Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Congress

Ken Burns presents the history of our federal representative body, lauding its successes and exposes its weaknesses. Covering 200 years of history (the film was released in 1988) and over 12,000 representatives, the surface is barely scraped in a running time of 90 minutes. Focusing on lions such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, covering key eras such as Civil Rights and the Women's Suffrage movement, told by then members of Congress, and presented in the Burn's usual, exemplary style (with David McCullough's stalwart narration), "The Congress" is still an excellent though abbreviated history.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A linguistics professor (Shlomo Bar-Aba) and Talmud expert at the University of Jerusalem is far more conservative and significantly less successful than his highly lauded son and contemporary (Lior Ashkenazi). When the elderly scholar receives official word that he is to receive Israel's highest honor for his work, he feels vindicated after a lifetime of methodical labor, which puts the son in a moral quandary when he is informed that a grievous mistake has been made and the honor was actually intended to go to him. Joseph Cedar's "Footnote" is an impeccably constructed film which strains to be quirky, audacious, and self-aware early on but quickly reveals how deep and layered its story is, with a great moral conundrum which it refuses to compromise.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Un Chien Andalou

"Un Chien Andalou" was the brainchild of Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali and is the highly influential harbinger of surrealist filmmaking. Designed to shock, the twenty minute short is constructed like a nightmare, featuring illogical, nonlinear, and now famous imagery, which includes a man with ants on his hands and the jarring eyeball slashing scene. Even its title has no significance or relevance towards the plot. From subsequent short films and music videos, through low-budget and experimental films, and up unto the films of David Lynch and the like, you can see this short's weird and immeasurable influence.

Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 Oscar Afterthoughts and Contest Results

Following a surprisingly funny opening from first time host Seth MacFarlane, the Oscars proved to be another plodding, phony, self-congratulatory strokefest featuring anticipated disappointments and very few surprises. Out of not wishing to make a cohesive post (which is pretty much business as usual at this blog), here are a few of my thoughts on the event followed by contest results:

  • Although I was pulling for Tommy Lee Jones, I was still glad to see Christoph Waltz pick up another trophy. He was the core of Tarantino's film once more, and did an admirable job investing humanity in his character while again spinning the loquacious dialogue.
  • Why was Adele the only Best Song nominee allowed to perform?
  • I was a little put off by the "Life of Pi" visual effects winners bragging about how most of the film was fake, which made me want to discredit its cinematography win, although I think its still the most sumptuous of all the nominees.
  • It was pretty neat to see the tie, although I can't for the life of me remember what category it was in.
  • Exactly what was going on with this year's themes? First there was the tacky Bond tribute, celebrating 50 years of an enormously successful British series at an American award show. Then there was the lame brained idea of tributing musicals of the last decade, which was just an excuse to have fading celebrities clench on to their quickly fading stardom and have the tone deaf stars of "Les Mis" provide an encore to their glowing turd of a movie.
  • It was good to see "Searching for Sugarman" and "Amour" take home their trophies in the Documentary and Foreign Language category, although I would have liked to see Michael Haneke and company fare a little better otherwise.
  • Again, that Adele song isn't even that great
  • Argo was the best written adaptation this year? You gotta be friggin' kidding me.
  • I liked seeing goofball Quentin Tarantino win the screenplay award, but he wasn't the most deserving contender this year either. This was probably a make-up award for the egregious snub a few years earlier when he went home empty handed for Basterds.
  • Best surprise of the night was Ang Lee. I was so glad about this it almost made me change my mind about the entire evening.
  • Will someone please explain to me what the big deal is with Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence? I don't get it. It is a pretty neat stat though that the two least deserving women went home with acting Oscars tonight though. Sheesh.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis proves that even he needs a good script as his unexpectedly joke-filled acceptance speech fall flat.
  • Argo? What a joke.
Contest Results
It's becoming a disturbing trend but once more I did not win the Oscar contest. The winner was Eleanor Morse, a previous winner from two year's ago. I am still working on tweaking this contest which has now run for four years, and hope to have a more improved version up and running for next year's show. See you then!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

2013 Oscar Challenge

If you submit a ballot picking the Oscar winners and have more correct picks than me, then you win a DVD of your choosing valued at $15.00 or less. Only one winner and no cost to enter. Submit you picks before 7:00PM EST on February 24, 2013. This year, however, I have decided not to handicap myself by going first. I will release my picks sometime between the deadline and the start of the show at 8pm. Due to being limited by trial accounts on various survey sites, this year's survey only consists of the major races plus a tiebreaker. If a tie remains with the tie breaker in place, I'll flip a coin.

