Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
I think I had a better year at the movies in 2010 then most people. Partially because I don’t think I was quite as enamored by 2009 as most. Partially because even in the films I didn’t like all that much I couldn’t help but find a weird ramshackled charm (hello Wolfman). Either way any year that can add as many fine movies to my rotation as this top ten is a good year by my count. I don’t think this year has been any worse for good movies really, just that they were more spread out. A full third of my list is made up of movies that were released by March, two of which were originally supposed to come out in 2009. One can be forgiven for forgetting about them at the end of the tally.
Eitherway I had a lot of fun at the movies this year. Despite the next couple of films...
District B-13 Ultimatum:
A Parkour Movie without Parkour and a buddy movie without buddies. I saw worse movies this year then District B-13 Ultimatum, but none so completely pointless.
Death At A Funeral:
A sad waste of genuine talent and funny source material. Unfunny, overblown and completely tone deaf. Like watching an Oscar Wilde play performed by a really shitty dinner theater. Except that dinner theater is staffed by the usually charming likes of Chris Rock, James Marsden, Keith David, Zoe Salanda and several other usually charismatic actors, all turning in career worst work.
A Nightmare On Elm Street: This movie broke something in me. I seriously have about thirty percent less tolerance for Hollywood Assembly line Bullshit having seen it. A more jaw dropping waste of time you will not see.
The 3rd Annual Southland Tales Award For Movie I Liked For No Good Reason:
Legend Of The Guardians: Goofily sincere and sincerely goofy. Zack Synder decided to make a movie about owls. Owls who fight. For no other reason, as far as I can tell then he thought it would be neat. You've gotta love this guy a little.
Though it is my least favorite of his films it is the one that sums up best why I have so much affection for him as a filmmaker. It’s the obvious and genuine pleasure he takes from telling his stories. The fact that with each one you can almost hear him say “Gee, this is cool!”
Alice In Wonderland: The ultimate “Is what it is.” movie. I can understand why people didn’t love Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. I cannot understand why they acted like he took a shit in their Grandmother’s purse when he delivered what is at worst, a modestly entertaining, visually inventive, Fantasy B-Movie. Play it on a double bill with Ladyhawke and I’ll guarentee you’ll like it Better.
Most Pleasant Surprises:
Waking Sleeping Beauty: A rarity of rarities. A glimpse inside the sausage factory that makes you admire the finished product more rather then less. About as honest a look inside the mouse house as we can expect from the source, with some truly beautiful artwork.
It is kept off the top ten list only by the fact that it ends ten minutes too soon.
Let Me In: This film feels impossibly good. A seemingly pointless remake that brought out new and fascinating dimensions to the story it told. The best horror film of the year (depending on what you consider Black Swan).
The Book Of Eli: I feel bad about this one. Before the one two punch of Black Swan and True Grit, Eli was the film that kicked off my top ten list. The Book Of Eli was the most pleasant surprise I had in a theater this year. I came to it with zero expectations and ended up kind of blown away. It’s the type of film that made me a genre fan. The type that’s become all too rare in the modern day. The kind I find I miss more and more as I get older as a filmgoer. A solid genre movie with a well told and crafted story, a real sense of care taken with its characters, a real sense of place given to its world and a visual style that is both imaginative and just plain cool.
It sounds simple so why is it evidently so fucking hard to deliver?
Ad to that the bonus that it’s one of the few movies religious movies I’ve ever seen that is truly even handed, neither demonizing Christianity nor ignoring it’s dark side. It let the Hughes Brothers out of movie jail and allows them to orchestrate some serious mayhem. It has Denzel Washington at his most badass, Gary Oldman in full on EVVVERRRYYOOONNEEE mode. Tom Waits, Ray Stevenson, Mila Kunis and Michael Gambon as a cannibal.
What’s not to like?
10. Kick Ass:
Kick Ass is a dirty, nasty, violent, utterly wrong thinking slice of id trawled up from the very depths of Mark Millar’s subconscious and given a glossy sheen by Matthew Vaughn that makes everything even more demented. It’s a movie that positively dares you to be upset by it, slaps you upside your head and calls you a “pussy.” It features sequences that are genuinely unhinged. Where else can you watch a fifteen year old kid riding a jetpack, machine gun down a roomful of grown men while Elvis croons The Battle Hymn Of The Republic?
And it put a demented grin on my face that just refuse to go away.
If I had doodled this movie in my notebooks in Jr. High they would have put me in a mental institute.
