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Yogi Bear (2010)
With his Leo Gorcey hat and Yankees legend moniker melded with '30s LA faddism, this cabbage patch Pangloss dispenses truisms as if they were tile grout at a Home Depot seminar. Echoes of Trollope and Swift rise from the repartee like glistening quartz from an upscale lunch counter. While he may be a misbegotten victim of parental lust (as his name implies), Boo-Boo, like Jacob Riis before him, surreptitiously acquits himself from Jungian criminality while cryptically evoking sedition through bow tie lensing. Vodka and lox enhance the arrival of jurisprudence via Cavanaugh and Faris' evocation of Lombard and Beery. There is a clever nod to Bernard DeVoto's unpublished monograph on the frog mouthed turtle and its echoes of Mussolini's balcony rants. While the unwashed flock to Fokkers, Yogi and BooBoo point the way, ala Arne Saknussemm, to the truth above the core. This is a cultural totem worthy of Sartre, with Camus in attendance wielding a scalpel. Harpes et luthes, Yogi!
Funny Games (2007)
The Debate Is Over
This is it. This is the worst movie ever made. Congratulations to the filmmaker, Charles Manso...oh, excuse me, I mean Micheal Haneke. As soon as your keepers at the asylum allow it, you will receive The Golden Turd Award for being the first filmmaker to create a movie about sadistic torturers that actually sadistically tortures the audience. The scene where you rewind everything and spit in the audience's face is sheer genius, I guess. Although I'm in mourning for the precious time I wasted watching this diseased merde, I'm profoundly grateful that I'll probably never meet you. Again, congratulations, man, you did it!
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The most interesting character in this film is the heist's mastermind, the newly paroled Reidenschneider. With old world urbanity and an implied first rate education, he could easily be a tenured professor at Heidelburg. But occasionally, another side of him surfaces. When he speaks of killing a cop being as being a "bad rap", and suggesting to Emmerich that he contact the insurance company for a ransom to buy back the jewelry, ( a plot point in the much later heist film "Heat"), he seems to have spent most of his life in crime. Of course , there have been many similar characters in movies, but what makes him unique is his obvious predilection for young girls. In the most memorable scene, he dallies too long at a roadhouse because he wants to watch a nubile girl jitterbugging to a jukebox, and is subsequently nabbed by the cops. This psychosexual enigma, expertly delineated by Sam Jaffe, bears a closer look as one of cinema's most intriguing characters. Contrast this character with Emmerich, the corrupt defense attorney. He too is fascinated with much younger women, but he realizes his lusts with a vapid mistress in her 20's. Hardly a unique situation, of course, but Doc's voyeurism and Emmerich's lechery both lead to their downfall.
Go ahead, laugh at it, look down (or hold) your nose at it, walk away in disgust. But there is no other film like "Gummo." You thought "Eraserhead" was the ultimate glimpse of modern insanity? This gimlet eyed perusal of life's inanity out-Lynches Lynch at every turn. The thin line between humor and horror is stretched like a Silly Putty rubber band as each scene interlocks like the fingers of a demented strangler around the throat of complacency. Two scenes in particular win "Gummo" the Palme D'Horror. The chair wrestling scene in the nondescript every-kitchen sums up the unvented rage of a drunken Saturday night in every still inhabited midwestern ghost town. Mark Twain would have fired up a stogie and laughed approvingly at the beat down administered to the insolent object that culminates in the dissolution of its identity through dismemberment. This demented tableau is exceeded only by an episode that once and for all settles the dispute between pasta and soap. Witnessed by a piece of bacon affixed to the consecrated bath tiles of an Ohio sacristy, the gnomish Solomon elevates spaghetti into the realm of American redemption. After this gastronomic apotheosis, the film has no option other than resignation to the void. Bring your own alcohol, you won't need any hallucinogens. They are inconsequential here.
Last Night (1998)
Remembering Rod Serling
Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" is certainly one of the greatest television series ever, and a 1961 episode titled "Midnight Sun" may have been the inspiration for this film. Or maybe not. But it immediately came to mind as I realized what event would bring about the termination of the earth in this movie.. In Serling's tale, the earth has slipped its orbit and is moving towards the sun, as the few people remaining in an abandoned city await the end in an increasingly hot environment. While this film doesn't have the psychological twist to its ending that "Midnight Sun" had, it does evoke the same sad, elegaic mental landscape of the characters. OK, so the science here is way off, but I think that may be part of McKellar's intention. He's less interested in telling a science fiction yarn than relating an allegorical memento mori to a stupefied culture.
Hello Dolly? It Was Nice While You Were Gone
First of all, what was with the constant replaying of that horrible song from one of the greatest stinkers of all time? I'm talking about "Hello Dolly". This movie was a total bore, and while the animation is superb, it's mostly a lot of whirring machinery, cold and sterile. The plot seemed lifted from elements of William Gibson's novel "Neuromancer." The amorphic human blobs are poorly rendered, by the way. My 5 year old granddaughter was bored stiff. This doesn't compare in any way to "Toy Story" or "Finding Nemo." Wait for the DVD and load up on plenty of coffee beforehand. Probably Pixar's worst yet. But seriously, does anyone have a take on the "Hello Dolly" obsession? Is it some sly, gay inside joke or what?
