Movie Reviews

Periodically, as I binge watch through films for my own pleasure, I write up reviews – definitely not Roger Ebert quality – but a great tool for me to remember the films I watched, and spend some time mulling them over.

And it seems a shame just to keep them locked up in my head – so here’s from the last year:

A Bittersweet Life

A thoughtful revenge thriller with a simple love affair at its core, but it’s smart enough not to dwell on it.  Love the parable at the beginning that makes us understand the love affair, and the dialogue at the beginning from the exacting boss that explains his theory on life ‘you can do 100 things right, but you make one mistake, it ruins it all’. Interesting choice in bringing the sound design lower during most of the fight scenes, and the cinematography some of the very best in shot selection and editing – tilted shot of death on ice rink makes me gasp, and his simple use of minimal coverage at times very well done. Great choices in moving the story forward quickly, though some could say the pace slow for their taste, I found it intense.  Great comedic moment with gun dealer as well, having to reassemble their guns before a shootout.  I could watch this movie over and over again, so smart, so tense.

Safe Men

What a brute force of comedy effort, but I don’t know if I laughed out loud many times, or what it was that turned me off about the movie.  The cast an amazing collection of talent at an early stage (would love to have a treasure trove of documentary footage from behind the scenes), and the setups all seemed to be believable to find comedy gold, but it still missed the mark for me.  I think biggest problem with it is that there was no hero – Sam Rockwell such a pathetic loser, brilliantly played, but still not giving me somebody to latch onto….not sure, I’m as confused as I’m sure the filmmakers were about why this movie isn’t amazingly funny – though they probably have a shot at cult status with 90’s throwback, and the amazing effort of costumes and ridiculousness (flaming pants made me chuckle, but still knew it was coming – tough to get that right, pants on fire practically)

Ugh, and shot without imagination – sadly, the way I would approach a movie that I wasn’t inspired by or didn’t know any better – standard medium shots, sharp hot lighting specific to the actors, just off angle coverage every time – people talking to each other, everything a step above corporate work, but just a single step, no real sequences that I can remember – characters always bickering, no tension, no action, no relief from the talking – that’s what’s funny, I get it, but I think my sense of humor runs too dark.

Celine and Julie Go Boating

Even though it’s quite a slog of filmmaking, clocking in at 3 hours, and as rough as can be, I can honestly say at the end of the film I was so amazed at discovering a gem of avante garde filmmaking that truly locked me in.  First of all, the deft touch of handling a lesbian relationship in the 70s without ever overtly having characters say ‘I love you’ or having to do anything that would cause serious uproar – and I may be overly-sensitive, it’s a classic intimate French film we all look up to, maybe they didn’t think it so shocking – but I though it very smart in it’s weaving a surreal case for lesbian relationships in a very slippery way.

Oh, and what beautiful chemistry they had! – their playfulness I absolutely adored, and the lengths at which they could take it was so engrossing, and honestly, the symbolism the movie created had me on pins and needles trying to figure it out. Plus there’s no dialogue for the first 20 minutes.  So reminded me of Lost Highway the way everything had a potential symbol and meaning, though what that was I know not.  And the playful way the film didn’t care just made me chuckle, even at one point Celine and Julie are laughing at the film with you.

But the centerpiece is really the handling of the little house that Celine and Julie take turns going into – each getting a little piece of strange information, conferring over it, growing concerned, and then ultimately going into the story and affecting it, I just adored the playfulness of filmmaking, and the strangeness of not knowing what exactly will happen next.

Dogtooth

A bone-chilling creepiness to this film – the naivety mixed with ruthless authoritarianism and darkly comic moments really got a hold of me.  The absurd details of the father teaching them how to bark or how planes can sometimes fall from the sky, all told with a certain amount of detachment from why – ultimately the hardest thing to swallow about this film, but that’s what keeps the interest up – framing and shots so well-controlled – love the refusal to tilt up for heads and just leaving the heads cut-off – added to the tension.  And somehow sexy as hell in a 14-year-old sexuality way – reminded me of Chuck and Buck in a way as well, though that film creeped me out way more somehow.  Stoic framing throughout, nice handheld moment at the end, and love the mystery of things left unexplained – the brother who had gone before, and the force behind the patriarcy.

Ultimately, it’s a fantasy of male control – complete control of the outside world, and humans to experiment with – early families may have had this, and the experiments that worked may be what lead to our culture.  I wonder what the opposite of this patriarcy may be?, I assume really the Truman Show, where a child is raised by society and not parents – what would a child raised by machines be like? – would it be possible that parents in a space station, facing certain death, would conceive a child as a last desperate hope, and leave the ship in charge of it?

Anyway, digression, the only last thing I’ll say about Dogtooth is although the end is perfect in an art house ending – I would have popped the trunk, just sayin’, trying to begin the era of the directed cliffhanger.

Daytrippers

A classic of ensemble character stories I don’t see enough of these days, probably because it’s such a difficult balance to hold onto.  Such clear and defined characters, playing so well in their sandbox, the powerhouse of the matriarch, the young couple negotiating love mixed with family, the dad that’s essentially a servant until the right moment comes up, and the victim that everyone wants to help, but they don’t know how to.  And the mystery of whether he was faithful or not that keeps the whole thing going, just a fantastic script well-executed – even the little sojourn out into the neighbors apartment after Mom faints pays off in so many ways later in the story.  Parker Posey in a perfect cast for her, and her boyfriend getting such an arc to the film that just made it all enjoyable – all the characters had such arcs in this film – a real joy to watch.  the only thing that gave me pause was the witch hunt for infidelity and the assumption that they whole thing was everyone’s business and no middle-ground for love – but I think that’s my personal problems with the lack of a place for poly-amory in our society, or the idea you can’t be in love with more than one person at a time.  In the end, the film even bests me out of that, because of the ‘choice’ at the end, it’s clear they almost surely must split, but in a way different that you expected.

