Criterion Spine #562 or Blow Out

Blow Out, or Brian DePalma’s Blow Out as it should be called, since there are some movies where the directors stamp is so strong it should come with such a title, is a wonderfully executed thriller. This movie a remake, of sorts, of a Michael Antonioni film Blowup. Blow Out substitutes a B-movie sound man from Philadelphia for the for the originals photographer in swinging London. More than anything this movie is a bravo piece of film technique. From the split screens to steady cam shots to split diopter shots this film is all style and substance.

The movie focuses on movie sound man Jack Terry, who one night while out recording new sounds for a film he’s working on, accidentally records the murder of a highly touted politician who is about to declare his candidacy for president. When the accident occurs Jack jumps in and is able to rescue Sally. Who turns out to be a little more than she appears to be. This is a conspiracy that builds from the ground up to become one of the most tense and beautifully shot and edited thrillers that Hitchcock never made.

John Travolta is working at the top of his game, coming off Saturday Night Fever and Grease, is excellent as Terry. Also in the cast is John Lithgow who is easily one of the most intimidating actors of all time, Nancy Allen, also found in Criterion’s Robocop, is Sally the girl pulled from the car and a young Dennis Franz as a sleazy photographer in cahoots with Sally. The performances in here are all too but none better that the menacing Lithgow and overstressed Travolta.

The high level of filmmaking on display here should be the envy of anyone attempting to make a thriller. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond, with a little help from László Kovács on some reshoots after some footage was stolen and needed to be reshot, is the thing of legend. There are shots in this film that in any other thriller would be “that shot”, the one that the film would be remembered for, and here they are just another in a long list of “that shots”. Praise must also be paid to the editing by Paul Hirsch who is working on another level all together.

Now without giving too much away I must address the ending to this amazing film, I find the last three minutes of Blowout to be amongst the best bits of acting I’ve ever witnessed. John Travolta shows such great range in these three minutes it is amazing to think that he was all but tossed aside from movies in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The final shot of the film is one of such heartbreaking brilliance that I am drawn to tears almost every time I see it, “It’s a good scream”.

Day 24, 4 down 196 to go.


Criterion Spine #597 or Tiny Firnature

This will be my first Criterion blog that is about a first viewing. Personally, Tiny Furniture is the type of surprise I am always looking for, this film is a gem. The highest praise I can give this film is that it is not the type of movie I usually fall for. I feel, in general, that a film should have something to say. That is not to say that all film need have a complex labyrinthine plot or be visual or visceral in any way, it’s just that those are pictures that tend to speak to me. That being said I recommend this little slice of life dramedy for many reasons that I will now address.

Well there isn’t one so to speak. This is not a movie about getting from A to B in my opinion so much as it is a small segment of time in between A and B. In segment C we witness Aura a 20-something return home from a college in Ohio to live with her mother and sister back in their TriBeCa loft. Really this is all you need to know Aura will hang out with her friends meet a boy who is “famous in an Internet kind of way”. She’ll get a job that requires her to take reservations while the restaurant is closed during the day, there she will encounter a chef who is an attractive, awkward man child and repeats things such as “no harm, no foul”. All of the well mannered, slice of life brilliance culminates with the most unsexy sex scenes ever filmed. What it does convey is the awkward realism of real life.

The characters in this film,while not always fully formed, are always real. You will recognize the archetypes being presented. The sibling rivalry, the mother-daughter relationship, the friends all hit that right note of realism. For a cast that seemed to be, mostly, in their first film they we great across the board.

Tiny Furniture is a film that hit’s the nail on the head when it comes to making me laugh. It strikes the right balance between it’s dramatic elements and it’s comedy. It’s as though John
Cassavetes and Woody Allen had a filmic baby. The picture while feeling very fly on the wall, and in the moment Cassavetes style has a great Woody Allen ear for realistically clever dialogue.

Lena Dunham the, twenty-four year old at the time of release, writer/director/star of Tiny Furniture is revelation. She is working with a cast of unknowns as well as her real life mother and sister. Has developed a script with a keen sense of timing and dialogue. She managed a visual look for the film that is both very real and at the same time almost surreal, “it’s in the white cabinet” is one of my personal favorite moments. Debuts this good do not come along often, so when they do they should be celebrated.

So in conclusion please if you like indie film,and have not yet seen this, search it out. It is well worth your time. I am looking forward to a great many things from Lena Dunham and once you’ve seen Tiny Furniture I hope that you will be too.

Day 24, 3 down 197 to go.