LA Is Not The Whole USA
Since most of us don't live in LA, we never heard of the Z Channel. According to this smug documentary, that means the rest of the American populace is composed of dimwits who don't even know what a foreign film is. You'd think Jerry Harvey created the whole film culture that exists today. Some of the "unknown" films featured here, such as "La Notte" and "This Man Must Die", that Harvey "rescued" from obscurity with the Z Channel were shown on a local TV station here in St. Louis in the mid-60's. And if you bothered to read Stanley Kauffman's "A World On Film" or Pauline Kael's "I Lost It At The Movies" back then, you might be almost as hip as the self-centered jerks Jarmusch and Tarantino. There were many art-house theaters in mid-America back in the 50's and 60's that showed foreign films, often at a money losing cost. Maybe someday someone could make a film about that cultural anomaly, instead of another overblown tribute to the superior intellect of Angelenos. Get lost, LA, and take your crappy sequels and remakes of stinky TV shows with you.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
How Soon We Forget
Does anyone remember a guy named Sam Peckinpah? This movie is a total ripoff of his work, from the camera work to the setting to the acting styles. I liked this movie because I've always loved Peckinpah's films, but the wild, ridiculous amount of praise this so-so film is getting is ludicrous. I think a lot of it is coming from younger viewers who know little or nothing about Peckinpah. If you can tear yourself away from Halo 3 long enough, try renting "The Wild Bunch" and, especially, "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia", to see where the Coens got their ideas. This is probably their homage to Peckinpah, anyway, but it seems he's been unjustly forgotten by the dimwit critics that are falling all over themselves proclaiming this film a masterpiece.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Broke records. So What?
"Spidey Trounces Sith" That's the headline on IMDb's Studio Briefings page today. Why should we care how much this laughably bad movie made in less than a week? The media seems to be under the misconception that a movie should be judged by how much dough it rakes in. OK, it's a lot easier to use numbers to gauge value (as opposed to aesthetic worth, which is close to nil here), but unless you're a Sony exec or shareholder, why are we supposed to be fascinated by box office numbers? Capitalist culture gone mad? This thing is a pure stinker. So I guess the studio publicity machine can only focus on the mind boggling profits surrounding Spiderman 3's release, which is, as the old saying goes, like putting perfume on a hog.
Talk Radio (1988)
Give Me A Break
The most remarkable thing about "Talk Radio" is how bad it is. The callers' voices all have a phony, reading-from-a-script ring to them. An evening with an annoying loudmouth at a Dallas radio station is told with the portentousness of a Sartrean glimpse into Hell. Stone tries for an existential revelation and gets unintended comedy instead. Whenever a caller makes a "profound" (empty) point about something, Stone shoves the camera at one of his character's face as they are stricken with some traumatic realization that is never revealed to the audience. Bogosian overacts throughout in one of the most irritating performances ever smeared onto celluloid. Underrated classic? Give me a break.
No Time for Sergeants (1958)
"No Time For Sergeants" is truly one of the most hilarious movies ever made. Pair Andy Griffith's performance in this with his role in "A Face In The Crowd", and you realize what a versatile, talented actor "Sheriff Andy" really was back then. I don't put much stock in "best of" lists, but the fact that this film didn't make AFI's list of 100 Greatest Comedies borders on the criminally insane. The fact that this movie was left off the list in favor of such timeless knee-slappers as "Broadcast News" and "Moonstruck" is actually funnier than most of the movies on that list. I know, who cares about a stupid list? But maybe this classic would have gotten some of the recognition it deserves. I noticed a lot of people who have commented here caught this movie by accident, and were surprised by how funny it is.
Hell to Eternity (1960)
Early Combat Gore Film
I first saw this film on TV back in 1965, and I remember being struck by the extensive use of blood squibs in the combat scenes. Graphic close ups of exploding bullet wounds were rarely, if ever, used in a film before this. While squibs are a banal element in most action films now, it was unique to see them in a film back then. I don't remember a film using them this much until 1969's "The Wild Bunch." Anybody know of any movies released earlier than this one that used this technique? This one is hardly ever on TV, which is a shame, because action junkies would love it. The combat scenes are very well done, for the time, anyway.
Broken Flowers (2005)
Since Don is a blankfaced cipher throughout this film, it could be Jarmusch is playing a very broad joke at the expense of his audience. His first encounter with Lolita is the realization of most middle aged men's fantasies; a young woman entering a room and displaying herself nude only to him. Perhaps we're only viewing this encounter from within Don's fantasy. The ensuing scenes seem to re-enforce Jarmusch's stratagem. The florid lampooning of suburbia during Don's visit with Dora and her "husband" is too synthetic to be anything other than Don's interpretation of Dora's suffocating existence. Broken flowers are a Jungian archetype of man's proclivity to sublimate reality to his sexual kaleidoscope. The broken flowers of the title are, perhaps, the ruptured maidenheads (abandoned women} Don has left in his wake.
