Monday, November 30, 2009

Poetry Monday

God, a Poem
by James Fenton

A nasty surprise in a sandwich,
A drawing-pin caught in your sock,
The limpest of shakes from a hand which
You’d thought would be firm as a rock,

A serious mistake in a nightie,
A grave disappointment all round
Is all that you’ll get from th’Almighty.
Is all that you’ll get underground.

Oh he said: “If you lay off the crumpet
I’ll see you alright in the end.
Just hang on until the last trumpet.
Have faith in me, chum – I’m your friend.”

But if you remind him, he’ll tell you:
“I’m sorry, I must have been pissed –
Though your name rings a sort of a bell. You
Should have guessed that I do not exist.

“I didn’t exist at Creation,
I didn’t exist at the Flood,
And I won’t be around for Salvation
To sort out the sheep from the cud –

“Or whatever the phrase is. The fact is
In soteriological terms
I’m a crude existential malpractice
And you are a diet of worms.

“You’re a nasty surprise in a sandwich.
You’re a drawing-pin caught in my sock.
You’re the limpest of shakes from a hand which
I’d have thought would be firm as a rock,

“You’re serious mistake in a nightie,
You’re a grave disappointment all round –
That’s all that you are,” says th’Almighty,
And that’s all you’ll be underground.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

After the Funeral (2006)

A better than average Poirot. I watched it primarily to see Michael Fassbender, who pretty much smoked cigarettes and drank from flasks as a tormented aristocrat. The show was completely stolen, however, by Monica Dolan, a stage actress who I'd never seen before. She was great, and the reveal of the murderer at the end was surprising and chilling.

49th Parallel (1941)

A propaganda film made my Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for the ministry of information; this was commissioned to discourage neutrality to the Nazi threat, especially in North America. Like all Powell/Pressburger films, it is a true work of creative originality. I'm amazed by their career, how different all their films are, and how imaginative each one is. In this, we follow a dwindling group of Nazi sailors who, after their submarine is destroyed, work their way across Canada trying to make it to neutral America. They wind up in various rural communities, including a group of Hutterites, a trading post for French-Canadian trappers, and an anthropologist's camp in Banff. Like most episodic films, some episodes are better than others; in this, the best sequence is probably at the Hutterites, an Amish-like group of pacifist farmers. One of the Nazis falls in love with a woman there and becomes the group's baker. There are scenes of humor in this sequence and a grisly ending.

Several big stars agreed to work in the movie for half their salaries. These include Laurence Olivier, impressive as a strapping trapper, and Raymond Massey as a loony Canadian soldier who corrals the last Nazi standing. Lots of good stuff in this even if it's pretty dogmatic at times. For allied big-budget propaganda from that period, I prefer the wildly entertaining Foreign Correspondent.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Never Let Me Go (2005)

An interesting book that ultimately failed for me. The basic premise (and this is a spoiler of sorts, since the book reveals its premise very slowly) is that humans are cloned and raised to be organ donors. This practice has resulted in the elimination of cancer, heart disease, etc. The story is narrated by one of the clones and focuses on her and two close friends. Since this is an Ishiguro novel, everything is revealed slowly through a limited narration. One of the problems I had with the book is that ultimately I was not convinced by the alternative universe, especially the fact that the cloned humans were allowed out in public, walking around. I never was convinced that this would not lead to widespread questioning of the practice, or to the clones asserting their own will to survive. There's a clunky scene near the end of the book that addresses some of these questions, but it wasn't enough. I will admit that once I hit the halfway mark I got invested in the narrative, and I will admit that the book worked emotionally in some scenes as well. It was sad, but I needed to know more about why the clones were so willing to give up their lives to serve the greater good.

A movie is being made, starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

A very sweet and successful adaptation of Roald Dahl's slim book by Wes Anderson. To stretch it out to feature-length, Anderson beefs up the plot points somewhat, but also adds some nice character touches and family dynamics. It works, very funny at times, and poignant in others. For my taste, I prefer Dahl's more cozy-English book. The voice work in this is very good. George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzmann all deliver.

Funny People (2009)

I watched this with fairly low expectations. I'd heard the major complaints: that it was too long, too indulgent, that the central premise--funny man as tragic figure--didn't really work. All of that was pretty much true, and I think it was Judd Apatow's weakest film of the three he's made but that said I still liked it a lot. It was very funny in places, especially any scene that involved Seth Rogen's character with his two housemates, Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill. All the acting was terrific. Having just seen Rogen in Observe and Report, it was compelling to see him play someone entirely different. He was sweet and nerdy in this movie, and despite the endless stream of dick jokes, he kind of played a prude. I also liked the way that Adam Sandler, playing a very successful comedian, never tried to be likable.

