In an Old West frontier town somewhere in Nevada, two warring clans battle in a search for the town's legendary gold treasure. Their war as turned a previously bustling outpost into a ghost town when The Gunman arrives. After a display of his skills with a pistol, it is clear that he is a force to be reckoned with. He soon falls in with a local prostitute, whose husband was killed when he tried to intervene in the fight. Oh, and by the way, everybody is Japanese.
Japanese director Takeshi Miike has created what I can only describe as a reverse Kill Bill. In Kill Bill, a western director (geographically speaking, not genre speaking) Quentin Tarantino infused the samurai movie with elements of Western culture. In SWD, a Japanese director has infused a western with elements of Japanese culture. This relationship is made almost explicit by the presence of QT himself in a cameo as a old gunslinging master.
SWD is a pastiche of spaghetti westerns, which is announced right in the title (sukiyaki is a kind of Japanese noodle; Django is a famous spaghetti western in which a gun runner carries a machine gun in a coffin). The man who rides in to town is Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, right down to the outfit, and, well, the fact that he has no name. The plot borrows liberally from a Fistful of Dollars, which was itself a western remake of Yojimbo, the Kurosawa samurai classic in which a lone warrior wreaks havoc in a town controlled by two warring clans, which itself borrowed liberally from earlier American westerns.
I think I'm getting a headache.
Why haven't you seen it?
Because you don't live in Japan, and you weren't watching Cinemax Extreme at 12 in the morning last Saturday night. I imagine those are probably the only two ways somebody might have encountered this.
Why should you see it?
When I conceived of the Movie Night Movie Project, I laid out a number of criteria that would quality a flick for inclusion. However, those are imperfect methods of measure compared to the one that I accidentally stumbled on Saturday night: if a movie is able to keep the Suze awake after 9 in the evening, then it is an awesome movie.
The movie caught my eye in the first place as I was flipping through the Cinemax channels late on a Saturday night for, uh, for no particular reason, because it had such a distinct look to it. If you prefer nuanced, realistic characters and a cinema verite style, then you might want to skip this one. This is a movie drawn with a bold brush dipped in a bucket of blood (that would make an awesome pull quote for the American DVD release, wouldn't it?) The characters are capital-A Archetypes. And if you don't mind watching a man take a crossbow to the throat, then I promise a good time.
Jerry Ferro (Adam Carolla) is staring down the barrel of his 40th birthday. The once-promising amateur boxer is now filling out his days with construction work, and giving boxing lessons to middle-class shlubs.
When a respected boxing coach brings him in to spar a few rounds with an up-and-coming pro, Jerry surprises everybody, including himself, by knocking the guy down with a single punch. And so begins Jerry's journey out of the doldrums of his life, and back into the ring one. Last. Time.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a country girl trying to make it in the city. Putting her days as the County Fair Pork Queen behind her, she's got a new thin body and a new upmarket boyfriend (yuppie brand icon and college professor (!) Justin Long). The last piece of the puzzle is that big new promotion, to assistant manager at the bank. But if she's going to beat out her competition, her boss tells her she'll need to make the hard decisions.
Unfortunately, the hard decisions include denying a mortgage extension to an old gypsy woman, who invokes an ancient curse to extract her revenge. Christine now has three days to find a way out, before the demon, well, drags her to hell.
Before Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa injected themselves into the record books during the home run race of 1998, there was the home run race of 1961 between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
61 stood as one of the most revered statistics in all of sports: the most home runs anybody had ever hit in a single season. 61* is the story of that 1961 season, when Roger Maris battled Mickey Mantle, the ghost of Babe Ruth, the New York sports media, and baseball commissioner Ford Frick for the title of home run king.
Why haven't you seen it?
Because you don't like the Yankees, and you don't have HBO. Or you don't like baseball. Or maybe you have a problem with golden-hued nostalgia about the days of yore.
Well guess what? The days of yore were awesome. The days of yore were just as filled with drinking and fucking and carousing as the days of today. Maybe even moreso, because you could bring a floozy back to your hotel room and not have TMZ all over your shit the next day.
Before I get too much further, I have to acknowledge that I am violating one of the rules of the Movie Night Movie Project with this pick: it exceeds the 105 minute length restriction by about 20 minutes. Well, guess what? It's my project, so suck on it.
I don't know how you roll if you're from anywhere else, but here in West Virginia, us 28-year-old fathers of two routinely listen to Fat Joe's "Lean Back." I was in the process of doing exactly this the other day when I noticed right at the song's end, as a lyrical throwaway, Fat Joe hollering, "Tony Montana forever!"
