Viewing recap May

Blade Runner (1982) / 2015 re-release
Watched Final Cut in cinema for the re-release. Amazing. Love the soundtrack, love the visuals, love the details, love the ambition by Ridley Scott. Love the tears in the rain scene. A film that deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible.
 A dystopian vision of the future, other planets being colonized, the climate change making earth an undesirable place to live, incessant acid rain due to pollution. Obviously we are not there yet, but it's a warning about what could happen. This is just the setting, the real story is about artificial intelligence and questions, when are we human? How can we tell artificial intelligence apart from us? How should we treat a life-like replicant?
One of the great sci-fi films, together with Metropolis (1927) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Full review
Rating 10/10

Wild Tales (2014)
Six shorts put together into an anthology, a black comedy about revenge and betrayal. A bit repetitive thematically, yet still enjoyable. Many of the stories are memorable. Both funny and grotesque. Sometimes uncomfortably close to real life, sometimes over the top on purpose.
1.) A group on a plane are surprised
2.) A restaurant waitress meets an old acquaintance
3.) Two drivers provoke each other on a deserted road.
4.) A frustrated middle aged man is tired of injustices he faces in his daily life, the price of things, parking tickets, and so on.
5.) A hit and run driver and his rich family must deal with the aftermath
6.) A wedding doesn’t turn out as expected
Rating 8/10

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The main reasons for praise are the spectacular car chase sequences. A great movie to just sit back and enjoy the ride. The movie provides almost non-stop action and the stunts are amazing. I wish the characters had more personality, so it isn't perfect. The dialogue was very minimal. More time could have been spent on fleshing out who they are.
I loved the visual style, especially Theron's black oily makeup and shaved head, Tom Hardy's mask and chain, the white bald look of the slaves, the beautiful brides, and of course Immortan Joe and his scary appearance.
Rating 8.5/10

Kung Fury (2015) (short)
Kickstarter funded 31 min short. A labor of love. Pays homage to movies from the 80s. The filmmakers let their imaginations run wild. The short is completely bonkers and over the top, the laws of gravity do not apply. This is obviously a stylistic decision, so you can't blame them for creating implausible scenarios. I liked a couple of the ideas such as the gun/phone and the animation sequence. I don't think it's quite the masterpiece some are proclaiming it to be, but it is something every fan of 80s culture should check out.
The accompanying song True Survivor sung by David Hasselhoff is really good. In fact there's also a video game which was released called Kung Fury: Street Rage.
You can watch the short on YouTube
Rating 8/10

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)
Beautiful opening credits featuring the dreamy soundtrack by Cats Eyes.
A woman visits a house in the country, and is there to help clean up the place. She puts up with her domineering butterfly collecting employer, who constantly belittles her. Apparently she has been to the house before.
The first 30-40 minutes captivated me, but once the twist is revealed the movie lost it allure. That said, there are a couple of dazzling scenes in the second half of the film, involving moths, and another scene where the camera literally travels into a woman’s vagina.
Has clever moments, and is atmospheric, but to me there wasn't enough story to sustain an entire feature length film.
Rating 6/10

Blazing Saddles (1974)
A parody of westerns, the double speed restaurant brawl, the gunfighter who is so quick you can’t even see it, the cliché final speech, and so on.
A great anti-racist movie. Mel Brooks lets racists see themselves for what they are.
Favorite quotes:
“Well, that's the end of this suit!”
“I must have killed more people than Cecil D Demille”
“What do you like to do? Oh, I don't know. Play chess... screw... Well, let’s play chess”
Rating 8/10

A View to a Kill (1985)
If you missed it: 17 reasons why A View To A Kill (1985) is not the worst Bond movie
Rating 9/10

The Sound of Music (1965)
The children do things which seem overly dramatic such as cry at the dinner table and are all afraid of thunder at night, but the songs are classics, and Julie Andrews is unforgettable. A great ad for visiting the Austrian countryside.
Favorite quote: "You are much less of a riddle when I see you here at home"
Favorite songs: My Favorite Things, Edelweiss, (The Hills Are Alive With) The Sound of Music, The Lonely Goatherd,  Do-Re-Mi, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, So Long, Farewell
Rating 9/10

The Yearling (1946)
Nominated for best picture. I was surprised by the harshness of the hunting scenes, since it's a family movie. The film is overlong, and feels a bit dated in the language and music, yet was enjoyable enough, and had its heart in the right place. The boy's performance is good, and Gregory Peck is memorable as the father, a role which has similarities with To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).
Rating 7/10

