What movie was that...?

27 May 2011

Jane Eyre

directed by Cary Fukunaga

I avoid the dreaded “period” film like PW avoided the snakes during his pet store fire rescue in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, but the fact that this rendition of Jane Eyre was directed by Cary Fukungaa (who directed an epic Levi’s commercial, which is also one of my favorite pieces of film). Fukunaga follows up the visually breathtaking Sin Nombre (watch it) with a dark and richly textured take on Jane Eyre that felt entirely new to me. I will not bore everyone with a plot that every good school boy and girl should know already (if we did our homework as we should have done), but Charlotte Brontë’s tale pulsates with life in a way like I have never seen before. I felt as if the film balanced ever on the brink, and at any given moment, it could tip into the realm of supernatural ghostliness or nightmarish monstrosity. And yet it was not completely different from other adaptations, but rather that screenwriter Moira Buffini chose to interpret the themes of the book with new eyes. Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender are absolutely marvelous on screen together, and their connection burns with a mesmerizing fury, both romantic and terrifying. Fukunaga is a true talent behind the camera, and Jane Eyre is a notch any director would be proud wear on their belt.

26 May 2011

The Hangover Part II

directed by Todd Phillips

All the reasons, all the exact same reasons that won me over in the hardcore comedy classic, The Hangover, are currently repelling me from the clunker of a sequel from Todd Phillips and acting posse from its inspired predecessor. Now, I was not so naïve to think that I was actually going to see a fresh and new comedy when I sat down in the auditorium. On the contrary, I was one of those “if it ain’t broke” clowns, just like all those people who love a band until the band tries to do something new on their second album, and then all of a sudden said fan is all “I like their old stuff way better.” I would have been perfectly content with a raunchy greatest hits sequel, a la Wayne’s World 2, but this was something all together more tragic. When I say that this film is shockingly similar to the first Hangover film, I come close to hitting the nail on the head. We’re not talking about James Cameron generic plot points similar, here. We are talking about Evil Dead/Evil Dead II similar, and not in a good way. Sure, there are funny moments, and there are some really effing funny moments, but it’s the principle of the thing: if you are going to pawn an iPhone 3GS off as an iPhone 4, then you should at least try stuffing the 3GS guts into an iPhone 4 casing. Come on, people! Make the effort! The Hangover II is the filmic equivalent of an empty gesture, like the jackass who, after a meal, reaches so slowly for his wallet that you can’t help but say, “Don’t worry about it, moneybags. I’ll get the bill.” In fact, if you want to read my review of this film, just read this one, and the only difference of note is that it takes place in Bangkok, and that Ed Helms is the groom this time, and that the baby has been replaced with a monkey. Actually these differences don’t really matter at all, and if the first film didn’t exist, this one would have been worth talking about.

19 May 2011

Animal Kingdom

directed by David Michôd

It seems that, of late, in order to find the strongest examples of both crime drama and western, you need to look to the Great Southern Land, and it has been a long time since Australia has produced such mammothly strong films. The western to which I refer is the absolute classic of the genre, The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat and written by the iconic icon, Nick Cave. Hell, while we’re on the subject of phenomenal westerns of the past decade, I can’t ignore the tremendous work of Andrew Dominik (ok, ok! I know he’s from New Zealand!) on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but enough jabbering about these other gems. David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom is hands down one of the finest examples of crime drama this side of Gomorrah, which puts it in the running for one of the finest of all time. Michôd’s story revolves around a family of crooks and the great unraveling of their lives at the hands of an overzealous police force and internal maladies. When 17 year old Josh (nice work, James Frecheville) finds himself orphaned after his mother’s overdose, he comes under the care of the family he barely knows, ruled by Grandma Smurf, the matriarch who lives for her boys. Jacki Weaver is astounding as Smurf, blending sugary sweet with pure evil to gut turning effect. Smurf’s boys include Baz (Joel Edgerton), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and Darren (Luke Ford), who all see the writing on the wall: that the sun has set on their grand plans. It is insinuated that this possibly may have something to do with a trespass of oldest brother, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn, you haunted my dreams after I watched this film), and it is Pope who seems to be the source of much family tension. When events turn dark and the going gets rough, a detective tries to give Josh some perspective. Guy Pearce has long shown himself to be a heavy weight talent, from leading roles (The Proposition) to minute roles that he fills so richly (The Road, The Hurt Locker), and he doesn’t disappoint as the hard boiled detective trying to do something good. The world is full of great big truths and pissy little bugs, as Detective Leckie would say, and Animal Kingdom is a great truth, a film that will hold its own amidst the passage of time. From the soundtrack to the directing, Animal Kingdom is top notch and worth seeing.

