What movie was that...?

30 April 2011

Super

directed by James Gunn

The opening credits were pretty cool, and the opening shot of Rainn Wilson crying, then his VO narration saying “People look stupid when they cry” had my hopes climbing from wary skepticism to hopeful excitement. Sadly, James Gunn’s dark and madcap take on the superhero genre is inconsistent at best and ludicrous at worst. In going for oddball realism, Gunn ends up shining a very bright light on the points in the film when he throws realism out the window (i.e. there is no way Wilson would have made it off the street after cold cocking that drug dealer). Wilson is so so as Frank, whose stripper wife (Liv Tyler was okay) leaves him for shit bag Jacques. After reeling from the loss, Frank has a vision in which he believes he is chosen by God to help rid the world of crime. Inspired, he dons a costume and avenges as The Crimson Bolt, doling out his version of justice with a pipe wrench and a wacky (but good, if I do say so myself) slogan, “Shut up, crime!” Punishable infractions vary, including dealing drugs, soliciting sex and cutting in line, but when Frank adopts an overzealous sidekick (Ellen Page is hands down the high point of this film) named Boltie, his plans get a little too grand for his britches. Gunn, whose comically disgusting Slither made me very excited to see what he could do in the future, missed the mark with this film, but Kevin Bacon was great as megascum Jacques, sleaze ball and wannabe gangster, and the film is definitely inspired (if that’s the appropriate word). The problem here is that the film’s high points are only okay, and okay will never make up for not okay. At least in Nicolas Winding Refn’s scorcher Bronson, the high points were insanely high, which made the weak points much easier to endure. Only die hard Gunn fans (do those exist?) will find this film truly satisfying, but Ellen Page alone is almost worth the price of admission. 

29 April 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

directed by Brad Furman

It’s an airport novel turned disposable entertainment, plain and simple. I do not begrudge films like this because, after all, that’s what film was first and foremost designed to do, entertain. I have said it before: the world of film needs people like Merion C. Cooper just as much as it needs people like Orson Welles. But let’s get one thing straight: I am not asserting that Brad Furman is another Merion C. Cooper. I suppose Steven Speilberg or (shudder) James Cameron would be the Coopers of our generation, but I digress… The Lincoln Lawyer, based on the book by Michael Connelly (give it a read the next time you’re waiting for a flight), tells the story of defense lawyer Mick Haller, slick shit defender of moneyed scumbags and high profile lowlifes around Los Angeles. When Haller takes a job defending a rich realtor (Ryan Phillippe), he finds that the quest for the truth can be a dangerous one, indeed. All the actors sink their teeth into roles that call for not much more than a rudimentary grasp of the acting craft, which makes the film way more enjoyable than the dross it could have potentially been. Matthew McConaughey is back, baby (alright, alright) as Haller, strutting his shit like Mitchum in his prime. Please, Mr. McC, please say no to Failure to Launch 2: Still on the Launch Pad if it ever comes your way. William H Macy rocked, and Marisa Tomei was fantastic, John Leguizamo ruled (but he always rules) and Phillipe was excellent. And I cannot tell you how excited I was to see Michael Paré back in action, in an actual credible movie. Be still my heart. I actually let out a small shriek in the auditorium. All in all, The Lincoln Lawyer was exactly what I expected, good old fashioned escapist film fun at its finest, expertly packaged and tightly directed. I would totally watch another Mick Haller installment after this (I’ve been told there are more books featuring the character), as long as Wooderson on the job, that is.

PS Those of you who are saying “Who the hell is Michael Paré?” right now need to watch Eddie and the Cruisers, Streets of Fire, Bad Moon and The Virgin Suicides immediately.   