The Thorn Birds (1983) (TV-Mini-series)
Great story that captivated me from start to finish. Especially the “soul mate” relationship between Meggie and father Ralph is memorable and timeless. Part 4 of 4 was the weakest and least convincing, with a corny ending, although you could say most of the story is quite melodramatic. The acting is mostly strong, with some good performances by Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck, Christopher Plummer, Sydney Penny, and Jean Simmons. The accents don’t always really fit with the Australian setting, and in the case of Rachel Ward took me out of the film several times. The mini-series was shot in the US, yet the farmland looks very Australian. The series was enormously successful, winning several awards, and became the United States' second highest rated mini-series of all time behind Roots.
Rating 9/10 

Babel (2006)
Had seen it before and only remembered the bus shooting. Three intertwining stories of people in desperate situations. The message I got is to dissuade us from using guns. The Japanese story about a deaf girl wanting sex felt a bit out of place. The Mexican story started slow but has a thrilling conclusion in the desert.
I prefer Babel over Birdman.
Rating 8/10

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Better than I expected. Western with Robert Redford playing a loner in the wilderness. He meets some people on his journey. I liked how it didn’t portray the Indians in a stereotypical way as victims having the land taken from them. Instead the film is critical of their religion and how it can lead to violence. The white man is also depicted in a nuanced, realistic way.
Rating 8/10

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)
Musical starring Judy Garland. The story is cute, even if the music feels a bit dated in places. The best songs are the title track and when she sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to her sister.
Rating 8/10

Permanent Vacation (1980)
Debut feature by writer/director Jim Jarmusch. Essentially a student film, his episodic approach to storytelling is already evident. A restless young man drifts aimlessly in New York. My favorite part is near the end when he shares a conversation with a young man from Paris of a similar age and it’s clear they are both quite like-minded despite from different continents. It feels like they are actually listening to what the other has to say, whereas other scenes in the movie felt like monologues. I think that was probably deliberate.
Rating 6/10

Changing Lanes (2002)
I’ve seen it before and it’s a thriller that always draws me in. Scary you can bankrupt someone with a computer. It isn't perfect, Ben Affleck bumping into Samuel L Jackson's character by chance in New York would not happen in real life. Even so, it's a suspenseful movie.
Rating 7.5/10

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Rewatch. They had an Eddie Murphy week on TV, so I watched and recorded a bunch of his movies. Axel Foley is arguably his most iconic character. How can you forget that laugh? A killer soundtrack and good chemistry between the leads. It’s almost like the practical jokes are what I remember more than the villain. A classic from the 80s.
Rating 8.5/10 

Beverly Hills Cop 2 (1987)
Rewatch. A good movie but you have to suspend your disbelief to buy into the number of times Foley fools people with them not checking his ID, that aspect is beginning to get out of hand. Christopher Nolan’s films are praised for the editing, cutting between several action scenes. Beverly Hills Cop 2 actually did that already in 1987.
I like the sun-drenched cinematography. It’s a fun and entertaining movie, but watching them back to back it’s noticeable how the story in many ways is a rehash of the first film. The ending is the weakest part which is a by-the-numbers remake of the ending from the original. There are a few illogical things in the script. Why would the crooks use bullets that can be traced? Why is Foley handed a Ferrari when his boss knows Foley is accident prone(i.e the opening of the first film)
Rating 7/10 

Raw (1987)
Taken as a entire show I find Raw quite immature with lots of bathroom humor, yet the fast-talking woman, and the joke about eating crackers made me laugh.
Rating 7/10

Coming to America (1988)
Rewatch. I love it even though the fish out of water story is a rip off of Crocodile Dundee (1986). Pretty much the whole movie is memorable. To me the funniest part is when they go to the bar to try and find his queen.
Rating 8.5/10

Another 48 Hrs (1990)
Panned by critics, I had very low expectations. It was quite entertaining, even though it follows the formula of 48 Hrs (1982). Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy still have chemistry. I consider it underrated and almost as good as the original (which I also rated 6)
Rating 6/10

