Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012)

My wife decided she wanted us to go see "Dark Shadows" at the Academy Theater. The Academy is an old second run theater that's near our house. I like it because the prices are cheap and they have pizza and good beer.

So anyway, I've purposely been avoiding reading anything about this movie, so I could just go at it with an open mind, even though I have to confess that I haven't been much of a fan of Tim Burton over the past few years.

So what can I say about this one?

It was a fun movie. The characters were quirky. It had that sort of typical gothic Tim Burton style with the Danny Elfman soundtrack. It was set in the 1970's with lots of 70's music. As far as the story, and the plot, it wasn't really all that engaging. It just seemed to rely heavily on a great cast, and great special effects, some witty dialogue, and a few very entertaining scenes, but there was nothing about it that really drew me in. I kept thinking that maybe it was because I've never seen the T.V. series, and a lot of the humor was going over my head.

Anyway, my wife seemed to like it, and she seemed a little concerned that I didn't, so when she asked me what I thought. The best thing I could come up with was that it was "fun" and "silly."

I think Tim Burton is a very talented director, but I can't help but think, after seeing his last few films, that he's a bit misguided. I think it would be really refreshing to see him break out of this mold that he's sort of casted himself into, and surprise us by making a movie that's different for a change.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crocodile Dundee (1986)

My wife brought home a copy of "Crocodile Dundee" on VHS, and last night we decided to watch it. Somehow, we thought that it was tame enough to watch with our 8 year old daughter. 

So we put it on.

The film had come out in 1986 when I was 15 years old, and I remember it being so hugely popular that even though I had never actually gone out and seen it, I felt like I had. I knew the characters. I knew the plot. I even knew the funniest scenes.

So here I am now, 25 years later, sitting in my living room watching it on VHS with my wife and my daughter. It's funny how things have changed, and how I've grown accustomed to watching DVD's with better resolution, and how crappy VHS looks on my T.V., but with the low production value of "Crocodile Dundee," I didn't feel like much was being compromised.

So we're watching the movie, and it's all pretty much what I've expected... Linda Kozlowski plays a sexy New York journalist who's in Australia, and decides to do a story on Crocodile Dundee, who is this wild guy who lives way in the outback, played by Paul Hogan, who fights crocodiles, and can hypnotize water bison, and stuff like that. 

So she spends a couple days out in the wild with him, to write her story, (although we never actually see her doing any writing, although we do see her take a few snapshots, so apparently she was working.) At a certain point she gets a little upset with the Dundee and decides to break off on her own, and eventually she finds herself near some water and decides to take a little dip and strips down to this G-string swimsuit, which is totally what you would expect a New York journalist to be wearing in the Australian outback in 1986... so that's when I grab hold of the video case and realize that the movie is rated PG-13, and may not be suitable for my 8 year old daughter, but then before she can reveal any more skin, suddenly a crocodile pops out of nowhere and decides it's going to pull her into the water, which wasn't unpredictable, even to my daughter who was already hiding behind the chair. Also, it was not unpredictable how Crocodile Dundee, who had been keeping an eye on her the whole time, pops out and kills the crocodile. (okay I gave it away, but like I said, it's all predictable anyway.)

So they spend a few days together, and he shows her his way of life, and they start to connect, and eventually she has to go, and it's clear that he's become hot for her, because she's able to persuade him to come back to New York with her.

So this becomes the basic premise of the movie... this wild, Australian outback man, trying to adapt to life in the big city, and trying to win over the heart of the journalist, who is apparently with this other guy. The film becomes this series of "comedic moments" where Dundee finds himself in awkward situations, and resorts to his wild back country ways.

But the truth of the matter is that the comedy isn't all that funny, and the jokes get old pretty quick. Even the romance between him and the journalist is pretty predictable and boring. 

One of the things I found to be interesting was how they were able to get away with the portrayal of certain racial and sexual stereotypes that they could never get away with nowadays. There's a certain scene in which Dundee is in a bar and being picked up on by a transvestite, and after he's clued in by his drinking buddy that she is actually a man, he decides to check by grabbing his crotch. Apparently in 1986, this was comedy. Nowadays, I believe it's sexual assault. How do you explain how that's funny to an 8 year old? This is when my wife started fast forwarding the movie.

