Friday, July 30, 2010
I can't quite remember thinking back on it all now, but I am pretty certain a lot of eyebrows were raised when Jon Favreau, a noted comedic actor best known for playing opposite Vince Vaughn in Swingers, was hired to direct the first Iron Man film. Despite having previously directed the blockbuster Elf and the not-such-a-blockbuster but megabudgeted Zathura, Favreau was still relatively untested amongst the core group of people who cared how Tony Stark's initial saga turned out. Comic book fans would be watching with baited breath. Could a comedian deliver a great film about an alcoholic superhero with famous burnout Robert Downey Jr. wearing the suit?
The answer was a resounding yes. The first Iron Man rebooted Downey's career into the stratosphere and the man has only had one stumble since (which was the long delayed and absolutely terrible The Soloist). If it weren't for the film's success, not only would there be no sequel, but The Avengers film (currently in development under the watchful eye of fanboy favorite Joss Whedon) would be dead in the water as well. But how was it that a comedian was able to take such a hot property and turn it into gold? The sequel holds a great answer to this question. Quite simply, because when you have a character with a lot of backstory and a studio that wants a film with a lot going on, you need someone to inject just the right kind of humor to make the film work. Comedians have a great sense of pacing, and with the amount of story that Iron Man 2 manages to cram into just a shade over 2 hours, it might just be the best pacing of any film this year.
Downey is of course back as billionare industrialist Tony Stark, who is not too far removed from the end of the previous installment when he does what most super heroes would never dream of. Stark outted himself as Iron Man simply because he loves the limelight. Stark is the kind of character that would make Bruce Wayne cringe, but probably also envy. Naturally everyone and their mother wants a piece of the Iron Man technology to call their own and they are all willing to go to great lengths to get it. That is really the only plot the film has or needs. A bunch of people want what Tony Stark has. When you boil it down to that, it isn't as complex as some detractors make it out to be.
The U.S. Government is of two minds. Some, like senator Gary Shandling, wish to destroy it, while the more military minded (led by Don Cheadle's Rhodes, replacing Terrance Howard as Stark's best friend) want to simply use it in a responsible manner. A new villain named Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke, despite the villain being a female in the comics) surfaces from Russia claiming that Stark's father stole the designs for Iron Man's power source decades earlier. A rival weapons dealer, played by the always wonderful Sam Rockwell, wants to get into the robotics game and is willing to trust the batshit crazy Whiplash to do so. Oh, and to top it all off, Stark Enterprises is losing money, Tony is having daddy issues, and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is on his ass about the Avengers. Oh, and Tony is dying because the very power source that keeps him alive is poisoning him.
Yes, that does seem like a lot going on at one time, but to look at it in a slightly realistic vein it all kind of makes sense. Tony Stark is the American model of success. Anyone who reaches that point is bound to have a thousand different brands in the fire, no matter what their profession. However, the difference between Iron Man 2 and a superhero film that tries to do too much (like Batman and Robin or Spiderman 3) is that Favreau knows how to time everything so that things don't appear silly or cloying, and yet allows the humor of Justin Thoreaux's (Tropic Thunder, Zoolander) script to come to life. The characters and actors are not made to look like jokes. They are made to be taken perfectly seriously. The humor instead comes from situations and misguided emotions.
The cast is just as good this time around and Downey seems to really fit into the Tony Stark persona better than anyone else short of Michael Douglas in his prime probably could. Stark isn't an anti-hero because he never truly does anything truly awful. Instead, Downey makes him seem quite human underneath his embarrassment of riches. Stark and Downey are both men full of bravado that have lived hard and paid the price for it. Rourke is a delight to watch in a super villain role. Rockwell, however, pretty much walks off with the movie, especially in his scenes with Rourke.
Long story short, if you liked the original Iron Man, you will probably get a lot out of this one as well.
A brief history of Duo-Vision:
23,000-25,000 B.C. (approximated) - Scientists, using radiocarbon dating, determine that the oldest known cave paintings are from this time period. They are discovered in the late 1960s in what would become known as the Apollo 11 Caves in Southern Namibia. Several of these rudimentary journalistic style wall pictures are drawn over one another, creating the seeds of what would become known in the later half of the 20th Century as DuoVison. Scientists are baffled as to just how the idea came about in the first place.
1895 - The Lumiere Brothers, Augusta and Louis, continue their experiments using film negatives and the ability to harness a moving camera, while Edison trailed behind using a completely static camera. Both had different processes, but had similar designs for a DuoVision like process. Auguste and Louis simply played two reels of negatives at the same time and created a new image that, while incredibly blurry, was nothing short of fascinating. Edison's more cumbersome kinetoscope, however, allowed him to run the same negative through his camera twice, leading to many images of fruit sitting side by side that never originally sat side by side in the first place.
1942 - Nazi Information Ministry worker Karlheinz von Bremner begins experimenting with the usage of DuoVision as a possible media for propaganda and possibly even a darker form of torture. Adolf Hitler and propaganda ministry head Joseph Goebbels are not convinced of the merits of DuoVision. It was simply too crazy for the Nazi party to take a chance on it. Bremner began his own experiments in earnest. After four months of viewing his own footage, Bremner took his own life after believing that his very mind had been split into two halves that could never be made whole again.
1966-1968 - Directors Norman Jewison and John Frankenheimer try to make their first attempts at creating a film made solely in DuoVision after decades of inactivity in using the process. If they had their way, The Thomas Crown Affair and Grand Prix (respectively) would have been made using the DuoVision process. Sadly, theatre projection equipment was not advancing at the same rate as that of the movie camera and both films were robbed of the vision these great directors had in mind. They still turned out to be pretty decent movies. I guess...
1972 - The Tokonami Corporation of Taiwan creates the first DuoVision lens for the modern film projector. What would have taken the job of two lenses now only takes one. These lenses are highly sought after on the black market as very few still exist or are even in usable condition.
1973 - Writer/Director Richard L. Bare had a vision one day. While driving down the highway, he paid close attention to the line in the center of the road. Bare realized that his eyes were taking different mental pictures of different sides of the road. In that instant, Bare set out to create the first ever film shot entirely in DuoVision: Wicked, Wicked. The world has never been the same since.
Part slasher film, part psychedelic trip, part Grand Hotel, Wicked, Wicked had something to offer everyone. Sadly, many theatres balked at screening the film, which required special lenses and two interlocked projectors just to show it. Not to mention stereo sound and adjusting the theater's masking of the screen to a highly unusual aspect ratio of 2:60, whereas normal Cinemascope ranged from 2:35 to 2:40. Also, due to these circumstances, Wicked, Wicked was never properly released to the home video market in North America, however, copies were made available on VHS in Germany (thanks to previous efforts made by von Bremner) and Finland (for some far darker, unknown reason). Rumors that the film has screened on Turner Classic Movies can not be confirmed nor denied. No one speaks of it.
1998 - Director Brian DePalma films Snake Eyes entirely in DuoVision and in one continuous take. Unfortunately, the negative is destroyed in a fire and original villain Will Smith is unable to reprise his role for reshoots. Smith is replaced by Gary Sinise and a significantly smaller budget is granted to the film to avoid a complete loss.
