What movie was that...?

29 July 2010

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

directed Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel is an artist through and through, and his films seek to uncover a truth that all of us feel on the tips of our hearts. From the beauty of Basquiat to the haunting resonance of Before Night Falls, Schnabel’s eye sees things with a fresh life. In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Schnabel brings the amazing story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) to a claustrophobic reality. Bauby, the successful editor of French Elle Magazine, suffers a stroke that renders him totally paralyzed except for his left eye, an eye he uses to communicate and, eventually, pen a painstaking autobiography. Mathieu Amalric is shockingly underrated in everything he does, at least on this side of the pond, but his work in films like this are astounding achievements, like Sam Rockwell in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind or Albert Finney in Big Fish. Take the plunge and give it a whirl. And be sure to peep Schnabel’s other directorial artworks. They won’t fail to impress.

Johnny Suede

directed by Tom DiCillio

Johnny Suede has the feel of a full color, full beautiful cast version of a Jim Jarmusch film and, in fact, Suede was conceived and directed by Tom DiCillio, who was the cinematographer for such films as Permanent Vacation, Stranger than Paradise and Coffee and Cigarettes. DiCillio’s debut film is surreal and rollicking in its oddness. From the ever-wonderful Catherine Keener to the cheeky and amazing Nick Cave (yes, the Nick Cave) to the near filmicly omniscient Samuel L Jackson, Suede is almost always on point. Sure, it slips a bit here and there, but the rhythm and the spirit of the film make up for it. And so does the gravity defying pompadour of a young Bradley Pitt (is it okay if I call you Bradley, Mr. Pitt?), who plays the starry eyed, wishful musician sharing the same name as the film’s title. Things start to come together for Johnny when a pair of suede shoes fall out of the sky, but romance and a tumultuous relationship with rock legend Freak Storm (Nick Cave, you are tremendous at everything you attempt. I hate you.) threaten to cripple his sense of purpose as well as his mojo. Johnny Suede is a rare little gem that strikes an odd chord in all of us willing to find a little Suede inside ourselves.

28 July 2010

Beavis and Butthead Do America

directed by Mike Judge

As I was scanning my shelves last night, wondering which film I was in the mood for, I thought I wanted something profound, something revelatory. Turns out, I was right, and there’s nothing that can hold a candle to the profundity of Mike Judge’s masterpiece, Beavis and Butthead Do America, a true American classic so sweeping, so epic that it can scarcely be described, but I’ll try. Two idiot slackers awaken to find that their tv has been jacked, so they head out to find it, accidentally stumbling ass backward into a hit job and a federal manhunt. Okay, so I described it one sentence, but Judge’s take on the folly of American youth is hilarious, irreverent and timeless. B Dubs puts in great voice work, as does Robert Stack and Demi Moore, but it’s Judge himself who brings home the bacon as the dynamic duo. And Hark, is that the proto Hank Williams voice of Mr. Anderson, in whose trailer the pair were whackin’? The title credit sequence is kick ass enough to earn the film street cred even if it sucked, which is, luckily, not the case. 

Cry Baby

directed by John Waters

Even John Waters at his most vanilla is still funny as hell, and Crybaby, his affectionate lampooning of 1950s culture, has smart laughs for days. Johnny Depp was hell bent on shattering his heart throb image almost from the outset, busting out twin masterworks in the form of Edward Scissorhands and this, the story of Wade Walker, who sheds himself a signature tear when worked up, a tear that earns him his nickname. And oh, how the ladies swoon, especially Allison (a sharp Amy Locane), who pines for the hoodlum despite the crowd he hangs with and the trouble he gets into. Waters has a penchant for flamboyance (go figure, BC. It doesn’t take an expert to figure that out. Jerk.), and his musicals tend to be the most accessible. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any of the patented Waters endearing smarm, charm and edge that we all love so much, because Cry Baby is chock full of blue photographers, Iggy Pops and bleeped F words that induce howls of laughter and cringes of revulsion. Give Pink Flamingos or Polyester (playing at The Burton this Saturday night. Come on down!) a whirl if you are in the mood for something a little more potent, and I heard that Waters is currently developing a film about meat thieves who, around the holidays, deliver “hot” meat your home for a discounted price. Wow, what wondrous things they have in Baltimore…

