Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Valkyrie at the Landmark Embassy Cinema

Valkyrie is the story of Col. Stauffenberg; injured in the war, Col Stauffenberg eventually recovers and leads a plot to assassinate Hitler. Stauffenberg is played by Tom Cruise and if you look up Stauffenberg's picture online there is an eerie resemblance. I always thought Tom Cruise looked like a Nazi. Typically, I try not to reveal too much of the plot in my reviews, but you already know the end to Valkyrie. Hitler lives and eventually dies at his own hands in a bunker. Throughout, Bryan Singer's movie there is a feeling of foreboding that hangs over the heads of the characters. The audience knows where this is all leading. Singer is able to build suspense anyway. During the failed bombing, the camera flashes back and forth between locations as the tensions build. The pace of the cuts quickens building the suspense. The movie is written by Christopher McQuarrie, the writer of the Usual Suspects. The script picks up right away and holds your interest up into the tragic ending. Valkyrie surpassed my expectations for it and I thought Singer's direction elevated it from typical historical drama into something special.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shoot the Piano Player at The Brattle

Alright a quick disclaimer before I go into reviewing Shoot the Piano Player. The movies subtitles were in white and since the movie was in black and white, I could only read about 60 percent of what was on the screen. So this might have effected my understanding or appreciation of the film more than I would know. Shoot the Piano Player is Truffaut's second film, shot right after his widely successful 400 Blows. Considered a disappointment at the time, but highly regarded now, Shoot the Piano Player is a weird little film that is parts comedy, part French new-wave and part film noir. The film follows Charlie Koller, a piano player whose brother is in trouble with thugs, as he gets entangled in his family's mess. The mise-en-scene is perfect as you would expect from Truffaut. But compared to some of his other classics, Shoot the Piano Player fell a little flat for me. Shoot the Piano Player lacks focus and personalty. At times it just seems like rather than allowing the story to flow, Truffaut takes it in unnatural directions. But overall this is still a nice send up to film noir, that shows Truffaut's strength as a director.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Twilight at the Chestnut Hills Cinema

In Twilight, a new girl in school Bella Swan falls for a dreamy vampire named Edward Cullen. Luckily for Bella, Edward isn't a real vampire. He's some sort of gay vampire. Rather than living on human blood, he hunts deer and other wild animals. Also unlike most vampires, he doesn't burn up in the sun. He sparkles like some well-lubed asshole. It's not that Twilight is a bad movie. I actually kind of liked it. I just don't think I'm in its target demographic. The movie is a sentimental little thing made for teenage girls who want to get lost in some sort of vamp romance. As far as teenage romances go, Twilight is relatively smart and well written. The characters are interesting and dynamic. Overall, Twilight doesn't really expand and invigorate the vamp genre, but it is a fun little flick that your girlfriend will dig.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Milk at the Coolidge Corner Theater

I don't like biopics. But I really liked Milk. Most biopics are pretty predictable, they routinely involve 1.) impressive acting performances with 2.) scripts that repeatedly try to show you the importance of their protagonist and 3.) typically have uninspired direction with little or no creativity. 1.) Milk features Sean Penn in an expected great performance. 2.) The script by Dustin Lance Bass continually reminds you of what Milk was able to accomplish in his time as city supervisor, which sometimes is boring. 3.) But, and this is a big but, Gus Van Sant directs the hell out of this picture distinguishing it from most of the biopics I've seen in the past. The pacing throughout the movie is perfect and the camera flows with ease from scene to scene. Van Sant perfectly blends news footage, old videos, and the actual movie, splicing it all together perfectly. I went with Carlson who also really enjoyed it, so I'm not completely crazy. Go see it!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire at The Coolidge Corner Theater

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamil, an impoverished boy from the Mumbai slums who grows up to be a contestant on India's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Each question on the show reveals a portion of his life from his brother to his lost love, Latika. A cinematic fairy tale, Slumdog Millionaire is unapologetically sentimental and romantic. Some have decried its portrayal of India stating that it is unfair and simplistic. However, I think Danny Boyle has created a very impressive pseudo-universe based around the slums and locals of India. If at times the movie seems unfair to India, I don't think that it was Boyle's intent to make a realistic picture of the country. Through his dramatic angles and grainy film, Danny Boyle is creating a Dickens-esque story of great expectations- a story about a boy with an unshakable faith desperate to be reunited with his lost love. Slumdog Millionaire is very hyped. But it's also very good.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The General at the Harvard Film Archive