Enter to win at the following link:

Andy’s Picks

Best Picture

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence

Best Supporting Actor
Tommy Lee Jones

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway

Best Director
Steven Spielberg

Best Original Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The 2013 Oscar Nominated Shorts - Animated

This year the Oscar nominated shorts left town almost as quickly as they came in, and I was only able to catch the animated program which is available entirely online from various outlets. Frankly, I don't feel I'm missing much with the two programs I've forgone, being the Live Action and Documentary, in that they tend to be serious and self-important, and I've read that this year was no different. With this year's animated entries though, they did prove to be a pleasant surprise and there was no creative dearth as had been the case over the last several years. The nominees span several animated formats and storytelling techniques, but all share one thing in common: a complete lack of dialogue. My favorites were "Adam and Dog", which tells the story of the first man's pet in the Garden of Eden and "Fresh Guacomole", which provides a variant recipe for the dish in and told in under two minutes. Also well done were "Paperman", about a young man attempting to make contact with a girl who caught his eye, "Head over Heels" which tells of an older couple living at opposite ends of their floating, constantly rotating house, and "The Longest Daycare", a Simpsons short where baby Maggie experiences an inexorable day at the Ayn Rand school for gifted babies. Here are four of this year's five nominees.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pickup on South Street

A pickpocket, (Richard Widmark) casually plying his trade on a crowded subway, relieves a gangster's moll (Jean Peters) of the contents of her purse which just so happen to be government secrets she was unwittingly transferring to the Russians. Now, the pickpocket is the target of both U.S. agents and the gangster's deadly cohorts, and must decide what to do with his highly targeted acquisition and the equally jeopardized femme fatale who has also fallen into his lap. Sam Fuller's "Pickup on South Street" is a gritty crime thriller that features many jarring scenes and relies heavily on Widmark's characteristically nasty lead performance. Thelma Ritter is likewise excellent as an ill-fated police informant.

The Turin Horse

The narrator informs of a story involving German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche who, upon seeing a horse whipped by his master near his country home in Turin in 1889, sunk into a deep, near inconsolable depression. The film then follows the cab driver to his desolate country home where he wallows in misery with his daughter, a scene we get to regard for the next three hours. After watching "The Turin Horse", supposedly the last film (fingers crossed) for acclaimed Hungarian director Bela Tarr, I quickly googled "synonyms for snail's pace" as I did not want to be insulting towards snails when referencing this films interminable plotting. When carping about Michael Bay films and the like, whose films contain a cut about every three seconds, we should be equally weary of faux art films like this, here containing only approximately thirty shots, feigning to tell a story, and dragging on seemingly forever. "The Turin Horse" is a resoundingly bleak and pretentious bore, which Tarr clearly thought was his great final statement. Maybe if he would have made the film about Nietzche.

Huey Long

Known as the Kingfish and beloved by the people, Huey Long was a populist Louisiana Governor and Senator who used bullied tactics and unscrupulous political methods but brought real change to his Depression stricken state. It is thought he would have seriously rivaled FDR for the presidential nomination had he not been gunned down on the steps of The State Capitol at Baton Rouge in 1932. "Huey Long" is another great early profile from Ken Burns which features the expected excellent stock footage and contains interviews with Robert Penn Warren, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the King's Men based on Long's life, colleagues and family members, and constituents who still look back fondly on the man who many say is the closest the U.S. ever had to a dictator.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

To fulfill the dreams of a Yemeni sheikh, abetted by the Prime Minister's press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is desperate for a major positive story, a leading fish hatchery expert (Ewan McGregor) is contracted by an intermediary (Emily Blunt) to fulfill the absurd title initiative. "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is the same kind of well-made pap that has been synonymous with most of Lasse Hallstrom's work. It is pleasant and inoffensive and features likable leads who should probably be pursuing more challenging projects.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Return of the Pink Panther

The Pink Panther Diamond is stolen once more, this time from a museum in a small, European country. When it appears that thought-to-be retired master thief Sir Charles Lytton (Christopher Plummer taking over for David Niven) is responsible, disgraced beat cop Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is promoted again to his position of Inspector, much to the dismay of his unhinged superior officer (Herbert Lom). The fourth entry in the Pink Panther series (the third with Sellers) has a good reputation among critics and fans, but is really just more of the same, with Blake Edwards rehashing the gags that worked best in the first two installments, some of which are still extremely funny.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Downton Abbey