Beverly Hills Cop 3 (1994)
I hardy consider this a Beverly Hills Cop film, since it lacks the charm and humor of the first two movies. Kudos for trying something different, but it just feels off. His laugh is almost absent and it’s just too over the top. Where to start. The bank notes with Foley’s face on is too goofy. The scene with Billy trapped and suddenly able to escape makes no sense. Unrealistic they keep missing Foley with the machine guns. It also is stupid Foley would get a job at Wonder World dressed in a costume if security are looking for him.
The sarcastic clapping scene was one of the few things that worked.
Rating 4/10

Bowfinger (1999)
Rewatch. I consider this among Eddie Murphy’s best performances. He plays two different characters and nails both. Just a pair of glasses and he totally transform into Jiff. Steve Martin’s character reminded me of the director Ed Wood. Pokes fun at scientology (“Mind Head”). The freeway scene is unforgettable.
Rating 7.5/10

The Big Bang Theory (Season 1)
Sheldon’s eccentric and arrogant reactions is what makes the show funny (or for some people annoying)
Raj’s and Howard’s behavior is a bit predictable (I guess Shelon’s conceitedness is too but it’s less obvious). You can understand the boys are attracted to Penny, she is easy to like. I definitely can see myself watching more seasons, I'm halfway through season 2.  Very short episodes that are easy to digest, I've got to be careful with spoilers online that I don't ruin it for myself. I can’t get the theme song out of my head now! 

Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA (2015) (PBS documentary)
Investigates how The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) uses its political power to stop gun regulation in America.
In the 90s, Clinton got a law through that reduced assault weapons and increased gun checks. During George W Bush’s presidency this temporary law ran out. The Newtown child killings put new negotiations forward to increase gun checks at gun meetings. Parents wanted high capacity clips used during shooting to be made more difficult to buy. No new law was passed to the dismay of many.

Agree or disagree? Seen anything great during May? As always, comments are welcome

Book review: Hunger by Knut Hamsun (1890)

Considered a classic of Scandinavian literature. A semi-autobiographical stream-of-consciousness account of a starving writer who roams the streets of the Norwegian city of Kristiania (Oslo). Loosely based on the author's own impoverished life before his breakthrough in 1890. Transports you back to the 1800s, so I felt I was actually there. You get under the skin of the main character who has both a tragic and a humorous side to him, not necessarily how he sees himself, but how others perceive him.

An example of the tragi-comic humor can be found on page 6 when he stands in line for a job in the fire brigade and is passed on due to wearing glasses. He then tries again without glasses and the fireman recognizes him and smiles.

The story is about stubbornness and pride. Wanting to be independent and not rely on family and handouts, however difficult this may prove to be. This is an admirable quality and I did feel sympathy for his plight.
He tries to maintain an outer shell of respectability, self-destructively giving away what little money he has, but doesn’t know if he will have enough food from one day to the next. Writing articles and selling his belongings in order to eat and pay the rent. Having no support system except his writing, and it begins to take its toll on him physically and mentally.

Thematically it’s about the side effects of isolation and malnutrition, and the various degradations of the main character. The narrator has an overdeveloped sense of personal worth, sometimes feverish from lack of food, other times contemptuous of humanity. So undernourished that he starts doing illogical things. Since it’s told in the first-person, we don’t know if he is a reliable narrator, is he imagining events, could parts of the book be hallucinations? Is he going insane?

American writer Paul Auster argues in his 1970 critical essay: "it would be wrong to dismiss the hero of Hunger as a fool or a madman. In spite of the evidence, he knows what he is doing. He does not want to succeed. He wants to fail. Something new is happening here, some new thought about the nature of art is being proposed in Hunger"

The 1966 film adaptation (which I reviewed here) managed to include most of the key scenes and tap into the bleakness and humor of the novel. The parts that were left out include him sleeping in a jail and being scared in the dark, and also when he lives with a family who reluctantly let him stay despite him running out of money.

To me both film and book are unforgettable. I've decided to rate the book without considering the controversy in the later years of Hamsun's life, which I don't think is relevant in judging the worth of a book published 50-60 years before WW2.

Rating 4.5/5 

Have you read anything by Knut Hamsun? What did you think of Hunger the book/film?

2015 Blind Spot Series: Andrei Rublev (1966)

My contribution to Ryan McNeil's 2015 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

Andrei Rublev (1966) is set in medieval Russia, and loosely based on the life and times of the legendary 15th century Russian icon painter. The story takes place during a turbulent period of Russian history.

Considered a masterpiece of world cinema. My experience is writer/director Andrei Tarkovsky wanted to speak timeless wisdom through his characters. The dialogue does feel a bit pretentious and like a philosophical essay at times. The main characters tend to blend together talking the same way, especially in the first half of the film.

