Thursday, December 29, 2011

Midnight In Paris (2010)

In the twenty-four years since my favorite Woody Allen film was released (Radio Days), it's been a mixed bag for Woody. There have been a few pleasant comedies (Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets Over Broadway), flawed, yet penetrating films (Crimes And Misdemeanors, Husbands And Wives), failed attempts at something new (Everyone Says I Love You, Match Point..a film I loathe), inconsequential fluff (Vicky Christina Barcelona), and flat-out pieces of shit (Small Time Crooks, Hollywood Ending). Even flashes of extreme unpleasantness (Celebrity, Deconstructing Harry), yet the unpleasantness in Harry is oddly intriguing. I cannot tell you the sense of relief and exhilaration I had while watching this, realizing things were working, then realizing Allen had finally got it right after all these years.

This stars Owen Wilson as a hack screenwriter and wanna-be novelist who travels to Paris with his shallow fiancee and his "ugly American" future in-laws. Having not been there since his college days, the city makes him remember the person he was then, and how unfulfilling his life is now. One night he drunkenly stumbles back to his hotel and has an encounter with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Soon he is returning to the same mystery spot every night where he is transported back to the Paris of the 1920s and rubbing elbows with long-dead giants of literature and art.

The broadly-sketched portrayals of Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Luis Bunuel, etc. are delicious. And the evocation of the time period is dead-on...or a romanticized version of it, which is intentional and exactly what we, the audience, wants. Before seeing this, Allen's casting of Wilson in the lead was a head-scratcher, I've never liked him. However, now I think it was a very smart choice. Casting someone so different from Allen means there was no chance of getting a half-assed impression of Woody, something that often occurs with male leads acting as his stand-in (particularly Kenneth Branaugh in Celebrity). This film touches on an important point: that everyone has romantic notions of the past (including myself) and in doing so miss the beauty of the present. At one point, a character in this says: "The golden age is now." A statement so life-affirming it can make your head spin. Midnight In Paris knocks Manhattan out of my top-five favorite Woody Allen films. A marvelous, warm, and nearly flawless movie. His best in twenty-four years.

A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010)

Norwegian deadpan comedy directed by Hans Petter Moland and starring Stellan Skarsgard as a mob hitman recently paroled from prison after serving twelve years for murdering the man who screwed his then-wife. What really struck me about this was how economic it was. Some scenes seem to end right in the middle, Moland cuts to the next one where another director would let it play out. Save for the half dozen or so sex scenes, which (purposely) seem to last forever...this has some of the most unappetizing (and hilarious) sex scenes ever put in a film. There are nice details everywhere, for instance, one scene where Skarsgard and his old bosses go buy a gun illustrates how out-of-touch and irrelevant they've become; They are entering a neighborhood that twelve years ago used to be a rough one, and are surprised to see expensive cars parked everywhere. Just a small moment like Skarsgard noticing a few holes in the upholstery of his boss's Mercedes illustrates what another filmmaker would take pages of dialog to put across. Skarsgard has never been better. He conveys so much with his face and eyes, while actually doing very little. Come to think of it, the whole cast is excellent. A big little movie.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Daddy Longlegs (2010)

No, not the Fred Astaire musical of the same name, nor the Mary Pickford silent melodrama. This Daddy Longlegs is a grimy, muddled, and pretentious indie drama, written and directed by Benny and Josh Safdie, about a Brooklyn hipster father who has custody of his kids two weeks a year and makes the most of it. How? By sending his two sons, ages six and seven, unattended into the streets of New York on errands for him, drugging them (inducing a coma that lasts for days) so they'll sleep while he's hanging out with his Brooklyn hipster friends, and ultimately kidnapping them. And we, the audience, are supposed to find this guy endearing because he's "fun". The filmmaking is very "film school", and the plot goes nowhere. Essentially an untidy, John Cassavetes-style character study. With fugly actors, bad lighting, out-of-focus photography, and crappy sound (use a fucking mic muff!). I don't know why this is even called "Daddy Longlegs", the guy who plays the father is short! Lends credence to my belief that some people should be forcibly subjected to sterilization, then they won't have kids who might grow up and make movies like this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Super 8 (2011)

A bunch of 13 year-olds are filming a homemade zombie movie when they unintentionally film a train crash. This train contained some sort of extra-terrestrial technology and the kids are soon being hounded by evil government officials.

After what seemed like the longest c.g.i. train crash in history, there are a few creepy scenes, one in particular at a gas station. Then the film starts to fizzle out and the mind (mine, at least) begins to wander. I started trying to guess which of the young actors was gay (the lead had a lisp that kept creeping out), I wondered if every member of the Fanning family can cry on cue, and I marveled at how they managed to find the ugliest child actor I've ever seen. This mouth breather's braces-clad teeth were so protruding, that if you squinted it looked as if he were wearing an aluminum foil mustache. This is good, but unlike director J.J. Abrams previous efforts (Cloverfield, Start Trek), it's not great. It seems producer Steven Spielberg may have played a larger role than mere producer, for this seems like a Spielberg movie, kind of E.T. meets The Goonies. Abrams shouldn't have deferred to the producer so much, there's a lot of Spielbergian sentimentality. Instead of Abrams on a good day, we get Spielberg on a bad day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hanna (2011)

After living most of her life hiding out in the arctic with her father (Eric Bana) a genetic experiment to create the perfect soldier (Saoirse Ronan) hits puberty, and decides to enter society and hunt down the government official (Cate Blanchett) who killed her mother. This is very, very, almost comically arty. Director Joe Wright refuses to let a single shot pass by on screen without some sort of pointless artistic festoonery. All this pretension for what is essentially a hollow and ridiculous action film with very little action. I'm not sure what Wright was aiming for here. Was he trying to validate the action flick by cramming production design into every inch of every frame? Perhaps if he focused more of his attention on fixing the moronic script and hiring a dialect coach (and better hairdresser) for Blanchett this would've been less laughable. When high-minded intentions are applied to pulp material, it can create a masterpiece (John Boorman's Point Blank, for example). But nothing can dress up this turd. Thirty years from now, this may, may become a cult film. The more likely scenario is that it'll be consigned to the bargain bin of camp.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Christmas Tale (2008)

French comedy/drama from director Arnaud Desplechin about a fractured and highly disfunctional family that upon hearing that their mother is terminally ill, decides to reunite for Christmas. This movie is odd, or at least it had an odd effect on me. Every character is simultaneously unlikable and magnetic. Plot-wise, there is no beginning or end, it's all middle. Taken scene by scene, this really cooks; the all-star cast is excellent. However, none of these leopards change their spots. When it's all over, it's just been a blur of merrymaking, affection, insults, neurosis, booze, and nursing grudges...just like the holidays.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Beginners (2011)

Writer/director Mike Mills' own experience when his seventy-four year old father came out as gay. After dad (Christopher Plummer) comes out, he takes the fast track to gayness, and soon is involved in various gay charity groups, going out to nightclubs, and takes a much younger man as a lover (Goran Visnijic). After his father dies (I'm not spoiling anything, he's already dead when the film begins, the story is told mostly in flashback) Mills (Ewan MacGregor) meets a girl at a costume party (Melanie Laurent...she's dressed as a man, nice touch) and soon learns to be brave in love just like his father.

This is very lopsided. I get that our parent's relationship informs the way we handle our own relationships, and his father's example is a powerful and valid way to frame this story. But the MacGregor/Laurent romance, which is the bulk of the movie, is unconvincing and uncompelling. The father/son story line is much more interesting, and MacGregor and Plummer have so much screen chemistry that when the film switches to present-day, it's like the movie hits the pause button. It's interrupting the better movie.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (2011)

Directed by Werner Herzog, aka "Mr. Sunshine", this documentary is about the 1994 discovery of cave paintings in France. These newly discovered caves contain exquisite works of art that, at thirty-thousand years old, are twice as old as what was then thought to be the oldest art on earth, in nearby Lascaux cave. Herzog is priceless, narrating in his teutonic monotone, his musings about time, death, and man's place in the universe are a hoot. The cave itself is beyond beautiful, and the art contained within is not primitive doodles, but sophisticated and monumental pieces, and these things are twenty-five thousand years older than the oldest pyramid. Due to the corrosive dangers of microbes and humidity, they are sealing up the entrance permanently. See this, for it may be your only glimpse.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Man Hunt (1941)

Thriller from director Fritz Lang about a British sharpshooter (a surprisingly good Walter Pidgeon) who is captured by the Nazis just as he is about to shoot Hitler. He had the son-of-a-bitch in his crosshairs and was about to pull the trigger when he's discovered! His interrogator (the always perfect George Sanders, speaking fluent German!) badgers, beats, and tortures him but still cannot get a confession. Before Sanders can stage a tragic "accident", Pidgeon manages to escape to London. But the bad guys are on his tail, lurking behind every foggy corner. He enlists the help of a cockney tart (the wonderful as always Joan Bennett...why did this woman never win an Academy Award?) to get him out of England and off the map.

