Paranoid Park (2007)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Late one night in a Portland skate park, 16-year-old Alex (Gabe Nevins) accidentally kills a security guard and chooses to keep it a secret. Guilt begins to take its toll on his relationships with his friend Macy (Lauren McKinney), his girlfriend (Taylor Momsen) and eventually his sanity. Filmmaker Gus Van Sant directs this Cannes Film Festival 60th Anniversary Prize winner, based on the novel by Blake Nelson.

REVIEW:    ***SPOILERS***

The story of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park is that of a murder mystery, but the movie isn’t about that particular mystery. The actual mystery is what is going on inside the mind of the young murderer, Alex, and what he will do about his circumstances. Alex is a teen skateboarder who has killed a security guard in a bizarre accident while at a popular skating venue. The film ostensibly dissects the events that preceded and followed, but what it really dissects is Alex’s mind. In its way it’s a kind of psychological thriller, but unlike any you’ve ever seen.

The sequences of Alex’s memories of skating in the park are idealized, dreamlike, and are later contrasted starkly w/the shocking, horrific realism as he recalls the murder. Alex has met someone at the park who jumps the local trains and agrees to take him along. As they’re riding on the outside of one of the cars of the slow-moving train a security guard who has seen them runs up and begins hitting at him with his baton. Alex instinctively defends himself, almost casually striking out at the guard w/his skateboard, knocking him backwards and into the tracks of an oncoming train. Alex jumps from the car and runs back to see what has happened and like something out of a nightmare, the man has been literally cut in half, surviving long enough to crawl a few feet toward Alex w/only the upper half of his body, then dying.

Alex flees in shock to the unoccupied home of friend with whom he’s supposed to be staying for the night, strips off his clothes as if they’re contaminated and gets in the shower. Here Van Sant creates an extraordinarily graceful static image which he holds for an unusually long time in order to portray the state of Alex’s mind; Alex, deeply in shock, “zones out”, going numb, bowing his head under the shower head he becomes utterly still, the camera in extreme closeup while the water runs down his long hair hanging around and hiding his face. Out-of-focus, distorted, the wet clumped strands of his hair become like tentacles, he looks other-worldly, creature-like, even monstrous, and we know this is exactly how he feels at that moment in the deepest part of himself. It’s moving and disturbing; w/o a single word or overt gesture Van Sant lays bare the guilt and horror that this young man is experiencing. It’s a remarkable, beautiful image that stays w/one long after the movie is over.

That scene is also emblematic of the style of the whole film, Van Sant is telling his tale thru images that convey the character’s perception, not thru the words that he speaks to others, because it’s not about what happens but about what happens means to Alex. In the scene when he breaks up with his girlfriend we only watch the argument, we can’t hear it and it doesn’t matter because Alex knew pretty much how it would go and what would be said. Instead, as we watch it replay in his mind there is bittersweet music on the soundtrack, just as Alex might imagine it.

PP is shot in a highly stylized manner yet the acting is naturalistic, minimalist. Alex never has a “Big Scene” where he expresses his anguish, there are no histrionics. In fact a less-perceptive viewer might thing he hardly reacts at all, but they’d be wrong. Alex exists in a state of shock, he’s bewildered, he simply can’t comprehend his situation or what he should do about it. The film is told chronologically out of order as Alex tries to sort out what happened, reflecting this confusion.

PP could probably be said to be about many things, but I think the central theme is guilt and the conflict w/self-preservation. Alex needs to confess to someone, and starts to do so many times, then backs off. It means giving up his life for a tragic accident, something that could happen to anyone in a thousand different ways. Van Sant presents this dilemma but does not resolve it. Indeed, at the end we learn the whole film has been a confession, yet Alex’s final act is to destroy it, which is ambiguous. Is he destroying his life, since confessing would be much better for him than getting caught (which the film makes clear may very well happen) or is he saving it? And if the latter, at what cost to himself?

4 stars
Harold

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Action hero Steven Seagal returns as counterterrorist Casey Ryback. Now retired, he and his niece are headed west aboard the Grand Continental train when diabolical Travis Dane (Eric Bogosian) and his henchmen hijack the iron horse. Dane needs a mobile base to level the Eastern seaboard — starting with the Pentagon — using a secret government satellite. It’s up to Ryback and a petrified porter (Morris Chestnut) to outwit the criminal genius.

