2016年9月30日 星期五

The 1980s: 7 Movies

1. Cobra (1986)

This movie is wonderfully ridiculous.  As 80s action movies go, you don't get any more satisfyingly absurd than Cobra.  It's got Stallone.  It's got his live-in girlfriend - borrowed from Rocky IV.  It's got the one-liners.  It's got the gratuitous violence.  It's got the gun worship.  It's got the scene in which Stallone assembles his "tools."  It's got the laughably conspicuous car.  It's got the biker gang.  It's got the inexplicably demonic bad guy.  It's got it all!

I'd be hard pressed to say which action movie is more quintessentially 80s - Cobra or Schwarzenegger's Commando.  Both are, in their way, delightful.

The plot is almost beside the point, but Stallone plays policeman Marion Cobretti, a lawman with a strange penchant for illegal firearms.  Cobretti crosses paths with a strange cult that likes hanging out and banging axes together, and after that it's ON.  You can guess the rest.  Explosions.  Car chases.  Guys flying off of motorcycles.  Stallone at his most egomaniacal.

The director, George P. Cosmatos, also directed Rambo II.  The production was riddled with difficulties, not least of all being Stallone's erratic behavior on set.  Despite having written the script and having "shadow directed" most of the movie, he was notoriously elusive during filming.

It may interest you to know that Stallone wrote a revision of the original script for Beverly Hills Cop, and was set to star in that film.  His original script was deemed "too expensive to film" by the studio, and he brought many elements of this script into Cobra, several years later.

The director of the 2011 film Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn, is a big fan of Cobra.  Ryan Gosling's toothpick fetish in that movie is a nod to Stallone's matchstick fetish in Cobra. 

2. Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) 

Sissy Spacek stars as Loretta Lynn.  Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as her husband.  It was directed by Michael Apted, who was then little known outside of his work in television.

Spacek would go on to win the Academy Award for this film, and I think this win was well deserved.  The performances in this movie are flawless, and I'm surprised that Apted wasn't also nominated for Best Director.  There is a timeless quality to this movie, and I can't think of anything negative to say about it.

A lot of biopics feel contrived, but this one feels very natural.  What I like most about it is that Tommy Lee Jones' character isn't made out to be the heavy, and one sympathizes with him from the beginning to the end of the movie.  Also the ending, which in other hands probably wouldn't seem dramatic enough, is both inspiring and less perfunctory than the conclusions of other, similar films.

Apted did well with stories about strong women.  He would later go on to direct Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist.  Weaver, like Spacek, was nominated for an Oscar. 

3. Midnight Run (1988)

This movie has a large cult following, though it was also a critical and commercial success upon its release.

What makes this movie work is the chemistry between De Niro and Grodin.  The plot is completely derivative, the ending a foregone conclusion, but watching the two leads onscreen together is so much fun that you forget about all that.

Oh, and director Martin Brest, who had another surprise hit 4 years later with Scent of a Woman, also directed Beverly Hills Cop.  Fortunately for him, the studio picked Eddie Murphy over the more seasoned Stallone, and the rest is history.

4. Continental Divide (1981) 

After early success with Coal Miner's Daughter, Michael Apted directed John Belushi and Blair Brown in this romantic comedy.

It's pretty bad.  Belushi is way out of his depth, though Brown does her best to keep the movie afloat.  Some of the dialogue is downright embarrassing, and the plot doesn't make a great deal of sense. 

5. Sophie's Choice (1982)

Meryl Streep plays a Holocaust survivor living in late 1940s Brooklyn.  Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol costar.

It's a very well done film, even if the Holocaust flashbacks interrupt the flow of the narrative.  Prior to Schindler's List, this was probably the best film on the subject, and it remains as vital and heartbreaking as it was in 1982.

If any actress ever deserved an Academy Award for any movie, it was Meryl Streep for this one.  She spends long stretches of this film speaking in German (and, at times, also in Polish), and the scene where she makes her "choice" is one of the great moments in movie history.

6. Bat*21 (1988)

Gene Hackman stars as a soldier stranded in scenic Vietnam, with Danny Glover as the pilot trying to rescue him.  It suffers from a low budget, and the 80s synth soundtrack makes it seem older than it really is.

