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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.