12.31.2011

My Week in Movies: December 31, '11

We Bought A Zoo
Cameron Crowe, 2011
Crowe, baby. "We Bought A Zoo" is to Cameron Crowe as "The School of Rock" is to Richard Linklater - a little obligatory in its stylings and aims but a truly endearing success in so many ways. Indeed, a younger audience is in mind and certain silly characters or gags could stand to be excised from an artistic stance, but this is perhaps the most emotionally heavy "PG" I've seen - to watch it is to choke back tear-bursts for 2 hours before the final scene, while definitively and powerfully "feel good" in nature, forces even the most hardened among us to crumple in a heap of weep. Our characters, ramshackles in glossy veneers, inspire us to love more directly. In what almost feels an oddity in the modern age, they are not connected to Facebook or attached to iPhones - their endeavors are more explicit and affecting. Their departed wife and mother remains a presence throughout, infallible in her absence as we are not subject to judging her through action, only reverent recollection. Even off-hand comments about her from Matt Damon's character stop you in your tracks. Conflicts with genuine feeling may find you siding with one character or another, but realistically feature valid points on either side, making for some truly rewarding argument sequences. One in particular eventually culminates with a scene (pictured above) appropriately mirroring the "I always liked George" bit in "Vanilla Sky". And hey, Scarlett Johansson actually delivered a worthwhile post-"Lost In Translation" performance! About time (note: as an acquaintance has pointed out, I forgot about "Scoop", in which she is indeed quite good).


Further first-time viewings:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams - Werner Herzog, 2010
In what appears to have become typical Herzog fashion, there are some jaw-gaping moments of sheer wonder here, but moreover the piece is a borefest. The director may have involved himself all too personally in Timothy Treadwell's aftermath, but at least "Grizzly Man" was enjoyable and thematically intriguing. That said, I do wish I had seen "Cave" in the assuredly innovative 3D.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - Steven Spielberg, 2011
Here's another title where I'll have to provide the disclaimer that I did not see the whole thing. But, please don't make me... I've seen the better part of the third act twice now and while, sure, the facial texture/animation is impressive, nothing else appears to be. The script in particular is atrociously rigid.


Total: 3

Rewatches (3): Young Adult x2 (Reitman, 2011), Take Me Home Tonight (Dowse, 2011), The Muppet Christmas Carol (B. Henson, 1992)
-Keep an eye out for a forthcoming "Why I Adore Young Adult" entry.

12.24.2011

My Week in Movies: December 24, '11

A torinói ló (The Turin Horse)
Béla Tarr, 2011
In what I've gathered is par for the course with Tarr, this fascinatingly bleak hell - resoundingly inspired by Nietzsche's death of God - defies traditional critical evaluation, in this case while gazing down the well of life's brutal futility through a father and daughter whose close neighbors are none but the earth's harsh reminders of said futility. It is a portrait of our inability to affect any fragment of grander existence; our enslavement to our own conflicting mortality. The chill bites at your outer ear, the breath your nostrils, the boiled potatoes your assuredly decaying gums. "The Turin Horse" is a triumph in true Béla Tarr fashion, in that while one may wish to pause and rest between each segment, in the end not a frame is to be missed. I'd place it just above "Damnation" amongst the director's other works I've seen, which makes it the best of that admittedly meager bunch. In particular the opening shot and latter three segments (or "days") are phenomenal, and highly recommended for fans of E. Elias Merhige.

The Future
Miranda July, 2011
What a happily melancholy coincidence that this turned out a fitting companion to "The Turin Horse"! The two drastically different pictures take on strikingly similar themes albeit from opposite approaches. While Béla Tarr's final master stroke looks at an isolated 19th Century lifestyle-by-default of droning repetition that hones in on the pointless nature of life despite human persistence, Miranda July's far lighter and indeed very Miranda July-ish piece glimpses a modern state of silently selected stagnation, with elements such as discouragement, lacking confidence and self-consciousness preventing the achievement of various potentials. We wait and we wait and our envisioned future never comes. July's treatment of this contemporary middle class life will feel familiar to anyone willing to let it agree with them as it depicts deepening degrees of human delusion and moreover paints day-to-day events, no matter how inspired or "life-changing", as a living death. The slowest, most painful way to die is one we all suffer from: living.


Further first-time viewings:

The Hangover Part II - Todd Phillips, 2011
It's that moment when the little comedy that could (but wasn't all that great to begin with) becomes a tedious, profit-driven beast of overblown proportion.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - Brad Bird, 2011
How does a franchise sink from the benchmark of new millennium blockbuster action (the apparently insurmountable "Mission: Impossible: III", which I reviewed with a warning to ovulating women that Tom Cruise might impregnante them through the screen simply via awesomeness) to an embarrassing betrayal of itself? I don't know, ask the team behind "Ghost Protocol", I guess. Why is this reservoir of refuse enjoying such overwhelmingly positive reactions? Talk about going from "Mission: Impossible" to "Mission: Freaking Insanity". From the very onset to the final moment there is not a single second of worth to be redeemed in this atrociously generic and exceedingly preposterous (while practically mask-less and Ving Rhames-less) picture. Any film encounters innumerable forks in its path to production; I am baffled as to how this one managed to choose the wrong route every single time - technically, creatively, everything-ly. I've been bored before... but this is "Mission: Impossible"! What gives? I expect far superior story execution and scene composition throughout, where here we don't even get as much in the most pivotal scene! Here's an idea: how about when the most important piece of information is being revealed, you don't solely utilize a master shot of apathetic-looking/sounding supporting characters (Jeremy Renner??) standing on opposite sides of the frame. What's even worse, along with being my biggest disappointment since I thought Oliver Stone was giving us a bold 9/11 conspiracy film in 2006, "Protocol" is perhaps the most thoroughly dumb thing I've seen this year (and it takes a lot to top "X-Men: First Class" or "Fast Five" in that regard), to the point that I am utterly flabbergasted and absolutely exhausted from how recklessly stupid it all is. Just for starters... and I borrow the tone of "Burn After Reading" here... the Russians? Really? How dated is your plot when Russians (only "evil" because they're, well, Russian) are trying to access nuclear launch codes? You know what, I won't even get myself started. I'd be up all night reciting the instances of mind-blowing numb-skullery that abound in this tired, abominable-CG-laden wreck that, despite its "Ghost Protocol" title, seems to laughably aspire to "Minority Report" heights gadget-wise. Speaking of tired... what's the deal, Ethan Hunt? Scaled so many cliff faces in your free time you can't clear half your leaps anymore? I can hardly count how many times the now-klutzy Cruise clocks his head or stumbles at critical moments over the course of the excruciating 130-minute+ running time. Time to retire, agent. Take this franchise with you. I say all this as a staunch defender of the first three "M:I" films and a devoted fan of the Cruiser, mind you. And, finally - whose bright idea was it to make "Mission: Impossible" a comedy? Whoever that was can cozy up next to Hunt on the retirement train. Whatever the case, the biggest laugh comes unintentionally at the climax with a line the sheer asininity of which I haven't encountered since "Snakes on a Plane".


Total: 4

Rewatches (4): Young Adult (Reitman, 2011), The Lion King (Allers & Minkoff,1994), The Thin Man (Van Dyke, 1934) The Santa Clause 2 (Lembeck, 2002)

12.17.2011

My Week in Movies: December 17, '11

Young Adult
Jason Reitman, 2011
After a steady qualitative decline over the past half-decade or so, I was ready for Jason Reitman to refresh me with something on par with "Thank You For Smoking". Instead the director has done me several better and gifted the treasure that is "Young Adult", which provided one of those oh-so-rare, distinctly personal experiences (a la "Weather Man", "Punch-Drunk Love", "Vanilla Sky", etcetera) in which I felt the film had been made just for me - obeying what I might wish of it or any project while challenging me, never falling to peeves and generally just "getting" me. From the onset there is so much to this multi-faceted examination of a fascinating character that I imagine with each subsequent viewing I'll come out having honed in on a new theme, whether it be the numbing permeation of reality television, the complexity of what it means to come home, various definitions of success and integrity, or our views of modern society as we know it - is it the way we like to think it is, as we see conveyed through iPhone commercials and Facebook conferences, or is it the actuality - fallen leaves on dillapidated signs and people simply making the best of what they have? And how do any of these ideas and observations affect us as individuals? Diablo Cody's seemingly introspective script has retained the wavemaking writer's characteristic new age wit while maturing beyond the insipidity of "Juno", even once poking fun at that picture's overt dialogic reaches with Buddy's (the multi-talented Patrick Wilson) reaction to Mavis (the pitch-perfect Charlize Theron) calling a triple-hybrid fast food joint a "Ken-Taco Hut". Despite bold and defining creative choices, the supporting characters do remain one-dimensional throughout. This works swell as they mesh and clash with Mavis' world (and, perhaps more importantly, vice versa), but I'm still gradually coming to terms with the third-act narrowing this one-dimensionality generates. It's not what transpires - I see few other ways it could have gone down - it's that all the sociological layers seem to peel away to more superficial quibbles. Maybe that's the point. Either way, I am eager for a rewatch so I might re-experience the film's tailored idiosyncrasies and further galvanize my interpretation of the wind-down.

