#10: TAXI DRIVER (January 24th)
Just to clear the air, when I was strutting around grammar school, glaring at people and saying, “You talkin’ ta me? You talkin’ ta me?” - I apparently wasn’t quoting Pumbaa from The Lion King. My bad, teachers of the past, for making you think I was quoting Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s first truly landmark and critically recognized film as a director. Post-Mean Streets, a compadre of mine told me that Taxi Driver was the next logical step on a path of psychotic Robert De Niro discovery and henceforth, I have been enlightened.
Have you ever wanted to be thrust down a downward spiral of a rabbit hole? Then Taxi Driver is just the uncomfortable, raw assault you’ve been looking for. Lonely and depressed, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) combats his chronic insomnia by taking a job as a taxi driver in Manhattan after being honorably discharged from the US Marine Corps. On every dark corner of his city, Travis is disgusted by filth, crime, and prostitution and channels his rage and frustration into intense physical fitness, stock piling gun, and his dedication to convincing child prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) to return back to her family. Basically, think Catcher In The Rye with Tarantino bloodlust.
Martin Scorsese’s psychothriller baby, Taxi Driver is a powerful and landmark look into the psyche of an emotionally diseased knight in twisted armor. This film is completely driven by De Niro’s gritty and unnerving performance as a man driven mad, oscillating between righteous hero and depraved monster. This is definitely peak De Niro and Scorsese in their youth and prime. Taxi Driver is a must for any lover of classic, critically acclaimed cinema, but fasten your seat belts. Check it out and let’s talk about a long haired Harvey Keitel, pimping out a tweenaged Jodie Foster.
“Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man…” - Travis Bickle.
★★★★★ / Five mohawks outta five!
#9: MEAN STREETS (January 24th)
As a corroborator of uptight American film school elite snobbery, I’m constantly exposed to tons of classic and obscure films on random Monday mornings in my ‘just-rolled-out-of-bed’ best. Being stuck in a dark, windowless screening classroom forces me to give everything a chance. If you turn your nose up to anything in this class, you’ll be ready to claw through a soundproof wall after the first half-hour. However, a gift from the film school Gods was bestowed upon me in the form of Martin Scorsese’s very first feature film Mean Streets.
Obscenely enthralling, Mean Streets follows Charlie (Harvey Keitel), a young man climbing the ladder of the New York Mafia, as he is continually torn between his religious beliefs, ambitions and ties to the Italian crime family, and feelings of responsibility to mind his reckless friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) as he struggles to sort out his morality. Unlike Goodfellas which tends to glorify a glamorous mob life, Mean Streets gives its audience an intimate and raw glimpse into the true life in the underbelly of the New York Mafia. Outsiders are shunned, morals are questioned - there’s a hierarchy and you gotta have respect and know your place…or there will be a price on your head.
Bathed in religious imagery and two amazing breakthrough performances for a young Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, Mean Streets is everything that one would expect a fresh out of school, ambitious Martin Scorsese would make. It’s gorgeously shot and plotted with the typical Scorsese solid gold oldies soundtrack, but Robert De Niro really takes his role as the psychotic square peg Johnny Boy and runs with it. You can tell he’s going to be causing problems from the second he enters the Mafia bar and the Rolling Stones starts blaring through tradition Italian opera. It’s a must for any Scorsese fan. Check it out and let’s talk about that William Blake allusion. Yes, a William Blake reference in a 1970s Scorsese film.
"I fuck you right where you breath, because I don’t give two shits about you or nobody else!" - Johnny Boy.
★★★★★ / Five uncomfortable feelings for a young Robert De Niro outta five!
#8: DOGMA (January 23rd)
A longtime fan of the casual dick jokes of the Kevin Smith Clerks Bible for ManChildren, there was something that I feared would be lost in Dogma. It would be someone that I was so used to being so silly taking on such a dense, touchy topic like religion - think Jim Carrey delivering the State of the Union. However, following a viewing of Galaxy Quest, I was told this was going to be my forced-exposure comedic Alan Rickman education. Seriously, guys, I loved being proved wrong sometimes when it yields such a profound, yet still true to Smith-form result.
