Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garbage Dreams

New tag: "Almost"!

I almost made it to the closing credits before nodding off. It isn't because of the subject matter - the Zabbaleen, an Egyptian underclass, has found a method of survival by voluntarily recycling all of Cairo's waste that they can lay hands upon. I've been doing that for way too long myself.

I just naturally nod off about twenty minutes before the credits, is all. Then I rent, borrow, or buy the film so I can see what I missed.

It's happened with Truffaut's "The Green Room" and Brando in "The Fugitive Kind" when they were on a local movie network. It happened with this film too, but I got the gist of it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pepe Le Moko

The Casbah as seen from the French point of view, in which the natives are to be scorned. For an opposing POV, there's The Battle of Algiers. But that's a different sort of art film.

Jean Gabin once again is the heroic bad guy whom you immediately relate to no matter what his past. He had this pattern down in the 1930s and '40s, and Bogey owes him one. He was a bad guy not because he wanted to be one, but because he had to be one. And we loved him for that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


And another thing about the Friends of the Library Sale! You never know what you'll find until you go there and find it. Wait, I just said that.

Be still my beating heart -- I found a long out-of-print edition of "Notorious" at a cost of




at the most recent FOSPL sale.

True, there's no insert, no original case, and SPL stickers all over what's there, but still...{heart goes pitter-patter}

The crane shot that starts at a wide angle over a ballroom, then falls closer to a two-shot but then it keeps on going, until it focuses close-up on the wine cellar key in her hand. I like that shot.

And although this isn't really the longest kiss in film history -- it isn't even one kiss, and it's far less than three minutes -- still ... {heart goes pitter-patter}

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dreams, aka "Akira Kurosawa's 'Dreams'"

I probably don't need to explain that I go to the twice-yearly Friends of Seattle Public Library sale not for the books, but for the DVDs. And like everyone else, I never know what I'll find there until I find it. The sale isn't just an outlet for the Seattle Public Library to offload their surplus material. Anyone can donate whatever is in their personal collection and at some point it'll probably show up in a cardboard box in Magnuson Park's Building 30.

Which is the best way of explaining how I found a homemade copy on DVD-R of this film, in a clear plastic slimline case, and oh yeah it was Sunday (half-price day) so it cost me fifty cents instead of a dollar. And there was a second DVD-R of a film called "Four Rooms" in the same case. I've since given each of them their own slimline.

The video doesn't skip exactly, but it jumps around as though the player is trying to catch up, or the video isn't able to keep up. There are no subtitles. It's on a standard single-layer (4.7 GB) disc rather than a dual-layer disc.

So now thanks to some anonymous donor who made something less than an ideal bootleg but something more than a coaster, I have a sampler of this Kurosawa dream-journal, and the Seattle Public Library has fifty more cents to help ease their budget woes.

If I had a dream about walking through a van Gogh painting, I don't think my dream-van-Gogh would be the only character who speaks perfect English. Or that he would be played by Martin Scorsese. But lacking subtitles, I thoroughly enjoyed that Kurosawa's dream-van-Gogh did exactly those things.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Colt Is My Passport

Out of all the movies I've seen this year, this one has, by far, the best title.

A hitman is caught in a trap between two rival gangs. Sounds simple enough.

You know it's hardboiled when the following line:

"All that's left for me is dust, and the smell of men and gasoline"

is spoken by a woman.

Love the in-dash 2-way radios. Bond's got nothing on these guys.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Lives Of Others

Ulrich Mühe, who played the East German Stasi bugger whose job is to listen in on a famous (and loyal) playwright's life because his boss has a thing for the playwright's lover, auditioned for the part by showing up with a copy of his own personal dossier kept by the Stasi.

So I'm not giving away the ending by pointing out that the film's Stasi lapdog has a change of heart, and gets a reward for it. Not a reward that improves his surroundings or history or future... but it means something to him, nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Night To Remember

An anniversary viewing, a film I try to pop into the DVD player each April 14th.

Which means of course a repeat viewing, this time with commentary by Don Lynch, author, and Ken Marschall, illustrator, of "Titanic — An Illustrated History."

Even with eyewitness accounts at the time, the common belief was that Titanic went down intact. It wasn't until discovery of the wreckage in 1985 that evidence of the ship breaking into two became known. Here, based on a book of interviews with dozens of survivors, it is shown sinking intact.

Movies must be lit in order for an image to be onscreen -- and the commentary includes thoughts on how over-dramatically the ship was lit while going down. In reality, with a moonless night and water to the horizon in every direction, I would have to imagine that visibility was no more than a couple of hundred feet, so no wonder both the British and American inquiries determined that the ship went down in one piece.

