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30 December 2009

There Will Be Blood

directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Ladies and gentleman, when I say that Paul Thomas Anderson is a true giant of the filmic craft, you will agree. Anderson has delivered some of the most intensely American (and intensely intense) films this side of the Coen Brothers, and he shows no signs of stopping. Anderson’s gut punch of a film stars the monolithic Daniel Day Lewis and the gale force talent of Paul Dano (holding his own like a champ) reacting to one another like forces of nature. Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, oil mogul who gets wind of a reservoir beneath a small town and seeks to gain control. Standing in the way is Eli Sunday (Dano), preacher and kindred opportunistic spirit who wants a kingly price for such a find. To watch Dano and Day-Lewis battle one another is like watching a lightning storm in your front yard, and with only four days to prepare for such a role, Dano shows us that he is of the stuff that makes an actor immortal. While I am dispensing with much deserved recognition, I must give a proud and jubilant bravo to Dillon Freasier for his rock hard portrayal of H.W. Plainview, Daniel’s adopted son. Whatever might be said between the two characters, the love between the Plainviews is palpable and true, and the way in which Freasier holds his own when sharing screen time with Day-Lewis and Dano is nothing short of groundbreaking (especially considering he was not an actor). Johny Greenwood creates an operatic mash up that stings the senses in all the right ways, and Dylan Tichenor (there’s that damn name again) edits himself into an academy award nomination in the same year as The Asassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (for which he should also have been nominated). It’s the true horror of the American Dream in full bloom.
I’m finished now.

29 December 2009

Hunger

directed by Steve McQueen

The story of Irish prisoner Bobby Sands and his struggle to win rights for his fellow inmates comes to horrifying, scathing, sobering reality in Steve McQueen’s knockout debut, Hunger. Michael Fassbender plays Sands with all the vehemence and conviction necessary to take home every award in the book, and every actor in this minimal dialogue, exhausting, heart-wrenching tour de force delivers the goods in every way possible. Sands wants all of his fellow prisoners to be treated as prisoners of war instead of common criminals, to be recognized as political prisoners for their participation in the turmoil of Northern Ireland’s struggle. A “no wash” protest is underway, a protest in which the prisoners use their bodies as weapons, and Sands is willing to take his to the limit to realize his aspirations. Implementing a hunger strike in which he will be the first participant (and possibly casualty), Sands is absolutely committed to the cause, and Fassbender delivers a powerhouse performance that will endure for all time, a true embodiment of a zealot willing to take his vision beyond the limit. To watch this film is to be drawn into a conflict beyond our comprehension as Americans, to bear witness to a conviction foreign to our usual patriotic sentiment. Whether or not you agree is not up for debate, however, and though it may be hard to stomach, you won’t be able to look away.

28 December 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

directed by Wes Anderson

I am quite ashamed that it took me so long to see the Wes Anderson stop motion film based on a Roald Dahl classic. Jeez, when you say it in one sentence like that, it sounds too good to be true. Well, I have to say, it almost was! Rocking such voice talents as Bill Murray (hilarious, per usual), George Clooney (with a sugary smooth voice), Meryl Streep (outdoing herself, and in animated form!), Jason Shwartzman (heartbreakingly fabulous), Michael Gambon (full of piss and vinegar)- OK, I’ll stop there, but what about Willem Dafoe (brilliant), and Eric Anderson (wonderful) and even Wes himself as the weasel realtor- sorry. If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry, Wes and Noah Baumbach create a magnificently rich world (has Wes Anderson ever failed in creating a rich and detailed world?) as big as Mr. Fox’s ambition, and succeed valiantly. From the book as title credits opening (see The Royal Tenenbaums for another fine example) to the slam bang finish, virtually every piece of this puzzle is a masterwork, and Wes Anderson’s name will now truly live on in the annals of film history for all time. Thank you, Mr. A, for bringing us some of the most beautifully zany, idiosyncratic, and singularly ornate film stories of the past two decades. May you continue to grace us with magnificent films, and maybe even one day give the world a film version of The Catcher in the Rye (hopefully, the book rights will lapse in time).