28 April 2011

Scream 4

directed by Wes Craven

After watching the trailer for Super 8 (for which I am totally excited, btw) I got the sense that Steven Speilberg has been proposing this film for years, at cocktail parties and board room meetings, saying “Come on, don’t you think it’s time for another Close Encounters?” I feel like the same thing happened with Scream 4, only in Speilberg’s case when everyone laughed uncomfortably and changed the subject, he let it go, at least for a few decades. In the case of Scream 4, however, director Wes Craven must have left the party saying “Fuck it. I’ll just give KW a call. He’s not doing anything.” The result is a sometimes entertaining, sometimes comical, sometimes ridiculous rehashing of the previous films and yes, a totally meta horror film that talks about what it is doing as it is doing it. I enjoyed it for what it was, though: good, old fashioned gory, startle horror that doesn’t cash in on the torture porn dead horse everyone else has been so content in beating this past decade. The film has a good helping of bloody fun, but Craven plays the hell out of his make you jump directing style to wonderful effect. Not much has changed since the last film; a copycat is out to duplicate the killing spree, only this time upping the ante by taking the killings into the digital age. The acting is reliable and forgettable, but at least Rory Culkin turns it out as film geek Charlie, and David Arquette rocks his patented Barney Fife dim bulb facial expression. And will someone please tell Courtney Cox to stop doing whatever the hell it is she has been doing to her face. You are starting to look a little freaky, Courtney, like something from a Vincent Price movie. Scream 4 is nothing new. It’s only pretending to be. But it put a smile on my face.

Favorite part: Anthony Anderson’s amazing one liner. If you see the film, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

24 April 2011

Win Win

directed by Thomas McCarthy

The verdict is in, folks: writer director Thomas McCarthy is dud proof. The title of his newest film, Win Win, could very well be the title of a film about his professional endeavors. In fact, just after viewing his latest gem, I started mentally composing this review, and I thought, “Okay, I need to reference my earlier reviews for The Station Agent and The Visitor without just repeating myself.” It is at this point that I want to apologize to you, Mr. McCarthy, for I shamefully realize that I have not actually reviewed any of your films. And I apologize to you, my ones of fellow film lovers who actually read OMFBC, because I was of the impression that I had expressed my love for the authentically sincere and non showy voice and vision of Thomas McCarthy. His newest film is great in every right way, a film about lawyer and family man Mike (is Paul Giamatti ever not astoundingly wonderful?) who, struggling to make ends meet, takes on an elderly ward named Leo (a fantastic Burt Young) in exchange for a slice of government cheese. A wrench in the works comes in the form of 16 year old Kyle (Alex Shaffer), Leo’s estranged grandson whom he has never met. Mike and wife Jackie (Amy Ryan is perfect) take Kyle in, and when Kyle asks to practice with the wrestling team Mike coaches, it turns out that Kyle is a tatted up state champ with some fierce moves. McCarthy is an actor himself and it shows in his work, for all of his films feature top notch talent giving some of their best performances (Richard Jenkins in The Visitor was an Oscar contender that year, in my opinion). The only qualm I have with this film is that at times (and it’s only some of the time) it was apparent that Shaffer just wasn’t as strong an actor as the rest of his cast. That could have to do with his age, his level of experience, and the fact that he is surrounded by fabulous actors on all sides, very fabulous actors like Ryan, Giamatti, Young, Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale. I am saying this not to snidely find fault, but simply to say that when the rest of the film is so good, you can forgive a green actor when he plays the role so sincerely (and Shaffer does play the role with complete sincerity). Win Win, like all McCarthy films, resists convention and finds a core to which we can all relate. Bravo, Mr. M. 

23 April 2011

GasLand

directed by Josh Fox

Ok. Enough time has passed since I curmudgeonly and snarkily got on my little soap box about the illustrious tradition of the Academy Awards (ugh), and I must give credit where credit is due with regard to Josh Fox’s eye opening doc about the crisis besieging my fair nation, a crisis brought on by the long, wicked fingers of Big Natural Gas, unchecked by an inept government and a neutered EPA. Fox begins, literally, in his backyard, with a proposition to lease his land to Big NG, and in exchange for some walking around money, Fox would have to allow an undetermined number of “frac” wells (wells designed to fracture the earth and harvest the gas) to be built on his multi acre plot along the Delaware River. Doesn’t sound so bad, but when Fox begins to investigate the actual impacts of this insanely unsafe (from an environmental, biological, social and medical standpoint)  practice, making his way around the country to talk to droves of this country’s struggling middle class, families beleaguered with hosts of ailments, calamities, and (in some cases) flammable tap water. That’s right, you heard me correctly. Tap water so corrupted with chemicals and gases as a result of Big NG’s reckless quest for profit that it quite literally can be lit on fire as it pours into the kitchen sink of a modern home. Fox’s doc is expertly realized, more visceral than the flaccid and intellectual Food Inc (a doc that seeks to unveil, in similar fashion, the misdeeds of the Big Agriculture in the US), and it doesn’t hurt that Fox has some righteous banjo pickin’ chops. All in all, GasLand is a great doc and a strong warning to the uninformed who believe that natural gas will free us from Crude’s death grip. Let’s just hope it’s not as frighteningly prophetic as it appears to be.

