March 2011 posts
This new feature explores the realm of movies that actually mean something. Or in short, these are movies that almost everyone should take the time regularly to watch. These films run the gamut of compelling stories to important cinematic achievements. Today we will look at the former.
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON (1993/DVD) This HBO movie chronicles the early events of the AIDS epidemic in the United States based on the book by Randy Shilts and directed by Roger Spottiswoode. The movie is primarily set in San Francisco where the story centers around the politics of the AIDS virus. The movie follows the work of a group of doctors working with the CDC to isolate and stop a virus that is killing large numbers of homosexual men. This involves not only the investigation, but the turmoil around the emerging crisis. At the center of most of the stories is Dr. Don Francis (played by Matthew Modine). Dr. Francis is at the center of the political struggle of providing public health measures to protect the citizens of San Francisco. Another storyline follows the investigation of several AIDS cases and how they link to one individual, a flight attendant (played by Jeffery Nording). The doctors investigating are played by Glenne Headly and Richard Massur. The final storyline is that of a competition between a group of French doctors (Patrick Bauchau, Nathalie Baye, Ronald Guttman, and Tcheky Karyo) and an American, Dr. Gallow (played by Alan Alda). The film is rounded out by major roles and cameos by: Ian McKellen, Richard Gere, Swoozie Kurtz, Richard Jenkins, Bud Cort, Steve Martin, Anjelica Houston, Donald Logue, Saul Rubinek, Lily Tomlin, B.D. Wong, Ken Jenkins, and Phil Collins. Read more »
Kimberly! So our Win Win screening date was canceled by the man (in charge of delivering prints), big whoop. Thanks to your vigilance in DVRing every stupid thing playing on the Showtime Showcase (!) a few weeks back, we had what appeared to be several dozen terrible movies to fall back on. And fall we did. Into Bandslam. The surprising thing was, graded on the For What It Is curve, 2009′s Bandslam is not even half bad! There are more than a few genuinely funny moments in this breezy, well-paced 110 minute story of a new-kid-in-school music nerd (TOTALLY into Velvet Underground = instant indie rock cred) who, after impressing a former prom queen/cheerleader-turned-rocker classmate with his wikked band name dropping abilities, takes on the challenge of “managing” her band with the goal of winning an annual tri-state, high-school affiliated battle of the bands called BANDSLAM. (!) The reward? $10,000 and a record contract. Seems reasonable. Read more »
OF GODS AND MEN (2010/IN THEATERS) The 2010 winner of the French César Award for Best Film was directed by Xavier Beauvois and tells the story of eight Trappist monks who lived at the monastery of Tibhirine in Algeria until 1996 when seven of them were kidnapped during the Algerian revolution and soon beheaded. You may remember the incident. The movie does not focus on the final act. Instead it paints a realistic portrait of the lives of the monks, their interactions with their Muslim neighbors, the Algerian military and the revolutionists, and slowly allows us to understand their decision to stay at the monastery—facing certain death—rather than leave to return to France, an option presented to them more than once. Indeed, as the monks first learn details of several violent actions taken by the rebels, at least three of them are ready to go. But as the movie progresses, and as they discuss their options amongst themselves while continuing their daily chores (bee keeping, gardening, providing medical aid to the local population), we as viewers can see how they arrived at their final decision. This is a quiet movie, beautifully filmed and full of gorgeous music, much of it chanting by the monks themselves. There are several very strong scenes, including a final “last supper” which is not to be missed. The acting is uniformly solid and understated. You will feel you know each man well and as the film closes, perhaps you will feel at peace with their choice–as they did.
BTW: The movie was filmed in Morocco, in a long-abandoned monastery south of Fez, which in the 1960s was used by a Benedictine order as a meeting point between Christians and Muslims.
For Chicago Readers: Roger Ebert, like most critics, has given this movie a very positive review. But unlike most, he feels the monks should have chosen life over death. Be sure to check out his review here.
First, let me say that is a pleasure to be contributing to this site. I am honored that I was asked to contribute my thoughts and opinions on one of my most favorite hobbies: film. Second, my features will be appearing weekly, and will feature a specific topic each week of the month. These features will be looking back at some of the most memorable movies I have come across. Some for very good reasons, but most for the wrong reasons. Speaking of:
While laid up in my recliner with one of those Spring head colds that makes you wish that you did not have a head, I revisited one of my favorites.
