What movie was that...?

23 December 2011

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol

directed by Brad Bird

Is the story earth shatteringly mind blowing? Are you kidding? Is this the end all be all of action films? Don’t make me laugh. Is it a shit ton of fun to watch Brad Bird’s highly entertaining foray into live action? Hell yeah! I was more excited to see this fourth installment than I was to see John Woo’s sequel, and way more excited than I was for the the J. J. Abrams threequel, and Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Iron Giant) did not disappoint. Bird blends fun, taught action and, dare I say whimsy in meticulously dazzling form that belies the attention to detail that only an animator possesses. And Jeremy Renner kicks all kind of ass as black belt analyst Brandt, number cruncher with ninja moves who carries a secret like a champ. Renner is the master of the slightly unpredictable, and I was so happy to see him out rock an aging Tom Cruise. Simon Pegg is a stellar replacement for the Ving Rhames “techie guy who mostly does computery stuff,” but before I even attempt to dissect the most fun Mission Impossible yet, I need to ask the question, “Who the hell cares?” When I sat down, I knew I wasn’t sitting down for bloody Shakespeare, but I will say that Bird’s lens, especially when watched in glorious IMAX immensity, was poetry. Go see it and have a little escapist fun, why don’t you?

PS Yes, I absolutely made sure to get to the theater extra early so I had a prime seat for viewing not just the film but the Nolan teaser for The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan is the Jerry Bruckheimer that Jerry Bruckheimer wishes he could have been, a daring filmmaker who makes consistently intricate, thoughtful, sophisticated and entertaining moneymakers for the masses. And the beauty of Nolan is that, betwixt such action blockbusters as The Dark Knight or Inception, he still finds time to give the world such gems as The Prestige. Pardon my gushing, but it is deserving, though I have to admit that the teaser left me wanting, and not in a good way. Let's just hope that this teaser is just a bit of Prestige style slight of hand, and I just wasn't watching closely.

11 December 2011

Northfork

directed by Michael Polish

I have long pondered the best way to articulate how captivated I was by the delicate, lyrical and poetic quiet that builds like a magnificent tidal in the marvelous Polish brothers film, Northfork, and I have finally given up. This doesn’t mean that the film isn’t breathtaking in its own surreal way, it just means that I don’t dare sum up this film with mere words. I was in college when this film premiered, and I remember being so caught up in the film that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after, weeks even. The tale of a territory in Montana forced to relocate due to the construction of a new dam is at once folkloric and profound, a piece of Americana infused with fairytale, allegory and sheer washed out beauty that will attach itself to part of your psyche in ways you never imagined. Even now, eight years later, I am struck by a landscape, an inflection, a moment in eternity that brings me inevitably back to Northfork. Perhaps it’s a personal thing, but even if you strip that away, the film is magnificent. The film also features a young Ben Foster in one of the first roles that truly shows his capabilities. A wonder to behold, Northfork is a must watch.

05 December 2011

Pearl Jam 20

directed by Cameron Crowe

Perhaps it’s because brilliant director Cameron Crowe was there since the beginning, taking in the Seattle music scene with uncanny foresight. Perhaps it’s because Crowe is a music fanatic, a true audiophile enamored with music the way we, good reader, are enamored with film. Perhaps it’s because Pearl Jam just kicks ass. All are true, and the documentary commemorating one of the finest bands of my generation on their 20th anniversary is a no frills celebration of a group of men who compromise nothing in order to realize their art. Crowe merely catalogs the group’s trajectory, from Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s first group, Mother Love Bone, and its disintegration following the tragic death of lead man Andrew Wood, to Pearl Jam’s present place among the absolute greats. In between, a young Eddie Vedder grows from a shy West Coaster into the voice of a generation as he blends his style with that of Gossard and Ament. Cameron Crowe is a strong director, and the true mark of a strong director is when he can fade into the background and let his subject matter shine. Nothing flashy, nothing showy, just a wonderfully edited love letter to a band all of us can’t help but know. I particularly loved the footage of Vedder and former Soundgarden (who kicks ass, too!) frontman Chris Cornell romping and wrestling onstage (during the Temple of the Dog days) in a kind of Whitmanesque celebration of reckless, life lusty youth.  PJ20 is a solid, classically awesome doc that leaves you feeling awesome at the end of it. I watched this doc in the middle of the night foolishly thinking I could simply go to sleep afterward. Not the case, my friend. The afterglow kept me up into the not so wee hours of the morning, and I savored every minute of it. 

04 December 2011

1999 (a Cassius music video)

directed by Alex & Martin

Of late, I have been reminiscing about electronica's glory days, when Amp was on MTV, and people actually knew of artists like The Chemical Brothers and Air and Aphex Twin. Those days, the Salad Days as they are known, are gone, but fragments of this wonderful time have clung to my memory like hugs from the past. Derrick May's Strings of Life, or Sophie Ellis-Bexter's dreamy voice on Spiller's If This Ain't Love, and this gem from the end of the millennium. Directed by Alex & Martin, 1999 is one of the catchiest Cassius tracks, and the video is phenomenal to say the least. The montagery is sublime, as is the wonderful madcapness of Dead Man plowing through the video's trajectory like a dream, and the amazing color palette all come together to rock the senses and send the mind back a decade or so. Fantastic stuff, this.

Wonderful

01 December 2011

Team America: World Police

directed by Matt Stone and Trey Parker


Low brow lunacy, dick humor, and puppets may render the satire of Team America: World Police hard to uncover, but genius satire, no matter the costume, is still genius satire. And leave it to the kings of contemporary intellectual critique disguised as basement level crassness, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, to craft a tale so pointed and telling that, to sit in an auditorium full of “regular folks” as they jeered and hollered was enough to make me cringe. The same idiotic Southpark fans too stupid to get the joke flocked to Team America and laughed for all the wrong reasons (America’s ignorance of the Middle East, America’s bigoted portrayal of all Middle Eastern people as “dirka dirka” speaking Jihadists, America’s lust of ‘involvment’ in beeswax that isn’t ours, etc), and I couldn’t help but feel the wave of joy at Parker and Stone’s success mingled with the sharp sting of realizing that the joke proved, potentially, too successful. I felt the same effect in 2006 as morons all across this fair nation piled in to unwittingly laugh at their own ignorance in Sascha Baron Cohen’s amazing fake doc, Borat, but in 2004, Team America lambasted all sides evenly, skewering conservatives, liberals, idiots and intellectuals with a scorpion tail of comedic commentary. Plot time: A team of elite American freedom fighters must stop North Korea’s evil plot to destroy the world. The film is filled with so much wrong that it reaches a level most satires can only hope to achieve, the level where the morons being lambasted are laughing riotously, unwittingly, at their own expense.
Funny note: In college, I remember sitting in one of my literature classes (English was my major, btw) the Monday after this film premiered, surrounded by hipsters and pretentious douche bags as they ridiculed this film for its low humor and the infamous sex scene. When it came time for me to chime in with my two cents, I told the teacher that I thought it was one of the most important films of the year, and perhaps the decade. The class braced themselves to join in with the teacher in mocking me, but my teacher, in all his infinite wisdom, agreed, and ordered the film be viewed as homework! Take that, pretentious Donnie Darko watching, David Lynch loving film geeks. Fuck yeah!


