Monday, April 30, 2012

April Activity

 Using the John Owen System:

* Hated it/Never want to see it again
** Didn't like it/Maybe I'll watch it again someday, though
*** Liked it/Enjoyable, but it'll be awhile before I see it again
**** Really liked it/A favorite to be revisited often
***** Loved it/A masterpiece that I can't live without

16 Features

Battleship Potemkin ***
Brief Encounter ****
The Cabin in the Woods ***
Cleo From 5 to 7 ****
Destry Rides Again ****
Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex****
Good Morning ****
Jules et Jim ****
The Kid (1921...not 2000, Jeff)*****
Ladies in Retirement ***
Le Plaisir ****
Meet Me In St. Louis *****
My Favorite Wife ****
Quai Des Orfevres ****
Seven Samurai *****
Young Mr. Lincoln ****

Notes: The Cabin in the Woods gets three stars from me, but only because I'm not a horror fan. I completely respect the film and have even recommended it to a couple of friends. I knew one of my friends would absolutely love it...turns out, he did.

Every Thing You Wanted To Know About Sex isn't one of Woody's best, but I have to say, very few movies cheer me up in the way that a 70s/80s Woody Allen comedy can.

Sorry I didn't get that Cleo From 5 to 7 paragraph to you, Brandon; I did watch the film after you asked me to, but things got busy and I completely forgot about sending a paragraph. I guess technically I could still send you one...since you haven't posted your 1962 list yet. But you've probably already written something up on it. Anyway, my favorite moment from the film is when Cleo meets the soldier towards the end. I love the bond they share through uncertainty and potential doom.

My Favorite Wife isn't necessarily a masterpiece, but it was incredibly enjoyable from beginning to end. It's one of the funniest classic comedies that I've ever seen and I can't wait to watch it again.

The Battleship Potemkin discussion will commence soon. I do agree that it'll be a little more difficult to discuss than the other film's we've watched together. I will say that as far as propaganda films are concerned, give me Commie propaganda.

Also, John, you had asked if there were any references to Eisenstein's film on The Simpsons...unless I'm forgetting something, there aren't any in seasons 1-10. Beyond that, I couldn't tell you because I haven't seen a lot of those episodes. BUT...on The Critic (created by Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss), there is a nod to the famous "Odessa stairs" sequence (it's at the 22 second mark in the video below, which is of critic Jay Sherman's student film). How's that for nerdy?


30 Rock season 6
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Game of Thrones season 2
Girls 1 episode
Mad Men season 5
Parks and Recreation season 4
Real Time with Bill Maher
The Ricky Gervais Show season 3
Seinfeld seasons 1, 2, 3

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Real Man Makes His Own Luck

 - Billy Zane, Titanic

First of all, I really enjoyed reading your Titanic stories, Adrienne and Brandon. Unlike the both of you, I did not see Titanic when it hit theaters back in '97; I was 10/11 years old at the time, so I only went to the movies when my parents took me. I guess they were unfazed by the craze (those hipsters), or they went without taking me, Jeff, and our older brother, Brent along. Perhaps the smart thing to do, given all of Titanic's hardcore nudity.

I think my first viewing of the film came at the hands of that double VHS box set, when DVDs were still young. I wanna say that I've never watched all 194 minutes in one sitting, instead opting to watch it in bits and pieces. And again, because I wasn't quite a teenager yet, the part of the film I was most interested in was Kate Winslet's nude modeling scene. I don't feel embarrassed in admitting that, because I know it's true of most of the males my age. This was also a time when Leonard DiCaprio was cool to hate. It's funny to think back on that now, considering he's the best actor of his generation.

America's fascination with the actual Titanic is interesting, to say the least. I remember first hearing the story in third grade, and for a short time, I was even fascinated by this story of an "unsinkable ship" that sank. So I'm sure the hubris of man has a lot to do with the story's appeal. Not to mention all of the mistakes and coincidences that needed to happen for that ship to rest at the bottom of the ocean.

