Netflix Graveyard: Dick Tracy

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Welcome to my Netflix Graveyard where I talk about movies that have been stuck on my Netflix movie queue since I got a subscription in 2006. Dick Tracy was on my queue even longer than 2006. Probably like 1999 when  Netflix didn’t have queues and was just a fancy DVD trading site. It is what we in the business call a linger. Not offensive enough to take it off, but not eye-catching enough that you want to watch it right here, right now. So it crawled up my queue, constantly being knocked down a couple of notches each time I got a jones for another, flashier movie. And honestly, I think the movie should have stayed there. I had no business actually watching this annoying movie.

Dick Tracy is based around a comic strip popular in the thirties and forties. The titular character is a square-jawed detective who solves crimes committed by oddly shaped villains. Big Boy Caprice is his nemesis in this adventure that feature smaller villains from the comic books as well. Dick Tracy races to uncover Big Boy Caprice’s plot to take over the town but is complicated along the way by a Kid, a vixen (Breathless Mahoney) and his girlfriend Tess Trueheart.

The nineties were a bad time for comic book adaptations. We saw several atrocious ones that couldn’t grasp the real essence of the character they were trying to depict. The most famous example of this are the Batman movies made with George Clooney’s nipples. The people behind Batman and Robin didn’t truly understand the source material and why Batman is such an iconic character that means a lot to a lot of people. I don’t think this is quite the case for Dick Tracy. I think their source material was already lacking the dynamic aspects that lends well to filmic adaptations. Tracy is a two-dimensional character with two-dimensional worries that should have stayed within the walls of those three panel comic strips. He is a sieve in which more interesting things travel through. He cannot give us a reason to care about him for a whole movie.

The other issue I had with the film is the choice of casting Madonna as Breathless Mahoney. She is easily one of the worst actresses ever. She is terrible in this movie. Her delivery is flat, her face is emotionless, and she oozes boredom more than sex. I couldn’t care less about Dick Tracy being attracted to Breathless Mahoney despite having a loyal girlfriend at home. If he chose to go down that path he was doomed from the start. To contrast Madonna’s proverbial lying there, there was Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice. He is the hammiest I have seen him ever here. He is even hammier than in his “whoo-ha” movie. This hammy acting would have been perfect if he wasn’t put against Breathless Mahoney and Dick Tracy. Breathless Mahoney stands next to him, struggling to keep awake and Dick Tracy just utters unimaginative forties slang.  This creates a disconnect in the scenes and you feel like you are glimpsing at two very different movies getting mushed together. It is quite painful to watch.

Skip this movie, for the sake of your soul.

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Classic Cinema Tuesday: Young Mr. Lincoln

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As a native of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln loomed large over every history lesson ever taught in school. He is the pride of the state, the number one tourist attraction for little towns that Lincoln happened to stay a couple of nights in when he was young. Antidotes abound and become legend about what he ate at a particular hotel or how he had his law office when he was still practicing. Looking at these historic buildings, road signs (there is something called the Lincoln trail that Lincoln aficionados take when they want to travel like Lincoln did.) and hokey statues lets you forget that this guy was a man with faults and desires. In Young Mr. Lincoln, John Ford reminds us that this mythic figure was once just as human as you or me.

Henry Fonda plays Abraham Lincoln at the start of his lawyer career. He had previous just been a shop owner, but decided that he would take on the law so he could help serve his community and fulfill the wishes of a dead almost lover. Once he establishes his practice, he has a hard time coming by good quality clients. It isn’t until he witnesses the aftermath of a shady crime, does he finally get his break. This crime involved two brothers and a local drunk who came at their sister with a knife, but they seemingly thwarted the advance by killing him themselves. Once the crime was found out, an immediate call for lynching the two men was interrupted by Lincoln making a case for a fair trial. He works on the case day and night, forgoing compensation and any other demands on his time. But he can’t seem to get around the perception that these men did it in the eyes of the public. He points out the lies the prosecution was committing, grills witnesses on seemingly irrelevant facts and commits a couple of rookie lawyer mistakes. His convictions won’t let him down and he fights for the trial to proceed until he realizes the solution was underneath his nose the whole time.

