Monday, January 31, 2011

The Wages of Fear / Sorcerer

Henri-Georges Clouzot's THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953) tells the harrowing story of four down and out men stuck in a small South American town. Their only chance to make enough money to get out will in all likelihood cost them their lives. Their task is to drive two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine across miles of rugged road and deliver it to an American oil company without jarring the volatile cargo and blowing themselves up. The trucks they use are not equipped with the safety equipment necessary to transport such dangerous material. This, after a rather long setup in which we get to know the characters, makes for some tense viewing. The second hour of the movie, in which the men are en route, is filled with a mounting dread. As one hazard is avoided, another more deadly looms on the horizon. The movie is sort of a modern-day myth, the nitroglycerine a sword of Damocles suspended over their heads, waiting to drop without warning.

William Friedkin's SORCERER (1977) is based on the same source material, the novel by Georges-Jean Arnaud. The plot is basically the same as THE WAGES OF FEAR, but the storytelling is handled somewhat differently. The driving scenes with the deadly cargo seem to be a bit more dynamic in this film. I do not know whether to chalk it up to technological advances in the film industry or Friedkin's manic vision. Some of the stunts in the film look downright dangerous, even if you take the unstable cargo out of the equation. This movie had a way of pulling me in slowly and before I knew it, I was practically squirming in my seat as the driving sequences became more and more harrowing.

The setup of SORCERER is different. It's scope is sweeping. In the first fifteen minutes of the film, we travel around the world, getting glimpses of the lives of four different criminals. We witness armed robbery, terrorism, assassination, and a French business man embroiled in a financial crime that is sure to land him in prison. These are the men who will all end up in that nowhere South American town and be charged with the task of transporting the explosives. Though we spend nearly the same amount of time with the men in THE WAGES OF FEAR, no solid background information is given. In fact, they seem like basically good guys. Likable, if a bid shady. This has an interesting effect in both films. In THE WAGES OF FEAR, as the tension mounts, the characters become less and less likable. They fight, the disregard each others' safety, they put the money and the job above all else. In SORCERER, the band of criminals become more human as the movie unfolds. When we see the fear that they carry we forget they are robbers and murderers.

Both are excellent and different enough to merit watching. The premise is great and filled with ready-made tension. There is a 1958 adaptation as well, called VIOLENT ROAD, but it seems to have been forgotten. Let's hope no remakes are in the works.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Burroughs: A Man Within

Burroughs: A Man Within

You know what?  I was seriously dissapointed by this movie.  It isn't much more than a VH1 behind the music type deal.  I didn't learn anything new, though I am admittedly pretty well versed in Burrough's life and what not, and I got pretty bored toward the end.  It was slapped together rather illogically with little continuity aside from the fact that it was all about Burroughs.  There was no story or point of view.  Just because it's a documentary doesn't mean you can abandon the concept of story, in fact, you could argue that it is more important.  All the talking heads, even some of my very favorite people in the world (Iggy Pop, John Waters, Thurston Moore), just basically went on and on about how much they were in awe of Burroughs as if we were just supposed to join the crowd because they were in it.
A few outlandish claims are made, among them offering Burroughs as the most important writer of the second half of the 20th century.  Is that true?  I don't think so.  He's had a lasting impact on a certain segment of the literary population for sure but you're going to have a hard time convincing me he is more important than Albert Camus or even Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I don't want to debate this with myself, I'd say Burroughs is probably in the top ten or twenty).  His impact on literature isn't as great as Andy Warhol's on art but they are similar in several aspects.  The movie could have explored that far more deeply than it did, as it is their relationship is pretty much mentioned in passing.
I suppose I wanted something more academic.  I wanted honest and actual critiques of his prose.  I wanted his place in landscape of American literature proven to me.  But that's not what you get.  I would've been interested to see what Amiri Baraka had to say about his writing but you just get a couple of tiny sound bites.  Instead it's a bunch of celebrities and gushing biographers championing him to people who are already into Burroughs.  Just because Iggy Pop alludes to him in Gimme Some Skin, I'm supposed to take him more seriously than I already do?  I don't think so.  Patti Smith had a huge crush on him.  What am I supposed to do with that information?  I don't really know. It doesn't make me think Burroughs was any more or less a writer than he already was.  It just makes me think he had to deal with Patti Smith all the time which sounds exhausting.  They also spend a lot of time talking about Burroughs inability to love anyone or even himself.  That doesn't make him special, or particularly interesting.  A lot of people have that problem.  Not many people could produce something with the amazing literary scope of Naked Lunch or even Queer or Junky and honestly that's the Burroughs that I wanted to meet in this documentary. 
I was, and am, just as impressed by the man as everyone in this documentary.  I don't want my criticisms of the movie transposed onto Burroughs.  He'll always be one of my heroes and the only Beat I consider worthwhile.  I just wish the documentary had tried to show us how important his writing was instead of just telling us it was important.  Once I saw him in a Dillions in Lawrence, Kansas.  His famous sword cane was hanging on the handle of his cart and he was kind of shuffling down the aisle.  I almsot shit my pants.  It was cooler than the time Jim Carroll told me he liked my shirt.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Australia has been churning out slightly above average crime thrillers lately.  Animal Kingdom is supposed to be the best of the lot, it was a surprise hit at last year's Sundance.  It has even scored an Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver as the matriarch of a family of armed robbery enthusiasts. 
I think it's kind of a bunk nomination though.  I didn't find her particularly compelling.  I wasn't scared of her like a lot of other people who saw this movie.  It felt really one note to me and she kept wiggling her eyebrows to emphasize points she was making which I just found comical.  I actually didn't find the entire movie all that engrossing.  The lead actor spent most of the movie staring at his feet and mumbling which was really hard to understand since it was an Australian movie.  He just couldn't carry the movie.  His motivation is hard to determine and since you have almost no feel for his character none of his actions seem to have any forethought.  The actors playing his uncles were pretty good though and Guy Pearce delivered a solid performance through his fake mustache (Seriously, it's one of the funnier mustaches I've seen lately) so it isn't an entirely unwatchable movie.  The whole thing was pretty much just an Australian version of the 90's movie, Fresh.  The plot isn't exactly the same but it's pretty close. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trailers for Movies that Look Good