27 December 2009

A Serious Man

directed by the Coen Brothers

Beginning with a subtitled (and Yiddish) prologue about a demon and ending with-well, I won’t give that away, but what I will give up is the conceit that Joel and Ethan Coen have spun yet another remarkable classic from the fabric of faith, desperation and suffering that we call life. Larry Gopnick is a physics professor with a typical family: marriage on the rocks, two slackerish, semi-hostile children and a neighbor who wants to build a tool shed too close to the property line. Yet it just seems to get worse and worse for Larry, and I won’t beat you over the head with the Old Testament parallels and metaphors, but in the Coen tradition, trouble always begets more trouble. Michael Stuhlbarg is astounding as Larry, a man who gets more than his share of bad luck, and Sari Lennick is seriously amazing as Judith, Larry’s serious wife who wants a divorce. The Coens wear you down right alongside Larry in this darkly hilarious two hour head lock of a film, and when it’s over, you are left just as rattled. Carter Burwell’s killer soundtrack works more like another part of dialogue, and Roger Deakins never ceases to amaze with his cinematographic genius. Like another mesmerizing classic, the much overlooked and underappreciated Barton Fink, the Coens explain little and leave you to come to your own conclusions. So, let’s just ask it, already: Why?

Special note: Hats off to sound designer dynamo Craig Berkey and foley artist titan Marko A. Costanzo, the talents responsible for creating such an intricately hypnotic aural web. The end of record sequence, the soul sucking sound of Arthur's cyst pump, and the mesmerizing isolation of specific sounds throughout the film only work to strengthen the film in ways that could not have been imagined by the Coens themselves. Another example of the whole exceeding the sum of its aggregate parts, A Serious Man is a serious achievement, to be sure.

26 December 2009

Bad Santa

directed by Terry Zwigoff

If ever there was a darker horse candidate for a perennial holiday classic, I have yet to see it. Billy Bob Thornton is shockingly, agonizingly spot on as Willie, the booze swilling, chain smoking, foul mouthed heister who poses as Santa every year in order to clean out the mall during Christmas. When Willie meets a boy in need of a friend, he takes advantages of the situation and shacks up with the kid and his senile grandma. Meanwhile, the head of security (a terrifyingly funny Bernie Mac, is there any other kind?) has his sights focused on Willie and his pint sized accomplice, Marcus (Tony Cox), which throws a wrench in the works until Willie starts to have a change of heart. To compare this film to the Grinch of yore would be like trying to use math to describe a poem, and so I will not. Are there similarities, yes, but Bad Santa is a classic in every sense of the word, just not the kind one would expect. It’s like grouping Natural Born Killers in the “classic love story” genre (which I do, because it is a classic love story). It applies, but it just takes reassessment.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

directed by Henry Selick

Tim Burton, the Prince of all things strange, brings to life the holiday world of Halloweentown, and it is a sight to behold. Jack Skellington runs the freaky show, but he is tired of the same old thing. When he stumbles upon a series of strange portals in the woods, Jack finds himself sucked into Christmas Town, where the big man himself, Santa, is the boss. Jack falls in love, and in an extraordinary move, Jack has Mr. S kidnapped so that he can be the one to deliver his own twisted version of holiday cheer to the world. His earnest attempts prove futile, but when the boogeyman gets involved, it’s a mad dash to save Santa and gets things back on track. If this much warped whimsy could be applied to everything, the world would be a truly remarkable place. Danny Elfman packs a musical punch and even sings the Skellington sequences (fantastic), and the sheer magnitude of Burton's vision was (to date) extraordinary. Selick went on to develop James and the Giant Peach, which was an admirable attempt at realizing another Roald Dahl treasure.

23 December 2009

Elf

directed by Jon Favreau

Buddy is an elf, and quite an odd elf at that. This is because he is really a human, an orphan who crawled into Santa’s sack one Christmas night. Santa has a big heart (of course), and so the boy was raised by the toymakers of the North Pole, but when Buddy grows up, he gets the shocking news. So off he goes, to New York City to meets his father (a grinchy James Caan) and spread a little holiday cheer. It’s slow going at first, but hilarious, and when Buddy sets eyes upon the enchanting Jovey (a wonderful Zooey Deschanel), it’s love at first sight. Will Ferrell is continually willing to do whatever it takes to make the most of a role, and his heart warming and uproarious portrayal of Buddy, the fish out of water, is as funny for a toddler as it is for an adult. Who says you can’t make a movie for everyone?