Bolstered by the most old school Nicholas Cage performance in fifteen years, the star making turn from Chloe Morentz and some of the most mind blowing action put on screen this fair decade, Kick Ass remains the ultimate “bad for you” hit of the year. That something this utterly disreputable played on American multiplex screens brings a tear to my eye.
Glory Glory Hallelujah indeed.
9. Toy Story 3 : I still say it lacks the perfection of Toy Story 2, which is one of the most natural synthesizes of narrative and metaphor I’ve ever seen. But there’s no denying that Toy Story 3 is a movie that is astounding both in it’s ambition and emotion. It brings it story to a close in fine fashion, had sequences as beautiful as anything American Animation has produced and made Michael Keaton funny on screen again. Can’t ask for much more then that.
8. A Prophet: Live wire filmmaking, propulsive and punishing. The typical story of a man losing his soul and gaining the prison yard given new juice by the slightest of amoral tweaks.
Yes Malik does terrible things to survive in A Prophet. But when he arrived at the prison he was nothing, an illiterate unformed boy straight out of Dickens. In his rise to power he makes himself in a way society refused to do. And as the film ends the question is asked is he worse off now then when he came in? The subversive answer is “No.”
7. True Grit: The Coen brother’s once again hit it right out of the park. This time turning their skewed lens on a work of Americana and making it monstrous. It’s hard to decide which is the most impressive, how thoroughly warped and nightmarish they make the world traveled by its trio. Or how thoroughly the story retains its power regardless.
Maybe that’s not remarkable as all that. After all the Coen’s vision and the story’s power stem from the same sentiment. One that was articulated before in their second movie, and best of all in Night Of The Hunter, the film closest to this in terms of tone.
“It’s a hard world for little things.”
6. Scott Pilgrim: The most infectious, inventive, joyful movie I saw this year. Edgar Wright may never get to make a movie this confident and completely himself again, but Damnit he had it in him. A full extension of one of the most singular comic voices working today.
This is a film that simultaneously managed to really pushed the cinematic language, be the best musical, comedy and one of the best action movies of the year. Not to mention that it featured one of the funniest ensemble casts in recent memory, including dead pan performances by Brandon Routh(?!?) and Chris Evans (!!??!?) that made me laugh harder then anything else seen on screen this year (!?!?!?!???!)
If a more sheerly pleasurable movie was released this year then man I missed it.
5. Inception: I’m still completely gobsmacked by what Nolan has done here. When all the silly partisan bickering about Nolan fades away this film will remain. An idiosyncratic wonder. Proof positive that work that is epic, imaginative and heartfelt can not only exist in the mainstream but thrive there.
It’s a work of staggering ambition and imagination and though I’ve seen it about six times already, I can’t help but feel the sneaking suspicion that I still don’t know the half of what is going on in it.
4. Black Swan: Mercurial, hypnotic and astounding. The final and perfect synthesis of Aronofsky the stylist and Aronofsky the storyteller. Five films in and I have the sneaking suspicious he is only just beginning.
3. Shutter Island: Dismissed by many as minor Scorsese Shutter Island has grown in my subconscience immensely since the initial viewing. Each time I watch it I find myself pulled further down into its dark spell.
It’s a portrait of suffering on a mental physical and spiritual level. Like his idol’s of the studio system, he has used an unassuming entertainment to get across a stunning artistic vision. One of the few film’s I’ve ever seen to totally match it’s source material, Scorsese and crew come up with one final turn of the screw that beats Lehane at his own game.
Visually and aurally sumptuous, with one of the greatest casts that Scorsese has ever gotten to play with (when was the last time you saw someone actually push Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow rather then just trot them out). Shutter Island is like an excellent Pinot Noir, with arsenic sprinkled in it.
2. The Town: No doubt this film at this entry will come as a surprise to some people. And I’ll admit that while putting the finishing touches on this column I tried moving it around. Just to see how it’d look at different numbers. And it looked like a lie.
The truth is there is no film that I enjoyed more thoroughly this year. Not just the best crime movie since Heat, The Town is a great old fashioned piece of craft that could have been made in any era. It could have been made in the thirties with Cagney in the Affleck role and Bogart as Renner. It’s a film that established Affleck as a major talent, if only for the way he cut out the core of the story from the over stuffed source material with a surgeon’s skill.
