Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Across The Universe (2007)

The sixties in a glib nutshell set to the songs of The Beatles. While not as terrible as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" it has the same problem of trying to integrate their song catalog into a plot. And hearing some one else, particularly an actor, sing these songs just sounds, well, wrong. It does have an odd side effect; taken out of a Beatles context you do notice the song itself more and how extraordinary it truly is. By and large, these masterpieces are murdered by the cast, one notable exception being Joe Cocker (Bono, however, is excruciating). Boring, occasionally lit up by director Julie Taymor's flashy, plastic visuals and the best songs ever written.

Friday, December 24, 2010

In A Lonely Place (1950)

Re-watching an old favorite (Andrew hadn't seen it). It stars Humphrey Bogart as Hollywood screenwriter Dix Steele (who's the prime suspect in a murder investigation) and Gloria Grahame as his neighbor and alibi. Directed "through a glass darkly" by the tremendous Nicholas Ray, it is the ultimate gloomy romance. The performance of Bogart's career; a perfect encapsulation of the sour, romantic, tough loner persona that he embodies. Gloria Grahame, one of the most mysterious actresses of the golden age, has never been better or more beautiful. She's so good, you shake your head and wonder why more leading parts didn't come her way. This is Hollywood wet-dream territory, one of the loveliest films ever made.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Please Give (2010)

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener once again trots out a sharp indie comedy starring her muse, Catherine Keener. Keener and husband Oliver Platt own a high-end Manhattan used furniture store, the contents of which were obtained by scouring the obituaries and buying up the belongings of the recently deceased. They are once again on death watch when their 91 year old neighbor promises them her apartment when she dies. These endeavors start making everyone feel a little guilty and behave a little screwy; Keener starts handing out obscene amounts of money to panhandlers and Platt has an affair with Amanda Peet (only in the movies can a man as ugly as Oliver Platt have Catherine Keener for a wife and Amanda Peet for a mistress). There are lovely performances (particularly from Keener and Rebecca Hall) and a lot of interesting ideas. Basically, how do you remain a good person when you make a lot of money? Also, the old neighbor is a bitch, and when she's gone, what (besides her apartment) will be left behind that will have any value? It becomes clear that the title has many connotations.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Long term lesbian couple Julianne Moore and Annette Bening's teenage kids track down their biological father, sperm donor Mark Ruffalo. Soon he's infiltrating their perfect Hollywood lesbo lives, much to the chagrin of the dominant partner (Bening). The characters seem like "types", and they all come off one-dimensional despite a talented cast. I didn't laugh when I was supposed to, I didn't cry when I was supposed to, and I didn't learn anything about anyone here. This movie is all right, but only just. This has to be the most overrated film of the year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. (2010)

Documentary chronicling a year in the life of the foul-mouthed comedy dinosaur. Living life in "the business" and what that does to a person has rarely been displayed so vividly. At age seventy five, her mental sharpness and physical stamina are astounding: You can see her mind racing as she waits to go on stage, and later she disposes of a heckler like she's stamping a cockroach. Years of fighting to be heard and taken seriously have left her tough to a fault. What's left is what you see: her mask of a face, raspy voice, and eyes that shoot daggers. She may live well past one hundred.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Summer Storm (1944)

George Sanders and Linda Darnell star in this Chekov adaptation from director Douglas Sirk. It's elegant, beautiful, and so boring. I adore Sirk's justly famous, less respectable, and twice as brilliant later work. I don't see a Sirk film for a tasteful night at the movies. Give me Dorothy Malone rubbing a miniature oil derrick like it's a penis in "Written On the Wind" or Susan Koener throwing herself on her mother's coffin in "Imitation Of Life".

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Letters To Juliet (2010)

After suffering through shitty rom-com after shitty rom-com, I've begun to hate love itself. Low expectations are the key, and the key to enjoying this film. An unfulfilled writer goes to Verona with her fiance and ends up falling in love with a smug Englishman. He's there with his grandmother who's looking for the love she lost fifty years earlier. Amanda Seyfried is nicely understated, the liver lipped Christopher Egan is unappealing despite a sizable bulge, and Gael Garcia Bernal is so irritating he's worthy of a slow death. The best thing in this movie is seventy-three year-old Vanessa Redgrave. Her mere presence makes this not just watchable but even persuasive. God damn it, I ended up liking it. The first twenty minutes are rough, but once they get to Italy (all that scenery) and Miss Redgrave, it hits it's stride. By the way, whoever chose the insipid pop music soundtrack should be fisted without lube (it nearly ruins the movie). Corn, yes, but good corn.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Casey Affleck is a sadistic Texas deputy in zig-zagging director Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's pulp novel. Winterbottom seems on a mission to direct every kind of movie, and direct it well (what's next? A Bollywood musical? The new Garfield movie?). The only maniac cop movie that intertwines sex and violence as thoroughly is Nick Ray's "On Dangerous Ground". But the Robert Ryan character in that film was warped by the job and tormented by his own behavior. Affleck on the other hand is a tranquil sociopath. Plus, the Nick Ray film was made in the fifties, and nowadays you can show things that could only be hinted at then. This film is appallingly brutal at times, there is a scene near the beginning that hits a new low in violence. There are at least two scenes that contain shocking and heartbreaking violence towards women, even by today's standards. I'm recommending this only because it's directed with care, wonderfully acted, and the most acrid film I've seen in ages. I'll probably see Affleck's dead eyes and mask-like face when I close my eyes tonight.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)

Winner of last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. An Argentinian police detective is assigned a rape and murder case that quickly comes to nothing thanks to corruption and red tape. Years later and retired, he revisits the case as a possible subject for a novel. All the shitty memories that surrounded the case come back to the fore, including some unfinished personal business involving an unrequited love. Pretty great, despite a penchant in Spanish-speaking culture for melodramatics (the ending, while totally satisfying, is a little hard to believe). It chugs along with a nice mixture of action, romance, drama, and dark comedy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Me and Orson Welles (2009)