Full Metal Jacket it ain't, but if you've seen all the really famous Vietnam War movies you might like this one.  This said, Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn is a similar, yet far superior film.

7. Places in the Heart (1984)

Places in the Heart is a look at race relations in small town U.S.A.  Sally Field stars as a would be cotton farmer, with Danny Glover as the hired hand who teaches her the trade.  There are a lot of great performances in this movie, though the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.

Sally Field would go on to win Best Actress for this movie.  The director, Robert Benton, previously won it for Kramer vs. Kramer.  Field would go on to do dozens of noteworthy movies, while Benton's stature in the movie business would steadily diminish.

2016年9月24日 星期六

Movies of the Late 70s

A Warning: I was born in 1975, so a lot of the films from these years got by me.

A Cause for Optimism: As it turns out, I've seen a lot more of the movies from 1975-1979 than I have of those from 1970-1974.  They must have been on television more often. 

Biggest Movies of 1975: Jaws, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Shampoo, The Return of the Pink Panther, Funny Lady, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Aloha, Bobby and Rose, The Other Side of the Mountain

Jaws is excellent.  Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss make this movie.  The star, Roy Scheider, is ok, but he spends most of the time playing straight man to the other two.  This movie scared the hell out of me when I was little.

Never could stand The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It has quite a following in Seattle (where I'm from), but I never understood its appeal.

Rewatched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest recently.  Still a great film that hasn't aged a day.  I would say that it was Nicholson in his prime, but he's also made a lot of great films more recently. 

Dog Day Afternoon is solid, but not exactly the Al Pacino movie you've been waiting for.  He was much better in other movies, and Dog Day Afternoon is fairly conventional.

Shampoo is a forgotten classic.  Warren Beatty stars as a hairdresser with a penchant for sleeping around.  If you look very hard, you'll see Carrie Fisher in one of her earliest film appearances. 

Peter Sellers was great, but The Return of the Pink Panther's brand of slapstick hasn't aged that well.  A couple of the scenes had me grinning, but it's definitely not laugh-out-loud funny.

Haven't seen the other five blockbusters of this year.  Maybe another day? 

Honorable Mentions: Barry Lyndon, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Death Race 2000, A Boy and His Dog, The Eiger Sanction, Rollerball, Shivers (a.k.a. "They Came from Within")

Barry Lyndon is an incredibly underrated film by Stanley Kubrick.  It's not my favorite (that honor would have to go to Full Metal Jacket), but it's up there.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is hands-down my favorite Python film ever.  I think most people would agree.

Rollerball (like Logan's Run) is one of those 70s sci-fi classics.  It is SO much better than the remake!

Shivers is very early Cronenberg.  It foreshadows a lot of horror films yet to come. 

Biggest Movies of 1976: Rocky, To Fly!, A Star is Born, All the President's Men, The Omen, In Search of Noah's Ark, King Kong, Silver Streak, The Enforcer, Midway

Rocky's a classic.  Can't say anything bad about Rocky!

To Fly! was the first Imax movie... hence its popularity. 

A Star is Born.  Man, you don't get more mid-70s than this movie.  Having endured The Way We Were, I can say that Kristofferson and Streisand have a lot more chemistry than Redford and Streisand, but this movie is still extremely corny at times.  If you look very closely, you can see a young Robert Englund (that's right, Freddy Krueger himself) in the bar near the beginning of the movie.

Fun Fact #1: Streisand co-produced this film with her then-boyfriend Jon Peters.  Jon Peters was the inspiration for Warren Beatty's character in Shampoo.

Fun Fact #2: Elvis Presley was initially approached to play Streisand's love interest, but was later passed over because he was asking for too much money.

Fun Fact #3: There are plans (very serious plans) afoot to remake this movie, with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as the leads.

The Omen is good, but probably not as good as you remember it being.  Unlike The Exorcist, it looks fairly old-fashioned now, and it moves slowly.  As far as horror movies go, I'd put it in the same category as The Amityville Horror: i.e., horror movies that don't really deserve their reputation.

In Search of Noah's Ark is a documentary.  Not as influential as Chariots of the Gods, but noteworthy as 70s mystery/conspiracy movies go.  You can see the whole thing on YouTube.