Like Brandon I wasn't a fan of the film when I was younger because it wasn't cool to like it; it was The Notebook before there was The Notebook. Now that's it back in the theaters, in 3D of all things, I haven't felt the need to revisit it. I'm sure it's a solid film, but if I do re-watch it to find out what I really think, it'll probably be years down the road; I've got other movies that I want to watch and re-watch first. Also, while I do think it's cool to bring back movies to the theater, bringing Titanic back (in 3D) absolutely screams, "we love your money."

Anyway, I can't imagine being on the Titanic while it was sinking. I can't imagine being in the lifeboat knowing that everyone on the ship would drown or freeze to death. This is my segue back to our horror discussion, by the way. I guess I'm also not a huge fan of disaster films. Watching people die under shitty circumstances really gets to me. Jason says that he likes to put himself in the shoes of these characters; I do too, but I don't seem to approach those situations with any sort of optimism. The only foolproof way to survive the various situations in these films is to be in the leading role.

I don't think you need to walk away from every movie "changed," or with a new mindset. Sometimes we just need/want to be entertained. I realize most people seek entertainment from horror films, first and foremost...but I never seem to get entertainment from them. Again, I feel Jason's roller coaster comparison is extremely accurate. I can count the number of roller coasters I've been on in my lifetime with one hand; I've never enjoyed them, and I've never enjoyed horror films. If I want a rush, I'll play hide and seek in the dark. No downhill bike rides for me.

In other topics of recent conversation, I do think the usage of the word "hipster" has become too liberal nowadays. Great points from everyone. Similarly to what Brandon wrote about, seems like I hear someone being called a hipster almost every other day. While the word has been around as long as jazz, it has probably never been this widely used. A lot of that has to do with the age we live in, where we love to label things and people. Of course, young people will always conform to trends. Also, social media shines a light on everything.

Having said all that, I would not say John uses the word too liberally. Okay, no one is saying that, but the point is that I agree with the idea that many people (who aren't named John Owen) use the word as a pejorative to denigrate that which they find unusual or different or bearded. On a similar note (if you're still following me), I think people will often call something "pretentious" as a way to lazily criticize it.

Haha, Brandon, if I were to twist my nipples while watching Garden State, wouldn't that make me emo? Time to break out my old Dashboard Confessional CDs. Also, I always use "haha" when I think something is actually funny. I never use LOL (shit!), and if I'm ever bitter about something, odds are, I won't grant you a "haha."

John, I love your points about "nerd" culture being on the rise. As usual, style seems to be one of the driving factors. Nowadays NBA players wear Woody Allen/Jeff Howard glasses and dress in bow-ties and dress shirts. It's become fashionable to look nerdy, so of course there's going to be plenty of posers out there. Jeff brought to my attention a while back that many non-poser nerds are happy with the accurate nerd portrayal of Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott) on NBC's Parks and Recreation. I know for me, he's the kind of character that I can appreciate. Fuck The Big Bang Theory.

Lastly, it's time for some Girls talk. I told Ben that I wouldn't be watching HBO's Girls because I hated Tiny Furniture so much. I meant to hold on to that hate, but yesterday I gave in and watched the pilot. My reason: I began to read all of the criticisms that were being leveled at it. One of the main criticisms is the lack of diversity on the show. Fair enough; Girls does feature an all white cast. In fact, the only black character on the show is a homeless person (yeesh). Honestly though, I can understand where both sides are coming from here. The show is called Girls (not White Girls) and it takes place in racially diverse New York City. (I was thinking earlier today that a show like Girls with an all-black cast would be probably be a much better show.) Anyway, having said all that, I absolutely believe Lena Dunham when she says that it is an innocent mistake.

I don't dislike Lena Dunham; I wish the best for her...especially now, given the number of people who want to see her fail. I mean, I can understand where the film snobs are coming from with the Tiny Furniture Criterion Collection controversy. But that's mainly due to the fact that I didn't find Dunham's film to be all that interesting.

