What movie was that...?

09 December 2012

And Just for Good Measure...

Check it out. One of the best videos ever...

Skyfall

directed by Sam Mendes

Holy Hell, Mr Mendes. I was skeptical as all get out to peep the newest Bond installment, especially when I found out you were helming the thing. I was hoping that everyone had learned a valuable lesson after allowing Marc Forster to water down the works in Quantum of Solace, but boy was I fantastically surprised- and proven wrong! Daniel Craig is quickly becoming my favorite Bond, as is the world created by the reboot geniuses responsible for exploding the Bond series and building it back up from fragments. Q is on the case this time around, and superb talent Ben Whishaw is marvelous as the budding technophile responsible for many of Bond’s saving graces. And leave it to Naomi Harris to bring grit and wholesomeness to the timeless Moneypenny character. Ralph Fiennes? Brav-the-fuck-oh, my good man! The film belongs to Javier Bardem (who are we kidding?)  however, and his turn as a seductive and unhinged villain is truly one for the books. Skyfall is a back to basics gem of an action film that relies on performance and story to unveil what modern spectacle always mucks up. May I admit now, that this may be- forgive me- one of my favorite Bond films ever?

08 December 2012

It's finally happening!

For the ones of you who actually read OMFBC, I apologize for the lack of content. I have been busy moving into a new home. I have been watching and enjoying films, and I will hopefully back back online soon. But alas, I digress from my initial intent, which was to pass along this tantalizing gem from filmic mastermind Shane Carruth (of Primer fame). I'm unsure if this film is in any way related to his other enigmatically titled film A Topiary, but I am excited nonetheless. Enjoy!

21 October 2012

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

directed by Peter Yates

Peter Yates has some classics under his belt. Breaking Away. Bullitt. The Dresser. Probably my favorite of them all is The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a tight and tense crime film that avoids many of the usual bells and whistles to wonderful effect. The film orbits Eddie Coyle (played to grim, loserish perfection by Robert Mitchum) and Coyle’s circle of criminals and cops (for whom he’s turned informant in exchange for a reduced sentence). Coyle gets around, but whether he’s tangling with an assured stolen arms dealer or snitching to fed agent Foley (Robert Jordan is a hard boiled treat), Coyle can never truly trust anyone. Bank robbery sequences that paved the way for contemporary pros (Ben Affleck took several pages out of Coyle’s book for his taught classic, The Town) and action that doesn’t kòu tóu to the genre gel perfectly with the excellent performances from the assemble cast. Robert Mitchum is one of my all time favorite actors, and his Eddie Coyle has a story or two to tell. I particularly love that the reason for his federal beef was that he was running moonshine in a hijacked truck, a bit of character trivia that recalls his iconic performance as Lucas Doolin in Thunder Road (of which he also wrote the original story and composed the title song). Peter Boyle is great as Dillon, who carries out hits for The Man (how awesome is that?) when he’s not out for himself. Friends is full of criminal gray areas, double crosses and shady business that demands you pay attention to the details and names of characters that are spoken about before names are connected with faces. In an era when even finest crime dramas and thrillers find ways to take the audience by the hand, a quietly confident and realistic gem from the 70s is like a complex breath of fresh air. 

09 October 2012

The Master


Saying a Paul Thomas Anderson movie is going to be a classic is like spying a space shuttle in the sky and saying, “That’s probably a NASA shuttle, you think?” Of course it is! Any point, any filmic point on Anderson’s resume would count as the high water mark for almost any other living filmmaker (and many dead ones, too), and yet Anderson continues to astound, continues to move, continues to do in new ways what I keep thinking will be an impossible task: to not only live up to his titanic reputation as one of the finest filmmakers of all time (my opinion), but to cull from the deep the very rumblings of what make us feel and to mold it into a thing that turns  something on inside of you, sets a thing in motion inside of you that forever changes the world as you see it. Paul Thomas Anderson is our T.S. Eliot, our William Blake, our Louise Erdrich, reaching into the ether and bringing back good works so that rest of us might understand this existence just a little bit better. The Master, aside from being an instant classic, features the Academy caliber comeback of one Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the ever-loving shit out of his role as Freddie Quell. Now, before I continue, let’s get one thing clear: Mr J P has gone completely off his rocker since his doc experiment I’m Still Here, and there is no getting back on. Phoenix is going to be one of those actors who disappear for years at a time, glimpsed yeti-like by some witless activist in a mountain hovel somewhere as he scrawls his manifesto on a cave wall. Whatever the case, Phoenix has turned a corner and gone from great to almost too great, and in the land of phenomenal talent (Amy Adams is blazingly brilliant, and P S Hoffman is egomania at its most enthralling), Phoenix is king. Anderson’s love story between a junkie and a cult leader (Hoffman) amid the backdrop of post WWII American unease is a blinding tour de force that will leave you breathless, reeling, affected. And let’s get another thing clear, folks: this is a love story, make no bones about it. Quell and Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd character share a deep connection that goes beyond the kind of bond forged by kindred spirits, beyond the kind of near-sexual, Hemingway-esque masculine affection that befalls such damaged souls. Quell and Dodd love one another totally, recklessly, and even now I feel as though I have said too much. Johnny Greenwood has outdone himself this time, crafting a web of sound, symphony and song that entangles you helplessly. There is so much that I want to say in this review, but the result would fly in the face of OMFBC formatting (and bore you to tears, good reader), if you do one thing this autumn, it should be to see Anderson’s good work on the big screen and to be affected by it. For there are few films like this out there, and criminally rare is the occasion in which I find myself truly moved by a film. I’m partial, to be sure, since Anderson’s intense style is what I crave from film, but The Master is just the type of epic to cement (if it wasn’t already cemented) Paul Thomas Anderson’s name on a very short list of the greatest filmmakers ever.

04 October 2012

Looper

directed by Rian Johnson

For me, the possibility of Rian Johnson’s long rumored, much hyped (and long overdue, btw) sci-fi gangster film Looper being good or bad wasn’t really a debatable point. I knew in my heart’s soul that it was going to be good- nay, great- but how great? Luckily for me, after little brother DC and I finally got to scope this gem out last night, I have an answer to that question. Not only is Looper one of the most fun times I’ve had at the movies this year, it was also one of the finest time travel films ever- almost as good as Primer (and I read about the yeti-esque Shane Carruth sightings abounding the set of Looper, Mr R). Rian Johnson manages to mix his reliably confident film noir sensibility (dialogue, framing, pacing) with stylish, blood pumping action that rivals any of those classics to which we commonly refer as counterpoints contrasting inferior works. Set in a grimy midwestern 2044, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one a group of low level hit men well payed to whack scumbags from the future. Posted up in a Kansas cornfield, JGL takes out his future-mafia orders with cold precision, until his future self (a solid BruceWillis) pops up and gets the jump on him. As JGL tracks his future self, he finds himself entangled in a web of causality, parallel futures, and tense existentialism that never seems forced or trite. Johnson’s script gives you just enough to wet your whistle without boring you, Primer style, but mulls over big ideas just long to set your brain reeling well after you leave the theater. The entire cast is phenomenal, particularly a spectacular JGL firing on all cylinders and a bruisingly wonderful Emily Blunt (I love you, Ms B), but hats off Jeff Daniels as a future-Mafioso exiled to manage the past, a stellar Noah Segan as the screwup desperate to prove himself, and the always tremendous Garret Dillahunt as a menacing and matter of fact gatman. And let's not forget the dynamite performance turned in by miniature Molotov cocktail Pierce Gagnon, who shows plenty of accomplished actors how it's done. Looper pulls you to the edge of your seat from Jump Street and will have your head spinning by the end. And by the way, what are the odds that 2 of the best time travel movies around star Bruce Willis (this and, of course, 12 Monkeys)? Crazy...

