Saturday, January 31, 2009

Catch-22

It is strange watching a 40 year old film when many of the leading players are still alive and still in film. In my mind, stars of 40 year old films should all be dead. I guess this makes me old. Catch-22 has Alan Arkin, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight and Jon Grudin staring in this now classic (is this still standard high school english fare?) tale of war and the psychology of the soldier. Arkin is continually battling a catch-22 situations as he tries to get sent home.

You can get sent home if you are crazy, but you must ask to get sent home and if you ask to get sent home, then you are clearly not crazy.

Staying alive is the secret to life.

There is a law that says you cannot tell me what the law is.

The mood of this film is clearly a precursor to the MASH television series. The crazy person who is the most sane person around, the goofy humor in trying to cope with the insanity of war, the occassional serious moment dealing with death. Catch-22 takes a serious subject and provides a palatable way to think about how ridiculuous and inane it is. And it is able to do this with WWII, which is generally an untouchable war when it comes to anti-war sentiment.
3-stars

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood's swan song? If so, his career provides quite a story arc. Dirty Harry to the Messiah. The one thing I had heard about Gran Torino was that Eastwood growls throughout. Well, that at least is true, and it is mostly appropriate to the character. Eastwood plays Walt, a Korean war veteran who worked 40 odd years in the local Ford factory. He lives in the "old neighborhood" where all his neighbors are now Hmong immigrants. Walt's personality (he does growl at everything and everyone) leads him to befriend a couple of local kids and completely change his outlook on life, while not changing a bit. This is a classic hard exterior, sensitve guy, mentor story that ends with Eastwood saving the day. It held just the right tone, and put together excellent strings of dialogue that were simultaneously hilarious and too good to be real (much like Juno). The Hmong teens played their roles with just enough humility and brash-teen attitude to capture the struggle of teen life that is universal.
4-stars

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New York Doll

I am a bit embarrassed about how much I don't know. Until tonight, I had never heard of the New York Dolls, apparently a seminal band in the development of modern rock. On the other hand, never in my life have I been able to identify, remember or name bands or songs. Listening to Power 105.1 in high school was an endless stream of new songs for me. I could never hope to compete with Tim Curran playing the "First line" game, spitting out the lyrics to a song based on the first few notes. He knew every song, I knew none. So it doesn't surprise me that I was introduced to a new band.
This documentary follows Arthur "Killer" Kane, the bass player for the New York Dolls as the band prepares for a reunion show in London. Kane has been out of music for most of his life since the breakup of the Dolls, has since joined the Mormon church and works in the LDS Family History Library in Los Angeles. Perhaps a tribute to the brilliance of Christopher Guest, this feels a lot like The Mighty Wind with Kane playing the role of Eugene Levy's Mitch. We are alternately drawn into the sadness of a dream lost, the reality of the present, the hope of the future, and the confusion of how it all changed so quickly. Kane mostly portrays a mixture of sincerity and confusion, the 50 year old child who takes just a moment longer to step out of a spider-webbed brain than one would expect. And no excuses are made, this is the man everyone remembers ... "Killer" Kane, so named for his killer base lines.
3-stars

Mystic Pizza

Fantastic 80's fare. Well, fantastic in that if close your eyes now, and imagine an 80's movie (not a specific movie, but "any" movie), you will be imagining Mystic Pizza. Big hair. Cheesy romantic lines. The knowing smile as you turn straight into the camera. The revenge hi-jinks (dumping fish into a convertible porsche). Growing up and finding yourself. Learning a bit more about your family and what really matters. All this in full blown 80's style. Young Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Lili Taylor. It is strange how a decade can result in a visual style that is recognizable, and clearly not marketable "today". But perhaps it is only strange because I was alive in that decade. The fact that films of the 50's have a style doesn't surprise me at all. I wonder what nostalgic view today's movies will present 30 years from now. Will we say that the CGI is so 2000's, or will we remember the stylized action, or proliferation of bio-pics, or that an entire generation learned its history from historical fiction film. Ask me in 2039.
3-stars

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy Accidents

I am surprised that I even watched a movie that can be found with the keywords "Time Travel" and "Romantic Comedy". I would have predicted a movie so cheesy that it was unwatchable. Fortunately I was wrong. Vincent D'Onofrio plays time traveling Sam Deed, who reveals the details of his past (or future?) slowly throughout the movie to love interest Marisa Tomei. The romantic tension comes from the fact that Deed is likable and believable, even with his unbelievable story. And the details of the story are just enough fun to keep us going, wondering whether the causal link will be broken. This is not an exceptionally strong movie in either of its categories (I had not even heard of it until it showed up in my house compliments of the mismanagement of an unwieldy Netflix queue). Yet is was fun enough to be enjoyable.
3-stars

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rating Scale Comments

You may notice that I give most movies 3-stars. This is because there are very few very good or very bad movies. Just as a reminder, my rating scale is something like:
5-stars: Loved it, will watch it again, and will probably own it.
4-stars: Really liked it.
3-stars: Average/Decent/Adequate movies. Some entertainment value.
2-stars: Didn't like it - but I did watch the entire thing.
1-star: I didn't finish it.
Notice that 3-stars is a very broad range of movies. And whether they are worth seeing or not depends on your own taste, and very often mood. Happy viewing.

The Professional

Sometimes I am a bit embarrassed about the movies I like, or at least tolerate. The Professional is a cross between an adequate hit-man story, a coming-of-age drama, and adult enlightenment. Unfortunately it is only adequate in all of these categories. The performances were a bit over played. Gary Oldman a bit too quirky of a bad guy (you could tell he was trying to be quirky), Natalie Portman a bit to enthusiastic as a protege, and Jean Reno a bit too quick to transform from hard edged hitman to playing charades with his new kid (just because she brought him milk).

Hopefully, this ends a string of average, heavy, drama's. Isn't there anything fun out there right now?
3-stars

Valkyrie

This story of the final attempt on Hitler's life in 1944 was interesting. Interesting... not the strongest word of praise for a movie, but about the best I can do for this Tom Cruise vehicle. A couple of things stick in my mind. The portrayal of Hitler gave the impression that he was short of a full deck mentally in that last year. And not just sociopath, but dementia/Alzheimer, lack-of-brain-function problems. While there is likely lots of debate about his mental health, and it doesn't matter for the plot of this movie, it did strike me as different that the character of my expectations. A second point of interest is the conflicted conviction of those involved in the conspiracy. Individuals who were initially fully supportive and committed to the plan, balked when the time came for them to implement their phase. I wonder how this aspect of human nature (to react differently than planned out of fear) would impact my pacifism. I think and believe that there is always an alternative to violence. And yet, if I am ever put in a position of needing to decide whether to use violence or not, will fear drive me to action that is not consistent with my rationality or belief. Strange that an assassination film leads me to these thoughts.
3-stars

Friday, January 2, 2009

Charlie Wilson's War

Tom Hanks plays the fast and loose Texas congressman who champions the covert support for Afghan resistance fighters during the Soviet occupation. A probably too realistic view into how many funding decisions are made in congress highlights that the ego's involved are huge. And while they are subtly portrayed, it is also clear how manipulative the entire legislative process can be based on the power of individuals. And how quickly individual power can rise and fall. Tom Hanks is able to show that Wilson is troubled entirely through body language since his position and personality would never allow an explicit admission of his demons. And while we don't know exactly what the demons are, it is clear that they exist.
4-stars