New Year's Eve
Garry Marshall, 2011
There's just something magical about New York City in the wintertime. This welcome fluff piece with a classic Hollywood feel celebrates the spirited joy of a unique holiday, uniting us as it unites its star-studded cast, which includes many beyond those depicted on the "Mortal Kombat" character select screen-esque poster, including Cary Elwes, John Lithgow, Yeardley Smith, Carla Gugino and Matthew Broderick (portraying a character named Beullerton). I can't say I'd go out of my way for many of the charmingly intertwining stories had they comprised their own respective films, but as vignettes even the lessers engage on some level. I particularly took to the indie stage show-like thread involving a prematurely curmudgeonly Ashton Kutcher and a heartened Lea Michele becoming stuck on an old apartment building elevator, while others involving Sarah Jessica Parker and Abigail Breslin as mother and daughter and Robert De Niro as a man in hospice with one final wish are also of particular note. The weakest link involves Seth Myers and Jessica Biel racing with Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson to have the first baby of the new year in what becomes a wildly innacurate (though, admittedly, touching in the end) tale featuring one of the worst fake pregnancy bellies I've seen on screen. Though not without its appropriately subtle touches, the screenplay does feel as though a working draft was churned up and never revised prior to production as it features some of the most trite dialogue and blatant exposition this side of "Days of Our Lives", but as should be clear, artistic heights are far from the goal in this case. In the politically correct world of "New Year's Eve" (which oddly features no homosexual or interracial relationships), no one is a bad guy and everyone gets some form of happy ending. Every so often it's a real treat to have a film of that sort, especially when it's as fun as this one, which in its superficial musical crescendos and climaxes did have me welling up at least three times, even once finding a tear rolling down my cheek (hint: during the countdown, a youthful smooch). And... Zac Efron! I'm telling you, the man is our new millennium Gene Kelly. The character he plays here (opposite a frumpy Michelle Pfeiffer) is precisely how I'd imagine "Gene 2000", and I can only hope this becomes embraced and Efron's agents quit making him shy from being "typecast" as "that singing, dancing guy".


Further first-time viewings:

The Change-Up - David Dobkin, 2011
As much as I dislike it, there is one moment in "The Change-Up" writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's "The Hangover" that I think of often. We cut to the aftermath of a wedding reception, and while the three men are engaged in buddy talk, Phil's (Bradley Cooper) son is innocently draped, asleep, on his father's reclined chest. It's a stealthily sweet moment that defines the character's relatively docile home life for the remainder of the film's exponentially zany shenanigans, and I feel it's that kind of thing that Lucas and Moore were trying to recapture with much of the inappropriately emotional "Change-Up". Where "Hangover" director Todd Phillips has proven again and again even in his lesser outings that wrangling crazy comedy and core emotion simultaneously is well within the bounds of his work, David Dobkin's fumblings here make detrimentally uneven what was already an ostensibly one-dimensional script. Never once did I suspect I'd find something in the realm of true quality in a rated-"R" body-switching movie starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds (whose character seems to possess an extra chromosome), but I didn't think I'd find something so wildly inept in every technical aspect it hardly justifies itself as a proper film. "Shanghai Knights" and "Fred Claus" weren't this bad. What gives? For as wearingly drawn out as it all is, it feels so rushed, as if there was only one chance at any given take and only a couple hours of production time a day for maybe a total of a month-long shoot. So it is possible to dislike a film in which a patch of pubic hair is referred to as being "like Sonny Crockett". What's more, while I'd heard reports of computer-generated nipples on a reverse shot of Olivia Wilde to cover up pasties that "accidentally" made it in to the final frame, I did not expect prosthetic breasts on the naturally lovely Leslie Mann. Who thought this was a good idea? My penis felt like it had wandered in to the uncanny valley. At least this is only the second-worst movie this year that features a joke about coprophagia.


Total: 3

12.10.2011

My Week in Movies: December 10, '11

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In)
Pedro Almodóvar, 2011
In a fashion not entirely dissimilar from that of this year's "Drive", this nearly perfect and truly "out there" film (only my second Almodóvar after being prematurely turned off by the ostensibly lesser "Live Flesh") is familiar in so many ways yet unlike anything you've ever seen. With the absolute precision and design sense of a lite Kubrick, the narrative feel of a stronger Argento, the pacing of Welles, liberated and darkly sexual performances evocative of Pasolini and the chops to stand amongst the greats of the genre it embraces as it languidly unravels, it derives from masters - steals from the best, if you will - to forge its distinct individuality. Charting an exponentially engrossing case of Stockholm and Reverse Stockholm with a deliciously sick twist or five, it is like "A Clockwork Orange" meets "Deep Red" meets "Touch of Evil" meets "The Decameron" meets Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"; it is "The Skin I Live In". Furthermore, while I can wish it did have the more overt deliberation of something like "The Shining" or "Magnolia", it does navigate its refreshingly scant exposition beautifully with assured reliance on film's truest assets - images! Strong, strong images! There, I believe I've over-excitedly covered a fraction of the reasons "The Skin I Live In" is great.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, 2011
The relentless opening act of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" threatens to make the whole an insanely strong candidate amongst the very best films of the year. Not in some time have I seen such a lucid narrative flow that rapt me in its turmoil so viscerally. Aiding matters are a surprising undercurrent of biting black humor and Tilda Swinton's bleak performance, so hollowed-out and lost with a single expression you hardly need know the details of her character's unenviable forfeits to feel pained sympathies roiling up inside your guts. Nature and nurture are waging what feels like a war inherently unwinnable for either side - a war as silent as the most muffled scream. What so unfortunately and frustratingly compromises the picture as a whole are the following acts, in which the film becomes something like "The Omen" mixed with "Marley & Me". How many times do we need to see the titular son carry out essentially the same acts with essentially the same results, as if the male characters are records stuck stubbornly on repeat? And are the poorly acted evil glares and unrealistically sinister retorts necessary? Though the harsh beauty of the cinematography remains consistent, when the character of Kevin gains more of a voice to flesh out the established yet mysterious state of his mother's life the proceedings take a nosedive of contrivance and redundancy, never quite recovering.


Further first-time viewings:

Rouge (Red) - Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994
I suppose reactions like this are either why one might love me or hate me as a critical mind. One could say, "Wow, that Tom guy is unpredictable and really sticks to his guns, whatever those guns may be," or, contrarily, "This hack doesn't understand a good film when he sees one, how can he not at least respect the greatness of one of the most hailed films of the '90s?" Well, my apologies... "Red" bored me stiff. It has clearly influenced a wave of subsequently influential directors such as Tom Tykwer and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (incidentally directors I don't particularly care for), and with its implied strokes of influence might well have become a fleeting highlight of my late youth had I seen it around the same time I saw Tykwer's "Run, Lola, Run" (which I now consider immature but once found eye-opening to a world of cinema I hadn't yet discovered). Never for a moment, however, did it inspire interest from yours truly to the point that I hardly have anything further to say about it. It's not bad, per se, it's just there. It might be taken in to account that possibly intended implications were missed seeing as I for some reason mistook this for the first of the "Three Colors" trilogy and have not yet seen "Blue" or "White".


Total: 3

12.08.2011

Chaske Spencer: More Than Wolf, & Tinsel Korey: Scarred Beauty

Almost through with their time portraying the couple atop the “Twilight” wolf pack, American Indian actors Chaske Spencer - whose smoothly deep voice could stop one heart while making another flutter - and the lovely, passionate and endlessly multi-talented Tinsel Korey are primed to launch further in to an entertainment world widely devoid of representation for their people. More importantly, the similarly minded two are utilizing much of their franchise-bestowed spotlight to not just better their neglected communities but inspire others to do the same through efforts such as their Be the Shift campaign. Both were happy to shed the censors in favor of honest discussion on the rarely publicized issues of substance abuse and poverty on Native reservations, the state of Natives in Hollywood, working with one another and what’s ahead in next year’s final installment in the epic love saga of fangs and fur.

Read the interviews on page 66 of Icon's Winter 2011 issue,

REVIEW: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011)

Now four films in, it's next to impossible for one to reenter the "Twilight" franchise without an accepting understanding of the melodramatic, sometimes goofy fantasy it represents, and naturally this works in the favor of "Breaking Dawn - Part 1". "Eclipse" came as a pleasant surprise, demonstrating what this material can be at its best, and "Breaking Dawn", while not as redefining, carries the torch without regressing to the soapy fan service that plagued the main events of "New Moon".

The Lying Game's Allie Gonino

Saucy and sweet, former Stunners member and multi-talented Allie Gonino has been working her way up through television, having featured primarily on ABC Family’s incarnation of “10 Things I Hate About You” and now as a regularly featured character, Laurel Mercer, on “The Lying Game”, the first season of which recently had ten extra episodes ordered to begin airing Janurary 2nd. Gonino sat down with Icon to discuss her approach, inspiration, why The Stunners are no more and just what’s up her sleeve in regard to further musical pursuits.

