movie Archives

May 31, 2006

Searching for Bobbie Fischer

Searching for Bobby Fischer
I had noticed the movie when it first came out, but never watched it

La Sheila recently raved about it, and since the things she praises tend to be well done, I went for another look.

All I can think of is a perfect swan dive - there is a pleasure that comes from watching simple (perhaps even formula) material, executed wonderfully well. This is great execution.

I went in expecting to be impressed by Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne. I went in knowing that Sheila RAVED about a moment where Joe Mantegna just BRINGS IT.

What suprised me was that Joan Allen stole the picture as the mom.

Good movie, much enjoyment, and I strongly recommend.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights, 1997

I liked it.

I wanted to listen to the director's commentary, even though such things are usually pretty much worthless. I will throw the Howard Cosell Memorial foam brick(tm) at the TV the next time I hear a two-minute ramble about making the movie "real." I digress.

The stories is inspired by John Holmes - we see our nebbish from the Valley who stumbles into porn and discovers he is good at it. In fact, it is about the only thing he is good at - the rest is fantasy life and make believe.

What made the movie, for me, was the cast as a whole, especially Burt Reynolds as the producer and Julianne Moore as his wife. I liked that there were a whole mess of folks here, each with their own compelling and consistent story, and their stories were linked but distinctive, strands in a crochet.

What got a little too predictable was that the plot was stolen from VH1. Our hero becomes an overnight success, struggles with fame and fortune, falls into drugs and almost gets caught up in violence - I was convinced at one point that we were going to re-watch the Neverland murders - and finally gets his act together. Sort of - as much as a struggling porn star can be expected to get his act together.

The movie is framed around the legacy of John Holmes, which is good because he was a compelling personality. What they loose from this framing is that, to my understanding, much of the porn business is built around the dynamic of male producer/director/money men and female starlets. That would be a very different movie.

So, some good performances, a cliche'd plot, and a setting and subject matter that has its own little prurient thrill. Give it a good, but not an excellent.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

The Blue Angel

The Blue Angel

Really, I should title this Der Blau Ange, because I watched the German version with English subtitles on.

I watched this a few weeks ago during spring break. I had told the students to watch a movie made before 1950, and this was one that I had long been curious to see.

Of course, this is not first impressions but the exact opposite, the memories of the movie that persist through a month of other reading, viewing, grading, and writing.

I watched the movie to see Marlene Deitrich. What I remember is Emil Jannings in the role of the Professor. He is fat and pompous, but from the very first moment - he goes to feed his pet bird, it is dead at the bottom of the cage, his landlady shrugs and says "it never sang anyway" - I felt a sort of bathos for the man.

He goes to a seedy nightclub, The Blue Angel, to try to chase his students away. He ends up meeting and falling for Lola Lola, played by Marlene Deitrich. That seedy nightclub is a much quoted place: I now see where Cabaret, Damn Yankees, and even Blazing Saddles stole some of their ambience. Of course, the Blue Angel makes the Kit Kat Club look classy - which is a mighty impressive feat. Still, the professor falls for Lola despite the warning looks from the old, mute clown, a character I remember well even though he did not speak a single line.

The fat manager manipulates the Professor, the Professor marries Lola,is fired from his job, goes on tour with Lola and the manager, and slowly declines and finally dies, humiliated and alone, after failing in his attempt to kill Lola. It is a very sad movie.

J. did not like it and asked me to turn it off every time she was around as I was watching it. I found it an uncomfortable movie, I like feel-good stories, but a movie whose scenes and characters have stuck with me.

Good stuff.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 30, 2004

Bend It Like Beckham

Bend it Like Beckham

Great movie.

I like little movies, stories about a couple of interesting characters and a moment of change or transition. No more big special effects, explosions, or the like for me - give me complete and compelling characters and I will be happy. This movie has characters in spades. Many are over the top, intentionally so, which is why it is filed as a comedy. But the best comedies are about truth, and the dilemma at the core of the movie rings true.

