Friday, September 29, 2006

Movie Review - Manhattan

Manhattan (1979)
directed by Woody Allen
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from JL

Woody Allen, for better or worse, was a big influence on me, and as much as I've tried in recent years to think of his work less subjectively - to shrug at the self-absorbed Upper East Side fantasist - few films let their protagonists bungle things so totally in the end as Isaac Davis does here. Few films put the girl on the pedestal so far out of reach. If anything, it's a by-the-numbers playbook like Match Point that's diminished by "Manhattan," and whether or not the jokey asides and neurotic interruptions are to your taste, the romance is how it looks and the lesson that great chasm between what people strive for and who they really are.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Movie Review - Jigoku

Jigoku (1960)
directed by Nobuo Nakagawa
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

The thing about these Japanese ghost stories is you think you're in for an atmospheric, spooky voyage - and you are - but the price you pay is so many characters shouting or screaming every line that maybe your 9th circle of hell is soundtracks like this one played ad nauseam through gorgeous, crystal-clear headphones.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Movie Review - Zigeunerweisen

Tsigoineruwaizen (1980)
directed by Seijun Suzuki
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Mark Romanek's video for The Perfect Drug meets That Obscure Object of Desire by way of, well, Suzuki. Bizarre, narcotic, and terrifying.

Pick of the week.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Movie Review - Weekend

Week End (1967)
directed by Jean-Luc Godard
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

On the other end of the moviemaking spectrum - where technique is not invisible beneath a submarine rendezvous or steel winter palette - you have this, Godard's guerrilla masterpiece. Nothing's as instructive as an artist who knows every inch of his craft showing you exactly how he does it, and Jean-Luc has the humility to make it funny, too.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Movie Review - Army of Shadows

L'Armée des ombres (1969)
directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
seen on the screen at Film Forum

Imagine the French Resistance by way of La Ronde but directed by Melville. Episodic but full circle. Easy as running a red light in a gangster chase through Paris.

Malick, Coppola, Kubrick, Spielberg, Eastwood, Stone - they can keep their silly wars in a shot glass next to movies this great and this big.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Movie Review - "The Hand"

from Eros (2004)
directed by Kar Wai Wong
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

You only have to watch the first half-minute of Steven Soderbergh's "Equilibrium" (the segment immediately after "The Hand") to know that nothing else in "Eros" is going to top Wong. The short isn't "more of the same" just because it takes place in 1960s Hong Kong; on the contrary, it advances Wong's obsessions by making them brutely physical. A tailor's the bridge - the only character who can get closer to the cheongsams and beautiful actresses than either director or audience.

Right up there with Rushmore in the pantheon of great handjob references.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Movie Review - Prince of Darkness

Prince of Darkness (1987)
directed by John Carpenter
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

It pains me to say that the 10th entry in "A Personal Journey With Nate & Sam Through John Carpenter Movies" (aka Il Mio viaggio in Italia) can best be compared to my memories of spinning the wheels on my station wagon, stuck in a snowdrift in Maine. It's almost like a highlight reel, only a bad one (any "Seinfeld" phone-in) and not a good one (the Ohio State-Texas wrap-up).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Movie Review - The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia (2006)
directed by Brian De Palma
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
seen on the screen at Malco Paradiso

I can be lenient on a night at the movies. My expectations, for example, almost never consciously include dragon dildos, The Man Who Laughs, louche audition tapes for seedy stag films, k.d. lang singing "Love For Sale" at a lesbian supper club, Rachel Miner as Carmen Sternwood, boxing, or Josh Hartnett in the role of Bucky the Bad Actor. How could they? How could anyone's?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Movie Review - Daughters of Darkness

Les Lèvres Rouges (1971)
directed by Harry Kümel
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

As lesbian vampire numero uno, Delphine Seyrig exhibits exactly the same charms she used to seduce young cowering Antoine Doinel beneath the sheets. This time it's Léaud who's missing, and in place of his romantic cynicism you get Hungarian royalty playing at newlyweds, looking and infighting just like Tom Cruise. The groom isn't scared; neither was I. Pretty, kinky Louise Brooks looked hungry; she dies on a straight-edge razor, he dies with a knife. Empty-handed, everybody.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Movie Review - Late Spring

Banshun (1949)
directed by Yasujiro Ozu
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

Maybe if I'd made it to Werner Herzog's inevitable appearance in our post-screening screening of Tokyo-Ga I could write something pithy or lunge awkwardly at a self-conscious joke. We all marry other men's daughters and sons.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Movie Review - Starman

Starman (1984)
directed by John Carpenter
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

I might describe this one as a "guilty pleasure" if I actually thought I would watch it again, but the best Carpenter moment finds Karen Allen hanging up the telephone in a roadside diner and telling the men at the counter she needs a ride from someone not afraid to drive fast. Goofy guy in a blue gimme cap leaps up and off they go in a zippy roadster. It's the kind of gesture you'd like to make yourself and could never imagine a guy like Starman really comprehending.

