Movie Bites

email 4 March 2009


I’ve started watching movies from my new Blockbuster online account.  I have to say I really like the way it works, and a preliminary comparison with Netflix does not fare well for Netflix, that is of the online interface, not to mention you can’t return mailed movies to the local Netflix store to speed up by a day or two how quickly you get the next movie.

I was surprised to find that there was a report yesterday of Blockbuster going bankrupt, as it’s stock fell from about $1 to 22 cents.  I know there is a grand malaise out there with almost all businesses, but I’d think people are renting more than ever to save money compared to going out to the movies.  Plus, I am sure Netflix will have trouble competing.  On the other hand, maybe it is exactly the lack of physical stores, and therefore lack of overhead, that is Netflix’s advantage.

But that’s not the main reason I am writing.  I wanted to report on the first 3 films I’ve received from this service.  The first one I viewed was The Bicycle Thief, or more properly translated Bicycle Thieves (There is some controversy as to the translation, but I think the direct translation into the plural serves the film better).  This “neorealist” B&W Italian film from 1948 was very good, compellingly shot and engrossing; I recommend it.  But you have to be in the mood to watch a square-framed Italian B&W film from 1948.  A number of film critics still today consider this one of the top 5 movies of all time.  I think it pales with its age, since the type of “realist” drama contained within has been thoroughly expounded upon in countless films since.  It’s a testament to how good the film is that despite our modern, even jaded perspective fed by 24-hour news and nightly reality programming, it holds up quite well and is never boring.  If you do watch it, make sure it is in the 3:4 aspect ratio, as Dad & Laura’s DVD player doesn’t seem to allow this (the TV control can override I believe).

That this was the first film I watched points to a small hiccup with BB, as it knocked my #1 choice, The Thin Man (1934), to #3.  Probably the one copy was in Delaware or Georgia.  I did complete this one last night.  I suppose it was very popular at the time, but unless you have some unquenchable thirst for lighthearted “mystery” fare from the 1930’s, I’d say skip it.

The film in-between the two classic B&W’s was Insomnia, 2002, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank.  This was a disappointment.  I’d been wanting to see this ever since it was first released.  I was intrigued by the idea of Pacino and Williams chasing after each-other in Alaska in the snow where there is never any sunlight, or as is the case here, never a moment that the sun is not shining.  I thought there could really be an all-out struggle which would drag the viewer down into its depths, but that never came close to happening.  Instead, it was a highly standard, boring plot of killer has got the goods on detective, oh how will detective get out of this jam?  The performances of Pacino as the detective who can get no sleep and Williams his tormenter are the redeeming aspects of this film and the reason to watch should wish.

It is fun watching great actors such as these doing there thing.  Otherwise I’d say skip it; on an absolute scale I’d give it a marginal thumbs down.  Maybe it would get a marginal thumbs up, but blood is not translucent!  Use good fake blood, with a little opacity!  The stuff here looks just like red food coloring, maybe a little thicker.  I’m not giving anything away here; this blood is shown soaking into white cloth in the opening titles, and is used a transition theme throughout.

And that about does it for director Christopher Nolan.  I think the two Batman movies so far have some good things going, but are no better than what Tim Burton did with the subject — though Christian Bale is a lot better than Alex, eh, I mean Michael Keaton.  Also was not that impressed with posthumously Oscar-awarded suicide boy Heath Ledger.  But this is the Academy behaving as they always do, so I’m not disappointed that someone more deserving did not win.  Have not seen The Prestige, but The Illusionist with Edward Norton and a similar subject was supposed to be better.  And I did not for a moment believe the much-lauded Memento, not its premise, not its storyline.  That’s 0 for 4 on this great director in my book.

And the last movie I watched which was obtained from the actual BB local store was Lakeview Terrace.  This is about a biracial married couple who move next door to Samuel L. Jackson.  Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t like biracial couples.  He don’t take kindly to ’em.  And he’s the man with the badge, so I don’t think you gonna call the police.  This is a compelling storyline, and the movie works.  I recommend it.  Could have been a truly great film had it developed into a better ending, but I best not say anything about that now — I’d spoil it, and Samuel L. Jackson would strike down upon me with great vengeance and furious anger… oh, got carried away there… Pulp Fiction flashback.  Anyway, a good modern life tale, but not some incredibly great film you can not miss.

I’m taking a night off from movie-watching to write this, among other things.  Right now I think I’ll prepare a little banana pancakes dessert.  I have these overripe bananas…


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