Time Is On My Side

Ah, so much TV to watch, so little time to devote to quality blogging. I’ve got 1987 ranked, just need to write it up. I hope to get to that this weekend. Til then, here’s some quick reviews from recent tivo-watching:

To Catch A Thief: One of the few classic Hitchcock films I hadn’t seen, I finally got around to watching last night. It was alright, if the plot had twisted like I thought it should have, it would have been better. Still, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on with Grace Kelly’s character. Anyway, it’s pretty, but no North By Northwest.

TV Shows: It’s season premiere time, with Arrested Development, Lost, Alias, The OC, and Curb Your Enthusiasm all back on the cable this week. Some new shows that seem interesting so far: My Name Is Earl, Kitchen Confidential, Extras, Rome and Invasion (though I haven’t watched any of it yet). Battlestar Galactica finished it’s season in excellent fashion after what I thought had been a disappointing second season. Hopefully it’ll be better when it comes back in January.

The Hitch-Hiker: Had to watch it to follow along the film noir podcast and it was well-worth it. Very strange, remarkably economical story about a guy who holds two men hostage and makes them drive him through Mexico. A lot like the Sidney Poitier/Kirstie Alley movie Shoot To Kill, only really good. It’s not a noir generically speaking, but it’s got the style down to a science. Only 70 minutes long, too. My fist Ida Lupino movie, she sounds like a fascinating person.

Also, there’s a couple cool documentaries out there. The first is about the history baseball in Latin America called Viva Baseball that has some really interesting interviews and some great footage I’d never seen before. Very well done, especially considering it’s on Spike TV of all networks. The other is Spaghetti West, and IFC documentary about, well, Spaghetti Westerns. They did a similar one a few months ago on Hong Kong martial arts movies, and this is just as good. Gave me some films to add to the old queue, since the only one’s I’ve seen are Sergio Leone’s four movies.

And in real news: Tom DeLay got indicted. WOO HOO! HOO RAY! YEE HAW!!

Movies Of The Year: 1986

A not-quite-as-but-still impressive 39 Movies I’ve Seen in 1986. Though the quality at the top is significantly better than ’85, this year has some of my least favorite movies of all-time.

39. Gothic
38. F/X
37. Highlander
36. Iron Eagle
35. Police Academy 3: Back In Training
34. Wildcats
33. SpaceCamp
32. Labyrinth
31. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
30. Flight Of The Navigator
29. The Great Mouse Detective
28. Blue Velvet
27. She’s Gotta Have It
26. The Transformers: The Movie
25. Crocodile Dundee
24. Short Circuit
23. Sid And Nancy
22. The River’s Edge
21. Gung Ho
20. Down And Out In Beverly Hills
19. The Golden Child
18. Manhunter
17. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
16. A Better Tomorrow

15. The Karate Kid Part II – Not as good as the original, obviously, but still pretty good as 1980s sequels go. The female lead is Tamlyn Tomita, who’s had a pretty spotty career since. She was in The Joy Luck Club, Touch, The Day After Tomorrow and Four Rooms.

14. The Fly – One of the few David Cronenberg films I’ve seen, and one that I like, though I think it’s better in theory than in actuality. It just isn’t a lot of fun watching Jeff Goldblum puke on his food before eating it. At least, not my idea of fun. These things are subjectictve. I really don’t like Geena Davis.

13. Pretty In Pink – I can’t believe she chose Blaine over Ducky. It’s all about the money with Molly. Great soundtrack though. Maybe the best of the 80s, in fact.

12. Three Amigos – Chevy Chase’s last great movie, and he needed Steve Martin and Martin Short to carry him through it. In small parts you will find Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Joe Mantegna, Randy Newman (who also co-wrote with John Landis and Lorne Michaels). This might be the last really good SNL movie until Wayne’s World. “Mail plane” Heh heh.

11.Stand By Me – I think it’s overrated, but then, I never saw it as a kid. It does have a great cast, and it’s better than most Stephen King movies, but I can’t say it’s as meaningful to me as it apparently is to so many others. It’s good though.

