friday classic film blogging

George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. (1978.) Directed by George Romero. Written by Romero. Starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross.

harvey korman


Ten recent reviews (5.29.08)

Butterfly Sword -
A prototype of several U.S. kung fu film hits - both Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers borrow liberally from specific scenes - but it retains that incomprehensibility of many imported Hong Kong treats. Fight scenes are fast and furious and sometimes confusing, plot doesn't exactly make sense, though the gist of it is quite fine. Lotsa ridiculous (and fun) flying action, lots of good hand to hand (and foot), basically the quintessential romantic/historic/silly mid-90's Hong Kong costume drama. A lot of fun, and a lot of major stars in the making do exceptional work here.

Detour -
Man, she's crazy! Even by the standards of the femme fatale, Ann Savage's Vera is an exceptionally devious and evil lady. And Tom Neal's Al is a dope, maneuvered by guilt (not desire, really) and duped into the trap she's set for him and keeps modifying to ensnare him further into her plans. As a noir it's excellent, though sometimes its threadbare production values could've been refined slightly with another take, a few more bucks to dress up a set. But they also give us a film that boils down to the essence of noir without any extra dressing to distract from its classic-ness. I'll need to see it again now that I know what I'm in for so I can watch things like the sexual subtext more readily without just zeroing in on Savage and staying stuck there.

Blood Simple -
Not exactly noir, but certainly influenced in that everyone's selfish and sometimes sinister. But I wouldn't call McDormand's character a femme fatale and with the Austin setting, it's hardly the classic dark urban jungle of noir. That said it's typically clever Coen Brothers stylistic mash-up of their favorite things with a typically distanced and non-emotional take on things that happen to their characters. I love their way with a visual, but more and more I find their stuff too academic. They invest very little in their characters emotionally and though the style is sometimes enough to compensate, they don't provide the intellectual framework or thematic interest that might make such a distancing more palatable. I enjoy watching their films but rarely enjoy talking about them.

Gigi -
My TV's rating gave it four stars, as do most of the references I've seen. It won 9 Oscars, including Best Picture in the year of its release, beating out Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Hitchcock's Vertigo (not even nominated). Automatically my interest is there - French setting and mostly French cast, Lerner and Loewe music, and the aformentioned plaudits. I don't hate musicals, I swear. I got no problem with people expressing themselves in song, really. But this one, wow, I just hated it. I read a defense of the film that went something like: Gigi is not sold off into society but enters on her own terms and instead forces Gaston to change. I don't buy it. Not only is Gigi's goal to find a man - Gaston specifically - rather than existing solely on her terms with or without a man but the techniques she finally uses to do so are those of her allegedly repudiated grandmother, whose ideals don't jibe with Gigi's except when it's convenient for them to do so. I dunno, maybe I'm being too harsh. But even where this could've been redeemed - Lerner & Loewe - I found the music forgettable, less melodic and memorable than simply there. There are plenty of Hollywood films of this era where women's issues are explored more interestingly and progressively. This trite little Cinderella story did nothing except irritate me.

Tokyo Story -
Kyoko - "Life is disappointing, isn't it?"
Noriko - "Yes, it is."
This isn't all the film has to say, but it's certainly the climactic dialogue that it moves towards. Like any great film, this brings up a lot of things that revolve around the central thematic thrust - in this case (as with much Ozu) intergenerational conflict. But it's not just youth contemptuous of their elders and the old ways, the film is sympathetic with the kids - even Shige, who's the hardest to like of the children, has her moment where she tells about having to put up with her drunken dad as a child and now having to do it again. It's not terribly hard to see how they became distanced from their parents. But Kyoko and (especially) Noriko are clearly finding ways to reconcile both their busy lives and maintaining respect for their elders and traditional society. It's a fascinating film loaded with amazing moments too subtle to even be noticed in a typically overdramatic Hollywood film - such as the devastating scene of Tomi weeping in the darkness - but that's Ozu's bag and what makes the film as effective as it is. Every time I see this it takes a little jump on my imaginary list of favorite films.

