Thursday, December 15, 2011

All About My Mother (1999)

All About My Mother (1999)

Manuela is a single mom and nurse who deals with organ donation, who finds herself on the opposite side of the desk when she witnesses the death of her only son.  She travels home to Barcelona to tell the father of her child (who never knew about his son and vice versa) but becomes involved in the lives of a nun (Penelope Cruz) and the actress who played a special role in the death of Manuela's son.

All About My Mother won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and it really is a good film, though not one of my Almodovar favorites, perhaps because it was a little more straightforward than most.  (If you can really call any Almodovar film straightforward.)  There were a lot of references to the Bette Davis film All About Eve (hence the film's title) and the plot definitely had similar themes.  Once again, Almodovar casts a strong female lead and brings her to hell and back, and Cecilia Roth (Manuela) was really great.  All About My Mother was very female-centric (kind of like Fried Green Tomatoes, only good, and with transvestites) without being sappy or maudlin.  I also especially liked the character of Agrado, the transvestite hooker who is sassy, but has a huge nurturing side.

All About My Mother wasn't without its faults, but I think that at this point, things that I can find fault with an Almodovar film are things that people wouldn't expect out of another filmmaker.  I was expecting a little more edginess and controversy (though I suspect my sense of outrage is set at a higher threshold since the film boasts a pregnant nun, and I didn't bat an eyelash) but "had to settle" for a good, simple story. 

All About My Mother: 3.5/5 Stars


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bad Education (2004)

Bad Education (2004)

Bad Education is one of those rare NC-17 rated films that I really don't get why it's rated that way.  On the surface, the film is about the adult lives of a couple of boys who were molested by a priest at their Catholic school during the Franco era.  Bad Education actually goes from a film about the after effects of molestation to a love story and into a whole 'nother direction of drama, and it's fantastic.  Almodovar is so great at throwing a twist into his films that isn't all "hey look at THIS!" like Shyamalan; it's subtle, intelligent, and though not always shocking, it's going to be something that profoundly affects the characters and the remainder of the story.  I love that about Almodovar - I think he's one of the most underrated (or underexposed due to being from a foreign market) writer-directors. 

This is actually the first film I've seen Gael Garcia Bernal in (I've had a few of his films on my "to watch list" for a couple of years now) and he was really great, in what was an extremely complex and challenging role, especially considering how young he was when he did it.  It was also really gutsy, considering the NC-17 rating was most certainly because of a couple scenes of gay sex (that most certainly did not merit that rating, trust me) that are normally going to be controversial, but especially so in "macho" Spain. 

Another awesome Almodovar film.  I'm so conflicted right now because I of course am excited about continuing, but then I look at his filmography and it's not that long so it won't take long to get through it.  Luckily, he's one of those directors that seems to make a film every year and a half or so, so there will be plenty to look forward to.

Bad Education: 4 out of 5


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Live Flesh (1997)

Live Flesh (1997)

Live Flesh is a tale of adultery, betrayal and obsession that somehow becomes a love story.  Victor (Liberto Rabal) is a young man who has a one night stand with Elena (Francesca Neri), a junkie.  Though she clearly wants nothing to do with him, he pursues her until an argument turns tragic after David (Javier Bardem) is injured in a shooting while answering a distress call at Elena's home.  Victor is convicted of shooting David and, after serving four years in prison, discovers that David, who can no longer walk, is a famous paraplegic basketball player married to none other than Elena. 

Almodovar's films can be really out there, but sometimes they are fairly straightforward.  Live Flesh is one of those films; it's like a colorful film noir.  Like most Almodovar films, Live Flesh has a twist that alters the course of the plot, and like all of his twists, it's brilliant without being showy. 

I really enjoyed Live Flesh.  It wasn't splashy, but it had a great story and compelling characters.  I tend to lean toward the more fantastic and bizarre Almodovar films, but Live Flesh was really fulfilling.  Out of the Almodovar films I've seen, I can compare it best to Broken Embraces, which is another wonderful film.  It was also kind of fun to see a youngish Javier Bardem, and watch for Penelope Cruz in a small but pivotal role. 