22 April 2011

October Country

directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher

October Country is as honest a portrait of an American family (or any family, for that matter) that you are sure to find in recent years, lovingly yet devastatingly realized by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher. This doc tells the tale of the Moshers, a down and out family in New York State coping with abuse, trauma and emotional withdrawal, seemingly doomed to replay a pattern of tragic misfortune to the end times. Told over the course of one year (Halloween to Halloween), October Country unfolds like a wrenching tapestry comprising what it means to be a family, what it means to have it rough and what it means to endure, even in the darkest of times. Estrangement, loss and betrayal intermingle with love, affection and, in the case of the vibrant and perceptive Desi, a lust for life that acts as a brilliant and much needed ray of light into the gloom. The visual flourishes are hauntingly beautiful; quiet and magnificent tableaus that comment on the almost existential questions posed by the trials of Donal’s family. Are people fated to relive past horrors, predisposed, even doomed, to suffer forever at the hands of a cruel, cosmic mobius strip? These are heavy, burdening things to contemplate, but October Country shines a light on the power that people have to tow the line and manage through situations that most of us would consider overwhelming, even hopeless. This phenomenal doc will leave you solemn, yet satisfied, but I have said this before about other films: if you are simply in the mood for a bit of light viewing, stick a pin in this one. If you are up for it, though, you will not be disappointed.

16 April 2011

My Cinematic Alphabet

Paul, you and Jack have planted the alphabet seed in my head as well. I created this list as quickly as I could in an effort to avoid trying to seem cool, over-thinking what is supposed to be a spontaneous activity, and thus generating a list of outrageously obscure films that only the most annoying hipster would be able to relate to. Somehow, many of my favorite documentaries found their way onto this list (hmmm). Anyway, without further ado, I give you the list (with links to reviews, where applicable).

A-    American Movie (a true testament to the liberating power of dreams)

B-    Big Trouble in Little China (a ridiculous and entertaining B movie gem)

C-    Cowboy Bebop (one of my favorite anime films)

D-    Dogtown and Z-Boys (one of my favorite docs)

E-     Edward Scissorhands (my number one favorite film)

F-     Five Obstructions, The (a cinephile’s fantasy come to life)

G-    Gomorrah (hands down the best organized crime film, ever)

H-    Hustle and Flow (Terence Howard’s best role, and Craig Brewer’s best film)

I-       Into the Wild (depending on your disposition, this film is either awful or transcendent)

J-       Joe Versus the Volcano (Probably my favorite Tom Hanks film)

K-    King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, The (you can’t write characters this astoundingly entertaining)

L-     Lost Boys, The (an ultimate drive in classic)

M-   Microcsmos (a mesmerizing glimpse of the insect world)

N-    Night of the Hunter (Laughton’s masterpiece will never fade)

O-    Once Upon a Time in the West (the most magnificent Western ever conceived)

P-     Primer (the best time travel film ever made)

Q-    Quick and the Dead, The (a guilty pleasure, as all Sam Raimi films are)

R-    RIZE (one of the best films ever, not just in the documentary category)

S-     Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (a magnum opus about social inequality, courtesy of Melvin Van Peebles)

T-     Thunder Road, Two-Lane Blacktop (a 2 way tie for a pair of the greatest driving films of all time)


U-    Unforgiven (Eastwood’s masterpiece. One of the finest westerns ever made)

V-    Vanishing Point (drive on, Kowalski)

W-  Warriors, The (Walter Hill’s comic classic is as awesome now as it was then)

X-    X (aka Malcolm X) (Spike Lee's best joint. Up there with Do the Right Thing and He Got Game)

Y-    Yojimbo (one of the best Westerns to be filmed. Kurosowa is iconic)

Z-     Zoolander (Who doesn’t enjoy a liberal lampooning of all things pop culture?)


