Saturday, September 18, 2010

For those about to I'm Still Here....

Now that it has been confirmed for certain that Phoenix/Affleck have "hoodwinked" the public with their 'performance art'- and if you check out my review from last week, before it was confirmed, as I was still a little curious what was real or not, I'm reminded of something else. Something, and I don't want to boast, funnier than what Phoenix does.

Am I really going downhill? Am I a genius? Maybe SUPER-Genius? Total hoax? Let's just see... won't we?

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and germs.... Lines of Glory, by Jack and Zack

RIP Jimi Hendrix (now gone 40 years)

Saturday Movie Madness! (Ben Affleck's THE TOWN & Will Gluck's EASY A)

Back again I am with two new movies witness with my own eyes this day!  Probably not so exciting to some out there who eat movies for breakfast-lunch-dinner, but today it's also two new movies out in theaters and very likely vying for the top spot at the box-office.  Which one won out in the end?  By the end of this blog if you have to ask... you probably didn't read it, maybe, or not thoroughly enough.

(dir: Ben Affleck)

Ben Affleck has turned his career from (almost) lemons into (near) masterpiece lemonade.  His reputation has never been bad, though he's been in some bad movies, which Affleck himself admits.  But with two films, Gone Baby Gone (2007) and this new film, he's revealed himself as a truly commendable director.  He still needs a little more time to break into a style as director that is fully recognizable - his style, as with some of Clint Eastwood's procedurals, is no-funny-business professionalism, including transitions that show the city-skyline, which isn't a bad thing, just expected - but he knows acting and he knows characterizations.  If you want to have a movie out right now that has a) good actors un-fussily on camera doing their thing, and b) delivering dialog that is believable, almost in spite of the situations, this is it.

It's about bank-and-or-armored-truck robbers (Affleck, Jeremy Renner, a couple of others), and at their first big robbery (done like smooth operating professionals without a misstep), they have one little complication: Affleck's Doug MacCray takes a momentary hostage with bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall).  He lets her go right after the robbery, but he also finds out she is a neighborhood girl in the town Charlestown.  That it's the "Bank Robbery Capital" of the US makes it a little obvious how much crime should happen, but I digress, it happens, and it's a whole environment of cops-robbers-mafia (or in Departed-style, Irish Mafia).  This is why it mucks up things when Doug, not by accident, meets Claire at a laundromat, and falls for her, hard.

We should see where this is going, and in a way we really do.  But it's how Affleck doles out the information, for example a tattoo that Renner's Jem character has on the back of his neck (this, more than any car chase or moment of gun battling, is better than anything else in the film when the suspense goes as Jem and Claire meet by surprise).  The 'types' are here, but, in his own way like a Scorsese or, going back again, Eastwood, the 'types' are imbued with motivation that matters, dialog that is natural and not forced into cliche, and delivered by actors who know the dimensions and the stakes that their characters are in.  There are good reasons for why things happen here, even with what happens to the score taken from a big heist at one point in the film.

It's hard to point out an actor that really shines here.  Affleck especially is up there as one of the best here, once more like Eastwood knowing how to get the best out of himself in a particular scene.  He's been tough in movies before, and had the Boston-area accent down (i.e. Good Will Hunting), but his character has so much going on as to wonder what will happen with him.  This is unusual considering how his background- near-orphan in a crime-ridden neighborhood, tried to get out as a hockey player, back as a prime bank robbing master- but it may be one of his rare triumphs as an actor.

He also casts around him so wonderfully: Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner give, I might believe in the typical guessing game, Awards-worthy supporting performances.  One is the tough, no-bullshit cop who knows how big the stakes are with such high-level professionals, and Hamm delivers on that.  Renner, somewhat akin to his character in The Hurt Locker, is on as a kind of loose-cannon (though, arguably, less professional and more anti-authoritarian).  Pete Postelthwaite has only a few scenes, but matters so much in them that his character, true street-side evil, astounds with his quiet ferocity.  And with less to do, Chris Cooper is amazing.  Only Rebecca Hall is only 'okay', but it may just be in comparison to the other female presence, Blake Lively, as the local floozie who is close to Affleck's character but may also be the "weak link" without spoiling too much.

I mention these performances so much as they are paramount to what makes the film work.  It's not one of the best films of the year, but it is one of the films of the season that should warrant attention by its cast and by its hard-edge to its action.  This, too, like some of the story, is familiar.  But again Affleck gives attention to what's going on by how no-frills it is, and with a couple of twists.  One may have read Roger Ebert's take on the film's chase and action scenes.  For the latter, I can see where he comes from with his assessment.  For the former, I would argue one point: despite the trope of so many cops chasing a car full of criminals and not getting anything done in terms of "oh SHIT!" circumstances, the physical space of the chase gives a little more of a thrill.  As someone who has visited Boston, one has to note how narrow the streets are.  For at least half or two-thirds of this car chase in the streets, there was a little on-the-edge-of-my-seat.  And that's something.


(dir: Will Gluck)

I wish I could put a lot of the "credit" of the Easy A's success on its director, Will Gluck, or its writer, Bert V. Royal (the latter's first produced screenplay, the former's follow-up to purportedly lackluster teen comedy Fired Up).  But much of the film rests on the shoulders of Emma Stone.  It's the kind of project, similar maybe to Mean Girls or Heathers, that would appear to be a vehicle made for its female lead to be propelled into the public consciousness.  It's not that we didn't know who Lindsay Lohan, Winona Ryder or Stone were before this.  However at least in this case Stone is given such a smart (if not always wise) character that one can't help but think she's set for at least the next five years just from her work here.

