Friday, September 19, 2014

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Pt. 2 and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D),  DVDS "Palo Alto," "Bad Words," and "Words and Pictures." The Book of the Week is a Pulitzer Prize winner for literature, "The Goldfinch."]

But First

Last Friday I talked about the actors and actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood who I feared were or would be forgotten.  That blog post was spurred by this book, "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," because many of the movies listed date back to the 30's, 40's, 50's and earlier.

(and for you quiz aficionados, that post was a quiz too!).

If you go back and look at this post, you will see how the authors came up with this list, so I won't go into that now.

Being the movie nerd that I am at heart, I had to see how many of the 1001 films I have seen.  Yes, I really did go through the whole book and took a tally. 

I have seen 685 of the films listed, which means I have 316 to go.

What I discovered was that in addition to American classic films, many of the films highlighted in this book were foreign films, American films that pre-date the Golden Age of Hollywood, and experimental, avant-garde films.  Those were the three categories where I was weakest.
Now don't get me wrong, I have seen my share of foreign films. 

In fact, we used to live across the street from a Blockbuster, and I took it upon myself to see every foreign film (VHS - it was a while ago) they had from A to Z - from "Amsterdamned (a surprisingly good Dutch film with an unfortunate title)" to "Z."

("Amsterdamned" did not make it into the 1001 Movies You Must See...
"Z" did.)

So that made me wonder, is it because those films are not available that I haven't seen them?  Are those films I have not seen even available on DVD?  Some dated back to the 20's and some were very obscure, even to this movie aficionado.
Ms. Movie Nerd then went on to Netflix, Amazon and my local library's website to see how many of that 316 were actually available on DVD. 

Yes, Ms. Movie Nerd looked up every one of those 316 movies she hadn't seen. Ms. Movie Nerd wants to be able to say she has seen ALL of those 1001.  That's a true Movie Nerd.

And what did I discover?
Unbelievably, Netflix had practically all of the foreign films, even ones as old as 1932's "Boudou Saved from Drowning" directed by Jean Renoir and "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" ("Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed"), Lotte Reiniger's 1926 film often cited as the first full-length animated film. 

But there didn't seem to be a rhyme or reason for what they had or didn't have.

Netflix had those, but not Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy," Ray being one of the ultimate classic foreign filmmakers, or Bernardo Bertolucci's "Prima della Rigolluzione ("Before the Revolution)." Yet Amazon had both, for a price, of course.  If I want to see Jacques Rivette's  "La Belle Noiseuse ("The Beautiful Troublemaker")," I will have to buy it from Amazon for $140.00 (NEWSFLASH - my local library has it! Once again, the power of libraries!). Francois Truffaut credits Rivette with starting "The New Wave" of filmmaking.

Likewise, with many of the early American films I had never seen such as Alfred Hitchcock's "Blackmail (1929)" and one of the few films directed by Ida Lupino, "The Bigamist (1953)," Netflix surprisingly had those, but not John Huston's "Battle of San Pietro" or Boris Karloff in "The Black Cat."

(Though to give Netflix credit, the Apu films were listed as SAVE as were several others which could mean they had them once and may purchase them again).

What was mostly not found anywhere were the underground, avant-garde films such as Canadian underground filmmaker Guy Maddin's  "Archangel", "Blonde Cobra" or Andy Warhol's "Vinyl."  Not sure why.  Perhaps the audience for those films is considered too small to warrant release on DVD or release rights could be an issue or maybe they have been lost to the ages.

So there you have it.
I have queued up the films I haven't seen in my Netflix queue, placed holds at my local library, and if I must, I will probably buy those I can't find anywhere else from Amazon (though I will not be paying $140 - I don't care how good the film is),

because I am going to see all of those "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," dammit, - - -before I die! 

Guess how I will be spending my retirement?
 (I will keep you posted on how I am doing.  Stay tuned.)

(Update:  I only have 35 to go)!

Now on to The Week in Reviews

***In Theatres Now***

After his mother dies, a young boy is abducted from earth by space pirate aliens and grows up to be a charming, but dishonest superhero in this new Marvel film.

After his mother has just died, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is abducted by The Ravagers in 1988 and raised by one of them, a blue bandit named Yondu.  Twenty-six years later, our grown-up Peter, who likes to be called Star Lord, is a scavenger and is looking for an orb to take back to Yondu.  Unfortunately, every other bad guy in the galaxy is after it too, especially Ronan (Lee Pace), a really bad guy, who has revenge on his mind. 