As an aside: Noah Segan’s Kid Blue character has one of the best names in film, and it's is actually the number 1 and 2 names on my list of possible names for our kids (my wife has staunchly vetoed them both), Kid for a boy, and Blue for a girl. 

02 October 2012

Warrior

directed by Gavin O'Connor

I seem to be writing a lot about films that show much promise when they aren’t bogged down or hindered by subplot through lines that detract from their excellent core. Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior is another such film that would have been fantastic if the writers weren’t so busy trying to jerk tears out of us. Two brothers, both struggling, find themselves on a collision course in an open entry MMA tournament called Sparta. One, a family man struggling to pay the bills (Joel Edgerton is solidly great). The other, a war hero fuckup haunted by the rage of his youth (a superb Tom Hardy) who allows his ex-drunk father to train him (Nick Nolte is as good it gets). This premise is plenty, but instead of just struggling, Edgerton has to have a daughter with an expensive heart defect to boot (which never amounts to anything in the film, thus rendering it a useless piece of sentimental storytelling). Instead of just being a pissed off, washed out fuck up, Tom Hardy has to be a war hero who saved some lives even as (brace yourself for another twist) he was also deserting his fellows soldier. Too much, too much, sirs. This is a common malady of films like this, to heap heart ache on top of heart break to make a film about a sport something more, but what the writers fail to realize is that you don’t always need all of that. Rocky didn’t have to battle cancer in addition to proving he could go the distance. That being said, much of The Warrior is fantastic, and any film that gets me to respect MMA (which I consider to be nothing more than the barroom brawl version of the fine sport of boxing) even slightly deserves much credit. Hardy, Nolte and Edgerton triumph despite the shackles of sappy narrative, creating whole characters that feel and get you to feel as well.



P effing S: Do you hunt when you're not acting, Mr Hardy? 'Cause you have traps big enough to catch bears! (argh, BC! That joke is terrible!)

01 October 2012

The Hunter

directed by Daniel Nettheim

Much like Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, Daniel Nettheim finds the richest elements of his film The Hunter in the natural mystique of a transfixing landscape (Tasmania, in this case) and the isolated magnetism of a stoic survivor (the exquisitely talented Willem Dafoe). Dafoe is excellently muted as Martin, a kind of mercenary hired by a vague and shadowy pharmaceutical company to obtain the genetic material from a Tasmanian Tiger, widely presumed to be extinct since the late 1930s. The tiger itself is something of a legend, a victim of the bloodlust and overhunting that killed it off, though sightings persist to this day. The true versus plot elements of this are neither here nor there, for when Dafoe is alone in the wild, stalking his spectral prey with his quiet sense of protocol and deliberate calm, The Hunter is hypnotic. To serve as a type of base camp, Martin rents a room in the Armstrong house, bereft of a Mr. Armstrong for nearly a year (he went into the mountains and never came out). Things get muddled when life gets in the way, but Sam Neill is spectacular as Jack Mindy, a man watching over the Armstrong family after Mr. Armstrong went missing. Though Mindy’s intentions seem acrimonious (his constant supply of pills that keep wife Lucy Armstrong passed out in bed; his disdain for Martin), his presence seems to somehow keep the monsters of the town at bay. The locals dislike the Armstrongs about as much as they do Martin, perceiving his presence as an extension of preservationist roadblocking that is costing local jobs. While this volatility does set up a bit of tension for Martin, much of it works as a speedbump that continually slows what is otherwise a haunting filmic vehicle. The Hunter is at times a stellar survival film, a kind of Hemingway-esque portrait of a lone soul ever searching for that which might bring him peace. The problem is that the choppy narrative (I felt like Dafoe was doomed to traverse his Promethean circuit up and down that mountain for all eternity) makes it difficult to stay enthralled in the film’s high points. Well worth a watch, though.

29 September 2012

The Grey

directed by Joe Carnahan

Mostly, I could care less about Joe Carnahan. Narc? Ehh. Smokin’ Aces? Ugh. The only reason I love Ticker so much is because it’s part of the amazing BMW’s The Hire film series. Oh yeah- The A-Team… This doesn’t mean that Joe Carnahan is not a capable director, it just means that his films generally aren’t the type of fare that blow my hair back. But with The Grey, Carnahan has found a way to scale back his indulgent style and allows the pared down tale of survival to shine. Shine isn’t exactly the right word, as most of the film exists in a cold, sinister dark, salted occasionally by a bleak, depressive gloom. This is the rough, ghostly void of the Alaskan wilderness, and thanks to Carnahan and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, I haven’t felt such a marrow chilling cold since John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s a survival film at its core, but the film finds a way to flesh out the shells of men attempting to leverage themselves from under the thumb of Mother Nature. The men in question (a wonderful Dallas Roberts and Dermot Mulroney, among them) are the few survivors of a plane crash left with little else than to clutch at whatever cosmic threads keep them going. Hunting the men is a pack of wolves determined to eradicate the foreign threat invading their territory, plain and simple. Liam Neeson delivers a great performance as Ottway, the reluctant, grim leader with a past that, despite Carnahan’s best efforts, seems disjointed and intrusive whenever it pokes its nose into the narrative. The Grey works best when the elements wear you down alongside the men, and like Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road, you begin to doubt why you are even pulling for these men to survive from one bloody skirmish to the next. But it’s the elemental, primitive need to survive that keeps you going, keeps you doggedly, exhaustingly rooting for triumph, if simply not dying can be described as triumph. The film is a very masculine film (for better or worse), full of testosterone and aggression like The Thing or John Boorman’s Deliverance, but ultimately I didn’t see it as a negative. What makes this concept successful is novelty of the context, as it deals with a small group of men trapped in a kind of vacuum, and as a notable tragedy I will say there are a depressingly small amount of films comprised entirely of women that deal with similar subject matter (Neil Marshall’s The Descent is perhaps one of the finest examples around). At the risk of spoiling anything, I will say that though I find it very unnecessary (the film is stronger without it), there is a final post-credits scene. But The Grey has made me hopeful to see what’s next for Carnahan.

PS At the very least (and many other reviews have pointed out this tidbit), giving this film a shot will afford you the chance to see Liam Neeson punch a wolf in the face. So that’s pretty sweet…
I'll have you know, wolf, that I possess a very particular set of skills: wolf punching, wallet gathering, grumbling crossly, among others...