Wonderful movie about a (fictional) high school senior (Zac Efron) who falls in with Welles' Mercury theater on the eve of their legendary production of Julius Caesar. Zac Efron is a little glassy, but still better than expected. The real show here are the impersonations of the real life Mercury players: Ben Chaplin as George Colouris, Leo Bill as Norman Lloyd, and Christian McKay as Welles are particularly excellent and totally uncanny. A perfect depiction of the creative process (and the egos of creative people) to the point where I had a lump in my throat when the curtain rose on opening night. A vivid recreation of a time when artists mattered and the staging of a play could change the world.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

Rather long-winded and dispiriting documentary about Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Despite director Alex Gibney's attempts to infuse this with Michael Moore style touches (sarcastic song choices, ironic film clips of other movies) this feels as dry as a senate hearing. At one point, an interview subject says something that indeed sums up this film: "Jack's life was an action movie that turned into a dreary documentary."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Solitary Man (2010)

Michael Douglas in what is a bit of a departure for him: playing a slick, reptilian jerk. Oh, wait. Starts off with him getting grim news from a doctor...a scene that's a little hard to watch, considering. It then jumps forward six years, after he's alienated every friend and family member being the world's biggest asshole. He spends ninety-five percent of the movie being a dumb, selfish twat, only to have scenes of him finally being a "swell guy" tacked on at the end. Every couple of years there is a movie like this. I guess it's wish fulfillment for middle aged men. They can be the pricks they want to be, yet they can toss out some breadcrumbs of kindness and bullshit about being a man and all is forgiven. ("No, honey, you're wrong, I wasn't fucking chicks behind your back because I didn't love you, I did it because I was hurting, couldn't you see that?") This is very similar to the vastly superior "Wonder Boys", watch that instead.

The Square (2009)

Australian neo-noir about a married guy who's having an affair with the married hottie across the way. She finds a bag full of money that her husband has hidden in their attic and devises a plan to run off blah, blah, blah. It's yet another variation of "Double Indemnity". And every time some other young filmmaker wants to make their "Double Indemnity" or "Blood Simple" it gets more tired and boring. We've all seen this before: femme fatale, boorish husband, blackmailers popping up here and there, and some chump who gets the shaft all because he pointed his dick in the wrong direction. It proves what I've said, that heterosexuality just doesn't work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Red Riding Trilogy: 1974, 1980, 1983. (2008)

British crime saga that spans nine years and is loosely based on the real-life "Yorkshire Ripper" case. The first film (1974) is about a young reporter who's assigned to cover the story of a child murderer on the loose. The second film (1980) tells the story of the mishandling of the Yorkshire ripper case (It seems Yorkshire county had cornered the British serial killer market around this time) and the outside investigator brought in to take over the investigation. The last part (You guessed it, 1983) has a lawyer returning to his boyhood hometown to handle the appeal of the man convicted of the murders in part one.
Pretty great but rather confusing at times, trying to keep track of all the players. I recommend watching all three in succession. Not many films have captured the shitty smell of corruption so vividly. While watching this I kept wondering how deep the rot would go. The rot itself was rotted. Not recommended for someone wishing to feel comfortable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)

Neat idea and a great lesson on how effective the power of suggestion can be. Sure, it's got an evil German doctor, bimbo actresses who can't act, and plenty of gore. But what really makes this slightly better than your average horror film is the welcome addition of camp humor, a mainstay of 70s horror. That, and the thought of facial disfigurement, anal tearing, and shit eating.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Taxidermia (2006)

A comedy of horrors from Hungary about a farm hand who shoots fire from his penis, has sex with the farmer's wife, who in turn gives birth to a half human/half pig baby who grows up to be a champion speed eater, who falls in love with another speed eater who gives birth to a renowned taxidermist who embalms freakishly enormous house cats. You can judge by this synopsis whether or not this is your type of movie. Guess what category I fall into?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Torture Garden (1967)

This looked good on paper. Jack Palance, Peter Cushing, and Burgess Meredith in a British horror film directed by acclaimed cinematographer Freddie Francis. How bad can it be? I got my answer. I didn't think it possible to have those players all together and have the movie turn out dull. Like watching someone tend their garden for two hours.

The Collector (2009)

An absurd, depressing, unpleasant, flashy, far-fetched piece of shit. This kind of noisy garbage is what passes for horror nowadays. I lost eighty minutes of my life and I'm sure as hell not gonna spend any more time recounting the experience.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vincere (2009)

The kick-ass Italian film "Vincere" (Win) is the best movie I've seen in months. Something like opera on crack, full of visual and aural bombast. The kind of film Baz Luhrmann would direct if he had taste. Written and directed by Marco Bellocchio, it tells the story Mussolini's secret mistress (played by the incredible Giovanna Mezzogiornio, who could give Meryl a run for her money). The more powerful and notorious Mussolini becomes, the more he ignores her. The more he ignores her, the more desperate she gets for his attention (she flashes her pussy at him during a photo op). He then proceeds to erase his dirty little secret by throwing her in an asylum and whisking their illegitimate son to a military school. Big moments and tiny details flood the screen. Powerful as an advancing army and as convincing as propaganda. I couldn't open my eyes wide enough.

