Tag Archives: Movie Review

70. Do The Right Thing – Spike Lee (1989)

Repeat viewing.

This is quite a diversifying film. I’ve known people who’ve absolutely hated this movie, calling it racist, amongst many derogatory things. To me, and I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, I think it’s one of the great American movies. There’s so many different ways you can read this movie, but, and this I why I love it, I think it’s a great study of people and their perception of others.

I usually try to avoid any major spoilers at all cost when writing reviews, but I will be talking about the ending of the film. So, if you don’t want to know the score, look away now. The film is set on a block in Brooklyn, it’s not your traditional underprivileged block, but it’s certainly not a affluent area either. The residents of the block consist predominantly of black people with a few Puerto Ricans. There’s a Korean run mini-market and an Italian owned Pizza place. The Pizza place is the central point of all the action. It’s run by Sal, an elderly Italian American, and his two sons, Vito and Pino. They employ Mookie*, played by Spike Lee, he’s a pizza delivery-boy. There’s also a great many minor characters who all play their part in making the neighbourhood seem vibrant and have texture. All the customers that frequent Sal’s are of African American descent and there’s a little goading going on between the Italians and African Americans, particularly involving Vito and Mookie. Over the course of the day, and the duration of the movie is just one day, things start to escalate between the black customers and the Italians. It’s a scorching hot day and the temperature is hitting 100, tempers start to fray. And, just like that, everything goes crazy. Sal smashes up a customer’s radio, the radio of Radio Raheem! This causes a fight. The police are called, and, mercilessly, the cops kill Radio Raheem. This leaves Mookie in a predicament, does he side with his fellow residents, or does he side with his employers. The crowd are baying for blood, and Mookie decides to smash the front window of Sal’s place, and, with that, the residents tear down Sal’s pizzeria

I’ve read various criticisms from people saying that Lee portrays the black community as innocent and that they can do no wrong. This, frankly, is utter crap. The black residents aren’t portrayed in a great light, they’re violent, and racist. Just like the Italians. And Puerto Ricans. Even the Koreans. Nobody treats anyone with any real respect. The young people argue and taunt the old, and vice-versa. Yet Mookie, if anything, destroys the window because he knows things can never go back to what they once were, prior to Radio Raheem’s death. The smashing of Sal’s place is a violent act, but, in the end, it brings peace to the neighbourhood. It could’ve been worse, more people could have died. Mookie knew something needed to be done before retribution was put upon Sal. That’s my take on it. You could argue Mookie was biting the hand that fed him and destroyed Sal’s for no good reason, but I don’t buy that.

There’s so many interesting characters here, there’s stereotyping for sure with some people, but with such a vast cast I can see the need for this. The important characters in the film we do get to know a little better and understand them more. Lee does this in a few interesting ways, such as having them directly address the camera. It makes for a much more aggressive way of viewing the characters, they can be quite intimidating at times, especially a scene where racist curses are being used by all the different cultured people. The film doesn’t pull any punches. It’s not an easy watch and, at times, there’s a sense that Lee is trying to see how far he can go, what he can get away with. I kinda admire that though. There aren’t many films that tackle race in such an obvious and direct way. The film was made only a few years after the Michael Stewart death, and proceeded the Rodney King riots by less than two years. So, clearly, it was very much a hot subject to make a film about. Even now you can relate elements of it directly to what happened with the London riots.

It’s not a perfect film. It’s occasionally a little too stylized in it’s direction, some of the characters are clearly just cheap stereotypes, the dialogue is silly once or twice, Lee’s own performance as Mookie isn’t one of the great acting performances, but none of this really mattered to me. I think it’s a great film regardless. It’s about people in a certain environment, how all these people co-exist with each other, and how their own actions are defined by how they perceive others.

Oh, and the first time I watched the film it got me into the music of Public Enemy, which is no bad thing. Public Enemy’s song, Fight The Power, is the signature sound of the movie. It not only is played in it’s entirety during a very 80s intro-title/dance sequence, but is key to one character’s attitude.

Marks out of ten – Nine

(*The character Mookie was named after Mets great Mookie Wilson, this was before Spike swapped sides over to the Yankees, boo. And, not to be forgotten, Mookie wears the great Jackie Robinson’s shirt.)

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under American

69. The Woman in Black – James Watkins (2012)

First Viewing.

There’s not been too many horror reviews over the past 60+ entries on this blog, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of the genre. However, there are a few that I do love, The Exorcist, naturally, The Fly (1986 version), possibly not quite a horror, but pretty damn creepy, El Ofanto, and a small bunch of Asian films. That’s about it. The problem that I have with the whole genre is that I’m not really scared by them, and this isn’t a macho boast or anything, cos there’s plenty of things that do scare me, like people preparing my food with dirty hands, Joan Rivers/Pete Burns’ plastically altered faces, or getting a really bad hair cut.  Horror films, on the other hand, don’t bring on the night terrors, so when I see a horror flick it needs to be more than something just trying to scare the crap out of me. So, bearing that in mind, I present a quick review of The Woman in Black.

We all know Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, even to someone like me who’s only seen a couple of the films and never read any of the books he is Harry Potter. He’ll always be known for those performances. This is the first role I’ve seen him in playing someone other than a wizard, and, I suspect, the first time most other people have too. So, the big question is, does he manage to jump out of that huge spectacled shadow? I would say yes, to a certain extent. His performance is very sound, well acted, and I didn’t expect him to call for Ron at the first sign of trouble. However, I don’t think he was quite right for the role, he seems way too young. The story revolves around Arthur (Radcliffe) visiting a house, circa 1910, that has recently had a death in it, and his job is to correct paperwork for a will. Arthur is also a widower, and left with a young son. As you can guess certain things start happening to Arthur once he reaches the house, and so on…. The problem I had with Radcliffe playing a widower like Arthur is that he doesn’t carry enough gravitas or weariness to make the character seem real. He’s too fresh-faced. He does the best he can under the circumstances, but, picking a name off the top of my head,  say Johnny Depp, for instance, he would have been much more suitable. This isn’t so much a criticism of Radcliffe, but more of the casting process for the film. No doubt though having Radcliffe attached certainly helped get the movie made and, subsequently, receive plenty of attention in the press when it was released, so I can see why he’s in the lead role.

The film, as a whole, is pretty good. It ticks all the boxes for me when it comes to horror; it’s not utterly predictable, it’s fairly suspenseful and it doesn’t have characters walking around doing completely stupid things like so many other horrors movies do. I’ve always been an advocate of the “less is more” approach to making a horror. I honestly don’t want to see dozens of people sawn to death (unless it’s the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and so on, but give me flickering ghosts/people in the corner of the room, and some creepy music and I’m a lot more happy. Building up suspense is a much underrated movement in modern horror it seems. Thankfully The Woman in Black goes for the understated approach, in fact, it does it even more than I thought possible. It really takes it too the limit, and, I guess, perhaps that’s why this film doesn’t get the best wrap from other viewers. It’s, arguably, a little too slow and methodical for most peoples taste. I liked it though.

All in all I don’t really have too many complaints. It’s a good “nuts and bolts” horror as Mark Kermode would say, and that’s fine with me.

Marks out of ten – Seven.

 

10 Comments

Filed under British

68. The Amazing Spider-Man – Marc Webb (2012)

First Viewing.

I don’t normally get around to writing up reviews for blockbusters because;

  1. there’s already plenty of other material around to read.
  2. there’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said.
  3. I prefer writing about smaller films
  4. laziness

That all being said I thought I’d put up a few words about The Amazing Spider-man. (I don’t much care for Spider-man being hyphenated, Batman isn’t and it looks much cooler.) I’ll start with the good stuff; Andrew Garfield made a very good Spider-man. I’m not sure if I preferred him over Tobey Maguire’s version, but he did an admirable job taking it over. Rhys Ifans was, likewise, excellent in the role of the antagonist. He makes for a very smarmy bad guy. The 3D was pretty pointless, but I did enjoy the POV shots of Spider-man swinging through NYC. It brought together the excitement and danger of that escapade. And, overall, there was nothing I hated about the film.