I'd have to take Peter Jackson's more recent version of King Kong over the 1976 edition, but it's not a bad film.  Kind of hokey now, but keep in mind that this was made long before CGI.

I'm certain I've seen The Enforcer, but for the life of me I can't remember any of it.  Must not have been very good. 

Haven't seen Midway (a.k.a. The Battle of Midway).  Funnily enough, it features one of the first screen appearances of Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid).

Honorable Mentions: Assault on Precinct 13, The Bad News Bears, Carrie, Logan's Run, Marathon Man, Network, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Song Remains the Same, Taxi Driver

Assault on Precinct 13 is one of John Carpenter's earliest movies.  It won't blow your mind, but it does point the way to a lot of his later, greater films.

The original Bad News Bears is still the best, but the remake with Billy Bob Thornton has its moments.

Carrie is right up there with The Exorcist.  A truly excellent horror movie.

Logan's Run is straight out of the 70s.  It would make a good double feature with Rollerball.

Marathon Man isn't, in my opinion, that great of a film, but it does have that classic interrogation scene with the "dentist."  Is it safe?

I never seem to get tired of Network.  In my heart I know that it's a bad movie, but I never get tired of watching it.

The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of Clint Eastwood's best.

The Song Remains the Same is Led Zeppelin before they self-destructed.  Robert Plant was already starting to lose his voice, but it's a fascinating look at one of the biggest rock bands ever.

Taxi Driver?  That movie speaks for itself.  "Are you talking to me...?"

Biggest Movies of 1977: Star Wars (of course!), Smokey and the Bandit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, Saturday Night Fever, Oh, God!, A Bridge Too Far, The Deep, The Spy Who Loved Me, Annie Hall

Star Wars is the first film I remember seeing in the theater.  I was three years old.  Is it a great film?  No, but it did open the door to a lot of other great science fiction films - its sequel being one.  I can't fault it too much, mostly because George Lucas was really trying something new.

Surprising as it may seem, Smokey and the Bandit was actually #2 at the box office in 1977.  It spawned a whole horde of car chase/trucker movies.  Cannonball Run, which appeared in 1980, is just one of many imitators.  Sally Field sure could work a pair of tight pants...

Fun Fact: Several cast members from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show appear briefly in this movie.  Burt Reynolds, the star of Smokey and the Bandit, would also feature in the 2005 Dukes of Hazzard movie as Boss Hogg.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is epic.  Not only one of my favorite Spielberg movies, but one of my favorite science fiction movies, too.

Saturday Night Fever is the movie that brought disco to the forefront of American culture.  In many ways it's similar to Rocky, though of course Rocky is a far better film.  It's worth seeing, not only for its historical value, but also because it's a good movie.

Oh, God! is a movie about John Denver meeting The Lord Almighty in an office building.  Teri Garr plays Denver's smokin' hot wife, and George Burns plays The Notorious G.O.D.  It's a strangely touching movie, and its enduring popularity is easy to understand.  The two sequels?  Not.  So.  Much.

A Bridge Too Far is a big, sprawling WWII epic directed by Richard Attenborough.  Many 70s stars round out its cast, including Redford, Caine, Connery, O'Neal, and Hackman.  The scene where James Caan rescues his fellow soldier is great, and if you look closely, you can make out a young Anthony Hopkins behind that mustache.

The Spy Who Loved Me is Roger Moore's third outing as Bond, after Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun.  It features some great sets, an even greater villain, and one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever.  Oh, and Jaws makes his first appearance!

Annie Hall?  I'm just never going to be a fan of Woody Allen.  Lord knows I've tried. 

Honorable Mentions: Desperate Living, The Duellists, Eraserhead, Kingdom of the Spiders, Pumping Iron, Stroszek, Suspiria

Desperate Living is another great John Waters movie.  Lesbians escape to a town for criminals.  It only gets weirder from there.  "You've got a lot to learn about living in Mortville!"

The Duellists is a very early film by Ridley Scott.  Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine star.

Eraserhead is early David Lynch.

Kingdom of the Spiders isn't all that good, but that movie also freaked me out as a kid.  William Shatner stars.

