Woody Allen #44

Hey folks, Pip here, that’s right I’ve returned!

Of course it’s really no surprise that a new Woody Allen film is out.  There’s always a new Woody Allen film coming, here, or going and it’s almost to the point now where we take him for granted.  All of his films, be they amazing or bad or something in between, are worth watching.  The man has so much to say and do I can’t even think up a good metaphor… allegory… hell I can’t even come up with something that rhymes that can show my appreciation for his vast body of work.  As a student of film I’m quite ashamed to say that I haven’t seen them all, but I’m slowly working on it.

Preface aside, I really enjoyed his latest even if I do wish he was the narrator instead of that guy.  Who the hell was that guy anyway?  Some guy that played a photographer technician in The Good Shepard?  Weird…  Anyway, for a man that’s got a love affair with New York – Woody, not the narrator, he sure is treating Europe like a passionate mistress that has brought out an old man’s inner fire.  I think it’s great that the melieu of his films have changed as has the tone and characters to suit.  His European films have a special sort of laziness and tension that coalesce into something that’s decidedly Woody.

The players of this film are all known from their previous work and their reputations hold fast here.  Given Woody’s witty, yet realistic, words the actors make the sordid things in life look good.  Javier Bardem could probably seduce me, so he’s got no problem taking down two beautifully difficult women, make that three!  Sweet!  Not only is it entertaining, but it puts relationships under a microscope showing more truth there than most writers, directors and actors dare give us in an entire career.  The wonderful thing about a Woody Allen film is they all make it look so easy.

The movie is part romantic weekend, part insane ex-wife and part Spain.  Mix together, add sugar and a pinch of Jewish cynicism and you’ve got a wonderful story that allows all parties to walk away having learned something, including me.

Smart People: imdb / trailer

When I see a film trailer that I’ve never heard of that has such a good cast as this, I’m either the first person to discover it or it sucks.  I’ll look right away to the director… never heard of him.  Could I be the first person to discover it?  The thrill normally goes away quickly, as I have become jaded… oh so jaded.  Damn you Lucas!!  You have spilled my childhood like a samurai cutting open his own gut!  Oddly enough, this film fell into neither of those categories, it was actually ‘pretty good’.

I would label this film as one of those that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a few decades of independent film, but doesn’t quite fit in with those rascals either.  It’s like a grown up hippy without a cause and with a regular job, you know the type.  Come to think of it, Dennis Quaid’s character is pretty much living in the wrong decade.  No, not the 60’s, more like the 40’s back when being curmudgeonly was academic.  He plays a widower with a lot of social aptitude issues that happens to have an adopted brother that’s a bit of a loser.  He’s also got a good Republican daughter and a cute doctor that’s got a student/teacher fantasy in full swing.  Thomas Haden Church pretty much plays the same character as he did in Sideways, only with a heart.  Come to think of it, everyone is pretty comfortable in their roles mostly because they’ve done exactly this before.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, the film was actually really entertaining.  I don’t wish I got my two hours back or anything, but man, couldn’t this crew come up with something revolutionary?  I think everyone went into this project with the full intent of it being edgy and new, but ended up just pushing out something fairly safe.  That’s really my only problem with the movie, it just stood there in perfect balance right on the fence.  All that said, I’d still recommend this to just about anyone in this dry spell before the Summer Rush.

Bound: imdb / trailer

Pip here, back with another Rewind to fill up your Netflix queue.

Back before the Watchowski Bros. were brother and sister, they penned and directed this beautifully taut thriller.  I remember one fateful day working at the Block-bleezie walking up and down the isles straightening out all of our VHS tapes.  This was something I actually enjoyed doing because I was really looking for a gem I hadn’t seen or heard of before.  I saw the cover of the tape and saw some sexy women with rope tied all over the place, that with the title and you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to realize the reasoning behind my renting it.  At the time I was still learning all of the director’s and writer’s names, so I didn’t think much of not knowing who the Watchowskis were.  I asked my fellow co-workers if they had seen it, none had.  I felt that ecstacy one feels whenever they breech into the undiscovered country.  That sense of pure unadulterated geek stayed with me until I finally let out a breath that I’d been holding for over an hour by the time the credits rolled.  My back ached from holding the same “oh shit” position and my mind was completely blown.  Am I playing up the film too much?  Probably, yeah.