2000 - Leaving Las Vegas director Mike Figgis decides to play around with the formula for DuoVision, and doubles it creating QuatroVision for his film Timecode. It was far too much for audiences and the director to handle. No one has used the technology since. Figgis went mad and made Cold Creek Manor with Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone, which remains to this day the absolute worst movie I have ever seen in my life.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
I can unequivocally state that Lady Terminator is the best film to ever come out of Indonesia. It is a true powerhouse of a film that will make you question existence itself. Why are we here? What are we doing here? How did we get to this point? Who the fuck was that I just saw? Where does this movie even take place? The brilliance of this film is that it lets you draw your own conclusions. Nothing is spelled out for you. It is truly a thinking person's movie, because while you think you are watching a movie, you really watching cinematic history.
Lady Terminator and the 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Terminator have many similarities. Scenes from the latter are directly lifted (and in some cases along with the dialog) to suit the needs of Lady Terminator's ground breaking story. Actually, that story is just a retelling of the Legend of the South Sea Queen and something involving snakes in vaginas and a mystical anthropological quest gone horribly wrong. It's that AND the plot of The Terminator.
Barbara Anne Constable (who also does her own make-up!) is handed the role of a lifetime as serious anthropology student Tania Wilson who takes an ill fated voyage at sea and somehow becomes possessed by the spirit of the vengeful South Sea queen. The film shows this transformation as a sort of fever dream that Sam Mendes very obviously ripped off when he shot Kevin Spacey's rose petal infused dream sequence in American Beauty. Is nothing sacred anymore? THIS FILM WAS SHOT IN 1988 MENDES! YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE YOU FUCKING HACK. Yeah, just add some rose petals, Mendes. That will throw people off the scent. God, I hate you.
Apparently, being possessed by an ancient evil deity turns you into a cyborg or some shit bent on seeking out and killing the great granddaughter of the man who thwarted her evil penis stealing plans ages before she was even born. This is where the cries that Lady Terminator is a blatant rip off of James Cameron's film lose their credibility. The Terminator is about a cyborg from the future sent to the past to kill the leader of the resistance. Lady Terminator is about an ancient evil FROM THE PAST who turns idiot students into unstoppable killing machines bent on killing someone who did absolutely nothing out of revenge.
Lady Terminator, or as I like to call her, L.T., is tasked with killing up and coming your singing superstar Erica. You know Erica is going places when she gets her own news report explaining that she has a show at a local cyberpunkish looking bar. Her great protector is Max McNeil (played by Christopher J. Hart, in a career defining performance), a police officer who is investigating a string of corpses that have been piling up like hot dogs. Except these corpses are missing their "hot dogs" and were killed quite obviously in the manner of the South Sea Queen. Max is an American, which means he has American friends and cousins with access to helicopters, tanks, sub-machine guns and good old fashioned American know how and machismo.
Lady Terminator was made in Indonesia at a point where many films that were being made there were just knock offs of American films. A quota was in place on the number of American films that could actually screen in Indonesia, so the more enterprising people would try to skirt copyright laws by making films like this. In some ways, Lady Terminator is a better film that The Terminator. It is certainly funnier, and by virtue of the fact that it took place in a modern time with a deity from the past, it is certainly more historically accurate. It is certainly no more preprosterous than Dreamcatcher.
Well, here we are. We have finally reached the end of our journey with a film that is representing wrath (alongside Death Wish 3) that is a film best enjoyed on your own. It is not a film for the squeamish or weak willed and it sure as hell isn't a date movie. Taking your son or daughter with you to see this film is like taking your wife to see Revolutionary Road. There are some things that you just don't do; both in real life and in the movies. The hero of Oldboy, Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) does a lot of these things and more.
The wrath that Dae-su feels is real and quite justified. Dae-su has been the victim of an unjust inprisonment. His incarceration was not in a normal prison and not because of a crime that he committed, but because of a slight against a very powerful person with a lot of money to burn. He is cut off from the only world he has known, as well as his 3 year old daughter. Over the course of 15 years, all Dae-su can think about and train his mind to do is to seek revenge. This once prosperous, albeit slightly loutish, businessman has created a list of possible suspects and is determined to find out just who his mysterious captor is. Once released from his studio apartment style prison, Dae-su begins his extremely bloody and unrelenting rampage, softened only by a connection he finds with a much younger 18 year old sushi chef (Kang Hye-jeong) who provides the only solace in his dark world.
Oldboy is the middle part of director Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengance trilogy and it is, quite bafflingly, the most off putting and accessible of the three. The sins in Oldboy run the gamut from greed to lust, but Dae-su's wrath is most prevalent. Oldboy is a dirty film, but also a suprisingly cathartic one. Even by the end of the film, which contains a twist that you quite simply can not unsee or stop thinking about, you still feel for the lead character and by virtue of the fact that he has been so royally screwed over...
Well, I can't say the rest without spoiling it. Oldboy is the best film to come out of South Korea and is filled with overtly political overtones (Dae-su was imprisoned during Kim Jong Il's rise to power in the North) and philosophical ruminations amidst all the hammer beatings and octopus feasts. It is the rare example of a "cult" film with deep social and emotional resonance. Chan-wook may very well be the most underrated filmmaker working in cinema today. Oldboy is, quite simply, his masterpiece.
Monday, July 26, 2010
"I'm going out for some ice cream... this is America, isn't it?" - Paul Kersey
In the first Death Wish film from 1974, almost a decade prior to the release of this film at the height of the criminally conservative 1980s, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) was a man fighting with his own demons. He never wanted to become a vigilante. In fact, he was a peace loving man who declined to fight in the Korean War. Maddened by how ineffective the police are following the murder of his wife, Kersey began hunting down muggers to seemingly ease his own internalized pain. In the second film from 1982 (which despite having the director of both the first and third movies is as nasty a piece of trash as you are likely to see), Kersey is further broken down psychologically after the rape and murder of his daughter and his housekeeper. By the end of the second film, Kersey's entire family is wiped out and his blood lust still seems unquenched.
So what better time than 1985 to take a trip to New York city? Only it isn't New York. It's London filling in for New York in one of the more inexplicable switcheroos in film setting history. Oh, and there is even less of a set up for the plot of this one. It pretty much gets rolling when Kersey finds his friend murdered and the police take him into custody for little to no reason but to ask him to help kill a bunch of street toughs that are running roughshod over a tenement in what I am guessing is supposed to be The Bronx. Yes, folks, we are once again in the realm of Cannon Films: where nothing ever has to make sense for any reason. Where gang members are bizarrely multi-ethnic (including Ted Theodore fucking Logan as quite possibly the least convincing gang banger ever) and everyone trying to stop them is a freaking geriatric or just as insane as the gang members themselves. The plot doesn't exist and random contrivances simply pop up because the script calls for them.
Having said that, Death Wish 3 is a great fucking time at the movies and easily one of the top 10 films that Cannon released in its short reign at the top of low budget independent film making in the 1980s. It had a profound impact on my 14 year old self when I wrote my first screenplay. It was an abysmal action thriller that just might have made this film look subtle (but not Death Wish V, which was so far beyond help that it has been largely forgotten about). All this movie wants to do is kill a fuck load of people and blow some shit up occasionally. Sometimes, that's all you really need from a movie. Death Wish 3 is nothing but base level catharsis without a single brain cell in its empty head.
Death Wish 3 is the kind of film that has a musical sting for pretty much every action, reaction, and transition. These stings are provided by Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page playing a synthesizer. Almost every single one of these stings are inappropriate and hilarious. Director Michael Winner just sucks something awful in every department. Nothing seems to be framed correctly and the dude clearly loves his slow building close ups and tight shots on inconsequential parts of the set.