A quasi-Australia related question: Have any of you, my fellow film fanatics out there, watched Van Diemen’s Land, directed by Jonathn auf der Heide? It looked marvelous from the trailer, but it never played here, and I can’t even get it on my Netflix queue. Is it worth obsessing about, like I have been for the past few years?  

15 May 2011

Meek's Cuttoff

directed by Kelly Reichardt

Meek’s Cuttoff is everything I could have hoped for, a film that sets a very high standard for what’s to follow this year. In fact, this is one of the films I was most excited to see this year (Terence Malick’s Tree Life is number 1 with a bullet). While I cannot speak for the disgruntled group of geriatrics who mumbled and grumbled throughout the film’s grueling, enervating (magnificently, magically enervating) duration, I was mesmerized by Kelly Reichardt’s masterful lens and Jonathan Raymond’s fantastic script. What makes Meek’s Cuttoff so phenomenal is how ardently and organically it avoids all the usual trappings and conventions that befall lesser films, and what made me realize how trained I have become to expect such trappings was how tense and nervous I felt throughout much of the movie. I found myself waiting for an “inciting incident,” a plot twist or even one of those obligatory “shocker” moments that make you jump, but Meek’s Cuttoff requires none of those things, instead relying on a sort of internal mechanism that propels itself. Cinematographer Chris Blauvelt has operated cameras for some of the best (David Fincher on Zodiac, Spike Jonze on Where the Wild Things Are, Wong Kar Wai on one of the BMW films, The Follow), but his photographic wizardry on Meek’s most evokes Gus Van Sant’s jaw dropper, Gerry, which is actually the film to which I have been likening Reichardt’s gem. Like Gerry, Meek’s Cuttoff is an experience, a labyrinth of quiet desperation, isolation, and human spirits dominated by the vastness of an unknown land. I could go on and on about the stellar relationships that exist between the settlers and their arrogant guide Stephen Meek (played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood), a man who may or may not be lying about his expertise, or the Indian guide with whom the group places their wary trust, but the last thing I want to do is intellectualize such a powerfully raw film that needs no abstractions to strengthen or justify its existence. Meek's Cuttoff is a bruiser, and a heavy weight contender for all those little gold awards. Michelle Williams is perfect as Emily, wife to Solomon (Will Patton is one of my favorite actors) and the gradual leader of the clan. Take notes, Academy, and don’t screw anything up this year.

14 May 2011

A Prophet

directed by Jacques Audiard

Jacques Audiard is a great director who has director other great films, but none so powerful, so plainly enthralling and so beautiful. This film and Steve McQueen’s magnificent Hunger are hands down two of the best prison films of recent years, and where both films succeed is in their ardent adherence to sincerity. While Hunger dealt with true events, Audiard and Thomas Bidegain craft a tale that is almost a fable, an allegory of the criminal collective, fleshing out a steadfast and riveting arc that reflects the passage of time. Tahar Rahim is out of sight as Malik, who comes under the servitude of the Corsican mob while serving a 6 year stint in prison. As Malik learns his way around the inner workings of prison economics, his power grows and his rough naivety seems to dissolve. Audiard blends the real and the surreal like Mabrouk El Mechri does in the tragically underrated JCVD, illustrating the ghosts that haunt Malik like the Beast that haunts Gal Dove in Sexy Beast. Alexandre Desplat’s score is phenomenal, and Audiard’s film is one of those films that takes you along for a journey that really seems to take years, and I mean that in the best possible way. A wonderful film.

