What movie was that...?

13 November 2010

River's Edge

directed by Tim Hunter

There are quite a few things that could easily date this teen shocker about a kid who kills his girlfriend, then (apathetically, for all intents and purposes) lets his friends in on the dark secret. The clothes. The talk. The Keanu Reeves as pothead routine. 80s burnouts were probably rolling over this tale of apathy and desensitized youth, but for the sober viewer, this film bears a surreal weight that has helped it to endure beyond the absurdity of the mid 80s. It does not hurt that such talents as Crispin Glover (whose career has only 2 wrinkles, Like Mike and Epic Movie) and Reeves, who brings complexity to a character for whom emotional articulation is a feat. And let's not forget an always electrified Dennis Hooper as Feck, who, well, I'll let you discover that for yourself. It’s a heavy film, shocking and grotesque, but it doesn’t give in to exploitation, instead glimpsing a world of unnerving ambiguity concerning real life that presages such film as Gus Van Sant’s Elephant or Michael Hanecke’s The White Ribbon. Hunter’s film will remain a strange and uncomfortable portrait of self deluded youth who see reality as a game, as something to be manipulated, but strong performances and emotional direction strengthen this film into a classic, however cultish it may be.

FYI: I can hardly contain myself, for I will have the exquisite pleasure of meeting the one and only Crispin Glover in downtown Detroit. He will be gracing Motown with his presence during the month of December, performing a live accompaniment to his slide show and film event at The Burton Theatre. Hope to see you there.

11 November 2010

(Hey You) What's That Sound? (a Les Rythmes Digitales music video)

directed by Evan Bernard

Plotwise, Evan Bernard’s music video for (Hey You) What’s That Sound? is nothing innovative: a keytar packing rocker struts the streets and zaps passersby into totally rad dancers. We’ve seen it before (hell, the Black Eyed Peas video for Rock Your Body is that exact same, albeit futuristic, premise), but music video pro Bernard knows how to homage like nobody’s business. Let’s also take into account that this video is over a decade old, which makes it way ahead of this back to the 80s trend. Frankly, I’m not thrilled about a serious return to such fashion, but when it’s as tongue in cheek as this, you can’t help but smile. Les Rythmes Digitales is the musical creation of Stuart Price, who has quietly produced some of the finest pop music of the 2000s under various titles, but I am partial to his retro techno album, Darkdancer. It’s nostalgic, but also very good, and Price understands that music that wants to have fun can’t take itself too seriously.

07 November 2010

Enter the Void

directed by Gaspar Noé

Just after the moment of CGI conception, when the screen went dark, a voice in front of me in the auditorium whispered “Thank Christ.” Soon after, a collective groan emanated from the crowd as the screen came back to life and Gaspar Noé’s newest endurance test, Enter the Void, continued for what seemed like a small eternity.

I’m not sure why Noé feels compelled to so severely test his audience, but anyone interested in seeing his films need to be forewarned: You will need to steel yourself, and you need to realize that Noé’s filmic eye never flinches. Ever. Enter the Void demanded of me and, apparently, the audience, the maximum possible amount of effort to stay focused, so much so that when I emerged from the theater and into the brisk night air, I felt like a political prisoner back on native soil for the first time in a long time. Hypnotic at times, truly horrific at others, the same phrase rings true for Void and Noé’s other bruiser, Irreversible. Too much, too much, too much. I saw a lot of potential in Irreversible when it came out 8 years ago, but what I observed as undisciplined in Irreversible, I realize now is simply indulgence on Noé’s part. The reason for that collective groan is due to Noé’s biggest misstep, his refusal to edit himself in terms of storytelling, and camerawork, and that makes his films so hard to bear. I’m all for creative license and showing us something new, but you have to think a little about your audience, Mr. N. Add to the fact that the vocal work of Nathaniel Brown, whose face we rarely see in the film and so have to rely on his voice to fill in the gaps, is sub-par, flat and only emotive in the most abstract sense. The actors we can see don't fare much better, except for a few inspired moments from Paz de la Huerta and Olly Alexander.

My brother asked me how the film was, and I told him I wished I had a film version of a mine canary that I could send before me into movies like this, just like old school miners used to do to determined the toxicity of the air. If such a thing existed, the poor little guy would surely have been a corpse after this 2 and a half hour filmic waterboarding.