Miss Representation


The Twenty Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

1. Raging Bull

Without question Raging Bull is the greatest sports movie of all time.  I also consider it Robert De Niro's greatest performance as well.   It's brilliant in black and white and the boxing scenes, though stylized, are probably the best ever filmed.  Plus, there's this scene.

2. Hoosiers

I'm a huge basketball fan and I wish there were some more basketball movies on this list but at least there's Hoosiers.  Gene Hackman is amazing in this movie but the actor that steals the show is Dennis Hopper.  It's one of his most underrated and affecting roles.  It's the only movie where a basketball practice looks like basketball practice.

 3. When We Were Kings

When We Were Kings is the top documentary on the list.  It's a full dose of Muhammad Ali at his verbose peak which is always fun to watch but it also has his polar opposite George Foreman.  Foreman looks like he could fight a bear and rip it apart.  Plus James Brown at his funky moustachioed best and expert commentary from erudite prince of American Letters, George Plimpton and idiot douchebag Norman Mailer.

4. The Hustler

I hesitate to call billiards a "sport" but I'm not making a list of the twenty best parlor game movies.  Was anyone in America cooler than Paul Newman at this point in America?  I doubt it.

5. Breaking Away

If you've seen this movie and didn't particularly care for it, I hate you and you're a moron.

6. This Sporting Life

It's the greatest rugby movie ever made.  It's an honest look at Northern England in the early sixties and it has a gritty working class feel but This Sporting Life is also an examination of the underside of the aggression that allows Richard Harris's character to excel on the rugby field.  It is sort of a predecessor to Raging Bull.

7. Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams is a riveting documentary about two young African American basketball players in inner city Chicago.  It isn't just a basketball movie though as it delves into larger social issues such as race, class, and education.  Both of the boys are recruited to an all white basketball powerhouse in suburban Chicago, the same school Isaiah Thomas attended.  Neither of the boys lives up to there supposed potential, neither make it to the NBA or even a major college program but both find success in different avenues of life.

8, The Bad News Bears

I love this movie.  This is probably the highest movie on the list that you don't really need to enjoy, or really even like, sports to get a kick out of.  Walter Matthau gives one of the greatest performances of his career as Coach Buttermaker and Tatum O'Neil is great as the curve ball chucking Amanda.

9. Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights is easily the best football movie ever made.  It's based on the by HG Bissinger about a high school football season in Odessa, Texas during the 1980's.  Billy Bob Thornton is the coach and he's really good as he sometimes can be but he is out acted by most of the younger actors in the movie.  Lucas Black plays the QB, he was the kid in Sling Blade, and Derek Luke is Boobie Miles the superstar running back who blows out his knee.  Luke pretty much steals the whole movie, even from a pair of crutches.  

