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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2011.2

Published by marco on

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Goodfellas (1990) — 8/10
I finally saw this mob movie after all these years of hearing it quoted again and again and again. Though it was nice seeing the origins of the quotes, it kind of took the edge off of the surprise a bit. I don’t know what I was expecting and the film wasn’t bad, but it didn’t blow me away like The Departed. In a way, I felt like I’d already seen part of it in Blow.
Cop Out (2010) — 5/10
Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, with a nice smaller part by Seann William Scott (of Stiffler fame in American Pie). Willis is Willis, but Tracy Morgan was funny enough to make me want to see more of 30 Rock. Seann Scott played a suicidally mischievous thief with panache. Relatively predictable plot and overblown Hispanic gangsters, but I wasn’t expecting much, so no disappointment there.
Cloverfield (2008) — 3/10
Truly terrible monster movie with insufferable characters and a story that goes nowhere. A heap of shit that floated along on J.J. Abrams’s name alone and only because he was doing Lost at the same time and people figured every Goddamned detail of this movie would be significant. If you’re stuck watching it, don’t waste your time concentrating. Just keep drinking until it starts to blur; you’ll like it better that way.
The Joneses (2009) — 6/10
Kind of boring and predictable and only partially rescued by the amiable David Duchovny. Everybody else is a total parody or a hyperbolic caricature. I have no idea how accurate the representation of the upper middle-class of America is; part of me wants to believe every stupid detail and part of me wants to believe that it can’t be that way. The cynic will probably win.
A Serious Man (2009) — 8/10
Another interesting film by the Coen brothers; it kind of starts somewhere and ends somewhere else. It’s about a Jewish family/community in the American Midwest in what looks like sometime in the 80s. I thought it was great, but it would be a hard one to recommend to someone who’s not a fan of the Coen brothers. It’s worth it just to experience the nearly visceral pain you feel for the Job-like lead character as the story piles one entirely believable humiliation after another on his head.
Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972) — 8/10
A German film from 1972 shot in the jungles of the Amazon and showing a fictitious scouting group that breaks off from the Pizarro expedition and sets off to look for the city of El Dorado. Tragedy ensues as the Spaniards keep a modicum of their caste society going even on a makeshift, large raft as it floats down the Amazon. Kinski is riveting, especially in madness at the end.
Fitzcarraldo (1982) — 9/10
It’s no wonder that Klaus Kinski wanted to kill Werner Herzog; this film was the second time he was dragged through the mud of the Amazon jungle by the famous director. He’s pretty charismatic as is his madam/girlfriend/patron and you totally root for him to accomplish his task. See below for the spoiler.[1]
Eraserhead (1976) — 7/10
You don’t even have to look up this movie on Wikipedia to know that it’s a surrealist work. It’s shot in black and white and it’s more interesting to look at than it is fun to watch. As with most surrealism, you could hurt your head trying to make sense of it, but you can always pat yourself on the back for getting all the way through it.
Blue Velvet (1986) — 8/10
Well, hell, if Dennis Hopper hadn’t have played Frank, then who the hell else on this planet could have done it? When Isabella Rossellini did the weird movie last year in which she dressed up as a stuffed cockroach and exhibited insect mating rituals, there was a lot of commentary by people who’ve obviously not seen her other work. In this movie, she plays a singer who likes to get naked and likes to be beaten. A perfect college art-house film really (which is where I first saw it, lo these many years ago).
Dazed & Confused (1993) — 7/10
Fun flick from 1993 about the last day of high school in 1976 at some California school or other. Matthew McConnaughey has a standout performance in which he basically plays himself, with the killer line: “That’s the thing I like about high-school girls: I get older, but they stay the same age.” Also, for those who have consoled themselves by thinking that, though Mila Jovovich may be hot now, she was probably not such a looker when she was younger, think again.
Wild At Heart (1990) — 8/10