29 November 2011

Melancholia

directed by Lars Von Trier

After getting broomed out of Cannes for being a Nazi (I am editorializing. The Cannes decision was and is ridiculous), Von Trier has gone incommunicado, but his newest film has much to say. Melancholia, though a bit initially groan inducing premisewise (the wedding fiasco, uber-aristocratic sad bastard people with endless wealth portion, not the truly wonderful hidden planet premise), succeeded, at least to me, in articulating the throes of a deeply imbedded trauma, a profound sadness and dysfunction as only Mr. Lars knows how to articulate. The second portion of the film does seek to bring the wedding portion into meaningless, trivial focus, and Von Trier’s grim view of humanity is more subdued here, less vicious and arrogant, but no less pointed. I usually love and hate Von Trier’s films, but Melancholia seemed only to fall under the former category this time around. The surreal and fantastical is depicted sans flashy sci-fi trappings in a very Charlie Kaufmanesque way, and the result is at once engrossing and devastating. Kirsten Dunst was outstanding (and I usually hate her), but for me the film belonged to Charlotte Gainsbourg, who finds the fragility and strength of every moment. Bravo. Melancholia is one of those borderline allegorical films, where every character and story element can be interpreted as symbolic, as I am sure was Mr. Von Trier’s intention, and his-let’s call it modest grandiosity- has found a way to strike a chord rather than pummeling it.
Plot hole problem: The one plot point in this film with which I cannot make my peace is the nature of Kirsten Dunst’s accent, or lack thereof. Her mother is played by Charlotte Rampling, her father is John Hurt, and her sister is Charlotte Gainsbourg. How, with family as British/French as this, does Ms. Dunst end up with not even a hint of an accent? This is my Goonies plot hole hang up for Melancholia, not the fictional planet, or the doomsday goings on, or the bizarre behavior of Udo Kier.

26 November 2011

Hugo

directed by Martin Scorsese

John Logan can write the hell out of a film (Rango, The Aviator, The Last Samurai) and Martin Scorsese can direct the hell out of a film (all his effing films!), so it stands to reason that together again, the Logan Scorsese combo should be platinum classic stuff. And classic stuff it is, a film that swoons over the magic of film in a way that wraps you up. Scorsese is as in love with the art of filmmaking today as he was when he gave us Mean Streets, injecting his films with cinematic influences like a musician pays homage to his iconic predecessors. His influence here is more explicit, as the plot of Hugo orbits around the part factual part fictional life and genius of Georges Melies, a filmmaker and wizard who was, without question, one of the most amazing creative minds of all time. Ben Kinglsey is perfect as wounded titan Melies, trying to forget a painful past as he begins to find meaning in an orphan (Asa Butterfield is tremendous) living in a Paris train station and obsessed with repairing an automaton- Ok, even as I write this it sounds like a sugary, schmaltzy mess of a film that plays out like a 2 hour hallmark card, but Hugo is not the piece of filmic fruitcake that you may fear it is. Scorsese has created a magic with Hugo that warms the heart and whisks you away. You’ll feel like a kid again, wide eyed and buoyant as you escape into a Melies-esque dreamland.

23 November 2011

Snow Day

directed by Chris Koch

The geniuses behind one of the finest television shows ever created, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, originally intended for this to be a Pete and Pete movie, but the passage of time whilst Nickelodeon sat on its duff prevented this from becoming so. It’s still a treat to see another peek into Wellsville, courtesy of Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi. Using the same alchemy of nostalgia, darkness and silly logic, McRobb and Viscardi spin the tale of, you guessed it, a snow day and how it affects the lives of the town’s denizens, particularly Hal (read: Big Pete Wrigley), wonderfully played by Mark Webber (Dear Wendy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Hal is on a mission to declare his love for the dreamy Claire (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and the snow day is his perfect chance. McRobb and Viscardi have a knack for taking the nostalgia of childhood and transmogrifying it into something epic (another fine example is the Daylight Savings episode of Pete and Pete), and Snow Day seeks to help us find the magic of such childhood joys. It’s too bad that the film couldn’t actually have been a Pete and Pete film, but I will take what I can get. And plus it's never a bad thing to see Iggy Pop get his weird on (and pseudo-reprising his Mr. Mecklenberg character from Pete and Pete).

21 November 2011

My Week with Marilyn

directed by Simon Curtis

The name Simon Curtis may not ring any bells on this side of the Atlantic, and I’m guessing that his most recent feature won’t do much to change that fact with folks under the age of 70. Curtis comes from television, and it shows. I don’t mean that in any derogatory way, for television can be much more tremendous than many films out there (see Breaking Bad for a current example. That show rocks!), but My Week with Marilyn brims with lovely yet very traditional flair throughout when it should have been trying to give us all the razzle dazzle. At least The King’s Speech (last year’s most elderly beloved film) attempted to be visually interesting. I feel as if I am slamming My Week with Marilyn, which is not the case, for Michelle Williams (as much as I couldn’t picture her as THE Marilyn, though she has delivered two of the finest performances of the year in Blue Valentine and Meek's Cutoff) was wonderful, as was Kenneth Branagh as the late Sir Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike. But, for me, the film lacked anything inspired, the spark that keeps my eyes on the screen. Everything about the film was very “nice”, a reliable amount of cottony zingers batted betwixt thespians committing to roles more out of principle than genuine conviction, well crafted recreations of cinema’s glory of yore, and all this is well and good, but where’s the fire, the intensity, the raw appeal of Marilyn Monroe that has captivated nearly every film lover alive, to this day? I am fine with safe filmmaking, but don’t expect me gush over a reasonable meal when what I really craved was a feast. 

13 November 2011

Nine Pound Hammer, a Frank Fairfield music video

directed by Keith Musil

I have been puzzling over this young man for the past year or so, trying to figure him out. The personae. The stylistic immersion. The dogged devotion to tradition. Part of me wants to love him so, to shout his praises from the rooftops. And yet part of me wonders why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Mr. Fairfield has yet to release an album of original songs, which means I am left with a collection of new recordings that sound as if they were discovered on the shelf of a West Virginia root cellar. Authentic though they may sound, I wonder if the inspiration is genuine, or if this is a case of simple, albeit astounding, parroting of the ethos of a era gone by. Anyway, I thought I would share this and ask you all these questions. What do you think?

Regardless, the music video is stellar. Wonderful work, Mr. M.



While I'm at it, I'm going to share Mr. Fairfield's live performance of one of my very favorite songs, Rye Whiskey. Those of you who share my affection for this type of music can hear a wonderful version from the great Lee Sexton in the amazing doc, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It's one of my favorites films.

11 November 2011

Very Bad Things

directed by Peter Berg

Before there was The Hangover, another group of guys spent a little time trying to cope with their own debauched Vegas bachelor party weekend. Set the hot tub for 1998, when the great rivalry between Back Street Boys and ‘N Sync was at its zenith, and a young actor turned writer/director named Peter Berg made his volatile debut with the pitch black comedy known as Very Bad Things. Berg, while a solid actor (Fire in the Sky. The Great White Hype. Collateral. Effing Cop Land.), has proven to be an even more talented filmmaker, boasting a resume that features the true sports classic Friday NightLights (he produced the television series as well), The Kingdom and the Sunday afternoon action jewel The Rundown. Very Bad Things tells the story of groom to be Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau), who heads out with his buddies to Vegas for a wild night of bachelordom. Things go from effed to totally effed when an extreme mishap causes the group to consider their options. This is one of those wacky ass downward spiral films that, by the time it ends, you wonder just how the hell it got to that point. Christian Slater, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Cameron Diaz, Leland Orser and Favreau all shine in this batshit gem. Give it a whirl. What’s the worst that could happen?

