Wednesday, November 12, 2008

does this make it official?

Your Movie Buff Quotient: 84%

You are a movie buff of the most obsessive variety. If a movie exists, chances are that you've seen it.

You're an expert on movie facts and trivia. It's hard to stump you with a question about film.

it's that god damned 16% is why I made this blog!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Accomplishment #003: Mean Streets

Director: Martin Scorsese
Edition: Warner Home Video Special Edition

The more I see, the more I love me some Scorsese. Every film of his I see is so methodical, so obviously well planned out. He is a master at creating sequences where every shot just feels right. It's like watching pieces being placed into a puzzle. So he either must storyboard the hell out of his films, with the entire story already planned out in his head... or he gets copious coverage and works only with genious editors (Thelma Schoonmaker anyone?).

The film was made in Little Italy, New York City and is heavily inspired by Scorsese's childhood in the 10 block neighborhood. The story focuses on a group of young, wanna-be gangsters. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is the nephew of a high ranking mafioso and has a conscious that impedes with his ability to become the hard edged gangster he seems to aspire to be. Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) is a reckless hood who's into everyone in the neighborhood for at least a couple hundred dollars. Then there is Tony (David Proval), the owner of the dive bar where they all hang out. Last, but not least is Michael (Richard Romanus), who may be the most determined to make a name for himself in the world of organized crime, but initially seems to be failing miserably at it.

These are the human characters in the film, but just like in Scorsese's Taxi Driver, there are times when New York City seems just as much a character as any of the people on screen. Scoresese's New York seems to be everything Giuliani wanted to change about New York (and in many ways succeeded). Mean Street's New York is filled with shady dive bars that are constantly illuminated by dark, red lamps and inhabited not by the casual drinker, but the sort that would make it their living, if only someone would support them in such endeavors. This New York is unabashadly anti-gay, pro stripper, and filled to the brim with a bunch of boys wishing to be made men. This New York makes for a hell of a movie.

Now, I usually despise movie reviews that discuss too much plot and give away the movie, so I'll give you a warning now: spoilers below. I'm going to do it though, because there is something about the story and character development that I find unique and fascinating. So, if you've seen the film please read ahead and comment. If you haven't, go see it, then come back and read and then comment!

I believe that this story is not about Charlie and Johnny Boy, but about Michael. If you look at the classical theater definition of the word, protagonist describes a "character undergoing a dramatic change, both of his own character and external circumstances." In my opinion, Michael is the character who undergoes the most change, and Charlie and Johnny Boy are the external circumstances that cause this to happen. At the beginning of the film Michael is a pretty pathetic excuse for a criminal. We meet up with him while he's trying to unload some black market German camera telephoto lenses. What he learns is that what's he's actually invested in is Japanese lense adapters. It is a pretty embarrassing moment. By the end of the film we've seen him change into a not just a cold blooded killer, but someone who's enough power and draw to have someone else pull the trigger for him.

Charlie and Johnny Boy on the other hand remain nearly the same people through the movie. From beginning to end Charlie is hiding his relationship with Teresa and continuously sticking his neck out for Johnny. From beginning to end Johnny is recklessly ignoring the dangers he's creating for himself and those whom he relies on.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Accomplishment #002: New York Stories

Directors: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woddy Allen
Edition: Touchstone DVD

Imagine you're making a sandwich. You start with two great pieces of bread, maybe pantofolina (my favorite). Then, between these two slices of sumptuous, crusty bread you place... a big steaming pile of shit. That's what New York Stories is like.

I'd actually seen the first third of this film (Life Lessons, by Scorsese) twice before. It seems to be pretty standard film school viewing; and for good reason: it's great. The characters are fascinating and very complex. In just over thirty minutes Scorsese is able to craft characters with more depth than most you see in a movie running over two hours. It's one of the great things about this shorter format, that you're able to really focus on the meat and bones of the story; cut the fat.
Nick Nolte plays Lionel, a very successful, but creatively frustrated New York artist with a sprawling live/work loft. Sharing his quarters is Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), his live-in assistant and ex-lover. Tensions between the two rise to boiling point as they try and redefine their mentor/student relationship. I love Scorsese's use of the iris wipe (seen as recently recently as The Departed) to reveal Lionel's obessions, ie. his work, Paulette, Paulette's feet. As the two's relationship degrades Lionel becomes more and more unhinged, but at the same time it seems to benefit his work. I really love the ending to this portion of the film. In a very short scene it completely sums up the Lionel character and explains his cyclical nature.

