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.