I would like to credit her, because the rest of the film is a little bit more of a mixed bag.  Not so much that  it is un-recommendable.  Far from that level.  There's a lot of thought that was put into this sort-of (or sometimes VERY direct) homage to to John Hughes 80's comedies, about an ordinary girl, Olive Predegast, who makes up a fib to her nosey (aka bitchy) friend about not hanging out one weekend; she spent her time with a college-aged boy.  The fib turns into rumor, out-spread in the school, and then this turns into something else when Olive starts to like the quasi-superior feeling of being, well, noticed, even in the "bad" way of seeming "available".  This includes a gay friend, Brandon, who wants to look cool-and-or-straight to the other guys at school, and so she does a "sex" scene in a bedroom full of over-the-top sounds and voices and grunts at a party.

That scene is very funny, because the filmmakers, and Stone and the actor, are just having a lot of fun.  The movie is fun, in general.  They take types, such as Amanda Bynes' super-Christian character Marianne, and make them amusing.  Are they very deep?  Not really much at all.  Even characters that I did enjoy, such as the parents of Olive (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson), are only on-the-surface characters who make so many sarcastic comments as to try to be coolest-parents-ever, and there's little else to them except for maybe one scene between daughter and mother.  That may be a big problem with the film: watching it, it doesn't always feel so false, but once it ends character connections and why one is with the other for so long or wanting another make less sense then, say, why Olive can dress so scantily-clad at her school for so long (albeit with the Scarlet Letter 'A' on her person).

Take Olive's friend, Rhiannon, the one who initially spreads the gossip about Olive's weekend with her boyfriend (in some part, Marianne is also there, but I digress), and then keeps on believing that other things have happened with Olive that didn't happen but she keeps going with anyway.  Not once did I really believe how they could be friends for so long; many out there know what it's like to have friends, or just one close friend, one is close to but don't always get along with.  But this friendship- perhaps then why something happens midway that split them apart- rings false.  As does the attraction Olive has for the hunky guy, Todd, who is the mascot on the team.  While a crush for years could be believable, why this guy?  There's no personality given to him- neither with the actor playing him who is mostly wooden, nor Todd himself- and he is more like a cypher for Oliver to fulfill some kind of John Hughes movie inspired dream.

Easy A works much better when we're given better characters with better actors, even in small roles.  Thomas Hayden Church gets some really good screen-time as a wise teacher who has really good one-liners, but is also likable.  Malcolm McDowell gets a very good, funny scene, though he could have been used more.  Lisa Kudrow's guidance counselor... should have been introduced in the movie sooner, as she becomes an important character, indeed one that is deeply involved with what in screenwriting is called the '3rd-act plot twist'.  It's strange to suddenly be writing this review and finding more I disliked about the film than liked, or rather finding more flaws or character inconsistencies.

This is, perhaps, because it is a funny movie, and smart about what it's trying to do.  It's a mix of smart, satirical comedy on teenage sex and gossip and (occasionally) religion, and a mainstream teen movie that can be dumbed down or a little stupid/thin.  Its main character, and the performance, remain intact and stable and enjoyable throughout (that is, arguably, except for a big music number near the end that rings false), and its in fact a break-out role for Stone.  Everything else is at least, usually, amusing, right down to the Predergast's adopted black child who is used more as a punchline than as a character.  But there's a lot that could have been written or constructed better, or made more sense.  It feels like a first-time screenplay, both the good and witty and not so good and witty.

Midnight Movie Madness: GONE WITH THE POPE

This is a film that, yes, was technically released for the first time in 2010. But it's also a kind of Grindhouse example of Metropolis, another movie that was restored this year. New footage was found and meticulous care was put to editing something that people had never seen before. One was a testament to man and his inner quest for self-knowledge set against an oppressive world, and the other was Metropolis ;)

But I jest. This was shot by real (and I mean REALLY) no-budget director Duke Mitchell, who made only one other film in the 1970s, and did shoot the footage for this film (you can tell, all HUGE warts and out-of-focus shots and all). But it was never finished due to lack of funds. Years later (as in two years ago) some former friends and people at the Grindhouse DVD company, got together and took all the footage Mitchell had shot and made a movie as competently as they could.

Frankly, that it turned out as well as it did is something of a miracle because, quite frankly, this stinks. But it stinks in a way that is friendly to fellow bad-movie lovers. The craftsmanship is so terrible, the acting so non-existent, the story so WTF, that I wondered at certain points if Torgo from Manos the Hands of Fate would make an appearance. All I could really gather about anything relating to a "story" was that Paul (also Mitchell) is released from jail, kills some gangsters, and then takes a boat trip with some friends from California to Rome to kidnap the Pope and hold the world hostage: every Catholic pays 1 buck. That's a lot of bucks.

From the dialog that is at best decent street-tough stuff to at worst really racist and sometimes just dull dialog - and the racist stuff especially, as Paul makes wisecracks (and not the subtle kind) to a black prostitute who, somehow, takes it in stride, is hilariously painful to hear spoken - to the cinematography that gives cinematography a bad name (FOCUS, goddamn it, FOCUS!), to the one or two actors such as Paul's wife or Giorgio, who both look like they were picked up from the local deli counter, to the very mixed messages sent about religion (a very *nice* Pope who somehow gets everyone except Paul on his side! and a polemic speech by Paul at one point that rivals ANY of the preachifying in Machete), this is trash cinema at its base level.