Fritz Lang's evocation of spies and international mischief (Spione) and the criminal world (M) is beautifully rendered in this marvelous film (I may be alone in preferring his American work to the German stuff). Lang is well known for the visual elegance he brings to his films, and this one is no exception. You can see his aesthetic in every frame of this movie. What people don't often give him credit for is his ability with actors. The performances are great in this, particularly Bennett and Sanders. True, they are great actors...but they are better here than their usual excellent...and in roles that in the hands of lesser actors can fall into cliche territory (a whore with a heart of gold and a Nazi). Plus, an angelic Roddy MacDowell in his American film debut, and John Carradine as a Gestapo assassin (Lang and his cameraman Arthur Miller have a field day with Carradine's cadaver-like features). The three leads all seem like they're in a tightening vice. A major wartime film...think Casablanca, but take out that film's romance, humor, and insouciance, and add dread and nihilism.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blow Out (1981)

Take generous helpings of Antonioni's Blow Up and Coppola's The Conversation, add a dash of Hitchcock's Rear Window, stir very slowly, bake for two hours, and what you get is this leaden cinematic souffle consisting mostly of hot air from Brian DePalma. A Foley artist (a blank John Travolta) is out collecting sound effects in Central Park when he witnesses a horrific car crash. After pulling the lone survivor from the wreckage (a worse than blank Nancy Allen) he discovers the other passenger was the front-runner in the presidential election and starts suspecting foul play. I like Brian DePalma, there are images from his films (mainly Sisters and Carrie) that are hard to forget. But the man takes himself way too seriously...I suspect all the "genius" talk that was going on at the time was starting to go to his head. All the things that ruin otherwise good DePalma movies are rampant here: Deadly pacing, bad acting, ridiculous soundtrack, split-screens, nauseating camera moves, and momentum-jarring slow motion. By the time he employed slow motion for what had to be the fifth time, I was fast-forwarding. When the only likable characters are an alcoholic paparazzo/rapist (Dennis Franz) and a serial killer (an all-too-brief John Lithgow) you know things aren't working. Indeed, it is hard to muster up any suspense for the heroine's well-being when you, the audience, has been dreaming of butchering her since she uttered her first line of dialogue. Bloated and highly overrated.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Paul (2011)

A comedy written and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who play geeks touring the U.S. on holiday. One night they pick up a hitchhiking extra-terrestrial, voiced by Seth Rogen (Am I the only one who's getting sick of this guy?) and try to outrun government officials in order to return him to his home planet. Vaguely funny. Kristin Wiig, as a foul-mouthed evangelical, brings a nice contrast to the otherwise broad comedy with her appealing deadpan. But Pegg's formula, celebrating nerdiness and spoofing movie cliches, was used to better effect in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Here, it's wearing thin. Enjoyable while it's happening, then completely vanishes from the memory once it's over.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Trip (2010)

A whittled-down version of the British television series of the same name, directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Coogan takes a writing job from the London Observer to do a restaurant tour in the North of England. At the last minute Coogan's girlfriend decides not to go, so he asks his comedian friend Brydon to go in her place. They basically eat at expensive restaurants and do celebrity impressions to one-up each other and fill the silence (the dueling Michael Caines sequence is very funny). The mostly improvised conversations are always competitive, they just want to make the other person laugh, with an occasional thinly veiled swipe designed to undermine. No serious inquiries are made of the other person's life…the conversation is a series of jokes and insults and remains on the surface (I've had friendships like this, they are simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting). This film seems like it was more fun to make than watch. Though it is still quite satisfying, it could've been more. Maybe my expectations were a little high. The deleted scenes are a hoot, particularly the "Trevor Eve" sequence. They try to perfect the delivery of a BBC announcer by uttering the phrase: "Extreme Measures, with Trevor Eve…Sunday on BBC 1" nearly a hundred times, in a hundred different ways. This keeps going for fifteen minutes (they later visit an Abbey where Coogan states: "This chapel received a papal blessing." To which Brydon says "Papal Blessing, with Trevor Eve…Sunday on BBC 1.") By the twentieth "Trevor Eve" variation, I was laughing to the point of tears. I recommend this, I just wish it had more good natured, Trevor Eve-style idiocy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Get Carter (1971)

I believe when I reviewed another Mike Hodges movie (the unspeakably dreary I'll Sleep When I'm Dead), I wondered how the same guy who directed the excellent Get Carter could have directed that pile of excrement. Well, I lied. I hadn't seen Get Carter. In my memory, I think I had mistaken it for another classic Michael Caine thriller, The Ipcress File (a great movie…I'm lying again, I haven't seen that either). I'm relieved that for once a movie lives up to its reputation. Michael Caine plays Jack Carter, a feared member of an organized crime gang who travels to London to attend his brother's funeral. He's certain his brother has been murdered by a rival gang and proceeds to punch, fuck, cut, bludgeon, and shoot his way across the city in search of the person or persons responsible. Caine grabs this part by the balls, he is magnetic and terrifying. Hodges manages to blend action, violence, drama, and comedy effortlessly. There is much texture and sense of place, you feel like you're in London while watching this. This also isn't filmed in a "hip" fashion, and therefore seems to have aged very well. The film has an ease to it, it doesn't try to impress…it just does.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Red Desert (1964)

I don't know why I'm so drawn to Michelangelo Antonioni's films. They're essentially plotless, very arty, and usually concern the listless musings of depressed rich people. I suppose they're about loneliness. In the six films of his I've seen, he consistently photographs people alone in a landscape. And nothing we do, not talking, fucking, fighting…can change the fact that we are all alone. Red Desert falls between two big hits in his career (at least on the art house circuit): The Eclipse and Blow Up , and I think hasn't received the proper amount of attention because of it. It's also his first film in color, and Technicolor at that. He was famous for doing crazy shit like painting entire forests grey, burning vast meadows because they looked too uniform, hand painting entire streets down to the last cobblestone (look at the frame above). The way he uses color in this to dramatize what is happening in a scene is breathtaking. No one composes a shot like Antonioni. In visual terms, his films stand alone…they are a standard for beauty that still seem ahead of their time. I had actually already seen this, about fifteen years ago. My reaction at the time was befuddlement mixed with a weak-in-the-knees feeling that I had just witnessed one of the most stunning looking movies I'd ever seen (there is a scene in this that is probably the most idyllic and ravishing passage in film history). Yet, I'm still befuddled, and a little more exasperated with the slow pacing. The goings-on concern the unhappy wife (Monica Vitti) of an industrialist who has an affair with one of his colleagues (a dubbed and confused looking Richard Harris), after which she is still unhappy. That's it. If Antonioni just strung together this vague story as an excuse to stage and photograph exquisite images, then I'm fine with that. People like to read a lot into his films, but like other directors whose films are commonly dissected (Welles, Lynch, Hitchcock…who was a big admirer), Antonioni himself was reluctant to admit to any symbolism. David Thomson compared his films to the beauty of watching a shifting sand dune. Maybe it's the loose ends, the mystery, that make me watch, and cause his films to linger in my mind. An elegant cryptogram.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Session 9 (2001)

Horror film starring Peter Mullen (normally a supporting actor, and a fantastic one at that, he always steals scenes) Brendan Sexton, and the usually irritating David Caruso, who's actually good in this. They play an asbestos removal team assigned to clean up a shuttered and sprawling Victorian mental hospital that's scheduled to be renovated and repurposed. Now, this has some bullshit in it that ruins many horror films, mainly arty editing and a cliched faux-industrial music score. However, the script and the acting are a cut above. And there are a few scenes (one in particular that occurs roughly at the halfway mark) that creeped the shit out of me. The ending is kind of a let-down, and I still have some questions concerning what, when, and why…I won't voice them here, mustn't give anything away. Yet the first 75 minutes or so work very nicely. Don't go in expecting too much, and you'll be pleasantly surprised (and maybe have a little pee-pee in your pants).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Innocents (1961)

Adaptation of Henry James' gothic novella The Turn Of The Screw by screenwriter Truman Capote and director Jack Clayton. Deborah Kerr plays an inexperienced governess hired to tend to an orphaned brother and sister, all alone in a sprawling and creepy English estate. The little tots are not as angelic as they first seem, and the governess starts to lose her marbles when she becomes convinced they are possessed by ghosts. I don't get why so many film people (most notably Martin Scorsese) hold this film in such high regard. It isn't scary or creepy in the slightest. It's beautifully photographed by a distinguished cameraman (Freddie Francis), but aside from a famous moment where the seven-year-old boy plants a very long and adult kiss on Deborah Kerr, this ain't much. And I don't think the age of the film has anything to do with it. There are films made twenty and thirty years earlier that can still scare the pants off of you (the Val Lewton films at RKO, for example). I think the problem here is the "stiff upper lip" attitude (it's a British film). Director Jack Clayton smothers all of the Freudian subtext in Capote's script and generally flinches from the sinister aspects of the story. And nobody embodies British gentility more than the terminally prim and proper Deborah Kerr, someone I find very "one-note". The more I watched this, the more I wanted her to be done in by falling statuary or a tumble down the stairs. Dull stuff.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

