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Hollywood Homicide (2003)
Cute movie, until the last 1/2 hour
This is a cute story with almost-believable offbeat characterizations & scenes, about a financially strapped veteran cop & his young partner investigating a multiple murder that it turns out was ordered by... and committed by - get this - a... of all people! Who was the same man who years earlier... Well, let's just say that on one level the plot practically wrote itself. But the characterizations & the situations along the way were just fresh enough to keep my interest - right up until the last act. Then the movie degenerated into the most hackneyed, '80s style chase scene I've seen since, well, the '80s.
It feels like someone had a crisis of confidence in this quirky screenplay and plain lost their nerve when they reached the last 30 pages. I couldn't bring myself to watch it to the bitter end, which is surprising since I was enjoying the story for the first 1 1/2 hours.
BTW, Harrison Ford is starting to get old! Not that that's a bad thing, and it worked well in this movie, but it is surprising.
Intriguing idea, or so I thought
Boomtown had real possibilities. Take a crime & punishment procedural drama, but split up the story among the perspectives of all the people touched by the story - basically the criminals, beat cops, witnessess, paramedics, prosecutor, and cynical reporter.
I assumed this meant we'd get a Rashomon-style mosaic that gradually illuminated the Truth about what really happened and why. But apparently that's not what the producers had in mind. As we see the crime and its aftermath unfold through the various people's perspectives, it's really the same story. These diverse people all see the events happen exactly the same: as the events really, objectively did happen. They just react to the events differently.
That was a disappointing choice, IMO, as this intriguing story structure turns out to be more of a superficial gimmick than something with deeper potential. In fact, it ends up feeling much like every other crime drama out there, since their stories also devote a scene or two to the criminals, a couple to the cops, the detectives, the prosecutor, etc.
Perhaps to compensate for this, as we got to know the main characters over time the writers kept piling up emotional crises & relationship entanglements to their lives. It ended up feeling like a soap opera.
Apparently it got cancelled after a half-dozen or so episodes. Mercifully. Sigh.
At Close Range (1986)
I saw this movie when it first came out, and it's remained one of the most memorable films I have seen since. Sean Penn & Christopher Walken especially produce very powerful, realistic performances. Walken's evil father is a spot-on echo of a relative of mine - right down to the mustache & body language. <shudder> Sometimes, though, Walken's low-class accent is so thick I couldn't make out just what he's saying.
The dialogue is just subtle enough to feel realistic. Although the movie moves along at a slow, deliberate pace, the plot still feels nice & tight. And the cinematography is stylish. An instrumental version of the song Live to Tell, that Madonna turned into a hit, is actually used as the main theme running under almost every scene. It's not often that a pop song associated with a film is actually used in the film itself - usually it's just tacked on at the closing credits. But it was used to great atmospheric effect here.
Panic in Year Zero! (1962)
One's expectations for an early-60s B movie from American International Pictures are never very high. But this movie was a surprisingly well thought out & thought-provoking story.
Just as a family has left LA for a vacation in the woods, the US suffers a massive nuclear attack on all its major cities from, uh, an unnamed enemy. (Wink wink...) But you won't find any marauding mutants here. In fact this film isn't about nuclear war per se. It really wants to explore the nature of civilized society. The father, well portrayed by Ray Milland, is grimly determined to protect his family at all costs for as long as it takes for order & civil authority to be restored, which he's sure will be a long time coming.
The father is a good man, but a little paranoid & controlling. This probably wouldn't be noticeable in normal times, but now they're in a panicked rush to escape the LA metro area & gather enough supplies to last for months in the wilderness - ahead of all the other people who are starting to clog up the freeways & empty out the grocery stores along the escape route. The contradiction between following the rules & protecting your loved ones in desperate times is very effectively illustrated as he makes some reckless decisions along the way.
