Bread and Roses (2001)
I haven’t kept my love for Ken Loach a secret in the past (I listed The Wind that Shakes the Barley as one of my favorites of 2007, and I’ve mentioned my admiration for both Sweet Sixteen and Kes). Bread and Roses only helps to reinforce that love. Even if he has a bias and can be a little heavy-handed with his message at times, Loach and his socialist ideals are comforting, giving us an imaginary world of perfection that shows real change can take place. It’s nice to watch during a time in which I’m experiencing extreme anxiety over the future of the United States in the November presidential election. Bread and Roses is the kind of movie liberals can watch while curled up with a mug of hot chocolate (no matter what the weather is like outside). I don’t want to turn anyone away from seeing it, but I feel I must say that anyone with right-wing tendencies probably won’t get anything out of the movie. Sorry.
I could just sum up the movie by saying, “Paul Scrader is God,” but I don’t think doing so would do the movie justice. George C. Scott is electrifying, and Schrader wonderfully uses the streets of New York’s underbelly as a playground for good and evil, angels and demons. It’s always interesting to see how Christian his movies are as he uses such dark subject matter at the same time. The ending comes as a bit of a suprise at first, but it settles into your system slowly.
Breaking Away (1979)
About time I saw this. Totally fun, insightful, and inspiring. All the characters ring so-very true. I graduated from high school only a few years ago, so the experience is fresh in my mind. As different as the boys are, they are completely sympathetic in their own ways. It’s also enlightening to watch how each one approaches his own fears and coming-of-age moment.
I’ve been interested in checking out the change of the portrayal of sex in movies since checking out Indie Sex from IFC, a documentary chockful of info and movie clips that intrigued me: now I have yet another “potential rentals” list to bring to the video store (a.k.a. work).
The unsimulated sex scenes in Romance are interesting not only because I’m a guy but also because Breillat doesn’t put them there to give all the guys in the audience stiffies. These scenes are erotic, yes, but the messages in those scenes are so necessary that an R-rated cut couldn’t do the job. These messages, however, get old after a while, and I can’t say I would recommend the movie as a whole as much as I would like to. Even though I much prefer Fat Girl, Romance is still a solid movie.
Spanking the Monkey (1994)
I thought it would be fair to cover only one David O. Russell movie, and even though I enjoyed Flirting with Disaster more, I’d rather people discover Spanking the Monkey, a gem of a first film, than never hear about it and rent Disaster instead.
My creative writing teacher recommended it to me as an example of a story that heightens tension without resorting to some ridiculous, violent climax. Despite the two main characters being a college student and his mother, the sexual tension is teeth-grinding, leg-kicking, bite-the-inside-of-your-cheeks tense. (It doesn’t help that Alberta Watson, who plays the mom, is quite the attractive 40-year-old.)
Name a more disgusting, affecting, fragile, beautiful movie (all at the same time) than Happiness. End of story, case closed.
Blow Out (1981)
I could only get through about half of it at first. On a second watch, though, I found a lot to like about Blow Out. The movie irritated me as I kept thinking about Blow Up and its similarities other than the title. After getting a chance to soak it all in, I really dug it, especially the scenes where we see the soundman (a non-dancing John Travolta) in action, getting into his groove as we try to get a clue about what he plans on doing.
And the ending is great. Definitely not as pretentious as Blow Up‘s.
I don’t expect to write some revelatory mini-review of Tootsie: everybody has seen it except for me (not anymore!) and a handful of kids. The writing is fun (though very by-the-screenwriting-handbook), the acting is solid, and most importantly, it’s funny.
But I will say (or ask, rather) this: Why is this movie on AFI’s list of the best 100 American movies ever made? Yes, it’s a cultural landmark, and that’s their criteria, but don’t call it the top 100 American films. Call it “the most culturally relevant American movies ever made” instead. It’s a lot less misleading.
Chuck & Buck (2000)
Various scenes in Chuck & Buck are simultaneously comic, disturbing, and insightful. Mike White wrote and starred in this little indie with fellow writer Chris Weitz. A character or two rubbed me the wrong way and not every scene works. I have symmpathy for Buck (White), though, and since he’s the driving force of the movie, it all balances out. As I said for the also-uneven Horton Hears a Who: a modest recommendation.
Far from Heaven (2002)
Todd Haynes (The Karen Carpenter Story, Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There) lulls you into a Douglas Sirk-esque world and snaps you back to reality with one utterance of the f-word. Dennis Quaid shows off his talent in his role as a husband who has homosexual tendencies in 1957 Connecticut. The movie doesn’t try to push buttons unnecessarily: it ends up being about tolerance and accepting one another’s differences. Haynes doesn’t even need to get melodramatic like Sirk: he lets the story flow like it should.