22 December 2009

Love Actually

directed by Richard Curtis

Love stories abound in this very British, very funny film that revolves around too many plot lines to mention, which ultimately is its downfall. If just a few of the lesser stories had been shaved away, this film could have been exponentially better. It’s still great, however, and well worth watching. Bill Nighy is a comedic treat as aged pop star Billy Mack, who whores himself and one of old hits for a holiday chart topper. Hugh Grant is befuddled and hilarious (per usual) as the newly elected Prime Minister, battling public perception concerning his age and love pangs of his own. Liam Neeson is a widower with a lovesick son, Sam (Thomas Sangster), and Alan Rickman is man with a secret about his marriage. There are plenty more, and while the sheer number work to detract from the power of each story, the film is full of bright moments that make the entire film worth watching. Is it a Valentine’s Day film, or a Christmas film? Why can’t it be both? If Steve Miller can be a picker and grinner and lover and a sinner, then Love Actually can be a film for two holidays.

21 December 2009

Edward Scissorhands

directed by Tim Burton

I have reviewed this film before, yes, and it is and will always be my favorite film of all time, but Tim Burton’s masterpiece, and it is truly a masterpiece, is such a magical filmic experience that it must be mentioned on any list that includes great holiday films. Built around a child’s simple question (Where does snow come from?), this modern fairy tale weaves a mesmerizing tale of friendship, isolation, and the power of the human heart. Johnny Depp is Edward, an invention left unfinished and alone in the old mansion of his “father” (a wonderful Vincent Price in his last and loveliest performance). Left with just a handful of razor sharp scissors for hands, Edward has no visitors until Peg, the kindly Avon representative from the suburb below comes calling. A bit of astringent here (for the nervous nicks on Edward’s face) and a pair of old clothes there (to cover his leathery, buckley frame), and Edward is part of the family, learning the suburban ropes and making friends. His heart belongs to Kim (a sweet Wynona Ryder), but Kim’s beau Jim (a sinister and frightening Anthony Michael Hall) has thoughts of his own about Edward’s gentle nature. It’s a brave new world for Edward, but when the neighborhood turns on him, he is forced back to his mansion for a chilling climax. Diane Wiest is sugary sweet as Peg, and Alan Arkin gives one of the high point performances in a career of high points as Bill. To see the answer to that youthful inquiry is to see one of the most heartbreaking and romantic of all tableaus in film, a truly breathtaking concept. See it. See it again, and let it fill you up.

20 December 2009

Gremlins

directed by Joe Dante

Chris Columbus and Joe Dante bring you madcap comedy fun by way of the Orient in Gremlins, starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Corey Feldman. Billy (Galligan) gets the present every boy wants for Christmas, a weird looking little creature that talks and sings and looks like the love child of a Welsh Corgi and an Ewok. Pops done good, but when he bought the Mogwai from an Asian curiosity shop, the owner gave him strict instructions. Don’t get it wet, and don’t feed it after midnight. Good reader, you know how it works in movieland, the little guy naturally has to get splashed, then stuff his face. Oops. Now, Billy and little buddy Pete (Corey Feldman) have to battle it out against a hoard of weird looking bigger creatures that look like the love children of a koala and an iguana. Add to the mix is the adorable Phoebe Cates, local fox who may have a thing for Billy. The sequel is fun and even more ridiculous, but the original is a must see.

19 December 2009

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik

Arguably the finest of the National Lampoon’s films, the third Griswold holiday is ready to fall apart mere minutes into the film when Clark (the hilarious Chevy Chase) wedges the family station wagon (no longer metallic pea) beneath a truck hauling felled trees. They manage to avoid catastrophe, but not for long. It’s Christmas, and Clark has a dream, a Griswold family Christmas in his home. Sounds good on paper, but what unfolds is one of the funniest and most definitive holiday comedies on record. To name my favorite moments in this side-splitting film would essentially be a catalog of the entire film, but let’s just say that most of them feature a hilarious Randy Quaid in full trailer park mode. It’s holiday madness at its very best, a true treasure that should be required viewing for any budding comedian.

18 December 2009

White Christmas

directed by Michael Curtiz

Ah, White Christmas, Irving Berlin’s classic song was such a hit in Holiday Inn that it got its own movie. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye sing, dance and scheme their way through a Technicolor dream come true. Wallace and Davis (Crosby and Kaye) are a showbiz duo who plot to put on a massive reunion show in Vermont to defibrillate their old General Waverly’s hotel business. Aiding the men are the Haynes Sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen), two fellow schemers who find themselves hired to play the vacant resort. Do I smell love in the air? Of course I do, it’s a classic Hollywood holiday musical, complete with all the wonderful bells (silver, of course) and whistles (Bing Crosby’s, of course) you would expect from such a work. Dean Jagger beautifully underplays his role of the good general (which is a feat in itself when you have to share screen time with the likes of Danny Kaye) and it proves very fruitful for such a skilled actor. It’s like enjoying a candy cane that never gets all sharp and pokes the inside of your mouth.