When the very notion of existence of threatened, abortion clinic worker Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) must prevent fallen angel’s Bartleby and Loki (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, respectively) from entering heaven after being cleansed of their sins by passing through the doors of a church, thus proved God fallible and causing the end of the world. With the help of prophets Jay & Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and director Kevin Smith, of Clerks and Strikes Back fame), a muse named Serendipity (Salma Hayek), the black thirteenth apostle (Chris Rock), and the very voice of God (Alan Rickman), Bethany must battle demons, her own self-doubt, and her loss of faith in order to save her world and everyone in it.
Incredibly ambitious and occasionally deeply moving, Dogma was a huge surprise to me. There is honestly some really profound stuff in here, and, yes, lest we forget some classically raunchy Jay & Silent Bob dialogue and tons of profanity - but also some profound stuff! I’m talking religious revelations given to you by Kevin Smith and great performances from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They emote! Dogma really proved me wrong in thinking that Smith was a one-trick
donkey pony. It was just silly enough and just the right amount of wrong, but also was full of real soul and spirituality. Check it out and we’ll talk about Buddy Christ.
"You are Bethany Sloane. Nobody can take that away from you, not even God." - Metatron.
★★★★★ / Five Holy Bartenders outta five!
#7: GALAXY QUEST (January 23rd)
I suppose you all think I should start getting nostalgic here, but this was my first time seeing Galaxy Quest - an apparent egregious error on my part since this seems like some key piece of all of my friends’ childhoods. One of my compadres Zach has been making all these vague references to this “favorite movie when he was a kid”, so during a incredibly lazy movie marathon day on January 23rd where I curled up in a fuzzy Avengers blanket and equally plush pajamas, I regressed and went back to filled in this missing part of my adolescence.
A parody on nearly every level of a sci-fi television series or a fan base, Galaxy Quest follows the cast of a once popular eponymous Star Trek-esque space-melodrama through the most reluctant adventure they’ve ever had together. The gaggle of actors playing characters pretending to be heroes find themselves quickly in over their heads when it becomes their duty to protect a real race of aliens from the genocidal, reptilian warlord Sarris. Do I sound like I’m summarizing some kind of Buzz Lightyear backstory to you? Because that’s what it sounds like to me. Emperor Zurg!
While the concept seems so silly and childish, Galaxy Quest really surprised me by being genuinely funny and great parody of popular sci-fi dramas like Star Trek and their devoted armies of Trekkies while always maintaining an air of respect for the genre. Headed by Tim Allen, this ensemble cast of characters including Sigourney Weaver, Daryl Mitchell, Tony Shalhoub, and a baby Justin Long creates both hilariously comic moment, but even some touching scenes. We all got a little farklempt. However, Alan Rickman and Sam Rockwell really steal the show as the trained Shakespearian actor and the incurably nervous “red-shitrt”, respectively. Check it out and let’s talk about if the red-shirts really have a last name.
“Hey! Don’t open that! It’s an alien planet! Is there air? You don’t know!” - Guy Fleegman.
★★★★ / By Grabthar’s Hammer…four savings outta five!
#6: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (January 19th)
Before the weirdest three-mile walk back to our dorm on a Saturday night, my two compadres and I went down to the Brookline Coolidge Corner theater for a midnight showing of film print of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). Based on the overall experience alone, this was a super cool film that we got to watch in an awesome Art Deco theater with comfy chairs, a one super-hyped guy in the audience, and some dude that accidentally said “bringin’ it black” when talking about next month’s blaxsploitation theme.
Some cross between an episode of CSI and Psycho, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage follows Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), an American writer living in Rome, who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery and becomes trapped between two glass panels - helpless only to watch the killer flee the scene. Just as he’s about to leave the country, the Italian authorities hold Dalmas’ passport, believing him to be an important witness to solving a case that may be the work of a serial killer. Soon, while trying to solve the mysteries of the crime he witnessed, Sam and his girlfriend Guilia (Suzy Kendall) find themselves the target of this vicious, stalking killer.
