Friday, April 23, 2010

Bad Lieutentant

Jamie said we had to watch this one, so I moved it up the Q. It's been years since we headed down the bad road with Harvey Keitel. I remembered that earlier film as excruciatingly compelling, hard to watch, hard not to. It was a tour-de-force for Keitel.

In this new Herzog take on the badness of the lieutenant, less than 30 minutes in, Tim comments, "Well, he's hit rock bottom." Not so, not yet, we had quite a bit more over-the-top down and dirty to go and I have to admit it was nastily fun.

Nicholas Cage (I'm one of those who is nearly always a fan) as an honored detective suffering from chronic back pain was having one heck of a good time with a few "I can't believe this" moments as he sinks deeper and deeper into drugs in an effort to relieve his pain. Yet he has this underlying, well, I can't call it goodness, but something that keep you rooting for him.

Anyone who can ask, "do fish have dreams?" has something going for him, and this film, if you like this sort of thing, has something going for it.

Enjoy, I think.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

North Face: Nazis and Climbing


(Spoilers, probably, but not really.) And, that's me, clearly not climbing the North Face, but climbing right here in Arizona, getting 'beta' from Donna, my climbing mentor. I'm stuck!

You have to love the Loft Cinema that shows movies like North Face, a film about friendship and climbing the Eiger set in the midst of Nazi Germany. The Loft is also where I saw Touching the Void, another film about climbing and friends, and hard choices. These are two films that get climbing right. But it isn't just the climbing, it's the relationship between the climbing partners; that and pure raw survival instinct that forms the true heart of each movie.

North Face, based on a true story, deftly illustrates choice, and how choices have consequences, and how each choice builds on the choices made before. At any point along the way, a different choice might have resulted in a different outcome. And, were the Eiger less forbidding, and Nature more accommodating, maybe there might have been a different outcome.

Although I have done a little climbing, I'm a rank neophyte, dependent on the expertise of my climbing mentor, Donna. Before each climbing adventure, she drills me on my knots, checks all of her equipment, and then checks the equipment again. Rope is checked, checked again, and carefully coiled in a manner designed for ease of release during the climb. It's a process that requires focus and precise attention to detail.

When we meet Toni and Andi, we quickly realize their first love is climbing. We see how Toni is meticulous with his gear and is the most responsible, the most cautious of the two friends. Andi is adventurous, the one who can swing his way around a cliff traverse to set the piton into the rock for others to follow. The film also shows them as not very good Nazis, which helps us to empathize with them as human beings.

In fact, with the exception of the newspaper editor jonesing for the story of the conquering of the Eiger by Germans, most of the characters are quite sympathetic. And, as the climb ensues and the team encounters difficulty after difficulty, and makes choice after choice, you get closer and closer to them. When the consequences of their actions begin to manifest, ah, you want so badly for them to not only survive, but accomplish their goal.

It's a gripping story, one that hangs with you for some time. If you've missed it, put it in your queue.

More on the filming of North Face.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscar Night...

Jenny Kendall (with Roxane) in jammies...


You go Kathryn....Hurt Locker doing even better
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So gracious, Sandra.
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If Jeremy Renner had to lose to anyone, it might as well be Jeff Bridges.
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martinees kicking in...I'm losing my edge on my picks. But, Hurt Locker is doing well, you go Kathryn...
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Sigourney!, of course, for Cameron...
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Yay! horror films coming up!
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Ben Stiller in Blue Face - hah! got that one.
Ranjpur gin with chipotle chile olives - yum for our martinis!
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Okay, so I'm late, but I got the first one right - Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds.
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My other picks:
Leading Actor: Jeremy Renner
Leading Actress: Gabourey Sidibe
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique
Animated: Coraline (cuz I love Neil Gaiman)
Art Direction: Avatar
Cinematography: White Ribbon
Costume Design: Coco Before Chanel
Directing: The Hurt Locker
Documentary Feature: Food, Inc.
Doc. Short: China's Unnatural
Film Editing:District 9
Foreign Lang. Film:White Ribbon
Makeup: Star Trek
Original Score:Avatar
Song:Weary Kind
Short Film-Animated:Logorama
Short Film-Live:Kavi
Sound Editing:Hurt Locker
Sound Mixing:Hurt Locker
Visual:Avatar
Screen Play-adapted:District 9
screen Play-or: Inglorious Basterds
Best: Avatar (but more are so wonderful.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Jammies and Martinis

and probably some popcorn, cooked in ghee, for me.