REVIEW:   I put up with Seagal because I like Ryback. :D  This is a decent hero action-adventure flick. Always fun to watch, although there are at least 2 scenes that have me closing my eyes (and I forgot about the one and was EEEEWWWWWWWing for a good 5 minutes. hehehe)

Eric Bogosian and Everett McGill are both thoroughly creepy bad guys — and I wouldn’t want either one them to come over for dinner. hehehe  Katherine Heigl always reminds me of a young Ashley Judd.

Anyway, if you want an action-adventure where the impossible happens and the good guys win … this might be the movie for you.

4 stars
Kim A

Milk (2008)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Sean Penn (in an Oscar-nominated role) stars in this fact-based drama about Harvey Milk, the openly gay activist and San Francisco politician who was murdered along with mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) by disgruntled city employee Dan White (Josh Brolin, in an Oscar-nominated role) in 1978. Director Gus Van Sant‘s compelling biopic (nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture) co-stars Emile Hirsch, James Franco and Diego Luna.

REVIEW:    Director: Gus Van Sant

Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, Brandon Boyce, Denis O’Hare, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Carol Ruth Silver

REVIEW: I’d been rooting for Slumdog Millionaire to sweep the awards, but this film was easily the best film I’ve seen this year in theaters with the best leading man performance.  Chronicling the life and times of Harvey Milk in his 40s, you see a man who is a lifelong Republican deciding to deal with the discrimination and prejudice he receives as an openly gay man by running for public office.  James Franco plays a loyal, but put-upon boyfriend who can’t deal with the stress and hubbub of failed election after failed election, Diego Luna (who played the title role in a great little indie co-starring the incomparable Samantha Morton called Mister Lonely) plays the second boyfriend, Emile Hirsch plays a young campaign worker and Josh Brolin (man, what a great bunch of roles this guy is getting!) plays a disgruntled city supervisor, Dan White, peer to Harvey once he is elected.

There are plenty of great laughs in this film, as well as great moments of inspiration, fear, and bravery.  You see Milk as caring and compassionate and always the peacemaker, but also witty and shrewd politically.  He was also someone who could inspire others and quell riots using as his only weapon a megaphone thus, before becoming the first gay person to be publicly elected to public office, he was known as the Mayor of Castro Street.

I also got a picture of how gays were treated in the 1970s, and I’m sure not too far off from how they’re still treated in some parts of this country and the world.  In San Francisco, they had to wear whistles ’round their necks so that they could use them if they were attacked in the street or ganged up on, not so that the police would come to their rescue (as the police could not be relied upon to protect gays at the time), but so other gays or sympathetic civilians could come to their aid.

One particularly poignant part of the film, though the film was full of them, was when Harvey gets a call from an anonymous teenager right before he’s being called on to quell another riot in Castro (or else the police will “take care of it”).  The teenager calls telling him that his mother wants to send him to a hospital “to cure him of his condition,” and the kid is beside himself, telling Harvey that he lives in Minnesota and he wants to kill himself.  Harvey tells him that there is nothing wrong with him and tell him to get on the first bus to L.A. or San Francisco or the nearest major city; the teenager says “I can’t,” the camera pans out and it’s revealed to the audience that he’s in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the legs down.  He is literally trapped.  So often when the news covers homosexuals, it’s a political issue, but this moment and this film are stark reminders not to forget about the humanity pulsing underneath.

4.5 stars
Audrey

Max Payne (2008)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Mark Wahlberg stars as the title character of this gritty crime thriller, centered on an undercover New York City DEA agent who teams up with a female assassin (Mila Kunis) to avenge the murder of his family. With supporting performances by Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Chris O’Donnell and Donal Logue, this big-screen video game adaptation is directed by filmmaker John Moore.

REVIEW:   Max Payne is yet another movie based on a computer game, so as usual the story is just a bunch of bits and pieces cobbled together from other movies along with some really bad dialogue. Beauteous Olga Kurylenko continues to be the most interesting thing in the movies she’s in, unfortunately they kill her early on and instead her boring sister takes the spotlight. The movie does have some great action scenes, including one brief gun battle in an underground garage that is absolutely spectacular. In fact, I really liked the whole look, visually it’s very interesting, but that’s all there is. Max Payne isn’t much of a movie, but it would make a really great screen saver.

1 star
Harold

It Happened One Night (1934)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS: Runaway socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is en route to the Big Apple to elope with a fortune-hunting flyboy. Along the way she meets crusty newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who’s just been sacked and — unbeknownst to Ellie — plans to sell her story to get his job back. But a string of zany misadventures leads them to realize they’re madly — if reluctantly — in love. It Happened One Night swept every major Academy Award.