Criterion Spine#23 or Robocop

Robocop seems to be, at first glance, a film that would go against everything that Criterion is attempting to uphold in their preservation of film. However, I disagree and feel that it fits for quite a few reasons. Yet there is clearly a need to start somewhere, so let’s start with a plot breakdown. Now just for kicks I’ll try to do it in a rhyme.

Murphy our hero was a cop
And a crime he did try to stop
The crooks they were armed
And did him much harm
So they turned him into a Robocop

Other officers they did take offense
To a robot cops presence
He stops all the crime that he can
Because, in his head he’s still a good man
And this leads to his acceptance


The criminals who did Murphy’s shooting
Went out and they did some looting
Got in good with a corrupt senior VP
Who was looking to run the city

The VP ordered that Murphy be scrapped
And the police wanted him capped
All accept Murphy’s old partner Anne
Who could see he was still the same man
And to an abandoned warehouse they ran

Anne helped his regain his humanity
And they set out to right this calamity
They stop all the crooks
At the VP throw the book
And this movie is full of insanity

Ok that is the worst plot description ever for Robocop, it leaves out all of the great satirical elements as well as the religious allegorical stuff with Robocop be a Christ figure. However, I feel the need to entertain myself somehow. This film is about a good man who is brutally murdered and slowly revived as a savior to the people. Beside all the religious stuff this is a brilliant satire of television/news media as well as advertising and capitalism. The best part about the whole thing is that Paul Verhoeven is kind enough to wrap it all up in the thin candy shell of an exploitative action movie that is way over the top. In fact this was a movie that received an X rating on eleven separate occasions before finally getting an R.

So this brings me back to how Robocop fits into Criterions mission statement to bring “the defining moments of cinema to a wider and wider audience.”. Well it is my humble opinion that Criterion saw in this movie one of the great social messages from the Reagan/Cold War era. A film that idealizes the beginning of the technology boom as well as represents the crime problem that existed within the United States at that time, and the need for a solution to it. It also took an early opportunity to attack the constant news intrusion in our lives brought about by CNN and Fox News and finally it represents an understanding of consumerism of the 80’s and has enough fake commercials in it to cut all the gratuitous violence with a thick layer of laughs.

Peter Weller’s voice is the perfect bridge between robot and human and has just enough of a knowing wink to be hilarious. When Robocop tells an attempted rapist “Your move, Creep” you can’t help but crack a smile. Also you might get a kick out of Kirkwood Smith a.k.a Red from that 70’s show as the main villain it’s a great role.

So next time you need a good laugh try giving Robocop a try see if you can find the humor in it, trust me it’s there and it’s brilliant.

Day 17, 2 down 198 to go.

Criterion Spine #51 or Brazil

A movie most unlike almost anything I’ve ever seen. Brazil is one of those films in which I notice something different every time I watch it. When I first saw Brazil, while in high school I knew that it was something special, I just had no idea why. It was a movie about a dreamer and, well, duct work. Now I see it as so much more but am no less intrigued by it.

This movie is a wonder to all who are willing to give it a chance. It is a comedy of errors on a grand scale; however, it is played out in an almost sadly realistic and surrealistic way at the same time. This movie goes to great lengths to satirize bureaucratic rigmarole. The humor is found in paperwork, office boredom, and social status, plastic surgery and a rogue heating engineer/terrorist.

It’s a rather phenomenal piece of work that is almost indescribable. I can’t imagine where one would start in a typical review of this movie. Probably most would begin by explaining the plot, I will not do that,in this case, as it would do the picture a great disservice. If my first two paragraphs can not pique your interest in this there is nothing more explaining the plot can provide other than giving away details that are best discovered and experienced by watching.

So I’ve decided to begin with the performances Jonathan Pryce makes a perfect guide through this world he plays the most realistic character in the film which helps to keep it grounded and still as with most of us is a hopeless dreamer. Both Robert DeNiro and Bob Hoskins bring a level of humor to their work that keep your interest even when you are confused by what they are doing. This is not a shock from the always engaging Hoskins; yet, the work from DeNiro is some of his best and easily the best comedic work of his career. There are many other fine performances in this film that all deserve commending among them Jim Broadbent and Michael Palin; however, one performance is greatly miscast and needs to be pointed out. Kim Greist is so wrong for her role that she hinders the romantic notes that the director strives to achieve.

Now this being from Terry Gilliam the set design, costumes and props all have a certain bit of whimsy to them. Gilliam is sometimes, for me, more style than substance; yet, with Brazil the two match up in the most synergistic way imaginable. Never before has his vision for a film fit his visual style so well. In order to get the full effect of this movie one may need a second or even a third viewing to catch everything. One of the main reasons that Brazil continues to work for me is that I am constantly noticing new elements.