A word of warning: Do not see this movie with someone who tends to whisper questions in your ear... "Is that the same guy from earlier?" ..."Is she the one who was standing by the boat"...etc. This is very confusing at times. There are flashbacks, flash forwards, and I think a flash sideways occurred. A handsome Korean horror film directed by Kim Ji-Woon and starring the fantastic Yeom Jeong-ah as an unhinged stepmother. Two young sisters come home after the death of their mother and an extended stay in a "hospital". There to welcome them back are their crazy new mommy who's a high-strung neat-freak, and a weary, uncommunicative father. Right away, unexplainable things start to happen, and the fragile family relationship completely unravels. This is quite spooky, and is shot with an almost operatic tone (there are shots lifted right out of Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus). It really starts to cook around the 45 minute mark, and builds to a goose-pimply climax. Questions are left unanswered, but I liked it that way.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Vanishing (1988)

Famous Dutch thriller I've managed to avoid all these years. It was a big hit in the U.S. when it was released, even spawning a Hollywood re-make starring Jeff Bridges (I haven't seen that one). A young, bickering married couple take a road trip from Amsterdam to Paris, and halfway there, at a crowded campsite/rest stop, the wife disappears. There is reason to believe she was forcibly abducted, and it takes nearly five years for the husband to catch up to the perpetrator, who turns out to be an unassuming family man. was okay. I expected more from this. It's beautifully shot, but rather boring, aside from the unsettling last scene. From what I've heard, the American version is more conventional and has Hollywood-style catharsis. I gotta say this might have worked better if the ending weren't so "European".

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Win Win (2011)

The public's favorite overacting frog Paul Giamatti plays a small town high school wrestling coach who takes in a sensitive teenage runaway, who as it turns out, happens to be a gifted wrestler! Written and directed with a soft touch by Thomas McCarthy, this is a kindhearted and sometimes funny sports movie that sidesteps many of the cliches associated with the genre. The cast, which includes Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan, and newcomer Alex Shaffer is uniformly good, even Giamatti reins it in and is surprisingly real. Plus, lots of teenage boys in skimpy, revealing clothing (I realize that might be a selling point for only a small percentage of you). Nice little movie.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Carlos (2010)

French/German miniseries, filmed mostly in English, about the infamous "Carlos the Jackal", a terrorist who made life in Europe in the 70s and 80s a little more dangerous. Directed with punch by Olivier Assayas (who directed the vastly dissimilar Summer Hours, one of my favorite films of 2009), there is not one scene here that doesn't have action, either physical or emotional. Three episodes, each one feature length, and not an ounce of fat or a single superfluous moment. Carlos controlled a worldwide network of terrorist cells that were responsible for the deaths of hundreds, and he personally murdered...I'm not sure, I lost's got to be near one hundred people, and managed to avoid capture for over twenty-five years. All this mayhem and sorrow in the name of his "cause", which shifted depending on the political climate. First it was communism, then anti-imperialism, then anarchy, then the Palestinian cause, then Islam...this guy had no convictions, other than power, money, and blood. This is a thoroughly successful achievement, an action movie with brains against a historical backdrop. Lean and mean.

Then there is the astounding Edgar Ramirez as Carlos. This guy evokes Brando and DeNiro all at once. It's an absolutely spellbinding performance, all from a guy who, rather recently, took up acting as a hobby. Eight years ago, he was a journalist and diplomat working at the U.N. (he speaks five languages fluently), and out of nowhere, we now have a major actor on our hands. He ages, very realistically, from 21 to 45 (Ramirez gained 70 pounds for the latter parts of the film). I feel I must see him in something else, he has had a few small film roles here and there. Why? Because I've rarely seen such an unflinching portrayal from an never see a hint of "acting" in his eyes, just blackness. It's chilling.

Monday, October 10, 2011

L'amour Fou (2010)

Documentary from director Pierre Thoretton about fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge, and the latter's decision to sell off the massive art and furniture collection the couple amassed over the course of their fifty year relationship. The film largely consists of Berge's reminiscences, here's an example of Berge's speech pattern (I will translate, I don't speak French): "We.........................then....................................................purchased.........................a................................vase." MY GOD I wanted to slap the shit out of him thirty minutes into this! The only vaguely interesting passages are the tours the filmmakers take through their palatial homes in Paris, Normandy, and Morocco. Long, drooling tracking shots of their paintings and objets d'art, while Satie-esque piano tinkles on the soundtrack. The collection ended up getting about half a billion at auction (it all went to AIDS charities). About as interesting as flipping through an auction catalog.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York (2011)

I had a smile on my face throughout this wonderful documentary from director Richard Press. Cunningham, who has spent the last 45 years photographing stylish pedestrians on the streets of New York, has inadvertently influenced major fashion designers and steered fashion trends simply by chronicling what people, not models, are wearing. When this was filmed, in 2009, he was 80, and every day, on assignment for The New York Times, he's walking the streets looking for someone interesting to photograph (he hasn't let up, he's still at it now). At night he's zig-zagging across the city on his Schwinn, dodging taxis and going to events...sometimes five in one night, just to photograph what people are wearing. His stamina and joie de vivre are remarkable. His ebullience, modesty, and kindness are an anomaly in the cutthroat world of high fashion (and New York). Yet he remains a very mysterious person, and a rarity nowadays...a gentle man. Even ice queen Anna Wintour has a huge smile on her face when talking about him...she's positively bubbly! (Cunningham is probably the only man who can get away with calling her "child" without being castrated) See this, even if fashion isn't your thing, it's fascinating.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trick 'r Treat (2007)

Anthology movie written and directed by Michael Dougherty. Four Halloween stories clumsily strung together without any logic. I will say it's very "Halloweeny", rust-red leaves everywhere, glowing jack-o-laterns, trick 'r treaters scurrying through dark streets. But the best resources (it looks expensive) and the best intentions can't overcome the half-assed storytelling. With it's campy attitude, this is aiming for George Romero's/Stephen King's Creepshow (1982), a perennial Halloween favorite in this house. Not even close. Despite big studio backing and a major producer (Bryan Singer), this sat on the shelf for two years and was dumped directly to DVD.

Monday, October 3, 2011

House (Hausu) (1977)

This is, without a doubt, the strangest movie I've ever seen. In the last few years, it has become a major cult film and now that I've finally seen it, it's taken a week or so to digest it all. As a horror film (which is what it's supposed to be) it doesn't succeed, it's not scary in the slightest. However, as a crazy work of art, it stands alone. The "story" concerns a bunch of Japanese schoolgirls (with character names like "Kung Fu" and "Fantasy") who spend the weekend at the home of Gorgeous' (yes, Gorgeous) mysterious aunt, who turns out to be some sort of cannibal/vampire. The aunt, aided by her supernatural powers, systematically eats the girls one by one. Nobuhiko Obayashi directs this with his foot on the accelerator, and throws everything he can at the audience. Employing surrealistic sets, animation, puppetry, stylized fake backdrops, frenetic editing. This is the closest a live action film has come to matching the anarchy of a no-holds-barred classic cartoon. It's a movie where anything can happen at any time. I would bet the farm that Sam Raimi managed to see this back in 1977. Even the Evil Dead movies can't match House's flights of fancy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Jane Eyre (1943)

Charlotte Bronte's novel given the romantic, thundery, film noir treatment. Adapted by John Houseman and Aldous Huxley (!) and directed by Robert Stevenson, but the real authors of this film are its photographer and composer (more on their contributions in a minute). It stars Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as the title character. Now, I have a problem with both of these actors. Welles, aside from being a brilliant director, was an absolute spellbinder on talk shows. When seated in conversation with Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, or Merv Griffin, he was a peerless raconteur. As an actor, he (for me) never managed to translate that charisma to the screen. In play acting, he comes across as showy, blustery, and fake. Then there is Miss Fontaine. I've seen at least half a dozen of her films, and in two of them (Hitchcock's Rebecca and Max Ophul's astounding Letter From An Unknown Woman) she is absolutely perfect. However, there is the other Joan Fontaine: The wooden, tense, plastic one...the one that clutches her bosom, sighs, and contorts her eyebrows. That's what we get here. She keeps making faces that look as if the assistant director were dangling a puppy right off camera. As you would expect, huge chunks of the book are gone or distorted for the sake of economy. The book is very cinematic, yet the filmmakers pass so many moments by on their race to the finish line.

The cinematography is by the great George Barnes, one of the most esteemed (and lengthy) careers in movies. It looks as beautiful as anything that came out of Germany during the silent era. It's a hackneyed sentiment, but every shot does look like a photograph, a photograph worthy of a museum wall. Then there is Bernard Herrmann's music. This guy was the greatest composer to ever write for films, his scores can stand on their own, and have often outlived the films they were written for. Herrmann's film music is actually performed by symphony orchestras all over the world. At one point while watching this, I realized that the intense emotional reaction I was having was due to the music. This is Herrmann's movie. There is a recurring motif, introduced early in the film, that is not only some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard in a film, but some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. It holds the entire movie together like glue.

