What movie was that...?

13 December 2014

Nightcrawler

directed by Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal has been acting his face off in recent years, not that he has ever really been off his game. Going back to October Sky and Donnie Darko, Mr G always showed promise, promise that he mostly lived up to throughout his career, but he has been turning out straight up phenomenal performances in his last 3 films (his work in Prisoners is some of the best acting you are likely to see, ever), conveying so much with so very little. Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is several things, part LA noir, part seedy thrill ride, part (shudder) social commentary, but luckily for Gilroy what his film lacks in total depth it makes up for in fine performances. Between Jacob G, Renee Russo, Bill Paxton, and a wonderfully natural Riz Ahmed, you almost don’t notice the thinness of the plot and the variety of ways in which the film nearly deteriorates into vapors. JG plays Louis Bloom, an unscrupulous go-getter who finds his niche filming sensational video footage for a local news station. Russo excels as the head of the news station and object of Bloom’s intense attention, playing razorish yet damaged with equal parts guts and fragility. I wanted more from this movie, which isn’t to say that it is bad (I thoroughly enjoyed it), but rather that it had the potentially to be a truly inspired work of art. Don’t let that deter you, though, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And that scene when Louis, alone in his apartment, turns to no one in response to his television is one of those genuine moments that can define a role and a film. Just wonderful.

05 June 2014

Godzilla

directed by Gareth Edwards 

I was excited, albeit very nervous, when the first teaser trailer for the newest Godzilla film premiered. There was a new found sense of tension, of anticipation, of reverence that was completely lost in the 1998 debacle. And it didn’t hurt that teaser ended with the classic, skin-crawlingly excellent sound piece made famous in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 masterpiece, Gojira. Gareth Edwards proved me right by treating his source material with much respect, possibly even to the detriment of the story…

Edwards is no stranger to the political sci-fi genre. His solid film Monsters featured a grounded story of geo-political tensions amid an alien infestation of sorts, and the result was something quiet and haunting. Godzilla finds similar anxieties about the frailty of our planet, though they fade into the background quickly and are nearly never heard from again. Edwards even appropriates the nuclear fallout fears felt in Gojira to some degree of success, though it mostly relates to how the creatures react to life above ground (oops, spoiler alert). As for the human element, no one is given anything to do but react to circumstance, though Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe try their damnedest to flesh out their character cutouts. Despite this, Edwards treats the King of the Monsters himself with both love and awe-filled respect. Each tease (a rising shot of a massive haunch, the magnificent sky diving scene from the trailer) works like magic to instill in us a sense of awe, tantalizing us until the moments when Edwards does show us Godzilla in his entirety. But in the end, it seems as if everyone was so focused on Godzilla that they neglected to tend to the human drama surrounding such a tremendous creature.

For a kind of alternate universe Godzilla film, give Bong-Joon Ho’s amazing The Host a try. It was the perfect quencher for my Godzilla thirst back in 2006 (and still does the trick today!).

27 April 2014

Wake in Fright

directed by Ted Kotcheff

I was having a conversation with a new friend about our favorite movies when Wake in Fright inevitably came up, and it suddenly occurred to me that I have never written about it before. Ted Kotcheff’s masterpiece of Australian cinema was lost for over 30 years, almost fated to die an anonymous death before being rescued at the eleventh hour by the film’s editor, Anthony Buckley (the only print he was able to locate was marked ‘for destruction’). The story of the film itself is fascinating, for years only known to me as a film I would ever hear about but never actually see, but thanks to Buckley’s tireless efforts, Wake in Fright is here to stay.

It’s hard to separate such a shocking, mesmerizing, astonishing work of art from its context, and indeed the physical and cultural landscape of the Australian outback is inextricably linked to the framing of plot, theme, and motif, but there are universal truths to be culled from the geographic isolation, the societal ritualism of drinking and reckless savagery, an ordinary man’s decent into darkness. It’s a film very much about masculinity and what wretchedness man is capable of, the outback serving as a dusty pressure cooker in which civilization languishes.

