The Killing (1956) - Stanley Kubrick directed and co-wrote this film noir caper classic. A band of career criminals and squares are gathered to execute a flawless racetrack heist, of course everything unravels, but not in the exact way the audience would expect. Filmed in stunning black and white, this is one of Kubrick's earliest films, before he had complete control and autonomy from the studio system. The technical aspects and camera work is flawless, and glimpses of Kubrick's later misanthropy and hopelessness filter through, especially in the devastating finale. My one complaint: If I had to see that shot of the loudspeaker at the racetrack one more time I was going to kill myself and every horse in central Illinois. Kubrick felt the need to begin everypart of the "see the hiest from everyone's perspective" with a shot of that damned speaker. B+
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) — Children are monsters, but like the best coming of age stories, the adults can be the biggest and most clueless monsters. So goes the middle school experience for painfully-awkward Dawn. Her life is hell. She's under-appreciated by her parents and teachers, not exactly wealthy in the friends department, her last name is Wiener and she's regularly called ugly by her classmates. Welcome to the Dollhouse alternates between extremely sad and bleakly funny, but hits the kind of honest softspots Hollywood doesn't even bother with. At times the depictions of '90s middle school were too close for comfort. This was my first Tod Solondz film, I've heard they all hit similar uneasy notes and I'm definitely bumping them up in my que. He finds humor in situations I won't spoil, but lets just say they wouldn't be funny outside of the context of this film. There's no nudity, little cussing and no violence, but you still don't want to watch this with parents — that's the marking of true edge. It took away prizes at both the Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards. A-
Shoot the Piano Player (1962) — This is the first film I've seen from the French New Wave — a movement of young French filmmakers that challenged and deconstructed conventional '50s French cinema. Highly influenced by Hitchcock and American film noir, French New Wave came around to also influence American film by the late '60s, evident in 1967s Bonnie and Clyde's loose and carefree style, jump cuts and violence. Shoot the Piano Player features all the new wave trademarks, shots out-of-sequence, flashbacks, jump cuts, voice-overs and a willingness to toy with the audience and film conventions itself. The style and pacing is brisk, and because of it's influence on later films, it feels much less dated than many American movies from the early '60s. Characters will suddenly disappear from shots, an extended flashback overtakes about half of the film's second half, and hand-held cameras race along with characters during foot chases and fight scenes. The story telling is fairly straight-forward, mixing elements of crime, comedy, romance and suspense in its lean 82 minutes. The plot involves a timid barroom piano player who is drawn into trouble with gangsters when his two brothers botch a robbery. But, director François Truffaut flips many of the traditional gangster archetypes, something I didn't completely realize until I read an AV Club review afterwards. Ex., The gangsters are jokesters instead of actual tough guys who are most dangerous because of their ineptitude, etc, as the AV Club review stated. This is Truffaut's second film, his first, 'The 400 Blows', is known as the movie that jump started the French New Wave. I'm watchin' that soon. A
The Wrestler - (2008) Mickey Rourke's performance lives up to the hype. This is the first time I've had to repeatedly remind myself "it's only movie, relax" since I was nine. It's depressing as shit, though. A-
The Salton Sea (2002) - Val Kilmer stars in this neo-noir about a tweaker out for a finale score and revenge. It borrows from several movies that did it better, namely Memento and Payback, but it's still got a sweet plot and plenty of over-the-top, extreme scenes. The serious and melodramatic scenes also don't work at all, and drag down well executed suspense. Vincent D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket) steals every scene he's in as Pooh-Bear, the redneck meth cook and dealer who had his nose amputated after snorting so much gack. B-
Broadcast News (1987) - Meh, didn't finish it.