It's not a good movie. At all. If you're looking for things like, I don't know, motivation on the character's part, be it things like killing lots of other people we haven't seen before (sometimes with telephones) or to a random "prank" scene with a huge fat woman getting naked and surprising one of Paul's friend asleep and proceeding to lock her in the room for a good, it's more than absent. It's almost like Mitchell seemed to forget what a movie makes - albeit he is awe-inspiring at making montages, such as one with him and his wife frolicking at a park - and was more transfixed by his own sideburns than anything else. When he tries to get genuine laughs, such as the fat woman scene, it feel so awful that you just recoil in your seat. The movie also disappoints, if in one major way as a Midnight Movie, in not having more craziness with the religious angle. Without saying too much, the film needed to be more like the last scene, which did leave me with a big smile and almost clapping with the rest of the audience.

But for all of the dull moments, and believe you-me there are plenty, and the cringe-worthy performances, it's a very funny movie without knowing that it is. It's also commendable to the editors and producers of this finished version that there are some scenes and transitions that move to a cool beat, maybe in ways Mitchell himself never envisioned. Song selections vary; some are genuinely fantastic, while others go along with the hokey nature of the film. It frustrates and entertains, and it actually has a sense of admiration for the Pope (!) in all his cardboard-performing glory. Then again, his dead-pan is just what's needed on the flip-side of Mitchell's mugging.

Two ratings: as a "good" movie: 3/10; as a fun-bad movie: 7/10


ADDENDUM: I was just informed that the editor of The Hurt Locker is responsible for the job on this finished version.  I suddenly am not sure whether I respect it more or despise it for how bad it actually is.  I lean more to the former, just because it really could have been just total shit.  Somehow the editor made it watchable, even if I was just waiting for Robin Williams' "soft" character from Deconstructing Harry to wander into one of the shots.  FOCUS!  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ten 2010 films I still look forward to

Looking at what's been going on at Toronto and Venice, and what's to come at the NY Film Festival, along with everything else, here's just a short-list of 10 movies that I look forward to being released for the remainder of this calendar year (as far as I know as of this date and time zone):

10) I LOVE YOU, PHILIP MORRIS - John Requa and Glenn Ficarra

I kind of feel sorry for this movie.  Not because anything to do with the subject matter, which sounds to be like a hoot and a half, but at its release difficulties.  It was finished, technically, last year.  Then its release was scheduled, then pushed back to this year July... then pushed back to wheneversville after the distributor pulled out.  But despite the risky subject matter- such as, you know, GAY PEOPLE!!  And one of them is JIM CARREY! Heavens no, not Lemony Snicket! - it finally got picked up for distribution, and it's coming out this December.  What I hope for is that it lives up to its dark comedy premise (that, and it's from the writers of the cult comedy Bad Santa), and that, ultimately, it's a return to the kind of challenging roles that Carrey seems to take in-between huge-ass paychecks for movies like A Christmas Carol and Yes Man.  And maybe Ewan McGregor will be good in it too, who knows.

9) ANOTHER YEAR - Mike Leigh

It's probably something criminal, punishable by mandatory placement in a theater while his entire oeuvre goes on and on, that I've only seen two Mike Leigh films (Happy Go Lucky, which I liked but didn't love, and Naked, which is one of the best films of the 90's).  He seems to be one of the few auteurs of his kind left - a filmmaker, like Woody Allen, who solely writes and directs his films, and has the creative freedom to shoot how long he likes and improvise where he wants - and it's this that I ultimately respect.  Whether this film, which screened at Cannes and will screen at NYFF to positive if not overwhelming buzz, remains to be seen.  But I can only hope the best with a movie that is (SHOCK) about 'average' people just trying to get by, in this case about a married couple witnessing the craziness around them.

8) TRUE GRIT - Joel/Ethan Coen

The greatest two-headed director in cinema history are making their first (official) Western!  And it's a remake... kind of.  By that I mean, yes, there was a movie called True Grit with John Wayne in a much touted career-high performance, and it's one of those Western classics we all hear about and don't see.  It's also based on a book, so the Coens can go to that ala McCarthy style and maybe bring something of their own to the table.  That Jeff Bridges is playing the Rooster Cogburn role would have me in my seat anyway (well, maybe if Uwe Boll was at the helm I'd have a moment of pause).  The combination of The Dude returning to Coens for a very-un-Dude character tickles the mind.

PS: Steven Spielberg producing.  Never would've thought Coens and Spielberg together.  Hope it works.

7) THE FIGHTER - David O. Russell

After being a kind of unintentional Youtube sensation, Russell tried to bounce back with a romantic comedy about a guy with a nail stuck in his head, co-written by Al Gore's daugther(?)  While that movie faced many production difficulties (and, apparently, not so much by Russell's notorious on-set behavior), he did a work-for-hire after Darren Aronofsky left the project (guess The Wrestler was enough) and it turns out to be this.  Which, by the looks of the trailer, could be a return to form for Russel.  What form I mean is, perhaps, the gritty approach he had to Three Kings, his best film.  It certainly looks like a change of pace for him, which could be a good thing.  That Bale looks to also be back in good acting shape (not physical, mind you, as he returns to near Machinist proportions) is a big plus as well.  Very promising trailer here.

