Monday, November 30, 2015

AFI Top 100: #41 "King Kong"

The King of the Apes in King Kong (1933)

Nothing like a sci-fi monster movie screening coming out of the Halloween weekend (yes, we watched this a month ago, these reviews are starting to pile up). One of the oldest films in the AFI Top 100 (and likely the most prolific, soon to be upstaged by Star Wars), the original 1933 King Kong scores the #41 spot for its storytelling innovations and visionary creatures, bringing the King of the Apes to the masses for the first time. He has since been the subject of 7 films (including 2 remakes of the 1933 movie), with 2 more spin-offs planned, coming in 2017 and 2020. Needless to say, there is no end to the timeline of Kong—but it's the original that has captured audiences with its timeless execution and creativity.

The story begins as far away from Kong's jungle as humanly possible: in New York City. The Great Depression has hit hard, and young Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) is struggling to find even her next meal. When she's caught stealing from a street vendor in desperation, it's movie director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) who comes to her rescue. Attracted to her beauty—and likely the fear in her eyes—he offers her the starring role in his upcoming picture; and they're shipping off to the shooting location in the morning. With nothing to lose, Ann hops on board the ship heading for Skull Island, an untamed rock shrouded in mystery.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Project 365: Movies 230 - 236

© Paramount Pictures

The only film in the Mission: Impossible series I didn't see in the theaters, my push to review them all meant I couldn't put off watching this one any longer. The "forgotten sequel," as I call it, may not be the most offensively terrible (that honor belongs to M:I2), but it certainly is the least memorable. Directed by animation favorite, Brad Bird, Ghost Protocol loses all of the thematic heft that the previous film established, built up, and left in its wake. New, shiny, and pretty faces aren't enough to revive this snooze-fest—which, granted, is still nice to look at.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is once again blamed for doing something he swears he didn't do. This time, it's blowing up the Kremlin, and the Russians are not too pleased about that. Separated from any IMF support, Hunt must assemble of rag-tag team of new people to find out who the real perpetrators are--and what they have planned next. Globe-trotting undercover switch-a-roos, and constantly breaking technology, mean that Hunt has to improvise to stay alive and race to stop a global, nuclear disaster.

Alright, so this plot makes no sense. There are things made complicated that, quite literally, could be handled immediately and simply while still producing in the same outcome. The broken tech becomes a joke at a certain point. The story is messy unnecessarily, and it's glaring. It's clear that Brad Bird was more interested in filming scenes that had weird, inexplicable tech centerpieces than actually making a cohesive, interesting movie. The film's best sequences take place in Dubai, with Ethan scaling the side of a giant hotel using electronic suction gloves—that inexplicably malfunction in what feels more like an attempt at humor than it does an attempt at tension—all leading to a logistically impressive car chase through a frightening dust storm. But then that's over and there's still an hour left of bomb defusing and espionage that doesn't feel important or dangerous. Oh! Except that cool stacked parking lot fight, that was kind of cool. Other than that? Lame City.

See this one because it's weird seeing only 4 out of 5 of the series, but don't expect too much. It's predecessor and successor are far superior in every single way, from the acting to the writing to, of course, the action. Ethan Hunt? I'll see you in Rogue Nation.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: No

231 / 365: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

This movie was the #44 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

232 / 365: Kill Me Three Times (2014)
© Magnet Releasing

I hated this movie and every character in it. Stupid and pointless. Kill Me Three Times wishes it was as gritty as In Bruges, but suffers from inexplicable uselessness. It's not edgy or interesting, and worst of all, Simon Pegg isn't even funny. And he tries hard to be, which indicates the tragically low caliber of the script, not his skills.

Pegg plays an assassin tasked with offing a woman (Alice Braga) suspected of cheating on her macho-asshole husband (Callan Mulvey). When he shows up to kill her, he witnesses two other people—a dentist desperate for cash (played by the other other Hemsworth brother, Luke) and his conniving wife (Teresa Palmer)—awkwardly attempting to do the same. From there, it all devolves into a mess of motivations that are questionable at best and nonexistent at worst. The violence is over the top for no reason other than for the filmmaker to be able to say it is, but halfway through the movie, you're already bored out of your mind, ready for all these dumb mix-ups and "oops" moments to be over. The movie never redeems itself, and even manages to make the whole thing worse by adding in an illogical 'twist,' if you could even call it that.