It seems that everyone in and around the film really brought their A-game to the table.  Everyone, even the camera guys, left their blood all over the twenty four beautiful frames per second.  That, alone, gets my attention.  That kind of love one cannot fake.  So when I say the film, as a story, is not exactly revolutionary and somewhat predictable you’ll forgive my adoration.  I can imagine the pitch meeting going something like this: “Ok, so we have these two beautiful women that fall in love with each other and-” “Could there be a lesbian sex scene?” “Um, yeah, sure and so one of them is tangled up with the mob and they want to steal all of the money and-” “My cousin would make a great mobster.” “Um, yeah, sure and so the ending spirals out of control and you never know who’s going to die next!” “Sex, mob and money!  We’ll make millions!”

They did not make millions, I’ll cut to the chase right there.  All kidding aside, this film is very cutting edge for 1996.  You can see the Watchowski style just wanting to break out of its pocket-change budget.  You can see a lesbian sex scene.  You can feel the tension dripping down your back, much like the sweat in the lesbian sex scene.   This thing is pure Watchowski Neo Noir.  Just think The Matrix without jumping and instead of machines there are mobsters and it all takes place in an apartment building.  I think if you give it a chance you’ll see exactly why a major studio trusted these two wacky brothers with The Matrix.  It really is quite spectacular.

The Savages: imdb / trailer

Hey look it’s Pip with another extremely late review! Oh!  It’s my main man Phillip Seymour Hoffman workin’ it wit’ my main woman Laura Linney! Holy crap!  Who is this old guy, he’s awesome! Yeah that was pretty much my thought process while watching The Savages. Make no mistake based on my enthusiastic overuse of exclamation points, this film is serious business. It’s about death and family, or lack thereof in this case.

Linney and Hoffman play a brother and sister family. That’s pretty much it since both of their parents basically checked out a long time ago. When I say checked out I don’t mean died, I mean checked out of their lives.  Needless to say they both deal with abandonment issues.  Both brother and sister are working or want to be working professionally as writers, both revolving around theater and sociology. They’re both smart, articulate and very involved in their fields of interest, just not really with reality and real social interaction. There are oblique conversations about a childhood gone terribly bad thanks to parents that should have never been parents to begin with.

When we finally do meet their father, it’s quite obvious that they have no idea how to be a family since they never have been.  I found myself torn between the siblings and their father as far as where my sympathy would lie.  On the one hand I can understand a father that just wasn’t there, but on the other I feel for the true loneliness you can see clearly in the father’s eyes.  This is all mixed up with my deeply held personal beliefs to never allow my parents into a nursing home, or whatever they call themselves these days, made the film’s core theme complicated for me.  I love stuff like that!

Hoffman is, of course, flipping brilliant especially when he cries about eggs.  Linney is one of my favorite working actresses, and although I’ve heard this role compared to one she played in You Can Count on Me, I think there’s no real comparison except some similar situations.  I expect brilliance from the two leads, but what I didn’t expect was the amazing father played by Philip Bosco.  His performance made this film heart wrenching and funny all at the same time.  Hoffman is in love with a woman that has to go back to Europe since they won’t get married.  Linney is involved with a married man that’s really more in love with the idea of Linney’s character than anything.  There’s poop on mirrors… it’s a mess.  The ending though, once we get through it to the final shot, really will leave you with a smile that comes from inside.

In short, I hope you check this out on disc if you missed it in the theater as I highly recommend it.

imdb / trailer

Hey folks, Pip here. I wanted to start up a series that visited films long since passed into the realm of DVD, but perhaps were missed by a great majority of people. We thought this would be good since sometimes I miss a film and need to tell people about it if it’s particularly worthy, as is the case with this one.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (P.S.H.) can do no wrong. I even loved him when I first took notice of him back in Twister. He turned that movie into a sort of reverse-porno where instead of sex scenes you had tornadoes and fast forwarded through the tornadoes. So if you can do that, I assert you can do no wrong. As far as the film, it received almost no press when it came out and trying to search for reviews or other information is near-impossible. It was definitely swept under the rug. Why? I have no godly idea because it’s brilliant!

P.S.H., as in all of his films, completely transforms himself into the character and lives it. That said, it’s actually very painful watching Mahony do what he does. He is a loan officer with a Canadian bank that happens to have an extreme gambling addiction. He has the knowledge and the wherewithal to fuel it into an out of control spiral. I would equate watching this film to similar addiction films, a la Requiem for a Dream. It’s not the same millieu, but it feels almost as graphic only in a much different sense. It’s really hard to describe to tell you the truth.

The characters around P.S.H. are just as fleshed out and well acted. You have Minnie Driver playing his loving girlfriend, only she hardly plays the damsel in distress, nor his enabler. I found that very refreshing. You feel sorry for her because she loves him and wants to stand by him, but she’ll kick his ass before she sits and watches him burn in flames. John Hurt is always amazing and seems to have a long term working relationship with the director, Richard Kwietniowski.

