Tonight's Selection
The Italian Job

the writer of this movie really bet hard on the cultural significance of napster; a bet that hasn’t really paid off, a decade after the movie’s release. a lot of movies have throw-away references to napster, which is appropriate given its popularity and notoriety in its day, but this movie has a running gag about napster that recurs regularly throughout its entire length.  at the time, that was an easy way to make a hollywood remake seem current, as it came out shortly after napster’s well-publicized demise.  in hindsight, it makes the movie look dated, because the world moved on from napster very quickly, so even those who used napster offer only a pitying chuckle at the jokes and anyone born after 1990 probably doesn’t even get them.

  • the stunt driving scenes featuring minis are great fun, even if plagued with typical nonsense like constant tire chirp foley, an irrational fear of fragile vehicles like motorcycles and small helicopters, and cars that inexplicably fly nose-down when supposedly carrying tons of gold in their rear ends.
  • ed norton’s mustache is a dead giveaway for his villain turn.
Elmer Gantry

this movie is a hilariously biting portrait of tent revival christianity.  all the players are there; the cynical manipulator, the self-deluded, the local ministers who enable them, the rabble that give them their money, and the local authorities who fear them.  burt lancaster’s huge, loud, plastic-grinned performance as the first on that list is brilliant and the prototype for all the televangelists that replaced tent revivalists.

  • i really enjoyed the warped, dissonant, syncopated opening theme.
  • the church leaders eagerly grabbing the “french postcards” so they could stare at them a bit too long before judging them “shocking,” was perfectly timed.
  • those people needed lessons in basic fire safety a lot more than religion.
Training Day

denzel is perfectly cast in this movie.  he finds the very delicate balance between rooting against him because he’s doing such truly despicable things and rooting for him because he does it with such charisma and it’s fun to see him scramble to keep all the balls that he’s juggling in the air.  an actor with less range or less presence couldn’t pull that off; either his sinister side would look phony or he would slide into a charmless villain.

  • although the severity of the police corruption in this movie is highly exaggerated, the breadth of fringe involvement and tacit endorsement isn’t.  it’s a good portrayal of how difficult and risky it is for an honest cop to report corruption, which makes it even more tempting to go along or join in.
Sophie’s Choice

this movie exists as a vehicle for meryl streep.  the story doesn’t go anywhere and there are some nasty plot holes.  i’d wager these issues are lessened a good deal in the original novel, but they don’t matter much in the movie because the movie has streep.  she’s a powerhouse and all the depth that wasn’t given to the male characters was given to hers in spades.  it’s fitting that at the emotional climax, the camera moves in close to her, the rest of the scene fading to black, and we see only her face.  we spend the whole movie looking at her, but that scene is honest about it.

  • the copy i watched might be the worst quality dvd i’ve ever seen.
  • it’s creepy to see an evening of domestic violence carry the penance of apologizing to the neighbors about the noise.  i’m always amazed that the politicians who refer to that era as “the good ol’ days” don’t understand why women don’t vote for them.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

terry gilliam might be the ideal director to make a movie about a crazy weekend fueled by an ever-changing cocktail of numerous drugs.  his ability to bring truly bizarre visual elements in and out of scenes on a whim is perfect for the premise.  i love the desert off-road race that becomes so choked with dust that it’s a blank canvas for duke’s hallucinating mind to paint on as he’s tossed about in a jeep.  the bar positioned at the center of a carousel is a hilariously dirty trick to play on drunks.  the physical comedy as they exit the carousel is top notch.

The Swell Season

it’s a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom.

- lester bangs

it’s such a pleasure to watch these two create music together.  they have a phenomenal connection and the music just pours out of them effortlessly.  it makes it all the more melancholy when the pressures of their post-oscar-win tour starts to tear them apart.  glen and marketa both lay themselves bare, both for the cameras and for their audiences, with the silver lining that their struggles don’t stop the music.

  • i remember that when they won their oscar for best song, glen gave a speech and the band played the two off before marketa could talk.  jon stewart was hosting, and he brought her back out after a commercial, which is the kind of thing that jon would do but no other oscars host would.  it was a nice moment, which this movie edited out, an especially odd choice since one of the fans made reference to it in the movie.
  • i really don’t like it when movies are shot in greyscale without clear purpose.  we wouldn’t tolerate a movie shot in muddled redscale or greenscale, or with cross dissolves between every shot.  the more distracting the post-production choice, the more justification it needs.
Milk

this movie is one long show-off for sean penn.  it’s mind blowing how he transforms into harvey milk, not because the character is hugely different from his natural self, but because of how convincing the change is.  the way he adopts more feminine mannerisms to to appear gay without sliding into cartoonish stereotypes, and takes on the constant internal conflict between determined resolve and defeated exhaustion that roils within political activists is amazing.

  • the framing device of harvey dictating his memories to audio tape, like so many framing devices, is thoroughly unnecessary.
Mission: Impossible

the outsider supporting roles keep this movie interesting for me.  vanessa redgrave infuses her character with a delightful flirtiness and playfulness without losing any of the powerful presence that’s necessary for the part.  henry czerny takes his character to a hilariously cartoony place that seems inspired by snidely whiplash and boris and natasha.  they both add injections of fun that keep the movie afloat rather than sinking into a mindless string of stunt sequences.

  • you have to be willing to go along with de palma on his over the top visual style.  a lot of the stunts just don’t make sense, but i like his use of first person pov.
  • it was convenient that the inside of the ducting was lit so well.  what are the odds?
  • i suppose you can’t make a studio action movie without some big crazy exploding stunt.  i liked that the stunts were relatively small until the final 12 minutes.
  • jon voight looks truly ridiculous in his climbing gear.  the helmet was especially absurd.
Jules and Jim

there’s a moment in this movie when one of the three main characters mentions that the people of the nearby village refer to them as the three lunatics.  that about sums it up.  i don’t think i’ve ever seen characters so detached from normal human existence other than in a soap opera.  the titular characters are best friends that both live in orbit around a woman who has the sweeping whims of a borderline personality combined with a psychopathic disregard for others’ emotions.  it’s a love triangle in which you root for both to stop wanting to get the girl.

Envy

i was struck by how none of the environments in this movie seem even slightly authentic.  they all have the kind of cartoonish, staged look that you see in old musicals from the 50s.  it’s a weird hodge-podge of poorly done sets and cgi that never feel real.  it looks a bit like tim burton’s earlier movies, but with those it serves a purpose and thusly comes off as intentional, whereas here it just looks cheap.

  • envy isn’t the protagonist’s problem.  his wife and kids are envious as well, but it doesn’t make them so unhappy.  this movie should be called bitter.
  • i really dig the recurring folksy, baritone soundtrack.
  • a high-speed carousel seems far more enjoyable to me than the usual kind.