12.03.2011

My Week in Movies: December 3, '11

Rampart
Oren Moverman, 2011
How are we seen by our peers - from subordinates to our closest, most important companions and dependents, even - despite our defining efforts to be revered as benevolent? Could these peers be hip to our schtick, simply allowing us to continue fooling only ourselves for the sake of maintaining some semblance of peace? "Rampart", its title implying a general look in to city cop mentalities of the 1990s, follows the gradual downward spiral of Woody Harrelson's intimately portrayed renegade, "Date Rape Dave". We enter his headspace, cautious yet eager to latch on to quirks and sentiments. Ever so steadily this headspace is contorted by circumstance - much of it preexisting yet finally coming to a head - and for 90+ minutes we live amongst its machinations, residents of the causes and effects of reputation-threatening scandal. The filmmaking is organic to its subject - I could not imagine "Rampart", which handily joins (and probably surpasses) the ranks of "Bad Lieutenant" (and, in a practically alternate sense, "Serpico"), being filmed in a more fitting manner. Speaking genuinely between the lines, the film is Dave, and can become frequently emotionally wrecking sans just about any form of contrived heartstring tugging. By extension Harrelson feels authentic as can be as he disappears in to Dave, surrounded by an impressive collection of talent allowed to exist naturally within their cinematic space including Robin Wright, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche and, in a highly impressive turn as an invalid derelict, film co-producer (and probable John McLane, Jr.) Ben Foster.


Total: 1

11.26.2011

My Week in Movies: November 26, '11

Hugo
Martin Scorsese, 2011
In what is nearly the fashion of a grander "Be Kind, Rewind" set amongst the classic cinematic devices of trains and clocks, this holiday season treat begins with Scorsese practically emulating Jean-Pierre Jeunet (and handily trumping with tried tricks that contemporary French filmmaker's deliberate quirk, should that require stating) before becoming a truly magical ode to the, well, true magic of the movies - namely seminal titles such as "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat", "The Great Train Robbery", "Intolerance", "The Thief of Baghdad", "Metropolis", "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", "The General", "The Kid" and, particularly, the dreamlike work of Georges Méliès. Seeing clips of these works on the big screen is a wonderful gift from a modern master who hopes we will revere them as he does, and I can but hope this instant classic - sure to be beloved by children of all ages, from nine to ninety, for many a decade to come - will spark an interest in film akin to the spark felt by Méliès himself upon experiencing his first Lumière Brothers picture. "Hugo" takes these now-dusty legends and makes them blockbusters once more. Though the 3D does not seem essential, it does provide the distinctly special air of seeing something new the way so many unversed audiences did when motion pictures began showing publicly over a century ago. If anything, it is clear - even if this winds up being his sole foray in to the extra-dimensional medium - Scorsese has taken naturally to the aesthetic benefits new 3D can supply. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #030.

The Muppets
James Bobin, 2011
It's funny to look up the film formerly known as "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made" to find its official synopsis reading, "The Muppets must reunite to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon." As with so many examples, while the events summarized by the synopsis serve as a necessary narrative catalyst, they marginalize what the picture is truly about. A fitting companion release to the similarly reverent "Hugo", which was coincidentally also once known by a longer title, "The Muppets" is exactly what I could have hoped it would be and more coming from the adoring minds of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. Greatest Muppet movie ever made? Maybe one of the greatest fan movies ever made! Utterly delightful from its beginning to an end that couldn't have been prolonged enough, it lives in the realm of the Muppets' signature witticism - dry puns mixed with heartfelt musical numbers, a barely existant fourth wall and a parodical sensibility that relishes both the overt and the subtle, up to the inclusion of a scene in Paris that could be from an alternate dimension "Muppets" as directed by Woody Allen - and reinvigorates the fuzzy crew for fans new and, especially, pre-established. And I, uh... didn't know Mickey Rooney was still alive. That was a nice surprise. Which I suppose I've just spoiled. Uh... look over there! A dragon, a dragon! I swear I saw a dragon! Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #030.


Further first-time viewings:

The Descendants - Alexander Payne, 2011
Outside a superb opening shot that encompasses sheer bliss and isolated finality - along with several more throughout that might feel at home in another of Clooney's latest, "The American" - "Up in the Air 2"... er, I mean, "The Descendants"... is Alexander Payne going through the motions. It's all in place - the beleaguered white male protagonist, the unlikely cast of supporters, the successfully uncomfortable - and, in this case, funereal - wit, yet while at times I'd like to say there's a good film somewhere in the thorough footage, the script, complete with trite narration, stiltedly thrives on issues unrealistically left hovering in midair while catering all too much to its fogey demographic along its path to find the good in everyone. Like in an episode of "Seinfeld", there's an A plot and a B plot that wind up coinciding. Unlike in an episode of "Seinfeld", however, here it's entirely too predictable where it'll all go, and the journey proves hardly worth taking, especially if your alternative is rewatching the framework-providing "About Schmidt".


Total: 3

11.19.2011

My Week in Movies: November 19, '11

Werckmeister harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies)
Béla Tarr, 2000
Trying to write about Tarr without more time to process his work is a bit like leaping headlong in to an abyss. "Werckmeister Harmonies", contrary to the definitive Soviet misery of "Damnation", is timeless and endlessly interpretable, if trying at times when taken in a single sitting. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #028.


Further first-time viewings:

Scared Shrekless - Gary Trousdale & Raman Hui, 2010
Putting its typically grating cleverness to good use, holiday special "Scared Shrekless" (which, even without Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy, brings back the main voices that matter the most - Mike Myers' and Antonio Bandaras') plays with genre tropes - relatively subtle and overtly parodic - that any horror buff will giddily appreciate, making it likely the best "Shrek" title I've seen from Dreamworks.

Martha Marcy May Marlene - Sean Durkin, 2011
Endless parallels are drawn between two psychologically blurred (via contoured scene transitions and sound cues) ways of life - one of familiar, convenient excess and immediate concerns from which the parental figures push their infantile young away, and one of communal personal connection and naked human purity within which refugees are embraced and sheltered. Both venues of comfortable misery are frequently shown eating as just one illustration of how they're each focused on preservation and survival, etcetera, only in drastically different ways, and they are captured with occasionally impressive camerawork. Where "Martha Marcy May Marlene" falls apart, however, is at that certain point you realize one of the debating sides is not being given a fair shake - apparently there just has to be a maddeningly bad seed, inexplicably negating the arguable positives of the commune lifestyle and going as far as to render it a Charles Manson-esque "family". At only two hours this insanity feels overlong, with an open ending that is less encouragement to discuss interpretations after the fact and more first-time feature writer/director Sean Durkin seeming to throw his hands up in forfeit after realizing his approach makes no sense. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #029.

Breaking Dawn - Part 1 - Bill Condon, 2011
Now four films in, it's next to impossible for one to reenter the "Twilight" franchise without an accepting understanding of the melodramatic, sometimes goofy fantasy it represents, and naturally this works in the favor of "Breaking Dawn - Part 1". "Eclipse" came as a pleasant surprise, demonstrating what this material can be at its best, and "Breaking Dawn", while not as redefining, carries the torch without regressing to the soapy fan service that plagued the main events of "New Moon". Read the full review on page 64 of Icon's Winter 2011 issue.

Like Crazy - Drake Doremus, 2011
It's "Love Story" meets Sundance plus suck. I felt like the screen was taking a dump in my eyeballs. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #029 (coming soon).


Total: 5

Notes:
- Hey, where be all the movies? I'm not sure. Ask Bethesda.

11.12.2011

My Week in Movies: November 12, '11

Il Decameron
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1971
Yet a mere dabbler in the realm of Nietzsche, I cannot with galvanization speak on the great philosopher's "death of God" theory (though it has been habit to muse over perspectivism). I do believe, however, that "The Decameron", the light, tempered and often seditiously hilarious first in Pasolini's so-called "Trilogy of Life" as followed by "The Canterbury Tales" and "Arabian Nights", depicts the makings of such a proverbial unconscious killing through its axial battle between varying delusions - of creed and of coitus. Throughout this adaptation of Boccaccio's tales identical in form to that of Chaucer's though fittingly colored more earthily than gaudily as if transpiring prior to a loss of innocence or deflowering, characters quarrel with the balance of pure devotion and carnal pleasure, conflicted as to whether 'tis better to abstain so to prosper in promised afterlife, or to indulge in mortal sin ("sin" herein debunked, no less). This quarrel kaleidoscopes down different lenses of perception in classic literary fashion examining gender roles, toying with Italian historical and cultural cliché and seeing a number of drastic conclusions determined sheerly via beguiled impulse sans thought, until we have a very clear picture indeed - one capped by visions of relegated accountability in Heaven (comparable to those of reckless punishment in Hell from the subsequent "Canterbury", which features many a returning face including the highly photogenic Franco Citti and the nubile Elisabetta Genovese) and a final, general quote I imagine will resonate with me always: "I wonder... why produce a work of art, when it's nice to just dream about it?" Masterful, Pasolini deftly and passionately puts forth yet another essential and elusive work of sociopolitical quandary so aesthetically and narratively riveting it captures me as a spear fisher might a fat trout. Screenshots after the jump.

