After a few busy weekends and not much time to watch movies, I finally found a chance to catch up a little bit. Like a certain character in The ABCs of Death (X is for XXL), I gorged myself. The weekend featured a chilling documentary about a mafia hit man, an Oscar Best Picture nominee, a couple of musicals, two films from a critically acclaimed director, and a much-anticipated horror. This is the movie weekend that was.
Alexander Payne’s 90s cult comedy classic did not disappoint. It works much in the same way that Hot Fuzz (2007) works. The first 80 minutes of the film builds and builds to an uproarious crescendo in the final 20 minutes, with very little wasted energy in creating the humor. The finale features one impressive comic payoff after another. That it subverted Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller role is just icing on the cake.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The Iceman Interviews (2003)
HBO captured the horrific reality of the life of mob hit man Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski via three separate specials- The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer, The Iceman: Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man, and the The Iceman and the Psychiatrist. They’ve all been compiled into one selection, available on Netflix, called The Iceman Interviews. The first special- Conversations with a Killer– provides the most bang for the buck. It’s not for the faint of heart, as Kuklinski describes his murders and body disposal in great detail. The assumption when you hear “mafia hit man” is that most of the work was done with a gun, but Kuklinski also used cyanide, pool cues, and other implements of death and destruction. The second segment- Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man- was very solid, but covered little new ground following the first segment. The third segment, The Iceman and the Psychiatrist, plays out like the worst parts of The Sopranos, with a psychiatrist analyzing Kuklinski and his behavior.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, dragged down by the third segment
All About My Mother (1999)
This is my third look at the work of Pedro Almodovar, and I continue to be blown away by the quality. All About My Mother is ripe with human drama and emotion. Almodovar’s use of color is impressive, the film has just the right pinch of homage to classic cinema, and his approach to writing for his female characters is evocative of Bergman. Most importantly, it was a deeply personal film, and it shows.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
In many ways, this type of movie just isn’t my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I walked away impressed. Much has been made of the torture scenes, with many people claiming that the film glorifies torture. But I didn’t see it that way at all. First and foremost, the film’s most protracted torture sequence only produces faulty information, with the captive muttering gibberish as his coffin-bed closes around him. More importantly, it strikes me that the idea behind showing it was to illustrate the brutality and inhumanity of torture. If it’s seen as glorifying the act, then people are reacting differently to those scenes than I did, because I found it repulsive (the act; not that it was in the movie).
I also applaud director Kathryn Bigelow’s commitment to reality in the raid sequence at the end. As heroic as the team was, there were flaws in the raid- the downed helicopter, the fact that the guy who shot Bin Laden didn’t even know he’d done it at first- and Bigelow opted to depict it that way rather than glossing it up. It’s ironic, then, that my only gripe is that the film apparently strays quite a bit from the true story. Obviously, many more people were involved in the total operation than Maya, the Jennifer character has apparently offended the people who actually knew her, and the distance to the compound in the finale was actually much further away. Still, on the whole, it’s a very good film, worthy of its Best Picture nomination.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
42nd Street (1933)
My wild admiration of Busby Berkeley’s Dames (1934) earlier this week emboldened me to check out another film he helped make, 42nd Street. It’s important to note that Berkeley did not direct this film, whereas he had directed Dames. That fact is apparent in my reaction to 42nd Street, which did not resonate with me in the same way. The final dance sequence was certainly impressive, featuring much of the same kaleidoscopic features that had made me love Dames. But the story wrapped around the dance sequences left me a little cold, with humor that didn’t always hit. The kaleidoscopic visuals make the film notable, but I can’t be too particularly enthusiastic about the rest.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Since Volver was free on my OnDemand service, I decided to double down on Almodovar for the weekend. It was a rewarding choice. Volver was a spectacular tale of buried secrets, familial bonds, and redemption.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The ABCs of Death (2013)
Ant Timpson and Tim League came together to produce a truly unique concept- an anthology horror where all 26 segments carry a theme from a different letter of the alphabet. You may recognize League as the founder of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. With any anthology horror, there are bound to be some hits and misses. That’s amplified further when you create 26 separate shorts. I graded each individual short and they averaged out to 2.94 stars, just under 3 stars. But it’s not really fair to grade it that way.
The overarching point, and the reason I’d recommend this anthology to any horror fan, is that it covers so much ground in the genre. France, Spain, the UK, and Japan are all very well-represented, as is the US. Thailand is represented, and even eastern Europe gets into the game with Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film) directing R is for Removed. The range of styles is impressive. It includes animation, claymation, French New Extremity, Japanese extreme, meta horror, horror-comedy, a short that gives off a distinct Hammer Horror vibe (U is for Unearthed), a live-action version of a Tex Avery cartoon that includes furries, and… whatever the F and Z segments are classified as in the Japanese canon. Most surprising was the comedy, with several segments eliciting hearty belly laughs. My favorite segments: D, E, F, H, N, T, U, and X. The ones I really disliked: L, M, P, W, and Z.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, but highly recommended (and it hits theaters very soon)
I keep trying to prove that I can find musicals I’ll like, and I keep coming up short. Cabaret wasn’t much different, though I did appreciate how much it subverts classic musicals. And there was a certain charm to the master of ceremonies and his band of misfit performers.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
(that score should be seen as my level of enjoyment, and less so the quality of the film; besides, I’m the last person that should be trusted with a grade on a musical)
Bazaar Bizarre (2004)
Had I known that this true crime documentary about Kansas City serial killer Bob Berdella was a Troma release, I likely would have avoided it. I did not know that and paid dearly for it. I can handle a LOT of things in movies, but I draw the line somewhere around a kidnapping/rape/murder re-enactment that includes a serial killer shoving a carrot or a cucumber into someone’s ass. It’s a horrible film, not recommended for anyone.
Rating: 1 star out of 5