Save yourself the trouble. Watch a different Simon Pegg movie instead. Any of them, really.

Rating: ★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

233 / 365: Mean Girls (2004)
© Paramount Pictures

Full disclosure, I named my dog Gretchen Weiners and she owns a pink shirt that says "My Mom Is So Fetch." She might be wearing it right now. Suffice it to say, I adore this movie to the point of not being able to explain how much without being hyperbolic. You might remember, when I gave my second 5-star review on the AFI Top 100 countdown, I described my thinking about assigning a "perfect" score: A movie may not be perfect, but I'd be damned if I could find a way to make it better. That's exactly how I feel about this Tina Fey-written piece of high school brilliance.

Lindsey Lohan is the best she ever was or will be as Cady Heron, a formerly home-schooled daughter of African zoologist parents, dropped into a clique-tastic Chicago high school, North Shore, during her junior year. A classic fish-out-of-water-turned-land-predator story, Cady makes fast friends with art nerd Janice (Lizzy Caplan) and her gay bestie, Damian (Daniel Franzese), who teach her everything she'll ever need to know about navigating the social landscape of the school. They also warn her about avoiding "The Plastics"—the most popular girls in school made up of meanest of mean girls, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), and her cronies, rich snob Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and dumb-as-rocks Karen (Amanda Seyfried). When Cady and her "new-ness" catches Regina's evil eye, Janice convinces Cady to infiltrate the group as a joke to gain intel on how to knock Regina down; that is until the innocent and unknowing Cady begins to transform into a mean girl herself.

The fact that there are still people out there living and breathing in this world that haven't seen Mean Girls is mind-boggling to me, but it's sadly a reality we all must accept. They exist, and my boyfriend was one of them. That has been remedied, obviously, and now it's our duty as citizens of this great nation to share the word of Mean Girls with humanity. Because publicly not understanding "You go, Glen Coco!" should be considered a major social faux pas. The script may well be a masterpiece, but the talent on screen is who delivers the goods. Lohan's potential for greatness was evident every moment she came on screen, and the main and supporting actors alike give scene-stealing performances.

Likely the most influential movie to come out of this century's first decade, and easily one of the most quotable of all time. An all-time favorite of many, including myself. If you have never seen this, what are you waiting for? Are you trying to make some kind of non-conformist statement? Because we get it, you're an independent thinker who has nothing to prove. But at this point, you're only hurting yourself.

Rating: ★★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

234 / 365: My Man Godfrey (1936)
© Universal Studios

A couple of socialite sisters, Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard), go to the city dump in search of a "Forgotten Man" as part of a charity scavenger hunt. When they come across the homeless Godfrey (William Powell), Irene persuades him to help her win. In thanks, she offers him a job as a butler, and hilarity ensues as the down-the-earth Godfrey is forced to endure the unpredictable antics of the entire Bullock family, which include childish hysterics, fake engagements, and constant boozing. To everyone's surprise, however, Godfrey may be the one with the most secrets to hide.

Unexpected reveals make for a more dynamic story than most screwball comedies can offer. The more I see this, the more I find myself identifying with Cornelia—similar enough to Godfrey that they're overly suspicious of each other, and they view their surroundings in similar ways. The knowing glances between them edge on dangerous, both observant in ways the rest of the family isn't, and how they use (or leverage) what they see is what differentiates them.

The joy of this film is in its dizzying verbal acrobatics. Godfrey sparring with the malicious Cornelia or avoiding the affections of the dramatic, flighty Irene, and despite the speedy wrap-up—and Godfrey's entrapment?—at the ending, the whole package is a fantastically good time. Lombard is cited as a comedic genius for a reason. The likes of Katharine Hepburn could never have played a role like Irene and still remain likable. It would turn out tragically like Bringing Up Baby (I know, I'm sorry, I can't not rag on that movie if given the chance). Lombard understood timing like few others of the era, male or female. Powell's straight-man, dry wit is the picture of perfection alongside her manic derangement.