17 September 2012

Stress (a Justice music video)

directed by Romain Gavras

Romain Gavras the artist is a lot of things. An aggressive provocateur. An instigator. A visionary. Check his videography and you’ll find hardcore examples of what comprises a phenomenal music video (M.I.A.’s Bad Girls video), what it takes to elevate a commercial into an art form (both his Boxing and All In Adidas commercials), and just how visceral film can be. Gavras seeks to evoke gut reactions with his filmic art, adding charged imagery to an idea like a gas to a fire. Perhaps his most controversial work, a video for Justice’s Stress, follows a group of youths from the banlieu of Paris as they cut a swath of terror, violence and destruction across a black and white cityscape. Those of you who are familiar with the remarkable Mathieu Kassovitz film La Haine will recognize much in terms of style and tone, but while Kassovitz sought to humanize the culture of impoverished, disenfranchised French youth on the outskirts of society (quite literally), Gavras seems to want to wield them like a weapon. Stress opens on a group of French kids, all rocking jackets carrying the trademark Justice Cruciform, as they converge ominously to form a kind of reckless cyclone of savagery and rage. They break things, accost strangers, commit myriad acts of vandalism and destruction of property (public and private), and all with a volatile and menacing sense of hatred toward a world that has marginalized them. The video’s climax finds the kids setting a stolen car on fire, then stomping the cameraman and leaving the scene. After a prolonged blackout, scrambled voices (of, presumably, the kids) shout “Does filming this get you off, you S.O.B.?”
To contextualize this video for those of you who have no idea what a banlieu is (aka Americans), imagine a bunch of pissed of kids from Detroit’s east side stomping through the suburbs like a swarm of insects, exacting a kind of cosmic revenge on the very culture that has put a proverbial boot on their collective throats. In Stress, the Justice jackets march through Paris with what seems to be a very specific purpose, which is to wreak havoc, and the fact that the symbol of their gang is a cross that represents both the music group (named Justice, hint) as well as a brutal tool of public execution (Jesus, hello?) is a juicy bit of imagery in itself, and I will leave that to you, good reader, to mull over. The controversy surrounding Stress upon its release was that it seemed to appear sans context (this was in the earlier days of YouTube), and thus had no point of view. The flaw in that line of thinking is the assumption that one has to buy into a context (literally or figuratively) in order to glean meaning from a work of art. Is it only art if it’s in a museum with a little plastic plaque next to it? Is it only a great film if it gets the Criterion treatment? Does it have to sound pleasing to be music? If your answer to these questions is a firm “hell no”,  then Stress is a powerful indictment of a social structure that has pushed whole groups so far to the edge that the only way to be seen is to brandish a big stick. Art is often challenging, sometimes uncomfortable, and with Stress, Gavras has crafted a rough and audacious conjecture to answer the old saying that if you ignore it, it will go away. 
The video for Stress, in case you are interested...

And his Adidas commercial, All In...

If those didn't kick you in the ass, I don't know what would.

13 September 2012

The Ambassador

directed by Mads Brügger

Mads Brügger is perhaps my favorite kind of documentarian: cocksure, brazen, a person so determined to uncover truth that he hardly has the time to thinly veil his arrogance. In short, Brügger is like Lars Von Trier (whose company Zentropa produces Brügger’s works, btw). In The Red Chapel, Brügger guises himself as a comedy troupe manager and Kim Jong Il sympathizer to visit North Korea in an attempt to undermine a culture forged by fear and intolerance. In The Ambassador, Brügger rocks a faux diplomat personae (that consists mostly of awesomely outrageous outfits a Rocky & Bullwinkle villain might wear) as he ventures to Central Africa posing as a Liberian consul, attempting to discover the underworld of treachery known to us Westerners as the blood diamond trade. Once in the CAR (Central African Republic), Brügger uses falsified papers obtained from Willem the pissed off Dutchman (see the comments section of my review of The Red Chapel for clarification) to gain access to a world populated by unscrupulous and corrupt opportunists ranging from crooked diamond miners all the way up to entire political bodies who, at every turn, seem either apathetic to their country’s misery or menacingly determined to keep Africa’s infrastructure in a shambles. As Brügger’s ruse of building a match factory drags him deeper and deeper into dangerous territory, his quest to obtain genuine conflict diamonds is eclipsed by a sense of moral disorientation. And as he discovers that there is, in fact, no honor among thieves, he begins to lose sight of his original goal. This is where film begins to unravel as well, leaving us with a sense of losing our grip on the eel’s neck. Ultimately, The Ambassador is able to shine a very small light on a very large problem, but it cannot reveal the wizard of Oz, so to speak (a promise Brügger seemed to imply in his narration). Not as satisfying as I had hoped, but a wild and worthy ride nonetheless, Mads Brügger shows once again that he is a force to be reckoned with and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

12 September 2012

Tyrannosaur

directed by Paddy Considine

I was supremely bummed when Paddy Considine’s phenomenal film about a down and out friendship between a volatile fuckup and a quiet shop owner with demons of her own garnered no love from the dear old Academy, but it doesn’t change the fact that Tyrannosaur is a must see and one of the finest films of 2011. In fact, I realized after referencing it in my review of Justin Kurzel’s amazing Snowtown that I never reviewed it myself. For shame, BC! Anyway, aside from being confidently and excellently directed by Considine (who still makes me laugh audibly as the mustachioed Detective Andy Wainwright in Hot Fuzz), the film is shatteringly acted by both Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman. Mullan and Colman share a strained yet sincere chemistry with one another that rings truer than any flowery romcom Hollywood can regurgitate onto the silver screen. I know that many of you may diverge from my view with regard to this, but I always find film relationships like this much more affecting and much more believable than all the Noahs and Allies Hollywood can cook up, a sentiment that has found me on the defending end of such statements as “Natural Born Killers is one of the best love stories of our generation,” or “of course Richie and Margot Tenenbaum can love one another!” At the risk of that last statement sounding a bit too Cassavetian- weird, BC. You just referenced The Notebook and pseudo-incest. To which Nick Cassavetes blunder are you referring? (Touché, good reader)- thusly I shall return to the point: relationships and romance like the one found in films like Tyrannosaur speak to me in more profound ways than the more generic, traditionally desired type. And Mullan’s talent is staggering as he explodes and implodes as Joe, a full time loser with a miniscule fuse. It is only through the quiet, timid efforts of the equally damaged Hannah (a superbly heart breaking Olivia Colman) that the two begin to find something that resembles hopefulness. The film tips over the edge in Bellflower-esque fashion at times, but the sum of its parts is a tough yet wonderful film, a definite contender on anyone’s “must see” lists.