Another criticism of Girls is that the self-entitled characters aren't very interesting to watch. I actually don't agree with this point as much as I thought I would. This was my main criticism of Tiny Furniture. There was nothing redeemable about the characters; Dunham's character made a string of dumb decisions and I came away from the film with nothing. The knowledge that girls want to hook up with douchebags is something I learned back in middle school. Anyway, surprisingly, I feel that the show Girls does actually offer something and the relationships between the characters are more interesting and are more fully developed. This is positive because it tells me that Dunham is growing as a writer, director. Again, I'm rooting for her.

BUT...I still maintain that it's tough to get behind everything she writes. She's a pretty good comedy writer; I like her tone. But again, there's still too much self-entitlement here. New York City is one of the best cities in the world and it's difficult to garner any sort of sympathy for someone who gets to live in Manhattan for free. Another point is that Dunham's character, Hannah, is writing a memoir. If a 24-year-old gave me his/her memoir, I would probably throw it in the trash. And sure, this could be a commentary on the fact that everyone among the Facebook generation seems to think he or she leads an interesting life. But even if that's the case, Dunham will only end up preaching to the choir. That type of moron only watches Jersey Shore, and won't ever tune into Girls on a weekly basis.

The third criticism of the show is's also the stupidest criticism. I guess if you're a lazy critic, you'll focus on that. Although, I will say that I think much of the hate for Lena Dunham probably comes from the fact that she's Laurie Simmons daughter. I imagine certain people believe Dunham's success has always been handed to her. And yes, there's definitely some sexism behind all the hate, and it's unfortunate. But since I won't be able to solve the problem of sexism in this post, I'm gonna move on. I didn't hate the show. I'm not sure if I'll keep watching, but I am glad to see that Dunham has improved as a writer/director.

How's that, Ben?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cabin in the Woods


The best thing that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's film The Cabin in the Woods has going for it is its originality. And sure, as Jeff and John touched on, there's plenty of convention within the film. However, I do respect and give points to Whedon and Goddard for what they've done here. Their commentary on the genre wasn't so clever that it changed something in me, but it definitely held my attention and stimulated my intrigue. But more so than providing a commentary, I'm sure Whedon and Goddard's primary goal was to entertain. And unlike John, I do see a large audience for this film...from the "smug, hipster" Buffy fans to the morons who are so easily amused by the Ted trailer; they can all take enjoyment away from The Cabin in the Woods.

So yes, that's as far as I'm taking it...the movie is a fun way to kill an hour and a half (more puns!). You're right, John, there are no lessons learned; though we cringe (some more than others...referring to myself), we do walk away unchanged. But that doesn't mean we (or more accurately, I) can't give the film points for doing some interesting things along the way.

Like Jeff, I can appreciate the self-awareness about the character's conformity to the horror archetypes. These characters are definitely processed into their roles. The word "puppets" is used multiple times, so the film is fully aware that these characters aren't fit for John Carter's script. Yes, Whedon and Goddard have pulled on the strings, but they've also given life to surrogate puppet masters in the form of characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford; the two characters also serve as directors for a horror film that's been made hundreds of times and will continue to be made. In that sense, we have a meta-horror flick, and I like both the idea of that and the actual execution in film.

And with that last bit in mind, I like to think that the Company exists to create our horror movies. One thought I had while trying to figure out the mystery of the film was that this was some sort of near-futuristic story where society has become so obsessed with reality television that eventually we wanted to capture that "reality" in our films as well. That would also help to explain why the Company thrives to stick to the modern horror formula; they're looking to give the people what they want/expect. But I also understand that the script makes it clear that there's a need for specific sacrifices to be made (a whore, a fool, etc.).

The Twilight Zone also came to mind as I attempted to solve the mystery. I think Rod Serling would be a fan of some aspects. The mystery element drives the film and kept me interested. Having said that, the reveal at the end does come as something of a disappointment for me. While I do feel that it's a road that very few writers/filmmakers would have gone down, I admit that I don't care much for Elder God subplots. I would've preferred something a little more Rod Serling-esque. But that's me - a Twilight Zone fan who's never seen an episode of Buffy. But the larger point is that the mystery worked for me.