That all being said, the movie has its issues. The plot is convenient and the characters uncomplicated. The level of Bullock "crazy" edges on obnoxious and grating on more than one occasion, but it backs off at just the right moments. Director Gregory La Cava plays with our patience and tests those limits consistently, relying on Powell's calm nature to maintain balance and a shred of dignity. Along with His Girl Friday and The Thin Man, this is up there with my top picks for classic comedies. A must for any fan taking a look at early cinematic laughs that enjoy sharp dialogue over a mallet to the head.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Hulu Plus
Seen Before: Yes

235 / 365: Laura (1944)
© 20th Century Fox

A mystery of deceit, jealousy, and passion, this classic noir was new to me, as I knew very little about it. The story of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), whose shocking murder opens the film. When detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) arrives to investigate, he begins to uncover the truth about a fascinating women whose power over the men in her life raises alarms.

An influential advertising executive at the time of her death, McPherson interviews Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), an older newspaper columnist who recounts his mentorship of Laura and their devoted, yet platonic relationship. She gave him companionship, and he lent her his fame and connections. Learning of her complicated dalliances with other men, including Laura's fiance, playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), Mark must push past his own feelings that are developing for a woman he knows he can never have. He must discover what each man is hiding, and how anyone could have harmed someone as captivating as Laura.

The stakes are high, and the danger is palpable. Through McPherson's interviews of all those in Laura's life, the film flashes back to show us the kind of woman Laura really was. Immediately, you see why everyone was in love with her. Confident and strong, Tierney (and her perfect bone structure) plays this role with uncompromising dignity. It's impossible not to sit a little taller when you're watching her on screen. She has a power that you want to emulate. Dana Andrews is your standard noir detective, but he's less shadowed and haunted than, say... a Sam Spade character. He's a bit less effective, as a result, since he just can't compete with Laura in terms of interest.

With so few characters to keep track of, the story is allowed to be more complex, more intricate. Oh, and so is everything you see on screen. This film is set designed within an inch of its life, and it is BEA-U-TI-FUL. From the glassware to the curtains to the sloping archways to the tufted couches... not a single visual piece is overlooked. You could easily watch Laura with the sound off and still walk away from it feeling inspired. But since you don't have to do that, you'll also be able to enjoy a mystery that is hardly predictable, and offers plenty of twists that mess with your expectations.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

236 / 365: A Night at the Roxbury (1998)
© Paramount Pictures

Two like-minded, loser brothers, Steve (Will Ferrell) and Doug Butabi (Chris Kattan), spend their nights driving from club to club, working on their synchronized dance moves and dreaming about opening up their own dance club. But when they're turned away from the most exclusive club in Los Angeles, The Roxbury, they make it their mission to get in under any circumstances. A car accident and a couple of mistaken identities later, and the boys are on the fast track to nightclub super stardom.

This movie is painful. More specifically, watching Steve and Doug is painful. It's hard to like trainwreck characters like them when they're pushing women over in clubs and smashing stuff during temper tantrums. The plot feels like an afterthought, especially when every side character is a confusing amalgamation of stereotypes (particularly the women). Steven and Doug live in a fantasy world, and it would have been far more effective if every other character in the film didn't. But they're all just as simple-minded and dumb as them. As is usually the case with films based on brilliant SNL sketches, some are hits (Wayne's World, Blues Brothers, Superstar), some are misses (It's Pat, Ladies Man). Count this among the misses.

I must admit, though, that I got excited when I noticed they filmed a bunch of sequences (in front of the Butabi brothers' father's fake flower shop) right next to where I work in West Hollywood. I'd notice that IHOP on Santa Monica Blvd anywhere.

Rating: ★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

Friday, November 27, 2015

AFI Top 100: #42 "Bonnie and Clyde"

Faye Dunaway & Warren Beatty with Denver Pyle in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

It's nearly impossible not mentioning the #42 film on this AFI Top 100 list when talking about American cinemaparticularly the shift to the "new Hollywood" era of the 1970s. Bonnie and Clyde might be an overly simplistic film about complicated-ish people, but it's the unrelenting build-up to a bloody ending for which its best known. The small but effective focus is enough to cement it in the film history books.