Immortals
Tarsem Singh, 2011
Through beastly action, man attempts to usurp his gods and independently carve out his own immortal identity. Thus, the blood-soaked sepia of Zack Snyder's brutish "300" sees vast improvements thanks to Tarsem Singh's signature eye and, of all things, the artful iconography of Sergei Parajanov's "The Color of Pomegranates". Rumblingly fueled by an Aristotelian philosophy of brawn and credence to its source mythology, "Immortals" overcomes its tediously exposition-heavy hinging with a relentless series of gorgeous set pieces and highly pleasing composition aided by what is easily the best (and most essential) 3D since "Resident Evil: Afterlife", both texturally and spatially. Exhilarated, you won't want to so much as blink. Plus, Dorff!

Kárhozat (Damnation)
Béla Tarr, 1988
Released several years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fundamentally visual and aural experience of Béla Tarr's influential, still-occupied Hungary resembles the hollowed-out despair seen in such works as Peter Brosens' eulogy to Mongolian culture in "Khadak" or numerous Aleksandr Sokurov pictures such as "Days of Eclipse". Mazes of empty, weathered buildings diminish the individual, ghostly remnants of wasted hope and corrupted ideals amidst endlessly dampened remains of connecting roadways and electrification that incapably house our resilient characters, who contrarily smack of classic Hollywood. Tarr's deliberate, winding long takes create marvel after marvel of highly screencap-able moving imagery (in the thick of my Pasolini binge, I have to restrain myself!). Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #028.

Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers
Chip Mabry, 2010
A relatively more extreme example of how we are more ourselves when adopting supported "alter-egos" than when requisitely conforming to the expectations of dull society. This is expression; this is the pursuit of happiness. This (for now, anyway, before realism settles once more) rekindles my embers of motivation to finally join a boxing gym, or finally get those bigger tattoos I've been wanting, or finally drop it all and go rogue documentary-making across the deserts, steppes and cities of Mongolia in search of modern cultural identity. This is, in a technical sense, along the lines of what I could only have hoped my would-be film "Prep Ball" might have become. Bravo.


Further first-time viewings:

J. Edgar - Clint Eastwood, 2011
I will proudly admit to chuckling at my own summary of the Man with No Name’s directorial career. I like to say, “Watching an Eastwood is like chewing cardboard, while someone stands over you, teeth gritted, demanding, ‘Don’t that cardboard taste good, boy?’” Well, if this newest portrait of uncompromising leadership is cardboard, its frail edges are frayed, dry and crumbling away. Yet, somehow, I find myself peeling back these withered layers and uncovering something worth enduring on the whole. Is it an ode to American free enterprise, and subsequently a humble undermining of the very antiheroic legacy of Hollywood (and beyond) Eastwood himself has so iconically contributed to? Is [Eastwood] heralding purity while tearing down the essence of liberty? Is it really to be read as all that objective? Though in recognition of what could be considered psychoses, Eastwood appears to argue in Hoover's favor, even regarding the infamous wiretaps and the resulting collection of high-level politician secrets. Read the full review at Reel Time.

Shrek Forever After - Mike Mitchell, 2010
Whether one likes "Shrek" or not (I don't, particularly), it's easy to admit the titular character became a contradiction of himself as his franchise continued... and it would be apparent from this "final chapter" that the creative team recognized as much, as well. Shrek's frustrations with his adoring fans' enforcement of his defeated attitude echo those of real fans who feel the ogre had gone soft - literally, in the sense that he was almost immediately reduced from ugly and foul-tempered to cute, cuddly and only $19.99 for Christmas, accessories not included. Of course the obligatory end of the characteristically not-quite-full-fledged, overly pop-reference-littered feature justifies the inevitable cuteness, but at least it manages to make us feel fuzzy about it in the process, which is well more positive than I can speak about any aspect of the inexcusably dreadful "Shrek the Third".

Losing Control - Valerie Weiss, 2011
Working the 3rd annual Naples International Film Festival, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting several on-screen and behind-the-scenes filmmakers, among them director Valerie Weiss. Now, being in a smaller festival atmosphere, particularly from a filmmaker perspective, it is practically beside the point to criticize. Everyone is capable of mistakes; we're here to laud achievement and encourage artistry. And that's what makes it so difficult to look somewhat negatively upon Weiss' film - the sole entry I had time enough to dash and catch after a shift - which I selected from a trio of films that weren't exactly at the top of my festival to-see list, per "Dying to Do Letterman" comedian Steve Mazan's recommendation as opposed to my other limited options of "A Beginner's Guide to Endings" and "Take Me Home" (the latter of which also came with a personal recommendation, that one from its star/director Sam Jaeger himself). "Losing Control" is a situational, semi-autobiographical romantic comedy that premiered in April and is scheduled for limited theatrical distribution around Valentine's Day of next year about a Harvard PhD graduate implementing scientific methods in her dating life to determine her perfect mate in a haphazard experiment that winds up entailing a bit of raunch and a bit of caper. It's loaded with budding "that guys" including Ben Weber and Alanna Ubach and features a Woody Allen-esque tone through a lovingly overbearing parental relationship and its talky madcap nature that, at times, conjures feelings of something like "Manhattan Murder Mystery" or "Anything Else". It is indeed honorably inspired and expressive, yet it never becomes anything more than what seems best fit as direct-to-Netflix-Instant fair. The plotting is overscripted to the point of excruciation while so many ideas have been crammed in to one place without meshing together it feels fitting Weiss' next film is to be titled "Overstuffed". Sorry, Valerie! Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #027.


Total: 7

Rewatches (1): Clerks (Smith, 1994)

11.05.2011

My Week in Movies: November 5, '11

Puss in Boots
Chris Miller, 2011
¡Holy frijoles! When a studio is so blatantly squeezing scratch from a former cash cow with a spin-off origin story, one would be justified in certain, tempered expectations. Instead of just what you'd expect, however, "Puss in Boots" is everything you'd hope for in such a venture as itself. Toying with cinema legacy like a ball of yarn along the way, it hones in on the only character the "Shrek" flicks are almost worth tolerating for, cleaving with him everything that had potential for goodness in that source series and approaching it with fresh spirit that never takes itself seriously for a second. It's apparent that Chris Miller & Co. love Antonio Banderas' uproarious Puss - essentially a Zorro cari-cat-ure, if you will - as much as we do, and it is that passion fueling the pure-hearted pilferer's stand-alone adventure, creating an embodiment of why the character is so great - the film is his essence, unfiltered. In a sense, this ideal cat lover's fare can be read as parody of "Shrek" - as those ogreish movies so annoyingly do with their every clever wink, Puss thrives hilariously on his cockiness - an aspect of his righteousness which, in this case, is surprisingly allowed to make him weak against more underhandedly cunning adversaries. It's difficult to imagine someone of any kind not having a good time with "Puss in Boots".


Further first-time viewings:

Copie conforme (Certified Copy) - Abbas Kiarostami, 2010
Though I certainly do not dislike Kiarostami's latest, I do observe that disliking it would be against its point of subjectivity vs. objectivity and the ambiguous nature of art - the same points raised by Banksy's "Exit through the Gift Shop" and classic works by the likes of Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. It brings me back, yet again, to the anecdote about the Prado custodian who jokingly hung a bathroom floorplan where a painting should be, only to find a telling swarm of critics bathing it with praise the next day, presumably because it was new and, perhaps most importantly, because they didn't "understand" it. Like a relatively more focused "Before Sunrise", the first half of "Certified Copy", well, copies itself again and again but in different contexts, arguing without need to convince that it all simply comes down to perception (I.E., place a Coca-Cola bottle in a museum...). When things become, almost inevitably, their own little game of perception and false realities, the cool infallibility is lost. Judging from this and "Close-Up" (immediately below), Kiarostami seems to like these compromising games. As his protagonist here states of a painting, it's "Interesting enough, but nothing new. ...There are examples everywhere; at some point you have to close your book." Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #027.

Nema-ye Nazdik (Close-Up) - Abbas Kiarostami, 1990
Is it because reality is boring that all films recognizing their own "fiction" as a cloaked form of reality (since it has very real and potentially deeper affects on participants and audience members alike - as the film puts it, "It's pointless if it's not taped") are, well, so boring? "Apocalypse Now", "Eyes Wide Shut", the forthcoming "Dau" - these are life as film, and vice versa; I need not this C-SPAN-esque game. "Close-Up" is not without its moments, but I'll take "I'm Still Here" over it any day. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #027.

Tower Heist - Brett Ratner, 2011
Seeing Eddie Murphy headlining a rated "R" comedy feels like hopping in a time warp. Only, oh, no, this is a "PG-13" Ben Stiller thing (in which Stiller intermittently flaunts an awkward New York accent) that only happens to co-star a somewhat back-to-form Murphy, who will still need to nail his Oscars gig to fully respark comedic relevance. Apparently, prior to casting a bunch of honkies, "Tower Heist" was conceived as "a black 'Ocean's Eleven'", and those roots do still show in that the heist construction is almost identical to Soderbergh's first Rat Pack reinvention and that the black characters are the only ones semi-worth watching (well, outside the wise, old doorman who so melodramatically imparts, "Truth is, people can open their own doors"... after a catalytic suicide attempt ripped from the recent "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps", no less). What the film really is, though, is a transparent effort to expound upon current economic events, so definitively tedious you can practically hear each brick clumsily clacking in to place before a climactic and contradictory disregard for human life akin to that of a D.J. Caruso film (or, come to think of it, a Brett Ratner film). Occupy... towers? And/or Alan Alda? At least we get cameos from Robert Downey, Sr. and Zeljko Ivanek. As if that justifies the numbing tedium. I may have forgiven it had Matthew Broderick, when metaphorically dangling a red Ferrari out a high window during the action centerpiece, turned to camera and shrugged, "Not again!"