From the excellent performances by the central trio of Affleck, Hamm and Renner to the great one scene cameo’s by Chris Cooper and Pete Postlewaithe, each doing career best work. To the great set pieces like the already iconic “Nun” robbery which ends with perhaps the most perfect moment I saw this year on screen.
The Town may not do anything that hasn’t been done before. But it does it so remarkably well that I cannot help but be a little blown away by the sheer care and craft of it.
1. Winters Bone: Like True Grit this is the story of a strong willed, rural girl, out to deal with the fate of her Father. Unlike True Grit, Winter's Bone never winks.
Call it what you will, Hillbilly Noir, American Neo Realism no other film this year brought it’s setting and its characters to such vivid life. And no film made me invest so deeply in them.
John Hawkes Uncle Teardrop, a man tending to the last dying embers of decency within himself, even if we see him at his most utterly corrupt, is the most fascinating character I’ve encountered in fiction this year. And the fact that he doesn’t for one second come in danger of simply bulldozing young Ree tells you how astounding Jennifer Lawrence is.
For all its many forms film remains to me at it’s core a source of empathy. And no film personifies that quite like Winter’s Bone.
Thanks so much for sticking with Things That Don’t Suck throught 2010. I have some great plans for next year, and look forward to things getting better and better here. So for all those who took the time to read and/or follow, allow me to offer my sincerest Thank You.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The harshest critics of True Grit have accused the film of being the Coen’s in a minor key. After the existential demo derby that made up No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading, and A Serious Man, I should feel a little worried if the Coen’s didn’t take a bit of a breather. The difference is, I don’t see a "lighter" tone as necessarily signifying a step down.
Though I love the Coen’s who brought us that extremely disquieting trilogy, I love to Coen’s who are prankster’s. The one’s who in Raising Arizona, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Big Lebowski and even Fargo, more or less handed out a box of exploding cigar’s to the general public. All so they could see our faces when they went off.
And it’s those Coen’s, the one’s who act as funhouse mirrors, who show up in True Grit. They take Henry Hathaway’s gooey (though judging by most of the reviews I’ve read of the remake unfairly undervalued) slice of Americana and turn it into a gothic, shambling, stark, nightmare comedy. With Roger Deakin’s superlative cinematography the Coen’s get as far from the vision wide open spaces the original featured as they possibly can. The Innocent in True Grit is delivered to a grey land filled with dying scrub, where all the trees tall enough to be of any consequence seem to have eyeless corpses hanging from them. . It’s a stark strange world inhabited by stark strange people. Like the two children (?) We see poking a tied horse with a sharpened stick for want of any other entertainment, or the dentist in a bear suit willing to sell a corpse sans teeth. If Diane Arbus ever shot a western it’d look an awful lot like True Grit. It’s a vision of an Innocent Girl cast into hell. With only a drunken shambling wreck and a vainglorious ranger who is at least half talk for guardians.
And it’s pretty fucking funny.
If nothing else True Grit remains one of the most simply pleasurable films I’ve watched all year. If there are directors (or writers) other then the Coen’s who can score laughter strictly from Cadence they do not leap directly to mind. (You just watch the lines “It would be alright” “You are not ‘Le Beef’” and “I do not know this man” may not seem like laugh riots on the surface but just see if they don’t get to you.)
As to be expected there’s nothing in the film technically that is not top notch and filmed with skewed imagination. The cast included. Bridges Cogburn has been praised so much it is difficult to know were to begin. Suffice to say he manages every bit of a difficult multi faceted character, and is able to make him equally and separately iconic then Wayne’s. Damon seems to be getting the short end of the praise here, but he performs the role of La Boeuf with a kind of comic perfection. Hailee Stanfield of course stands at the center of the film, and the Coen’s gamble paid off. She takes to the Coen’s dialogue so well she almost seems a prodigy. Barry Pepper, all broke tooth menace and Josh Brolin, playing Chaney as a man all the more dangerous for being a half witted buck toothed Podunk moron.
True Grit is one of those films I find difficult to write about because of how much it does so awfully well. Funny, scary, exciting, genuinely heartfelt and pushed by the skewed vision of a couple of geniuses. The only fault I can find in the film comes with the shrug of an epilogue (though that last shot with that music is a doozy) and Carter Burnwell’s lacking score. Building the score around the motif of “The Everlasting Arms” is a good one (As well as being one of the film’s many nods to Night Of The Hunter. To which this film could easily be a spiritual sibling if that most singular of films can ever be said to have one. ) . But that ends up becoming almost the only cue we hear in the last third of the movie and it is unbelievably tedious.
