Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Player (1992) by Robert Altman

During the 1980's, master filmmaker and film pioneer, Robert Altman, all but fell off of the Hollywood map due to the studios and other business aspects of the industry that came into play that stopped the master from recreating his enormous success of the 1970's. In the early 90's, however, Altman came storming back with his 1992 film, The Player, a dramedy-meets film noir that only Altman could make.
The film stars a pre-Shawshank Tim Robbins as the studio exec. Griffin Mill. A young, slick smooth-talker that knows his way around the system. When he starts receiving death threats from an anonymous writer Griffin begins to fear for the worst. As the threats get more frequent he decides to take matters into his own hands.
From this point on the film takes twists and turns that I will avoid mentioning here, though most of them you can read on the back cover of the DVD case. The Robert Altman that made this film is the same one that made the 70's classics, M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, 3 Women and A Long Goodbye, it is the same Robert Altman who would go on to make Short Cuts, Gosford Park and A Prairie Home Companion. He was lost in exile for nearly all of the 80's with the exception of the Phillip Baker Hall Tour De Force, Secret Honor and the surprisingly fun Popeye. The Player is a brilliantly crafted, fast-talking and brooding calling out of the way the Hollywood system destroys the artistic backbone of the motion picture.
Rated R for language, and for some sensuality

Monday, May 26, 2008

R.I.P. Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack, the Academy-Award winning director of Out of Africa, Tootsie, and They Shoot Horses Don't They. Died today of cancer, he was 73 years old. He also acted in such films as Tootsie, Eyes Wide Shut and this years Best Picture nominee, Michael Clayton.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Top Trilogies - 6 - Faith Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman

Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962) and The Silence (1963) are seminal pieces in the Bergman cannon. These three pictures are small chamber dramas, each containing just a few locations and a couple characters. There is, however, something much more profound at the root of all of these titles. The theme at the center of these three small films is the frightening question of the silence of God during the hardest times of your life.

Set at the time of the release dates the films focus on the percieved silence of God during the upheaval of the cold war and the threat of nuclear holocaust. The power of these films can still be felt today by anyone who has ever had a struggle with faith of any sort.

Bergman is one of the greatest and prolific of all filmmakers to ever live. These films show him at his best and most disturbed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Top Trilogies - 7 - Interweaving Human Tragedies by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Inarritu is part of the Mexican New Wave lead by himself along with his great friends and contemporaries Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron. Getting a later start than the other two the first film in his trilogy is Amores Perros (2000) which was a collection of interweaving stories that show loss and regret and love (the translation of the title means Love's a Bitch). This oft-overlooked picture was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar (though it lost to the Best Picture nominated Croutching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.)

In 2003 he came to America for his more than compelling 21 Grams; which, like Amores Perros, connects the stories through the tragedy of a car accident. In Grams, however, Inarritu adds some more twists and turns and even tells the story out of sequence using the car accident of a suburban family, the salvation of an ex-con (Benicio del Toro) and the heart problems of a Math Professor (Sean Penn) to connect to the wife and mother of the accident victims (Naomi Watts). While not nominated for any complete picture awards, 21 Grams was nominated for two acting oscars Del Toro in a supporting role and Watts in a leading role.

It was in 2006, however, that one of Inarritu's pictures took the film industry by storm. When he released Babel people saw what he was capable of. Taking some of the basic concepts and techniques that he brilliantly utialized in his first two films and translated them onto a global scale. This time instead of a single event connecting his characters he uses the international communication problem (language) as the problem connecting people. Yet, at the same time he uses one single transaction (which I will not reveal here) to connect people all around the world, that is the way this global economy works. Babel was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, Director and two acting awards, though it only won one (Best Score).

With his three films Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has shown a master level skill for the technical and story-telling aspects of his films, as well as an uncanny skill of directing his actors. With the future of cinema in the hands of young men like Inarritu and the other two members of the New Mexican Cinema we have a bright and wonderful future to North American and International filmmaking for years to come.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Top Trilogies - 8 - Vietnam by Oliver Stone

Here is a trilogy that gets very little attention despite two Best Director wins, a Best Picture win and another nomination for Best Picture. The reason is that this is a thematic trilogy taking a different perspective on America's favorite war.

The first film, Platoon (1986), takes a look at war in and of itself. It doesn't support war, it isn't against war it just is, much in the same way that it was just there in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. Stone just lets his camera move around the jungle with a kid (Charlie Sheen) who represents Stone in his experience, who is scared to die but ends up more cynical for living. Its a powerful film that shows the ins and outs of war and how it affects the innocence of the young men that we send over seas to fight them.