Peter meets cute with a talking raccoon named Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper), Rocket's muscle, a humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who starts out working for Ronan, and Drax (WWE star Dave Bautista), who is seeking revenge on Ronan. Turns out the orb contains an infinity stone that can destroy whole planets so our disparate group of loners must work together to find the orb before the bad guys do.

There is all kinds of action as everyone searches for the orb, but it's the humor and the music that raises this sci fi action picture out of the ordinary.  Before she died, Peter's mother made up a mix tape for him of her favorite 70's music and that is his prized possession - "Hooked on a Feeling," "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," "Come and Get Your Love" get the idea.  There are references to Kevin Bacon and "Footloose" as the music works its magic on the aliens that Peter encounters.  The witty banter is hilarious. Writer/director James Gunn deserves props for this script (along with Nicole Perlman) and his direction.

Chris Pratt is all buffed up and Zoe Saldana is everywhere these days and has perfected the badass girl role.  Glenn Close and John C. Reilly appear as "good guys" from the Planet Xandar, the planet Ronan wants to destroy and our heroes try to save.  Benicio Del Toro, wearing a great blonde pompadour, has a brief moment as The Collector, who tries to buy the orb.

When Peter's mother died, she made reference to his father.  Who is Peter's father? Of course, we need a sequel to see how this is all going to play out.  And there will be one.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you loved Indiana Jones and "Star Wars," you will love this.  Can't wait for the next one!

You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)

Palo Alto (2013)
Disaffected teens with not much to do while they try to figure themselves out. 

We follow three teens and their friends as they aimlessly make their way through the treacherous waters of an upper middle class teen life. Fred (Nat Wolff, most recently seen in "The Fault in Our Stars") and Teddy (Jack Kilmer, Val's son, in his screen debut) are like Beavis and Butthead in the way they talk and the decisions they make, but Fred has a dangerous edge and treats girls badly, while Teddy has a more serious, tender side.  Emma Roberts (Julia's niece and Eric's daughter) plays April, a good girl who wants to fit in with the not so good kids. James Franco, who also wrote the short stories on which this film is based, plays a pervy soccer coach who April has a crush on and who has his eyes on April.

Fred is a goofball and not a very nice kid.  Teddy could go either way and when he gets in a car accident while driving home drunk from a party, the judge gives him one last chance to make good with community service in a library.  Things are not looking good when he draws a penis in a children's book and gets caught.

There is lots of partying in homes where the parents are gone.  As a personal aside, it has come to light there was massive teenage partying in our home when we were gone, and I shudder to think those parties were anything like those depicted here.  Just proves that we never really know what our kids are up to.

Speaking of the parents and the adults, they aren't much better than the teens - a teacher hitting on a student, Fred's Dad hitting on Teddy, April's step-dad very strange.  The adults in this are pretty much useless.

Gia Coppola wrote the script, based on some short stories by Franco (is there nothing this guy doesn't do?).  She makes her directorial debut, joining her grandfather Francis Ford Coppola and aunt Sofia in the Coppola directing dynasty.  She has created a sort of cinema verite feel as she weaves in and out of the stories of Fred, Teddy, and other teens as they wander aimlessly around Palo Alto (it was actually filmed in Southern California), an upscale town filled with upper middle class people and kids with not much to do.  No big names here except for cameos by Val Kilmer as April's strange step-dad and Talia Shire as a counselor, (though Roberts is beginning to emerge as a star), so Franco had to help Coppola get this made, despite her directing royalty roots.

The film was low budget and much was filmed in the Southern California homes of Val Kilmer and Coppola herself but no matter.  Palo Alto, a decidedly upscale, wealthy town, stands as a metaphor for the upper middle class malaise that affects so many teens in towns like that.

The film ends as it began with Teddy and Fred in a car deciding which way they are going to go, right that minute and later in life.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a sensitive portrayal of teens navigating that treacherous road to adulthood.  Coppola is a young director to watch. Worth seeing.

Bad Words (2013)

Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) sets out to win a national children's spelling bee, much to everyone's anger and dismay.  But he has his reasons. 

Guy Trilby has found a loophole in the spelling bee rules that allows him to compete against the kids.  His motivation for doing so is unclear until the end of the film but until then, he gate crashes spelling bee after spelling bee in order to reach the ultimate prize - the Golden Quill Spelling Bee. He is accompanied by a journalist who is documenting his story, played by the always good Kathryn Hahn and befriends, if you can call it that, a young Indian-American boy, Chaitanya Chopra, played by Rohan Chand, who is also a spelling bee contestant and almost steals the show from Bateman.