09 November 2011

Blue Velvet

directed by David Lynch

Much more palatable than Eraserhead, much less confusing than Lost Highway, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is perhaps my favorite of the more straight forward variety of Lynch films (other such examples being A Straight Story and the wonderful The Elephant Man). This is not to say that Blue Velvet isn’t complex and disturbing in classic Lynchian fashion, but it isn’t overtly surreal, which makes certain moments all the more shocking. Blue Velvet is one of those “peel back the surface” kinds of films, where the hero (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a dark and disturbing underbelly to his quiet slice of suburbia, but the tricky thing is that the film itself is just like the genre it exploits. As you begin to look beneath the surface of an otherwise not so wonderfully lit, cheesily scored (on purpose, of course) film, you find yourself sucked into a world of dread, unease, and evocative stylistic choices that stay with you. Exhibit A: The sequence when Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern are walking down the street, and Lynch cuts from a standard 2 shot to a kind of slow dollying point of view shot, as if we are walking just ahead of the characters but cannot see them. Nicolas Winding Refn did something similar in fine style in Drive, when Ryan Gosling is driving Refn positions the camera where the gear shifter traditionally is, and all we see is Gosling looking out the windshield though we cannot see what lies ahead. Exhibit B: The scene when Dennis Hopper vacates Dean Stockwell’s house after Stockwell sings into that garage light, when Hopper just vanishes as he laughs maniacally. Exhibit C: In the beginning of the film, when the man falls dead on his lawn and the camera dips down, down, and into the ground where insects rumble like freighters and the grass towers over us like trees. These surreal elements linger, mixing with the pseudo-thriller nature of the film and making it seem indescribably uncomfortable. Blue Velvet is a film that must be watched with the right kind of eyes, but the rewards of such an experience are vast, indeed.

I also find that Blue Velvet is a good introduction to Lynch for film lovers who are not familiar with his canon. Often, people want to throw a novice right into the deep end with Eraserhead or Inland Empire in a kind of “oh, well you gotta get a load of this” attempt to shock them, or punish them, I don’t know. But Blue Velvet has all of the elements of a classic Lynch film, and it serves well as a starting point for those who want to delve deeper.

BTW Dean Stockwell should have received every award in the book for his tremendous one scene performance in Blue Velvet. It doesn't get much better than seeing him croon a Roy Orbison song into a metal utility light. Bravo, Mr. S.

27 October 2011

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

directed by Goran Olsson

In what has already been a great year for documentaries (The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Senna), Goran Olsson’s stellar doc about a small slice of our nation’s history is, remarkably, fresh and engrossing. Mixtape’s story is not unlike the story of Al Reinert’s breathtaking doc For All Mankind in that Mixtape is composed entirely of found footage and contemporary VO interviews from vital Black voices (this seems to be the winning alchemy this year) like Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli, interviews that both shine a light upon certain moments and revelations as well as lament the nebulous state of “progress” in which we currently find ourselves. Just as many other critics have pointed out, and with good reason, I was so moved by the small segment in which a quiet, coaxing Stokely Carmichael, sitting on a small sofa, interviews his mother about the injustice of inequality she endured as a young woman. The film carries with it no grand presumption, as it states in the beginning of the film, other than to present a distilled collage of how Swedish journalists and filmmakers approached and viewed this epochal stage of our country’s development, the moments, people and situations that moved them. And the result is out of sight, a wonderful alternative perspective to ponder. To think that Olsson pieced this together from reels and reels of film languishing in a Swedish television company’s basement is a true miracle, and I am thankful that someone was able to bring it all back to life.

25 October 2011

A Totally Krossed out flashback

While spending the weekend camping avec my little brother, a ghost from the past rose from the grave and has since been clutching at my soul. It started as the mutterings of the first lines of this commercial's lyrics, and ever since I have been unable to quench my mind of it nostalgic nectar. Thanks, DC, and you're welcome to all of you who will inevitably find yourself remembering every word to this time capsule from the early 90s. And also, I'm sorry to all of you who will now have this stuck in your head after successfully keeping it out of there for so many years.

22 October 2011

Some Dead Man's Bones Greatness

Just for good measure, and to help combat the astonishing mediocrity of The Ides of March, I thought I'd sprinkle in a few oldies but goodies from Ryan Gosling's musical career, which is stellar, btw. I have reviewed Name in Stone before, and though I have posted a link for this moving live version of Pa Pa Power, it never hurts to have a refresher in awesome...




And one more, because it's amazing.

21 October 2011

The Ides of March

directed by George Clooney

George Clooney the director has drifted toward the center over the years, dipping away from the wild and competent Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and inching his way to more modest camera stylings, and The Ides of March is a well shot, well acted and, for lack of a better word, convenient piece of film that doesn’t do much other than say “Hey, isn't politics screwy?” Clooney is a natural on and off the screen, and I love Ryna Gosling with a fervor that many, including my fiancée, would call unhealthy, but even when the dynamite Marisa Tomei as a generic tough shit journalist and PH Hoffman as the paranoid and ragged mentor to Gosling AND the marvelous Paul Giamatti as the jaded and cut throat rival campaigner- jeez, BC, you are making me feel very conflicted. Then you know how I felt, good reader, when I stood up to exit the theatre, because the bottom line is that The Ides of March is a generic plot about an idealized politico’s fall from grace and the down and dirty world of partisanship sprinkled with good acting and good directing. I feel like Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack talking about that hat in the pro shop. “Oh, this is the worst looking hat I ever saw. What, when you buy a hat like this I bet you get a free bowl of soup. But it looks good on you, though.” The Shakespearean reference in the title is a bit pretentious, to be quite honest, as is the one sheet the seems to say, "Just in case you didn't realize it, Ryan Gosling is going to be the next Clooney. Get it?" Watch it, half heartedly reference it at the next Occupy Wall Street hipster cocktail party, then quietly forget it like the rest of the world will inevitably do. 

11 October 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Local; Expanded

I figured, for good measure, I would throw in a current(ish) Geoffrey Fieger commercial. For some reason, I can't find some of his more recent ones, but his smug, yuppie smugness on the last third of this commercial is enough to give you a clue about the rest. I especially love the quote at the end. You gotta respect an asshole with an ego so over-inflated that he quotes himself as if it were an old gem of wisdom. His newer ones are even better (read, even more ridiculous).
In the meantime, check out Fieger's website of archived commercial and tv spots. I recommend Injury, Great Fight, and Cold Place. Personal favorites

And, just to really make you suffer, I give you the newest Education connection commercial. Behold the horror!

10 October 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Local

I have been thinking about this for a long time, and the fun part of this post is that it requires audience participation! I love film in all of its incarnations, and the commercial is a great way to see new film on a swiftly rotating basis. I have reviewed several of my favorite commercials over the years, commercials that I thought deserved particular recognition, but this time around I thought I would put a twist on this idea. So, I have presented 3 categories of particular filmic significance (not really, it was just witty in the loosest cinematic sense), and a commercial for each. What I would love is if all of you could post or share links for your favorites from wherever it is you call home. Happy viewing!

The Good:
The Date, a Heineken commercial directed by Fredrik Bond
This little gem is raucous, lively, well shot, well photographed, well acted, and well- superb. I originally loved The Mustache (and still do), but this one won me over instantly. A great piece of film.


The Bad:
Education Connection, an Education Connection commercial directed by Anthony Falcone
This 1 minute root canal of a commercial aired nationally for an online university. Oxymoron, you say? Just watch this tremendously awful commercial for an explanation of just who these "universities" are targeting. Ugh.


The Local:
Mel Farr Superstar (circa 1980s), a Mel Farr Ford commercial directed by ???
Pro footballer Mel Farr hit local stardom with his caped escapades as a superhero car dealer in the Detroit area. This and the following "Me and Dawg" commercials comprise a large portion of the memory pie labeled "childhood." There are some incredulous Geoffrey Fieger (of Dr. Kevorkian fame) commercials that currently air here in Detroit, but I cannot find those on the usual websites. Hopefully soon, because they should not be missed. Fieger's eye-jobbed, fake tanned eyes can see into your soul.


Me & Dawg, a Ray Whitefield Ford commercial directed by does it matter?
Come on, Dawg!