War of the Worlds (2005)
One of the most memorable experiences I've had at a movie theater was the first time I saw "Saving Private Ryan". The relentless action and horror of the Omaha Beach sequence left me in open mouthed amazement. Spielberg has always been a master at creating memorable imagery, from the runaway Ferris wheel in "1941" to the boys flying on their bikes in front of the moon in "ET". But the opening of "Ryan" surpassed anything he had done with the medium of film. Not so co-incidentally, "SPR" was rated R.
Of course, Spielberg has made stinkers like "Lost World" and "A.I.", too. Lazy, sloppy, disjointed snoozers. Add "War Of The Worlds" to that list. What's so maddening is that sometimes the movie that might have been is glimpsed. The first tripod rising from its subterranean lair is a compelling sequence, and I thought the film was going to take off on a series of ever mounting action scenes. But the whole thing reminded me of a wet firecracker. You light the fuse, and feel the anticipation of the explosion. But it just sits there, inert. You think, "It's just a slight delay. It'll go off." After a while you realize you got ripped off. This firecracker is made from a soggy rag of a script wrapped around the stale gunpowder of a once potent talent too lazy to exploit the resources at his command.
I think a big part of the problem is that this movie is hobbled with a PG-13 rating. This is a war movie. Of course it's going to deal with gruesome death and horror. So why bother making this film if the graphic content is defanged out of a fear of offending old ladies in the audience? It's like turning Goya's "Disasters Of War" etchings into a coloring book suitable for the tender sensibilities of third graders.
Open Water (2003)
The Art Of Editing
This film is a masterpiece of film editing. The Russian director and film theorist Pudovkin's belief that two disparate images shown consecutively create a third image in the viewer's mind is well illustrated here. Working on a relatively minuscule budget, the people who made this film demonstrate that art has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with the inventive use of whatever means are at one's disposal. While people were falling all over themselves to see dismal crap like Return Of The King, the best movie of 2003 came and went with scarcely a salute. Just when I thought we were condemned to an era of Peter Jackson Steven Spielberg mendacity, along came this brilliant exercise in existential truth. Funny how nothing can kill art, not even Hollywood greed and stupidity. Best movie in years.
The St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959)
For a film that was released in 1959, this has some none too subtle allusions to the homosexuality of two of the bank robbers, who served time together in prison. The leader of the gang, Egan, clearly has designs on the newly recruited "college boy" wheelman, played by Steve McQueen. This provokes jealousy in Willie, his henchman and presumably former lover. While many old movies had sly references to a character's homosexuality, this movie doesn't hint too subtly at it. What's interesting about this aspect of the movie is the fact that it's based on an actual crime that took place in St. Louis in 1954. The same cops and some customers who were involved in the ensuing shootout appear as themselves, as well as being filmed at the actual locales where it all happened. Did this fidelity to the real thing also apply to the actual robbers? I haven't been able to find out. Does anybody know if the characters portrayed here are based on actual people, or are they the invention of the film's makers? If they are invented, why did the makers promote a gay subtext?
The Dreamers (2003)
Last Tango's apartment redux?
Bertolucci returns to a Parisian apartment for more role playing games and nude encounters. Trouble is, Brando's no longer a tenant. Whereas Last Tango had one of the most extraordinary performances ever put on film, The Dreamers has nearly unwatchable "performances" by the three insipid leads. There are probably numerous parallels between the two movies, but I was too bored to look for them. However, lovers of feminine pulchritude will be enraptured (distracted) by Eva Green's remarkable physique. Has the art of CGI enhanced the morphology of her body? (Just kidding, I think.) Interesting that Bertolucci returned to this territory after 30 years, though.
The first time I saw this film 30 years ago, I was puzzled by all the attention it was getting from the critics. I thought it was just an interesting period piece about a wise guy gumshoe who stumbled onto a confusing scheme to steal water in 1930s L.A. But after every subsequent viewing, my fascination with it has deepened. Robert Towne's script is a compelling study of human depravity and the lonely struggle some people make to at least stem its effects. What seems like a very stylish turn in the private eye genre is actually a reflection of the deepening cynicism that American society was undergoing at the time it was made. If you've only seen this masterpiece once, give it another look. And another. If you love great movies, you'll fall under its disquieting spell. (David Thomson's novel "Suspects", is a very well done exploration of the mood and themes prevalent in "Chinatown".)
Abortion Fable ?
Maybe I missed something, but where did Dad (Bill Paxton) get the list of names of "demons"? The first victim looks like she's wearing a nurse's uniform, and the second victim , according to Dad, killed little children. Were they involved with abortion clinics? Several medical professionals have been killed by anti-abortion fanatics over the years because they were viewed as murderous "demons". While this subject is never brought up in the movie, it seems like a plausible explanation for the religious justifications Dad employs to explain his murderous acts. Apparently he has become unhinged by his wife's death during childbirth (an inversion of the practice of abortion) and the subsequent burden of providing material and loving care for his children. The last shot of the grown son and his pregnant wife raises the question again. But then again, where does the foul-mouthed guy whose abduction leads to the death of Dad fit in? The narrative is murky, to say the least.