The Killer Elite -
Sub-par Peckinpah, but I blame the script more than the man. A secret security organization built of assassins that the C.I.A. contracts collides with an Japanese organization filled with samurai - how could it possibly hold together and be good? Well, because Peckinpah's stock in trade is macho bonding fests, and James Caan and Robert Duvall make a classic Peckinpah pair for the first part before Duvall goes to the dark side. Then it's a revenge tale for Caan, who does a great job here. Problem is, the action just doesn't cut it except in one shootout in the middle that I expected to be much bloodier, perhaps reminiscent of the opening of The Wild Bunch, until I remembered that the film was rated PG, not R. Anyway, some interesting ideas going on here so Peckinpah completists will find scenes worth chewing on, but it's not great by any stretch.

Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made -
Jim Jarmusch accompanies Sam Fuller to Brazil to talk about a film Fuller planned in the 50's and never got to complete. It's interesting, especially to see how Fuller ultimately used much of the footage he shot in Brazil in his Shock Corridor (helps flesh out that film's oddly iinserted color footage as well), but I wasn't entranced. Fuller is totally charmismatic though, hard to take your eyes and ears off and hard not to enjoy his reminisces. But second-fiddle Jarmusch and director Mika Kaurismäki don't really push any particular idea into the film, preferring to sit back and let Fuller take charge. I guess that's fine since he's as funny and charming as he is, but despite the title I didn't find myself particuarly interested in "Tigrero," just in Fuller. Which is probably how Kaurismäki and Jarmusch felt making it.

To Catch A Thief -
Hitchcock's enjoyably slight follow-up to his much more intense Rear Window still finds the usual stuff going on - sexual tensions between two characters played out in a crime thriller. And maybe if the crime had more teeth the relationship stuff would aswell. But never mind that - it's still fun, Kelly and Grant are terrific, as is Jessie Royce Landis as Grace Kelly's mother, and the location shooting is absolutely gorgeous. You'll probably guess who "the cat" is early on if you haven't seen it before, but you'll still have fun getting there. Well, I did anyway.

Stranger Than Paradise -
I counted 66 shots total, though the guy who lead the discussion said there were 67. That's fewer than the famous Psycho shower scene by about 9 shots. About half had camera movement, though usually only slight adjustments to follow the characters, not many unmotivated moves like the tracking shot that follows Eva near the beginning. Stylistically, it's pretty damn stark - as extreme as Jarmusch has been yet (with the possible exception of the Coffee & Cigarettes stuff) - but in terms of content it's a typical set of Jarmusch outsiders moving humorously through a world they have no real control over and just observe from the sidelines. I've loved it for a long time, it's a big part of the make-up of my film appreciation, but some of the audience was befuddled which I guess made me love it more.

The Awful Truth -
Terrific little gem from the era of the screwball comedy, though I'd have to put some serious qualifiers on this before I'd call it that. First of all it's got some truly uncomfortable moments between the characters, bits that may have gotten some people laughing but made me feel awkward (as it did the chracters in the situations), as though I was privy to a really intimate, private moment that I shouldn't have been there for. Grant and Dunne are great together, both totally engaging as people and as couple (and split couple). They follow a trajectory that you'd expect, but watching them get there is all the fun. With more exposure to Leo McCarey's supposedly reactionary views I may modify my idea of this but the leads seem equal to each other at all times, never with one subordinate to the other, and the comedy borders on anarchic especially Irene Dunne's behavior in the later scenes, which I totally loved. I'm really interested in McCarey all of a sudden.


road warriors

The NYT covers the production of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, helmed by John Hillcoat (who directed the Nick Cave-scripted, ultraviolent Aussie western The Proposition, with Guy Richie, Emily Watson, and Ray Winstone) starring my main man Viggo Mortensen.