To Mr. Noé’s credit, however, I will say that the high points of this film are nigh untouchable, such perfection that I had a hard time getting my brain around it until after the fact. Hell, even if you buy a ticket and simply watch the best opening credit sequence (which play in its blistering entirety before the film begins) I have witnessed in years, you will get more than your money’s worth.

Funny aside: For those of you who will refuse to heed my advice and will go to see this film anyway, think about the young man one row in front of me. He arrived a little after I did, during the trailers, with 2 women and another man. When the film ended and the lights came up, the young man said aloud that, of all the films he could have brought his mother, his sister and his sister’s boyfriend to see, he sure was glad it this one. Thanks, Gaspar!

04 November 2010

For All Mankind

directed by Al Reinert

If you thought Apollo 13 rocked, then you need to brace yourself for Al Reinert’s hauntingly elegant and mesmerizing doc about the Apollo missions, and where Reinert’s doc shines is in its ability to frame the entire space race (the US side, anyway) as a unified experience. Brian Eno’s stellar score seems to permeate everything, and when you watch a 2 hour doc that somehow manages to glean from over 6 million feet of archived (and unseen) NASA footage a sense of purpose, of explorers setting forth into the ether in the pursuit of knowledge, you honestly feel as if you have experienced something profound. The narration comes from OG astronauts and original mission control recordings, but it’s the vastness of space itself that plays the most enigmatic and alluring character. It was For All Mankind that, for a long time, sparked a question I used to ask all my friends, family and even strangers. Each astronaut was allowed to bring with them into space an album of their choosing. Some brought country music, some classical, and I always thought that there would be something deeply personal about selecting a particular album to experience in the most unique way possible, so my question is:

What album would you bring with you into space?

03 November 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story

directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s tale of a suicidal teen who checks himself into a NYC hospital is admiral in its attempt to appear fresh and not generic, and in some respects it succeeds. Fleck and Boden scored big time with Half Nelson, a film that featured one of Ryan Gosling’s finest performances (which is really saying something), and in Funny Story, Fleck and Boden manage to get a fantastically underplayed performance by Zach G (which was almost as good as his role in Into the Wild). And it doesn’t hurt that two of my all time faves, Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis, grace us with solidly solid performances. Keir Gilchrist is good as Craig, but I couldn’t help but wonder if deep down, deep deep down, someone really wished that they could have cast Justin Long in the lead. The film stumbles in places and falls into the “it’s a psych ward movie, so we have to have that guy who won’t get out of bed and the guy who shouts things in the hall, right?” trap, but I give Fleck and Boden bonus points for attempting a film that tries to be earnest. For me, the verdict is still out on Emma Roberts and her acting prowess, but I am still excited to see what Fleck and Boden have in store for the future. 

02 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Note: Let’s just assume you know the Harry Potter story, its characters and at least have a general idea of the plot. If for some bizarre reason you do not, then I am not sure how you have an internet connection in your cave that is allowing you even read this.

Instead of going through a boring old review series about every Harry Potter film and why geeks like me (as well as literature geeks, like me) enjoy them so, I am going to focus on the third installment and explain why, in terms of story, visual style, and casting, HP 3 is the strongest of the series.

Let me preface this review by stating that I had not begun to read the series of books upon HP 3’s release, instead planning to have my cake and eat it too by enjoying the films first, then reading the series and finding the books to be even more richly detailed. I couldn’t take it, however, and have since consumed the books in the fear that I might have the ending ruined for me. But I digress…