Vanity Fair (2004)

Whitewashed version of Thackery's novel directed by Mira Nair, who manages to shoehorn Indian characters, locations, anything Indian into every film of hers I've seen. Rented this because Andrew had recently read the book and loved it. According to him, the Becky Sharp character (Reese Witherspoon, whose British accent comes and goes with every sentence) was a lot more bitchy, unlikable, ambitious (in other words, interesting) in the book. For crying out loud, the subtitle of the book is "A novel with no hero." I'm sure you know that kind of sardonicism doesn't fly in the movies, they had to make her the heroine. Anyone who likes the novel should stay away. Anyone who likes movies should stay away as well. Dull script, clunky direction, unsure ass began to itch around the thirty minute mark.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Limitless (2011)

Bradley Cooper stars and executive produces this thriller about a shiftless slacker who's handed a pill by an old acquaintance that lets you access your entire brain, making your I.Q. soar hundreds of points. There is little difference between "dumb" Bradley Cooper and "genius" Bradley Cooper performance-wise, he just talks faster on the drug, and his make-up (he's pale, with dark circles under his eyes when he's not taking it, and has that orange, shellacked look when he is). I don't quite get the appeal of Mr. Cooper, especially in something like this. He ain't handsome, and has no personality whatsoever. He has a rockin' bod, I'll give him that, but he looks like Tweety Bird on steroids. He has a comedy face, he's not action hero material. The film is fine, it was exciting here and there, but it has a generic MTV look to it, and a really dated, run of the mill (and obtrusive) soundtrack. Not great, just a harmless, occasionally effective B-film full of chase scenes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vidal Sassoon: The Movie. (2010)

The man who liberated women from helmet head, this documentary chronicles Vidal Sassoon's meteoric rise from Jewish orphan to hairstylist to media whore. In the late seventies/early eighties, his commercials were always playing, promising that "if you don't look good, we don't look good". Well, there was a seven or eight year stretch where they must not have looked good. This film isn't a fraction as entertaining as one of those thirty second spots. In fact, this is painfully, dreadfully boring. They talk about the swinging sixties for about ten minutes, you'd think there'd be some juicy stories about the people, parties, etc. No, instead we get to hear his half-assed philosophy on life, which mostly involves Pilates. There are some amusing clips of talk show appearances from the seventies, one in which he puts his legs behind his head and displays his physical agility (and moose knuckle) while he grunts "I'm fifty-five years old!" But we truly learn nothing about the man...perhaps he's just not that interesting.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heartbeats (2010)

Think back to your late teens/early twenties. Remember the excitement, frustration, uncertainty, how deeply you loved, how deeply you hurt. Even colors seemed brighter. This film captures these sensations perfectly. Written, produced, directed and starring 21-year-old French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. It concerns a male/female friendship (Dolan and Monia Chokri) that starts to unravel when they fall in love with the same man (the serenely arrogant Niels Schneider). The object of their affections proceeds to baffle and lead them both on, and a subtle battle ensues as to which of them will bag this Adonis. For a director of Dolan's age, he shows astounding assurance and restraint. He avoids the pitfall that most, if not all directors in their early twenties fall victim to: the need to show off. Yes, there is some cinematic artiness, but it's never unnecessary, he knows what he's doing...there's always a point to it. It looks gorgeous, full of saturated colors and beautiful compositions, and the script is smart and heartfelt. On top of all that, he's an excellent actor (Monia Chokri is easily as good). This film swoons, it's so in love with love. There were many moments where I saw myself at that age, and I'm sure most hopeless romantics will see themselves as well.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Dog Tulip (2010)

Animated feature for adults based on J. R. Ackerly's memoir about his fifteen year relationship with his dog, a very naughty German Shepherd. The role of Ackerly is voiced by Christopher Plummer, who describes the dog's bowel movements and anal sacs again and again in vivid detail. The hand drawn animation, by director Paul Fierlinger, is unconventional and very "home made" looking (in a good way). I'll give this points for avoiding the "cutesy-poo" traps and anthropomorphism, but this does go on. Even at an hour and twenty minutes, it felt stretched. I guess you have to be a dog person to really enjoy this. I like dogs, they are cute and I am prone to displays of affection towards other people's dogs. But if I wanted to handle feces, be vomited upon, and get two hours of sleep a night, I might as well buy a baby (filthy little beasts). All the leg humping, shit scooping, anal gland emptying, midnight barking aspects of dog ownership is on display here. Cat people beware.

Source Code (2011)

Stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an army helicopter pilot who finds himself strapped inside a chamber, part of a secret experimental mission where he must travel back in time over and over again to the same eight minutes leading up to a terrorist bombing, in order to prevent it. Time travel movies give me a headache, my mind tends to wander, mulling over the paradoxes that occur, but this handles the problem rather amusingly and cleverly. Gyllenhaal is likable, Michelle Monaghan as the girl inside "the eight minutes" is proper dream girl material, Vera Farmiga is excellent and surprisingly affecting as his commanding officer. Jeffrey Wright, as the head of the program, overdoes the evil scientist thing a little bit, but when we finally catch up with the bomber, baby-faced Michael Arden plays him to creepy perfection. This is a very good, ingeniously constructed B-thriller. Not too fancy or showy, just an intelligent, exciting straight line with a satisfying finish. Written by Ben Ripley and directed by Duncan (Zowie Bowie) Jones.

Friday, September 2, 2011

We Are What We Are (2010)

Mexican horror film about a family who ritualistically murder people for reasons that are never fully explained. What are they? Vampires? Cannibals? Nuts? They are what they are, I guess. I tried not to think too hard about it. Come to think of it, we never actually see them eat their victim's flesh or drink their blood, it seems they just keep mechanically killing because it's a family tradition. Not bad, many scenes were very effective, and it's obvious this has aspirations higher than your average horror film, it made the legitimate film festival circuit. Just vaguely dissatisfying, horror fans might not enjoy it's restraint in the gore department, and those looking for a serious film experience might find it a little silly.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Man Named Pearl (2006)

Documentary about Pearl Fryar, an elderly man with no horticultural training, who turned his three-acre front yard into a topiary wonderland that the Queen of Hearts would approve of. It all started in the small segregated Southern town where he lives, his new (predominantly white) neighbors assumed that the first black guy on the block wouldn't keep up his front yard. I suppose he went a little overboard. In the first ten minutes of the film, you see his strange and beautiful garden and Fyar obsessively tending to it, day and night. That first ten minutes are then repeated seven more times. Jesus, this felt longer than 75 minutes, it crawls to it's feature-length running time. This has as much content (and would've worked better) as a five minute local news piece.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Of Gods and Men (2010)

French drama directed by Xavier Beauvois that tells the true story of the killing of seven monks during the Algerian civil war. The majority of the film takes place in the remote monastery, where nine brothers (two managed to elude their assassins) live in peace and solitude. I know it doesn't sound possible, but for a film about monks this is surprisingly gripping. There is a tense scene early in he film where the terrorists come knocking, armed to the teeth, and the monks turn them away simply by being stalwart and using their smarts. The acting is great, and the director really captures the monastic life. They became monks to escape the world and devote themselves to religion, but the world starts encroaching on their idyllic lives in the name of a different religion. One of the monks quotes Pascal at one point: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Blue Valentine (2010)

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a married couple who we see at the beginning of their relationship, when they are madly in love, and at the end, when they are not. Big deal. They are both so unlikable and annoying as characters I didn't give a shit what happened to them. Written and directed with as much subtlety as an after school special by, actually, I don't give enough of a fuck to look up the hack's name. For the life of me I can't comprehend how this got such glowing reviews. I guess there's so much kid's stuff at the movies that this masquerades as important filmmaking. The actors aren't much better, they're either exploding in fits of method acting or moping around as if they had mercury poisoning. Glum people whining their way through their shitty lives, all presented with hand held camera and a guitar music soundtrack, and issued forth by the Weinstein Company for filmgoers looking for an intelligent night out at the cinema. Garbage.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Another Year (2010)

Mike Leigh is one of the few working directors whose films I'm always excited to see. His characters are the kinds of people we all know, but other directors don't bother with. In collaboration with his actors he constructs the story and dialogue, and miracles seem to happen. Miracles of acting and storytelling, they pack a wallop, and his films always linger in the mind. Even his lesser films (Secrets and Lies was overwrought, and Topsy Turvy very overrated) are pretty fantastic. Another Year concerns a happily married couple, together for nearly forty years. Gerri, a therapist (Leigh favorite Ruth Sheen) and Tom, a geologist (Jim Broadbent). Their occupations are not arbitrary; she being a therapist and he making sure the land on proposed building sites is firm and steady. It is essentially about their various friends coming to their home for get-togethers over the course of a year. The friends who keep coming back are the ones who seem to lack what the couple have: real love and stability. Their friend Mary (the incredible Lesley Manville) is the kind of friend who everyone reading this has at least one of. A friend who is always making the wrong decision, always choosing the wrong person to fall in love with, and incapable of breaking the pattern. Her loneliness is monumental. Her behavior starts becoming intolerable as she evolves from good time party girl to middle-aged alcoholic. She wants what this family has, and seems at a loss as to how to get it. Over time, she becomes an imposing dingleberry in their happy home. This is really wonderful stuff, and a lot of things are happening here character-wise. Mike Leigh is one of the most alert directors making films, his understanding of human nature is breathtaking. This is his best film.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Illusionist (2010)