This is based on a true story and adapted from a book detailing the case. In the end he defrauds the bank for an incredible amount of money, especially considering inflation adjusted for early 80’s dollars. Hoffman plays Mahony in such a heartbreakingly true way that I could barely watch. I wonder if he emulated the real man? Kwietniowski’s hand is amazing and I plan on catching up on the rest of his work. One doesn’t spew out a masterpiece like this without the history to back it up in most cases. Owning Mahony is probably difficult to find in a local rental store, but online it’s no problem to rent or buy. I would highly suggest it for an evening relaxed, hefty drama mixed in with yet another brilliant performance by my main man Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Californication: imdb /season 1 preview

Hey folks, Pip here. Since Duchovny won a well deserved “Golden Globe Newsletter Award” for his role as Hank Moody, we thought a little shoe polishing was in order. This show is basically, in a nutshell, the whole reason to pay for Showtime when it was running, for season 1 has since finished. Granted, there are copious amounts of beautiful naked women gloriously sprawled about, but I’ll tell ya that’s like the number three reason to watch! Seriously!

All kidding aside (seriously guys, beautiful and naked) the show deserves all the praise it’s gotten to date including the Golden Globe. Duchovny is spot on perfect as the artist who had everything and lost it all and then some. His depressing adventures seem like he’s going through the motions of what a hugely successful author should be doing in the city of angels. He likes this place as much as I do, plastic smiles, sunshine, sports cars and all. Not only has his heart and soul been torn apart by Hollywood by way of a terrible silver screen adaptation of a seemingly glorious novel, but his other heart and soul has been ripped out because he’s just too damn smart for his own good.

Really this show is about Hank and the women, including of course the two closest to him, his ex-wife and his daughter. Most of the time there’s a new sex interest each episode, but it’s far from sexy when you get down to it. It’s similar to watching a train wreck, with a depressing factor of 5.0 on the Fujita Scale. Really, the entire time you see just how good a couple his ex-wife and he were once upon a time and how much you so desire them to get back together. At the same time, through a few flashbacks, you see what a clusterfuck Hank made of just about everything. He really does mess everything up mostly because his mouth works faster than his conscience, but that conscience has a heart of gold once you get passed the alcohol on his breath.

I have high hopes for Californication’s future and I hope it will not follow the path of most other series, but I can see that it may overstay its own welcome if it goes on for too terribly long. The first season was almost perfect enough to just let it lie as it is so everyone can bow out with grace and dignity. I hope one day I don’t regret that they ever made a second, or more seasons.

Hey everyone! Rachel here and I just wanted to add how much I love this show, it is seriously one of my favorite shows on television to date. I can’t wait ’till the second season which is set to premiere this summer. But not only is this show well written it also has a pretty cool soundtrack to accompany. And I thought I would share one of my favorite songs from Temptation Volume 1 a cover of Elton John’s, Rocket Man:

mp3: Rocket ManMy Morning Jacket

Temptation Volume 1 available on iTunes

Persepolis: imdb / trailer

Hey folks, Pip here. Sometimes even living near Hollywoodland doesn’t help when it comes to foreign films as it took all summer for this to reach us all the way from France. When I saw the trailer what seems like ages ago it definitely caught my attention and I wanted to see it really on the principle of it being so stylish (which I later found was the same as the graphic novel it’s based on), but I wasn’t absolutely sure if I’d like it, love it or meh it.

The story follows a great majority of a young girl’s life starting in her home of Tehran. She was born in 1969 which means she grew up in the 70’s, quite an interesting time and place to be a child. Seeing that world through the eyes of a child, and an incredibly whimsical one at that, was something to behold. The people we meet among her family and friends are basically happy and very nurturing.  Her family is incredibly important to her, and they are probably just like the people living in Iran today. Back in the 70’s, Iranians were proud of their country when compared to their neighbors. They were the progressive ones, they were the modern ones. Sure, the shah was a fairly brutal dictator disliked by most Iranians, but by in large people were free and most importantly they wanted more of it. This is probably what Iran would look like today, if it weren’t for those meddling kids! We see the fall of the shah and the hope from everyone that their lives and their country would improve. Knowing the history of the country did not make her transition into teenage years an easy thing to witness. It’s not something that changes overnight. We see one small thing after another be taken away until soon people are afraid to walk down the street. The dialogue that once ran freely among the people was winked out like a flame starved of oxygen.

