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In an effort to continue cataloging the movies I see each week I’ll be posting them in this format with the “movies” and “reviews” tags. Each post will feature this introduction and a brief review of each movie including several merits and faults. Each description will have a short prefix including the format in which I viewed the movie, which I hope will provide some context for understanding how I ended up watching the movie. “^” means worth watching. “*” means a favorite. On a rare occasion I may use “**” to donate a must see. If a movie passes the Bechdel Test, it will have an “&” sign.

Five Easy Pieces ^
(Netflix Watch-it-now)
Jack Nicholson stars with Karen Black in American classic about alienation and disillusion. As a part of the 1970s American New Wave it’s filled with complex themes, deep messages, and simultaneously repressed rebellious overtones. Films like Badlands (which I’ll review next) and even Alien are said to have been made possible by early counter-culture films like Five Easy Pieces. Thus the introspection and artfully constructed long shots. The rainy atmosphere throughout the middle to end of the film are really nice and remind me of Twin Peaks, or even The Goonies. The film’s opening scene, featuring the song “Stand by your Man”, and the scene at the diner where Nicholson yells at a diner waitress are probably the most famous and memorable. If you ever see a lifetime achievement award reel of Nicholson’s work, you’ll probably see the diner scene (I feel like I already have). That said, There are plenty of other beautiful scenes that make the film stick with you. The final scene with Robert (Nicholson) and his wheel-chair ridden statue of father, for example, comes as a beautiful soliloquy in a desolate grey landscape. No doubt the film is worth seeing (eventually, at least), especially if you’d like to study cinema in any way. 

Badlands *
(Bloomington @ “The Curiodrome” – Tuesday’s with Nile Arena
Terrence Malick’s most famous film, next to the Thin Red Line (which I have yet to see). This film really has a lot in common, stylistically speaking, with Five Easy Pieces—it came out during the same “New Wave” period. Though, I think a lot more ideas are discussed and explored in this film versus FEP. While FEP feels repressed and linear, Badlands is rebellion from the start—rhetorically is practically picks up where FEP leaves off. It’s certainly intellectually heady, and fairly introspective too, but somehow Badlands has a bit more fun than the aforementioned. Murder, family problems, running from the police, stealing from the rich, and a little bit of the Huck Finn lifestyle find there way into this film. It’s certainly an American classic, no doubt. Empty western expanse coupling with seminal images of southern life along America’s muddy river fuel a particularly rural comportment. The film’s ending, which I won’t give away, is hilarious in it’s exemplification of a certain way of thinking. Definitely worth seeing, particularly if you’re a cinephile. 

Toy Story 3 *
(Karasote’s theater which was recently purchased by AMC, which as of now is somewhat ambiguously named, but it is in the “College Mall” area of Bloomington Indiana)
I got some flack for really loving this film, but I understand the sentiment. It’s the third installment of another blockbuster dynasty film franchise. Just goes to show that no production company, no matter how sacred amongst it’s dedicated fans, is immune from the evil that is the sequel. Clearly, I tend to agree with the pretentious in sequel boredom. However, that doesn’t make this a bad film, it’s just part of the Toy Story 3’s reality. On the contrary, Pixar has given this film as much thought and creativity as the previous two films, while still exploring new unexplored sentimentalities. The film doesn’t do as good a job at alienating us from human activity (which the exception of toddlers), as the previous films. In fact, the premise of the film is a dedication to humans. In TS3 humans are rewarded for their uncanny lack of awareness by a dedication from their most loved toys. The main drive of the film are the sentiments that are generated from the fear of abandonment. Admittedly, I did cry during the movie (as I do at most Pixar movies), and I genuinely enjoyed the film (and there’s no way I’d see it in 3D, though, but to borrow from Ebert, “just don’t get me started”). Worth seeing if you like most previous Pixar movies.