Beautifully shot in black and white, The General is an impeccably directed film by John Boorman. More stripped down than most of his other movies, Boorman's pacing from scene to scene and the way in which he frames the action couldn't be any better. The General follows Martin Cahill (Brendan Gleeson) from local thug to criminal genius. Cahill has a great irish sense of humor when it comes to his misdemeanors. Beneath his frivolous exterior, Cahill is a complicated man. When the police retaliates and kills all of his pigeons, he tells his son to smile, to not show any weakness. For the most part, Cahill tries to present as a man with abundant strength. Hiding behind his hands or a big hood, Cahill can't bring himself to face his accusers. Boorman was in attendance for the screening. He was presented with a life time achievement award and took part in a question and answer. Typical of most Q&As, the questions were fairly asinine. For the most part, Boorman was pretty abrupt, answering questions with little interest. Overall though, the movie was great and it was exciting to get a glimpse at one of the most unique living filmmakers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Synecdoche, New York at the Kendall Square Cinema

Synecdoche, New York is a difficult film. Based on some of the reviews I've read prior to this screening, too difficult for some people to enjoy. I have a barometer for difficult films. I don't necessarily need to understand them. And I don't fully understand Synecdoche. But I do need to enjoy them. And I did enjoy Synecdoche. Although some of the images may be beyond my understanding, the general theme of the movie and the ideas that Charlie Kaufman toys with kept me interested and actively involved throughout. In Synecdoche, play director Phillip Seymour Hoffman thinks he is dying. His wife leaves him just before he receives a significant grant to create his masterpiece. He begins to create a play based on his world and the world of those around him. Reality and theater blend together and become confused. Typical of a Charlie Kaufman movie, the characters are presented as harsh and realistic, which contrasts with the more surreal scenes and imagery. In the first movie he has directed, Charlie Kaufman attempts to capture all that life encompasses from dating to death and he succeeds creating a film that has both a significant amount of depth and detail .

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Let The Right One In at the Kendall Square Cinema

Something I don't particularly like about myself is that if I see a movie with a group of people and they don't like it, I become unsure of my own opinion of it. I went to see "Let the Right One in" with Carlson and April and the minute it was over Carlson said, "thanks Kevin, that was terrible." April wasn't particularly into it either. Defending it outside the theater, I found myself saying that it was just alright and I felt like there was something missing. But the more time that has passed, the more I've found myself thinking back to it. It was pretty fucking cool actually. "Let the Right One in" tells the story of Oskar, a kid who gets picked on by bullies at school, and as a result spends his time dreaming of revenge. He meets his next door neighbor Eli and they become friends and then lovers (as much so as 12 year olds can be lovers). The one hitch is that Eli is a vampire. The movie expands and reinterprets vampire mythology and does so in a series of very creative kills. "Let the Right One in" isn't perfect. Thematically I'm unsure of what it adds up to, although I feel fairly certain it was trying to draw parallels between Oskar's violence and Eli's incredible thirst. But overall the movie was able to reinvent the vampire enough to impress me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Viaggio in Italia at the Harvard Film Archives

In Roberto Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia, Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders are a married couple traveling to Naples to dispose of a deceased uncle's villa. Their marriage isn't strong anymore. Stuck together in the villa, their vacation starts to unravel bringing to the surface the unpleasantness they feel for one another. Ingrid Bergman takes off on her own to explore Naples from its crypts to its volcanoes. George Sanders, on the other hand, begins to pursue other woman, flirting with them, but never taking it beyond that. Rossellini effectively documents the decline of their marriage, emphasizing every non-verbal and silent moment between the two of them. The camera is simple and unobtrusive. It's through this starkness that Rossellini captures the destructive boredom in their marriage. Every silence is heightened by the camera. Viaggio in Italia is a simple movie on the surface, but in actuality it contains significant depth and detail.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Fly at The Brattle

So I got to the Kendall tonight to find out that My Name is Bruce was sold out...for the entire night! I mean are you fucking kidding me? I love Bruce Campbell as much as anyone, but sold out three hours before the show? Trying to make the most of a spoiled night, I had my roommate drop me off at The Brattle to check out the original version of The Fly. The Fly is a B-movie or so The Brattle has it billed as such. It really isn't a B-movie. The acting is too good. The directing is solid. The movie takes itself entirely seriously and tries to create suspense throughout as to what happened Andre Delambra. The basic plot is similar to the remake; a man is working on a teleportation machine and he accidentally gets his molecules mixed up with a fly. Unlike Cronenberg's Fly which focuses on the transformation of Seth Brundle, this version focuses more on the mystery of what happened to Andre and the ramifications that his change has on his family. The ending is iconic. I won't spoil it. I had an idea of what it was going to be, but the way Kurt Neumann directs it supercedes any expectations that I may have had. It is both perverse and horrific. And I fucking loved it! I almost am glad I missed My Name is Bruce. The Fly is an excellent movie that I was completely immersed in because of surprising acting and directing.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Heroes for Sale and Son of Kong at the Brattle