So there you have it. It’s strange what pops into your head when you least expect it. Do these films comprise what I consider to be the best examples that film has to offer? Probably not, but I do love all of them in different ways. Sometime 2 films popped up at once, and I had to choose, so I’m sorry, Eddie and the Cruisers, Ravenous, and Tron, but you lost the coin toss. I love you still, with all my heart.

15 April 2011

Hanna

directed by Joe Wright

Finally! Finally a film has premiered this year that isn’t a load of tripe, and boy does it come in one hell of a package. Hanna has enough piss and vinegar to wipe the shitty grin right off Sucker Punch’s shallow, immature face, and thanks to such amazing talents as Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Tom Hollander and Cate Blanchett, the film buzzes with an electricity that zaps you to your seat. If only Zack Snyder had cheated off this test sheet during exam time… No matter, because director Joe Wright makes magic of a daring and wonderful script by Seth Lochhead and David Farr about a girl (Ronan) raised in the woods by her ex operative father (Bana), trained to kill or be killed. Add to the already strong brew is the stellar eye of cinematographer Alwin Kuchler, who gives every sequence a special identity. And how about The Chemical Brothers killing it with the best score of the year (Academy, you better be writing this shit down)? The Chemical Brothers manage to fuse the music and the sound design into such a perfect marriage that I often found myself wondering if what I was hearing were merely sound effects for the film or part of the score, and in almost every case it was, in fact, both. It’s fitting that such audiophiles like The Chemical Brothers would excel at illustrating the wondrous, emotive properties of music, as the concept of “music” is a motif that runs throughout the film. In fact, you could have a high noon showdown between Hanna’s dark mutation of in the Hall of the Mountain King and Trent Reznor’s surrealistic nightmare handling of that same piece of music in the rowing sequence of The Social Network. Ronan is a fair and deadly vision as the child of science, raised in a vacuum and loosed upon the world. The story is framed against the backdrop of fairy tales, predominantly Eastern European fairy tales that brim with both violence and candy, family and menace. Behind all of this lurks the taunt, the question of “what does it mean to be normal?” It’s an existential out of body experience, a quest for identity that finds us asking ourselves the same questions internally. Hanna is as badass as all getout, and if you knew what was good for you, this one should shoot straight to the top of your must see list.

14 April 2011

Kung Fu Panda

directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson

Disclaimer: The following review will not concern itself with the Kung Fu Panda that everyone knows and, well, maybe “loves” would be a strong word here, but rather the version of this film that I saw when I was in Vegas for the 2008 ShoWest convention. It may be a bit alienating, and for that, I apologize.

When I sat down for the Kung Fu Panda screening at ShoWest, Paramount stated that, as of right then, Dreamworks had not finished the final touches on its latest animated endeavor, which included scoring the film and animating a few action sequences. They assured everyone that the film would be finished on time, but they wanted to give us a taste of what was to come that summer. The story itself is traditional but enjoyable: an unlikely character (a tubby Panda, voiced by Jack Black) trains amongst his heroes to become a great and powerful warrior. The voice work is solid but silly, with Ian McShane standing out best of all as the voice of the snow leopard, Tai Lung. But the film was a very different animal when I glimpsed it that winter. Instead of an original score, the filmmakers cut in musical segments from Batman Begins and the Kill Bill films, which made the film amazing in ways I didn’t think were possible at the time. Certain sequences (in exactly the right proportions and at exactly the right moments in the film) were nothing more than animatic abstractions (the story of the Five, near the beginning, for instance) that create a feeling of artistic breadth and depth. When coupled with the stand-in score, the varied animation taps into a filmic history that enriches the movie in glorious ways. The film itself pays homage to many of the great martial arts films that came before it (Akira Kurosawa, The Shaw Brothers, Kenji Misumi), and it blends credible action with visceral fantasy that stays light (though I wished it would have just gone for it) and family friendly. The ShoWest version was incomplete in all the right ways, and the stop gaps meant merely to keep the ball rolling instead added depth, artistry and innovation to an otherwise pleasant but vanilla family film (though it does have wonderful moments that fans of martial arts films will appreciate). That version doesn’t exist anywhere but in my mind and the minds of the lukewarm audience that received it. I actually inquired about obtaining a copy of the film in that magnificent state, imploring Dreamworks to let me have it. I told them I would wait until the film was released on DVD, even, that I was moved by the prototype unfurled in Las Vegas, but to no avail. It’s a shame, but the version I watched at ShoWest is a testament to what some would consider peripheral filmic components used in a manner that can give way to art. It’s the little differences that can make all the difference. 