10. Down By Law – Much like Stranger Than Paradise, Jarmusch’s next movie adds a very little more plot, and Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni to John Lurie this time. Slow moving, but very funny and featuring some very pretty swamps. If you like Jarmusch, this is a must see. If you haven’t seen any Jarmusch, this is as good a place to start as any, but patience is important and will be rewarded.

9. The Color Of Money – Tom Cruise doesn’t bother me, but I’m still not a big fan of this movie. It pales in comparison to The Hustler, for one thing. And the end drives me nuts. I don’t know what should happen instead, but I know that the film should not be over when it is. It’s like the whole movie is build-up, but never delivers. It was about time for Newman to win an Oscar, though, and I won’t begrudge him it.

8. Hoosiers – One of the great sports movies of all-time, and probably the best movie about basketball. I’ll agree with The Sports Guy that the pseudo-romance between Hackman and Barbara Hershey is totally out of place and doesn’t work at all. Nice performance by Dennis Hopper, much better than the scenery chewing in the ghastly Blue Velvet, also from this year. Director David Anspaugh went on to make Rudy and not much else.

7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – My pick for the Best John Hughes movie, and there isn’t a greedy redhead in sight. Give me Mia Sara’s inexplicable accent over Molly Ringwald’s money-grubbing social climbers any day. Iconic performance by Matthew Broderick, classic supporting performances from Ben Stein, Edie McClurg, Jeffery Jones, Charlie Sheen, Alan Ruck and Jennifer Grey. The only problem with it is the totally unrealistic absence total Ferris has accumulated. 9 times? Please. That’s less than nothing.

6. The Name Of The Rose – Not surprisingly, the book is much better. Sean Connery is great as the sleuthing monk fighting the hordes of ignorance and superstition as he tries to solve a series of murders at a Dark Age abbey. Christian Slater, though, is not very good at all. F. Murray Abraham and Ron Perlman are decent in supporting roles, but neither gets much time to develop a character or anything. Director Jean Jacques Annaud went on to make The Bear, Enemy At The Gates and Seven Years In Tibet. Not an especially interesting career. The book’s great though. It’s Eco’s first novel, and his books tend to get worse as he goes along, so this one is highly recommended. The next one, Foucault’s Pendulum, is also great.

5. Top Gun – One of the better high-concept action movies of all-time. Chock full of great air combat scenes and blatant homoeroticism. Quentin Tarantino’s speech about this movie in the film Sleep With Me is one of the classic bits of film criticism. I have to say I’m more a fan of Tony Scott than his brother Ridley. I appreciate the fact that Tony seems to know what he’s good at and sticks to making the best action movies he can. Whereas Ridley tends to annoy me with his pretensions at profundity (Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator). Anyway, Top Gun’s got a great cast (Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins and Val Kilmer), a great soundtrack, is great looking, full of memorable lines and wall-to-wall inanity for a plot. You’ve gotta love it.

4. Aliens – It’s an odd year indeed when Top Gun isn’t even the best action film of the year, but that’s the case this year when the competition is perhaps the single greatest action movie of all-time. I definitely recommend sticking with the theatrical release, because much like with Apocalypse Now, while the extra footage is definitely interesting, it slows the pacing down way too much. Pace what Aliens is all about as the action never stops. It’s like the last 45 minutes of Hard-Boiled, only less balletic, but stretched over 2 hours. There’s supposedly a theme about Ripley and trying to be both a mother and an action hero (working mom) at the same time, but don’t believe it. Bill Paxton delivers another classic performance as Hudson (Game over, man! Game over!) and Michael Biehn is solid as he always is in James Cameron movies. Lance Henrikson and Paul Reiser also star. James Cameron’s best movie.

3. Platoon – Oliver Stone’s best movie. And the best movie about Vietnam, depending on whether or not you think Apocalypse Now is really about that war or something else entirely. Tom Berenger and Willem Defoe are outstanding as the veteran soldiers who fight out out over Charlie Sheen’s soul amidst the chaos of war and a My Lei-style incident. The outstanding cast includes Kevin Dillon, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp, John C. McGinley, and Dale Dye. A great looking movie, and perhaps the last time Stone made a film with any kind of subtlety. The soundtrack is great too.