27 July 2010

Dark City

directed by Alex Proyas

While everyone has stars in their eyes about Golden Boy Nolan’s newest opus, we all need to take a moment to give props to OG sci-fi treasures like the Alex Proyas gem, Dark City. Before Inception, there was The Matrix (there, I did it. I compared Inception to the Matrix. Judge me if you must.), and The Thirteenth Floor. And before that, there was Dark City, badass, gothically strange Dark City, in which Rufus Sewell plays John who, after waking up sans his memory, finds he is wanted for murder. Jennifer Connelly is excellent, and a William Hurt I failed to respect back then is haunting as a detective out to find the truth. Kiefer is always wonderful when he’s being strange, and the entire plot of the film is like the Chuck Berry version of Nolan’s head trip. Not as technically advanced, but with a ton of heart, and it always plays the same way no matter how much time has passed. Give it a chance, and if you haven’t watched it in a while, then peel back those layers with Inception colored glasses. It may just take the dreamiest film in years down a peg or two.

Leon (The Professional)

directed by Luc Besson

I love, love, love Luc Besson, and I consume his fare with a ravenous fervor. From La Femme Nikita to The Messenger to Unleashed, if he is involved, then it most likely rules (even Taken is a guilty pleasure). Now, as much I love The Fifth Element and Unleashed, I have to concede that Leon, aka The Professional, has to be his finest solo accomplishment. By solo I mean he wrote and directed the film, and what a film it is. Jean Reno also gives a career defining performance as Leon, lone assassin who is perfect at what he does. When it comes to the rest his life, however, things aren’t as easy for the almost childlike Leon. His neighbor is a real d bag who gets himself, along with his whole family, exterminated by the impressively freaky Gary Oldman (Stanfield). Only Mathilde survives, who initially turns to Leon for protection, but fueled by her need for revenge, convinces Leon to teach her the morbid trade. Natalie Portman sets a remarkably high bar for herself, a bar she has been almost consistently able to hit (once again, the new Star Wars trilogy looms like a bane over such a huge talent’s professional existence), as Mathilde, and Gary Oldman’s portrayal of pure evil is wild enough to rank among the greatest villains of all time. The wonderful sepia tones of the cinematography create a grittiness and a fable-esque quality to the film, like a dark fairy tale. Luc Besson, please make a sequel to this landmark film. Pretty please? I’m sure Portman’s down.

The Host

directed by Bong-Joon Ho

Once again, righteous horror embeds the anxieties of our global culture inside a spectacular monster film, in the spirit of such horror classics of yore as Godzilla, Night of the Living Dead and The Prophecy. And guess whose fault it is this time (again)? If you said ours, the good old U.S. of A’s, then winner, winner, chicken dinner. After some nameless Westerner scientist orders a bunch of chemicals tossed down the drain, a creature is spotted hanging from a bridge over the Han River in South Korea. The thing is a slippery, amphibious freak show, and after it takes Hyun-seo (an amazing Ah-Sung Ko) captive, it’s up to her slightly off father and the rest of her family to take matters into their own hands. Kang-ho Song was superb in the stomach turning Thirst, and he doesn’t fail to deliver in Bong’s story of the dangerous imprint our reckless lust for experimentation can etch on our fair planet. It’s an icky, darkly funny good time, but don’t forget about what I have been trying to tell you since Jump Street: From George Romero to Neil Marshall, horror is an amazingly ideal channel through which to meditate on the ills and flaws of the world. 

26 July 2010

Highway

directed by James Cox

It’s not the most classic of all films, but totally worth a viewing, the James Cox film Highway relies heavily (I think) on your sentiments about the leading actors in order to pull off the story with any amount of resonance. That being said, if Jared Leto blows your hair back (see my review for My So-Called Life for my feelings about him) and Jake Gyllenhaal’s name alone gets your butt in a theatre seat, then be sure to peep this gen-X road film about two slackers heading to Seattle after Jack (Leto) gets caught in bed with a gangster’s wife. Scott Rosenberg’s script has echoes of his Disturbing Behavior slash Things to Do in Denver when You’re Dead kind of vibe, and none of his High Fidelity magic (perhaps collaboration is his more his thing). Empirically, there is nothing epochal or singular about the plot, and in many ways it’s just like a ton of other films out there, but it just may strike a chord with you if you give it a chance. And a frenetic John C. McGinley with braids and crazy connections, or a tweaked out Jeremy Piven never, ever make things worse. With the right kind of eyes, Highway can make a great rainy day watcher, or a sick day resting on the couch scoping the movie from a sideways angle kind of film. Just don’t expect Citizen Cane.