My main complaint about the film is the same one that pretty much everyone else has, it’s very similar to the Raimi films that came out ten years ago. The director is basically retelling the same standard story all over again that we’d seen in Spider-man (2002) But, I can completely understand why they’ve gone that way. Plugging in a new Spider-man, but continuing the Raimi story wouldn’t have worked all that well, in my opinion. It didn’t work with the previous Batman franchise. So now you’re left with telling viewers a story they already know, which doesn’t make for great cinema.

If the Raimi films didn’t exist then I’d probably add an extra mark to the score, but lack of originality means it won’t be getting anything higher than a seven from me. At the start of the summer it was below both Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises in my expectancy level, and it certainly wasn’t as good as Avengers Assemble, and, I hope, expect, The Dark Knight Rises ends up being the best of all the summer blockbusters.

Marks out of ten – Seven

6 Comments

Filed under American

67. The Fountain – Darren Aronofsky (2006)

First Viewing.

There probably isn’t a director around right now who’s hotter than Darren Aronofksy, his last two films, The Wrestler, and Black Swan, have been lauded with praise and showered with awards. The Fountain is the movie that he made immediately before he really hit the big time with those two aforementioned films. I seem to be in the minority when it comes to appreciating Requiem for a dream, his second film, which tagged him as an exciting young director. I’ve never quite understood all the praise that’s been bestowed on Requiem, it’s an occasionally interesting film, but it reeks of bluster and grandstanding. I found it to be another case of the Emperor’s new clothes.

Of Aronofsky’s five films The Fountain is, so I’ve found, the least talked about. It doesn’t have any of the shock qualities his other films have, but it does have a story that, for ambition alone, should be discussed as much, if not more, than any of his other works. The narrative isn’t easy to explain in a blog review, I feel like I’d need an entire essay’s worth of words to do it justice, but here goes; Tom, a scientist – played by Hugh Jackman – is trying to find a cure for his dying wife, Izzi, (Rachel Weisz) and we follow Tom’s efforts to heal her. This part of the story takes place in the present day. There’s also a story set hundreds of years in the past involving Mayans and a Conquistador, Hugh Jackman, again. He is trying to find The Tree of Life for his queen, Rachel Weisz. The third story woven into The Fountain is set way into the future, Jackman plays a traveller, and last man alive, who is imaging a lost love, again the lost love is Weisz. This story takes place on a small, self contained bubble, somewhere up amongst the stars. That all makes sense? Right? Right? I thought not.

With a narrative like that it’s easy to understand why the film wasn’t the hit that Aronofsky and the studio hoped for, perhaps having a budget of $35m when the director wanted $70m explains the lack of success, but I’d like to think that’s not the case. The opening 15 minutes are especially confusing and I did start to wonder what the hell this film was going to be like, but, if you stick with it, it starts to make sense. Motifs starts to appear over and over again. And each of the intercut stories start to mirror each other and pull in the same direction. The cycle of life becomes the key to each segment, and, in it’s most basic form, the movie, for me, was about the acceptance of death. And, how, no matter what we do, are all faced with it. I also took away from the film that the idea of science vs religion is something of a fallacy. They are one and the same. One is there to help the other. It’s an interesting concept. It would be remiss of me not to mention that The Fountain is also, at it’s heart, a love story. All of the film’s ideas feed off of Tom and Izzi’s love for each other. It was a wholly unique experience watching this film.

There’s a lot to take from this film, but, at times, it’s hard to exactly understand what’s going on. Some of the ideas get a little lost, which is understandable in such a complex film, and the effects let down the director’s vision. They don’t quite cut it for me. Perhaps six years ago, when the film was made, they were much more impressive, but the results don’t match the ambition. That all being said, it’s by no means a huge distraction that lets the film down, but it just doesn’t completely work. The score, however, is beautiful, and works perfectly with each of the three main stories.

This is an interesting film, that’s wonderfully conceived, but, unfortunately, doesn’t quite manage to pull everything together to create the masterpiece it could have been.

Marks out of ten – Seven

 

7 Comments

Filed under American

66. À bout de Souffle – Jean-Luc Godard (1960)

Repeat Viewing.

“Informers Inform, Burglars Burgle, Murderers Murder, Lovers Love.”

À bout de Souffle, aka Breathless, was Godard’s first feature film and you could make a good argument for it being his best. In fact, not only his best movie, but one of the best movies of all time, perhaps the best ever, even? I’ll lay my cards on the table and say that my favourite Godard is Alphaville, but in terms of influence and importance you can’t top Breathless. The movie’s direction has been written about in length in thousands of journals and books, and deservedly so, it’s pure magic. It inspires wannabe directors more than any movie I can think of. I could write this entire entry on the jump cuts alone, it took the art of moviemaking into a completely new and exciting area.

Never was Godard’s quote that all you needed for a movie was “a girl and a gun”, more apt than here. The story, for a movie so highly acclaimed, isn’t especially strong. Our cooler-than-cool anti-hero Michel, Jean-Paul Belmondo, is on the run for murder, but you wouldn’t know it. He spends his time walking the sun-soaked streets of Paris, talking to girls, stealing cars, and, never, never, never, without a cigarette casually hanging from the corner of his lips. Michel gradually starts to spend more time with his new lover, Patricia, Jean Seburg, an American journalist. They talk of love, sex, art, and philosophy. And these discussions take up the majority of the middle section of the film before the final section adds some excitement, tying up the opening threads of the film. So, we’re not exactly talking a Citizen Kane-esque epic story spanning across generations here! Of course, that’s not the point, this movie proves that there’s more than one way to entertain an audience.

One of the most striking elements of the film is the sense of spontaneity to everything. It doesn’t feel tied down, anything seems possible. The script has lots of improvised elements and you can see this in the acting. It’s very natural, almost carefree. It wasn’t just the dialogue that was improvised, even some of the locations were unplanned. Godard didn’t seek any permission to shoot scenes, hence we see some iconic and beautiful shots of the actors walking around Paris. Perhaps it’s this style of filmmaking that gives Breathless a timeless feel. If I didn’t know better I’d think this film was made yesterday. It’s truly ageless. The characters have such style and coolness, even liberalness, that you can’t quite believe this film is over fifty years old. It’s no surprise that Michel admires, perhaps even wants to be, Humphrey Bogart. Bogart himself has a timeless quality that fills the screen. They both have that trademark coolness when it comes to lighting a cigarettes. Bogart and Godard movies did more to make smoking look cool than a hundred years of cigarette advertising could ever do. In fact, if you’ve just quit smoking then avoid this film, I guarantee you you’ll be on a packet a day by the half way point.

One of the interesting things Godard explores in this film is youth. The younger characters have a moral ambiguity, they don’t care Michel has killed a policeman, they’re happy to help him escape the cops in any way they can. Michel, himself, shows no remorse whatsoever for actions. Nearly all the characters that try to stop, hinder, or refuse help to Michel are of an older generation. It doesn’t feel like Godard is saying one generation is better or more advanced than another, but he’s illustrating a gap between generations, giving different points of view. It’s a gap that references films like A Rebel Without a Cause, the kind of Americana that Godard loved, and is littered throughout this film. Ironically American directors would then go on to make their own versions of Godard inspired Americana movies, Tarantino would even lift entire scenes from Godard movies in homage, but I’ll get to that another time, in a different post.

There’s so many more elements to Breathless that I could mention that I haven’t yet, from the wonderful jazz score to the documentary style of filming, but this post would be huge and I have movies to watch!