Black Moon

Umm, yes, totally WTF.  Unlike Celine and Julie Go Boating, which had a sense of purpose to it’s play, Black Moon wanted to be completely impenetrable, which of course makes me like it more and less at the same time.  Totally captured by the first 20 minutes of traveling through war time and the urgency to her escape (from what we know not) and the images glued into my brain – the naked children herding animals, the talking unicorn, nursing an elderly lady, the pair of androdigines brother and sister, and the completely fetching lead ‘Alice’ – a slog to get through at times, but filled my head with images I’ll savor for a while – the alarm clocks ringing and being thrown out the window, the mysterious painting referenced for the end – all quality work.  Without the interview with the director that came with the disc, I don’t know if it would have made as much sense to me – I missed a few things that he made clear, the war between the sexes namely, and his statement of purposely resisting meaning relieved me of any ‘one answer’ to the film (I was trotting off into a possible allegory of the players of WWII at one point), but I still didn’t believe him when he said there was no meaning  – I think he put his psyche on trial with this film, and the admission of it was he wasn’t equipped or prepared to answer to – the sensuality with a young girl, the execution of women by men, the training of women in absurdity to become mothers.  Perhaps he made his own Rorestrack test, but I would like to know what he thought of it later in life, how he read his experiment later….but maybe it’s my own mind he’s allowing us to read.  Overall though, the film is a secret lover for me – I would expect 1 out of 10 to enjoy it, but I certainly did, and the images will stick with me for quite some time.

Hard-Boiled

Totally the most bad-ass action film I’ve seen in a long time. John Woo has some sort of alchemy in this movie that makes me want to be on his side of guns never running out of bullets, everything exploding all the time, and ridiculous sequences of babies being saved.   Add into that some pretty strong performances and a very well-twisted story line of cops on the inside of the mafia, and I’m totally hooked.  The moment where a assassin is set-up under pressure to decide his loyalty to his old faithful boss or the new evil one was fantastic, and my favorite little detail was the introduction of the slick, clean assassin where he uses his handkerchief to open the turnstile at the library.   Sure all sorts of janky little things here and there, but it keeps on going and going and going, never pausing to check and see if you’re coming along.  The babies completely ridiculous, but he somehow gets away with it in my mind, at least on paper, even if we were laughing at him the whole time.

The Devil’s Playground

Oh my god, what a fantastic documentary.  The access she got to the Amish people and the ability to shoot all the partying and the aftermath, the crisis that every Amish youth goes through – told in such deep detail in the interviews, with real openness, I loved it. the main storyline of Faron more interesting than fiction (loved the moments where he showed them around the family room and his clear welling pride for the Amish directory and the songs that they have) – The choice they have I think may be the hardest life-choice I can imagine – the world or your family, but either one must be completely, no middle-ground.  Even though they had such a fantastic centerpiece of a story, they fleshed out other characters well, so I felt satisfied with the topic, and not just a single good life story.  The happiness of the woman going to college melted me, and I understood the motivations of the youth that did go back to the Amish.  I wished they had more of a true understanding of the day-to-day life of the Amish, but I understand that may have been hard to get – they are so protective, and that’s the point of their lifestyle, control to protect the family and the community.  Could that be done without religion, without the promise of eternal afterlife?  Do our minds need that great of reward for us to refuse those things that may be bad for us?  Is the reward of family enough?

Get Carter

This is the first movie I’ve seen in a while that I absolutely did not like – the novelty of seeing a young Micheal Caine wore off very quickly, and then we were left with a plodding mystery about what happened to his brother, intercut with inexplicable trysts and acts of violence from Carter – it all had a feel of old stag films mixed with some neanderthal predecessor to James Bond with no morals or quibbles, in fact nothing inside of him but a hunger for sex, violence and revenge. On the surface, that character maybe sounds interesting, but there was too many questions in his character, too much stilted dialogue, and then he ramps up the killing for no apparent reason – maybe an excellent anti-hero, but then why all the super cool machismo – I just didn’t care, and wasn’t sad that anyone died, I thought they all were boring, the pace too plodding, the sex not sexy, major holes (did they admit he fucked his brother’s wife, got her pregnant and then let him raise the daughter in passing?), and just not enough tension.  I guess they remade it, but I can’t imagine how they could work with this material

Sid and Nancy

What a complete total wastoid, but somehow I loved Sid – he just seethed charisma – you didn’t want to care just like him – Gary Oldman giving them a taste of what’s what.  The club scenes have a real punk rawk feel, and goddamn was it shot beautifully – Deakins seared some images in my brain, his looks at London and New York just stellar. It’s supposed to be a love story, but a dark sort of love, a cautionary tale about what happens if you don’t care and allow toxic people into your life – but they both were toxic, each in their own way, deserving yes, and truth that love conquers all.  But goddamn, that Nancy, she was a fuck-up without any charisma, without any redeeming qualities at all, except she worshiped Sid and let him do whatever he wanted.  I don’t know how annoying the real Nancy was, but the casting and directing of her had to be aimed at making us hate her by the end – I wanted her to leave, the scenes with her family just the worst, and the things she said and how she said them made me think of the worst women in my life.

Wicker Man

I completely fell for this film – the true quirkiness of the town and the characters, the quick-moving storyline, the unapologetic way every person held their beliefs (in hindsight it changes, but I was having such fun I forgot to question). It could have been a twilight zone episode really. The pace going straight from the twist to the sacrifice, or straight to the grave digging scene, such a great speed that doesn’t let you off the hook. The details so well done, and the subterfuge of the community, the contrast of the Lord’s values with all the characters, not to mention a truly seductive nude scene for the time, I was captivated from the first moment.  Loved the BTS as well, especially how he started with the music for the film first – always a good idea I think, plus knowing the battles they had to go through to get the film completed and seen, despite the troubles with the executives and the despise of the film by many, made for such a interesting back story for the film.