Saw: The Final Chapter - Kevin Greutert, 2010
Having only seen the pre-Roman numeral "Saw" when "Saw" was still just the little independent horror movie that could as opposed to the relentless Halloween mainstay of the aughts, with nothing but morbid curiosity I come in to the ineptitude of "The Final Chapter" (an oft-implemented title horror for once used in what would appear to be truth) knowingly missing the wagon regarding much of the fan-tailored proceedings. I can't imagine, though, that there's much more to any of this than watching obvious immorality forced to gruesomely dismember itself for the sake of salvation. Judging from this conclusive (yet obligatorily open-ended) piece the series has devolved in to a hasty slapdash collage of "traps", all of which detrimentally lack the cringe-inducing, drawn-out simplicity of the original, which wasn't even quite the cat's bananas to begin with.

Season of the Witch - Dominic Sena, 2011
Is this supposed to be a real movie? All the excitement of spectator larping. Honestly, I was compelled to avert my eyes for much of the runtime. Simply horrendous.


Total: 6

Rewatches (1): The Last Exorcism (Stamm, 2010)
- "The Last Exorcism" improved slightly with a second go. Though its obvious foreshadowing is bothersome, the original approach to the standard science versus religion subject matter that swirls within most exorcism films deftly carries it through. I see via IMDb a "Last Exorcism 2" is slated...

11.01.2011

Horrorthon '11 Extro: Exit Wounds

Another October, another set of reviews. I'm satisfied, though it might have been nice to encounter another surprise or two. This month really snuck up on me - I feel like it was just a few weeks ago I was Kevin Baconing "The Angry Red Planet" to the Three Stooges for the first "All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen" event. Of course it doesn't help that I kept putting off the most interesting-looking films on my radar this season - Andrzej Żuławski's "Diabel" and Phillipe Grandrieux' "Sombre" - in favor of utter dreck like "Bloodlust Zombies". Not that there isn't next October... or, y'know, any of the other 11 months between.

On top of the fully reviewed titles (here listed in descending order of preference) "Red State", "Poltergeist II: The Other Side", "TrollHunter" (viewed twice), "Strangeland", "Pet Sematary" and "Scream 4" (along with another season premiere review of AMC's "The Walking Dead"), I viewed a decent handful of other horror (or at least films that can be justified as such), only that handful (of 10, to be exact) failed to evoke the formulated verbosity seen in, say, the "Strangeland" review where I go all tangential about the misadventures of my 16-year-old self's internet chat room persona.

Collected here for posterity's sake are the "My Week in Movies" capsule reviews for these less reaction-inspiring (for better or for worse) titles, in descending order of... well, you get it by now.


Deep Red - Dario Argento, 1975 (REWATCH)
As if I hadn't noted it on my previous two viewings, "Deep Red" is gorgeous! What a load of good-looking fun.

Poltergeist III - Gary Sherman, 1988 (REWATCH)
Don't mind me... just checking... and... yep, I wasn't crazy in my youth; "Poltergeist III" is actually quite good (or maybe I've just never stopped being crazy... but seriously, I think people are unfair to this third outing just for the fact that its tone deviates from the more overt special effects onslaughts that are its predecessors). The unique, intricately mirrored skyrise setting is a spooky pleasure to wander through for 90+ minutes, guided by human and otherworldly voices incessantly calling, "Carol Anne!" Craig T. Nelson is missed, but Tom Skerritt fills the paternal shoes nicely (not as the same character, of course), and Lara Flynn Boyle... man, her late teens were good to her... she is Hotcakes von Hottenstein without a doubt. It's nice to see the credited call-out for Julian Beck and the dedication to Heather O'Rourke, whose untimely death spurred a reworking of the film's ending, which depicted her as temporarily lifeless (this original ending can be read about and viewed in as much detail as possible via set photos at www.PoltergeistIII.com). Regarding the resulting ambiguous ending for the Scott character, my guess is that the actor simply couldn't make it to the reshoot. We are left to wonder whether the Scott that was ejected from the frozen pool and deposited in his own apartment following a questioning is in fact the real Scott as he seemed to be, or if the evil, cheek-tearing "reflection" is all that made it out.

Paranormal Activity 3 - Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2011 (1ST + REWATCH)
Judging from the first two films (the priorly viewed second of which is mused over several titles below), I determined the best way to view "Paranormal Activity 3" would be, well, drunk. I cruised to the nearest convenience store, snagged two BOGOs of Mike's Harder Lemonade and went to town. Man, was I ever right. This third entry - and second prequel - in the franchise that took down "Saw" feels like the composed best we've yet seen from the growing collection of "home video" "found footage". It is the most rounded and satisfying cinematic experience of the standing trio and offers new forms of tension via panning surveillance and children's impressionable imaginations (along with new, deliciously retro set design). It's like examining the most active paranormal footage any "Ghost Hunter" could hope to find, which is silly fun enough to finally get this naysayer on the side of "Team PA" (and if that wasn't a thing, I just made it one). The biggest advantage the series has going for it is that so little story is divulged in each entry; we hang on every score-free, semi-realist moment in hopes of gleaning the newest plot point in the continual backlog (which, upon some skeptical double-checking, does in fact reference past disturbances in its chronologically later predecessors... though there are plenty of unanswered questions for a fourth entry to take care of). This is the sort of movie you actually want people in your audience screaming over and commenting on throughout. Step aside, "Shaun of the Dead", there's a new horror comedy in town... and, incidentally, only maybe 5% of the theatrical trailer footage is in the knowingly "Poltergeist"-esque final cut.

Tales of Terror - Roger Corman, 1962
In the realm of immediate physical reactions to film, "Morella" runs the gamut - you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cower with heebie-jeebies. The "Cask of the Armontillado" portions of the anthology's second chapter amuse greatly, while its odd amalgam with "The Black Cat" leaves me wishing I'd simply watched a different version of "The Black Cat". Finally, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" intrigues the mind and chills the bone. These three breezily accessible and simply effective "Tales of Terror" are a "Pricey" treat for any fan of classic horror and Edgar Allan Poe (is that redundant?).

Paranormal Activity 2 - Tod Williams, 2010
Better than the dully grating original if only because every other scene isn't that girl saying, "We should get out of here!" over and over. I can respect these movies' minimalism, the chimeric authenticity of which generates the feel of inglorious home video... I even found fair entertainment value in this sequel once its third act settled in... but I think my interest in programs like "Ghost Hunters" and "Paranormal State" has disintegrated my potential to truly enjoy them (note: read thoughts on "Paranormal Activity 3" above to see where I was wrong to think as much).

Zombies Anonymous - Marc Fratto, 2006
AKA "Last Rites of the Dead". This entertaining, apparently shoestring outing brings freshness to decaying corpses, becoming almost frustrating when it is considered that all its good ideas were used in such a just-one-level-above-student effort.

Dracula - Tod Browning, 1931
Here's another major point of procrastination checked off. After owning the American version of Universal's 1931 "Dracula" production on VHS for over a decade, I finally popped the palatably iconic rendering of Bram Stoker's story on via the convenience of Netflix Instant. This antediluvian Drac is ultra-clunky and drastically abated, but fun nevertheless. Unessential but for its legacy, one so engrained in popular culture most aren't so much as merely conscious of its source.

Slither - James Gunn, 2006
It's... actually pretty feeble, albeit with some disgustingly fun sexual themes I only wish more had been done with, along similar lines as those of "Species" and, to an extent, "Splice". "Slither" does get by, however, on the fact that it really goes for its own gusto. That's not to say there aren't pulled punches (especially noticeable ones when taking in to account Gunn's more recent "Super"), but it's not exactly the kind of movie you're going to want to look away from for want not to miss whatever insane gross-out stunt is next in store. If anything, Michael Rooker.

Bloodlust Zombies - Dan Lantz, 2011
It's exactly what you'd expect - a probably-fun-to-make technical disaster only one step above being softcore pornography, using a porn star's name on the box cover despite that star only being involved for maybe 10 minutes of total screen time (at least half of which is spent in a goofy sex scene). I think what I'm trying to say here is... great movie, you should watch it!

The Ward - John Carpenter, 2010
The atmosphere of John Carpenter's return to feature length directing after nearly a decade is very, well, Carpentery, but possesses little to reinforce the shallow eeriness of its institutional corridors a la the suburbian Haddonfield streets of "Halloween" or the bowels of the arctic station from "The Thing".