This really is one of the great movies, and if you love movies you should see this.

Marks out of ten – Ten

9 Comments

Filed under French

65. Rushmore – Wes Anderson (1998)

Repeat viewing.

Having watched the delightful Moonrise Kingdom recently I had the urge to dig out some old Wes Anderson movies and treat myself to seeing some old friends. First on the list to view again was Rushmore, possibly, my favourite from Anderson’s back catalogue.

A very young looking Jason Schwartzman plays our not entirely loveable protagonist, Max Fischer, a student at the elite Rushmore academy. Max has terrible grades, and spends too much time participating in extra-curricular activities (not a euphemism!) Max, a prolific attention seeker, starts to concentrate his own attention on a first grade teacher, Rosemary Cross, (Olivia Williams) although the pair become friends it is a purely platonic affair on the part of Rosemary. Max, while crushing on Rosemary, is also cultivating a (platonic) relationship with millionaire Herman Blume, played in the most deadpan style by Bill Murray. This, if you couldn’t guess, is where things become complicated. Herman and Rosemary start a relationship and thus everyone’s lives start to follow a downward trajectory. Max, of course, is filled with jealousy and intent on revenge. And so it begins…

Like with most Anderson movies you either buy into the world he’s creating or you end up hating it. There’s plenty of vitriol, spread throughout the internet world, about Anderson’s style of movies. The word “quirky” gets thrown around a lot to describe them, I dislike that term. It seems so dismissive of what’s actually being created. Personally I love his films. I can appreciate why people do hate them, it’s not like when people tell you they hate Citizen Kane and you’re left a gasp. The characters in Anderson films can seem cold and difficult to connect with, whilst his directing style is exaggerated and aggrandizing. I’ve come to expect it from Anderson now, in fact, I rather enjoy it. I like all the little touches he adds to his movies.

Back to Rushmore…The film is a wonderfully observed comedy. It’s full of great lines, played in the most understated way. At one point Bill Murray is going through a minor mental breakdown, and, whilst smoking a cigarette, lights another cigarette and starts smoking them both inside an elevator/lift. It may not seem widely fun, but it’s performed so perfectly that it always makes me laugh. The film is full of little touches that make me smile. Even the tragic moments have a sense of comedy, for example, Murray mumbles irreverently “Mmmm…I’m a little bit lonely these days” and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I’ve often wondered what the results would be if Anderson attempted to make a serious, deep movie. His own There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men. I can imagine he’d make quite an interesting director of crime movies. There’s really not a lot of difference between any Anderson film. They’re all of the same ilk. They’re all tragicomedies, with characters that aren’t quite the same as anyone else. I love Anderson movies, but watching Rushmore again shows a lack of evolution from Anderson. I don’t really mind really though, I kinda like them the way they are.

Marks out of ten – Nine.

12 Comments

Filed under American

63. The Raid – Gareth Evans (2012)

First Viewing.

This movie isn’t for the faint of heart or weak stomached; It’s 90 minutes of action, pain and brutality. The premise of The Raid is a little unusual, it’s part kung fu movie crossed with an American cop show, and directed by a Welshman. The setting is a Indonesian housing estate, one of the poorest in the country, and a SWAT team has been dispatched to bring in a notorious drug baron, but, of course, it doesn’t go down as everyone expects. The film has every single cop movie cliché in the book; the naive young rookie, the cop with a pregnant wife, the crooked cop, and a few more that I won’t mention to avoid those pesky spoilers. They’re not hard to guess though! It’s fair to say that the script is a little predictable, but that’s really not what this movie is about. It’s about action. And, damn, there’s a lot of action. The Raid has some of the most exciting fight sequences I’ve seen. I’m by no means a connoisseur of the kung fu genre, but this looks like wild stuff. Some scenes are so intense that you start to feel fatigued by it all. The action scenes avoid the trappings of cutting everything so fast that it becomes a blur, there’s long takes and you can see the effort the actors are putting in. It occasionally looks a bit rough around the edges, you can see a punch missed, or a knife not quite cutting flesh, but I found that quite charming (in the most violent way) as it feels much more real. We’re not submitted to the horrors of CGI moment after CGI moment. It’s an extremely visceral experience. It is a particularly bloody experience too. There’s a lot of extreme violence, and the characters are far from remorseful about it all. You may wish to take a sick bag, one or two moments are intense!

There’s enough pure action and plot twists, predictable or not, to make this a hugely entertaining movie. The fights sometimes go on for too long, the clichés are a constant presence, and there’s almost zero character development, but it’s just a whole lot of fun to watch. It’s destined to be a cult classic. It won’t get the same kind of attention as say an Oldboy or Infernal Affairs achieved, but it’ll have plenty of fans nonetheless.

Marks out of ten – Seven

1 Comment

Filed under British, Indonesian

62. A Royal Affair – Nikolaj Arcel (2012)

First viewing.

I’m not the biggest royalist around, in fact, I’m rather apathetic to the whole damn thing, but I am definitely a geak for all things Scandanavian or Nordic. And, ordinarily, I’m more of a Mumblecore fan than a period piece fan when it comes to picking my movies, but upon narrowing down Saturday evening’s cinematic viewing to either the Danish tale A Royal Affair or Lynn Shelton’s next generation mumblecore flick Your Sister’s Sister I wasn’t too disappointed to lose the vote and make for the showing of A Royal Affair instead. If the reviews were anything to go by then A Royal Affair should be entertaining enough.

It’s quite a detailed story, but, in brief, the narrative evolves around the King of Denmark, Christian VII, his Queen, Caroline, and their physician Johann Friedrich Struensee . Christian VII is, as all great kings are, an eccentric. And when I say eccentric it wouldn’t be a push to call him mad. He, it seems, has little love for his newly wed Queen and would rather spend his time in establishments of ill repute. Naturally Caroline becomes lonely and starts to resent her husband. The establishment is, of course, worried by Christian VII’s actions and set out to find him a physician who can curb the king’s wayward actions. This is where Struensee enters the story. He strikes up an immediate rapport with the king and they become close friends. Struensee is a forward thinker, a man of the enlightened age, and he uses his influence with the king to push through reforms of the ultra-conservative Danish law. This is where the story unravels like a Shakespearian tragedy; Caroline and Struensee begin the eponymous Royal Affair, the central government hits back at King Christian’s plans, and death, banishment and fever pierce through the Danish capital of Copenhagen.

I have to confess that despite a mild anxiousness as I entered the cinema I was thoroughly entertained by the film. It is beautifully shot, Denmark’s countryside looks especially beautiful. The composition of each frame is careful and loving with nothing feeling out of place. The script is slow and careful, but builds climatically. Each of the main characters are rendered in a believable way, you feel like you are watching them evolve as the movie enters it’s second half. There is quite a lot of political talk, it’s certainly not a straight romance, but the politics in the movie are hugely fascinating (to me, at least.) The acting is excellent. Christian VII, played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, was my own personal favourite of the three main characters. His character went from being utterly dislikeable to a man of courage, and it felt like a completely organic arc. The direction is mostly spot on, it occasionally lingers too long on one area or repeats certain actions, but this is just a minor quibble.

To sum up I’d recommend this movie highly. It deserves all the positive reviews it’s been receiving and certainly don’t be put off by seeing a movie about 19th century Danish politics and royalty.

Marks out of ten – Eight

6 Comments

Filed under danish

61. Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman (2008)

First Viewing.