The second film, Born on the Fourth of July (1989), takes the war home. In the film a young man in a fit of patriotism signs up for the marines to go over to Vietnam and fight a war that he knows little about, just that America must win it. When he is over there his legs are blown off in an explosion. When he comes home he is a strong advocate for what America is doing over there until he sees the same things that everyone else was seeing. His anti-war stance slowly grows until he is involved with protests that find him at the 1968 Republican National Convention. This film, based on a true story, is one of the finest of Stone's films.

The final film of the trilogy, Heaven and Earth (1993), not only crosses the national line from America to Vietnam; but it also crosses the gender perspective from male to female. This story is about a young woman from Vietnam who is rapped and forced into slavery during the war until she marries an American soldier and finds new problems with materialism back in the States.

The three films, in fact, have little in common with each other. There are two very prominent things, however, that transcend all of them. The first is the obvious war in Vietnam during the 1960s and its effects on everyone involved. The second is the loss of innocence experienced. In Platoon he shows us the loss of emotional/mental innocence due to the actual atrocities of war. In Born on the Fourth of July we are shown the loss of innocence the nation as a whole experienced as it became disillusioned with the war and the body bags coming home. Finally, in Heaven and Earth, Stone shows us the emotional/physical innocence lost by a young woman forced into sexual situations that she should not have been in. All of these films are important in their own way, and Oliver Stone, despite some his ambitious flops of the late 90s and early 00s should be remembered as the great film maker that he is.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Top Trilogies - 9 - The Man With No Name by Sergio Leone

The next trilogy on the list is the definitive trilogy in the Western genre. Clint Eastwood brings to light one of the greatest characters in film history. Despite the fact that Leone is Italian, the films (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and the epic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) were all shot in Italy the trilogy, especially the final chapter has been brought into the cannon of American cult classics.
The first film in the trilogy is a direct remake of Kurosawa's Yujimbo, in fact Kurosawa made more money on the plagerism lawsuit than he did on the films box office run. The trilogy tracks a hero (with no name) through the American west during the Civil War and pre-Civil War years just trying to make money any way that he can.
The trilogy ends with the spectacular feat in Western filmmaking, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is one of the greatest films ever made. The end of the film is unforgetable and the way the suspense and action builds with little to no dialouge at times is impecable.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Trilogies - 10 - The Adventures of Indiana Jones by Steven Spielberg

I find it a tragedy that this wonderful set of films (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade) has to be so low down on the list, but there a couple of reasons for that. Mainly, I had to rush this out to the blog as to have it still be a trilogy and not a saga. Steven Spielberg's 1982 film Raiders of the Lost Ark is quite possibly the definitive picture in the Action/Adventure genre, if not the film that should be credited with its creation.

The first film in the now legendary trilogy created one of the most lovable characters ever presented on film, and while most of us will never be able to relate to Indy and his adventures that does not mean that we cannot identify with the fun and fear that he experiences along the way. Spielberg shows us that even Biblical history can be cool in the context of a man in a hat that he cannot loose and artifacts worth more money than any of us can possibly imagine.

The strongest film in the trilogy is easily the first, Raiders of the Lost Ark shows us the character and the theme music by John Williams. It is the most action packed and it has special effects that hold up to this day; but while Ark is the best The Last Crusade is a close second. In the final film (until later this summer) we get to see some of the things that made Indy who he was as well as get a good dosage of mythology involved in the legend of the Holy Grail. Temple of Doom is the weakest film in the trilogy as it is incredibly linear and when its not break neck it is slow paced and almost boring at points. This is not to say that Doom is a poor film, it is just the weakest branch of an incredibly entertaining series of films that will live on forever.

Top Trilogies

There will now be a list for you to come back by and look at from time to time and hopefully engage in conversation and debate about. Not all of the films are "great" not all of the trilogies are story based, they do not share characters and a story line, but rather themes and feelings. Some of these are not widely considered trilogies, but if watched it is understood that they can be placed together.

Hot Rod by Akiva Schaffer

There he is, our hero. Rod. He's not that bright, he's not that cool and he's not all that hot. Somehow everyone loves him. Rod is going to perform an incredibly dangerous stunt to raise $50,000 to give his Stepfather a heart transplant so that he after he is healthy he can "kick his ass" to earn the respect of the Stepfather that he loves so much. There's a half brother, he's the manager of "the crew" there is also some sidelined drama dealing with a pretty girl (Isla Fisher) who is dealing with her douche bag boyfriend.

So, the big question. Is it funny? I suppose that depends on your sense of humor, short answer: there are a couple of laughs. It is inconsistent at best, however, and never really gets off of the ground. Shortly after seeing the movie a friend asked me how I liked it. My answer was short and it is the same statement that I will leave you all with. It wasn't terrible.


Rated PG-13 for crude humor, language, some comic drug-related and violent content.