La Mission (2009)

Benjamin Bratt stars as a tough-ass Latino ex-con who freaks out after discovering his teenage son is gay. This follows the predictable pattern, and I suppose if it didn't, it wouldn't work. What prevents this from being an after school special is the acting, which is wonderful. I shit you not, all the leads are tremendous. The script is pretty good, too. Writer/director Peter Bratt (Benji's brother) seems to have taken care to write simplistic yet effective dialog and to steer his actors toward very naturalistic performances. If taken scene by scene, it's highly satisfying, so you don't really care that you can guess where this is going.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Greenberg (2009)

Another misanthropic, smart-alecky comedy/drama from Noah Baumbach. Just when this thing starts to meander, it's suddenly lit up with sour, penetrating dialog. Ben Stiller does a good job in the title role and Greta Gerwig (who reminds me of Zooey Deschanel, except talented) gives a touching performance. Might not be worth a rental. Tivo it instead and save it for a dreary afternoon, preferably when hung over.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Ewan MacGregor plays a ghost writer employed to write ex-British Prime Minister Pierce Brosnan's memoirs in rapist/director Roman Polanski's political thriller. It looks great, in a kind of ersatz way, and reeks with paranoia, in a Polanski way. The acting, despite an impressive cast, is a mixed bag. MacGregor looks bored out of his mind, and Kim Cattrall sticks out like a sore bimbo. Surprisingly, Jim Belushi, of all people, does a great cameo. Quite a feat, because usually the mere sight of him makes me vomit.
Again, another just okay film from this guy. Polanski seems a shadow of his former self, as if fatigue has set in and his talent is slipping away. It's a great loss, in the sixties and seventies he made every film unmistakably his own, Ghost Writer could have been directed by almost anyone.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Late Show (1977)

Comedy/mystery from writer/director Robert Benton. Art Carney is an over-the hill private detective who teams up with scatterbrained washed-up actress Lily Tomlin to uncover who murdered his ex-partner. Very, well, "seventies", reveling in 1940s nostalgia that was so fashionable in 1977. It resembles Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep", with snappy dialog, treacherous dames, and a confusing plot. A very nice way to pass ninety-three minutes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Art Of The Steal. (2009)

Interesting documentary...a little long...but interesting, about the massive art collection of Dr. Albert Barnes and all the entitled vultures who couldn't wait to get their grubby little hands on it when he passed away without an heir. The doctor, a colorful character who amassed a collection that would make the Louvre squirt (181 Renoirs, 20 Modiglianis, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 12 Van Goghs, the list goes on) made it perfectly clear that the phony elite would never get their hands on it. The Philadelphia art establishment systematically dismantles his estate, closes the school he established, breaks up the collection, and wipes their asses with his last will and testament. There are bigger tragedies, but it's a little disturbing to know that the government can seize anyone's private property, and that a will isn't worth the paper on which it's written.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Prodigal Sons (2010)

I've never, nor will I ever understand the transgendered. You are born with the body you are born with, period. And this documentary hasn't changed my opinion. Paul/Kim was the captain of his football team and is now returning to her small Montana hometown for her twentieth high school reunion. Unfortunately, so is his adopted older brother Marc (they were in the same class, he was held back) who, thanks to a myriad of head injuries after graduation, is now violently, mentally ill. Marc does some searching for his birth parents. He discovers he's the grandchild of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth! Kim and Marc are invited by Welles' partner, Oja Kodar, to Croatia, where two documentaries converge (Laurent Prevale is there filming "Looking For Orson Welles"). Kim, while pretty convincing as a female, has a creepy speaking voice that sounds like Michael Jackson slowed down. And Marc, who takes up much of the film, is one of the scariest, most irritating shit kickers I've ever seen. Constantly threatening to kill himself, the movie would have been much more satisfying had he done so. Well meaning and rather lame.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Boy A (2008)

A somber British film about a young boy who commits a gruesome murder. The film begins when he is released as a rehabilitated adult with a new identity. He struggles to adjust to society and keep his secret, all while coming to terms with what he's done. Starring the elfin Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker in the new Spider Man) and a cast of actors with Manchester accents so thick I had to resort to English subtitles at times. Garfield was a little irritating. He mugged a lot and gave a very mannered performance. The film as a whole is not terrible, but it's heavy as lead.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lola Montes (1955)

I rented this because I'd only seen a handful of director Max Ophuls' movies: The gorgeous "Letter From an Unknown Woman," the interesting "The Reckless Moment," the less interesting "The Earrings of Madame..." and the fantastic "Caught." Actually, that seems like more than a handful. Criterion recently restored and released his final film "Lola Montes," about the famous dancer and, well, slut, who now must act-out all the scandals of her life at a circus for money. This is unlike any movie I have ever seen. Incredibly romantic and incredibly sad, shot in vivid color and CinemaScope, with a resonant stereo soundtrack. Martine Carol is not compelling in the title role, but she is almost irrelevant, the real star here is Ophuls, who composes an intoxicating blend of light, movement, and color. The only film that comes close in texture is Powell and Pressberger's "The Red Shoes," and even that film seems timid by comparison. I thought it was tremendous. A word of caution: many who will read this will probably dislike it, it certainly will not be everyone's cup of tea. Even today, Ophuls is viewed as a frilly camera fidget in some circles. Excuse me...I'm getting a bit of a chill thinking of the final shot.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mother (2009)

A phenomenal Korean film about a simpleton who's accused of murder and his possessive mother who goes to hell and back to prove his innocence. Starring the astounding Kim Hye-Ja as mother, and directed by Bong Joon-Ho, who's also responsible for the hit monster movie "The Host." I feel as if I've been shaken and slapped around for two hours. There is, well, so much stuff going on, all the time, that I was grateful I didn't see this in the theater and that I could hit pause when nature called. The perfect blend of comedy and drama, all staged, acted, filmed, and pieced together with ease and elegance, without ever being pretentious. The amount of fun and heartbreak in any given scene could fill an entire movie, and there is so much cinematic detail it could make your head spin. This isn't for everybody, the characters are not people you'd ever want to be in actual contact with. But for all that, who's to say my mother, or yours, wouldn't do the same, or more? Fucking great.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

So many of you have already seen this, what's the point? I thought it was a wee bit overrated. It was mildly amusing, I laughed twice. Now that I think of it, two laughs is pretty good. Even if a movie is quite funny I don't find myself laughing out loud too much. It took nearly an hour for John Cusack to register ANY emotion (besides fatigue) on his face. What the fuck is wrong with him?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jennifer's Body (2009)

