak.

As an audience, we know that she's going to get shot, so I don't think it works dramatically. But what kind of a dad would give his daughter that? My son is afraid of cars but I'm not about to give him an invisible car proof cloak. That would be just asking for him to play in the street.

Also I had a hard time believing in a world where every conflict takes twenty seconds before ethnic slurs are flying. Maybe it's like that in Los Angeles, but I doubt it.

This was my least favorite of the five films up for an academy award.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Last Days

Gus Van Sant's pseudo-biography of Kurt Cobain's last days (hence the title). I loved watching this movie. Van Sant is an interesting director in that he's become more abstract and elusive as his career has grown. (By that I guess I mean his latest movies seem to be less "commercial" than finding forrester and good will hunting-and i like both of those).

"Last Days" marks the third in a kind of trilogy for Van Sant. The three stories aren't related other than the fact that they're all depictions of real events but interpreted and fictionalized by Van Sant.
Last Days has a beautiful haunting quality to it that made the film totally compelling despite it's slow pace and mundane happenings . If you can get past the first twenty minutes of following "Blake" (Van Sant's Cobain) around the pine forests and streams around his home then the film becomes very watchable and interesting. There are some moments of genuine comedy as well when first a Yellow Pages salesman comes to the door and then later a couple of mormon missionaries.

I liked this film for it's ambitious use of sound and images. There's one particular scene where we see and hear a conversation from a moving car. The camera is mounted on the hood and we're looking into the car through the windshield as the passenger (Ricky Jay) tells a story about a magician to the driver (Blake's friend). The scene is beautiful as the inverted reflection of the sky and trees wash repeatedly over the windshield of the moving car during the rather casual conversation.

It's one of several moments in the film in which Van Sant masterfully stretches the medium to create a mood or effect that feels uniquely correct. There are times when his experimenting doesn't work as well but his effort feels genuine and not indulgent so I don't mind.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Pride and Prejudice

It seems like this is a movie that's always being remade/re-adapted. I confess ignorance as to the other cinematic versions or the original story and that might have possibly made this dollar theater experience a little better for me, since I was not comparing it to other version or the original story elements. Though some dialogue felt obviously over-literary, in which case I assumed it to be lines from the original piece. The actors did a wonderful job of not over-emphasizing such lines, like when Kiera Knightly off-handily remarks to her sister, "I could almost forgive him his vanity had he not wounded mine." There were many such instances that could have been turned into a overly dramatic, self important moment but were not. Indeed the film is a great deal subtler than I had expected. The really emphasized drama snuck up out of nowhere and caught me by surprise. Maybe that's what happens with such a famous story when it's remade so much, the director has to find new approaches for those emotional climaxes.
In any case, it work really well and never felt the least bit cheesy to me. This is a classic love story and I can see why. Kiera Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen couldn't have been better leads. Despite the fact that this is such a girly story, I would probably even watch it again. Matthew Macfadyen is also worth checking out in my favorite New Zealand film, In My Father's Den, which alas, has not received distribution in America.

Running Scared

I want to take this time to mention that I've always thought Paul Walker was a good actor. Unfortunately, I have no corroboration because I've always been to embarrassed to admit it. Now I'm kicking myself because he's really, really good in the movie and I'd like to rub everybody's nose in that fact.

That being said, the movie has two amazing scenes. A lot of pretty good scenes and a whole lot of annoying Avid farts. (The internet critic Vern made up that term to describe when a movie suddenly wooshes or has choppy editing for no reason.) I would have enjoyed this movie a lot more if it didn't have such nutty editing. I don't want to give the great scenes away, but they are so creepy and come out of left field.