Note: I do not have faith the upcoming sequel. It just looks silly. And that's not say that I don't enjoy silly (just look at my past reviews, I love it all), but this one just looks a bit too silly and a bit too lifeless for my taste.

13 April 2011

Blade Runner

directed by Ridley Scott

Even though it still has a few of the bells and whistles that tend to date futuristic films (particularly those made in the 80s), Ridley Scott’s filmic adaptation of Phillip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a bona fide classic, a philosophically heavy film about existence, humanity, and the nature of the soul. It also has liberal dosage of an underwear clad Rutger Hauer stalking through a rain soaked, dilapidated building, producing (somehow, someway) a snow white dove in his robotic grip which he manages to cling to even after leaping across rooftops and saving Harrison Ford from a plummeting fate. Okay, maybe I’m the only person for whom that whole sequence makes perfect sense (that was sarcasm, by the way), but Blade Runner is always a good time. I remember seeing it on the shelves of the video store, the cover conjuring up images of half scenes perceived and surrealistic sequences caught on late night television, full of neon and mystery, but it wasn’t until high school that I actually sat down and watched the film. Needless to say, when it was released in the definitive, ultimate, supreme, super duper deluxe director’s cut a few years ago, I was like a moth to a porch light, and it was worth every hard earned dollar to see Scott’s film on the big screen. Blade Runner overflows, in characteristic Scott fashion, with meaning, with depth, and the film is stylish in a way that dates, but does not outdate itself. Watching it right now, Harrison Ford still looks cool, and so does Rutger Hauer, and much of the Scott/Dick future is oddly relevant today, as long as we all agree to just not talk about whatever the hell Joanna Cassidy was wearing when she fled from her dressing room, Ford in tow. My personal favorite is Edward James Olmos, who rocks and rolls as Gaff, Deckard’s (Ford) shadow and, possibly, holder of important clues about the Blade Runner himself. Blade Runner will endure because it transcends and entertains, and it’s the magical kind of film that, depending on your mood and company, you can give a serious watch and be thoroughly satisfied or, if you’re feeling silly, you can make fun of relentlessly and enjoy on a completely different level. Your call. 

