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Hot Rods to Hell (1967)
Bad Decisions by Old Actors
There is a stereotypical camp quality to "Hot Rods from Hell" from the disturbed driver patriarch (Dana Andrews), obligatory lascivious bikers and a virginal teen daughter.... The plot involves the family relocating to take over a hotel that is overrun by biker gangs. This must have been a common fear in late 1960's suburbia - biker gangs who would kill and rape just for a laugh. Who buys a hotel without ever seeing it? The father had been hospitalized and had a driving phobia. There are some drunk driving accidents, jerky biker gang harassment, and of course the girl must battle sexual temptation. Corny beatnik music at the hotel club. "The Born Losers", released later the same year is a better camp biker suspense flick.
Home Front (2006)
This respectful documentary examines the post-traumatic lives of soldiers returning home from Iraq. The film is able to show small town America and the effects of a wounded son on a close family. It acknowledges the thousands of wounded Iraqi veterans, a number often overshadowed by a mounting death toll. But this film is not about war. It never pushes for an answer, and doesn't exploit the drama of war, but instead allows the people it documents to exist in their daily lives. In doing so we are provided a human portrait of the aftermath of war. The lives of every member of a family is effected by a wounded veteran. And the veterans themselves must wrestle with many personal issues from their wounds, to life outside the battlefront, but they find outlets to focus their new lives. America is full of heroes and good, honest people, and this film shows that without fanfare, but with respect.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Drearier Than Reality
I found myself staring at the screen in "Stranger Than Fiction" and waiting for something imaginative to happen. And it never did. I found myself daydreaming about how hysterical the outtakes must have been between such strong performers as Ferrell, Hoffman, Latifah, Thompson, and Gyllenthaal. But I sensed no magic. Now there are those who have praised this film as a mind bending experience akin to "The Truman Show", or "Adaptation". Whatever. Those were films that delighted their audience while challenging concepts of movie watching. It is not too smart, come on. Did the bakery anarchist need to drop out of HARVARD LAW SCHOOL for us to respect her? Amateurish. And Director Marc Forster paints his images in sepia dreary browns and rainy days. The professor MUST be a PROFESSOR because he drinks lots of coffee and has lots of books. The writer must be a WRITER because she chain smokes and thinks of DEATH. And poor Queen Latifah must have been standing around holding her umbrella wondering how she got in this boring movie in role that has her playing a modernized mammy. I blame a wasted two hours of my Saturday night on Marc Forster who did great work in the past, but here strived for something that didn't happen. Who hires Will Ferrell, puts min in a surreal comedy and asks him to act dull and boring the entire time? I hope others don't go see this film looking for a Will Ferrell comedy in a Charlie Kaufman script because they will be sadly disappointed.
I put off seeing "Intolerance" for years, fearing that the bloated, silent epic would be more of a punishment than a reward. I was surprised by how intelligent and spectacular a movie it was. The parallels between the ages ancient, present, and in between are fascinating, and it's a shame to think that no filmmaker since 1916 has attempted a historical, epic, poem so grand. It would be easy to dismiss parts of the film, but that would be treason to its creator. It is a comment on the eternal struggle of goodness against it's adversary intolerance, a message to the future that we will never evolve without admitting this. Ninety years later,it seems that we haven't come that far, if we've made any progress at all. Some of the sights are remarkable: Babylon, the heavenly final sequence, the worker's strike, Christ, chariots... Too bad Griffith is mostly remembered for his vision of Klan and black culture in "Birth of a Nation".
Buck and the Preacher (1972)
Poitier plays a wagonmaster who never gives up.
Poitier plays Buck, one of few blacks who are qualified to be wagonmasters. It is after the Civil War and he is helping escort former slaves into the west. This is not an easy task. They face nature, bounty hunters, racist settlers, robbers, and Indians. The movie is brutally honest with the hatred that these brave men and women faced, but the film has a strong sense of hope. They are not quitters, they raise money workers for sharecroppers along the way. Harry Belafonte has the most colorful role as The Preacher - a reformed thief who befriends Buck when given no one else to trust. The movie is bleak, yet hopeful, well-acted, and exciting. It deserves to be remembered with the best of westerns from that era. Much more historical importance than its predecessor, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" with its sappy, happiness and handsome boy wonders. And Poitier rivals George Roy Hill as a director any day. Cool folksy-jazz score. Recommended to anyone who enjoys a fresh, historical angle with their westerns.
A noir musical for the new millennium.
I expected "Belly" to be a self-indulgent, expanded version of the gangster rap videos that gave Hype Williams the power in Hollywood to make a feature film. I was right, but what I didn't expect was for it to be so good. I was mesmerized by "Belly" from the opening sequence of choreographed violence and music. Critics of this film should look to its film roots - film noir - movies that grow from the underground crimeworlds in America, that pleasure us with their money schemes, guns, and drug use. "Belly" has this, and more style than I have seen in any movie in recent years. It has dazzling visuals, and a respectable plot that borrows from "Scarface" among others. The acting is respectable, and I didn't see the movie as a piece of media to exploit the careers of its stars, I found it to be a good piece of cinema that legitimizes Nas, DMX, Method Man, Taral Hicks, and Tionne Watkins as actors. The music is great, notably the D'Angelo's "Devil's Pie" that shows crime being played out. The cinematography is stylized and beautiful. The dancing in Jamaica, the shootout in the strip club in Omaha, the opening sequence, the climax with the reverend where the issues that the film may be exploiting are addressed and in my eyes therefore considerate. Its a shame this film was so overlooked by critics. I think within it lies the future of both the gangster movie and the musical.
Aleksandr Nevskiy (1938)
War with the Russians
This was Eisenstein's first completed project in over ten years. The film takes place in the 13th century during an invasion of Russian by Germans (Teutonic Knights - I think). Released in 1938 its a very loose parallel to Russia's nearing involvement in WWII, and Germany's advancement into Eastern Europe. There are some incredible scenes, most notable the battle near the end of the film, and there is a shocker when children are thrown into a pit of fire, but its not an easy watch. The film drags and isn't as consistently brilliant as "Potemkin" or "Ivan the Terrible". Sometimes Eisenstein is better in clips. His brilliance is present, however, and its a "must see" for Eisenstein fans and film historians. Russian Propaganda at its finest.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
The problem that anti-drug films face is the difficult balance between sensationalizing their subject and ethically engaging the audience. This was a beautiful horror film, but the characters didn't engage me. I knew that doom awaited all them, and I wanted them to find a way out, but I didn't really care. The visuals were shocking and provocative. A husband and wife sitting behind us left when they showed the arm. But they wouldn't have left if they had cared what happened. I understand that Aronofsky is showing the inevitable emptiness that results from long term drug addiction, but why make a movie that's only purpose is to show that drugs are bad? The first half of the film was much more playful, with the charcters imaginings, with Sara's hope of making it on TV, but as soon as I knew there was no hope, that nothing new and creative was going to happen, I lost interest. It creates martyrs out of its characters, which coupled with Jared Leto, Marlon Wayons, and Jennifer Connelly's aesthetic beauty - sensationalizes drug use. My friends left the theater saying, "That was a great movie..." and we walked into the bar across the street, and no one really had much to say about it other than it was really cool how the pupil dilated.
Satellite Tells Truth
Documentary made up of satellite feeds from political candidates during the 1992 Presidential Campaign. The cynical film doesn't take political sides, but reveals the raw manipulative power of television. Whisperings between candidates with Larry King during commercial breaks about drugs they take, about Ted Turner as "The Boss". The media deciding for the people who gets the nominations. Anyone with speculations about how the media and politics in this country work should really check this unique film out. Satellite feeds are no longer recordable to the public. This is a moment of truth in history. Every politically conscious American should see it. This is often hysterical.
Soft and Hard (1985)
Needing to Make Movies
The majority of this video consists of Godard and companion, Mieville sitting on the sofa and discussing the aesthetic emptiness of television, and why their current films have been less sucessful on some levels. It is tedious and extremely pretentious. It is very withdrawn, and I'm sure hardcore Godard loyalists with attribute this to the commentary he is creating, but the video seems to wallow in its own self importance - making it almost unbearable.
Ici et ailleurs (1976)
Westerners view Palestinian war through television.
Although the subject matter is still very relevant today, the metaphors and parallels drawn here are fairly trite. The parallel cultures are between the passive French, watching the war on television, and the Palestinians being interviewed and fighting for independence. The film becomes monotonous in its message, which leads the viewer to lose interest, and question the filmmakers. There are obvious criticisms of television, and Godard reveals the construct of film, but what of the filmmakers involvement with the Palestinians? I think a noble idea here did not crystalize, an unfortunate result. What of the Palestinians desire to be taken seriously by the world's journalists...? Godard generalizes them to a fault.
Tout va bien (1972)
Politics Drown This Movie
Godard openly intended this film as a commercial commentary on the current political state, circa 1972. It was a vehicle for his subversive Maoist views. The film, however falls short in many categories, most obviously that of attempting to be a commercial film. The auteur makes all his stops, by disrupting narrative and exposing the medium of the film, but the politics are so overbearing that they almost become comedy. The famous supermarket scene is so ludicrous that it's message is obscured. Yves Montand and Jane Fonda are appropriately exploited for their star power. It is an interesting time capsule, but is tedious and has become dated.
Horí, má panenko (1967)
Sincere comedy takes place at a drunken Czech firemen party
Often hilarious comedy was an early effort by Forman. The characters reveal their attributes and flaws over the course of a drunken bash that involves stealing, sex, abundant alcohol consumption, and a Fireman's Ball Beauty Contest. Forman had to deny that there was a political message behind the film in Socialist late 60's Czechoslavakia. He has a rare talent for presenting humans, not necessarily pretty, but engaging and natural. Forman encourages us in an introduction to not think too much.
