31 December 2005

Movie #10

Snatch. I waited forever to see this movie. And I'm a moron for doing it.





My first search on google for snatch went horribly wrong.

Just awesome.

I wish I could write this well. Hell, this movie makes me wish I could write. Incredible movie making. Dialog. Pacing. Characters. Writing. Acting. Dialog. Action. And the Dialog. Just Brilliant.

Guy Ritchie (director) takes a lot of crap for his marriage and a couple of the really, really, really bad movies he's made.

But f-me, if this isn't the best thing to come out of England... ever. And that includes the rabble that left for Plymouth Rock.

Easily, my favorite character is Bullet-Tooth Tony. The way the movie is designed is that every character gets BIGGER than the previous. Just when you think X is the biggest bad ass there is, X+1 shows up. Then X+2 and finally, X-squared with Tony, who has some of the best dialog in thr world (none of which I can post because it's naughty).

That doesn't mean the Bullet-Dodge, Turkish, Tommy, and the Piker aren't the tits either. They are. But, Tony is just... it's like drinking a pure glass of moxie and turning to face the camera with a mouth full of dentene gleam wrapped in carnuba wax and then chiselled into the statue of David and pressed into $100 bills.

Crisp ones.

Yet another movie where Brad Pitt is elevated to star in the marketing.

Of course, like anything with Brad Pitt in it (he's in 3 of my top 10 and no, I'm not gay), the focus of the advertising is on someone who is NOT the star of the movie. In fact, Brad is a plot device. His dialog is pure gibberish and he's just comic relief in-between the actually hard-nosed humor of the rest of the movie.

I like him in this movie, but I really wish it were someone else playing this character... just to put a more fresh and realistic face on the movie.

Have you seen this scene? Genius. God. Just genius.
I hate people that are smarter than me.

What else can I say about this movie? Um. The fat getaway driver. The four jewish thieves. Benecio del Toro in anything. A villain that is pure vile personified crap. Dennis Farina finally plays a character I don't want to boil in acid. So. Good.

I can't say much more without giving things away. Rest assured, this movie does not disappoint. Screw it. I'm putting it in, right now.

Bullet-Tooth Tony is my hero.

Quote: You ain't from this planet are you, Vincent? Who is gonna mug two black fellas, holding pistols, sat in a car that is worth less than your shirt?

27 December 2005

Movie #9

Excalibur. John's Boorman's vision of Arthur and one of my first introductions into the myth as a kid (although I'd already read a lot of books about arthur and seen the Camelot musical). I was young enough that this movie not only shaped my vision of arthur, but also of dark fantasy.

This movie really captures the id in me. The movie itself is good, but not normally top10 worthy. But damn... just look at merlin.

I think the tale of Arthur is classic. The frame of the story captures all the epic elements. And Excalibur is by far the only movie about Arthur worth watching.

Hint. Hint.

Boorman's visuals span the range of darkness and light... when Percival seeks the grail... "You and the land are one"... the crows and the tower and the dreadwood forest... gah. All so bleak.

And the Arthur drinks from the cup and BAM!!!

The forest comes alive. The petals fall from the trees. Carl Orff's Carmina Burana O Fortuna kicks in and ... if you don't get chills as the horses come around the treeline... well... then... you suck.

The final battle is amazing and the fog is so thick, you can't see anything, which to this day I'm not sure if it was intentional or not. And Mordred and Arthur... so good.

What else can I say about it?

It's gritty british fantasy... the way I like it. Even the magic is subtle. Just putting someone to sleep, requires a complex ritual.

And I'm nerd enough to have memorized the ritual too.

This is the movie that would make me want to play D&D, if I didn't already.

Sadly, Boorman is an extremely boring british gentleman. So listening to the chatter on the DVD will literally put you to sleep. So. Don't do it.

Btw. If you didn't know it already, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicol Williamson, and Gabriel Byrne are all in the movie ... long before they were big. However, Keith Buckley as Uriyens is probably my favorite background character.