11 September 2012

Snowtown

directed by Justin Kurzel

It is a rare thing for a film so quiet to terrify me so deeply, but Justin Kurzel’s debut feature about the true story of Australian serial killer John Bunting was a stunner that chilled me to my very core. Afterward, I had to watch the first three seasons of Danger Mouse in their entirety whilst listening to Japandroids to soothe the shock of the first bathroom sequence (during which I nearly hyperventilated myself into a spasm), but Kurzel’s atmospheric classic is a must see, indeed. While Kurzel is very effective in creating atmosphere, and I always respect a film that gives itself room breathe over those that insist on clipping along, I felt the film could use a little tightening up here and there (though I was very satisfied with the purposefully muddled and enmeshed group of characters orbiting the Bunting sun). After doing some research (we don’t hear much about foreign, non-political mass murderers here in the US. We have plenty of our own…), I see that Kurzel isn’t so much concerned with making a point by point docudrama as he is in exploring the world of a psychopath via the Bunting story. Bunting surrounds himself with those he can control, bending people to his will with a smile and a glare that will freeze your blood. Though much credit belongs to Kurzel for his talent, almost equal praise is owed Daniel Henshall, who plays Bunting with the cunning and disarming intensity of a heartless predator. At first glance, he is nothing more than a stout loudmouth, one easily and quickly disregarded in everyday life, but as he feeds (literally and figuratively) young Jamie Vlassakis (a wonderfully muted Lucas Pittaway) his own brand of ideology, we begin to see Bunting as a master manipulator grooming a pupil for his own brand of justice. Bunting’s inner circle is a group of sub-blue collar ne’er-do-wells who bemoan the current state of injustices under which they suffer, guided (by Bunting’s insinuations) to vaguely conclude that someone should take up where the legal system leaves off. One of the big questions Kurzel poses with his film is whether Jamie Vlassakis (who met Bunting as a teenager) was less a collaborator and more a victim in his own rite. Kurzel’s bleak, impoverished Aussie suburb is reminiscent of Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur or Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in that you feel the oppressive weight of this world as it saps even the most sunny optimist's ability to find the good in anything. Snowtown is a dark corridor of the human condition, a film that will bore its way inside and rear up into your conscious mind in unnerving ways. In other words, it’s the kind of film I live to see. 

07 September 2012

Midnights at The Main: The Crow

directed by Alex Proyas
There ain't no comin' back, man!
For those of you who want to answer yes to the age old question, "Are we havin' fun or what?" need look no further than The Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak this Friday and Saturday night. The classic Alex Proyas film The Crow, starring Brandon Lee as hometown legend Eric Draven, will be playing at midnight on both nights, proving that when T Bird said, "There ain't no comin' back," he clearly wasn't referring to The Crow. I  am secretly hoping to run into Mr. James O'Barr, but at the very least I will get to see an amazing film on the big screen one more time. If you're in the neighborhood, come on down.

20 August 2012

RIP Tony Scott

I was floored to learn of this terribly sad news last night. Such tragedy deserves more eloquence that I am capable of, but I think my old review for Domino gets to the core of how I feel about Tony Scott's stellar talent. Anyone who can should go watch the BMW film Beat the Devil right now. Tony would be happy about that.

19 August 2012

Glengarry Glen Ross

directed by James Foley

David Mamet’s rapid fire treasure about one night inside Premier Properties, a macho and ruthless Chicago real estate office, moves like a hot shot of greased lightning, and the spectacular ensemble cast of acting titans find a way to chew every single frame of scenery Foley can serve up. Though I would argue that Foley’s contribution to the film is minimal (I cite his depressing resume as exhibit A and David Mamet’s Broadway predecessor as exhibit B), it really doesn’t matter much when you have such a killer script and a cast that would make any director swoon. Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Ed Harris and Jack Lemmon all play hard boiled real estate agents (in an office managed by the snide and sneaky Kevin Spacey) who will stop at nothing to earn a Cadillac El Dorado (offered up by a scene stealing Alec Baldwin) and avoid the axe. Chances are any internet soundboard inspired by these actors you have ever heard contains soundbites of yelling, cursing, more yelling and cursing, and pissing contest style ruminations from this classic. For a film that takes place in roughly 3 set pieces (the Chinese restaurant, the Premier Properties office and the rainy street between the two), Glengarry keeps you riveted, enthralled and swept up in a whirlwind of testosterone infused one-upmanship, money obsessed desperation and success crazed egomania. You have to catch your breath just trying to keep up, and those you with a soft spot for the fresco of profanity of near Big Lebowskian proportions Mamet crafts will be in your glory as you listen to these guys drop F bombs like shell casings from an engaged minigun. Rightly so, Glengarry Glen Ross is on most top 100 Films lists, a position it’s likely to hold forever, unless someone else can score that El Dorado.

And for your viewing pleasure, Blake (Baldwin) offering up the parameters of the contest:

06 August 2012

The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel)

directed by Mads Brügger

Mads Brügger is a talent with a penchant for the borderline ludicrous, and the trailer for his newest documentary experiment about the acrimonious diamond trade in Africa (The Ambassador) finds him in the driver seat on yet another nearly preposterous adventure that threatens to fly off the tracks at any given moment. I cannot wait, but we can always journey back a few years for a bit of the hair of the dog to tide us over. I’m talking about Brügger’s compellingly odd and tantalizingly outrageous doc about a glimpse of life in the quarantined nation of North Korea. Unlike the various sterilized and academic contemporary examples (A State of Mind, I’m looking at you in particular), The Red Chapel is at once wacky and poignant in its effort to expose the collective wound beneath the surface of an entire country. The premise: a pair of Korean born, Danish comedians, accompanied by their “manager and show director” (Brügger), travel to North Korea under the guise of performing a variety act and participating in a kind of cultural exchange. The two comedians, Simon Jul and Jacob Nossell, were both adopted from South Korea as children, while Brügger alleges to be a Kim Jong Il sympathizer who advocates for the cause in Europe. Add to the fact the Nossell suffers from spastic paralysis (there have long been stories of North Korean intolerance toward any type of handicap) and the slip slip slippery slope of what Brügger calls “going with the flow” as the trio augments their show to cater to the North Korean palette, and you end up with a mesmerizing look at what happens when two very different worlds meet. The entire documentary is not all genuine, though, for Brügger’s primary aim with his ruse is to undermine the cult of Kim Jong Il and to expose the calamity of a culture built atop a mountain of fear, lies and antisocial behavior. It is intense at times, even surreal, but Brügger’s doc is immensely watchable and disarmingly provocative. The scene in which Mads and Jacob are thrust into a North Korean nationalist display in full bloom is jaw dropping, plain and simple. If you watched the trailer for The Ambassador and are wondering what to make of it, The Red Chapel should be square one.