The acting ranges from the creepily bland gang leader (who sports a hairstyle I like to refer to as the "reverse no-hawk") to the scenery chewing detective who asks Kersey for help. And then there is Charlie Bronson just not giving a fuck in the slightest what happens. At one point, he just nonchalantly tosses his ice cream sandwich and blows a huge hole in the back of a gang member nicknamed The Giggler. No emotion, just action. Bronson probably thought he was sabotaging a film that he was quite vocally unhappy about, but in fact, the performance actually does more for the film than the script and director seem capable of doing.
There are few films that can come close to the idiotic joy that Death Wish 3 can produce when watched in a theater full of people. At times you can hardly believe what you are seeing and hearing, but it is also a movie that you can't help but cheer for no matter how debauched and stupid it grows over its brief running time. This is the kind of film The Cannon Group was best known for. This one is a must for anyone with a love for the 80s, cheesy action, or movies that are so terrible they double back on themselves and becomes good. Come on out and enjoy the fun. Tell them my friend Wildey sent you.
Ask 5 different people what they think David Lynch's Eraserhead means and you will get 5 different answers. I forget who said that to me, or in what capacity it was said. It might have been an original notion or something written down by a scholar or critic at some point. Either way, this statement rings incredibly true. Eraserhead isn't completely indecipherable. There is a plot to some degree and the visuals do convey images of dread, hope, shock, and despair. It is probably, however, best put as critic proof. I defy anyone, detractor or supporter, to really say anything more than that Eraserhead is quite simply an original. This is a film designed to take on a dream like quality where nothing in particular has to make a lot of sense or really needs to.
In light of the recent box office smash that Inception has become, allow me to paraphrase a concept from Christopher Nolan's most recent film that could easily be applied to Eraserhead. How do you know you are in a dream? How do you know where you really are? Think back to a dream you once had and try to remember how it started. You can't really seem to find your way back to the beginning because dreams are often non-linear and drop you into the middle of some sort of action. Retracing your steps is really quite a hassle so you will either try to end the dream on a conscious level, or you will simply blissfully go along with it.
The most obvious interpretation of Eraserhead would probably have to surround the horrors and fears associated with parenthood, especially in the case of the child being unplanned and unwanted by both parents. This unplanned offspring of Henry (Jack Nance) and Mary (Charlotte Stewart) just happens to be a hideous abomination that neither of them seem to love very much. The baby is constantly covered in viscera and looks like a shaved Muppet with a bandaged "body" to go along with its hideous facial features. Upon Mary's departure, Henry is left alone as guardian of the child, and that is when things begin to get even stranger and more obtuse. The notion of parenthood as a nightmare doesn't exactly hold up when your protagonist (?) starts dreaming he is headless and seeing women in his radiator espousing the virtues of heaven.
I would say I am saving you the spoilers, but the truth is that I have now seen Eraserhead 4 times and I am no closer to finding any true meaning from the film than when I first saw it almost 10 years ago. Maybe it is for the best that I don't say anything more. I think that is the way that Lynch would have wanted it. In fact, Lynch has gone on the record as saying that hardly anyone has even come close to what he believes the meaning of Eraserhead is. I for one am content to quite simply never know. I am going to take the dream for what it is. After all, it is just a movie and I know I am going to wake up. Right?
I think questioning the motivation behind any remake of any kind is a healthy thing to do. Especially when a film is a remake of a movie that came out only three years prior. This general conceit probably led to Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Lakeview Terrace, The Wicker Man remake) and Chris Rock's remake of the 2007 Frank Oz directed British farce to be evicerated on the internet by people who thought they were doing the right thing.
Let's discount the fact that the internet is a breeding ground for latent racism where anything with an African American cast that smacks of Tyler Perry's influence is panned outright and often without sound explanation. Let's forget about The Wicker Man and how much I generally don't care for Neil LaBute as a filmmaker or as a person (he is undoubtedly one of the most sexist playwrights out there and he masks it by feigning racial understanding as if it is a substitute). Let's forget the fact that Chris Rock has not fronted a film with an original idea since CB4 and that the unoriginal films he has made in recent memory are vastly inferior when compared to his stand up routines. Let's just look at Death at a Funeral for what it is.
Death at a Funeral is actually a more than decent remake of a movie that I think people tend to forget was mediocre at best (and that most possibly never saw before making knee jerk assertions about LaBute's work). The cast works, the direction works, it moves along at a great pace, and it generally cleans up all the rough edges the original had, without sacrificing any of the darker material in the story of the original.
Rock plays Aaron, the good son of a family that is charged with coordinating the burial of his father since the rest of his family is either hopelessly dysfunctional or far too self absorbed to help. Rock plays Aaron with a sense of constant weariness that belies the task at hand. To make matters worse, Aaron's arrogant author brother Ryan (played by a refreshingly out of character Martin Lawrence) is the true choice of the family to carry off the ceremonies, but Aaron can't even get Ryan to complete the simplest tasks.
A comedy of errors ensues to create a perfect storm of nightmares and headaches for Aaron. The involve, amongst other things, blackmail, toilet humor, ex-boyfriends, and one guy (played by James Marsden who seems to be having a blast playing in comedies as of late) who is tripping balls throughout the entire ceremony.
The action on screen is a bit slapstick heavy, so if that isn't your cup of tea, you aren't entirely out of luck since the cast is still given room to riff and improvise. It is this looseness that the cast and director bring to the table that sets Death apart from the original. In the Frank Oz version, you at times get the feeling that you are watching a stage play and not a film. Nothing in the original feels all together organic or natural. In Labute's remake, however, the cast is given just enough rope to keep from hanging themselves with. Even the usually mug prone Tracy Morgan is restrained just enough so that he doesn't eat the flowers surrounding the coffin.
Sure, remakes are unnecessary, but if you are going to make one, at least do it right and try to improve on the original. Death at a Funeral is a pretty good example of an unnecessary remake done well.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Orson Welles.
There isn't very much that I can say about The General that the late Orson Welles didn't say in that clip. It pretty much sums up everything that I felt about the film as I watched it. The General was a wonderful film that was very sadly looked over upon its initial release in 1927. In fact, it was classified as a monumental failure at the time. Things looked so bleak, in fact, that many exhibitors who booked what Buster Keaton believed to be his greatest film, thought they were going to go broke in the process.
Keaton was sadly always in the shadow of the flashier and more clownish Charlie Chaplin. Oddly enough, despite being the lesser known of the two silent film comedians, Keaton's films have aged much better than those of Charlie Chaplin. I think a lot of this has to do with style and grace. Chaplin was more prone to mugging and running around like a bull in a china shop, while Keaton is more like the precursor to Jackie Chan. Keaton is stone faced and plays everything seriously. There is humor in the situations he finds himself in, but not in the man himself. Keaton plays everything like a man who is only slightly put upon by everything around him. He simply rolls with the punches.
Keaton also performed most of his own stunts no matter how dangerous they were. In this film, it really is Keaton jumping from train to train and sitting on the coupling rods between the trains; the latter of which nearly killed him. The General also features one of the greatest train wrecks of all time. It is a scene so spectacular that I can't help but wonder why audiences at the time chose to ignore the film and dismiss it as unfunny drivel.
