Friday, July 16, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Hell in the Pacific

I haven't seen much in the past week that really jumped out at me, so my recommendation isn't based so much on how much I loved or even liked the film, but on how the film gets more interesting the more I think about it.

About two weeks ago, I was digging through a box of VHS at the Hollywood Theatre (where we have oodles of VHS for sale). The box contained a considerable amount of appalling dreck (and all of the Amy Grant video collections you could ask for!), but one film stood out. Aside from a colorful title, the film starred Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. Two of the bad-assed-est bad-asses to ever walk the earth (or at least appear in movies). Add to that the recommendation of a co-worker and onto the Netflix queue it went!

The film takes place during WWII and Marvin and Mifune play soldiers washed up on a deserted island. Neither understands the other's language and tension is high from the start. While Marvin and Mifune are great (Marvin has some wonderfully bizarre mannerisms), for me, it fails to live up to the premise. There's a lot of area to be explored, which the film does, but it breezes through most of it and ultimately loses the thread.

However, the film has been sitting well with me. Partially because it is entertaining, but mostly because, much like Marvin, I don't speak Japanese and there are no subtitles. I'm as lost as he is and have to work to put together what Mifune is trying to communicate. The opposite holds true for those that only speak Japanese. There are two different experiences going on at the same time! It's a very cool idea. Perhaps most impressive, though, is that even if you didn't understand a single word either of them were saying, you would know exactly what is going on in the film. The dialogue is essentially inessential. Everything can be garnered from tone and action.

On top of that, the film is directed by John Boorman (Deliverance) and shot by the great Conrad Hall (Hall + tropical island = gorgeous). Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I generally have a love-love relationship with Netflix. Their deliveries are prompt. The Instant View is getting better all the time and has loads of TV shows so I don't have to take up valuable queue space with oodles of non-movie discs. Earlier this year, they finally got the Nintendo Wii hooked up with streaming capability. In the end, I pay just over a dollar a rental and that's not taking into account the unlimited Instant View.

I've gotten so used to singing Netflix' praises (I'm going to get my parents subscribed one of these days), that I was quite surprised at how angry Netflix made me recently. Right on the heels of Starz' cancellation of Party Down, Netflix indicated that Party Down would only be screening until July 9th (I forget the date, but that seems reasonable and I'm going to stick with it for the sake of this post). It didn't make sense to me since so many other shows were on Instant View, but I went with it believing I still had time to watch it (I'd already seen the entire series, but was rewatching it with my girlfriend, who hadn't).

We only had a few episodes left, so it didn't seem like such a big deal. Half hour shows are easy to blow through. However, we didn't have time on Wednesday night to watch since I work until late. Thursday was taken over by Goldeneye on N64 (!) and a new episode of Futurama (I'm a huge nerd, apparently), so we only watched one episode. Then, Friday came. The 9th. I went to check Netflix on what I thought was the last day of possible viewing, but Party Down was gone!

Perhaps there was an error in my interpretation, but when I read, "available until July 9th," I assume that the phrase is inclusive. It will be available on that day and at the end of said day, it will be gone. If they really wanted to be clear, they should have said, "unavailable July 9th." Then I'd have gotten the picture.

So, not only did the take Party Down from me, but they took it away a day early (in my interpretation)! Those bastards! To follow that up, I just got a disc that wouldn't play! Normally, I'm OK with that since it's understandable that the mail will knock DVDs around and people don't take the best care of them. But since I'm already miffed with Netflix, this is just piling on.

Damn it, Netflix! Shape up!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: The Staircase

If I'm not more diligent about writing, this blog may just turn into the "Weekly Film Rec" blog.

Anyway, I'm cheating a little on this one as my recommendation isn't a film, per se, but a documentary mini-series, The Staircase (enough commas for you?). I wasn't sure if I'd like The Staircase, so I only put the first disc high on my Netflix queue, and once I got hooked, I had to wait the entire holiday weekend to finish it. Curse my wariness! The cause of this care is that not long ago I watched Capturing the Friedman's and was greatly underwhelmed. While the crimes of these films are different, they both deal with the effectiveness of the judicial system. Are the men on trial innocent or guilty?

