Sunday, August 24, 2008

Man on Wire

A superb documentary with huge amounts of gravitas, unlike Philippe Petit, the tightrope-walking artist subject of the film. Director James Marsh pieces together a docudrama, with some scenes recreated, which at the beginning seemed like it was going to be like less outstanding films like "Wanderlust," the IFC film about road movies that was put alongside a cheesy subplot about budding filmmakers, but within minutes, it is very clear that it is very necessary. The film is elegantly woven, flashing back from minutes before the main event to France to tell the backstory, the other great works of art that Petit pulled off in his career, and how highwire walking became his dream. Before the walk between the World Trade Center towers (which is the gig that made Petit famous and renowned), he walked between church towers in France and over a bridge in Sydney near the opera house. But this was no real preparation for what he would do next, which could be classified as insane. And I would agree. But it's also an amazing piece of art, and Petit is a virtuoso performer. He is dazzling and, unlike many, he can actually put on a show when he is high up. Yes, this is the most amazing part of the movie, but the happenings leading up are worthwhile, too, especially when Petit and one of his accomplices are hiding from guards under a blanket. It's absolutely hilarious, and it actually made me laugh the most of any movie this year. Also, the way of presenting the people giving the interviews was also very humorous. Anyways, the main event is not actually showed in video, but done very well with pictures and actually can work as well as the picture book about Petit, the Caldecott-winning "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers" by Mordecai Gerstein, which is in itself an experience. It only uses pictures, yet still is an experience. This movie is amazing, not only for not name-dropping about the terrible events that occurred on September 11 and being it's own, but for being as mind-blowing as it probably was for Philippe Petit himself, before stepping out on that line. I know it's August right now, and this statement might be trumped, but this is the best film of the year so far and you can quote me on that, as it is a work of art, a great piece of documentary filmmaking, and a frontrunner for Best Documentary in my eyes. A

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Death of a Salesman

Volker Schlöndorff's TV movie adaptation of Arthur Miller's mesmerizing and breathtaking play features Dustin Hoffman in possibly the best role of his career (he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe) as Willy Loman, the manic-depressive and delusional salesman whose family and life are falling apart and he is at the center of it, caught in the past while in the present he is struggling to pay the bill. Before John Malkovich was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and before he had a portal that went into his brain for fifteen minutes at a time, he was incredible as Biff Loman, the son who didn't graduate from high school and never got a real job. The feud that these two have had over time that is ripping the family apart seems to be less complicated than it really is, but Willy has done things that have been terrible, like having an affair and making his wife Linda (Kate Reid) suffer and have to stand up for him, but even she is not exactly loving him. Take for example, when the event of the title does eventually happen, and Linda is standing over his grave and she admits herself that she can't shed a tear over his death. And repeatedly she says that he isn't the best of men. But she still is devoted to him and defends him from Biff again and again. Also figuring in less importantly is real ladies man other brother Happy (Stephen Lang of "Gettysburg" and "Tombstone") and neighbor "Uncle" Charley (Charles Durning, who co-starred with Hoffman also quite memorably as Jessica Lange's father in "Tootsie) and his son Bernard (David S. Chandler), who seems to be the most aware character in the movie. And then there's Uncle Ben (Louis Zorich), whose remembered for his line "I went into the jungle at age 17 and came out four years later rich!" and not much else. Anyways, the movie (and play) is a satire on bringing home the bacon and sending your kids off to collage, brought into more "common" terms as "the American Dream." But what really is the American Dream? That's what this movie is getting at. And it works, around the clock, all 135 minutes of it work. Although it's mostly off the basis of the amazing Hoffman and Malkovich as father and son, the film also takes advantage of sets and works that, too. Everything is a facade, there's no roof on the house, and they live near a cemetery. That's what I call capitalization. Anyways, this adaptation may not be quite as good as the legendary play, but it is still a modern masterpiece, one of the best films of the 1980's. And I'm not just selling you that. A