The trailer for The Ambassador (in case you missed it):


05 August 2012

Bullhead (Rundskop)

directed by Michael R Roskam

Though I was happy with A Separation winning the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, I was pulling for Michael R Roskam’s tough and wonderful Bullhead, starring the tremendous Matthias Schoenaerts. Schoenaerts bulked up in Tom Hardian fashion for his role as Jacky (he built up nearly 60 pounds of shit kicking muscle!), a cattle farmer hooked on industrial grade growth hormones and brimming over with tear you apart rage. Jacky is also a man awash in the depths of traumatic scars and a mutilated sense of identity. Roskam makes the misstep of adding a criminal slash thriller plotline (illegal cattle hormones and meat trading, cop killing) that only serves to pad and muddy the true core burning at the center of this film, but Schoenaerts will make a believer out of you. The heart of this film resides in Jacky’s dark battle with his past, his demons, and himself, and we find in Jacky a penned and cornered thing, an animal for whom the world is a skulking, menacing predator. Whether he’s boxing his adrenaline away in a bathroom, or stomping the life out of someone, or simply glaring into a distance most of us will never have the eyes to perceive, Schoenaerts is a tectonic force that will get inside you. Nicolas Karakatsanis is a wonder as cinematographer, bringing us the gloom of this world in rich, sepic tones. Is this a perfect film? No, but with a core cutting performance from Schoenaerts and a credible Jeroen Perceval as his estranged friend, Bullhead casts a bruising spell over you in strange ways.

26 July 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

directed by Benh Zeitlin

I love me a good allegory, and Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature is as stunning an example of a modern allegory as you will find. Set in a fictional region of Louisiana named The Bathtub, Beasts of the Southern Wild might as well be set “once upon a time, in a land far, far away,” where nature co-mingles with the slim trappings of modernity in a nearly seamless, organic tapestry of existence for The Bathtub’s denizens. In his main character, Zeitlin has found a true talent in Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy with enough grit and temerity to split stone. I am jumping on the Wallis bandwagon (there’s room enough here for you too, Academy), for she was a true marvel as the Vardaman Bundren-esque soul around which the calamities, mysteries and misfortunes of world orbit. To say the film is surreal, or even magically real, is to discount the very true to life bulk of the tale. Bandying those terms about can imply a certain type of filmic weirdness that makes some people uncomfortable. Those surreal elements do exist in this film (the aurochs exodus, pour example), but think Gabriel Garcia Marquez, not David Lynch. Rookie cinematographer Ben Richardson is triumphantly fantastic in managing to make each place in The Bathtub (and beyond) come alive and to remain in my mind long after I left the theater. The inevitable comparison to David Gordon Green’s phenomenal George Washington may draw a certain type of interest to the film, and just like George Washington, the beauty of Beasts is its ability to articulate truths that are cosmically universal and to give them to us like a kind of gift. Beasts is big old thing of a film, a precious thing, and it would be a shame if you didn’t experience it for yourself.

23 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

directed by Christopher Nolan

There seems to be very little in-between when it comes to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy ending Batman film, with haters on one end dashing its preposterous plot progression (which bordered on silly, honestly) and fan geeks on the other end extolling the virtues of Nolan’s ability to instill his films with “grand themes.” While I admire Nolan as a filmmaker and find him to be very capable, and I surely respect the divergent opinions concerning TDKR (what kind of snob would I be if I didn’t?), I found my already wary optimism quite deflated this evening after having finally watched Mr N’s whale of a comic book film. Is the film bad? Well, that depends on how you look at it, and frankly I’m not one to bestow such a moniker on a film like this, but it there were more moments in this film that culled a sigh and a head shake from me than I had fingers (and possibly toes, yeesh) to count. Even so, I would not say it was bad, either. But I am getting ahead of myself…

16 July 2012

Rampart

directed by Oren Moverman

Oren Moverman’s film about a racist, bigoted, hateful, chauvinistic Molotov cocktail of an LA police officer is a stunner in every sense of the word, and the brilliant filmmaker has given the world another glimpse of the truly astounding heights Woody Harrelson can achieve if given the proper material. Harrelson plays David “Date Rape” Brown with an intensity you can practically measure empirically, a force of corruption long shadowed by a dubious career tainting slaying of a suspected rapist (hence the nickname). As he sucks down cigarette after cigarette, drink after drink, Brown’s self demolition seems eternally pulled between the magnetic poles of destruction and desperation, though to say that Moverman’s film is nothing more than bleak piled atop bleak would be a gross oversimplification. There is fury there, and always the prism of violence (physical, emotional, psychological, you name it) looms, but there is something else that compels you to watch and to be moved by Brown’s backslide. No doubt it’s the tremendous, tremendous talent that has been gestating inside Mr Harrelson all these long years (you have come a long way since Money Train, Mr H. Don’t ever go back.), wakened from its dormant state and loosed upon the earth. Sure, we saw glimmers of genius in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, and even in Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, but ever since he wowed me in No Country for Old Men, Harrelson has been turning out magical performances like gangbusters, and his brutally honest turn in Rampart is the kind that should have most actors out there hanging their heads in shame over their inadequacy. And Oren Moverman is pulling away from his contemporaries with each subsequent endeavor, creating worlds that affect us in both painful and profound ways. One of my favorites scenes is the first conversation between Brown and his retired cop buddy (an amazing Ned Beatty), specifically the shot choices Moverman makes when filming that exchange. Supremely interesting...

PS I would be remiss if I didn’t sing the praises of Robyn Wright, who magnificently  played a kind of dark counterpoint to Harrelson’s Brown, and the stellar talent that is Ben Foster, who achieves a Guy Pearceian feat of making very much out of very little as the decrepit General.

11 July 2012

Magic Mike

directed by Steven Soderbergh

Say what you will about Steven Soderbergh and his filmmaking choices, but his canon clearly shows that he is an artist dedicated to following his own vision, wherever that may take him. And whether it’s the visual and metaphysical beauty of Solaris, the mumblecore-esque reality of Bubble, the razzle-dazzle good time of Ocean’s Eleven, or the quiet magic of Che, Soderbergh films are always competently filmed and astutely realized. So, when I went to see Magic Mike with my wife the other day, I had high albeit wary expectations about his newest endeavor. And though I had expected a lot of things about Magic Mike, I never expected to be let down by generic, banal narrative. Magic Mike tells the story of Mike (credibly played by Channing Tatum), a jack of all trades slash male stripper who takes Adam, aka The Kid (Alex Pettyfer), under his wing. The problem with this movie, however, is not the premise or the acting, for all involved do a wonderful job of bringing their roles to life, from the self-obsessed scumbag rockstar strut of Matthew McConaughey to the slacker turned party monster transformation of Alex Pettyfer (props, Mr P). And it sure isn’t the directing. The problem with Magic Mike is that it starts off with a certain trajectory in its sights, a trajectory that may have been dark, but at least interesting, but by the end it had jumped the tracks and landed back in familiar, safe territory where there’s hope for Mike and all the snooze inducing crap that goes along with such bland films. I thought you knew better than that, Mr S. Too bad.

28 June 2012

OMFBC Presents: The Andrew Douglas Interview

Readers of OMFBC will find the name Andrew Douglas familiar (yeah, you talk about him all the time, BC), and film lovers at large should definitely be familiar with his stunning and surreal documentary, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Andrew Douglas has a rare gift for taking the nebulous, dreamlike impression of a moment and coaxing it into a kind of tangible existence, a peek beneath the surface of things. The musical scenes he creates in Searching are like flashes of memory that, though we can never be certain of their verity, seem absolutely real. I never get tired of discussing this film with people, and the mixture of reactions to the film speaks to its ability to reach inside and affect something inside of you. Mr Douglas is currently very busy finishing his newest filmic work, uwantme2killhim?, which is set to debut later this year (so says IMDb), but he managed to find time to answer a few of my questions about the making of that wonderful documentary. I can hardly contain my excitement at such an honor, so without further ado, I give you the Andrew Douglas interview:

1.What is it about photography and film that you can't live without?
With photography, the play of light upon a surface – especially if that surface is a person or, failing that, a motorcycle, whatever – so it glows.
With film, the willing suspension of disbelief so you can enter a dream state with your eyes open.