Jacobs Ladder

What a perfect scratch of my spooky/thriller itch – the patience of shots and the true other-worldly nature of all the beasts and spooks, it’s definitely one I want to see again just to study how it all came together, it’s quite a fine piece of filmmaking and of creating a world that holds together for a while, but disintegrates slowly until the core is all that’s left. (Spoiler Alert) Usually not a fan of the ‘it was all a dream last beat, (see Boxing Helana below) but this one was well justified.(End Spoiler Alert). The music and cinematography definitely top notch, Tim Roth amazing, had me holding my breath for most all of it, and so curious what was going on – by making the dream very reality based, it was tough for me to believe there was another level above it, even though I knew better on the surface – I think a lesson I will try to put into practice someday in making dreams feel true. Also, spooky as hell – good ol’ unexplained creepiness and patience.  So interesting how you knew it was a scary movie when the sequence in the subway comes up – the patience in getting to the dangerous part – the subway rail – made you sigh and tense up with anticipation at the same time – activated your ‘what’s going to happen?, something’s going to happen…’ switch very well.

Boxing Helana

This film comes from an era of filmmaking that is easily one of my least favorite – the overwrought glam sentimental pictures of the late 80s, where it seems the form was working so well that people cut corners and just focused on the archetypes and the glamour.  I think this film was directed by a woman, but that woman’s head was so filled with stereotypes and one-sided ideas about people, that it felt like she wanted to make a film as stupid as an action movie, but focused on women’s fears with no action.  The lead man I hated in almost every way, Sherlyn Finn somehow pulled off the role with some real convincing performances, but I’d say she was the only realized character in the whole movie.  It almost felt like I could see the relationship problems on set – the actors that weren’t getting attention or martyred themselves for director and then were left out to dry, the troubles she had with the DP since most of the small action sequences cut together horribly, and I could feel the DP saying ‘sure, whatever you want’ during some sequences, not just the atrocious car crash, but the ‘hide the legless’ woman sequence at the door as well.

But beyond all that, the premise didn’t exactly pan out, the ‘it’s all a dream’ ending irked me, no true stance at all – (why is she the hero of his dream, or at least such a large part – aren’t we usually the hero’s of our dreams?), don’t even get me started on all the boyfriend, or her little scene where she takes off her clothes at a party, bathes in a fountain, and then takes home a young guy just because she can, meanwhile being a complete and totally unbelievable bitch to the host.  Like who even acts that way? If this is a send up of Paris Hilton style antics, then why the ambiguity about her, are you trying to tell me, muses can be bitches, that’s fine, but don’t put them on a pedestal? Or they’re just damned, because the only thing they want is to be able to do whatever they want without having to choose between a doting milksop or a pig-headed blow-hard.  Are you trying to say that we need more men muses for the women muses to be with (I completely agree – go ahead, name 5 male role models…now how many are muses? Are there even male muses?)  Don’t even get me started on the surprise blow-job scene, that ends with his premature ejaculation, when does that even happen, first a woman going down like that, second, cumming by looking at her?  All that sexual power, and she couldn’t make a damn thing with it, didn’t build anything. And and, why did he cut off her arms? Actually, I don’t care, I bet they shot it, and it didn’t help.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what this film was trying to say, other than ‘isn’t the idea of a woman in a box sort of spooky cool?’ And hey look, women can direct bad movies too.

The Hourglass Sanatorium

Almost plotless, but a goddamn stunning piece of set design and shooting – completely raised the bar for me – beautiful Russians. Such a great study in how to shoot on a wide lens – felt like the lens of choice was a 16 or 14, but they avoided most all the things I hate about wide lenses. Perhaps the most perfect background movie for a strange surreal party, but I’m afraid I can’t really write too much about the film – there’s a curious sense of time play they have, a father he’s searching for, and all sorts of ‘rules’ are broken, but I couldn’t begin to tell you about buts and therefores, but I wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again. After some coffee.

Perrot de Feu

Oh my god, what a relief Goddard is – I know not for everyone, and I know I can’t walk into a crowd and say ‘Hey, this guy is making genius films, gather your family and let’s watch them!’ because they would all give me the same look I would give when I start spouting out stream of consciousness things, but that’s why I love him, because he seemed to move at the speed on consciousness, not of plodding storytelling for the masses.  More of a far-reaching and touching love story than I have seen for a long time, and I’m sorry, I loved it so much, it’s just the spirit of running away I’d like to capture with a couple faking their death. They seemed to have something worth sacrificing for, something that would really make you go crazy, and something the world would bend around for them – which should be the point – the world does truly bend for lovers.  So sloppy at times, just putting some images out there, hanging onto a script or a blocking and going for it – nice ability to work simple frames and get it all done without a lot of cuts.  His films have a childish sense to them – like he didn’t know or didn’t care how it’s supposed to be put together, and just strung together things to get to his favorite parts – I guess that’s much of the point of his films – they are meant to be seen by yourself – or in the presence of only other people looking to ‘transcend’ with the film – you would think we’d want to do that at every film – but sometimes you want to sit back on the other side with other people and just laugh and cry with them – other times, like at a film like this, you just want to float out of your seat and into their world – it’d be nice if you could.

Branded to Kill

Ok, one of the absolute ‘coolest’ movie I have ever seen – classic assassin movie that seems to be somehow ahead of it’s time from 1967 – if only assassin movies would be this simple today.  From the opening sequence that gets right to the point, the seething calmness of the lead character, his amazing sharp-shooting pistol, the bare bones plot with a focus on how people are shot, the devious little tricks he plays, scenes with the best use of projector, amazing wide shots showing us how the car gets tailed, absolutely bare bones sound design, with a big variance of how guns sound, and a final act that doesn’t forget to have fun, in fact that’s the point.  And of course, women everywhere, and my what a sexual animal he is, political correctness be damned, it was hot, and nowhere near as degrading as something like Get Carter. My only, only complaint is that the film indulges 15-20 minutes too long for modern audiences, but fuck it, he deserves a movie that long, it is absolutely amazing.

I want to marry this movie, I put it at the top of the list of all the films I’ve seen in the past few months. Yes. The Top.