Another David Lynch film (still going forward in chronological order) with Laura Dern and Nicholas Cage. I may be one of the only people on this planet who could actually name the band that played the awesome power chords to which Cage committed his first crime of the movie—even before they mentioned it a few minutes later. Dern and Cage are both good (though Dern’s overwhelming randiness is a bit over-the-top) and the film actually has what some might call a sort of a Hollywood ending. Don’t worry, Lynch fans, there are still loose ends galore.
Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) — 6/10
Bill Murray plays Hunter S. Thompson (though he’s really playing himself with a slur that goes about halfway toward that which he had in Caddyshack) and Peter Boyle plays his lawyer. It sounds like an easy layup, but it started off quite slowly and tritely and didn’t really go anywhere from there. Just a lot of drunken/drugged dipshittery with a meandering plot. Still, it’s Bill Murray and Peter Boyle in their (relative) youth and it’s set in 1972 and Thompson is covering Super Bowl VI, so there are also killer threads and hot wheels. It’s always fun to watch older movies and see how people used to be able to fly in the old days.
Factotum (2005) — 7/10
Matt Dillon film based on the life and writing of Charles Bukowski, a working-class part-time bum/full-time alcoholic/writer who worked many jobs and wrote many stories about working-class America. Well-made, though some of the scenes depicting semi-functional alcoholism are pretty harrowing. A lot of the dialog comes from Bukowski’s writing and clearly depicts why he’s considered one of America’s greatest 20th-century writers.
Broken Flowers (2005) — 7/10
A bit trepidatious about approaching Jarmusch again after enduring Coffee and Cigarettes (though the scene with Alfred Molina was worth it), but expecting Bill Murray to carry the day. He is, as expected for one of his post-middle-age roles, the zen-like core of a well-crafted and lovingly made film about a man who treks across America, visiting the homes of his formal libidinal conquests in search of his purported son. The plot ties together a series of vignettes, in which new characters are quickly introduced, fleshed out to the director’s satisfaction and left behind on the road. Ended in the middle, leaving it all up to you (I guess).
Lost Highway (1997) — 8/10
Back to David Lynch with Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette in a bizarre, semi-surrealistic film about identity (though all Lynch’s films are pretty much about that). Fred the sax player has a gorgeous wife[2] whom he kills or it seems that he did. Or someone did. Or another version of him did. Or something. It’s great to see Pullman pulling off such a demanding role but the plot’s harder to follow than Primer’s and that film had time travel in it. Henry Rollins, Richard Pryor, Gary Busey and Marylin Manson have small roles. Awesome soundtrack and beautifully filmed, but hard to recommend because it’s not easy to follow and it’s long; if you want help, read the David Foster Wallace essay on David Lynch and his filmography first. He actually wrote that while on the set of Lost Highway and he seems to have “gotten it”.
Mulholland Drive (2001) — 8/10
One more Lynch film, which means lots of close-ups, lots of expressive eyes, lots of dialogue, lots of cigarettes, a smattering of cameos (I think I saw Billy Ray Cyrus), a whole lot of strange characters with bizarre peccadilloes and a complex plot. It’s ostensibly about a wide-eyed girl who goes to Hollywood, but wound in and around that is a crime movie (as is Lynch’s wont). Lynch’s work kind of reminds me of Stephen King: he documents our everyday reality in loving detail, then suddenly introduces a completely orthogonal element that “leaks through” the thin fabric of reality. This film does that almost two hours in, where a relatively normal, harmless-seeming thriller about an amnesiac woman takes a left turn. Then there are flashbacks and identity-switches and what feels almost like time travel engendered by a mysterious box, but probably another flashback (the description attempts to inspire the WTF feeling brought about by the film). The last forty minutes make Memento seem straightforward by comparison. If you watch it, make sure to keep track of people’s names and not to assume that the same people will retain the same names throughout. It sounds weird, but there it is.

[1] The goal is to drag a 320-ton boat over a small mountain with the diesel motor of the boat as well as an awe-inspiring system of pulleys and a lot of manpower.
[2] Patricia Arquette is not camera-shy at all. Her role calls for a lot of skin and a lot of horizontal action and she delivers with gusto.