Sad to say, I haven't seen as many of the films as I normally do, but, thanks to the Loft Cinema, did get to see Live Action Shorts and Animated Shorts.

Picks to come...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chester 'the man' Himes

Have you ever heard of Chester Himes? I hope so but, if not, now is the time.

Chester Himes is a writer, from some time back in the day, known for one or two things, in particular his novel about racial injustice and the mind-set of the black man in If He Hollers Let Him Go, a book which is frequently compared to Richard Wright's Native Son. Favorably. This is a fantastic book, which I highly recommend, but this isn't what I wanted to talk about.

Himes began writing seriously while in prison, on a charge of jewel theft. Writing, he claimed, was a way to gain respect, both with the inmates and the guards. During this period he invented two of the greatest, most colorful characters in the history either of black writing or mystery writing- the Harlem Detectives. Set obviously in Harlem, this series of mysteries is wild, adventurous, violent, colorful, filled with soul and jazz and home-cooking, replete with wacky antics and repressed class rage. They are classics. They are not well-known due to their somewhat pulpy nature, although when one has read Himes, and understands where he is coming from, there is far more to find even in these hard-boiled noir pulps than the surface impression would suggest.

The Harlem Detectives are Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. They are huge, angry black men, known for their extremely short tempers, their nickel-plated .44 revolvers (which they fire into the ceiling of the police station so often, for purposes of riot control, that by this time the city has simply given up trying to fix all the holes), their fair and just treatment of black people, and a single-minded pursuit of justice- even for whites. They are legends within their own city. It is commonly understood, amongst residents of Harlem, that when Gravedigger and Coffin Ed tell you to line up, you line up. It has never had to happen, but it is not questioned, that they can and will shoot you, simply for stepping over an invisible line. These characters are larger than life, near-mythical figures. Gravedigger has a prominent vein which sprouts on his head whenever he is frustrated or furious, which is often. Coffin Ed, due to an early adventure in the series, sports an acid-burn scar across half of his face, because of which he is overly sensitive to fluids being thrown at him. They are also family men, who love their wives and in Ed's case children. And they love their people. In true hard-boiled fashion, they will buck the rules in order to show even-handed justice to their brothers and sisters. Even if this means bringing a little heavy-handed techniques to these same brothers and sisters.

The Harlem Detective novels are fast-paced, soulful, funny, full of jive, full of excitement, and a surprisingly accurate depiction of Harlem during the period (although, being young and white, I can only trust my sources on this). Hearses roar through the streets, bleeding coffins into market during high-speed chases; a white cop is seduced by a 'high-yellow' sister, ending up locked in an apartment hallway, naked, with a paper bag over his head and a gun in his hand. These are some of the more memorable comedic scenes in these books, and others, grim, dark and violent, also stick out in my head. Cotton Comes to Harlem is probably the most famous of these books, although if you want to start from the beginning, you will need A Rage in Harlem. I recommend these books very highly. They're better even than I'm describing, literarily, and they are some of the most fun I've ever had.

Being such a fan, and finally finding this strange 'artifact' on netflix, I recently got a chance to watch the movie adaptation of Cotton Comes to Harlem.

Netflix describes this as being a cut above the typical 70's blaxploitation flick. I'm not qualified to say, since the only other one I've ever seen was I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, which I'm afraid doesn't count, being a parody. All I can logically assume is that is a solid representative of the genre, and considering the source probably is better than the average. All the right scenes from the book were depicted in the film- obviously no movie can ever match the depth of the written word, so not everything was there, but it was edited together in a sensible way, and one got the 'gist' of the novel by watching the film.

I was a little surprised to find that Coffin Ed, who for some reason did not sport his character-defining acid scar, seemed to take prominence over Gravedigger. Whenever I read the books, I always thought of Gravedigger as the only-slightly-more-prominent detective. Not a problem or anything, just a strange flop.

The music, and I suspect that this is what really defines blaxploitation and what allows it to have cult followers, was god-dam excellent. A perfectly realized, perfectly adapted soul soundtrack, which to me was the star of the show. I could put this movie on just for the purpose of listening to it, although it was so colorful and fast that I'd probably end up watching it anyway.