The cultural respect afforded to Scarface is a strange thing, in that I'm left forever wondering if the people praising it so passionately - posters, bumper stickers, SportsCenter catch phrases... - were watching the same movie I've now seen an extra three or four times since it went into regular rotation on one of my movie channels. There are at least three glaring problems with this film, all of which seem to be casually ignored by people who are desperately anxious to quote something without, apparently, having watched the film. These are the three, in order from least, to most, egregious aspect:
1. Was there a dearth of Cuban actors available in the early 1980's? How about Hispanic actors generally? All I know for certain is that there wasn't a shortage of tanning lotion, smeared in equally big handfuls on Al Pacino, Robert Loggia, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Clearly, the movie's producers and casting agents were able to track down people like Stephen Bauer (who changed his name, I guess, to sound more American; Scarface's Manny was originally Esteban Ernest Echevarria), but apparently starring roles for Cubans (or Hispanics in general) were less frequent. I'm just giddy thinking about Hollywood's new film on Martin Luther King Jr., starring Robert Downey Jr. as "the King," Matthew Broderick as Malcolm X, and Jamie Foxx as Lyndon Johnson.
2. You get the distinct impression that the guys who worship this movie imagine themselves as Tony Montanas, be they the big time rap stars on every single episode of MTV's Cribs ever filmed (heh, or that accountant friend of yours who just can't up his fantasy about shooting everybody in the office after last year's budgeting snafu. But with friends like Montana - he watches his friend get chainsawed to death six inches in front of his face and seems only concerned with avoiding the blood, shoots his boss in cold blood, then shoots his friend Manny for having the audacity to love his sister - who in the hell needs enemies? His loyalty extends precisely as far as his own needs are concerned, and no farther.
3. He has what appears to be an incestuous obsession with his sister, for whom no man is good enough. Literally no man. Even his best friend Manny, who dies by Tony's hand for having the audacity to love and cherish his sister. And in case you're wondering if there's any evidence other than Manny's killing, which frankly ought to be evidence enough, there's Tony's reaction to her dancing in the club, there's Tony's reaction when she goes off to hook up with the coke dealer, there's Tony's reaction in the car when he warns Manny away from her, and there's his wife, who happens to built exactly like his sister, except with smaller hair. I don't know about you, but I assume that the dudes who love this movie are just collectively ignoring this facet of Tony's life, although I would be amused to see one of the movie's hardass fans taking Tony's position.
I get the gist of the film: Tony does what he has to do to achieve the American dream, assuming the American dream is coining a catchphrase that's now been said at least once by everybody in a situation in which it was wholly uncalled for, being shot in the back, ending up facedown in a fountain engraved with the words you read immediately after shooting your then boss who had been pleading for his life, and stealing his wife. I get that.
Cherry Darling is a go-go dancer who is unhappy with her life. But when a release of biochemical weapons at a nearby military base starts turning the townspeople into blood-thirsty zombies, she's going to have to help lead the survivors to safety. And she's going to have to do it on one leg, because a zombie ran off with the other one.
She won't be alone. Back on the scene is Ray, her tow truck driving ex with a mysterious past. Fortunately for her and the band of survivors who hole up at the aptly named barbecue pit "The Bone Shack", that mysterious past includes expert level kung fu and gunplay. But will Ray, sheriff Michael Biehn, and Cherry Darling's machine-gun leg be enough to escape the bloodthirsty zombie hordes?
Why haven't you seen it?
Because when it was released in theaters it was paired with Quentin Tarantino's interminable "Death Proof", turning what should have been an enjoyable 90-minute excursion to theaters into a 3+ hour wankfest. Tarantino and buddy Robert Rodriguez attempted to recreate their formative experience of seeing cheaply made double-features in grungy theaters during the 70s in "Grindhouse", and were incredibly successful - the cheesy special effects, poor quality film stock, and sparsely populated theaters.
It's a film adaptation of the ancient Greek myth involving Jason and the quest for the golden fleece, and it is the best movie to be produced by legendary effects master Ray Harryhausen. Jason is sent by Pelias on a quest for the golden fleece. Unbeknownst to Jason, he is foretold by prophecy to kill Pelias, who usurped the throne of Thessaly from King Aristo. Pelias sends Jason on this quest in the hopes that he will die. Sneaky, sneaky Pelias.
This baby has got it all: gods and goddesses, Harpies, mermen, the Hydra, and my all-time favorite, an army of sword fighting skeletons.