REVIEW:   Spoiled brat, hard-core newspaper reporter and silly situations. Of course they fall in love and get married … and down comes the Wall of Jericho. Love it. It doesn’t get any better than this. Honestly, it doesn’t.  Rating:  10 stars (5 at Netflix).

5 stars
Kim A

Dick Tracy (1990)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Legendary police detective Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) is the only man tough enough to take on gangster boss Big Boy Caprice and his band of menacing mobsters. Dedicated to his work but also devoted to his loyal girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, Tracy finds himself torn between love and duty. Things get even stickier when Tracy’s saddled with an engaging orphan and meets seductive and sultry torch singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna).

REVIEW:   I love the brilliant colors in this movie, they flat out make the movie for me. Red streets, red cars, red clothes, red doors, red houses. Green streets, green cars, green clothes, green doors, green houses. Blue streets, yellow streets … and on and on it goes.

The cast is practically a “who’s-who” of Hollywood and we had a great time pausing the film and asking each other, “Who is that?” The one we didn’t agree on was Mandy Patinkin as “88 Keys.” You will please note that *moi* was correct.  HEHEHE

I grew up with Dick Tracy comics, and this movie — for me — is an extension of my memories of the comic strip and so a touch of great nostalgia. We give it a 4.5 star rating (4 at Netflix), simply because there must be a flaw in it somewhere. ;-)

4.5 stars
Kim A

Street Kings (2008)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Still reeling from the death of his wife, Los Angeles detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is devastated when he’s named as a suspect in the murder of his partner (Terry Crews). With the help of a young homicide detective (Chris Evans), Ludlow struggles to clear his name. His boss (Forest Whitaker), meanwhile, tries to protect him from a tough Internal Affairs investigator (Hugh Laurie) who’s determined to put Ludlow behind bars.

REVIEW:   This is an uninteresting, very gritty and most discouraging movie. Just another “Cops gone bad” movie, with a boring cast. Let’s be honest, Keanu Reeves couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. ;-) The cops make stupid moves, say cliched lines (some of which I didn’t even get), and drink their way through life.

Boring, dull, waste of time.

2 stars that should be 1
Kim A

21 (2008)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Struggling to come up with tuition for medical school, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) turns to one of his professors (Kevin Spacey), who trains him and five fellow students to become card-counting experts, with the intent of swindling millions of dollars out of Vegas casinos. The film is based on the nonfiction best-seller Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions.

REVIEW:   Terrifically entertaining movie! Was it deep? No. Where they improbabilities? Yes. But it was fun to watch, the actors were good (Spacey and Fishburne were tops!) and we enjoyed watching Ben grow up.

We gave it 5 stars for the fun factor.  Best movie we’ve watched in ages.

5 stars
Kim

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)

700996101          The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek         !! ZERO STARS!! 

NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   In this daring, slapstick farce that’s become a classic, Betty Hutton plays a small-town girl who attends an all-night party and suddenly finds herself “in the family way.” Trouble is, she can’t remember who the father might be. Directed by Preston Sturges, this hilarious comedy features Eddie Bracken as a loveably nerdy suitor who’s willing to marry Hutton. Williams Demarest, Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff co-star.

REVIEW:  WHAT A STINKER! If Netflix allowed, I’d give this a MINUS rating, but I’m stuck with giving it a 1. This movie isn’t “hilarious”, it isn’t even a “comedy” (I think hubby and I laughed at one or wise cracks). Eddie Bracken’s character is portrayed as a nice guy — stupid, but nice. The dad is abusive. The younger sister is a sneaky, sly, evil child who sasses her father. Betty Hutton’s character is a selfish, self-centered, party girl who abuses and uses people. She deserved to be ostracized by the town.

So why did we watch this? I have *no* idea. Seriously. I plopped it in our queue so long ago, that I don’t remember what impelled me to put the movie in our line.

I must tell you if you opt to watch this movie **watch the commentaries FIRST**! They are important. You need to understand that this movie was meant to be disgusting, annoying, idiotic, and any other nasty little adjective you want to throw in there. See, this movie wasn’t made to be entertaining. It was made to be a rebellious nose-thumbing movie at censorship.

Of course the censors they were thumbing their noses at were the very censors that Hollywood hired. Hollywood hired them because the general public had been complaining about the trash that was on the screen — too violent, too much sex, loose morals, bad examples, glorification of the evil and more. The government threatened to censor, and Hollywood said no need — we’ll police ourselves. They then set up a committee, and directors and producers and actors all went on a quiet campaign to get around every thing the censors censored.