HIGHLANDER (1986/DVD/streaming on Hulu) This is a cult classic starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, and directed by Russell Mulcahy. The essence of the movie is the story of Malcolm MacLeod, a Scottish immortal, who is about to take part in the event known as “the Gathering.” This event is where all immortals fight till there is only one. Following this story, we see Malcolm’s current life leading to “the Gathering” mixed with flashbacks to his past. Most importantly how he learned of his immortality and how to fight. The movie was popular enough to spawn three more movies and a television series. In its opening weekend in 1986, Highlander pulled in over 2 million.
I had to use this movie because of how it treads the line of being horrible and awesome. The story is one of the better ones that has been presented in Hollywood Sci-Fi movies and the movie is very entertaining. The bad parts are: Lambert’s acting is not the greatest in the world, but excusable providing the story line. As we know, he is the man who would become Rayden in the film adaptation of Mortal Kombat (see future review). Highlander almost feels like two movies in one. The flashbacks contain some great cinematography of the Highlands of Scotland, and of course Sean Connery. But the “modern day” part of the movie looks like a campy Sci-Fi movie played on Cinemax at night (including an almost pointless sex scene). Read more »
CASINO JACK (2010/DVD RELEASE APRIL 5, 2011) Here’s a good one to add to your NetFlix list. Director George Hickenlooper’s final film (he died at 47 on October 29, 2010) Casino Jack was largely given a thumbs down by critics and ignored by viewers. But I say…give it a chance! Sure, this political comedy/farce has an “uneven” quality to it and is a bit scattered but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a couple great scenes and a few laughs along the way. And it’ll put you right in the mood for current pre-election politics. Kevin Spacey is dead-on as Jack Abramoff, the “Super Lobbyist” who, as we all know, ended up in prison for bilking his clients, most notably several Native American tribes and their casinos. His partner in crime in real life, as in the film, is Michael Scanlon, enthusiastically portrayed by Barry Pepper, one of those great character actors who nails his roles every time. (For those keeping track, Pepper was also seen in 2010 as Ned Pepper in True Grit.) Hickenlooper’s film is also blessed with a fun performance from Jon Lovitz as a sleazy former mattress salesman installed in one of Abramoff’s money-making schemes. And speaking of schemes, Abramhoff has tons of them, including a Japanese restaurant (or two), a kosher restaurant on the hill for congress, a Jewish school complete with Zamboni for an imaginary ice rink, and more! All this in addition to his various money-making schemes, most of which come back to roost. And of course the ultimate message here is delivered by Spacey/Abrahoff himself: don’t be fooled, lobbyists are what make Washington work, that is, if it works at all.
Grade: B+ Worth seeing.
BTW: Did you know?
George Hickenlooper was born in St. Louis, Missouri and attended high school at St. Louis University High, where he was part of a group of teenage filmmakers he informally called the “Splicers.” His cousin is Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper (former Mayor of Denver) who gets a nice cameo as Senator Campbell in one of the last scenes in Casino Jack. Foreshadowing at play? Hickenlooper (John that is) already has been profiled in the NYT Magazine as a Democratic up-and-comer.
P.S. For movie buffs only! Abramoff in real life loved to impersonate famous actors and movie lines….there are plenty in the film. Try to catch all of them and make a list—cringe-worthy!
THE ART OF THE STEAL (2009/DVD) The title above is taken from Manohla Dargis’ NYT review of this fascinating documentary which offers a definitely biased point of view about the famous Barnes Collection and its imminent move (scheduled for 2012) to a new Philadelphia location. According to the film, as well as to countless articles available online, Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) was a strong-willed, up by your boot straps individual who made a fortune thanks to co-creating and owning the drug that cured VD. He invested his money in art, much of it from France, in the era before the post-impressionists were recognized. The Barnes Collection includes an impressive mixture of furniture, odds and ends, and paintings–among them 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis as well as several Van Goghs—and tons more eclectic pieces all arranged in a fabulously un-Museum-like way in Barnes’ own lovely suburban home in Merion, PA, located roughly 5 miles from downtown Philadelphia. Barnes wanted individuals to experience his art collection in a particular way and was devoted to the idea of art education as a populist effort. Wanting to keep his collection out of the hands of the “elite” and specifically out of the hands of the Annenberg family (of the famed Annenberg Foundation), Barnes created his own Foundation and stipulated in a will that his collection be left as it was, where it was and with limited viewing rights. The documentary details what can happen despite wills and foundations. A fascinating film and well worth watching for any art lover, but personally I had to agree with Dargis that the bias from director and cinematographer Don Argott eventually makes the film seem too one-sided.
