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Shaun of the Dead (2004)
History will vindicate
there has been a glut of zombie movies lately, so when this turned up I honestly didn't have high expectations. I've never seen "Spaced" so I'm not familiar with the actors/writers. So the movie was an incredible surprise for me. Incredibly enjoyable, with wit bubbling up in the places you'd least expect it.
One can describe this as a parody of both zombie and "british slacker" films, but i don't really view SOTD as a spoof seeing as how both genres are known for their self-satire. the genius is its bringing together the slacker and zombie models in one movie. it's incredibly funny but oddly poignant too, much like (the first) Dawn of the Dead.
Barton Fink (1991)
Throw it hard
Forget what other idiots have said about this movie, this is one of the most economical and perfect films. if it seems overlong and boring to you, then you are most certainly a slackjaw awaiting the return of Steven Seagal to the silver screen. This movie is for anybody who has ever had the desire to create art and also had the presupposition that they had anything worth saying. This movie brilliantly not only answers the questions of how artist create, but also how fascist regimes get started, how the Holocaust happened, why we are not particularly wiser about it even now. If you are not bothered by this film, you are never going to have any effect on the planet. You may observe, but you are not inculpable.
Slick Rick in an Art Film??
i can understand why the makers of this film would want to exaggerate the situation, but i didn't think it need to be set in Iowa. as previous users have mentioned, Iowa is not drug- and black-free, but its image is of wholesome, all-white nostalgia. i didn't really buy Danny Hoch's Flip as an Iowa native, he still sounds too Brooklyn. i think it would have been better if it taken place in Jersey, but i understand the director's desire to show just how far Flip stretches.
That said, i think it's a brilliant, if flawed, movie. it spends a bit too much time watching Flip do his misguided thing, before getting to the climax in Cabrini-Green. Hoch is great at affecting that 'what the hell is going on?' look, and tho this may sound weird, he doesn't overplay the character, except when he's in full blown hip hop mode. other than that his character is completely believable. he nails that character so well, the guy we've all known who has some idea in his head so large he can't hear anything else. Until he takes it too far.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
instead of this turning out to be a (good) PT Anderson movie that just so happens to star Adam Sandler, it's actually an 'Adam Sandler' movie that it just so happens was directed by PT Anderson. And it's not funny. there once was a time when i thought PT Anderson was the only young director around who had the potential to create a complex world similar to what Kubrick and especially Altman. But it is revealed in this movie more than ever before that while he has absorbed the lessons of Altman, he doesn't actually understand any of it. He's content to throw things at the screen and hope something sticks. People who enjoy this movie are suffering from 'stone soup' disorder: they see in it whatever they want to see. They think Sandler's performance is deep, that there is romance in this film, that the items that take up screen time and space are meaningful and useful. In reality, the film is a mishmash, an arthouse movie for people who never understood what the arthouse was for in the first place. there may be a film to be made about two ciphers who get together out of mutual desperation, but this ain't it.
Blue in the Face (1995)
Linden Boulevard, Represent, Represent!
This is a great little set piece to celebrate the diversity and chaos that is, among many other things, my home. Brooklyn is the main character of this story and despite the film's limited scope (set mostly around a tobacco store near Windsor Terrace), it manages to really get at that feeling that makes Brooklyn the only place I wanna live. All the people here, whether they're bored by Brooklyn or fascinated by it, are connected by the genuinely weird way we manage to live together, despite our very prominent differences.
Getting marooned all in the name of British Valour
A truly amazing film, and at least one good thing to come as a result of British self-importance. Film was still in its early years; leave it to the Brits to capitalize on it to record their abortive undertaking at the south pole. Still it is an admirable effort, and the photography is often startling, especially since the Milestone release. Thanks to the previous commentor for the bibliography, as I too had to wonder what became of the sled dogs, who seemed at least as dedicated as their human counterparts.
Ghost World (2001)
I want more dread for my $10
I know I shouldn't get caught up in the whole 'book vs. film' ting, but I was sorta disappointed, in that the vision of the original comic is more or less abandoned here. It doesn't seem much like a 'ghost world' does it? except for poor Norman. In the comic, the whole tale has a pall over it, a feeling of disassociative dread. most characters walk around with that Clowesian blank stare. Even Al the waiter is to involved in this film!