2.Do you have a favorite film? Why is it your favorite?
Favourite film – just one? That’s a tough call! It has to be a random selection… very few films are perfect. There are appalling films you really enjoy. Then there are classic films you are somehow never in the mood to watch again. One film I can endlessly watch – and enjoy - is ‘My life as a dog’ – perfect blend of humour, pathos and metaphysics

3.Outside of the artists featured in the film (and Jim White’s album), what helped shape the fundamental structure of the film, at least in the early stages of creation?
The initial attraction was Jim White’s little story that he included in the CD case for his album “The mysterious tale of how I shouted out ‘WRONG-EYED JESUS”. This was such a fascinating blend of documentary and magical realism, all set in a matter-of-fact modern Southern Gothic environment.
That seemed such an interesting tone.
Then there were a couple of questions: we grew up listening to music that mostly had its origins in the American South – why did so much music and writing come from this place?
Being contrarians, we weren’t particularly interested in the obvious and well-trodden path of looking at the collision of black and white cultures or the historical/sociological/musicological context.
Instead, we turned to something Nick Cave said:
‘We have a church-shaped hole in our society that the church cannot fill’.
There was something missing in our own society, present in South, and it wasn’t just religion.
From that, we came up with the realization that maybe the most interesting route was to look at the way the church permeated and inspired the culture – the fire-breathing, unequivocal Southern church. Flan O’Connor described the American South as a ‘Christ-haunted landscape’, and herself as ‘no vague believer’.
Maybe, just maybe, it was the conviction that Hell is real, that Sin is everlasting, and that the Endtimes are imminent gave a certain… urgency to the life down there. Without that intensity, we probably wouldn’t have had Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, or hardly any Blues singers. And then, hardly any of the music we grew up – no rock, no pop, no reggae…
All because the stakes were so high if you played secular music…
That seemed an interesting thesis – we’d be the first to admit it’s full of holes, and hard to film.
So we set out to make a road movie that span through the elements of the southern imagination – the propensity for storytelling, the raw contact with nature, the roaring church, the wonderful oratory and passion of the preachers, the materially impoverished communities. A kind of map.
We made policy decisions to step past the black community, and the middle class, and the entire heritage industry elements, and just tell the story of the poor white people as this hadn’t really been told so much. In retrospect, these may have been a mistake, as some have complained.
But at the time we hadn’t found any black artists with the appropriate material, and we felt we had to stick to our narrow focus and not try to be completist. There was more than enough in that!
(In fact, RL Burnside and the Fat Possum stable would have worked, but we hadn’t heard them till after making the film)

4.As an artist, what is about the American South that so intrigues you?
Some of this has been answered above. ‘The South’ is a kind of mythic world, a metaphor for our essential natures, if that isn’t too grand an expression. More simply, it’s a rough, raw world.
As Harry Crews put it, it’s where man makes his last stand, stripped of all the junk.
‘The South’ is an internalized world. Like when rappers sing about ‘the Ghetto’, and you go to where they’re referring and see nice gardens, Tescos etc and not Serpico, the Bronx in the 70’s. But talk to the rappers, and their experiences of their own world are in that internalized place, and it’s real.
On a more surface level, the South is a really funky place, rich in history that is very obvious, and with a strong identity and character that can be captured on film rather beautifully. You can see the mythic world so easily.

5.For me, Sergio Leone crafted some of the finest Westerns in film (largely considered a quintessentially American genre), and I always felt that it was because of his vantage point as an outsider, a non American looking in with new eyes. Do you feel that as an outsider, you are better equipped to discover truths about the South?
It certainly gave us easier access into people’s lives – no way could we be considered Revenue agents or cops! Some of the places we visited would normally shun such people (at best) but they welcomed the genuine interest of obvious outsiders such as ourselves, probably because we were genuinely interested in hearing their stories – and if there’s one thing people in the South love, it’s telling stories. That’s really what the film’s about. And it’s often easier to tell a story to a sympathetic stranger.
Serge Leone was a great romantic, and that could also be said of us. We never claimed to be making a definitive portrait of the South, just a tiny bit that interested us. As for ‘truths about the South’ – a lot of mixed opinions from southerners that have seen the film. Some are overjoyed because they see themselves and know that world we’ve shown with as much affection and honesty as we could: others are outraged because not only have we omitted the black communities, but also all the golfers, microbiologists, accountants and civic initiatives that make up ‘The South’.
So we found and filmed a little pocket of something that was real, but would hesitate to call it ‘the truth’.

6.How did individual scenes or sequences form? For instance, the Handsome Family floating house scene: How did it come to be that The Handsome Family played there and not David Eugene Edwards, for example? Do images like this flash in your mind?
We had a detailed script that we worked from. All the artists and songs had been specifically chosen beforehand as part of the narrative. The film was a combination of road movie, opera and documentary.
The Handsome Family, for example, sang ‘Tiny Hands’, a song about the inscrutable mystery of the natural world, so the strange floating hut was perfect for that. David Eugene Edwards had a song about facing death, so it was appropriate to put him in the ghostly silver birch woods. And so on.
We’d traveled round beforehand, finding the locations and securing many of the contributors. We also improvised, finding people that turned up unexpectedly. Sometimes we were forced to – we had one scene where the great Johnny Dowd was singing a song on a street corner about being bored (which didn’t make the cut) and we were going to follow this by asking people on the street what they did for fun. NO people on the street that day – at all!
In a panic, we asked the helpful local mayor where we could find people to ask what they did for fun. He said, he knew where there would always be people and we could ask them what they’d done ‘for fun’ – in the local jail.
That was a sublime gift of fortune, one we could never have planned or expected.

7.Did you have a favorite Harry Crews story that didn’t make it into the film?
Well, Harry was on a lot of medications that day, chemo, and so he was somewhat erratic. Pure gold when he was focused.
We asked him to tell us a story based upon one of his short stories, about Charles Whitman climbing the tower with his sniper’s assault rifle, preparing to shoot everybody. In Harry’s fine story, he admits he can identify with that, as we have all things in our natures. This story didn’t work out – we had him in the Jesus Is Lord Catfish Diner – and all we could salvage was his quote about Goethe and original sin.
But we took him down the dirt path, and he was magic, one of the highlights of the film.