10. Eight Men Out

Eight Men Out, aside from documentaries, is the only accurate sports period piece.  It's also a John Sayles movie full of John Sayles regulars and solid actors throughout.  The level of authenticity in this movie is astounding compared to other shitty period baseball movies like Babe or Cobb.  It's the only movie on the list that Richard Edson is in as well.

11. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

This is a really underrated movie.  I'm a huge fan of the book and the movie captures the spirit completely.  It's not only a great sports movie but also a great fuck authority movie. 

12. Horse Feathers

The Marx Brothers are one of the few comedy outfits from a different era that I still find funny.  This is one of their best.  The football scenes are actually pretty good too, sure they're played for comedy but they're interesting for their period detail too.

13. Dogtown and Z-Boys

There have been a lot of skate documentaries.  This one is the best.  Stoked is pretty good and so is the one about Christian Hosoi but they don't have the weight of Dogtown and Z-Boys.  The part when they show up at the skate contest and everyone is still doing handstands and shit while they're doing all this modern crazy shit is bad ass.  Pure bad assery.

14. Killer's Kiss

This is yet another case of Stanley Kubrick being about thirty years ahead of his time.  The boxing scenes in this movie are mesmerizing and I've read that Martin Scorsese took many notes from this film in making Raging Bull.  Jim Thompson wrote the screenplay and it's tight and focused all the way through.

15. Chariots of Fire

It's kind of funny that this movie is about white English sprinters but it is in the 1920's.  The story has an Evelyn Waugh feel, the platonic man/man love affair that the British so enjoy.  It's also pretty much a storm of boaters and heavy sweaters which is awesome in its own right.

16. The Endless Summer

This is probably the first great sports documentary.  I'm not sure there is a more alluring sports culture than 60's surf culture.  It seems really laid back but on the edge at the same time.  Plus I feel like they ate a lot of tacos and burritos before they were popular.

17. Fat City

I only recently discovered Fat City.  It's a pretty amazing movie to have slipped through the cracks for this long.  Susan Tyrrell was nominated for an Oscar for her role and Stacey Keach gives one of the best performances of his career.  Add a young, eager Jeff Bridges as Keach's boxing protege and you've really got something.

18, Rudy

Rudy is one of the few really uplifting movies on my list.  It'sone of those "make you feel good" movies that I actually enjoy.  They are a rare thing.  The football scenes are pretty solid and it features a fat Jon Favreau, a skinny Vince Vaughn and the wonderful Ned Beatty and Lili Taylor in supporting roles.  Joe Montana recently came out and said the actual Rudy wasn't that big a deal, he didn't work harder than anybody else.  Which makes me think Joe Montana is probably an asshole.

19. Major League

I will never get tired of watching this one.  It was made during the time when I was really in love with baseball and it's legit funny, not just sports movie funny.  I may have seen this one more than any other movie on this list.  I was legitimately sad when James Gammon died.

20. Rocky

This almost feels cursory at this point.  I suppose I have to put it on here.  I still think the only reason this movie is worth anything is because he loses in the end.  It's amazing that Stallone wrote it and starred in it and it is as good as it is. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frozen / Hatchet

This is my first attempt at a short and minimal review of two movies by Adam Green; I will probably fail but here goes. Frozen is about three lame twenty-something ski-bums that is sort of a mix between a man vs the elements for survival (well, two men, one women) film and a bro-buddy movie. Its a pretty ridiculous movie, being that the whole premise is about these three people who get stuck on a ski lift over the period of a week while the ski resort is closed. Yeah I know, how the hell can this possible happen in a way that seems realistic AND keep my attention for 90 some odd minutes. As far as realism goes the *most* realistic part ends up being how these turds end up stuck on the chairlift which is pulled off in a way that makes the situation seem believable, but, from there on out (the survival part of the film) believable situations putter out.

I have to hand it to this one though, there was some grueling scenes to sit through that made even a hardened viewer like me cringe in my seat. Further more, accepting the pitifully pathetic situation these folks have gotten themselves into makes all of these shocking scenes seem necessary; they are not just thrown in for shock value alone though shocking they are. Ok ok, the part with the wolves was pretty fucking stupid, it would not happen. If wolves were this hungry they would be hunting down skiers all weekend but whatever, I doubt Adam Green was going for eniromental realism while making this one. The only other movie I have seen that Adam Green did was Hatchet, which I really liked because of how stupidly awesome it was and it has the best red-neck inbread villain ever named Victor Crowley.