I can only hope that the making of True Grit has not scratched the Coen’s western itch. They are too damn good at it. I recall when Burn came out Ethan Coen mentioning that they had written a Spaghetti Western, which Ethan promised “Had a scene with a Chicken you would never forget.” Perhaps there is no better compliment I can pay True Grit, then it desperately makes me want to see that scene with the chicken.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Like its mercurial heroine it’s hard to pin down just what Black Swan is as a film.
That rare erotic movie that is actually erotic? One of the greatest “Body Horrror” films ever made (There are more loving lingering shots to the aftermath of grievous bodily harm than in any movie this side of Cronenberg’s Crash)? A shameless appropriation of Michael Powell? The greatest Head film of the last decade? Yes, yes, yes, yes and more.
It’s as if Roman Polanski and Dario Argento teamed up to remake The Red Shoes. It’s as if Eyes Wide Shut era Stanley Kubrick went completely mental. Yet for all the influences it wears, for all the masters it brings to mind, for all the things it embodies, there is something in Black Swan that makes it unquestionably Aronofsky’s and unquestionably itself. Maybe it’s something as simple as the fact that it’s impossible to imagine any of the aforementioned directors would be loose enough to insert an out and out gag into their film right before the big climax.
Black Swan is of course, the story of a young ballet dancer played by Natalie Portman. Things begin to unravel for her when she wins the lead role in "Swan Lake". A part that forces her to tap into some seriously repressed id. Things are exacerbated by the appearance of a rival played by Mila Kunis, who has a direct line to said id. Much madness/sexiness ensues.
Natalie Portman is a revelation here. Up until this point I always considered her an actress who would never rise past “Good”. She has her bag of tricks, and her performances are always just as good as how well the director knows how to showcase those tricks. The film plays as a very knowing take on her “good girl” persona. To the point were I find it kind of impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. She’s tried to play against that persona before. But that work always felt very calculated. Her work in films like Closer was all very White Swan. This role is pure Black. There are shots in the film were she looks twelve and shots were she looks fifty. And when she finally dances The Black Swan she genuinely seems like someone who I’ve never seen before.
Mila Kunis as the other half of the duo, does some shockingly credible work here. I’ve always thought of her as a very undervalued actress. She’s been in some stinkers (Max Payne anyone?) but anyone who watches Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Extract and does not see one seriously sharp comedienne is not looking hard enough. Even in straight roles, like The Book Of Eli, she’s been charming. Still it’d hardly be an insult to point out that she’s never had a role that pushes her this far out of her comfort zone before. She’s playing with the big boys here and I for one think she performs admirably. She’s all anime eyes and salaciousness, who promises to be an obscene amount of fun. Only she could offer the line “Was I good?” and have it suggest about five distinct levels of mischief, each more malignant then the last.
Rounding out the cast is Vincent Cassell, who yields his experience like a weapon, and Winnoa Ryder in a small but crucial role. One which seems almost a bit of a waste until she absolutely detonates in her last scene (And can I just point out how strange it is that someone who was a sex symbol in my lifetime is now playing “Mom” roles almost exclusively)
At the end of the day the star is Aronofsky. As always with Aronofsky it’s a cinema of obsession. Perhaps no other director in recent memory has devoted so much screen time to the fetishtic preparation of things. The shots of the ballet dancers fiercely ripping out their seams, battering their equipment, and wrapping their bruised flesh, is shot with the same unrelenting detail as The Fighters building their gags in The Wrestler, the junkies preparing their fixes in Requiem, Hugh Jackman placing his tattoos in The Fountain, and Max’s preparing his equations in Pi. That same fervent quasi religious single minded sense of ritual. Things made sacred through obsession. Also like all of Aronofksy’s films that obsession eventually destroys the one who obsesses and whether that is a release or a final damnation is left entirely to the viewer.
Aronofsky uses both the performances and his unrivaled visual imagination he keeps the entire film perched on the edge of hysteria. A tone that can so easily fall into camp that it almost seems preordained that any movie that tries to skate it will fail. I saw the film at a full house and during one particular go for broke sequence. A good fourth of the audience started laughing. But the odd thing was it did nothing to dissipate the mood the film had created. The laughter didn’t sound merely nervous, but sick. Far from sounding as if the audience were rejecting Aronofsky’s lunacy, it seemed as though he had done nothing so much as pull them right into the thick of it.
