Movie Education – November 2011 Update

It felt like I’d watched a lot more movies this month, but I think that’s because I watched all but one of these in the last week and a half. Another last minute save, I guess. Thanks to Melanie for suggesting The Blues Brothers, and to everyone for shouting, “I want my $2!” while I watched Better Off Dead.

Rio Bravo – The most enjoyable John Wayne movie I’ve seen, and the only one I didn’t outright dislike him in. It helps that the awesome Leigh Brackett wrote the screenplay, and that Howard Hawks directed it. We’ve all seen at least one variation on this particular siege story. Law men have captured a dangerous criminal, and must hold out against his vengeful friends’ assault. For me, it was Assault on Precinct 13, but you might have seen Rio Lobo or El Dorado or Ghosts of Mars instead. I’ve never been the biggest fan of westerns, but this was a really solid film. Not great. Not one of the classic Leone or Eastwood films, but really good. The closing gunfight is really well staged, and isn’t that one of the reasons you watch a Western, anyway?

This Is Spinal Tap – It’s funny, right? Was I supposed to be surprised? I’ve seen most of the modern Christopher Guest mockumentaries, and at first glance I’d say that Spinal Tap isn’t quite as refined as Waiting For Guffman or Best In Show, but you can see why this stuck around. Like most comedies, it’s hard to say how good it is without seeing it a few more times. The good ones always get funnier and the bad ones decidedly do not. I’d guess this one gets funnier.

The Blues Brothers – Yeah, there are a lot of classic comedies I haven’t seen. This is one of the ones that got people really riled when I admitted to having not seen it. Some movies with that much hype just collapse under the weight of it all. The Blues Brothers was just awesome, though. John Landis is a director whose late career disappearance confuses me, since he seemed able to handle any genre thrown at him. He’s at the top of his game with this, and manages to make a two and a half hour comedy packed with cameos and musical numbers buzz along like it’s the simplest thing in the world to pull off. There isn’t a thing wrong with the movie. Not the jokes, or the music, or the direction. A perfectly cast, insane, musical romp. Man, did losing Belushi so early suck.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three – When the remake came out, I figured I’d get around to seeing the original eventually. My uncle started nudging me into it sooner than I expected, so when it showed up on Instant Watch I figured I’d take the opportunity to check it out. I’ve always had an affection for really simple, stripped down movies that can work their premises for everything they’re worth. It’s why Die Hard and The Warriors and Assault on Precinct 13 are such gems. They don’t mistake being complex with being compelling. Pelham is one of those movies, with a really simple premise that it uses just right. It’s not a classic, exactly, but it’s perfect at doing what it wants to do. Walter Matthau puts in a great performance, and the villains seems canny and competent enough to actually succeed. Like I said, this movie hits a sweet spot for me, so your mileage may vary.

Better Off Dead – A while back I watched Say Anything and figured I should see the other John Cusack teen film everyone goes on about. I wasn’t expecting how weird this movie turned out to be. When there’s a scene with a dancing claymation hamburger playing Van Halen on a guitar and it’s no stranger than anything else int he film, you’ve got yourself a doozy. I really wish there’d been more Cusack in this (he spends most of the movie looking vacant and depressed), but there were some great moments. The gold-jacketed Japanese kids giving Howard Cosell-esque commentary was particularly awesome. Plus, now I know what people are talking about when they shout about wanting their $2. Weird. But fun weird.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller  – One day I’m going to run out of Robert Altman movies to watch, and it’s going to suck. This is Roger Ebert’s favorite of his – he calls the movie perfect, in fact – and it’s easy to see why. It’s a quiet and sad film, a western with the trappings of the genre but an entirely different soul. Warren Beatty’s performance walks a perfect line between a competent businessman and conman in over his head. When things start to go wrong, it’s proper, classical tragedy; his failure is born out of his own failings, not because the creaking gears of the plot are rolling over him. This isn’t an easy movie to recommend, but I really loved this movie. No one shot group dialogue scenes as naturally as Altman, and few directors could shoot a world so bleak without making it uninviting.

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3 Responses to Movie Education – November 2011 Update

  1. Brian says:

    “Man, did losing Belushi so early suck.”


  2. samatwitch says:

    Other than “This is Spinal Tap”, which I saw for the first time only a couple of years ago, I haven’t seen any of them, but I’ll have to look for them, now that I have Video on Demand on my TV service.

  3. Eric says:

    I’m not sure if I’d hardily recommend any of the movies this month, but I also wouldn’t warn anyone away from any of them. A lot of them were good, provided they were the type of movie a person could get into. I think McCabe was, by far, the best of the movies I watched, but wasn’t the kind of movie you tell your friends, “Hey! Check this out! You’ll love this one!”

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