Anyways, Frozen was pretty stupid but I enjoyed it for what it was, which is how I feel about Hatchet also but as I would probably not watch Frozen again I would indeed watch Hatchet if I was desperate enough for a good gore flick. On the Frozen poster above one critic says "Terrifying, will do to skiing what "Jaws" did to swimming".. What?? You think so?? A shark is one of the most ferociousness creatures in the world and a ski lift is a rinky-dink shitstack used for pulling yuppies to the top of a hill over and over again, I just cant agree with that comparison any less; I am in no way more afraid of snow sports now then I was before I watched Frozen though they do still seem pretty boring to me, I think I would be afraid of breaking my leg falling down..

All in all (if you could not figure this out by now) I would have *really* liked Frozen way more if Victor Crowley came thrashing through the snow to tear these ski bums faces in half instead of a pack of hungry wolves, but, for a one time viewing only I would say sure, give it a shot.

Just for fun, here is how Mr Crowley is introduced in hatchet. This dude could have drop kicked all the wolves out of the ski valley while proceeding to massacre these three snow pansies. I think a remake is in demand.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Inspector Bellamy

Before the movie started--the lights were up and people were still talking freely--I shot off a quick text message to a friend. I then put my phone in my pocket (the volume was already off) and watched the remaining trailers. The announcement then came up that asked patrons to please not use use their cell phones to talk or text during the movie and I heard the woman behind me croak "no texting" from a larynx that sounded as if it hadn't met with a drop of water in four days. It was clear that the utterance was meant for me. I wanted to turn around and confront her, saying that I was fully capable of reading and do not have trouble following the polite requests made by movie theaters. Once the lights are down I'm a perfect angel. If I see a cell phone light up during a movie my blood immediately begins to boil.

So, anyway, INSPECTOR BELLAMY begins. Mere minutes into the film I hear the woman's purse behind me: ZIIIIPPPPPPPPPP! Then she begins to blindly root around in it, jingling keys and change. Then Gerard Depardieu shows up on screen. "That's Gerard Depardieu," she says to the man accompanying her. "Look how fat he is." "Yeah, he's fat now," the man agrees. These penetrating insights continued sporadically for twenty or so minutes before they finally settled in and shut up. Perhaps the idea that they were in a movie theater had finally soaked in. This was the same woman who was worried about the possibility that I would whip out my phone and, like a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl, start texting during a movie that, gee, might require my full attention. It's easy to point the finger at technology, as annoying and invasive as it can be at the movies, but let's not forget the number one sin: flapping your stupid gums while other people are trying to watch.

I like Claude Chabrol. If his name is attached to a movie, I will make a point to see it. You could consider me a fan. INSPECTOR BELLAMY is, due to the director's death last September, Chabrol's last film and the first one I have had the opportunity to see in the theater. Unfortunately for me, I slept poorly the night before and during the first hour of the film caught myself dozing off several times. I missed very little, since each time I awoke immediately as soon as I felt my neck go slack.

The movie has a very Claude Chabrol feel to it. Though they call him the Hitchcock of France, his movies are really not much like those of Hitchcock. They are looser, elliptical, with the mystery taking a back seat to the quieter moments reserved for character study. Though it is not a huge ensemble piece, there are many characters in the movie, including two that for reasons of plotting look a great deal alike. Keeping things straight was a bit difficult for me, due to my series of micro-naps. Even during the last hour of the film, when I had come to, I felt that the film was always a step (if not two) ahead of me. There are essentially two plots to follow. The murder plot, the more complex of the two, is buried behind the family drama involving Bellamy, his wife, and his brother. All in all, the ending was satisfying. The relationship between Bellamy and his wife was endearing and sweet. The moments involving death were nicely done and appeared in sunny, natural settings that might be thought of as mundane were it not for their beauty. But, in all honesty, I'd have to watch it again to get a better understanding of what exactly happened.