10 May 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris

directed by John Requa and Glen Ficarra

I was right in the middle of my review for Takashi Miike’s stellar film, Sukiyaki Western Django (inspired by Paul’s killer Django review and the newly released title of QT’s next classic) when I decided to take a break and rave about this madcap tale of con artists, prison breaks, and a boundless romance between two souls entwined by the cosmos. I knew this film was going to be good (my gut seemed sure of this), but if I had known how good, I would have prepared myself more fully. Jim Carrey has long since worn out his welcome in my book, garnering (at the best of times) not much more than a reluctant admission of his prowess as a professional. In fact, the only film of recent years featuring Carrey that I actually enjoyed was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and that was due more to the writing (Charlie Kaufman), the directing (Michael Gondry), and the acting of Kate Winslett, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson than anything else. But I had a good feeling about this film about a police officer named Steven Russell (Carrey), who, after coming out of the closet, divorces his wife, leaves his job and becomes a con man in Florida, and my faith in Ewan McGregor (I’m glad you’re back, Mr. McG) had finally been reestablished after the fun whodunit, The Ghost Writer. Requa and Ficarra are geniuses when they have the latitude to let their almost Coenesque point of view roam (Bad Santa, anyone?), and in Phillip Morris, the duo hit pay dirt. Did I mention that this is based on a true story, and that the real life Russell really did all the things alleged in the film? Well, it is, and he did. Carrey’s and McGregor’s performances are both Oscar worthy, without question, and how this modern classic failed to wow those stuffy old bastards is anyone’s guess. I would divulge more of the plot, but it would ruin all the fun, and who couldn’t use more fun? The film is at once heartfelt and cheeky, flamboyant and sincere, a cocktail that I would gladly enjoy any day of the week. Watch it, then thank me later.

PS “Coenesque” does not imply that Requa and Ficarra steal anything from the genius brothers, but rather that their style has a strong signature, almost idiosyncratically so, and when the pair put on writer and director hats, their collective voice is a marvel to behold.

07 May 2011

Fast Five

directed by Justin Lin

What’s to say about the fifth installment of an otherwise underwhelming film franchise that hasn’t already been said? The acting, you ask? Good one, I say. The plot? Don’t make me laugh. Well then why the hell are you even talking about Fast Five, BC? Because, when all was said and done, I have to admit something: I liked the hell out of this movie. The summer film season is officially here, folks, and the escapist romp that is Fast Five is like the first bloom that marks a cascade of eye candy fit for nothing more than consumption. What makes Fast Five work is the fact that it adheres to a much older action film style than most of its modern counterparts. Fast Five’s editors (Matsumoto, Raskin and Wagner) definitely utilize the more modern cut and run style of editing, but the film isn’t edited into incoherent oblivion like other big budget train wrecks (Transformers, I am looking at you). Director Justin Lin, responding to the fans who were pissed at all the CG in such installments as Tokyo Drift, filmed as much real life action as he could. The resulting driving sequences were fantastic, and bona fide (well, as much as possible) real life car wrecks, car stunts and other automotive showoffery kept my attention for 2 hours. Paul Walker, poor Paul Walker has only 2 facial expressions: vacant and confused, and yet I don’t mind seeing him in films. Why is that (I feel the same about the broody Robert Pattinson and the tubular Keanu Reeves as well)? And I think Vin Diesel has forgotten that acting, unlike the video game voice work he has been doing of late, requires actual facial expressiveness and physical movement (not that he had those qualities in spades to begin with). Fast Five is fun, bottom line. Those of you looking to use your noodle whilst watching a film can go join the elderly as they grumble through Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre. Have fun.

A question: Which actor(s) or actress(es) are your “Paul Walker”? Who do you enjoy watching in films even though you know full well their talents are lacking? 

