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Evan’s Top 10

1.  Midnight in Paris

2.  Young Adult

3.  Drive

4.  Red State

5.  Attack the Block

6.  The Descendants

7.  Hobo with a Shotgun

8.  Tree of Life

9.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes

10.  Rango

 

Rik’s Top 10

1.  Tree of Life

2.  Drive

3.  Meek’s Cutoff

4.  Young Adult

5.  Hobo with a Shotgun

6.  Attack the Block

7.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes

8.  Win Win

9.  Ides of March

10.  The Muppets

 

Ryan’s Top 10

1. Drive

2. Win Win

3. The Descendants

4. Hanna

5. Ides of March

6. Attack the Block

7. The Redemption of General Butt Naked

8. Hugo

9. Midnight in Paris

10. The Trip


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Half Nelson.  Full Cup.  Ryan Gosling plays a good guy who does bad things as a history teacher teaching dialectics at a junior high.  The relationship he builds with his student, Drey, is terrific.  But this is not your typical teacher/student movie.  And because there is no happy ending, just an ending, could be disappointing for some viewers.  There are many great scenes but for me the movie builds to this confrontation between Gosling & Anthony Mackie…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGZzWyt-YG0

I am excited to see more from Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Sugar) as well as other Neo Neo Realist directors Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff) & Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop).

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Call it a required bit of man-hood or necessary part of the American life-style, but at some time in his life, every man desires to ride the prairie with no worries but what kind of beans are for dinner and where the next saloon is.  Short of stealing a horse and shooting a cowardly sheriff, the best way to satisfy this dream is to grab the nearest Clint Eastwood film, settle in, and enjoy every moment.  Having just finished the “Man With No Name” trilogy, I had to watch more Eastwood (much, much more).

I would have loved to have written about Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly… but enough wonderful things have been said about these classic pieces of cinema… and I have very little to add.  So I took it upon myself to write about Clint Eastwood’s 1973 film High Plains Drifter.

High Plains Drifter, Eastwood’s first self-direcrted Western is a gritty portrayal of a story you’ve seen a million times before… from Blazing Saddles, to Bug Bunny…A stranger wanders into town and saves the timid town-folk from a wiley gang of hoodlums.

Does that make this film a tired re-telling of a worn-out story?  Not in the least bit.

This film stands out among Eastwood’s other films in more ways than one.  While many characters and heroes in Westerns are cardboard cutouts of good and evil (with intentions as clear as day), High Plains Drifter leaves you guessing at every second about “The Stranger’s” intentions and what he will do next.

High Plains Drifteris  a story of a corrupt mining town that hires an un-named drifter to protect them from a gang of gun-fighters.  The film begins with a haunting score and images of Eastwood’s character riding into the small desolate town looking for a drink of whiskey and a hot bath.  Quickly we see the dark nature of the towns-folk and “The Stranger’s” ability to swiftly deal with them. Without a moment’s notice, we have three dead-bodies in a film that has only begun.

I will stop giving away the finer plot-points here, because you should go into this film knowing as little as possible and enjoy the ride.  I applaud this movie for always keeping me guessing, exploiting curruption and cowardice, and even thorowing in elements of the supernatural. Not to mention you’ll see where the term “paint the town red” originated.
So put High Plains Drifter at the top of your list of films to see, and thank me later.

Alan J. Pakula.  Alan J. Pakula.  Alan J. Pakula.  I should stop here.  The Parallax View is the second movie in Pakula’s political paranoia trilogy, with Klute and my all time favorite All the Presiden’ts MenThe Parallax View is a straight-forward movie about a reporter, Warren Beatty, who gets in way over his head while investigating the assassination of a Senator and the mysterious deaths that follow.  His investigation leads him to the Parallax Corporation who is in the business of identifying potential assassins and hiring them out to clients.  Their motivations seem to be monetary and not political.  Trust no one and suspect everyone.

What I found to be refreshing is that the good guys don’t always win.  Political/conspiracy thrillers today, like The Interpreter, Vantage Point or The International, don’t do that any more.  Michael Clayton might be the best recent example and although the good guy wins the bad guys aren’t blown away after a brawl on top of the U.N.  The one fault with the Parallax View is that it is too straight forward and doesn’t argue or delve into conspiracy theories but this is hardly a criticism.  Pakula chooses not to dwell but to entertain.  Lone gunmen are hardly alone but to have it pinned on one keeps things tidy.

Night Catches Us did not catch me completely.  I was intrigued by this film because it takes place after the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and tensions although a memory at this point are still high.  This is the first film for me to cover this period and ask the question, ” We have just gone through all of this, demonstrations and violence so we can have the basic freedoms and rights like everyone else, so now what?”  I suppose the answer is, time.  Time happens.  History moves on.  For many that is enough and for others it only deepens their anger and resentment.   Night Catches Us is refreshing in that it avoids the street war cliche but did not delve into what the status of African-Americans is at this point.  The visuals support nothing has changed.  So the efforts of the Black Panther Party were fruitless?  This is the missing piece and I think this quote sums it up…”A refreshingly brainy, honorable attempt to address a complex chapter of African-American pride.”

-Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

8 ½ : Fellini Exposes Fellini


In his film 8 ½ Federico Fellini shows us a detailed image of a troubled director, one who constantly battles with self-doubt and public criticism; this character in reality, is Fellini himself.  Fellini did not know how to finish many of the projects he had been writing, so as a form of self-therapy, he made a film about not being able to complete a movie.  In doing so, Fellini made one of his most honest and powerful films and one of the most honest accounts of the tribulations faced by directors and fellow creatives. “The result was the story of a director who must begin a film but cannot remember the plot and continues to oscillate between two planes; reality and imagination.” This film, in its essence is “a film within a film described by another film.”  8 ½ is a dramatic entwinement of multiple parts of Fellini’s own life, his “professional life[…] his personal life […] and his inner life of dreams and fantasies.”

Fellini, through his statements and autobiographical vision of 8 ½ shaped the way scholars analyze the film.  From the name alone, 8 ½ leaves much to the viewer’s imagination as to what this film is about.  In truth, the name serves as “an unpretentious title that is almost an archival reference” said Federico Fellini.  Before making 8 ½ Fellini had directed six full-length films and three short films, which Fellini said would make this move his “8 ½ endeavor.” “This film will be the ultimate in autobiography: it will be a kind of purifying flame.” said Fellini.  Fellini crafted the main character of the film, Guido Anselmi, to hold much of the same characteristics and flaws held by himself.   Much like Fellini felt at this time, “Guido is fully preoccupied with his inability to move ahead on his film and to put his personal relationships in order.” Guido is bombarded by those around him, they are constantly coming to him for answers and truths while he is unable to provide any of this to their satisfaction.  In an attempt to avoid his tormentors, the director simply dances among them and hides his face.

Through meetings with the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, Fellini was convinced that there was “no dividing line between imagination and reality” and that through these dreams, he would be able to “communicate on a subliminal level with his audience by means of films expressing a symbolic world rather than representations of reality might be possible.”  If Fellini tapped into his own dreams, he could establish a better representation of himself as both an artist and a person. The director did exactly this within 8 ½. From the sets, the characters and the dreams, all of the elements had their start in Fellini’s own life.  Everything in this film is bigger, bolder, and more dramatic than everyday life, but such was the life of Federico Fellini. By jumping from past, present, dreams, and back, 8 ½ “destroys any sense of time” and the film’s editing “further disorients and dislocates our conventional perspectives.”  Many of the sequences and storylines throughout the film are tangled and told in tandem, the viewer becomes lost in the chaos, much like Guido in his own world.  Fellini wasn’t trying to hide his flaws, he was trying to reveal them in their most honest form and ask for acceptance. The dreams in the film, which mimic many of Fellini’s personal dreams, bring a heightened element of the director’s life into the film.  The opening scene establishes a “blueprint for the rest of 8 ½”  by providing a sense of claustrophobia and self-doubt.  In his book, The Cinema of Federico Fellini Stuart Rosenthal establishes Fellini as a troubled director who loved his work more than anyone around him.  The director, feeling the pressure for success and a constant bombardment from critics, poured his thoughts into the character, who feels that “everything has come to a standstill for him […] he is hemmed in on all sides by the demands that so many people are making of him.”  In much the same way that Fellini would ignore producers, staff, and personal acquaintances, Guido is “not at all sure of what to do, so he bluffs and procrastinates, hoping to buy time.”

Throughout the film, Fellini uses dramatic juxtaposition between black and white to demonstrate good and evil, truths and lies, as well as innocence and a lack thereof.  Angelo Solmi provides excellent examples of this in his book Fellini.  In Guido’s memory of his punishment in a Catholic church, “The geometrical compositions of the black confessionals against the bare white background of a room that has no well-defined limits exactly conveys a sense of guilt that identifies us all with the young boy.” When we visit the mineral springs, the sheer brightness of the scene nearly causes the viewer to look away in amazement and must become used to all the white in the scene.  This is contrasted by many of the sinful patrons heavily draped in black.   The springs are striking, the surroundings awe-inspiring and the sight “heightens our sensitivity to his feelings, while the enormity of his vision of everything around him enlarges him for us.”  The film ends on Guido as a child, wearing all white.  We have grown accustomed to seeing the hero persistently dressed in black, so seeing him in white provides the viewer with a sense of hope and rebirth, “Guido the child, the last image of a purity that had been lost, yet perhaps found again.”