Synecdoche, New York is one of those films I’ve been planning on catching it since it’s release five years ago, but it’s kept eluding me. I’ve always liked, maybe not loved, Kaufman’s scripts – I’m one of the few who’d take Adaptation over Eternal Sunshine – and have been anxious to see what kind of director he is. As you may have guessed, I’ve finally  managed to see Synecdoche, and, after much anticipation, I’m a little unsure of what I’ve just witnessed. The plot is unexplainable, I won’t even attempt it, but  IMDB has a stab at it with this, “A theater director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play.” – I’m not sure that even covers 5% of what this movie is about. There is no reality, anything can happen, time shifts forward at random intervals, and logic doesn’t play any part in the structure of the film. Characters exist in ways that escape definition. It’s all very abstract and postmodern. And part of me enjoyed the dreamlike quality of the film, but the cynical part of me wants to dismiss the film, and it’s many fans, as just following the Emperor’s new clothing. It doesn’t engage me the same way Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire does. I’m sure a repeat viewing would help immensely, but I think I’m going to need a few months before I want to sit through S-NY again.

The film relies a lot on metaphors and us, the viewer, being able to put together some moments in the film that really don’t make much obvious sense. For example, one of the main characters buys a house that is constantly on fire. The fire is contained, but the house is filled with smoke. This character lives her whole life in this building. Now you can either view this as pretentious nonsense, or, as a commentary on how we accept things in our life, and put ourselves through trauma that we need not do. How you interpret/view these moments will probably influence your opinion on the film; it’s either boring or brilliant.

I’m still yet to make up my mind on SN-Y. There are moments that I love, but there were more times where I was looking at my watch waiting for it to finish. I wouldn’t dismiss it, but I also wouldn’t recommend it. So, until a second viewing, I’m going to say it’s a little too abstract for my liking.

Marks out of ten – Five

3 Comments

Filed under American

60. Videodrome – David Cronenberg (1983)

Repeat Viewing.

“Long Live the New Flesh”

Stop me, ohh stop me, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, but David Cronenberg is a genius. I know I’ve been bloggin’ his praises at length recently, I can’t help it, I love him, even slightly more than I used to. <I’ll stop with the Moz paraphrasing> Although interestingly, and perhaps only interesting to me, is that Videodrome, with all it’s perverseness and horror, wasn’t banned, but “Stop Me…“, by The Smiths, was. Good ole’ BBC. Anyway, on to the review!

Videodrome is fucked up, incomprehensible, dangerous, creepy, disturbing, and it’s all done in the best possible way. Here’s the story if you don’t know it; Max Renn, played by James Woods at his absolute smarmy best, is the owner of an ultra low budget Toronto cable TV station. Renn provides his viewers with the worst material available; seedy, cheap, erotic/violent stuff. It’s basically The Sun newspaper in televisual form. Renn is also dating Nicki Brand, a radio agony aunt, played by Debbie Harry. Of course this being a Cronenberg movie the agony aunt likes to let off steam by having masochistic sex with Renn. Nothing is ever what it seems to be in Videodrome. Woods’ quest for the quintessential form of  cheap entertainment brings him to Videodrome; a TV show like no other, it’s violent and sexual beyond the normal bounds of TV. From the moment Videorome is introduced into the story it gets weird, inexplicably weird. Renn’s life is twisted apart to the point where he no longer is himself. It would give too much away to continue with the narrative, but be prepared for anything to happen.

Videodrome is the pinnacle of the Cronenberg horror phase. It’s where he takes all the gore of his previous scary movies and marries it with an attack on the brain. You literally start to wonder what the fuck is going on, and then you start to wonder how Cronenberg could have created such an alarming and psychotic story. This man must need help! Videodrome is inventive to the point where it becomes surreal, you lose yourself inside the movie, you have to let the weirdness wash over you.

I love Videodrome. It is completely unique. There’s nothing I’ve seen that can rival Videodrome for the genuine surprise of what happens in this film. And I don’t mean surprise in terms of plot twists, but surprise in the sense that a film can be so strange, provocative, powerful and affecting. Like all Cronenberg flicks not everyone will enjoy it, he’s a love it or hate it kind of director. I’ve read reviews from people who’ve hated Videodrome. They couldn’t stand watching it. I’ve read dozens of reasons why it doesn’t work, but that for me is the point of Videodrome, it’s doing something that creates a reaction from the viewer. So, fuck The Ring and it’s scary videotapes, Videodrome, the videotape, is much more disturbing. If this were a 1950s film trailer, instead of an occasionally witty blog, it would tell you to “watch it if you dare” and laugh ominously.

Marks out of ten – Ten

12 Comments

Filed under American, Canadian

59. The Lost Weekend – Billy Wilder (1945)

First Viewing.

If Billy Wilder were a band he’d be The Beatles, just take a look at some of the hits in his back catalogue; Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, Witness for the Prosecution, The Apartment, and, of course, Some like it Hot. Three of those films, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and Witness for the Prosecution all could make a great case for being in my own personal favourite top ten. Wilder really was a true master of his craft. The Lost Weekend is one of his earlier films, and, I find, his earlier work to be more daring than the later stuff which was more mainstream and safe, by comparison. (The reverse of what The Beatles did!)

The plot of The Lost Weekend is fairly simple and doesn’t have any major twists or turns; we follow the life of Don Birnam, played by Ray Milland, and he, plain and simple, is a drunk. A drunk, but with aspirations to be a writer. We follow his life and the depths to which it sinks; stealing, begging and lying just to get himself a drink. We see alcohol corrupt his life to such an extent that nothing matters any more except where and when he can get his next fix. He does have one saving grace, his girlfriend, Helen, devoted to him beyond all reason. She believes in him, and his ability to conquer the booze, and to write that great American novel. Don also has the help of his brother, Wick, who has cleared up plenty of Don’s mess over the past few years, literally and metaphorically. Wick’s on the verge of giving up on Don though, Don’s about to hit rock bottom. And, this lost weekend, is Don losing it completely.

There’s a lot to like about this film; it’s not overtly sentimental, it doesn’t sugarcoat alcoholism, and, most importantly for me, it does it’s best to avoid a clichéd and obvious ending. Wilder and Milland do a fantastically adept job of making us dislike and pity Don Birnam, but we never hate him. His character has no obvious redeeming characteristics – he treats his girlfriend, brother and acquaintances like shit- but we root for him, even though we really shouldn’t. That’s the great thing about this film, we want him to get better, and go on to be a success. It wouldn’t work if we gave up on the guy. The downside to the film is that it’s not exactly uplifting! The idea of watching a man drink himself to the verge of death for 90 minutes isn’t ever going to be fun. There are times when watching Don’s drunken antics can become predictable and boring, but these moments are rare enough that it doesn’t detract from the bigger picture that Wilder is painting. At times Wilder is really pushing the boundaries of 1940s filmmaking. The Lost Weekend has an almost dangerous, illicit feel to it. You never feel comfortable, anything could happen when Don’s on screen.

I wouldn’t call The Lost Weekend a hidden treasure, it’s an Oscar winner for starters, it is, however, one of the slightly lesser known Wilder movies, and yet equally as worthy as any of the others for a viewing. It makes for a great late night watch especially, go check your TV guides for it’s next appearance.