Quote: That's it... and look upon this moment. Savor it! Rejoice with great gladness! Great gladness! Remember it always, for you are joined by it. You are One, under the stars. Remember it well, then... this night, this great victory. So that in the years ahead, you can say, 'I was there that night, with Arthur, the King!' For it is the doom of men that they forget.

21 December 2005

Movie #8

Seven. Personally, I think Brad Pitt is an amazing actor. Talented. Gifted. Sexy. Er. Forget that last part. But, I get so tired of the hype surrounding his life and how the press treats any movie involving him as though no one else were in the film.

More on this when I review Snatch on #10.

Ironically, Brad Pitt isn't the focus of this review, but by the end, these words will come back to haunt me.

No frames of this movie exist without brad pitt in them.
So he gets lower case letters. Take that.

David Fincher has directed only five movies, believe it or not. And I love all of them. Yes, even Alien3.

Unlike fight club, Seven is NOT an important film. Although the screenplay attempts to make the values of the killer seem important in the big picture. It is however very very very entertaining and wow... oh wow... is it original.

It's also the gateway to hundreds of clones.


But perhaps I should start talking about the movie.

Until it was copied by every company in America, these were amazing opening credits.

I remember not knowing or expecting a lot out of this movie. But the opening credits blew me away and within 5 minutes I was hooked (unlike The Village, which I figured out in 5 minutes).
And until it was copied by every Asian filmmakter, Se7en was original and breathtaking. Absolutely in a class by itself in terms of style and substance. You never saw a movie like this before.

Fincher is good at taking what you know and making it... better... different... stronger. Fight Club, Se7en, the Game, Alien 3, Panic Room.

So slick.

This screenplay is an amazing foundation for this film -- taut, dramatic, sharp, and some of the best dialog on mother earth. But Fincher makes it all very very real, capturing the true merit of the villain (John Doe, excellent played by Spacey), and making you believe he could, in fact, exist.

The pacing is brilliant and the death scenes are so remarkable, I'm running out of adjectives to describe what makes this film work so well.

Okay. I'm adding it to netflix right now. Be right back.

Okay. I'm back.

Here's a small piece of trivia about the movie. Brad Pitt was paid $20 million for the film (back when that was a lot). He also signed on, saying the end couldn't be changed. Fincher, the director, therefore, couldn't change it. Even if he wanted to.

But he didn't want to.

But, the producers did. Once filming started. They kept asking Brad if they could change this or that. They would propose new ideas and Brad would refuse each time.

(Wow. An actor that understands storytelling.)

It always makes me smile thinking of that, too.

They didn't ask Fincher (the director). They asked Pitt.

See. I told you this review wasn't about Brad Pitt.

Quote: Apathy is the solution. I mean, it's easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It's easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It's easier to beat a child than it is to raise it. Hell, love costs: it takes effort and work.

18 December 2005

Movie #7

Seven Samurai. Quite possibly the finest movie ever made. Period. It's not my number one because I can't watch it everyday, like I can these others. But, this movie's only flaw is that it isn't long enough.
And toping out at 3 1/2 hours, that's saying something.
This movie, of course, has an ensemble cast. A good one too. In fact, Mifune isn't even a major contributor to the coolness of the movie. Sometimes he's kind of annoying. But that's fine, because the movie doesn't make everyone appear heroic during every single frame of film. They have their flaws and for that, we love them.

Kurosawa's movie does an amazing job of showing you the life of a landless samurai. The opening hour is just the organization of the samurai; slowly learning who they are. Beautiful filmed, excellently paced, you don't even notice that the movie hasn't reached the end of Act I, yet. Certainly we know the plot, but we haven't completed the developmental t that get us to the village at hour 1:01.

Rain is cool.

And he doesn't ignore the life of the peasants, either. Gritty and real, the poor, uneducated, filthy peasants are shown in all their "grandeur". From the opening scenes of terror wrought by the bandits or the fear of what fate the samurai themselves might bring; the movie does not let you off easy. In fact, it almost doesn't care what you think.