Live Flesh: 3.5/5



I'm only two films into my Almodovar project and I'm just loving it.  He's so fantastically delicious.  All of his films are distinctly "him" but are not alike, which is a rare and challenging quality to have.  Just wanted to share before I jumped into a couple of quick reviews.  Viva Almodovar!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

#2 Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

I was actually really excited to watch this movie. I had just gotten home from having a really nice weekend and I'm not feeling real great so I was very much looking forward to just sitting down and watching a movie that would be fun, and entertaining and I wouldn't have to think about very much. That's exactly what this movie provided for me. It was very entertaining and yet very dry throughout much of the movie, as is most if not all of Wes Anderson's movies. I love Bill Murray in this movie and it made me even more excited to get Rushmore from the library tomorrow to finish off my Wes Anderson assignment. But back to this current movie. As I was watching this movie I kept finding myself smile at the very subtle oddities and awkward images that would be a very small portion of an entire shot. I guess I really don't have much else to add to this. I would give it a solid 4/5. I do look forward to finishing to this project though.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#1 Fantastic Mr. Fox

Well this is my first movie I am officially blogging about. I tried to watch this movie 3 different times and due to technical difficulties (once the disc was scratched and once my XBOX 360 wouldn't read it). I am really glad that not only did I stick with it and find a clean copy was sent to me by Netflix. I loved this movie. Shelly wrote on Facebook or maybe on this blog questioning why this movie isn't in the top 250. I totally agree with her. I only needed about 3 min to get over the animation that normally would have driven me crazy but with this movie it just worked. I am already a fan of Wes Anderson films just based on the 3 I had already seen. I still have 2 more to go though. The characters were lovable, the story was cute and sophisticated all at the same time. There is nothing about this movie I didn't like. Even the soundtrack was entertaining to me.

I give this movie 4 out of 5. I can't wait to keep going with Wes Anderson movies. I currently have Life Aquatic on my entertainment center and I have Rushmore coming in the mail, if it's not already here.

More to come!

Matt and Lebowski


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Current Director: Pedro Almodovar

Current Director Project: Pedro Almodovar

Almodovar's Filmography
(Only includes completed/released/available feature films)

The Skin I Live In (2011) Soon to be released theatrically
Broken Embraces (2009)
Volver (2006)
Bad Education (2004)
Talk to Her (2002)
All About My Mother (1999)
Live Flesh (1997)
The Flower of My Secret (1995)
High Heels (1991)
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Law of Desire (1987)
Matador (1986)
What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)
Dark Habits (1983)

The next director is my pick, and it's Oscar-winning Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar.  When I was devouring all things film in high school in preparation for going to film school, I really began to dig deep into independent films, which weren't all that easy to find in Waukesha, WI in the 80's and 90's.  (No Netflix yet!) One of the few directors I could find was Almodovar, and I became a big fan.  Again, like Anderson, despite the fact that I was a fan, I still didn't see a lot of his films so I am really looking forward to chewing on this project. 

Almodovar films Shelly needs to see: The Skin I Live In, Bad Education, All About My Mother, Live Flesh, The Flower of My Secret, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Law of Desire, Matador, What Have I Done to Deserve This? and Dark Habits.

Almodovar films Matt needs to see: The Skin I Live In, Broken Embraces, Volver, Bad Education, Talk to Her, All About My Mother, Live Flesh, The Flower of My Secret, High Heels, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Law of Desire, Matador, What Have I Done to Deserve This? and Dark Habits.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wow! What a Wonderful Wes Weekend!

I had the opportunity to watch some movies this weekend, so I chose to complete my Wes Anderson filmography, since I only had three to watch in the first place. I totally enjoyed this experience and saw a couple of great movies out of the deal.  I look forward to the next director - my choice this time!


Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Based on the book by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson's first foray into family entertainment.  Mr. Fox (Voiced by George Clooney) is a family man who has reluctantly given up his chicken-stealing past at his wife's (Meryl Streep) behest.  When he ventures back into his former trade, he finds himself in a war with the owners of the farms who he poached things from, and the conflict threatens not only his family, but the wildlife around him as well.