I hope Diablo Cody was a better stripper than she is a writer. This high school zombie movie was wallpapered with her brand of clunky teen slang, the same moronic and unnatural dialog that caused me to walk out of the theater ten minutes into "Juno." It's all so smug and cutesy-poo, and would immediately sound dated if teenagers ever actually talked like that. If taken as a standard horror film, it falls short. As social commentary or satire, it falls way short. It's Cody's stab at a movie like "Heathers," a goal far beyond her capabilities. And for all the disembowelings and demons, this was rather boring.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Eclipse (2010)

One of the best ghost movies I have ever seen. An Irish film written and directed by acclaimed playwright Conor McPherson. Starring Ciaran Hinds as a widower who starts getting visited by...well, not by his dead wife, I won't say any more than that. This had the same effect as "The Uninvited" or "Don't Look Now." A rare ghost story that actually has a brain and doesn't rely on atmosphere alone. There are a few jolts in this the likes of which I've not experienced in a very long time. You know, those rare moments when a hot shower of tingles surges through your body. The performances are unusually excellent, particularly Hinds. Also terrific is Aiden Quinn, who plays one of the biggest jerks in recent memory, and (admirably) without a trace of likability. At the beginning of this, Andrew and I were on opposite sides of the couch. By the halfway mark, we were huddled together in the middle.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Single Man (2009)

An adaptation by first time director Tom Ford of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 book. A semi-autobiographical story of a gay middle aged man who loses his long-time partner in an automobile accident. The film takes place on the day he decides to kill himself. He looks at things knowing it's the last time he'll ever see them, and Ford accentuates and lingers on mundane yet miraculous details (yet we all know those little things are miraculous). It reminds me of my favorite line from Isherwood, his most famous: "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking." It's a bit showy, something that is to be expected from a first time director. The clothing and decor is sumptuous, also to be expected from the former head of the house of Gucci. Colin Firth is perfect, his perpetual air of disappointment finally gets a proper showcase. So is Julianne Moore, capturing every fag hag who couldn't seal the deal with the queer she loved, she is magnificent with bitterness. Fetching details and an occasionally penetrating scene make this good, yet it comes nowhere near capturing the greatness of Isherwood.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Maid (2009)

A very good Chilean film about, well, a maid. I've always wondered how live-in domestics do it: no privacy, taking care of some one else's kids, cleaning the entire house top to bottom, and no life of your own. She spends her day off wandering around, wondering what to do with herself, as if she's been kicked out of her own house for the day. The family she's spent twenty years working for treats her as well as can be expected, they consider her part of the family, but she's really not, and she knows it. The isolation is starting to make her crazy, and she occupies her time with petty vendettas and tormenting any hired help that may threaten her position. We see her in the shower, like, ten times. I know it was intended to illustrate her lack of privacy or something, but if I had to look at her floppy tits one more time I was gonna mail the director a photo of my scrotum. This went places I didn't expect and was highly satisfying, it gets my highest mark: four areolas!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Messenger (2009)

Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster must notify the next of kin of soldiers killed in the Iraq war. Good performances and good intentions can't make up for a meandering emptiness. Families being told their loved ones are dead has built-in drama, and the rest of the scenes range from the obvious to the clumsy. A missed opportunity. You do see Harrelson's naked ass, albeit briefly...a ray of sunshine in an otherwise overcast day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sugar (2008)

Two complaints: First, even though a good portion of this sports movie takes place in a locker room, NOT ONE glimpse of male nudity. Second, the dvd was wonky and I was unable to view the last ten minutes of this pretty good movie. It's about a Dominican who is picked up by a minor league baseball team and heads to America. Lots of culture shock and lots of flirtation with his sponsor's teenage granddaughter. He starts making a name for himself as a pitcher with a killer slice, but after he's sidelined with an inj

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Reifenstahl (1993)

The horrible footageful documentary from...some German guy, I'm not looking up his name. Riefenstahl, for those of you not familiar, was the director responsible for "Triumph of the Will," the most famous and effective propaganda film ever made. A Nazi film so beautiful and sinister that it makes you mistrust beauty itself. She was arguably the most talented female to ever direct a film, until Nancy Meyers. She is a fascinating subject: The dancer who became a silent film actress, then became a brilliant director, then directing films for the Third Reich. After the war, she was imprisoned for a while, then exonerated (she never was technically a member of the Nazi party). She spent the last sixty years of her life trying to clear her name and get work. Either she's in complete denial, or her head was up her ass (It was just an assignment! We didn't know that Hitler was bad!) Either way, she's a bitch. I doubt she was ever that meek or naive, she knew Hitler and Goebbels intimately, and the filmmaker catches her in many lies. She blows her stack every time this happens, and the "kindly little old lady" mask (she was ninety when this was made) drops with a thud. The film feels like a dry "60 Minutes" piece that overstays it's welcome. It was engrossing for the first forty minutes, little did I know I had another TWO AND A HALF HOURS to go. She lived even longer than the running time of this movie, to age 101, still trying to get work. The personification of Aryan health.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

North Face (2009)

In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a whole genre of German movies called "mountain films." Mystical films that strove for some vague spirit of the mountains (I've only seen one of these: Leni Riefenstahl's bizarre "The Blue Light"). Director Phillip Stolzl tries to bring back the genre with this big budget German production. Based on the true story of a pair of ex-Nazis who try to ascend the last unconquered climb in the Alps: the north face of the Eiger. What starts off as a historical drama quickly becomes an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. That's a lot of hyphens. You really feel like you're there on the mountain. I don't recommend this if you're afraid of heights. During much of the movie my heart was in my throat, even a climber accidentally dropping his glove has the impact of a car chase. A limp (and fictional) love story is shoehorned in and most of the scenes off the mountain are not as effective. The whole argument of "Why climb a mountain? Because it's there" makes a little more sense after seeing this. Since a movie was made of these events, and the protagonists are Nazis, you can probably guess it didn't go well. Nazis are stupid.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Cove (2009)