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Game

David Fincher's attempt at a bizarre suspense thriller comes in the form of "The Game," one that unfortunately has a twist that wrecks the film at the end. I won't spoil it for you, but I will tell you that the whole movie, in itself, is such a charging force that it needs an ending that can supplement that fact, but, to tell you the truth, I can't think of any endings that would fit. Anyways, Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, investment banker, rich guy, usual cynic who doesn't appreciate the fruits of his life. On his birthday, his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) comes to meet him and gives him a gift card to Consumer Recreation Services (which "makes your life fun" to quote Connie), which is a company that produces a product that is different for each consumer, which is already sounding ominous. Plus the fact that Van Orton must go through vocal, fitness, and association tests and sign papers for the company. To add to that, a guy he knows from his firm tells him that the experience summed up in John 9;25: "I was blind, but now I see". Van Orton goes on with life still thinking about wether or not he should go through with this game when he finds out that his application has been rejected. He then thinks it's over, but, oh no, it's just beginning. To sum it up: clowns, talking to Daniel Shorr through his television, stains, keys, pictures, a hotel room, fake ambulances, riding in a runaway taxi into the San Francisco Bay and other random things. The scheme, though, is genius: make it ridiculous so when the player goes for help, it sounds absurd, and you are on your own. But I don't see why that can be of any help when everybody is in on it, but then not really, but then really. It's confusing and frustrating and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it is suspenseful and I guess that's all that counts. Other than that, removing the multiple twists that would ruin the movie for you as the viewer, there's not much else. Douglas is pretty good, but the role doesn't call for a lot of great acting, as does Penn's role. Deborah Kara Unger as the mysterious Christine is good. That rounds out the main cast. Spike Jonze makes an appearance, but I didn't notice him. Overall, Fincher does a pretty good job with a pretty cool idea. But the ending is bad and I can't give "The Game" a high rating. B-

Sunday, August 17, 2008

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is not a western or a film about equestrians, it is Sydney Pollack's bleak, sickening, and jarring take on a dance marathon that drives many insane and is downright cruel. It does show horses, and it compares human beings to horses, but is mostly about desperation and wether or not $1500 is really worth everything that all the dancers go through on their quest to take home the cash. Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin star as a couple competing in the physically and mentally demanding dance-off, where they compete against a pregnant woman named Ruby (Bonnie Bedelia) and her husband (Bruce Dern), an veteran named Harry "Sailor" Kline (Red Buttons) and Shirley Clayton (Allyn Ann McLerie) (who is gradually driven insane), a glamorous actress named Alice (Susannah York), and many more competitors in this sadistic and inhumane contest/show run by Rocky (Gig Young), who will do anything to entertain his audience: anything. Anyways, "Horses" is Pollack's most depressing and cinematic film, not better than "Tootsie," but still a cinema classic. The main problem that I found with the movie was how time lapsed unrealistically, and although this was done to create a massive surrealistic effect, it defied the laws of reality in that a body dies after not sleeping for a very long period of time. And the contest committee, although giving food and medical support, only gave small breaks, not enough to stay alive. The movie partially solves this when Buttons' character tragically is worked as far as he can go and he dies, but doesn't include enough realism in this aspect to really lock into us who are looking for flawless material. Not to say that the film does not work, as it most certainly works and works and works as hard as it's characters, and it works well. It was a wise decision to milk the film out to 120 minutes, instead of making it shorter, as it creates the same desperation as a viewer that the onscreen participants are feeling. Plus, to add to that, everyone is really splendid in their roles: Fonda as the always sassy, but ultimately depressed Gloria, Sarrazin as the late entrant who dissolves into the same as Gloria, Buttons as the old-timer, who finally can't go any further, York as the actress who also eventually is driven mad, and Young as the creator and runner of the competition. Superb work by Pollack in his directoral debut, trumping the competition. A-

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Producers (1968)