I absolutely loved Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't begin this with some trepidation based on its "family friendly" themes, but my worries were assuaged almost immediately.  Fantastic Mr. Fox is as much an Anderson film as all of his previous work, if not more so, with the stop motion animation serving as a perfect tool for his theatricality.  Almost every "Andersonism" is in the film, from eccentric characters to hapless plans to the staging of the settings.  There's even a character that dresses oddly and yearns for approval.  Fantastic Mr. Fox has incredible voice talent (rare in an English animated film) that is drawn from Anderson's cache of repeat actors: Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe among them, and stars Clooney and Streep were great first-timers.  

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a typical Wes Anderson film that just happens to be animated.  I watched it with a dumb grin on my face from start to finish and was laughing through a lot of it.  Anderson and Noah Baumbach's script was brilliant and the humor was both subtle and strange, like most of both of their films.  I absolutely loved this movie and count it among my favorite Anderson films, if not my favorite.  Sheer brilliance.  I normally really hesitate to rate films at the lowest or highest on my rating scale, but even typing "4.5" doesn't do my feelings justice.  Fantastic Mr. Fox earns a well-deserved 5/5.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: 5/5 stars


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a famous ocean adventurer and documentarian (modeled after Cousteau) who has several recent failed films under his belt, he's lost his best friend and colleague to a jaguar shark and the issues he's been having with his personal life are contributing to his general malaise.  When Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) shows up claiming that he may be his son, Zissou is inspired to renew his commitment to hunt and kill the animal that killed his friend, with Ned and his trusty crew behind him.

I enjoyed The Life Aquatic, and have found that Wes Anderson's films have two effects on me.  I either love it from start to finish and enjoy myself immensely, or I spend the film enjoying the experience, yet wondering how much I am really going to end up liking it.  The thing about Anderson is that he's so unique and, in my opinion, subtly brilliant, that even when I think I may be having misgivings during the film, by the end of the movie I realize how much I really did like the film.  The Life Aquatic falls into the second category for me: I enjoyed the film but it wasn't until those crucial five minutes after the film when I absorb and process the film that I realized how much I enjoyed it.  I think that some people (maybe a lot of people) don't think that a film is successful if they have to think about "how much they liked it" but I think that can be one of a film's assets. 

The typical Anderson touches were in full force in The Life Aquatic, including the eccentric characters, goofy costumes and uniforms (I can now confirm that Owen Wilson is usually the cast member who ends up having the most unique uniform, if you count his smashed in face in The Darjeeling Limited a uniform) and extremely theatrical elements.  And by theatrical I literally mean theatrical - Anderson not only doesn't hide that a set looks like it could be on a theater stage, but he accelerates this aesthetic.  Anderson is always brilliant with his music choices, and the music in The Life Aquatic was exceptionally fantastic.  Other than some compositions by Mark Mothersbaugh and a few other songs, all of the music was songs by David Bowie, all on acoustic guitar, translated into Portuguese and sung by Zissou crew member Pele (Brazilian singer-actor Seu Jorge).  The Life Aquatic also involves a lot of stop motion animation, which obviously paved the way for Anderson's later film, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

One thing that I love about Anderson is that he has amassed a talented and unique group of actors who are insanely loyal to him, and The Life Aquatic features several of them: Murray, Wilson, and Angelica Huston among others.  There are other actors who work on his films less frequently, but I really feel like they do some of their best work by taking a chance with Anderson and working on a film outside of the mainstream: Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums, Adrien Brody in The Darjeeling LimitedThe Life Aquatic introduced Cate Blanchett and Willem Defoe into the Anderson fold and both were wonderful.  In fact, it was Willem Defoe's Klaus Daimler (again with the awesome names) that made me laugh really hard several times, and it was his role that was the underdog looking for approval that Anderson always includes in his cast of characters.

I definitely enjoyed The Life Aquatic, but I think I appreciated it more, if that makes any sense.  There wasn't a gut reaction of abject pleasure, but it is a great film. 