Season 3
The Earl of Grantham finds himself being left behind in the postwar world as control of a poorly managed Downton is subtly rested from his hands by Matthew and his other rebellious son-in-law returns to the estate a fugitive from the law with his very pregnant wife in tow.  A doggedly determined Anna struggles tirelessly to spring the wrongly accused Bates from the pokey, the usual members of the staff are up to their old tricks while a few more are introduced, and the Dowager Countess is given a run for her money when her daughter-in-laws mother pays a visit from America. Continuing the trend which was evident in season two, moves full force into unashamed, almost unwatchable melodrama, relieving itself almost entirely of any goodwill it had attained up to this point. Shameless plotting, irksome acting, horrid writing, boring new characters, and a surprising disappointing guest appearance from Shirley MacLaine are just a few of the general lowpoints on a season where nothing works. "Downton Abbey" is a prime example of what is wrong with television today: stories have beginnings, middles, and ends and most TV execs don't realize that. This series should have been treated like a mini series (which I believe it was initially intended to be) and cut off after the first go round.
* 1/2

Season 2
(spoilers herein)
As the Great War shakes up the caste system, the residents of Downton Abbey's lives are thrown into disarray as a betrothed Mary yearns for the return of Matthew, Lady Sybil takes up the practice of nursing and with the inflammatory chauffeur, and Anna deals with Bates' preposterous conscious. The second season of "Downton Abbey" is quite a letdown compared the marvelous inaugural one. Where the first felt fresh and garnering genuinely earned emotions, here it feels silly and recycled and in often cases shameless, including such instances as a deathbed wedding, a miraculous paralysis recovery, and the deadly Spanish flu carrying off only an inconvenient cast member. It also seems the effects of World War I, devastatingly felt across the continent, barely impacted the characters in this series (which could quite possibly be the point). Also, storylines keep going in circles (the Bates one is ludicrous and becoming insufferable). And still, after that harping, the show does retain much of its charm with not everything totally lost (Maggie Smith is a wonder) and is likely to keep on delighting the less discriminating viewer.

Season 1
The Earl of Grantham, the head of the prestigious English manor home of Downton Abbey, has just received the tragic news that his heir to the estate and his son have perished on the recently sunken Titanic. Now, having three daughters and no sons, the benevolent Earl and his American wife must find a suitor for their eldest and stubborn daughter Mary before their title and fortune passes on to someone else. Meanwhile the passing over of a malevolent footman for a coveted valet's job which was given to the Earl's lame Boer War soldiering mate is the impetus for drama, nastiness, and romance in the servant's quarters. As war approaches and their safe world is continually changing, the members of Downton Abbey struggle to hold on to their way of life, while some pursue their long thought impossible dreams. "Downton Abbey" is a magnificent series originally produced for the BBC and impeccably crafted by creator Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for writing Robert Altman's "Gosford Park". Fellowes draws you in with his beautiful photography and sumptuous score by John Lunn, and creates multi-dimensional, sympathetic characters whom you never can seem to quite peg down (except maybe for the sinister footman Thomas). The performers are all wonderful, and this is the type of series where different characters would appeal to all kinds of people. For me, I really admired Hugh Bonneville as the Earl, trying to be decent while simultaneously maintaining tradition and order. Or Joanne Froggatt as an angelic maid or Siobhan Finneran as a not so angelic servant, though not entirely unsympathetic. And of course Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess who plays the role that, well, only Maggie Smith could play. Sometimes you can see where the story's headed and sometimes the writing is a little too convenient ("well I know a butler in Leeds who knew a valet who worked for a count who saw so and so, etc. etc."), but regardless, I don't remember ever being so involved and moved by a series before.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Peeping Tom

A disturbed photographer (Karlheinz Bohm), damaged by his over-analytical psychiatrist father during childhood, devises a method of capturing women at their most horrifyingly expressionistic moment possible, with his handheld camera which doubles as a bayonet. While becoming a suspect after an extra (Moira Shearer) on the film set he has been contracted on disappears, he begins a relationship with the kind young woman (Anna Massey) living in the flat below as he starts work on his latest masterpiece. Following a  career of astounding, against the grain projects, many with his longtime partner Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" was panned as trash by a stuffy 1960's Britain and essentially marked the end of the distinguished director's career. In the passing years, the tide of opinion has shifted, and Powell's disquieting statement on voyeurism and psychoanalysis has been heralded as the unflinching masterpiece it is. Bohm gives a shocking, non-emotive performance and Massey is likewise excellent in this uncompromising and frightening picture.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Being Flynn