This, though, I have found is typical with a lot of Chabrol's films. You're waiting for the PSYCHO shower scene and it doesn't show up--at least not when you think it will. He examines suspense from a different angle. I've probably seen twenty or so (out of the seventy he made!) and I'd rank this one somewhere in the top half. The first of his films that I saw, LA CEREMONIE, happens to be my favorite. It sent me out in search of his other work and merited a couple of re-watches. Rest In Peace, Claude. If there is a silver lining it's that I still have about fifty of your movies still left on my checklist.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine

Immediately after seeing this movie I wandered around the parking lot looking for my car for what seemed like a half hour (but was probably only five).  I actually got to the point where I was making a contingency plan for if my car had actually been stolen, I didn't have my phone, I was going to have to try and call Sean if there was a pay phone since his is the  only phone number that I have memorized for some reason, walking home etc, etc.  It isn't odd for me to have to do this at El Con, especially if the movie was decent.  Also, when I was a kid our car got stolen from the Boulevard Twin while we were watching Casualties of War so I always think it's stolen when I can't find it.  Then I found it right where I left it. 
So, Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance's labor of love about the disintegration of love proved just as devastating as I'd read in other reviews.  Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were transfixing.  Their drama felt real, at times too real, and the way the story was put together only intensified as it progressed.  The juxtaposition of the beginning and the end of their relationship, the obvious high and low points, only made the peak and valley seem a greater distance apart. It will be impossible to see this movie and not relate it to your own past relationships.  There is just too much truth in it.  It also pretty much guarantees I will never see it again.
The controversy surrounding this movie, the initial NC-17 rating is ridiculous.  The idea that this movie should receive that rating is beyond my comprehension.  The scene in question, where Ryan Gosling's Dean wants to have sex and Michelle Williams' Cindy doesn't but consents initially before Dean backs off isn't particularly graphic.  It is fraught with a lot of emotional turmoil but it's hardly the sort of scene that should garner an NC-17.  In fact, I saw almost the exact same scene in season 2 of Mad Men when Joan's husband makes her have sex with him at her office. 
I don't really know why they have an NC-17.  Check out this list from wikipedia of movies that were, at least initially, rated NC-17.  Some of the movies on the list I suppose are a step above most R rated movies.  Base Moi or Salo I could see.  But Irreversible isn't on the list and neither is Lars Von Trier's The Idiots.  I agree with Roger Ebert, there are only two meaningful ratings, R and not R.
I highly recommend Blue Valentine but I recommend you see it by yourself.  I love seeing movies alone but most people only do it once in awhile.  There are some movies I want to see with other people and some I want to see by myself.  A lot of the ones I see by myself either have very limited appeal or such wide appeal that I don't want anyone to know that I saw it in the theater.  But with Blue Valentine I suggest you give it a try.  Also, it felt like an argument starter, I saw a couple of couples walk out of it looking pretty glum.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trailers for Movies that Look Good

Vidal Sassoon the Movie



Ten Best Films I Saw This Year

Obviously there are several movies I didn't get to see that came out in 2010.  These movies are the best ones that I saw in no particular order:

Winter's Bone

I saw this in Houston when Sean and I took a road trip during the summer.  We went to the zoo, suffered some unbearable humidity then got soaked by a rain storm.  We were still soaked when we went into the theater and just got colder as the movie progressed.  There is not a single misstep in this movie.  Every performance is perfect, especially John Hawkes as Uncle Teardrop.  It also confirms every creeping suspicion you ever had about the Ozarks.

The Social Network

This movie reminded me of Michael Mann's The Insider in that it was a really well made movie about a subject matter that I cared little to nothing about.  Crafting a story about a bunch of self important assholes arguing about who started Facebook must have been hard work but Aaron Sorkin's script is one of the best of the year.  Solid performances all around and David Fincher continues to propel himself to the forefront of American directors.

True Grit

This was pretty much guaranteed to make the list as soon as it was announced.  In no way did it disappoint.

A Prophet

Did everyone forget about A Prophet?  It sure feels like it.  Initially a lot of critics compared it to Goodfellas which I think is a little lofty but this is still a good film and one of the best crime dramas of the last ten years.


Greenberg was by far the funniest movie of the year.  It also boasts Ben Stiller's best work since his short stint on Curb Your Enthusiasm and before that the Royal Tenenbaums.  Greta Gerwig is also becoming one of my favorite actresses and one of the few good things to come out of mumblecore (ugh, fuck).


I'm still not entirely sure what to make of this movie.  It is brazen and hilarious but still something of a mystery.  Also I'm pretty sure it's the only Greek movie I have ever seen.