Oscar winning documentary about Japan's whaling industry. I find I've been suffering from "outrage fatigue" lately, so the thought of watching dolphins being murdered for two hours was a little dispiriting. The filmmakers did a good job of not depressing the viewer more than was necessary. They instead presented this as almost an action movie, complete with special op missions, hidden cameras, espionage, and corrupt villains who poison small children. It's clear this was meant to be a call to arms, and on that level it was very successful. There was no postscript and no update in the special features, so who knows if this film changed anything. Let's hope all the effort put into this wasn't in vain. I know I'll never buy whale meat ever again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bay of Angels (1963)

Frothy French film from filmmaker Fracques Femy, err, I mean Jacques Demy. Stars Jeanne Moreau and Claude Mann as gambling addicts in love. It starts with one of the best opening shots I've ever seen: Moreau appears on a beach promenade wearing a Pierre Cardin gown, sand and debris blowing around her, then the camera tracks away at a hundred miles an hour while Michel Legrand's striking theme song hammers away on the soundtrack. From then on it's stolen glances, roulette wheels, broken promises, Nice and Monte Carlo. Demy is responsible for two of my absolute favorite films: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. Perhaps my expectations were a little high; it was lovely, but no more.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Road (2009)

A father and his 8 year old son starving to death and trying to outrun cannibals after the apocalypse. A nice evening's entertainment. Not nearly as arty or self-important as I feared, but I'm afraid just as bleak. Viggo Mortensen is not an actor who's face invokes far-away vistas, I find him rather constipated, with a voice that sounds remarkably like an American Dr. Strangelove. He does bring a haggard authenticity to his role. The child, Keri-Scott-David-Something-or-other, was quite good, an excellent crier. I find end of the world movies, and there seems to have been a lot lately, thoroughly depressing. How is this entertainment? I'd never want to see this again. A decent adaptation of a great book. Read the book instead.

Two Family House (2006, I think...whatever)

A Staten Island Italian with a cunt of a wife has an affair with an Irish slut in this feel-good indie comedy. It was one of the most sincere movies I've seen in a long time, so I can't really dislike it. The kind of movie that would have Sundance audiences sighing contentedly and furiously filling out their comment cards. It makes "Moonstruck" look like a documentary. It was sweet. See it. Or don't, what do I care?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Hours (2008)

The matriarch of a French family (the luminous Edith Scob, of "Eyes Without a Face" fame) dies and leaves her three grown children to sort out her estate in this fantastic movie from director Olivier Assayas. One wishes to keep the house, along with the beloved longtime housekeeper and the priceless collection of art and furniture. The other two, with busy lives that keep them on the road, have no use for the house and it's contents. He's outvoted and they opt to sell everything. Collectors, lawyers, and tax officials start picking through the home and personal effects. If this sounds like overripe drama, it's not. There is not one moment in this film that feels showy or untrue. From beginning to end, this film is moving without being corny, intelligent without being talky, and never pretentious. One beautifully executed scene follows another. It's about secrets, the past receding away, the fragmentation of families, and finding peace. Easily the best movie I've seen this year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Silkwood (1983)

Saw this when I was twelve and thought it was the height of movie making. With fresh 40 year old eyes the movie seems a little full of itself and full of shit. Stars Meryl Streep as a nuclear plant whistle blower with Kurt Russell playing her mechanic boyfriend and a pre-veneers Cher as the dyke roommate. Director Mike Nichols lays on the white trash working class hero bullshit a little thick; there is a lot of smoking, beer drinking, and banjo playing. The film really strains to paint Karen Silkwood as a hero, who knows if she ever did anything? She really accomplishes nothing. There was no proof she had ANY evidence against the plant. It seemed the only thing she was good at was taking tranquilizers, showing up late for work, and getting plutonium contamination. When she's killed in a car crash, the movie portrays it as a deliberate act of murder by a mysterious motorist, no doubt working on behalf of the plant. But in the movie's postscript, it states that at the time of her death she had enough alcohol and tranquilizers in her system to sedate a moose. Umm, okay...what a dipshit.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shutter Island (2010)

I wasn't too excited to see this. The ads painted this as a hollow and flashy horror movie, and I haven't been impressed by Scorsese's recent output. I'm also not a big fan of Leo, he was incredible in Gilbert Grape, but nothing he's done since then has lived up to that performance. This, for me, is the best Scorsese picture since Age of Innocence (I know I'm probably in a minority liking that one). For the most part, I like his genre movies best: New York New York, After Hours, Cape Fear, Age of Innocence. And like the classic Hollywood directors he idolizes, he seems to relish the chance to screw around with established genres. It's interesting to see a director in his late sixties having so much fun. He throws every oogey-boogey trick at us, coherence or good taste be damned. As far as DiCaprio, he's very good, and he's matched or surpassed by every cast member, the performances are all excellent, or at least enjoyable in a hammy way. Maybe now that Scorsese has finally won his Oscar, he can stop trying to win one and just make dazzling, entertaining movies that people want to see.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Daybreakers (2010)

Just what I need, another vampire movie. In this one, the whole world is vampiric, with human beings a shrinking minority. Starring the scummy and unappealing Ethan Hawke. Also starring Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe, who earn every penny of their paychecks and sink their fangs into every inch of scenery. The rest of the cast is comprised of Australian actors struggling to sound American. There are some interesting details involving how all these vampires avoid deadly sunlight, but why are all the buildings covered in windows? And if they cannot see their own reflections, how is all their hair and make-up so flawless? The screenplay sounds as if it were written by a twelve-year-old. Full of such gems as "That's about as safe as barebacking a five dollar whore" or "I love a good barbecue" (after a vampire is incinerated). A dumb movie for idiots.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