11 April 2011

Riding Giants

directed by Stacy Peralta

Stacy Peralta’s doc about the history of big wave surfing is an inclusive foray into spiritual badassery, aquatic daredevilry and the culture of epic. Peralta uses a similar formula that made Dogtown and Z Boys such a fantastic doc, keeping the story moving with dynamic visuals, music and storytelling (who says documentaries have to be dry and boring?). Fans of Dogtown will find similarities that mark a signature style uniquely Peralta’s, and fans of surfing will find icons like Greg Noll, Jeff Clark and Laird Hamilton regaling iconic rides, iconic spots, and iconic ideals in a way that transcends the confines of the sport. From Waimea to Mavericks, Riding Giants chronicles surfing from its origins to the present day, focusing on the aspect of big wave surfing instead of trying like scattershot to tell the entire story of the spiritual sport in one go. What unfolds through the anecdotes, history and personal tragedy is the story of a sport built around a philosophy in a way unlike any other sport. Golfers can hit a hole in one, and baseball pitchers can pitch a perfect game, but for surfers, there is no bar, no absolute to attain. For them, the quest is just as significant as the achievement, the search for the perfect wave, the perfect ride. For surfer’s like Noll, surfing is a very real love affair (if you watch the DVD, please please check out the Greg Noll sound bite on the special features in which he says the ocean winked at him during one nostalgic trip). For the likes of Clark, it’s a singular and, for a decade and a half, solitary rite that few could know. For us, the non-surfers of the world, the doc is a glimpse into a philosophy and a very real way of life, lovingly conveyed to us by a filmmaker who looks up to these men and women with an earnest respect that shines through his work. Let’s not forget that Peralta was first and foremost a surfer before finding his calling with skateboarding and, later, filmmaking, and it shows. Peralta is able to do with Riding Giants what Bruce Brown was able to do with Endless Summer: create a film that both insiders and outsiders can equally enjoy, a film that leaves something deep, transcendent and beautiful inside you for always. It may even have you thinking about getting a board of your own.

Note: For all you fellow Michiganders out there: They say you can surf Lake Superior if the conditions are right.

10 April 2011

Sucker Punch

directed by Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder has been the Wizard of Hollywood since his muscled up action flick slash comic adaptation 300 knocked everyone’s socks off (somehow everyone seemed to forget that Robert Rodriguez did it better with Sin City) in 2006. I wasn’t sold, and after his inflated mess that was Watchmen, I knew the jig was up for Mr. S. The rest of the world seemed ready for more, but Snyder’s newest crapfest, aptly titled Sucker Punch, is exactly that: a cheap shot disguised as an actual film. Now that Snyder has attempted to stand on his own, shallow feet, it brings into sharp focus the fact that not only does Snyder not get some of the material he has adapted in the past, but he isn’t particularly mature when it comes to how he views men and women. Aside from Sucker Punch playing out like a frenetic commercial for five different video games mashed into one barely cohesive story (I’m using the word cohesive loosely, by the way), the segments that actually involve dialogue (again, I’m using the word dialogue as loosely as I just used the word cohesive) are reduced to not much more than a series of fetish sequences for geeks to slobber over. For shame, Mr. S. I hope that this film is your Toto, pulling down the curtain of smoke and mirrors you have conjured to trick people into thinking you are a visionary when you are nothing more than a modern Russ Meyer with gluttonous budgets at your disposal. When you cough up cash to see this crap, take a look around at your co-audience and see who’s lining up to take in Snyder’s genius. Maybe then you’ll see what I mean (hint, hint, I’m insinuating that you, the audience are the actual suckers. Get it?)

Note: Perhaps I am reading waaay too much into this, and perhaps I am giving Snyder too much credit, the way I feel that I do for Harmony Korine (Kids, Trash Humpers). But perhaps the true sucker punch of the film is the film itself, and Snyder is back in his castle, laughing at how stupid we can be to throng to films like this. Somehow, I fear that is wishful thinking, and probably truer to reality is that Snyder actually thought he was making an important film. A shame, that.

09 April 2011

Source Code

directed by Duncan Jones

A slick script and strong directorial talent are the keys to a good film. It’s a first for screenwriter Ben Ripley (who penned some trash before this), but the sophomore directing attempt for Duncan Jones shows he has mad talent. In music, an artist’s second album will tell you if they are true blue or not (the first album being the one they have been working on for years as they try to get noticed), and if the same rule can be applied to film, then Jones is truly the real deal. After the sensational space gem, Moon, Jones is back in the sci fi saddle for this story about a soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) reliving an 8 minute loop in an effort to prevent a bomber from leveling downtown Chicago. Yes, it’s kind of like Groundhog Day, and yes, it’s kind of like Donnie Darko, and kind of like a few other films that I shan’t mention so as not to give away anything, but it’s not simply aping its excellent predecessors, instead working to find its own voice that can make itself heard over the audience mumbling things like “What the hell is going on?” and “Remember that part in Groundhog Day…” The film is rewarding in its own way, and strong performances from Jeffrey Wright, Vera Farmiga and Gyllenhaal help keep you into it. Don’t be fooled, though: the film isn’t perfect. It stumbles, it gets sappy, in short, it falls victim to some of the age old filmic maladies, but I would never begrudge a film for that. If I did, I would have to hate half the films I love (Armageddon, The Beach, Romeo + Juliet). 