Scott Pilgrim Versus the World

Groundhog Day

Both these films just adored re-watches I brought along – they’re still amazing – every little detail of every little one – guess I’m a sucker for hilarious love stories where the world goes a little crazy. New details noticed this time: the car stalling as it comes around the corner as Bill Murray meets Ned Ryerson (also, has anyone really done a study of how long Bill Murray keeps repeating the same day? Some of the things he learns must have taken years – I think the Internet probably has it), and with Scott Pilgrim, just how much you know this film is going to be a fun ride from the moment you hear the Universal Theme in 8-bit sound – genius strokes, all of it.

Surfwise

This documentary has stayed with me for quite a while now, even though there is surprisingly little about surfing here or how to surf (my current obsession), but mostly it’s a fantastic look into what would happen if you took your contrarian beliefs all the way with a family, and completely protected them from the world and materialism.  Such great timing for the documentary as well, since now all the children are almost grown-up, and they almost all are on the other side of their re-entry into the world, none of which was easy for any of them it seems – the resentment and their confusion about the world, and no one’s desire to live as their family did – I hate to say it, but that may be a true test as a parent – if your children love your family enough to stay and continue on the tradition – not necessarily a test, because children will rebel against the best set-ups of course, but more the highest honor if they stay, it means the fishbowl you setup is sustainable.  This family is on the verge of sustainability, and the main storyline of trying to reconcile some hard differences very well set-up.  Hearing the details about the way they lived, and the father’s outlook on life and his militant iron-fisted rule completely fascinating, and seeing all the kid’s different reactions to it in how they lived their lives gives you lots of things to mull over in your brain, plus some images I can’t get out of my head (all 11 of them in a mid-sized RV – with mom and dad doing it every night…).

A Dirty Carnival

Lovely gangster film about a man living by the sword and dying by the sword in the gangster land.  While usually we only see rogues and fully developed gangs going at each other, it was refreshing to see the gangster boss on the rise with his own family to grow and protect, the fledgling gang that is operating underneath the gangs very interesting. Lots of working pieces and tense gangster drama, light on the action, but it does deliver when it gets going. Fairly fun meta-plot about a gangster filmmaker getting close to the gangs, and a solid film all around, structured large and grandeose like an epic, and pulls it off. I wasn’t as blown away by this film as some other more novel gangster films, but I would definitely watch this film again, and highly recommend to anyone looking for quality Asian gangster films.

On the Silver Globe

Ok, I did it, I made it through.  If I was recommending this movie to anyone other than the most hardcore of strange cinema, I would tell them to watch the first sequences with the horse rider and the abandoned mansion with cosmoneaughts(?), and then feel free to fast-forward to any section that looks interesting.  The eyes in the palms great, and paid homage to in Pan’s Labyrinth, set’s and costumes quite an accomplishment, and a strange surreal biblical allegory going on here definitely something to think about – but the convoluted storyline, the unreliable(?) narrator, the overwrought acting, the action heavy transitions handled by voice-over – it’s all quite a mountain to slog up, filed with pained expressions and deep, existential thoughts about the world in subtitles (and I don’t believe the best translation – just kept trying to understand and got lost, ended up assuming they were sad and hopeless) and that mountain’s more than 2 1/2 hours long.

Happy Accidents

35 minutes into it, I turned it off, or rather, skipped to the end, but I promise you we talked for at least another hour in the next couple days, trying to decide what it was about this promising premise of a man from the future coming back to find a woman he fell for in a photograph, and the decent actors playing out that premise that made us just sigh and cash in our hour of our life back.  Marissa Tome sort of fine, though annoyingly helpless, and the nice guy from the future kind of dumb, now just thinking about it, it was like being given a chance to see the romantic interludes of that quiet nice couple you always see at parties, everything fine and as you expected, and somehow this story made the future sound boring, mostly because this overly sincere guy was going to tell you about it, and this woman that would have fallen in love with my grandfather given enough time was going to try to not believe him.  Everything a bit staged, the pace a bit plodding, just not amazing indie filmmaking, everything but the spark, and trust me, I’m as confused as the filmmaker was, I’m sure, on why this all didn’t work out.  It was the romantic comedy version of 12 Monkeys, how could it be so boring? Also an interesting note that I refused to make it through this, but I will slog through the weirdest shit imaginable – it has to do with the promise of something undiscovered – if you narrow your playing field too much, you just lose me.

Eve’s Bayou

As close to Steel Magnolias I’ve gotten so far I believe (though now that I’ve also said this aloud, so some silly day I’ll probably have to watch it), but drama-based noir with interesting characters and fun voodoo/fortune-teller elements, Sam L. Jackson makes his already proven case for awesomeness in playing a drunk free-wheelin’ doctor who plays too loose and fast with other people’s wives, and a sweet precocious little smart girl grows up fast while dealing with all the drama around the house, and getting to the point of killing her father (she says so in the opening credits – love that touch).  And there are heaping handfuls of drama, almost a soap-opera, but I loved the characters and the visions from the clairvoyant and they role she played in the community, the mirrors in the visions she had, the spooky asian fortune teller, the way the visions really work out, a good sort of dark magic to it, and it stayed true to it’s noir roots, even when serving up a beautiful dish of gorgeous faces and high-drama speeches.  I really loved it, somehow they came the right alchemy for me, like somebody serving me a tasty beet salad, even though I’m not that fond of beets.

The Man from Nowhere

So edgy cool beautiful, and a great revenge thriller about the dumb-ass gangsters picking the wrong dude to mess with, a bad ass assassin who’s run into a fast-talking cutie pie who’s got the worst mom ever.  He holds his edge for a while, then gets turned into a lackey sent out on some dirty deeds.  Love it when gangsters turn on each other, the deal gone bad and all the delicious possibilities for it, and then we get down to some guns and ass-kicking ballet. It continues on balanced with action and some solid dramatic work, and the kid definitely wins some hearts all over the place. Definitely takes it’s dramatic breaks at time, but all for the better good when the shit’s gotta go down.  All because they picked on the wrong dude. Watch out gangsters.