Marks out of ten – Eight

2 Comments

Filed under American

58. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson (2012)

First Viewing

After much pre-movie smoking and pizza we arrived at the Picturehouse looking forward, as ever, to the new Wes Anderson flick; were we going to get another great like Rushmore or something more troublesome like Life Aquatic, we wondered. In my haste to get the best seats in the house I rushed to the counter and asked for two tickets to Moonrise Kingdom, thus forgetting the rule that we’ve been trying to implement recently where all Bill Murray films must be ordered by asking for “two tickets for the Bill Murray” – and, before you ask, it usually works. Naturally, you can’t just use this technique anywhere, so we generally look for those cinemas that know their shit (and their Bill Murrays from their Bill Pullmans.) Tickets in hand we headed in with appropriate snacks for such a movie; orange chocolate for the lady and fizzy strawberry laces for myself. This didn’t feel like a popcorn movie, and I was to be proved right…

Moonrise Kingdom‘s story revolves around two adolescent misfits Suzy and Sam, I’d say they were about 12 years old, give or take a year. After meeting briefly in a church one evening they kept in contact by writing each other frequently. And, after much corresponding, they hatched a plan to meet up and run away together. That, in short, is the story. Being a Wes Anderson movie we are also treated to lots of supporting characters whose stories flow in and out of the movie. The most significant of these stories is the love triangle between husband and wife Walt and Laura – Bill Murray & Frances McDormand- and Laura’s lover Captain Sharp, Bruce Willis. It beats me why a woman would ever cheat on Bill Murray, but this is the movies so we must suspend our disbelief no matter how strange it may seem! Edward Norton plays a scoutmaster and he probably steals the show with his performance, it’s full of pathos and laughs. We also get great cameos from Jason Schwartzman – whom I always love seeing- Harvey Kietel and Tilda Swinton….On a side note, I sometimes wonder, as I lead a strange little life, if Anderson ever gets jealous when he sees Murray acting in Jim Jarmusch movies. Anderson basically invented the semi-serious acting talents of Murray in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but Jarmusch went and stole the best performance, so far, from him in Broken Flowers.

I could easily sum up this review by saying if you’ve liked Wes Anderson movies in the past you will love this, if they’re not your thing then this will do nothing to change your mind. It’s every bit a typical Anderson movie; angsty characters, strange situations, plenty of style, slightly less substance, and, for me, plenty of laughs. If you’ve got a bit of a weird sense of humour, like myself, then I would recommend this without question. It reminds me, in the best way, of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, but Anderson’s version of 1960s New England is slightly less depressing than Ayoade’s present day painting of Wales. So Moonrise Kingdom is a little less cutting in its humour.

Moonrise Kingdom is an utterly charming film and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s idiosyncratic and, for the majority of the film, it’s the children who take up most of the screentime, so it’s not the kind of movie that will instantly rise to the top of your favourite films list, but don’t let that put you off. It has more than enough charms to keep you happy for an hour-and-a-half.

Marks out of ten – Eight

10 Comments

Filed under American

55. A Dangerous Method – David Cronenburg (2012)

First Viewing.

I’m a big Cronenburg fan, so I was excited to hear that he was working on a film about Sigmund Freud, someone I had studied quite intently at film school. Freud, whether you love him or hate him, is always an interesting character to portray in a movie. There’s so much scope to work with. And, on a personal level, I’ve always found Freud’s work interesting and provocative, and enjoyed reading him. This film, however, is actually centred more around Freud’s protégé, rival, friend and enemy, Carl Jung, played by Michael Fassbender. Jung’s work with a patient and soon to be lover, Sabina Spielrein, played by Keria Knightley, is the dynamic which holds the film together. The fiery relationship between Jung and Spielrein takes centre stage, a little to my surprise after watching the trailer, and Freud plays a much smaller roll than I would have hoped in the movie. That being said, there’s no shortage of interest on my part for Jung and Spielrein’s exploites. Their relationship is deeply disturbing. And I’m not talking about their extreme sexual games particularly, but that the fact that Spielrein is a patient of Jung’s. It’s a typical Cronenburg subject; it has the extreme sexual exploration of Crash – Croneneburg’s Crash not the infinitely poorer film of the same name, starring Sandra Bullock, that took home a bunch of Oscars – coupled with the sexual violence of  A History of Violence. And, to make things all the more interesting, we have Freud periodically dissecting everyone’s motives.  It all makes for a good movie on paper.

However, having read a few reviews of A Dangerous Method before watching it I was disappointed to see that it wasn’t getting the best feedback. The focus of complaint seem to be twofold. One, the pacing of the film was too slow, and two, the performance Keria Knightley gives as Spielrein. It’s fair to say the film is quite meandering, but I think that works perfectly for the subjects being discussed. This isn’t a Hollywood movie, things need to be digested, lingered on, and then talked through. There isn’t a lot of fast paced drama going on, it’s more of a slow burning internal conflict gripping the characters and the film does well to keep the viewer constantly interested with gentle prods and pokes in the right direction. So I think Cronenburg gets the pacing pretty much on the money. Keria Knightley’s performance is up for more debate. I do think she plays the part well, to an extent, but she seems quite miscast for the roll. I never fully bought into the idea that Knightley got her kicks from being humiliated and beaten. She seems too rigid. She’s more Austen’s Pride and Prejudice than Ballard’s Crash. The film, I feel, would have worked better with a more complimentary actress. Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, who plays Freud, however, are wonderful. They have great chemistry in their scenes together and bounce off of each other with probing barbs in a most entertaining and insightful way.

All in all it’s a fascinating film. I can see why people have hated it, you need to put some work in on a viewing level to get the film’s rewards. It’s worth it though. The film isn’t especially long at a tad over an hour-and-a-half, so you don’t ever feel bogged down in psychoanalysis. It’s also wetted my appetite for rewatching some old Cronenburg classics like The Fly, Crash, and, one of my all time favourites, Videodrome. And that can’t be a bad thing.

Marks out of ten – Eight

3 Comments

Filed under American, Canadian, European

54. New York, I Love You – Multiple Directors (2009)

First Viewing.

New York, I hate you- This movie is awful. I had such high hopes for it after it’s prequel, of sorts, Paris Je T’aime. If you’re unfamiliar with the films’ concept it’s a collection of short films, somewhat connected, about a city, Paris in the original, and New York City here. The short films here are so cringe inducing and boring that I couldn’t wait for the film to end. It has one, possibly two, worthwhile stories. One involving an elderly couple who are celebrating their 63rd wedding anniversary by taking a trip to the beach. It has a beautiful moment, by far the best in the film, where the elderly couple embrace on the beach. It’s almost tear inducing. Other than that section there’s not much else going on, a scene where Bradley Cooper is meeting up with Drea De Matteo and we are privy to their internal thoughts is okay, but that’s really it in terms of the “good” stuff.

How about the bad stuff I hear you ask? There’s just too much to recount, but there were two scenes, in particular, that made me want to scoop my eyes out of my head with a spoon and then cut off my ears with a rusty knife. The first being a scene between Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia and Hayden Christiensen. It has the worst dialogue I’ve heard in a long, long time. It doesn’t help that Hayden Christiensen has the acting ability of a baboon, while Rachel Bilson’s performance would make Kristen Stewart’s classic wooden delivery seem like Diane Keaton’s performing it. It’s utter shit all round. I threw up in my mouth at some of the dialogue. It’s so bad. So bad. I don’t even know what the hell they were talking about together it’s so bad. The other scene that made me want to cry involved Olivia Thirlby pretending to be wheelchair bound. I assume the writer intended for this story to be whimsical and sweet, but it ends up being patronising and damn right offensive to disabled people, actually, it’s offensive to everyone! One part of the story is beyond tacky. Thirlby, who at this point we assume is disabled, wraps her arms up on some tree branches thus leaving her legs dangling below her and she then proceeds to ask her date to take off her underwear and fuck her while she swings from the branches. It isn’t sweet or romantic, it’s so contrived and stupid that I wanted to turn off the movie there and then.

The rest of the shorts are crappy and forgettable. Ethan Hawke, despite his talent, can’t make the awful dialogue in his short seem real or entertaining. Chris Cooper’s scene is pure cheese. Natalie Portman’s is so boring I can’t even recall it. Shia LeBeouf as a disabled east european bell-hop was stunningly bad. And on and on it goes.

And, possibly the worst thing to come out of this movie, is that you get no sense at all for NYC. These scenes could be happening anywhere in the world. It’s garbage.