"The Producers" may very well be Mel Brooks' most revered comedy, as it has been remade into a play and another movie, both starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. This first version, Mel Brooks' debut, is hysterically funny and may very well be his best movie, rivaling his other successes as "Blazing Saddles" and, even more, "Silent Movie." This one stars the ridiculously funny Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, an unsuccessful Broadway producer who has just made a flop, which only played one night. He is looking for a way to make it to the top when his new and uptight accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) tells him that if he raises, say 1 million dollars, he could make more money with a total disaster than he ever imagined. At first, they can't find a play, but finally they discover the absolutely outrageous and flat-out terrible doozie "Springtime For Hitler," written by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) about Hitler and his wife in the countryside in the spring. Bialystock raises the money, hires a terrible director (Christopher Hewett) and casts a psychedelic dude (Dick Shawn) to play Hitler, making it surefire as a total miss and a spot-on scheme. On opening night, the audience is appalled by the outrageous first song, which is "Springtime For Hitler", but, at the first sight of the chilled-out and strange Hitler, they love it. Soon, it is the biggest success on Broadway. I won't tell you the ending, but let me tell you, it's mucho fun and laughs and giggles. Anyways, Mostel and Wilder are extremely freaking funny, making me explode with tons of belly laughter throughout the entire movie. Mars is great as the very annoyed former swastika-wearer whose expectations are not met by the farcical production. Another highlight is the strange actor played by Shawn, who makes the play the funfest that it is. The script is also fantastically fun, filled with tons of Brooksisms and witty jokes. Bottom line: this film is not a flop. A

Monday, August 11, 2008


"Ghostbusters" is a fun movie and not much more, worth maybe a handful of chuckles but not much else. It stars Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and "Groundhog Day" director Harold Ramis as three professors of the supernatural who are kicked out of a generic university because they are "no longer needed." Immediately after they hit the streets, they start the business that is the namesake for the title, offering extermination of ghosts and other paranormal beasts. They have no customers at first, but after solving a hotel mishap and claiming 5 grand and going through a musical montage featuring famous magazine covers for effect, they are national celebrities and crowd-pleasers. While also dealing with exorcisms with Venkman's (Murray) girlfriend (Sigorney Weaver) and her nerdy neighbor (Rick Moranis), they are also dealing with a determined EPA official (William Atherton) and Gozer (Slavitza Jovan), who comes off looking more like David Bowie than the she-devil type the movie is aiming for (according to the descriptions). Anyways, the official finally gets into their top secret storage area and takes off the protection grid, which releases all of the spirits and pretty much reeks havoc on New York City, as if enough hasn't already been disorganized and screwed up. In the climax, the three old Ghostbusters and one new one (Ernie Hudson) face off with the devil thingy and are just about to catch when a particle change goes wrong and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man appears, and well... more havoc and people running around. Ultimately, the outcome is good, and the Ghostbusters are welcomed with open arms to the pretty much oblivious citizens who have just seen their city ripped apart and don't seem to care at all. Anyways, now to the technicalities. No one, except for maybe Moranis, is at his (or her) comic best. Also, I found that Ackroyd's mostly inept buster was the butt of too many jokes and it got too one-note after a while. Plus, Weaver's role as the girlfriend was underwritten by screenwriters Ackroyd and Ramis, and although she was in the film a lot, she was possessed and her dialogue went into the gutter. Moranis was very funny, but the punchline about him being locked out of his room was also relentless and lost it's comical value after, oh, the eleventh time. Bottom line: as you can deduce, this "classic" didn't possess me. B-