Earlier in the review I mentioned Kubrick. Dropping the K word is no less an invitation to duel then a glove slap. It’s the superlative of superlatives and it’s practically begging for someone to come in an accuse you of hyperbole.
And with good reason. Kubrick made movies that were truly singular to film works of art that were genuinely nothing but cinema. Good or bad Kubrick films are separate, truly only of the seventh art.
Which is why he makes such an inviting branch to clutch to when the viewer is dragged by the currents of something that is truly unfamiliar. Something that for all the influence it owes is profoundly itself and owes almost nothing to what we’re “used to.” Those are as I said the type of film that Kubrick made and that is the kind of film Aronofsky has made here.
Monday, December 27, 2010
BREAKING NEWS JAPANESE SUPER ODDITY HOUSE IS WEIRD!!!
Yes I might be late to the party on this one. And all sarcasm aside, there really is very little to say about House (or Hausu if you’re so pedantically inclined) then “Gee that sure is an odd one alright…”
And I’d be tempted to through House into the pile of “Things to write up on my next set of capsule reviews” if not for the inescapable fact that words fail to capture just how relentlessly weird House really is. House may be little more then a dare. But what a dare. This isn’t a film as much as an assault.
The phrase “cult movie” gets thrown around a lot these days. But to call House merely “weird” or “quirky” is to miss how fiercely dedicated to its own oddness House really is. Try to imagine an episode of Scooby Doo directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky or Eraserhead adapted by The Electric Company and you’re half way there.
The story follows a group of Japanese Schoolgirls who take a vacation at the rambling old home of a classmate’s Aunt. The girls start dying off one by one, due to various spectral mishaps and this doesn’t even begin to convey just how completely crazy House feels. And once again I don’t mean “crazy” like “just wild and trippy”. No. House actually feels as if a crazy person really made it. The rules of narrative and indeed recognizable life are suspended inside the bounds of its runtime not just illogic but anti-logic (and like Lovecraft I’m driven to shudder in abject horror at the thought of those bounds slipping).
Everyone is named after their single definable personality trait. They act with alarming nonchalance about the gruesome on goings, which include floating heads, portals into hell and possessed wood. Their demises are portrayed in surprisingly gruesome gaudy set pieces, the tenor of which make Ultraman look staid. The film occasionally, randomly, reverses and repeats itself. The 180 degree rule is violated with glee. Every now and then things go black and white and slow mo. There are silent films reenactments. Impromptu musical numbers (not counting one where a sapient piano munches on two of the girls) sprout up not once, but twice. One features a singing cat. Everything is perversely jolly.
Even when the film is playing at “normal” it is borderline antagonistic to the viewer. The entirety of it as obviously set bound and as intentionally lit as The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari. There’s no moment to catch one’s breath. Everything is so relentlessly artificial that something fuses in the mind.
I’m kind of baffled as to whether I can in good conscience recommend House. Needless to say it doesn’t work as a regular movie. By creating a heightened reality it creates a removed experience. House feels almost more like an object then a movie. And like one of those strangely over detailed, sublimely nerdy maquettes that your coworker displays in his cubicle it may be tough to think of its purpose but it’s kind of unavoidably appealing to contemplate at all the same.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
2) Second-favorite Roman Polanski Movie
3) Jason Statham or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Potential: Dwayne Johnson
Actual: Jason Statham
4) Favorite movie that could be classified as a genre hybrid
Evil Dead II.
5) How important is foreknowledge of a film’s production history? Should it factor into one’s reaction to a film?
I don’t think there’s any set in stone rule on this one. 90% of the time I could care less how the sausage gets made, unless it involves a filmmaker I respect leaving/getting booted from the film.
Watchmen is an exception I can think of to this rule. I tend to cut it a bit of slack since it seemed less of a movie and more the equivalent of a kidney stone that I’m just impressed got passed at all.
Even if all the thanks Synder got for his trouble was a shredded urethra.
6) William Powell & Myrna Loy or Cary Grant & Irene Dunne?
Grant over Powell, but Powell and Loy together are never less then magical.
7) Best Actor of 2010
John Hawkes. Uncle Teardrop was the most complex and magnetic character I’ve seen on screen this year.
Can’t help but be fascinated by someone who’s idea of unconditional love includes both being willing to kill and die for a person and leeringly offering them Crystal Meth.
8) Most important lesson learned from the past decade of watching movies ?
A go for broke failure is almost always worth your time. As long as its failure is the result of someone’s fervor rather then timid committee think.