17 December 2009

Scrooged

directed by Richard Donner

Bill Murray is the scrooge of all scrooges in the reimagining of the classic A Christmas Carol, playing Frank Cross, mega jackass media tycoon who hates Christmas like it’s his job. The television network for which Frank works is preparing for a live broadcast of the Dickens classic on Christmas Eve, but things get a bit strange when he is visited by his old boss (and dead guy), who tells Frank that he will be visited by three more ghosts before the night is over. I won’t bore you with the details (as everyone knows this story), but leave it to Bill Murray to deliver every time. Murray is as hilarious at being an a-hole (Peter Venkman, Steve Zissou, hello?) as Rodney Dangerfield is at being a ham. David Johanson puts on a great screwball show as the ghost of Christmas Past, Karen Allen glows as Phil’s old squeeze, and wait- who is that I see? Is that- it is! Robert Mitchum! All my holiday dreams just came true!

16 December 2009

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

directed by Chuck Jones and Ben Washam

Of all the times Hollywood tried to realize the strange and wonderful world of the good Dr. Seuss, almost 100 percent of the time they got it horribly wrong. But it can’t rain all the time, as Eric Draven would say, and aside from The Lorax, the only other beaming ray of sunshine in the gloom of Dr. Seuss films is the Christmas masterpiece, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, magically voiced and sung by Boris Karloff. Cartoon geniuses Chuck Jones and Ben Washam bring Whoville to life in all its twisty, pastel painted glory. The Whos are busting ass to get ready for Christmas, but scowling and scoffing above them is the Grinch, green a-hole intent on getting his hate on, until he schemes up a plan to srew those Whos and snatch their Christmas out from under them. With the help of his reindeer dog and a ramshackle sleigh, the Grinch sails into Whoville and jacks the festivities, even the crumbs for the mice (what a jerk!), but a change of heart causes him to see the error of his ways. The original is fantastic in the exact same number of ways that the Jim Carey version sucks, which is roughly four thousand and twelve ways. From the pitch perfect voice of Karloff, to the moment when his Grinch heart grows and breaks the metal measuring frame, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a holiday treat meant to be had by all. Merry Christmas.

15 December 2009

A Christmas Story

directed by Bob Clark

Remember that Christmas movie that starred The Dirt Bike Kid? The one where he wanted a b b gun? If you were ever eleven years old between the years 1983 and now, chances are that the Bob Clark classic A Christmas Story might have been one of your favorite movies. For some, it still is, and with good reason. TBS doesn’t air the perennial holiday film 24 hours in a row on Christmas arbitrarily. The timeless story of a little boy’s quest to obtain that which will be readily available to him when turns 18, a gun, is the hilarious story of growing up in the sterilized, romanticized, Christmasized suburbs of you-name-the-town, America during the 1950’s. Think The Sandlot, but add snow and sand down a bit of the wit. Flick gets his tongue stuck to a flag pole, Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) shoots his eye out, and the infamous leg lamp mingle like luscious tones in a fine Lafite. All those stories about your parents having to walk uphill both ways to get to school , or battling the bitter cold with hard boiled eggs in their pockets, well, you won’t find them here, but you will find a charmingly funny story about how much the holidays meant to you when you were young. Don’t stop believin’, hold on to that feelin’, and anything that you wish for will come true.

14 December 2009

Casablanca

directed by Michael Curtiz

All right, all right. There’s no way to get around it. It has to be talked about. One of the finest love stories in the history of cinema takes the form of one ultimate classic, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart as Rick, owner of Rick’s bar, nursing a cynical attitude until a lost love sparks a yearning inside him for something more. Reunited with a wonderful Sydney Greenstreet and starring opposite such giants of the crafts as Peter Lorre and Ingred Bergman, Bogart proves once again that he is an actor for the ages, the protohero who serves as the basis for such future leading men as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Jeremy Renner (well, maybe Mr. R isn’t a leading man, yet, but he should be). Citizen Cane may be considered the best film of all time (recognition it deserves, by the way), but rest assured that Casablanca would be a heavy weight contender for the best love story of all time. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