I think that Apatow could have cut about twenty minutes from this movie and it would have been a lot better. I also think that if he continues to make movies he should start getting out of his comfort zone. His daughters are adorable but they probably shouldn't be in every movie he makes, and I actually prefer Leslie Mann, his wife, in supporting roles.

Sidenote: Every line that Jonah Hill has ever said makes me laugh.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Observe and Report (2009)

I had lots of thoughts about this movie, so, here it is, a bulleted list.

  • Seth Rogen was really good. Even his face seemed different, playing a guy who, at times, had very disturbed thoughts.
  • Anna Faris was good as well. She has an amazing moment when after drinking half a dozen tequila shots and popping Clonazepams her face goes entirely slack and empty. Chilling. (She could do broad comedy for the rest of her life and it wouldn't be a wasted career, but I'd love to see her try something else. She's really good.)
  • This movie is not for the faint-hearted. It's pretty disturbing and violent.
  • I love the idea of exploring the limits of this new type of comedic male protagonist--the aggressive man-child as exemplified by Adam Sandler and Will Ferrel--and taking that character to his psychotic endgame.
  • This movie did not quite succeed at that.
  • When it was trying to be explicitly funny, like making the mom not just a drunk but a foul-mouthed slut, it was not so good.
  • I forget the name of the actress who played the mom but she's in a ton of movies and she is never bad.
  • I liked this a little better than Jody Hill's other big project, the HBO series Eastbound and Down.
  • I know there was a lot of discussion around the "date rape" sequence. I didn't think it was so bad. Yes, it was awful, but the characters are awful, which is the whole point. Also, it felt real. It wasn't a cheap moment just to be edgy.
  • There's a funny self-reflective moment in the film when one character walks out on a scene, saying, I thought this would be funny, but it turned just to be sad.
  • They really hedged their bets at the end when -- Spoiler alert -- Seth Rogen shoots but does not kill the flasher.
  • This could have been a lot better, but I appreciate the effort of taking this type of comedy to a scary place.
  • Asis Anzari has a very funny line about Chick-Fil-A. I memorized the minute mark and played it for Charlene, even though she didn't watch the rest of the movie.

1977 - Eight Favorite Films

1977 was a strangely crucial year for me. It was when I first started going to see non-kiddie movies in the theater. So, in the same year, I saw Pete's Dragon and Fun With Dick and Jane. I remember seeing Rollercoaster and Airport '77. Most importantly, I saw my first James Bond film in the theatre - The Spy Who Loved Me. I was alternately blown away and terrified by Jaws, the metal-mouthed assassin played by Richard Kiel.

Despite all this, I can only come up with eight favorite films from this year. I guess I need to watch more from 1977. I haven't seen Rolling Thunder, Cross of Iron, A Bridge Too Far, Three Women, Sorceror, to name a few.

Annie HallStill funny. Still touching. Charlene still says the joke about the curb whenever I do a bad job parking. And I always think of this movie when I'm forced to listen to someone's obnoxious comments in a public space.

Close Encounters of the Third KindExtraordinary things happening to ordinary people. Spielberg owned this genre in the late seventies, early eighties. Great movie.

The DeepDecent adventure film remembered primarily for Jacqueline Bisset's deep sea diving outfit (see picture). I like this even though it's not great.

High AnxietyFunny Mel Brooks parody-pastiche of Hitchcock films. I saw this in the theater and it scared me in places. But I was only 9.

JuliaHaven't seen this for years, but remember liking it a lot. Maybe it's terrible.

Saturday Night FeverI'm torn on this one. I love so much about it but it's so bleak. I didn't get to see this one in the theaters but my parents went and my mom told me all about it. Travolta, coming out this weekend in Old Dogs, is iconic in this.

The Spy Who Loved MeStill holds up. Great action. 1970s glamour. Last twenty minutes are pretty terrible but that's almost to be expected in most Bond films.

Star Wars I'll admit that Empire is better but I think I like Star Wars the most.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ten Worst Movie Posters of the Year - 2009

10. I don't really think this is a terrible poster. What bothers me about this is that there have been three previous versions, all of them incredible, and this is the new dumbed-down poster since the film is becoming so popular. Too many posters these days use photographs instead of artwork.

9. This one makes me physically recoil. From the terrible tagline to poor Rachel Adams, decapitated and put on a shelf. Just horrible.