You know the premise - Anglo-Indian family has two daughters. One likes boys, the other likes football (soccer). The parents are overprotective, want only the best for their daughters, and can handle the girls but are nonplussed by the football. It goes from there, and it goes well.

J. almost never watches movies. She watched this one twice - once when she was taking care of the infant and again when I was watching. We thought about buying a copy - and we never buy movies. Good stuff and highly recommended.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2004

Going Upriver

Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry
Documentary
George Butler

This is a political biography in film format. I watched the compressed online edition, downloaded from Thekerrymovie.com while grading yesterday.

I have a couple of quick thoughts. The first, this is a good, powerful, well edited documentary covering the years from 1965 through about 1973. It opens with a montage of Kerry's childhood, ends with his debates against John O'Neil. It presents events as they were understood at the time, and makes the point that Kerry was a highly effective leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War because he was able to take powerful and heartfelt anger and translate it to the larger nation. The others would have ranted; Kerry spoke eloquently. Kerry held things together and helped the vets channel their anger into useful debate, even when Nixon tried to provoke them into doing something stupid.

The second thought is that just as there is a big change in George Bush's speaking patterns from his Texas gubernatorial debates to 2004, so too has their been a change in Kerry's language and presentation. In the 1970s he was an incredibly eloquent idealist, speaking from his heart about what he saw as a moral challenge to the nation. I had read the text of his Senate testimony before, but this was the first time I had seen the video footage. Even knowing some of the words, I was stunned by their power and force.

Modern Kerry only rarely touches that moral conviction expressed through prose. He touched on it a couple of times in the third presidential debate, but for most of the time he now speaks like a politician and not like an idealist. This may simply be a case of him continuing to present the raw ribs of conviction under an appealing coat of plaster and paint, but it still markes a change. On the other hand, in the 1970s Kerry was being eloquent about one big thing - justice - and looking for justice in the war, the war conduct, and the nation's actions and future. In 2004 he is talking about many things, and he speaks mose eloquently and most powerfully when he returns to that theme of justice. It may be that he has not so much covered over that earlier conviction as added onto it, with wings and outbuildings around the core structure of a search for a just world and a moral nation.

I think I will burn the downloaded copy onto a CD and mail it to my folks, who don't like Bush but also don't like what Kerry did in the 1970s.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2004

Master and Commander

Master and Commander

Watched this in two stints, about a month apart, while rocking cranky babies.

It is a darn good action adventure. It is a good look at the nature of manhood, as translated from the late 18th century to the modern world by Patrick O'Brien and Peter Weir.

I liked it.

Afterwards, I went out and summoned a couple of Honor Harrington novels from the library. I like Napoleonics and Napoleonic fiction, and David Weber writes some of the best, albeit in a science fiction context.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 01, 2004

Liberty Valance

The man who shot Liberty Valance
Paramount Pictures, 1962 ;
screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck ;
produced by Willis Goldbeck ;
directed by John Ford.
Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray.

This is a classic western, one that pops up again and again on the cowboy channel, but one that I had never watched more than a few minutes of.

Just a couple of comments: I was struck by the melding of 1960s Cowboys with a reading of 1870s politics - there is an election held in a bar and a territorial convention featuring a band, a rodeo trick roper, and all sorts of shouting. I was struck by the nearly monochrome nature of the cast: all white, one black (Pompey) and no indians. This matches the 1960s view of the West, and it matches the mythic west created in part by John Ford in movies like this; it does not match the historic west. Edmond O'Brien does a wonderful job of chewing on the scenery as the drunken editor - I found myself admiring the Shatnerian quality of his performance.

I like the basic moral problem at the core of the movie, with Jimmie Stewart living a public life built around the fact that he was given credit for something that he had tried to do, but that someone else actually did for him, and we can see the pain in his heart every time he is praised for his action. And yet, when he thought he had done it, he refused to take political credit for it. Only after learning the truth does he take the public stage. As such the movie is a good moral study in truth and responsibility.

