Things I love about Films

Today is a day where I just feel like making a list of all the things I love in movies. Little moments that make me want to stand up and cheer, or pump my fist in the air, or sit back and sigh with delight, or just cry because my whole body is filled with that feeling that only a great scene in a film can make you have.

So in no particular order, just off the top of head, here are some things that make films great for me.

The smash-cut ending of Cronenbergs’s The Fly.

In The Warriors, Swan stopping the girl from fixing her hair when they are riding the subway with those prom teenagers.

Eriq La Salle, wet from the rain, looking at the camera in Coming To America.

The noise the dancing skeleton makes when it leaps off-screen in Evil Dead 2.

Daniel Plainview being baptized in There Will Be Blood.

The limbless man crawling through the mud with a knife in his teeth in Freaks.

The velociraptor smashing into the mirrored counter while chasing the kids through the kitchen in Jurassic Park.

Ben and Elaine sitting in the back of the bus, not smiling in The Graduate.

Buster Keaton’s face in the last shot of Sherlock Jr.

The moment when Takashi Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris first breaks out in song.

The over-the-top cut to the funeral scene in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, with that great music!

Danny Huston going crazy and spanking Sean like a madman in Birth.

That whole final monk/amazon-women fight in Jackie Chan’s Armour of God.

Bruce Lee not fighting in first film for a good 40 minutes and then FINALLY losing control and kicking butt.

That goddamn montage at the beginning of Up.

The crucifixion musical number in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Everyone trying to get the seeds to grow in My Neighbor Totoro.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s drug freak-out/rescue in Wolf of Wall Street.

The moments before the pig-blood wire is pulled in DePalma’s Carrie.

The reversed go-pro style camera work in Requiem for a Dream.

The energy behind the opening incarceration scenes in Old Boy.

Leon literally melting in and out of shadows in the beginning of Leon: The Professional.

Chris Tucker’s OVER THE TOP performance in The Fifth Element.

The iconic shots of Lola running in Run Lola Run.

The turning-set fight in Inception.

The penis spliced into the last shot of Fight Club.

That final chase scene in Carlito’s Way.

The climactic dance in Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi.

The touching and perfect punch-in-the-gut ending of Sabu’s Postman Blues.

Everyone beating up Tim Robbins and crushing him with an air conditioner in High Fidelity.

Melanie Lynskey’s musical number in  Away We Go.

Falling in love with the music of Once.

The zoom out into a snow-globe in Dellamorte Dellamore.

The breast-feeding scene in Pixote.

Wow, now I want to go watch some films. I hope this list made you want to do the same. I’ll have to do this again sometime. Same time next year?

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Obvious Child

ObviousChildUSA, 2014, 84 min.

Obvious Child is a rare treat. A film full of indie-spirit, real humor, and small moments of truth and beauty. That’s a lot to say about what appears to be a small romantic-comedy about a young commedienne who deals with the consequences of getting pregnant from her one-night stand.

Jenny Slate is the star, and really carries the film with her natural performance. Whether she is up on stage doing comedy, goofing around with her friends, or having a private moment with her father or mother, she always feels real. Nothing is ever forced in the acting or the writing.

The film does the broad strokes right. Pace and story, character arcs, and an ending that works really well by not taking a more obvious and dreadfully melodramatic turn. But it’s the little things that make this film shine. The true moments. Jenny eating spaghetti with her father (Richard Kind), for example, feels completely real and unscripted.

But the best part of the film is Jenny Slate’s Donna, a genuinely funny character that doesn’t use humor as a crutch, or to hide shortcomings, or in place of character depth. Credit goes to both Slate and writer/director Gillian Robespierre for creating a character that is real and funny and easy to relate to. A character that feels like she exists in the real world.

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Rat Pfink a Boo Boo

RatPfinkRay Dennis Steckler, USA, 1966, 72 min.

I feel the urge to write about this film for one reason and one reason only: it is the worst film I have ever seen.

Yes, the world is full of terrible films, and I am the first to admit that I have not seen many of them. But out of the thousands of movies I’ve seen, Rat Pfink a Boo Boo ranks below the worst of the worst. Transformers 2, Gigli, Troll 2, Battlefield Earth, The Hottie and the Nottie, Boardinghouse, Reefer Madness, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, North, ShowgirlsThe Room. I would rather watch any of those than sit through Rat Pfink again.

A lot of bad films are fun to watch, which makes them inherently “good”. That sounds illogical, and is probably a topic for another essay. But for our purposes today, it is only important to know that Rat Pfink is not one of those films. At 72 minutes, it is padded and overlong and shows zero respect for the spirit of film-making.