04 October 2011

Freaked

directed by Alex Winter and Tom Stern

After the existential kick in the shit that was Evan Glodell’s masterpiece, I am having trouble deciding what to review. But after much thought, I landed on the amazingly ridiculous and amazingly- well, let’s just say it’s sure to leave a few jaws on the floor- adolescent creative vision of Alex Winter and Tom Stern. The vision in question is the delightfully raunchy and batshit absurd Freaked, starring Winter as Hollywood star and total fame whore Ricky Coogan, who will do anything for a paycheck. When Coogan gets duped into traveling to South America to attach his name to a chemical company’s dubious deeds, he stumbles upon the mad world of a mad scientist (Randy Quaid at the height of his powers) creating a world of freaks using the very chemical Coogan is down there to endorse! Oh, the irony, you say, but Freaked is not a film about subtlety. Rocking a pretty stellar cast (including an uncredited and excellent Keanu Reeves as Ortiz, the dog boy), Freaked is one of those bonkers time capsule films that will give future generations a glimpse of the fucked up, who gives a shit craziness of the early 90s. Anyone with a soft spot for such crap classics as PCU and Bio-Dome will have either: A. watched this film a thousand times, usually whilst shitfaced, or B. scribbled this title down as a must watch the next time they are shitfaced.

27 September 2011

Bellflower, a Compulsive Secondary Review

directed by Evan Glodell
I have never done this before, but I have to dedicate a secondary review to just two major components of Evan Glodell’s opus, Bellflower: the sound (mainly the sound design) and the photography (notably the Coatwolf Model II).

The Sound:
The sound design of Bellflower is some of the most evocative I have experienced in some time, the kind of aural presence that stimulates emotions and feelings quite independent from your conscious self. A shout. The rough rumble of fire. An engine screaming. A deep, primal growl that grows a wrath in you, or a fear, or a profound discomfort that percolates inside you like an acid, surprising you. It’s like when the doctor raps on your knee and stimulates a reflex that, try as you might, you cannot suppress.

The Photography:
Evan Glodell’s colossus, dubbed the Coatwolf Model II, is as close to a magic wand as a filmmaker is going to find. When the trailer first aired, my little brother DC and I puzzled over the curiously odd way each scene looked. What was happening? How could it be? We then stumbled upon the Model II, which only sparked more questions. How could the Model II exist? What made it work? But it wasn’t until today, after I had time to digest the film and was actually recalling it after the fact that I realized the true magic of Glodell’s beast. What I perceived as unique and new in the moment had somehow shapeshifted in the night, somehow become something altogether different than it had been the day before. The images generated by the Model II are surreal, model-esque at times, and once the mind has a chance to process these images as memories, both the images themselves along with the happenings of a scene begin to seem mythic, a monstrous fairy tale that seems as mysterious and enthralling as it did when all I had to go on was a sequence of Glodell getting in the Medusa (you’ll see) and disappearing in a fog of dust. Even now, as I recall a scene, or a shot, or even a color, I am confused and drawn to this quality. I am afraid for you, Glodell, afraid that a mob is going to come for you in the night to try you for witchcraft or something.

In all seriousness, Bellflower is a film that pulls you in, throttles you at times, but will not let you go. In fact, its grip seems only to tighten with time.

26 September 2011

Bellflower

directed by Evan Glodell

Evan Glodell’s filmic debut is a scorcher, a bruiser and an ass kicker all rolled into one and exploded onto the screen like a wreckish poem. I will not get into too much plot tedium, but the film revolves around a love story between a boy and girl, and the violent, flamethrowery anticipation of an apocalypse. Glodell’s film evokes a feeling, an elemental urge more than anything, and his custom camera called the Coatwolf Model II (check out this Frankenstein) manages to deliver something visually new to the tradition of indie film. Those who will say things like “this falls outside the margins of what we call independent film” seem to have amnesia about what independent film actually means. This is the intensity, the confusion and the fury of Easy Rider, Two-Lane Blacktop and Mad Max, revised, updated and rebuilt by a frustrated Gen Y lost boy. And like the latter, Glodell’s most obvious and referenced filmic influence, Bellflower growls with a darkness that won’t succumb to mere infidelity or violence. Those elements exist, but Glodell succeeds in refusing to name the rage or the fear, refusing to pin it to something like less competent filmmakers. Bellflower is like the filmic equivalent of listening to Titus Andronicus, a glimpse of the hearts of young men my age. The film does get out of control at times, but the scales are tipped massively in favor of Glodell and his amazing director of photography, Joel Hodge. Hodge is a madman, and the result is a film that takes your breath away with beauty and, if all else fails, a punch in the gut. And the soundtrack slash score is just incredible… Brafuckingvo, Jonathin Keevil and Kevin MacLeod! See this film, and see it on the big screen. It is a true blue, bonafide film in every sense of the word, a breath of fresh air and a choke hold all at once.

19 September 2011

Drive


Fans of film have long known that Nicolas Winding Refn has enormous talent as a director. In fact, Refn’s downfall more often than not tends to revolve around his storytelling. His gangster film Pusher was a great debut, and though Fear X bankrupted his film company, it was another promising addition to his resume. Refn got stuck in a rut with Pusher II and III, but his films have grown stronger as his plots have quietly become more and more minimal. Bronson was not much more than a series of scenes hung on a larger than life persona, and in many ways it worked. Valhalla Rising hardly had any plot, and with Drive, Refn has hit his stride in a hypnotically wonderful way. Like Monte Hellman and Walter Hill before him, Refn derives his main character’s name from his essence, and Ryan Gosling is perfect as Driver, the quiet, isolated stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway wheel man in LA. His life finds a direction of sorts when he befriends the lovely Irene (Carey Mulligan is brilliant) and her son. As with all things film, the wrench in the works comes in the form of Irene’s fuck up husband, loosed from the joint indebted to a group of scumbags who want their pound of flesh. It is noteworthy that Drive is first time Refn hasn’t penned the film he directed, the pared down story in this case written by tepid talent Hossein Amini (who has done nothing remarkable). In fact, this script alone isn’t particularly good, but the actors and directing make it phenomenal. The soundtrack is as gorgeous as the cinematography, and whoever the hell’s idea it was to give the film semi sleazy, 80s style, hot pink title credits imposed over a stunning LA nighttime skyline was a friggin genius! Drive is a total package of taught, stripped down filmic storytelling disguised as a genre film, and like the (dare I say it) Two-Lane Blacktops of the world, the film becomes almost mythic in its visceral, cosmic universality. If this film were to be made 25 years ago, Driver would have most definitely been played by Charles Bronson, and Ryan Gosling lives up to that kind of comparison. Believe the hype, people, and strap into the nearest theatre seat for this gem, because it needs to be seen on the big screen.
Note: Ku effing dos to Albert Brooks, who makes me feel all kinds of uncomfortable as ex-producer and general source of fear Bernie Rose. You were scarier than Ron Perlman, Mr. Brooks, and that’s a tremendous feat in itself!

10 September 2011

Rubber

directed by Quentin Dupieux

Quentin Dupieux is an audiophile at heart (he crafts techno music as Mr. Oizo) and it shows in his lampooning of Hollywood, horror, and film in general, the wonderfully low key and entertaining Rubber. And anyone who has watched this film (regardless of how much you loved or hated it) cannot argue with the fact that both the soundtrack and the sound design are spectacular, from the wonderfully retro beats that reminded me a bit of Electroma, to the fantastic rumble of Robert as he telepathically wreaks havoc. Oh, maybe I should back up- Rubber tells the story of Robert, an abandoned tire (that’s right, you read that correctly) that awakens in the desert to find that he has telepathic powers. His journey of discovery and mayhem is viewed from afar by a group of captive moviegoers who are made to watch through binoculars and camp out in the desert in order to find out what happens next. Perhaps I have said too much, but please don’t let this scattershot synopsis deter those of you who haven’t watched this charming little piece of trashy film fun. I had the pleasure (or misfortune) of watching this film in an empty auditorium at my local hipster haunt slash “art” theatre (which is garnering many points from me as they are finally going to screen Bellflower), and it was a blast. And come on, anything with Wings Hauser automatically moves up the quality ladder by virtue of his presence. The film begins in a theatre of the absurd kind of way, and ends with a killer’s gaze fixed quite literally on Hollywood, and in between is a minimalist plot helped by fine acting and wonderful cinematography (mad props, QD). Rubber is one of my new campy favorites.