9) Last movie seen (DVD/Blu-ray/theater)
DVD: Waking Sleeping Beauty
Blu Ray: House
Theater: The Fighter
10) Most appropriate punishment for director Tom Six
Being allowed only to watch shock for shock sake movies for the rest of his life. An eternity with only “Shocking Asia” for company is one worth shuddering over.
11) Best under-the-radar movie almost no one else has had the chance to see?
I lurve my copy of Dragon’s Forever. Benny The Jet Rodriguez Vs. Jackie Chan? Yes please.
12) Sheree North or Angie Dickinson?
13) Favorite nakedly autobiographical movie
14) Movie which best evokes a specific real-life place
Gangs Of New York
15) Best Director of 2010
You know if I’m going to be honest for all the directors I love who made movies this year, Ben Affleck is the one who impressed me most.
Gone Baby Gone could be written off as a fluke. The result of good source material. In The Town Affleck took a novel that was mediocre at best and transformed it into the best crime film since Heat.
16) Second-favorite Farrelly Brothers Movie
Something About Mary. Which never had a moment as glorious as the final fate of Petey The Parakeet.
17) Favorite holiday movie
A Muppet’s Christmas Carol as being one of the traditions shared between myself and my siblings. Nightmare Before Christmas is the only one I give any significant play outside of the holidays.
18) Best Actress of 2010
Michelle Williams. There stands a lady who knows how to bring the pain.
19) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson
20) Of those notable figures in the world of the movies who died in 2010, name the one you’ll miss the most ?
Sally Menke. I don’t think we really understand the magnitude her untimely death will have on the rest of film history. And we probably won’t for decades.
21) Think of a movie with a notable musical score and describe what it might feel like without that accompaniment.
Streets Of Fire and I… I don’t even want to think about it.
22) Best Screenplay of 2010
The Town if only for the following exchange.
“I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later and we’re going to have to hurt some people.”
“Whose car are we gonna take?”
23) Movie You Feel Most Evangelistic About Right Now
I’ve been pushing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for a long time. It’s probably the most successful blend of comedy and horror (in that the two genres never contaminate one another. It goes from Goofy to grim on a dime).
However since I recently finished up programming my first film series I guess it’d be more accurate to say I’ve been evangelical about Gone Baby Gone, One Two Three, I Walked With A Zombie, The Red Shoes and Gangs Of New York.
24) Worst/funniest movie accent ever
“Et Iz a jawry Horriday Affer Awl Mawy Popbins!”
25) Best Cinematography of 2010
Shutter Island. Hell as the inside of a Val Lewton picture.
26) Olivia Wilde or Gemma Arterton
Wilde. So long as she's in the grid.
27) Name the three best movies you saw for the first time in 2010 (Thanks, Larry!)
Somebody Up There Likes Me
A Matter Of Life And Death
28) Best romantic movie couple of 2010
Leonardo Di Caprio and the memories in his head. Both A) and B) are correct.
29) Favorite shock/surprise ending
Drag Me To Hell. If only because I was so convinced I was two steps ahead of the film and that it’d be Justin Long who ended up on the expressway to Hades. Nothing like a nice little sucker punch to the smug.
30) Best cinematic reason to have stayed home and read a book in 2010
A Nightmare On Elm Street Remake. Sure I really should have known better but that movie broke something in me. I have about 30% less capacity for Hollywood Assembly line Horseshit now then when I walked into the theater.
31) Movies in 2011 could make me much happier if they’d only…
Announce the making of Scorsese's Silence and Gilliam's Don Quixote.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Failing to learn their lesson (click here for Part 1) the fine folks at On The Stick had me on to chat about The Walking Dead and various other Zombie films. These guys are the very definition of good people, they run a great show and it's always a pleasure to be their guest.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The Fighter is a well made, entertaining and genuinely uplifting story that I never want to watch again. Despite the presence of Amy Adams nipples.
Look that’s not to say this is Requiem For A Dream or something, but as a portrait of familial masochism, sadism and Honky Minstrelsy, it feels like a Todd Solonz movie. After a few pints at the pub afterwards my friend posited that the only reason the film wasn’t called “The Horrible C--ts of Lowell” is that that would make it sound like the worst porno ever. The film has what has to me the most dreadful cast of cackling hyena like she devil sub humans this side of Punch Drunk Love.