Christopher Columbus was the perfect choice for helming the first two HP films (which, in many ways deviate from the total package of the HP story, what with underage wizardry being performed and such), and his youthful, energetic style got on well with Rowling’s story of a young wizard’s first years at a magical prep school. Changing directors for the third film was, whether on purpose or by necessity or whatever, another perfect choice as it happens at the both the pivotal time in the HP story, but also at a pivotal time in the main characters’ lives. The kids are 13 at this point, official teenagers, that time in life when things begin to change (I mean perceptions of the world, you pervs. Get your heads out of the gutter.) for young people. Cuaron showed with Y tu mama tambien that he deeply understands the subtle complexities of youth (though Luna and Bernal were a bit older in the wonderful Y tu mama tambien), and his eye brings a romantic edge to the series that sets the tone for all that comes after it. Harry and crew begin to understand that people are not as one dimensional as they had once thought, from Snape to newcomer Sirius Black (a pitch perfect Gary Oldman), Azkaban prison escapee who Harry thinks is out to get him. And HP 3 also gives us the new Dumbledore, played from then on by Michael Gambon (who replaced the late Richard Harris). At the time, and until I read the books, I greatly resented Gambon’s blatant disregard for Harris’ gentle and quietly confident portrayal of the Hogwart’s headmaster, mad that he didn’t even attempt any kind of continuity. I realize now, however, just how perfectly Gambon understands Dumbledore. Gambon has a strut and a pomp that would be repellent if not for his charm and self-aware coolness. It’s like the kids all crossed that invisible developmental threshold in HP 3, and the wizened, soft spoken genius they knew had become a real person, bold and slightly arrogant,  yet still attractive. Read the books and you will see what I am talking about. In terms of the original cast, Emma Watson (who has always been one of the series’ strongest talents) shines as Hermione, as does Ruper Grint, whose droopy dog comedic timing rivals some of his adult counterparts. HP 3 also gives the kids and the audience a taste of proper defense against the dark arts, as well as a magnificent addition to the cast roster in the form of David Thewlis (whom I love so very much, btw). Thewlis is Lupin, the teacher with a dark secret and possibly questionable alliances, and his guidance helps Harry to defend himself against the Dementors, creatures that feed on sadness. This is another element of Rowling’s story that I love and that comes at a perfect time in the story’s arc; that real defense against dark magic requires mental strength over simply properly reciting a spell and waving a wand.

Michael Seresin’s cinematography is totally boss, and the John Williams score rocks the house. And it doesn’t hurt that Rowling’s time travel excellence is stellar enough to have every geek fawning over her even more (magic and time travel? Be still my pocket protector!).  The series turns a corner with HP 3 with regard to both style and content, but it is Cuaron’s talent as a director that help to make this shift almost tangible, yet still in keeping with the series as a whole. 

01 November 2010

Office Space

directed by Mike Judge

It’s high time I get back to being productive, and speaking of being productive, one of the most cultishly beloved business comedies of all time goes by the name Office Space, which is definitely Mike Judge’s finest filmic achievement (though I do have a soft spot for Beavis and Butthead Do America). Office Space tells the story of Initech drone Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston, rocking desert dry comedic timing), computer geek and cubicle jockey who hates his life so much that each new day is the worst day of his life. His only joy comes from fishing and imagining a life where he can enjoy the luxury of sloth, but when a chance encounter with a hypnotist (I know, the convention is trite, but you have to be okay with it to be on board with the film’s spirit) help Peter to relax and show his true colors. When outside “consultants” arrive to help Initech streamline its operations, Peter and buddies Michael (David Herman is a perfect pillar of crazed, geeky pissedoffedness) and Samir (Ajay Naidu is a token delight) devise a Superman 3 style plan to rip off Initech and get administrative style revenge. Jennifer Aniston is always wonderful, and she breaks her Rachel Green type (which was a great character for a great sitcom) to fantastic effect as low key waitress Joanna, object of Peter's desire and general ray of sunshine upon the film's happenings. Hats off to Gary Cole, who takes corporate smarm to hilarious and almost poetic heights as Bill Lumberg, boss and general source of all the world’s evils, and Stephen Root will simultaneously split your sides and creep you out as Milton (whose character’s short film was the seed from which sprouted the Office Space flower). Judge’s film is a wonderful time capsule film that expresses the amiable frustration many Gen Xers felt at the time. Think American Psycho, minus the coke and the mutilations.
Trivia: Before Office Space, Swingline didn’t even make a red stapler. Judge painted it red for the film simply to make it distinctive, but the response was so great that Swingline started manufacturing one, and it is now their most popular model. Keep that tidbit in the old noodle; you never know when you’ll have an entertainment question for the win in Trivial Pursuit. BTW, if that situation ever arises, please let me know.