The year is 1933. At the height of the Great Depression, young and bored waitress, Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), meets smooth-talking rascal, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), when she spots him attempting to boost her mom's car. More intrigued than angry, she quickly learns that the recently released from prison Barrow is in fact a bank robberor rather, he'd like to think he is. To prove he's not all talk, he robs the nearest store and the rest is history. Running off to together in excited glee, the pair boost cars, robs banks (and really, anywhere else with a cash register), before expanding recruitment of the gang to include trigger-happy mechanic, C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), and Barrow's big brother Buck (Gene Hackman). Buck's wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons), is a reluctant tag-a-long.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Project 365: Movies 223 - 229

223 / 365: Pawn Sacrifice (2015)
© Bleecker Street Media

This film is aggressively anti-Fischer and pro-patriotism. It over-emphasizes Fischer's mental instability to the point of making fun of it. We're left with the feeling that this is all a big joke at Bobby's expense, and the archive footage at the end of the movie didn't help. As if to say, Look at this craaaazy wackadoo!, it caused the opposite reaction. You feel bad for him, something that—if you were at all familiar with Bobby Fischer before—you'd have thought would be impossible.

Recounting the story of chess genius, Bobby Fischer's (Tobey Maguire) introduction to chess as a child, the film shifts its focus quickly to his ambition to become the world's youngest Chess Master at a time when the greatest players in the world were the Soviets. At the height of the Cold War, Bobby's search for greatness is hindered by a growing paranoia—that may or may not have been real. When he accepts a challenge to face off against reigning world champion, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), in a 15-round match in Iceland, the US/Soviet tension is increased, with both governments viewing this as the pinnacle battle of a quiet war. This, naturally, does not help calm Fischer's mental state as he begins to unravel.

On paper, this film has all the pieces. It's intense, interesting, and at its core, a sports movie with a victory that has quick literally made the history books. But in reality, Pawn Sacrifice was none of those things. The obviousness of the visual and auditory delirium that Fischer experiences took the film to a whole new level of trying too hard. Bobby becomes a puppet, yet he's also uncontrollable, despicable, an anti-Semite (he was in fact Jewish himself), and the story doesn't benefit from any of these details. The filmmakers are too preoccupied showing us how nutty not only Bobby is, but chess players are in general. It's also poorly paced and dimly conceived.

There was a line in the film where a reporter asked Bobby, "How did [Spassky] beat you?" to which Bobby replies arrogantly, "If I told you, would you understand?" How Bobby treats that reporter is how the movie treats the audience. We're too dumb to follow along, so it'll sweep past the complicated (i.e. interesting) stuff and go right for the soap opera of Bobby's psychosis. What could and should have been a compelling political, sports thriller became an eye-rolling indictment of the minds of chess players—and those who enable them.

The only saving grace in the film was Peter Saarsgard as Father Bill Lombardy, a Catholic priest and former chess rival who trains with Fischer leading up to his matches. He's the only person in Bobby's life that shows any remorse about enabling his behavior. Because even those who seem to care how off the rails he's gone refuse to do anything about it. There was so much potential in this story to create this delicate balance with being concerned for someone's well-being while also being unwilling to compromise their greatness. But there wasn't a single thing in this film that was delicate. Overall, the acting was wonderful, but being given so little to work with, the characters fall into cliche and no justice is paid to how compelling this story truly was.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

224 / 365: Summer with Monika (1953)
© Svensk Filmindustri

When I watched Wild Strawberries for the first time earlier this year, I was blown away. Swedish master director, Ingmar Bergman, was never on my radar, even when I was getting all philosophical in film school back in the day. But after this work of perfection, I wanted to gain some perspective and jump into a film that he's significantly less well known for. This frolicking romance turned sordid drama ticked a lot of boxes for me, specifically in the melodrama department. Sadly, the execution, script, and acting didn't hold quite the same magic.

A klutzy day-dreamer, Harry (Lars Ekborg), falls in love with a flirtatious grocer, Monika (Harriet Andersson), despite having nothing in common with her. It's clear from the beginning that she's frivolous, eager to rise above her meager means. Obsessed with material things and moved by the concept of living in a movie, she leaves home to escape her family and convinces Harry to 'borrow' his father's boat—for three months. All summer long, they bask in the sunshine and each others' company, desperate to pretend they could stay hidden forever. The harsh realities of not having food, clothing, or modern amenities takes awhile to set in, but when it does, it hits them hard. Particularly Monika, whose infatuation with Harry begins to wane with the dimming summer light.

The sequences of their summer together is very telling of the immaturity and awkwardness of young love, but is also feels rather useless. That's the point, I suppose, as the hours, days, weeks are wiled away without purpose, that can certainly be intoxicating when you're in it. It can also make a person combative and angry if there's a risk of losing it, which is what happens as Monika is pulled from her fantasy life and forced to deal with the world the left behind. Where the film struggles is in successfully establishing any chemistry between Ekborg and Andersson, which causes their characters to be just as useless as the situation they're in.

There's also some overt sexual harassment that the movie might take a bit too lightly, more or less playing for laughs. Not to mention the slut-shaming, but that's unfortunately fit for the times. As the shadow of reality falls back over our characters the film more or less abandons its tone. No where near as compelling or innovative as Wild Strawberries, but then again, it doesn't have to be. It's more or less a good time, with multi-dimensional characters that have plenty to say about the frivolity of youth.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Hulu Plus
Seen Before: No

225 / 365: The Intern (2015)
© Warner Bros.

New movie release, reviewed previously on Through the Reels. Read the full review here.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

226 / 365: Shane (1953)
© Paramount Pictures

This movie was the #45 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: Yes

227 / 365: The Martian (2015)
© 20th Century Fox

New movie release, reviewed previously on Through the Reels. Read the full review here.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

228 / 365: Mission: Impossible II (2000)
© Paramount Pictures

I think this movie was written by Mac from "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia." Different from the other films in the series in more ways than you can count, Mission: Impossible II doesn't even try to have substance. Directed by dove-flying-out-of-flames fanatic, John Woo, the first sequel in the M:I series is easily the worst one; but it's also has the most explosions, so that makes up for what could potentially have been a real snoozer.

Secret agent, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), is pulled away from his vacation climbing rocks for an important mission: discover the location of a chemical virus called 'Chimera' before a group of terrorists intercept it first. Led by former Impossible Mission Force agent, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott being super Scottish), the team of baddies now possess the antidote serum 'Bellerophon'—and only need samples of the disease to execute their terror plot: infect the population, sell the cure, make billions. With the help of jewel thief and Ambrose's ex-lover, Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton), Hunt must rely on her expertise to learn of the virus' location before it's too late. But of course, there's always time for Ethan to fall in love and bump uglies with his sexy co-star.

The action really does keep this movie from being an epic flop. The music is exciting, the energy is turned up to 10, and even Tom Cruise's hair has personality—but the plot is contrived, and Scott as the villain is more silly than frightening. Certain plot devices are so over-used (i.e. the masked disguise) that they completely lose their relevance and our interest. Newton is distractingly beautiful, but she's also as emotive as paper plate, and it's a true wonder why Ambrose and Hunt appear so obsessed with her.

Ving Rhames' character, Luther, is the only other character besides Ethan Hunt to be in every MI film. He is also, possibly, the least interesting or memorable character ever written. It is evident in every one of the movies, because he has no defining qualities other than always being at Hunt's beckon call. I forget he exists at the start of every movie, and by the end, I've already forgotten that I just saw him. Why these filmmakers try so hard to shoe-horn him into storylines is beyond me. Eventually, he'll get his own, and we'll learn that he has a wife and kids and is actually a person worth knowing, but until then, I'm over him.

I genuinely believe this is the worst that M:I movies will get. And if this is the worst, then at least we know we can still be entertained by the bare minimum that qualifies as entertainment. And Woo gifted us doves flying out of fire that Tom Cruise is riding a motorcycle through while Limp Bizkit is playing. That's movie majesty if there ever was any.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: Yes

229 / 365: Mission: Impossible III (2006)
© Paramount Pictures

By god, Philip Seymour Hoffman was incredible. He elevated every role he ever played to a whole new level. He is a comparable villain that, for more than a moment, you believe will get the better of Ethan. And he does, big time. In this third venture into the Mission: Impossible franchise, the script is better, the story is emotionally taut and the action is [almost] as good as it could possibly get. This is the film where we realized that Ethan Hunt may well be more interesting, and a better spy, than James Bond.

IMF spy, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), is now retired from active duty and engaged to be married to a beautiful and intelligent doctor, Julia (Michelle Monaghan). During his engagement party, his IMF, John Musgrave (Billy Crudup), reaches out to ask for his help—Hunt's former star trainee, Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), has been taken captive, and a rescue mission is imperative to bringing her back safely. Little does Hunt know that at the center of this hostage scenario is the calculating and conscience-less, Owen Davian (Hoffman), an international weapons dealer with information so dangerous, it might take more than just Hunt to stop him. Gathering together a brilliant team, Hunt goes back into the field to discover what Davian knows, leaving his new fiancee exposed to a dangerous and ruthless man who will stop at nothing to keep his secrets safe.

J.J. Abrams, as a director, is first and foremost a fan of the movies. Especially the movie franchises he chooses to be a part of. You can tell in the way that he wants to share things with the audience. A staple within the Mission: Impossible films, the face masks that change the agents' identity. Gleamed in the first, overused in the second, it's in this third film that J.J. wants to show us how that's actually done. It's a wonderful addition, even the voice masking piece. As a fan, he had questions, so as a director, he's going to answer them. That's what makes him such an impressive director, and why I can't wait for his take on Star Wars.

But I digress. This is what action movies are all about. There is no romantic nonsense, but a passionate character with an already well-established love for another. And Abrams incorporates some of the best action sequences of the series. We all know Tom Cruise loves to run in movies, and by god, does he run in this! Bullets fly, heists are executed with delectable beauty, and the script is actually good. Monaghan is the perfect counterpart for Hunt, one that is equal and capable; likewise, Davian is Hunt's antithesis. Watching all of these pieces come together is exhilarating—the best of the series.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

Monday, November 23, 2015

Music Mondays: Aurora "Half the World Away"

Another beautiful song from Nordic sprite, Aurora. Back in August, I shared her song "Running With the Wolves" for Music Monday, and I'm still completely obsessed with it. While I'm still eagerly anticipating her first full-length album, I certainly won't scoff at the occasional new single. This one is titled "Half a World Away," which I've been listening to non-stop for the past few days, wanting to float away into a calm, quiet place—probably because the holidays are fast approaching and they're usually anything but calm!

If you're also desperate for a feeling of peace and happiness, give this song a listen. Happy Monday! xx

Artist: Aurora
Song: "Half the World Away" | download
Album: N/A

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

AFI Top 100: #43 "Midnight Cowboy"

Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy (1969)

I've gotten behind in my AFI Top 100 reviews as of late, even though our weekly movie nights haven't slowed down one bit. As we're pushing closer and closer to the Top 10, it's hard not to be more critical of the films that grace this last half of the list. It's also impossible not to notice the affinity the American Film Institute has for movies with lines more famous than the film. One memorable line does not a good movie make. Midnight Cowboy comes in at #43, having brought the world likely the most famous improvised line of all time, "Hey! I'm walking here!", and has the distinction of being the firstand onlyX-rated film to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture (despite that X rating being short-lived; it was eventually changed to R). A gritty, arguably disgusting movie about the dangers of being naive in the big city, with an unbelievable performance from Dustin Hoffman that didn't make me like it any better.

Good-looking Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is desperate to escape his life as a dishwasher in rural Texas. Gilded in glossy boots and a new cowboy hat, he swaggers out of town with his head held high and a handheld radio, catching the first bus to New York City confident he'll get get rich quick as a male prostitute. It takes less than a day for Joe to realize finding wealth may be harder than he'd imagined, especially once he meets the weaselly, fast-talking "Ratso" Rizzo (Hoffman), a conman who talks him out of his money before taking him under his wing. The two unlikely co-patriots band together to survive the unrelenting New York winter as squatters in an abandoned buildingJoe offers Ratso security and company, while Ratso instills in Joe his know-how on navigating the streets and [attempting] to be his pimp.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Music Mondays: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats "S.O.B."

Last month, I was listening to L.A. radio station Alt 98.7—the Woody Show, naturally. Between talk radio bits, this song came on. Normally, music is an unwelcome distraction from the show during my morning commute, but not this time. This was Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats singing "S.O.B." and I was completely floored. One of the most exciting songs to play on the radio in years, the energy of the track is electric, thumping, and my heart pulses to the beat.

Rateliff's music makes my eyes light up, and I have yet to witness anyone listening to this song who doesn't react with the same excitement. It's funky, soulful rockabilly wrapped up in a bit of a homegrown hipster package. Something right out of O Brother Where Art Thou? with a kiss of Cry-Baby wackiness. Big band, Memphis sound, I've fallen hard for "S.O.B.", and I can't wait to explore the rest of their music. If it's half as good as this song, I may have a new favorite album on the horizon.

Give it a listen, and brighten your Monday morning!

Artist: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Song: "S.O.B." | download
Album: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Saturday, November 7, 2015

AFI Top 100: #44 "The Philadelphia Story"

Katharine Hepburn & James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story (1940)

During the mad rush that has been our move, these wee-little reviews have unfortunately taken a backseat. Time to get back in the saddle, since our viewings haven't taken a break! The last time Katharine Hepburn came together with Cary Grant in the AFI Top 100 list, I wrote my most scathing review to date for a movie that I will forever and always passionately hate. It's amazing what can happen in two years, isn't it? Our actors have matured, shedding their caricature-like personas in an attempt to play delightfully real-ish people. It's #44 on our countdown, The Philadelphia Story, that reminds me just how wonderful Miss Hepburn truly was. The powerful energy of Jimmy Stewart, hot off the success of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, certainly doesn't hurt.

Society girl Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is set to remarry after the highly publicized failure of her first marriage to C. K. Dexter Haven (Grant), whose romance was short-lived, volatile, and passionate. Tracy's new fiancee is George Kittridge (John Howard), a rather boring would-be politician with little to define his personality besides his love for Tracy. On the eve of the wedding at the Lord mansion, tabloid reporter Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) and his liaison, Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) show up under the guise of being friends with Tracy's brother, to get the scoop on the marriage of the centuryand discover what really happened between Tracy and Dexter.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

MY TOP FIVE: Sick Day Movies

My sadly too ignored series of TOP FIVE pick-lists has been ignored far too long now. The past few weeks have been some of the most draining and busy of my life (you've probably noticed the lack of posts and reviews lately), with job commitments increasing and a fervent move out of our NoHo apartment into another NoHo apartment... all while fighting what felt like an impending plague. Finally taking a day to recuperate, I'm longing for the days when I could croak to my parents that "I'm too sick to go to school today...*cough*cough*" -- and lo' and behold, they'd call into the school and do the hard part for me.

Those were the days when you could score a Sick Day, even if you were in fact only feeling mildly unwell, and not feel a twinge of guilt about it. Curled up on a plush couch, surrounded by a taco of pillows and blankets (with my favorite snack of chips and salsa only an arm's reach away), I'd relax in front of the TV and cycle through my very favorite sick day movies.

We all have some, and they're special to you and you alone, because they were the movies that you got to choose without input from anyone. You were the sick one, dammit, you got to pick. For me, the following movies were (or are now) my go-to Sick Day Movies every single time...

5. The Fifth Element (1997)

This movie is silly and riotously fun. Bruce Willis as Corbin Dallas brings the humor and the action, and Mila Jovovich brings the weird. Wait. No, Gary Oldman brings the weird. Science fiction in general is a great genre to watch when you're feeling sick, and it's only made better when the plot and style is so totally out there like this one. It's blindly good entertainment, and I seriously can't get enough of it.

And if it were socially acceptable, I would name my daughter Leeloo Dallas Multipass.

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