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. Meh...it 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 count...it'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 actor...you 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.