Trilby is not a sympathetic guy.  He has no problem swearing at little kids or insulting women's hoo-hahs.  He has a photographic memory and gate crashes spelling bees with the ultimate goal to win the spelling bee title come hell or high water, excuse my bad word.

Bateman directs this film that wants to be dark comedy, but morphs into sentimentality expecially once Trilby befriends the young Chopra, who despite Trilby's constant racial slurs and bad behavior won't leave his side.  In fact they go on adventures together where they drink and Trilby hires a prostitute so Chopra can see a woman's breasts.

Bateman has come a long way from his years as a child and teen actor in "Silver Spoons" and "The Hogan Family" which were followed by some lean years as he found his adult legs in "Arrested Development."  Since then he has gone on to prove himself a wonderful comedic actor, with great comedic timing, which he displays here.  This is his directorial debut.

Rosy the Reviewer says...though uneven, there are some laughs to be had here, and though I am not a big fan of child actors, Rohan Chand is a delight.

The Honors Art instructor (Juliette Binoche) and the English teacher (Clive Owen) at an elite high school fight over which are more powerful:  words or pictures.  A competition ensues. 

"A picture is worth a thousand words," right?  Art teacher Dina Delsanto (Binoche) thinks so, but English teacher, Jack Marcus (Owen), believes it's the spoken and written word that have the most power.  They bicker endlessly until a full-blown school competition is unleashed to see who is right.

Jack is a failed poet with writer's block who has become bitter and fallen into alcoholism.  He is in danger of losing his job.  Dina has rheumatoid arthritis, which affects her ability to do her art and has also fallen into a lonely life.  He likes to play word games; she is a woman of few words.  What's likely to happen?  You are correct, sir (or ms.)!

What could have been an intelligent, adult love story turns out to be tedious.   These are not very nice people, so after awhile, you just don't care if they get together or not.  Owen and Binoche are wonderful actors, but a rom-com just doesn't seem to suit them.  And speaking of rom-coms.  This film doesn't really know if it's a rom-com or not.  If the soundtrack is any indication, at the beginning you get the feeling it's going to be a screwball comedy.  But then it morphs into something dark - then that silly music plays again and it morphs back. The witty banter between the two of them aside, the script lets them down.  And it's most apparent in the dialogue among the students.  Kids just don't talk like that. And that competition between words and pictures really comes to nothing, a missed opportunity to do something meaningful.

I wanted to love this film, because I am a huge fan of Binoche and Owen and adult love stories are my thing, but I found myself unmoved.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are an Owen and Binoche fan, go for it, but this missed the opportunity to do something brilliant - neither the words nor pictures add up to much.

***Book of the Week***

The Goldfinch (2013)

This is a 700+ page Pulitzer Prize winning novel about 13-year-old Theo Decker, whose mother is killed when a terrorist bomb goes off in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  He saves a 1654 masterpiece and so starts him on a 14 year odyssey from New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam.

Tartt won the Pulitzer for this and was compared to Dickens, but it was a controversial win outlined in this article in Vanity Fair "It's Tartt...but is it Art?"  Though her book was praised by Michiko Kakutani, the chief New York Times book reviewer for 31 years and Stephen King, who also reviewed it, she was skewered by The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and the Paris Review for "dumbing down" literature. 

I can't disagree more. 

Those critics excoriated her for using language one critic found an "infantilization of our literary culture" and likened her more to J.K. Rowling than Dickens, and criticized her for using cliches such as calling the bomb site a "madhouse." However, she also writes that morning in the Village (NYC), "...felt adult, sophisticated, slightly alcoholic" and when talking about a character's dream wrote that it had "...slipped from my grasp and fallen into a crevasse where I would not see it again."  Gorgeous.  Tartt creates vivid images and characters that you can't wait to get back to.

It's no secret that my genre of choice is non-fiction, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a good novel.  And this is not just a good novel, it's a brilliant novel.

I get really sick of critics who think they are the last bastions of good taste. The aforementioned article goes on to remind us that The New York Times said of "Lolita," it "isn't worth any adult reader's attention" and that "The Catcher in the Rye" was "monotonous."  The Saturday Review said "The Great Gatsby" was "an absurd story."  In my view, critics have a habit of putting down things that are popular, as if their very popularity makes them crap.  That's not true. I think that Stephen King, for example, is highly UNDER-rated and a victim of his own popularity.  I'd like to see those critics write a Stephen King novel.

So here's my mantra.  To hell with the critics (except for me, of course).

Think for yourself. 


Rosy the Reviewer engrossing plot, interesting characters and gorgeous prose.  Best book I've read in a long time, fiction or non-fiction. 

That's it for this Week.

See you Tuesday



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