Normally, I would be upset with my wife fast forwarding through a movie that I was trying to watch, but to be honest, I didn't feel like I was missing very much. 

But I have to confess, there was a scene finally at the end that got a pretty good chuckle out of me, when the journalist finally confesses her love to Dundee, but does it through a game of telephone in a crowded subway station. 

But all in all, it was pretty much what was to be expected, after all, it was Crocodile Dundee for Christ sakes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I came home from work and decided to watch my DVD of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Growing up, my father was a big Stanley Kubrick fan, so I think I was around ten when he brought the VHS home from the video store and I watched it for the first time. It was a pretty exhausting film for a ten year old to sit through, although I remember really liking the prehistoric Neanderthals and, of course, the Jupiter Mission.

Over the years, I have grown to become a huge Kubrick fan, and have seen the film several times, including once on the big screen at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Each time I've seen it, I've learned to appreciate it more and more.

The film is really ahead of it's time. It was released a year before man had even reached the moon, and almost ten years before Star Wars, and yet the special effects are way ahead of anything made at the time.

Also, stylistically, it defied everything that was being done in contemporary film. The pacing was slow and tranquil, and the overall plot was mysterious, and incomprehensible. Even this time watching it, I still find my brain trying to wrap itself around it. It seems to me, that it's a film which probably requires one to read the book (which I haven't) in order to have a better understanding of what's really going on.

The film is basically broken up into four different parts, and is centered around a large, black, extraterrestrial monolith that appears and seems to have some sort of mysterious interaction with mankind.

The first part, is the Dawn of Man, in which a group of prehistoric Neanderthals (or whatever form of prehistoric man they actually are) struggle to survive in the rough climate of the time. One morning they wake up and discover the monolith. They are drawn to it, and touch it. After that, man transforms, when an ape man picks up a large bone and figures out that it can be used for hunting and as weapon to fight off other men... the birth of technology.

This brings us to the second part, which is now the year 2000. I have to say that it's almost humorous to see how ambitious Arthur C. Clark's view of man's technological progress was for that year, and what actually ended up being. In fact, it's now 2012 and we're still not even close. But in the world of Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick, it is now 2000 and we basically spend this part of the film watching a scientist on a secret mission to the moon, where they have uncovered a monolith buried 40 feet below the moon's surface. They are convinced that they have found the first sign of intelligent life outside of earth. This time, when a scientist touches it, it gives off a signal (which we find out later is toward Jupiter) and seems to pierce the ears of the scientists.

This brings us to the third and most entertaining part of the film, the Mission to Jupiter. It is now 18 months later (I'm presuming this part takes place in 2001, since it is the space odyssey.) A group of astronauts and scientists are on a secret mission to Jupiter, following the signal of the monolith. Most of the scientists have been put in a state of hibernation,  except two, who are awake, and tend the spacecraft. The spacecraft, and the scientists in hibernation, are being monitored and controlled by the HAL 9000 supercomputer, which seems to be one of man's biggest technological advances of the time, and considered to be flawless. He talks like a real person, and was built in 1992 (Ha, ha, ha.) Anyway, I don't want to give it all away, but I will say that the HAL 9000 series is not all that it's cracked up to be, which allows for some great suspense and the classic dialogue of the film.

Now the last part of the film, which is the most psychedelic, is the Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite part. In this part, the surviving astronaut (yes, I'm giving it away, sorry) takes a trip down to what seems to be Jupiter. Here we find a monolith floating in space and lining up with the planet and it's moons. The Astronaut takes the long voyage down, incapsulated in lights and lots of glowing visual special effects, and ends up in a large elegant chamber where he seems to watch himself transform into an old man. Then on his dying bed, the monolith appears again, and reaching out to touch it, he is transformed into an embryo, floating in space above the earth.

What does it all mean? I would be lying if I said I could put my finger on it exactly, but it definitely has something to do with the evolution of mankind and his control over technology, or should I say, technolgy's control over him.

