Wednesday, December 23, 2015

647. Breaking Away

Breaking Away
Directed by Peter Yates

A coming of age, sports movie!  I went in knowing that I would hate it, which probably wasn't the fairest strategy.  But honestly, I felt as though I was watching a cheesy sitcom that just wouldn't end.

Four recent high school graduates are uncertain what they want to do with the rest of their lives.  Weirdly enough, the most interesting one is obsessed with biking and Italian culture.  He meets a girl and pretends to be Italian in order to get her to like him.  Because, you know.  Movie logic.

This movie is incredibly cliche, but I can't honestly say that is why I disliked it so much, as there are plenty of cliche films I enjoy.  I just found the characters to be exceedingly dull.  They all seemed to have only one or two traits and any bad traits were erased by the end of the movie.  Also, I will always hate sports movies, so there is really no wiggle room there.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The actual term for the Bloomington townies was stoners, but the filmmakers changed it to cutters to avoid some, um, misunderstandings.

646. Alien

Directed by Ridley Scott

So I am about to praise Alien after panning Stalker.  Do film buffs want to strangle me right about now?  Well, you have will have to get in line behind the music fans.

What's not to like about this movie?  It's a slasher film in space!  The Nostromo is a spacecraft returning to Earth with a seven member crew.  The ship picks up a transmission from a nearby planetoid and the crew goes out to investigate.  They find some pretty disgusting things.  More gross moments ensue.

I absolutely loved that there was a strong female character in this one.  Sure, there is usually one woman that survives a slasher film, but that is mostly through the power of her untouched vagina, rather than actually using her brain.  I am also quite pleased that this director cares if his audience is bored.  That doesn't seem to be a concern of our filmmakers lately.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Passes the Bechdel test!  Yay!

Ridley Scott has said that the Alien universe is the same as the Blade Runner universe.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

645. Stalker

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

I am having a bit of a rough day today and, as we all know, the cure to any hard day is to watch a really long, confusing Russian film.  Thankfully, I think we are finally done with Tarkovsky.

Like I said, this movie was incredibly confusing and I don't really have a clear explanation about what happened.  The Stalker is a guide (an apt name for a person who leads people) that takes clients to The Zone.  The Zone is an area that apparently grants wishes to whoever enters it.  The Stalker begins a journey to take two new people to the Zone, despite the fact that his wife pleads with him to stop.  Apparently, every Russian wife has to be miserable.

That almost sounds like an interesting concept, but I am afraid Tarkovsky does everything he can to drain every last drop of excitement from the film.  There are ridiculously long shots that are filmed by a stupidly far off distance.  Sometimes in these really dull films I can at least find the cinematography to be beautiful.  But these shots were just plain weird and didn't feel connected.

One of my writing professors use to say that you shouldn't introduce a loaded gun into a scene if you are not prepared to shoot it.  My professor would have bitched Tarkovsky out on this one as he did not really deliver on the promise of his premise.  I was also forced to sit through Vanilla Sky with a friend the other day, so it seems my suffering is truly endless.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

New camera shot every 88 seconds.  And there is no dialogue for the first ten minutes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

644. My Brilliant Career

My Brilliant Career
Directed by Gillian Armstrong

We are almost done with the 70s and have almost reached the cinematic treasure trove that is the 80s.  That may be a bit optimistic, but it is the mindset I am going with.

Sybylla is a free spirited girl who longs for something more than 19th century Australia can give her.  She is sent to live with her grandmother and is courted by two men.  Meanwhile when I visit my grandmother, I never meet anyone younger than 90 years old.  Anyway, one of the men is a childhood friend so we know who will probably win.

Australian cinema has really been disappointing and, unfortunately, the misery continues.  Sam Neill and Judy Davis may be talented actors, but together they had absolutely zero chemistry.  I do appreciate the idea that a woman in a movie can want something other than a man.  Still, I expected Davis' character to be a tad more likable.  I ended up finding the whole film rather dull.

If I could sum it up, I would say it was like A Room With a View, but slightly worse.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The producers, director, scriptwriters, costume designer, accountant, and bookkeeper were all women.

Judy Davis learned how to play the piano specifically for this film.

643. Real Life

Real Life
Directed by Albert Brooks

Apparently, this is a spoof of a 1973 documentary titled "An American Family."  Seriously?  Comedies already age pretty poorly; do we have to add this element too?  Well, this certainly wasn't as bad as it could have been, mostly due to Albert Brooks.

A documentary filmmaker chooses the Yeagers as a family as the center of his movie.  He plans to film their every waking moment.  Of course, hijinks ensue.

I am a big fan of mockumentaries.  I have really enjoyed The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Modern Family.  Unfortunately, all these shows tank in quality over time.  What is it about that medium that is unsustainable?  I guess they run out of ideas that are realistic, thus rendering the format rather useless.  What am I talking about again?  Oh right.  It was interesting to see one of the first examples of this medium.

I usually am pretty harsh with comedies, but I am going to give this one a break.  I really enjoyed Brooks.  This movie wasn't desperately begging for laughs like some of the previous comedies we have seen on The List.  You can enjoy it whether you laugh or not.  Worth a watch.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Based on the "original Real World."  But really who watches reality television? I do.  I do a lot.

