The House


Sophie's Revenge

I really have to work at not reading enough to spoil the movies I'm interested in before I've seen them. It's worth the effort: I don't want someone else's opinion to color my first reaction, and I hate knowing what's coming next because some reviewer outlined too much of the plot. But I feel like I'm constantly battling the barrage of publicity filmmakers and distributors want you to see, and I don't always win. Sometimes I don't get to be surprised enough by a film because I know too much about what's in it. And sometimes a clever publicity hook reels me into a movie that's not really for me.

That happened yesterday with Sophie's Revenge, a self-consciously Hollywood-style romantic comedy from China that's part of this year's New York Asian Film Festival. Whoever wrote the blurb for the festival's website got me with this: "You need to know: the conspiracy is real. 20 years ago, American film distributors secretly met with the CIA and were told that it was their patriotic duty to convince audiences that China was hell on earth. To that end they agreed to only import Chinese movies about unwashed orphans riding in the backs of rusty trucks through industrial hellscapes populated by unwed mothers sitting in the dirt and crying over their abortions."

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TAGS: a movie a day, hou hsiao-hsien, jia zhang-ke, new york asian film festival, sophies revenge, zhang ziyi


[Author's Note: Razzle Dazzle is a six-part video essay that looks at how movies have examined the many facets of fame (heroism, infamy, and everything in between) and how they have shaped the audience's perception of what fame offers. See the videos in their original context at Moving Image Source here and here.]

Part One:

Part Two:

Aaron Aradillas is a San Antonio-based critic and the host of Back By Midnight.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the founder of The House Next Door.

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TAGS: moving image source, video essay


The Return

The idea that you can watch as many DVDs as you want for one monthly price and keep them as long as you want with no late fees, which drew me to Netflix a decade or so ago, already feels too restrictive. The discs I order one day are rarely what I'm in the mood for when they arrive, so they tend to sit by the TV for weeks while I download others from the Watch Instantly list. Sure enough, when I got home from a live performance too late to go to a movie theater last night, I skimmed through the instant downloads and found The Return, a Russian movie from 2003. I'd missed that when it came out, and it sounded like just the thing.

I used to think it would bother me to watch movies on my laptop, but the sound and image quality are usually just fine, and I sit so close that the image takes up about as much of my field of vision as the screen in a movie theater does even when I sit near the front, as I usually do. Watching a movie like The Return does make me wish for a bigger screen, though, since so much of its power comes from its visuals.

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TAGS: a movie a day, ivan dobronravov, sunflower, the return, vladimir garin


Rambo: First Blood Part II

[Editor's Note: This is the latest entry in our annual "Summer of…" series, copresented by Aaron Aradillas of Blog Talk Radio's Back By Midnight and Jamey DuVall and Jerry Dennis of Blog Talk Radio's Movie Geeks United!.]

One part '70s rogue male action movie, another part innovative Hollywood blockbuster pushed all the way to "11", and totally responsible for changing action movie grammar—big silly war flicks were never the same after its May 1985 release—Rambo: First Blood Part II sits in between filmic worlds. Despite it being one of those movies everybody knows, it's a tough one to parse. Nevertheless, Brandon Soderberg and comics artist and illustrator Benjamin Marra chopped it up about Rambo: First Blood Part II, and tried to get to the center of its wizened, gummy politics but also talk about why it's just, well, awesome.

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TAGS: charles napier, george p. cosmatos, rambo first blood part ii, summer of 85, sylvester stallone


Rambo: First Blood Part II

[Editor's Note: This is the latest entry in our annual "Summer of…" series, copresented by Aaron Aradillas of Blog Talk Radio's Back By Midnight and Jamey DuVall and Jerry Dennis of Blog Talk Radio's Movie Geeks United!.]

As I was heading off to my first day of elementary school, my father said, "If they ask you your religion, tell them you're a member of the Church of the Holy Gun."

It was a joke, of course. But not entirely.

I grew up in a gun shop in New Hampshire. Or, more accurately, I grew up in a house with a gun shop attached to it. I was never baptized, but I was given a life membership in the National Rifle Association when I was born. My first substantial birthday present was a .22 rifle my father built for me when I was three. Other kids always wanted to come over to my house to play Cowboys & Indians because we got to use real guns from my father's box of broken pistols and revolvers. By the summer of 1985, I was nine years old and my father had just gotten a license to sell machine guns.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (which I've always just called Rambo II) was one of the first R-rated movies I ever got to watch. I don't remember if my father took me to see it at our local movie theater or if I watched it when he rented the videotape later. I expect it was the latter, but it feels in my memory more like the former—going out to see a movie was a big event in my family, much like the sequence in The 400 Blows where Antoine and his parents go to see a movie and for the time they're under the spell of the celluloid dreamworld, it takes no effort to smile.

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TAGS: rambo first blood part ii, richard crenna, steven berkoff, summer of 85, sylvester stallone


Grown Ups

I came out of Grown Ups yesterday feeling as if Hollywood had given me a giant wedgie. Here's my review for TimeOFF.