The film opens with a tremendous 360° scan of the minuscule town of Tiboonda, enveloped by stark desert on all sides, both setting the weighty tone and establishing the remoteness, the vacuum of reality into which we are going to venture. School is letting out for Christmas break, and John Grant, a sullen teacher, is anxious to get back to the city to see his girlfriend. He longs to be out from under the thumb of a government bond trapping him in the outback, to go to London to be a journalist. But a layover in a neighboring town (referred to as The Yabba) changes all of that. Grant swills beer with the local cop Jock Crawford and gambles away his savings, stranding him The Yabba for 6 weeks. Things begin to spiral quickly for Grant (played to perfection by Gary Bond) after he leaves Tiboonda, and we the audience are trapped in horror as we watch his deterioration. Relying on the quasi-hospitality of the locals, Grant begins to embrace the depravity within as he sucks down beer, ravages a pack of kangaroos and bears witness to (and takes part in) life on the fringes.

Australian history is one bulging with violence and savagery, and Kotcheff evokes this concept in his directing, depicting the rural outback village as a microcosm of Australia’s struggles as a whole, but in doing so without much politicizing (e.g. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, by contrast, is highly political and highly effective) Kotcheff creates a more universal and existentially terrifying world. The horrors of Wake in Fright are not simply a product of a geographically isolated region, nor are they some removed abstraction over which we (as American, British, French, Chinese, insert country of choice here) the non-Australian audience need not fret. As an American, I am ever aware of my country’s blood glutted history, and I could easily imagine regions of the nation where this story could very easily take place.

Every component of Wake in Fright is of the highest level, the acting is superb, the cinematography is brutal, the sound design and editing are devastating, a work of art that never leaves you. Donald Pleasence delivers a mammoth performance as Doc Tydon, Grant’s mysterious and intriguing companion through much of the film, and Gary Bond is phenomenal as our everyman sliding into the depths. One of the only films I would classify as essential viewing, Wake in Fright will surely change you.

PS it’s currently streaming on Netflix. You’re welcome.

For anyone interested, Nathan Southern had the opportunity to interview Ted Kotcheff last year about his work:

26 February 2014

Hannibal: season 1

created by Bryan Fuller

Before season 2 premieres this Friday, I feel I must give Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal a fair amount of credit. In an age of well-conceived, well made cable drama crafted to suit a variety of tastes (from the bleak survivalist humanity of The Walking Dead, to the astonishing quality of True Detective, to the muted drama of Downton Abby, to name a few), the poor networks have earned the reputation (with specific regard to drama) as purveyors of bland, lifeless fiction and gag-inducing reality television (cable is guilty of these sins as well, but I’m not here to debate the point). In a world of acronyms that stand for rock n roll law enforcement departments (SVU, CSI, NCIS, yawn) populated by blasé characters and fill-in-the-blank story-telling, I was certain Hannibal would be just another whiff on the part of the networks to validate themselves as dramatic forces. But there was something I couldn’t quite place about the season 1 trailers, a certain edge better suited for cable, that piqued my interest. It didn’t hurt that I love Mads Mikkelsen in almost everything he does, or that Larry Fishburne would be hanging around bellowing lines like a put out opera singer. So I tuned in, and like the hay days of Lost, Hannibal had me from jump street and never let go. Each episode was revelatory in all the darkness and savagery, delighting in all the twisty, turny, maniacal morbidity that abounds. Hugh Dancy was really swinging for the fences in the first few episodes (which I found off-putting), his portrayal of Will Graham not much more than a collection of twitches, shaky breathing and huffy snark, but luckily for us that has tapered off to reveal a talented actor who has started to hit his stride. Mr F is dependably excellent, as is Caroline Dhavernas, and the revolving door of excellent guest characters is always a treat (I’m looking at you, Mr Eddie Izzard and Ms Gillian Anderson). But let’s not forget that the primary reason, the make or break type of reason, that Hannibal has been successful rests squarely on the shoulders of Mads Mikkelsen, an actor who can so effortlessly relax and strike fear simply by the soothing rasp of his voice. Mikkelsen’s depiction of such an iconic character (nailed by Anthony Hopkins) is an exercise in restraint, which is a feat in itself considering both the over the top nature of the show and television audiences’ expectation for such programming (read: overly dynamic and easily judged), so after such a successful debut I am very excited to see what else is in store for the good doctor. From a technical standpoint, the show is well written and well shot, with each episode working as a chapter in a unified story, which was a little surprising and very refreshing. It’s like sitting down in a diner and getting a delicious confit dinner (ahem, pardon the cutesy food analogy. I only realized its cuteness after typing it). NBC has hopefully decided to take a page from cable’s book, and if more networks choose to chuck out the acronyms and follow suit, we may not have to look solely to cable for our quality programming needs.


