Tag Archives: movies

Read My Friend’s Project, 365 Movies in a Year


My friend Josh is probably the only person in the world with whom I can talk movies for hours.  The passion he and I share for cinema — something most people would call an unhealthy (or worse, boring) obsession — has led to plenty of great, sometimes drunken conversations about all manner of film topics (an example of our measured, reasonable dialogues: Josh: “I don’t think David Fincher is very good.” Me: “Well, I think you’re an asshole.”).  We have developed a mutual desire to push each other to be better filmgoers and appreciators.  After a year or more of suggesting he start writing regularly about them due to his deep knowledge (at least, it’s vastly superior to mine) of movies and film history, he vowed to watch a movie a day this year and write about each.  He launched his blog, 365 Movies in a Year, today, with a post for each movie so far.  So go read it, comment, and start a discussion.  It’s always fun to learn what bounces around this self-proclaimed “pop culture sponge”‘s head.

On a side note, I know I haven’t been around here for a while.  For that, I’m sorry.  But hey, I had to quit my job due to my upcoming semester’s class schedule (hello, one more straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back student loan).  That job, along with my nerd school, family strife, and a couple fiction side projects all coalesced into a break from this place the last couple months.  It may not be a regular column again until I graduate in May, but I hope to pound out at least a few more “I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School” entries in the coming months.  If you want to see more, remember that guilt is always a great motivator, and complain about how I’m depriving you.

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Can’t Wait: ‘Stand Up Guys’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

Elmore Leonard’s influence, be it direct or otherwise, is always something I value in a movie.  Fast talking lowlifes, quippy small time crooks, and lounge bars are the cornerstones of Leonard’s work, and things that never fail to interest me.  And when Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin are playing elderly versions of those lowlifes, as they do in the upcoming Stand Up Guys, you can count at least one ticket punched.

Will Stand Up Guys be any good?  Who knows?  It’s slated for a January release, which is never a good sign for a film’s quality prospects.  However, that cast, including the aforementioned legends, also features Julianna Margulies and Mark Margolis (Tio!), which is exciting.  Pacino in particular looks like he’s stretching some of those early-career restraint muscles which have gone dormant for decades.  All three of Pacino, Walken, and Arkin have a jaded, beaten, and good-humored take on those Leonard scuzzy criminals, which is alone worth $10 to get out of the January cold.

 

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’


Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  With each column I try to better understand the art of filmmaking.  As these can be longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

Pan’s Labyrinth is, in a way, a schizophrenic film.  It is a story about the power of fantasy, wonder, and mystery, and also a depiction of the harsh realities of fascism and war.  It is not entirely successful in both measures; or, perhaps, it would be more successful if they served each other in a way other than pure juxtaposition.  If Guillermo del Toro had doubled down on one or the other, the film would not feel so disjointed.  Instead, he indecisively keeps a foot firmly planted in each, and the startling violence of the “reality” is weakened.  This is because del Toro fails the “give the audience only what they need” test.  The overt precision of the violence – the Captain’s brutal and uncaring murder of a hunter and his son, Mercedes’ slashing of the Captain’s mouth, etc. – has no mystery to it; a viewer sees exactly the effects of the violence, or rather they see del Toro’s vision for what the effects should be.  This leaves them without the option of filling in the blanks with their own nightmarish imagery (see Howard Hawks’s Red River, when John Wayne’s character murders a Native American beneath dark water; an act the audience cannot explicitly see).  Now, shocking and extreme violence has its place in the proper context (Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Refn’s Drive), but in a film that also places so much emphasis on mystery, trickery, and sleight-of-hand in its fantastical moments, Pan’s Labyrinth would be better served to employ some of those slyer elements into its harsher, more “realistic” segments.

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: The Fascination of ‘Sunset Boulevard”s Norma Desmond


Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  With each column I try to better understand the art of filmmaking.  As these are longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

[Author’s Note: Again like last week, I have to apologize for a short post.  In what may need to be the new normal for this column (I go to a nerd school that requires perhaps too much of my time), this is another class-related essay about Billy Wilder’s 1950 noir-Hollywood takedown classic, Sunset Boulevard.  While William Holden’s Joe is an interesting guy in his own right, he is not the draw of the film.  To find that, one need not look further than his co-star.]

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) would seemingly like to believe she gave it all up for the movie business.  Whether she had other career prospects is left to our imaginations, but one might assume she had never given second thought about what she wanted in life.  She got what she wanted, then it was gone; she was shuffled to her trophy house as the talkies ushered in a new era.  While she probably realizes deep down that her career is dead, the steady stream of “fan” letters penned by her butler/former husband, Max (Erich von Stroheim) are enough to keep her delusion working.  She’s unbalanced enough — her chimpanzee pet and frequent suicide attempts enhance this notion — to believe her own lies, as it were.  Until Joe Gillis (William Holden) enters her life, she is at least content with the status quo.  His detached, sardonic wit keeps her at arm’s length, but she thinks she’s found everlasting happiness.  Joe’s editing work on her “return” (she hates the word “comeback”) script gives her inflated sense of self the extra push into insanity.  Her deluded reasoning tells her that Cecil B. DeMille (playing himself) wants to make her picture, and her preparations for the role take her from dignified beauty — she’s aged quite gracefully for a 50-year-old woman — into a bug-eyed grotesquerie.  Her beauty treatments leave her with unsightly things stuck on her face at all times, and they seem to undermine their own central idea: To return her to her peak years.  Norma does not see this. In fact, she clings desperately to the idea that she has something (or rather two somethings, with Joe and her rebounding career) to lose.  She’s not about to let them go without a fight; hence the treatments, domineering neediness, and ultimately, murder weapon.