Movie Review - Christine

Christine (1983)
directed by John Carpenter
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

A demonic car isn't inherently the scariest idea in the world to me - sort of on par with an evil toaster or haunted Segway - and if Carpenter never convinces me that my truck is something I could find myself afraid of, he sells the idea of possession pretty well. Leigh's fear - trapped at a drive-in, hiding behind a tree - makes Arnie's obsession frightful. And it's to Carpenter's credit that Arnie is inevitably and irredeemably doomed. That plus a few solid effects and Harry Dean Stanton in the stoic, knowledgeable role of Donald Pleasance makes four.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Movie Review - The Illusionist

The Illusionist (2006)
directed by Neil "Ham" Burger
rating: no cravats
seen on the screen at Oxford Studio Cinema

Bonus rating: 3 out of 5 cravats for Crown Prince Leopold

Anyone feeling creative today can insert their own Arrested Development joke here. I tried half-whispering one over Justin's tub of popcorn but less is usually more in obvious situations. Rufus Sewell is a favorite actor of mine, for mostly silly reasons, but no movie this bad deserves deliverance on behalf of a Bogdanovich guilty pleasure.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Movie Review - Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
directed by John Carpenter
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD at JL's

On the shelf of a thousand movies, no hero's worth much next to Jack Burton. "May the wings of liberty never lose a feather?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail?" Only in the sweetest of Ben Hecht's dreams. Jack slips every possible noose of self-importance - even Indy was a revenant Christian - and Carpenter just dances along. Sorcerers, furies, the rain-swept streets of Chinatown. Neon everywhere. Hard to begrudge anything so footloose as the Pork Chop Express - 6.9 on the Richter scale, a perfect ten on mine.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Movie Review - The Merchant of Four Seasons

Händler der vier Jahreszeiten (1972)
directed by Reiner Werner Fassbinder
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Sometimes you wished you watched the sad movie first so that the happy movie could cheer you up. You think, while you sit there, that Fassbinder displays so much empathy for Hans, and fills his movie with so many beautiful images, that maybe it isn't sad after all. It is. When I couldn't sleep afterwards I thought about the fruit stand - the red awning and blue van and the brown paper for pears and plums - and then I did.

Movie Review - Libeled Lady

Libeled Lady (1936)
directed by Jack Conway
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from B. Sweet

In the crockpot that comprises my movie-watching legacy, it all boils down to the old Hollywood adage that nothing's more romantic than the cynic who falls in love despite himself, and nothing squares it with the guy in the audience quite like the sweet and damaged heart of the innocent third wheel.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Life Review - Steve Irwin

Steve Irwin (1962-2006)
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats

Steve Irwin's The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course was the only sneak preview I've ever attended. I got free popcorn and a large Coke and didn't hate the movie. Glenn Ford earned a lot of appropriate praise last week, so I'll just say that Steve seemed a likeable enough guy.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Movie Review - Duck Season

Temporada de patos (2004)
directed by Fernando Eimbcke
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

In some ways Eimbcke is even more innocent than his characters - aping a mention of the Beatles by framing the shot like an album cover - and too much professional naïvety can be embarrassing. But no movie I've seen about teenagers has featured video games so prominently or so positively - as such a fine end for a Sunday - and so few films today portray experimentation as what it is - a soft education in the grown-up world, often earned with as little permanent consequence as the duration of a high or a temporary crush.

Movie Review - Even Dwarfs Started Small

Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (1970)
directed by Werner Herzog
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD at JL's

Mad directors on their jousts at sincerity can do a lot worse than some absurdist fun at the expense of a monkey tied to a crucifix. But I'm not sure the "nightmare" Herzog thinks of by the end of "Even Dwarfs Started Small" has nearly as much to do with little people bombarded in the Mexican desert as it does the hour and a half that feels like three. But movies that last too long aren't nightmares, they're indulgent - Werner could have started smaller still.

Movie Review - Rope

Rope (1948)
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD at JL's

When Truffaut mimicked Hitch, he directed the chilly, awkward The Bride Wore Black. For all the efficiency at work in "Rope" - edits, sets, running time - Jim Stewart's hammy soap-box monologue ("By what right do you dare...") and the emotional leniency accorded to that dreay cast of supporting characters (prudes, pricks, and dullards) makes you wonder why the good director didn't let Brandon and Phillip get away with it.