This is what it is. Nothing else. Turn it off if you don't like. But, I bet you won't.

My favorite scene in this movie (is not shown here) is when the poor peasant picks up the fallen grains of millet, one by one. Heart-wrenchingly good. Like honey on your favorite breakfast cereal.

Botched-tooth and desolate. That's the best way to describe the ramshackled lives of these mouth-breathing peasants. Okay. Sorry. Just waxing poetic now. That was indulgent.

After my fifth viewing of this movie, I realized something very powerful about Kurosawa's work. He has this ability to make you love everything he intends to destroy. Ran. Kagemusho. Stray Dogs. Throne of Blood (a little boring). Hidden Fortress. [Sanjuro is an exception.]

Seven samurai makes you love these characters at such a level, you are personally invested in every second of fighting in the last 30 minutes. Each second is filmed with so few cuts, that you have to look away just to get a break. Its as though you are living clockwork orange, your eyes forced open to wake the inextricable horror transpiring on the screen in front of you.

Masterful filmmaking.


I told you rain was cool.

Okay. I think I'm done.

What else can I say about this movie.

I need to watch it again. And so do you.

14 December 2005

Movie #6

Black Hawk Down. Another movie that on the surface shouldn't be better than Seven Samurai, but is.

First off, let me say this is the single best war movie I've ever seen. And I love war movies. I was raised on them. I was born on the 36th anniversary of d-day and I have been fascinated by World War II ever since I could read. My list of favorite war movies is extensive and dominated by Military Strategy over drama or serendipity. However, none of these classic films compares to Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down.

First off, this movies has an amazing ensemble cast -- the main ingredient of any film I love. No one actor gets more screen time than anyone else, in my opinion and the rich characters are excellently portrayed. Even the big names like Tom Sizemore, have trouble keeping up with Josh Hartnett and Eric Bana, who at the time were just up and coming. Even Ewan MacGregor plays a fantastically subtle character with all the grace that makes him the only thing worth watching in Star Wars.

Sam Shepherd kicks some major ass too.

Secondly, before the shooting starts, there's about 30 to 40 minutes of character development, dialog, exposition, and plot that set up what's to come. And what's to come is ...

... an amazingly true story. Even character on the screen is a real soldier. Every event, based-on what actually happened or is what actually happened. And despite the criticisms that Black Hawk Down is blatant propoganda, this movie primiered 10 years after the real events occured, long after any feelings of knee-jerk reactionism for "revenge" could be of any import.

And the American Military involvement in the making of this film helped create the greatest level of realism I've ever seen in a war movie. So. Whatever the cost of that, this flick nails the details.


Lastly, I've never seen a movie with so many emotional beats, with such amazing pacing, with a knack for hitting the viewer again and again... and not worrying about whether or not you're ready for it.

Once the shooting starts, this movie is unrelenting in its plot triggers. By the end you're spent. There's a few light moments, a few breaks, and a few dips. But, pound for pound, there's never been an action movie with this much ACTION.

Do the math. Measure the minutes of this film. And watch it, again and again.

08 December 2005

Movie #5

13th Warrior. People look at me funny when I rate this movie so highly. But, as a scholar of culture, I'm always drawn to well-made historical dramas. And while a movie like gladiator is made to be entertaining first and cultural second, 13th warrior captures so many elements that I love, its easily the best of the best for me.

Yes. Even higher than seven samurai, which I'll explain in a moment.

First, 13th Warrior is about Norse culture, a typically overlooked culture in cinema. Viking movies are few and far between; and rarely are they any good. Attempts to make movies about Beowulf (in any era) always fail and even though Erik the Viking is a funny movie, using the name Sven does not make it authentic. The 13th Warrior is, without a doubt, as authentic as any movie about the era as can be expecte. As someone who has written fictional material based on Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland (I know very little about Denmark), I can say with some expertly opinion that the movie captures the four important virtues of Viking life - Strength, Wealth, Fate, and Luck. While very subtle, these issues are tackled fantastically in the movie.