Definitely a suspenseful and perverse thriller, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is packed with some awesome shots and real terror - even if the film print sometimes looked like someone spilt paprika into the projector during the night scenes. There’s also some really interesting parts of the film solely devoted to all of these sweet old methods of solving murders like trying to analyze recorded phone calls by guessing which noises constitute the background. Check it out and let’s talk about our mystical periods. I’m only writing mystical reviews about mystical movies now.
"And to prove that your threats don’t scare me, I announce…that you will have another murder to solve by the end of the week." - Killer.
★★★★ / Fattening up four cats outta five!
#5: THE FOX & THE HOUND 2 (January 20th)
I’m pissed that I’m writing this review, but I half-watched this entire movie because it was playing in the background of my suite, so I guess I’m required to write this and - hey - it’s one more movie towards 365. But, honestly, how the hell do you think this straight to DVD sequel to Fox & the Hound was?
Basically, going on only memory and what I gleaned from barely listening, this is some midquel between Tod and Copper growing up to fulfill their destinies, but somehow Copper end up joining a all-dog band because he has the voice of an angel or the voice of a dog or something. Also, Patrick Swayze was there and Reba McEntire. Good Doggie, No Bone.
I have no critical analysis of this film, but as one of my esteemed colleagues once said on the topic of The Fox & The Hound 2:
It was okay I guess, They were in a band…I dunno.
RIP Swayze (Freeman, 24601).
"Why is this happening to me?" - Me.
★ / One corona & lime outta five! RIP Shwayze.
#4: THE LAST STAND (January 19th)
Somebody needs to help me understand my feelings for this movie because every fiber of my being and my own personal tastes assures that I should have hated it, but I loved it. The second new film for me in my movie-hopping adventures on Saturday was The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzengger’s glorious solo-action film leading man second coming. As much as my friends and I dig the Governator (we prepared in the morning by watching 200+ Arnold one-liners on Youtube), I obviously came in with reservations about what I was about to see, but it ended up being a kind of delightful trip into the vengeful world of an angry, kick-ass grandpa.
The Last Stand is your classic action film formula with tons of guns, explosions, over exaggerated deaths, and car chases…very fast car chases. When his quiet border town Sommerton Junction, Arizona is threatened by the impending passing through of a violent and wanted escaped drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega), Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) must band together a patchwork crew of hapless allies to stop him in his tracks. Despite the urging of FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) to leave it to the higher powers, Owens is forced to take matters into his own hands. Pretty after-school special, right? It’s okay - let it go.
This movie is silly as hell and I’m mad that I got so attached to the story and the characters. There’s something that’s just so likable about an aging Arnold running around and quipping with a ton of guns and Lady Sif from Thor (Jaimie Alexander), Paulo from Lost (Rodrigo Santoro, and Luis Guzmán. Brushing past the obvious gripes of snobby film-goers everywhere, director Kim Ji-woon really does give his audience some really fantastic action sequences and I dare you to not enjoy yourself. Check it out and let’s talk about Johnny Knoxville’s character…
“How’re ya feelin’, Sheriff?” “…Old.” - Sheriff Ray Owens.
★★★★ / Four face stabs outta five!
#3: MAMA (January 19th)
Would I recommend Mama to someone who easily goes into mild cardiac-arrests at the slightest jump scares, literally feels her skin crawl when things move unnaturally, or to someone who was going movie-hopping with four guys that he or she couldn’t use as a human pair of horse blinders? No. But, I am that girl. I saw Mama. I lived, and possibly even enjoyed it a bit.
Mama is no instant classic or the usual artsy flick that my film school friends would recommend to me, but it served its purpose as a quintessential PG-13 ghostly horror film. Orphaned in the woods, sisters Victoria and Lily (Megan Mcgarry & Isabelle Nélisse) are looked after by a haunting apparition they call ‘Mama’ (Javier Botet). When the girls are discovered five years later, they’ve developed animalistic tendencies and must be integrated back into a normal life with the help of their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his live-in girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) - but ‘Mama’ isn’t ready to let her girls go.