Henry Fonda virtually disappears into this role as Abraham Lincoln. Ford helped him by instructing him to speak slow, gave him proverbial phrases to utter, and increased his height by wearing special boots. All of these surface things would have done nothing if Fonda hadn’t internalized who Lincoln was. Every action, word, and event in this movie is believable even if it isn’t true to history. He is Abraham Lincoln more than I have ever seen. (I haven’t seen Lincoln…)

This movie reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird. The earnestness of the main characters, the distinctive notoriety of the cases, and the well-meaning people caught in the middle of the law are all similar. Of the two, I think Young Mr. Lincoln is a better executed film (I know blasphemy). The era depicted in Young Mr. Lincoln was ripe with idealization and the realization of simpler times by the time this movie was made. Whether or not it was a simpler time is irrelevant because it was for Lincoln. The subjective era is more in play here than in To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird dealt with a time still fresh in most people’s minds and this time was not simple for those people. The Depression and oppression of black people plays heavily upon To Kill a Mockingbird to its detriment. Also I think that Henry Fonda does a more complete job of disappearing into his character than Gregory Peck does. It does help that there had been volumes upon volumes produced about Lincoln’s mannerisms and actions while Gregory Peck just had one book, the source material, but that research and familiarity could have been an impediment to Fonda. Instead Fonda embraces his earnestness while Peck downplays his. While I think that To Kill a Mockingbird is important in cinema history and in the lexicon, I think that Young Mr. Lincoln should be just as well-known.

 

20 Feet From Stardom

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When I heard that 20 Feet From Stardom won the Oscar for Best Documentary, I was annoyed but not surprised. I was hoping against hope that the Academy would grow some balls and award The Act of Killing the Oscar. Just like the rest of the wins that night, safe choices won out over surprising the audience. As a result of this decision, I harbored resentment for a pleasant movie that almost universally championed. In fact I watched this movie for the sole purpose of ripping it apart here. But I can’t bring myself to tear it a new one…. because I liked it.

20 Feet From Stardom tells the story of back up singers and their rise to prominence in the mid-sixties with a focus on four prominent back up singers. Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Judith Hill all get turns showcasing their skills as well as their stories. Each one wanted (or want) to make it big, but life got in their way and chose for them the path of blending in. Some are content with where they are now, some are trying hard to make it big on their own, but their fall back will always to be touring with famous musicians and making their songs richer and more dynamic.

What I found the most interesting is listening to the iconic songs that these women sang on and realizing how much they actually contributed to the sound of it. They can take a sonically boring song and add depth and life by just singing a slightly different note than the lead singer. The most interesting example of this is Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones. Merry Clayton was the original singer to record this with Mick Jagger and she gave the iconic breakdown in the middle of song where she just belted out “Rape, Murder” several times. But it was Lisa Fischer that made it into performance art. (The Rolling Stones ditched an older singer that still had pipes for a sexier and younger one… but she still had pipes) She would build on the theme by skating and moaning when she is given the center stage. For other songs, the documentarian took out the main lyrics and just let you hear the back up vocals. It is surprising how much your ear just glosses over those voices in favor of the dominant one, but how actually interesting when taken on its own it is.

This film tackles more complex than just back up singers, because these women have had complicated histories. They talk about being discounted as nothing more than pieces of meat (Especially the back up singer who was a part of Ike and Tina Turner’s band.), about singing on songs that discounted their African-American heritage (every back up singer prominently featured in this movie is black), and about the realization that the main stage may never happen for them. While they discuss these issues, you can see just how strong each woman is. They are able to laugh and carry on with their lives even when they are stuck cleaning houses or singing “Sweet Home Alabama.” This is what makes this movie good. This is what makes the movie inspiring. This is why the movie won the Oscar. I guess I am okay with the win… Just barely though.

Why Subtitles Shouldn’t Spoil Your Enjoyment of a Film

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I am known in my circle of friends as the geek with the film problem. I am also hard to converse with sometimes (I get in my moods). So when a friend gets tired of talking about their day and what they ate (I like my food conversations), they usually ask if I would recommend anything that I had watched recently. With the undeniable popularity of netflix, hulu and hbo go on my generation as a source of cheap entertainment, many people are constantly searching for a way to pick out a great movie from the sea of subpar streaming titles. With this surge in popularity, I am getting this question with an increasing regularity. But the rise of this question has also triggered a certain aversion to it by me. I am becoming weary of trying to convince someone that is normally pretty smart (or else I wouldn’t be hanging with them…) that they do not need to fear foreign films. Subtitles will not hurt you!