Jason and the Argonauts gets the recommendation because Harryhausen himself calls it his best work, but if you want to watch The Golden Voyage of Sinbad or Clash of the Titans, I'm cool with that too.
Why haven't you seen it?
Because you think that Star Wars: Special Edition had better special effects than the originals. Honestly, aren't you tired of all the CGI nonsense? Don't you want to see an incredibly detailed, hand-made cyclops stomp across a beach instead?
Why should you see it?
Ray Harryhausen is a brand unto himself. He worked on over 20 films with names like "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" and "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers", all using stop-motion animation to bring to life some of movie history's greatest monsters. Harryhausen used the world of Greek mythology as his playground, making movies with a signature look and style. Compared to today's CGI-generated cornucopia of blandness, Harryhausen's creations just keep getting better and better.
This clip is from Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Watch that sassy statue dance!
That's the closest we ever came. Just 0.1 centimeter between us.
Six hours later she fell in love with another man.
Directed by acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai, Chungking Express is the the tale of two Hong Kong cops; specifically, their love lives. Normally this would be the pitch for a buddy cop film, 48 Hours in Asia or some other crap.
This is not the case with Chungking Express. The cops, although walking a similar beat, don't seem to know each other that well. They simply eat at the same noodle bar. The film is distinctly broken into two acts; the first follows Cop 223, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. To get over the heartache, he calls her parents, calls old girlfriends, and buys a bunch of canned pineapple.
Of course, he falls in love again, with a woman in a blonde wig who is not exactly an upstanding member of society.... she is not the woman from the quote above... that is Faye, who works at the noodle shop. And the other man she falls in love with? Cop 663.
I'm not going to discuss their story at all. It's the purely magical half of the film, a contrast to the moodier first act. It is enough to say you won't be able to listen to "California Dreaming" ever again without thinking of the film.
Why Haven't I Seen It?
Let's see. It's a foreign film without explosions, with subtitles, and without a compelling narrative.... it made around $660,000 at the US box office, and is not something you're going to run into on cable.
The film, popular among cinephiles and with Quentin Tarantino, does not have a strong narrative plot. Things happen in the film, but they are secondary to its cinematic construction. If this isn't something that tickles your fancy, by all means, ignore this post and skip the film.
Why Should I See It?
That said, there are plenty of reasons as to why one can absolutely, positively, fall in love with Chungking Express. It is beautifully photographed; it's as if Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle are making love to their subjects for one hundred straight minutes.
No, not literally. But in a 'making love with the camera' sense. Wong uses slow motion like it's going out of style... and the colors... ooh the colors. Neon glows, rainy streets... And the music! The Cranberries in Cantonese, California Dreaming all over the place, the original score....
So, if you're open to non-mainstream filmmaking, not adverse to subtitles, and a fan of pretty (moving) pictures, give Chungking Express a spin. I can't promise that you won't be disappointed, but you may discover a new cinematic love....
Philip Petit is a self-taught high-wire walker who was blessed with the skills, charisma, and enormous balls required to pull off the most daring high-wire act the world will ever see. In 1974, Petit and his accomplices sneaked into the World Trade Center, carried 3 tons (yes, that is tons) of rigging equipment to the roof, and spent the night stringing a steel cable between the north and south tower. As dawn broke, Philip stepped out onto the wire and spent the next 45 minutes suspended between the towers. He walked back and forth 8 times. He layed down on the wire. He did a somersault. He did all this at a height greater than anyone has or will do it again.
The film chronicles the events leading up to the walk. How Philip saw a notice about the construction of the towers and was instantly inspired. How he trained and plotted with his group of accomplices. How they managed to get all the equipment past security to the rooftop and get the whole rig assembled completely undetected. And the amazing walk itself.
There is some recreated footage, but it is remarkable how much film was spent documenting the process. Philip and his crew knew they were doing something amazing, and wanted to be able to share it with the world.
In case you haven't caught on yet, this is a documentary. This actually happened. I walked out of the theater wondering: what other amazing things have happened in the world that I am completely unaware of?
Why haven't you seen it?
Man on Wire was released to a relatively small number of theaters earlier this year. It just came out on DVD last week. You haven't had the chance to see it, and you might not have heard of it yet, but you will. In fact, once Oscar time rolls around it will no longer be eligible for the Movie Night Movie Project, because it will win Best Documentary Feature. Mark it down on your Oscar pool ballots now. You just got one point. You are welcome.
Why should you see it?
