Days of Heaven (4/14/12)

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Days of Heaven is one of only a handful of films from director, Terrence Malick, so it’s easy to call it one of his best. Days of Heaven would be one of the best of nearly any other director as well, but it is certifiably a Malick film.

Terrence Malick has a very unique style to his films and his entire process of filming. Days of Heaven was apparently shot without a script for the most part, and the editing process took him over two years to complete. When watching his films, you become aware that you are watching something much richer than what is simply happening on screen. There are shots of scenery, of animals, of the sky, things that have nothing to do with the plot directly, but enhance the beauty of the story being told.

Days of Heaven focuses on a worker named Bill (Richard Gere) that has to flee Chicago for killing his boss. He travels with his girlfiend, Abby (Brooke Adams), and young sister, Linda (Linda Manz). Linda provides the narration for the film. Posing as three siblings, they find work on a farm and Abby is coerced to marry the dying farmer for his money. Things become complicated as the farmer finds out the truth about Bill and Abby, but Abby develops feelings for her new husband.

For a movie without a script, the story is actually quite good, but Malick’s films are primarily visual. The cinematography is, of course, stunning and the film is such a wonder to simply stare at you could easily be distracted by the plot. There is literally no one else quite like Terrence Malick making films today. It’s also worth noting that the Criterion Collection has done an outstanding job with the release of Days of Heaven. Everything is top-notch and there are special features aplenty.

Days of Heaven is a wonderful film and is a film for the sake of beauty. There are moments near the end where my mouth was simply agape in wonderment at the scenes captured on film. Not quite as esoteric as Tree of Life, but a bit dreamier than The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven is a wonderful film and a terrific introduction to Terrence Malick.

I give it 5 locust swarms out of 5.

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Peeping Tom (4/14/12)

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Peeping Tom is a deeper movie than the title may lead you to believe. It is a film that seems perverse and weird with maybe a tinge of slasher film added, but it is deeper and smarter than that.

Released in 1960, Peeping Tom shook up critics and audiences at the time and the material is still fresh. If it were made today, the sex and violence would likely be ramped up and the analog film would be replaced with digital cameras, but otherwise not much would need to be changed. As it stands, Peeping Tom does not need more sex or violence to be a thrilling movie.

The story centers around Mark (Carl Boehm) who is a serial killer. He films the expressions of women as he kills them and then watches the footage later. The title of the film is based on the slang term for voyeurs, which is exactly what Mark seems to be, but his obsession runs much deeper, as we learn. Mark befriends a young woman (Anna Massey) that lives in his building and develops feelings for her as she begins to learn the truth about him.

When we learn the reason for Mark’s obsession, it is within the realm of possibility. I never suspended my disbelief that something like this could really happen, even if it is a bit far-fetched. The performances in Peeping Tom are fantastic and the music and cinematography shift to take us along for the ride.

Criterion collectors take note, Peeping Tom has been out of print for some time but is now available on Netflix Instant Watch. Some parts of it are dated, notably some of the dialogue, but the film itself is quite well done.

I give it 4 viewings through the film reel out of 5.

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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (4/7/12)

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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a raw movie that shares more in common with a Western, yet doesn’t stick to the conventions of that genre.

The very direct title really tells you all you need to know without giving you the details. It raises so many questions and I needed them answered. Who was Alfredo Garcia? Who wants his head? Why do they want his head? We get most of the questions answered during the opening scene.

The young daughter of a wealthy Mexican businessman gets impregnated and the businessman puts out a one million dollar bounty for the head of Alfredo Garcia. Literally. He even says “bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia” in the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie. Word gets out about the bounty and we meet Bennie (Warren Oates) who knows Alfredo, or Al, and sets out with his girlfriend, a prostitute, to find him.

When I said Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is “raw”, it predominately comes through in the characters. Bennie is not a likable guy, necessarily, but we connect with him and he doesn’t go looking for violence. Bennie also ends up having a very odd relationship with Alfredo’s head. Traveling together, Bennie speaks to the dismembered head like an old friend. I don’t want to speak too much to the plot without giving anything away, but Alfredo Garcia is one of the most interesting characters in cinema history.

I was unsure about Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia because there were a few odd moments at the beginning of the film. Notably, a prostitute getting knocked out by an elbow check by one of the bounty hunters. I’m not sure if it was meant to be funny, but I laughed. I also had a problem with my copy of the movie, and about half way through it had to stop and order a new copy. Normally, I don’t like having that much of a gap when watching something, but since I had been thinking about the movie it was fine.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is what I would dub a modern Western noir. It is a gritty film that works with what is presented. Warren Oates is fantastic and apparently channeled Sam Peckinpah (the director) for his character. I’ve never quite seen anything else like it.