Overall, Mama was fun. I saw it with a bunch of my friends and I love the adrenaline rush of being scared, even if it by some silly ‘pop out and scare ya’ moments. There are some obvious flaws in the way director Andres Muschietti chooses to use ‘Mama’ in nearly every scene and the mystery that surrounds her ghost is revealed far too quickly, but Chastain’s role as a mother-figure to these two little…wood-beasts is actually pretty sweet and believable and it’s a very un-American horror film in the way it ends and how the audience is led to feel about our spooky antagonist. Check it out and we’ll talk about how uncomfortable this ghostly bitch’s crumbled up, skittering all over the place, multi-jointed body makes you feel.
“She gets jealous…” - Victoria.
★★★ / Three hair roombas outta five!
#2. RUSHMORE (January 16th)
One of the major goals of this 365 day project is to complete the filmographies of some of my favorite directors - one of them being Wes Anderson. I’m pretty well acquainted with Anderson’s whimsical, offbeat directing chops when it comes to his more recent films like Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and, my personal favorite, The Life Aquatic, but I’ve never felt like a true fan without catching any of his earliest work. My friend Alex here at Emerson got me Bottle Rocket and Rushmore for my birthday, but I was still too lazy, but on a sleepless college night on our first week back to school - I finally got around to watching Rushmore.
As much as I loathe the phrase “indie darling” to describe anything from people to a film like Rushmore, I seriously have to use it. It’s an indie darling. There, I said it. The story revolves around fifteen-year old enigmatic schoolboy Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) who’s life revolves around two things: all of the extracurricular oddities at his prestigious school, Rushmore Academy, and a crush on the beautiful, widowed Ms. Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). The plot certainly thickens when Max’s friend Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a wealthy industrialist with a failing marriage, also becomes deeply enamored with Ms. Cross and begins a secret relationship with her.
As quirky as always, Rushmore is Wes Anderson’s Catcher in the Rye - a strange take on boyhood adolescence, much more than Moonrise Kingdom was. Writers Anderson and Owen Wilson make you root for this little twerp that is so precocious you just want to clock him in nose. While the soundtrack draws from 1960’s British Invasion, the film is a modern take on the cliché love triangle that is chock full of dark humor and genuinely touching moments. Check it out and let’s talk about Max’s play. Seriously.
“I saved Latin…what did you ever do?” - Max Fischer.
★★★★ / Four boxes of bees outta five!
#1: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (January 15th)
Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. If you think of yourself as a brave person, I can venture to guess that you’re lying. Bravery is a quality to admire in superheroes and actions stars, selfless star-crossed lovers and fearless leaders, and a Hushpuppy who lives with her daddy in the Bathtub. Facing the new year and even this daunting 365 project, I needed a stiff drink of some kind of beautifully creative inspirational courage cocktail - and Beasts of the Southern Wild definitely hits the spot.
Imaginative and heartfelt, Beasts of the Southern Wild stands as last year’s little indie-film that could. The films lets you slosh around through the muck of a Louisiana bayou community alongside our five-year old heroine Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) as she embarks on a touching journey of heart and supreme bravery. When Hushpuppy’s island community called The Bathtub is threatened by rapidly approaching superstorm, she and her ailing, hot-tempered father Wink (Dwight Henry) must band together with the remaining islanders to survive in the flooded Tub.
Director Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film is a magical foray into the fantasy drama genre that speaks with the honest voice of a child. Hushpuppy’s honest and mature voiceovers guide you through her ramshackle world and, at first listen, seems incredibly simplistic, but is actually deeply thought provoking on sublime existential levels. While Wallis’ old soul and spunky attitude garnered her an Oscar nomination at age nine (seriously, she’s the youngest nominee in the history of the show - what have you done so far today?), the true standout and definite Oscar snub for me is Dwight Henry. Check it out and let’s talk about how amazing he is and how much you’ll just unabashedly weep.
“Everybody loses the thing that made them. It’s even how it’s supposed to be in nature. The brave men stay and watch it happen, they don’t run.” - Hushpuppy.
★★★★★ / Five pigs in costume outta five!