It’s not all dialogue. Visually the film is striking, particularly a scene where a man flies across the sky, and also several battle scenes of the Tartars raiding the Russians. Another memorable scene involves a jester the travelers meet while it’s raining. He entertains a gathering with jokes and physical comedy.

The second half of the film is easier to follow, relying less on dialogue and more on visual storytelling. About Rublev’s personal and religious crises which prevents him from painting. Also about a boy in charge of casting a copper bell for the Grand Prince. The boy explains he was given this knowledge by his deceased father. The bell has deep religious and cultural significance. If the film has a weakness it's that it points in many directions and can be disorientating to watch. A second viewing seems necessary.

Animals depicted such as horses and snakes appear to have a symbolic quality. It’s probable the struggles the characters are going through is a parallel to Russia in the 1960s, in that free spirits are oppressed by the authorities. There is something elusive about the meaning of the film, and much has been written. Perhaps director/writer Tarkovsky could identify with another artist (Andrei Rublev), who created art under a repressive regime. As it says in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, it's about man’s relationship to God, the artist’s relationship to the public, the artist and the art, and Russia as a physical and metaphysical place.

Among Tarkovsky’s deepest and technically most ambitious films. It’s tricky to label the genre. A combination of think piece, biopic and war film. The end scene gives us examples of Rublev's artwork.

Tarkovsky on Andrei Rublev: “In any case I knew it would certainly not be a historical or biographical work. I was interested in something else: I wanted to investigate the nature of the poetic genius of the great Russian painter. I wanted to use the example of Rublev to explore the question of the psychology of artistic creativity, and analyze the mentality and civic awareness of an artist who created spiritual treasures of timeless significance”  (Sculpting in Time, 1984)

Agree or disagree? Have you seen Andrei Rublev, and what did you think? Which is your favorite Tarkovsky film?

Tears of a Clown Blogathon: Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

My contribution for the Tears of a Clown blogathon hosted by Wendell at Dell on Movies. The rules are simple:

1. Create a post about a comedic actor in a non-comedic role. Tell us what are your favorite comedic roles of this performer. More importantly, tell us why you like the dramatic role in question. Be as thorough as you feel you need to be. Convince us it's a great performance.

2. Use one of the banners in this post.

3. Include a link back to this post.

4. Leave a link to your post in the comments section below or tweet it to me @w_ott3

Multiple posts on the same performance are allowed, so don't worry about who picked what. You're all pretty creative so I'm sure we'll get a nice variety.

The deadline for this is two weeks from today - Friday, May 29, 2015

Good Will Hunting (1997) is a favorite of mine from the 90s. A number of movies set on campus are about parties and sex, and the deeper aspects of being young and confused are often glossed over. Gus Van Sant's film is that rare Hollywood movie that isn't dumbed down. The scenes with Robin Williams and Matt Damon are for me the highlights of the movie. Williams steals the scenes he's in, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting actor for his performance. The film was also acknowledged for its outstanding writing, taking home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

What made Williams' performance so memorable to me is I watched it for the first time as a 16-year-old when your window is wide open to input and you are searching for a path in life. I'm not a genius, but I could identify with Will and his need for guidance.

While Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) may not have as high an IQ as Will Hunting (Matt Damon), Sean is far more experienced and wise. He passes on many valuable things to Will, how you can't get everything from books, the difference between knowledge and experience, the importance of love and tenderness, and how you need someone who challenges you. Dr. Sean Maguire is a person you would want in your corner. The character is layered and not infallible, sensitive to criticism when Will comments on his painting. Yet knows who he is and what is important to him in life, and is open to helping and sharing personal anecdotes from his life despite Will's cocky attitude. I think most people have someone special who has motivated them to grow into who they are. I know I have several. What's great about the film is it's not simply a mentor passing on wisdom and a young man receiving, Sean is also challenged by Will.

Williams gives the character both vulnerability and strength, and I really believed he was a therapist. I was able to care about him, despite Williams only on screen for a few scenes in the movie. Others have argued John Keating in Dead Poets Society (1989) is Robin Williams' defining dramatic role, and I wouldn't argue against that. You could even make comparisons between John Keating and Sean Maguire, which are both characters that inspire others to find direction. I haven't even mentioned Robin Williams' comedic roles such as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) or his stand-up shows. It's very sad he is no longer with us. He had a lot to offer the world.