25 July 2010

Moulin Rouge

directed by Baz Luhrmann

I knew it! I knew it, BC! I knew you were just the type to fall for some syrupy, flashy overly sentimental mashup of every love song, musical and pop culture reference known to man. Man, I have you so pegged. Well, good reader, I feel close to you now, close enough to reveal such secrets about myself. And yes, btw, I loved and still love Luhrmann’s ridiculous, over the top musical collage about a young writer and his tragic love to one Miss Satine, the Sparkling Diamond. The kind of Bohemian, kind of made up French backdrop is whimsical enough to get me on board, and the saturated soundtrack and cinematography is rich enough to give someone a stomach ache. Everyone does their own singing, which is way better than the alternative (which had somehow become the trend but has since, luckily, passed on), and who could help themselves from falling for the amazing Ewan McGregor, whose smile would make the sun squint, or loveliness incarnate, Nicole Kidman? Go ahead, Grinches, hate it up! But just don’t do it around me, because I will defend the merits of such filmic delectables as Moulin Rouge until my dying day.

Mad Max

directed by George Miller

There have been other driving films, other pseudo apocalyptic future films, but George Miller’s amalgam of the two is bad enough to challenge even toughest stateside indie film to a knock down bar fight. And I’ll tell you what, I’d be hard pressed to place my bet on either side. Before he was hating Jews like a Detroit auto tycoon, Mel Gibson was getting his rage on at a group of bandits and psychos who killed his wife and child. Gibson rules in the Mad Max trilogy, and while I am secretly holding out for another Mad Max film, I sincerely hope it features a Maxless plot line. Anyone out there reading this and turning those little wheels, listen up: Eric Bana (Aussie native and tremendous actor) can play a new Max, who takes up the mantle to fulfill some sort of prophecy. Maybe he makes it to the coast, and maybe he even finds some evidence that life exists across the ocean. I’ll say no more about the imaginary movie that I play in my head from time to time (it rules, btw), but Miller’s Mad Max is a testament to rock and roll filmmaking at its finest. Mad Max’s influence, just like George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is far reaching on a very elemental level, infiltrating many directors seemingly idiosyncratic camera work. If you love the works of Tarantino and Rodriguez, Joe Carnahan or even the trash energy of Neveldine/Taylor (Crank 2, the worst piece of writing in recent memory combined with some of the ballsiest directing of recent memory), then you need to see films like this, OG cult hits that broke the mold in all the right ways.

24 July 2010

Hero

directed by Zhang Yimou

More heartbreakingly striking that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, more gasp-inducingly beautiful than House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou’s Hero is a quintessential martial arts film in every sense of the word. Operatic, sweeping, moving, Yimou’s film about a warrior’s quest to seek audience with a fearsome emperor is epic in the way a Leone western is epic, in the way a Francis Ford Coppola mob film is epic, in the way a P.T. Anderson film is epic. Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi bring so much to their roles, stifling wellsprings of emotion and energy beneath such wonderful stoicism and sadness. The fight sequences are marvelous, hypnotically beautiful and treacherous dances, performances that echo the fragility of existence. I sound a little sappy here, but it’s warranted, I assure you. The cinematography is superb, thanks to Christopher Boyle, and aside from Unleashed, which I feel best exemplifies Jet Li’s acting prowess, Hero is in all likelihood one of Li’s finest works. Not to be missed. Thanks, Mr. Tarantino, for shelling out a few bob so that Hero could get the stateside release it deserved. It would have been a shame to simply stumble on this gem in the foreign section of the video store (jeez, did he just make a crack about going to the video store? What year is this? Does he think cave people are reading this?).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

directed by Niels Arden Oplev

Hardcore. That may be the first word that comes to mind when describing the film adaptation of the first book by worldwide bestselling author Stieg Larsson, and while it’s not as graphically nightmare inducing as Irreversible, or visually grotesque as Thirst or the Hostel films, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (actually titled Men Who Hate Women, btw) delves into morally dark territory with a perspective that seeks to demand physically violent retribution for the ills of the world. It’s the kind of eye for an eye plot device that oftentimes warps what could be a dark and realistic depiction of madness, disorder and bigotry. Noomi Rapace is spectacular as Lisbeth, unhealed from a childhood tragedy and guarded (with good reason) from developing any sort of relationships. I’m all for a good mystery, but for me the story seemed too preoccupied with dealing and redealing with  different variations of the same theme (rape, molestation, sexual murders, etc) that I really struggled to stay with it. This is definitely a personal thing, and I don’t think that anything should be taboo in the art of literature and film, but give me a good political thriller any day of the week.