The young girl sees a lot with her own eyes and feels the frustration from her liberal parents at what is happening all around them. Some of the things she says as a child got the theater laughing pretty hard. It was interesting to watch that sense of humor twist back on to itself transforming into sardonic sarcasm. Many times a film follows the rise and fall of a character, this film certainly has that, but our heroine I think more mirrors her society than anything. This truly is the rise and fall of Iran and it breaks everyone’s heart. Their home was taken out from under them and transformed into what it is now. It’s unfortunate that as of right now, Iran does not have a very happy ending in that things have not much improved. In the end she seems to give up having lived this long and wanting so much more out of life. Perhaps instead she should write some graphic novels after escaping her own home to France, then sell the rights to some really good film makers so that I could sit down somewhere in Hollywood and really love her life story. Honestly, I wouldn’t have changed a thing, no matter how bittersweet the tale really is.

I hope someday we can look back on this whole mess and release a nervous laugh while saying, “Thank God it turned out all right…”

There Will Be Blood: imdb / trailer

As some of you know, this ranked high in my top ten list for 2007, so I suppose it’s no surprise that I loved it. Even if I hadn’t written that list there really is no surprise because this film was crafted by, perhaps, my favorite working film maker: Paul Thomas Anderson. I know him well, I’ve watched all his films many times, listened to all of his commentary, seen all of his music videos. We’re practically on a first name basis.

I know PTA loved, absolutely loved, making this film. In many ways it’s the film he’s always wanted to make, building up to this moment bit by bit, while reinventing himself along the way. He could have easily sauntered on along his career of making Boogie Nights 2 through 5 and probably been quite successful at that, but no that’s not the way this cocaine-addled (only hearsay mind you) mind works! PTA was shaped by the elders in his life, firstly by his father and the world surrounding him, and of course by classic films of every era, along with personal relations with two of the greatest film makers who recently passed away. This boy was born to make the films he makes and tell them the way he wants to tell them. Some people are turned off by this… sometimes he’s just a little too melodramatic, over the top, long-winded, or all of the above. But for me, he is perfect. Twenty minutes without dialogue? I’m in!

As I was watching this film, the unsettling fear that pervades it got in the way of my enjoyment. It wasn’t until later after reflecting upon it, being haunted by it and seeing almost every frame of film together as a whole, did I truly understand how much I really loved it. That, I think, is the mark of a very good or even great film. One that will be remembered. Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Mr. Plainview is awe inspiring. He’s a man for which his insanity is only quenched by destroying all others in an attempt to be the best. The best at what? The best of everything apparently. There are scenes of terror, poignancy, ruthlessness. Everything seems so awesome in scope that even when just two people sit down to talk it’s as if the world has stopped moving. I mustn’t forget everyone else around Lewis’ Plainview, for his life changed as much as theirs as he steamrolled them sometimes to death.

I dislike everything about Mr. Plainview, except the way he speaks, he’s not the type of bad guy you root for. So I ask for those that disliked the ending, how would he, or could he, do anything different?

Rachel here, for a little side note about the soundtrack, There Will Be Blood. An album composed by Radiohead’s own guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, who accompanied the dark bizarre vibe of the film with a soundtrack composed of mostly strings with the occasional delicate piano. The soundtrack really completes the film and brings it all together wonderfully, I believe.My favorite track from the album…

mp3: Prospector Arrives

Jonny Greenwood

There Will Be Blood 2007 (Nonesuch)

Yeah you read that right. Pip here, and it’s time for my film list. I’m not a professional critic, nor do I fancy myself an amateur critic, but I like talking about movies, so that’s what I do. That said, I don’t have the luxury of seeing every single film that comes out, I’m lucky if I get to see a few dozen. I tend to see the films that I know I’ll love, which is why I sometimes come off as loving everything I see. I’ve just come to know what to look for I suppose. This is why when I’m surprised or a film goes beyond my expectations, I transform into a film geek of epic proportions, girlish squeal and all.

My original list for 2006 is here, but at the time I hadn’t seen my favorite film that came out that year – along with a few others – so I will quickly and without explanation list my final Top 10 of 2006.

1. Children of Men

2. The Fountain

3. United 93

4. The Departed

5. Little Miss Sunshine

6. Pan’s Labyrinth

7. Marie Antoinette

8. Casino Royale

9. Superman Returns

10. Borat

So my 2007 list is stunted much like my 2006 list was before this correction. I foresee each of my yearly lists beginning with the year previous’ final tally, but that’s ok! I have yet to see many, many great films that came out in 2007, so I’m not going to do a top 10. Only seven films were really good enough to make my list that I’ve seen so far, and here they are.