I started off with Heroes for Sale, a pre-code melodrama by William Wellman that follows war hero Tom Holmes through the turbulent period between World War 1 and the Great Depression. The taboo pre-code stuff is mainly Tom's morphine addiction after the war. He started taking it to curb the pain of his war wounds, but soon becomes addicted. I found the portrayal of drug addiction in Heroes for Sale to be unusually sympathetic for the time. Tom is a good person who tries to do the right thing, but somehow things always turn wrong. When Tom is rebuilding his life and trying to raise a family, the movie lags a little; but thankfully fortune does not favor Tom and he gets wrapped up in a proletariat riot and everything turns sour again. After Heroes for Sale, the Brattle showed the sequel to King Kong, Son of Kong. While Son of Kong does not feature the same scope or sexual subtexts of King Kong, it does deliver some fun monkey models punching things. Starting off a little slow, things really pick up when Carl Denham returns to Skull Island and meets a miniature Kong. After saving the little Kong, Carl earns his trust and friendship. A little more playful and goofy than his father, the tiny Kong takes on an over-sized bear and some sort of enraged dinosaur to protect his new friends. Kiddy Kong kicks both of their asses. At one point he gets the bear in a headlock and just pummels him like Rodney King. The Son of Kong features the same great stop-motion as the original King Kong and is a fairly enjoyable movie in its own right.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bruce Campbell at the Kendall Square Cinema

Bruce will be doing a question and answer after My Name is Bruce on November 7th and 8th for the 7:00 and 9:45 showings.

Horror Marathon at the Coolidge Corner Theater

When we first got to the Coolidge, they were wrapping up their zombie prom dance. There wasn’t all that many ghouls on stage just a few weirdos looking sheepish like at an 8th grade dance. Not really too interested in it, we went back downstairs to get good seats for the horror marathon. When we got down there, we were told that the first two movies were going to be shown in the smaller and not nearly as good theater upstairs. I was fucking pissed. I asked why and the person working said she didn’t even know. So we trudged back upstairs to the crap theater only to find all the good seats were gone. We ended up sitting front row and to the left. They were terrible, terrible seats. One of the guys who worked there got up on stage and explained that due to how many tickets they sold, they were going to move the whole marathon back downstairs. Thank fucking god. So we went downstairs a little early and snagged some pretty good seats and settled in waiting for Prom Night. Prom Night was pretty good. Definitely a movie that was enhanced by a theater experience, Prom Night is pretty standard slasher fare. There are lots of cheesy lines of dialogue and goofy acting that the audience was laughing their asses off over. As far as gore goes, Prom Night was pretty tame and it usually cut away before any of the gruesomeness. There was one pretty nice dance floor decapitation. While I enjoyed it in the theater, there wasn’t anything there that elevated it above a Friday the 13th even. The next movie was Pumpkinhead. This one I really enjoyed. It was directed by Stan Winston with incredible monster designs. Unlike most horror movies, Pumpkinhead doesn’t try to build tension around what the monster might look like; rather it shows him almost from the get go, so the audience can appreciate the incredible design. Pumpkinhead had a fairly creepy plot about a father dealing with the death of his son, who unwisely invokes a vengeance demon in his grief. Winston creates a creepy atmosphere throughout, as Lance Henrikson navigates through woods, graveyards and abandoned churches in an attempt to stop the demon. Next up was Demons, a movie I was really looking forward to seeing. Basically, an audience of movie goers are watching a movie about demons attacking when demons start attacking the theater- pretty simple stuff. Thankfully, the movie was loaded with gore. It also was pretty funny too and not just in a bad translation Italian horror way. There were great one liners throughout. Also, there were actually some pretty awesome and over the top characters like a pimp and his two whores. They tried to play The Howling next, but there was something wrong with the print and every voice just sounded like a guttural groan. Unfortunately, they didn’t let it play like this and just scrapped it for the next movie. I would have loved to have seen the werewolf sex scene with distorted audio. Instead of The Howling, we got Tarantino and Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn. Part crime movie, part vampire slaughter fest, From Dusk Till Dawn is a solid little horror entry. It felt like a true B-movie and not as schlocky or played for laughs as Planet Terror. Finally, they played the other movie I was really looking forward to From Beyond. With the same director and actor as Re-Animator, I had some high hopes for From Beyond. It wasn’t what I expected at all though. I did like it, but it was just incredibly weird- a Videodrome S&M kind of weird, a genitilia shaped brainstem kind of weird, a glob of human putty like flesh kind of weird. Most of the people I went with slept through this movie. A poor choice for the last film of the night with its slowish kind of pacing. They showed one more movie instead of The Howling some weird sort of Japanese pink film with nudity prevalent all over the opening credits. It looked pretty interesting but it was a projection, and very late, and subtitled. So we just said fuck it and took off.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ashes of Time Redux at the Kendall Square Cinema