Bad Boy Bubby

Pretty mentally graphic art house film about a boy locked away from the world and raised as a servant by his mother (in all aspects of life….(maybe that was too vague)…he fucks the big-titted old bag. over and over again, in a passive live dildo sort of way), it’s kind of gross, plodding, and really intricate for reasons I know not.  A big bit of social commentary going on here, huge heaping spoonful, but I couldn’t really tell you what the point was, other than there’s a lot of stuff to learn out there, and music is the best. Bubby I just couldn’t jive with, and there were times when the transitions between the patchwork quilt of society he’d built up just blew me away in their audaciousness – you’d spend so much time getting the moment of the bagpipes in the jail right, but then he just flips off a cop, jumps out of the car with the rich lady, and gets invited in the back of a storage truck to drink beers with a band. The rotating scenes do make for some fun places to see and do, but Bubby, Bubby, you’re just so dumb nobody interacts, they use you as a person standin for them to just open the window of their world – not a lot of real relationships, because, yes, he’s been raised like a pet. Super points for things like his parroting of others dialogue working out in scene after scene, and all the places he goes interesting, but goddamn, I couldn’t get into it, not the right sort of intrigue for me, and while I’m sure I could be schooled about all the amazing things this film is saying, I didn’t understand much of it.

Uncle Boonmee who Can Remember His Past Lives

I think I will remember many moments from this film for a great time, which does a disservice to this film, because I think it best to go in with low-to-no expectations. There was a capturing slow pace and yes some thrills, but a comfort at times – yes ghosts are involved, but in a different way than you expect. There are fantastical things, but they don’t sit at the center of the film, maybe there was past lives, but so much of the film is concerned with the present, and the relationship between those there, both living and dead, it really is a quiet drama at the heart of it.  There’s a certain lyricalness to the film – something earnest and sweet and maybe a bit naive in the way everything gets drawn out so finely, but eventually my frustrations were always met with intrigue, and even though I’m mystified at times on how it all draws together, it somehow feels like just the sort of mystery life itself has around it.  I’d definitely see the directors other work, I think an earlier piece that did well at Cannes, and at the end, even though the experience watching was sometimes asking quite a bit in watching mundane tasks through to their completion, it definitely left an impression of fable, and still in our modern world, and became richer the more I mulled it over in my brain.

Kung Fu Hustle

So good, every time. Realization this time that the two evil musicians, some of my favorite characters, sort of similar to the two evil Asian band members in Scott Pilgrim, who I also love. Kung Fu spun out to the most funny and intricate stunts and plot – and bad-ass music, dancing, so many layers, just delicious.

Crimewave

Let us never speak of it again.  Just so you understand, I did start laughing at this stupid movie, no not because it was good, it was so bad. The pace always two beats too slow, and never with a pay-off that was worth it, even though so much trying everywhere, and good looking pictures. Some things deserved to be locked away, just put it back on the shelf and walk away – I’m sorry for opening up this Pandora’s box of bad movie-ness – those of you bad movie junkies out there may not even like it – some parts just too well done to be enjoyably bad.  Don’t be tempted by the names associated with this movie – I won’t even say them aloud – but it’s not worth it.

Gonin

Ok, love this cinematography and janky fun wides and damn bad-ass angles (the baseball swing montage is a serious case study in how swift cut editing ‘buzzes’ should work – you gotta have some frames behind there, not just the cuts) The janky continues in a story about a club owner in shitsville that needs big cash – and puts together a amateur team to take on the gangsters, a seriously ‘pushing the boundries’ group of crackpots: a quiet family man with ass-kicking syndrome, a scary flamboyant wacko, cold as ice ex-detective, and some other dude. Then the shit breaks loose with some robberies and revenge.  Fun ride in the beginning, but the end succumbs to some serious dripping drama, and sloppy plot points towards the end made it not as fun as it could, but still a good ride, and it all collects together in the end. There is also a sequel to this, even though the 1st doesn’t leave you much to work with – just the sort of silly/fun movie this is.

Yes, I will watch Gonin 2.  It’s got ladies kicking ass now.

A Brief Encounter

Put on your olden days pants, we’re going way back to 1945 to see one of the first noir films – and damned if it didn’t hold up all the way through. But before you go out and think all gangsters and tommy guns, this is the story of a brief illicit romance told by a woman caught deep in the throes of moral quandaries, and not much else.  The film was just solid all the way through – cinematography, editing, story plot – all finely woven together, the writing and the actors working fine harmony, the sub-plots great at giving you breaks but commenting on the story at the same time – true it’s time will show in many places – the voiceover matching the picture all the time, and lots of long statics, but it really brings to a head the core of noir – moral despair, being simultaneously committing the crime and at the same time judge, jury and executioner.  A great precursor to something like 12 Angry Men.

Her worry very very silly perhaps now, but still a perfectly apt description of what really matters between people falling in love. Somehow their language is stilted, but refreshing at the same time – they do get to the point at times where we waiver these days in terms of expressing our true feelings.  Is it true that we live in a time so lacking in morals, or are there backbones woven into our behavior we just don’t see?  Maybe the public morals are very loose in a way, but privately, we all scream at ourselves and others…. these are the sorts of things you’ll dream about while taking a sparkling clean trip back to a B&W studio film days – and everything so fine and pretty.