Saw: The Final Chapter - Kevin Greutert, 2010
Having only seen the pre-Roman numeral "Saw" when "Saw" was still just the little independent horror movie that could as opposed to the relentless Halloween mainstay of the aughts, with nothing but morbid curiosity I come in to the ineptitude of "The Final Chapter" (an oft-implemented title horror for once used in what would appear to be truth) knowingly missing the wagon regarding much of the fan-tailored proceedings. I can't imagine, though, that there's much more to any of this than watching obvious immorality forced to gruesomely dismember itself for the sake of salvation. Judging from this conclusive piece the series has devolved in to a hasty slapdash collage of "traps", all of which detrimentally lack the cringe-inducing, drawn-out simplicity of the original, which wasn't even quite the cat's bananas to begin with.


10.29.2011

My Week in Movies: October 29, '11

I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales)
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1972
An uninhibited anthology of familiar themes humorously redressed, Pasolini's selective adaptation of "The Canterbury Tales" - resembling of the center panel in Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" triptych (and, eventually, the right) - precisely captures Geoffrey Chaucer's delectably muck-slinging vulgarity through rending saliently unethical certain medieval matters traditionally staged with decided regality. Colorful characters populate the vivid landscape with unkempt beards, yellowed fingernails, disarrayed teeth, sweat, dirt and excreta. The poor wear their unchosen grime like a badge as they toil, earning every last scrap of bread before falling under persecution for all they have - their hidden vices - as the wealthy wallow in their filth and profit from said extortion while enjoying similar vices. The latter are justified by their pocket lining yet quiver at sights of one like them executed. The ultimate punishment for these hypocritically righteous blithely purges corruption with still stronger feculence. Nothing is sacred, nor was it ever. Contrary to the later "Salò", here the selfish rich need not underhanded trickery to apprehend their libidos' targets - their right to take whomever they wish however they demand is built in to edict. Neither do they appear capable of philosophical broadening, being instead more impatiently given to impulse, or perhaps simply the exclusive liberty to lust openly. The extent of their profundity lay in their clumsy pick-up lines. Rich and poor blur as one doomed humanity through likened tragic folly. Where the comfortable castle-dwellers are, in time, undone by their own devices, peasants more readily come apart - socially and fatally - in effort to attain greater status, meanwhile putting on airs as simultaneous aggrandizement and defense. From Chaplin-esque slapstick and shamelessly guffawing gluttony to in-references such as Pasolini himself being hilariously, appropriately revealed in the role of Chaucer and a smirking, allegedly historically accurate call-out to the auteur's prior "Trilogy of Life" adaptation, "The Decameron", this "Canterbury Tales" perfectly embodies what the notoriously foul collection might have been were its creator in fact a filmmaker. Screenshots after the jump.

Winnebago Man
Ben Steinbauer, 2009
Many have stories of continued experiences with a certain video of Jack Rebney. Through copied VHS tapes and eventually YouTube, the so-called "World's Angriest Man" has circulated laughter and catharsis for decades, though no one seemed to know where he came from or where he's been. When I first saw the industrial outtake reel in question, I can't say I was too enamored. If anything, I uncomfortably felt the unknown man's frustration with himself in what appeared to be a nowhere gig. Film professor Ben Steinbauer's far more intimate reaction, however, drove him to embark upon this determined shot-in-the-dark documentary, the first half of which plays like a search for Sasquatch while illustrating the allures, causes and effects of what has become a subculture of accidental celebrities made as such through public humiliation on mass scales. At first, though I remained intrigued thanks to Steinbauer's effectively gripping assembly of footage, I worried it was all going to be more or less an extended version of a "Tosh.0" "Web Redemption", and about as enlightening. What the surprising "Winnebago Man" in fact becomes is a fascinating portrait of coming to terms with one's own legacy. Though in a Timothy Treadwell-esque fashion he's isolated himself from while still desiring a platform with what he feels is a dumbing down of society he inadvertently contributed to, in a way Rebney is like a member of the Beatles - a figure with greater aspirations doomed to be remembered for and haunted by but a brief and tumultuous time in his life. Finding and following him through Steinbauer is a real treat - one funny, intimidating and supremely emotional that should resonate with just about anyone.

Der Räuber (The Robber)
Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010
As Rorschach puts it in "Watchmen", a prison's a prison. Whether behind the bars of a cell or the four walls of "free" society, we are confined, all the while reminded by peers and mentors that, in so many words, status quo is the righteous aim. For initially incarcerated protagonist Johann, harmless and eventually remunerative marathon running seems to bring the closest achievable sensation to true freedom, however the man's blank expression ever suggests his bemused outlook. Alternatively, to look in to Johann's eyes during his pop-fueled bank heists is to see a more overt flow of adrenaline, and it is for that adrenaline the heists appear to be primarily conducted, though it is presumable an endgame - freedom via defrauded wealth - is somewhere in mind. Either way, it feels as though he is running, literally and figuratively, in circles; destination: nowhere. When the pure liberation of running meshes with the unsavory rush of robbery, the adrenaline pumps in to the audience as we bite the nails of fingers crossed for our antihero's salvation, be it through flight or rectitude. Graceful New Berlin Schooler Benjamin Heisenberg chooses his words carefully, precisely and almost serenely capturing the thrill of a crime blockbuster with far greater ambiguous depth than is per standard with such things.


Further first-time viewings:

Zombies Anonymous - Marc Fratto, 2006
AKA "Last Rites of the Dead". This entertaining, apparently shoestring outing brings freshness to decaying corpses, becoming almost frustrating when it is considered that all its good ideas were used in such a just-one-level-above-student effort.

Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson - Alex Gibney, 2008
I have this thing with non-fiction literature... with the right subject and approach I love it for a few chapters, then I get to a point where I impatiently think, "Why can't they just make a movie out of this, already?" Last year this happened when I became fascinated by Toby Thacker's "Joseph Goebbels: Life & Death" only to drop off after having watched Lutz Hachmeister's excellently assembled "The Goebbels Experiment". I haven't read any Thompson, who strikes me as a next generation Kerouac, but while purists may disagree, this loving retrospective feels adequate in quickly acquainting me with the man's work.

Beginners - Mike Mills, 2010
A montage of intimately personal memories that feels more mature than Mills' "Thumbsucker", though I'm not sure it's working for me as well as that prior success' ostensibly aimless angst. It's about the little moments, more than anything - Christopher Plummer's acceptance of a carefully worded death sentence from his doctor; the bonding between father and son via loud exclamations of "fuck!", as though they're learning, or at least celebrating the fact that they can be real people with one another outside their familial roles. Unfortunately the majority of these moments are so nauseatingly cute I want to run the other direction.

Strangeland - John Pieplow, 1998
Indistinct and derivative (particularly of "Silence of the Lambs", even once blatantly thieving that film's famous misdirection sequence), "Strangeland" seems to execute its meager helping of good ideas during its establishment before realizing it has to keep trudging along to attain feature status. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Faces in the Crowd - Julien Magnat, 2011
I feel like I say this all the time, but this movie feels like a Lifetime Network original made with a slightly larger budget. The script, despite a moderately intriguing premise that correlates the rare condition of prosopagnosia (face blindness) to other sensory losses such as deafness, is one gaping hole after another, punctuated by clunky exposition and only held together by my darling Milla Jovovich (whose mere inclusion warrants certain forgiveness), who could put forth this sort of bubbly, emotionally tortured performance in her sleep. It must have been neat for the various "reflection Millas" to come in and get dressed up like her. I might have praise for the fun Julian McMahon, though I'm not sure that's really him behind the re-re-recycled twist giveaway of a Savini-esque face beaver he's sporting.

The Ward - John Carpenter, 2010
The atmosphere of John Carpenter's return to feature length directing after nearly a decade is very, well, Carpentery, but possesses little to reinforce the shallow eeriness of its institutional corridors a la the suburbian Haddonfield streets of "Halloween" or the bowels of the arctic station from "The Thing".

The Rum Diary - Bruce Robinson, 2011
Like watching Clark Gregg’s “Choke” with David Fincher’s “Fight Club” in the back of your mind, “The Rum Diary” is more a dull homage to Terry Gilliam’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” that happens to also star Johnny Depp. It tidily makes its points and lingers like a bad hangover. At one juncture, in reference to the innocuous pieces he’s forced to print in his doomed paper, Richard Jenkins’ editor-in-chief advises, “There’s a thin veneer between the dream and the reality. You wake the people up, and they’re not gonna be happy.” I want to be woken up. Read the full review.


Total: 10

Rewatches (2): Paranormal Activity 3 (Joost & Schulman, 2011); TrollHunter (Øvredal, 2010)

Notes:
- Wow! Thanks primarily to StumbleUpon (and a little to reddit and a lot to /film) October has blown WTYWtD's prior traffic successes out of the water. As I publish this edition of "My Week in Movies", October currently sits at 37,166 hits - well atop what I had thought was a grand tally of 3,454 for what was formerly my biggest month (this recent August). I've actually earned two whole dollars via AdSense! Of course without a new backlog to semi-spam discovery engines with every month it'll be a long time - if ever - before WTYWtD reaches this level of traffic again but in the meantime I'll keep "stumbling", "digging" (does anyone actually use that site anymore?) and, somewhat more discriminatingly, submitting to reddit ("redditing"?). Major thanks go out again to /film for featuring my "5 Worst Movie Theater Disruptions" on the 300th Edition of Page 2!