642. The Marriage of Maria Braun

The Marriage of Maria Braun
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

I have absolutely gushed over Fassbinder's films but found myself crying bitter tears of boredom over Petra Von Kant.  This was somewhere in between.

During World War II, Maria Braun is married to her husband for less than a day before he has to return to the front.  After learning that he has been killed, Maria attempts to move on and forms a couple of new romantic relationships.

I don't know how much I can reveal of this film without being accused of spoilers.  I found the character of Maria to be incredibly strange.  In the first half of the film, she seems to be one person but completely transforms in the second half.  Not really in a character growth-y way but more in a "wait, that doesn't make any sense" way.  I have sort of a theory about the ending that might pull it all together but I don't want to ruin it for anyone.  Maybe I will put it in the comments...potential viewers, be warned.

The film drags on quite a bit, which was a shame, as I felt as though Fassbinder had previously shown great talent for pacing.  Overall, not a great finish for Fassbinder as far as The Book is concerned.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Fassbinder makes a cameo as a man selling Maria a dress.

641. Halloween

Directed by John Carpenter

How grossly out of context this is.  I am sure most movie blogs are doing sappy Christmas movies right now and we are talking about a gruesome slasher film.  Maybe this is like the anti Christmas blog?  I do hate Christmas movies (excepting Die Hard of course).  Or maybe I should stop trying to form a theme as it is obvious I am going chronologically.

Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital after murdering his sister.  He then stalks a group of teenagers and begins picking them off one by one.  It is up to super virgin Jamie Lee Curtis to end his murderous rampage.  But can you ever really stop evil?  For the purpose of the nine hundred sequels, no you cannot.

People often reference Hitchcock when they talk about this movie.  Or at least, the movie nerds I talk to do.  There are several homages in this film, from the characters' names to the casting of Janet Leigh's daughter.  Even if you didn't pick up on these references, Hitchcock is sure to come to mind when you watch this movie.  Carpenter does an excellent job of building suspense.  Unlike the previous slasher movies we have seen, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is more of an emphasis on tension and less on gore.

Even if horror movies aren't really your thing, you have to hand it to this movie for inventing nearly every trope that has been copied thousands of times since.  Great villain, great score, great film.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The famous mask is actually a William Shatner mask spray painted white.

John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill claim that they didn't intend for the film to seem moralistic.  They claim that the teens that have sex die because there are so preoccupied with sex that they are unaware a killer is on the loose.

640. Up in Smoke

Up in Smoke
Directed by Lou Adler

Depending on how devoted you are to me, you might consider the week long break I just took between posts as a hiatus.  Honestly, I have no excuse; I just really didn't want to watch this movie.  I think the Listmakers and I just have completely different senses of humor.  I find most of the comedies in The Book to be quite cringy (although, to be fair, a lot of comedies don't age well).  Can we go back to screwball romantic comedies please and just skip all the Monty Pythons and Cheech and Chongs?

An idiotic stoner is hitchhiking and picked up by another idiotic stoner.  They share a really large joint. No, but guys, it is really big.  Like really big.  Hysterical yet?  Let's continue. They get into all sorts of shenanigans that are so stupid that I don't really want to get into it.  Suffice to say, it involves a van made of marijuana.

Maybe it's because I have hung around a lot of stoners, but I don't find the stoner persona to be that amusing.  In fact, I find it rather irritating.  I think marijuana is quite the delightful drug and very useful for pain issues, so don't think I am a total square.  But stoners are hardly going to be great comedians as they find everything funny anyway.

Glad to finally get this one over with.  We are nearing the end of seventies.  Hopefully this isn't an indication that we will have a rough landing.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

The word "man" is used 295 times.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

639. Shaolin Master Killer

Shaolin Master Killer
Directed by Liu Chia-liang

I been saving this movie for when I really needed to escape for a couple hours as I always have an absolute blast with kung fu movies.  Incidentally, did anyone see the trailer for the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel coming out in 2016?  I got a little too excited.

San Te is on a quest of vengeance after the Manchu officials brutally murder his family and friends.  My version of the film was extremely hard to follow, as it was dubbed in English.  Whoever did the dubbing didn't seem to be too concerned if the audio actually matched the scene on screen at that moment.  Luckily these films aren't exactly dialogue driven.

Frequent readers of mine are probably bored hearing me gush about this genre, without truly considering each individual film's quality.  I will say that this is probably one of the worse kung fu selections from The Book I have seen.  I didn't find the fight scenes to be that convincing.  I often found myself thinking "how did he get so bloody?"  Still, some of the tasks that San Te has to complete are unbelievably cool and make me want to play a Shaolin video game.  I also have to add that the last fight scene was really cinematically beautiful.  Oh no, I have gone back to praising it again.

So another really fun watch that is entirely skippable if kung fu isn't your thing.  As a random side note, I minored in Asian History in college so I found the tension with the Manchurians especially interesting.  It was my perfect nerd package.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The US title for the film, Master Killer, does not entirely make sense as real Buddhist monks would never take lives.