FLIX Classic Arthouse Series

The Lost Boys. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Janice Fischer & James Jeremias. Starring Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Jami Gertz, Edward Herrmann, Barnard Hughes & Dianne West.

Special 35mm screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Saturday, May 24th @ 10PM at Denver's new independent movie theater, Neighborhood FLIX.

friday classic film blogging

Crimes and Misdemeanors. (1989.) Directed by Woody Allen. Written by Allen. Starring Allen, Martin Landau, Anjelica Huston, Mia Farrow, Joanna Gleason, Alan Alda, Sam Waterston.


friday classic film blogging

Female Trouble. (1984). Directed by John Waters. Written by Waters. Starring Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Cookie Mueller.


my blueberry blogging

Rachel Weisz waits breathlessly for Dex's latest reviews.

My Blueberry Nights (2007) - I hear two questions frontloaded onto any discussion of Wong Kar-Wai's American debut: one typically goes, "Is Norah Jones as bad as I've heard?" and the other is, "How does it look?" referring to Kar-Wai's divorce from longtime cinematographer, Christopher Doyle; answering these questions, and these two questions only, ostensibly lead the questioner to some kind of final judgment on the long-awaited film. Misplaced, and not so fair, but understandable nonetheless: Wong Kar-Wai - the beatnik auteur who directed the Hong Kong New Wave cult faves Chungking Express (1994), In the Mood For Love (2000), and 2046 (2004) - is held in pretty high regard by movie buffs. But Jones - whose character for all intents and purposes could just be called "The Ingenue" - does just fine, and cinematographer Darius Khondji's (Delicatessen (1991), The Beach (2001), The Ninth Gate (1999), Panic Room (2002) camera nuzzles up to the cast just like the lens should in a Wong Kar-Wai movie.

Instead, the flaws come by way of the script. Not the story - much like Jack Kerouac did, lovingly writing and rewriting the same book-length story a number of times, Wong Kar-Wai has carefully directed the same movie two, even three times (indeed, there's a lot here that one can see was lifted right out of Chungking Express), and the same lonely, longing archetypes pop up again and again in nearly all of his pics, even the martial arts one - but the script. The little moments and spaces of humanity and gentle revelation that adorn Wong Kar-Wai's HK films and make them such unique viewing experiences are hardly found at all in My Blueberry Nights. Kar-Wai's America seems fabricated, a little artificial, and with the exception of Jude Law's scenes, we get Method 101.

This is not to say My Blueberry Nights is a bad film - indeed, it was exactly what I needed when I saw it. But it's average, at best, and with this kind of cast and coming from this director, it's a disappointment.

Youth Without Youth (2007) - Francis Ford Coppola is not a director anymore, but the guy who directed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He's also a guy who takes interesting ideas and fucks them up - Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), and now Youth Without Youth: a scintillating movie to look at that is about absolutely nothing and somehow feels like it was made 75 years ago. It made me sort of sad, frankly. Coppola was probably the first director I fell in love with, but it looks as though movies have passed him by. The only thing I got out of this was wondering what someone like Takashi Miike or Danny Boyle would have done with the material.

Lust, Caution (Se, jie) (2007) - Ang Lee's latest film is the often-brilliant story of a student and budding actress (Wei Tang) who, in a fit of patriotic fervor and blind, youthful exuberance, joins a start-up cell of resisters to the Japanese occupation of China during World War II. Tang's group plans to start small and prove their worth to the larger resistance movement, so they go about befriending the shallow, sad wife (Joan Chen) of a local collaborator (the always-marvelous Tony Leung), whom they hope to trap and assassinate; plans change, though, when the tightly-wound Leung begins to plot an affair with Tang.