Have you seen Good Will Hunting? What did you think of Williams' performance? Which is your favorite dramatic performance by Robin Williams?

17 reasons why A View To A Kill (1985) is not the worst Bond movie

Critics and today's audiences tend to give the 1985 Bond movie A View To A Kill a hard time. The complaints often center on Roger Moore as a 57-year-old 007, who admittedly was getting too old to be plausible in the role of James Bond. Another critique was the lack of gadgets which audiences had come to expect. In many ways the film marked the end of an era. It was Roger Moore's last outing as Bond, and also Lois Maxwell's final turn as M's ever-dependable secretary, Miss Moneypenny. The people who grumble about their age forget that the reason these characters are coming back is because we actually cared about them from the previous movies. Perhaps to avoid creepiness it should have ended with Lois Maxwell and Roger Moore hooking up? They both looked the appropriate age to be a couple.
Roger Ebert is right that Max Zorin's Silicon Valley scheme makes no sense, as the chip manufacturers are in Japan, I'm willing to forgive that aspect, as it wasn't something that I noticed until Ebert brought it up.

Here are 17 reasons why I love A View To A Kill:

1.)  It's just so entertaining and rewatchable and there's never a dull moment

2.) The song A View to a Kill by Duran Duran in the opening credits. It was the last music they wrote before the group broke up, and it remains the only James Bond theme song to have reached number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. An 80s classic.

3.) The pre-credits action sequence and the iceberg submarine

4.) Recreating the Ascot horse race

5.) This Bond movie has some of the most amazing locations in the entire series. The Eiffel Tower had never been so exciting before. The chase through the streets of Paris is a highlight too.

6.) Zorin's beautiful French estate Chateau Chantilly. The secret lab at the stables, the scene when Zorin appears to pick Bond's horse from the computer, and the thrilling horse race that would follow.

7.) Flamboyant model and recording artist Grace Jones as the memorable and feisty henchwoman May Day. I actually believed she could beat up Bond, and Jones steals every scene she's in. The story arc of her character was also something which was interesting. Her character scared and fascinated me as a kid. Her costumes are bizarre and unforgettable.

8.) Tanya Roberts. Even if people say she gave a poor acting performance and to many was just a helpless barbie doll, she is for me the most beautiful of the Bond girls, those eyes, wow. To her credit Stacey Sutton is actually not a dumb rich girl, and majored in earth science in college, which becomes evident in the dialogue scene in the mine. It's a shame she suffered the "Bond girl curse" and never made it big in subsequent years. Roberts was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actress.

9.) The first time a Bond villain was played by an Academy Award winning actor. Christopher Walken was born to play a Bond villain and he brings his own particular menace and quirkiness to the role as the highly intelligent yet psychopathic Max Zorin. Who can forget his laugh at the end.

10.) Patrick Macnee as the race horse trainer and undercover agent Sir Godfrey Tibbett. Bond's driver and the banter between Tibbett and Bond is amusing. They have great chemistry. Again, Macnee is probably too old for the role, but it's nice to see him again having enjoyed the cult tv-series The Avengers. (Not the Marvel Avengers)

11.) Bond producer Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli's silver Rolls-Royce which he had driven specially from London to Paris to be be used in the shoot. A classy car which is not talked about enough.

12.) Using the air from the car tire while the henchmen wait for Bond to drown.

13.) The beautiful score by John Barry. My favorite is That Fatal Kiss, which can stir the emotions, and the score also works great in the action scenes.

14.) City Hall on fire. Critics point to Stacy Sutton's screaming "James!!"as annoying, yet it's a well-made scene and I believed the fire was a threat.

15.) The fire engine chase and San Francisco in general. What a fun action sequence. The police captain is so funny. "Yeah, And I'm Dick Tracy and you're still under arrest!"

16.) The spectacular Golden Gate Bridge scenes. Before it became somewhat of a cliché to use the bridge in action movies, the air ship sequence in San Francisco was a memorable and iconic climax.

17.) Finally, I admit I'm biased in that Roger Moore for nostalgic reasons is my favorite Bond actor. You could argue Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig give a more realistic and gritty portrayal of James Bond, yet I personally prefer the humor and light-heartedness of the 70s and 80s Moore films. I grew up on them and can't be objective.

Have you seen A View To A Kill (1985)? Agree or disagree? What do you like or dislike about the film?


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