Good movie, glad I watched it.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2004

Hellboy

Hellboy

It was a slight and entertaining comic book action movie. Just a couple of thoughts really:
- Nazis make such wonderful villains.
- Rasputin makes a fine name to conjure with, but their villain of that name has NOTHING in common with the illiterate Russian peasant who brought down the Romanovs.
- Why is it that the bad guys get HUGE underground complexes filled with complicated and violent clockwork? Who maintains this stuff? Who dug those tunnels? Why can't I afford a proper basement in my little house?
- Americans really do prefer free will to predestination, and this movie was yet another chance to have the media tell us that free will beats predestination.
- H.P. Lovecraft is influential; gotta love devils and dark gods who are basically very big squid with too many eyes.

That is all. It was a slight, but vaguely entertaining movie. It only challenged my disbelief every other scene - how do you have a secret organization when demons from Hell are trashing subway trains and rampaging through street festivals? At least Men in Black had the memory flash devices. This movie just tells the audience that a talking head on TV can deny it ever happened. Then again, look at what Dick Cheney has been able to say about Iraq. I might be a bit idealistic.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin
2 DVD disk of concert footage.

Historians sometimes refer to "gutting" a book - skimming the introduction and conclusion to get the gist of the argument, then reading only those chapters or sections that bear directly on your particular research problem, then discarding the rest of the book unread or barely skimmed.

I gutted this DVD - I had neither time nor ears to sit through that much concert footage. I did, however, want to see some examples of the things that Stephen Davis had described in Hammer of the Gods. So I watched Dazed and Confused to see and hear for myself what the bowed guitar sounded like in live performance; the toddler (who loves drums) and I watched Moby Dick and Bonham's drum solo; I watched the Immigrant Song from an 1972 LA performance, four guys and a LOT of noise and that was more than enough.

I was once again amazed at both the amount and the thickness of the sound that a good power trio can produce. And, I was reminded that Led Zep, like The Who and The Stones, may have had its flamboyant front men, but the core of the band's sound was the rhythm section. As a former Bass player, I like to listen to the rhythm section.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2004

S.W.A.T.

S.W.A.T.

A year or so ago Bravo ran a series profiling struggling young actors as they auditioned and tried to make the big time. J and I watched it - a break from Food TV - and liked one of the guys, Jeremy Renner. At the end of that series, he got a big break and was offered a 6-figure contract to do the movie S.W.A.T. We never saw it in theaters, but this weekend the movie followed me home from the library.

So, what was this movie? It was a perfectly reasonable action movie. It raised some suspense as the SWAT team hunted down the bad guy; there were the appropriate moments of impending doom; the loud bits were loud; the quiet bits were quiet; it was a genre piece and a perfectly acceptable genre piece.

One of the conventions of the genre is that a committed parent working a dangerous job will have a family tragedy. Two of the SWAT team were parents; I was nervous to see where and how the inevitable tragedy would occur; I won't tell you what it was or who it happened to.

As expected, Renner did a nice job playing the villain of the piece. Colin Farrel is a fun actor who did a nice job with an adequate script - Top Gun in a SWAT uniform, with the tough chick from Aliens II riding shotgun. I was watching late night while folding laundry, with the volume turned down to nothing, so I was reading the dialogue on subtitles more than I was listening to people delivering their lines, but it worked well enough.

For what the movie is, it did it well enough. It is not art, but it was entertainment.

I have also been reading some, but am behind on blogging my reading.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

Pirates of the Caribbean - Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: Secret of the Black Pearl.

I feel silly condemning a kids movie for being juvenile. But that is how I felt about Pirates.

I liked Johnny Depp - he did a wonderful job with Captain Jack Sparrow.

My complaints about the movie are very like the complaints that people have made about the theme park ride it is based on: it promotes a trivialized view of violence; it glorifies murder and rape; it sanitizes murder and calls it good clean fun; it celebrates the (real) democratic freedom of pirate crews while ignoring the consequences of their actions and lifestyles. In short, the movie contained so much violence that if it had been shot by Tarantino or to the standards of Private Ryan it would have been rated X for gore. But it was Disney, so there were scores of murders but never any blood.