Subtitles were not designed to harm your precious little pupils. They are not there to make your small little brain hurt. They are there simply because it helps you to understand a film that was produced in a foreign country and in a foreign language. If you decide that subtitles are your mortal enemy, then you are easily cutting out half of the content the world makes in a given year. You are restricting yourself to Hollywood blockbusters, remakes and precious pseudo independent movies. You won’t be able to understand how Tarantino finds most of his influences. You won’t be able to hold your own in a conversation about the most horrific horror movies. And most importantly you won’t be able to comprehend the complicated history of the world around you. You live in a global society, whether or not you can accept that. China, India, France, Italy, and even South Africa’s decisions impact our economy and by extension your job, family and friends, more than you realize. If you were able to watch the films that came out of a particular foreign country, you might be able to understand why Japanese people aren’t having sex or why India still has one of the biggest population of poor people despite having a stronger influence on the world with each passing day. Even in a Bollywood or a kung fu picture, that country’s ideals, politics and structure are reflected in the flickering image on the screen.

An average American sees something like a 100,000 words a day. This is mostly done unconsciously. You are reading without realizing it. This is how subtitles work. It may take work at first, but eventually your brain will just comprehend the words and translate them to dialogue without any extra effort on your part. You will be able to see both the action and what a character is saying at the same time. You may have to pay a little bit more attention to the movie than the average Hollywood movie, but that is a good thing. I promise you will get more out of the watching ritual. And most importantly when Hollywood announces that they are going to remake The 400 Blows, you can righteously stand up and shout at the dumb Americans always wanting to destroy everything that is sacred to your well being. Oh and you can also recommend a foreign language film to a friend and rant to them about how stupid they are for rejecting your recommendation purely because it has subtitles. It feels really good, trust me.

 

New Indie Thursday: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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The 2014 movie year has started out slow. Little of note has really come out this year as the movie industry uses this time for dumping movies that didn’t quite work or releasing in more movie theaters movies they barely got in last year to be considered for Oscar season. So when movie bloggers and film critics are thrown a bone by the industry in the form of Wes Anderson, they are reluctant to let go. Since its release, there have been countless think pieces and reviews that all basically say the same thing: this movie is the best movie to ever movie. It is almost universally liked and the Wes Anderson backlash has been less intense than in the past.I am not a huge Wes Anderson fan, but can appreciate his more thoughtful entries like The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Given the buzz around the movie, I was anticipating liking the movie a lot. So when I was given the perfect opportunity, I sat down in a dark theater with my Yuengling and bag of popcorn. But something happened after the trailers aired and as the first images of the movie appeared on-screen. I had an uncontrollable desire to walk out. I wanted to gather up my things and finish my beer in the lobby before escaping into the real world. I had to get away from the insane amount of quirk.

Of course I ended up staying. I kept telling myself that if I can watch epic silent movie serials that I am not really invested in, I can sit here and pay attention to a movie purely so I can write about it. I had to say that several times throughout the viewing. While everyone around me was eating up what was going on, I was yawning. I could not grasp what everyone saw in this movie besides its unique production design. Wes Anderson seemed to have created a universe that is visually pretty, but has little depth.The beautiful pink facade of the hotel, the ornate collection of graphic and classical paintings, and the crispness of every character’s uniform all paper over a less than interesting fake country.This ingrained shallowness extends to the characters. The characters have flashy character quirks that get your attention, but they cannot hold it there for very long. Gustave H is the most egregious example of this. Although he is charming with a smattering of witty lines, there is little character motivation that is committed to throughout the movie. Granted there is plenty of character motivation, it is just dropped every time Wes Anderson gets distracted by something else. Gustave H is a shape shifter and after a while, I got tired of watching him transform in such manic ways. The same could be said for the other characters in the movie. Wes Anderson was so transfixed by the luxurious setting and the witty lines that he forgot grounding his characters in some sort of reality even if it isn’t our reality. The villains of the movie all twirl their mustaches and dress in dramatic black, but are really nonentities that Gustave H can just dismiss. Each obstacle that Anderson puts in his way is easily overcome by wit and posh grandstanding. It is infuriating by the end of the movie that I am still supposed to be rooting for the annoying Gustave.