Check out the following for more on many sides of this issue:
TAOS, NEW MEXICO Just how cool is Taos?! Pretty darn cool….In its fourth year, the Taos Shortz Film Fest which ran last weekend at the Harwood Museum of Art featured a terrific lineup of 60 selections and welcomed 20 filmmakers from across the globe. Three world premieres were featured: Next, a 5 minute experimental from Germany; The Necklace a 6-minute dramatic fiction work from Colorado and of course, our local favorite and winner of The People’s Choice Award Good Luck Mr. Gorski, which we reviewed earlier this week. Other award winners and personal favorites (of mine!) were two comedy fiction shorts: Asesino—a hilarious piece featuring Victor Ramirez in the title role and directed by Ravi Kapoor, and Uncle Jack—also hilarious, directed by Jamin Winans and filmed in Denver. The animation award winner was The Astronomer’s Sun from the UK, directed by Simon Cartwright (who was in Taos for the festival) and Jessica Cope—Cartwright informed us that this very compelling animation used absolutely no digital tricks and was completely hand-done. Impressive. My friends and I were also impressed by The Fall Line, directed by Tyler Stableford and featuring a young soldier who lost both legs in Iraq but is now a world competitive para-olympic skier and also Prayers for Peace, directed by Dustin Grella and dedicated to his brother who lost his life in Iraq—both these shorts received Honorable Mentions in their respective categories (documentary and animation). The driving force behind the Taos Shortz Fest is Anna Cosentine, who single-handedly started the festival and makes it bigger and better each year. She promises to be back in 2012. Excellent!
Check out the complete lineup of films here.
GOOD LUCK MR GORKSI (World Premiere/March 5, 2011/Taos Shortz Film Fest) So….you’re wondering, what on earth is “Good Luck Mr. Gorski.” Good question!! It’s an original short film, produced and scripted by Allegra Huston –Taos resident and famous half sister of Angelica Houston, Danny Huston and Gary Houston (also a Taos resident). Gary stars as Mr. Gorski in this fun little period comic piece set in 1969 on the famous day when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. According to Allegra at last night’s world premiere showing, the story is based on an old joke from Buddy Hackett! (Don’t remember Buddy Hackett—no worries—you’re too young. Check him out here.) At any rate, the movie had a big send-off last night at the Fourth Annual Taos Shortz Film Fest which has become a real world-class event, complete with 60 shorts and over 20 filmmakers from all over the world. The crowd for Allegra’s piece was big, by Taos standards. One of the reasons was her creative fundraising: for a $20 contribution toward the film, anyone could join the “launch crew” and get a listing in the credits as well as a free download of the film. Check it out! I’m there just past the 700 mark!
NOTE: A full review of the Taos Shortz Film Fest is coming this week as well. Stay tuned!
THE TOWN (2010/DVD) Ben Affleck’s second directorial effort (his first was Gone Baby Gone) was well received by both critics and audiences when it was released last fall and has accumulated a domestic box office haul of over $92 million, which must be a thrill for all involved. This is a tightly cast, well-scripted crime action flick, set in Boston and the metro area, and specifically in Charlestown (The Town of the title), which is located just north of Boston and is a notorious location for crime. Affleck plays the lead as Doug MacRay, a quiet criminal who no longer drinks (he even goes to one AA meeting in the film) and really is tired and ready to quit. The bank job which opens the picture introduces us to his gang of four, most notably his no.2 Jimmy Coughlin (played by Oscar Supporting nominee Jeremy Renner) who is the very definition of “loose cannon.” As we learn during the movie, Jimmy has already served 9 years in prison and is anxious to make up for lost time. For some unknown reason, he chooses to take Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the bank manager, as a hostage for a short period after the heist. After releasing her, he makes it clear to Doug that he’s going to kill her, so Doug intervenes and lo and behold, falls for her. This sets up a nice plot twist, which is played out, as most of the scenes in this movie are, without a lot of high drama and rather more in a “normal” manner. So we have three strong leads already and add to that Jon Hamm as the determined FBI agent who wants to take this gang down. Also add Chris Cooper as Doug’s dad (excellent as always in his short appearance), Blake Lively as Jimmy’s classically Boston-smutty sister, who’s really strong in her role, and finally Pete Postlethwaite (who died this year) as the ultimate bad-guy Fergie complete with an Irish accent that would not be unusual in Boston. And speaking of Boston, I heard that Affleck was very picky that the accents in the film be realistic, not overdone—they sounded good to me. Also, those car chases down the narrow streets of Boston must have been a real bitch to shoot! Congrats, Ben, on another tight film.
Of note: The movie premiered at The Fenway! Watch the film to learn why…
P.S. Those rubber nun masks in the trailers and the poster are truly creepy.