08 September 2011

The Guard

directed by John Michael McDonagh

John Michael McDonagh has crafted a rare, though inconsistent, treat in the very funny film, The Guard. Starring a magnificent Brendan Gleeson, reliable Mark Strong and a very Cheadly Don Cheadle, The Guard tells the story of a drug caper gone wrong through the crossed wires of two very different cultures. I’m not going to compare this film to McDonagh’s bro’s film, In Bruges (though it seems to hit many of the same notes), but I will say that fans of such films will find themselves quite satisfied. It’s a tricky trick to walk the line the way films like this do, and occasionally it stumbles, as nearly all do, but it makes up for it in a whole package sense that leaves you feeling somehow warm and fuzzy, if such a thing were possible. The racism, the knowing, insider judgment (such as the case between the westerners and those from Dublin), the false conclusions, the pseudophilosophical criminal element, these plot ingredients have become the blues chords of the crimedy (crime + comedy). That’s right, y’all just witnessed the birth of a new term! And I would like 25p every time it is used (since the American dollar has gone to pot). What matters, however, is how each filmmaker plays those chords, and let’s just say that McDonagh is still learning, and I am excited to be there when he really finds his sound.

23 August 2011

Senna

directed by Asif Kapadia

I have to admit: I am not a racing fan in any of its permutations. In fact, before watching this stunning doc, the only reason I even knew Ayrton Senna’s name was because of a Trivial Pursuit question. Or was it Jeopardy? At any rate, the trailer for this doc struck a chord in me that compelled me to the theatre, and director Asif Kapadia did not disappoint. Crafted entirely (bar some currently recorded audio, over dubbed) from original news, interview, home video and race footage, Kapadia attempts to assemble an idea of the man behind the wheel. Ayrton Senna was one of the of the finest Formula 1 racers of all time, which may not mean much to a lot of people, and perhaps F1 is much more popular globally than it is here in the US of A, but Kapadia doesn’t dwell on the specifics (though F1 fans will find those components as well). Instead, he focuses on trying to show the world of racing as Senna saw it, a world of beauty and strength and precision and balls out courage. Senna is a mesmerizing character, a man so devoted to his craft that it would be almost comical if it wasn't so damn contagiously visceral. By the end, you are literally right in the driver’s seat during Senna’s ill fated final race and absurdly, heart breakingly tragic end. Senna is a must watch for fans of documentary film, fans of racing, and fans of getting caught up in a sense of searching. Senna’s quest was not unlike the philosophy of surfing culture, of the search being as important as the culmination, but the doc leaves you with a longing to be as connected to something as Senna was, and I mean that in a good way. It just may invigorate you.

21 August 2011

Big Wednesday

directed by John Milius

It’s been a little while since I reviewed a good surfing film, so it’s a no brainer that I should praise the efforts of John Milius and his classic coming of age as surf epic film, Big Wednesday, starring the solid and often underappreciated William Katt, the ever percolating intensity of Gary Busey, and probably the only time I actually like Jan-Michael Vincent. It’s the story of free and easy youth, burdened with the passage of time, the responsibilities and consequences of growing up, the fallout of war and the calm waters between, and always the faces of the California breaks serve as a motif, an expressionistic and contemplative meditation on the state of the young men around whom the film revolves. Milius’s film is a surfing film made by a surfer, and it shows. It’s no Gidget, no exploitative beach buffs hanging ten and bronze bunnies playing beach blanket bingo. Big Wednesday is a great addition to any surf film catalog, and in an interesting way, it even adds another level to Busey’s Pappas character in Kathryn Bigelow’s amazing film, Point Break. The cinematography is great, as are the action shots of the surfers themselves. Give it a shot You won’t be disappointed.

PS This one’s for you, Paul.

20 August 2011

The Devil's Double

directed by Lee Tamahori

The one sheet looked amazing, but I knew better, and after getting a load of Lee Tamahori’s glossy disappointment of a biopic, I found that my instincts served me well. The story of Latif Yahia and his life as the reluctant stand-in for Uday Hussein, Sadam Hussein’s loose cannon son, had so much promise: the story of a life cultivated in a consequential vacuum, a frightening meditation on nature versus nurture and the darkness that can grow from absolute privilege. Too bad Lion’s Gate had to get hold of this potentially astounding biopic, sliming the whole works up with Saw style gore (though toned down) and Transporter style cinematography (again, toned down), finally leaving the whole thing up to Tamahori (whose resume is slightly less than stellar). The biggest tragedy of all of this is the sad fact that Dominic Cooper’s monstrously phenomenal performance(s) will most likely be overlooked because the rest of the film was weak. And make no mistake, Cooper’s turn as both the pauper and the prince, Jekyll and Hyde, is a powerhouse testament to the craft. Almost instantly I forgot about marveling over Cooper acting against himself in many scenes, instead truly seeing the characters as two different people. Even the times when Cooper is playing Latif playing Uday, he manages such nearly imperceptible differences that you can still tell it’s Latif. We’re talking about some spectacular layers here, commentary on one personality by another, then blurring the lines between the two, then mocking himself, the list goes on. This is like the first time I saw Monster’s Ball, and I realized that Heath Ledger was actually an amazing actor, or when I first saw Ryan Gosling’s promise in The Believer. Cooper is a talent to watch, even in a film as otherwise forgettable as this.

The one sheet, in case you haven’t feasted your eyes:

16 August 2011

A Good, Old Fashioned Hodgepodge

Today's review will be little more that a liberal helping of filmic treasures and videotic gems for your pleasure. I will try to briefly articulate why I am posting each video or trailer, though I suspect they will speak for themselves.

Drive (trailer)- directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
I am possibly unhealthily excited for this film, which is to say that while Refn's track record is spotty, his choice in leading men remains perfect. Oh, Mr. Gosling, you're my heart of the ocean!

I Know: A David Lynch music video- directed by Tamar Drachli
This music video is okay (the winner of a competition), but the real treat here is another track from David Lynch's upcoming electronic album. Okay, have you stopped hyperventilating yet? Because it's true: Lynch's album, titled Crazy Clown Time(!), is due out this Fall. And now that I realize the album won't be completely populated by sounds of meat hitting meat, kazoos and weeping, I am even more excited. He must be leaving that stuff to Scott Walker...

Little Bit: A Lykke Li music video- directed by Mattias Montero
This is another stellar music video that tremendous talent Mattias Montero actually directed. Just wonderful...

Bellflower (trailer)- directed by Evan Glodell
I posted this trailer to my Google+ account about a month and a half ago, and I thought that I had already posted it on OMFBC, but I never did! I'm truly sorry, and if this film has debuted in your neighborhood, get the hell to the theatre right now! I have been watching it daily for months, consuming it like vitamins.

05 August 2011

Sukiyaki Western Django

directed by Takashi Miike

It begins with a surrealistic fable performed on a stage, featuring a zany Quentin Tarantino(!), and only gets better, and when it’s all said and done, Takashi Miike helms one of the finest westerns of the decade, not to mention one of the coolest, most out there prequels known to man. The title itself carries with it implications that will have hardcore Western fans drooling (just as Tarantino deliberately titled his newest film with such connotations in mind), but the Asian twist is what makes this film such a gem. The plot is very Yojimbo-esque, which is pretty much the ideal plot for a great ass kicker of a Western (Leone thought it was good enough to jack for A Fistful of Dollars, and Walter Hill lifted it for Last Man Standing), the story of a lone stranger arriving in a divided town, pitting two warring families against one another. Shakespearean? Hell yes, but Miike gives the story so much surreal and poetic texture that you feel hypnotized by its spell. Django, of course, refers to the Sergio Corbucci classic, and Miike finds a way honor and not insult such a cult treasure. Western fans, get your watchin’ goggles on.

