Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown

Film critic Kim Morgan summarizes some of her favorite Roman Polanksi films, and it served to remind me, yet again, of this classic.

I always ask other people about their favorite movies and then when they ask me in return, I never have a ready answer. But this is damn close.

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The Three Faces of Al

Alexander Haig, the former secretary of state, four-star general and presidential adviser, died Saturday. You can read the obit I wrote on Haig here.

Haig was part of the inner circle around two presidents, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, making him a player inĀ  some of the more key events of our age. As you might expect, he’s been portrayed in film and movies by several actors. Here are just there, who are notable for not looking like Haig whatsoever: Matt Frewer, Richard Dreyfuss and Powers Boothe.

More interestingly, Dreyfuss and Boothe (right) have both played vice presidents as well. Dreyfuss played Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W. and Booth was that smarmy veep on 24. (Did he become president too for a short time? They all do at some point.)

But Frewer outdid them both. He was Max Headroom. (You don’t remember Max Headroom?)

BP Quick Hitter: There Will Be Blood (2007)

When they said the film’s final scene in a bowling alley was controversial and over the top, they were right. Who saw that coming?

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by Paul Thomas Anderson based on an Upton Sinclair novel

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano

Sat on my shelf for a year before I summoned up the emotional and intellectual energy to watch it. PTA’s films are all-day suckers and they demand a viewer pays attention. My ambivalence, however, was odd. I was a passionate fan of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and appreciated Hard Eight and Punch-Drunk Love. A new film was an event. Why didn’t I rush out and see it?

Was I afraid? Honestly, Magnolia, to my younger self, was a like an extended punch in the stomach. Was I ready to spend three hours with Daniel Day-Lewis in a deep, dark hole, figuratively and literally?

I finally went there–and i’m still processing. Like most pieces of art, it’s fairly inaccessible in places. But I have little doubt it is a profound work and like many artists, Anderson has learned to set aside some of his pyrotechnics in favor of clean-lined storytelling. (An interesting comparison might be Thomas McGuane.)

I have little more to say than that (because I need to see it again), but there is that now-infamous ending in the bowling alley, which spawned the hip catchphrase of early 2008 (and for me, of the last week, which means no one else wants to hear it). Anderson, as usual, wrapped his movie up in a tourniquet of trapped psychological and kinetic energy that it had to be released in a sideways, over the top way. Again, see Magnolia as the prime example (frogs, dude). Unlike other directors, he’ll go for broke and dare you to stop him. I admire him for it.

BP Quick Hitter: Zombieland (2009)

“They hate this.”

Directed by: Ruben Fischer

Written by: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

“Time to nut up or shut up,” is the mantra of Woody Harrelson’s character, Tallahassee, in Zombieland, a film that does the first more than the second, but not in the way you would think. It’s better than it had a right to be.

Harrelson (more on him later) is a zombie-killer who loves his job. Maybe he’s the flip side of George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air. And he does it with gusto, although he still can’t nail the “Zombie Kill of the Week.”

My sustained reaction as the movie rolled was relief. While I loved the creativity of the opening credits, along with Eisenberg’s voiceover describing our latest descent into post-apocalyptic anarchy (second one in a month if you count snowpocalypse in D.C.) .

Relief because the credits were about as gore-filled as the movie got (not really a head-half-blown-open kinda moviegoer), relief that the move knew how to downshift and relax, something about which most contemporary movies have no clue, relief that the characters got (a little) space to unpack, relief that the Bill Murray cameo was spot on and not too long—and most important, relief that the climax was so anticlimatic.

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