Season 2 begins this Friday. Set your DVRs, people.

18 February 2014

BC Needs Your Help!

I originally began OMFBC as an extension of two things I love: writing and watching movies. It began as a way to convey my experience with film as an entertainment, as an art, as a thought provoking medium, as a challenging dialogue between maker and audience, as pure enjoyment. For me, film is much more than simply watching a collection of images and sound, more than watching a plot unfurl, it is a precious thing, a dear thing that culls light from the ether, an amazing thing that draws me to it as though by fantastical magnetism. With OMFBC, I wanted to tell people how film makes me feel, and so it began as a free flowing list of films I love and feel are worth watching. Some are sad, some are silly, some are painful, some are informative, but all of them move me in some significant way.

As the years have gone by, the format hasn’t changed much. Occasionally I review a new film, and occasionally I give a less than glowing review, and I have even managed a few interviews (high points of my film loving life, to be sure!), but the original intent of OMFBC is and always will be to showcase the magic of film and what wonders it can work when created with love and skill.

OMFBC also serves the valuable purpose of affording me the opportunity to write on a regular basis, and with a subject so rich and ever changing as film, I will surely never run out of inspiration. I have always enjoyed writing fiction and nonfiction, conjuring up people and lives from the cauldron of my imagination and loosing them upon the page. I attempt to write books about people who whom I can relate. I make up stories overflowing with silly sounds and faces for our little one. I write poems about moments and feelings and desires and fears. I write roundabout pieces that began as one thing and end up as a question…

And with that I will quit boring you and come to the point of it.

I recently completed a screenplay that I feel compelled to try and make into a film of my own. My brother DC (who has a degree in film) has the technical know how and the skill to realize this dream of mine from behind the camera, but what I lack is the knowledge of where to begin with this endeavor (fundraising, networking and making necessary contacts, etc). Does anyone have any tips for me, advice cultivated from experience, or does anyone have the name of someone who may be interested in hearing me out? Is anyone in a position to hear my movie idea and help me take the next important steps? I have done some research with DC, and I definitely feel the film can be (and should be) made on a small budget. Tonally, it’s an intense film that will most likely speak to my fellow Gen Xers of the world (particularly the younger of that generation). Essentially, I have a completed script that I feel is very strong, and all I need is the opportunity to sit down with an experienced producer who knows the ropes. So, as I try to educate myself back home, I thought I would toss a fish on the cosmic fryer and see if I can get it to sizzle.

If any of you, my movie loving friends of the blogosphere, are able to assist me in my quest, I would be most excellently indebted to you. It has always been a dream of mine, to craft a something from scratch, to begin with an idea, a feeling, and build from it a thing that provokes, that inspires, that enrages, that ignites conversation.

PS for anyone on the fence, I can assure you the screenplay isn’t nearly as boring and tiresome as reading this roundabout request (I should hope so, BC!).

01 February 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

I have written before about the spectacular McRenaissance of one Mr Matthew McConaughey, emerging from the romcom ruins with a breathtaking string of performances that will forever cement his place among the ranks of Hollywood greats (I always knew this was the case, Mr McC, but I’m still thrilled). It all started with The Lincoln Lawyer, then Bernie, then Killer Joe, then The Paperboy, Mud- you can scroll his IMDb page for the rest of his contemporary wonders, and rest assured he is bringing nothing short of his finest work to the biopic Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a hard living electrician who learns he has contracted the HIV virus. In his 1985 Texas world of bull riders and macho scumbags, Woodroof’s diagnosis is both a death sentence and a scarlet letter alienating him from his social circles, dooming him to embittered loneliness. But Woodroof is a fighter, a hustler who won’t even let the long odds of a 30 day life expectancy prevent him from making his own luck. An encounter with another face of the HIV epidemic, Rayon (played by a brilliant and breezy Jared Leto), combined with his own wherewithal gives Woodroof both the direction and the motivation to fight back. Sure, Woodroof is mostly out to make money and stave off his own death for as long as possible, flipping the FDA and Big Medicine the bird along the way, but what unfurls is a matter of fact and poignantly gripping story. No one can do the quietly fierce, delicate yet strong high wire act like Jennifer Garner, who is amazing as Eve, one of Woodroof’s few friends outside of his “activist” circle. Dallas Buyers Club is a glimpse into an epochal moment in our country through the keyhole of one man’s refusal to lie down, and Jean-Marc Vallée’s superb film is a sure fire classic. 