I give it 5 amazing, but unfortunately fake Criterion covers out of 5.

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The Thing [1982] (4/13/12)

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The Thing has been one of my favorite horror movies for as long as I’ve liked horror movies and for a movie that’s as old as I am, it’s held up extraordinarily well.

We have seen many many MANY horror movies come and go between 1982 and today. We’ve even had another Thing movie (which I have yet to see). Even the special effects for The Thing have stood the test of time.

Set in Antartica, a dog being chased by Norwegians that are trying to kill it stumbles upon a group of researchers. The dog, as it so happens, is really an alien that can change the DNA of its host and take over. Soon after, the Dog-Thing wreaks total havoc and no one can be trusted for who they really are.

Without the completely isolated setting and small ensemble cast, The Thing simply wouldn’t work as well it does. There is little hope for the crew surviving, and even if they do they are stranded. This creates an incredible tension that always leaves me on the edge of my seat, even though I know exactly what will happen next.

The Thing is one of those movies that I could watch just about any time. I decided to watch it this time around for three reasons: I had just purchased the Blu-Ray on the cheap, it was Friday the 13th and I wanted something scary-ish to watch, and Bizzam blogged about Kurt Russell and I thought he died and then decided I needed to watch a Kurt Russell movie. I’m glad I did.

I give it 4 frosty bearded Kurt Russells out of 5.

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Repo Man (4/13/12)

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Please don’t judge Repo Man by it’s atrocious cover art, it’s actually a very smart action/comedy/sci-fi movie that is surprisingly fresh even all these years later.

In a nutshell, Repo Man is about an LA punk rocker named Otto (Emilio Estevez) that gets tricked into reposessing a car by Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) and finds out he really likes the life of a repo man. As all of this is happening, there is a man driving around something in his trunk that vaporizes anyone that opens it. Obviously, the two stories eventually intertwine and we learn the truth of what is happening. It’s actually quite well done.

Repo Man does not fit in many conventional standards. It’s not an action film. It’s not a sci-fi film. It’s not a comedy. Though there are certainly large portions of those genres and maybe a few more, the tone is constantly evolving. The inclusion of all those genres does not come at the expense of the others either, it’s all balanced nicely.

If you live in Region B (Europe, Africa, Australia, et al.) then I would strongly suggest picking up Eureka’s Masters of Cinema entry. It looks absolutely fantastic. Those of other in Region A…Pray for a Criterion release or get a region free player. It’s also available on Netflix Instant Watch for now.

Repo Man is a movie that I was expecting to be really schlocky and qualify as so-bad-its-good. While the acting and some of the dialogue is not very good, the film doesn’t suffer because of it. In fact, it seems to make a point to rise above it. Harry Dean Stanton in particular is wonderful. I was not expecting to enjoy Repo Man nearly as much as I did and I’m afraid I will be unable to do it justice in merely writing about it. It’s a film that just needs to be seen.

I give it 4 trunk vaporizations out of 5.

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These Amazing Shadows (4/11/12)

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These Amazing Shadows is a documentary about the U.S. National Film Registry in the Library of Congress and it is absolutely fascinating.

While the title is a bit generic (I had to keep looking it up to make sure I was calling it the right thing) the documentary itself would be at home as a special feature on so many amazing movies. The film showcases the process of the National Film Registry, talks about some of the choices, and interviews actors, directors, and other industry folks in the hopes of raising awareness.

While many of the scenes will be instantly recognizable, some of the choices are much less obvious. Some I had never even known existed. For those unaware, so many films were completely destroyed by studios. Think about it, film takes up space and after a few decades, it adds up. This was well before home video was even thought of, so many assumed the older films would have no purpose. Some films are simply wiped from history because of this. The National Film Registry doesn’t just collect full-length feature films, either.

As I was watching These Amazing Shadows, I wanted to know more. I visited their website (http://www.loc.gov/film/index.html). I tried to find information on how to be a part of preserving film history. I also didn’t want to look away from the documentary. I still would like to help and although the film doesn’t offer up methods of how we can help, it will likely spark interest. I do wish the documentary was a bit more in-depth, but I consider it a beginner’s level course for people other than just film nerds.

I cannot recommend These Amazing Shadows enough. As far as I’m concerned if you’re reading this you have at least a passing interest in movies, and I think all of you will be interested. It’s available on Netflix Instant Watch now. I also recommend checking out the list of the Registry’s choices. If not amazing itself, These Amazing Shadows is inspiring and informative.

I give it 5 rolls of nitrate film out of 5.

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