07 April 2011

Rango

directed by Gore Verbinski

Who the hell would have thought that one of the best westerns of recent years would turn up in the form of a silly (the trailer would have you believe), fish out of water story, and a cartoon at that? Certainly not me, but that is exactly that case with Gore Verbinski’s excellent animated feature, Rango, featuring such delicious vocal talents as Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone and, of course, Johnny Depp. The film is still silly at times, but the interesting thing about it is that Rango clearly isn’t concerned with being totally G (aka totally vanilla), and it clearly didn’t worry whether or not it may frighten the children for whom this film is allegedly designed. And what’s spectacular about the film is how it pays homage to the western greats of yore. You will see Corbucci, Leone, Kurosawa, Eastwood, even Ford, in Rango’s sprawling vistas, marvelous close ups of countenances as rugged as the scorched panoramas, and the semi mystical journeying of the title character, a domesticated pet lizard, hurled from a station wagon and into a foreign world of bandits, government toughs and pioneers with various levels of grit. The plot revolves around a town and its most precious (and limited) resource: water. When Rango shows up with a cock and bull story about killing seven men with one bullet, he takes the post as the town’s new sheriff, determined to clean up the town (aptly named Dirt) and end the drought. I don’t want to get into too much here, otherwise I will ramble on about how well thought out, artful, and even genius John Logan’s (who wrote such films as The Aviator and Gladiator) script is at times, but I will say that Olyphant’s arrival at the film’s turning point (just after a very harrowing scene, particularly for a children’s film) marks a point when the film turns its shit up to eleven, promptly blowing my mind and effectively losing even the most mannerly children equipped with longer than average attention spans. Rocking a stellar Eastwood voice, the Spirit of the West (that’s actually Olyphant’s character name) is a rough shadow of his former self, wandering the desert scavenging trinkets (among which are film awards, hint hint). If anyone would like to have an existential conversation about how awesome this sequence is in itself, you know where to find me. Roger Deakins has redeemed himself after his questionable work in the True Grit remake, rustling up some truly mind boggling cinematography. Mr. Deakins, I cannot gush enough. Depp finds his inner Terence Hill, blending the serious and the silly to very good effect as Rango. Casual film goers may find this film frustrating as it doesn’t stay fluffy enough to be a family film, but in a quasi-attempt not to alienate everyone, treads the line between light and dark. True fans of westerns, however, will love it. I actually had low expectations for the film and, frankly, I was blown away.

05 April 2011

Tyson

directed by James Toback

James Toback’s documentary about the man who could have been the greatest boxer of all time is simultaneously mesmerizing and disturbing, but one thing is absolutely certain: you have never seen Kid Dynamite like this. Mike Tyson will forever be a name synonymous with everything that go wrong with a young and talented athlete, much like Jay Adams of the professional skateboarding world (that reference may be lost on many, due to the fact that skateboarding isn’t nearly as popular as boxing). Under the care of boxing coach Cus D’Amato, Mike Tyson went from an angry, troubled street kid to a one man arsenal built to devastate. Tyson’s speed and power are legendary, and Toback gives us plenty of the Tyson “greatest hits” reel: knockout after knockout after spectacular knockout. Perhaps it is because Toback and Tyson know each other, have a history with one another (Tyson delivers a terrifyingly real performance in Toback’s interesting film, Black & White), but the doc percolates with the raw power of Tyson’s story in his own words, from his criminally destructive youth, through his rise and fall, ending finally somewhere in between those worlds. The doc itself is in no way great (all those split screens, yeesh), but it’s Tyson’s words that propel the film, filling you with unease, even on screen he somehow has the power to intimidate. His line of thinking, his speech pattern, his repetition of certain words, all have the cumulative effect of making you uncomfortable and fascinated all at once, causing you to ask, silently, “what goes on inside your mind, Mike?” Tyson could have been an untouchable talent, an athlete with natural abilities so beyond his contemporaries that to challenge him was almost certain folly, but things, sadly, were not to play out that way for him. What stays with you after the doc ends is not the tragedy of human events, but the deep, frightening unknowable depths of Tyson’s inner workings.