23 July 2010

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

directed by Peter Jackson

I am reviewing Peter Jackson’s monumental film adaption of the Tolkien’s trilogy as one massive film because, after all, that’s what it is and what it was always designed to be. Jackson’s vision is almost as colossal as Tolkien’s original material, a bridge between the ancient Norse and Anglo Saxon mythology and the modern world. LOTR tells the story of the epic and eternal struggle between good and evil, as seen largely through the eyes of a simple hobbit named Frodo Baggins. The cast is all of them superb, from Elijah Wood to Cate Blanchett to Ian Holm to Sean Bean to David Wenham. Shining brightest of all the stars would have to be Viggo Mortensen, who so embodies the noble hero of Man, Aragorn, that all of his roles from here to eternity will be overshadowed by his accomplishment. I cannot neglect mentioning the tremendous feat of Andy Serkis, who voiced and modeled for the parasitic Gollum, the creature we all fear to hate because we can somehow understand his torment. Peter Jackson filmed the entire trilogy of films in one go, and the result has a fluidity and a cohesiveness that other film series lack. Now, I love the original Star Wars trilogy (I wish the new trilogy would go somewhere and die), but there is something jarring about the obvious passage of time that no one addresses in the films. Not so with LOTR, and Jackson’s direction combines his love for creature films (most obvious in King Kong) and eerie drama (best exemplified in Heavenly Creatures). The special effects still hold up pretty well, the story practically begs for you get onboard and root for the Fellowship, and to dig in and watch the entire trilogy in one go is a truly satisfying experience. If you have the means, I highly recommend doing it up. It’s so choice. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark

directed by Steven Spielberg

The most recent piece of filmic trash notwithstanding, the Indiana Jones film series is probably one of the most widely beloved and most fun to watch of all time. Hell, even the goofy turd that was Temple of Doom was pretty fun. What’s not debatable is the fact that Indiana’s escapades are strongest when they stick to the fundamentals that made the first film awesome. By fundamentals, I mean badass action and a quasi Christian artifact hunt that may threaten to topple our very existence. And Nazis, pure, evil shitbag Nazis that only want said artifact to rule the world. Well, not if Dr. Jones has a say in all of it. In Raiders, the plot revolves around the search of the actual Ark of the Covenant. Jones (Harrison Ford, in full serial comic hero incarnate mode) is hired by the Feds to find it before the Fuehrer, and after he teams up with the always spectacular Karen Allen, the heat is on like Beverly Hills Cops to find the Ark and keep the peace. George Lucas is a great idea man, and the Indiana Jones trilogy (I have chosen to reject the existence of the fourth film. Ugh) is a perfect example of hiring out to your weaknesses. By getting Steven Speilberg on board, Lucas found the perfect talent to endear the characters, the story, and the nostalgia of the 1930s and 40s to moviegoers everywhere. Why, oh why didn’t you do that for your own series, Mr. Curly Bangs Lucas? Star Wars could have been so much more than the joke of a series it became.

21 July 2010

Bunny and the Bull

directed by Paul King

Paul King directed the hell out of the twistedly hilarious Brit series The Mighty Boosh, and he doesn’t let up on his sometimes hit, sometimes miss writing and directorial debut about a young man named Stephen who, without leaving his flat, re-imagines a road trip he took avec his slackerish bud, Bunny. Edward Hogg dazzles once again as Stephen (as you may remember, Hogg was the maniacally fascinating lynchpin on which the rednecksploitation spectacle White Lightin’ rested), playing the role with wonderful reservation and brimming anxieties. Remember Hogg's name, girls and boys. The plot is spotty, but the whimsical and aesthetic monuments King erects are treats in which to get lost. Imagine Jean Pierre Jeunet minus the lush sepia tones: Michel Gondry plus a delightfully twisted streak. King is hopefully going to direct a feature film version of the treasured (to me, at least) animated series, Paddington Bear, and that makes me very happy in my heart. If anyone can do it, he can.
Those of you who may not have heard of The Mighty Boosh, prepare for a dosage of madcap madcapness. Just like the Mandom commercial, I take no responsibility for any reaction your body may have, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Old Gregg


Crack Fox (be sure to watch all the segments)

