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.