10.28.2011

REVIEW: The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson, 2011)

Why does this movie exist? Is it "Fear & Loathing" for wimps? For the most part I think it's trying to be shocking - and some "Loathing"-isms feel so obligatorily wedged in they can't be intended as anything more - but who will it actually shock? Nuns? The San Juan cultures of heavy drinking, odd hallucinogenics, voodoo and cockfighting are tiredly strung out through breathless exposition, wringing them of any potential intrigue. Of course it doesn't help that simply knowing the proceedings are based upon a Thompson work causes one to go in expecting the would-be wild subject matter. It's a pity, since the more overt message concerns the importance of being more than fluffy filler simply designed to entertain a boring audience, yet fluffy filler is precisely what "The Rum Diary" is.

10.27.2011

Horrorthon '11: Strangeland (John Pieplow, 1998)

Likely due to my nearly lifelong love of Dee Snider's '80s glam-horror band, when in 2003 I first heard of "Strangeland" - written by and starring Snider - I figured it was made during Twisted Sister's heyday. I was surprised to finally switch it on and find not only a characteristically flavorless '90s aesthetic but also a honing in on late '90s-style internet chat rooms, the horrors of which in the picture's actual release year had yet to be fully extrapolated. Since "Strangeland", we've seen plenty of films such as "Cry_Wolf" and "Trust" about encountering sinister strangers through various, seemingly harmless online networks, though none have captured the allure of such encounters as it was circa 1998, when the internet still felt like a new frontier.

As is hastily depicted (before the underutilized sexiness of Amy Smart briefly shows face), chat rooms have never been a haven for sophisticated conversation. What are now populated by spam bots were once riddled by perpetually repeated "conversational" comments such as "asl" or "type 1 if u like alanis morset". Still, it was instant connection with other people openly desperate to gauge their state of being against consensus and make connections without the pretenses of in-person social activity. I remember answering "23/m/ca" to every inquiry of "asl", because between the ages of 13 and 15 when I partook in the chat scene, 23 felt like a mature yet hip age, I wanted to meet women and California seemed like a place women wanted their men to be from. This invented persona also lived on the third-to-top floor of a modest apartment building and owned two dalmatians to illustrate his unique sensibilities. Besides, what woman in a chat room wouldn't love two dalmations, right? Sometimes I would switch handles and chat with the same person again under a different persona as a sort of social experiment. I did this innocently, but the ease of it shows how simple it is to be taken advantage of in this manner. I don't doubt many of the "women" I chatted with weren't women at all. And maybe the stranger you're instant messaging with right now is in fact an old high school chum looking to dig up dirt.

Unfortunately, "Strangeland" is anything but focused and the first theme to go is that of online anonymity resulting in entrapment. In its place, however, we do glimpse the underground world of extreme body modification, a counterculture wave oddly rare on the silver screen. Off the top of my head, there is a reference to the Mandan origins of O-Kee-Pa suspension in Platinum Dunes' "Amityville Horror" remake and, well, apart from the likes of Ralph Fiennes' tattoo in "Red Dragon", that's it. You'd think we'd have a movie about piercings and/or tattoos coming to life, or at least a Freddy Krueger kill involving as much. Here our killer, pseudonym "Captain Howdy", is driven to achieve enlightenment - or at least subversive sexual gratification - through bringing his body to the limits of pain and alteration. Why, then, is he torturing hapless strangers to death? He's fucking Dee Snider, is that good enough?

Where "Strangeland" really gets bound and gagged, however, is in its tedious approach to heroes and antiheroes. Unlike the great "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", many films - even greats such as "Blacula" - get too caught up in the warranted side of the law, and this is no exception. Am I wrong to be confused when spotlights are shined on the least interesting figures? Highlighting the cop, here father to a Howdy victim, feels like pandering aimed at a demographic outside the target. Howdy and his actions are why we're watching, and make for the film's few genuinely frightening aspects. At least Rob Zombie's successors-in-spirit to "Massacre", "House of 1,000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects", rendered the long arm engaging rather than obligatory.

Furthermore, Howdy's extended storyline is a dubious mess. At first we fear him, a dominant philosopher with a dauntingly shadowed demeanor. Then we pity him as he is harassed and brutalized by cruel yet arguably justified townsfolk, post-apprehension. Afterwards we cheer as he seeks his revenge, though finally we are encouraged to side with his principle adversary the cop - only the second blandest character to be found thanks to his even blander partner - and none of it gels. To look more deeply, one could say "Strangeland" hints at a greater ambiguity (that is, if there can be any in the case of torture) and even allows its would-be protagonist to go out fairly and as he may have pleased, on a note echoing the finale of "Point Break", though I find nothing to suggest these minor observations played part in the intention.

Indistinct and derivative (particularly of "Silence of the Lambs", even once blatantly thieving that film's famous misdirection sequence), "Strangeland" seems to execute its meager helping of good ideas during its establishment before realizing it has to keep trudging along to attain feature status. I would be cautiously optimistic about the long-proposed yet ever uncertain sequel, "Disciple", which would find Howdy mangled as opposed to dead (naturally) and brought by a billionaire to an exclusive body modification cult. Then, reports claim the currently "dead in the water" follow-up would seek Robert Englund to reprise his role as the town's main aggressor (from the mentioned "pity" phase), implying that the originally murky moral compass would also return.

10.22.2011

My Week in Movies: October 22, '11

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom)
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975
Derived from a work by the Marquis de Sade, the monumental "Salò" likens conscription to wrongful abduction and, likewise, military life to heinous torture. The similarly involuntary, rigidly structured paths share infallible high command from the bourgeoisie, both subject to horrors no average person is intimately familiar with in exchange for prior hopes and beliefs. The difference is in reception - one path is glorified, allowed to become jaded in the face of countless literal deaths in the name of preservation; the other humiliated, forced to suffer and survive infinite false deaths for the sake of entertainment. In this shallow hierarchy we only "earn" the right to humanity through the invented superiority of wealth, the wealthy being the only ones with freedom enough to openly deliberate quandary and express enlightenment ("The limitation of love is that you need an accomplice; ...the libertine's refinement lay in being at once executioner and victim!"). Pasolini's discernibly cold presentations and refined camera placements cart us from shameful arousal in the bowels of depravity through progressively revolting compulsions of sexual abandon, intensifying the ways with which we view our bodies, and our society. It's the anti-eroticism and deprival of will gotten off on by Anne Rice and Eli Roth alike. For as long as I have recognized my passion for cinema, Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson have been the masters by whose work I unconsciously measure all other film. Judging by "Salò", which easily joins Davaa Byambasüren's "The Story of the Weeping Camel" and Peter Brosens' "State of Dogs" (among others, of course) as one of the very best of the best films I've seen this year (or ever), in Pasolini I may have discovered another master to hold in such regard. Screenshots after the jump (NSFW).

Medea
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969
We all dream of a day we'll inevitably become rock stars - modern myths, educed from our varying versions of gods - in a world barely imaginable, reliant on growth and change beyond what we persist in being. With this dream we remain lost children, disbelieving we'll ever truly "grow up" as our once-future image matures in to a dull reflection, that fantasy feeling less and less tangible. Pasolini opens his "Medea" with what could be called a deconstruction of one of the great heroes, Jason, who with his Argonauts is presented to be, while handsome, almost as savage as his adversaries. This first half, in appearances inspired by the barbarism of Robert E. Howard's "Conan" tales and akin to the otherworldly landscapes and practices through which a fledgling civilization propagates in Andrzej Żuławski's later "On the Silver Globe", reminds we the aging disenchanted to discover "magic" in the mundane; to travel this strange earth and surrender to existence's wonders - the real "gods". Tribal North African wind and strings evoke both precise beauty and primitive chaos in a naïvely violent harvest ritual and endure throughout, haunting and illuminating. A wavering of creative conviction surfaces once Euripides' narrative takes over, rendering outstanding events nearly tiresome, though this is not to damage the whole of the film, which, cut from the same brilliant cloth as "Salò", offers a gorgeous realm of legend to sit back and revel in. Screenshots after the jump.

Paranormal Activity 3
Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2011
Judging from the first two films (the priorly viewed second of which is mused over several titles below), I determined the best way to view "Paranormal Activity 3" would be, well, drunk. I cruised to the nearest convenience store, snagged two BOGOs of Mike's Harder Lemonade and went to town. Man, was I ever right. This third entry - and second prequel - in the franchise that took down "Saw" feels like the composed best we've yet seen from the growing collection of "home video" "found footage". It is the most rounded and satisfying cinematic experience of the standing trio and offers new forms of tension via panning surveillance and children's impressionable imaginations (along with new, deliciously retro set design). It's like examining the most active paranormal footage any "Ghost Hunter" could hope to find, which is silly fun enough to finally get this naysayer on the side of "Team PA" (and if that wasn't a thing, I just made it one). The biggest advantage the series has going for it is that so little story is divulged in each entry; we hang on every score-free, semi-realist moment in hopes of gleaning the newest plot point in the continual backlog (which, upon some skeptical double-checking, does in fact reference past disturbances in its chronologically later predecessors... though there are plenty of unanswered questions for a fourth entry to take care of). This is the sort of movie you actually want people in your audience screaming over and commenting on throughout. Step aside, "Shaun of the Dead", there's a new horror comedy in town... and, incidentally, only maybe 5% of the theatrical trailer footage is in the knowingly "Poltergeist"-esque final cut.