8.What about a favorite Johnny Dowd story?
Like William Boroughs, John could be described as one of the great lie-down comedians. He has such a dry, deadpan wit.
He had one typically bonkers song about an angry Jesus, nailed up on the cross, noticing somebody stealing his hammer and nails. As we were preparing to film this, a massive thunder and lightning storm burst. How perfect for a song about the Crucifixion!
Rubbing our hands with glee, we told Johnny we were taking him to a gas station, plugging him in outside by the pumps, whilst the thunder and lightning raged around him.
Johnny was quiet for a moment, then muttered  
“Gas…electricity…lightning…I guess this’ll be the explosive end to the film?’
Trouper that he is, John just gulped and nodded assent.
Fortunately for him – and us – the crew truck got lost and when we got to the gas station the lightning had subsided.

9.Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is a film that destroys what it means to be a documentary, yet it’s as quintessential a documentary as I have ever watched, in that it both chronicles a culture and documents a region. How do most people you’ve encountered describe this film?
As mentioned before, some say it’s bullshit on account of there being no golfers or people with a high tooth count. Others say they recognize the world shown because they live in it.
But fortunately, most people say they see the affection and respect that the film was made with.
We never set out to make a documentary – we couldn’t if we tried! It’s a film that hovers in that murky place between the reported and the speculative. It’s all real people and real places, being themselves in a structured context, assembled to illustrate an abstract idea.
And, hopefully, be entertaining along the way.

10.Has the film been received differently by American and non American audiences? How so?
American audiences are obviously more concerned with the accuracy of the way we depicted ‘The South’, at least in the way it meets their own perceptions. Some are bothered by the omissions.
European audiences tend to go with it on a more metaphorical basis

11.Is the feature film project with Jim White still in the works?
Not the original idea, but Jim is so fascinating and original we have to do something else with him. Various ideas have been kicked around, so something has to happen!

PS For those of you who have not yet experienced this wonderful and provoking film, I hope this interview has piqued your interest.

23 June 2012

Prometheus

directed by Ridley Scott

Sometimes, style is all you need to make a great film, and we all know that Ridley Scott has style for days. Even when his movies don’t quite pack the punch we all thought they would (Robin Hood, Matchstick Men, Body of Lies), his style and competence are second to none. Luckily for Mr. S, Prometheus does possess the chops necessary to make it a worthy addition to the grand Alien canon which, excluding the Alien vs Predator nonsense, is hands down one of the finest and strongest collections of science fiction around. In fact, as a unified collection or series of films, I would go so far to say the Alien Quintilogy (Prometheus included now) is the standard by which all other science fiction film series should be judged.
Prometheus is a very deliberate film, as I have discovered after talking with some acquaintances, many of whom seemed to have the same question about the plot, which was, “huh?” I never had that huh? moment, instead allowing the film to show me what it was trying so hard to say through symbolic imagery, subtext, mythology, etc. Some may find the tactic pretentious and banish it as such, and there are many other times when I agree to this banishment. Prometheus, for me, did not come off as snobby, instead doing an admirably textbook job of adhering to the old “show, don’t tell” rule. I will not get into any spoiler situation, but for those of you who have yet to see it: believe the hype. Fine acting from Noomi Rapace, even finer acting from Michael Fassbender, stellar cinematography, score and slick directing make Prometheus the designer suit for science fiction fans this summer.

PS I have to give a special hats off to Dariusz Wolski for such breathtaking cinematography. Anyone familiar with Wolski's work will remember the filthy bleakness of The Crow, the perpetual nightmare of Dark City, or even the lush textures of the Pirates films. The darkness, however is where your talent truly rests, Mr. W. 

19 June 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

directed by Wes Anderson

The haters will have you believe that a Wes Anderson film is nothing more than a kind of sausage made from charming snark, vintage clothing, tight, symmetrical framing, a member of the Pallana family and/or Bill Murray, yellow title cards and brit pop. Wes simply adds the ingredients in varying quantities and gets to cranking. And yes, the haters are correct in their own snide way, especially with years of strong evidence to support their discontent. Wes Anderson is an auteur filmmaker with a style you can instantly tell, lovingly crafting such ornate and affectionate tales of dysfunction, heartache and confusion with a very distinctive hand. So, if you dislike Wes Anderson as a filmmaker and have written him off as a sausage maker, then this review is not for you. For the rest of you, be assured that Moonrise Kingdom finds Wes Anderson as much at the top of his game and as warmly devoted to his iconic brand of lovable pomp as ever. Anderson’s lucky number seven tells the story of two twelve year olds, each an outsider in their own way, who run away from home (well, boy scout camp, in his case) to test their love against the elements. The cast is a little too chock full of stars (Harvey Keitel as the Hullabaloo scoutmaster was a waste of talent), but it doesn’t dull the delicate sting of young love, the gloom of a loveless marriage (bravo, France McDormand and Bill Murray!) or the quiet ache of a life lived alone (Bruce Willis, you were wonderful). The film belongs to the amazing Jared Gilman (who embodies the kid I presume Wes wishes he was when he was twelve) and Kara Hayward (who embodies the girl I presume Wes would have been in love with when he was twelve), who find a way to make their love seem timeless, ageless. Say what you will about Anderson’s style, his stories are told with care and attention, and Moonrise is as precious an example of his grand thesis as any of his works. 

14 June 2012

Scene vs. Scene: Once Upon a Time in the West vs. Gomorrah

At the risk of turning OMFBC into a long winded and intellectual affair, I want to try something a little different from my usual formula. I have always loved comparing different aspects of various movies to demonstrate to casual film watchers the kinds of things I notice and synthesize when I watch movies. Then again, doesn’t everyone? For instance, when watching the disaster of a feel good comedy What to Expect When You’re Expecting (I know, I know! But I drug my wife to The Cabin in the Woods, too.) I looked at my wife and pointed out the obvious Jaws homage during the sequence when Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford compare cooking scars. I mean, everyone noticed that, right? But the real question is what does that do for the film, aside from getting a few of us to say, “Oh yeah, Jaws was a great movie. Why am I here again?”

Art references art for myriad reasons, to tap into an expressed idea, to evoke a feeling, to draw parallels across genres and styles, but always with intent. In film, we often identify these references as homage, an effort by a filmmaker to comment on a component or concept or innovation set forth in an earlier work. Some filmmakers use homage as the context for their entire work, like every Quentin Tarantino film (QT even homages other film scores in his scenes that homage other scenes in other films. Whew). Tarantino is an extreme case in which his reverential referencing of the grand film canon is like a collage work essay about cinema history, but in QT’s case the homage is deliberate, purposeful. Tarantino wants you to know that when he samples the score from White Lightning, it means you should remember the themes or the style or the scene of that film in which the score originally played. Cartoons invoke the explicit homage most often, and some films do this in a more subtle way. Two such films that do this to wonderful effect are Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah. And what both filmmakers do perfectly, they do in the opening sequences of their classic films.

