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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:
1. Winter’s Bone
2. Inception
3. Toy Story 3
4. Social Network / Tron: Legacy
5. Black Swan

Evan:
1.  Winter’s Bone
2.  True Grit
3.  Tron: Legacy
4.  Toy Story 3
5.  A Prophet

Patience:
1. Winter’s Bone
2. Tron: Legacy
3. Please Give
4. Social Network
5. The Kids Are Alright

Ryan:
1. Kick-Ass
2. The Social Network
3.  A Prophet
4. Greenberg
5. Exit Through the Gift Shop




(If you’re hoping to watch this in the future, my review might give a few things away…just a warning!)
I literally just finished this movie about 5 minutes ago, and when it was all done and over with all I could say to myself was “Jesus……..Christ.” It’s been so long since I’ve seen such a well-rounded drama like Match Point. It began with about an hour of risque’ romance, and then took a completely different approach from there on out.  I was skeptical in the beginning..Scarlett Johansson is typically hit-or-miss for me, and I’m not into the type of plot this one possessed. I couldn’t even begin to attempt forming an opinion about it until it was completely finished, and I absolutely love that. It’s also surprising to me that Woody Allen wrote it, yet the way it was filmed in his style became very familiar right away. There are so many things I could go into about this film that occurred to me while watching it, I’m afraid I won’t be able to list them all. The story was conventional in the beginning, took a couple twists, and eventually became something I’ve never seen before. The main character (Meyers) did a beautiful job portraying all the emotion that comes along with someone in his position. The further you get in the movie the better his acting becomes, I give him 5 stars. I was honestly glued to my seat the entire time…the sneaky phone calls, hour-long rendezvous’, and the close encounters kept me going. Watching him spiral downward and create a web of lies was riveting. It was an excellent portrayal of human instinct, lust, and the power of deceit, as well as what it can do to you over time. It goes to show that nobody gets away clean. If they do in technical terms, they almost never do consciously. He sought out in one woman what was lacking in the other, and by doing this he turned his lust into everything that bored him about his love. It came to a point where the two almost blended together, and what was supposed to be fun and games to him turned into a self-destructive mess of constantly being followed, scrutinized, and scared. Scared of the truth, and scared of his lies, the main character created a disaster for himself that seemed nearly impossible to get out of. He even became so desperate that he committed an act he could never live down.

My favorite scene of the movie was in the restaurant at the bar, where him and his wife are discussing his job options and what he should do about them. I admired the acting and poise that came along with being in such a long take…it was seriously minutes, with no mistakes! It was so natural and well-done, I felt like I was on the other side of the bar eavesdropping on a real couple’s conversation. Of course I have to mention something I would change, and that would be the wife’s unsuspecting attitude throughout the entire movie, and how she’s portrayed as this boorish character who doesn’t seem to be bothered by a thing. I expected maybe at least one scene where she finally broke down due to his incessant shadiness. I nearly shouted “FINALLY!” at the point where she asked him if he was having an affair. But, ignorance is bliss, which is a good example of the role she played, the (mostly) unsuspecting wife. I almost wish it would have spelled things out in the end, letting the viewer know the definite outcome, (movie-buffs say “what’s the fun in that?!”) Open-for-discussion endings are not something I’m against, but I was just so anxious to find out what Wilton’s destiny was going to be that I resented it just a tiny bit, (not near as much as my resentment for the detective who was determined to nail Chris Wilton with the crime….C’mon! Just let him get away with it!)
Overall I was completely blown away by this film, and loved just about every part of it. Five stars, bravo.