I like to think that Whedon and Goddard wrote back-stories for each of their monsters (the ones that could've shown up at the cabin, that is). I had the same thought as Jeff, too, that the DVD would be amazing if they had alternate scenes with those various monsters.

One thing that Jeff enjoyed that I did not was the "purge" sequence toward the end, where the monsters were unleashed on the Company. Granted, I, too, chuckled at the Merman sequence, but I didn't care for the rest of it. Call me old fashioned, but I don't like torture. Sure, most of us don't like torture, but I have an strongly adverse reaction to seeing it simulated in a film. I would never put this film on par with Saw or Human Centipede or any of the "torture porn" bullshit movies, but I hate that kind of chaotic bloodshed. So really, I wasn't able to enjoy that part as much as others, and even if those deaths were deserved, I still didn't like it.

Like John, I prefer swashbuckler adventure romances to horror, and I can't enjoy watching teens get butchered (even if they're a bit on the douchey side). I like my violence in movies when there's a fair playing field and when justice is served. In most modern horror films, premarital sex is usually the only thing the characters are guilty of. How is that worthy of death at the hands of a psychopath wielding a blade or a family of redneck zombies with farm tools? The moral and message doesn't resonate with me either, because I'm not exactly sure what the message is in all of that. With Cabin in the Woods, the commentary provides more of a message for me, but right, it doesn't mean as much to me as something like Seven Samurai or Young Mr. Lincoln (the two films I watched before seeing Cabin on Friday).

Lastly, I want to address John's line about the hero of Cabin in the Woods. He identifies the stoner, Marty, who throughout the film, questions appearances and digs deeper to find truth. I find it funny that the hero of the story is also a guy who selfishly wants the world to be destroyed along with him. I'm not challenging what you wrote, John, I just think it's interesting that our "hero" doesn't display a shred of heroism at the end of the film.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rom Coms

1. Annie Hall
2. The Graduate
3. Ball of Fire
4. Roman Holiday
5. His Girl Friday
6. Knocked Up
7. The Apartment
8. It Happened One Night
9. Chasing Amy
10. The Palm Beach Story

HM (alphabetical): 10 Things I Hate About You, (500) Days of Summer, Adventureland, Bringing Up Baby, The Goodbye Girl, Harold and Maude, Moonstruck, The Philadelphia Story, Punch-Drunk Love, There's Something About Mary

Movies I love, but don't quite fit our critera: Amelie, Arsenic and Old Lace, Being There, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Groundhog Day, High Fidelity, Lars and the Real Girl, L'Atalante, Love and Death, Monsieur Beaucaire, Rushmore, Singin' In the Rain, Some Like It Hot, Unfaithfully Yours, WALL-E

Commentary: I used IMDb to help me sort through which films were strictly romantic comedies. If the website had a particular film listed as nothing but a "comedy," "romance," and "drama," then that film made the cut. More specifically, a film like Some Like It Hot, which seemed like an obvious rom com to me, was only tagged as a comedy, so that's why it's among the group of films below the honorable mentions. Additionally, one of Amelie's tags was fantasy, and High Fidelity didn't have a romance tag.

The reason why I have Annie Hall and The Graduate listed above great classics like Ball of Fire and Roman Holiday is because I've had a longer relationship with those two contemporary films. However, Ball of Fire and Roman Holiday are quickly becoming big favorites of mine.

I've discussed Annie Hall on my blog before and maintain that I don't care how popular it is or how much it's regarded as Woody's best film. Like Jeff, I'm a big fan of what Adrienne wrote about "what makes a good romantic comedy." With that in mind, Annie Hall is the quintessential choice; I'll always love it for its honesty and sincerity. It tackles love from many different angles and it's one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Similarly, I find The Gradute to be a comical meditation on love and life; it's one of my all-time favorite films.