13 December 2009

Sixteen Candles

directed by John Hughes

I would shit twice and die if anyone ever spoke a harsh word about the John Hughes classic, Sixteen Candles. Hughes sweetheart Molly Ringwald plays Samantha Baker, who wakes up on her sixteenth birthday to find that her entire family forgot! OMG! And after she fills out a sex test that gets lost during class, Samantha heads to the school dance with exchange student Long Duk Dong (cue gong) to add yet another helping of humiliation to her day. Anthony Michael Hall, another Hughes regular, is totally major as Ted, King of the Dipshits, whose staggering confidence is exhibit A in the case to locate the source of the genius of Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Superbad. Hall wants to interface with Samantha like nobody’s business, and after a proposition from friends Cliff and Bryce (a young John Cusack with one of the best character names in film history), Hall is off to get his relationship online and collect the proof of his score. Meanwhile, dreamboat Jake Ryan sets his sights on Samantha after finding out how much she digs him. Hughes paints what can only be described as an honest caricature of the high school experience, complete with the theft of a parent’s classic car. So choice.

12 December 2009

The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

directed by Gore Verbinski

Gore Verbinski’s first Pirates film is like the exact opposite of the Orson Welles gold standard Citizen Cane. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, based on a popular tourist attraction in Disneyland no less, and packed with enough stars to make the night sky jealous, The Curse of the Black Pearl is super ridiculous and super fun for everyone. And Johnny Depp gets to be British again, which is apparently as fun for him as it is for Hugh Laurie to pretend to be American. The plots focuses on Elizabeth Swan (Kiera Knightley) and the piece of pirate gold she jacked off a young Will Turner’s chest after he was fished out of Davy Jones’ Locker. Jump to ten years later, and a rabble of undead pirates have beached themselves outside her front door, and they want their treasure back. Meanwhile, Captain Jack Sparrow (there’s no need to try to measure Depp’s performance. Has he ever given a bad one?) is imprisoned for being a pirate, but he has the info that Will (prettiest of men, Orlando Bloom) needs to rescue his beloved Ms. Swan. It's swashbuckling, double crossing mayhem at its best. It’s a shame that the following two films, though entertaining, ended up plot twisting themselves into oblivion. Haters want to hate, and let them hate, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Pirates trilogy is good fun all around, and it all started with what could only be described as one giant commercial. Avast, ye advertising gods, and hold fast, for this maelstrom of marketability is set grow by one more. We’d better baton down those product placement hatches, for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is due to make port in 2011.

11 December 2009

The Poseidon Adventure

directed by Ronald Neame

A hard ass Gen Hackman preaches self reliance from the steel pulpit of an ocean liner. Prophetic would be one word to describe it (I would describe it as awesome), but there’s no need to remind the passengers of the capsized ship The Poseidon. What a New Year’s Eve party. As the group struggles to escape through the underside of the massive ship, making it to the engine room where the hull is thinnest, calamities and catastrophes attack like ghouls in a horror film. It’s the nonstop tension and exhaustive perseverance in the face of almost overwhelming hopelessness that makes this a film worth checking out. As much as I love Kurt Russell (you know my feeling about the cult icon) and Josh Lucas, I am going to steer you away from the depressing remake. Only the most die hard and possibly delusional Russell fans will be able to stomach it. Shelley Winters got some award cred for her portrayal of overweight ex swimmer Belle who comes through in a pinch at her own risk, and Red Buttons glows as aging bachelor Martin who lives on a diet of herbal remedies and vitamins. It is impossible to keep down a talent like Gene Hackman, and Neame doesn’t try, instead letting him tower over his peers, even a formidable Ernest Borgnyne as the cop with the sketchy wife. It will leave you breathless, worn out, mark my words, but one thing it won’t leave you as is disappointed.

10 December 2009

John and Karen

directed by Matthew Walker

While we are on the subject of the Academy dropping the ball (per usual), let’s take a moment to explore another animated treat skunked for an Oscar nod last year, Matthew Walker’s John and Karen, an endearing story about a polar bear trying to make up to a penguin for his conversational faux pas on a previous date. The tension is hilarious, as is the physical comedy, but Walker never makes the joke about the animals or their comparative sizes. The humor comes from the dialogue, side-splittingly delivered by actors James Bachman and Emma Cunniffe, and the familiarity the subject matter holds for the audience. This film and Jeremy Clapin’s Skhizein were far and away better than most of the short films nominated in the past several years, but who am I to make that call? Geez, BC, why are you spending so much time on short films and commercials lately? Because, good reader, as a lover of film, I should be giving proper attention to other forms of filmmaking long overlooked by the general moviegoer. Have I ever steered you wrong before? Just watch them already.