Based on the real-life "lonely hearts killers" case, this Z budget film stars the obese Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck, and Tony LoBianco as Ray Fernandez, who travel the country posing as brother and sister, bilking lonely ladies out of their savings. I saw this as a teenager and liked it. I viewed it as the kind of movie John Waters would have made, in the Divine days, if he decided to make a serious movie (Shirley Stoler looks and sounds so much like Divine it's scary). This Criterion Collection dvd, with a pristine print (the audio is still lousy) and lots of nifty extras, made me see it in a different light. Much better than I remembered, and not nearly as funny as I once found it. According to the interview with writer/director Leonard Kastle, Martin Scorsese (!) was the original director, fired after the first week for being too slow. The one Scorsese-directed scene that remains, oddly, is one of my least favorite: a clunky scene where Martha, in a fit of jealousy, attempts to drown herself. Despite the budget (made for $150,00.000) and a campy, comic tone, the movie has moments of great power. One of their murder victims, an elderly lady, is battered in the head with a hammer. When this doesn't work, they strangle her, first with their hands, then with a scarf, using the hammer as a tourniquet. She finally dies in a heap on the floor, with her house dress hiked up, her knickers showing. It's one of the most pathetic deaths I've ever seen on screen. Apparently, this was Francois Truffault's favorite American movie.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Crazies (1973) / The Crazies (2009)

The government accidentally spills a top secret bio-weapon in a small town causing everyone to go berserk. George Romero is responsible for directing the original, and executive producing the remake. Getting through the original Crazies was one of the more trying film experiences I've had. Filled with inane directorial inspirations, bad audio, and really ugly actors. I mean REALLY ugly. My mind was wandering (as it was prone to do during this) and I remembered how boring Dawn of the Dead was the last time I saw it. I had liked it a lot, but on the last viewing noticed some inexcusably stupid shit in that movie followed by twenty minute stretches where NOTHING happens. Is everybody wrong and George Romero is really just a terrible director? If The Crazies had been Romero's first film, instead of Night of the Living Dead, we might not have ever heard of him. (It feels like a first film, it's very clumsy/showy in a film student way) I kept saying to myself "It's almost over, it's almost over..." (Wasn't that the promotional slogan for the movie?) It wasn't almost over.

A B movie in 1973 is different than a B movie in 2009. The remake loses some of that cheap movie rawness, but grows a brain and a heart. A far superior movie to the original. It's like a perfect example of the filmmaker making the right decision every time, whereas Romero, well, you know. You can tell right away, ten minutes in, when Romero had made about thirty dumb mistakes, director Breck Eisner has already rolled out two or three brilliantly paced sequences, all rather creepy. Romero had the government officials as the main characters. Shouting, smoking generals barking orders and gnashing their teeth. Here, the townspeople, the actual victims of the virus, are the heroes. A much more compelling (and correct) choice. Maybe Romero was being old fashioned by making the government the heroes (had Watergate happened yet?) In the remake, you barely see them. Just a jet high up in the sky, a car skidding away, or a distant army cloaked in gas masks. They are just a malevolent force causing all the mayhem and observing from afar. See this. It's not just a B horror movie, it's an excellent one.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The film Wes Anderson was meant to make. His films had been getting more and more cartoonish, so this makes perfect sense. A film that can be enjoyed by wise children and hipsters alike. It was cute, then got cuter, then got annoyingly cute, then sickeningly cute, then back to cute again. A snickery, wink-wink attitude creeps in here and there threatening to pop this pretty balloon, the same tone that ruins a lot of children's movies of late (why are so many filmmakers afraid of innocence and optimism?) It also suffers from "third act lag." Nevermind. I thought it was nearly wonderful, and a few degrees better than another great kid's movie made by an auteur, "Where the Wild Things Are."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

An Education.

Schoolgirl Carey Mulligan falls for older man Peter Sarsgaard and gets schooled in life blah blah blah. It was actually quite good, though Sarsgaard's English accent was rahh-ther tenuous. What, Colin Firth wasn't available? Mulligan was plucky, but an Academy Award nomination? Must've been a thin year for female roles. I could barely type that sentence with a straight face. What makes this stand out is Nick Hornby's script, which deftly tweaks the cliches until they ring true. Well written, well acted, tastefully directed. An intelligent movie that won't linger too long in the memory.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Informant!

Matt Damon becomes a whistle-blower in order to cover up his own history of embezzlement in this "comedy" from Steven Soderberg. A whole lotta nothing. I was mildly enjoying this, until I imagined someone else besides Matt Damon in the lead. He's great, but he could've used some help. The movie would be nearly unwatchable if not for his likable presence. Proves my belief that one should steer clear of films with an exclamation point in the title.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Box.

This knocked me out. I won't spoil the plot, but it's derived from a Richard Matheson story called "Button, Button" about a box with a button atop it. A couple is told if they push the button, they will receive a million dollars; however, someone they do not know will die. This looks and feels like no film you're likely to see. I think director Richard Kelly is incapable of composing an ugly or ordinary shot. There is a grace and elegance that brings to mind the modernist beauty of Antonioni and Kubrick, but also something new that I haven't seen in other directors. While not necessarily a thriller, this film has more eerie moments than any thriller I've seen in years. Beautifully staged, unsettling images that sear your eyeballs. There is an effortless, serene tension in every scene. The first hour of this is drenched in dread, enough to make M. Night Shyamalan look like a hack amateur. Kelly has in the past sacrificed coherence for style and texture, but not here, perhaps because he had strong source material. I didn't even panic when the plot started taking outrageous turns near the end. I hope I'm not overselling this, but I thought this was incredible.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Invention of Lying