The General is a pretty simple film, as were most films of the day, but it stands as proof positive that a film does not need to be complex to be a masterpiece. The film simply needs to be well made and entertaining. Keaton plays Johnnie, a railroad conductor aboard his train (nicknamed The General), who finds himself thrust into the middle of the American Civil War when his train is hijacked by Union soldiers with his sweetheart and true love on board. Having been previously rejected by the Confederacy when he tried to enlist (due to the fact that Johnnie was seen as being too valuable as a conductor), Johnnie sees this as his one big chance to not only stand up and fight, but to show his girlfriend that he isn't a coward.
On a technical level, The General might be seen as one of the greatest achievements of the silent era. One thing that tends to go overlooked, however, when talking about silent films is plotting and structure, and The General has an amazingly well thought out plot. There are brief side missions and disruptions for both Johnnie and the Union army that compound matters and help to reinforce the story. Every reaction that Keaton plans out for Johnnie is well thought out, and every stunt acts not only as a spectacle, but as a plot device designed to move the film forward.
I think The General might very well be the greatest achievement, not only of Keaton's career, but of the silent film era in general. It is without a doubt awe inspiring when one thinks of the work that went into making it and it is also one of the most entertaining films ever made. While coming by an actual print of the film would be next to impossible (especially since many projectors couldn't play a film that old to begin with), I still can't wait to see it in a dark theater. Even for a moment and even in a more modernized theater, it can still have the power to take you back in time.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Machotaildrop is the Moulin Rouge! of skateboard films. It is also the Napoleon Dynamite of skateboard films. It also has the sense of humor and pacing of a Terry Gilliam film. It is the three of them combined. Suffice to say, I have never seen anything quite like it in my life.
Young Walter Rhum (Anthony Amedori) years to be a professional skateboarder who has sponsorship from the biggest skateboarding conglomerate on earth: Machotaildrop. This is a company run by a man known simply as The Baron (a delightful James Faulkner) who is a cross between Colonel Sanders, The Wizard of Oz, and the narcoleptic Argentinian from Moulin Rouge! Unfortunately for Walter, not only is the company not what he expected, but his boyhood idol Blair Stanley (Rick McCrank) is a narcissistic dickhead.
Last summer I unsuccessfully tried to help a friend film some amateur skateboarders for a documentary. In nearly every case these young men got pissed off that we were even trying to film them. They thought that we would not edit the film correctly. They were so concerned about looking perfect that they thought us filming them would damage any chance they ever had at getting a sponsorship deal. Machotaildrop examines just what it is like when a recreational sports activity becomes big business, and just how ridiculous it can make it all seem.
Parenthood is a real pain in the ass sometimes. From the cradle to the awkward teenage years, it is almost impossible to know for sure just how well your child will turn out. Will my child grow into a well nurtured prodigy or will it be a brooding delinquent. Splice is a film that really examines these fears of parenthood, but uses the guise of a science fiction/horror film to look at them in depth.
Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough. They have managed to create two creatures made from an amalgamation of animal DNA to create a new species. The next step for them is to include human DNA into this mix. Given the political climate, their employers balk at these demands, so Clive and Elsa decide to go ahead with creating this new life form on their own. Their creation, eventually named Dren by Sarah (which is the acronym of their offices spelled backwards), may or may not be predatory. On top of that, their more well known experiment from before starts to take a turn for the worse.
Clive and Elsa are a couple who do not yet have a child. Not because Clive does not want one. In fact, one gets the sense that Clive knows exactly what he wants, but Sarah's motives are almost constantly cloudy until we get a glimpse of her sordid familial past. At first around Dren, Clive gets to be the bad parent; constantly running around confounded by this creature's actions. Sarah is the nice one at first. That is until Dren seemingly hits puberty about two months after her birth. Then Clive becomes the calm, relaxed voice of reason. Again, this holds just until this all goes to hell.
Nothing in Splice is really what it seems on the surface and some degree of thinking is required to truly appreciate the film. On one level, it is a parental nightmare on par with Eraserhead (which screened directly after Splice this past Saturday night). On another, it is a cautionary tale about playing God and the sketchy grey area where politics, economics, religion, and science seem to meet. But most importantly is that Splice is a seemingly important film. This is somewhat of a well-worn story line for sci-fi buffs, but it has a modern twist and moves along at a brisk pace. Splice is the rare film in this day and age that presupposes that the audience has some level of intelligence. Brody and Polley play very well off each other and get to act in the same ways that all new parents do, but in a truncated time frame. If raising a child is hell, raising one that grows as quickly as Dren does is something far worse.
Friday, July 23, 2010
The key difference between French cinema and North American cinema is that more often than not the French focus more on cinema being an art form than a source of entertainment. Despite not liking a great deal of his work, it would be hard to classify Jean-Luc Godard as anything other than a masterful artist. From such films as A Woman is Woman to his oddly entertaining goof on King Lear (which co-starred Molly Ringwald and Woody Allen in a Cannon Films production), Godard has made movies that are deeply personal and not crafted to cater to a single particular audience. Taking this into account, Contempt may very well be his most accessible film, as well as his greatest work of art.
Brigette Bardot, in her best performance and the one that showed detractors that she could actually act, plays Camille, the wife of Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli), a writer tasked with writing a recreation of Homer's Oddyessy (even though the actual film plays closer to Joyce's Ulysses and Dante's Divine Comedy) for a Hollywood producer (played by Jack Palance, in a performace that reminds us that he is famous for far more than just one handed push-ups) and famed director Fritz Lang (playing himself). Lang originally wrote the script that Paul is doing a touch up job on. Paul is far more commercial, while Lang stays closer to his artistic ideals.
Meanwhile, Camille is beginning to grow apart from Paul thanks to spending time with Palance's producer character. Paul begins making everyone in his life characters within Homer's classic epic poem. In this same way, Godard is also making everyone in his life beyond the screen into the characters the audience is seeing on screen. Godard even shows up on screen, as Lang's assistant.
The Italian settings are just as gorgeous as anything you would see in a Fellini film. If you haven't seen a Godard film on the big screen, I urge you to check this one out. It is not only emotionally deep, but visually deep as well. Godard was a filmmaker that you simply can not do justice to in any form of high definition.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
When The Underground was beginning to book films for the Seven Deadly Sins Film Festival, there was a long discussion as to whether vanity and pride were the same sin. There is a lot of overlap between the two to be sure. There are two more sins that seem to overlap quite a bit: Greed and Gluttony. Instead of coveting cash, one can just as easily covet food as a status symbol. Unfortunately, kids are notorious for being the demographic that commits both in tandem.
And Willy Wonka is here to tempt and punish them in some pretty sadistic ways.
Unlike Tim Burton's piss poor re-imagining, this is almost like a horror film, and feels a lot truer to Roald Dahl's souce material. Wonka's factory is more dangerous than your average haunted house. There is a cast of characters that are brought to the Wonka candy factory simply by way of fate, and much like in a horror film, the children with the golden tickets are almost all thoroughly unlikable.
Willy Wonka (as played by Gene Wilder, who could run circles so fast around Johnny Depp's Wonka that the world would reverse itself and Depp might never end up being born) is not an openly malicious person. In fact, when his motives for starting the golden ticket contest are realized, you see how much he truly does care about children. Things just didn't quite work out as they planned for him, and naturally he gets annoyed by it.