The film opens with an unnamed women being stalked by a group of evil men. Eventually, they get her and make plans to taunt and stalk another girl chosen randomly out of the phonebook. Cee Bee Baeaumont,  played by director Ray Dennis Steckler’s then girlfriend, Carolyn Brandt.

Cee Bee is the girlfriend of a famous musician played by Ron Haydock. We are treated to a few of his musical numbers to pad out the film even more. The bad guys start by making some creepy phone calls to Cee Bee, and eventually kidnap her. At that point, the film veers off from its thriller aspirations and turns into a goofy comedy.

Her boyfriend and a the gardener (a previously minor character) transform into the crime-fighting duo of Rat Pfink and Boo Boo. A cut-rate Batman and Robin. What follows are endless chase scenes, a poorly choreographed fight, a gorilla and a parade.

It sounds like campy fun, right? Nope. The whole film is made without any respect for entertainment. It is as if Steckler wasn’t even trying to make a good film. Or at least an acceptable film. It feels like he just wanted to get 70 minutes of footage for as cheap as possible, and toss it into a theater to get some quick cash.

Legend has it that the film was supposed to be called Rat Pfink And Boo Boo, but that someone messed up the title card and it came out as Rat Rfink A Boo Boo. The fact that Ray Dennis Steckler didn’t care enough to have that fixed goes to show how much he cared about this film, and the audiences that had to sit through it.


They Came Together

TheyCameTogetherDavid Wain, 2014, USA, 83 min.

I will always watch any film directed by David Wain. Him and his usual cohorts have a sense of humor unlike any other. They are on a different wavelength, and I just so happen to be in sync with that type of humor myself.

They Came Together is their latest film, a deconstructed romantic comedy parody. Paul Rudd is the friendly and funny male romantic lead with “vaguely Jewish non-threatening good looks.” Amy Poehler is the quirky and charming female romantic lead who is “clumsy and scattered but you just can’t help falling in love with her.”

Throughout the film they tell the story of how they met, fell in love, went through misunderstandings and ultimately rectified things in a cheesy climax. The concept of the film doesn’t leave too much room for really inspired comedy. A lot of the scenes and bits are confined by that structure, but everyone involved is talented enough that many of jokes are able to transcend the material.

The problem is that there are a lot of jokes that don’t break out. The structure of a romantic comedy is obvious, and the idea of playing within that structure is amusing, but doesn’t lend itself to much more.

So the film is spotty, but does contain high points that made me laugh out loud. Overall, this is not a classic like Wet Hot American Summer, but it is an amusing and entertaining film that scratches an itch for those that like this weird sense of humor.

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GodzillaGareth Edwards, USA, 2014, 123 min.

Godzilla is the latest entry in the storied series showcasing the giant reptilian monster. Made in the USA 60 years after the Japanese original, this one is being positioned as a reboot of sorts. It’s starting from scratch, and lays the groundwork for more big budget films of the same ilk.

If I watched this film as a fan of Godzilla, or just a fan of films in general, the verdict would be the same. It’s not a good film either way. There are too many missteps. And big ones.

The decision to concentrate on the humans would have been a good one if the humans in this film weren’t so underwritten. Too much time is spent on them and they are all almost inconsequential to the outcome of the story. Especially Elizabeth Olsen’s character (pictured above), who just seems to be in the film to… well, I don’t know why her character is in the film.

And that statement could be said about almost all of the characters. Juliette Binoche’s character was wasted on her immense talents. Bryan Cranston provides setup and exposition, but taking out his whole segment wouldn’t change the film one bit. And the “main” character, the young military man played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is only around to just happen to be in the right place at the right time to get up close views of the monsters, without actually accomplishing anything.

This is a film about Godzilla, but far too much time is spent on everything else. And everything else isn’t interesting at all, and as preposterous as you would expect. When Godzilla does do his thing, it’s fine, but that is really only visible in the climax of the film. And honestly, giant CGI monsters fighting isn’t that interesting when the film doesn’t set up any stakes that you care about.

I wanted to geek out about Godzilla. I really did. I love the charm of the character and the older films, but that just doesn’t translate well when you change the tone. The whole thing was taken way too seriously. I’m sorry, but when I see a determined Hollywood military man say, with complete seriousness, “Godzilla is heading straight for the city!” It just doesn’t work.

Pacific Rim knew how to get the tone right. Giant monster films need to be infused with humor and fantasy. Godzilla lacks any of that.

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