Upon my first viewing of “There Will Be Blood” I made the amateur mistake of watching it with a group of people. Once it became apparent that it wasn’t your typical Hollywood flick delivering blood, guts and boobs at rate of every 6 seconds, my fellow viewers slowly lost interest one by one and the room progressively filled with chatter. No offense to a majority of movie-viewers out there, but it seems as if our attention spans suffer a great deal when we’re forced to sit through a real-time film, portraying real events in a real setting, in a realistic manner. Oh, but good things come to those who wait.
This movie did a fantastic job of transforming a novel titled “Oil!” into a film that’s worthy of the title “There Will Be Blood”. Many doubted the ability to transform an educational novel about the history of oil into a film worthy of viewing, and after two years worth of effort in getting it financed it finally came to be. Good thing too, otherwise I would have one less movie to add to my Top Ten.
Not only is it beautiful to watch; the lighting, the machinery, the gritty glimpse into hard, dirty work, it’s wonderful to listen to. The soundtrack and audio is what had me gripping my chair. I was keyed up, unnerved, just as a worker on an oil rig would be. I felt as if at any second I would be hurt, and there was more than one instance I found myself literally holding my breath.
The touch of lifestyle differences in characters – self sacrifice to God – self sacrifice to oil – was a strong portrayal of the human relationships and business deals that occurred in this film. The way it portrayed humiliation and silent revenge was beautiful. Daniel Day-Lewis gets 5 stars from me; the voice, the stern face, the mustache. It’s a rare instance that I am unable to come up with a list (sometimes brief…sometimes not) of things I would change about a movie, but this completely threw my mental list-making habits out the window. There was nothing else I was focused on other than the great film in front of me.
TWBB taught me to be patient, to wait, and to watch. The music and audio encouraged me to anticipate. Nothing left me disappointed. Committing to the film and making an experience of it would be my advice to a first-time viewer.
It takes its time and makes you wait…but don’t give up! There certainly will be blood. In the words of Senator Albert Fall, “I drink your milkshake!”.

What is this?  A vampire movie that doesn’t get bogged down with the rules of being a vampire or goes for cheap scares and minimally uses special effects to enhance the story.  What?  A movie that actually has a compelling story.  I like special effects.  I would like to see that blue man 3D movie, just to say I saw it.  But if all it has to offer is a new, cool way to do special effects and doesn’t offer an interesting story then I am bored.  I should not have to go to Sweden to see a good movie.

I think I am going to carve “Oskar & Eli forever” into the tree in my backyard.

in-bruges-posterBruges, the armpit or better yet the asshole of Europe as it is considered by Ray played by Colin Farrell.  Bruges might be his hell but this movie was my heaven.  I absolutely enjoyed this movie.  This is not you typical hit man movie.  No one curved bullets while doing a cartwheel. And if that is what you are looking for then find another movie and perhaps another blog.  Yes there is a action but it is not the focal point.  Two hit man, Farrell and Gleeson, are sent to Bruges to hide out after a hit and instructed to lay low and do a little sightseeing.  During their stay details of the hit are uncovered as they discuss life, death, and do some blow with a dwarf.  Be prepared for some deliberately offensive dialogue and 126 uses of the word fuck.  For me it was great and worked within the framework of the characters

I know Colin Farrel is a good actor but recent roles have not supported that thought but ‘In Bruges’ gives you a reason to like him again with this colorful role.  See this movie.

brick_ver7_xlgIf I had not just viewed “Tell No One” I would say that “Brick” is the best movie I have seen recently.  But I think I will call a tie for that honor.  Both movies are very similar in terms of a protagonist searching for a lost love in a ruthless world where nothing and no one is as it seems.  Once again you are placed in the main character’s shoes and go on a journey for truth.  Brick is extra special in that director Rian Johnson transposes the 1930’s gumshoe and the film noir genre onto a modern day high school.  These characters embody the attitudes and dialogue of that time period and genre of film and never wink at the camera.  The beauty is that it always feels natural, and is never over the top.

The story of Brendan tracing Emily’s, his missing girlfriend, movements through a high school drug ring is never clear as it unravels but does provide plush dialogue, actions and incidents.  This movie sucked me in.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfect in this role and I look forward to seeing him in “500 Days of Summer.”  Some might find the lingo to be a burden to a an already elaborate story but for me it was in line with the presentation and it served a purpose.  There was terminology that Brendan was not familiar with that he had to learn in order to put the pieces together.  If I think about it this is probably how parents hear the way their kids talk.  A bunch of fast paced slang that seems ridiculous on the surface but can be deep.

Rian Johnson made this movie with no budget and edited it on his desktop.  Which is really not that unusual anymore.  He demonstrates that smart direction and determination can go a long way.  “Brick” works and I recommend seeing it immediately.

I am posting the trailer but I recommend watching it after the movie.  It is a good trailer and it helped me fill in some blanks.

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