This last paragraph has put me in the category of Wes Anderson bashing that I do not want to be in. Do not get me wrong. I think this movie is pleasant. But high art worthy of academic analysis and obsession? Absolutely not. My anger stems from the assumption that everything Wes Anderson does is amazing that permeates our pop culture right now. He takes traditional stories and dresses them up with quirkiness until they are almost unrecognizable. When it is good and high quality story, it is appreciated but when the story is flimsy (like the whole middle of this movie was) it buckles underneath the pressure.

Netflix Graveyard: Broadcast News

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Powerful women in competitive industries are hard to come by in Hollywood production. Most women in power are given emasculation duties to the male protagonist, stock characters with little motivation and roundness of character or completely obsessed with her baby maker that she would be fired in a real life equivalent of the situation dramatized in the movies. But for some reason in the eighties, the industry produced a string of well-rounded women characters in power with moderate success. One of the most interesting to come out of this time was Broadcast News.

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is a producer at the Washington desk of a major television network. She great at her job and waxes poetic about the integrity of the industry. She is against the merging of television news turning into show business. Her best friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), feels the same way. They make a great team that is able to deliver interesting pieces on hard news items. Enter Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a hotshot desk man who isn’t good at reporting, doesn’t read well and barely knows about current events. But he is handsome and his chemistry with the camera is undeniable. Although Jane despises what Tom stands for, she still is massively attracted to him. Meanwhile Aaron expresses his feelings for her as well. Jane is stuck between two men and the love she has for her job.

The way I described it the paragraph above might suggest that it is a romantic comedy. On one level, it is, but it is so much more than the love triangle. It is about the love of a high pressure job. The thrill of almost missing a deadline is made breathlessly apparent in an early sequence where Jane finishes an important segment of news fifty seconds before it is supposed to be on air. The visceral thrill both she and the people supporting her feel is made palpable by the race to the newsroom and the sigh of relief when the anchor smiles at the end of the segment. Not only was the piece good, it was full of integrity. Contrast this to a segment made by Tom later on in the film. He comes up with a depressing topic, date rape, and makes a thought piece on it. He interviews a woman who breaks down while she is telling her story. Once the woman is done talking, the camera cuts to him crying. This choice is manipulative and hammy. But if it was genuine, then it does say something about his sensitive nature. The problem is that it isn’t. As Jane is falling further for Tom and settling in on her choice, she learns that Tom faked the key aspect of the segment that Jane thought moving. Raw footage shows Tom concentrating on welling up. This reminds Jane for last time that this man is not a great reporter. He does not have the ability to see anything beyond ambition. Jane immediately gives Tom up and decides she does not want to go on vacation with him for this very reason. Something as small as a faked tear can have monumental effects on a woman with as much integrity as Jane has. When we catch up with Jane years later, we can see that she made the right choice. Her life is not incomplete because she didn’t end up with Tom or Aaron. In fact they were the ones that settled down with wives and kids. This is the perfect ending to a movie more about Jane accepting herself and less about Jane settling for what is in front of her.

Classic Cinema Tuesday: Blonde Venus

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Marlene Dietrich was discovered by director Josef von Sternberg while she was performing in a cabaret club. He was casting for his new movie in Germany and asked her for a screen test. There is no doubt he was blown away by her because he gave her the part of a lifetime in the Blue Angel. She played Lola Lola, a cabaret singer vixen who slowly turns her professor lover into a sad clown. She lit up the screen with her famous songs and her beautiful small legs. (gams if you will) Josef von Sternberg followed up the Blue Angel with six more films featuring this wonderful actress. Unfortunately every subsequent film failed in capturing the magic that was on display in the Blue Angel. Blonde Venus is no exception.

Dietrich plays a cabaret singer turned housewife when she falls in love with a chemist. However the chemist exposed himself to poisoning and must secure a large amount of money in order to be cured. Helen Faraday (Dietrich) decides to return to the stage once again. She gives a marvelous performance in a gorilla costume and catches the eye of a very young Cary Grant, playing a millionaire dandy named Nick Townsend. Nick promises the world to Helen and she agrees to taking up with him in order to secure the money her husband needs and the security her son needs. Once her husband comes back to America, cured, he is furious with her for exploiting herself and their child like that. He threatens to take the kid away and she escapes into the night with the child underneath her arm. She goes on the run as her estranged husband searches for her in vain. She turns up in various towns as a vagrant and a call girl all to make enough money for her to move on with the child. Eventually she gets tired of the running and gives in to the husband. He takes the son from her and she is destroyed. Time passes. We join her once again in Paris, this time as a famous cabaret singer once again.