10 Things I Hate About You
(Netflix Watch-it-now)
This was a “I can’t fall asleep—I guess I’ll watch something I don’t have to think too much about” situation. The film is simple, and the exhaustive Shakespeare references amass quickly solidifying that this isn’t a new story—the movie is an adaption of “The Taming of the Shrew”. As a high school film it’s pretty standard, and I’m not sure what more could be expected from this genre of film than what is offered here. The cast of the film is pretty great, featuring: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s cute and hormonally satisfying: first-boy sets up plot to get the first-girl, his plot involves second-boy being paid to date first girl’s sister, second-boy accidentally falls in love for real, drama and comedy ensue. It was a pretty quintessential high school film when I was in high school. Don’t know if it is today, but it probably should be. It’s a super cheesy movie, it’s fun and it doesn’t involve a lot of work.

When Harry Met Sally
(Netflix Watch-it-now)
This has got to be the most neurotic love story ever told, beating out even Woody Allen for insecure awkwardness. I genuinely felt a little sick watching certain parts of this movie. That said, there’s a certain art to this type of romantic comedy, a sort of script writing that must be respected for the same reason Seinfeld got syndicated. The a scene from the movie that sounds like it was written by Larry David, Sally fakes an orgasm in a restaurant to prove that it’s easy for women to do. (Side note, a clip of the scene’s on youtube and has gotten well over a million hits between several versions). To me, though, the film is frustrating. 12 years of falling in love is really frustrating, even for a spectator. To exemplify how OK the film makes it, though, Harry and Sally’s story is compared to a bunch of completely different (albeit still ‘in love’) elderly couples. The framing offers a justification for their unique love story, right? So, I guess, even professional cynics can find romantic love.

High and Low *
(Netflix Watch-it-now)
Another Akira Kurosawa masterpiece. The film reminded me a bit of one of my favorite Hitchcock films called Rope, because a lot of the movie takes place in just one room. This is situational drama, wherein something happens and all of the possible options are explored on screen and through dialog. It’s like wathing a chess master’s thoughts play out a real drama. Needless to say, it’s heady, it’s got subtitles (for the non-native Japanese speakers) and thus requires a lot of reading, it’s in black and white, and it’s pretty slow compared to contemporary Hollywood movies. That said the end of the film is just fantastic, featuring a really cool undercover chase scene, drug murders, and bad-ass sunglasses. Besides being pretty, I think it’s a rewarding, mentally engrossing film. It’s a classic, and another must-see for the Cinephile.

Showgirls
(DVD from ‘Plan 9’ in Bloomington) Of all the movies I decided to spend my precious money on for a full featured DVD, it had to be this one… As the director’s commentary states, and I’ll paraphrase, this is an amazing movie because everyone involved, from the gaffer to the screenwriter, seems to be making the worst possible decision at each moment of the films production. Paul Verhoeven, whose other works include Total Recall, and Starship Troopers, has found a way to make instant cult classics. I had an argument with fellow spectators regarding how bad Paul’s movies are (each of them defending the aforementioned films for different reasons). The fact of the matter is, the movies ARE bad, but they are bad in a GOOD (cult) way—a way that our nostalgia obsessed postmodern culture has quickly instilled in our collective unconscious. Anyway, women are blamed for things that they had never been previously recognized for doing in Showgirls. The main themes of female conversation throughout the film are the female body (i.e. tits, when the audience can see them), potato chips, and painting nails. But the movie is a tragedy for two other important reasons: it was a terrible career choice for the already scarred co-star of Saved by the Bell, Elizabeth Berkley (Jessie), and the film features Kyle MacLachlan of David Lynch fame. Why? I don’t know. Anyway, Showgirls was the first movie to make me genuinely bored, wait, not just bored, but downright numb, from female frontal nudity. Enjoy.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans ^
DVD from ‘Plan 9’ in Bloomington)
This almost made it worthwhile to rent full featured DVD’s after my run in with Showgirls… “Herzog, what the hell is going on!? …Wow. Alright, whoa that’s abstract… Wait, what’s tha—Jesus Christ!” Throughout most of the film, those were my thoughts. Between yelling at elderly women while tearing out their oxygen nose tubes,being on cocaine and painkiller benders for days on end, and taking hits from his lucky crack pipe, Nicholas Cage destroys this role. In the best way. Furthermore, though the film is certainly a Hollywood production, far from the documentaries (or fauxcumentaries, as I call them) to which Herzog owe’s his acclaim, certain shot choices scream Herzog. Namely, several shots with extreme close up perspective shots of reptiles. A friend whom I watched the film with also informed me Herzog has never seen the original Bad Lieutenant, and came up with the idea for this movie based on reading the title alone of the original film. The eccentricities of this film notwithstanding, it’s quite topical in American culture—focusing on an area that is still poignant for it’s devastation (as if the Hurricane weren’t enough, now the Gulf states’ suffer from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill). Surprisingly, I haven’t even heard of any other films about post-Katrina New Orleans—at least not any that have garnered as much attention as this one. Regardless, Scarface, eat your heart out, I think Herzog’s one-upped you.