Second, this movie is an ensemble... an incredible ensemble... and any ensemble done well deserves mention for this feat alone. 13 main characters, quickly parsed down to the most important six, with only five of them making it to the final fight.

Third, as a fan of stories like Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Gasiere's Lute, Jericho, Siddartha, the Odyssey, the Illiad, and all other ancient tales about characters larger than life, forging the first epics of their times, the 13th warrior takes these great stories and breaks them into a realistic tale of "what most likely happened" before skalds got ahold of the tale.

This movie ends well for me. The numerous and inventive fight scenes culminates with Buliwyf's poisoned, yet stalwart stand against the Wendol. In this scene we get three amazing vignettes that are my favorite moments in the movie.

One, there is the pose above from Banderas. Despite the fact that he isn't always the best actor in a movie, I think he plays his part well in this film. And this pose is just amazing. I love the framing and the mood. Excellent direction. The single best frame of it is when his arm crosses over his face. Look for it when you watch the film.

Two, we have the final stand from Buliwyf (pronounced Buhl-vie), on the outside of the wall, slowly dying from the poison inside him. The rain, the pacing, the score, and the fight all come together well, but Buliwyf is only that much cooler than the rest of it. Conan was a pansy.


Three, we must honor how well written the poem is that the characters recite one last time before the final fight begins. It captures the importance of ancestry to norse myth. Vikings were very fond of the importance of where you came from. Who you were and who your father was. Without a name, who would honor and remember your deeds. An abstract concept of wealth. Good stuff, this:
'Lo, there do I see my father. 'Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters, and my brothers. 'Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning. 'Lo, they do call to me. They bid me take my place among them. In the halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever.

The acting in the final good-bye scene between Banderas and Herger is trite. I wish they'd either reshot it or cut it altogether. It doesn't match the tone of the film. But, by this point my glands are working overtime anyway, trying to contain all the cool in this film.

Yes, I know it was panned. Yes, I know lots of people think it's B-movie material. Yes, I know Banderas is Spanish, playing an arab in Sweden. Yes, I know the screenplay is choppy and misses the mark 15% of the time.

I don't care.

None of this stops the other 85% from kicking ass.

Okay. This review is getting long in the tooth. Here is one last great quote and then it's off to bed with you:
Merciful Father, I have squandered my days with plans of many things. This was not among them. But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well. For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought; all we ought to have said, and have not said; all we ought to have done, and have not done; I pray thee God for forgiveness.

03 December 2005

Movie #4

Fight Club. Enough things have been said about this movie that I don't need to say them here.

My review is short.

Incredible sound. Excellent visuals. Most important film of the 90s. Maybe the most important of our generation.

People that focus on Tyler Durden's delirium miss the point of this film.

Go watch it again and look at it as:

a) a black comedy
b) satire
c) social commentary
d) the end (death) of gender association

Movie #3

To Live. Before he made movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou was making some of the most incredible dramas in the history of Chinese cinema. My top 100 list reads like his discography. Another moving and tragic story, 'To Live is about the details and the minuta of "tiny" Chinese people.

Spanning three decades in the lives of a Chinese couple, played by Ge You and Gong Li, 'To Live' is about as tragic as anything I've ever seen. While the Cultural Revolution affected every family in China, it doesn't make watching this sort of misery any easier. However, between the beats of tragedy the viewer finds uplifting moment, so strong, that you fall in love with these frail, very real characters.

The movie opens with Ge You playing at a game of dice in a tea house against a local merchant. But losing time and again, the nobleman Ge You signs over his home and what remains of his wealth to the gambling house to cover the debt. Upon returning home, penniless, he must deal with his wife and daughter leaving him as well. Grief-stricken, Ge You looks for work doing anything (excellent Juxtaposition of class), but is recruited to join the national army to fight in the ensuing revolution. He is gone for several years and does not return until his daughter is five years old.