Charlie, our hero and the one boy who seems to care more about family and the feelings of others over the apathy that material things can bring him, really isn't the surrogate for the audience that past critics of the story have made him out to be. Charlie is really more of the moral of the story. The nasty children and parents are who the audience should be identifying with, albeit in a negative way.
Either way, this is still an amazingly entertaining film for kids and adults to watch together, and a great night at the movies. Just don't fill up on too many sweets. You might get sick, or possibly , something even worse.
Film Geekery Side Note #1: Has anyone noticed that Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is way more about Willy Wonka than Charlie and that this film is more about Charlie than Willy Wonka? Furthermore, in neither film or in the book is the factory itself strictly a chocolate factory. There are far more candies on display than just chocolate.
Film Geekery Side Note #2: In case you missed it last week, Amadeus will be playing again Wednesday night following Willy Wonka at 9:15pm. If you haven't seen it on the big screen, do yourself a favor and get on that right away.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Last year, when the nominations for the Academy Awards came out, I found the biggest point of contention to be in the Best Animated Feature category. Granted, probably nothing could have beaten Up (the winner) or Fantastic Mr. Fox for the top prize, but I was flabbergasted to see that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Mary & Max did not get nominated. Instead, a relatively unheralded Irish film named The Secret of Kells managed to slide into the category. I scratched my head in disbelief despite not even seeing the film. Now that I have, I can safely say that the acclaim was warranted, especially in light of the "lets put every animated movie into 3-D craze" that is crippling the industry at the moment. While not as good as Mary & Max, I can say that The Secret of Kells is a better movie than Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. That's actually saying quite a bit since I thought Cloudy was one of the most underrated and sharply witty films of 2009.
Brendan is a young boy who has been sheltered almost his entire life thanks to Viking and Barbarian invasions in his village. He is being raised to become a monk, meaning he will have very little contact with the outside world as he gets older. One day, young Brendan is approached by a traveller visiting the monastery who is trying to complete an ancient text named The Book of Kells. To do this, Brendan must finally leave the walls of the monastery and ventures into an enchanted forest in an effort to collect a special kind of nut the traveller needs to make ink. Along the way, Brendan has to confront his fears and is aided and protected by a young fairy girl.
This is a children's film through and through, and the plot is about as simple as you can get. That isn't a knock against it. In fact, that is a good thing. Far too many films aimed at a younger audience these days are needlessly complex and ADD riddled messes. Don't believe me? Just look at the last two Shrek films. On top of that, this film is predominately hand drawn and it looks absolutely gorgeous. The colors are incredibly vibrant and the animation is just as crisp as anything a computer could generate. Films this lovingly crafted are sadly becoming a rarity these days. It looks better than any pointlessly converted to 3-D movie could ever hope to look
The Book of Kells is actually a real text. The book is a heavily illustrated retelling of the gospels of the New Testament that seemingly glows. It is actually the of the most sacred Irish artifacts in their history, and the film is a great and loving tribute to it. It is definitely worth checking out.
I am wary of most literary phenomena these days. Maybe it is the fact that Twilight and The DaVinci Code have left a bad taste in my mouth. I can see the appeal of both franchises to their defenders, but I personally thought them both to be mediocre books that turned into a risible and mediocre films, respectively. With that in mind, I just skipped over reading Steig Larson's trilogy and just went head long into watching the films instead. Partially because I really didn't have the time to invest in reading three 800 page books and partially because I am just lazy about things like that.
So while I can't say if the film is accurate or better than the late Swedish writer's series, I can say that the movie lives up to the hype surrounding it. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo can rightfully be placed in the same breath as Silence of the Lambs and Seven when talking about truly great modern serial killer procedural films.
But it also isn't really a serial killer film. It is also a missing person's thriller, a female empowerment flick, a doomed romance, a newspaper drama, and a techno-thriller. Plus, it does it all with absolutely no CSI style trickery. All that is really on display is good old fashioned detective work that uses modern technology for some decidedly old school reasons.
Michael Nyqvist plays disgraced reporter Mikael Blomkvist who is forced to step down as chief editor for a Swedish underground newspaper following a libel case set up by the subject of the article. Shortly afterward, on Christmas Day, Blomkvist is called out to a sleepy hamlet by the patriarch of the old money ensconced Vanier family to investigate the cold case disappearance of his daughter over 30 years prior. Blomkvist takes the case because, quite simply, he is broken, divorced, and jobless. What else is he really going to do?
After spinning his wheels at the start of his investigation, he is aided by the same mysterious young woman who performed Blomkvist's background check for the Vanier family. This woman is our titular character, Lisbeth Salander, played by Noomi Rapace. Lisbeth is a particularly dexterous computer hacker and information gathering specialist with a nasty anti-social streak and a sordid, tragic past. You really can't fault her, though. The things she goes through in the first half of the film involving her parole officer is easily the most unsettling thing I have sat through in a theater all year.
Once, Mikael realizes that Lisbeth is secretly helping and investigating along side him by hacking into his files, she agrees to join him and help in the investigation. Much like any pot boiler, everything has something to hide and nothing is really what it seems. Thankfully, director Niels Arden Oplev keeps the 2 1/2 hour film moving at a lightning quick pace. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a rare long film that never once made me count the reels going by or made me want to leave the theatre to check and see what time it was. I was pretty much spellbound for the entire film.
It isn't very shocking that in Sweden, where the series is known as the Millennium Trilogy, this film is subtitled Men Who Hate Women. This is just as appropriate a title since, with the exception of a very few characters, all of the men in this film are absolute monsters sprung from the pages of Larson's novel. Larson described himself before his passing as a feminist author, and this film seems very true to that spirit. It is simultaneously about the evil that men are capable of when they are put into a position of power and about the women who are strong enough to rise up against such oppression. At times it feels like a throwback to female revenge flicks of the late 70s and early 80s, only played perfectly straight and serious.
Also, for those of you who have an affinity for gore or scenes of great discomfort, I can safely say that this is easily the most hardcore film to receive a major release this year. The subject matter is disturbing enough on its own, but the filmmakers handle the story unflinchingly, especially in a scene that I am not likely to forget as long as I live. Without spoiling it, I will say that what happens is totally justified, but... well, lets just say that it looks and sounds incredibly painful and during the screening I watched a few months back, it caused a large chunk of the mostly older crowd to leave in disgust.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Hey, guys. Look, it has been a long day. I didn't sleep much last night thanks to a party next door and nervous anticipation over a doctor's appointment and a pretty sweet job interview. I am going on maybe 45 minutes of total sleep, most of which happened either on the TTC or while watching Shake Hands With the Devil. Probably more of the former than the latter. So now that it is 4:01pm exactly as I write this sentence, I have just lost the ability to sugar coat things. Usually, in these blogs, I try to show the good in films that in some cases I like, but not necessarily love. In every film there is something good to be seen. I firmly believe that. In fact, there have only been two films I have ever seen that have no redeeming factors whatsoever. So when you read these next sentences, know that I am tired and take it with a huge grain of salt.
Showgirls is just as bad as everyone has told you it is. It is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad movie. It is the film equivalent of the girl or guy you would have sex with at your lowest, drunkest point. And in its own way, there is something oddly glorious about it.