The film’s finale, in which Guido reveals his deepest feelings and doubts to his wife is a sincere message from Fellini himself.  This scene “contains the most striking theme of  8 ½: that we cannot change other people and that every attempt to do so is fruitless.”  “Accept me as I am” says Guido, “Accept me with my faults, my complexes, my genuine qualities, but don’t try to change me.  In exchange, I will give you the best of myself.” One can see Fellini begging this of his audiences, his critics and his loved ones at the very same time Guido does.   Most critics agree this film was Fellini’s way of expressing his love for the creative process, and through this piece he worked out his own doubts and accepted who he was as an artist. Fellini seems to have finally justified his natural tendencies and has learned to accept himself for who he is and not who is wants to be. “At the end […] we have seen a very tightly organized film about a film, which IS the film.” “All the confusion of my life… has been a reflection of myself!  Myself as I am, not as I’d like to be,” says Guido in the final scenes.  Guido, like the director he mimics, has learned to live in a harmony with the art he is destined to create.

Rik’s Top 10 of the 2000’s
1.  Memento
2.  Children of Men
3.  Requiem for a Dream
4.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5.  Fellowship of the Ring
6.  The Dark Knight
7.  Kill Bill Vol.1
8.  Amores Perros
9.  In the Bedroom
10.Royal Tenebaums

Honorable mentions:

  • The Bourne Identity/Casino Royale
  • Michael Clayton
  • Serenity
  • Let the Right One In
  • OSS 117

Evan’s Top 10 of the 2000’s
1.  There Will Be Blood
2.  Kill Bill
3.  Children of Men
4.  Wet Hot American Summer
5.  Wall-E
6.  The Dark Knight/Batman Begins
7.  The Incredibles
8.  Inglourios Basterds
9.  OSS 117
10. Friday Night Lights

Honorable mentions:

  • Tell No One
  • Almost Famous
  • 28 Days Later
  • Casino Royale
  • Crazy Heart

 

Old people, science fiction, aliens and cocoons; this sounds like a recipe for disaster. The perfect by-product of a bad movie concept straight out of the eighties. I’m a science fiction nerd and this didn’t even sound appealing to me, but we gave it a shot anyways. What other film could be more appropriate for “The Golden Years”?! This film reeks of old-age, and the only young character in the movie is a grandson who wishes he were old so he could be as clever and astute as his effortlessly funny grandpa. “No Italian food! Makes me fart!”
With each introductory scene I instantly fell in love with all the characters (excluding David’s shrieking mother). Each person was charming in their own little way, and the beginning of the movie did a great job of establishing each character’s personal situation. Steve Guttenberg isn’t an actor I could see myself ever applauding, but his witty one-liners and sense of humor won me over in this film, “Hey, what are you… Just… Get your ass of my boat, Man. Get your ass off my boat. Do you believe this? And, take your embarrassing beach towel with you! ”
It took place in a pleasant retirement home where the members were free to come and go as they pleased, still maintaining a quality of life so it wasn’t too in-your-face oppressive, (let’s admit, old age isn’t pretty). Cardigans, shuffleboard, card games and Ex-Lax, even someone who despises old people would find it hard to not melt a little at some point during the movie. I had read a lot of reviews complaining that the humor was too crude and dirty. Perhaps I’m a little vulgar myself, because I didn’t agree whatsoever. People act as if geriatrics are old broken down miserable beings who possess no sense of humor or will to power at all. This is not the case though, their minds are sharp while their bodies grow dull. The movie shows what each character were to do if they regained their youth, and it’s interesting to watch. Bowling, dancing, cannon-balls and abandoning the ol’ separate twin bed routine, they take full advantage of their new vigor. Cocoon gives a new perspective on a generation that suffers from stereotypes. My nerdiness showed itself more and more as the plot thickened and the science-fiction began. What a wacky concept, but it all just worked. Keep in mind it was made in 1985, so the not-so-special effects (minus Kitty’s glowing blue arm underwater…aweeesssommmmee) are bad, but forgivable. At some points it almost became too much, but I simply ignored it. It touches on more serious points as well… death and dying, (I particularly loved the scene where he explains to his grandson that he’s “going away forever” and he’ll never see him again. It was symbolic of dying, only he got to get in a proper goodbye before, an opportunity most grandparents don’t get) and the human race’s destructiveness. It also communicated our instinctive fear of the unknown, (Bernie’s refusal to take part in the alien’s “Fountain of Youth” due to his stubborn dedication to mortality), a questionable debate over the existence of a God, and the unforgiving toll that Mother Nature takes on us humans. I give it 4 stars, it kept me consistently chuckling and I wasn’t disappointed in the least bit.

“Well I’ll tell ya, with the way nature’s been cheating us, I don’t mind cheating her a little.”

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