When he does return "home", he finds his wife and daughter selling hot water in the middle of the night for pennies. In this powerful scene, Ge You witnesses his daughter working alongside her mother and you just about melt. She's unable to speak (stricken dumb from an extremely cold winter), but her smile punches you in the head and then in the stomach. Marvelous direction. The characters are so rich. I think this honesty is what makes Zhang's work so poignant.

If there's a more gripping moment in the movie than this, well... I can't say.

Later, the couple gives birth to a second child. A boy. As the events of the cultural revolution change their lives, we see many changes in both Gong Li and Ge You (who deserved every nomination he got at Cannes). And every kind of misery that you can imagine befalling these people for the next 20 years fills the screen. As soon as life gets good again, misery follows. I wish I could talk about some of the details, but when the noodle scene happens, you'll cry through the laughter.

I realize this movie may not be for everyone. But if you like rich characters and excellent acting, I can't recommend a stronger film. Raise the Red Lantern (another Yimou masterpiece), while great, has nothing on this film.

And while this comment may have no place in a movie review, Gong Li is the most beautiful woman in the world and her range of facial expressions puts any American actress to shame.

02 December 2005

Movie #2

Deerhunter. I didn't get around to seeing this movie until I was 24. I don't know why I waited so long, but I never would have guessed in a million years it was about what it was about. And oh my god, is this a fantastic film.

First off, let me just say that its always in movies like this that you see people who later become superstars. Christopher Walken was just getting started, Streep was really good, but not a superstar yet, and DeNiro was just starting to show the world why he's the best American actor.

The movie details the lives of five characters, but specifically the three who go off to Vietnam. Set primarily in a small mining town in Pennsylvannia, the details of everyday life here are hardened to a fine point and what Cimino does with the direction is... just ... that damn good!

The opening hour is set up. And plot point one... well... it sort of never happens. This isn't that kind of movie. And once they get to Vietnam, events transpire that you can't predict. You never see anything coming, as scene after scene grips you and twists you.

The screenshot above is from my favorite scene in any movie, ever. Just prior to this shot, Michael Vronsky (deNiro) and Stanley Stosh are arguing over Stanley's irresponsibility; namely, his inability to bring his own boots. Everyone is always helping Stanley out of a jam and Michael lets it be known that he's "had it." The arguement climaxes with an incredible quote:
Michael: You see this? This is this. This ain't something else. This is this.
This scene is so important to the movie and is so subtle... god... you will never see anything like this again. Not even Van Sant does scenes like this. This really is what makes the character so strong and sets him apart from other "tough" guys in less realistic war dramas.

I'm not going to rave anymore about this film. There are literally dozens of fans sites dedicated this film's greatness. But, for my money, there are few movies with characters this rich and events this dramatic that you can watch for 3 hours and not want to get up for a pee break.

Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai comes to mind.

Hell, the movie opens with a 40 minute long wedding and you're not bored by it.

Go rent... no... no.... buy this movie.

01 December 2005

Movie #1

Shanghai Triad. Zhang Yimou is easily my favorite director and this movie is just so good, every second is an experience unlike anything else in American cinema (mostly because its not an American movie).

Filmed almost entirely on a small island off the coast of Taiwan, Shanghai Triad is a breathtaking film about Mobster Tang and his Lieutenants hiding out during a gang war, while the true villains of the story emerge in the most unlikely of places. With all but two characters as villains, finding someone to outright hate is difficult. The story is that rich. Yimou makes everyone shine with his skill at color, variation, and versimilitude.

The beautiful Gong Li and the very talented Li Baotian star, but the most impressive performance comes from the two children during the final chilling moments of the movie. If you don't feel dirty at the finish of this film, you need to find out where your soul went.

I can't say enough about what makes this movie rock. You just have to see it for yourself.