There is a famous optical illusion, called "Daughter or Mother In Law?" It is a picture that can be seen as either an elderly woman or a young girl. It came to mind when thinking about this movie. Man on Wire can be seen one way when taken at face value, but the terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers color the entire proceedings in a way that could not have been anticipated. Consider an early scene, at the site we now call Ground Zero. There are no towers, just a pit with some construction equipment inside. It is a scene we are all too familiar with. Except it is not, because this footage was taken thirty years ago; we are watching the beginning of the construction. Our modern day context informs the way we interpret all the events of the film. It is no mistake that the filmmakers completely ignore the ultimate fate of the towers, the old woman. They want you to see their movie, and their incredible achievement, as the beautiful girl.
I have spoiled the ending. Petit and his crew are successful. But you know this going in, even without my input; why would there be a movie if he had failed? Plus, the poster for the movie sort of gives it away. And yet, through a combination of archival and recreated footage, the movie builds suspense. It is a structured like a heist movie. Imagine that the equipment was to crack a safe at the top of the towers instead of walk between them, and the first half of this movie would play almost exactly the same way.
And that walk! The photographs and film that they captured that day is incredible. I just got a little dizzy thinking about it.
Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful gang in New York, the Riffs, has called a summit. All the top gangs send nine unarmed delegates, where Cyrus lays out his vision of an end to gang warfare. The gangs, who outnumber the cops 3 to 1, will own the streets. But his Utopian vision is cut down before it can begin when the leader of the Rogues, who has smuggled a gun, takes him down, just as the cops show up to bust up the proceedings.
Fox, a member of The Warriors, is the only one who sees what happens. In all the confusion, The Rogues cry out that it was The Warriors, The Warriors shot Cyrus. Deep in hostile territory, and with all the gangs of New York out for blood, The Warriors must make it home to Coney Island - or die trying! Why haven't you seen it?
Because you don't watch any moves made more than 10 years ago. The Warriors was actually a modest success when it was released 1979, which is directly attributable to the controversy it created. Impressionable youths came out of the movie with a taste for the street gang lifestyle, leading to vandalism and at least three deaths involving moviegoers leaving the theater. Naturally, news of these incidents only increased the public's curiosity about the movie, because people are, on balance, pretty horrible. The business drummed up by all this violence would, regrettably, influence an over-eager public relations executive to shoot a small child in the face at the premiere of The Muppet Movie. Why should you see it?
Watching this movie, I thought to myself: this is why I created the Movie Night Movie Project.
Roger Ebert likes to say that what makes a movie good is not what it is about, but rather how it is about it. Make sense? No? It means style and heart over plot. I usually agree with him, even if this philosophy does occasionally result in positive reviews for terrible movies. And style is what The Warriors has in spades.
I'm not old enough to speak on it first hand, but I would guess that the New York City imagined in this movie is an exaggeration of urban decay. Dimly lit, covered in graffiti and garbage, the gritty setting offsets the absurdity of the players. The Warriors show up in matching jeans, elaborately embroidered leather vests, and bare chests. But the time they spent waxing each other before the big meeting is nothing compared to the time the other gangs spent doing each others makeup and selecting outfits. Consider the Furies, who show up in matching baseball outfits and face paint. Or the Rogues, in careful tattered jean jackets and headbands. Or the Mimes, who show up dressed as, uh, mimes. It is a stylistic exercise, a movie featuring real violence executed by cartoons painted in broad strokes.
Despite its gritty dark setting, the movie isn't aiming for realism. It is an urban fairy tale. No, fairy tale doesn't feel quite right; fairy tale implies a happy ending, but there is none to be found here. The Warriors fight to get back home, only to find that they are still going nowhere.
Starting in the countryside of Europe, we meet a boy and his grandmother. The grandmother tries, at first unsuccessfully, to find something that can make the boy happy. She plays the piano for him. She buys him a puppy, an electric train set. None of these works. Finally, while cleaning his room, she finds his secret passion under his mattress. No, not that. It is cycling. She buys him a bicycle, and he excitedly pedals it around the yard. Happy at last.
Fast forward. The boy is a young adult, and a competitive cyclist. During a race, he is abducted by the Mafia, and he's taken across the sea to...
Blah blah blah. Describing the plot of this film does injustice to what makes it special. Consider the part of the movie I've just mentioned. The grandmother and the dog track the boy to a large ship pulling out of port. To pursue, they rent a paddleboat. The grandmother and the dog chase the boy across the ocean in a scene that manages to be ridiculous while keeping a straight face, and also beautiful at the same time.
It's probably about time that I mentioned that this movie is animated. It is animated not in the clean, children's fare style of Disney or Don Bluth, but in the grittier, dingier style of Ralph Bakshi.
Why haven't you seen it?
So. Many. Reasons.
Animated films always have an uphill battle. I say "animated film", but you likely hear "cartoon". You shouldn't.
It was produced by a French-Canadian named Sylvain Chomet. Yes, that's right, this movie manages to be both French AND Canadian.
Oh, and while it might be a stretch to call it a silent film, as there is music and sound effects, there is no dialogue.
Why should you see it?
Again, I can only say: So. Many. Reasons.
This movie has so many great things to enjoy. The animation and design of the characters, the places, and the objects is inspired. Every character is beautifully realized and believable. Oh, and did I mention the Academy-Award nominated music?
In case you are wondering, yes, that music was actually created using newspapers, a refrigerator, a vacuum, and a tire wheel. FYI.
(Unrelated note: imagine my delight when three of my favorite things collided: this song, So You Think You Can Dance, and Wade Robson.)
(Now back to the movie.)
Keeping in the spirit of the Movie Night Movie Project, Les Triplets De Belleville runs 78 minutes, and grossed just over $7 million dollars at the box office.
So a while back Jesse got the idea for the Movie Night Project, which as I understand it was basically arguing that just because you're in the mood for something lighter than say, Terence Malick's "The New World" doesn't mean you have to settle for crap. He issued these guidelines for qualifying:
- Under 105 minutes long - A "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes - Domestic gross of under $50 million
Also no major awards. As it turns out, that's a pretty tough task, but after having it percolate through my mind for however many months it's been since the one and only recommendation, I came up with one.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, the 2005 black comedy starring two (at the time) washed up actors: Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. It got a criminally small release ($4.5 million gross), but was extremely well reviewed (83% on Rotten Tomatoes). It's also hilarious.
Downey plays a small-time crook who, in the midst of robbing a toy store on Christmas Eve, ducks into a basement to avoid the police. The basement happens to be currently running a casting call for an actor to play a small-time crook. Soon enough, he's whisked away to LA, and is quickly foisted off on a real PI, 'Gay Perry' (Kilmer) to give him 'experience'. Shenanigans ensue as they wind up in the midst of their own personal noir.
Why is it perfect for Movie Night? It's a movie just about anyone can enjoy. It doesn't require the viewer to know anything about noir to enjoy (unlike say, 'Brick'), and while it's immensely clever and creative, there's a fair dose of lowest common denominator humor as well. Also, Robert Downey Jr. is now a selling point, freshly off several hilarious roles in big movies.
On a different note, I'm actually interested in seeing "The New World", but there are now three seperate cuts of it. Anyone have opinions on which one I should check out?
At least it is in William Wegman's rarely-seen short film "The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold." The movie, shot on location in Maine, is a wonderfully amusing parody of Franklin Dixon's "Hardy Boys" series of mystery novels.
As is made clear by the film's poster, the Hardly Boys are hardly boys; they are girls and dogs. Wegman, best known as the photographer who dresses his weimaraners up as people, takes the dogs-as-people motif into the space of narrative filmmaking.
The film introduces to the Hardly family, who own an inn in Maine that is open during the summers. Father Hardly is an avid fisherman, mother a golfer. This leaves the Boys, and their good friend Chip, to practice sleuthing. We are told that, during the previous summer, the Boys saved the town of Rangely from a cruise missile threat.... what kind of nefarious scheme will they face this year? Whatever it is, the Boys, armed with a scientific rock analyzer and heightened dog powers, will surely be up to the task.... or will they?
Why Haven't I Seen It?
Clearly you didn't live with me in college. A VHS copy of this movie made its way into our dorm freshman year (by way of the somewhat mythical figure that is Karl Voigtland), and we watched it and watched it and watched it. We made everyone we knew watch it.
Despite making it into Sundance, the film is not one you are just going to stumble on randomly. Thankfully, the DVD was released this year, complete with audio commentary and all those bells and whistles. It is now available from Amazon and Netflix.
Why Should I See It?
What do you have to lose? The runtime is about 30 minutes, so it's not a huge chunk of time. If you are a Netflix member it's a no-brainer, just add it to your queue. If you know me and live close enough, simply make a phone call -- I will watch this movie anytime, anywhere.
Seriously, if you are into off-kilter humor, dogs, the Hardy Boys, or just plain absurdity, it does not get much better than this. Wegman's monotone narration and voice acting really seals the deal.