Black Swan

This is Natalie Portman's best performance by a long shot.  Her film choices are slightly perplexing and she never quite seems to deliver all I think she can deliver.  Before Black Swan I think her best acting was in V for Vendetta which I thought was just okay.  I found her riveting in this film.  And Mila Kunis was tolerable which is a big step up.

The Red Riding Trilogy

The Red Riding Trilogy flew under the radar of most people this year.  Based on four books by David Pease the trilogy is British crime at its best.  All three of the movies have different directors but were all written by the same screenwriter, Tony Grisoni.  I've only read the first book but the first movie captured the tone, all the dark and grit, quite well.  Paddy Considine is in the second one giving probably the best performance of the trilogy.

White Material

The stunning look of this film accompanied by Isabelle Huppert's amazing performance easily landed it on my list.  When you combine her performance in this movie with the one she gave in The Piano Teacher as well as a slew of other great roles I expect you may find that she is one of, if not the, best actress working today.  It's a shame she isn't more well known in America.

Last Train Home

This is the only documentary on my list.  It's also the saddest and most beautiful.  If I had to pick a favorite film of the year this would probably be it.  Just watch it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1

MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY #1 features a heavier, more famous Jacques Mesrine. No longer using material from Mesrine's autobiography, the second film follows the later exploits of the criminal. Mesrine's growing celebrity did not stop him from robbing banks, shooting people, and plotting right up to his final days.

He claimed no prison could hold him and that seemed to be the case, for PUBLIC ENEMY #1 features yet another prison break. He grants an interview with one reporter, yet kidnaps and murders another. He robs one bank and after he's done, he impulsively crosses the street to hit another one.

I liked this one a great deal, though after my initial viewing I think I preferred KILLER INSTINCT just a tad bit more. I think that this was at least in part due to the character Jeanne Schneider, played by Cecile de France. There is something quintessentially French about her, smoking cigarettes alone in the bar where she initially meets Mesrine, her eyes obscured behind the tint of her glasses. Mere film-seconds later we see her wielding a shotgun, aiding and abetting Jacques with an armed robbery. It seems for a moment that the film is shaping up to be a Bonnie and Clyde style crime picture, but not so. Their time together, as it seems Mesrine's time with anyone, is brief. The romanticism of KILLER INSTINCT is significantly diminished in PUBLIC ENEMY #1.

That is the jarring thing about both of the MESRINE films. There seems to be no overarching story. Characters come and go, MESRINE is constantly shifting its focus, and events seem downright episodic. In that sense, it is a lot like a life. More like a book than a movie, perhaps. Movies have always been these tightly-structured things that strive to tie up all the loose ends. The MESRINE films are not like that. He seems to align himself with whoever is around. There is no overarching story except that of Mesrine himself. Mesrine does not seem to be motivated by mere wealth and the interview he grants Liberation seems to confirm that he wants something more, a sort of freedom, an utterly unconventional life. It is the first time we see Jacques involved in any kind of introspection.

There is a sort of warning at the beginning of each film. Life is a complex thing, it warns, and to accurately transpose a human life into a film is an impossible task (or something to that effect). I like that. It made me chuckle a bit. It seems very French.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

There's a lot crammed into these two hours. Like KILL BILL, MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT is actually the first in a series of two movies that were released in quick succession. KILLER INSTINCT, being the first, is the origin story of Jacques Mesrine, a real-life criminal, and based on the autobiography he wrote during a stretch in prison.

The pacing of KILLER INSTINCT is fast. We see Jacques' criminal activity escalate with every new endeavor. The wife and family he seemed to love so dearly take a back seat to Mesrine's involvement with the criminal underworld. One gets the impression that Jacques really does love his wife and children but that there is something else inside of him, a need to strike out violently, a need to live a completely unconventional life, that will always make them secondary to armed robbery and murder. This complexity works so well in part due to the excellent performance by Vincent Cassel. Cassel's Mesrine, as an unsavory a character as you're likely to find, exudes charm and purpose, and for that you cannot help but to root for him.

There is a rather long prison sequence in which Mesrine is subject to the cruelty of the warden and guards. He vows to escape and before long does. In what has got to be one of the boldest moves in history, Mesrine and another former prisoner launch an attack on the prison in an attempt to make good on a promise to come back and free the remaining prisoners. They are two men in a pickup truck, albeit heavily armed, waging war against teams of snipers clustered in the guard towers. While they are unable to free the prisoners, Mesrine and his accomplice escape with only a few bullet wounds.