About 8 years ago, the Coolidge Corner theater showed a midnight screening of Ashes of Time. I was already a devout Wong Kar Wai fan, but I had never had a chance to see Ashes of Time. Certain cinematic moments stick in your mind. Seeing Ashes of Time on the big screen was a cinematic pinnacle for me. From the soundtrack to the visuals to the amazing cast, I loved Ashes of Time. I bought a shitty bootleg version of it in Chinatown and watched it multiple times, noticing small details, and finally wrapping my head around its challenging story line. When I heard that Wong Kar Wai was rereleasing Ashes of Time in the theater, I was ecstatic. Not many people had really had a chance to see this picture that I have privately treasured. So how did Redux compare to my original experience of seeing Ashes of Time in the theater? The general experience of seeing it on the big screen is still intact. Some minor qualms are the way Wong Kar Wai reedited the first scene changing its epic spaghetti western sword fight into a less than exciting scene. The music cues are different and not as strong in my opinion. The quality of the film changes from scene to scene, which can be jarring and take the audience out of the action. Also, the colors look a little off and not as strong as that original version I saw years ago. On the other hand, the translation is a little different and seems a bit stronger. Also, just the ability to see this classic on the big screen is cause for celebration and I strongly recommend seeing this while you can.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Coolidge Horror Marathon (update)

The Coolidge just posted the other three films in the horror marathon: From Dusk Til Dawn, From Beyond and The Howling (werewolf sex!).

Some Came Running at the Harvard Film Archive

So this is my second Minnelli movie in two nights. Like The Bad and the Beautiful, Some Came Running is a beautifully shot film which climaxes in a carnival scene brimming with colors and lights. Minnelli color codes the whole movie creating a surreal painting of pastels. As lush as the movie's visuals are, I had some concerns with the script and story. Frank Sinatra plays Dave Hirsh, a writer and a military man, who returns to his home town drunk on a bus. He reunites with his brother and makes some new friends and acquaintances. Providing a further synopsis would be difficult, because at times it is hard to understand what Some Came Running is really about. There doesn't appear to be much of a character arc or any real conflict. Things just seem to indiscriminately happen to the characters. At 137 minutes, the movie is long too. I went with Naomi who said she was just waiting (hoping) for it to end and that she thought it was going to wrap up at multiple times. Some Came Running is a flawed but gorgeously shot film that may be worth seeing just for the colorful finale.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Bad and the Beautiful at the Harvard FIlm Archives

The Bad and the Beautiful is a wonderfully scripted film, which is superbly directed by Vincente Minnelli. Minnelli is probably most well known for his musicals (Meet me in St. Louis, Gigi, and An American in Paris), but he also did a significant amount of melodramas that the Harvard Film Archive will be screening for the rest of the month. The Bad and the Beautiful is a movie about movies. Producer Jonathan Shields is profiled through the flashbacks of a screenwriter, a director, and one of his leading ladies. And they are not fans. Shields steps over friends and lovers on his way to the top and when everything goes awry; when he finds himself at the bottom again, he needs them back. Although a melodrama, the film is beautifully shot by Robert Surtees (he won an Oscar for it); it has the lighting of a film noir with shades and shadows looming over each dramatic scene. Also, Minnelli clearly payed special attention in the way he framed scenes with each actor standing in the perfect spot and each piece of furniture meticulously placed, making the movie look like a moving portrait. I've often heard Minnelli compared to Douglas Sirk, but there is no irony in this movie. The Bad and the Beautiful like All About Eve or Sunset Boulevard is a movie that takes a serious look at the darker side of Hollywood.