Lilya4Ever

My movie mate disliked this film violently almost immediately, the choices and drama of the girl depended on stupid teenage things and everyone doing mean things with little reason, and she left 30 minutes in.  I was prepared for more of a journey somehow, and knew it was going to be brutal, but I didn’t expect that I’d have so little sympathy for the character, I didn’t last too much longer before I started skipping ahead (everyone can do it) and we ended up cruising through her rise and fall with a new boyfriend, the suicide of a little kid, his return as an angel.  How much is Russian reality, how much this resonates culturally, I’m not sure, but it makes Russian seem like the center ring of hell with conniving mean people – even the heroes.  The final act was brutal, and we did come around to the opening scene – to see that life sucks sometimes. A lot. It just sucks.  (Update:  I happened to run into a strongman here on the beach, and he casually mentioned traveling to Siberia, and I pumped him for all the information I could about a place I often dream about (more so for the nature than the culture), but one of the tidbits he passed on is how many times the Russians would say ‘Oh, you Americans, you think life is so valuable’ and made it clear that everyone there knew there was a price on everyone’s head, and operated like money was king, life so unimportant. It doesn’t change a lot about the movie, but it does seem to make more real some of the choices the characters made in damning her so early – so I revise my abbreviated review to say: this movie is tiresome and brutal, but sounds like Russia is as well.)

Adam’s Rib

Katherine Hepburn in a role that I’m sure she adored playing – or I should hope so, because it’s just the sort of crack-smart woman that she’s known for being.  A very classic old studio piece about a husband and wife that end up on opposite sides of a courtroom, Hepburn whips up a farce of justice to prove the point that women deserve equal treatment, taking along everyone along with her, and trampling over her husband on her way to victory.  Like A Brief Encounter, you wanted to dismiss so many of their old antiquated marriage ideas because of the time, but the relationship rings very modern in many scenes, and the idea of competitiveness in a marriage rings true today even more.  Spencer Tracy’s loving and caring husband has to get bent this way and that to fit Hepburn and the plot, but he plays his cards well, even if he ends up being a bit of a straw-man. I know that it’s something I shouldn’t really voice because this character is the woman’s role in 50 percent of films, but he rolls over so easily sometimes I just wanted to hit him, but I guess that’s how every woman feels at every sentimental/ineffective woman in TV.

But who can stop Hepburn really – and what a great exploration of how relationships work at a time when

Postcards from the Edge

Wow, what a great little drama, so smartly done with some very poignant pieces I won’t forget – first off, the speech the director gives to chastise his coked up little actress and get the rest of the crew back on track is amazing – and Mike Nichols continues with getting the setting of a movie set right the entire time – I was so impressed by the little gags and feeling of a real set – it was better than reality, and quite an accomplishment to make a movie about making movies and not get side-tracked by reality on-set.  The conversations with producers were the most spot-on – wandering and awkward mostly, always opening with a thin-coat of veneer slapped on a stinky problem that’s grown more smelly with worry (why else would they be talking to you?), it captured just right so many conversations I’ve seen and had with producers (it also goes the other way when I bring a stinky problem to a producer – the template for the conversation has usually already be set – that’s really the producers entire world – conversations about problems, all day long).

And whew, do I love the cast through and though. Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfus, I got to see what all the buzz was about behind Shirley McClaine, Rob Reiner, everyone was a heavy-hitter through and through. But the grand dame in the room is Meryl Streep, who casts one of the first molds of her as an amazing ‘heavy-drama’ woman that’s funny, fragile, tormented and strong – with a sparkle of the energy we now know will take her into the stratosphere.  I have to admit though, that for many years since I’ve seen Music of the Heart, and all throughout the many Meryl movies since – that she’s always convinced me there’s a very dark and hurtful potential behind Meryl – it’s so damned difficult to express in front of her clear greatness, but in essence, there is always one moment in a Meryl film where she scares the shit out of me – and each one of those moments feels so damn real that I’ve grown an avoidance of her – like a dog to the beating stick.  And there was one in this film, where she kicks out her mom from the rehab hospital with an explosion that could have leveled Stalin – I would not want to ever, ever ever EVER to be on the other side of that.  And if I ever meet her in person, I know there will be a screaming voice inside of me saying ’She could turn on you and eat you alive at any moment!’ that I will have to throttle into submission before I could even look her in the eyes.

But beyond all my Meryl subconscious problems, this story of Carrie Fisher’s life told whimsical, dark, ridiculous and dripping with deep mother/daughter issues – even though dramas like this are not what I reach for, this one kept me locked in the entire time, and even though I wanted to hit the old woman right between the eyes, the film draws out the little moments that build to her typhoon so well that I couldn’t stop watching.  A real lesson in movie making, and in life.

52 Pickup

Oh my god, 20 minutes into this movie I realized this was going to be one of my favorite movies of all time, and it survived all expectations. Elmore Leonard pens this tight-as-a-duck’s-ass revenge plot that makes you take the side of someone caught in an affair, and let’s you savor in all the dirty dealings that can go on when you refuse to bring the cops into it.  There was noir magic all over this film, John Frankenheimer makes the gritty side of LA fun to watch, the bad guys stupid enough to hate, but not so stupid they’re impotent, and our hero’s refusal to let his adultery mistakes cause a bigger problem for his family a very interesting quirk – a damaged hero from the start, but it made me root for him even more – and gets brought to a head when the one he tries to protect gets put in danger.  Plus the unraveling of crew of bad guys so delectably done – you just love every moment.  And some porn star named Vanity that was supposedly a hot thing is in it- and her scene gets done titalizing but under the surface somehow – Roy Schieder having to go back to the scene of the crime and resist the attempts of Vanity, making her scene perfectly caged but sexy – I thought she did amazing acting for a porn star, bucking the ‘only a body’ stereotype and driving a key element of the plot – not amazing, but very very solid.  And John Glover as a psycotic video-porn shooter you love to hate delivers some amazing opening monologues (one of my favorites, his opening scene), and sets a bar for creepy bad guys – at times, he seems like Ted Danson’s very evil brother.

There’s a camp element definitely to this, mostly humor directed at the bad guys bumblingness, but it never fails to blend it in just the right amount.

What brings this noir the closest to my heart though is the tiny beating heart underneath it – the frank talk of the adultery the man has to go through, watching his heart get ripped out even more when the bad guys push harder – Frankenheimer doesn’t dwell in it, but swirls enough of the scent of true paths that you’re willing to go through hell for it.