13 June 2012

Men In Black 3

directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

Barry Sonnenfeld may be more notorious for his duds than his successes, and with career wrinkles ranging from such famous disasters as Wild Wild West to the more quietly clunky Big Trouble and RV, who’s say it’s not totally deserving. Sonnenfeld is an erratic talent who lets his love of the madcap get away with him, but that didn’t stop me from getting a little excited over the third installment of the Men In Black series. My excitement proved me right once again, and though his close ups are too close and his special effects choices are ludicrously subpar, none of it stopped me from thoroughly enjoying myself as I watched zany thing after zany thing explode on the screen. MIB3 finds Will Smith back in the comedy saddle (from which he has been sorely missed) as Agent J. J arrives at work one day to discover that he has to travel back in time to save his curmudgeonly low key partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Enter the high point of the film (the high point of most films, he is), Josh Brolin, who finds the music (as Brolin calls it) of Jones’ vocal cadence and dry sense of comedic delivery. Brolin plays the younger version of K, when he was a touch more easygoing, and as J and K work to uncover the truth behind the future’s sudden flux, they begin to understand each other in new ways. Michael Stuhlbarg is a delight as Griffin, who can see all possible futures at once, and a perfectly perfect Bill Hader plays the hell out of the Andy Warhol as secret agent gag. Though Jones shares little screen time with the other players this time around, his knack for hitting the nail on the head is pitch perfect, and the result of it all is a knee slapping mess of a film that had me happy as a clam from start to finish. MIB3 reclaims much of what was lost in the sequel, and in turn gives us a taste of a slightly older style of filmmaking, when a little good time ridiculousness went a long way.

08 June 2012

Take Shelter

directed by Jeff Nichols

Deserving of every accolade it earned last year, Jeff Nichols’ story of paranoia, apocalyptic premonitions and the delicate house of cards upon which a Midwestern family balances is a thing of quiet and haunting magnificence that sneaks inside your head delicately, and then explodes with a gravity that will not soon leave you. Michael Shannon and Nichols are a dynamic duo, as evidenced by the amazing Shotgun Stories and the certain to astound Mud (due out later this year, I think), but in Take Shelter Shannon completely disappears into the role of Curtis who, plagued by visions of sinister things to come, begins to obsess over building up the storm shelter in the backyard. Holding the family together is the marvelous Jessica Chastain who plays Samantha with genuine restraint, and the always underrated Shea Whigham is fantastic as Curtis’ friend Dewart. Take Shelter is one of those films that goes for it, and I have much respect for a film that staunchly adheres to a rhythm and a method, a vision that Nichols understands to his core. Nichols is one of the most promising new directors out there, and I can’t wait to see where his talent takes him. 

17 May 2012

Wet Hot American Summer

directed by David Wain

The beauty of Michael Showalter and David Wain’s excellent Wet Hot American Summer is not that it’s different from every other summer camp genre comedy. The beauty of the film is that it’s exactly like every other summertime genre comedy, and therein resides the genius. Wet Hot American Summer is like every mocking conversation you and your friends have had whilst watching Meatballs, Meatballs 2, -insert title of some lesser summertime comedy of which you have some inside jokey type of personal connection here-, and the result is a wacky ass and raunchy flaunting of cliché. It never hurts when you have the cast of usual Wain suspects at your disposal, talent like the enormously spectacular Paul Rudd, the always perfect Elizabeth Banks, the marvelously smarmy Ken Marino (that perm!), the elusive Michael Showalter- hell, I could go on and on, about the genius of Jo Lo Truglio (the bike slash foot chase between Truglio and Marino is classic), the underplayed hilarity of Janeane Garofalo, or the fantastically fantastic stylings of Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black, but the total is far greater than the sum of its very hilarious parts. The plot is easy enough: the last day at summer camp and all the shenanigans and tomfoolery you can imagine, but this is the kind of film I love to watch about this time of year to prime the engine for summer. Critically and commercially it was a dud, but we all know how much we can trust those snobby, know it all movie critics. Bottom line: Wet Hot is great in much the same way Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz is great, because it pokes fun at a genre for which we all share a great deal of affection while succeeding at being tremendously funny in its own right. Wain has said he is writing both a sequel and a prequel to Wet Hot, and frankly I don’t know which one of those possibilities makes me more excited. 

15 May 2012

Bombay Beach

directed by Alma Har'el

The recipe for the heady cocktail that is Bombay Beach:
1 part Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus gorgeous surrealism.
2 parts mesmerizing and prismatic familial dysfunction, á la October Country.
A dollop of a deeply profound sense of cosmic mystery and connectivity with all things.
Combine mixture in the scorched wasteland of the Salton Sea. Stir evenly.
Garnish with musical pieces from Beirut and Bob Dylan (to taste).
Savor to the last drop.

Documentary filmmaker Alma Har’el has tried very hard to do what Andrew Douglas did effortlessly in Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, what came naturally to Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri in October Country, what National Geographic seemingly stumbled upon in The Story of the Weeping Camel: that this place we call earth and this state we call existence is a gorgeous, haunting thing full of such mysterious strangeness and deep, deep wonder. Does this mean that Har’el has failed where others have succeeded? Absolutely not. Hard work and a capable eye prevail in this rough and lovely documentary. Amid the wreckage of Bombay Beach, Har’el shines a light on three men in an effort to create a kind of spectrum of life as it persists in the cosmic hardscrabble. A little boy named Benny, coping with dysfunction and the turmoil of his little boy mind. A teenager named CeeJay, working hard to forge a new life for himself as he trades one wild place for another. And Red, the relic of a life hard lived and a state of existence hard earned, carving out a niche for himself as a cigarette peddler in Slab City. Together, they tell the story of life in the down and out, the culture of society on the fringe, and how strong the roots of family and friendship run, even in the unforgiving Southern California desert. Har’el films wonderfully staged musical sequences both to comment on and punctuate her tale, and the result is something that took my breath away at times. Films like this seem to do a better job at telling the big truths than other, more straightforward and factual films seem to do, and a film as relentlessly optimistic as this one finds ways to make you yearn for even the simplest of pleasures. Like the films aforementioned, Bombay Beach is a tough tonic, but well worth the time.

14 May 2012

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

directed by John Foy

Anyone unfamiliar with the mysterious and enigmatic Toynbee tiles need not worry when it comes to this colossally entertaining doc by John Foy, for this masterful film provides you with a mesmerizing glimpse down the rabbit hole whilst well informing you of its content. In the spirit of frontloading: Resurrect Dead tells the story of tile works that have for decades appeared on the streets of numerous city roads in the United Sates and even South America, tile works that, while bearing variation in bordering messages, always contain the same centralized text in a four line block:
TOYNBEE IDEA
IN MOVIE 2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER
Pretty effing weird, right? Even those who are well versed in Toynbee tile lore will have a ball watching Foy’s trio of amateur sleuths (Justin Duerr, Colin Smith and Steve Weinik) as they attempt to solve a decades old mystery by pooling resources and brainpans. Foy blends technique and content to wonderful effect throughout, combing Errol Morris style re-enactments with talking head interviews and present day unfoldings, all punctuated by his own excellent score. Not since Zodiac have I been so maddeningly enthralled in mystery, to such an extent that I wished I could somehow make the movie happen faster because I wanted know what was beneath each subsequent stone. Foy takes his time unveiling new mysteries, new blind alleys, and new pieces of an already baffling puzzle. Resurrect Dead is a treat in every way, one of my favorites of the year so far.