Inception

directed by Christopher Nolan

Critics everywhere seem to be totally enamored with Christopher Nolan’s newest mind job, Inception, and this guy is no exception. That’s right; I’m not ashamed to admit that I, just like every other pseudo film lover and legit, non-cynical cinephile on this fair earth, have imbibed in the tantalizing nectar of Nolan’s sinister whimsy. For the third time in a row, Nolan has said eff you to opening credits, instead washing his audience up on shore with Leo like in the trailer for Danny Boyle's The Beach (kudos). From then on the story only gets crazier, and the amazing cast reads like a dream roster for any aspiring filmmaker: The one and only Leo, the always amazing Joseph Gordon Levitt, a razorish Ellen Page, a velvety and badass Tom Hardy and a wonderfully earnest Cilian Murphy. Then, on top of that, a truly stellar supporting cast, including a tragically underused Lukas Haas and Michael Caine, a remarkable Tom Berenger and Peter Postelwaithe, and a role for Marion Cotillard so juicy can practically see it oozing from the corners of her mouth. Plenty of other critics and sum uppers have given the elusive synopsis a go, and I am not going to contribute. But one thing must be made clear, one thing that all those critics touting the heart and depth of the film seem to have glossed over: for all its surrealism and trippiness, Inception is a film about a bunch of con artists attempting a glorious coup at the behest of a sheister energy mogul. Just keep that in the old noggin as you tear up over father son reconciliations and root for a pack of uber grifters. Hell, it sure didn’t stop me. Nolan’s weightless action sequence is guaranteed to blow minds, as is the massively textured plot. Now, I’m not some crazed fanboy: the film did have its moments of clumsy writing, but it’s a necessary evil. And the film did not patronize its audience like so many of its predecessors and contemporaries. As far as blockbusters, and films in general, are concerned, it’s a much needed breath of fresh air.
What would your totem be? 

15 July 2010

Straw Dogs

directed by Sam Peckinpah

Dustin Hoffman may have won everyone’s hearts with Rain Man, but his absolute best performances come from his less endearing works. And the role that takes the cake is his quietly enraged David Summer of Straw Dogs. Director Sam Peckinpah practically splatters blood on his audience in an effort to warp traditional moral values and create a world in which a little evil is sometimes necessary. David Summer and his wife Amy move to a rural English village so that he can work on his book, but things go from bad to worse when the locals don’t treat the Summers as cordially as one might expect. When David has to make some serious choices and fight for his life, the film spins into a violent downturn from which there may be no escape. Peckinpah’s film is an explosive and provocative meditation on right, wrong, and the gritty middle ground between the two. A remake is slated for next year (shudder), so all you hipsters out there who just love to say “Yeah, it was alright. But I like the original a lot more,” load Straw Dogs up on the Netflix queue and wait patiently.

It Might Get Loud

directed by Davis Guggenheim

From the opening sequence of rock purist Jack White building a guitar out of junk, Davis Guggenheim’s killer doc about the electric guitar pops off on a righteous clip that never lets up, instead taking you inside the genius minds of three of the greatest musicians of the last half century. The Edge is a sonic “architect” (Page’s term, not mine), crafting art through technology’s possibilities. Jimmi Page is the raw power incarnate, a musical force of nature. Jack White is the adamant fundamentalist, an advocate for the back to basics movement similar to such idealists as The Black Keys and Titus Andronicus. As the trio reveals the precious, precious back story about their sounds, Guggenheim weaves a tapestry of which you cannot get enough, instead lapping up the filmic juices like humming birds at a feeder. Strangely enough, as much as both he and Guggenheim try to blend him into the story of electric guitar, The Edge seems to be the odd man out, the one who sold his unadulterated soul for a devilish peek into the world of the computer age. This is not to say that The Edge is a crummy guy or a jerk, just that he seems incongruous in direct relation to such pure talents. In all honesty, I could watch a doc about Jack White alone, but that may be my musical predilection and hometown pride speaking. The three are giants, and that cannot be disputed, and anyone who even claims to appreciate music needs to consume this doc about what it means to find your calling and to use that calling at any cost. Get on the couch, Bub, and feast your eyes upon this good time masterpiece.

