Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Film fans everywhere will always be grateful to The Hurt Locker for being released in the same awards season as Avatar, and thereby preventing it and James Cameron from winning Best Director and Best Picture in the 82nd Academy Awards. The twenty-first century already had the Crash debacle on its hands, so we all breathed a sigh of relief when Kathryn Bigelow's name got called. The film also has the distinction of being one of the few cinematic treatments of the Iraq War that seems to work. Though I feel it slipped a bit into melodrama and cliche towards the end, Jeremy Renner's performance is chillingly perfect, and the tension the film achieves with the bomb-defusing scenes is the perfect blend of action and political commentary. Also, the title? Genius.

Va, Vis, et Deviens (2005)

Alternately translated as Live and Become and (the more accurate, at least as it seems to my woeful French) Go, See, and Become, this 2005 film was an award-winning festival darling. But let's focus on what's important here--it's *French.* As Nat and I have often discussed, the French seem to have a knack for making even the most interesting premises (serial killer in small town romances schoolteacher, rich man holds possibly-lesbian girlfriend hostage) stone-cold boring. So let's see if they keep up their streak by taking the story of an Ethiopian Christian kid who poses as an Ethiopian Jewish kid in order to escape his homeland and emigrate to Israel and making it an utter snooze.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

"That rug really tied the room together." And so begins the saga of "The Dude" Lebowski, who happens to share a name with a millionaire who has run afoul of some nihilists. And you know, the plot doesn't matter. It's all about Jeff Bridges, in a role he probably should have won his first Oscar for, bowling, driving around, and having the occasional acid flashback. The eminently quotable Coen Brothers film features a surreal dream-sequence, genius supporting performances by Coen Bros. regulars John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro and one nice marmot. Though sort of a slow burn critically, this film has spawned an annual conference and a resurgence in the popularity of White Russians. Nobody fucks with the Jesus!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the It's Gonna Get Ugly

Innocently browsing my local bookstore the other week I was smacked in the face with this:

That's right, people, we have a new edition. And it's "updated." Yeah--that's in quotes for a reason. If you take a peek at our Manifesto Fiesta, you'll note that we were expecting a new edition earlier but couldn't find it. But, now, almost 50 movies in to our little project, we've got to change the rules just a tad to accommodate some new films and some deletions.

The basics of the update are:

1. No movie on the list with a release date prior to 1997 was touched. Yep, revision at it's finest. Let's just retouch the conclusion a bit and not, say, delete a redundant Buster Keaton or four. 

2. Thirteen films from the 2005 list were removed--including some that are going to induce some fightin' words when their numbers are called.

3. Ten films were removed from the 2009 list. Fewer fightin' words elicited here but some nonetheless. A few demand cheering for a "what were you thinking adding that one in the first place?"

4. Twenty-three films were added in the 2011 update some of which have already garnered "not watching it again" or "not watching it at all" reactions from us.

So, how to handle a new edition? Basically, the same way we handled the 2009 update. We've added a column to our roll lists.

Using the original list as numbers like we've been doing, we roll. If we roll a movie that's still on the 2011 list, super! (again, that's ALL of them before 1997, or 987 of the 1001 movies)

If we roll a movie that's been removed by the 2008 list, we roll for the 1-29 list of movies added in 2008 just like we have been from the beginning.

The new part is that if the movie was removed by the 2011 list (in other words, it was in both the 2005 and 2008 lists), we roll for a movie of added 2011 movies. Then we watch 2 movies.

The other new part is that is we roll a movie that was removed by the 2008 list, and we roll for the 1-29 list of movies added in 2008 and come up with a movie removed in 2011, we'll have to roll for one added in 2011. And then we watch 3 movies. 

So, for example, we rolled The Big Lebowski but it's off the 2005 list. So we rolled Go, See and Become that was added in 2008. With the new list, we have to roll again for the 2011 list because Go, See, and Become has been removed. If you take a look at the right column, you'll see that we've added The Hurt Locker to that set of movies; it was added in 2011.

There are only 23 new ones in 2011 and 8 of those correspond to films that were on both the 2005 and 2008 films so we'd only have to watch three films 15 out of 1001 times.

And, breathe. It's actually a lot simpler than it sounds thanks to Excel lists. 

In other news, Tracy and I will be in the same place for almost a week so we're planning on watching a few of the movies together and trying to co-blog our reactions.

