The Rover

RoverYou must really love that car, darling.

Well, if he doesn’t, then he must be very bored.  That said, there doesn’t seem to be much to do in Australia ten years after “the collapse”.  Everyone in The Rover (2014) from writer-director David Michôd, just seems to survive (until they don’t).  There’s money–America’s monetary supremacy survives the collapse, fear not–but nothing to spend it on out there in the boonies where the film takes place.  So, when a man (Guy Pearce) gets his car stolen by some bank robbers, he goes after them.  He wants his car back.  Then, when he loses track of these robbers, fate brings Rey (Robert Pattinson), brother of one of the thieves, into our hero’s hands.  I say hero.  When he shoots the fellow selling him a gun, even the term “protagonist” loses its aptitude.  Lesson #1: Don’t sell someone a gun with ammunition inside it.

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The Immigrant

The ImmigrantI am not nothing.

The story of America is an epic one. There is very little respite to the expansion of its borders and the dangerous struggle of its people against nature, its enemies, and each other. Movies take little slices out of that narrative and usually glorify it. The Immigrant (2014) takes a tiny sliver and tells the story of a young woman, just arrived from Poland, who is pulled into a harsh world of immoral earnings to protect her and her sister.  Glory is not the goal to this film.  It tells a hard story honestly, in a traditional, old-cinema style (or veneer).

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Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue DressNow, usually when someone tells me ‘There’s nothin’ to worry about’, I look down to see if my fly is open.

As much as I prefer New York to Los Angeles, southern California somehow lends itself to film noir better than any other place.  The best examples like Chinatown (1974) and L.A. Confidential (1997), Double Indemnity (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946), are all set in L.A. in the 40s or 50s.  And these are all quintessential films noir.  Crime films with a less-than-angelic protagonist, led into disaster by a beautiful woman (preferably blonde), and enough wise cracks to piss off the antagonists and utterly seduce us.  Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), based on the novel by Walter Mosely, follows the formula quite closely with its unique feature being that Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington), our hero, is black.  Set in postwar L.A., it looks and feels exactly the same–in a good way–as all those other films, but with its chosen milieu, the danger Easy faces seems all the more sinister and real because we know that arbitrary violence wasn’t just an element of crime fiction.

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25th Hour

25th HourBefore you leave, you should know.

There are always a few people who are well-regarded by critics or a group of fans and you can’t understand why.  Woody Allen will always be a mystery to certain audiences.  There are people like Tarantino or Zack Snyder where you know exactly why they’re well-regarded and you can’t understand the fans, but that’s another story.  Spike Lee is hard to get into if you aren’t on his wavelength.  There’s a lot of style there, but there’s a perspective he’s associated with that can push you away.  If you’ve never been able to get into Lee’s movies–other than Inside Man (2006)–see 25th Hour (2002) and think again.  If Lee is bombastic and aggressive, 25th Hour is quiet and thoughtful.  It’s a New York movie like no other.

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Salvador PosterHey take some pictures, fresh bodies up there.

Oliver Stone has become a byword for highly charged politics, particularly left-wing, with a flexible relationship with accuracy.  Many–dare I say “most”–find this lack of candor to be a fatal flaw.  “Why,” say the critics, “bother making films about real people and real situations when you aren’t going to represent them honestly?”  Surely Stone believes that he is telling the truth, or (at least) “a truth”, but perhaps rigid adherence to the almanac is not important.  Salvador (1986), written with and about journalist Rick Boyle and his experiences in El Salvador, is perhaps the best example of a film that is more important as a sketch than it is a recreation of historical events.  It’s a potent cautionary tale when seen in the light of current events where American military support is provided to new groups and some of the same old, nasty faces.  Apart from anything else, it is probably Stone’s best political film.

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The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities PosterOh my God, natives!

The more movies I watch, the more often I seem to find myself on the other side of critical opinion.  Perhaps that’s inevitable for all movie watchers.  As the sample size grows, the amount of overrated films will reach an equilibrium with the amount of underrated films.  Whether one’s individuality increases with one’s disagreement with consensus or not is as hard to justify as it is to assess.  Time flatters plot and writing, so I suspect The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) will only rise in the estimation of audiences.  The critics, however, have spoken and they didn’t say very nice things.  “What a mess” says the Philadelphia Inquirer.  That was not my experience.  The Bonfire of the Vanities struck me as a sound satire about New York in the 1980s, taking aim at all institutions and calling them vultures.  Little has changed.

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The Shadow

The Shadow PosterHow will you know where I am?

Like no other film I can readily recall, The Shadow (1994) was as equally entertaining to me as a child on a childish level as it is for me as an adult on an adult level.  This is not unfamiliar.  Many child-oriented films, dole out small euphemistic zingers like scraps to very bored parents.  However, The Shadow is two completely different films to the child and the adult.  The tone you observe as a child is one of adventure and thrills, while the adult sees satire and allusions.

Take an example.  In the first scene, the Shadow (Alec Baldwin) pulls out his two pistols and takes aim at a defenseless man (Sab Shimono) with concrete shoes.  The child knows that the Shadow is going to shoot away the concrete, but the adult, more learned in the language of cinema, sees the upward angle and sadistic look in the Shadow’s eyes and thinks “This guy is going to kill him.”  Then there is the copious amounts of overt sexual dialogue which was completely lost on me as a child.  The obscenely leering Tim Curry and cheeky repartee with Penelope Ann Miller.  It makes me wonder how I rationalized that dialogue at the time.  I must have looked right past it and took in what, to my present mind, is rather light adventure.

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