Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Asian Language Movies Set in South East Asia (Non-Horror)

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in by picking three films that fit the week's theme and telling us about them.

This week on Thursday movie picks, we are traveling to South East Asia. I'm going to be honest: I haven't seen too many movies from this area of the world, despite some of them having rich cinematic histories. BUT! I will not let that stop me! I shall make some picks anyway!

Bwakaw (Jun Luna, 2012) This lovely, lyrical tale of a taciturn old gay man and the dog who might just melt his heart is far better and more affecting than a film with that subject matter probably has any right to be. But Bwakaw has humor and heart and a tremendous performance from Eddie Garcia in the lead. Seek it out by any means necessary, because I can't imagine a person who won't enjoy this.

Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002) I've been slowly making my way through the filmography of "Thai Joe" Weerasethakul, one of the most potent, unique voices working in modern cinema. Meaning, I've seen this one, and hope to find the time to see his next, Tropical Malady. This one does not quite have the sense of mysticism that apparently colors the director's other works (especially the Palme d'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), but it has a magic all its own. The plot - such as it is - concerns a Burmese immigrant to Thailand as he tries to get treated for a strange rash covering his body and his landlady. But plot means little here, as Joe is really working more towards a mood. This is a S - L - O - W movie; the opening credits come 45 minutes in, and oddly enough they feel perfectly placed. But there's also a strange, special kind of alchemy that happens when you are able to get on the film's wavelength.

...and that's it! That's the extent of my knowledge of South East Asian cinema. I could tell you to go watch some Lav Diaz films, but I haven't seen them, and so cannot personally vouch for their quality.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies about Music/Making Music/Musicians

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

Well, October is over, so back to our "regularly-scheduled programming" (read: non-scary) on Thursday Movie Picks. This week: Movies centered around music. I had to re-pick this week as I missed the note on there being no films based on real-life people, so... here goes!

Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000) I can't even with this movie. One of my All-Time Favorites. Crowe's semi-autobiographical film so perfectly captures the feeling of not just a specific time and place, but of that time in one's life between childhood and adulthood. I could go on and on about the perfect cast (Frances McDormand as one of the all-time great screen mothers... Kate Hudson in a luminous star-making turn... Billy Crudup and Jason Lee with AMAZING period hair... Patrick Fugit as the most appealing narrator ever... Philip Seymour Hoffman cracking wise and dispensing wisdom....), but what I really love about Almost Famous is the feeling it conjures up, and how effortlessly it plays.

That Thing You Do! (Tom Hanks, 1996) You'd think Tom Hanks would have directed more after this perfectly entertaining film about a 60's band's rise to the top. He's even great in it as the band's big-label manager. Tom Everett Scott, Jonathan Schaech, Steve Zahn, and Ethan Embry make for great distinctive personalities as the band members, and Liv Tyler makes an impression as "The Girl". And the soundtrack is to DIE. Long Live The Oneders!

Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014) This isn't a GREAT film, but it does contain what is possibly Michael Fassbender's best performance as the giant-head wearing musical genius Frank, and a great performance from Maggie Gyllenhall as one of his band members - a much more typical role for her, but damn if she isn't PERFECT. The music is at points extremely weird, but also kind of perfect for what it is, and often laugh-out-loud funny. Domnhall Gleeson makes for a perfectly agreeable narrator, and the film is a good watch. But it doesn't have much staying power outside of Fassbender's performance. Also: He has a surprisingly good singing voice, if not "good" in a traditional sense.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Secret Agents & Spies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Participate yourself by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them.

This week's theme for Thursday Movie Picks correlates to the weekend's big release, the new James Bond film SPECTRE. Can I let you in on a secret? Up until Skyfall, I had never seen a Bond film. Not a single one. I'm not really sure why. I've just never been able to muster up the excitement for them.

But anyway, that's not really the point. The point is, there's much more to Secret Agents and Spies on film than Bond and his dirty martinis. Here are three of my favorites.

North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) Probably the most exciting film Hitchcock ever directed, in which Cary Grant is mistaken for a Mr. George Kaplan, a spy who, as it turns out, doesn't exist. Which is especially unfortunate for Cary after he's photographed taking a knife out of a U.N. diplomat's back. Someone else put it there, but try telling that to the police, especially when the secret government agency who created the persona of Kaplan won't get involved at the risk of exposing their real double agent, played by the gorgeous Eva Marie Saint. With James Mason as the big baddie and Martin Landau as his underling.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Jay Roach, 1997) Hands down the best thing Mike Myers has ever done, Austin Powers is a dead-on hilarious parody of the 60s and spy films. But you don't have to be particularly well-versed in spy films to enjoy it. It's pure silliness, but it's absolutely INSPIRED silliness. The jokes fly fast and furious from the lips of the inimitable cast (Elizabeth Hurley, Robert Wagner, and Mindy Sterling have never been better, to say nothing of Myers in his dual role as the titular spy and his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil), and the double entendres are the best I've seen in probably any movie ever. The later sequels, The Spy Who Shagged Me and Goldmember, are basically bald rewrites of this one, but why mess with perfection?

Mission: Impossible (Brian De Palma, 1996) One of the rare franchises that has kept up a pretty much even level of quality across each film, the Tom Cruise series is one of the best in film history. This is the one that started it all, and god DAMN is it fun. When Ethan Hunt's entire Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team gets killed, the agency assumes he's the mole they've been trying to find for a while. Except he's innocent, so he has to go rogue in order to prove his innocence. Cruise's "I do my own stunts" go-for-broke star power has never been put to better use than with this character, so it's no surprise that he keeps coming back to it. And given the great directors and scriptwriters that keep coming to the series, it's clear that someone behind the scenes knows what they're doing (for what it's worth, my pick for the best of the series is the fourth, Ghost Protocol). De Palma's original lays all the groundwork with flawless sequence after flawless sequence and a roller coaster pace that only lets up in just the right amounts to relieve the (at times considerable) tension.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie, 2014) It's a pity so many people dismissed this film this summer, because it was really a blast. The cool retro vibe extended from the perfect costumes and hairdos of its (unbelievably good-looking) stars to Ritchie's filmmaking, which has never been slicker or sleeker. It's ultimately a lark, but it's a great looking one, and lots of fun. Plus, between Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, and Elizabeth Debicki, there really is something here for everyone.