And, you see that "Docs of Films Special Feature" to the right? We're coming up on our 50th movie--Hooray! we're almost 1/20th of the way there :/  --and we're writing special blog posts.

Otherwise, we're signing off for the Thanksgiving holiday. We hope you eat 'til your hearts' content and watch a  few movies!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

She's a newspaper man!

I bet this was a great play. The exuberance and quickness of the dialog and action left me feeling out of breath watching it on film, and I bet it was an even more rewarding experience live. But the film's decision to make Hildy a girl, and the ex-wife of her editor, is brilliant! That kind of word play and verbal sparring is the best kind of flirty foreplay.

For the most part, I thought the film was pretty progressive, gender-wise. Though there were some moments about "being a real woman" and the slightly-out-of-character "why don't you love me" breakdown at the end, all the other newspapermen take Hildy completely seriously, and respect her skill and drive. Grant's Walter is clearly attracted to her talent as much as her gams, and watching them work together to get the "killer" hiding in the desk out of the press room was pretty awesome. The mismatch with Bruce (who "looks like that Hollywood fellow, Ralph Bellamy" hee) couldn't have been more obvious. With his little umbrella, he could never keep up with Hildy!

The newspaper plot itself I thought was a little underdeveloped--it was clearly just a framework to showcase Hildy and Walter. I still can't quite figure out the whole "production for use" argument. I also think it's interesting that Hildy and Walter were married before--reminded me of The Philadelphia Story. I can't figure out if this is a conservative anti-divorce message? A romantic once-soulmates-always-soulmates argument? If it somehow makes the flirtation more acceptable because they were once together? What do you think, Nat? And also, what did you think when what's-her-face totally just jumped out the window?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"you're wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way"

Perhaps it says more about my personality than it should that I love His Girl Friday but wish there were more Grant/Russel verbal sparing. My favorite part has to be the reunion of Hildy and Walter at the beginning as they talk over, around, through, and, sometimes, *to* each other about their past, present, and future. Who wants to be married to Bruce McBoring Baldwin (who is played by Ralph Bellamy in case you missed that bit of meta-dialogue) when you can have Walter Burns? But, I like to debate everything--what my mother would call "arguing with a brick wall."

I also like this film because it sees no problem with the fact that it might take a woman to get the job done--and not in any exploitative way. As shady a con man as Burns is, he sees that no one is going to get that story like Hildy will and she doesn't have to show any leg to do it. The other male journalists respect her and are far from the "when are you quitting and having babies" train of thought that permeates so much discussion about "career women"; instead they take bets about how long she'll last without the job because it's part of her very biology and they seem to like having her as a colleague, even if she does work for the rival paper.

And, of course, at the film's core is a scathing commentary of journalism starting with the rather snarky opening text:
It all happened in the "Dark Ages" of the newspaper game--when to a reporter "getting that story" justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press today.
Well, once upon a time--
Within the film we find snipes about politicians and the legal system in general. But the film doesn't let that snark get in the way of a fun plot and the snark never gives way to bitter commentary. And a second viewing (as this is mine) didn't blunt the film one bit.

And the oracle says something very useful! This film is an adapted play (that I knew) but in the original and all of the other adaptations, Hildy is a man. Otherwise, the book simply says,
Grant and Russell engage in dizzying verbal play of machine-gun speed in a plot that reaches farcical heights, with a great character ensemble of gum-chewing, smoke-wreathed, poker-playing hacks acting as their cynical chorus, Theatrical and stylish, His Girl Friday is unrivaled for comic timing and snappy repartee.
In a rare occurrence, I'm in complete agreement.

Tracy, what did you think of that first hat?!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

His Girl Friday (1940)

At last! A respite from silent and/or French films! His Girl Friday is a classic screwball comedy noted for the rapid-fire dialogue and sparkling chemistry between stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. The film was adapted from a play in which Russell's character Hildy was male--sounds like it could be a touch feminista! Additionally, the gender switch injected a little rom into the com, as Grant's hard-boiled editor tries to sabotage his star reporter's marriage to a bland insurance salesman by convincing her to take "one last story." HGF made the top ten of AFI's 100 Years 100 Laughs countdown, and is preserved by the American Film Registry. That's all well and good, but I'm just thrilled that people are actually going to be talking in this one!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Second [and third] Verse, Same as the First