Marlene Dietrich is a passive protagonist for the most part, despite her actions. She lets herself get entangled with Nick, she lets her husband dominate her and threaten her, and she lets herself get caught when she is at the end of the line with her child. She even lets Nick take her to her old apartment at the end and has him do the negotiating in order for her to get to see the kid. This passivity is not a normal state for Dietrich, so she fades into the background despite her wonderful clothing choices. She only pops when she is in control of the situation like when she is on stage or confronting someone. She is dynamic, sassy, and just plain gorgeous. Unfortunately, these scenes are sparse. It is mostly her trying her hardest to look destitute, something she is unable to pull off well. The supporting actors don’t fare much better. Although you can see that Herbert Marshall (the husband) and Cary Grant have potential as actors, they are wasted here by uttering obvious lines and phoning in over the top emotions. This movie is just a mess.

I would say the only reason to watch this movie is to see Marlene Dietrich perform cabaret. Hot Voodoo is enough to understand why Marlene Dietrich is such a draw for many people. The clip of her performing this amazing song is on YouTube and I suggest you check it out. However I would just avoid watching the whole movie. It is unnecessary.

Bugsy

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Las Vegas as we know it was started by a gangster. This may come as no real shock to you, given Las Vegas’ reputation as a place to do shady things. But it wasn’t just any gangster that started the modern iteration of Las Vegas. It was one of the most over the top, silliest and brutal gangsters ever committed to that lifestyle. Bugsy Siegel had a vision and he was unwilling to compromise, despite what his gangster bosses said. This is his story.

While this movie is about him conceiving of the Flamingo, the first big hotel and casino in Las Vegas, it is also about his torrid love affair with Virginia Hill. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Bugsy meets Virginia on a movie set and falls in love with her. The only problem is that he is already married with two kids. Regardless, he makes permanent plans to stay in Los Angeles and treat his lover like the goddess she is. Except he is also a brutal killer who is uncompromising in his approach to doing business. He may throw money around but he isn’t find new channels of bringing in the cheddar. On a trip to one of the rundown gambling saloons held by his gangster family, he gets a spark of inspiration from Virginia. Why not build an opulent casino and get famous people to perform there to bring the customers in? He brings the idea to his bosses and they bank roll the project, giving him a million dollars. From the get go, the project goes over budget and the costs soar. Virgina is tasked with helping Bugsy realize his vision and becomes a shrewd businesswoman. But his bosses are not happy. After sinking millions of dollars into the structure, it is barely ready to go on Christmas day. Of course this hotel is destined to not do well on its first day. A thunderstorm rips through Las Vegas, creating no business for it. Bugsy has now angered the mob bosses. Further more there is evidence to suggest that Virginia has been stealing from the operation the whole time. Bugsy refuses to believe the rumors, proving that he loves his girlfriend blindly. He pays for his love with his life. The Flamingo goes on to be one of most profitable ventures in mob history.

Warren Beatty and Annette Bening had met several years before working on this film, but they married shortly after the wrapping of production. This charisma and sexual tension translates to a great back and forth as they play Bugsy and Virginia Hill. Unfortunately the screenplay doesn’t live up to this palpable potential. The story spends way too much time setting up who Bugsy is and very little time showing what Bugsy does. His dichotomy between ruthless gangster and petty ladies man grows repetitive. I can see that he is vain and petty by his sharp clothing and brief scene of him tanning his face, but do we need to see it illustrated again and again for no reason? In contrast, we spend very little time with Virginia Hill. Her story is the one that is probably the more interesting of the two, because she is the reason that Bugsy ends up getting killed. But her motivations are never really explained and her background is never fleshed out. Her first appearance on-screen is contrived (the first day Bugsy lands in Los Angeles, he goes to the set of his movie star friend and sees her in a bit part) and she continues to be a contrived almost vixen for the rest of the movie. She seems to give Bugsy a hard time and demands a lot from him, but she never seems to love him. Is she more attracted to his money or to him? I would have liked an answer to the question.