31 July 2011

Another World (a Chemical Brothers music video)

directed by Adam Smith & Marcus Lyall

This fantastic album came out to little fanfare on this side of the pond, but it doesn't make it any less outstanding. This a wonderful example of the next phase of evolution for the dinosaur that the music video has become. These gems are becoming increasingly scarce, but videos like this and Radiohead's House of Cards video are making use of new technology and worrying less about what the MTV crowd will think of it. My guess is, the MTV crowd would think, "music video? What the hell is that? This better be over before Teen Mom starts." For shame, younger generation.

Another World

This album actually has video accompaniments for each track, which makes it a must hear/see as well.

28 July 2011

What's a Girl To Do (a Bat for Lashes music video)

directed by Dougal Wilson

It’s been a little while since I reviewed a commercial or a music video, so here’s a little double feature with a common thread: they both rock, and the cinematography for both pieces is the work of the very skilled Mattias Montero.

Dougal Wilson knocks it out of the park with this gem from several years ago, a video for What’s a Girl To Do by the wonderful Bat for Lashes. The video has a kind of wild Karma Police vibe colored with a Spike Jonze sense of mischief. Natasha Khan rocks it out on a bike, with a posse of creatures in tow, whispering and lilting like an angel as she cruises a night darkened back road. It would be frightening if it wasn’t much damn fun. Once again, Mattias Montero’s cinematography is phenomenal, as is all of his cinematography work (check his website for more wonderful examples).

Light (a Vattenfall commercial)

directed by Adam Berg

It’s been a little while since I reviewed a commercial or a music video, so here’s a little double feature with a common thread: they both rock, and the cinematography for both pieces is the work of the very skilled Mattias Montero.

The commercial for this Nordic electric company is quiet, haunting, mysterious and mesmerizing, the mystifying path of electricity and modern technology that most of us scarcely even pause to contemplate. Okay, maybe it’s not as mystifying as all that, but Berg finds the sense of wonder, of a world frozen for an instant, and Montero’s cinematography is superb. You just may find yourself holding your breath along with the universe in this tale of a nocturnal journey. Commercials like these area rare breed, a glimpse of an artist’s eye, a short story if you will.

Berg also directed this stellar short film a fews years ago for Phillips as a rollout for their new LCD television. Awesome.

26 July 2011

Repo Man

directed by Alex Cox

In all honesty, I would watch (and probably love) Harry Dean Stanton in anything, and I mean anything. Even the worst piece of filmic refuse would be a welcomed addition to my collective cinematic memory bank if it involved HD Stanton. Luckily, Alex Cox’s cult classic Repo Man is not only anti-refuse, it’s a shit ton of madcap, wild fun. Alex Cox’s sense of humor is not for everyone, but if you are on the same page as this iconic filmmaker, then Repo Man is your cup of whatever the hell it is you drink. Emilio Estevez is fantastic as shiftless, loserish suburban punker Otto, who is taken under the wing of repo man Bud (Stanton). Bud lives by the repo code and snorts speed to be ever prepared to rip a car at any hour of the night or day, but when a marked Chevy Malibu worth 20 Gs gets the attention of every ripper in town, Bud and Otto find themselves in a mess that goes from batshit to even more batshit. The film is ludicrous in the way that Rubber was ludicrous, which is to say it’s a knowing lampooning of genre films, society and the pretension of “art” (I just choked a bit as I typed that ugly word), and a competently made lampooning at that. Stellar character actors like Tracey Walter (Batman) and Miquel Sandoval (Walker, Jurassic Park) help round out the absurdity. Hell, Cox even finds a way to get Jimmy Buffett (one of the blond agents) to not annoy me, and the Iggy Pop title track is righteous. Btw, anyone who was all “Dude, those end credits are insane!” when they watched David Fincher’s thriller Seven need to do a little cinematic homework…

A note: I had the good fortune of getting to see Alex Cox’s not sequel, Repo Chick, on the big screen at the now boarded up art house dive in Detroit. Same brand of humor. Same brand of crazy. Totally worth it.  Hopefully, The Burton Theatre will resurrect like a Phoenix from the ashes and start blessing the Detroit area with quality indie cinema again soon, but for now let’s all pour out a little liquor on the curb in their memory. 

25 July 2011

Friday Night Lights, the television series

developed for television by Peter Berg

First of all, I want to apologize for being so flaky lately. I was returning some videotapes (aka lost in the black hole of Friday Night Lights, the series)…

Peter Berg’s film bearing the same name is an underrated and electric sport classic in every single way, and whether they want to admit it or not, West Texas has high school football running through the veins of every man, woman and child. I have family in Odessa, and Berg uses the actual Ratliff Stadium (Permian's home field and a monument to football) to wonderful effect. It's a sight to behold: watching the desert fill with crazed excitement on a Friday night. It can be contagious... 


I was very, very skeptical of this, but my little brother (thanks for the reco, DC) finally convinced me to watch Berg’s television fiction inspired by the spirit of the film. What turned out as an hour begrudgingly set aside to choke down the first episode (what I assumed the experience would be like) immediately spiraled into a crazed obsession to feed on every episode, every nuance, every wonderful moment. In order to really appreciate this show in a review would take pages and pages and probably bore you all to tears, but fans of the film and fans of good storytelling will do well to experience this show. Season 1 is, in itself, a powerful piece of storytelling and television, a brave piece of film that only rarely falls apart on itself. While the later seasons (s2 in particular) really lacked, the first season is shockingly well written and (for the most part) well acted. Sure, there are a lot of weak performances by standard "tv" types (Gaius Charles, D.W. Moffett), but the fabulous (actually, what’s better than fabulous?) Connie Britton (Gaines' wife in the film) and Brad Leland (John Aubrey from the film) find a way to bridge the gap between the film dramatization and the fiction that is the series. Kyle Chandler shines as Coach Taylor, and the series also makes great use of the essence of the film's amazing score. Zach Gilford is hands down one of the most eye opening talents of the series as Matt Saracen, playing a Lucas Black style character that he truly makes his own. If you look at Season 1 as a miniseries, it is truly amazing.

Sadly, FNL fell victim to the effects of the dread writer’s strike, and lack of viewership caused it suffer the fate of half seasons and plot twists that will make you want to punch the tv (the shark jumping madness of Landry in season 2 is exhibit A!), but season 3 regains much of what was lost, and by the end of season 5, I was weepy and smitten, hanging on every word. Even Taylor Kitsch won me over, and he is officially my new Keanu Reeves, with a voice like Timothy Olyphant and the strut of Patrick Swayze. Even at the worst of times, when the plot really spins out of control, the show still manages to be spectacular on a moment to moment basis, due largely to the doc style directing and the extemporaneous dialogue sequences. The actors rarely rehearsed and never blocked scenes (camera operators were trained to follow the actors like in documentaries), which creates incredibly natural and genuine scenes that get to very vital cores of characters and moments in a wonderful way. It also allows the actors to really make their own choices with regard to their characters, which makes for fascinating results. The actors who come in later in the series are even stronger, especially Michael B Jordan and Matt Lauria, and Stacey Oristano rocks and rolls as Mindy Collette. Friday Night Lights the series is, to use Barry’s analogy from High Fidelity, like the Echo and the Bunnymen to the film’s The Jesus and Mary Chain. If you don’t know what I am talking about, just add High Fidelity to the top of your queue and thank me later.

One last assertion: I’m just gonna put it out there…
After consuming the entire FNL series, I think that Peter Berg’s film would have been even better if Kyle Chandler had played Coach Gaines. There, I said it.