6) RED - Robert Schwentke

No relation to the Kieslowski film of the same name, this is the very first comic-book adaptation from a work by the very great writer Warren Ellis (responsible for one of the masterpieces of "adult" comics, Transmetropolitan).  This alone would, again, be the factor to have my ass in seat the day of opening.  The cast, too, is compelling, mostly by giving Oscar winner for The Queen Helen Mirren a big fucking gun firing all over the place, and John Malkovich another "craaazy" performance that could be irrisistible.  How the film ultimately turns out could be anyone's guess; to be candid my enthusiasm for Ellis' contribution is only to his other works as I've yet to read the original series the movie's based on.  But the trailer looks to be just a lot of unapologetic action movie fun.  And for Willis, that could be something special after some time with hits and misses.  Trailer here.

 5) INSPECTOR BELLAMY - Claude Chabrol

As the now late director's final film, I should note that I really don't have any idea as to the full quality of the film.  I haven't seen a trailer, and only read the premise linked from the IFC Center's website, which will release the film sometime next month.  But whether Chabrol knew it would be his last film, it seems like a fitting end, a Hitchcockian story of an inspector and his wife in a quiet village and then some mysterious things happen (by that I mean not the Lynchian way, just more like the serene bourgeois but dangerous settings of many Chabrol films).  At the least, a pair up of director with famous French star Gerard Depardieu should have some interest.  NY Times calls it "Diabolically witty."  Sounds like Chabrol.  Trailer here.

 4) THE ILLUSIONIST - Sylvain Chomet

No relation to the Edwards Norton film, this comes from the director of The Triplets of Belleville, his second feature animated film, adapting a never-produced screenplay by Jacques Tati, about magic.  If anyone has ever seen this:

And then watch this:

I can't imagine *not* feeling giddy at the possibilities

3) BLACK SWAN - Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky could film a puddle of water and I would be there first day it opened, or for that matter the first critic screening available (and really, wouldn't a puddle of water be given such a radical cinematic treatment by Aronofsky that it would render all other cinematic puddles inferior by comparison).  But this sounds especially intriguing: another film that he, apparently, didn't write or co-write, and has two female leads- Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis- as ballet dancers in very rigorous competiton with one another.  The trailer seems to suggest a kind of rivalry that brings one back to The Red Shoes.  And in a way maybe this is Aronofsky's Red Shoes: a tale of professional one-upmanship that takes some surreal turns (watch for the last shot in the trailer here.

2) THE SOCIAL NETWORK - David Fincher

Some of you may already be crying foul: "It's not #1?  How DARE you sir!"  (Some, on the other hand, may wonder where the frak other movies like Harry Potter 7pt1 or Tron Legacy are, which are honorable mentions on this list).  But this does certainly have so much going for it to be touted as one of the years triumphs before it comes out (or "the film of a generation" or something like that).  Fincher called it his "John Hughes for 21st Century) film.  It has Aaron Sorkin as screenwriter (and from the grapevine the script is supposed to be stupendous and all those other adjectives).  Jesse Eisenberg and the next Spider-Man seem to have top-tier performances.  And it's David Fincher for Pete's sake!  The trailer, by this point, has attained a kind of iconic status.  It might be a shame if the movie just turns out to he 'good'. 

1) 127 HOURS - Danny Boyle

OK, this one might not be entirely fair to include here because I happened to have seen the film already (not at any festival, but at a "test" screening with the director Danny Boyle in attendance.  As it was a "test" screening and actually the first time it screened to an audience, it's hard to say if it will be exactly how I saw it then as it will be when released this fall.  I can only hope that it will remain mostly intact, as at the time it was the best film (albeit unreleased) I'd seen this calendar year.  If it can live up to its original pre-screen promise, one might write this in as something extra special: an Oscar-winning director's follow-up that is just as good, if not superior, to the work he made before.

It's about an ordinary guy, Aaron Ralston, who goes climbing at the rocks in a desert in Colorado, and gets stuck - literally, he falls and a giant boulder crushes his arm.  From here we get the most provocative kind of challenge that few directors- i.e. Boyle- could pull off: make a whole exhilirating, exciting, tragic and really sickening experience both viscerally and visually out of the experience Ralston had for five days in the canyon.  Those who know the real-life story may already be spoiled (for the sanctity of this blog, I won't, though if you just glance at a review you may find out anyway).  But it really is the kind of film that inspires and moves someone, an experience that is all about the triumph of the human spirit and all that jazz - plus James Franco's real high-point as an actor.  Trailer here.



Here's the deal: I am by no means a big Tony Scott fan, not much at all really.  I'll watch his films if they come out, and I have some spare cash (or if I feel the need to kick myself in the balls as with the exploitation vomit Domino), but every so often he'll come out with something - usually attributable to some restraint (Crimson Tide) or some actual talent behind it (True Romance) - that makes me go wow.  Hell, even Man on Fire, which was the start of his super-twitchy-vision style, has its moments.

But this looks to be something that is just so stupid, so over-the-top, and yet with such likable stars and a WTF premise that I can't let it go from my mind.  It's like the anti Devil trailer; instead of a groan coming out with every passing repeated viewing, I smile and clap like a seal and can't wait for the trashy fun.  I don't expect it to be a very *good* movie, but at least it doesn't look boring, which is usually Scott's ultimate crime when indulging in his cine-madness.