Marks out of ten – Three

2 Comments

Filed under American

52. 13 Assassins – Takashi Miike (2010)

First Viewing.

It’s been so long since I’ve last made a blog entry that I can barely work my way around wordpress’ newfangled layout. Stupid changes. No one likes change. And, I’d like, at this point, to be able to cite a multitude of reasons for not posting a review in months, but, the honest truth is, I’ve worked up such a vast list of films to write reviews for I ended up not writing a single one and just vegged out on episodes of Community instead. It’s also became painfully clear that someone is parodying my life in the form of Abed, except that I’m not Asian and I have better taste in movies than him. Although Kickpuncher is a classic, no doubt.

<Chest slap/hi five>

Anyway, that’s enough of my standard deviating-away-from-a-film-review-to-write-nonsense spiel and onto the review. Huzzah. So, you all remember back at the turn of the 21st century when everyone was into Asian movies again, right? Well Takashi Miike was making some of the best/coolest/weirdist shit around then. There was Visitor Q made for no money on DV-cam and painfully disturbing – lactating breasts being spayed all over the place, anyone? – The tone-perfect The Happiness of the Katakuris, a full-on Zombie musical with appropriate comedy gore and faux cheerfulness. And, of course, the, well, how to put this? The twisted, fucked up genius of Ichi the Killer. I’ve yet to see a credit sequence that can top cum being dispelled from the main character’s dick and thus subsequently morphing into the title of the movie. Beat that Michael Bay. (No pun intended) And the list goes on and on with strange, strange movies. So anyone familiar with Miike’s work wouldn’t expect the beauty and humility of 13 Assassins. Not to diss Miike work at all, but this film doesn’t need any of the weird or controversial gimmicks of previous movies because it’s just so amazingly fantastic. Akira Kurosawa was one of the first of a small bunch of directors who I became completely obsessed by. He made some of the great Samurai films; Yojimbo, Sanjuro and, the brilliant, Seven Samurai. And I wouldn’t hesitate to put 13 Assassins in that company. It has everything a great Samurai movie needs. From fantastic acting and interesting characters, right up to great storytelling- storytelling that starts with a slow pace and builds into a climatic and mesmerizing final battle. It’s a genre film with little faults to no faults at all. If you like Samurai movies you will love this.

Marks out of ten – Nine

Leave a comment

Filed under Japanese

51. Session 9 – Brad Anderson (2001)

First Viewing.

Brad Anderson’s probably most famous for directing the 2004 Christian Bale movie, The Machinist, which would be filed somewhere between Fight Club and Mulholland Drive, but nowhere near as good as either. Session 9 was the movie that showcased Anderson’s talents well enough to get The Machinist green-lit. So, presumably, it’s rather good, right? Well, you know, it ain’t so bad, it ain’t so bad….

Firstly, and this is what almost makes the movie work, it’s set in a abandoned mental hospital- a real-life abandoned mental hospital -which, so the director claimed, didn’t even need to be dressed for shooting! Making the movie a whole lot more affecting and creepy. It’s hard to convey the story precisely as to do so would give away too much, but it’s basically about five people renovating a mental hospital and, well, some weird stuff starts to go down. Paranoia takes over the men and we’re left with a modern day retelling of The Shining. There’s also something of a mystery being revealed as the movie goes along and the viewer is invited to draw their own conclusions on whether this mystery relates directly to the actions of the men or is more of a cautionary tale.

Overall Session 9 doesn’t really do anything that stands out or sticks in your mind especially, each function of the film process is capably handled without being amazing or fantastic. The acting is fairly good, despite the use of a Glaswegian actor who seems to be quite out of place with the other four characters, making for an unnecessary distraction. The cast also has some guy from CSI: Miami in it I’m reliably informed by the good people of IMDB, but, naturally, I only use my television for watching movies, sports and the occasional cooking show, so I have no idea who he is. The movie is a solid, if  not spectacular, mystery/thriller/horror – although it never really exceeds enough in any of those areas to even make for a good genre movie.

Marks out of ten – Six

Leave a comment

Filed under American

46. Brief Encounter – David Lean (1945)

Repeat viewing.

England may not have as fine a tradition of cinematic excellence as some other European countries, I’m thinking France mainly here, but we do have a fair amount of great movies that capture our country exquisitely, and none more so than Brief Encounter. If England were ever needed to be represented by a movie to be shown to visitors from a galaxy far, far away then you couldn’t pick anything more suitable than this. It’s what I loved about this country. It’s charming, witty, and beautifully sad. It captures a country recovering from war and entering into a period of great change and the two main characters, Laura and Alec, capture this moment perfectly. Both are married, both, it would seem, love their partner, and both have fallen in love with each other. They want each other, but know the consequences of running off together are terrible in the eyes of society. It’s the eternal question, should one do what one wants or should one do what is considered right? The films follows the characters as they make their choices. Of course being English and living in the 1940s they, Alec and Laura, cannot possibly confess their love of another person to any of their friends or acquaintances, they have appearances to uphold, and that famous stiff upper lip to adhere to, so nearly everything we hear on the subject of love is from the inner monologue of Laura. It works rather well here, but it isn’t exactly the best way to tell a film and this technique would crash and burn in other films, especially ones much less charming than this.

This film, as you may or may not know, was written by one of the legends of English playwright history, Noel Coward, the Shakespeare of his day, except he’d be more likely to be found with a Martini  in his hand rather than a goblet of red wine. Coward creates a beautiful script with such perfect dialogue that it left myself pining for the days when the people of this country spoke with eloquence and wit, not the bastard love-child of Dick Van Dyke and Ali G we’re left with instead. I also cannot finish this review without mentioning the director, David Lean, another shining star in English history. The direction is so perfect here that one barely even notices the lack of set-pieces and how this film really is a play at it’s heart.

Marks out of ten – Eight

2 Comments

Filed under British

45. Take Shelter – Jeff Nichols (2011)

First Viewing.

Micheal Shanon is one of my favourite actors and it’s great to see him getting the lead in such a fantastic and complex movie as Take Shelter. Anyone who has seen Sam Mendes Revolutionary Road will recall Shannon’s scene stealing performance as the crazed son of Kathy Bates. He is an actor who really gets inside his character’s mind. And the mind Shannon gets inside in Take Shelter, Cutis’is one that needs some serious care, attention and rather a lot of therapy. Without giving too much away Curtis starts experiencing a deluge of dreams, delusions and/or premonitions concerning a storm about to hit his town. These dreams are either a terrible warning, the first signs of hereditary mental illness or a reaction to the stress he has been under, or, perhaps, a combination of all three possibilities. With these possibilities weighing heavy on Curtis we get to see the very  best of Shannon’s acting abilities, and he gives one of the finest performances of the year. It’s a real actors workshop going on. You can’t take your eyes off of him.

The director, Jeff Nichols, handles the apocalyptic-world’s-going-to-end genre in a way I’ve not seen before, it’s incredibly engaging and deep. It doesn’t offer up answers or a tidy conclusion, if anything you’re left with more questions by the end of the film than you had two thirds of the way through it. It encompasses many interesting elements, from the existence of a god right through to what it means to be a father/husband/son and onto the difficult issue of mental illness. I’m really quite shocked that films such a The Descendants, Moneyball and Hugo can be showered with Oscar nominations, but films like Take Shelter and Martha Marcy May Marlene – which ask difficult questions of the viewer and make for great, captivating cinema – are criminally snubbed. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see such accomplished films ignored in favour of the established, bankable directors/actors as it happens almost every year now….

Marks out of ten – Eight

Leave a comment

Filed under American

44. Martha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin (2012)

First Viewing.