15 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

directed by David Yates

You knew it was coming, readers of OMFBC. Even if you never read my glowing review of Alfonso Cuaron’s finest HP film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you have more than likely pieced it together over the years. Yes, I am an ever faithful, ever affectionate champion of Rowling’s fabulous story. And yes, I lined up just like every other nerd in nerdom to feast my dewy eyes on the final chapter of a decade long tale. Was it everything it could have been? Was it everything it should have been? Yes, yes it was. I have been to see every HP film with my soon to be sister in law: laughing, welling up, inching to the edge of my seat for nearly a decade, and neither one of us were disappointed. Director David Yates solidly took us down the final stretch of a filmic franchise unrivaled in terms of quality over time (HP never seemed to go all Lucas on us, thankfully). Even the youngish and square first films turned a corner in HP3, and the change helped to shape all that was to come. Let’s all just agree right now that the final (Tear. Sniffle) film was well shot, well edited, all that jazz: and let’s all just agree that the acting on the adult front was superb to say the least (Alan Rickman, you are one of the finest actors to ever grace the silver screen. Hooray for your comeuppance!). On the kid front (though they are all adults themselves, at this point), the strength of Emma Watson and Tom Felton have risen to great heights in developing a true blue characters that breathe real life. Everyone worth his or her salt has applauded the film for its merits, and I am not one to rock the boat in this case. The final HP film was a great end to a great series that finds itself lacking in very few areas. I can’t think of anything to add that others haven’t already said: I was choked up from the first frame, and I left with a sense of closure that is rare in the filmic world, especially when one invests this much time in a wonderful set of characters.

12 July 2011

Hey Netflix. Sit on it and spin.


I hate you, Netflix. I hate you!

Like millions of film lovers out there, I got my little gem of an email from Netflix today stating that my $10 per month plan that included 1 DVD at a time and streaming would now be turned into a $16 per month plan! If I want, I could pay only $7.99 for one of these features, but not both. Where’s Teri Garr when you need her! I am referring, of course, to the film Mr. Mom, in which Garr’s character, Caroline, convinces the tuna fish company for which she works to lower its prices to help people out during the tough economic times, but moreover, I am referring to the fantastically lazy way that Netflix tried to disguise a case of simple greed. Why not just send me an email that says “Hey BC. A termite walks into a bar and says ‘Is the bar tender here?’ Hoped you liked the joke, now bend over…” I may dislike it just as much as I do right now, but I would have at least respected them more. Now, I don’t even want to wait around for the final season of Friday Night Lights to come in the mail before I quit (I have been hanging around the mailbox like a junkie waiting for his dealer to hit the block). Share in the rage, ladies and gentlemen! Let’s put a brick through Netflix’s windshield. 

02 July 2011

The Tillman Story

directed by Amir Bar-Lev

Pat Tillman was paid: an NFL asset making millions of dollars, happily married, a beloved athlete. But after the events of September 11th, Pat decided to enlist with his brother, and when Pat was killed in Afghanistan, the truth seemed to be something in short supply and hard to obtain. Amir Bar-Lev’s excellent doc works to piece together the puzzle of just what in the hell happened to our military and our government in the wake of a not so cut and dry tragedy, and the candor with which everyone involved participates in this doc seems befitting of such a man as Pat. Josh Brolin narrates the film to wonderful effect, and it was because of his extra efforts that Neil Young actually allowed one of his songs to be used in the film (awesome). The doc is stellar on all fronts, well shot, well conceived and well told, and the feeling it leaves you with is one of disappointment, of anger at a system that could be so callous in its lust for a martyr, a hero, and a system so ruthless in its attempt to cover its own ass.

26 June 2011

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

directed by Werner Herzog

I just have one thing to say to any documentaries set to come out this year: I hope you like silver medals, because there is no way any of you are coming close to the power, artistry and sheer wonder of Werner Herzog’s 3D masterpiece, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The words Werner Herzog and 3D are words I never thought I would use in a sentence, but his film is the only modern 3D film that actually makes a case for the technology. To experience the Chauvet cave through this medium (the cave is sealed off to all but a few scholars and scientists. No regular folks.), through the delicate and time tested genius of Herzog, is to truly have a filmic experience. For those of you who don’t know what the hell the Chauvet cave is, it is a cave system in France that remained sealed from all contact for over 30,000 years, until a team of cave divers discovered it in the mid 1990s. Inside, they found examples of cave paintings that predate all others previously studied, paintings of truly magnificent work. We’re not just talking about a couple of squiggles on a rock, here. The Chauvet paintings are dynamic, alive, a story told using the contours of the rock faces themselves. Many of them even seem to have a multiple exposure effect similar to an animatic or an animator’s storyboards, an effect that creates movement and life with jaw dropping result. At a time in human history when Neanderthal Man still roamed side by side with us, these paintings show us a glimpse into a creative spark ignited from the ether. Herzog was granted unprecedented access to the cave (which will probably never happen again), and truly he was the right person for the job. The marvel is that Herzog doesn’t do anything particularly special in this film (unless you call shooting what he was able to shoot under such logistical shortcomings, and a crazy time crunch), instead simply documenting in his way the magic of the cave itself. It is worth noting that Herzog executes an amazingly amazing jump cut in this doc that rivals that of Kubrick’s bone sequence in 2001, and it’s a good thing I was in the auditorium by myself, because I let out an audible exclamation of satisfaction. The only way to see this film for the first time is to experience it fully, in 3D. Please please please don’t miss your chance.

25 June 2011

Step Into Liquid

directed by Dana Brown

Dana Brown is a chip off the old block, and it shows in his airy, humorous and joy inducing doc, Step Into Liquid. Like Poppa Bruce, Dana treks the world over in search of the ultimate ride, but instead of following one pair of surfers, Dana searches for the searchers themselves. From such surfing icons as Laird Hamilton and Gerry Lopez, to a group of riders who surf the breaks of Lake Michigan (I told you. The stories about the Great Lakes are true), Dana finds both quirk and epic romance equally fascinating, blending the two like a great story told to you by a stranger who makes you feel so comfortable, as if you have known them your whole life. The North Shore, Jaws and Mavericks get their share of screen time, but Brown’s attention to such largely unknown surf spots as Lake Michigan, Galveston, and even the coast of Donegal make Step Into Liquid such an endearing and wonderful surf doc gem. Like Riding Giants, and daddy Bruce’s Endless Summer, Dana Brown shows surfing at its finest and most pure, pleasurable and profound, a lifestyle and a philosophy that calls to you like the first day of summer vacation. 

23 June 2011

180 South

directed by Chris Malloy

It’s a dirt bag’s best fantasy come true, and surfer Chris Malloy doesn’t try to deviate from the earnest style that makes his other docs so watchable. Malloy (the bearded, stoic searcher in 180o ) is the kind of surfer we romanticize: like Bodi in Point Break, minus the felonious behavior and band of criminal morons, and 180o seeks to convey that searcher’s sense with a no frills sincerity that blends well with his simplistic directorial approach. The doc follows Jeff Johnson as he seeks to re-tramp the trip his heroes took in 1968. The heroes in question are Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins (all you outdoorsy types should recognize those names), and the trip refers to the journey the pair made to Patagonia, a journey that came to define the course of both their lives forever. The locations and scenery alone make this film worth watching, and any film with a bunch of Mason Jennings songs is tops in my book. 180South doesn’t say anything new, but fans of such films as Riding Giants or Into the Wild (if you are anything like me) never tire of hearing the message retold against a new backdrop. Films like this always strike the same chord of melancholy and longing I feel for something that I cannot even articulate, and difference between 180o South and other, more powerful docs slash films, is that Malloy is still struggling with the possibility that he actually can articulate this feeling.