I sat contentedly, knowing there was another movie's worth of Mesrine right around the corner. I could go for another six hours of this, easily, I told myself. The acting is top-notch (and features a dude that it took fifteen minutes for me to realize was Gerard Depardieu,) the story gripping, and the action riveting. There was never any question in my mind that what was to come wouldn't live up to my expectations.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch

Watching this movie was like cumming for an hour and a half straight.  No, wait, it was the exact opposite of that.

White Material

White Material

White Material is a film about a French woman trying to hold on to her coffee plantation while a civil war rages around her in an unnamed African country.  Everything around her is in shambles, the country, the plantation, her family and perhaps even her own brain but she has found something to ground her to reality:  saving the coffee harvest.  Her work crew is continually quitting and her ex husband is trying to sell the plantation out from under her and through most of the movie, her son just sleeps and lazes about. 
Isabelle Huppert is phenomenal as Maria.  Her focus and total submersion into her role blew me away.  I found her thoroughly engaging throughout the film and her plight felt real.  That's a real gauge for me.  Does a character's plight feel real?  In this case everything feels shockingly real, especially Huppert's performance.  I was also pleasantly surprised by Christopher Lambert's turn as Maria's ex husband.  Where have you heard the name Christopher Lambert?  From watching Highlander, nerd.  His exasperation and realization of the danger of their situation is visceral and affecting.  Their adult son, Manuel undergoes a strange transformation during the film that I'm not sure I enjoyed as overtly as the other two main performances.  By film's end he has basically joined the group of child soldiers in their random destruction and random pill popping.  It is a strange character arc but interesting nonetheless. 
Even with the amazing acting in the movie I felt like the real star of the film was the cinematography.  I felt as though I could have watched this movie without dialogue or maybe without subtitles.  It stopped short of Terrance Malick territory but it had some aspects of his work sprinkled through the film.  The quiet shots of the coffee plantation and the scenes of the harvesting were beautiful and soothing.  These images provide direct contrast to the actions talking place in the film.  The band of child soldiers lurking around the plantation are a consistent source of terror to the family whether they are willing to admit it or not.
Even though I was left with a sort of despairing pit in my stomach after the movie, I felt invigorated by seeing such a well directed and and well acted film.  Claire Denis lived up to the hype surrounding her for the first time in my eyes and I look forward to what she might do next.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Enter the Void

Enter the Void was a movie going experience I had anticipated since I first caught wind of it. From the little I knew about the film (which was in fact very little, as far as I can remember I knew it was *maybe* about life and death with some birth/rebirth thrown in, this all being presented to viewer as though one was under the influence of hallucinatory drugs and experiencing these situations with the main character(s) as the film progressed) it seemed like something I may enjoy but then at the same time it could just be a cheap mind fuck that leaves me with a headache in the end.

So which one was it? Well....

On one hand this experience was unlike any other movie that I have watched in the past. It is a large dose of experimental film , if that's not your bag then pass on this one. The Void drags you (more like "floats" you as the film goes on, more on that later) through neon lit Tokyo on a journey that goes beyond what most mainstream movies concerning similar subject matter would care to come close to. Needless to say, Gaspar Noe has some balls and I tend to respect a director who is not afraid to let their pair hang out, especially in a field where most directors are ball-less due to neglect. But what about the overuse/abuse of flashing lights and the near three hour length? Are these the sort of examples I like when talking about a film having balls? Nope. How about a plot? There is a loose plot with the same recurring characters but overall I feel as though all of that is the sub-plot for the actual plot which I am not completely sure of but here goes: (*spoilers??*)

Seizure inducing (prefix to all scenes) credits (that are pretty cool) -- DMT, Good times, bad times, tripping balls, party time, some fucking, flashbacks of family trauma, getting too high, the law- death, --interlude-- floating POV (neat) which may/may not mimic being on the receiving end of an astral projection with the "silver cord" keeping the camera at bay, bright orange lights flickering constantly, transparent buildings, more flashing lights, fighting, hyper-color sunburst fellatio, headache inducing lights, tons of fucking +(finale) POV from vagina then POV from sperm, birth, nipple , blackness - the end. There is also a really amazing scaled down model of tokyo in the movie.

