Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Conversation (1974)

So, I guess last week’s post was the official bringing in of the fall film season.  As I stated then, I started out with a bang on Easy A and The Town.  The fall season is typically when many of the awards contenders will make their commercial releases, after premiering at festivals such as Telluride, Toronto, and Venice, which have all taken place within the last month or so.  I am very excited about some of the projects coming out this fall, and expect it to be a great year for movies.

Soon enough I plan on writing up a post on some of my most anticipated for the rest of the year, but for now I wanted to slip in a review of a little film called The Conversation before I get rolling too heavily on the fall film madness. 

I am sad to say that I wasn’t even aware of this film’s existence until about 2 years ago.  It was directed by this guy—you may have heard of him—Francis Ford Coppola?  Yeah, him.  The guy known for making The Godfather films, as well as Apocalypse Now, some of the most celebrated films of all time, yet in the few weeks since I’ve seen The Conversation, it is becoming harder for me to think that it isn’t his best film. 

It stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance guru who’s kind of a loner, and it becomes clearer and clearer as the film gets going that he has some skeletons in his closet that will affect many of his choices the further he goes along.

The direction is breathtaking—forgive me for being trite, but Coppola has quite the eye.  The first scene of the film (which takes place in San Francisco) is a bird’s eye view of Union Square (see picture on left).  We are watching and listening to different groups of people—wondering who we are supposed to be watching.  As Coppola zooms in, we hear “the conversation” going on between a couple—which forms the basis of the entire plot—and then learn that Hackman’s character is bugging them, listening to their every word. 

As he painstakingly plays their conversation over and over throughout the film, intending to solve the mystery, I became increasingly nervous and worried—the conversation, which at first seemed so innocent—starts to become sinister.  A haunting little song—“when the red red robin goes bob-bob-bobbin along”—is used several times, masterfully, as a device to keep the audience on edge. 

Incredible Opening Shot by Coppola
And then there’s the way in which Hackman’s character deals with all of this.  His guilt from whatever past-life we don’t know about seeps its way into the story, so much so that at some points we aren’t sure if what is happening is real or a projection of that guilt.  This is supplemented by his paranoia of the people he is working for, and the combination of these two themes makes for an incredibly intense film.

This film is definitely high-concept art compared to the other three ‘70’s Coppola films that I mentioned above (by the way, has anyone ever made 4 better movies within 7 years?).  But The Conversation seems so personal, so real and warm compared to the chilliness of The Godfather films, for instance.  The style is deliberate but very fitting for the themes portrayed.  An overall fantastic film.  9/10. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Double Feature

 I don’t say this enough, but I married into a wonderful family.  Both of my wife’s parents are amazing cooks (the #1 test of a good family), they always take my side on everything (even when I’m wrong), and my father-in-law and I like mostly all of the same sports teams (even though he’s a sport’s bigamist, claiming he likes both OU and UT). 

But nowhere did I realize how much I would fit in with my then future in-laws more than in December of ’05.  Clelyn and I went and saw a movie with her dad while visiting Little Rock for the holidays, and afterwards we were leaving to go hang out with some friends.  As we were walking out of the movie theatre and towards the exit, her dad careened towards and into another theater. 
Homer & I both love popcorn
& double features

Me: “What’s he doing?”

Clelyn: “Oh, he’s just doing a double-feature.” 

Me: “Whoa.” 

The next morning at breakfast he told us that he saw not a double-feature, or a triple-feature, but a quadruple-and-a-half-feature.  10 straight hours of film accompanied by a refillable large popcorn and coke. 

Now this is a family that I knew I had to be a part of. 

Anyway, in the spirit of the Chapin family, we try and catch a double-feature every once in a while.  On Saturday we saw Easy A followed by The Town.  Easy A is probably my favorite teen comedy since Superbad, but it’s a completely different type of comedy.  As far as comparisons go, it’s much more along the lines of Clueless and Mean Girls—satire on the politics of high school social life.  Emma Stone is hilarious and has more than enough chops to carry the film, but it doesn’t hurt that Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci play her parents, and all-but steal every scene they are in.  You can bet this film will be a big hit and have lasting impact. 