06 May 2011

Water for Elephants

directed by Francis Lawrence

I had to go see this film by myself, because even my fiancée said it looked too cheesy. This, coming from someone who loves Titanic and The Notebook (wait, aren’t you really just talking about yourself, BC?). I love those films, too, but while she could see the film for what it was, I had my optimism dial turned up to 11. Hal Holbrook was fantastic, as was Reese Witherspoon and Paul Schneider (btw, Christoph Waltz deserves a medical commendation for the CPR he performed on his role), but the film’s faults have nothing to do with the actors. The trailer for this film made promises that the feature didn’t keep, promises of romanticized whimsy peppered with romanticized romance, tied up in a bow made of danger, intrigue and, yes, romance. In all seriousness, I was excited to see this film more for the cinematography and the early circus slash carnival culture of old, but what I ended up with left me wanting. To the film’s credit, the cinematography is wonderful, but the minutiae (I’m told the book is much more richly detailed) and the delicate particulars of circus culture only appeared in snippets, and rarely at that. Too bad, but on a more peculiar note, I found myself enjoying Robert Pattinson’s brooding and fragile, yet strong personae once again. Very odd, that. Pattinson’s acting style is very Paul Walkeresque (my review for Fast Five will explain this), with facial expressions that fall into one of only two categories:

1. I am in utter, angsty agony. Leave me to brood or I may vomit on you.
And,
2. I am so happy that I may vomit.

Hell, many a successful career has been built on less. Look at Michael Cera… The point here is that Water for Elephant is lackluster on all fronts, and despite the best efforts of a (mostly) stellar cast, the result is simply a pleasant, but unremarkable, filmic experience. 

02 May 2011

Marwencol

directed by Jeff Malmberg

I posted a trailer last year for a film that I was dying to see, a documentary about a man traumatized from a beating that left him comatose for 9 days. The trailer for that documentary, titled Marwencol, moved me in a very visceral way, and the doc in its entirety is a thing I haven’t come across in some time: a powerful, mesmerizing and very moving glimpse into the world of a true artist. Mark Hogancamp, who had to start from scratch after waking from the coma that erased much of his former self, went through physical and psychological therapy in order to regain what had been lost, relearning how to write and walk. When he was unable to continue traditional therapy, Mark developed his unique regimentation designed to help his fine motor skills and his most important asset, his imagination. The result is Marwencol, a 1/6 scale Belgian town at the height of WWII, home to soldiers and civilians who have carved out a precarious existence ever shadowed by the threat of the SS. American soldiers live alongside French, British, and even non SS German soldiers, spending much of their time in Hogancamp’s bar, The Ruined Stocking. I will say no more about the doc’s arc, but the most magical, haunting and genuine element of this film is Mark himself, working out his demons, his frustrations and his deepest desires through his medium of choice. His art is true blue, and as human portrait Mark’s story is one at once familiar, dear, and foreign. Sometimes, all you need to do as a documentarian is turn on the camera and try to keep up, though Malmberg shows that he knows his way around a camera and an editing room. Malmberg’s resume may look less than illustrious (his most notable endeavor was editing The Hottie and the Nottie, ugh), but hey, we all have bills to pay. If the Academy had its druthers, Marwencol would have been up for Best Documentary last year.

01 May 2011

David Lynch Signature Cup Coffee (a commercial)

directed by David Lynch
For some mysterious reason, I feel that I need to share this twisted little gem with all of you. Real Good.

The Conspirator

directed by Robert Redford

Low key. Competent. Good. These are all things that one would most likely remark about Robert Redford’s newest film, The Conspirator, and they would be right. The film is competently directed, and the film is good, but it isn’t great, which I sadly came to terms with prior to actually watching the film. You can see it coming a mile off in the trailer. James McAvoy is the green defense lawyer who, through his dealing with an alleged conspirator, learns that justice subverted is just as horrifying as the crime itself. As he learns to see his client as a person rather than a guilty party, he begins to find in himself a need to ensure that our legal system goes untarnished and see that his client gets a fair trial. It’s all there, the only change to this plot is the fact that it’s based on the true and slightly bizarre historical account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as well as the attempted assassination of the Vice President and the Secretary of State. Redford keeps the film grounded with solid directing, and the cast invests themselves wholly in their roles, but the film is no All the President’s Men or anything like that. The idea of our democratic system exploited to serve the “greater good,” to satisfy our collective zeal for cowboy justice is a concept that has seemed very pertinent these last few years, and Reford knows how to draws parallels that spark debate. The Conspirator is neither hot nor cold. Worth a watch, however.