From the same director (Paul Verhoeven) and writer (Joe "I could have been epic beard man" Eszterhas) that brought you tonight's other feature, Basic Instinct, comes a film so staggeringly awful and schizophrenic that it raises more questions than your average arthouse film. Questions such as:
1. Why is this film so competently directed and poorly written? Was it all a joke, or was Verhoeven just doing a piss take and knew that the script was atrocious? More importantly, since neither of them made a film between Basic Instinct and this film, how did they fall so far?
2. Who the hell thought casting Elizabeth Berkely in the lead role of a young dancer lured into the life of being a Las Vegas showgirl was a good idea? Berkely barely acts and she is supposed to be the focal point for the audience. How can you really root for a main character when you can't stop laughing at how ridiculous the movie makes her look.
3. Does Kyle MacLachlan still think he is making Blue Velvet here? His character is too strange to really exist outside of David Lynch's head.
And most importantly...
4. Who the fuck greenlit this movie at United Artists?
Seriously, because the greatest thing I can say about it was stated quite well by Quentin Tarantino several years ago. Tarantino, an actual DEFENDER of this film, really hits the nail on the head when he notes that this is really the first and only big budget sexploitation film to ever be released by a major studio. I guess in its own way, that is pretty notable.
Plus, if you haven't seen Showgirls in a theatre with a bunch of other people openly mocking it, you really haven't had the full experience. Sure, you could rent it and watch it at home and play all the drinking games that have surfaced. But that isn't the same. After tonight, you could be one of the few people who can actually say they paid to see Showgirls in a theater. And this time you are probably even old enough to get it, too! Now there is a story to tell your grand kids. Don't worry. This film isn't going anywhere. It's stench will be around for generations to come.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
"Killing isn't like smoking. You can stop." - Catherine Tramell
In the past thirty years, only one good erotic thriller has been made. Basic Instinct is that one film. Seriously, think about how many God awful erotic thrillers have come out and how risible they all are. Color of Night? Body of Evidence? In the Cut? These are all terrible, terrible movies about the point where lust becomes an accessory to criminal endeavors. And as far as films that have been picketed and derided as being sexist, all three of the films I just mentioned should be dragged through the mud before this one is. At times, Basic Instinct is a bit much to handle, but it is quite effective when it comes to wearing the audience down. Also, unlike the other films I mentioned, it doesn't treat the audience like they are idiots. Basic Instinct is surprisingly literate.
Michael Douglas is not a stupid actor. I hold him to about as high a standard as I can when it comes to actors representing a stamp of quality. Well, maybe not recently, but prior to his Golden Globe nominated turn in Wonder Boys, Douglas only made 2 really terrible films (out of all the ones of his that I have seen). That puts him in a class with Denzel Washington, Jimmy Stewart, and John Cusack as the actors that have made the largest number of films I have ended up liking. Prior to 2000, doing films that tread a fine line between sexy and dangerous was a specialty of his. This was all despite the fact that he had already entered his 40s by the time he even started making any of these films.
Douglas plays Detective Nick Curran, a burnout grudgingly assigned to solving the murder of a rock star who was stabbed to death with an ice pick. The main, and only, suspect in the murder is tawdry novel author Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone, who never gets enough credit for her work here despite it being her break out role), who was not only the last person to be seen with the dead rocker, but also seems to have death and misfortune follow her wherever she goes. This isn't even the first time she has had "murder" and "ice pick" brought up in the same sentence with her name.
Nick becomes infatuated with Catherine despite the fact that (1) deep down he knows better and (2) he is already banging his court appointed therapist (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn). But that is seemingly ok, since Catherine is actually bisexual and has a girlfriend who is about to get really jealous and murderous very quick. Catherine's apathy toward her lovers and their intertwined situation is particularly disquieting. Sex is a tool for Catherine, and while it brings her great pleasure, she never once seems to consider the consequences for others.
This is pure dime store pulp fiction. On the surface it is about as lurid as you can get, and the plot doesn't really hold up to close scrutiny. None of this detracts from the fact that Basic Instinct is taut and thrilling from start to finish. It is so strange at times that it almost gets surreal. A lot of the credit for this should go to director Paul Verhoeven, who much like Douglas, used to make nothing but great films. I guess some credit can go to screenwriter Joe Eszterhas for knowing all the beats a film like this is supposed to have, but I like to give him as little credit as possible. After all, both the writer and director of this film are responsible for the other half of the Lust Double Feature, Showgirls. Still, Basic Instinct showcases some of their best work.
Also worth nothing, neither of them were involved with the sequel to this. Now that is a film that is worse than even Showgirls.
In a rare occurance I have not seen this film before it screens at the Toronto Underground Cinema. As such, and since it is only screening once, I will be watching it instead of reviewing it.
However, my awesome friend Paulo Kagaoan has filled in for me so there is still a review for you fine people to read. Go check out his blog here and be sure to keep reading him. He writes about a lot of great films on an almost daily basis. Definitely check this one out and be sure to keep reading him. His blog also looks far better than mine. I am envious of his skills to say the least. Not in the Salieri "I heard the voice of God" sort of way. More like, I wish I knew how to master WordPress as well as he has sort of way.
Oh, and go see the movie!
"From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able." - Antonio Salieri
Music has been and always will be subjective. Some types of music simply aren't for everyone. While most genres inspire hatred in many people (emo, cock rock, techno), most musical artists are greeted with overwhelming amounts of apathy from the general public. Even acts that were once on top can easily be forgotten about in a matter of days. It is all about the hot new thing. Just ask Antonio Salieri.
I should be upfront about this. I love Amadeus as a film. Liking it makes me feel like I am part of a close knit community of people. Despite winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1984, not many people I know seem to remember this film. Those who do, however, revere it as much as I do. What irks me, however, is the fact that people think this film to be historically accurate. It is far from accurate and original playwright and screenwriter Peter Shaffer has admitted as such. There is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that Salieri (F. Murry Abraham, in his best performance) was so driven by madness and envy that he wanted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Academy Award winner Tom Hulce) dead. Mozart's father wasn't really quite the jerk and specter that the film makes him out to be. Mozart also didn't really act like the Tom Green of classical composers.
What the film does get right in terms of historical accuracy is that Mozart definitely pushed the boundaries of what was possible in music. For this he was adored by many and reviled by others. I'm sure the young man definitely inspired jealousy in the old guard, but I doubt there was any with Salieri. This concept of Salieri going insane, however, works very well for the film on a fictional level and as a representation of the sin of apathy. Salieri was a victim of growing apathy towards his music, and it was his perception in the eyes of the public that led to him trying some very underhanded tactics to become the greatest composer in Europe once again.
Amadeus is a gorgeous film to look at. Director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Man on the Moon) uses a lot of natural light to showcase sets that are among the best in film history. It kind of set the template for prestige films designed to win Academy Awards for decades to come. Just look at films like The Last Emperor, The English Patient, and Shakespeare in Love for examples of films that, while still being great films, learned a lot from Amadeus.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
"Listen, you'll have to excuse me. I have a lunch meeting with Cliff Huxtable at the Four Seasons in 20 minutes. " - Patrick Bateman
American Psycho can be classified by more adjectives than almost any movie in film history. It is sick, crude, slick, depraved, hilarious, frightening, disgusting, reprehensible, sexist, feminist, greedy. overblown, subdued, controversial, and bloody are just a few that come to mind. While ostensibly programed as part of the Seven Deadly Sins Film Festival as a representation of vanity, and there is a whole lot of that going on in this film, every sin under the sun is on display on screen. The film just might even invent new sins along the way. At any rate, American Psycho is a very polarizing film to watch. What some people might see as exploitative and over the top, could be seen as brilliance by others. I tend to think the latter rather than the former.