Films with Olsen family members in the cast are usually to be avoided like the plague, I think I can just about name one movie staring an Olsen, (it’s Mary-Kate, if you’re interested) that’s worth seeing. So, naturally I think, there was a certain amount of trepidation preceding my viewing of Martha Marcy May Marlene featuring Elizabeth Olsen as the lead. However, I am ashamed/pleased to say that she, Miss E Olsen, is rather talented. It may not have been the toughest stretch in cinematic history for her to play a character so lacking in emotional diversity and enthusiasm for life, but she pouts, shrugs and sighs her way through a fine performance. She captures Martha’s fragility of mind perfectly, never making us love or hate the character and thus detract us from Martha’s struggles. It a very nicely balanced performance.

The director, Sean Durkin, makes his feature debut with MMMM and it’s a stunningly well controlled piece of cinema, especially from a rookie director. It would be easy for this piece to turn into a turgid, unwatchable movie, yet it’s rather accessible. That’s not to say it’s an easy watch, it does contain rape and other disturbing scenes, but you never get the sense the film is looking for attention by incorporating such difficult situations into its story. If you’re unaware of the movie it concerns a group of people, mainly girls, living together in a compound that’s basically run as a cult by the ever so creepy Patrick, (played fantastically by John Hawkes.) It’s very dark and not much fun, but it has real depth and it draws you into the film scene by scene. The story intrigues and is well told, mainly via flashback, and the direction is spot on. It really should have received Oscar nominations ahead of some obviously weaker films.

Marks out of ten – Eight

Leave a comment

Filed under American

43. Tabloid – Errol Morris (2010)

First Viewing.

In the interests of full disclosure and fairness I should say that I’m not the hugest fan of documentaries. Now I wouldn’t say I hate them, but it’s not often I’ll pick watching one over a dramatized narrative movie. I think I’m still a little scarred from film-school and their endless, and I might say fruitless, attempts to get me to watch and make more documentaries. It’s just not my thing, I’m all about the fictional motion-picture….

I did, however, enjoy Tabloid. It’s a crazy story with, perhaps, the craziest of all endings. Certainly the surrealist ending I’ve ever known in a documentary, I mean it goes from a religious-bondage-kidnapping film into a Korean-dog cloning story in a matter of moments. Like all documentaries it really depends on how interesting you find the story being told as to whether you’ll enjoy it. Joyce McKinney is bizarrely engaging enough to keep you entertained, but it’s the nature of the British press and it’s, um, unusual methods for reporting a story that are real high points of the story being told, or maybe I should say low points? It’s a interesting enough film, but it ain’t no La Grande Illusion.

Marks out of ten – Six

Leave a comment

Filed under American, British

42. The Puffy Chair – Jay Duplass (2007)

First Viewing.

2010 saw the Duplass brothers cross over from indie darlings into mainstream sell-outs successes with the not too shabby Cyrus, starring Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly, but back when they were still cool in 2007 they made The Puffy Chair and co-created “Mumblecore”. Now, somewhat ashamedly, it’s taken me an extremely long amount of time to finally catch this movie. I won’t go into too much detail explaining why it’s taken so long, except to say that the dvd was ruthless stolen from me before I had the chance to experience it’s delights. Having finally seen it, I now feel slightly more hipster and can also seriously start to contemplate that move to Portland.

Before I decided to write my little review for The Puffy Chair I skipped over the IMDB message board for the film, and, apparently, everyone in the known universe hates it. I suppose I can see why. No one likes change, especially when it comes to filmmaking, but, you know, not every shot has to be in focus and who cares if the camera wobbles so much that you’re close to travel-sickness? I found it rather endearing once I became used to it. In fact I admire someone who makes their film in an untraditional way. And I’m not totally adverse to a little pretension even….

The film’s story is basically about love, and what love is. It avoids the pitfalls of the standard “indie” movie which’ll dismiss love all together as a Hollywood myth, but it does, at times, have a cynical side. I guess it needs to, in truth. You can’t make a movie like this, a movie about connecting with people, without having the characters question their motives for being in a relationship and thus what it means to truly love someone. The movie is far from perfect, but it has heart, you can really see the love the director has for filmmaking, and that’s what counts, particularly when you’re making a movie for $15,000.

Marks out of ten- Seven

Leave a comment

Filed under American

41. Tiny Furniture – Lena Dunham (2010)

First viewing.

“He’s really famous, in an internet sort of way.”

As I’ve mention previously on this semi-narcissistic blog of mine, I do love a mumblecore film. And, as is my love for said genre, I’ve been waiting to catch the much hyped Tiny Furniture for the best part of  two years. Finally Criterion have done the decent thing and given it a DVD release. I know, Criterion DVD, that’s fancy talk for arty/international/damn-fucking-good. (delete as applicable)  So, the question on all of your lips, the one that you’re all desperate to ask is this; “How good is it?” The answer, I’m saddened to report, is as follows, it’s rather underwhelming. And that’s despite it being shot in Tribeca. Was there too much expectation on my part? Perhaps. But I did start off loving the opening 30 minutes. It’s witty, hipster-ish in a good way, and rather entertaining. Then it falls into the trap of becoming, what we bloggers in the underground cinemas who smoke our American spirits, drink our black coffee and never leave our house unless it’s to go to the movies call “up it’s own arse.” It’s a technical phrase. It stops being witty and, instead, starts whining about how shit everything is. Now I love a bit of whining, it’s cool with me when others do it even, but this is the cinematic equivalent of that annoying girl we all knew who moans that daddy won’t buy her a new pony. What’s wrong with the pony you already have? I had to make do with a postcard of a horse. Not that I ever wanted a pony in the first place, I just like postcards. I’ve started to digress, but, my point is this, it becomes hipster cliché 101. It’s like every bad article you’ve read on Vice, but filmed, and with a bunch of annoying actors, minus the wonderful Jemima Kirke. Kirke really is the best thing on screen, she’s got a certain self aware charm that all the others lack. (Nothing to do with her being from London, honest….) I really couldn’t believe how much my initial enthusiasm for the film had waned by the time the closing credits arrive.

Now what I do really love about the movie is the cinematography, it’s rather elegant. It’s shot on a Canon 7D, which, as you may know, is a stills camera. And not the most expensive camera in the world either. It’s a great piece of equipment, and, with some nice lenses, you can make a fantastic looking movie that won’t break the bank. So Lena Dunham deserves praise for the film’s quality production, sadly her acting and scriptwriting skills really aren’t as good.

As I’ve said, the opening works wonderfully, but it just can’t sustain it. Dunham certainly showed some potential for future movies, but this ain’t so great…

Marks out of ten  – Six

Leave a comment

Filed under American

40. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Tomas Alfredson (2011)

First Viewing.

After the huge success of the, well, lets be honest, tad overrated Let the Right One In Alfredson has been trusted with the reigns to a comparatively large budgeted English language film. Alfredson, known for his downbeat style of filmmaking, brings a similar colour palette over from his Swedish movies and paints London in a swell of greys, faded greens and lacklustre blues. London looks cold and unloved, mirroring our protagonist George Smiley’s mood. Gary Oldman, as Smiley, provides a performance of great subtlety, and profundity, he never gives a breath away more than he needs to. It’s positively sombre, if you know what I mean. The film is littered with great performances, from Colin Firth’s snidey Bill Haydon right across to Tom Hardy’s hardy Ricki Tarr. And they are all photographed in a beautiful, detatched way. You can really notice Alfredon’s love of long lenses, which he employs adroitly to capture and distance us from each character. The nature of the film reminded me of the great Coppola film, The Conversation, – I’d take watching The Conversation any day of the week, and twice on a Sunday, over Apocalypse Now, but that’s a whole different blog entry waiting to happen- they both build up their narrative in an equally enthralling way. However, and here is my main bone of contention with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the ending lacks something. I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen it yet, but there’s a distinct lack of surprise to it all. I shall say no more, but that’s what’s stopping me from scoring it more highly.