Ok, sure, I probably left something out and am not giving Enter the Void the story-crafting credit it deserves (though, all funny business aside, the entire plot is foreshadowed several times in about thirty seconds of dialogue) but who gives a shit, this movie is more about the visual experience which pretty much ended up giving me a headache in the end but I voluntary went on the ride and was anxiously wanting to turn the next corner all the way to the very end. I also dozed off for a couple minutes in the middle and somehow feel this added to the film, which is pretty strange for me. Several times throughout the movie I kept thinking of Tetsuo: Iron Man, another visually assaulting experimentalish movie that felt a tad to long at a somewhat short 67 minutes. Enter the void is nearly *three* hours long...enough is enough, really, I get it., well actually maybe I don't - but I got "it" in one hour.. I can do three hours of Lynch but not of Noe. I don't think I would watch this film again and yet still recommend it to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting because that it is; very unique but like Noe's breakthrough movie "Irreversible" once is enough due to the mental and visual pounding one receives while watching.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Black Swan

The Black Swan

In the last couple of years there have been a few movies released that Lauren and I have greatly anticipated, Antichrist is a prime example, only to loose interest as soon as they are released.  Usually it is something we, at least I, feel like we are supposed to see and, as young intelligent people, enjoy.  Black Swan was quickly becoming one of those movies but I pulled the trigger and saw it by myself at an eleven o'clock show.  The first showing of the day is always my favorite, my second favorite is the last.  I love an impromptu late movie.
I'm glad I went because seeing it on the big screen was definitely worth it.
Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina finally getting her break as the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake.  Nina is a technically adept dancer but lacks feeling.  Portman plays her very rigid for most of the movie, almost to the point of wooden.  The superficial plot of the movie involves Nina trying to get in touch with her sensual side in order to properly dance the Black Swan scenes as she has already mastered the scenes for the White Swan.  I'm not sure to what extent a body double was used but most of the dancing appeared to have been done by Portman.  She is mesmerizing in these scenes and owns the screen in ways she never has before.   
Vincent Cassel plays the director of the production with his patented mixture of sleaze and austerity.  He attempts to coax Nina into becoming "free" by forcing himself on her and giving her homework assignments like, "go home and touch yourself."  This role could have easily gone two dimensional but Cassel plays it with so much personality. As Nina sinks into her role, her mental state begins to weaken and fracture.  Her mother, played with dexterous severity by Barbara Hershey, is no help to her.  She acts as a torrid force in her life pushing her forward and holding her back at the same time.  The pressure from her mother at home nearly equals the pressure put on her by the director and the production.  She begins to crack further when another dancer, Mila Kunis (bearable for the first time ever), inserts herself into her life.  Nina sees in her, sometimes literally, the aspects of the Swan Queen role that she cannot seem to master. 
Even from the trailer you can tell that there are a number of motifs throughout the film color, dual identity, but chief among them is Nina's physical transformation into a literal swan.  I wasn't sure how that was going to play going into the movie since you see her pull a feather from her skin in the trailer but Darren Aronofsky really did something amazing with it at the end. 
Speaking of the end, Black Swan has one of the best endings of a film in 2010.  The performance of the ballet is exquisitely shot and Natalie Portman is mesmerizing.  It does get a little too mind fuck-y but I thought it was great.  So many movies give you the build up and just let the third act go to hell.  They're like sneezes where you can feel it coming and coming and then you loose it.  But of course, you still need to sneeze.  The Black Swan has a great sneeze.
The only part of the movie I didn't care for was Winona Ryder as an older dancer forced into retirement.  The entire role seemed unnecessary.  I only mention it because I desperately want Winona Ryder to be good for some reason.  Maybe it's because she was in Lucas.

2010: The Five Worst Movies I Saw In The Theater

Alice In Wonderland

Honestly, I don't know if there are words to describe how horrible this was.  It did it's best to make me want to vomit from start to finish.  If only it had succeeded.

Dinner for Schmucks

I desperately wanted to one thing to be funny about this movie.  One thing.  I wanted to crack a single smile.  I wanted the corner of my lips to curl just once with a hint of satisfaction.  No luck.  What a piece of shit.  The actors in this movie are no longer acceptable barometers of anything movie related.  That goes for you as well Mr. Rudd.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

When my brother watched this movie he texted me and said, "There's too much going on in this movie for me."  Too much bullshit, that is.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans is everything a movie shouldn't be.

The Expendables

Initially I had Wolfman in this slot but Lauren convinced me, correctly, that it wasn't that bad due to the amount of laughable scenes it offered.  So I added this steaming pile.