I was curious to see it. I am glad I saw it. I doubt that I will see it again.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 12, 2004

Ben Hur

Ben Hur

I have been working my way through classic movies recently. This was on the shelf, it followed me home, and I am glad I saw it. It is a much quoted movie, and not too bad in its own right.

Charlton Heston does a nice job with the lead. They really do use a cast of thousands. The chariot race really is spectacular.

I spent the first half hour expecting to hear dialogue from Life of Brian - so I am summoning that from the library next.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2004

Secondhand Lions

Great actors.

Some clever scenes.

Stupid movie.

The entire movie seems to have been written as a justification for the discussion towards the end between Robert Duvall and Haley Joel Osment where Duvall explains to Osment that there are some things that may or may not be true - honory, duty, lasting love - but that a man must believe in because you have to believe in something.

That is a good point. I just wish the rest of the movie were not so darn stupid - they were trying for a sort of magical realism, but I was never willing to suspend my disbelief.

Still, I watched the whole thing. Then again, I would watch Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Haley Joel Osment take turns reading the telephone book.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2004

The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin, writer, director, star.

This is Chaplins big political movie and his first talkie. He wrote the screenplay in 1938, filmed it over 450 odd days in 1939 and 1940, and released the movie in the fall of 1940.

I have to admit that I watched it more because I thought I ought to watch it, and because I am a big Chaplin fan, than because I found it compelling. I can see why it was a risky thing for Chaplin to start in 1938 - when racism and the German American Bund were prevalent in America - and I can see why Chaplin said after the war that if he had known about the forthcoming Holocaust he would never have made that movie. It is awkward to watch a comedy about persecution and yet, Chaplin does have that famous knack of making you laugh and cry at the same time. He mingles the funny with the tragic to creat art.

I am glad I watched it.

Posted by Red Ted at 05:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2004

A Mighty Wind

A Mighty Wind

A cast of thousands makes fun of folk music. No, they make fun of a certain style of commercially popular folk music from the 1960s - if you liked the Kingsmen, Ian and Sylvia, or the something or other singers you will probably find this hilarious. I never listened to those guys. I still don't. I am more in the David Grismon, Doc Watson, Phil Cunningham, Mary Black school of folkies. As a result, I did not get the in jokes and the whole thing was just a parade of grotesques. Now, a parade of grotesques can be very amusing - consider Strictly Ballroom but these grotesques were more tedious and annoying than they were amusing.

I finished it, but I was reading a book during the second half of the movie. Not recommended.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 07, 2004

The General

The General

Buster Keaton is considered a comic genius. Having finally seen his most famous movie, I can see why folks praise him so highly.

Good stuff, great physical comedy, a good enough story, and they really DO drive a railroad train off a bridge and into a ravine. Gotta love that.

What I found striking about the movie was the way that it reflected one of the common sentiments of the 1920s. The story is simple: a railroad engineer loves his train and loves a lady. When the civil war breaks out he tries to enlist but is told he is more valuable driving trains than carrying a gun; she decides he is a coward and refuses to have anything to do with him. A year later, the opposing army has a clever attack plan that involves stealing a train and wrecking the railroad, thus disrupting supplies. They steal our hero's train, his lady happens to be on board the part they steal; he tries to rescue her, discovers the enemies plans, returns safely after another wonderful chase sequence, rallies the troops, and leads them to victory over the invaders. At the end, the old general rewards him by inducting him into the army as an officer, and the lady now loves him a lot. All is well.

Now, that basic plot summary works well enough regardless of whether our hero is fighting for the union or the confederacy. Sure, Confederate women were more aggressive about using shame and honor to pressure men to join the war; sure, the Union was on the offensive for most of the war. But still, thought about a unified nation "our side needs you" was more common in the Union than in the Confederacy in the Spring of 1861 -- much of the movie's confederate national awareness is a little jarring, for most Secessionists thought in terms of state citizenship long before they thought of citizenship in their new nation.

As you have gathered, our hero is a Confederate. And, Buster Keaton clearly chose to make his hero a Confederate - the story works well enough either way. Why do it? Well, the hero is a little guy and you want the audience to root for him. So, lets make him a member of the more sympathetic side. In the 1920s, that means you dress him in grey.