Explorers

directed by Joe Dante

For many years, I thought that perhaps I dreamed this movie, directed by Joe Dante and starring a young Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. It turns out, I just need to find the right person to ask and presto, I was hunting down Explorers, checking it against my childhood memories and finding that the two align perfectly. This tale about three friends who construct a spaceship out of junk and travel into space using a protective bubble generated by brainy Wolfang’s (Phoenix) computer programming skills is something from another time, a time capsule movie that bottles in a bit of the culture for which it was created. I’m talking, of course, about the freak and geeks of yesteryear, children who were techno-savvy before it was the norm, children who would grow up to become the founders of Google and YouTube and Hulu. Hawke is great as Ben, the meek one of the group who dreams up the idea for “the circuit,” while Phoenix gives another confident performance (as usual) in what was far too short a career. You are missed, Mr. P. Rounding out the group is Darren, played by Jason Presson. What ever happened to him? From the junkyard vessel mash up to the alien interprets human culture mash up, Explorers is a film to watch with the right pair of eyes, on a Sunday afternoon or a rainy day when you just can’t get off the couch. Wait BC, are you saying that Explorers is like The Price is Right? I’m pleading the fifth.

09 December 2009

The Breakfast Club

directed by John Hughes

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but stereotypes can go to hell. If I was in charge of taglining awesome 80s teen flicks, that would have been my contribution to the John Hughes classic, and it is most definitely a classic. It’s Saturday at Shermer High School in Shermer Illinois, 60062, and a jock, a geek, a princess, a basket case and a criminal serve detention in the library. Over the course of the day, bonds are forged and walls are toppled as each of the teens learn that they all drink from the same punch bowl of angst and awkwardness. Judd Nelson is iconic as rough side of towner John Bender, who uses insults as a defense. Emilio Estevez excels as Andrew Clark, trophy jock son of a father who pushes too hard, and Anthony Michael Hall is nerddom incarnate as Brian, resident geek and, ultimately, work horse (well, I guess all the stereotypes weren’t broken) when it calls for completing the necessary detention assignment. Hughes darling Molly Ringwald is perfect as prom queen Claire, who must tread a fine line for her popularity, and last but not least, the stellar Ally Sheedy is Allison, who came to detention just for something to do. If I could select one image from the entire Hughes canon to sum up his vision, it would be that of a triumphant John Bender walking across the football field and pushing his fist into the air in a victorious and defiant proclamation of individuality. Either that or the shot of the kid drooling on his desk in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.


Skhizein

directed by Jeremy Clapin

An animated movie about a man struck by a meteorite who subsequently finds himself exactly 91 centimeters removed from himself. Sound strange? It is, but is also one of the few truly inspired pieces of film storytelling realized in many years. Jeremy Clapin weaves a mesmerizing and quietly devastating tale about a man who has lost touch with himself and struggles with his own existence. After the cosmic encounter, Henry painstakingly redraws his daily life to adapt to his condition, literally sketching imaginary windows and doors on walls to satisfy his disorientation. Henry sees a therapist and tries to cope, but his futile attempts to realign his self with his self only cause him further despair. The story sinks its claws deeply into your mind, until you see Henry when you lay awake at night. His plight is horrifying indeed, an existential crisis from which there is no escape. Clapin’s direction is spot on and artfully beautiful, mingling with the Primeresque (the Shane Carruth masterpiece) score to create a short film with feature length atmosphere. Hunt it down, buy it if you have to, fellow fans of animation and short films, and behold a film that should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award last year. Seriously, did you see the crap that had the Academy swooning last year? Except for Pixar’s Presto and British short This Way Up (wittily directed by Smith & Foulkes), the line up was mediocre at best (Oktapodi), and trite at the worst (Le Maison En Petit Cubes-ugh!). Why is it that the truly remarkable gets overlooked by the dear old Academy?
Thanks to Shane Acker (director of another inspired animated short titled 9), here it is.
Watch it.