I also want to announce that I am throwing my hat in the ring to direct a remake of this film, but with a woman at the center of it that must confess adultery and save her husband’s career from being tainted – I think a gender switch in this film would be an amazing action noir, and give us some amazing scenes of a bad-ass woman getting in over her head, but taking down the bad guys nonetheless.

And just to make me drop my jaw just a little more, an acquaintance of mine, Mark Goodermote, already known to be one half of an amazing star-studded film couple, just happens to pop up in the credits as the boom op. STFU, right after he did Down by Law.  Fuck me, what a life.

Black Rain

An epic glossy B&W Japanese drama centered around the bombing of Hiroshima and the struggles of citizens afterward to move on with life after the shock and terror of war.  Besides the very real depictions of the aftermath of a true nuclear explosion, the most shocking thing about this film is that there’s not a dozen more styled after it – the dropping of a bomb on Hiroshima is just too taboo from many angles I guess, even though the struggle and drama of it is absolutely mind-blowing in many respects. There have been many warnings, nightmares and fictions made about it, this is the only true-life experience of ordinary citizens getting a nuke dropped on them – we have all sorts of scientific evidence of what the bomb does, but this story really contains the only emotional evidence of how it affects the psyche of humans seeing that sort of destructive force unleashed on them. I definitely watched with peaked interest like a kid sneaking in HBO when the parents were gone

But the film deals primarily with the aftermath – most of the story revolves around a older couples struggles to marry off their young daughter before it’s too late, and trying to fight against the rumors of society saying she’s not mentally fit for marriage.  The real villain here is the mysterious radiation that nobody knew would hunt them down even though they survived the blast.  Heart-breaking to watch them struggle to rebuild their lives, not understanding they are dead men walking, in body and soul, but they walk nonetheless. There’s a universal theme here, in acceptance and fighting your way towards the path that suits you the best, not necessarily the one that’s been planned for you, even in the face of horrible atrocities.

Viranda

Somehow after watching this movie, I feel like if I had to choose one director to emulate for the rest of my life, it would be Brunel. His work weaves together society and archetype characters, all of them playing in sandbox designed as a fine model of the world, and does it in such an interesting way to be allowed on the screen as entertainment, at least for intellectuals and those aspiring. But what makes it work is his complete control of the craft of filmmaking.  And his sense of dramatic timing and blocking I quite loved – the film had a great rhythm and dance between actors and the camera and the music, each one of them holding their place perfectly.  So many fine details in the film, tracking the jumprope through the story or even just the music choices adding just the right weight, that it really becomes a work of art. My only complaint is his love affair with tight inserts – of the time for sure – he would hammer on them over and over, but they got him out of a jam time and time again, and at least once put a fine point on his message, the second dog tied to a carriage for example, and I’m sure he would argue the importance of every one again and again. They’ve just  become to noticeable to modern audiences I believe.

And the story, oh the story so finely balanced it leaves me wondering whether it was truth or sarcasm.  In the beginning, a young nun is forced out of the convent to visit her rich benefactor uncle before she takes her vows.  In some of my favorite scenes, she is quite frank with her uncle that there is no passion for him, she is only there under orders. But then, in a almost soap-opratic turns delightfully pulled off with ever deepening weight and absurdity, she decides not to return to the convent, and serve god in her small way on her uncle’s farm, which turns out to be no small feat. It’s a tragedy masquerading as a triumph, winning you over to it’s conclusion until you step back and realize where he’s led you.

In the end, he tells me we will always be subservient to the beast, because the beast will provide.  And it’s impossible to be a beast while serving god. Or that beasts are robbing the world of god, only by them being beasts. I don’t know, it’s really up to you, but you’ll think about it for quite a while.

Catch 22

Oh, Mike Nichols, you really do spin such a fine tapestry of filmmaking – everything’s in it’s place, woven with intelligence and fantastic emotional tone control.  I really losve how well he distinguishes his characters so very well, and how deftly he uses his camera and blocking – plus the ongoing dream sequence and the ignored plane crash – all sort of jaw dropping in a casual way – just so very classic.

Alan Arkin (it’s here that I made the mistake of looking up Roger Ebert’s review of Catch 22 – and he sided angrily with the book it seems, mad at Nichols for not getting the higher moral of the book right.  Good thing I didn’t read it, though I may now – it was never really explained to me that it was funny – always steered clear because I thought I’d trudge through ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ again.  But now’s a good time to remind you – this is not Rodger Ebert watching films – this is a middle-aged filmworker with a bit of time on his hand trying to make sure these films make an impression before my mind goes to rot. Damn difficult to do anything these days without the best of all time getting shoved in your face.)

Anyways, Alan Arkin was, for me, very enjoyable, and I liked the planes a lot. Ugh, I can’t continue this, watch it, fun movie if you don’t live in a magical world where movies just get served up for your tasting and dissecting. Oh, you do?, that’s right, most everyone does, that’s what the real world is like – a solid reminder.

Gozu

You can just file this one under the category ‘I did not see that coming’.  From the very first ridiculous, tense, gut-wrenching scene, you go along with all this film just waiting to guess what will come of it, and you always always come out wrong. Due to the presence of a ‘Boss’ and the suits, sunglasses and fancy cars, this has to go in the gangster genre, but this movie’s not out to impress you with how much like the others it can be, it very definitely wants to be it’s own movie. Reminds me quite a bit of Lost Highway in the way it throws you bursts of unexpected, unexplained, but still holds just enough of a plot to tease your mind into trying to figure out what it is.

But what is it? I will try to explain. No, it’s too much, I will sum up. In the beginning, a member of the crew has a strange sense that a small dog has been trained by the Yakuza as an assassin, and does something very disconcerting about it. Later this member and young naive friend of the same crew end up traveling to a far-off town, but before they can get to where they are going, the guy again has another freak-out episode, then ends up thought dead, then ends up lost in a strange small Japanese town. The rest of the story revolves around the young naive crew member searching through the town for his friend, and finding nothing but the absolutely strangest characters possible, and confounded at every turn by dark strange, gory and comic characters.