28 January 2014

Strongman

directed by Zachary Levy

Some documentarians are concerned with style and content in equal measure. Dogtown and Z-Boys and Style Wars, pour example, have style for days, but this is appropriate because the subject matter demands it. Would Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus be as mesmerizing if all of its fascinating characters were simply interviewed and tracked with a shoddy camera? My guess is probably not, but on the other hand there are excellent documentaries that don’t seem preoccupied with such frivolities (American Movie is a prime example of such magic). These “basic” types of documentaries can be disarming, because you don’t always expect such depth to emerge from the wreckage, but occasionally one sneaks out of nowhere (or, in this case, pops up on the Netflix reco page) and leaves you with that embattled sense of awe. I say embattled because documentaries like this (see definition at: good) always fill me with a tangled collection of wonder, joy and sadness, a sense that this world and the people in it are infinitely odd, infinitely flawed, and infinitely wonderful. Zachary Levy’s Strongman is a fragile, ramshackle, tragically sincere glimpse into the small world of a man with titanic abilities, abilities that are unfortunately hard to make dazzling, dynamic or marketable. That doesn’t make them any less astounding, but it frames the plight of the documentary’s focus, strongman Stanley Pleskun (who goes by Stanless Steel), as he struggles to translate his unique skill set into a lucrative career. Pleskun himself works by day doing industrial tear outs and scrounging scrap metal from warehouses, but his determination to find an outlet for his strength drives him to perform at every turn, sometimes for no one else but a porch full of intoxicated good old boys. Levy doesn’t belabor Pleskun’s promethean struggle to break big too much, opting instead to stitch together scenes of chaotic familial dynamics, struggling romance and deep sadness into a kind of liquid, free flowing narration that paints an impression rather than hammer home a biographer’s thesis. This film is the stronger for it, and this is not to say that there is not humor to be found. This is also not to say Levy depicts Pleskun as a hulking brute out of time with no use. Through Levy’s lens, we understand the difficulties someone with such singular abilities faces when trying to market his talents, we glimpse the unlikely loveliness of a quirky romance (Stanley and Barbara are a couple for the ages) and the inevitable sadness of a relationship as it self-destructs, we experience the emotive bond (for better or worse) of a close but dysfunctional family. And despite all that, we even feel warming rays of hope at the end of the film as things begin to come full circle for Stanley and Barbara. Of course, if you’re a real Grinch, you could also see it as the doom laden reset point for a cycle of tragedy and heartbreak. But I try not to be such a Grinch…


Much like Stanless Steel, Levy’s documentary won’t win any awards for slick, pretty packaging, but the power still finds a way to strike you in the most unlikely places. 

13 January 2014

Her

directed by Spike Jonze

Many great directors instill their work with shades of themselves. You get a definite impression of the kind of person Stanley Kubrick was based on his canon. You understand a great deal about Lars Von Trier by bearing witness to his cinematic fits and starts. As personal as filmmakers may get when creating their art, I find none as intimately revealing as Spike Jonze.

I distinctly remember the first time I learned Jonze’s name, sitting in my grandmother’s living room watching MTV as the video for “Cannonball” by The Breeders played out. I almost couldn’t pay attention to the video because I was worried I’d miss the director credit at the end. Ah, the old heyday of MTV programming… but there was something even then that struck me about Jonze’s style. Dozens of amazing videos, 3 features and 20 years have passed, and Jonze has revealed himself more and more with every work. When I watch his films, I feel as if I was allowed through a back door into Jonze’s mind, and even as I marvel at its oddness (and its similarity to my own), I feel almost nervous. It’s as if I got in by accident, and I worry that he might be mad if he found me wandering around in there. This analogy may sound strange, but then again Jonze is strange, wonderfully, delicately, beautifully strange in a way that takes the light of the world and refracts it back as a fragile and tumultuous rainbow.