Pumping Iron is the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger (and, some would say, the sport of bodybuilding) famous.  Lou Ferrigno features as his "adversary."

Stroszek is an excellent film by Werner Herzog.   The legendary Klaus Kinsky stars.

Suspiria might be the best of Argento's movies.  It's about as artful as any slasher film has a right to be.

Biggest Movies of 1978: Grease, Superman, National Lampoon's Animal House, Every Which Way But Loose, Heaven Can Wait, Hooper, Jaws 2, Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Deer Hunter, Halloween

Never could get into Grease.

Richard Donner's Superman is the movie that started it all.  Written by Godfather scribe Mario Puzo, and starring Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, this film was the beginning of a genre that dominates the box office today.  It's a very honest and straightforward movie, lifted straight out of the comics.  Yes, the romance elements look a little silly now, but this film is still great. 

Animal House has its moments, but it's been copied so many times that a lot of the tropes it introduced into the "frat house genre" will go right by you.  If you look real hard you can see Kevin Bacon, in his first movie ever.

Fun Fact #1: This movie, despite its Ivy League appearance, was filmed at the University of Oregon.

Fun Fact #2: National Lampoon's Animal House is/was one of the most profitable films of all time.  Filmed on a budget of $2.8 million, it went on to make more that $140 million.  The budget was so low, in fact, that many of the costumes seen in the movie were purchased at thrift stores in Eugene, Oregon. 

In Every Which Way But Loose, Clint Eastwood likes drinking beer.  Clint Eastwood likes country music.  Clint Eastwood likes his orangutan.  Clint Eastwood likes Sandra Locke.  And Clint Eastwood likes bare knuckle fighting.  It's a good movie, but there's no way he could hit people like that and not break the bones in his hands. 

Heaven Can Wait is... ok.  In it Warren Beatty plays a quarterback for the L.A. Rams, searching for a new body.  Kind of forgettable.

You might remember the Deer Hunter being an awesome movie, but you might want to revisit it if you haven't seen it in a while.  Yes, the Russian roulette scene is great, but the pre-Vietnam part of that film just creeps by.  Excellent performances from Streep, De Niro, and Walken, but it takes a long time to get going.

Halloween is another of those movies that only seems great if you haven't seen it in a while.  Like the Deer Hunter it's a watchable film, but it hasn't aged as well as other horror classics from the same era.  John Carpenter did a great job with a small budget, but this movie looks pretty dated now.

Honorable Mentions: Midnight Express, Dawn of the Dead, Up in Smoke, The Lord of the Rings, Force 10 from Navarone, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Swarm

When the pilot in Airplane! asks the little boy "Have you ever been to a Turkish prison?", he might be thinking of Midnight Express, which came out four years earlier.  I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Dawn of the Dead is the cornerstone of the entire zombie genre.  Yes, you could point to the much earlier Night of the Living Dead, but Dawn of the Dead is where things really got interesting.

Up in Smoke is a Cheech and Chong movie.  Remember those guys?

The Lord of the Rings mentioned above is the cartoon, not the bloated adaptation by Peter Jackson.  It is much more faithful to the source material.

Force 10 from Navarone features early appearances by Harrison Ford, Carl Weathers, and the superfine Barbara Bach.  It's not that good, but worth seeing for trivia purposes.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been remade so many times.  This version features Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum.  It's my favorite version of this story. 

In The Swarm, Michael Caine tangles with a whole lot of bees.  Not that great, but it scared me when I was little.

Biggest Movies of 1979: Kramer Vs. Kramer, The Amityville Horror, Rocky II, Apocalypse Now, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, 10, The Jerk, Moonraker, The Muppet Movie

Kramer Vs. Kramer ranks among Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep's best films.  It's the story of a divorce, told from the father's point of view.

The Amityville Horror is not very good.  How this movie won so many people over in 1979 I have no idea.  The Conjuring II features the same "event," and does so much better.

Rocky II, in case you're getting your Rockies confused, is the one where he fights Apollo for the second time.  It's not as great as the first, but it's still good.

Apocalypse Now is one of the all-time greatest Vietnam movies.