An animated adaptation of an unproduced script by the late, great French actor/director Jacques Tati, directed by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville). I can't say much about this, I'm a bit in shock. This is one the loveliest animated films I've ever seen. I'm trying hard to remember another one that can match the simplistic beauty on display here. The animated version of Tati himself is right on the money, it's as if he's been resurrected from the dead. Chomet really blends his own sensibilities with Tati's unique way of framing shots. A feast for the eyes, and every bit as moving as Pixar's Up! A wonderful movie.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Changeling (1970)

George C. Scott plays a composer who rents a haunted house. In the years following Rosemary's Baby, filmmakers tried injecting art, or class (or at least handsome budgets) into horror films. This is one of those attempts, and for the most part it lays an egg. There are a few chills, but this is very stodgy. Oddly, George C. screams only once. In every drama, comedy, and romance he was in, he screams his head off. But here, in a horror film, he only manages to scream once! Total ripoff.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Black Swan (2010)

I suppose this is the only way to make ballet exciting to young male filmgoers. Make it a horror film, and throw in some girl on girl pussy eating. Director Darren Aronofsky is a cheap sensationalist. When Requiem for a Dream came out, everyone was talking about that scene at the end where Jennifer Connelly has to shove a dildo up her ass in front of people to get her drugs. Well, millions of people, every day, put dildos up their ass, and often in front of someone else...I'm doing it as I write this. His fashionable, pretentious wallows have become a cliche. I've seen five of his films now, and I've disliked every single one of them. All his little tricks to make things slick (rumbling, gurgling noises on the soundtrack, CGI hallucinations) are on display here. Not to mention his thievery of Powell & Pressburger's dance masterpiece The Red Shoes (he even does the famous POV pirouette shot from that film). I hate to burst everyone's bubble, but he stinks. Too bad, because Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are revelations in this. Sorry, Darren, when up against Powell & Pressburger, most directors, especially you, are gonna lose.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Adaptation of Raymond Chandler directed by Robert Altman and starring Elliott Gould as Phillip Marlowe. Altman, for me, even in his prime (this is after McCabe and Mrs. Miller and before Nashville) seems slipshod. It's as if he and his actors would improvise as shooting progressed and hoped something would emerge during the editing process. His filmography is a succession of vibrant, penetrating movies and complete failures. This falls somewhere in-between. Sterling Hayden, as a lunatic novelist, is so annoying in this I wanted to club him to death (I suspect Altman admired Hayden's actorly flights of fancy, I think he should've reigned him in a little). Henry Gibson is mannered and unnecessary. While Elliott Gould is a likable actor, this is an instance when casting against type backfires. Gould seems like he's a little lost, and just politely going along for the ride. The tone is dated and druggy. Full of fashionable swipes at conservative politics and the police, all delivered with that mumbly, overlapping dialogue Altman liked. There are great moments: Director Mark Rydell, in one of the few times he was employed as an actor, is brilliant as villain Mickey Augustine; The scene where he smashes a coke bottle across his girlfriend's face (it's a famous scene) still shocked me even though I knew it was coming. And the final scene (I won't spoil it), is very cathartic to anyone who thought that they knew someone well, only to find that they're just an asshole like everybody else. Oh, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a goon, and a special shout-out to bit actor Ken Sansom, who does the best Barbara Stanwyck impression I've ever seen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This Gun For Hire (1942)

It took me until the film was two minutes from being over to realize I had already seen this. There is a scene at the end where the 300 pound Laird Cregar (a great fucking actor) is shot. The image of this enormous man tumbling down a small flight of stairs, as graceful as one of Disney's dancing hippos, was seared in my memory, I just thought it had happened in another movie. This stars the glassy yet hypnotic Veronica Lake and the just plain glassy Robert Preston (Preston hadn't yet tapped into his inner "Harold Hill" that would carry him through the fruitful autumn of his career). And "introducing" Alan Ladd as a paid killer (he had already appeared in a few small roles, including one of the reporters in Citizen Kane). This film made him a major star, he effortlessly steals the picture. This is a very early film noir, full of dames, nightclub singers, cops, killers, etc. You know, the usual suspects. No masterpiece, but fun...and it looks great (photographed by John Seitz, here laying the visual groundwork for some later noir classics like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard). Directed by Frank Tuttle (not nearly an auteur, not even "the system" films sometimes direct themselves, I suppose) and loosely based on a novel by Graham Greene.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monsters (2010)

A well-meaning but rather drab science fiction film written, directed, and photographed by Gareth Edwards (he even did the special effects!). It stars Whitney Able as an heiress being escorted out of an "alien infection zone" near the Mexican/American border by a cynical photojournalist played by Scoot (yes, Scoot) McNairy. It Happened One Night meets Cloverfield. They talk, eat, talk some more, hitchhike, talk some more, sleep...for a movie called "Monsters" it has remarkably few monsters in it. A bit self-important, and a handful of 300 foot tall octopuses do nothing to dispel the dullness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heartless (2009)

A really pretentious British horror film starring the really annoying Jim Sturgess. He has a heart-shaped birthmark on his face, and after the death of his mother by a gang of...I don't know, we'll call them demons, he vows revenge and makes some sort of Faustian deal to have his birthmark removed...wouldn't laser surgery have less strings attached? This makes little sense and drags on for two hours. This is film school, indie-movie "cool" in the worst way. Phillip Ridley directed this, a man I want to punch in the face.

Monday, July 11, 2011

All Good Things (2010)

Based on the curious real-life case of Robert Durst, a man who appears to have gotten away with murder not once, but three times. Ryan Gosling plays Durst (here named David Marks, I suppose to avoid a lawsuit) the prodigal son of a billionaire New York real estate investor, who marries Katherine (Kirstin Dunst), a girl from a lower-middle class Long island family. David Marks' psychosis starts to emerge when his monstrous father (the great Frank Langella) forces him into the family business, and after a few years of an increasingly miserable marriage, Katherine mysteriously disappears and was never seen again (this was 1982). David disappears shortly thereafter and years later a family friend writes a novel loosely based on the case who's then found murdered in her home. Marks doesn't emerge again until 2000, when he's found living in Galveston as a woman, and is accused of murdering his elderly next door neighbor.

This is a bit tawdry, maybe because the real-life case is so bizarre. Director Andrew Jarecki seems to be aiming for a thundery, Douglas Sirk-type family melodrama, complete with murder and cross-dressing, but comes up empty-handed. The film seems shrill. Unfortunate, because Dunst hasn't been this good since Bogdanovich's Cat's Meow, and Ryan Gosling tries his hardest to fill in the gaps of a character that, at least in the script, is ghostly and incomplete. Perhaps if this didn't take itself too seriously (I suspect the filmmakers thought they were creating art) this might have been more enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

127 Hours (2010)

James Franco gets his hand stuck in rock for five days. Danny Boyle directed it, not surprisingly employing lots of pop music for the soundtrack and half-assed surrealism for the visuals. The film is okay, but I gotta give Franco a hand. It's not that he's so great, it's just that there are very few young actors who would hold your interest while stuck in a crack for long stretches of time. This clown didn't tell anyone where he was going and neglected to take essential pieces of equipment along. Proves what I've always suspected, that "extreme" types (rock climbers and the like) are very very stupid.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Last of Sheila (1973)

Having just seen The Internecine Project a few days ago, I feel like I've had a mini James Coburn film festival. Just a coincidence, as I had forgotten he was in this. The credits to this film are what made me check it out: Directed by Herb Ross, written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins! (I believe they were lovers at the time), starring Coburn, James Mason, Dyan Cannon, Ian McShane, Joan Hackett, Raquel Welch, and Richard Benjamin. A (mostly) comic whodunit set on the French Riviera. A puzzle obsessed movie mogul (Coburn) invites his friends to spend a week playing "games" aboard his yacht. The invitees are: a movie bombshell (Welch) and her gigolo boyfriend (McShane), a has-been director (Mason), a struggling screenwriter (Benjamin) and his rich wife (Hackett), and a press agent (Cannon). A year earlier, Coburn's wife, Sheila, had been killed in a hit and run, and he knows in his heart of hearts that one of his guests is the person responsible. At the start of the trip, he gives everyone a typewritten card: "I am an alcoholic", "I am a homosexual", "I am a child molester", "I am a shoplifter", "I am an ex-con", and "I am an informer." Now the guests must solve everyone's secrets through a series of detective games, each held in an exotic port of call. Mysteriously, a seventh card appears: "I am a hit and run killer", but to whom does it belong?