Honorable mentions (those I look forward to, more or less, but didn't make the cut):

Wes Craven's MY SOUL TO TAKE (his return to horror)
John Carpenter's THE WARD (his return to filmmaking)
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 (hope it's, you know, dark)
Rodrigo Cortes' BURIED (a filmmaking challenge I hope to see pulled off, with Ryan Reynolds!)
CATFISH (heard good things, but not sure yet if it'll live up to it ridiculous hype)
Clint Eastwood's HEREAFTER (just barely missed the cut, it's Clint, so you know, I'm there)
Todd Phillips' DUE DATE (Downey Jr and Galifianakis should make for a good pairing, even if familiar premise)
TRON LEGACY (eh, why not, again it's got Bridges, and a very hot Olivia Wilde in tight clothing)
Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME (don't know if it'll be *good*, but it's Godard so hopefully it doesn't suck too much... I hope...)
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's THE TOURIST (trailer looks like possible fun, Depp back to playing a real guy again, and it's the director of The Lives of Others)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's All About Love (2003) + Flash Gordon (1980)

It's All About Love.  Is it really?

This is a film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, whose credentials are mostly with the Dogme-95 crowd (his film 'Festen' is supposed to be one of the best, and one of the few to really attempt to follow the rules), and this is certainly not apart of that previous group of films and filmmaker.  It's a dark-but-whimsical romantic fantasy made up of parts of science fiction and tragic romance, sort of like if Philip K. Dick tried his hand at doing soap opera.  Indeed the word 'opera' is quite appropriate for this film.  Much of Vinterberg's style here is operatic, such as sequences where one of the main characters (emphasis on 'characters') are ice skating to some very bombastic music, the lighting striking like out of a shadowy dream... indoors on an ice rink.

But what about the film you might ask?  What makes it such a cult-film object to be discovered (as I did through a friend who wouldn't stop raving about it, how 'weird' it gets)?  It seems a straightforward sort of sci-fi premise: a man is married to a woman (Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes respectively) and the former wants to divorce the other as they've been split apart for a while and he doesn't see the relationship going anywhere (this is mostly inferred, and mostly early on).  But she won't sign, and so he goes to New York city to confront her, amid her ring of celebrity and media that surrounds her.  A good lot of time he's just waiting in a TV studio looking at monitors, some of them about new in Africa of some devastation going on.

Oh, what kind of devastation?  It's actually the future.  That I neglected to mention is not entirely by accident.  Vinterberg doles out information sparingly, and one can just grasp the ring of the plot by the end of the first half hour, and then it turns into a chase movie.  Sort of.  Nefarious figures, such as a "Mr. Morrison", are on their trail, or rather on Elena's trail as John tries to keep her safe.  From what?  Well, so it goes, she's a clone, or she has a bunch of clones made up from her.  I would want to keep much of the surprises of the film spoiler-free, but then how much can be really spoiled here?  Vinterberg's style is more concerned with the mood of the camera, how emotional the actors get, than with the story.  He seems to almost be kindly (or just bizarrely) mocking storytelling in a sense, and by this he also has Sean Penn's entire role in the film being that of a guy on a plane, once close with John, speaking into a tape recorder he hopes for John to hear.  Well, it's like poetry, it rhymes.  So there.

 There's also dead bodies here and there in the film.  It takes having to look at the back of the video box (or sticking with the movie till the last shot, which is posted below) to fully understand that it is a post-apocalypse kind of environment.  It doesn't appear to be.  This and other little moments in the film, or even how Vinterberg's cameraman ace-Danny Boyle collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle go about making certain scenes disorientating with dutch angles and see-sawing in a scene with a shot, that make it such a bizarre item.  But Vinterberg also trusts the audience to try and keep up with him, and for the most part he's successful.  By the end it is moving, if sometimes a little silly (the many clones and how they're 'taken out' so to speak make for unintentional laughs), and it has been an experience.  It will turn off people who may not expect such twists and turns and performances that go just *this* high (::puts fingers an inch apart::) from going over the top.  He also has the trust of an actor like Phoenix, who does some of his most subtle and perfectly forceful work as Polish-emigre John, and Danes who gets some chances to be hammy but barely takes them.

 It's All About Love is the kind of movie I would recommend only to certain people that I might know personally, or to those looking for a loopy art-film that is glad to be as sappy as it wants to be.  Or those who will savor a closing shot like the one above.  Or those who want to get a gauge on who their 'other' is on a first date.


Speaking of not for everyone:


Yep, this old chestnut from 1980.  It was recently released on Blu-Ray DVD, though I watched it in a manner more fitting, on a friend's old VHS tape, the movie taped off of TV from an airing in the 1980's.  It was fitting because it is one of those grandmasters of camp.  It knows what it is, and doesn't hide it, and it's like discovering a box in the attic full of your old toys from when you were a kid.  You dust em off, some of the wheels don't work right, some of the joints are broken off, and some of the toys you're not sure why you picked them up and played with them in the first way.  But goddamnit, they're still so much FUN!

Fun is the operating word here.  If you can't have it with such a bizarre cast put together - Max Von Sydow as the main villain, and Topol (yes, the guy from Fiddler on a Roof) as a Hawk-Man character, and Timothy Dalton as a supporting role as just another guy fighting 'the man' (or the Emperor really) - then you shouldn't watch these specifically campy 80's sci-fi action movies.  It's a throwback to the era of 30's serials (or rather what Star Wars elevated to popular art), and the filmmaker Mike Hodges (of, get this, Get Carter (1971)), and all you need to know is Flash Gordon - his name on his t-shirt - gets involved with this other race out in space (he's a quarterback on Earth) and is the only savior around who can stop the evil Emperor (Sydow with the most awesomely comical eyebrows anywhere) from destroying our planet and/or marrying the girl of his momentary dreams.