2. Hannah And Her Sisters – Woody Allen narrowly loses his third Movie Of The Year award, and instead comes in second for the second straight year. The closest Allen ever came to making an epic, this follows the lives of three sisters, or rather, it follows the obsessions Allen and Michael Caine have with said sisters. All of the actors are terrific (except maybe Barbara Hershey), as you’d expect in a Woody Allen movie. My favorite part is Allen describing how his year-long existential crisis got solved. After Manhattan, this is his best serious comedy. Features Carrie Fischer, Max Von Sydow, Daniel Stern, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Joanna Gleason, Julie Kavner, Sam Waterston, Lewis Black, J.T. Walsh, John Turturro, and, uh, Soon-Yi Previn.

1. The Mission – A brilliant film about all the good and bad things that religion can do to people. First it saves Robert DeNiro, a murderer and slave-trader and turns him into a terrific guy. Then it helps the Amazon natives learn to sing Ave Maria and build houses and farms and civilization. Then it becomes greedy, tries to enslave all the natives and kill all the priests who disagree with it. Sounds about right. DeNiro and Jeremy Irons are the best parts of an outstanding cast featuring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn and Ray McAnally as the representative of the Pope who has to decide between saving the Indians and saving the Jesuits. The outstanding score is by Ennio Morricone, the screenplay by Robert Bolt and the absolutely beautiful cinematography by Chris Menges, who did The Killing Fields, Michael Collins, Dirty Pretty Things and the upcoming North Country. Director Roland Joffé never came close to anything this good again.

Not a lot of essentials in The Unseen this year, though there are a couple big ones:

Big Trouble In Little China
Little Shop Of Horrors
Howard The Duck
The Money Pit
Jean de Florette
The Hitcher
The Mosquito Coast
Ruthless People
9 1/2 Weeks
Peggy Sue Got Married
An American Tail
Back To School
Manon Of The Spring
Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
Children Of A Lesser God
One Crazy Summer
Mona Lisa
Delta Force
True Stories

Movies Of The Year: 1985

A huge year is 1985, with a record 42 Movies I’ve Seen. Not a lot of depth though, as the vast majority of these are movies I liked well enough as a kid, when, frankly, I’d watch anything. Really only one or two truly great movies this year.

42. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
41. Red Sonja
40. White Nights
39. Return To Oz
38. The Jewel Of The Nile
37. St. Elmo’s Fire
36. A View To A Kill
35. Commando
34. Rambo: First Blood Part II
33. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
32. Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment
31. The Black Cauldron
30. King Solomon’s Mines
29. The Man With One Red Shoe
28. Teen Wolf
27. D.A.R.Y.L.
26. Legend
25. Rocky IV
24. Day Of The Dead
23. Explorers
22. Spies Like Us
21. Real Genius
20. Lost In America
19. Young Sherlock Holmes
18. Witness
17. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
16. The Color Purple

15. Weird Science – Strange that this and Real Genius cam out the same year. Just an early example o Hollywood groupthink I guess. Like when Dante’s Peak and Volcano came out the same year, or Deep Impact and Armageddon. Bill Paxton’s Chet is one of the defining performances of the 80s.

14. A Room With A View – You won’t find a bigger Helena Bonham Carter fan than me, but this is not her best Merchant/Ivory film. Still, it’s not bad. Probably won’t make you fall asleep. Denholm Elliot is in it too, so that’s good.

13. The Goonies – After watching it again last year, I can’t say it holds up well over time. Still, one of the great kids movies of the decade, for sure. Joe Pantoliano is surprisingly one of the Fratelli’s.

12. National Lampoon’s European Vacation – More of the same, only this time making fun of foreigners instead of Americans. Still very funny though. Billy Zabka co-stars. That’s The Billy Zabka.

