Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Big Empty (2003)

One of those movies which I seem to be the only one who likes. A brilliant ensemble comedy which has been out for 6 years, but is hard to find. I bought the only copy they had at my LackLuster Video store, but I don't think it saw much rental.
John Person (John Favreau) plays a down-on-his-luck movie actor in Hollywood. He has just about run out of all the money he took with him to tinsel town. One day, his reclusive neighbor (Bud Cort) shows up and makes him an offer: deliver a blue suitcase to someone known as the "Cowboy" in an isolated California desert town. If he does this he will receive several hundred thousand dollars. Of course, he's not supposed to open the suitcase.
John takes the job, travels to the town and quickly finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy involving UFOs, bullet trains, crazy locals, and the FBI. And The Cowboy isn't going to show up for a few more days.
I don't know why I love this movie, it probably has something to do with the ending. I'm not going to spoil it, but in involves the answer to human existence.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cadillac Records(2009)

Incredible movie about the rise and fall of the Chess Record label in Chicago. Most of the reviews have focused on Beyonce in the role of Etta James. I was amazed by Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf, the legendary blues singer. Which is why I included this clip of the big man in the movie.
Worth renting on DVD just to watch Mos Def in the role of Chuck Berry.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Russia has been producing some quality films as of late, although they don't seem to get much recognition in the West. 1612 tells the story of the fall of the Rurik dynasty and the rise of the Romanov one, which ruled till 1917. The film was produced in cooperation with the federal government of Russia for the new national holiday, National Unity Day (Nov.4). A lot of critics of the current government in Moscow have been calling this movie propaganda. Maybe, but only in the way Braveheart, Sands of Iwo Jima, or Knights or the Teutonic Order might be considered propaganda.
The film starts with the assassination of Tsar Boris Gudunov. The only witness is a serf boy named Andrei. It picks up ten years later where he is purchased by a Spanish Mercenary named Alvaro Borja. To go into the details of the plot would consume too much time, just let it be said it involves another claimant to the throne of Russia, the siege of a city, and the final battle of the control of Moscow.
Definitely of interest to anyone fascinated by Russian medieval history.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Culloden (1964)

Peter Watkins created the Pseudodocumentary with this movie. Told from the standpoint of a news crew, the last battle fought on British soil is done with realism and horror. There interviews with leaders on both sides of the Jacobite and Royal armies, while the troops stand by ready in the pouring rain. And a narrator continually fires off statistics while men drop dead on the battle field.
A bit of history: On April 16, 1745, an army of mostly highland Scots met their opposites on the Culloden moor near the town of Inverness, Scotland. The highlanders were supporting the cause of "Bonnie" Prince Charles Stuart, who claimed the throne of England. The other side backed the Hanoverian dynasty under King George II. Ill-equipped and poorly led, the Scots rebels were cut to pieces by a Royal army who opened up on them with cannon. It was a slaughter with the rebels running to save their lives. Prince Charles fled Scotland, never to return.
The film was shot in a stark black-and-white, which adds to the reality. I'm not an expert on this time period, but most of the costumes and uniforms look correct. Its hideous to watch the screaming highlanders run into controlled musket fire with only swords and small round shields to protect them. My only complaint is that the film suffers from the typical "History Channel" syndrome where 12 warriors represent an entire army.
Although the director would go on to do many other good films in a similar mode, none ever came this close to depicting a historical war.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To Kill A King (2003)

Excellent movie with Tim Roth as Oliver Cromwell. It's 17th Century England and the Royalist forces have just been defeated by the Parliament ones. However, King Charles is still alive, but under house arrest. The movie follows the intrigue between different factions of parliament over what to do with him. Dougray Scott plays Lord Thomas Fairfax, a close friend of Cromwell's and the voice of reason. It's a long movie, nearly two hours, but makes you understand why there are so many balances in the US constitution.