A lot of people complain that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is boring, but I always had a fondness for that film.  If the other Star Trek moves are "soft" sci-fi, this one is "hard."

Alien will freak you out.  I'm sure if freaked no end of people out in 1979.

In "10" a middle-aged Dudley Moore stalks Bo Derek.  It's still an entertaining, funny movie.

The Jerk?  It's ok I guess.  I've never been a big fan of Steve Martin.  It has its moments.  "My own disco room!  With my own disco dancers!"

Moonraker!  What a way to close out the 70s.  Much of this movie was a knee-jerk reaction to the massive success of Star Wars, but it's so wonderfully campy that I never get tired of it.  My only complaint is that they didn't give Bond a light saber at the end.

Honorable Mentions: Norma Rae, 1941, The Brood, Escape from Alcatraz, Mad Max, Meatballs, Monty Python's Life of Brian

Norma Rae is, in my opinion, one of the best movies of the 70s.  Sally Field earned an Academy Award playing a textile worker.  Not many people bother to watch it now, but it's terrific.

1941 is a comedy by Steven Spielberg featuring several SNL alumni.  Even Spielberg wasn't all that happy with the final product.

The Brood is David Cronenberg's first truly great film.  Like all good Cronenberg movies, it gets truly weird and unsettling by the end.

Escape from Alcatraz is one of Eastwood's best movies.  Kind of forgotten now, but it's still good.

Mad Max, however, isn't very good.  Even so, it's very historic.  The sequel, Road Warrior, was much better.

Meatballs is one of those movies that was always on "Skin-emax" when I was a kid.  It's extremely juvenile, but then again most of us were juveniles when we first saw it.

Monty Python's Life of Brian isn't as good as Holy Grail, but it's worth a look.

2016年9月14日 星期三

Movies of the Early 70s

As said elsewhere, I didn't happen to be alive in the early 70s.  I was born in 1975, and my memories of that decade are fleeting at best.  I can remember seeing the first Superman in the theater, and I can remember seeing the first Star Wars in the theater, but that's about it.

Yet I did get very bored recently, and since I'd already seen the recent movies that interested me, I thought I'd go back to the 70s and see if I had missed anything.  As it turns out, there were plenty of good movies during that decade, too.

A warning at the outset: if you're going to sit through any of these, you'll need to calm yourself down.  Movies nowadays are ten times more hyperactive than anything produced in the 70s, and the business of movie-making has also changed quite a lot. 

Oh, and unlike the entries on later decades, what is written here is only a reflection of the movies I've seen, and not so much a consideration of each movie's overall quality.  There are hundreds of movies from the 70s that I haven't seen - and will never see - so take the recommendations below for what they're worth. 

Biggest Films of 1970: Love Story, Airport, M.A.S.H., Patton, Woodstock, the Aristocats, Little Big Man, Ryan's Daughter, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Chariots of the Gods

Love Story is pretty corny, but I can understand why it was such a smash hit.  Watching it now, it's hard not to smirk at that line "love means never having to say you're sorry," but I think it's the inherent corniness of that movie that won people over.  It's a movie full of things that people want to say to each other, but never do.

Airport has held up surprisingly well.  This isn't to say that it doesn't look extremely dated, but it's still an entertaining movie.  Even in 1970, many critics were complaining that it seemed a bit old-fashioned, and having seen it recently, I can tell you that yes, it seems more like a movie from the 1960s.

Unlike Airport, M.A.S.H. hasn't held up well.  Seen from a 2016 standpoint, this movie is about as politically incorrect as you can get.  ALL of the women in the movie are sex objects, one of the black characters is named "Spearchucker," and the camp doctors even manage to "cure" a man of his homosexuality.  Sally Kellerman looks great nude, but it's not worth sitting through this movie for.  

Fun Fact: M.A.S.H. was the first big-budget movie in which the word "fuck" was used.

Patton is a great movie.  Period.  I used to work with a guy who had Patton's speech memorized.

Little Big Man is also great.  This is probably my favorite movie from that year.  A lot of Dustin Hoffman's movies are celebrated, but this one?  Not so much.

You can see Chariots of the Gods on YouTube.  It has been borrowed from and copied so many times it's not worth seeing now, but it's definitely historic.