The Three Musketeers
Paul W.S. Anderson, 2011
It is difficult to admit my relative disappointment with this much-anticipated 3D follow-up on "Resident Evil: Afterlife" from W.S. Anderson, which is not the technical achievement I had hoped for. Thankfully the letdown was easy - no pretenses are held from the get-go, and the somewhat family-friendly flick has fun with how ridiculous it recognizes itself to be. To be sure, this "Pirates of the Caribbean"-esque adventure features more than enough to admire for one as desperate to come out pleased as I. Here we have an Anderson seemingly, uncharacteristically less concerned with visuals in comparison to his norm, perhaps a side effect of predominant "on location" shoots in various German castles as opposed to more controlled studio environments (though this is not to say there aren't some nice corridors and signature W.S. low angles of vast rooms). Instead Anderson is, for once, focusing more in the unwieldy story at hand - in this case one that has seen many an adaptation over the years, only few of which are worthy (my favorite I've seen easily being the 1948 Gene Kelly version). As a cute and jaunty - if cumbersome despite its obvious efforts against as much - take on Alexandre Dumas' notorious tale that features vexingly modern mentalities on celebrity, fashion and the representation of one's wealth while taking a cue or two from "The Princess Bride", "The Three Musketeers" is in fairest form with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. It falters when blatantly pandering, especially in the case of servant character Planchet, comic relief whose use is aptly compared (in context) to "a fart in a bottle". Not to be discounted are certain performances, primarily the eternally lovely and lovable, leg-flashing Milla Jovovich's of a very giddy and breathy, thereby very Milla-y assassin rendition of Milady de Winter, and a cockily flamboyant Orlando Bloom as the gaudy Duke of Buckingham. Then there's the one-eyed once more Mads Mikkelsen - ever a treat. All builds to the airship battle climax - a grand spectacle the likes of which have rarely been seen since such films as 1961's "Master of the World" - that soars on an inspired score and makes me long for a full-fledged sky pirate picture. As implied, unfortunately little to be found could not have been accomplished without 3D, though I am confident Anderson will wow me once more now that he is back to his more creatively freeing baby with the currently shooting "Resident Evil: Retribution". Speaking of "Resident Evil" (when am I not?), Anderson must love his cliffhanger ending for "Afterlife" - it's shamelessly mimicked, almost beat-for-beat, in "Musketeers"!


Further first-time viewings:

Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer - Leythum, 2011
Now this is more like it. That is, more like what I was hoping for when I checked out "The Consultant" (reviewed prior to this viewing, all the way down below). The sort of understated panache enjoyed here feels restricted from most Marvel tentpoles, which are confined by enormous spotlights and mass expectation. Yes, ultimately it is silly, but I'll be damned if it's not more worth the while (if an approximately three-minute runtime can be considered a "while") than "Thor" itself, or even the mostly enjoyable "Captain America: The First Avenger".

Holy Blood (Santa sangre) - Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989
That it feels like a carnival freak show is probably the best compliment I can pay this capably accomplished yet fatiguingly inconsistent work of surrealism (an artistic movement that so rarely sees successful translation to motion picture, am I wrong?).

Paranormal Activity 2 - Tod Williams, 2010
Better than the dully grating original if only because every other scene isn't that girl saying, "We should get out of here!" over and over. I can respect these movies' minimalism, the chimeric authenticity of which generates the feel of inglorious home video... I even found fair entertainment value in this sequel once its third act settled in... but I think my interest in programs like "Ghost Hunters" and "Paranormal State" has disintegrated my potential to truly enjoy them (note: read thoughts on "Paranormal Activity 3" above to see where I was wrong to think as much).

Bloodlust Zombies - Dan Lantz, 2011
It's exactly what you'd expect - a probably-fun-to-make technical disaster only one step above being softcore pornography, using a porn star's name on the box cover despite that star only being involved for maybe 10 minutes of total screen time (at least half of which is spent in a goofy sex scene). I think what I'm trying to say here is... great movie, you should watch it!

A Serious Man - Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2009
When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don't you want a Coen Brothers movie to love? In my case, I won't be finding as much in "A Serious Man". Positively, a sharp wit courses through the work, running from a perfectly hypocritical quoting of the lyric mentioned (from one of my favorite albums, the oft-utilized "Surrealistic Pillow" by Jefferson Airplane) and instruction in Yiddish class coming across along the lines of the "Peanuts" teacher's plunged trombone drone to the more subtle consultation signatures the Coens seem to love so much - those that typically take place across an important-looking desk that harbors an unimportant-sounding professional who traditionally exposes the greater insignificance of the proceedings (while maybe mentioning Tuckman & Marsh in the process). I suppose overall I don't have many clear negative points to make about "A Serious Man" (I mean, really, who can finite fault a film rooted in Jewish culture that earnestly cracks a nose-job joke?) but for as optimistic as I tried to be about the odd project, the whole thing fell as boring and flat as a latke. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #026.

Footloose - Craig Brewer, 2011
All you really need to know about this new "Footloose" comes from hearing Kenny Loggins' opening anthem shouted over by an obnoxious DJ, as if the '80s hit isn't enough to get the job done on its own. The energetic 1984 film and its ilk, with their shares of iconic sequences, are distinct entities of their time, and simply cannot be remade in different eras. The goals of "Footloose" in the contemporary world are sufficiently accomplished in their demographics by the likes of "Save the Last Dance" and "Step Up". Worse, apart from neoteric dance moves and signature Brewer soundtrack touches that only come across as lame when you know how they first sounded, not much has been done to update this scene-for-scene rendition outside some incoherent one-upsmanship. Think playing chicken with tractors is kiddie fare? Try "Road Warrior"-style bus racing complete with Stahlhelm-sporting opposition! So this is how most people feel when watching Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" (to provide reference, I find Van Sant's work to be, at least, an interesting experiment). At risk of sounding as fogy as John Lithgow's pastor (recreated here as comically as can be expected by Dennis Quaid), the relevance of dance as a free form of personal expression is negated by the styles of dance on display. Protagonist Ren uses the Bible to defend his case against anti-dance legislature, but I'd like him to show me where in the Bible it says, "Thou shalt grind thy anal sphincter against thy strange neighbor's phallus." All this unwarranted retread really accomplishes is a further justification of solving problems with violence (an issue seen in the original, as well) and the frustration of now having to specify versions when referring to "Footloose" (not that such a reference occurs all too often). Why is Andie MacDowell in this?

Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant - Leythum, 2011
Here, after last week's less than rewarding viewings of fan films "Portal: No Escape" and "Dark Resurrection Vol. 0", I was thinking a "Marvel One-Shot" would validate itself as a proper short film expressing certain creativities generally limited within a fanboy-littered world. Now I quote John Pinette when I say, "Nay nay." Comprising nearly half your film of footage from a preexisting feature (in this case, 2008's "The Incredible Hulk") negates this from being considered as a wholly original work, and the remainder plays as a throwaway special feature (which it in fact is... so good on Marvel, I suppose, for not overstating it... too much).


Total: 11

Rewatches (6): Forward March, Time! (Tarasov, 1977); Deep Red (Argento, 1975); Plus Electrification (Aksenchuk, 1972); Dreamcatcher (Kasdan, 2003); Shareholders (Davydov, 1963); Jumanji (Johnston, 1995)
- With each viewing the powerfully and delightfully abstract assault of sound and image that is "Forward March, Time!" becomes easier to comprehend, to the point that I now doubt my initial interpretation does little more than scratch at certain details surrounding the bigger picture.
- As if I hadn't noted it on my previous two viewings, "Deep Red" is gorgeous! What a load of good-looking fun.
- I don't think I realized how long it had actually been since I'd last seen "Dreamcatcher". I remember seeing it in theaters, totally mind-blown by the real reason behind the quarantine. I immediately stopped at a bookstore to devour Stephen King's source novel, I was so enthusiastic about what I'd seen - the unique conceptual approach to a subject I, at that point, was so in to I was practically writing notes for a could-be textbook from all my tireless research. Now, I'm wondering if this isn't my karmic consequence for disliking "Pet Sematary" so much after years of my girlfriend insisting it traumatized her when she saw it in theaters in 1989. "Dreamcatcher" isn't horrible - with some nostalgia value built in for me, the great cast that brings together Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant and Jason Lee among others and just an overall sense of Kingy fun, it's easily watchable... but man, just for starters (which is as far as I'll go here), is the acting atrocious, or what? It's as though director Lawrence Kasdan was continually reminding everyone, "Now, now, gentlemen, that's fine and all, but this is a Stephen King movie... per the outcome of his adaptations on average, we have a lack of quality standard to hold up!"