This is a hoot and a half. There are a lot of funny lines in the script, delivered with such nonchalance you might miss a few. Director Ross (for once) seems wide awake and keeps things bouncy, with a cruel and sinister undertone. The sight of the macho, swaggering Coburn in full drag is worth the price of admission alone (he looks eerily like Mary Woronov). The mystery itself, and how it's solved, is very clever and had me guessing until nearly the end. Bitchy, energetic, and of those films where the actors seem to be having a blast. As bubbly as a bottle of champagne.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Internecine Project (1974)

James Coburn is a current (or former, not made clear) CIA agent who possibly played both sides of the fence. His current cover is a Harvard economics professor, and, surprise, he suddenly gets appointed to be the president's economic advisor. Only four associates know his true identity and shady dealings, so he sets out to eliminate them all in one night. Not by doing the job himself, but by having the four (unbeknownst to them) knock each other off in a series of elaborate plans concocted by Coburn. A great fucking idea, all carried off with sinister, 1970s panache. Just when the film starts to lag (There is a love story with Lee Grant that is annoying and totally unnecessary) it starts cooking again. One of those modest, under-the-radar movies that if you came across it on late-night television, would keep you up until the end credits. This is overdue for a re-make.

Get Low (2010)

Robert Duvall is the town hermit who, with the help of of local undertakers Bill Murray and Lucas Black, wants his funeral held while he's still alive, and invites the entire town so he can come clean about his past. This is a little slow to start, director Aaron Schneider has a lot of scenes at the beginning with the crotchety and bearded Duvall putzing around his ramshackle property and bickering with an elderly stubborn mule, all accompanied by obtrusive guitar twangs on the soundtrack (Boing!). The acting saves it. Bill Murray doesn't seem believable at first, turns out this is a conscious acting choice, he's quite good. Black brings a nice simplicity to his role, and Sissy Spacek is her usual, great self. The real point of this is Robert Duvall's wonderful performance, and the reason this ended up being a moving experience.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Inside Job (2010)

Documentary from Charles Ferguson about the people responsible for the global financial crisis. I don't know a derivative from debenture, so this film actually made the whole process, and how it went wrong, totally clear. That's about it. The film has a nice energy to it, I suppose. But it's just another documentary that is contributing to my "outrage fatigue". This whole mess put fifty million people worldwide out of work and plunged practically every nation into debt. So what happened to these guys? They were appointed to powerful government jobs and professorships, and given huge bonuses. Barf.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

By now, anyone who reads this blog (all six of you) have either seen this, or have no intention of seeing it. George VI had a stammer, it was WWII, some Australian guy helped his stammer, Oscars all around! Colin Firth can produce real tears, a rarity for most male actors. They are probably tears of gratitude for landing this role, for he finally gets a chance to command the screen (he's usually the milquetoast off to the side or the loser in a love triangle). Helena Bonham-Carter comes up empty once again. Geoffrey Rush is likable as always. I was resistant going in, this is such obvious Oscar bait, and there's lots of showy and distracting camera work. But I gave in, I let myself be manipulated. Much like a visit to a chiropractor. I suspect the positive effects will wear off in a few days.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris (2009/2010)

Jim Carrey plays real life con man Steven Jay Russell who falls in love with fellow prisoner Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor, can you blame him?) in the directorial debuts of directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. The events are so unbelievable that if they didn't actually happen you'd cry "bullshit". Russell managed to break out of prison half a dozen times just to be with the man he loved. The absurdity level is played up of course, but there are moments that have a genuine tenderness. Both actors are committed to their characters wholeheartedly, though Carrey squanders some scenes by being a spaz. The problem is tone, really, and the gaping differences that occur when a natural actor (McGregor) meets a natural comic (Carrey). Many scenes work, some don't. Interesting, but a mixed bag.

Waiting For Superman (2010)

Documentary on the state of America's public schools from director Davis Guggenheim. The public school system, as you may have guessed, is a monstrous bureaucracy where children are statistics, not people. The Teachers Union was an entity I'd always liked, because, at least in Chicago, they were always going on strike, and that meant an unexpected and welcomed vacation. In actuality, they are a Teamster-esque brick wall insisting on jobs for life and automatic raises in their contracts. How well would you do at your job if you couldn't be fired and kept getting raises? I'd probably sit there and read Entertainment Weekly while I forced students to darn my socks and balance my checkbook (in silence, of course). The sad thing is, if you are a smart kid, and also happen to be poor, you're really fucked. There are heartbreaking scenes of parents desperately trying to get their kids out of the system and entering lotteries to gain attendance to private or charter schools. All this affirms what many of you have no doubt noticed just by looking around: people are getting more and more ignorant.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Chic lesbo vampire flick starring French legend Delphine Seyrig. A pair of newlyweds check into a Belle Epoque seaside hotel during off-season and find the only other guests at the hotel are a mysterious countess (Seyrig) and her timid secretary. As the couple get to know each other, the husband's shady past and sadistic tendencies start to bubble to the surface. They soon find the countess is getting quite chummy and might have something more in mind for them than polite conversation. This moves at a very slow pace, but in an intriguing way. It draws you in with it's languidness. This could have been an exploitation film (there are moments of cheese), but it has restraint, looks expensive, and relies heavily on Seyrig's considerable acting abilities and electrifying screen presence (her wardrobe in the film is delicious). Tony Scott's The Hunger (1983) owes this film plenty. It is ridiculously similar in style and content.

The Tillman Story (2010)

Documentary about the professional football player who quit the NFL to enlist, and ended up being killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Tillman suspected from the outset that he'd be a poster child for the war, and that's exactly what happened. Then the obfuscation perpetuated by the army brass surrounding the circumstances of his death, all to avoid bad publicity. War is hell, the army is inept, good publicity sells big revelations here. The movie is no big deal, except for his little brother's drunken appearance at his televised funeral. In front of hordes of generals and politicians, he punctures all the pomp of a military funeral in just a few sentences. One of the best eulogies.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Let Me In (2010)

American/British remake of the Swedish horror film Let The Right One In about a bullied 12-year-old boy who befriends a young girl who turns out to be a vampire. The original was quite good and, surprisingly, the remake is just as good. At times, it is a little too similar (long stretches are shot-for-shot identical to Tomas Alfredson's original) but writer-director Matt Reeves subtly plays up key moments and tones down others. It's like the experience you'd have listening to the same piece of music led by two different conductors. Kodi Smit-McPhee is perfect as the shy lead. He can cry effortlessly and, as in The Road, is called upon here to do so often. Indeed, he may be our generation's Margaret O'Brien, except more feminine. Oh, and Chloe Grace-Moretz as the vampire.

Ondine (2010)

We live in such a cynical time, that it's hard for filmmakers to get audiences to swallow a pure fairy tale. I mean no "tongue-in-cheek" stuff, fairy tale played straight. The last time a major director attempted an honest to goodness fairy tale (that I can think of) was Jacques Demy's "The Magic Donkey" (1970), and even he couldn't get it right, it seemed forced and precious. Writer-director Neil Jordan now gives it a try, and succeeds beautifully. Colin Farrell is a lonely fisherman with a critically ill daughter and an alcoholic ex-wife, who pulls in his net one day and finds a beautiful girl in it. Is she a water nymph/mermaid type thingy? Is she lying? See the movie, no one else did. This lovely film came and went, which means I'll probably have to wait another forty years for a director to have the assurance and vision to give this kind of thing a go.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Social Network (2010)

The meteoric rise of toxic nerd and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin cleverly uses two lawsuits brought by former associates of Zuckerberg as the framework for the flashback structure of the film. Sorkin's crackly, to-the-point dialog really catches the ear, the kind of talk that used to be commonplace in the movies, but is usually found only on television these days. Director David Fincher curtails his tendency towards green filters (many of his films look as if they were shot through a Heineken bottle) and presents a handsome looking film. Most of the buzz about this film was that it made Zuckerberg look like an asshole, I disagree. At most, he comes off irritating. It's hard not to root for him when his adversaries are a business partner who couldn't put together one friggin' meeting, and not one, but a pair of overprivileged jocks. A "Revenge of the Nerds" for the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Film Unfinished (2010)

Documentary from director Yael Hersonski about the discovery of film canisters containing never before seen footage of the Warsaw ghetto. Holocaust documentaries are inherently dramatic and disturbing, but this one has a detached and analytical style that makes it more chilling than most. The raw footage, seemingly random images of the deplorable conditions, day to day goings on, and bizarre staged scenes like a woman seated at a vanity applying lipstick, are looked at in close detail until the truth starts to seep out. The project, carried out by the Third Reich mere months before the deportations to the death camps, curiously shows all of the horrors of the ghetto (curious because this was intended as propaganda, after all). This starts you thinking, why are they filming this, when they also stage scenes of Jews living "happily"? Also, the Nazis always left plenty of documentation on all their film projects, yet oddly, this one has no paper trail. The ultimate intent may not be known, but nauseating clues emerge when the filmmakers stage scenes of the "wealthy" ghetto inhabitants ignoring their fellow citizens starving in the street, as if to say "Look, even in the ghetto." Ultimately, Hersonski lets the footage speak for itself and leaves it to the viewer to solve the mystery. He also does something that gave me a nightmare when I went to sleep that night: He'll freeze on a face in the crowd, and just let you look into the eyes of a human being, and contemplate his fate.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Salt (2010)