There was so much potential for a great movie here and it was spoiled by the bloated writing and directing. I wish I could have liked this slogfest more, but it just couldn’t hold my attention at all. I don’t have a lot to say about it because it is a nothing of a movie. I instantly forgot most of what happens in the movie the moment after I turned it off. I would only watch this movie if you are fascinated by mob history and Las Vegas history and don’t mind being bored for the rest of it.

The Year Project: 1988 part 2

This is the second installment of my year project. Last Friday, I counted down my top ten favorite movies of 1988. Today, I am going to count down the worst movies of 1988 in my humble opinion. So without further ado, here are some of the most terrible movies ever made.

9. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Directed by Frank Oz. Starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

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Apparently I have only seen nineteen movies that have come out in 1988. (Probably something I should have looked at when I decided to do these posts.) So a movie that would otherwise be in the space between bottom and top lands on the lower end of the bottom mainly because I felt it was a forgetful movie with not very many jokes. It is so forgetful that I barely remember watching it. Take that Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

8. Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Directed by Stephen Chiodo.

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This is a so bad it’s good movie. I couldn’t in good conscience put it on my top ten list because there were actual good movies that came out this year, but I feel bad for sticking it here. I have a couple of really fun nights with friends watching this movie. Aliens that take the form of unintentionally creepy clowns invade a small town. Teenagers band together and try to save the town from ultimate destruction. The clown aliens’ ship is a circus tent. The main characters names Mike Tobacco and Debbie Stone. The acting is atrocious and the plot is downright silly. Despite this being on my bottom list, I recommend putting this on when you have a group of people over. It is the ultimate party movie.

7. Mississippi Burning. Directed by Alan Parker. Starring Willem Dafoe, Gene Hackman, and Frances Macdormand.

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Most of my resentment towards this movie is based on the fact I had to study it while in high school. I had a religion teacher that wasn’t too fond of teaching, but in good conscience (he was teaching an ethics class) couldn’t let us goof off and watch actually good movies. So he submitted us to this and the Roots saga. At least we didn’t have to hear him smack his lips for a whole hour. If I revisited this movie, I probably would like it more, but I do not want to mainly because I remember it being super depressing. It is about the disappearance of civil rights activists in the sixties, after all.

6. The Last Temptation of Christ. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel.

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I am usually predisposed to like everything that Martin Scorsese creates, but this one missed the mark for me. Maybe it was Harvey Keitel’s garish red hair or the insane amount of suffering Willem Dafoe as Jesus was put through that wasn’t really in the source material. I think it was ultimately I couldn’t stay awake while watching this movie. I have heard this story told time and time again and this movie wasn’t different enough for me to really care. I think that Scorsese got wrapped up in his passion project too much to have any perspective on his choices. Almost every choice he made from casting to pacing was wrong. Willem Dafoe puts in an admirable effort, but he was not right for the role of Jesus.

5. Big. Directed by Penny Marshall. Starring Tom Hanks

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Just like Tom Hanks, this movie is pretty inoffensive. There are few great scenes (like the piano scene) and a few boring ones. There are a few laughs and a few groans. But mostly this movie is on here because it was pretty unimaginative despite it being about an imaginative man.

4. Rain Man. Directed by Barry Levinson. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.

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This movie started the craze of earnest actor playing a mentally handicapped character for a guaranteed Oscar nomination. For that alone I resent this movie. I also resent it because it was too long, too uninteresting and too exploitative. Although those Lamborghini at the beginning of the film look pretty sweet.

3. The Land Before Time. Directed by Don Bluth

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This movie was the favorite of all the small children at the daycare center I went to. Because I grew up being pretentious, I resented these five-year old kids (when I was six and seven) for liking a movie about talking dinosaurs. Like all Don Bluth movies, the animation leaves much to be desired and the manipulation of the heart-strings is too obvious. Of course I would probably like this movie more if I revisited it today. But that is more than likely never going to happen.