One of the reasons why I told Brandon we should make romantic comedy top tens is because I was watching Roman Holiday when he asked me. Many contemporary films have taken the plot structure from William Wyler's film, only now it is completely bastardized. I absolutely love Roman Holiday for it's ending. SPOILERS. Gregory Peck is never caught in his lie to Audrey Hepburn, he makes the choice not to write a story on Hepburn's character because he's in love with her. Additionally, Peck and Hepburn don't end up together in the end. It's a brutally realistic ending with a great shot of Peck walking out of the room and staring back, hoping for one last look of Hepburn. Brilliant stuff.

Knocked Up is Judd Apatow's finest work to date, and hopefully he can find that magic again. I grew up with Chasing Amy, and likewise, it's Kevin Smith's best work, though the odds of him writing something like that again are pretty much impossible.

10 Things I Hate About You was something we used to watch a lot when we were kids. I'm a big fan of Heath Ledger's character in the film, and I do like the moment when he sings, "You're Just Too Good To Be True" from the stadium stands.

I want to be able to put Punch-Drunk Love in my top ten, but I'd have to watch it again before doing so. I've only seen it once, though I've seen certain scenes multiple times. When I did watch it for the first time, I was young and didn't understand the genius that is Paul Thomas Anderson. I certainly didn't hate it, but I wasn't too impressed with it. I want to give it another shot soon.

Are the two Hal Ashby films (Harold and Maude and Being There) overrated or underrated? I honestly don't care too much, and I do enjoy both.

Lastly, I could've added multiple Woody Allen movies to my top ten list; there are plenty that I love so much more than the last few films on my list. I chose to go with one of his films instead to allow more variety.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hitchcock Top Ten

1. Rope

I admit, I was having some trouble deciding which Hitchcock was my favorite. In the end, the film that sticks out the most for me is Rope. I love it for its structure, its dominance of dialogue, its performances, and its ambition. While the film isn't actually one long shot, the way Hitchcock staged, shot, and edited the film is incredibly impressive, to put it mildly. I love John Dall's performance as Brandon; his arrogance in committing the perfect murder is fascinating to watch. Again, I also love the "master scene" element and theater/play aspect.

2. Vertigo

Vertigo is obviously a popular pick, but if you love something enough, I see no reason to shy away from it. The film holds your attention from beginning to end with no flaws or blemishes. This is one of my favorite detective stories in all of film. It's sort of insane the way this movie plays out, but with each moment of mystery and intrigue, the film hijacks your attention span (in a good way, of course) and takes you on a fun ride. Other reasons: Jimmy Stewart rules; I love those iconic shots on the bell tower.

3. Dial M for Murder

I was really hoping to find what I had written back when I watched this film for the first time; couldn't find anything on it other than a brief mention that I liked it for the same reasons I liked Rope. Hitchcock handles stories about murder so well; they're his bread and butter and there's no exception here.

4. Rear Window

What I love most about Rear Window is the set-up - through suspicion and voyeurism, a man attempts to solve a murder. The tension in the film is enhanced by Hitchcock's adroit sensibilities. And there's a great parody of this film in The Simpsons season 6 episode "Bart of Darkness." More reasons to love.

5. North By Northwest

I'll always have a special place in my heart reserved for North By Northwest. It's one of the first Hitchcock movies that I ever saw and I loved it the first time I saw it. I almost want to set up a poll question in our facebook group asking which you prefer - Cary Grant & Hitchcock or Jimmy Stewart & Hitchcock? I have a feeling Jimmy would receive a majority of the votes, but this is the best showcase of the Grant/Hitch combo, in my opinion. Also give me the Mt. Rushmore finale of North By Northwest over the Statue of Liberty finale of Saboteur.

6. Strangers on a Train

Of all of these films, this is the one I'd like to re-watch first. Partly because I haven't seen in a long time. Also, I feel like it might rank higher on my list if I re-watched it. Robert Walker gives a great performance in this one. I love the story and the execution.