The Town is the type of movie that makes me wish I didn’t ever talk about movies with other people, or constantly read about/analyze film on the web.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a really solid film.  But everyone I talk to thinks it’s the best crime movie since _________________ (insert whatever hyperbolic comparison you wish, ranging anywhere from The Departed to Mystic River to Pulp Fiction).  And others have already handed it the Best Picture envelope.  Anyway, the point is that it is a really high-quality heist film that is well-directed by Ben Affleck (in his second effort), and features an incredible ensemble cast (highlighted by the amazingly evil Jeremy Renner), but that’s ALL it is—a good, solid heist film.  I’d venture to say that it’s not even as good as Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck’s directorial debut), which had at its center quite a bit more substance than The Town—it was morally and ethically ambiguous in a way that The Town wasn’t (not that it didn’t try), and moreover, it did a better job at representing all the different layers of Boston society.  Having said all of that, The Town is definitely an entertaining flick worth seeing, and I really wish my enjoyment of it hadn’t been curbed by people freaking out about how amazing it is; but I guess that’s really my own fault.

All in all, great Saturday at the movies.

(Note: this blog post in no way condones theft of any kind.  Any person seeing more than one movie in a row should obviously pay for both tickets, even if that person was gouged up the rear by popcorn and/or coke by paying upwards of 5,000% of its value.)  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Basic Instinct (1992)


Starship Troopers. 

Total Recall. 


Hollow Man....and

Basic Instinct. 

Well, hello there Ms. Stone.
What do all of these fine American films have in common?  No...it’s not my current Netflix queue.  They were all directed by one of my new favorite people in the film industry, Paul Verhoeven.  I want to meet this man.  I want to know his mind.  His twisted, beautiful mind.  What else do all of these films (except Hollow Man) have in common?  The best way I can describe it is that they are all “infamous” films.  They’re not bad films per se, and they’re definitely not good films either.  But I get the feeling that Mr. Verhoeven isn’t seeking to make “good” films.  Rather, he is seeking to make something provocative.  Whether the shock value comes from warped sci-fi action as in Starship Troopers & Totall Recall, or sexually in Showgirls & Basic Instinct, Verhoeven wants us to see something that we have not seen before.  They are all well-known films, but not because they are good. 

So, with a vague awareness of Paul Verhoeven’s films as well as the film itself, I recently sat down on a Saturday morning with my cup of coffee, my wife and dog, and...Basic Instinct.  And what a pleasant Saturday morning it was. 

As far as plot outlines go, if you haven’t seen it, all you really need to know is that it’s about a cop (Michael Douglass) is in charge of the investigation of a murder, in which the prime suspect is a beautiful young woman (Sharon Stone).

Basic Instinct may literally be the most unintentionally funny film I have ever seen. The pure sincerity of Michael Douglass and Sharon Stone as they speak some of the cheesiest lines in film history.  The brash confidence of Ms. Stone as she unclothes herself over and over, no matter who may be watching.  The various murder scenes playing out like some sort of 70’s teen-slasher homage.  The whole thing is just one entertaining romp after another.  My wife and I were laughing through the entire thing. 

And speaking of homage, the movie is largely a deranged homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, one of my personal favorite films.  Both movies take place in San Francisco, involve murder investigations, and follow the leading men as they trail their respective femme fatales down the rabbit hole of seduction and desire.  The ironic thing is that the film with no gratuitous sex, graphic nudity, and provocative violence and language (Vertigo) accomplishes exactly the reaction that Verhoeven sought to invoke with those things in Instinct.  The payoff in Vertigo is so huge because of what it doesn’t show, whereas the payoff in Instinct is comparatively tiny because of what it had already shown, if that makes sense. 

Verhoeven is quoted as saying that he wanted this to be the first mainstream film ever released that had full frontal male nudity.  Well, fortunately for me, this didn’t actually come to pass.  But he did manage to make something that is provocative as all get-out and incredibly fun because of how serious it takes itself. 

Oh, and then, there’s the infamous “leg-crossing scene” (see above).      

(Note: please, try your hardest not to judge me for watching this film)