(I apologize for calling Tom Hardy hardy, I can’t resist a pun.)

Marks out of ten – Eight.

Leave a comment

Filed under British, swedish

39. I Saw the Devil – Jee-woon Kim (2010)

First Viewing.

Korean’s certainly know how to make a revenge movie! I Saw the Devil treads familiar ground to that seen previously in Oldboy, with both movies pertaining a ruthless sadistic streak throughout in their protagonist’s pursuit of vengeance. In both movies Min-sik Choi is the recipient of said vengeance, but here, in I Saw the Devil, he’s much more deserving of what is coming his way. It can be a pretty gruesome watch at times, well, most of the time it’s all rather gruesome. ISTD isn’t quite up to the high standard of Jee-Woon Kim’s standout film, A Bittersweet Life, but that’s a truly high standard to constantly live up to. ISTD is shot in a stylish and captivating way, and it’s a dark, dark, dark film yet perversely entertaining. If you can stomach the extreme violence then you’ll enjoy this

Marks out of ten – Seven

Leave a comment

Filed under Korean

38. Chronicle – Josh Trank (2012)

First Viewing.

This first thing you’ll want to do after seeing this movie is google how much the budget was, well, I can save you the trouble, it was just $15m. Yep, that’s it. It looks a hell of a lot more expensive. It puts Hollywood movies, with their bloated $100m+ budgets, to shame.  So now, we’ve established it looks great, but is the actual movie any good? Yep, it’s definitely not a let down. It works on two levels, the primary one being an old fashioned ‘I’ve-got-me-some-superpowers-what-shall-I-do-now’ thriller/white-knuckle-ride genre flick, but also it works as an observation of human morality. It asks questions of what we, the average morality obedient viewer, would do if we had the power to change our life, how far would we go? Could we control ourselves? The three main characters who receive these “powers” are faced with that dilemma. Naturally the film needs to push the characters in question to extreme choices, but, you can’t help thinking, what would I do if I were in the same situation as them?

Another element I enjoyed immensely about the movie is the brevity of it all. We’re not bogged down with endless scenes involving the characters using their powers for good/bad, or them arguing about what they should do with said powers, or even the tiresome Hollywood-esque boy-pining-after-girl drama. I’m always one for seeing the growth/change of a character throughout a movie, but Chronicle isn’t really one that needs to concern itself with that too much. With the limited scope for character arc Dane DeHaan does a fine job of taking his character, Andrew, into an Anakin Skywalker-esque meltdown, even if it does happen at rather breakneck speed. The movie, as a whole, should be the benchmark for contemporary sci-fiction/superpower movies, it’s not all about big budgets, it’s how you use it, you know…

Marks out of ten – Eight

Leave a comment

Filed under American

37. The Ides of March – George Clooney (2011)

First Viewing.

I’m not sure if this film is a dress rehearsal before George takes up the big job as president, but he does makes a damn fine job of it. He could be a 21st century Bill Clinton, with good looks, and without the sex scandals, presumably. Now while George is prepping himself to become leader of the free world he’s also made a very compelling film; it’s dark and treacherous like all good political movies should be. If you know anything about the title – a reference to Julius Caesar – you can gather what to expect here. Again Ryan Gosling puts in another fine performance, -read my Drive review for more- he actually reminds me of a young Clooney rather a lot, which is certainly no bad thing. The supporting cast is terrific, it’s as good as anything put together by the master of the ensemble movie Robert Altman. Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood and Mirasa Tomei are all equally as important to the success of this film as the two star names are. The only serious issue I have with the movie is that it can be difficult to follow at times, especially for a foreigner like myself not brought up on American politics. There’s a deluge of names, numbers and places and it’s not always easy to keep track of who’s doing what. A simple understanding of American primaries and so on certainly helps. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy the movie if you don’t, as it is very good and it sits as a nicely as a companion piece to Clooney’s Good Night & Good Luck. It impressed me a lot more than The Descendants, which is getting all the Oscar buzz.

Marks out of ten – Eight

Leave a comment

Filed under American

36. Cold Weather – Aaron Katz (2010)

First Viewing.

This movie has all kinds of ingredients I love; hipsters, baseball statistics, Sherlock Holmes, some mystery and a trip to a tobacconist to buy a pipe. It can’t fail with content like that! In all seriousness though it’s a very good movie that’s been made with very little money. Katz’s last flick, Quiet City, was one of my top five movies from 2007 and, if I had to pick, the best of the mumblecore bunch (although Mutual Appreciation, Nights & Weekends, Baghead, and My Effortless Brilliance are all contenders, despite averaging less than six out of ten on the useless IMDB rating system.) There’s some debate, sparked by Katz’s comments during a Q&A session, regarding whether this is a hipster-mystery-movie or a story about sibling relationships. Both elements are valid and engaging, making for a good genre movie. The scenery is fantastic, one really gets a feel for the landscape of Portland, and also the downtown urban scene, it’s an interesting juxtaposition of settings – I’m itchin’ to visit Portland now. Surprisingly, for a mumblecore film, this has a pretty strong story running throughout, the “mystery” surrounding the movie isn’t exactly of Hitchcock standard, naturally, but it works well against the usual reserved dialogue of Katz’s films.

If you’ve not seen any of Katz’s films then this is his most accessible work so far and also a good place to start if you’re a mumblecore virgin.

Marks out of ten – Seven

Leave a comment

Filed under American

35. Drive – Nicolas Winding Refn (2011)

First Viewing.

I knew almost nothing about this film before viewing it, and perhaps it was helped by the lack of expectations, but this really captivated me from the opening seconds. No doubt this was helped by the stunning editing of Ryan Gosling’s Driver passing through LA, at night, cut to Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx. It’s a great way to start a movie (I never thought I’d get to namecheck some CSS with this film either!) Drive draws heavily from the film noir genre – little dialogue, a femme fatale-ish character, a mysterious protagonist, and all kinds of trouble going down – but it also has it’s own modern style. I suppose you could compare it to Rian Johnson’s Brick with it’s composition of the contemporary and the old noir. I’m also really starting to be impressed with Gosling’s collection of work, I know he has done some mainstream stuff to pay the bills, but Lars and the Real Girl, Half Nelson, and the brilliant Blue Valentine are a fine trilogy (I’m looking forward to seeing The Ides of March at some point too.) The film never lags or feels bloated, despite the drawn out nature of some of the scenes, and it’s definitely one of the best contemporary movies I’ve seen in quite some time. The only downside to the movie is the relatively minor role Carey Mulligan has, she never gets much to say or do, and a little more interaction with Gosling would have been fun to see. Perhaps I was just hoping he could rekindle some of the electric chemistry he had with Michelle Williams, from Blue Valentine, back here with Mulligan. Nevertheless it’s a movie that cannot fail to impress.

Marks out of ten – Nine

8 Comments

Filed under American, danish

34. The Descendants – Alexander Payne (2012)

First Viewing.

I’ve been a big fan of Alexander Payne’s work since watching Election back at the turn of the century. He followed up Election with a couple of other very good movies in About Schmidt and Sideways. The Descendants, his latest offering, is another well made, nicely observed, witty movie, but, well, it’s all a bit forgettable in the end. It’s reminiscent of Clooney’s 2010 attempt at an endearing-Oscar-hoarding-type-movie; Up in the Air. It had all the same hallmarks as The Descendants and I’ll be damned if anyone’s going to be remembering that in ten years time. Clooney, of course, is extremely watchable and puts in a very good performance, but, and I can’t quite put my finger on why or what, this movie just lacks a certain something. I’ve not got anything bad to say about it per se, it all works on paper, the Hawaiin location is stunning, and I enjoyed seeing it, but…..

Marks out of ten -Six

Leave a comment

Filed under American