Normally for a low budget 60's film like this, I wouldn't even bother thinking about how it could've been improved. But since it's so good at presenting a major moral dilemma in a realistic way, think of these nits as a sign of respect: Milland's character could use a little more introspection, but of course so could a lot of early 60's dads! (Not that Milland's performance was wooden - it was great. But his character had a very constricted personality.) His wife could use a little more assertiveness. She actually realizes this, and explains that she's still in shock over the attack - but after Sept. 11 a lot of us understand that after a good catharsis we can deal with a lot of trauma that initially would immobilize us. After having a good cry, she could've acted as a better conscience for some of the father's more paranoid acts. Also the daughter's character needed some fleshing out.
But of course this is an early 60's film, and clearly made on a low budget. And given its time & budget it is an amazing gem of a film. Definitely one to seek out!
Eat your peas...
...they're GOOD FOR YOU.
Oh, and watch this movie. It's GOOD FOR YOU too. Stop squirming. Stop complaining that it's too slow & ponderously self-important. There are funny bits in it, trust me. There, wasn't that funny? Don't shrug your shoulders at me, young man. (sigh) OK, just watch it and THINK about The Message. It's an IMPORTANT FILM. There will be an essay on this IMPORTANT FILM due tomorrow, you know.
Oh stop pouting.
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (1929)
A bit disappointing
I had heard of Man with a Movie Camera ever since film class in college, so I know it's supposed to be a classic of experimental film. And it does work - to an extent.
MWAMC tries to capture the feel & rhythms of a modern city (Moscow), as well as the joy of living & working in the Workers' Paradise. Stylistically, the closest I'd compare it to would be Koyannisqqatsi & Powaqqatsi. And this movie suffers by comparison.
Now I know that this was made in 1929 and K & P were made in the 80's, but it's more a comparison of creativity & vision of the filmmakers than the technology they had at their disposal. The new score by the Alloy Orchestra (if that's the version of the film you see) is compelling - somewhat reminiscent in fact to Phillip Glass' scores for K & P - but if you ignore the score, then the visuals of the film itself aren't all that striking.
The American President (1995)
A cartoon fantasy for Democrats
Really, how else to possibly describe this movie? The characters are all cartoon cutouts - especially the eeeeevil Republicans. The dour gray-haired Republican prez candidate has no real issues to run on (but I repeat myself), so the eeeeevil Republicans deviously scheme in their smoke-filled room to undermine the saintly Democrat president's credibility. But I thought Richard Dreyfuss miscalculated his portrayal of his Bob Dole-like character by not bursting out at some point like Simon Legree with a "Nyah ha haaaaa!!!". Would've added a little subtlety. Just a quibble...
Anyways, the dastardly Republicans are able to hurt the saint - er, President because this widower has - horrors! - A girlfriend! We know their love is pure by the sappy music that always swells up when they're in the same room, and by the dating advice his daughter gives him in between tuba practices.
OK, so Republican- (or conservative-) bashing is part of the standard Writers' Guild contract. But there's NO clause that says the writer & director MUST insult your intelligence while doing it. Jeez!
Bigger Than Life (1956)
Great nuanced performance by James Mason
Surprisingly engaging film, mostly due to James Mason's portrayal of a decent man who slowly, subtly becomes more & more delusional after being saved from imminent death from a regimen of (then-experimental) cortisone.
Is it the drug? Or is he just going thru some kind of mid-life crisis, or survivor-catharsis, or what? His performance (&/or his character's writing) is just subtle enough that you're not completely certain why he's gradually becoming more manic & obsessed.
It's as good as any of today's movies of the week.
A Bell for Adano (1945)
Well written story
This is one of those films made during late WWII about WWII. It has some of the feel of the Italian neo-realist films that were starting to be made around this time. This is definitely a good thing - it doesn't feel like an overproduced, overwritten studio effort.
The story slowly draws you in as the new American administrator of a little Italian village arrives and tries to help the townspeople get used to life as a free people again, and to get their lives & livelihoods restarted.
The writing is mostly fresh and natural, as is the acting. The only false notes are the bumbling Italians who become the Americans' assistants, and to a lesser extent the standard poor-yet-dignified villagers. But compared to most films of the era they're minor annoyances.