Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - All in the Family Edition: Mother-Son Relationships

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. If you like movies, then you should join in: Just pick three movies that relate to the week's theme and tell us about them!

I love my mother. We share a very special, friendly, loving relationship (as most gay boys do with their mothers). A relationship, it must be said, that is COMPLETELY unlike any of the relationships in the films I have picked for this week's All In The Family Edition of Thursday Movie Picks.

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946) Everyone goes on and on about the technically non-existent mother-son relationship in Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho, but this one shits all over that, if you ask me. Alex Sebastian (super suave Claude Rains) is a Nazi spy living in Brazil after the War, who meets and falls in love with Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of one of his former compatriots. But his mother Anna (the terrific Leopoldine Konstantin) suspects that not all is as it seems with Alicia. Turns out she's right - Alicia is spying for the United States - so she contrives to poison Alicia to keep her from reporting to her handler (Cary Grant) until her son sees to reason. It really is Madame Sebastian who holds all the cards in this household, just like...

The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962) ...Mrs. Iselin, who would do anything to see her husband elected to the highest political office. She's the perfect supportive political wife and mother. Except for that one little thing... SPOILER... she's a Communist agent using hypnosis and brainwashing techniques on her son and other soldiers to install a Communist into the Presidency. If you haven't seen it, all I'll say is that if you only know Angela Lansbury as the sweet old lady from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Murder, She Wrote, then you ain't seen NOTHING yet!

Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980) Okay, yeah, this kinda feels like a cheat, but COME ON. If you've seen this film - or the opening scene of Wes Craven's Scream - then you know that Jason isn't the killer in the original Friday the 13th. His mother is. And frankly, who can blame her? Those stupid kids were off having sex, doing drugs, and listening to rock & roll music instead of watching her darling little boy, and what do you think happens? He drowns! So Mrs. Voorhees does all she can to honor her son's memory and make sure those damn kids never have any fun. After all, isn't killing for someone the best way to show them you love them?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thurssday Movie Picks: Movies based on a Graphic Novel/Comic (Non-Superhero)

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can play along, too - just pick three movies that fit the weekly theme and tell us about them!

I must admit, I don't think I've ever read a graphic novel. Nothing against them, I've just never read one. Although there have been some that have been on my radar for a while that I really do want to read some day (Maus is at the top of that list). However, I have seen plenty of movies based on graphic novels, and I'm pretty sure I've enjoyed all of them. Here are three of my favorites.

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2004) Cronenberg's masterpiece about the seedy underbelly of the American Family features career-best performances from Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, as small-town diner owner Tom Stall and his wife Edie. When two thugs attempt to rob his diner and threaten a waitress, quiet, unassuming Tom turns into a bad-ass, killing them with a bit too much ease. His actions make him a local celebrity, and his life is turned upside-down. Is he who he says he is? Or is there something more to this man? Incredible performances all around and a killer editing job make this lean and mean thriller a psychological tour de force. The last scene is absolute PERFECTION. And also: one of the hottest sex scenes ever put on film.

Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) This movie is so dead-on about so many things - being a teenager, cynicism, selling out, art - that I find myself quoting it all the time. The magnificent Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are Enid and Rebecca, best friends who have just graduated from high school. The two social outcasts find another in Steve Buscemi's lonely Seymour, whom they initially make fun of. But Enid starts to feel sympathy for him, and becomes friends with him. As they grow closer, Enid and Rebecca's lives start to diverge and they drift apart. Cuttingly funny and sad in equal measure, the killer screenplay was rightly nominated for an Oscar. And also: Thora Birch gives one of the greatest song-and-dance routines ever outside of a musical. AND ALSO: "Mirror, Father, Mirror". BRILLIANT.

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2014) We all knew Chris Evans was a good action hero, thanks to Marvel and the Captain America movies, but who knew he could get this gritty with it? A near-perfect match of director to material, Bong Joon-ho's film should have been a box office smash (and very well might have been if Harvey Weinstein hadn't demoted it to his boutique division because the director RIGHTLY insisted on not making any cuts to the film). The film takes place in a grim future where the entire world has been covered in snow and ice. All the surviving members of the human race live on a perpetual motion train, divided into class sections. As the human race is wont to do. The peasants at the rear of the train rise up one day, and fight their way through all the different cars to the front of the train, where the mysterious engine and its creator are located. Bursting with originality and featuring some killer editing and cinematography, Snowpiercer is one of the best action films in years. And also: a flat-out BRILLIANT performance from Tilda Swinton as the twisted Minister Mason.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Foreign Language Films: German

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You should join us - just pick three films that fit the week's theme and tell us about them!

For this week's Thursday Movie Picks, we delve into the wonderful world of Foreign Language films (well, at least, they're foreign to us English-speakers...). Awesome. I love a good foreign language film just as much as I love films in English, and there are many that I hold very dear to my heart. Unfortunately, German films are not an area of expertise for me. I just haven't seen any films from their canon of great filmmakers (Herzog, Fassbinder, etc.), and while I've seen plenty from the silent era (Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc.), I decided that choosing something without any spoken dialogue would be cheating a bit. BUT! I shall persevere. Here are three wonderful films in German.

Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt, Tom Tykwer, 1998) Tykwer burst onto the scene in 1998 with this blast of fresh air starring the tremendous Franka Potente in a star-is-born performance. Franka is the titular Lola, a young German lass whose boyfriend Manny has gotten stuck on the raw end of a drug deal and must come up with a large sum of money in a short amount of time. He calls Lola and tells her he's going to rob a market to get it. She implores him not to do something so stupid, but the clock is ticking. So she runs. But there are many options open to her around every corner, starting with where to get the money. And each choice she makes has an effect on the people around her, which Tykwer shows us in a series of snapshots after Lola runs into certain people. The film tracks her through three different runs, each with a different outcome but each with the same propulsive energy. In between each run, we see a scene with Lola and Manny in bed, presumably post-coital, talking about what love means to them. If all that sounds like too much, or too pretentious, let me reassure you: It is neither of those things. Everything here is in perfect balance. Run Lola Run is a thinking person's action film for sure, but everyone can enjoy it.

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel ├╝ber Berlin, Wim Wenders, 1987) The angel Damiel is one of many of God's emissaries on Earth, able to hear the thoughts of everyone around him and offer comfort to those who are at the end of their rope. But it's a very lonely existence, because he cannot be seen by anyone except the other angels (who, it must be said, don't seem particularly friendly). And then one day, he sees and falls in love with a trapeze artist. But it cannot be, unless he chooses to become human, one of those beings he watches over that are always in despair. Sound familiar? PLEASE don't judge this gorgeous film by its Americanized version, City of Angels (which starred Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage). This is the real deal, a film about what it means to be human, what it means to be alone even in the most densely populated of cities, and just what it is that makes life worth living.

Summer Storm (Sommersturm, Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2004) One of the better gay films in recent memory, Summer Storm follows Tobi, member of a German rowing team installed at a training camp during the summer in the lead-up to a big regatta. The team is supposed to be camping with a girls' team, but instead gets placed with a gay youth team after the girls cancel. Naturally, this leads to all kinds of youthful exploring and pushing of buttons and boundaries, because Tobi has been hiding his attraction for his best friend and teammate, Achim. It's not a great film, but Summer Storm excellently captures the confusion and searching surrounding youthful sexuality - both gay and straight - in a way very few films seem to grasp. Plus: CUTE boys!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Work Place Movies

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three films that fit the chosen theme and telling us about them!

This week's theme is... a bit weird. Work Place Movies. I mean, it's not really weird, but when I think of "Work place" as a main descriptor, I usually think of TV sitcoms like Fawlty Towers, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, NewsRadio, etc. But that's just me.

ANYWAY...

I think I picked three good ones this week. They all have something in common. Can you guess what it is?
The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940) This delightful adaptation of a play by Miklos Laszlo is one of Lubitsch's best - and that's saying something! Margaret Sullivan and James Stewart play co-workers at a gift shop in Budapest who kind of can't stand each other on the job... at the same time as they're falling for each other as "lonely hearts" pen pals! Of course, eventually they figure out who each other is, but the journey is really what makes this such a treat. The famed "Lubitsch touch" is in full display in this witty, perfectly-paced film. The cast is pure enjoyment (Frank Morgan as the shop proprietor and Joseph Schildkraut and Inez Courtney as other shopworkers), and it's perfectly staged - for proof, just watch my other picks, which steal scenes wholesale from this original, the ultimate workplace romance.
In The Good Old Summertime (Robert Z. Leonard, 1949) There's very little to improve upon in Shop Around the Corner, so MGM decided to add songs, Technicolor, and Judy Garland. And you know what? It almost works! Nearly as perfectly cast as the original (Buster Keaton, Spring Byington, and S.Z. Sakall fill out the shop staff, now a music shop in turn-of-the-century America), the only slight misstep is Van Johnson, who in some places comes off a bit too creepily cruel as opposed to lovably antagonistic. But nevertheless, the source material is so foolproof that he can't ruin it. Not one of MGM's best musicals, but this is still a very enjoyable film.
You've Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998) Leave it to Nora Ephron to update this story to the digital age, substituting chat rooms and email for lonely hearts letters and post office boxes (is this the original catfishing story?). Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have the best chemistry of any central couple in these three films, but sadly the great supporting cast (which includes Dave Chappelle and Jean Stapleton) is pushed to the sidelines. But that's also a product of the biggest change to the source material: Instead of working in the same shop, our central couple work for competing businesses - she for a lovely independent bookstore, he for a corporate conglomerate - and they're both in relationships with slightly awful people. Of course, the fact that large corporate bookstores like Barnes & Noble are now going out of business as well as small independent shops dates this film even more than the dial-up tones and AOL screens, but Ryan and Hanks make it plenty worth watching.


BONUS PICKS
...okay, fine, those are all really one choice. So here's another just for kicks and giggles.
Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov, 2008) I know a lot of people don't like this movie, but I love it's energy and inventiveness and twisted sense of humor and Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman (and Chris Pratt in a supporting role). We get to follow poor, maladjusted office drone Wesley through two workplaces: his cubicle-filled corporate shithole and his newfound calling as part of a cadre of deadly assassins led by Freeman which includes Jolie's dead-sexy (and just plain deadly) Fox
 What Women Want (Nancy Meyers, 2000) This may be underrated because of Mel Gibson's descent into madness/irrelevancy, but its actually a lot of fun. Mel is the king of male-directed T&A advertising, who gets looked over for a promotion in favor of - SHOCKER - a woman (Helen Hunt at her typical intelligent best). And then, he gets shocked by electricity and can hear women's inner thoughts. Hilarity and killer cameos from Marissa Tomei, Loretta Devine, Bette Midler, Sarah Paulson, and Delta Burke & Valerie Perrine (as the only two women to have absolutely no thoughts in their heads) ensue.