Now, this could mean a couple of things. The director could have been attempting to show that this 'ghost world' is yes, just our everday life, etc., instead of showing things more from Enid and Becky's POV. They look upon the things we all accept and see it like Roddy Piper saw the aliens in "They Live". I wish the movie had more of that feeling. I felt like it couldn't decide how it wanted to proceed.
That said, I think Scarlett Johannson's performance is spot-on, whereas Thora Birch's doesn't seem quite right. Maybe it's the comic again, but Birch's Enid is not angry enough, not explosive enough, and darn it all, she's just a little too cute for the part. There's a line in both comic and film where Enid says something about how the guys always go for Becky and not her. In the comic, maybe so. But in the movie, come on!
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
The musical is not dead after all
This film (and its stage predecessor) do what few musicals have been able to accomplish: make itself hip without being smarmy or oversentimental. When you think about people you know who openly express their love of 'musical theatre', these are usually not your hippest friends. Most musicals come from the same well that brought us Rosie O'Donnel's brand of entertainment (it is not wholly ironic that Ms. O'Donnel makes an appearance in the film). Most recently, Baz Luhrmann brought us "Moulin Rouge" which tries so hard to be a hip musical it decides to distance itself from its own musical aspects. The inclusion of pop songs in 1900 french backdrop comes off as an attempt to capture the earnestness of musicals with none of the responsibility that should be attendant. The effect is not so much hipness as it is questions to whole notion of why Luhrmann bothered to make a musical at all, if he could not commit to its basic aspects.
Enter this version of "Hedwig", and the hollowness of "Moulin Rouge" becomes apparent. In this film, we have great songs with smart lyrics that unfold the narrative on several levels at once. They act as exposition, foreshadowing, transitions between segments, exclamation, etc. And they, of course, rock. Compare this to the fleeting novelty of having Ewan Macgregor in period costume sing Elton John's "Your Song" to Nicole Kidman. Sure it was cute for a minute, but who could be so cynical as to assume an audience would put up with that for an entire film? Well, maybe they did put up with it, but they shouldn't have.
I only hope more people see "Hedwig" to see what a movie musical can be. My only fear is that John Cameron Mitchell and Steven Trask won't continue to produce at this level for stage and screen.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
The Inkblot of the Class-System
It's truly amazing to see the way people react to this film. It's like an accident scene, and when giving their account to the cops, each witness sees something different. Everybody has an opinion on what the movie means, what the characters represented. But you're all wrong.
But even I'm not right about it. And that's the point. Your reaction to this movie reveals more about you than it does the film. For instance, the people who describe Radio Raheem as a "thug" and "full of rage", where do you get that? Cuz I don't see that at all, I see a big kid with a big box listening to a song he likes. I don't agree with all his actions or especially his logic, but it seems to not be able to see his humanity is a sign that a viewer is already defensive. But that's just me.
Others have theories based on the way the shots are composed. While there are established techniques like they describe, they seem to be unable to see past the conventions and into the way Spike is messing with the form, messing with our ideas of 'good' and 'bad'. Again, just my reaction.
Some others seem to think that Spike is being one-sided and saying that sometimes 'doing the right thing' means throwing a garbage can through a window and burning down somebody's business. somehow i got the impression that this was NOT the right thing to do, that the irony of the title is that even those of us who consciously try to be morally pure have a lotta trouble doing it in complex real life.
everybody can probably agree that what gives this movie it uneasy tone is the fact that Altman was never a comedic director. his instincts for film are beyond reproach but here it's not enough to have the characters and sets dressed up to comic surreality. the camera has got to be there, too, and it just isn't in many places. we watch the slapstick proceedings like we are watching the singer's breakdown from "Nashville". The result is a sort of disconcerting experience, to be sure, but not without its merits. Its tone reminds me a lot of "Neighbors", both films shot by directors with little comedy experience. imagine what audiences must have been thinking when both these films came out in the early 80s: "whoa, i just don't get this new brand of humor!" But despite (or possibly because of) the oddity of this film, I have always enjoyed it. Popeye's constant asides (inspired from the poorly animated early cartoons), and the incredibly detailed cast of characters work for me; i only wish they'd fleshed out more of the lesser figures. when the credits roll every character is named, but i doubt half of them get speaking lines in the movie.