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: What Makes ‘The Artist’ Special?


Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  With each column I try to better understand the art of filmmaking.  As these are longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

[Author’s Note: As will become apparent to you, this week’s post is short enough to be a capsule review.  But thanks to my school’s library closing for Monday’s holiday, I have to spend most of my time there Tuesday evening to do work.  This is a slightly edited version of a piece on the 2011 Best Picture winner, The Artist, I wrote for a class I’m taking.  This may have to become a more regular occurrence on this site when I’m short on time for longer essays.  Sorry in advance.]

What transforms The Artist from a mere genre exercise into a resonant film is its brief use of diagetic sound.  Its utilization of retro techniques — 1.33:1 aspect ratio, long takes, and the “mugging for the camera” common in the silent era — is charming and engaging, but would ultimately result in interesting emptiness without its acknowledgment of itself as a modern (re: talkie) film.  George Valentin’s (Jean Dujardin) nightmare about sound’s implementation in his business is a masterful use of impressionist ideas — dream logic, such as his inability to speak in a world where sound envelopes him —  and practical implementation of sound design.  Up to the point of his nightmare, the only sound in the film is its score; a whimsical, enjoyable score that bores itself in a viewer’s head.  Within the dream, though, George’s powerlessness is enhanced by his dog’s insistent barking, the shock of hearing a drinking glass clink against a table, young actresses on the upswing mockingly laughing at him, and eventually, a floating feather that lands like an atom bomb, waking him from his fitful sleep.  This experience shakes him, and instead of facing the changing film landscape over which he had previously reigned, he becomes obstinate and doubles down on his insistence that talkies will just be a short-lived fad.  His waking nightmare, the one in which he loses everything in a blur fueled by arrogance and the Depression, will continue for several years, before the sobering reality of the necessity of adaptability finally sinks in.

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Can’t Wait: ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

Bill Murray has had one of the more unique career arcs of any actor from the last four decades.  A stand-up comedian who became a masterful improv artist who became a Saturday Night Live legend who became, along with Eddie Murphy, the biggest comedy star of the eighties, Murray has since departed the big stage for understated independent roles.  He is now the elder statesman/secret weapon of directors like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch; that’s a Madonna-style rebranding.  While Murray’s latest role as former U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the upcoming Hyde Park on Hudson keeps him in the indie realm he’s occupied for the last decade-plus, it looks like his most dramatic yet.

Murray’s FDR would, on the surface, appear to be in line with his usual stable of characters, but that assumption would not be quite right.  His recent turns as dour, deadpan men searching for meaning in old age — think Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers — have added a new dimension to him.  In Hyde Park on Hudson, Murray seems to be fun, but not in the same way he was in his eighties heyday.  Gone is the detached, sardonic wit, and in its place is a damaged man who cares about people and life.  For the most part, the film’s trailer carries a light tone, but its implications of British royalty lobbying the U.S. president for help in World War II, along with FDR’s affair with his distant cousin, Margaret (Laura Linney), point to a darker reality the marketing campaign would be loathe to show.  The film probably stays away from the “icky factor” of the affair, but the frankness in its admittance of said infidelity is a rarity among the syrupy, awards-bait films that usually arrive in December, like this will.  A deeper look into the psychology of one of America’s most prominent twentieth century leaders (hopefully) without typical biopic hero worship is indeed something to look forward to.

P.S. There are few things that have brought me as much joy as this video.

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Can’t Wait: Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

“Ben Affleck wants to direct?  How cute,” seemingly everyone scoffed in 2007.  After all, Affleck had spent the preceding decade squandering his promise as an actor in toxic works like Daredevil and The Sum of All Fears.  Then he sat behind the camera for Gone Baby Gone and made a vibrant, violent, engrossing, and downright great thriller.  “Okay, but we’ll see how he follows up on that,” came the skeptical response.  Affleck then made The Town, this time starring in addition to his directing duties, and created a crowd-pleasing heist film without sacrificing artistry.  This time, his Argo is not eliciting the same skepticism.

The “based on a true story” hook is captivating in itself, given the high concept idea of faking a Canadian science fiction film as a front for sneaking American hostages out of Iran.  But the cast of iconic character actors — John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Philip Baker Hall, Victor Garber, Titus Welliver, and Alan Arkin among them — is a cineaste dream.  How these people interact in close quarters, ready to snap at each other and the circumstances surrounding them, is potboiler gold and worth seeing even if Affleck’s direction didn’t look so slick; Argo appears to continue his “artsy popcorn entertainment” aesthetic started in The Town.  Seeing Affleck direct increasingly elaborate films is a good sign for Hollywood, and any Oscar buzz surrounding Argo gives him and other like-minded filmmakers the cache to do special, interesting work.

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