It’s Complicated
(Netflix DVD)
I’m sort of embarrassed to say I watched this—so this’ll be a lazy review It’s just a typical star-driven romantic comedy—thanks to Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, who were particularly hot when the film was released. The film also features that guy from The Office (John Krasinski), as a brother-in-law, and Steve Martin, as the new architect boyfriend, so, you know, it’s got that going for it…Here we see a upper-upper-middle class divorced couple, sort of, kind of, falling in love again—which is really weird, but I suppose it’s probable. Clearly, I struggled through this one. Will Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep get back together? That’s the real question of the movie, and if you picture their past roles and public identity, you can pretty much see how the film ends. Like all romcoms the funniest scenes are just situational comedy, the most pleasent scenes are montages of dreamy romance, and I can think of about two of each that really stand out. So, I give this film a four. It’s no Sleepless in Seattle, that’s for damn sure.

Departures **
(Netflix Watch-it-now)
Winner of best foreign film at the Oscars in 09’, Departures truly deserves it. It’s a profoundly moving film, featuring an incredible score, beautiful cinematography, a deeply fascinating story, superb acting, and on and on. The formalism and imagery is just breathtaking and a delight to take in. One cut from the closing of a coffin to the flying away of birds stuck with me as a perfect example of film poetry. Similiarly, The central character, Daigo’s, father’s face is blurred in the his memory—a brilliant example of using the nature of the film medium to create an authentic empathy (and reminding me of my favorite Woody Allen moment, when he “loses his focus” in Deconstructing Harry). I would recommend this film above and beyond the others I’ve seen recently, it’s spotless.

Hausu * &
(Xvid Backup)
Hausu was recently released on Criterion collection, so this is a well timed review (which I’m bad at). I actually watched it twice (once with subtitles, and once without) for this review. Hausu is at once crazy, nonsensical, transcendent, inspiring; but also, campy, kitschy, violent, confusing, and genuinely bizarre. I don’t know much else about this filmmaker, as must Americans don’t. He’s certainly no Takashi Miike yet, in terms of cult filmmaker namedropping. However, as I’ve recently learned, he’s a prolific and well-know filmmaker in Japan. He started in experimental and avant-garde film in the 60’s and later branched into TV and feature length films, starting with Hausu. The movie follows a young woman having a conflict of interest with her widowed father who has recently decided to start dating again. On a defiant whim she invites some friends on a summer vacation to her aunt’s house. She hasn’t seen her aunt in a long time, and when they arrive the house could use some fixing up. The girls resolve to fix the house up for fun, but things start happening before they can make any headway. The film is unbelievably visually engrossing. The special effects are basically the opposite of CGI, and mind bogglingly cool. We’re talking film directly drawn on, cutting out and layering of film, crazy vinetting, and that’s just in a few seconds of this hour and a half long film. It’s a ton of fun, and even if you get confused, as you inevitably will, it’s a blast and a half plus laughs.

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