I'm combining the Our Hospitality and Sherlock, Jr. posts because I'm going to say the exact same thing about both. For the purposes of this list, we only need one Buster Keaton film. So far we've had these two and Steamboat Bill, Jr. and all three have the same basic plot that is too thin to support a film-length narrative (even when that film is only 44 minutes long as with Sherlock, Jr.), all three have the same physical comedy (exact same stunts in some cases), all three serve the same purpose for this list, and none of the three offer anything new to talk about. I posted about  Steamboat Bill, Jr. here and think I was overly generous now that I've seen three Keaton films. Two, any two of the three really, are extraneous. I can only hope that 3 of 1001 is all of the Keaton we're going to get.

How does the book justify making us watch the same thing three times? About Sherlock, Jr., the book argues that this film
is a remarkable achievement, possessing a tightly integrated plot, stunning athleticism (Keaton did all his own stunts, unknowingly breaking his neck during one of them), artistic virtuosity, and an avant-garde exploration of the perennial dichotomy of reality versus illusion
Of course, the book also claims the film moves at a "fever pitch." My response is "eh." I just don't care. If this were the only Keaton film on the list, then fine. And, of the three, I *think* I'd choose this one to keep.

For Our Hospitality, the book stretches to claim that "[m]uch of the humor . . . derives from a darkly ironic situation . . . [and] the result is not only very funny, but also dramatically substantial and suspenseful" and concluding that "[n]ever was Keaton's sense of timing so miraculous, his ability to elicit laughter and excitement and simultaneously so gloriously evident." Mmmmkay. I failed to see the irony, the humor, the substance, and the suspense.

Tracy? Do we need all of these Keaton films?

Unfortunately, we have two more Keaton-directed films on the list (who knows how many more Keaton might star in): Seven Chances (1925) and The General (1927).

Grit your teeth and think of Johnny Depp

That's basically my strategy for getting through Buster Keaton movies. Thinking about Depp's portrayal of a mentally ill man who styles himself after Keaton in Benny and Joon seems to be the only thing that makes these "comedies" tolerable for me. Having said that, I liked both Our Hospitality and Sherlock Jr. better than Steamboat Willie. Junior. What's the deal with all the "juniors" in Keaton movies? He plays whoever McKay Jr. in OH. Is it a play on Keaton's diminutive size? He is truly tiny. The closing tableau of OH with teensy Keaton and his teensy wife with the slightly larger pastor and the normal- to tall-sized other actors looked like the scene in Fellowship of the Ring when the hobbits and dwarves were standing with the men, wizard, and elves. Speaking of which, when is effing LOTR going to come up in our rotation?

But back to what we did have to watch. I wish OH had been a half an hour long. And I don't mean condense the action of the film into a half hour--I could lose that interminable train scene and be just fine. I only want the half hour where Keaton discovers that he's safe from his girlfriend's brothers if he doesn't leave the house. I found that mildly amusing. The rest of it was so mundane that, because I was waiting for Walking Dead to come on, I spent most of the film imagining what would happen if all of the sudden silent zombies invaded the screen. Much like High Sierra, the dog(s) were the best part. I couldn't even get engaged enough to be offended that spousal abuse was played for laughs.

As for Sherlock, I thought the jumping in and out of the movie screen was interesting, mainly because it is clearly what inspired Woody Allen to make Purple Rose of Cairo, one of my favorite movies.

I also remembered last night that even if we're done with Keaton, we've still got a slew of Chaplin movies, I'm almost certain. Bring on the Dude! We've earned it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our Hospitality (1923) and Sherlock Jr. (1924)

It's two for the price of one this week at Docs on Films. Since these two silent (sigh) Buster Keaton films are relatively short and stream, we decided to knock them both out at once. I have to say, after Steamboat Bill Jr., my expectations are pretty low. The plot descriptions aren't doing much to raise them.

Our Hospitality is a slapstick take on the Hatfield-McCoy feud, with Keaton playing the heir to the McKays, who falls in love with a daughter of the Canfield clan. The daughter, Virginia, is played by Keaton's real-life wife at the time, so maybe that'll be interesting. Will it go Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Gigli?

Sherlock Jr. is about a film projectionist (meta!) who is studying to be a detective. Wonder what that curriculum looks like? The AFI named it the 62nd funniest film of all time. We'll see about that.