Terence Stamp / Stephen Frears’ The Hit (1984)

I love this movie. I came across the Criterion DVD at Video Journeys last year along with The Friends of Eddie Coyle and had my mind wiped clean by how non-Scorsese and non-cliche a gangster movie can be. Is there anther Terrence Stamp performance that is as perfect as this? (until The Limey, which is so in debt to this…)


As if he’s not enough (and he would be), there is a barely out of his teens Tim Roth and an excellent John Hurt performance as well. This movie sent me back to find as many of Stamp’s older movies as I could find, but it seems like some are – unbelievably – lost. Ken Loach’s Poor Cow is not on DVD and I have not seen it anywhere.

The Other Guys

I probably never laughed out loud, lost in the utter looniness as with their masterpiece Anchorman, but Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s latest collaboration made me smile like I was riding a bear.

The only thing wrong with the film was a slight bit of drag–Hot Fuzz beat them to the loving recreation of action tropes, and even in that film I found myself wondering if I needed so exact an echo. But The Other Guys is happy to ride the bear into whatever back-alleys come along, embracing their own sublime surreality while underscoring the silly surreality of a) the performance of masculinity in cop films and b) the American fascination with rogue cops (fighting drug cartels, guns blazing) while blinking nervously then looking away from the high crimes of our financial overlords. It’s smart and it’s always funny.

Scott Pilgrim

This was a blast. I was sucked in from the opening of the Universal logo done in old NES-style graphics with an 8-bit version of the studio melody. And if that last sentence confuses you a couple of different ways, then this probably isn’t the right movie for you.

In the same way that zombie movie lovers got many more of the jokes in Shaun of the Dead, same goes here. You’ll get this movie more if you play video games and are one of the 20-something man-children that the NYTimes and Time Magazine are so upset about. But what’s also bugging those guys probably has a bit to do with the fact that who the hell still buys Time Magazine or the New York Times? Definitely not the N. American Man-Child. Thing is, that sub-species also doesn’t pay $12 to go sit in a movie theater. The movie kind of flopped this weekend. But as of right now on Piratebay, 1100+ people are seeding the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack and 1200+ are seeding the comic book series the movie was based on. That means with a decent connection you could download both for free in about 4.5 minutes. And in a couple of days a crappy version of the movie will be uploaded and spreading everywhere to be watched on iphones and 13″ computer monitors, possibly with Russian subtitles.

And that’s too bad because this movie really looks good on a nice big movie screen, preferably at a single screen theater, like the Vista. Continue reading Scott Pilgrim


A lovesick ex-con. An Ukrainian prostitute. Her unctuous pimp. An eager police officer. His alienated wife. A bank robbery. An accidental shooting. Anger. Guilt. Revenge. Suspense. Deception. Sex, self-loathing, and even some hard-fought redemption. Everything about the first half of this Austrian film, directed with empathy and precision by Götz Spielmann, is undermined by everything that doesn’t happen in the second, and that’s what makes it so damn good (and so fucking scary). As Roger Ebert has written, “Rare is the thriller that is more about the reasons of people instead of the needs of the plot.” Indeed, this is truly a compelling and moving psychological character-study (I’ll even go so far as to describe it as Dostoevskian). I was moved to tears on more than one occasion; there is a scene toward the end, for example, when one character tosses a useless object into a lake just as a whoosh of wind whips across the surface of the water as if smoothing out all that has come before. Was it the luck of the moment or a carefully calibrated cinematic stunt? To be honest, I could give a shit as the moment stuck, worked it’s magic, and left me, if only for a moment, breathless. This movie deserves to be seen.

Gilliam’s Parnasus / Burton’s Alice

Well, here are a couple of disappointments. I don’t suppose I had very high hopes for Alice, but I didn’t think it would be quite as boring as this. In a movie that is about little more than spectacle, Burton managed to show us nothing we haven’t seen millions of times before, in his movies and every other adaptation of Alice.

The highlights were Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and to a lesser extent Crispin Glover as the Jack of Hearts or Knaves or something. This was every bit as tedious as Burton’s Planet of the Apes and I wonder why he keeps going for these seemingly pointless remakes. Is there really such a lack of original scripts out there? I mean, there’s a good 20+ years worth of kids who grew up immersed in Burton’s non-threatening dreams. Some of them must have becomes scriptwriters who have risen to the point where they can pitch something his way?
I miss the warmth of Ed Wood or the insanity of Mars Attacks.

Terry Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus had some measure of originality to it, but was an unfocused, poorly acted, confusing mess. Heath Ledger has yet to impress me with his acting. Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell at least seemed to be awake. I’m not entirely sure that Christopher Plummer didn’t die in pre-production and that Gilliam just made a marionette out of his corpse, waving his hand here and there and mumbling some gibberish.

