Sunday, June 28, 2009

Orson Welles, Big Shot: "Touch of Evil"

“Touch of Evil” opens with something you don’t see every day – especially from directors who’ve been weaned on TV commercials and music videos – a 3-1/2 minute opening shot. And it’s not just the length of the shot that makes it unusual. It’s that the camera moves continuously during those 3-1/2 minutes. It starts with a close-up, pulls out for a wide shot, dollies down the street, cranes over the buildings, floats back down, moves along with the traffic and pedestrians. The action and camera work are so perfectly choreographed that this scene alone is worth the price of admission. And it’s a great opening for this Orson Welles noir about corruption on the U.S./Mexican border. My Twitter review was more about the odd casting of Charlton Heston a Mexican. Here’s what I wrote: Crooked cop Orson Welles tangles with Mexican prosecutor Charlton Heston. His casting is among its many mysteries. 8 (out of 10)

The opening scene:

The trailer:

"Touch of Evil"

Released: 1958

Rating: NR

Length: 111 minutes

Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia

Director: Orson Welles

Genre(s): Adaptation, Thriller

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Prestige: Now you see it…

When they weren’t donning capes and claws as Batman and Wolverine, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were illusionists, making audiences disbelieve their eyes in Christopher Nolan's thriller “The Prestige.” It’s a beautifully photographed period piece about two magicians, each willing to go to any length to prove that he’s the greatest. Their shared obsession drives them to employ increasingly dangerous methods to achieve their illusions. Even inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) is asked to build a device for one of the acts. In the end you’ll learn the sacrifices they’ve each made for their craft. And like a good magic trick, it won’t be what you expect. My review from Twitter: Christopher Nolan tale of rival magicians, Hugh Jackman & Christian Bale, determined to out-illusion each other or die trying. 8 (out of 10)

"The Prestige"

Released: 2006

Rating: PG-13

Length: 130 minutes

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, David Bowie

Director: Christopher Nolan

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Thriller

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jim Jarmusch & Me: Night on Earth

Continued from “Mystery Train”

Being the mascochist that I am, I took a chance with “Night on Earth.” Roberto Benigni’s vignette is the funniest for its manic energy and outrageousness. But that’s a bit like being the coolest Osmond. This vignette, like all the others, goes on too long and has no conclusion. From Twitter: If I were a cabbie, I’d work a different shift.

Some people might say that’s the point of these Jarmusch films: to capture real life. And that’s all fine and good. But it has to be a life that’s more interesting than mine. Otherwise, I might as well just turn off the DVD player.

“Night On Earth”

Released: 1991

Rating: R

Length: 128 minutes

Cast: Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Lisanne Falk, Alan Randolph Scott

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Genre(s): Comedy

Jim Jarmusch & Me: Mystery Train

Continued from “Coffee and Cigarettes”

Then “Mystery Train” arrived in my mailbox. From Twitter: A Japanese couple goes to Memphis. A liquor store is robbed. The ghost of Elvis appears. The film does have its moments. But it never comes to any conclusions. I’m not looking for everything to be wrapped neatly in the final reel. I just want a point.

Continue with “Night on Earth”

“Mystery Train”

Released: 1989

Rating: R

Length: 110 minutes

Cast: Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Cinque Lee

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Genre(s): Drama

Jim Jarmusch & Me: Coffee and Cigarettes

Some of the people I know personally have been giving me flack about my treatment of Jim Jarmusch’s films. So I’d like to set the record straight. It’s not that I dislike his films. It’s more of an unlike -- they're just not my cup of tea.

Or cup of coffee in the case of “Coffee and Cigarettes.” A friend recommended it and yes, there were a couple of decent vignettes and some amusing bits. But as I said in my review on Twitter: Most were about as interesting as an afternoon at Starbucks. It felt like a collection of SNL skits that they didn’t know how to end.

Continue with “Mystery Train”

"Coffee and Cigarettes"

Released: 2003

Rating: R

Length: 96 minutes

Cast: Roberto Benigni, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Genre(s): Drama, Comedy, Anthology

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Hoax: So would that be fiction or non-fiction?