Cannibal Tours (1988)
cynical travelogue of European tourists in New Guinea
This cynical ethnographic documentary takes an anthropological tour of New Guinea with a group of European tourists. The relationship between the "civilized" Westerners, "savage" natives, and omniscient camera is very fascinating. Amusing moments of ignorance and lots of shots of some Italian chick's scrawny ass. "They're close enough," she says moments after encouraging a group of children to pose by her so she could have her photo taken.
River's Edge (1986)
Reality because they said so.
Supposedly based on a "real" incident, "River's Edge" is about the death of a teenage girl by the hands of her friend is supposedly a critique on the alienation of youth and ineffectuality of media absorbed 80's culture... right? Crispin Glover gives a supposedly classic performance as Lane, a loser who shows more emotion over losing a video game than the body of a dead girl that his friend killed. This is what the audience is supposed to think. This is called heavy handed. Let us hope we don't think for ourselves or remember our own youths. I am assuming the filmmakers had a fascination with small town drug culture, and although they were interested enough to write about "it", they lacked understanding and association. The filmmakers are obviously much BETTER people than their characters. This movie blew. In comparison to Penelope Spheeris' far superior "Suburbia" (in terms of 80's counterculture) it fails to capture any traces of humanity among the youths, and although that was somewhat the point, I can't help but be angered. This is the town and culture I grew up in - white trash Americana where the outsiders are painfully aware of what "they should be like" but lacking the means of escape through economy. They escape through alcohol and drugs. Hipsters like to make films about drugs, without understanding of what drugs actually do to a person, I think.The performances were cartoonish and ridiculous. Dennis Hopper was obviously spoofing himself, I thought. Are there viewers that seriously thought he was a believable murderous sex fiend with noble strides of insanity??? Think about it - people that like this movie. I knew this film was way outside reality when Dennis started giving joints away to kids. No one gives away pot for nothing. A better performance than "Meet the Deedles" however... There is a story here, and a social critique. I am just mad at the makers of the movie, for their ignorance and pretentiousness. I used to smoke a lot of pot and hang out by a lake in high school while skipping classes, but we understood ourselves and our situations in the scheme of things. Watching this movie I couldn't help but thinking of the worst of my peers and how their "real" reactions would have drastically differed from this movie. "River's Edge" is a movie made by people that looked down on us and blamed and were scornful, and that pi**es me off, especially since this was not a Hollywood production where its expected. This movie is a low budget film that has achieved a cult status from film enthusiasts. No movie is real, movies can be based on a true story, but just because they are doesn't mean they're true or quality. Watch an ABC after school special instead get some laughs with your thick morality.
Dont Look Back (1967)
Behind the scenes with Bob Dylan
Very entertaining cinema verite look at Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England. Provides some glances past Dylan's iconic image, and some very entertaining music as well as behind the scenes footage. Interesting anecdote to "A Hard Day's Night". In this one the teen girls gush, but they aren't sure why. Poses interesting questions that need not be answered, but not at all heavy handed. Dylan comes off as too cool for school. Joan Baez and Donovan sing too. Dylan drunkenly argues with a groupie. Entertainment with some provocation.
La vita è bella (1997)
There are two kinds of laughter: Honesty and Ignorance.
Life is beautiful, but man is not. I felt strange as I left the theater for this movie, I was impressed by the imagination that poignantly proved that love and the human spirit could conquer all, even during the worst of times. The trouble was that the worst of times was the Holocaust in an Italian concentration camp, and I kept thinking - this is terrible! As time goes on and the Holocaust becomes a thing of history, and as less survivors are alive to remember the travesty that mankind let occur, Benigni is being praised for making a film that DOES trivialize some very serious subject matter. History that is only half a century old. I think the film itself is a noble and creative effort, much like the characters in the film, but the cartoonish depiction of genocide and desperation did not sit well with me. The audience I was with laughed and cried on cue. They were manipulated. Just like the Nazi's were manipulated in Germany. I'm sure Benigni's intentions were noble, but noble intentions don't merit unconditional praise and Academy Awards. Maybe we should feel good for the child that was saved form the horror of his situation, and then maybe we should pity him for his ignorance. I'm not so sure, but I'm not laughing and crying on cue. I didn't hate this film, but I don't understand how one could love it.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Bloody, busty slaughtering hayem! Jolly good!
Run of the mill 80's slaughter flick delivers the goods. Lots of busty girls get drilled to death, but this movie is unique for its portrayal of the strong athletic woman who takes charge. Subtle lesbian references and weak male characters make for some interesting comedy as the madman with a power drill attacks a slumber party. Why did butch little sister Courtney have a banana in her bed as she read Playgirl magazine? One wonders.