A premise beaten to death for ninety minutes by Ricky Gervais. A world where lying doesn't exist, until one day Gervais lies to prevent himself from being evicted and has an epiphany. Thereafter he's a lying machine. There is an unexpectedly moving scene halfway through where Gervais lies to his mother on her deathbed. Gervais' plump, comic face turns sad and pathetic as he tells her that she'll reside in a mansion and everyone she loves will be waiting for her in the afterlife. He is surprisingly affecting here. Unfortunately, he is overheard and soon all of humanity is hounding him for details about eternity. Since everyone believes everything he says, in desperation, he attributes all this new found knowledge to a "Man In the Sky" that runs the world and speaks to him personally, which leads to one of the only good jokes, a newspaper headline that reads "Man in the sky continues giving AIDS to babies." Bottom line, this just isn't funny, and the actors are lost as to how to play their parts, everyone seems brain damaged. In the place of laughter or wit there's at least a dozen celebrity cameos to pass the time ("Oh look, there's Edward Norton"..."Oh look, there's Phillip Seymour Hoffman") And lots and lots of clumsy musical montages, I counted six!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Let's Scare Jessica To Death.

A horror film from 1971 about a woman (Zora Lampert) and her husband (some guy) who leave the big city to start life anew on a farm. Green Acres it ain't, she's a recovering schizophrenic and he's bald. Along for the ride are two human dingleberries in the form of a made-for-tv hippie friend (some other guy) and this guitar strumming squatter (Mariclare Costello) who never blinks and always makes steak tartare for lunch. This mysterious squatter happens to be in a photograph from the 1800s that hangs in the house but nobody seems to notice that it's CLEARLY her. You can probably guess that she's a ghost or vampire or some such unholy thing. I would've stuffed that guitar right up her ass the second she started playing folk music.

Even though I saw this last night, I don't remember much. Zora Lampert is a man, her voice is deeper than Iggy Pop's. The photography is a little fuzzy. The acting is a cut above, for sure. There are a couple of creepout moments in this, one in particular is a scene in an attic where a shadow appears and is not remarked upon, I didn't even notice it, until Andrew said "did you see that?" and played it back.

A friend recommended this to me, saying that I was "of a certain age" and would therefore find it scary. His argument is that people in their twenties think that "Saw" is a horror movie. If I had seen this as a child it would've scared the shit out of me. I prefer "the creeps" to shocks or gore, and this one has it's eerie moments. I'd recommend this, but with a caveat, adjust your expectations.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Halfway through "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" I wished I was.

What is the worst thing that could happen to you? Something so terrible that you'd take your own life afterwords? If you answered "have anal sex with Malcolm MacDowell" then this may be your movie. The reason I rented this is that director Mike Hodges is responsible for the original "Get Carter", if memory serves, a terrific movie. Here the meandering plot, the ridiculous script, the bad acting, even the irritating score by Simon Fisher Turner makes me think that Hodges was either collecting a paycheck, or, at age 72, is in the prime of his senility.
Some mid-level drug dealer (Jonathan Rhys Myers) leaves a party one night and is ambushed and raped by Malcolm MacDowell. He stumbles home, takes a bath with his clothes on (movies love to illustrate some one cracking up by having them bathe with their clothes on) and slashes his throat. His older brother (Clive Owen) was a notorious, murderous crime boss who left London three years earlier to live the life of a lumberjack. After hearing of his brother's death, he heads back London to find out who's responsible.
To say this movie is homophobic is putting it lightly, the whole plot hinges on gay panic. Rape is horrible, of course, but the real stinger for Owen is that his brother actually ejaculated during the act (what a thorough coroner!) As he meets up with former associates he visits his pointless OLD girlfriend, played by Charlotte Rampling, who is easily older than the actress who plays his mother. Rampling has two acting modes, dull depression or dull overacting. In fact, there is a scene near the end, which is never explained, where a gunman is sitting beside her. I watched this scene three times, and judging by her facial expression, I still can't tell whether she's supposed to be dead or alive. All the actors look depressed, and seem to be going about the grim task of getting this movie over with. A few characters are introduced near the end that have absolutely no reason for being, they amount to nothing and we never see them again. Did the filmmakers run out of money near the end of shooting and just say "fuck it?" He finally catches up with millionaire and rapist Malcolm Macdowell. Who is he? Why did he do it? The screenwriter farts out the most ridiculous confession that I've EVER heard. As I type this, my heart is starting to thump with anger. Piece. Of. Shit.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Damned United (2009)

I cannot think of a single sports movie I've ever seen that didn't follow the familiar pattern: underdogs who fight their way to the top and pull off a miracle play to overthrow the reigning champions. This movie tells the true story of how in less than one season the number one football team in England became one of the worst. Michael Sheen, taking time off here from playing Tony Blair for the eighth time, plays manager Brian Clough, a flashy egomaniac with persistent shoe breath. He's been making a name for himself with smaller teams and gets a chance at the big time when he gets a job offer from Leeds United, the best and wealthiest team in the country. Everything then goes to shit. It's frustrating to watch. All the team members are complete assholes and spend their energy not playing, but making Clough wish he was dead. They have an unrelenting devotion to their previous coach, a legendary, Mike Ditka type with issues (He would personally give the players naked rub downs before games) I don't think it would've helped if Sheen's character were to give blow jobs to this team before every game, they despise him. He doesn't exactly attempt to endear himself to them either, his behavior and coaching methods are baffling. After four games he's promptly sacked. It's a modest yet completely fascinating movie, one of the best sports movies I've seen in a long while. Clough later became the best coach in English football history, but this movie is too interesting to tell that part of the story.