20 June 2011

The Mechanic

directed by Michael Winner

Perhaps what I love most about The Mechanic is the ease with which baddest of all men, Charles Bronson, slips into the role of a very unsympathetic character. What’s interesting about many of Bronson’s roles is that, though he is never the “good” guy, he is the guy for whom we are rooting. In Mr. Majestyk, he was the guy who stood up to corruption. In Death Wish and Once Upon a Time in the West, he was seeking revenge that we, as an audience, could respect in some way, or at the very least understand. Even in Hard Times, Bronson was just out there trying to make it, but he had a code, standards that made him worth invested emotion. There are other fine examples, but I highlight a few to illustrate how interesting Michael Winner’s tale of contract killing and “stepping outside it all and looking in” is from both a filmmaking point of view and a “Bronson as personae” point of view. Many films in the past and present have attempted this: telling a story about truly unsympathetic characters. Chistopher McQuarrie explicitly says this was his motive in writing the stellar film Way of the Gun, and some actors can shine when it comes to this. Bronson does it so matter of factly, so naturally in The Mechanic, that the result is chilling and uncomfortable for the viewer, especially if the viewer is a fan. I have never been a Jan-Michael Vincent fan, so the film falls apart in that respect, but the opening sequence of Bronson orchestrating a hit on an old man is out of sight. For those of you who do not know what this film is about, The Mechanic tells the story of lone assassin Arthur Bishop (Bronson) who takes an apprentice (Vincent) under his wing. When things start getting heavy, Bishop finds out he may have a contract out on his own life, and he can’t trust anyone. The film is great in every way except in the Jan-Michael Vincent category (remember Air Wolf? Unfortunately, so do I.), but Michael Winner gets a great performance out of Bronson in this one.

Note: There was a recent remake of this classic that I was too bothered by to watch. The only reason I have contemplated it, though, is due to how much I love Ben Foster and how much of an improvement over Vincent he surely is in the film. I don’t think it will counteract the dead weight of Jason Statham as Bishop, however. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy Statham in a few of his more mindless and entertaining gems, but Bronson sized shoes are too big for anyone to fill. Did anyone actually watch this remake? How was it?

19 June 2011

X Men: First Class

directed by Matthew Vaughn

Despite half of the 4 person screenwriting team being responsible for the filmic abomination Thor (I don’t know what anyone was thinking giving that film anything that resembles a good review) , for which they should be fined, btw, X Men: First Class wins due to the efforts of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman. Goldman and Vaughn both worked on the script for Kick Ass, which Vaughn also directed, and it shows in this reboot of a comic film franchise that has gone down the metaphorical tubes since it began. Yes, we have all heard about how the X Men get the swinging, sexy, James Bond 60s treatment, which is true, and yes, the film bogs down in the quagmire of lesser known heroes and villains (many of whom I had no clue about), but it holds true to a level of sophistication that seems to pertain to only a few comic universes. Michael Fassbender was (as always) fantastic as pre-McKellan Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, and James McAvoy was good as pre-hardware Charles, but man oh man was January Jones awful as whoever the hell she was, Emma Frost (IMDb tells me), emoting about as much as Vin Diesel in, well, every one of his films. Poor January Jones, but hive five, Kevin Bacon, who rules as Sebastian Shaw, Erik’s former captor, mentor, and dark reflection. Was it great? No, but it was good. And way better than the filmic crime, Thor.

Seriously, anyone who actually watched Thor and is willing to defend this pile, feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss it. Having Kenneth Branagh as the director does not somehow imply a deeper level of sophistication automatically, nor does it exonerate actors who are bad at their craft and screenwriters who are incapable of penning a compelling story. Thor smacks of one of those factory designed films, written by a team and made by a film company, not the artistic vision of a talented group, like Batman, or even the first 2 X Men films. For shame, Branagh. You too, Hollywood.

17 June 2011

Tree of LIfe

directed by Terence Malick
This review is longer than usual, and for that I apologize...

It’s hard to talk about a film when you don’t really know where to begin. It makes it even harder when the film is about everything, literally. I suppose we should start on the surface and work our way down the rabbit hole. The score by Alexandre Desplat is phenomenal, emotive and dreamlike, echoing such titanic scores as 2001 and even Days of Heaven, and when coupled with the immensely fantastic sound design, creates sweeping emotions and cold, mute emptiness. The acting was outstanding (even by Hollywood dudmuffin, Brad Pitt!), particularly by the boys, played to perfection by Hunter McCracken (phenomenal) and Laramie Eppler (as close to perfect as I have seen in some time). I have always loved Malick’s use of VO (there’s a qualifier to this assertion in this case. Read on for clarification), and he doesn’t disappoint here, cultivating a sense of quiet tension that pulls you to the edge of your seat. The cinematography is, per usual, perfectly executed, a true benchmark in film. Where my feelings on the film become as nebulous as Malick’s thesis (for lack of a better word) is in the story (again, for lack of a better word) and how it unfolds. The film starts at the beginning, the very beginning, then jumps to the present (I suppose), then jumps back to just after the beginning of all things, then winds its way back to Middle America, circa the 1950s, focusing on the O’Brien family. The film does many things, many wonderful, complicated, unsettling, magnificent things, and Malick’s lens floats through existence like a ghost, channeling the near perfect example he set forth in Days of Heaven, but what does it mean? Malick’s films are very humanistic, unlike peer and fellow auteur filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s science experiments, but Malick doesn’t concern himself with the dark sentiment of human nature like other philosopher filmmakers such as Werner Herzog or Lars Von Trier, instead lingering always upon the bigger, cosmic picture. There is darkness there, surely, but it isn’t the Hobbesian focus of Malick’s canon. Even when his films see life through a keyhole, most notably in Badlands, he seeks to link it to a larger concept. In Tree of Life, Malick asks two question that battle one another.

What is significant? Or, how do we measure significance?

And,

Why is anything significant? Or, is it the everything that’s significant?

Ok. Let’s pump the brakes right here (PS spoiler alert)-

Before I go any further, I need to clear up some major problems I had with this film and why I have been so forgiving thus far (and why, in fact, I seem to be reviewing a different film):

The last 20 or so minutes of Tree of Life are not only unnecessary, they are god awful. The whole “climax” of the film smacks of art school pretension that, frankly, I never expected of Malick. I actually let out an audible groan and cringed during one particular VO in this final chapter, it was so over the top. In an effort to reconcile these emotions, I have simply chosen to pretend the last segment of this film never happened, and I since have felt my ulcer subside significantly. By lopping off that pustule of a film sequence, I can also pretend that the weird flash to the “present” sequence that happened early in the film actually occurred where it logically belonged, near the end. From a plot device standpoint, the only reason I can see for this flash is that Malick wanted to make sure to set us up for his BS ending (a weak and amateur move, btw), which never happened in my version of reality, so the flash can therefore be placed in its proper place near the end of the film, thus creating a linear and astounding cosmic story. I see what Malick was trying to do, and I was so with him all the way, but what he failed to realize (again, I am surprised and disappointed by this) is that told as a chronologically straight forward story (from very beginning to very end, and beyond), Tree of Life is mind boggling enough. No need for jumping around the timeline, Mr. M, especially when you only do it once, and oddly at that. I was in shock as I watched this film deteriorate before my eyes, as if I was listening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and suddenly Mr. B himself began using his armpit as an instrument…

My Conclusion (finally! What a windbag you are, BC):
Tree of Life is like Mike Tyson: full of so much potential that, if fully realized, would have left any semblance of competition in the dust. Potential that was, sadly, wasted and destroyed by indulgence and poor decisions. Please, Mr. M, remove the cancer that is the final sequence and rearrange your film in proper chronological order, and you will have a film that truly soars. The symmetry of imagery, theme, metaphor and motif was magnificent. The parallels through time and space (the brothers fighting, the dinosaurs, the nebulae, a simple look) were staggering. It’s all there, Mr. M. It’s all there in the can, it just needs some trimming. Start with the light, end with the dock parallel image of our vantage point amid a lifeless ridge in a silent and infinite space, and bookend the whole piece with the light from the beginning. I can see it in my mind, and it takes my breath away.