Angelina Jolie in an action-packed bio-pic of the life of Waldo Salt. Actually, she plays underfed secret agent Evelyn Salt, able to take down hundreds of men three times her body weight. Not as bad as it could've been, probably due to the efforts of director Phillip Noyce. However, everything is left open and unresolved, sure as they were that there'd be a sequel. But I don't want to see the fucking sequel, and I need closure, dammit! About as good for you as salt, but ineffective in clearing ice from sidewalks and preventing goiters.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dogtooth (2010)

Oh my God this fucking movie. An earth-shattering achievement from Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, it tells the story of a married couple who keep their own children prisoners in their home well into adulthood, and completely shut out the outside world. Unlike almost anything I've ever seen, it's as if Michael Haneke made a Jim Jarmusch film. I've rarely seen a movie that juggles humor, horror, and beauty so effortlessly. The visuals are gauzey and elegant (Lanthimos curiously cuts the heads off people in many of his compositions, as if it were a photograph taken by a small child). The performances are so committed it can make you squirm. This is so sure-handed that at one point, there is a tribute to Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance", and it gave me a lump in my throat. It's so good and so challenging that for the life of me I can't figure out how this got a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Love it or hate it, you're not likely to forget it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Catfish (2010)

Documentary from Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman chronicling Schulman's brother and his Facebook friendship with an eight-year-old child prodigy. I smelled bullshit, but as the film progressed I started to think this may all be true. It claims to be all true, I'm still not sure. What makes me suspicious is the way the filmmakers stumbled into this incredible story. It turns creepy and sad rather quickly, but why would they start filming something that at first seemed rather mundane and innocent? Talk about good luck. I froze in my chair during certain moments, and there is an ick factor that days later is still impelling me to shower.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Animal Kingdom (2010)

When his mother dies of a drug overdose, seventeen-year-old Joshua (James Frecheville) moves in with his estranged grandmother (deserved Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver) and his four uncles in this tense crime drama from writer/director David Michod. At first I was a little suspicious of the film's merits. I'm pretty tired of cops and robbers movies because there's such a sameness about them all. This one works because the performances are, for the most part, stunning. They also left out the macho swagger, and instead there is a sinister slow-burn that had me on the edge of my seat through long stretches. The source of much of the tension is Uncle Andy, played with bone-chilling simplicity by Ben Mendelsohn. In many scenes, Mendelsohn will just enter, and immediately there is a sense of unforgettable dread, all of this achieved by mere presence...indeed, he hardly seems to be acting at all. Uncle Andy is an absolute menace and one of the most frightening screen characters in years. A very good film I'd never want to see again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Alice In Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton's re-imagining of Lewis Carroll, and his latest opportunity to indulge Johnny Depp and his desire to wear top hats. Yeah, Burton, visual genius blah blah blah, ninety percent of everything we see is computer generated, and I find cg visuals rather cold. The Queen of Hearts is a role perfectly suited to Helen Bonham-Carter's screen attitude, but Mia Wosikowska as Alice has the personality of day old oatmeal (she looks eerily like Tadzio the beach boy in "Death In Venice"). I know Depp is playing an obnoxious character, but jeez. I also wish he would've settled on an accent, one minute he was upper-class British, then it was a thick Scottish brogue, perhaps it was a choice (he is supposed to be mad), perhaps not. He should've stuck with that fake Irish accent he uses in interviews. Noisy and boring. However, it was nice to see Crispin Glover (as the Knave of Hearts) starring in a big movie.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

No One Knows About Persian Cats (2009)

A filmmaker and music promoter (the fantastic Hamed Behdad) trolls Tehran to piece together a clandestine rock concert in Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi's musical travelogue. This was a revelation, not just in the vibrancy and diversity of Iran's music scene, but how unbroken and defiant the Iranians are after living under decades of Islamic law. The concert is being held so that they can raise money to buy passports and leave the country to play their music, music is literal and figurative liberation, a beautiful dramatization of the metaphor. Of course the concert is illegal, and the maneuvering required (Behad proves his mettle as a promoter by expertly talking his way out of serious jail time, concert-goers must be brought in three at a time to avoid detection) is indeed what actual filming was like. Ghobadi and his film crew worked on the fly without permits and were constantly looking over their shoulders. The effort pays off and the movie has an exciting, seat-of-your-pants tone. It also lingers in the mind afterwords because of the characters' simple yearning to be free. They speak of passports and visas the way prisoners speak of parole. A wonderful movie.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Howl (2010)

Oy. James Franco stars as poet and NAMBLA spokesman Allen Ginsberg in directors Rob Epstein and Jefferey Friedman's film about the titular poem and the resulting obscenity trial. Franco does an expert impression of Ginsberg (as opposed to giving a performance) and the rest of the impressive cast does what they can with what they are given. You must love, and I mean love, this poem (the vast majority of the movie is Franco reciting Howl) to enjoy this film. I do not. For me, poetry is a boring art form, Beat poetry is worse than boring. I know very well the pleasure of reading great myself. However, "great" is rare, and even the best poetry tires the ear when someone is emphatically reciting it to you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Toolbox Murders (2004)

A boring, lousy remake of an entertaining, lousy horror film. Like the original, it takes place in a decrepit Hollywood apartment complex, chock-a-block with disposable wanna-be starlets who all have a date with the claw side of a hammer. Other than that, it bears no resemblance to director Dennis Donnelly's 1978 version. Legend Tobe Hooper directs this time, continuing his career's downward trajectory (how low can it go?). Stupid "updates" like the addition of mystery and supernatural elements come off as comical, and instead of Cameron Mitchell's icky persona, we get a faceless, humanity-free rubber monster. Tobe Hooper sucks. There, I said it. Texas Chainsaw? Sure, it's great...however, that was thirty-seven years ago. What else? Funhouse (1981) is silly and...well, fun. And as far as Poltergeist (1982), you can't tell me that Steven Spielberg didn't direct ninety percent of that. This was directed by someone who was asleep at the wheel, or didn't give a shit, and was grimly collecting a paycheck.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wild Grass (2009)

Drama...I suppose, from eighty-eight-year-old French director Alan Resnais. A fifty-year-old (the actor looks at least seventy) married man finds a lost wallet belonging to a middle-aged female dentist and pilot (who's hair is the most interesting thing in this film). Upon returning it, he starts calling and writing her and generally acting like an asshole, which of course she finds irresistible. Look, I don't need everything spelled out for me, I don't need the characters to be likable, I just need events and behavior to make some fucking sense within the world the filmmaker is presenting. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in this movie acts as if they are out of their cotton-picking minds. It's been a long time since I've seen Resnais' "Last Year In Marienbad" (I also recall praying for that movie to end). Maybe it's my problem, I don't get him, and I don't get this. All I'll say is that I watched "RED", starring Bruce Willis, earlier this week and I'd prefer watching Helen Mirren mowing people down with a machine gun over one minute of this lofty nonsense.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Prophet (2009)

French prison drama from director Jacques Audiard and starring Tahar Rahim as an Algerian teenager sentenced to six years for beating up a police officer. I shan't reveal any more plot, but you can imagine the horrors of prison and what someone must do to survive. When this came out, critics were creaming their pants. Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. There is not so much a plot as stuff happening, for two hours and forty minutes, kind of like three episodes of "Oz" strung together, in French. Tahar Rahim sheds any trace of actorly behavior and gives a performance of stunning realism and commitment. I reckon critics were enamored with him, he's pretty much the entire film. I could go on and on and on, but that would be too like the film itself.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Director Ernst Lubitsch looms as one of the greats, someone on par with Hitchcock and Welles, largely due to a series of musicals he made at Paramount in the late twenties and early thirties. I had not seen a single one, until now. I adore his later period non-musicals (Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner, To Be Or Not To Be) so I was "stoked"(as the kids say) when this arrived in the mail. It stars Maurice Chevalier as the titular lieutenant caught in a love triangle with musician Claudette Colbert and princess Miriam Hopkins. It was both fantastic and a little bit of a let down. There is this other musical called "Love Me Tonight" (made around the same time) also with Chevalier, that was intended for Lubitsch but instead was directed by Rouben Mamoulian. It is derided by many film people as copycat Lubitsch. I, however, think it's one of the craziest, most vibrant movies ever made; filled with long takes, dramatic lighting, and rhyming dialog. I suppose with "Smiling Lieutenant" I was expecting the same kind of cinematic invention seen in the Mamoulian film. It is of course graceful, but the camera is a bit static, the pace slower, and the songs quite terrible (the astounding song score of "Love Me Tonight" was written by Rodgers and Hart). However, in place of technical dazzle, the Lubitsch film has emotional tenderness and deep feeling. It had a swooning effect on me that had nothing to do with tracking shots or cinematography, and everything to do with love and kindness. I just wish I hadn't seen "Love Me Tonight" first.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

44 Inch Chest (2010)

A talky (more on that in a second) British gangster drama from first time director Malcolm Venville and screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto (the man responsible for the fantastic "Sexy Beast"). It's weird, I know this film is flawed; it's a little claustrophobic with the bulk of the action taking place in one room. The plot kind of stops mid-way, which has an odd anti-climactic effect. And the flashback, fantasy/reality structure doesn't always play. However, I found this very entertaining. The reason for that is the dialog and the performances. The script, generously peppered with "cunts" and "fucks", is a joy to the ears. The actors are having a blast with their foul-mouthed characters. Ray Winstone is heartbreaking and terrifying, John Hurt hasn't been this lively in years, and Ian McShane camps it up and is proving to be one of the most effortlessly magnetic actors around. I can't overstate how good the cast is, or how bizarre and hilarious (and occasionally, surprisingly affecting) the dialog is. See this, I look forward to your angry e-mails.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Kick-Ass (2010)