Still reeling from the loss of his mother (Julianne Moore), a struggling young writer (Paul Dano) makes contact with his megalomaniacal, ne'er-do-well father (Robert De Niro), loses touch once more, and then reacquaints himself with the old codger while volunteering at a homeless shelter. While watching "Being Flynn", before seeing his excellent turn in "Silver Linings Playbook", I jotted in my notes "De Niro can hardly do anything to diminish his status as an icon of the cinema but at this stage, does he really have anything to add to it beside self-parody?" While I have been since proved wrong in that short amount of time, it is still true of this film (and a lot of the drivel he has been in over the last fifteen years) that he has resorted to cheap riffs of his iconic characters and personages. Paul Weitz's film is seriously misguided, features an uninvolving performance from Dano, and gains very little from its untarnishable, legendary star.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dorian Gray

In this most recent update of Oscar Wilde's often film only published novel, a young Londoner (Ben Barnes),  corrupted by an aristocrat (Colin Firth),  maintains his good looks while his appaling and vapid inner essence is revealed in his grotesque, ever changing self-portrait. "Dorian Gray" is a fine looking film, and one that for awhile seems like it will be a great adaptation. Soon however, it turns exceedingly nasty and takes too many liberties with Wilde's story, most notably with Dorian's once secret but here revealed exploits which are neither intriguing nor sexy by the way they are depicted. As was the case with the superior 1945 film, the imagery involved with the picture itself is excellent.

Friday, February 15, 2013


"Vincere" tells the story of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), a woman who fell in love, married, and bore a child to a young, fiery and idealistic Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) before the tumult of the First Great War. When the two came back in contact, and Benito was remarried and well on his way to becoming Il Duce,  he spent the rest of his life covering up his first marriage in the most horrid manner. Marco Bellocchio's film is an odd piece of historical representation that turns its little known story into heightened soapy melodrama and isn't quite as involving as it should be. It is also tarnished by the distracting soundtrack, which borrows heavily from Bernard Herrmann's famous "North by Northwest" scoring.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Statue of Liberty

Designed by the French as a gift for America's centennial celebration by Frederic Bartholdi, The Statue of Liberty held in wait for nearly ten years as U.S. officials struggled to secure funding for its base. Eventually erected in New York Harbor, it was dedicated in 1886, and has stood as a symbol of freedom ever since. Ken Burns' sophomore documentary features a phenomenal historical presentation for about two thirds of its hours long runnning time, but loses something when it concludes with lengthy expert interpretations (which include James Baldwin and Mario Cuomo) expressing their ideas of liberty.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

California Suite

Following the successes of the stage and screen version of Plaza Suite, Neil Simon followed it up with another 1-2 punch in the "Grand Hotel" format, this time set in an L.A. lodge. Here we follow a divorced couple (Jane Fonda, Alan Alda) deciding the future of their daughter, a Hollywood power couple (Michael Caine, Maggie Smith) preparing for the Academy Awards, a pair of reluctant business partners (Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor) on a disastrous vacation with their families, and a philanderer (Walter Matthau) caught in the act, trying to explain the circumstances to his wife (Elaine May). Like much of Simon's work, this Herbert Ross helmed feature is often grating but is redeemed by engaging intelligent acting by Fonda, Alda, Caine, and Smith (who won an Oscar for her portrayal of an actress dreading the prospect of her imminent acquisition of one). On the other hand, I had no idea what was going on during Cosby and Prior's ill-advised, out of place slapstick sequences, and Matthau's segment goes nowhere until May turns up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Side Effects

A young woman (Rooney Mara) sinks into an insurmountable spiral of anxiety and depression following the return of her husband (Channing Tatum) from a white collar prison. Seeing a respected psychiatrist (Jude Law) on the recommendation of her hometown therapist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), she is placed on a new psychotropic drug which leads to a bizarre tragedy and a catastrophic fallout for the good doctor. "Side Effects" is said to be Steven Soderbergh's final film, and although I don't believe it will be, it would be a great loss to the industry if it is. Reteaming with his "Informant" and "Contagion" screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, Soderbergh again show why he is one of the most versatile filmmakers, here crafting a nice little measured and twisty crime thriller. Mara once more is completely captivating and Law delivers an impressive performance as a desperate and intelligent man, unwittingly backed into a corner.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Around the World in Eighty Days