Harvard Film Archive and Brattle both update calender

Alot to be excited about here. First off, the Brattle will be doing a B-movie series from November 5th to November 9th. The highlight will be Samuel Fuller's best movie in my opinion Pickup on South Street. Then they are honoring William Dafoe with a great list of movies: The Life Aquatic, Mississippi Burning, and The Last Temptation of Christ. Then both the Harvard Film Archive and the Brattle are showing a John Boorman series with Boorman in attendance for some of the movies at the Harvard Film Archive. This is a must attend. Boorman worked on such classic films as Deliverance, Zardoz, and Point Blank. The Brattle is also doing an Indiana Jones series showing movies that influenced Indiana. Also, they are showing all four Indiana Jones movies, but stay away from that last one unless you like tons of CGI gophers dancing around and gyrating. The Harvard Film Archive will be showing a very long list of Oshima movies. The most famous being In the Realm of Senses, which I've always wanted to see.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Appaloosa at the Somerville Theater

I love westerns. I love gritty mud-covered cowboys drinking shots of whiskey, staring each other down and then unloading their guns into one another. I love panoramic scenes of the west with monument valley unfolding in the background. I love westerns and Appaloosa is a pretty solid western. Appaloosa is centered around lawman Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), two friends that are hired to defend a lawless town from a murderous rancher (Jeremy Irons). Their efforts are disrupted and friendship tested by the arrival of ...ugh...a woman (Renee Zellwegger). Appaloosa is not a dark revisionists western like Deadwood or Unforgiven. There isn't much violence. No, Appaloosa is more like a John Ford western or the original 3:10 to Yuma. Its about the camaraderie between Harris and Mortensen and how their friendship surpasses all other obstacles. Harris and Mortensen, who both worked together in History of Violence, are both great. Renee Zellwegger is less so and you really begin to hope that an errant bullet will hit her in the face. Although it does little to advance the genre, the movie delivers a solid little western that will keep you entertained. I went with April who when it was over exclaimed, "so boring." But she isn't much of a western fan. So screw her.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Man with a Movie Camera at the Harvard Film Archive

Just got out of a free screening of Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera at the Harvard Film Archives. An experimental film from 1929, Man with a Movie Camera has no plot or characters, but is just a series of scenes of a man (vertov's brother) filming people and machinery around Moscow. Although little happens thoughout, Vertov is able to keep things interesting. Vertov uses an assortment of camera tricks from double exposures, to sped up film, to split screens to capture the liveliness of Moscow and its inhabitants. From the opening scene of a man standing on a large camera and looking through his own smaller camera to the movie theater of people that seems to be watching the same movie as the audience, the Man with the Movie Camera is very self-conscious and very self referential. The Man with a Movie Camera celebrates all that cinema is capable of and Vertov stresses this with his constant references. Vertov wanted to push cinema to its limits and was able to create a film that is simply beautiful. As a side note, it does seem likely that with all the scenes of the proletariat working together with big Russian smiles, that Vertov was trying to push a commie agenda. But nobody's perfect!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon

So they just posted this years line up. We've got Jamie Lee Curtis in Prom Night. For six long years, Hamilton High School seniors Kelly, Jude, Wendy, and Nick have been hiding the truth of what happened to ten-year-old Robin Hammond the day her broken body was discovered near an old abandoned convent. The foursome kept secret how they taunted Robin - backed her into a corner until, frightened, she stood on a window ledge... and fell to her death. The stupid bitch. Though an accident, the then-twelve-year-olds feared they'd be held responsible and vowed never to tell. But someone else was there that day... watching. And now, that someone is ready to exact murderous revenge-on prom night.

Also on the line up is the late great Stan Winston's Pumkinhead starring Lance Henrikson. As a young boy, Ed Harley saw an evil demon kill a man. Many years later, Harley (Lance Henriksen) and his young son are running a grocery stand in Nevada that is visited by 6 city youths on their way to a cabin. While Harley is away on an errand, one of the boys accidentally kills Harley's son with a motorcycle. Remembering what he had seen that night years ago, and what he had heard, Harley pays a visit to a reclusive witch who helps him invoke that demon - known as Pumpkinhead - to avenge his son's death. As he sees the youths being killed, one at a time, through the eyes of the demon, Harley discovers that a horrific price must be paid. Possibly demon sex...

Finally, Lamberto Bava's Demons...A new theatre is to be inaugurated and people are invited to watch a movie. A woman tries on a mask, the mask pierces her skin and this causes her to transform into a demon. She then bites others and they turn into demons, turning slowly the whole theatre into mayhem, only few survive the blood-thirsty demons. I kid you not thats really the plot. Lamberto considers this his best movie, what not Cave of the Golden Rose 5?

So thats all of the line up we have for now...still three more movies to be announced though so keep checking www.coolidge.org/midnights like crazy.