11 July 2010

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

directed by George Roy Hill

Anyone who’s anyone knows the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hell, my old chemistry teacher showed us a documentary about some old kook trying to find the final resting place of the duo. But how familiar avec the story you may be doesn’t matter. What matters is the way in which George Roy Hill unfolds the story, and the fun he has doing it. William Goldman’s excellent script is given the treatment it deserves in Hill’s directing. Hill is no chump, BTW. He did direct the Sting, Slaughterhouse Five and Funny Farm, but his finest flourishes and poetics are here in this genre bending western. The always awesome Paul Newman is awesome (as always) as Butch Cassidy, likable outlaw and mouthpiece for the pair of good time bandits. Robert Redford is smoldering cowboy ruggedness as Sundance, and the two play off one another like finely tuned instruments. The influences of films like this are far reaching, indeed, which makes it worthy of note in terms of sheer number of homage sequences found in other films. Guy Ritchie said that when he saw the boxcar explosion sequence for the first time, he knew he wanted to make films, and Danny Boyle refers to the sequence in The Beach where Leo (yes, the Leo) and Guillaume Canet jump down the waterfall as his “Butch and Sundance moment.” And when you watch them square off against the Bolivian army with sadness in your heart, as if you are on the precipice of the end of an era, you will realize the wild ride beauty of a film like this.

07 July 2010

The A-Team

directed by Joe Carnahan

Over the course of his career, writer slash director Joe Carnahan has hit some bull’s eyes (his film for BMW's The Hire series called Ticker; his balls out debut, Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane) and has missed some (Smokin’ Aces, ugh), and he sure doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with his filmic update of The A-Team, the television show about a bunch of Vietnam vets trying to clear their names whilst kicking some bad guy ass. Those of you who actually watched the show faithfully may have some concerns, but who cares? It's not like Carnahan tried to remake In the Heat of the Night with car chases and sexy escapades. He made a film about a show that starred Mr. T, for crap’s sake! And the three who seemed to get it the most are Bradley Cooper (who excels as Face), Sharlto Copley (who brings the crazed hilarity of Murdock to a new and glorious level) and, oddly enough, Patrick Wilson. Wilson has almost too much fun as Lynch, a crooked CIA pencil pusher with grand ambition, and he redeemed himself for his lackluster turn in Zach Snyder’s Watchmen. The film starts with a sort of wartime context (drag), but don’t worry: Carnahan keeps the whole thing light and frantically flashy with a massive counterfeit money plot and framed war heroes. I’m not sure what was going through everyone’s heads during casting, but Liam Neeson was a very odd choice for Hannibal. The first name that comes to mind when you are thinking about casting the swagger of George Peppard’s Hannibal is Neeson? Really? It was like watching a librarian do shots. Maybe Carnahan really dug Taken. Who knows? And Quinton Jackson tries his best to pity every fool he sees, but it just didn’t do it for me. Seriously, what else would you expect from a movie like this? Go see it, already, and have some fun. The art of cinema needs films like Winter’s Bone, but most film snobs fail to realize that it also needs A-Teams as well.

Winter's Bone

directed by Debra Granik

While tweens all over the earth are getting their kicks by watching a high school reject dealing with her boy troubles, grownups everywhere need to be getting their mature asses to the nearest theatre featuring Debra Granik’s stunner of a film about life in the Ozarks. Winter’s Bone tells the story of 17 year old Ree Dolly and her struggle to keep her family together after her father puts up the house and land as collateral on a bond, then fails to appear at court. For a story about a teenager, you will find none of the usual plot points. No romance. No homework. No “Who am I?” pouting and angst that seem to ooze from the usual Hollywood schlock. And Garnik has struck unobtanium in Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Ree with a toughness that makes live oak seem like tissue paper. Lawrence plays Ree just as Garnik directs: sans pretense, showiness and audience pandering. You have to look closely to find the true dynamics going on here, and with a supporting cast like Garret Dillahunt and the criminally underappreciated John Hawkes, the result is a gut clutching masterpiece. Hawkes and Lawrence both deserve Oscar nods for Winter’s Bone, and Debra Granik’s film is hands down one of the best of the year to date. Don’t get left out in the cold. See it.