To say that The Fighter plays to Mark Wahlberg’s strength’s is a vast understatement. The role is practically tailor made for him and its easy to see why he’s fought so long and so hard to get the film made. The story of “Irish” Mickey Ward, a boxer who created a late in career comeback when he escaped the influence of his horrible self serving family of hateful shrews. Their blind spot favoritism to Ward’s crack addicted “almost was” brother Dicky Englund, having turned Ward’s career into one long painful missed opportunity.
Though he far too often coasts on his machismo’s Wahlberg’s always at his best when his roles tap into the mush mouthed little kid that never seems far below the surface. His two skill sets blend beautifully with Ward. No matter how much of an intimidating physical presence he is in the ring, outside of it he takes punishment with such flinching defensivelessness that it’s tough to watch. And it’s that real pain you see Wahlberg feel that keeps his mother’s (and his exwife’s and his sister’s) performances from sailing into the land of harmless caricature. These are the blows you that Ward can’t shake off.
As in life, Bale is afforded the showier role and he runs with it. For far too long Bale’s been stuck playing Batman in every role. But he brings such livewire energy to the part of Dicky Eckland so much charisma that you can actually understand why Ward sticks by him past the point of all logic. There’s a part here about two thirds into the movie where Dicky hits absolute bottom in spectacular fashion. It’s a scene about as clichéd as they come, but Bale sells it with such force that it feels like the first time.
A deglammed Amy Adams shows up and shows no matter how deglammed she gets she remains one of the most luminous actresses working today. Melissa Leo plays the boy’s controlling mother leading a Greek chorus of terrible sisters. Leo’s the one who provides the film with it’s majority of flinch enducing moments, but to her credit tries to make her a character a character. And there are a few moments most pertaining to how deep her denial over her eldest son’s addiction goes where she almost succeeds. Almost.
David O. Russell was always my least favorite of the “Class of ’99.” He oversells the neighborhood flavor, compare the showy opening tracking shot full of “How’s yur mutha?” posturing to Ben Affleck’s unblinking familiarity in The Town. But otherwise makes some very interesting choices, including shooting the fights in vintage HBO film stock. And the man as always has impeccable taste with music and montage. And though I won’t be in a hurry to watch it again I think it’s a fine film. Probably the most entertaining to make me squirm for the majority of its runtime.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The dichotomy that makes Catch Me If You Can such a remarkable film is that it serves at once as one of Spielberg’s lightest most pleasing entertainments on the outside and one of his darkest films within.
Catch Me If You Can, asks the question simply but directly, “What Is Happiness?” It’s a question the movie to its credit refuses to answer. Or at least refuses to answer in the usual pat, mode of the Hollywood film. It’s not simply money that fails to fill the void in Frank. Status, sex, freedom and stability. All try and fail. Frank makes such a great con man, such a great adaptor, precisely because he’s so completely dissatisfied.
The film features Frank Abagnale trying on the different roles of respectable American society, The Doctor, The Lawyer, the professional, while simultaneously living the life of a con man, the outlaw. And yet DiCaprio casts all these roles away, one by one as unsuccessful and unfulfilling. In its own light and breezy way Catch Me If You Can is as an engrossing portrait of ennui and spiritual ache as anything Antonnioni ever made.
But even more impressive from this cinephile’s standpoint is the way that Catch Me If You Can, reconnects Spielberg with his working class roots. The thing that Spielberg never gets credit for, which is odd because I believe it’s the engine that fueled his genius for the first half of his career, is that he’s one of the greatest blue collar directors of all time. His early films are working class stories. The stories of ex cons, policemen, maintenance men, privates, single mothers, real estate agents, students and school teachers who had something amazing happen to them. That’s what the detractors still don’t understand about Spielberg, and what has made his films so seductive to “the masses” over the year. Spielberg’s early films take you aside and whisper in your ear that something amazing can happen to you. Yes you. Not to that guy up on the screen. Not just to the secret agents and the superheroes. But to you.
And he lost it somewhere along the way, I think Hook is the first time you can really notice it, with its townhouses and casual cross Atlantic flights, but it continues in Jurassic Park films and even to a certain extent in Schindler’s List (Early Spielberg would have made The Pianist). But it reaches it’s Nadir in AI in which in a world where we are told millions are starving and Spielberg choose to follow a rich couple whose biggest problems seem to be the scratches on their mahogany floors.
But Catch Me If You Can brings it back with a vengeance. The entire first act is just a slow motion car wreck. The implosion of the American family (the other great source of frisson in Spielberg’s work) in gory detail, with some of Christopher Walken’s finest work in years. By the time Frank runs you understand why and when he begins to shape himself at will into someone, anyone, else we understand why.