It is not a film I would recommend to just anyone. It's not spoon fed, sci-fi entertainment. It's an art film. So if you're looking for quick thrills, you got Star Wars, and Aliens, and Battlestar Galactica, and that stuff. But if you really want to see something different... and can just allow yourself to slow down and zone out to a great soundtrack with great visuals, and a strange and mysterious plot... I encourage you to check it out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

I went to the cineplex the other day and saw Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" with my wife. I don't usually go to the cineplex. I usually go to the second run theaters where I can pay less, and watch the movie with a beer and slice of pizza, and not have to watch stupid commercials before the movie. But because I'm a pretty big Wes Anderson fan, I decided to check it out.

The film was great. The characters were brilliant. The story was sweet, heart warming, and funny.

A must see far all Wes Anderson fans, and highly recommended for anyone who is a kid at heart.

The Bicycle Thief (1948)

I woke up early on my day off, made myself a strong cup of french roast, went down to the basement with my laptop, and watched "The Bicycle Thief" on Netflix.

This gut wrenching tale of desperation was shot in post World War II Italy and directed by Vittorio De Sica. It's a relatively simple plot of a man's quest to find his stolen bicycle, which he needs to keep his job, and his family out of poverty. It's a film about pride, humility, and integrity. It's about staying true to one's principles in the face of adversity.

Even though it's a pretty sad movie, I find it to be really powerful, and a must see for anyone interested in great filmmaking.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Citizen Kane (1941)

Feeling lazy after work, I decided to get back into watching film, and creating a blog about it... so here it goes.

It seems fitting to start this thing off with the classic epic of films, "Citizen Kane."

I was first introduced to this Orson Welles' classic in theatre school. We watched it in a visual communications class. The professor told us that this was probably one of the most innovative films ever made, and really encouraged us to focus on the lighting and the camera work. I remember really liking it from a technical standpoint, but not really finding myself really all that moved by the plot.

But since then,  I've been told, time and time again, that this is the greatest film ever made and I've found myself going back to it, and studying it. I went out and bought myself a copy of it on DVD. and each time I watched it,  I found myself impressed with it's technical brilliance, but really? The greatest film ever made?

So yesterday, I decided to go back and watch it again. I went into my video cabinet and pulled it out from the bottom of a large stack of DVD's and put it in the player. This would be the first time watching it with my new 32 inch T.V. and sound system. Over the last few months my sound system, for whatever reason, hadn't seemed to be working, but for some mysterious reason, it kicked in for the Bernard Hermann soundtrack of Citizen Kane.

"Here we go again old friend." I thought,  as I saw the large white on black title, "Citizen Kane" appear on the screen, and as usual, I was pulled in by it's technical brilliance... the beautiful black and white images, the angles, the pans, the sets, the edits, the writing... with it's different points of view, and the stories told from those perspectives, and just the amazing overall style of the film. I couldn't help but think about the time this film came out, and the films that were being made, and how people probably had never seen anything like it before. Orson Welles was not afraid to make a film that was different than anything that was being made at the time.

Then there's the character, Charles Foster Kane, with his wealth, and power, and contradictions... one can't help but believe that this was a real man (maybe partly because he was actually based on a real man) but the film goes deeper into his character... all his eccentricities, and complexities.

then there's the social context as well... with the political implications behind the power of the media, and it's ability to shape public opinion, which seems to have existed at least as far back as William Randolph Hearst's "yellow journalism" of the late 19th century, as well as in 1941, when this film was made, as well as today, with media mogul's like Rupert Murdoch.

And although the film brilliantly plays off light comedic moments in which Kane purposely alters newspaper headlines to push his various agendas, one cannot ignore the darker implications of a public so easily manipulated by power. It definitely leaves you with something to chew on.

Overall, Citizen Kane is Orson Welles' intricate portrait of a complex man who seemed to have everything he needed, but lost everything he wanted. It's a puzzle with which we search for a simple word, "Rosebud," which is never found within' the world of the film, but is brilliantly placed in the audiences hands at the end, and then dissolved with the warning, "No Tresspassing."

A brilliant film, indeed, but the best film ever made? I think there's better.