7. Notorious

Take that Nazis! The Alicia/Devlin is very complicated and effectively done. I love Ingrid Bergman so it pains me to see her poisoned and under the capture of Nazis. Clearly I have nothing interesting to say about this film, but I really enjoy it.

8. Psycho

A superlative showcase of Hitchcock's work, Psycho demonstrates how meticulous and influential he was as a director. We can talk about what it did for the horror genre, but we mustn't shortchange what it did for film in general. To talk about certain scenes in Psycho is to evoke legend. I wrote this for Brandon's 1960 list and while I do feel this way about the film, it isn't my favorite Hitchcock film.

9. Spellbound

Maybe the psychoanalysis/Fruedian themes are turn offs for some, but I really enjoyed it in this film. Love the Dali dream sequence, the disjointed feeling the film provides as Gregory Peck attempts to regain his memory and his identity.

10. The Wrong Man

I'm tempted to move this up my list, but that could be due to the fact that I watched this one most recently. But of course, it's also due to the fact of how effective it is as a film. This story is an absolute nightmare, not only because Henry Fonda is wrongfully accused, but also due to what happens to his loving wife Rose. The film also does a great job of setting the mood economically.

HM aka the only other Hitchcock films I've seen: Shadow of a Doubt, Saboteur, The Birds, Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

Wanna see: The Trouble With Harry, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Lifeboat

Additional thoughts: I just wanted to acknowledge that I left Shadow of a Doubt off of my top ten, which might come as a disappointment to Jeff. Sorry, dude, I know you love that film. For what it's worth, it is my number 11 and next in line to make the list. I love the Joseph Cotten/Teresa Wright relationship. I also really love subplot with Charlie's father and the next door neighbor, and their obsession with murder stories. Having said all that, I found myself wanting something more when the film ended. Maybe if I loved Joseph Cotten as much as you do, I'd rank it higher.

This Things I Believe

I only had four posts in March; I want April to be a more productive month, and I'd finally like to break the funk of not writing. It's nice to write those Jason Poole "dumps." but I feel like they also burn me out a bit, and they limit my desire to do anything else on this blog. I want to start writing longer paragraphs on each film more frequently; I have a feeling that will help.

If John's funk goes on for the next few months, we may need to hold an intervention. And by "intervention," I mean that we need to remove all of the Smallville DVDs from his home; that show is becoming his green kryptonite.

I've watched two John Owen essentials within the past two weeks and I hope to do write-ups on them soon. Obviously one is The Narrow Margin...the other will remain a mystery for now.

A couple of months back, I created two word documents. In one, I'm keeping track of every film I've seen from 1929 to 1979 (I have no record whatsoever of the 80s so far, but I've had a word doc. containing my top tens from 1990-the present for the longest time).

The other word document was created to keep track of all of the films I've seen by the notable directors. I used the "Director's best/worst" list that Brandon created back in the fall, but using the John system, I've alphabetized it and I'm putting the films down in order of their release. I've also added a few directors that we left off the list. Maybe at some point, I'll post it or update my "best/worst" list.

It was cool to see that Brandon was keeping similar records in word documents on his computer. It's a great way to get organized.

John, I hope to watch Love In the Afternoon soon.

The King Kong homage in Treehouse of Horror III is definitely the weakest part of that episode. Unlike you, though, I find no faults in the first act; there are so many quotable lines due in part to great delivery from Dan Castellaneta and the other actors. The "that's good/that's bad" exchange in the "House of Evil" shop is one of my favorite moments/jokes in the entire series.

Another great Homer quote is when the Krusty doll is wrestling Homer on the ground and Homer says, "Marge, the doll's trying to kill me and the toaster's been laughing at me." Cracks me up every time. Anyway, I won't take too much issue with your feelings, because mainly I'm just happy that you watched those episodes. And I'm glad that I was able to accurately predict that you'd be a big John Swartzwelder fan.

Since I've probably alienated most of my audience, I'll wrap this up. Hitchcock list later today. Rom coms sometime within the next few weeks. Broadway Danny Rose soon. I also want to post on Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Cukor's The Women, and some other films.