The Life Aquatic: 3.5/5 stars


Friday, November 11, 2011

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Bottle Rocket (1996)

It's so funny that I count Wes Anderson among my favorite contemporary directors, because when I look at his filmography, I realize that I've only seen half of his films.  (And his filmography isn't that long...)  My excuse for that is that I really don't have an excuse beyond the fact that I've been meaning to get to the unseen films (sometimes for years) and other things have "just come up", which is why I was thrilled when my brother picked Anderson to be our first subject.  However, if I look a little more deeply into my admiration for Anderson's work, despite only having seen three of his films, I think that is a testimony to how great a director he is.

Bottle Rocket is Anderson's first film, which stemmed from a short feature of the same name.  It stars future Anderson go-to guys Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and is a simple story about simple people (literally) trying to find their place in life.  Owen Wilson plays Dignan, a hapless former landscaper whose adulation of his former boss leads him into even more hapless criminal activities.  Anthony (Luke Wilson) is fresh out of a mental hospital and his loyalty to Dignan leads him (reluctantly) into his lame escapades.  Their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave) rounds out the trio and serves as Dignan's foil.

Though Bottle Rocket didn't have the depth and full-bodied stories of Anderson's later films, it is so charming that its shortcomings are easy to forgive.  The characters were slight, but still interesting and diverse in personality.  Though Dignan is a complete boob, his earnestness earns both the loyalty and respect of his friends, but its the few people who marginalize him that he wants to impress the most, and that makes him kind of tragic.  Anthony, the supposed "mental case" turns out to be the most rational one of the group and is the real leader due to his strength of character and being an overall mensch.  It's Bob who is the least developed, but he just wants to be included, after years of being bullied by his older brother, even as an adult.

Anderson is always described as "quirky" and even though that term is greatly overused, it's admittedly a good descriptor of his work.  One can see Anderson's unique style in Bottle Rocket, though it's not quite as vibrant as his subsequent work.  Bright, primary colors, eccentric characters, the brilliant use of music - they're all there, as is the mostly ever-present last shot in slow motion and at least one character with a desperate need to impress a father figure.  I don't normally laugh out loud during Anderson films, but Bob's name being Bob Mapplethorpe had me laughing every time they said it.  It's just absurd enough to be brilliant without being over the top. 

I can't say that Bottle Rocket is one of my favorite Wes Anderson films, but like a few other directors, even his worst film would rate better with me than the best offerings of most other directors today.  "Not my favorite" equates to a strong 4/5 rating from me.  I really liked Bottle Rocket and am glad that I finally watched it.  It also served as kind of a sweet reminder that Owen Wilson isn't a douchebag as long as he's working with his old buddy Wes.

I can't wait to see the next one!

Bottle Rocket: 4/5 stars


Current Director: Wes Anderson

Current Director Project: Wes Anderson

Anderson's Filmography:
(Only includes completed/released feature films)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Rushmore (1998)
Bottle Rocket (1996)

The first director in our rebooted Great Directors Project is Wes Anderson because we wanted to start small.  Matt picked him, but Wes Anderson also happens to be one of my favorite contemporary directors, which makes it a crime that I still have to see three of the films he's done.  (In a relatively small filmography, at that.)  

Anderson films Shelly needs to see: Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Bottle Rocket.

Anderson films Matt needs to see: Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Rushmore.

I, for one, am totally jealous of my brother because he gets to experience Rushmore for the first time.  What an awesome film. 


Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Beginnings!

I am SO thrilled to be starting this project with my brother Matt.  It's such an awesome process and I look forward to having someone kick my ass in gear to keep going.  I'm starting tonight, Matt! 


My first blog

This is an exciting moment for me because this is my very first blog post. I'm not saying this is just my first blog on my sister's site either. I am saying this is my first blog ever overall. I never really thought I had very much to say about anything at all, so I was quite surprised when Shelly asked me to partake in this project of hers. So thank you Shelly.

This project is really exciting and near and dear to my heart for a number of reasons. Firstly, my family has always been into movies of all decades and 9 times out of 10 I was left out of the conversation because I was too young or too stubborn to watch "older" movies. I have since tried to expand my movie knowledge by watching movies for a movie club that Shelly started and even run a three screen theater where I see most of the newer movies.

I am excited to get started and will start blogging when I get my first movies in from netflix and the library. Thanks Shelly for this opportunity.