11. Ladyhawke – A personal favorite, a really great looking movie. Does the whole fairy tale thing very nicely. The special effects are dated, and the acting isn’t particularly good, though it doesn’t bother me too much. The score is a problem. I recall it as that annoying 80s-synthesizer wanna-be Vangelis crap that isn’t any good when it is Vangelis. Ugh. Vittorio Storaro did the cinematography, so you can believe me when I say it looks great. He’s the guy who did Apocalypse Now, Reds, The Last Emperor, Dick Tracy and, uh, Ishtar.

10. The Breakfast Club – I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the John Hughes films. They seem to forced and unnatural too me, dividing the kids up into whatever ideology Hughes has at the time (normally cheap class-based stereotypes). But this is an important film, and does have some very good parts. It works better for me than, say, Pretty In Pink. Probably because Molly Ringwald doesn’t get the chance to sell out.

9. Back To The Future – 1985 may not have a lot of great films, but man does it have a lot of classic kids/teen movies. This is the best of them, by a fair margin too. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd give their typical fine performances, but it’s Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson who are the real stars of this movie. Tom Wilson, who played Biff, as had a rough career. It’s highlights are: Action Jackson, the Wing Commander video games, Turner & Hooch and the Spongebob movie. Ouch.

8. Brazil – It’s overrated, but it’s still very good. I have to knock it down a few notches because it’s one of those movies I can never really remember, no matter how many times I see it. Jonathon Pryce is great as the hero, lots of other great actors star, but it’s Katherine Helmond from Who’s The Boss who is the creepiest.

7. Clue – One of the few attempts to make a modern screwball comedy that actually works. And, as far as I know, the only good movie adaptation of a board game ever. Directed by Jonathon Lynn, whose career has been truly horrifying ever since (Nuns On The Run, My Cousin Vinny, The Distinguished Gentleman, Greedy, Sgt. Bilko, Trial and Error and The Whole Nine Yards.)

6. Fletch – I can’t rate it any higher because, to my shame, I’ve only seen it a couple of times. Enough to recognize it’s brilliance, but not enough to be able to quote it at will. I suspect it is the best Chevy Chase movie, but I cannot prove it. Director Michael Ritchie’s had an interesting career, which I believe I chronicled in the Bad News Bears entry in 1976. Did I mention Cops and Robbersons?

5. After Hours – In it’s own way, a perfect little comedy. Doesn’t rank any higher because it doesn’t want to. Griffin Dunne plays a guy who gets trapped in SoHo, passed from one lunatic woman to another. The cast is great (Bronson Pinchot!) This is what Scorsese did after his first attempt to make The Last Temptation Of Christ fell through. Its really the only comedy he ever made, unless I’m forgetting something.

4. Silverado – A great classicist Western from a time when the Western was all but dead. Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed an outstanding cast (Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Brain Denehey, Kevin Costner, Jeff Goldblum, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese,) There hasn’t been a Western like this in a very, very long time.

3. Out Of Africa – Call me an imperialist pig if you will, but I love this movie. Frankly, the insinuation that there’s anything racist about this movie is absurd. It doesn’t have anything to do with colonialism in Africa, it just happens to be set amongst colonialists. Arrgh, don’t get me started. It isn’t the politics I dig, nor the very cliché romance (ooh Robert Redford as the quiet manly man who doesn’t want to commit to the woman he loves, shocking!). It’s Meryl Streep. Or rather, it’s Streep as Isak Dineson. Dunno why, maybe it’s just the way cool accent, but I just think she’s a fascinating character. And it’s a great looking movie to. In a generic ‘look at the pretty scenery’ way, but still great looking. Besides, what’s wrong with a little imperialist, cliché, melodramatic romance now and then? Jerks.

2. The Purple Rose Of Cairo – One of Woody Allen’s more underrated movies, and maybe the best movie about movies ever. Mia Farrow’s outstanding as a Depression Era neglected (even beaten) wife who escapes into the movies every week. One day, the lead actor in the movie, Jeff Daniels, escapes the screen and into her life. The melodrama of the Depression scenes is expertly balanced with the comedy of what the characters in the movie do without Daniels. By far the best 1985 movie with “Purple” in the title. Despite what any Book Club founders may tell you.