7. The Bourne Ultimatum

A film trilogy that goes against all logic and gets better and better as they go. This is really how I wish all action films were. Smart, ruthless and relentless as hell. Unfortunately I did not get to see this in theaters, but my new home theater is just as good! Better even since it’s comfortable and there’s beer here. Anyway, yeah, great film and I hope it ends the trilogy. If they keep going I fear they’ll loose the magic.

6. Ratatouille

I’ll admit it, I’m a total Pixar fanboy. I love everything they do with such fervor, I wonder if it’s too late to become a brilliant genius animator to go work for them. Have you seen their company HQ? It’s like going to heaven… wonderful, geeky heaven. Anyway, even normal people loved this film. Not only did it keep a theater full of children quiet and in their seats the entire duration, but the adults left fulfilled which most grown-up flicks fail to do. Tis the magic of Pixar.

5. Darjeeling Limited

This was the year of fanboy love for me, I tell ya what – there’s much more to come! It’s almost heartbreaking seeing this film in the #5 slot, but man the flicks we’re about to get to are just that good. This films only failing was its hectic nature, which I’m sure was intentional, but it just felt… well like everyone was on cocaine. Am I the only one that felt that way? Probably… anyway, #5 on my list is no laughing matter, still an amazing film.

4. Into The Wild

This was the greatest surprise for me since I had almost no expectations walking into it. Still to this day triggered the longest post-theater conversation of any film I’ve seen this year. Many emotions still whirl around the characters and goings on in this film, the mark of a great one. Any other year and this could have made it into the first slot.

3. Juno

I knew I was going to love this film when I saw the trailer ages ago. I just didn’t realize how much. I’ve been telling everyone I know to go and catch it, it’s something just about anyone will like and that’s saying something. In fact, if you haven’t seen it, then go right now!

2. There Will Be Blood

I’m still working on the review for this masterful epic, and I was really conflicted between the first and second slot. I think I liked my favorite working filmmakers’ latest more as more time passed from my first viewing. I will be seeing it again, probably not in theaters, but when I do it may just take the first place mark for the year. Only time will tell.

1. No Country For Old Men

I think the Coen Bros. are perhaps my other favorite working filmmakers. It’s like choosing children! Anyway, this film is absolutely perfect in every way, shape and form. I could not have asked for more. Even though I was primed with what was hailed as the greatest Coen Bros. film, I was not disappointed. Bravo, you two, bravo.

So come next December I’ll update and tweak my list a bit more here and there. I have a lot of work cut out for me to catch up, that’s for sure. I suppose there are worse things in life.

Juno: imdb / trailer

Pip here and I finally got around to seeing this little jewel, and I really liked it. So if you don’t want to read any more there you have it. This one was penned by relative newcomer Diablo Cody and helmed by the Reitman boy (you may have heard of a few of his dad’s films) who impressed me with Thank You For Smoking, and has really impressed me with one of the more heartfelt, cute and cuddly films to come along in a while.

I will say that I was annoyed with the movie for about five seconds, and only about five seconds. It was just too well written, too witty for its own good, and too archetypal… but that only lasted for five seconds. It seems that I must grant an executive pardon for overwritten and too witty for their own good teenagers, because once you live in the world for just about six seconds, you really do fall in love with everything and pretty much stop worrying about it. On first glance all the characters are one dimensional, here we go again, type people. Actually, I think every time you meet a new character there’s a five second window of “ugh”. But I’m tellin’ ya, at six seconds, she’ll have you at “wizard”.

The wonderful thing about Juno are the characters, not necessarily their dialogue. They are all living and breathing people. When you meet them seem like people you’ve met a thousand times over, but they’re really not, that’s just the smiley exterior. Kinda like real life people in that way. Everyone gets their moment to shine, but it’s not really like that… you don’t know it’s happening when it’s happening. You really end up loving everyone in a different way. Some relationships in the film seem like something for one minute until you find out some other bit that takes it to a whole new level. There’s no black and white, if anyone is at fault it’s everyone.

I’ll admit something else, I’m a crier… yeah I cry in movies. And not just at… say the end of Braveheart or something. I cry at the end of Braveheart upon viewing it for the 48th time. I’ll cry while watching Amelie walk the blind guy down the street… or when the brother can’t fly because he’s colorblind. Really anything. I am at their mercy. That said, I actually haven’t cried in a film in a while… I don’t know if it’s just the type of film or what, but I haven’t. And we should take note of that. However, in this film, once I found out what was really happening and the sacrifice that was made and everyone’s reaction to it, coupled with everything that had happened in the film so far… I let ’em loose. Happy day, this is what I go to the theater for.

Not to cry really, just… well the whole thing… you… um… you get the point.

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