Elise Nakhnikian has been writing about movies since the best way to learn about them was through alternative weeklies. She is currently the movie reviewer for TimeOFF. She also has her own blog, Girls Can Play, and a Twitter account.

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TAGS: a movie a day, adam sandler, chris rock, david spade, grown ups, kevin james


Coming up in this column: I Am Love, Winter's Bone, Video Slut: How I Shoved Madonna off an Olympic High Dive, Got Prince into a Pair of Tiny Purple Woolen Underpants, Ran Away from Michael Jackson's Dad, and Got a Waterfall to Flow Backwards so I Could Bring Rock Videos to the Masses (book), This Is Korea!, The Desert Rats, Hot in Cleveland, Some Summer 2010 Television, but first…

Sunset Blvd.

Fan mail: If you read #48 right after its posting, you may have missed an interesting comment on it from Ed Sikov. He's the author of On Sunset Boulevard, the great Billy Wilder biography I mentioned in the item on Stalag 17. I said in the column that Sikov had not told us what Wilder thought of the TV series Hogan's Heroes, which bore a more than passing resemblance to Wilder's film. Sikov commented that he did not include that because he never got to interview Wilder for the book. His description in his comments of meeting Wilder later is worth going back and looking at.

I suppose I picked up while reading his book that he had not interviewed Wilder (he mentions it in the Preface), but I had forgotten it in the twelve years since his book came out. His book is so good and so thoroughly researched that it does not make any difference. This goes to a point I have made about this column before: there are a lot of ways to understand screenwriting. You will notice sometimes I have quotes from the writers. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I discuss producers' contributions, both good and bad, to screenplays. Sometimes I will discuss studios and networks and their part in the collaborative process. What I try to do in the column, and what Sikov does brilliantly in his book, is gather as great a variety of information as we can and organize it in ways that will educate and entertain readers. If you have any interest in Wilder, you probably have already read Sikov's book. If you haven't read it, it really is required reading.

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TAGS: burn notice, hot in cleveland, i am love, in plain sight, justified, the desert rats, this is korea, understanding screenwriting, video slut, winters bone


Crime WaveJust about everything I've written about so far in this Movie a Day series is pretty easy to find no matter where you live: If it's not in a theater near you, it's on DVD or due out soon. But not Crime Wave, the 1985 film I saw last night. It was selected for a one-night screening by Not Coming to a Theater Near You, which should give you an idea of its status. According to the film's director, John Paizs, who was at the screening for a Q&A afterward, Crime Wave was released on VHS (as The Big Crime Wave, since Sam Raimi released Crimewave that year), but it's not on DVD or Blu-ray.

That's a shame. Crime Wave is a gas, and it's probably the most inventive movie I've ever seen about the agony of trying to fill an empty page. Paizs plays the tormented screenwriter, Steven, who's a whiz at beginnings and endings, but can't figure out what to put in between. During the Q&A, Paizs said he knew he wasn't a good enough actor to read lines for the part, but he figured he could pull off a silent role. He was right: His speechless schmo's stunned-fish affect gives him a primal, Harpo Marxish innocence that's both comic and endearing.

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TAGS: a movie a day, crime wave, eva kovacs, john paizs, not coming to a theater near you, top of the food chain


Vincent and the Doctor

"Vincent and the Doctor" is one of the episodes this season that I was particularly looking forward to. It's not often that a writer as prominent as Richard Curtis gets involved with the show, and having the man behind Blackadder (as well as several highly successful feature films) contributing an episode was a prospect to savor. And I wasn't disappointed—the result is a complete success. While a bare plot summary—the Doctor meets Vincent Van Gogh and helps him defeat a giant chicken from outer space—might suggest a less than serious episode, "Vincent and the Doctor" is in fact a deeply felt piece of work, with a wonderfully complex portrayal of its central character and plenty to say about topics that Doctor Who doesn't normally touch.

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TAGS: bill nighy, doctor who, Johnny Campbell, karen gillan, matt smith, recap, richard curtis, tony curran, vincent and the doctor


The General

I have a confession to make: I outed a celebrity last night. I felt mortified the moment I'd spoken the words, so I blame Buster Keaton. I had just seen The General and was out of my head with Buster-induced bliss, and so, when a comic actor I love gestured me onto the escalator, I blurted, "Steve! It's Jeff Garlin!" My husband had the presence of mind to ask Garlin if he'd just seen the movie too, and wasn't it great? "Yes, just about as great as anything can be," Garlin said. "It made me so happy."

Exactly. It's always an enormous pleasure to see this Buster Keaton classic, which may be my favorite of his feature-length films (though The Cameraman also delights me from start to finish). But to see it on a big screen, in a print recently restored by the Museum of Modern Art, preceded by two reels of brave and brilliant physical comedy from Steamboat Bill Jr. and accompanied by Ben Model? Heaven, I'm in heaven…

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TAGS: a movie a day, ben model, buster keaton, jeff garlin, marion mack, steamboat bill jr., the cameraman, the general







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