But what about the artistry that should be involved, or like the respect for the genre?  This actually has more respect for its source than ultimately other 80's action-sci-fi movies had for their sources.  Where it may fall flat is that it is SO campy and SO up on its own bad special effects (and believe me, there are some BAD effects here, so cheesy that you can see every line of demarcation of actor with backdrop or set with painting).  On top of this the actor 'playing' at Flash Gordon is not at all good at what he does, except looking fresh and bleached like a clean towel.  He makes Luke Skywalker look gritty if you can catch my drift.

This movie is ultimately so hammy that Queen's music score has to keep blaring up every thirty seconds or so in the big climax to keep up with what else is going on - the flying monkey-hawkmen led by Topol, the man with the metal face and decidedly awesome British accent, Max von Sydow's eyebrows (sorry, I must mention them again for the sake of sanity), and the moments of outrageous fashion and silly fights and explosions.  This isn't to say that some moments aren't meant to be taken completely campy.  On the contrary, a few sequences, such as the scientist's "mind-wipe" as the editor goes through about 1,000 shots in a minute going through a man's memory files (some of these almost akin to a similar sequence in The Parallax View with Beatty's mind scanning through lots of images and messages).  And it's actually more action-packed and sexual than one might expect out of a supposed "kids" movie, which is still basically is.

All of the morals are BIG and COMIC-BOOK like (must use bold there), and there doesn't have to be too much thought involved.  That said, there can be some emotional connection, if only on that level like, again, you had as a child.  Flash Gordon is a movie proud to be simple and crazy and with sets that look every bit expensive as they probably were for the time period, and it's best to enjoy it that way.  I wished I had watched it as a kid; it's made for nostalgia nowadays, but it also hits aim at any kid who likes the goofy and wild and action-packed.  And did I mention Queen does the soundtrack?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

And in some bad news again....

Another RIP that I was just informed about.

Actor Kevin McCarthy passed away.  He was 96 years old and in more movies than I could think to try and tally up, chief among them the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Misfits (1961), plus the original Piranha, and (if my memory serves) he had a small role in The Howling.  His whole credits are here.

But for me, this is how I'll remember him, a movie I've seen countless times since I was very young.  Is it a guilty pleasure?  In some part.  It's also one of the smartest-stupid movies ever made.  It's Weird Al, after all, and McCarthy gave the 'straight-man' performance in the film spot-on:

In some good news!

A screenplay that I wrote (and as-yet un-produced), The Mel Klein Diaries, has now another accoldade to add to the previous win at the NYC Filmmaker's Festival a few months ago.  I was just informed tonight that the SoCal Film Market, to which I submitted the screenplay for its competition, is now in consideration as a "SPOTLIGHT FINALIST" (see the link here)!  It's quite exciting to receive such high regards for a work that took six months to write and that I still hope ::knocks on wood:: that it could make for my debut feature as a director.

At the least, this is a good sign to finally start looking for a manager, or an agent, or a lawyer, or one of the three or at some point all of the above.  At the least a lawyer; while it's another couple of days until another email is sent to me from SoCal about what to do next, I really do have to assume that a deal of some sort should be on the way, especially if this 'sponsored finalist' is sent out to agents and managers and industry as a highlighted section.

Or, on the more pessimistic side, it could just be a newsletter that everyone throws out and don't read.  But if not... maybe someone with a deal could read it and send me on my way.  I'll just have to wait and see....


RIP Claude Charol/Les Biches (1968)

First of all, Claude Chabrol has passed away.

That puts the count now of the 'Nouvelle Vague' (mostly consisting of the Cashiers du cinema cats - Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette - though not to count out also Jean Eustache, Claude Lelouch, Agnes Varda and Louis Malle, all who got their big works out around the period) down to almost just a handful left: Godard, Varda, Rivette and Lelouch.  Truffaut was the first big one, and Rohmer passed on just earlier this year.

But enough of the tally.  What about Chabrol?  A self-professed Communist (though as he quotes on IMDb, "that doesn't mean I make movies about plowing the wheat fields") and a Hitchcock buff (along with Rohmer he wrote a much-less-notable-than-Truffaut's but still informative book ont the Master), he specialized in thrillers, usually with an erotic or subdued manner to them.

That is, of those I've seen.  I can't say to be a Chabrol buff; for that I might leave you another blog, Roger Ebert's wonderful quasi-obituary, which he didn't write so fast as to boggle the mind (he was announced deceased this morning, Ebert's blog appeared at 1 PM).  But it does link as well to an obit in the Guardian online.  It includes an interesting interview with Chabrol at the 1970 NY Film Festival, just as he was really hitting his stride with his best work (in fact four movies all clumped together that are great or near-great, the links to my reviews of those films just below).

He's the kind of filmmaker I hope over time to see more of, to delve deep into his catalog.  Sadly, as with Rohmer, there's not much else one can do.  The good news is that there is one last new Chabrol film that has yet to be released (it's been released elsewhere in the world, and at the Chicago International Film Festival, just not in the USA).  His body of work is hard to dispute as significant; he probably made some not-so-great films, works that went under the wire (perhaps that's why, not to sound disrespectful, why I've really only so far ventured into some of his more major films).  But it's all there, right for the taking.