Wei Tang and Tony Leung are absolutely fantastic, and the love scenes between the two leads have a delirious, uncomfortable intimacy - indeed, the story is a reflection on the roles people gladly throw themselves into, even in the midst of wartime, as well as the complexity hiding beneath those outward performances. Lee shows again that in many ways, he's become the kind of director the aforementioned Francis Ford Coppola was always supposed to be: a master storyteller who can move skillfully from genre to genre.

bob's big boy

I used to go to Bob's Big Boy restaurant just about every day from the mid-seventies until the early eighties. I'd have a milk shake and sit and think.

There's a safety in thinking in a diner. You can have your coffee or your milk shake, and you can go off into strange dark areas, and always come back to the safety of the diner.

-- David Lynch, "Catching the Big Fish."


DAM Spring Film Series

Stranger Than Paradise. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Starring John Lurie, Eszter Balint & Richard Edson.

Special 35mm screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Friday, May 16th @ 7PM at the Sharp Auditorium in the Hamilton Building of the new Denver Art Museum.


friday classic film blogging

Yojimbo. (1961) Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Story by Kurosawa, screenplay Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yoko Tsukasa, Isuzu Yamada.


Ten Recent Reviews

Funny Games (2007) -
I hated the original. It worked on me the way I suspect that Haneke expected, but I didn't forgive him for putting me through the psychic violence of the film and then pulling out the rug from under me. Brecht would've been proud, but I was pissed off and wouldn't watch his films after that. That is, until a friend persuaded me to watch Cache with her. I thought it was brilliant but was afraid that going back through his catalog would provide another mess of horrors to infuriate me. Then he announced the U.S. version of Funny Games and I decided to go for it. This was much easier to take because I knew what was gonna happen and thus was not enraged by the narrative and instead found myself just focusing on the ideas of the film. Or should I say "idea"? Although I think it's a devious little film, I find that once you've taken the main thrust of it into consideration - real violence does not have the exhilarating feel of screen violence and rarely has its morally attached happy outcome - there's not much more that's there. Knowing this as a shot by shot remake, I knew what was going to happen even though I watched the original nearly a decade ago and so I found the characters impossible to connect with or get involved in their plight in the face of the ideas of the film staring me down ominously. That said, I agree with the main message of the film and think it's worth seeing, but probably not if you've seen the original. This one doesn't bring anything new to the table.

The Lost -
Right on the heels of Funny Games I saw this grim little horror show about a murderer in a rural town where there's apparantly nothing to do but fuck and get fucked up. Opens with Ray, our resident psychopath, murdering two female campers on a whim and getting away with it. The rest of the film is a slow burn toward its brutal climax. I guess this is how I like my horror films these days: nasty, extremely unsettling, and afterward you kind of wonder why you watched it and why it's made. My theory is that people who are drawn to this type of film work to find the furthest reaches of on-screen violence that they can tolerate and then work backward. The film falls squarely within the same kind of un-fun, grim, brutish, nasty sub-genre of horror film that includes Last House on the Left (my own personal watermark for upsetting onscreen violence) but also includes films like Salo and Man Bites Dog and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and probably Irreversible as well, though I haven't seen it. Everyone who is drawn to this type of film seems to find the one that finally hits their button and then they draw back. They've scratched the itch of what they can take in non-exciting, on-screen violence. I hit it back with Last House and found watching this a mostly unpleasant experience, brewing slowly (too slowly for my tastes) toward a fucked up ending that's broadcast from early on and you spend the rest of the film waiting for. It's well-made for what it is, it's an effective screed against this type of violence that in no way glorifies it or makes it exciting. But would I want to see it again? Probably not.

Chinatown -
Nearly perfect, even the tenth time around. A grim film of course, as with everything Polanski made after his wife was murdered (and many of the ones he made before that). But I love the way danger lurks everywhere. A setting seems empty and quiet - orange grove, waterway, nursing home, etc. - and suddenly menace enters the picture. Nicholson and Dunaway turn in classic noir-styled performances, and John Huston is as sleazy a villain as ever set foot on screen. Somehow I'm glad that Polanski won the fight with Robert Towne to have the ending as it stands now rather than the more "Hollywood" ending that Towne had initially written, even if Towne himself thinks it got fucked up in the process. The film is genius at just about every level, if you ask me.