Also Paul Walker is Mormon, so support LDS cinema by seeing it.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Shoot The Piano Player

Truffaut's second film. I loved it. Paul Thomas Anderson lists this film as one of his influences and you can see it in the first scene - a great chase scene which he undoubtedly drew from for Punch Drunk Love. The story follows the timid and talanted piano player Charlie who has a mysterious background and a fear of becoming close to women. There's some great dialogue in this film and just an overall energy that makes the film a joy to watch. I felt the same way watching Truffaut's first film - 400 Blows. Both films seem infused with a great freedom and natural quality that pervades from the direction to the acting to the free roaming cinematography. Truffaut seems to be a director who is much more concerned with the overall feel and mood and energy of his films than a preciseness of edits and a slickness and precision of shots. That energy spills out of the screen and makes me excited about making movies.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Is there a better face in movies than Klaus Kinski? Perhaps one could argue Danny Trejo or Buster Keaton or Olivia de Haviland, but I think they'd lose the argument. Klaus Kinski looks otherworldly. Like the disguise an alien would make to look human. Sort of like a cross between an angel and the Incredible Mr. Limpet.

This is a real good movie about a man who wants to pull a steamship over a mountain. It would still be good even if Werner Herzog had used special effects. But he didn't. In order to film it he pulled the steamship over the mountain which gave it an edge of danger and excitement. Watching this, I felt the same way I did when I saw my first Jackie Chan movie: First Strike with Jackie Chan.

If you haven't seen Aguirre: The Wrath of God, I'd watch that one first, but if you have, give this one a shot. 4 out of 4 stars.

Anime. Love it, Hate it... Here's my recommends

Just a note: I like to watch almost all anime with the original Japanese diloague and english subtitles, mostly because the 90 percent of english dubbs done have poor voice acting. The thing I find especially ludicrous is how we like to cast adults for children parts, even when they sound nothing like children. Moving on now...
When I was a kid it was first Robotech that interested me in Japanese animation. What a cool cartoon. I mean, there was G.I. Joe with their utterly cliche dialogue and character plateaus, which reset at every episode, and the envitable parachute for every plane that got shot down... and then I discovered Robotech where people died when they got shot down. The character's evolved and the plot was ongoing and changing throughout the series. I'd never seen any cartoon like it and it blew me away. Now there are so many Anime's that have crossed the seas to America. I have a hard time sorting out which ones are one's that I might like since they're are so many silly kid adolescent series. Of course Miyazaki's work is kind of universal and enjoyable for kids and adults. Most americans have had a taste of his films now: Princess Monoke, Kiki the delivery girl, Spirited away, Howl's moving castle, etc.. My two favorite films by him are:

NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind
A story about a teenage girl who lives in a small village bordering the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world in which giants bugs have taken over and the plants emit poisonous gas instead of oxygen.

Laputa, Castle in the Sky
A boy and a girl discover the secret to finding a giant flying land.
These are both early works of Miyazaki and if I'm not mistaken, Nausicaa pretty much launched his career.

Moving on...
My other anime suggestions are as follows:

Kino's Travels - (also called Kino's Journey) - This is a series in which A gunslinging girl disguised as a boy who rides a talking motorcycle from village to village. Each village has their own unique quality, problem that gives Kino the chance to ponder some observation of human nature. This series is unbelievably cool and incredibly well written.

Cowboy Bebop - Sci Fi series about a group of dysfunctional bounty hunters traveling the galaxy, trying, almost always unsuccessfully to score one bounty or another. As the series continues, glimpses of each character's backgrounds are revealed. The series has a cool distinct style to it and to be honest I didn't really get into it until about the third episode. It has some weird but unique humor elements. The thing I like best about series like these is the Japanese are not afraid to end them. So instead of getting dragged on, repeating itself over and over, the series definitely comes to a climax and end. i think their is 26 episodes total.

Voices of a Distant Star - Short Movie. the unique thing about this that sets it apart is that it was created by one guy. I don't know how long it took him but I think it took a while. On the DVD there's an interview with him in which he talks about working at some company, doing stuff for others and then realizing, hey, I could do something like this myself for my own purposes.
The movie is a poetic story of two people that love each other that are separated "time and space" without hope of ever reuniting. I found it touching and more artistic in content than any other anime I've ever seen. Also on the DVD is another short film called "She and her Cat", which is really superb and poetic as well.

The Last Exile - Series. This is one of my favourite(<-trying to train myself to spell things NZ'ish) series and It's totally gripping. A young boy and girl in a lo-fi sci-fi world who fly a plane around as a message delivery service in the middle of a war. Inevitably, they get caught up in the war and eventually discover their connection to all the catastrophic events has them close at it's center. two seasons, 26 episodes or there abouts.

Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Series. In Future Tokyo the city is plagued by attacks from giant creature robots called Angels. The military has acquired 3 angel units of their own but the only ones that seem to be capable of of piloting them are a handful of some young teenagers. This series is pretty sci-fi and reminds in some aspects of godzilla with these giant creatures crushing the city. As the series reaches it's close, it turns more and more away from the robtic/creature fight scenes and into the inner-pysche of the lead character, Shinji. The last episode is totally bizarre and leaves the plot action events totally unresolved, although Shinji does seem to find himself. Reportedly, fans of the series were so upset and taken aback by the ending that the director even received death threats. Angered by the pressure from of studio and audience pressure to make a proper ending, The director responded by making a Movie called "The End of Evangelion", which left everyone totally baffled and speechless. I really liked it of course. It felt like the director was saying 'fine, you want an ending. I'll give you one, but it'll be more of ending than you can handle". I recommend watching the movie after the series.

Grave of the Fireflies - Movie. As a change of pace, this is a non-sc-fi WWII period film about a boy and his little sister, left to fend for themselves in the wake of and destruction of WWII bombings. It is a sad and touching work and I think it really shows how Animation is a story format that can compete with film without having to be centered on crazy robots or other sci-fi/fantasy elements.

Steamboy - Movie. I recently rented this one. Had been meaning to watch it for a while but put it off for some reason. This is one that's actually okay to watch with the english audio. The voice acting for the most part is terrific and since it takes place in England and the voice cast have true to life british accents, it seems to work.
The film was a solid piece. It follows a young boy caught in the quarrel between his father and his grandfather over the course of the future and science's purpose in it. It's sort of an alternative history thing that explores a scenario where steam-power becomes the dominant energy source on the planet.

Now and Then, Here and There - Series. This starts off kind of weird and you might think it's going to be one of those silly ones I mentioned earlier but it quickly changes pace over the next few episodes. A boy in his efforts to rescue a girl is dragged into a parallel world, where he's taken prisoner. It's a war torn world where water is the main commodity, treated like gold. This series is dark and depressing as it faces down the futility of war and violence. I liked it.

Serial Experiements: Lain - Series. i hesitate to recommend this series because it is totally bizarre with episodes in which nothing seems to happen. A young girl discovers the world inside of the internet(referred to as 'The Wired' in the movie), when a classmate that just committed suicide emails her. A series of suicides continue to take the place with their ghosts turning up on the 'The Wired' afterward. Lain goes from being barely able to turn on her computer to becoming a super-hacker in her efforts to get to the bottom of it. The series gets stranger and stranger with each episode. Although this series is probably not for everyone, the animation and style and excellent, and I found the unraveling of the central character to be really intriguing. But still, I'm only including this one as a watch at your own risk. :)

Well, that's about it. Forgive me for not providing links but google and amazon are there for you. Please add any excellent anime's in the comments area if you feel inclined.

Terry Gilliam's return to form?

I just ran accross the website for TIDELAND and it looks really promising.

There's a trailer if you can figure out the navigation of the website, which is pretty cool in itself.

Last Tango in Paris

1. The Last Tango in Paris (1972)

I know that it's a classic and that Pauline Kael, whom I admire very much, said it was a breakthrough in cinema comparable to the night Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" ushered in modern music. And I know I'll expose myself as a philistine when I say that this movie left me cold.

Marlon Brando's character was grieving so I should probably cut him some slack, but I can't believe his brutal jerkiness all stemmed from his wife's suicide. I'm no psychologist, but grief doesn't make you suddenly use butter that way. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure Marlon Brando's character wasn't that great to his pre-suicide wife.

(I know that was the point and sure, it's admirable to have such an unsympathetic character, but I still found him, well, unsypathetic.)

But enough people love it so I can't dismiss it. Maybe later in life I'll give it a rave review. (Sort of like the second time I saw Zoolander I thought it was much funnier.)
If cinephiles didn't love it, I'd give it 2 out of 4 stars, but since I'm insecure: 4 out of 4.