06 July 2010

Rat

directed by Steve Barron

Steve Barron’s oddball take on Kafka’s masterpiece is as perfectly Irish as you can get; a film so odd and endearing that it makes you long for something you never even knew existed. Peter Postelwaithe is perfect as Hubert, who, after coming home from the pub one night wakes up to find himself a victim of cosmic tomfoolery. It seems that poor Hubert has transformed into a lowly rat. It’s Kafka meets the Emerald Isle, and the result is a finely madcap fable that seems to get the whimsical edge of all things Irish. Steve Barron struck it big with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the most successful independent film ever made up to that point and still one of the finest comic book movies ever made, but his wonderfully textured and visually rich handling of Wesley Burrowes’s imaginative script resonates on an entirely different level than a shadow (remember? I coined that little gem of a term in my TMNT review. Jealous?) of ass kicking amphibians.  It’s as fun as anything you’re liable to find, and because they filmed some of Rat just around the block from the Dean Swift, the pub in which I labored nearly a decade ago, I got to poke around whilst they were filming. Don’t think that my nostalgia has clouded my judgment, BTW, but I also got lost in the friggin Irish countryside trying to find the location of some action film being shot around the same time. Though I never found it, I discovered later that the film was, in fact, Reign of Fire. You can imagine my disappointment. 

05 July 2010

Eclipse

directed by David Slade

Mere minutes into the newest Twilight installment, the film had lost both its momentum and my attention, and like an old man spinning old war yarns, it seemed to have zero desire to reclaim either item as the film drug on and on. A few things have changed in the Twilight series since New Moon: the acting got worse (is that possible? Yes), the voice overs got even lazier (Bella VO’s about calling Jacob as she’s effing doing it on screen!), and last dying embers of so called storytelling have been fully extinguished in this tensionless tale of a love triangle gone lame. Edward is the lovesick and toothless vampire who only wants Bella to be happy (yeah, right), and Jacob is the hot shit werewolf who thinks Bella is brickhouse and needs to have his puppies. Throughout the film, however, Edward and Jacob bicker and argue like Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepard in Moonlighting, failing to respect Bella’s feelings, listen to her wishes or, in some cases, failing to even acknowledge her existence. Edward “cares” and “worries” so much about Bella going to talk to Jacob that he disables her car(?!) to keep her safe. Jacob “knows” Bella loves him so much that he kisses her after he ignores her claims that she doesn’t, in fact, love him. If Edward wasn’t a vampire and Jacob wasn’t a werewolf, this series would be about a couple of douchebags fighting over a girl who, normally, they wouldn’t give a shit about. Pile on top of that shite salad the fact that both of them exhibit traits of future batterers, it makes me wonder just what the hell has got everyone all starry eyed? Plotwise, the film is a tease because nothing really happens. The film spends its time leading up to a battle in which not a one “good guy” dies, unless you count Dakota Fanning’s professional future, ‘cause RIP, baby. Her atrocious turn in this limp dick vamp series is rotten enough to taint her entire career. Frankly, however, there is something else about this series that this film in particular has brought to light, something that genuinely concerns me. As I calmly and objectively stated the above case to my coworkers, they shrugged my objections off as immaterial because I hadn’t read the books. “You just don’t get it, BC.” It was that dismissal that worried me most, and as I think of all the millions of young people reading these Stephanie Meyers books and saying to themselves “Yes. When I fall in love, I want it to be just like this,” I cringe. Don’t buy into the weirdo, masochist fantasy, young hipsters and outcasts! Real, non-psychotic love exists. Just scope those Eharmony commercials, or the matchy-clothes couples hefting armloads coffee grounds into their oversized Costco carts on Saturday afternoons. 

Get Him to the Greek

directed by Nicholas Stoller

Though it got a bit too sugary for my taste near the end, Russell Brand and Jonah Hill pull out all the stops in this gut cramping riot of a film based on Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall character, rocker Aldous Snow. Brand is rock and roll incarnate as Snow, channeling his own sordid past as well as musical icons of days gone by to deliver a cutting and uproarious depiction of a rock god on the wane. Yes, the great Snow’s career has been on the fritz since his musical abomination “African Child” and crazy love breakup from Jackie Q. knocked him off the wagon and into drunken obscurity. Enter the starry eyed Aaron, record label lackey who hopes to put Snow back on the map with a comeback concert. Jonah Hill is hilarious as Aaron, and he creates a wonderful nice slash awkward guy personae that doesn’t rip off any signature moves from Superbad homie Michael Cera (not that Hill has done that in the past, but peep Jesse Eisenberg’s hijack in Zombieland for evidence as to the effectiveness of Cera’s style). I must say, as a fellow citizen of earth, that I’m worried for you, Mr. Hill. You are starting to look like a snowman sans the middle snowball segment, and I fear you may become the first manmade man visible from space. I can only hope that you were carrying partially digested food in that pocket below your chin for some hatchlings in a nest somewhere off camera.