8. It's not so much that it's a terrible poster (although it's pretty bad) it's that it doesn't really capture the actual film at all. Except for Pulp Fiction and Deathproof, most of Tarantino's movies are much much better than their posters.

7. Wow, it's like the designer got confused and thought the film was going straight to DVD, or else straight to videotape, circa 1987. Maybe they thought that ominous red streak really amped it up.

6. First of all, this is compleely unoriginal. So if you're going to do it, at least make the image different, or cool, or sexy. This is none of those things. And those giant front teeth freak me out.

5. I don't really know what to say about this except just look at it. How did this get past anyone? Poor Sarah Jessica Parker looks terrible. The tagline is horrible, and what is going on with that jagged glass?

4. The French version of this poster. Worse than the American version but not by much. They made a 300 million dollar movie look like a SyFy original series.

3. The way this poster looks was what I thought the entire movie would be like--Jim Carrey in horrible pratfall situations as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Thank God it wasn't. Clearly, the producers wished it had been, hence the poster. Awful.

2. Okay, this is only up this high because of the awful way they crammed that fourth couple way in the back and to the right. They clearly didn't know what to do with them and about ten minutes before they had to send it off to the printing press, someone just stuck them there. Embarrassing.

1. Just plain wrong. Why does she have a binky in her mouth? How does that denote motherhood? She might as well be in a diaper, or have poop in her hair. I think this movie also had the worst trailer of the year. Congratulations.

Ten Best Movie Posters of the Year - 2009

10. I don't really like how the title is in the sign but everything else about this poster is really good.

9. It's just a beautifully designed Disney poster that captures traditional animation. I love the colors and it makes me want to see the movie.

8. I love that this poster is more homage than parody. I heard the film is as well, although I haven't seen it yet.

7. I have never seen a Tyler Perry movie but I think all of his posters are really good. I love how the wispy smoke leaves the frame of the poster.

6. Great image and great type.

5. I think this image makes the movie look more romantic than it actually is. But it is still a beautiful poster and I prefer this version to the one that is more of a close-up of their faces.

4. A mesmerizing image. Haven't seen this movie yet, either, although I think you can stream it through Netflix so maybe I'll check it out.

3. This is the French version of the poster. I like the American one as well but prefer this. Makes me want to see the film again.

2. Almost too disturbing. There were lots of different versions of Antichrist posters this year but I thought this was the winner.

1. A tie. Two versions of Precious, probably from the same design team. (See my worst posters of the year list for the newest version of a Precious poster.)

Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7 (2009)

Not a great season really. That said, the Seinfeld reunion stuff was pritty, pritty good. I love Larry's relationship with Jason Alexander--it's like they're trying to out-petty each other. And the final show that they created, it just really felt like a Seinfeld episode, ten years later.
The standalone episodes were not so great. I just feel like Larry David has run out of great ideas, and to me it doesn't really work when he's not married to Cheryl. I think she needs to be there, otherwise it's just too much Larry (which was basically her complaint about their marriage).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Poetry Monday

A Word on Statistics
by Wislawa Szymborska

Out of every hundred people,

those who always know better:

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

Ready to help,
if it doesn’t take long:

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
four – well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:
quite a few, thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:

Worthy of empathy:

one hundred out of one hundred –
a figure that has never varied yet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Empty Copper Sea (1978)

Another relatively late-in-the-series Travis McGee novel. This one is short on mystery and suspense, and heavy on mid-life angst and depression. It's not strange that Travis is ruminating on life, but it's very strange that in one sequence he gets black-out drunk and makes an ass of himself. All told, not the best McGee book but, as always, readable, funny and thoughtful. McGee's constant asides are entertaining as always. I liked this one: "If I were King of the World I would roam my kingdom in rags, incognito, dropping fortunes onto the people who are nice with no special reason to be nice, and having my troops lop off the heads of the mean, small, embittered little bastards who try to inflate their self-esteem by stomping on yours. I would start the lopping among post-office employees, bank tellers, bus drivers, and pharmacists. I would go on to checkout clerks, bellboys, prowl-car cops, telephone operators, and U. S. Embassy clerks. By God, the world would look like a berserk bowling alley. Meyer says this shows a tad of hostility."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Serious Man (2009)

Pure nihilism from the Coens. Like all their films, there is always the feeling that they have achieved exactly what they set out to achieve. The craft always shows. But in the case of this particular film, like its predecessor Barton Fink, the parade of grotesque humans, and the assertion of meaninglessness, started to grate on me. I think the Coens are at their best--and several of their films are among my absolute favorites--when they are working within certain genres--detective stories, kidnap thrillers, westerns. The closer they get to their own imaginations the less willing they are to allow any humanity to seep through.