1. Ran – Akira Kurosawa’s last great movie, it’s his version of King Lear, and it’s a heck of a lot better than the play, at least better than reading the play. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the samurai king who splits his realm between his sons, but rejects the one who tells him what a stupid idea that is. “Ran” is Japanese for ‘chaos’ and that’s pretty much what happens. An amazing film, from the battle scenes ripped off by Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan, to the Noh influences in make-up, costume and acting, the brilliant use of color, and the terrific, non-method acting, especially by Nakadai and Mieko Harada, who as a combination Lady MacBeth, Edmund character is one of the great movie villains of the 80s. Only Kurosawa’s third best movie, but that’s only because the two better films are among the top ten best movies of all-time.

The Unseen:

Better Off Dead
Desperately Seeking Susan
Pale Rider
Enemy Mine
Prizzi’s Honor
Brewster’s Millions
My Life As A Dog
The Toxic Avenger
Jagged Edge
Kiss Of The Spider-Woman
My Beautiful Laundrette
The Falcon And The Snowman
The Legend Of Billie Jean
Vision Quest
Once Bitten
Year Of The Dragon

A Quick One While I’m Away

I hope you all saw Felix Hernandez’s 2/3 of a no-hitter the other night. I’ve never yet seen a whole no-hitter, if anyone will do it, it’ll be the King.

Here is another rave review of No Direction Home. It’s a must-see.

Bought some Johnny Cash last night, inspired by his appearances in the Dylan movie. It’s the first Cash I’ve owned. He’s outstanding. I give the man in black my full endorsement. I got 16 Biggest Hits, American Recordings, and a smattering of other songs. The best: I Walk The Line, A Boy Named Sue, Ring Of Fire, I Still Miss Someone, Hurt, Redemption Song (with Joe Strummer(!)), The Man Comes Around, (Ghost) Riders In The Sky, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Man In Black, Folsom Prison Blues, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Drive On, Oh Bury Me Not, Jackson, Long Black Veil, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Pocahontas, I’ve Been Everywhere and You’ll Never Walk Alone.

It looks like we’re not going to get Serenity. Damn Mark Cuban.

Old, Weird Dylan

The Dylan movie is, predictably, fantastic. If you’ve seen the EMP exhibit, you’ll recognize some of the footage as the same interviews are used. I didn’t really notice any repetition though, so you’ll want to see both. Here is the David Thomson review of the film I mentioned a couple weeks ago. He thinks it’s one of Scorsese’s best films ever. While I’m not ready to go that far, yet, he does make some interesting points about the film and Scorsese’s career.

I also picked up Greil Marcus’s book on The Basement Tapes, ‘The Old, Weird America’. After reading the first couple of chapters, it’s very good. It picks up right where the documentary leaves off, a wacked-out Dylan ends his tour, gets in a motorcycle accident, spends months locked up in Woodstock with The Band playing bizarre little folks songs wholly different from what he’d been doing from 1964-66. He also specifically connects The Basement Tapes to the two albums of folk covers Dylan made in the early 90s, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. I just bought the first one, but World Gone Wrong was the first Dylan album I ever bought. It’s a terrific little album that never gets mentioned as one of Dylan’s best, but probably should. Those albums led directly to Dylan’s revitalization in Time Out Of Mind and, especially, Love And Theft, just as The Basement Tapes revitalized Dylan after the whole crazy “Judas” tour and led to John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and SelfPortrait.

Turning Japanese

There’s a trailer up for Memoirs Of A Geisha here. I dunno about it. On the one hand, it stars Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh, who are always awesome. On the other hand, they’re playing Japanese people (Zhang’s Chinese, Yeoh Malayasian) and it’s directed by the guy who did Chicago, which I haven’t seen and don’t really want to see. Hard to tell whether it’ll be good or not from the trailer. Could go either way at this point.