04 April 2011

Arthur

directed by Jason Winer

The Jason Winer/Peter Baynham reboot of the classic film Arthur, this time around starring the famous train wreck turned endearing comedian Russell Brand, is a bit more watered down that one would expect, but the tonic is still charming in its own way. Brand plays Arthur Bach, heir to a fortune and a lovable, drunken mess, ever in the pursuit of fun, much to the charming chagrin of one Hobson (played wonderfully, as always, by Helen Mirren). When momma Bach threatens to cut Arthur off unless he marries business minded Susan (expertly played by the lovely Jenifer Garner), Arthur faces a choice between his security and his heart’s true love, the whimsical Naomi (Greta Gerwig). The film hits many snags along the way to its conventional point, but the performances (as was the case in the Pegg/Frost comedy, Paul) help carry the film. To use one of Arthur’s talents as an analogy, this film is like the non-suicide inducing version of Leaving Las Vegas. Give it a chance and it will put a smile on your face, whether you want it to or not.

Note: A scientific curio for those interested in such phenomena: Nick Nolte’s voice has devolved into some sort of vocal abstraction, a voice in only the most technical sense. In the film, Nolte appears to utilize muscles in his throat and diaphragm, causing what resembles sound to emanate from the veneer stuffed orifice on his face. It’s even more out of control that what has happened to Mickey Rourke’s once soft, silky voice. Seriously, do you guys just get up every morning, smoke 7 packs of cigarettes, and then gargle with paint thinner?

03 April 2011

Paul

directed by Greg Mottola

I so wanted to love this wacky ass story about two nerds on holiday who have a super close, and super hilarious encounter of the third kind, but alas, Paul left me wanting. Writers Nick Frost and Simon Pegg root their story in a sincerity that works like gangbusters, which was the recipe for the success of both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but the overall story just didn’t knock it out of the park for me like the duo’s previous efforts. Seth Rogen is funny as the voice of Paul, an alien stranded on Earth for over half a decade, imprisoned in a government facility, yet somehow still able to stay abreast of popular culture. Don’t worry about the specifics, but rest assured that great performances from Pegg, Frost, and Jason Bateman keep the film humming even when it throws a belt. Paul pales in comparison to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but I will never turn down a chance to see Frost and Pegg get their man love on (“gay,” as Frost in Shaun of the Dead would say).

02 April 2011

Mysterious Skin

directed by Gregg Araki

Gregg Araki’s newest film, Kaboom, is set for a wide-ish release very soon, and, frankly, I am skeptical about it. That doesn’t change the fact that his film about two young men bonded together by horrors from their past is still as fantastic, and harsh, as it was nearly a decade ago. Mysterious Skin is shocking, horrific and haunting, a story about two boys in a small Midwestern town who are consumed by their pasts, unable to shake, or even fully realize, the devastation it has caused them, until the truth brings them together. Joseph Gordon Levitt sets the standard for his entire professional career (which is high, by the way) as Neil, always thinking of his lurid youth, recklessly selling his body and lusting after a chance to leave the small town that imprisons him. On the other end of the spectrum is Brian, the shy, nearly asexual boy whose repressed memories have taken hold of him, manifesting themselves as nebulous dreams of alien abductions and lost time. Elizabeth Shue is marvelous as Neil’s mother, who finds a wild tenderness and steel strong love that is beautifully underplayed. Mysterious Skin deals with rough topics and is therefore not a film for everyone, but there is a core, a heart to the film that resonates. The film belongs to Brady Corbet, however, who plays Brian with an explosive vulnerability that, when coupled with his deliciously twisted turn in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (the remake), demonstrates a truly remarkable range. It’s a shame he’s not in more films. You should be taking notes, Hollywood.