Aside from the Aristocats, a Disney movie, I haven't seen the other big movies of 1970s.  Ryan's Daughter sounds kind of good, but I wasn't able to find a copy.

Honorable Mentions: The Boys in the Band, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, El Topo, Five Easy Pieces, The Great White Hope, Two Mules for Sister Sara

If you're gay, or if you like the films of John Waters, you'll probably like The Boys in the Band.  I've been watching it on YouTube and it's great.

El Topo is one of the weirdest movies you'll ever see.  Keep in mind that I'm not saying it's good...

Five Easy Pieces is classic Jack Nicholson.  

The Great White Hope is James Earl Jones before he was the voice of Darth Vader.  It's an excellent movie about race relations in the U.S.

Two Mules for Sister Sara is not one of Clint Eastwood's better films, but it's alright.  I always thought Shirley Maclaine was kind of hot.

Biggest Films of 1971: Fiddler on the Roof, Diamonds Are Forever, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Billy Jack, The Summer of '42, The Last Picture Show, Carnal Knowledge, A Clockwork Orange, Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Fuck YES Diamonds Are Forever.  Not only is it one of the best Bond films, but it's Sean Connery's last (Eon) outing as the character.  It's got one of the best theme songs, Blofeld spends part of the movie cross-dressing, and 007 rescues a noted person in the sausage industry.

The French Connection might be a bit slow for modern viewers, but it's got a great car chase and some excellent dialogue.  If you haven't seen it, the ending will probably take you by surprise.

Dirty Harry is still a great, quotable movie.  I think what makes this movie good is more the loathsomeness of the bad guy.  A truly loathsome bad guy is what the other Dirty Harry movies needed.

Billy Jack is chock-full of zeitgeist, but it's also one of the worst movies ever made.  It starts off as White Men vs. Indians, then turns into Hippies vs. The Establishment, then tries to turn back into White Men vs. Indians.  The acting is cringe-worthy, and parts of this movie make almost no sense at all.  Still, in an age of fading flower power, communes, and youth culture, I can understand why it was popular. 

Of the movies above, the only other one I've seen is Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.  I can't rank it among Kubrick's best, but it makes a great point about individual vs. collective responsibility.  Or... something.  I don't know.  You'd have to see it and tell me!

Honorable Mentions: Shaft, THX 1138, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Play Misty for Me, The Beguiled, The Big Boss, Brian's Song, Duel, Johnny Got His Gun, The Omega Man

THX 1138 is an overlooked film, directed by a then-unknown George Lucas. 

Neither Play Misty for Me or The Beguiled are Clint Eastwood at his best, but they're worth watching.

The Big Boss is Bruce Lee in his prime.

Brian's Song remains one of the best football movies ever.

Duel is Spielberg's first movie.

Johnny Got His Gun is the movie they play in the background of Metallica's "One" video.  

The Omega Man is SO much better than the shitty Will Smith remake.  Charlton Heston had a career that went back to nineteen-freaking-forty-one, and he was still going strong in the 70s.

Biggest Films of 1972: The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, What's Up, Doc?, Behind the Green Door, Deliverance, Jeremiah Johnson, Cabaret, The Getaway, Fritz the Cat, The Legend of Boggy Creek

The Godfather remains one of the best movies ever made, and if you somehow haven't seen it, you really ought to get on that RIGHT NOW.

Yes, Marilyn Chambers was hot, but Behind the Green Door is quite boring.  A surprising percentage of this movie is taken up by an extended come shot. 

Deliverance is excellent.

Jeremiah Johnson is still one of the best Westerns ever made.  It tells a great, timeless story, in wonderful detail.  I love the attention paid to woodcraft in this movie - little things like how they fixed doors on log cabins, or how they kept warm in freezing conditions.  I've seen this film more times than I can remember. 

Fun Fact: Clint Eastwood was originally cast as the lead in Jeremiah Johnson, but later left the project to star in Dirty Harry.