In other words, they acted like childish bullies and pushed for more and more. Sound familiar? It’s what the film and TV industry is still doing — and they are right proud of themselves. Of course, there is always the line … “Don’t like it? Don’t watch it”, but somewhere, sometime, SOMEONE has to take responsibility and stop the trash and violence. Someone needs to stand up for things that are right and decent and honest and uplifting.

This movie really, really pushed my button. Not that you can tell from my comments, eh? HEHEHE

Zero stars here, 1 star on Netflix
Kim A

Chinatown (1974)

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NETFLIX SYNOPSIS:   Private eye J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) uncovers intricate dirty dealings in the Los Angeles waterworks and gets his nose slashed for his grief. Suspicious, porcelain-skinned femme fatale Faye Dunaway (who harbors a nasty family secret) finances Gittes’s snooping. Director Roman Polanski reimagines 1930s Los Angeles in this brilliant detective thriller. And Robert Towne’s onion-like script reveals itself one complex layer at a time.

REVIEW:   ***SPOILERS***

“Forget it, Jake. It’s (slight pause) Chinatown.” One of the most famous closing lines in film, certainly in film-noir. Cynical, bitter, that last line wraps up everything about Chinatown the movie – the hero fails, the bad guys go unpunished, and such is the status quo so you might as well expect it and learn to live w/it. Chinatown was released in 1974 during the height of that decade’s run of great American modern cinema, capturing the spirit of classic noir from the 40′s and 50′s, while still a reflection of that dark political era, of Watergate and Vietnam and the transition from the hippie era into the “Me” decade. The world of Chinatown is one of corrupt politics and corrupt souls as well of good souls who have sold out or given up.

Noah Cross (what a perfect name) is one of the great villains and John Huston is brilliant in the role; he actually only has a couple of scenes yet when one thinks back on the film it seems like he is all through it. When Huston delivers the line “See, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.”, it defines his character; a startling confession of a man who has acknowledged his depravity and, even more frightening, has learned to accept it. Cross is complex, he’s a monster yet his motivation for hiring Jake to find his daughter/granddaughter (Catherine) comes from a love for her and desire to protect her, or so he believes. Ironically, Evelyn’s motivations are the same as her father’s, to care for Catherine, she is the only hope of redemption for both of them. But Cross is willing to destroy Evelyn to get what he wants, he is as driven by selfishness and greed in his personal life as he is in his professional. This is where the two stories of Chinatown, one personal, one political, come together thematically: The pols in the film strut about and brag about how they built L.A. and how they are continuing to do so thru the water deal, while ignoring those they’re trampling over and betraying in their quest for greatness, just as Cross has no regard for what his actions will do to Evelyn or Catherine, as long as his own needs are satisfied. At then end of the film Cross has caused Evelyn’s death, a path he himself set her upon when he molested her as a child; what he considers his good intentions are a disaster for everything he cares about.

As Jake Gittes, the gumshoe, and Evelyn Mulwray, the femme fatale, Nicholson and Dunaway manage an acting feat – they are realistic while still being true to the style of old noir. Nicholson’s portrayal is far from some of the other flamboyant, hyper characters for which he’s famous. His Jake is quiet, reflective, he reacts to situations rather than just acting impetuously. He waits, he scopes the situation. Always the detective, you can see him observing who he’s talking to, taking their measure and adjusting himself appropriately to get what he wants, which he often does. Jake is cynical, but he has a good heart, he cares, which is his flaw in this world.

Dunaway is one of the great beauties of the screen, her face was made for the 40′s, she seems of another era. When Jake looks into her eyes in the love scene and remarks of the imperfection in her beauty, this is Evelyn’s vulnerability manifest. Throughout the film Dunaway reveals Evelyn’s torment in little glimpses, slightly stammering at the mention of her father on several occasions, or lighting a second cigarette when one is already burning as she tries to talk about him and then acting like an embarrassed child when she is caught. Evelyn is a sad beauty, but in Jake she finds a soulmate who gives her hope, which becomes her downfall. Despite his good intentions, Jake does not have the power to protect her. At the end of the film after the shooting Jake opens the car door and Evelyn falls halfway out and we see clearly she is shot thru her flawed eye, that horror in sharp contrast to the touching intimacy of the earlier, hopeful scene between her and Jake. Perhaps a reflection of the times, it’s a pretty cynical way to end a noir.

“Forget it, Jake, it’s… Chinatown.”

5 stars, 6, 7, 8, as many stars as are currently available!
Harold

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