Like Alice there were two performances here that are worth watching. One is Lily Cole’s. I remember being amazed at how Gilliam took the beauty of Uma Thurman in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and just cranked it up to a ridiculous degree, so that she seemed almost post-human, evolved into another species. He does the same here. Lily Cole is gorgeous, and alive and acts, and reacts, and does all the things that someone acting in a movie is supposed to do. And Tom Waits as the devil seems like a no-brainer. He’s great.

But I cared nothing about any of these characters in either movie. I watched them months ago, and tried to write something then, but they are difficult to get excited enough to actually think very much about them.

I’ll at least use the opportunity to suggest going back to watch Tideland, Gilliam’s terribly reviewed previous movie, which was easily one of my favorites of the year. Jeff Bridges delivers a better performance as a corpse in Tideland than Ledger did as a quasi-live person in Parnasus.

The Expendables

For those of us concerned at the near total absence of sequels or big budget action films this summer, and outraged that Hollywood serves up heartwarming stories of the lesbian family and weepy excuses for comic book adaptations during a period once reserved for movies with a three-figure plus body count, along comes Stallone with The Expendables. Sure it’s stupid and incoherent, and most of the action stars are over 60, but it fits the bill handsomely. The Expendables are a group of mercenaries who, while they work for hire, seem to only take on cases in which they are on the side of the angels (the opening scene has them rescuing sailors from Somali pirates at the behest of the ship owners). We have Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lungren, Mickey Rourke and assorted refugees from the WWE and ultimate fighting.

  • They are given a task to remove the military regime of some fictional island by a shady-looking CIA operative played by Bruce Willis. One of the best lines comes when Arnold Schwartzenegger (and unlike Terminator Salvation, he filmed this while governor) turns down the job. Blah, blah, blah… beautiful daughter of military leader helps them then gets captured by evil ex-CIA agent Eric Roberts. So our motley band have to return to rescue the daughter and take down the regime. Cue 20 minutes of gunfire and explosions. It is interesting that while most of the gunplay in Expendables is of the usual kind — no blood, no lingering on the part of the camera, no consequences — Stallone (who is also the director) does frequently compose shots in which someone is literally sliced in half by gunfire, or a limb is severed right off. He did the same thing in the fourth Rambo movie and it introduces a new and disconcerting level of bloodiness to the action movie. This was on my mind since we are currently having an on-again, off-again family discussion about my younger son’s desire to play the video game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and whether said game is too violent for a thirteen-year old.
  • Anyway, good saves the day. Rourke has a speech halfway through the movie about how he wished he had saved a young woman in Bosnia because it would have saved a small part of his soul. We are left to believe that a small part of these men’s souls have been saved.  But we don’t care because we have seen hundreds and hundreds of anonymous dark-skinned soldiers mowed down in operatic fashion for the pervious 95 minutes, and that is what we paid the $5 to see.

    The Legend

    Finished The Legend with Jet Li. Made the same year as City Hunter, this is visually a far-superior film. It’s actually quite beautiful–Cory Yuen has a gift for composition, sometimes making nice use of the wide-angle lens, tilted angles, low angles, low-tilted angles.

    There’s a great deal of humor as well–and it’s much better than the humor in City Hunter, though I find the latter’s more endearing. Continue reading The Legend


    sugar, directed by anna boden and ryan fleck (female director alert!!!!), is a feature film but could have been a documentary about the meat market that thrives on the dominican republic-US border and draws poor young men to the great country to the north with a hope and a prayer of hitting it big in the baseball world. from what i understood (and from listening to a great fresh air interview with the directors), possibly talented kids get signed for a pittance while they are still in the DR. there, they participate in rigorous baseball camps where they can end up being parked for as long as a couple of years. these camps are owned by big US teams, which send regular scouts to see how the chickies are doing. occasionally, some talented young guy gets picked and sent to the minors. there, he either makes it or he crashes. Continue reading sugar

    The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector

    For some reason I was expecting a dark, sullen psycho prone to fits of anger. Instead the Phil Spector featured in this documentary is a voluble nebbish, with a real sense of nerdy charisma and enthusiasm. The film rather awkwardly brings together three main threads here: a lengthy interview with Spector, clips from the first murder trial which ended in a hung jury and a chronological/musicological history of Spector’s life as a producer, from the Teddy Bears through to John Lennon and Tina Turner. Though the documentary has been highly acclaimed, I didn’t find it to be particularly well-made. The interview is far from incisive—it’s mostly prompts to allow Spector to make speeches and go on whatever tangent he likes. The courtroom segments are fragmentary and not particularly clear. The analysis of the various songs—with clips of full performances by the likes of The Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, etc.—are probably the strongest part of the film, though their interest is self-generated rather than a feature of any element of the documentary. Mick Brown contributes some effusive capsule analyses of various noteworthy songs which emphasize the auteurist interpretation of Spector as a genius whose production work is more significant and consistent than the contributions of any individual performer. Continue reading The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector