Thursday, September 13, 2007

Netflix Quick Picks - Round III

Once again I tell you what's worth adding to your Netflix queue and save you from wasting your time on bad movie choices. So here it goes:

1. American Psycho - It was a trip watching this right after seeing Bale's emaciated body in The Machinist. Wow--what a difference! Here Christian is buff as all get out. Yum! Although there are a number of scenes that caused me to wince and look away. This satirical look at success and status definitely has it moments. Like the oneupmanship with the business cards and the deadpan serious analysis of Huey Lewis and the News. But it's really bloody, so not for the weak of stomach...

2. Midnight Cowboy - This was rated X when it was released in 1969 and was the only X-rated motion picture to win an Oscar. Upon its reissue in 1980 it was rated R. It's sad and dark and Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman (especially Hoffman) give great performances. It's a classic and a definite must-see.

3. Eddie Izzard: Unrepeatable - This should have been titled "Eddie Izzard: Unintelligible." OK, perhaps it was the British accent...or the 2-3 glasses of wine I imbibed prior to watching. Maybe a bit of both--but I found this hard to understand and follow. Fitfully funny and mildly amusing--not as good as his Dressed to Kill. For my money, I'd rather be watching one of Denis Leary's concert performances...

4. The Hustler - Another classic. The opening pool sequence goes on for 20-30 minutes. The final sequence takes only 5 or so. All the Steve McQueen lovers can have him--I'll take Paul Newman as the king of cool any day! Definitely add to the queue.

5. Mystic River - Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Stark and bleak. It's definitely an intense piece of work. Worth a viewing.

6. Splendor in the Grass - Where do I start with this? First, it's about teenage sexual repression and it's set in the late 20s in Kansas. But it felt more like the fifties. Why couldn't it have been set during the fifties? They were sexually repressed then, weren't they? Oh, wait--there's a plot point where one of the characters commits suicide by jumping out a window after he loses his fortune in the stock market crash. That's the only reason I can see for setting it in the 20s.

But it still looked and felt like the fifties. Very odd. Grapes of Wrath looks like the 20s. So did It's a Wonderful Life. Whatever. Next problem--the story. Like I said it's about teenage sexual repression. We'll ignore the fact that the "teenagers" in question were played by actors in their mid 20s. It's disconcerting to see a high school senior with a 5 o'clock shadow, but we'll deal. So you have nice girl Deanie Loomis (luminous Natalie Wood) and rich boy Bud Stamper (equally gorgeous Warren Beatty) as the two young lovers. Only Deanie's told by her proper mother that men don't marry girls who "go all the way" and Bud is similarly counseled by his overbearing father not to knock up Deanie--or he'll ruin his future by being forced to marry her.

And so the two paw each other and pant heavily and ultimately push each other away as they deny their desires. This leads to the biggest case of blue balls in history--for both parties. Bud's unfulfilled lust causes him to grow hot and sweaty during basketball practice (don't people normally get hot and sweaty while doing athletics?) culminating in his passing out during the big basketball game! He spends weeks recovering--UV lamp treatments, vitamins and plenty of rest. He awkwardly asks his physician for advice. His father has told him he should release his tension by screwing around with a "bad girl"--one he presumably will not have to marry if he accidentally gets her pregnant.

The doctor is completely useless. Seriously, why has no-one mentioned to the befuddled Bud that he could just take matters into his own HANDS? Oh, wait--masturbation makes you go blind. Although it's hard (no pun intended) to believe that the constantly overstimulated young stud wouldn't have figured that one out on his own.

Meanwhile Deanie is suffering from her own passionate feelings. Confused by her longings when she has been informed by her mother that women aren't supposed to want or like sex, she grows increasingly frantic. When Bud dumps her because he's also confused about the whole madonna/whore complex, she loses it completely. Yes, that's right--a complete meltdown. Ranting, raving, cuckoo crazy crack-up. Forcing her parents to pack her off to a mental institution for two and a half years.

Overwrought, melodramatic, histrionic, anachronistic. This is one of the WORST movies I have ever sat through. But fortunately for you, I watched it so you don't have to...

7. The Grey Zone - Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson about Special Squads of Jewish prisoners placed by the Nazis in the excruciating moral dilemma of helping to exterminate fellow Jews in exchange for a few more months of life. This is an important subject and there are excruciating scenes of horror and brutality. Unfortunately, the dialogue is horribly pedantic and the actors deliver their lines as if it were a first time table reading. Actually, the delivery wasn't even THAT emotive. It's too bad--the story would have and should have made a great movie. Skip it and rent Schindler's List instead.

8. Brokeback Mountain - I watched this with my friend Ari. It was beautifully directed and the shot composition and cinematography was exquisite. I couldn't figure out for most of the movie whether I was watching a LUST story or a LOVE story. Obviously, there is going to be more emotional investment in the latter. Consequently, since I wasn't emotionally invested (and I'm someone who cries at Hallmark commercials...), the film didn't have quite as much resonance with me. Great performances all around--although Heath Ledger's mush-mouthed line delivery made it impossible to watch the movie without the subtitles. Michelle Williams was superb in her role as the wife painfully aware of her husband's hidden life.

9. From Here to Eternity - Another classic. It takes almost two hours of set-up to get to the Pearl Harbor attack scene--which is only about the last ten minutes of the movie. The story moves along--amazing since it was based on a 900 page book! (Must add book to reading list...) Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra giving excellent performances. I really enjoyed this flick.

10. Dead Again - I rented this because it was written by Scott Frank. When I read the plot synopsis, it occurred to me that I had seen it before. But when I watched the movie, I didn't remember ANY of it--until the end. Maybe I just caught the end of it on cable or something...Anyway it's good, but not great. For GREAT Scott Frank, I highly recommend The Lookout, which he not only wrote but directed as well.

11. Lenny - Dustin Hoffman scores again. You've got to hand it to Bob Fosse--he has a talent for exposing the ugly underbelly. The Kristallnacht scene in Cabaret is pure directing and editing genius and with Lenny, he juxtaposes Bruce's comedic "bits" against real life events. Very thought-provoking. Lenny Bruce's comedy and commentary is just as compelling and timely today as it was 40 years ago.

And so ends round three. Next up: Papillon, etc. Anyone have some recommendations of their own to offer?

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