No, it wasn't really a -good- movie per se. It was fun, and worth a watch if you're a fan either of blaxploitation or Chester Himes. If you're both, you might get something out of it that I missed. I suppose I'd have to recommend reading the book first. If you like what you see, the movie might be worth a rent.

However, the books I would consider essential reading, for mystery fans, for fans of black literature, for fans of action; for practically anybody. Do yourself a favor and discover Chester Himes. It might be the best thing you do all year.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scrapping History

World War II, Take 2

by Roxane Ramos

Never one to back away from a fight, Quentin Tarantino takes on an epic one in his latest venture, Inglourious Basterds, vanquishing the Third Reich and rewriting a prominent chapter in 20th-century history along the way. His movie re-imagines the trajectory, though not the ultimate outcome of the Second World War (the Axis still loses), using his trademark tropes of oddball manifestos, mesmerizing banter and flamboyant violence at turns barbaric and comic. Not since Mel Brooks mounted the Nazi musical “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers (1968) have we seen such a giddy, raucous romp through World War II.

In typical genre-mashing style, Tarantino opens his war movie with plaintive strains of tumbleweed music, leaving no doubt of where we are existentially—codes of honor, black hat/white hat, cowboy justice. Geographically, the scene is Occupied France, starting in 1941, and the dueling parties—black hat and white hat respectively—are the sinisterly cheerful, rumor-sniffing SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and the take-no-shit, take-no-prisoners US Army Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). A Tennessee native with unexplained rope burns around his neck, Raine leads a team of Jewish-American soldiers, those inimitable “Basterds,” in a quest for Nazi scalps.

Each of the two men loves, indeed revels in, his work and the collision course between them is accelerated by an entertaining roll-call of Tarantino creations—a chatty Nazi war hero, both bolstered and sickened by his achievements; an unflappable British undercover agent, always combining a stiff upper lip with a stiff drink; a strong, silent soldier who annihilates Nazis with brute force and a baseball bat; and a glamorous German movie star-cum-British spy. But the catalyst for the action comes in the form of the seemingly unassuming, steel-willed Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent). Cinema proprietor, femme fatale (evidence of yet another genre) and sole survivor of her family, Shosanna is a woman on a mission: to kill the Nazi high command and thereby avenge her family and end the war. A Nazi film premiere provides the perfect opportunity, inevitably attracting the attention of the “Basterds” who hatch an eve-of-destruction plan of their own.

Like all Tarantino pictures, this one is filled with Jeopardy-worthy trivia—nitrate film burns three times faster than paper, Goebbels was the Nazi David O. Selznick—and peppered with unusual props, sometimes meaningful, sometimes just fun (a calabash pipe, a recurring glass of milk). It’s all the spillage of Tarantino’s overstuffed mind, as obsessed with a good (even if improbable) story as with esoteric or banal minutiae. (Royale with cheese, anyone?) This is why his movies are such a great ride, crammed with elaborate set pieces and unexpected, yet satisfying, plot twists.

Oscar will surely recognize Tarantino’s writing efforts, if not his directorial skill, and buzz has surrounded Austrian TV actor Waltz in his breakout role as Landa, deservedly so. But I’d like to take a moment to appreciate Brad Pitt, the Clark Gable of our era. Like Gable, his acting talents are overshadowed by his movie-star looks, sardonic smile and mega-celebrity life. But he’s turned out to have a real knack for comedy and, sometime while we were busy swooning, he’s built a reputation for indelible comic portrayals, starting with his rooster-strutting charm in Thelma & Louise, through the impassioned gibberish of Snatch, to, in more manic form, aerobically-fuelled ADD in Burn After Reading. Here, he adds to that growing resume with a quirky performance of drawl-infused nonchalance and deadly conviction. It’s time to give the man his props and let him be Cary Grant for a change.

Inglourious Basterds has received some heat for playing fast and loose with facts—the movie is “unconcerned with moral dimensions,” “trivial,” “appallingly insensitive.” Perhaps these reviewers missed or were less than charmed with the spirit of the enterprise. But Tarantino’s not making documentary nor is he interested in moralistic drama. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, he is interested in classic battles between good and evil, a movie mainstay, but he regards his role as that of ringmaster or impresario of the proceedings, letting us decide what to make of the action. In the end, history (incidentally, also a dispassionate onlooker) gave the Allied Forces victory as the culminating moment; Inglourious Basterds offers a different kind of catharsis, though in fantasy form—sweet revenge.