08 December 2009

The Secret (A Carlsberg Commercial)

directed by Johnny Green

Denmark, 1883. A man jacks a bottle from the Carlsberg Brewery and splits on his horse in the middle of the night. He rides like a bat out of hell through forests, fields, the Industrial Revolution, and even into the realm of claymation! Indescribably cool, though lacking in the voice over department (which could have stood better writing), Johnny Green’s short but epic tale of how Carlsberg made the world a better place by sharing its stellar brewing formula with other manufacturers was developed specifically for the Irish market, but I decided to take a page out of Carlsberg’s book and share it with you. Green’s catalog is impressive, including a very cool Guiness commercial and some marvelous Discovery Channel promos that dazzle the senses. It is quite possible that we are witnessing a resurrection of the wicked commercial. Perhaps I spoke too soon when I likened its kind to the Carrier Pigeon. Enjoy.

They Live

directed by John Carpenter

John Carpenter came here to do two things: chew bubble gum and kick cinematic ass. And guess what, he’s all out of bubble gum. In order to make good on his vow, Carpenter masterminded the glorious B flick They Live, starring wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper (of Hell Comes to Frog Town Fame) and rocking one of the most ridiculously entertaining plots in late night movie history. Piper plays Nada, who discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see people for their true selves, aliens. Yep, that’s the premise, and that’s all you need to know. If you have a soft spot in your heart for the fantastic treasures culled from the B film underworld, jewels like Cherry 2000, Hell Comes to Frogtown and Night of the Lupus, you will not be disappointed with Carpenter’s They Live.

07 December 2009

Zingolo (A Cadbury Commercial)

directed by Ringan Ledwidge

Ringan Ledwidge has made a few good commercials in his day (hunt down the bottled water commercial where a marionette Elton John dances. Totally worth it), and he hasn’t stopped yet, carving up a piece of musical eye candy that will make your optometrist cringe (you know, because of the cavities? I moved the cavity from your teeth to your eye to make it funnier and make the joke work- nevermind). Ledwidge takes us to the streets of Ghana by way of a floating head whose cocoa bean garnishments explode into rapper Tinny and kick start a mega party. The cinematography pops off the screen with RIZEesque vibrancy (David LaChappelle would be proud), and the sparkle explosion after effects are too cool for school! The music is no joke either, a crowd pleaser by any standard that just begs to be bumped. It’s a celebration of Ghana’s culture, music and dance, and if that doesn’t make you want to join in the party, I don’t know what will.
If you like this, then be sure to check out the full length music video. It rocks even more!

The Night of the Hunter

directed by Charles Laughton

Let me tell you the story of right hand and left hand. Robert Mitchum’s knuckle tattoos practically speak for themselves in this super excellent thriller directed by Charles Laughton (go look him up) in which Mitchum plays “preacher” Harry Powell, recently loosed from prison and hell bent on locating the whereabouts of a stash of cash he heard tell from his cell mate before he died. Off he goes a courtin’, and when Powell wins over the cell mate’s widow (Shelley Winters), the only thing standing between him and his treasure are her two kids. Such suspense, such tension, and such Mitchum! Robert Mitchum is hands down one of the best actors of his generation, including lead roles in such seminal films as Cape Fear, Thunder Road (the second best film ever about moonshine liquor) and El Dorado, and he delves deep to deliver the freakiest performance of his career in The Night of the Hunter. Be sure to feast your little eyes on some of the best shot compositions in film (and see where such talents as graphic artist Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez got some of their righteous inspiration).

06 December 2009

The Darjeeling Limited

directed by Wes Anderson

A taxi carrying business man Bill Murray hauls ass through India on its way to the train station with all the pomp and gusto of a Mannix episode. As he sprints the last leg toward his train, a lanky-limbed addition to the Wes Anderson universe overtakes the distance and tosses his custom baggage onto the caboose. Adrien Brody is Peter Whitman, middle brother in a family of dysfunctional siblings who hardly know each other, let alone trust one another, and how perfectly he fits in with such Anderson regulars as Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman can only be summed up by his pitch perfect performance. How many other actors Anderson may have had in mind is irrelevant, but what is relevant is how wonderful his fifth (and best?) film is in every way. From the cinematography to the dialogue, the editing to the soundtrack, Wes Anderson’s film is as grandiose as its ambition, and it pays off. The three Whitmans meet at the eldest’s behest (a heart wrenchingly funny Owen Wilson) to take a spiritual trip through India to find what they have been missing since the death of their father. Wilson, Brody and Schwartzman have chemistry for days, and Anderson’s talent has only grown better with time. Some have dissed the film for being too similar to his other works, and to that I say this: did anyone dis William Faulkner for writing about Southern families all the time? No, they gave him a Nobel Prize.
Note: While I very much enjoyed the prelude film starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, I do not feel it was vital to the narrative as a whole. It's like a piece of candy to be eaten before the main course; delectable, but sans the nutritional value.