There are no Coen movies without pleasures. Carter Burwell produces another good score, and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is allowed to shine through in several scenes, most notably in the final shot, when the black cloud of death approaches to put us all out of our misery.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Best Action Scenes from Non-Action Movies

There might be some argument over what is, or is not, an action movie. But for me, besides the obvious (Bond films, Indiana Jones films) action films mean that the protagonist is repeatedly involved in physical action central to the film's main plot. Therefore, Jaws is an action film, so is Children of Men. I'm not counting parodies as pure action films, since their principal goal is to make the audience laugh. I am, however, excluding silent films from this list. If I were to include scenes from the films of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Chaplin etc. they would dominate the list.

10. The Harry Beaton chase sequence from Brigadoon. Yes, the townspeople are singing as they race after Harry, but there's also fist-fighting and bridge-leaping, all choreographed as brilliantly as the dance scenes.

9. Foot chase sequence from Hot Fuzz. Most would pick the giant gun battle at the end, but for me, the best action sequence in this parody is the mid-film foot chase. Beautifully edited and shot.

8. The opening duel in Roxanne between Steve Martin's Cyrano-character and the two ski-assholes. They use their poles and he counters with his tennis racket in a cool little fight scene that nicely sets up Martin's character.

7. The pool sequence in Let the Right One In. It's essentially a one-shot sequence and much of the action is not happening on-screen, but that one shot--as Eli saves Oskar from his tormentors--is so original, horrifying and thrilling, all at once.

6. The siege on the Wicked Witch's castle in The Wizard of Oz. Eluding the guards through the hallways and turrets of the castle is great action, even though, as a kid, it was more like watching a horror film. I know most people had bad dreams about the flying monkeys, but I had bad dreams about the guards and their song.

5. The pie-machine sequence in Chicken Run. Although a parody of a Raiders-style action scene, it stands as a great, stylized bit of action on its own.

4. Shoot-out with cops in Reservoir Dogs. This could be construed as an action film, but I don't think it is. Especially since it's a heist film that never shows the heist. But there is one little nugget of a scene, in which we see how Mr. Pink gets away from the heist-gone-bad. His shootout with three cops on a busy street corner is a mini-masterpiece of quick, dirty action.

3. Hotel escape in Some Like It Hot. Joe and Gerry dodge a hotel-full of mafia goons in the penultimate scene of this great (if not the greatest) comedy.

2. The Merry-Go-Round scene from Strangers on a Train. Action artistry as Guy and Bruno fight it out on a wildly spinning Merry-Go-Round. I love the touch of the old guy climbing under the platform to pull the plug.

1. Leo takes out the hit-men in Miller's Crossing. In the middle of this talky, existential thriller, there is an action sequence so well-put-together and cool it deserves to be on most lists of best action scenes, period. Mob-boss Leo O'Bannion (Albert Finney) is lounging at home, enjoying a cigar and a vinyl recording of Danny Boy, when the goons arrive. Leo proves, as a subordinate later says, the "he's still an artist with a Thompson."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

1973 - Ten Favorite Films

Good year for genuinely disturbing horror films. This will be my only best-of list that has a film with Ryan O'Neal on it and a film with Elliott Gould. Won't happen again.

The Day of the Jackal
A cold film about a cold assassin. Riveting. One of my mom's favorites, incidentally.

Don't Look Now
Experimental horror from Nicolas Roeg. Completely unnerves me.

The Exorcist
The greatest horror movie ever made.

Live and Let Die
Bizarre mix of Roger Moore-style Bond with blaxploitation. It's campy and over-the-top and ultimately not that good. But it goes so far toward bad that it comes out the other side and starts to entertain. Jane Seymour is beautiful and the theme song ... well, you've heard it.

The Long Goodbye
Altman's take on the hard-boiled detective genre. Funny, scary, and of its time.

Paper Moon
Despite the presence of Ryan O'Neal, a beautiful-to-look-at comedy from Peter Bogdanovich. Tatum O'Neal deserved the Oscar she won.

Funny slapstick from Woody Allen about the future.

The Sting
A star vehicle with twists and turns, and actual moments of gravity. Robert Shaw and Paul Newman both really deliver.

The Three Musketeers
Funny, bawdy swashbuckler. Great cast (Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway in the same movie) and well-orchestrated sword fight scenes.

The Wicker Man
Laughably odd and then the stuff of nightmares. Never remotely boring.