Such as one I hadn't seen before until tonight:

There's something special about the way that Claude Chabrol chooses to show female sexuality, or just sexuality in general.  He's not so prudish as to excise it - by 1968 he doesn't have to, and certainly in France he's not under the strict guidelines that the USA had until just that year - he shows it in such a way as to arouse the immediate gaze of a viewer as the character who is looking (or wants to be looking) at the figure in question.  And oddly enough both Chabrol and his former Cashiers du cinema and Hitchcock book writer Eric Rohmer have a thing for the female knee; Rohmer made a whole movie about it (Claire's Knee), while Chabrol chooses to make it a point of interest in his film Les Biches.

In two specific scenes Chabrol uses the knee, and by extension (duh) the rest of the female leg, to suggest just enough.  The two main characters meet on a bridge, Frederique and Why (yeah, an Abbott & Costello style character name, it's even referenced jokingly like that when one character gets her name, but I digress).  Frederique like Why's drawing, and invites her out for coffee, and then, bolder, invites her up to her apartment so she can take a bath (she's one of those street-level street artists, also called a 'doe' like a deer).  Frederique looks on at her new 'friend' in the bathtub, the only thing revealed to her (and by proxy us) is her knee coming out of the water.  Chabrol cuts back to it a couple of times during the scene, and it perfectly accentuates the sexual tension in the room.  To be sure this is later released in the next scene as Why emerges and Frederique helps her with her shirt.  Then the first button on her pants.  Cut RIGHT AWAY to black.  None of that now for Chabrol, got to keep the story forward.

A knee returns much later in the film, however not Why's but Frederique's, and under a variation on the circumstances.  By this point in the story, long by this point after we've seen that Frederique invites Why to stay at her place (how deep a sexual relationship goes is suggested but never shown, maybe very little if anything at all), along with Frederique's two obnoxious (possibly gay) roommates who act like the comedic side characters in a Hitchcock: think of the two neighborhood would-be snoops from Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, only very French and, again, obnoxious.  Also entering the picture is Paul Thomas (Z's Jean-Paul Trintignant, an actor with a very peculiar, sad but conservative-looking face), who at first has an attraction to Why - you know, cause she's a "pretty girl" as he says - but then he also goes for Frederique after she advances on him, following a night where Frederique gets anxious at Why and Paul Thomas' tryst.

The love triangle tension keeps thickening all the way until this point with the knee again.  It's a love-making scene, this time between Frederique and Paul Thomas.  The music isn't tawdry, but rather melancholy- again, calling back to the sweet/sour moments Bernard Herrmann gets so wonderfully with Hitchcock- and Stephane Audran's knee, indeed her whole leg, is mostly all in view in this scene shot with just the 'cinematic night-light' of a bedroom.  So much attention is called by Chabrol and his DoP on how to shoot a body, and precisely without being graphic or exploitative.  There are chances this material could get into the B-movie realm, just nothing but sex and soap opera emotions.

On the contrary, Chabrol's film gives us characters who are usually cold (with the exception of the 'roommates' who snoop around or make bad avant-garde music), or just distant, even when they mean to be loving.  The man enters the picture with these two women, one of whom (Audran's character) is so much more experienced, if not in love and sex than in the ways of the world and how to operate among businessmen such as at a card game she holds at her home.  Frederique sees nothing wrong with it, just something that happened... or at least, that's what her first appearance would be.  Scenes between characters, Frederique and Why, Why and Paul Thomas, Paul Thomas and his two 'Biches' while all drunk listening to a wailing voice on a record player, have dynamics that keep a viewer guessing.  Sometimes just eating a piece of toast at breakfast is grounds for a moment of suspense.

Chabrol is a master at controlling these elements of relationship and gender politics, as he was as well (perhaps much greater and concise) with his film just the following year, The Unfaithful Woman.  By the end it's become so cold an atmosphere one might suspect he brought on Robert Bresson as a guest director.  It's a menage-a-trois story that takes on some very fascinating angles about how one side plays against another, or another (the oddly named 'Why' played by a beautiful if precisely hollow-ala-Scarlett-Johansson-performance from Jacqueline Sassard), until what will happen next flies out the window.  And so much of this is dictated by camera style and the mood of a scene or the dullness of a color, or how Why moves when she walks on a street.  His film, as well as others from this exciting period, may seem straightforward as Hitchcockian melodrama, but the movements of the actors and tempo of dialog suggest a radical turn for cinema akin with his other Cashiers people.

Sad then that only one thing should get in the way of it being, arguably, his best film.  Those roommate characters, I must stress, almost by design (and if so I respect it), are hard to watch after a while.  They're not so obnoxious in the way that most gay or presumably gay characters are in films.  They're more-so by just being one-dimensional types who bicker, complain, make facile and stupid observations, and with only one or two exceptions (i.e. a character reading out of a book or finally confronting Why about her happiness) there's really little use of them in the story.  Maybe Chabrol's aim is to have some kind of precursor of normalcy, ironically, with such louts around these 'beautiful' people in the lead roles.  But it just falls so wrong that I pulled away from the scene when they came on, which is a good quarter of the running time.

