Halloween Treats

October 29, 2010

Actually, my very best Halloween viewing experience was when I was about 13 and a local television station showed Psycho late in the evening.  I was so scared, and the film left a lingering fright effect for some weeks whenever I took a shower!  Psycho definitely stands the test of time, and I show it when I teach Introduction to Film as one of the weekly selections to illustrate, in particular, editing techniques.

Here are some other Halloween-worthy viewing selections:





October 25, 2010

Clint Eastwood, who is 80, is at the top of his game.  I’m not suggesting that Hereafter is better than Million Dollar Baby (which is think is a masterpiece) or Invictus or Flags of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima or even Gran TorinoHereafter doesn’t surpass those films, or Mystic River, for that matter, but it does hold its own.

This is a film about the afterlife that doesn’t make me feel either squeamish or letdown.  It poses questions and weaves storylines like a less sprawling John Irving novel.  Eastwood, who is perhaps best-known for his roles as a macho gunslinger or a hardboiled detective, has directed a film that suggests there is more to life and to death than we can know, but that things do tend to work out over time if we let them.

Eastwood has tamed the metaphysical in the sense that he provides no answers to these eternal questions but does suggest that there is reason to hope.  As I said, Hereafter is not one of Eastwood’s masterworks, but it does demonstrate his skill as a director and his willingness at the age most directors stop making films – or should stop making films – that he is eager to take on new cinematic territory.

I have no idea where Clint Eastwood’s next movie will take me.  I just know that I’m ready for the ride and – fully realizing that I’m about to make a bad pun here – I have to tell you that I am ready for Clint Eastwood to make my day.




October 25, 2010

Woody Allen, at 75, is still cranking out about a picture a year.  I go see most of them, mainly because I keep hoping for another indelible movie-going experience like I had in high school when I saw Annie Hall, a film I love as much now as I did then.  Of course, there are about a half dozen of Allen’s films that I love, but I haven’t found any to interest me in quite a long time

I can’t help but wonder if he keeps making films more from habit than passion.  It sort of feels that way when I’m in the audience.

Watching his latest film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger over the weekend just reinforces my point.  Not as painful to watch as last year’s Whatever Works, which didn’t work at all, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is nonetheless a bit of a yawn.  Surely Allen wanted me to engage in the romantic mishaps and dysfunctional family dynamics and people – mostly men – giving in to their baser instincts, but it just felt so artificial.

If Allen’s point, one he often tries to make, is that life is meaningless and there is a lot of suffering along the way, then he might try making the point with characters who actually engage my interest and even my empathy.




October 21, 2010

Oh, my.

I’ve enjoyed Boardwalk Empire from the beginning, but it’s really starting to take off with the most recent episode.   The series is a visual feast  — from production design to the lush cinematography.

The story has always been engaging to me, but now it is coming together in a way that takes the series to a new level.

I watched the last third or so of the most recent episode twice.  Okay, I watched the last third twice and the final sequence three times.  No sense in denying it; I watched the final scene two additional times.  What a lovely build-up to this point.

I don’t recall ever thinking of Steve Buscemi as sexy before, but when Nucky Thompson turned up at Margaret’s door…oh, my.

Remember the early critics who thought Buscemi was poorly cast in this role?  I was in the minority who bought him as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson from the beginning, and I certainly cannot see anyone else in the role now.

I’m thinking it might be a good idea to watch the last ten minutes of the episode one more time before I go to sleep…

Thank goodness for my DVR.



October 21, 2010

Have you ever seen a “paint by number” painting for sale at a flea market?  Sometimes they are awful.  Others times they can look pretty good.

Underneath the surface, though, it’s still paint by number.  This is not art.

The new Disney film Secretariat is a lot like that.  The surface is occasionally nice, but the execution is rote.  This paint by number film is nothing more than that.



October 21, 2010

I was a little disappointed in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the new film by directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

That’s probably only because my expectations were so high for this little film filled with possibilities.  I just wanted more.  Two previous films by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are little films that rocked my world. This is especially true of their first film, Half Nelson.  A critical part of my scholarly work focuses on the representation of teachers in popular culture so I’ve seen more teacher movies and TV shows than most people can imagine, but I’ve never seen one like Half Nelson, a revisionist teacher movie that breaks new ground.

Similarly, Sugar was one of my favorite movies from a couple of years ago.  It tells the story of a Dominican baseball star who has a chance to play minor league ball in the US.  Let’s just say that he does not have an easy transition.  When it was released, I tried to get everyone I knew to see this movie!

It’s Kind of a Funny Story centers on a depressed teenage boy who checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital.  Now, when I tell you that this movie lacks the edge of Half Nelson and Sugar, that may sound weird, but it’s true.  It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a bit tender, and it’s engaging at times, but it isn’t as thought-provoking as its predecessors.

On the other hand, maybe I just expected too much!




October 10, 2010

Today I took in a double feature.  Actually, that’s not technically correct because there was a big gap in between.  I liked both of them.

Easy A is an appealing teen pic that pays appropriate homage to all of the iconic 80s films from John Hughes and – my personal favorite – Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything.  (Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve had a crush on Lloyd Dobler since the film came out in 1989.  Yes, I own the DVD, which is significant because I don’t buy many films.)

Emma Stone is appealing (smart and funny) as Olive, a 17-year-old who is branded a trollop after untrue rumors race through her high school.  Since her class is reading The Scarlet Letter (well, the students who aren’t renting the cannibalization of the book in the horrible film starring Demi Moore), she decides to brand her clothing with the A, and curious things start to happen.

I don’t want to give too much away because this is a film that actually picks up steam as it progresses.  What’s not to love about a cute film (in a good way) that references not only The Scarlet Letter and Say Anything but also Huckleberry Finn?  There are so many ways this film could have gone so wrong, but it didn’t.  Strong supporting cast, too…

After my early matinee, I went back for an evening show, the indie Irish film Kisses.  Released in Ireland in 2008, it’s making the rounds here now.  It reminded me a little of  a film I like a lot, L’enfant (2005) by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, but without so much of the hard edge.

That’s not to say that this is not a bleak story.  Two young teens leave their abusive homes at Christmastime and spend a scary night in Dublin.  It’s a small story that unfolds easily and episodically with moments of redemption that offset the violence and trauma.  I’m not sure how long this one will stay with me, but I’m glad I saw it.  It’s an unusual love story.