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Woody Allen's first entry in his trilogy of guilt-filled murder sagas ("Match Point" and "Cassandra's Dream" being the other two) features two stories: the first about a struggling independent filmmaker named Cliff Stern (Allen) who is offered to do a biography on his corny TV producer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), and the second featuring a successful opthamologist named Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) who is after his mistress (Anjelica Huston) not only for the reason of mending an infidelity, but also because she has information about him embezzling money. The second one sounds a lot like "Match Point", because it is basically the same story (although "Crimes and Misdemeanors" was released in 1989 and "Match Point" was released in 2005), as "Match Point" features Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as a man caught between his wife (Emily Mortimer) and his actress mistress (Scarlett Johanson). The story about Stern also involves relationships while married: while shooting the bio, he meets Halle Reed (Mia Farrow) who is smart, funny, and also in dislike of Lester. Stern is unhappy in his marriage to Wendy (Johanna Gleason of "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Heartburn") and falls in love with Reed. Meanwhile, Rosenthal is decides to go through with getting rid of his mistress via his brother (Jerry Orbach) and, such as other characters in Woody Allen films, such as Colin Farrell's Terry in "Cassandra's Dream" and Rhys-Meyers Chris, he feels guilty, as the words of his rabbi Ben (Sam Waterson) weigh down on him. He goes through the routine of other Allen characters such as visiting a detective but, like the others, gets away clean. On the other side, after he compares Lester and Mussolini and shows personal footage and pretty much shows he doesn't understand what an "upbeat biography" is, he is fired, and then, to add to it all, he loses Reed in a "Manhattan"-style manner: to London. But, the bomb falls in later: Lester and Reed are engaged and Stern is down and out. At the very end, the movie finally comes full circle when the two leads meet and greet and Rosenthal discusses his "murder plot" for a movie, which is obviously the same exact thing that happened. And then, it's over. Now to the technical stuff: Landau is good, but does not deserve the Oscar-nomination he got. Woody gets by just being Woody, and although a lot of the humor in the Stern half is very funny and may even match up to "Annie Hall" ("The first woman I was inside was the Statue of Liberty"), it gets lost inside of the double plot structure, that winds up being manic-depressive. What I mean is every time Landau appears it is depressing and every time Allen appears, the jokes pile up, and it doesn't work. The high point of the movie is Alan Alda as Lester, embracing his goofy side and providing us with a satirical, purposely one-dimensional character that actually was hilarious. The music was also very nice. But the cold hard fact (and why "Match Point" worked and this didn't) is that comedy and drama can't function if they are put right next to each other and cross-referenced again and again repeatedly at nearly the same time. B

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Don't Say a Word: Silent Movie

Better known for such comedic vehicles such as "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein", Mel Brooks churned out this masterpiece-and it may even be better than the other two. "Silent Movie" is an extreme gag-o-rama, filled with many hilarious, witty, and accurately satirical moments that are delightful. The plot: Big Picture Studios is a struggling distributor that needs to make more hits so that it can compete with Engulf and Devour, which is the big cheese of the industry. There to help out the struggling Studio Chief (Sid Caesar) is Mel Funn (Brooks), director, and his two bumbling sidekicks, Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom Deluise). The plan: make the first silent film in 40 years to relaunch the studio and make big bucks. How? Get stars, of course. The celebrity courting scenes (including Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Paul Newman, Liza Minnelli, Marcel Marceau, and Anne Bancroft) are an absolute scream and are some of the best work Brooks has ever done. Anyways, Engulf and Devour is watching the little company grow and decides to send in Vilma Kaplan (Bernadette Peters) to seduce the rising director (who also has a drinking problem). This proves for more hilarious results, and, although this follows a certain formula that Brooks has devised (except with Madeleine Kahn in "Blazing Saddles"), it works well. This leads to the arousing of Funn's drinking problems and, when Kaplan quits E and D, a new member of the Big Picture Studios team. In the end, the shoot works out (and nothing is seen of any of the silent movie in question), and provides for two things: an over-the-top chase sequence (featuring a previous "Coca-Cola" gag as a main feature) and a caricature of a premiere audience that ends up loving the film. Anyways, Brooks is good at endings and hits this one right on target, as he did with the zany and ultra silly fight at the end of "Blazing Saddles." Now, to the message and technicalities: this movie is not only a parody of the moviemaking biz but of Hollywood itself, with jokes about fashion, acupuncture, and star maps. Also, the movie provides laughs in it's idea, taking advantage of being able to put different things on the title cards than what is actually said, plus, allowing for a surprise gag with Marceau that is ironic and very funny. Also, it uses old-time sound effects to also produce mad gags. On another subject, Brooks is good and has a versatile face that works wonders and gets across a lot of expression. Feldman takes up the sidekick role again (he was obviously Igor in "Young Frankenstein") and does it well. Deluise is okay. Bottom line: this film is amazingly funny, and I don't need any more words than that. A