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino has been playing it safe. You shield yourself from criticism when you set out to make a purposely bad movie like Death Proof. After the failure of that endeavor, it was time to shift gears a little bit. An adaptation this time, with loads of subtitles and a largely European cast. As expected, lots of references to other movies: The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah) Men In War (Anthony Mann) Sabotage (Hitchcock) and lots of cartoon violence. I liked this. The music score, with spaghetti western cues and eighties pop songs was distracting at first, but I got into it. Even the presence of hack director Eli Roth didn't bother me, although he does manage to mangle most of the roughly six lines of dialogue he's given. Mike Myers however, sticks out like a sore thumb. Much of this plays like Jewish porn, and I couldn't help wondering if the bloody climax would've been even more exhilarating if I were Jewish. I think this is probably going to be a turning point for Tarantino. Up to this point, he's made mostly adolescent movies, albeit graceful and highly entertaining ones. His most "adult" movie, Jackie Brown, left a lot of his fans scratching their heads. Now, in middle age, perhaps he'll start tackling more "grown-up" movies. We'll see. The lingering question is, do we need men like this to win a war? Does war do this to people, or is this already there inside of us and the army just flips the switch? After watching Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt) carve a swastika into someone's forehead, I started daydreaming about his civilian life after the war, working in some filling station or what not. A terrifying prospect. I happen to be writing this on Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

House of the Devil

Creepy low budget horror films are my most vivid movie memories from childhood. That, and Blue Lagoon, but that's another story (Christopher Atkins in his loincloth, I could write a book) House of the Devil tries to replicate the eerie unease of a movie like "When a Stranger Calls." Creepy is key, for the ones that truly made an impact on me were ones that kept your asshole clenched for eighty minutes, as opposed to arbitrary shocks. This flick has a great slow-burn, it seeps into your bones. It takes place in the early eighties (in order for the plot to work there couldn't be cell phones) not only that, but it looks as if it were filmed in the early eighties, from the block yellow opening credits to the high-key lighting. A college student tries to make some extra money by taking a babysitting job at a big house in the middle of the woods. When she arrives, none other than Tom Noonan opens the door (I would have turned around right there, an effortlessly frightening actor) She spends the night watching tv, listening to music (The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" is used to great effect, never has that song been so dread-inducing) Even the mundane task of ordering a pizza has a strange unease. Not much happens, but you're oddly riveted because the filmmakers have successfully created a mood. There is a moment of violence halfway through the movie that is unexpected and completely shocking. The last ten minutes are a bit frantic, I won't spoil it, I'll just say it's in keeping with what you would see in a b-horror film from the late seventies. This house is a very very very fine house.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Up In The Air, down in the dumps.

Up in the air. I tell you, I'm pressed to remember anything about it and I just watched it. Depressing fluff. Fluffy nihilism. Misanthropy for the masses. It's message is basically love doesn't work, and if you have a happy relationship you are a moron. George Clooney falls for Vera Farmilia (is that right? Farmilia? Oh well, who the fuck cares) who ends up being married with kids. His assistant has thrown all her dreams out the window and settled in Omaha for a guy. We never see this guy, but it's safe to assume any guy who could get you to move to Omaha has to have the biggest cock on record. He ends up dumping her via text message (big balls to boot) His sister is separated from her husband. The only happy couple are portrayed here as retarded rubes. The only excuse for this flick is to have Clooney do his "slick son of a bitch" routine and partake in faux witty banter not heard since Moonlighting. Clooney's character has expertly avoided love all his life and as soon as he lets some one into his heart she defecates all over it. (What's wrong with her face, by the way? Is it just me, or does Vera Farmilia look like she survived a fire?) Basically, we all die alone. Nice feel-good movie.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

War is beautifully photograhed hell. Men In War (1957)

Classic war film from director Anthony Mann. I chose this because I sometimes try to construct half-assed double features and Inglorious Basterds was up next. Makes sense since Tarantino has admitted ripping off, er, I mean, being inspired by Mann. However, it says "very long wait" next to Basterds, who knows if it'll ever come. Starring the always great Robert Ryan with redneck and future porn actor Aldo Ray. The two leads are great, but the varied acting from the platoon is a problem. It's either cardboard or method, both equally annoying. Stylish, tense, and, well...good. But, ultimately "meh." Famously good movies never seem good enough when you finally get around to seeing them. I think I'll Google Aldo Ray and see if I can find a picture of his shaft.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

We begin at the beginning.

After watching Broken Embraces, the worst Pedro Almodovar movie in nearly twenty years, I was relieved to see 2012 in my pile of mail. A nice, harmless popcorn movie with lots of exploding shit. Unfortunately, it should have been alternately titled "I know we have five minutes to live and the fate of humankind rests in our hands but first I'd like to share this anecdote from my childhood." John Cusack is a divorced father dropping his kids off after the most depressing trip to Yellowstone Park imaginable. They've spent the weekend looking at dead elk, touring sulfurous bug-infested mud pits, and watching their dad wander off for hours to drink beer with a raving lunatic. The ex-wife (Amanda Peet) has a new, more attentive husband (read:square) who, as luck would have it, is the only plastic surgeon in California who's also a licensed pilot. That quickly comes in handy as they are flying over the bay area as it falls into a giant hole in the ground. After seeing an entire city swallowed up by the earth, taking with it her home and everyone she knows, she calmly asks "Where do we go now?" The people in this movie are incredibly nonchalant about the end of the world. In one scene, they're hurtling over a glacier in a Bentley (don't ask) and Cusack states "The car won't start" with the same intonation and conviction as someone would say "I had toast today." A strange pattern emerges: Everyone who kneels and prays to god to be saved promptly gets squashed by a building or falls into a bottomless pit. Even the pope meets a gruesome and theatrical death. I guess the filmmakers couldn't resist the image of Michaelangelo's "Creation" splitting down the middle between the iconic fingers of God and Adam, just before the Sistine chapel collapses, taking out the entire cardinal college in one fell swoop. Like disaster movies of the seventies, it has to tell the stories of thirty different characters so you give a shit when they're drowned or burned alive. But at 200 minutes, did we really need to hear about the elderly jazz bassist who doesn't talk to his son? Or the Russian slut? Or the buddhist monk? Oh well. I liked this better than the Almodovar.