Capturing the Friedman's fails to paint its' subjects as anything but an obnoxious bickering family so the audience is predisposed to not care what happens to the father, if not wants him to be convicted. The Staircase, however, does a masterful job of letting the viewer into the lives of not only Michael Peterson (suspected of murdering his wife), but of his entire family. The access to these people could severely bias the viewer on the side of the defense. Sure Michael Peterson is kind of pompous and seems somewhat less than honest, but he has a lot of intelligent things to say. Not unexpected from a successful novelist, I suppose.

All of this is balanced out with the trial, which is fully covered by the filmmakers (I can't imagine how much footage was shot for this documentary). The evidence creates a roller coaster ride for the viewer (and, I'd imagine, the family). There are many surprises along the way that might seem contrived were this a TV show, but end up being truly shocking.

Throughout the entire 6-hour running time, I never felt the filmmaker's hand, which is rare for me. It doesn't feel manipulated, though after the fact, I had to question whether my opinion was influenced by the editing.

I don't want to give too much away as it's far more interesting to be an active viewer making one's own deductions, so just enjoy the drama unfold.

One last note: I find it incredibly interesting that The Staircase is produced by a French company (Canal +) and directed by a Frenchman. Perhaps the outsider perspective on the judicial system helped them create such an interesting document of the process.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Phantom of the Paradise

A few weeks ago, I was at my girlfriend's parents house for dinner (with my girlfriend, of course) and her dad asked if I'd ever seen this film, Phantom of the Paradise. Not only had I never seen it, but I'd never heard of it. He explained that it was Phantom of the Opera sort of thing but his strongest memory was that of a man having his face smooshed in a record press. That sounded like it would be exactly the sort of thing I'd enjoy, so a week later, I added it to my Netflix queue (a week later because I'd forgotten the name of the film and had to ask at the next dinner).

My expectation for the film based upon the brief and fortuitously vague was some combination of William Castle meets Hammer horror. My first surprise came in adding it to my queue. Brian de Palma directed this!? Between Sisters and Carrie no less? How had I not heard of this film? With this knowledge, everything I thought to expect from Phantom of the Paradise flew out the window (except I still knew someone's head got smooshed in the record press, but even that defied my expectation).

I'm not going to give up too much information here except to say the film blew me away. It's nothing what I expected for de Palma (for whom I have mixed feelings) and everything I expected. There are the obvious film homages (or blatant recreations) and split-screens one comes to expect from him, but also a bizarre sense of humor and a general sense of "What the hell am I watching?" It would make a great companion with either Forbidden Zone or The Rocky Horror Picture Show (though I find the former infinitely more tolerable at this point).

Perhaps most surprising is how great the music is! You see this dumpy-looking puffball of a man with atrocious, long hair in the film known as Swan. He really is quite ridiculous. Well... he's played by Paul Williams, with whom many of the older readers are probably familiar, but I was not. It turns out this absurd munchkin of a man is an incredibly talented songwriter. It was only after the film that I discovered he wrote "(Just an) Old Fashioned Love Song," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "We've Only Just Begun," the theme to Loveboat, and "The Rainbow Connection' ("THE RAINBOW CONNECTION!"). On top of that... on TOP of that... he did the music for The Muppet Christmas Carol! Clearly, this man should have been on my radar years earlier for his association with The Muppets alone!

So anyway, this man wrote an absolutely fantastic and diverse collection of songs for Phantom of the Paradise that was rightfully nominated for an Oscar. All-in-all, this film just has to be seen. No amount of talking can do it justice. I didn't know it at the time, but my girlfriend's dad sold it perfectly. Get the audience sucked in with the head-smooshing and surprise them with the rest.