American Psycho is a period piece for an era not that far removed from our own, but one that seems alien to us now and strange for people who might not have lived a similar lifestyle. The mid-1980s are ripe with things to poke fun at, especially when you consider that the film revolves around people who grew richer and richer during the decade while people got poorer and poorer.
A side effect of Reaganomics comes when you consider lead character Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). Eventually, barring a lottery win or inheritance, everyone will achieve a sense of financial and professional stasis. Patrick has seemingly reached the point where he no longer needs to be careful with money and is as successful as he is probably going to get at his job. He is the slick emobdiment of everything that was wrong in the 1980s. You get the sense that Bateman could have lunch with Gordon Gecko and neither of them would blink an eye over what the other one does, but you can believe they would both have a great laugh over it. So, what is a person to do when he can't possibly acquire or dazzle anyone else within his social group? The film shows that having a killer instinct simply doesn't stop at the highest levels of success.
Bateman is a really prolific and twisted serial killer; just about as scary as an Freddy Kruger or Jason Vorhees that more proletariat audiences were eating up in the multiplexes of the day. His average day consists of work, going to the dry cleaners, returning some video tapes, eating ridiculously portioned overpriced gourmet food, and then ending his night with a massive slaughter of hookers or business associates that he is envious of for no real good reason.
Bale, as Bateman, is clearly having a ball in this role. I doubt I have ever seen an actor seemingly having more fun killing people. Everything in his mannerisms and cadence as Patrick in the everyday work world are clear indicators that he is insane, but everyone around him is so apathetic and oblivious, that they come off as being just as crazy and self-absorbed as the man who just tried to feed a cat to an ATM. Josh Lucas, Jared Leto, Iron Man 2 and Tropic Thunder screenwriter Justin Theroux and Reese Witherspoon get to delight in playing his equally vain and vapid compatriots and competitors.
Co-writer and director Mary Harron is a great feminist writer taking on a text by Brett Easton Ellis that is as overblown and sexist as it is satiric and on the mark. The movie goes down a lot easier than the book does and is a lot tighter in execution and practice. She understands what the film really is, and much like Rita May Brown did with The Slumber Party Massacre, the film is the ultimate piss take not only against the decade and arrogance of the time, but also against a writer who's charms still escape me to this day.
"Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there's no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value." - Cher Horowitz
At the beginning of the Seven Deadly Sins Film Festival, I said that one film in the line up would be an exception to my theory that apathy breeds sin and that in the end, the real sin is apathy. This is the film that is that exception to my rule. Clueless is really the only film in the festival line up where a sin actually ends up doing more good than harm. Sure, everyone in this film is pretty vain and self centered, but for the most part they still retain a real sense of humanity and the best of intentions in what they do. A lot of them are also very stupid, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are terrible people. Just stupid. And grossly misinformed at times.
Knowing wisely that modern audiences do not respond very well to watching films based on Jane Austen (let's be honest, it is a niche market, at best, and a status grab, at worst), writer/director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) created an updated version of Emma set in mid-1990s Southern California. The vapid nature of Victorian England really isn't that far off from Heckerling's vision of a Beverly Hills lifestyle. Without Clueless, I doubt films like 10 Things I Hate About You and She's the Man would ever have been made. Which makes this both a good and a bad thing.
In fact, while most people consider this film to be mostly a comedy about vanity, I actually think it is just as funny and observational if you watch Clueless as a movie played perfectly straight. Alicia Silverstone's Cher is a perfectly played character that would be right at home in Victorian England. She speaks like a valley girl, but has the cadence of nobility. Cher is guided by the best of intentions and generally wants everyone around her to be happy even when her best efforts turn bad (as is the case when the nerd she has charged herself with turning into a swan turns antisocial and malicious). So how then is her vanity a sin? If her own vanity is a part of who she is, and she is never out to harm anyone, how is she sinning? In fact, she is (through a really silly and clever plot device) the most chaste character in the film.
The cast in this film is great from top to bottom. Wallace Shawn (as a teacher), Paul Rudd (as Cher's kinda-sorta stepbrother), and Dan Hedaya (as Cher's wonderfully bemused and hoplessly out of place father) all get their moments to shine. The supporting cast is also filled with faces of people you probably forgot were in the movie (Brittany Murphy, in her best role, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer).
As for Amy Heckerling, I really wish she would make more films. Admittedly, not all of them are "great" films, but she has a real eye and ear for comedy. She has great instincts when dealing with films about teenagers or films that deal with family dynamics (European Vacation, Look Who's Talking). She functions almost like a female John Hughes, only less reclusive and someone who worked even less than he did. Now that we have lost Mr. Hughes, Amy Heckerling may be the last of the great populist comdey directors.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Well that was not what I was expecting. I can honestly say that I saw none of that coming.
You know how sometimes when you walk into a movie that you don't know anything about, that you tend to watch the film with a sort of trepidation that tends to overshadow the film itself? The Square is an exception to that rule. Mostly because it was so good that it erased any sense of trepidation I had towards the film. Within 10 minutes I was hopelessly roped in by the film and it never let go of me for a second. Yes, that is a pretty cheesy and cliche line to use, but since I can't stop thinking about how good The Square is on its own terms, I can't think of a better blurb than that.
All I knew about the film was that it was an Australian film noir. Most of my trepidation came from not knowing just what to think of that. Plus, I have been scarred by years of Tarantino knock offs, and only now are the wounds beginning to heal. By all ignorant accounts, The Square should have failed miserably with me.
But this is a seriously great film. One of the best I have seen all year.
Raymond Yale (David Roberts) is a construction foreman with a lot on his mind. His boss is an asshole, he is taking bribes in exchange for awarding work contracts, and he is cheating on his wife with Carla (Claire van der Bloom) who desperately wants Ray to leave his mousy wife and disappear with him.
Carla is in turn cheating on her significant other who has somehow come home with a broken hand and a bag full of cash. Carla sees this as her and Ray's ticket out of their small town, but Ray is apprehensive at first before coming up with a scheme involving an arsonist (played by co-screenwriter Joel Edgerton) that goes terribly wrong. And as is usually the case in these films, things get far worse as they go along. So wrong, in fact, that the film has a bit of a horror movie feel to it at times. Anyone can die at pretty much any time.
The Edgerton brothers (Director Nash and writer/actor Joel) have created a really tight film that doesn't waste any time or a single breath. It is the perfect length (105 minutes) for a film of this nature. It isn't overly complex and by the end, the whole thing makes perfect sense. Every piece of the puzzle fits together in a logical fashion despite throwing a lot of plot twists at the audience. If you are patient, you can rest assured that this is a film that in terms of plotting leaves no stone unturned, but by the end still allows you to draw your own conclusions.
This is a film that is so rarely made these days. It is an adult film, dealing with adult issues, without resorting to action movie theatrics or tough guy posturing. It is also lovingly devoid of any sub-plot involving computers. If I had to see another neo-noir involving any sort of technobabble I would probably scream. The Square is an old school throwback with a modern feel. And it is also a great fucking movie.