British cad Phileas Fogg (David Niven) bets the other stuffed shirts at his social club that, due to the rapid advances in transportation of the time, he can traverse the globe in no more than eighty days. Travelling with his servant (Cantinflas), he begins a raucous journey that takes him in a hot air ballon,  to a Spanish bullfight, through the jungles of India, and the streets of Hong Kong and San Francisco, before engaging marauding Indians on a passenger train in the Wild West. Michael Todd's "Around the World in 80 Days", a grand but fundamentally empty spectacle he was able to march all the way to a Best Picture Oscar, you can see a lot of today's big budget dreck stemming from this film. In an overlongh adaptation of Jules Verne's 1873 novel directed by Michael Anderson, you never get the sense the characters are partaking in an arduous journey. Rather, you get a lighthearted romp, stretched out to three hours featuring a slew of impressive (Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre to name a few), but sidetracking cameos.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

A troubled British youth (Tom Courtenay) from a low-income family with a terminally sick father at home finds solace in his lengthy runs. When he is sent to a reformatory following his participation in a petty robbery, he is quickly placed on a pedestal by the warden for his considerable athletic skilled, and charged to lead the prison's cross country team--a position which serves as a conduit for a major act of defiance. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" is an Angry Young Man film from the British New Wave of filmmaking from the early 1960s. Based on a short story Alan Sillitoe who also wrote the screenplay, it is directed with delicate realism by Tony Richardson and invested with empathy by Courtenay. Also, the ending is an unexpected, perfectly realized kick to the gut.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saps at Sea

After suffering nervous exhaustion from working in a horn making factory, Ollie is urged by his doctor to take it easy and Stan has a brilliant idea: recuperate for a spell on a boat trip. With Ollie holding a fear of the open seas, the two decide to rent a boat and stay dockside with their pet goat they use for nourishment and, unbeknownst to them, a notorious convict stowed away in bows of the boat! When the goat chews through the lines and the boat is cast at sea, Stan and Ollie must devise a way to rid themselves of Nasty Nick before he does the same. In the days of the two and a half hour, gross out, yet cheaply sentimentalized comedies, I more than ever long for the one-reel comic entertainments of the 20s and 30s, especially those done by Hal Roach and Laurel and Hardy. Along with many of their other films, "Saps at Sea" is unassuming and features outrageous gags and great comic timing between the duo.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Les Misérables

With the pall of the abysmal recent screen adaptation hanging over my head, I journeyed to the Palace Theater last night to view Les Misérables, the beloved musical version of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, and although the stench of Tom Hooper's clunker could not be completely extricated, I must say that the stage production was a lively and moving experience. With its cast of booming voices, the orchestral melodies, and the magnificent sets, it is easier to overlook the lyrics, which seem at times as if they were composed by a 5-year-old. Looking back at the mesmerized audience from my corner balcony seat, and  later regarding the numerous bawling women exiting the theater, I realized what a sensational production this is, and wished I had skipped that bloated, confounded film.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stand Up Guys

A stickup artist (Al Pacino) is released as a geriatric after an extended prison stint. Reuniting with his best friend and partner in crime (Christopher Walken), the two pull an all nighter where they visit a cathouse, blow prescription drugs, spring their former wheelman (Alan Arkin) from a nursing facility, and rescue a damsel in distress, all before 10AM at which point the partner is expected to put two in the back of his recently sprung buddy's head per request of the local crime boss. With "Stand Up Guys", not only does Pacino continue his descent into *current* acting irreverence, but he pulls Walken and Arkin into the maelstrom with him (not that they need much pulling given stretches in their track records). This is a putrid, half-handed film, with a script that was sent through the cliche script factory and sent through once more for good measure. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Anne and Georges, an elderly married couple living in their Paris flat, return home following a recital of their former music pupil. The following morning, Anne has a minor episode and after a doctor's confirmation of a blocked artery and an unsuccessful surgery to repair it, Georges assumes the daunting role of caregiver, wishing to spare his wife any humiliation possible as they begin the painful procession to finality. I don't really know how to describe my personal reaction to Michael Haneke's "Amour", but it struck both a personal and deeply visceral chord, and was one of the most shattering experiences I've had at a movie. Haneke is often charged with making exceedingly grim films, but I think he just strips away the phony, sentimental veneer to which many moviegoers have grown accustomed, and presents an authentic, often very harsh view. On top of the deeply felt emotive attributes, "Amour" is a methodical, masterfully made film with a series of perfectly realized scenes. It's stars, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, are nothing less than extraordinary as she begins a quick physical descent as he suffers the gradual, emotional wear, and their devotion is evident in every scene.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

The sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church can find its origins in the dismaying (there's really no appropriate descriptor) case of four men of told hundreds who were molested as boys by a priest at St. John School for the Deaf in Superior, Wisconsin. Through years of shame and self-doubt, and Church cover-ups and legal roadblocks that appeared to reach the highest levels of the Vatican, their dauntless actions ultimately led to a multimillion dollar judgement that bankrupted the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and brought to light numerous cases of horrific misdoings around the world. For someone who went to Catholic school for 12 years, and for whom the acts of clergy as documented here would be unimaginable, I don't know how to respond to this documentary. Alex Gibney's "Mea Maxima Culpa" is a sickening and disheartening documentary that in addition to telling its horrific story, helps somewhat to explain the mindset both of how the Church has tolerated such abuse over centuries and also how many Catholics have responded to media reports over the last decade. The film works best when it focuses on its primary story but strays somewhat when the focus turns to a longstanding, serial pedophile in Ireland or tying said cases to Pope Benedict XVI (although it does appear there are dots to connect). Once more, Gibney has demonstrated that he is one of the few documentarians who understands how best to work his medium (I could just picture Michael Moore making a similar movie, shouting into his megaphone outside the Vatican) by crafting another excellent investigative and dispiriting film.

Monday, February 4, 2013

40 Minutes of Hell

When Nolan Richardson was hired to coach Arkansas' basketball team, he imported a ferocious style of play, the likes of which had not been seen by the school, and which culminated in an NCAA Championship in 1994. Richardson also carried a chip on his shoulder, often decrying the treatment of fellow black coaches, and also frequently polarizing those around him, the ugliness of which reared its head during his firing from the university in 2002. "40 Minutes of Hell" is a an excellent sports profile, which prominently features a more collected Richardson, taking us through his prolific career, from his unprecedented championship run with a much involved then President Clinton, to heartbreaking personal tragedies, and his own fiery personality and the resulting exploits.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

You Don't Know Bo

By crossing two professional sports seemingly without effort and with freakish, natural athletic ability, Bo Jackson established a legacy of near mythic proportions. Born in small town Alabama and becoming a Heisman winner at Auburn, Bo was a star athlete for the L.A. Raiders in the fall and Kansas City Royals in the summer, before his athletic career was cut short by a bizarre accident. "You Don't Know Bo" is a 30 for 30 entry that falls into what has become a standard trap for the series in that it is heavy on the commentary and exceedingly light on the actual documentation. Jackson's story is told with so much "expert" analysis, and a lot of hyperbole at that, that it is even a stretch to call this film a documentary. The sequences actually featuring Bo and his exploits are interesting, and he seems like a decent enough guy, but hearing a bunch of 40 year old losers talk about his Nike commercials and their fondness for Tecmo Bowl has a counterintuitive effect and diminishes his brief, yet significant legacy.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Teahouse of the August Moon

In a small village in Okinawa, as part of the U.S. military's postwar reconstruction of Japan, a by-the-book army captain (Glen Ford) is charged to build a school for the locals. Aided by a translator (Marlon Brando), the people prove wiser than the American officials give them credit for and trick the officer into building what they really want: a fully functioning teahouse. It is a little jarring at first (and shocking I might add) seeing Brando playing a Japanese translator in what could be described as a stereotypical portrayal. He quickly proves quite comically adept and delivers what is ultimately a very humanistic performance in Daniel Mann's very funny filmization of John Patrick's play film. Glen Ford is also in fine form also as the perpetual lughead and Paul Ford is also quite good playing his commanding officer.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Duellists

When a lieutenant (Keith Carradine) in Napoleon's army is charged to arrest a like-ranked officer (Harvey Keitel) and carries out his orders during a dinner party, it is apparently the insult to end all insults. Over the course of the next twenty years, their lives are consumed by the pointless and increasingly volatile rivalry, where they engage in a series of bloody duels. Based on a story by Joseph Conrad, "The Duellists" was Ridley Scotts' extraordinary, highly artistic directorial debut. It tells an engrossing though often vague story, and features an incredibly appealing performance from Carradine, even if Keitel is miscast as he usually is in period pieces. Cinematographer Frank Tidy shot on an absolutely gorgeous canvas and the film features a series of staggeringly realistic sword fights.