It’s safe to assume, good reader, that I am pre-disposed to fall in love with anything Jonze creates, and I have been waiting with bated breath (for what seems like forever) for Her, the first wholly Jonzian work (not an adaptation or director only credit), to finally arrive. And it has, in all its kaleidoscopic, retrofuturistic magic. The love story that takes place sometime in the not so distant future (where all of fashion seems to worship at the altar of David Byrne, btw) between a man and his OS is (if you can allow yourself to go with Jonze on this intellectual leap) at once a timeless story and a fresh look at the thrills and trenches of love and relationships. Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenal as Theodore Twombly, a melancholic letter writer in the throes of a divorce who cultivates a romance with an artificially intelligent operating system (wonderfully voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Don’t worry, all the questions (theoretical, logistical, comically immature) flitting through your mind are tackled throughout Her’s duration, but the film is not some sort of science fiction spectacle. At its heart, Her is a love story that ponders what exactly it takes to make love exist, to qualify it as real. Amy Adams pulls a 2008 Kate Winslet and delivers 2 Oscar worthy performances in a year (go see American Hustle, already), this time around as Amy, Theodore’s friend and fellow searcher. Her is beautifully shot, amazingly scored, and movingly realized by a staggeringly genius screwball. It’s the kind of film you never knew you needed in your life until you see it.

12 January 2014

American Hustle

directed by David O Russell

David O Russell films are delectable treats for both the casual movie watcher and the cinephile. Wild, zesty, spitfire treats that overflow with the magic of filmic storytelling in an exhilaratingly idiosyncratic way. And like many of his other great works, American Hustle finds its stride in telling the story of opportunists and truth adverse survivalists all clamoring for their own personal sense of vindication. For some of these characters, it’s about redemption, but for others it’s just about the hustle. American Hustle may not be much more than a collection of spectacular scenes, but oh, what scenes they are! Sumptuously decorated, intoxicatingly, head spinningly scripted and aggravatingly well acted, these scenes celebrate the sheer joy of filmmaking, the pure elation that film can evoke. To try and credit each electrifying performance by a dizzying ensemble cast would be folly, but Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale are just a few of the names on the list of dazzlers. A special shout out to the comedic genius (hell, genius genius) of Louis C K (you Swedes better be taking Nobel notes concerning Mr C K), a man so full of talent that it has become nearly imperceptible to the naked eye. Forgive me for getting lost in the revelry of such a fun film, but as for due diligence… American Hustle is a fictionalized version of the notorious Abscam sting that brought down several political figures during the age of disco, but Russell is more concerned with the art of the con as a personality trait, a characteristic, a skill. One might argue that Mr Russell is also concerned with plunging necklines (Ms Adams, Mr Cooper, I’m looking at you), but American Hustle is a hell of a movie that proves too true Mae West’s famous quote, that too much of a good thing is a wonderful. 


11 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

directed by the Coen Brothers

The Coen brothers have never shied away from tackling profundity in a way inimitably Coen. And with Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coens show they still have a lot to say about their legacy as filmmakers and storytellers. Through a kind of bleakly whimsical mobius trip, the story of a struggling folk singer attempting to connect with the world is hilarious at one moment, devastating the next, and mesmerizing throughout. Perpetually aloof, dour, morose, Davis has the chops (and even the life experience Dylan pretended to have) to create wonderful art, but somehow cannot connect with his contemporaries. As he floats from couch to couch, inconveniencing acquaintances to varying degrees, Davis seems lost in the dismal doldrums of creativity. The clouds part (for us, that is) when Davis plays, however, and the superb Oscar Isaac manages to coax the whole world into leaning close as he culls the voices and struggles of lives past into existence in darkened bars and stuffy rooms. It’s a classic and excellently effective Coen tactic, but what spectacularly moving scene in a Coen movie would be complete without a wry reminder at the end that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously (lest we start getting carried away with all this heady pondering)?  A prime example: F Murray Abraham’s deadpan delivery of “I don’t see a lot of money, here” is a laugh out loud moment that cuts off a revelatory musical sequence. The musical sequences are truly beautiful, moving scenes that sum up much of Davis’ embattled personae, and serve as kind of thesis for what the Coens have so long been fascinated with: the creation of art in relation to tradition, the process of creating new via the old. This tension between tradition and innovation is evidenced in their strongest works, and Inside Lleweyn Davis is a strong addition to a shockingly formidable body of work.


I’ve been pondering this question for some years, and I always encounter widely varying conclusions when I pose it to other film lovers, so here it goes: What are your top 5 Coen Brothers movies?

My List (in order):
 A Serious Man (I should think no Coen film will ever topple its reign).
No Country for Old Men
Inside Llewyn Davis (I think it just usurped Fargo, but I am still mulling this over...)