Punishment Park -
Fucking intense, but along more predictable lines than comparable pieces of wildly leftist art like Godard's Weekend, or even Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, which keeps throwing curveballs. I like its bluntness - I got nothing against sledgehammer subtlety when it feels right - but I kept hoping it would at some point go in a way less hectoring, less didactic. That said, if your sympathies are with the left you're gonna hear a lot in the film that appeals to you, as it did to me. So if it's preaching to the choir at least it's out there preaching, which is fine by me. As an agitprop film, this is a fine thing; as effective political art it's only illustrating an existing political divide, not offering any solutions. To do that it would have to work harder to understand its conservative participants, something it never tries to do. Very punk, that. And it's certainly intriguing enough to send me off to see more Watkins.

The Searchers -
This was paired with Taxi Driver in a local film series to illustrate similarities and differences and I have to say that while I'm growing more distant from finding that Scorsese's film has a lot to say to me, I'm getting more and more interested in Ford's with every viewing. Beautifully done, beautifully written, with a protagonist as out there as Travis Bickle, though toned down for the times (or rather, Taxi Driver was toned up for the times). Obsessive quests to save a young girl from a perceived taintedness by an unstable vet from the losing side of a war - that's the central idea of both films, though obviously played out in very different ways. Except that Ford's film is better.

Superbad -
I love Judd Apatow, even if Dex is sick of hearing "From the guys who brought you The 40-Year Old Virgin" in every ad. But this one - crass and sweet and humorous as it is - didn't make me laugh as much as 40-Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, even if I did like it and enjoy it overall. More importantly, it didn't make me cry or even feel like there was a need to. Apatow's best stuff always treads that fine line of comedy and drama that makes his films (and TV, of course) really felt as though they're real lives lived and that's what makes them so funny. The cops here are caricatures and the fact that so much time is spent with them is a shame because the central friendship between Evan and Seth that's about to be separated could really have been a strong dramatic idea. Instead it's downplayed in favor of the lovable loser story that I've seen a million times before. It's still funny, it's well written and acted, but it's lacking a little something that really would've kicked it up a notch for me. Maybe Rogan's next script will iron out these minor problems.

Fool For Love -
Altman's style actually suits both the material and the theatricality of said material well. It's a very character-driven piece and his camera just keeps moving around the motel's lot or a room, zooming in to look closer at things and then zooming back out to show a bigger picture. I just wish I got more of a charge out of the material itself, because while Altman's really hit or miss for me, I'm usually pretty keen on Shepard. And while it's a little annoying watching the give and take between Basinger and Shepard for the bulk of the film, once it's put into context by the ending, it makes a lot of sense. And again, Altman's inquisitive camera (and microphones) (and of course the excellent cast) really help get you involved in these characters that might otherwise have been just a buncha nobodies. Good for Altman, not bad for Shepard. Overall, a pretty good thing, even if not terrific.

Taxi Driver -
What is there to say? It's pointless to write about this film at this date. I've seen it a billion times and you probably have too. Over time, this has faded a bit for me as I said above. I don't think it has much to say to the world, just a portrait of a fucked-up guy that you can take or leave. And it's interesting how Schrader's obsessions and Scorsese's dovetail in parts and seem to pull the movie in different directions in other parts. I dunno, it's iconic, it's classic, Michael Chapman's cinematography is brilliant, DeNiro really gets inside Bickle and illuminates him, but I just don't get the charge out of it that I used to. I'm sure I'll watch it again in my life, but there are many other films I'd rather see now.

Underworld U.S.A. -
Gritty Sam Fuller film in which a young punk sees his father beaten to death by some gangsters and dedicates the rest of his life to getting even with them. And as he worms his way into their organization, you just have to wonder what will happen once he's finished his revenge - a point the film thankfully addresses. In fact, it's the central idea of the film. Great stuff, on par with Naked Kiss and better than Shock Corridor for my money. I hope a DVD release is in the works.