The commentary also notes the film's attention to detail: would people wear hats during lunch? Is that lamp on a table actually the sort of lamp used on the ship?

My favorite detail of the film: the sets were mechanically jacked up at one end to create a tilting visual effect. And when the sets starting moving, they started creaking and popping and howling, creating sound effects so effective and dramatic that they were kept in the final soundtrack.

My most unfavorite detail: 19 people on a lifeboat built for 65. Sigh.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Children of Men

A war movie not about territory (a bridge, a beach, airspace) but about: a baby. A person.

There won't be any abstract "victory" by moving forward or holding the line. Either the baby makes it, or not.

This movie reminded me of "Cloverfield," which is just about one of the most territory-centric war movies in recent memory. It had a similar up-close, in-the-street, lookout-for-that-exploding-car feel that kept up the pace and tension, even during the sequences that merely set up some later scene.

All the way up to the final shot, whether the baby makes it is an open question, no matter how much territory they've covered.

Friday, April 9, 2010

High Society

A musical remake of "The Philadelphia Story" with an all-star cast including Grace Kelly's final screen appearance, the first pairing of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, a Cole Porter score and Louis Armstrong getting into the act as well.

So why, after seeing this, did I have the feeling that it just didn't have that something that can grab me and hold on? Maybe that first paragraph holds the key. It's a lot of work to make that many things work well together. The production is superb, but focusing on the story has its advantages. Maybe I just need to see "The Philadelphia Story" to get the proper perspective.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

American Boy

I love me some movies through the mail. Who needs Netflix when friends are all around?

Although Big Star reunions and some 1971 Grateful Dead were the centerpieces of this set of discs I received recently, I watched "American Boy" first (a couple of times - it's less than an hour) because... well....

...because they just don't make Italian/Jewish actor junkie road manager murderers (in self defense) like they used to, do they? They also don't make Martin Scorsese documentaries like they used to, but that's a separate issue.

Steven Prince played a guy who sold some guns in "Taxi Driver," but aside from that he has a lot of stories to tell. A LOT of stories. Way more than an hour's worth, but that's all Scorsese gives us here, and it turns out to be plenty. Including one about reviving an OD victim with a shot of adrenaline, which I immediately found familiar without needing to go through the Tarantino back-catalog.

And then, he went to work at a gas station... or ... was that before, or after, he became Neil Diamond's road manager...?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Harrison came back to town and pulled this one off the shelf. I had found it on the racks at the gasping-for-breath Hollywood Video. He thought it was simply another collection of 'Weird Al' Yankovic's music videos. Kids today!

No, really, there's a storyline. 'Weird Al' somehow is put in charge of a TV station, and of course puts a janitor (Seinfeld's 'Kramer') in charge of a kids show. Luke from "General Hospital" is simply beguiling in his Thomas Dolby-from-outer-space supporting role. Parodies of Indiana Jones, MTV, "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre," and "Network" are joined at birth by cameos from Dr. Demento, Emo Philips, Billy Barty... good fun.

The double-sided disc had a terminal case of skipping and scratches on the "widescreen" side, so we had to finish watching it in Pan'n'Scan. Just like on UHF stations back in the day.

Hey, I caught a continuity error: When Weird Al Rambo jumps into the helicopter (um, where'd that helicopter come from again?), he adjusts the rear-view mirror. But when the outside shot shows the chopper taking off .. there's no rear-view mirror!!! WTF?!

In other words, if you have enjoyed both "Airplane!" and "The Simpsons" for their non-stop kaleidoscopic pop culture riffs, you'll like this. And if you have seen, or even heard of, "Kentucky Fried Movie" or "Drive-In," you'll love it....

Friday, April 2, 2010

To Have And Have Not

Howard Hawks bragged that he could make a great movie out of Ernest Hemingway's worst book, and he was right. This is what "Casablanca" wrought, the intrigue of war and politics broken up by musical interludes AND ... Bogey finally (!) getting the girl. But not just any girl....

This was Lauren Bacall's film debut. She was 19 years old when she filmed this scene:

Within a year, Bogey & Bacall were married. They remained husband and wife until his death in 1957.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Magnificent Seven

Having just seen "Seven Samurai" the week before, how could I not follow up with one of the greatest tributes to Kurosawa.

At 128 minutes, it's a full hour shorter than the original, giving up much of the story of the desperate townfolk to focus more on the all-star cast of heroes. Eh, Hollywood for ya. Still, like its inspiration, it doesn't drag over the course of those two hours.

From the MGM/United Artists box, four discs for eight bucks in a bin at Safeway. For this disc, that comes out to just slightly more than 28 cents plus tax for each magnificent fighter. And it's only fractions of a penny each when you consider that "They Fought Like Seven Hundred!"