The script to Brazil is one of its strongest elements. There is so much great dialogue that jokes will be missed and not picked up until subsequent viewings. Yet when you discover them they will make re-viewing this film that much more of a treat.

This brings me to the end. One day down, one film down. I started off safe with the Criterion that I’ve probably seen more than any other; however, I had to start somewhere might as well have been in my happy place. Even if it’s a dark happy place.

Challenge Accepted or End of the World Challenge

My goal for the year 2012 is to watch and post 200 separate entries blogging the watching of films from the Criterion Collection. Now this will be made slightly more difficult by the fact that I currently own only 62 Criterion’s. Thus, the challenge portion of this exercise. I will have to stream via Netflix or Criterion’s website, rent from my local video store or purchase 138 more Criterion’s (my wife might not have realized this when I came up with my goal for 2012, which she agreed to).

Now for those of you who are unaware of what the Criterion Collection is here is their mission statement.

Since 1984, the Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, has been dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements. Over the years, as we moved from laserdisc to DVD, Blu-ray disc, and online streaming, we’ve seen a lot of things change, but one thing has remained constant: our commitment to publishing the defining moments of cinema for a wider and wider audience. The foundation of the collection is the work of such masters of cinema as Renoir, Godard, Kurosawa, Cocteau, Fellini, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Fuller, Lean, Kubrick, Lang, Sturges, Dreyer, Eisenstein, Ozu, Sirk, Buñuel, Powell and Pressburger. Each film is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen. Every time we start work on a film, we track down the best available film elements in the world, use state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then take time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound. Whenever possible, we work with directors and cinematographers to ensure that the look of our releases does justice to their intentions. Our supplements enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director’s cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards. To date, more than 150 filmmakers have made our library of Director Approved DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and laserdiscs the most significant archive of contemporary filmmaking available to the home viewer.

So the majority of the films I will be writing about will be classics, foreign or documentary. I may love all of these film I may not. Honestly as it stands now I own 15 Criterion’s that I have not had a chance to watch and have seen countless others that I do not yet own.

So let the challenge commence.

Film-uroboros: or the movie that eats its own tail

OK,  so I’m not very good with personal deadlines. This was to be posted last Thursday, and it finally made it only 5 days late. The point is it made it. Today being the last day of my holiday I thought of how much I’d like to just start them all over again. Which got me to thinking of movies that are cyclical which tends to lead us toward time travel movies. So was my choice the Ashton Kutcher classic the Butterfly Effect, not quite, and I kid, it’s terrible. Groundhog Day, I hear you shouting, again no; however, this is one of my favorite comedies of all time. Then it must be Back to the Future, I’m sorry but however great that series is, and I’m  sure one day we will work our way into them, I decided to go with the most cyclical film i can think of 12 Monkeys.

12 Monkeys is the type of movie that you could put on a continuous loop, walk in on at any point and just enjoy until you reach the point that you stared at and go for the exact same ride all over again. The joy of this movie starts with the skill and oddity brought to all project by Terry Gilliam and for me ends with the breathtaking acting that comes from the combination of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. For those of you that complain that Brad Pitt is not a very good actor or that Bruce Willis always plays the same character watch this. The Brad we see here is a live wire of ticks and psychosis. A bundle of kinetic energy that can’t be tamed and pulls of one of the most brilliant performances of his career. It’s my opinion that if it had not been for the most stunning work in film, of all of the 90’s (Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects), Brad would have won his Oscar, it was just bad luck that he didn’t.  On the flip side of this coin we have the most quietly subdued acting jobs that Bruce Willis has ever been asked to undertake or, in this case, fought to get. Bruce let’s go of all of his bravado, all of his charm and doesn’t play for laughs. He just allows this character to form from the grim desolate future.

For those interested in the plot it concerns a person being sent back from the future to gather information on a virus that wipes humanity of the face of the earth. Science not being quite as precise as we all wish it was leads to some errors along the way. That’s the basics of the movie just watch it trust me. Plus as a bonus the movie contains a scene from one of my all time top 10 movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Now, I would recommend that movie way more than this one but I’m getting off topic. They are both good and some people out there have a fear of anything produced before 1975. I would have said 1980 but that eliminates Star Wars and Jaws and I know you’ve all seen those…right?

Anyway, written by the Peoples (David and Janet) and they managed to make a film that is neither easy to figure out nor is it so confusing it looses the audience. Based loosely on a short French film from the 60’s titled La Jetee (The Pier) they have structured the movie as a mystery played with some dark comedy undertones, I’m sure amped up by Terry Gilliam’s twisted sence of humour.