Life Without Zoe by Francis Ford Coppola is terrible and I'm certain there is one reason for this: Sofia Coppola. The daughter of Francis is given a writing credit for this sack of putrid shit and it shows. The short of this story: a spoiled condecending brat who is over the top in love with her father and insulting to her mother runs about with her other spoiled brat girlfriends in the elite society of New York. She ignores her mother's instructions and becomes incredibly excited about the "new boy" at school who happens to be the richest child in the world. Blah blah blah, something about a stolen jewel, who gives a crap? The writing is aweful, the acting is deplorable. It was obviously a sign of the impending doom of Copolla's directing career. After this he made Godfather III and Jack (I'm not mentioning Dracula cause I love it even though Keanu was pretty retched in it).

After the turd burger in the middle comes Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks. I've been known to talk some smack about Woody Allen in the past, but I loved this piece. It's the story of a New York lawyer named Sheldon and his overbearing Jewish mother. The mother, played by Mae Questel (voice of Betty Boop and played Aunt Bethany in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) is pure comedy gold. This film has a really great turn that I don't want to give away. It's a gimmick, for sure, but one of the best I've ever seen.

So who else has seen this flick from '89? What do you think Nick Nolte's character says about artists and where they look for inspiration?

Accomplishment #001: The Element of Crime

Director: Lars Von Trier
Edition: Criterion DVD

The first film for the experiment was certainly a bizarre one. Lars Von Trier's first feature film is a heavily art directed neo-noir that takes place is some odd dystopian future where it is always night and everything is lit by sodium lamps (with the occasional bright green fluorecent thrown in for contrast). Von Trier's use of sodium light gives the entire film a monochromatic sepia tone where white is yellow, blacks are a dark brown and rainy streets seems to run thick with heavy arterial blood.

Here's a brief synopsis (I don't like spoilers so I'll always try my hardest to avoid them):
A cop named Fisher sees a therapist in order to unlock supressed memories from his last case. After the opening scene the entire story plays out as a flashback; occasionally the therapists voice coming through to remind us of this.
Fisher returns to "Europe" to work a murder case earily similiar to a series of murders from years back. On his return he finds his mentor, Osborne has been disgraced and is on the verge of sinility. Fisher decides to embrace the teachings of his aging mentor as layed out in Osborne's book "The Element of Crime", the basics of which call for Fisher to think and act like the killer. As the investigation goes on the lines defining the difference between Fisher and the killer begin to blur.
I have to admit I was pretty exhausted when I viewed the film last night so I feel like I'm going to give this one another go sometime soon. I'm sure I missed a few things. Hell, with how odd this film was if I was 100% alert I would have missed a few things. I'd love to get someone's perspective on some of the abstract imagery and ideas in this film. Why the dead horse and the little horse heads as the killer's signature? What the hell was with the frustrating cup handles that always came off when Fisher was trying to drink something? Why the post dubbing on the dialogue? Was this an intentional effect, or just a neccesity because of the low budget?

A new experiment...

I am an unaccomplished film buff. Oh sure, I went to film school, I have a collection of nearly 400 films (last I counted), and I've seen thousands and thousands of films in my lifetime. I'm nearly certain I've seen more films than anyone I know. Even so, friends and family are constantly able to come up with titles that I haven't seen. And I'm not talking about bizarre and obscure titles from early 70's Yugoslavian cinema either, I'm talking about must see movies. People are continuously pointing out my failure as a film fanatic because I haven't seen The 400 Blows or Eraserhead. My film negligence is expansive.
I am now hellbent on fixing this issue. I've set myself up with a Netflix account and have added a smorgasborg of titles to my queue. My mission is to watch as many of the titles as I can over the next year (there are currently 500 titles, apparently the limit). I will then do a short review of the film here. I hope a few people will engage me in conversation about the titles. I do enjoy talking about a film after I see it as opposed to letting it immediately disappear into the obscurity that is my terrible memory. I'll think of it as my own personal film school 2.0.
Please feel free to recommend films you think I should see. Give it a try. Other people seem to like it when they think of a flick I haven't seen. You can roll your eyes and think to yourself, "He hasn't seen that movie? He's not a real film buff!"
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