“The Hoax” is the fascinating tale of Clifford Irving’s “authorized” autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. As the title indicates, it turns out to be a completely and masterfully fabricated sham. Along the way, Irving (Richard Gere) manages to fool the experts sent to verify his claims and it’s not until Hughes himself gets involved that Irving and his scheme start to unravel. My review from Twitter: Clifford Irving's fictitious autobiography of Howard Hughes fools everyone with the unfortunate exception of Mr. Hughes himself. 8 (out of 10)

"The Hoax"

Released: 2006

Rating: R

Length: 115 minutes

Cast: Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Julie Delpy

Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Period

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Since everyone's talking about "The Talking of Pelham 1 2 3" with Denzel Washington and John Travolta, here's the trailer from the original “One Two Three” with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw to show you how they do it old school. My review from Twitter: Daring 1974 subway hijacking that inspired a copycat some 35 years later. Points for originality. 8 (out of 10)

"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three"

Released: 1974

Rating: R

Length: 124 minutes

Cast: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo

Director: Joseph Sargent

Genre(s): Action, Thriller, Crime

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Surfwise : Chairmen of the Board, Part 4

Continued from “Riding Giants”

“Surfwise” isn’t about so much about surfing as it is about life and family. This documentary tells the story of the Paskowitz’s, the first family of surfing. The patriarch, Doc Paskowitz, was a successful Stanford-educated physician who chucked it all to become a surfer. He marries and raises 9 children in his nomadic, beach-bum style in a motorhome, with as far as I can tell, no visible means of support. To this day, Doc insists he gave his kids the best education they could have ever had, but they beg to differ. They’re ill-prepared for the demands of a modern world, some with no real jobs or options in life. It’s kind of selfish and sad. Doc may have pursued his dreams but he all but dashed those of his kids.

My review on Twitter: Surfwise-Doc Paskowitz follows his dream of a surfer’s life. And the 9 kids he raised in a trailer end up with the nightmares. 7 (out of 10)


Released: 2007

Rating: R

Length: 93 minutes

Cast: Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, Juliette Paskowitz, Israel Paskowitz, Jonathan Paskowitz

Director: Doug Pray

Genre(s): Documentary, Biopic

Riding Giants: Chairmen of the Board, Part 3

Continued from “Lords of Dogtown”

Stacey Peralta has another worthwhile documentary with “Riding Giants,” about the legends of big wave surfing. Like “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” this film is about a sport changed by a few extremely talented and driven athletes. It follows their obsession for the ultimate ride. In fact, the sport has progressed to the point where Laird Hamilton, has a speedboat towing him up to speed so he can catch skyscraper–size swells out in the middle of the ocean. And it’s all on film. Like “Z-Boys,” this film is a compilation of interviews, photos and archival footage. But with the many stills, Peralta goes Ken Burns one better by adding “mulitplane” techniques to add depth, dimension and movement to the stills. It’s a cool trick.

My review on Twitter: Riding Giants-The daring surfers who face mountainous walls of water without soiling themselves. (Like you'd be able to tell.) 8 (out of 10)

Continues with “Surfwise”

“Riding Giants

Released: 2004

Rating: PG-13

Length: 101 minutes

Cast: Greg Noll, Jeff Clark, Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doern

Director: Stacy Peralta

Genre(s): Documentary, Sports

Lords of Dogtown: Chairmen of the Board, Part 2

Catherine Hardwicke, the director of “Thirteen” and the recent “Twilight,” dramatized the Z-Boys story in her “Lords of Dogtown.” Like the documentary, “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” it shows their rise to prominence and the fractures the fame caused, but I didn’t like it as much as the documentary. Maybe it was because I already knew the story or because it was just more interesting to have the original players tell it. Regardless, it’s well acted, well told and the skateboarding footage is great. (Though not as great as “Z-boys.”)

My review on Twitter: Lords of Dogtown-This Hollywood-mogenized skateboard movie tells the “Dogtown and Z-Boys” story of but with better-looking people. 7 (out of 10)

Continue with “Riding Giants”

“Lords of Dogtown

Released: 2005

Rating: PG-13

Length: 109 minutes

Cast: Heath Ledger, John Robinson, Victor Rasuk, Emile Hirsch

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Genre(s): Drama, Historical, Period

Dogtown and Z-Boys: Chairmen of the Board, Part 1

Here are four surfing and skateboarding movies I can recommend even if you’re not into surfing and skateboarding.

The first one, “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” is about the birth of modern skateboarding. In the mid-1970s, during one of Southern California’s legendary droughts, a group of teenagers from Venice Beach discovered they could replicate their surfing moves on dry land by skating in empty swimming pools. Stacey Peralta, one the original Z-Boys, uses interviews and archival footage, including lots of amazing home movies to tell its story of the revolution. Which is what it must have felt like. Watching this film, I imagined what it must have been like to see people use a skateboard like that for the first time.

My review on Twitter: Dogtown and Z-Boys-Teenagers turn neighborhood swimming pools into skate parks, much to the delight of L.A. area homeowners. 8.5 (out of 10)

Continue with “Lords of Dogtown”

“Dogtown and Z-Boys

Released: 2002

Rating: PG-13

Length: 91 minutes

Cast: Sean Penn, Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Bob Biniak

Director: Stacy Peralta

Genre(s): History, Documentary, Sports