Aaron Johnson plays a high school comic book geek who becomes a superhero vigilante, with Nicholas Cage and his daughter Chloe Moretz as his mentors. He's soon in over his head after running afoul with a violent mobster (Mark Strong) and his teenage son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). This was so juvenile I couldn't believe my eyes. Violent in a really unpleasant way (ten-year-old Moretz, among other things, guts a hooker), and about as stupid as can be, with a running time at least thirty minutes too long. Despite a scene where Nicholas Cage is burned alive, this was hard to sit through.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World vs. my gag reflex. The next "Michael Cera Movie" has already become a red flag for movie goers (this tanked at the box office) and he's gone a long way to squander any goodwill he had coming off of Arrested Development. Honestly, besides "Superbad", and whatever that piece of shit with Jack Black was called, what has he done that hasn't followed the "emo geek with a heart of gold" formula? And now that youth and innocence are fading from his face, he's going from "unconventionally cute" to "quite ugly". This has so many stereotypes: the bitchy gay, the overbearing Asian girlfriend, the unattainable cool girl (with, gasp, pink hair!). Then there's the soundtrack wallpapered with forgettable indie garbage. Throw in some comic book superhero bullshit, and you've got movie gold! At least Universal seemed to think so, they sunk something like 90 million dollars into this turkey and it didn't even make half of that. They even made a fucking video game! What is this? Honestly, who did they think would enjoy this? There are one and a half jokes in this, but a chuckle or two doesn't make you forget that you're watching an annoying mess. This is a bunch of studio executives in their forties taking a stab at an indie comedy aimed at the youth market. No one knows what's cool more than an executive in their forties, right?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Easy A (2010)

Teen comedy from director Will Gluck and writer Bert Royal loosely based on The Scarlet Letter. Thankfully, every couple of years a movie comes around for wise youngsters who realize there are lies all around them, and that high school can be one of the most miserable places on earth. While not as great as Heathers or Mean Girls, Easy A has that same mixture of humor and emotional violence, with enough sweet to offset the sour. For years the smart and appealing Emma Stone has been knocking around in supporting parts, usually cast as "the girl" and making the most of it. Here she is finally given her vehicle and she's great, though at twenty-two is a little long in the tooth to be playing seventeen (there are a lot of high school students in this film sporting crow's feet and male-pattern baldness). It starts off rather hard-sell but gets funnier and funnier. There are a lot of zingers in the script, all delivered with skill. The cast (which includes Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, and Lisa Kudrow) all seem to be having a great time. A nice surprise.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Inception (2010)

Christopher Nolan seems intent on befuddling me. Memento vexed me beyond belief. Besides terribly confusing, I thought it was showy and gimmicky. The Prestige was a whole lotta nothing and his first installment of Batman was just plain lousy (I do not understand his, or any other director's, casting of Christian Bale; unappealing on so many levels). However, there is The Dark Knight, which I love, and now this, which surprised me. Leo really phones it in (again) and his head is looking more and more like an orange cookie jar. Nolan was more successful casting the other roles. Ellen Page is an odd choice for a leading lady in something like this, and a welcome change from the usual stable of go-to bimbos. Cillian Murphy is spot-on, and Tom Hardy nearly steals the picture. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt seems wrong, until the end, where he glides through air in his quick-fitting suit, as graceful and sinewy as a ballerina. I didn't care that at times I wasn't sure what was going on. I just sat back and let it dazzle me. Nolan's most involuntary and wondrous film yet.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Restrepo (2010)

Documentary from Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger that chronicles a year with an army platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. I was amazed how great looking most of these guys were (I thought to myself, "Why, instead of risking their lives don't some of these fellas move to New York and pursue modeling?") The filmmakers really capture the camaraderie; these guys seem very emotionally attached to each other. At times you feel like you're there, with long stretches of monotony suddenly disrupted by tense encounters and even horror. When one of their men is shot and killed right in front of them, the reactions of shock and grief are unforgettable. It makes any great "acting" you've seen seem like utter bullshit.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Godfather, parts one and two (72-74) and Goodfellas (1990)

There are always glaring omissions on someone's movie list. I hadn't seen The Sound Of Music until the ripe old age of 33, and have yet to see Grapes Of Wrath or make it all the way through Gone With The Wind. The list of major movies that Andrew had not seen had three biggies, so with the help of Netflix, I remedied this. This could've gone badly; films with large reputations can disappoint. I myself hadn't seen these films in twenty years, so I hoped for my sake and Andrew's that they were as good as I remembered. They were. Three dazzling examples of a director coming into focus and doing their best work. Screw it, I'm not really going to review these , I don't feel like adding to all the things that have already been said. Watching these over the course of two nights did make me fucking hungry for Italian food. Having been raised Italian I paid special attention to the spreads: sausage and peppers, bubbling pots of marinara, and delicate cannoli dusted with powdered sugar (and splattered with blood). I could almost smell the garlic. And of course, cartons of Chinese takeout made an appearance or two (Jews and Italians, in particular, adore Chinese food). In the end the Godfather movies were even greater than I remembered, and Goodfellas has lost just a smidge of it's luster. But all three are deserving of their masterpiece status. Coppola depicts the family as an evil corporation, whereas Scorsese depicts them as cartoonish thugs in pursuit of happiness. Both are true, of course. Ain't that America?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who Is Harry Nilsson? And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him? (2010)

Documentary from John Scheinfeld about the best male singer of the rock and roll era. Lots of talking heads, lots of saucer-eyed burn-outs (Brian Wilson babbles one or two things, and is not seen again) and, fortunately, lots of Harry's songs. He never performed live, so it was a shock to see clips of him on "Playboy After Dark" (hearing him sing live and off the cuff is startling, his voice effortlessly perfect). Harry, of course, ruined his voice by partying and for a while became better known for his drug and alcohol-fueled exploits than his musical output. He intentionally destroyed his voice, screaming until he was coughing up blood. It's a senseless and completely self-destructive act, enough to make any fan almost angry. I am a huge fan, so is this film interesting to someone who isn't? Only if you want to hear some of the most distinctive songs sung by the most astounding voice of the last half of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Antichrist (2010)

Another sensitive portrayal of a woman from unrelenting misogynist Lars Von Trier. Married couple Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe are grieving the death of their infant child (the child's death is shown in a brilliant and heartbreaking opening sequence) and retreat to their cabin in the woods to work it out. Things quickly go to shit, and as guilt and resentments come to the surface, supernatural things start to happen all around them. This is similar to Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973) in many ways (death of a child, graphic sex, fear of the supernatural) yet far more beautiful and repulsive. Once again, Von Trier puts his actors, particularly Gainsbourg (and the audience) through the wringer. There are moments of breathtaking beauty (a sequence in which Gainsbourg approaches the cabin is almost primeval and completely mesmerizing) However, Von Trier's visual skills seem more and more like cold display. Beautifully made bullshit.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter's Bone (2010)

"Hillbilly Noir" from director Debra Granik. Stars Jennifer Lawrence as a dirt poor Missouri teenager in danger of losing her shit shack of a house because her dad used the home as collateral for bail (he was arrested for manufacturing meth). She looks for him, going from shack to shack, each one with more washers, dryers, and abandoned cars in the front yard than the last, to make sure he shows up for court. After a while, she realizes he was in deeper shit than with the law and starts to wonder if he is even alive. Every year or so, there seems to be another one of these "shit-kicker gothic" offerings aimed at the art house crowd. These are characters and situations the audience (mostly urbanites, I assume) are not familiar with. I suppose if they were ever interested in the middle part of this country, they certainly wouldn't be after seeing this. I know I never want to go to Missouri now (well, truth be told, I had no desire to begin with). Jennifer Lawrence is excellent, as is John Hawkes as her uncle and Dale Dickey as a female henchman. Interesting, but not tremendously so. It's all so ...glum I guess is the word. Actors with greasy hair and dirt smudges on their faces, bare trees, gray photography. It's a bit much.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Countdown To Zero (2010)

By-the-numbers yet occasionally chilling documentary from director Lucy Walker about the likelihood of someone, either a government or a terrorist, detonating a nuclear bomb. Guess what? It's highly likely. The most alarming passage tells of a time in 1995 when we were almost, and I mean very nearly, wiped off the face of the earth. An event that makes the Cuban missile crisis look like child's play. It only didn't occur because Boris Yeltsin, against protocol and direct orders, for some unknown reason, didn't push the button that was sitting right in front of him. This film, like many other documentaries (The Cove, An Inconvenient Truth) lead me to believe that we are doomed. I was terrified for a while, stirring up fears of nuclear annihilation that I haven't experienced since elementary school. But then I figured, it might not happen, but probably will, fuck it. I want to have sex with Andrew.