Nevertheless, watch Les Biches as something of an essential in Chabrol's oeuvre.  When it's at its most grounded in the nature of these two women (aka "Bad Girls") and how they view each other's love and how it spirals out of control for both, it's irresistible in a certain way I've come to expect from Chabrol's work.  It may also be a template for other character-driven thrillers he would make over the years.


ADDENDUM: Other Chabrol reviews:


Red Time #2: John Milius's RED DAWN

Oh, the 1980's, sometimes how I don't miss you at all.  Certainly I missed Red Dawn, which was released the year of my birth, 1984.  It was made out of frustration by its maker, John Milius, a staunch conservative (one of the handful of which, certainly the most outspoken, from the "movie-brats" of the 1970's), who thought 'hey, America is soft, and they wouldn't be ready for the 'red scare' to come crashing down on us'.  So he made this movie, a tribute to kicking fucking ass guerilla-style of all of those Commies coming around to a small town in the west, specifically teenagers.  It's perhaps the only ultra-violent war movie featuring several members of the 'mid-80's club' of young people acting like Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey (MUCH different than Dirty Dancing), Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and a few others.  And it's rated PG-13.

How the Russians, and of course those dirty rotten Cubans, manage to get over to the US and take over what seems to be most of the country is only relevant inasmuch as "hey, SHIT just got REAL!"  The attitude of the situation for the characters is pretty straightforward, in a kind of real conservative frame of doing work: shape up or ship out.  So Swayze and Sheen, brother characters, and a few others (including Thompson and Grey, given roles where they kill more people in one scene alone than they would the rest of their careers), hold up in the mountains.  And little by little, with a little extra firing power, a little more practice, and a little more back-up from a fighter pilot-soldier played with respectable conviction by Powers Boothe, the teens get good.  Real good.  They become the Wolverines, and make their presence known like a rag-tag group.

It's a tale that is a whole lot of fantasy-as-reality, one that Milius takes deadly seriously even as there are some moments for fun (though you have to look for them, mostly in just seeing how much weight the teen actors try and sometimes do carry off in their scenes).  And of course if one tries to take it too seriously then logic becomes involved and one has to step away.  But it's a fantasy that is built up with the conviction of its maker and a point of view that doesn't ring false.  After watching recently the Rambo sequels from the mid-80's, also a by-gone product of the last gasp of Cold War paranoia that first came along in the 1950's and concluded with Regan though just amped up with steroids, I respected Red Dawn a lot more in comparison.  

Stallone's character and his fights against Vietcong and the Russians feel totally false, and the action is so over the top as to be totally tasteless except as mindless Hollywood trash.  At least Milius has the wherewithal to try to make us care about the characters and their untenable situation.  We feel for these Wolverines - hell, I even felt for the one Cuban general who didn't fail to see the irony of "being a policeman" now as opposed to the revolutionary he was years before and is the only villain with conflict - and it's also all in the service of a red-blooded (pun intended) action-war movie.  It makes sense that a gun lover like Milius would make a movie like this.  For the time, indeed, it set a record for on-screen mania with guns and bullets and bombs and the like.

I should state again how silly a lot of this is and, if I were more easily offendable as a liberal I might have had the urge to turn off the film after twenty minutes (again, the logic of it is sort of staggering considering how Milius radically underrates the whole 'US the most mighty military in the world').  On a side note it's also quite incorrect, in related news, about a remake being planned that doesn't update the enemies; the whole idea is set in a time capsule that is hard to replicate, even with new villains or terrorists.  But ultimately it's how good Milius is as a director, how true he stays to the preposterous material, and how he actually gets some artistic merit out of his scenes of action like in that final big city battle in the snow at night for example, that sees the work through.  That it also functions at certain moments like a coming-of-age movie add to its unlikely appeal.

It's exciting and stupid and thrilling and so many things that should go against it.  It's what it is, the writer of that infamous 'Ride of the Valkyries' bombing scene in Apocalypse Now let loose with US v Russians, put to a 80's teen beat.  

3 1/2 out of 4 Medals of 1984 honor!

ADDENDUM: I kept thinking during as well as after the film about if the film would have staying power with *today's* conservatives and right-wingers.  By this I mean, and I can use the TV show Battlestar Galactica for comparison, how the maker of the entertainment posits the position of "us" vs. "them".  In 1984 it looked nifty from a Milius-right-wing POV that a group of young people banding together guerilla style (or as the movie itself says, 'foxes'), and sneak-attacks Russian and Cuban troops, basically like terrorists hiding in the mountains.  Today, does this sound familiar?

Our troops fighting in Afghanistan, tables-have-turned much?  Perhaps the hunter aspect might still have appeal, how balsy it can be.  But as with BSG, for those that have seen it (if not please feel free to skip this paragraph), it oddly enough started off as a favorite of Republicans (in that case a symbolic representation of "us" vs "them" with "us" being humans and "them" being the Cylons, and how they attack us, we fight back, and they respond like terrorists, to which humanity responds as well (i.e. the episode Pegasus, watch it again if you have seen the show).  But then in season 3... favorability fell off.  Suddenly the "us" were turned around on the planet of New Caprica as Cylons take over and humanity has to revert to terrorist/revolutionary tactics to take over and escape the planet.

Again, I can't say for certain how Red Dawn looks today to conservative or the right-wing as I'm not either of those and haven't watched the film with others.  However there is one bright spot: the film acted as a primary inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, specifically how they fight back against the Nazis, and the climax.

"This man wants to die for his country. Oblige him."  Couldn't have Milius have written that?