The Gettysburg movie deified both Robert E. Lee and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. I have not seen Gods and Generals. I suspect that the more sympathetic characters in that will be the Southern generals, if only because they better fit Michael Shaara's image of honor-bound gentlemen awkwardly adjusting themselves to industrialized warfare.

Still, by and large these days the sympathetic underdog is not a Confederate soldier. He is also not usually a Union soldier, or at least not a white male. If The General were remade today, I somehow suspect that Buster Keaton's character would be cast as a black man living in the North and forbidden to join the army because of his race.

And, the train would explode when it went off the ravine. In fact, there would be a lot more explosions, and someone would find and use a machine gun. Modern hollywood action adventures all have to have a machine gun in them. I don't know why.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 06, 2004

O Brother

O Brother Where Art Thou

Clever idea.

Terrific soundtrack.

Not a good movie.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004

Chinatown

Chinatown

This is a classic. I have long wanted to see it. I took it from the library and watched it (on day 20 of my 21 days).

I liked it. It was dark. I was surprised by several of the plot twists. I can see why other movies refer to it. I loved Faye Dunaway. I spent the first part of the movie being distracted by Jack Nicholson - he is such a distinctive personality that I tend to see the actor and not the character.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2004

Chariots of Fire - DVD

The infant and I watched Chariots of Fire over the last couple of days. I had seen it twice before, once in the theaters and once on video.

I grabbed it from the library together with Caddyshack and Chinatown - I guess I was in a "C" mood. I watched it first because I am starting to run again, knees permitting, and because I ran sprints back in high school many moons ago.

I got curious this time and checked to see what liberties the movie made with the athletic careers of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell - they made a few, all to the point of emphasizing the dramatic impact. From what I could tell, the movie captured the personalities of the two men while altering the details of who ran what where, who learned what when, and so on.

Thus the movie presents Abrahams in 1920 just leaving the army, commenting to Montagu that he had "never lost" and then makes a big deal of the emotional trauma that Abrahams felt after losing to Liddel in a 100 meter sprint. The real Abrahams competed in the 1920 olympics and did so so - he made the finals in the 100 and 200, finished at the tail end of the pack. No runner wins every race, although Edwin Moses made a good try of it; there is always someone faster that day, someone with more wind that day, or someone who peaked for this race while you are using it to prepare for a later event.

Similarly, Eric Liddel, a natural 100 meter man, learned that the heats for the 100 were scheduled on a Sunday several months before the games. He changed events without any of the drama and confrontation that the movie uses, but the movie dramatics do a nice job of pointing up the symbolism and the importance of that symbolism; Sandy Koufax chose not to pitch the world series on Yom Kippur, and Eric Liddel dropped out of his best event rather than race on Sunday.

The movie made me cry, it usually does. For that matter, cheering a racer onward - even in a casual 5K - can make me cry. For some reason I find running to be the purest form of both athletic expression and athletic competition, and the drive of a runner to push past their limits is something impossible to see through a television camera, impossible to miss in person.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2004

Citizen Kane

So I watched Citizen Kane on DVD last week with the infant.

I watched the first half of it while feeding him bottles and babysitting earlier this week. We finished it Saturday night as I was holding cranky boy and J. was doing housework.

I knew the ending already, which meant that I watched the movie as if I were re-reading a book, looking for the forshadowing and interpreting each new revelation in terms of the known sadness at the end.

I am glad I watched it, and I can see why it is such an influential movie.

Afterwards, the radio station in my head began to play Tracy Chapman's song 'Mountains of things."

Posted by Red Ted at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2004

Casablanca

I finally watched Casablanca this week. The infant and I watched it over four sessions while I danced around with a cranky baby.

My goodness, there are a LOT of famous lines in that movie. Even with the disruptions to the plot and ambiance that came because I was watching in little stints the movie wove a compelling web of time and place, and long lost love.

I liked it, yep.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:32 AM | Comments (0)