The director delights in giving you just what you didn’t see coming, and never giving in and letting you have expectations you can rest in, demanding and frustrating maybe, but it’s so much fun to watch him play.  One shot in particular caught his sense of play: in a quite still moment at night, the young friend waits in a room _____ slept in the night before, and there’s a noise outside the door. The camera snaps around his back and lands on the door.  Then it snaps back again over to a different angle.  Then again.  And one more time, jiving and juking and getting you all tensed up but weirded out cause he just keeps moving the camera over and over and nothing happens.  Finally, the guy bursts out and opens the door and nothing is there.  But what about the hallway? There is something there?  In the next room?  Yes, there is, and it’s a strange person with a very realistic cow’s head. And you’ll never guess what this cow’s head wants to do to him.

There’s quite a bit asked of the audience to hang on and not have all the answers or even any answers for a while, but the twists do successfully get stranger and stranger, and the finale is something to be marveled at, I would definitely watch again if only for a mind of putting together what exactly is going on, and probably invite an unsuspecting friend to giggle at when the shit gets weird.

Natural Born Killers

Lost Highway

True Romance

After seeing them again, I realize these three movies are the holy grail of films for me.  They are the sort of films I loved watching over and over again, each one of them filled with more amazing moments than I can realize, and I see more every time. Which is surprising for me, since I didn’t think my heart was that dirty and twisted, but I should have seen it coming I suppose.  And speaking of heart, two of them are true blue romantic movies at the heart of them – both NBK and TR have deeply deeply in love characters that change the world to fit their love, not the other way around – and they’re not afraid to fight together for their love – it’s not a chase for one or the other, it’s them versus the world.  A real man’s version of love, but it’s love nonetheless. And Lost Highway is just such a finely tuned mind-fuck of tension and sex – I had focused earlier on the mind game of it so many times that I forgot how titilating and gory it really was – I guess it’s a reminder to me what happens if you don’t have the burning romance.

And most importantly – all of them know how to wink at themselves with very high level humor – the parades and circuses around serial killers in NBK, the detectives and cops in Lost Highway, Elvis being the driving force behind all change in True Romance (plus Brad Pitt stoner) – the breaks with humor are always included – they succeed in giving you laughs that don’t try to hard or push you outside of the story – they’re inherent in the premise.

And the editing/footage mix/music design of NBK and Lost Highway always amazing to me – so smooth and evocative – I listened to the NBK soundtrack over and over and over again as a teenager.  And the use of the island sound music throughout True Romance always pays off for me – I know part of the reason I’m here in paradise right now watching the sun set is the promise of happiness set up in that movie.

Patricia Arquette stars in two of the films, though I can’t even compare her performance in True Romance to Lost Highway – Lynch’s film is just a different beast with different requirements, though her cold-heartedness mixed with pin-up girl sexiness is still a feat as well, she just did it so right, so much life and energy in True Romance that it’s hard to think of her being both.

So why haven’t I made a gory/sexy/action thriller?  That’s just what I said, but I know the reason is that it would require me to unlock an inner man I’ve put away for so very long. Why? My experiences on set have always seen the patient quiet comedies and drama’s win – I worked on a lot of bad action films in Spokane, and up until I worked on Green Room never seen one work.. Since I just did my experiment trying to emulate the people talking dramas I’ve done so many of, maybe it’s time to put away my own stereotypes about my gender, and just make something that scratches that itch of gory action romance thriller….

Zoolander

What a dumb stupid perfect script, that uses the finest of Hollywood A-list ingredients to maximum effect. It makes my girl laugh. I’ll watch it with her any day.

24 Hour Party People

I had so much fun watching this movie, such an original tone and fantastic performance and lens to see the world of Manchester music though.  The lead’s narration (mostly the fantastic way it’s written) and the funny snapshot way we travel through his life works so well to show that like so many grand ideas like a period of music in a location, even if you’re right in the center of it, it’s still just swimming around you, flying off to islands to record BS music tracks while you still have to live you life of wives, work and partying.  And I can’t comment on any real differences between Manchester and London, knowing neither of them, but somehow I know the film does a fantastic job capturing the off-beat spirit of the city.  And another thing this movie does so well is include the depth of story necessary for you to feel like you’ve gone on a journey – details  And oh my god, the music just sings through it, giving just what you want from a music scene film, and the images that comes from the old dusty photobook on the shelf of when the music was fresh and new, what it was like to be there, right next to the fountain pouring out the small but very best part of your life.

A few other memorable scenes/moments/characters:  his first wife and all the early story that came through accidental blow-jobs, the mesmerizing way the actor plays the lead singer of Joy Division, and the major extortion scene where a band trades the vocals to their music for $50 from their producer that financed their island retreat to record said music. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it was made.

A tiny note here when I realize sometimes that what we’re creating is very structured, nuanced music videos – and the best ones have amazing build-ups and meaning behind them.  After seeing Occulous Rift in action, I’m beginning to wonder if the new age of story-telling can come from creating very structured, nuanced video games, with amazing build ups and meaning behind them.

The Swimmer

I was prepared for disappointment – I loved the story from John Cheever, and I’d been told many times how the movie didn’t measure up to the fantastical story about a man swimming home through swimming pools dotted across the community, but although there are a few moments of overdramatic wallowing, on the whole I thought the movie was very well-woven, beautifully shot, and carried a good deal of the punch of the story through with it. Sure the lead seethed high-drama at times, but I thought it an homage to the quirky narrator tone of the story as well, and followed with the character, a fine choice I thought.

Love very much the scene with the young girl that really kicks the story into motion, and opens up a pit of dread in your stomach that only gets darker and deeper as the film goes on.

The Long Good Friday

Holy Shit – perfect tense screw press of a noir – the hunt going on in the middle of the biggest deal of his life, and the boss that just wanted peace and had a good heart at the bottom of him get’s thrown into a war with an enemy he doesn’t know.

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