05 December 2009

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

directed by Terry Gilliam

I vividly remember (when I worked as an usher at a movie theater) throngs of teenage girls shelling out their hard earned babysitting money to feast their eyes on the newest Johnny Depp film. They thought they were coming to see another Benny and Joon or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and that, kids, is why it pays to watch the trailer. I also vividly remember nearly all of those girls demanding their money back mere minutes into the movie because the film they came to see was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Johnny Depp “looks gross and bald and stuff” in Terry Gilliam’s frenzied, acid-coated gem. Depp channels the great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in the film adaptation of a book long thought to be impossible to adapt. Well, Gilliam says “boo ya” to the haters, carving up a slice of Americana in all its drug-addled, greed-filled debauchery (and remaining super faithful to Mr. T’s original work). Benicio Del Toro is no slouch himself, playing a crazed Samoan attorney self-advised to escort the journalist out to Las Vegas to cover a desert race. In the midst of a scorched earth, Thompson found the true American dream, and it is as horrifyingly relevant then as it is today. Rocking enough cameos and big name small role actors to fill a SAG banquet hall, Gilliam’s testament to a rogue American hero is as frantic as the iconoclast himself. RIP, Mr T. I hope there’s enough rum in heaven for you.

04 December 2009

Fight Club

directed by David Fincher

The film that spawned a thousand parking lot brawls and a thousand cubicle fights, David Fincher’s Fight Club is as potent a brew as the Chuck Palahniuk novel itself. Palahniuk gave a name, an outlet to Gen X frustration and flipped conspicuous consumption the bird, and Fincher took up the torch to generate a renegade masterpiece dealing with the young American male predicament. Edward Norton plays a sad sack risk analyst whose life changes after his apartment explodes and he is forced to board with almost stranger Tyler Durden, whom he met on a plane. After a night of drinking the two decide to knock each other around a little bit, and find the experience to be quite cathartic. And so the brainchild of destruction and mayhem was born. When things start getting too big, Norton is left chasing Durden and trying to put on the brakes. Brad Pitt plays Durden with all the chops necessary to create a lasting character (let’s all just try to forget the Benjamin Button fiasco from 2008), and Fincher’s twisted, adrenaline-fueled roller coaster of a film is clever and raw. Be sure to watch out for the subliminal flashes of a pre-meeting Tyler invading Norton’s useless life. Pay attention. I am Jack’s satisfaction at seeing a recklessly vehement rebuke of America’s rampant materialism.

02 December 2009

Sexy Beast

directed by Jonathan Glazer

Probably one of the best gangster movies ever, and somehow it slipped below the radar. Jonathan Glazer’s razor sharp film Sexy Beast stars Ray Winstone in his best role, and the most terrifying Ben Kingsley you will ever see (he’ll make you flinch). Winstone plays Gal, retired gangster spending his years in a hot as hell Spanish villa, removed from existence and sharing his time with his wife and one other couple who have also chosen to get out of the business. Things are okay, until a visit from Don Logan (Kinglsey) forces Gal to learn the phrase “no one really quits.” Gal heads back home to London to make one last score and get out from under the thumb of boss Teddy Bass (a steely and stellar Ian McShane). Glazer made quite a name for himself in the music video and commercial circuit (Radiohead and U.N.K.L.E. videos as well as Levi’s commercials) before cutting his teeth in film, and his direction gives the film a rough poetry, a harsh and surreal resonance that will sneak up on you in the dark.

01 December 2009

A Fistful of Dollars

directed by Sergio Leone

Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name character is born here in Sergio Leone’s classic A Fistful of Dollars, the first in his Dollars Trilogy (consisting of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Based on the Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo, the plot centers on a mysterious character (Eastwood) who plays one lawless family against the other in order to make a big score. Leone has both barrels firing in this genre defying western that looks at the entire myth of the American West from the perspective of an outsider, and the results are not nearly as clear cut as The Duke would have us believe. Leone dispels the romance and leaves us with a distilled, highly potent comment on our perceptions of our nation’s history. He uses clichés to his advantage, and he makes obvious use of his knowledge and love for film to elevate a genre out of the realm of mediocrity to the level of sophisticated art. Sound like any other director we know today making movies with all of the flair and passion that Leone showed not just for storytelling, but for the art of filmmaking itself? I’ll give you a hint, his initials are Q.T.