Recommended if you like: The Big Sleep, The Squeeze, Fargo (or any Coen Brothers, really)
When it comes to documentary film making, it is often hard to see the truth. Film makers use various tactics to tell a story no matter how dry the subject matter. Everyone from Errol Morris to Michael Moore has branded as a sham or a charlatan. So why should a film about street art made by someone who may or may not exist be any different?
Exit Through the Gift Shop, despite what you might think of it by the time it ends, is a very entertaining and interesting film to watch. I would hesitate to say that it is a film that you would either "get" or "not get" depending on your mindset. I think it is a film that any viewer can easily understand and appreciate.
French "film maker" Thierry Guetta one day decides to give up his day job of selling knock off "designer" clothing and starts following around various street artists in an attempt to seemingly inject a little bit of excitement into his everyday life. Is he assembling a documentary or just filming everything in sight to pass the hours in the day? Is he generally interested or just flat out crazed or slightly mentally damaged? Is it all of the above?
Guetta becomes determined to make something out of his footage, but is desperate to work alongside and film the elusive British stenciler Banksy. When he is finally introduced to Banksy (who is never actually seen in the film, and is the person who receives sole credit as director despite using most of Guetta's footage), he is inspired to become a street artist himself with surprising results.
It is really hard to put a finger on why this film could be seen as a hoax, but the entire time you are watching the film, you get the sense that something isn't quite right. Nothing that is said about Thierry or Banksy really seems to add up. That also seems to be the point of the entire film. A lot of street art is based around misdirection, perception, and repetition. This film has all three concepts at the heart of the narrative. By the end, you probably know more about the craft behind street art than you did going in, but you are no closer to resolving the actual story that you have just seen.
Exit also does a great job questioning what really constitutes art and what the true value of it is. It definitely makes a distinction that street art is not simply graffiti, but it asks the viewer how much they would be willing to pay for something that can very easily be overhyped and unoriginal. And how can you really put a price on something that was assumed to be temporary in the first place? And is it really street art once it leaves the street? Does it become legal? The brilliance of the film is that while it gives a better sense of understanding, it doesn't answer any of these questions for you.
Friday, July 9, 2010
"So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired." - Peter Gibbons
It is funny the difference a decade makes. I remember working in a movie theater when Office Space was first released in 1999 and watched as it played to consistently empty theaters on a nightly basis. I saw it and loved it, but it was what we liked to call a "two week wonder." That means a film plays for two weeks and then is dropped because it was played for its contractually obligated minimum amount of time.
A lot of fans of this movie really complained that Fox botched the marketing and release of this film. I can agree that the release date probably accounted for the film's failure at the box office (Mid-February is not the time of year for a comedy like this. Late summer is more like it), but as for the marketing campaign, I really don't see a problem with it. Not to go on a tangent before I get into the real substance of this review, but some cult film fans seem to think they have a real sense of entitlement and that they know exactly how to promote and market anything and everything that comes their way. They are even worse than professional wrestling fans at times. Just because you love a film doesn't mean you know how to sell it. Look at this blog. Then look at me. Then look at the films I am writing about. I'm on a horse.
Personally, I think the trailer shows pretty much everything you can expect from the film and refrains from giving away any of its best bits. Since, I can't post that trailer due to embedding issues, here is what I like to call the "Pineapple Express version."
On a more personal level, Office Space came to me at the perfect point in my life. Or, the most imperfect point in my life depending on how I look back on my past. Office Space really showed me just how silly and stupid my job really was and just how little I mattered in the grand scheme of things. It allowed me to laugh at my own misfortune and not just the misfortune of others. The quote I opened this blog with was really the driving force behind my hatred of my job.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
"You sound like an asshole! Jesus, nobody twisted your arm to be here. You're here of your own volition. You like to think the weight of the world rests on your shoulder. Like this place would fall apart if Dante wasn't here. Jesus, you overcompensate for having what's basically a monkey's job. You push fucking buttons. Anybody can waltz in here and do our jobs. You-You're so obsessed with making it seem so much more epic, so much more important than it really is. Christ, you work in a convenience store, Dante! And badly, I might add!" - Randal Graves
It is very hard work making a movie of any kind. If you aren't having any sort of difficulties making one, then you simply aren't trying hard enough. This extends to making movies where the lead characters are pretty much just slacking off for the better part of two hours. I'm sure if anyone knows more about how hard it is to make a movie about next to nothing at all, it is Kevin Smith. Few film makers are as good at making movies about people just being themselves as Smith is. Clerks really sets the gold standard for modern character driven comedies. There hasn't been another film like it since its release in 1994.
Clerks is the first film in a double bill focusing on the sin of sloth, or laziness. The other film in this double bill is Mike Judge's Office Space. Both films complement each other well, simply because they focus on a person's undying need to be lazy and to focus on themselves for a change. Clerks is definitely a blue collar look at slacking off at work and Office Space plays as its white collar brother from another mother. The characters are framed in similar ways and they act in similar fashion at times. But Clerks is a more focused and low key effort than Office Space, which tends to give it more emotional weight.
Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) is not supposed to be there today. He is called in to work at his convenience store by his boss when he has better things to do (playing hockey later in the afternoon). Honestly, I don't really see what is so slothful about this. Needing some time to yourself is a very biblical thing to do. Playing hockey with friends is akin to Dante's version of the sabbath. I'm sure most people who find themselves in this situation would act in a similar fashion.
Instead of simply saying no, Dante begrudgingly goes into work and he is inundated with a myriad of customers that are familiar to anyone who has ever worked a retail or service industry job. Most customers are in and out of a store with no problem, but those aren't the customers that you remember. You remember the assholes who ask you stupid questions or have some sort of entitlement issues.
If Dante is the good, yet distracted, employee, then Randal Graves (played by Jeff Anderson) is the truly slothful one. Randal is one of my all time favorite characters in film history. There is something truly winning about just how annoying and unrepressed he is. He is also the truly slothful and apathetic character of the film, and could you honestly really blame him? Randal gives off the air that he has been working retail far longer than Dante has and that Randal has resigned himself to his shitty job working at the video store next door. Randal has given into sloth as an escape from the fact that even if he does his job in a dutiful fashion, he will never escape the life that he has seemingly made for himself.
Dante and Randal, despite being friends, are exact opposites. Randal knows his place in the grand scheme of things and has adjusted to life with a better sense of self worth, but has suffered from a complete lack of decorum. Dante, on the other hand, has decorum, but a completely inflated sense of self, to a point that is almost unhealthy. It becomes pretty apparent why he has problems with women and how he is slowly losing the ability to have fun. To some degree, Dante gives into the same apathy that Randal displays, but he is still never quite able to give over to the dark side. Dante is in severe need of a sinful intervention before he snaps like Cameron in Ferris Beuler's Day Off.
Randal's apathy towards his job and customers is not the only apathy on display here, however. It is the unseen mark that the customers leave on these clerks that is just bubbling under the surface. Why do customers think clerks can be so rude sometimes? It is all based on psychological trauma. The second you have your first rude customer that treats you like less of a person, it leaves an indelible impression on who you are. The more customers that see you as a peon and forget that you are also a person, the less likely you are to be cheerful and happy go lucky. When the customers don't care about who you are, why should you care about who they are? Just like the Andrew Kevin Walker quote I opened with during my Seven review, apathy breeds apathy and you need a certain amount of it just to get through the day.