Of course I’m not giving credit to just how much fun this movie is. Aided by the top of the line production design, gorgeous cinematography, Amy Adams, Tom Hank’s wry performance and John William’s sprightly score, Spielberg brings the adrenaline rush, the joy of getting away with it with full force.
But it’s even harder to ignore the deep and persistent melancholy at the film’s core. Some of the greatest imagery in Spielberg’s career is in this movie. Frank staring forlornly through his mother’s window on Christmas Eve, meeting his Sister for the first time through a pane of glass. That single dollar bill wafting through the breeze.
And it’s that melancholy that has been at the core of Spielberg’s work, no matter how effervescent. True he is certainly the greatest escapist director of our time. Perhaps of all time. But every great escapist is acutely aware that there is something to escape from.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Violence, duty, and heritage passed down from one generation to the next. But muddled even in the passing. “ One day you’ll understand.” But Amsterdam’s understanding will only be partial. He will not understand in full because He is not his father.
Stepping outside the scene for a moment a crucial line that many miss in the film is when Amsterdam mentions that he has lost his regional accent in the orphanage. It could be taken as a line covering up DiCaprio’s, um dubious skills at accents (“Duhly Ahpointed Fehduhal Mahshaals) but it serves a larger purpose as well. Though he labels himself Irish, and is thus labeled by his enemies, to those in the home country he wouldn’t pass. Whether or not he likes it, Amsterdam is an American.
“Some of it I half remember. The rest I took from dreams.”
One of my favorite lines in film. Or any film. Though DiCaprio's voice over will occasionally become intrusive, the dreamy melancholy way that line is spoken is perfect.
Our first look at Neeson. Significantly we never see him in full until after he has dawned the costume of “Priest”. Like Amsterdam he exists in our minds as a larger then life figure, we have no memory of him as a man. Only as a Legend.
“Now Son who is that?”
“WHO IS IT?”
“And what did he do?”
“He Cast Satan Out Of Paradise”
My distinguished colleague Peter Lenihan in his excellent (and now sadly absent from the blogosphere) essay on the film, stated that it is in Gangs that Scorsese admitted that he was more interested in Catholic Iconography then Catholic Theology. With all due respect to Peter this always seemed to me to be off the mark. And more then a little bit. There is hardly a film in Scorsese’s Ouevre (Last Temptation Of Christ being the rather obvious exception) that is powered more by Religion in general and Catholic Ideology in particular. It is at the heart of virtually every character. The thing that drives them, that frames their struggle in the mythic light they need in order to continue it.
Of course the irony of the film is that both Priest and Bill consider themselves the inheritor of the story. Both see themselves as Saint Michael and the other as Satan. Just as everyone who has ever fought to define what America means cannot help but see themselves completely in the right. Though given Bill resides in a place called Satan’s Circus, it’s not too tough to see where the film’s loyalties lie.I love Neeson's face in the above picture.
Note the mural of the Madonna and Child in the Celtic style on the back wall. The film blends the iconography of paganism and Christianity over and over again. To startling effect.
In speaking of the blend note too our first look at The Dead Rabbits. As with the Saint Michael Parable the link between Social Identity and thus social action and Religion is made explicit.
Gangs has a reputation for ultra violence that is at best half earned. It’s bloody no doubt. But rarely shows you as much as you think it does (More on this later). It’s just that the potential for violence is so clearly etched in the bedrock of every scene that at times it feels down right oppressive.
You can't have shots of weapons like that, and men like those and not remember that there is an excellent chance that the latter may begin to use the former.
Once again the wicker cross, the blending of Ireland’s two religious traditions. The wild haired Priest with the blood of Christ. It’s a darker wilder religion that is practiced by the characters of Gangs Of New York.
I treasure cinema’s ability to bring me to different worlds. And no film I know does that better then Gangs Of New York. Gangs Of New York has such a vividness to its sense place that it’s damn near hallucinogenic. That first journey through The Warren a staggering montage of sound and image never fails to leave me literally breathless.
Hardly have I ever seen a place so alive.
The Rabbits even look smaller. No longer shot from low angles, their heads brushing the ceilings. This is not their terroritory.
Pulls Back for the swing...
"You can do this all with computers now." George Lucas told Scorsese when he visited the sets of Gangs Of New York. Continuing his contest to be the most hateful filmmaker in the world...