Honorable Mentions: Pink Flamingos, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Deep Throat, Fist of Fury, Game of Death, Pink Floyd - Live at Pompeii

Pink Flamingos might be John Waters' best film.  For me it's a toss-up between this one and Female Trouble.  Bring a strong stomach.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God.  That scene were the raft is falling apart, overrun by monkeys, and Klaus Kinsky is suffering a mental breakdown.  The story of how this movie was made is a movie in itself.

Deep Throat is fairly low-grade porn, but it's better than the other "porno chic" hit from the decade, the overly arty Behind the Green Door.  In an age when women of all ages routinely gag themselves on oversized penises, this movie is fast losing its novelty value.

Fists of Fury and Game of Death - probably the height of Bruce Lee's career.  Of the two, Fists of Fury is way better.

I've never been a big Pink Floyd fan, but Live at Pompeii is one of the best "concert" movies from that era.  I love that scene of them playing in the Acropolis. 

Biggest Films of 1973: The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti, Papilion, The Way We Were, Magnum Force, Last Tango in Paris, Live and Let Die, Robin Hood, Paper Moon

The Sting hasn't aged as well as other movies from this year, but coming after a game-changer like The Godfather, it's hard to fault the movie.  It's great to see Redford and Newman on screen together, but compared to other films from this year, it moves fairly slow.

The Exorcist might just be the best horror movie ever made.  In the top 5, anyway.

American Graffiti is one of those movies where you're reminded of it, and you're like.... "Have I seen that?  'Cause it sounds really familiar.  I mean, I really think I've seen it, but I'm not entirely sure...."

Let me assure you that yes, you've seen it.  It's a good movie I guess, but completely forgettable. 

Like Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were is another Robert Redford-Sydney Pollack pairing.  Unfortunately there's little chemistry between Redford and Streisand, and one wonders what his character would be doing with such a neurotic, rude, judgmental woman.  They're both good actors, but the relationship doesn't make sense.

Live and Let Die is another classic Bond film, featuring the first appearance of Roger Moore as 007.  As Moore's Bond films go, it might be the best.

Honorable Mentions: Westworld, Serpico, Cleopatra Jones, Fantastic Planet, La Grande Bouffe, High Plains Drifter, The Holy Mountain, Mean Streets, Soylent Green

Westworld is not bad.

Fantastic Planet is wonderful.  I've seen that move so many times!  It's probably the closest anyone will ever come to animating King Crimson or ELP's early album art.

La Grande Bouffe (sometimes translated as "The Big Feast") is a strange Italian movie about several guys retiring to a cottage to eat themselves to death.  I can't say it's great, but if you're looking for something weird...

High Plains Drifter might be my favorite Clint Eastwood movie.  Excellent film.

The Holy Mountain would make a nice double-feature with La Grande Bouffe.  If you thought El Topo was strange, this one puts it to shame.  I tried to get through it, and failed.

Mean Streets is Scorsese starting out.  Robert de Niro and Harvey Keitel also appear.  It's a solid film.

"Soylent Green is...."  No, I won't ruin it for you. 

Biggest Films of 1974: Blazing Saddles, The Towering Inferno, The Trial of Billy Jack, Young Frankenstein, Earthquake, The Godfather Part II, Airport 1975, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, The Longest Yard, Benji

Blazing Saddles?  Not nearly as funny now.  I was never a big fan of Mel Brooks, though this movie it still has its moments.  Definitely a lot funnier in 1974.

The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, and Airport 1975.  With these three movies, we enter the heyday of 70s disaster films, wherein everything - both natural and man-made - is trying to kill us.  I'd have to take The Towering Inferno over the other two.

I like the first Godfather more than the second, but the sequel is also great.

The Longest Yard is Burt Reynolds in his prime.  It looks fairly dated today, but if you're bored, and can't think of anything more exciting to watch, it's ok.

Honorable Mentions: Chinatown, Female Trouble, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Zardoz

I liked Chinatown, but I don't worship it or anything.  I often think that the praise this movie receives is way out of proportion to its merits.

Female Trouble is another excellently weird film from John Waters.  I have a lot of this movie's dialogue committed to memory.

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is worth seeing, but only because it's so influential.  As horror movies go, it's not all that gory, or even scary.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot features Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges on a cross-country chase.  It has really grown on me over the years.