This film won my heart when I went, with a girl from my highschool on a date, in grade 10. Her mother driving us to this movie was one of the best things to ever come out of that relationship. If that is what you even call them during the ages between 13-20. It was also the first movie I ever walked out of and thought, I could get right back in line for the late show and enjoy that just as much, and I’m happy to say that the same rules still apply.


The Good, The Bad and The Cheesy

I’m gonna keep this short and sweet today. As I missed yesterday, and I am trying to start off fast and furious, making at the very least one post per day while on holidays.

Yesterday I sat down to watch three movies. Fist on the agenda was Michael Mann’s brilliant crime drama Heat. Now I don’t like to toss around the word brilliant for no reason, but I have no qualms about attaching such a stigma to this film. Michael Mann has created a seminal work in the crime film genre. This has from top to bottom some of the most solid writing, acting and deft plotting I have ever seen.

The film is wonderful in that you get a feel that each of these characters has existed, had full lives, before we meet them. They are not contrivances of the plot. The acting from DeNiro and Pacino could not be more different or exhilarating. DeNiro plays the part of the criminal with a steely calm while Pacino is the live wire of a police officer.

When I first came across Heat I was in high school. Needless to say a three-hour crime story, staring two aging icons of 70’s filmmaking, directed by the guy who created Miami Vice was not at the top of my must see list. Then one day I stumbled across a little movie called Manhunter. A movie so calculated, so well shot and staring Brian Cox as an equally cool version of Hannibal Lecter. It was after that I decided to follow everything Michael Mann did, he is one of those directors. As a young man growing up, on whatever movies I could get my hands on, I kept I strict eye on any director or writer that particularly caught my attention. (Quick aside: I grew up in a small town with an old run down theater that closed when I was 5, only to re-open some time while I was in high school. We had one video store and I was limited to whatever was on the shelves at the time. As I got older I realized the video store had more to offer than just what was on the new release wall. They had older movies too.) So, as I said, I kept an eye for those I liked and went through the back catalogue of their work.

Needless to say Heat blew my mind it was full of great action set pieces, small character moments and the most insane cast of all time. A top to bottom insane DeNiro, Pacino, Kilmer, Sizemore, Voight, Portman and those are just the people you know by last name the cast extends to a selection of faces that you alway associate with solid acting. I could go into detail on the heist and subsequent street shoot-out, the tete-a-tete between the two leads or the climactic final foot chase, but I won’t. I’ll just tell you to watch or re-watch it, as the case may be. So that was the good of the day.

The bad was that as I sat down to watch Get Him to the Greek the new comedy from the people who made the very funny Forgetting Sarah Marshal I realized that my blu-ray player needed and upgrade to play it. Which is a task for another day. So I moved on and dove head first into the cheesy.

Now I don’t know if anyone out there cares about what I have to say; however, if you do and are planning on reading these, there is something that I must know about me. I have an unexplainable love for cheesy movies. It starts with horror and old sci-fi and goes right through bad 80’s action and exploitation films. Okay, now that that’s in the open let us discuss the most fun part of my day, Freddy vs. Jason…yeah! I watched it not because I wanted to slander it, bash the plotting, shake my head at the terrible acting. I watched it to praise it because I have an unholy love for the 80’s slasher film as a genre of its own. Even though it was made in 2003 it’s at its heart an 80’s slasher film. This is not the greatest film of its generation, on the contrary it is probably considered on of the worst, but I love it. All things about it, starting with the gore gags, through the ridiculous storyline and terrible acting, right up to the preposterous ending. This is the type of movie that you are either along for the ride, or you are not. It stars Robert Englund as the clown prince of horror movies Freedy Krueger. He’s all posturing, bad jokes and over the top bravado . It also stars some guy how in not Kane Hodder, something I’ll get into at a later time, as Jason Voorhees. Now Jason is the real reason I love this movie. The Friday the 13th creation is one of the greatest characters ever created. He’s the perfect unstoppable killing machine, preying on everything that is deemed bad by parents. Sex, drugs or general douchey-ness  are all you need to make his hit list. There is no motive other than kill, people will tell you that he is just killing camp counselors in order to gather revenge for them letting him drown and killing his mother. I don’t agree beyond the first sequel to Friday the 13th that is. After that it’s all for fun. All you need to know about this movie is check your brain kick back your feet and let the sheer joy of it wash over you. The plot will be silly the jokes will be bad and teen will die in brutal ways. Now I’ve gone on long enough, trust me you will read lots more about my unhealthy love of Jason Voohees in the future. That’s more than you need to put up with for now.