Pulse -
Not as bad as I expected, given the one-star rating from the TV guide and the 4.3 rating it's currently enjoying on IMDB. Not great by any stretch but it's an interesting concept and Wes Craven and Jim Wright do a fine job adapting the film to the American teen crowd it obviously aims for. Sure, there are the flickering ghost images that have become cliche by now; sure there are plot holes; sure the cinetography and editing aren't quite up to what I'd like to see in my ghost stories - too much of that quick-cut "creepy" imagery that doesn't scare anybody over the age of 13 (shouldn't, anyway) - but it lays on the atmosphere quick and heavy and never relents, even if it also never quite picks up the pace. I enjoyed it - probably because my expectations were nil. But I've seen much dumber scare flicks.

DAM Spring Film Series

Tokyo Story. 1953. Directed by Yasujiro Ozu. Written by Kôgo Noda & Ozu. Starring Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama & Setsuko Hara.

Special 35mm screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Friday, May 9th @ 7PM at the Sharp Auditorium in the Hamilton Building of the new Denver Art Museum.


Les Enfants Terribles

Jean-Pierre Melville
105 minutes

When I’m confronted with a work that I don’t like, I immediately start assessing why I didn’t like it. I think the reason that I didn’t like this boils down to a simple answer: too much Cocteau romanticism and not enough Melville pragmatism. I’ve seen four films directed by each and thought this one again finds typical Melville protagonists who exist by their own code, their own set of rules outside of the main currents of society, there’s nothing in these self-absorbed, shrill character to make me care for a millisecond about their “game,” their box of treasures, their unrequited passions.

And that’s a shame, because Cocteau does have gifts that can make even his most sentimental romanticism come to life – a gift for striking imagery which is largely absent here except in the presentation of the mansion the characters move into and the outré bathtub scene. Melville’s taste for the methodical and slow-paced narrative doesn’t suit this type of material well – his instincts seem to mute both drama and action, toning them down until they become simply two of many building blocks of a story that slowly gathers force without ever getting flashy or in-your-face. Here, where the drama centers on a battle of wills and on unrequited love – hardly a Melville staple – and the action, such as it is, is confined to a stagy and overblown snowball fight (drenched in Cocteau’s – and maybe Melville’s – sentiment about mischievous schoolboys) that opens the film. Nothing seems to gain strength. We’re given one event that leads us to the next, which sets in motion a more or less ridiculous chain of events that do not accrue power, but merely occur in sequence.

It’s tough to say exactly why this doesn’t work. I’d say that Melville chose his material unwisely, picking a story that revolves around an emotional relationship bordering on hysteria, when emotional detachment is his métier. Cocteau emerges as the auteur without having taken a seat behind the camera (barring of course a couple famously contentious bits, duly noted in the booklet that accompanies the DVD). It’s rife with his overly ripe romanticism, his homo-erotic longings, his conflation of the obscure and the artistic. Besides, his narration constantly sets the tone of seriousness that we’re supposed to invest in these characters and their 100% self-inflicted woes. Somewhere under all this mess there’s a much more interesting story about a girl in love with her brother who is in turn in love with a classmate. The story is right there for the grasping, but we’re instead shown an obfuscating house of cards built on the foundation of that story, something Cocteau might have made palatable (though certainly no less sentimental) with some stirring imagery. Then again, he might have made it worse. Melville tries his best to steady the project with his cool hand, but in a story about hot tempers and flaming passions, that’s not the hand that should be guiding it. They’re both considerably better elsewhere.

friday classic film blogging

They Live. (1988.) Dir John Carpenter. Screenplay by Carpenter as "Frank Armitage." Based on the short story "Eight O'Clock in The Morning," by Ray Nelson. Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, Raymond St. Jacques, Peter Jason, Sy Richardson, George "Buck" Flower.