Zardoz is one of my all-time favorite films.  John Boorman directed this story of a utopian society in decline, and both Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling are amazing in it.  Gotta love 70s movies about "the future."

2016年9月2日 星期五

Movies, Music, and Comic Books

1. Movies

Suicide Squad was such a disappointment.  It was a great idea, but they failed spectacularly in their execution.  It could be that there's a much better Director's Cut of this lying around somewhere, and if so I hope I see it.

My biggest complaint: a tremendous waste of Jared Leto.  But even Margot Robbie and Will Smith could have been used better.

It should have been a lot darker, and a lot more disturbing.  How are you going to show the Joker, lying on his living room floor with all of his knives around him, and not have a seriously disturbing torture scene later on?

Yes, people whine about the DC films being too "dark and gritty," but this was a movie that really called for that kind of tone.

Besides Suicide Squad, I also saw Miles Ahead and High-Rise.  Both excellent movies.  I think Miles Ahead was slightly better, especially since High-Rise was a bit squeamish when it came to showing the physical and moral degradation of the building's tenants.  If you're going to adapt a J.G. Ballard novel, you've got to show us everything.

2. Music

A lot of Twenty One Pilots and Panic! At the Disco.  The newest albums by both bands.

Twenty One Pilots('s) older stuff is ok, but I like their poppier stuff better.  It's the same situation with Panic! At the Disco.  Their older music seems a bit aimless, and their singer overwhelms the music with his singing.  Their newer album is a much better blend of rock and pop.

And of course after watching Miles Ahead I went into another Miles Davis coma.  I think my favorite of his albums are probably Miles in the Sky and Bitches' Brew.  Big Fun is also great.

3. Comic Books

Didn't read any!  I should probably catch up on them soon.  I'm guessing there are a few new issues of Saga, Monstress, The Fix, and Sherrif of Baghdad on the (virtual) shelves...

Two Books I Almost Read Last Summer, and One Book I Actually Finished

So how are you doing?  It's September, it's 2016, and I'm just returning from a long summer vacation.  I didn't get much reading done this summer, but what I did read is discussed below.

1. A.S. Byatt - Babel Tower

By turns pretentious and extremely boring, I only got halfway through this book.  There's something in there about several heavily repressed British people, something else that veers toward the Marquis de Sade (patron saint of the sexually repressed), and a third something about domestic abuse and an attempt at divorce.  What struck me most forcibly was how thoroughly I disliked all of the characters in this novel, and how it seemed to be yet another lame attempt by an uninspired author to write the story of her life.

I'm not sure what's going on with the Booker Prize, but they seem to award it to the most pretentious and uninspired books ever.

2. Donald Barthelme - Sixty Stories

This book I finished.  Barthelme isn't as well known as he once was, but in the late 60s and early 70s he was known to readers of (serious) fiction.

He is also the first author I've encountered whose work really brought the word "postmodernist" to mind.  Much of what he writes suggests the idea that fiction really struggled after James Joyce, and that in Joyce's wake many authors had to push themselves to find new forms, and new modes of expression.

All of Barthelme's "sixty stories" are wonderfully, irredeemably weird.  I liked most of them, even though many weren't strictly stories at all, but rather portraits of psychological states.  I don't know that I would bother with any of his novels (though for all I know they're quite good), but if you like Delilo or Pynchon you'll probably also like this.

3. The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction

What I Learned From This Book: If the person assembling the stories which comprise the anthology you're reading happens to be an author whose work you're not that fond of, it's very likely that you'll be similarly unfond of the anthology.

In this case, Ursula K. Le Guin is the assembler, and no, I wasn't that fond of the anthology.  A lot of great names are included, but the stories that represent these names aren't what many would call their best work.  Instead of the really classic science fiction stories, what we get is an attempt to revise history by including only the most politically correct examples from each author.

Most people don't read a science fiction anthology because they're looking for the most "inclusive" examples in the genre.  We read anthologies for good stories, and there are surprisingly few of those to be found here.

I tapped out after a hundred pages.  Those looking for a much better anthology are hereby directed to The Year's Best Science Fiction (2006).

In fairness, the introduction by co-editor Brian Attebery brings up some interesting points.