2. Akira. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.

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If you know your Japanese anime history, you know this is a controversial choice. This movie is pointed to as one of the first movies to give Japanese anime culture some legitimacy. Many anime fans experience this movie very early on in their viewing exploration of this genre and is usually an indicator of whether or not it will become a hobby of theirs. Usually if a person hates this movie, they won’t pursue anime and if they love it, they will talk your head off about how amazing the new transfer is on BluRay. This does not stop me from hating this film with a passion. In fact most of Otomo’s work has left me violently angry. His characters terrible assheads, his animation does not hold up, and his story wonders too much to keep me engaged.

1. Twins. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito.

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What list about 1988 would be complete without the mention of this pop culture monstrosity? Terrible from beginning to end, Arnold is not a good comedian and he proves it here. Danny Devito tries his best, but is also short-changed by the script and his foil, Arnnie. Ugh. This isn’t even this movie is so bad that its funny. It is just bad. And oh yeah did I tell you that Danny Devito has a pony tail? Gag me with a spoon already.

Let me know how wrong you think I am or if you have any suggestions to add to the worst of 1988 list in the comments.

New Indie Thursday: Cutie and the Boxer

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The nature of relationships is a constant give and take. One person gives over their time and energy in order to make the other one happy and for them to do the same in return. Of course this is an idealization that never works out as being totally fifty-fifty. One person is inevitably going to give more than they take and vice-versa. The constant exchange is a morphing blob that changes over time. Once fame enters the picture and the nature of art dips its toe in, the relationship becomes skewed and leans towards the one who is more famous if not more talented. For Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, the balance is a tricky balancing act that always leaves one person with most of the burden.

Ushio Shinohara is a famous painter in the vein of a Jackson Pollack or a folk artist. He makes action paintings as well as creates large motorcycles out of found objects. He moved from Japan where he was a local celebrity to New York City in the seventies only to become the most famous example of a starving artist. When Noriko was still in art school, she visited New York City and Ushio’s studio there only to be struck by the dynamic personality that waited for her there. She became star struck and convinced that Ushio will one day be very famous and a prolific artist. At the time Ushio was more than twice her age. Noriko pushed aside her art and began to look after this man-child alcoholic as well as a newborn boy and become the backbone of the family. But Noriko is jealous of Ushio’s art coming first and his talent. She comes to resent him while also still caring for him deeply. Now that they have sobered up, grown older and watched their son become a man, they are still fighting this internal struggle within themselves and also with each other. Noriko decides to take her experiences with Ushio and use them in as inspiration for her drawings. Her spark of inspiration and love for art is back.

At the heart of this documentary is Noriko’s growth into a complete human being separate from her husband. She is a strong-willed and slightly resentful person, but comes to accept that the experiences she has had with her husband has shaped her art and life. Once she embraces her relationship with her husband fully, then she can truly start to make art again.

The moments that I think most demonstrate the director’s intent on making this movie are the times that the couple sits around the dinner table. The first dinner we see is prepared by Noriko and presented in a beautiful way. Once Ushio receives his plate, he digs in with his fingers thus ruining the presentation. Noriko chides him for doing this and wondering why she cooks anything anymore. Ushio has a penchant for destruction that is obvious in his work and in his past. He was a raging alcoholic before he was forced by his doctor to get sober due to health reasons. He put a huge financial and emotional strain on his family by delving so deep into alcohol. Which brings me to the second dinner that is noteworthy in the story. At this point we are barely aware that Noriko and Ushio had a child. We are introduced to him when his parents greet as he comes into the their apartment already drunk. Being around Ushio’s drinking for so long has spoiled their son’s resistance to it. At one point during the dinner with his parents, he goes to the fridge, pours a huge glass of wine and gulps it all down in an impressive amount of time. He needs that fix just like Ushio did. Noriko expresses regret later on in the movie that she let him grow up in that kind of atmosphere. She wishes that Ushio was there for their son more and more sober in their past lives. The third dinner that illustrates their relationship dynamic is one that Ushio cooks. He cooks celery hamburgers for his wife and child. Once it is served Noriko calls the hamburger dry without skipping a beat. Ushio doesn’t want Noriko to be left out of the art world or his life. He doesn’t want her shouldering all of the responsibilities. However when he takes over some responsibilities, like cooking this dinner, he messes it up because he is so inexperienced so Noriko has to step in and save the day with some sauce or a whole new dish.

Cutie and the Boxer is an interesting examination of a long-term relationship. It suffers from being too long without coming to a satisfying conclusion, but for the most part it is an entertaining and mind opening watch.