Monday, August 29, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

There’s not a whole hell of a lot to say about Our Idiot Brother, a slight character study concerning a carefree stoner who, after spending a few months in the hoosegow for selling a dime bag to a uniformed cop, freeloads at his sisters’ homes; annoying them, helping them, whatever.

Watching this movie, I was reminded more than ever how similar Paul Rudd and Woody Allen’s acting styles are. Woody Allen is the first to admit that he can only play one character (in his case, a death-fearing, sex crazed, rambling neurotic).  When it works, it works famously; when it fails, it fails disastrously. Now, I’ve seen every movie Woody Allen has acted in, and I’ve read most ever book written about him and I can confidently tell you that, with very little exception, Allen acts exactly the same, movie to movie, role to role. His acting, he often says, has nothing to do with his performance. It’s in the writing.  If the story is there, everything else will fall into place.

That absurdly long digression is meant to draw comparison to Rudd for various reasons. Rudd, quite frankly, only plays one character.  He’s the blasé, carefree, happy-go-lucky dude that most anyone would love to share a beer with. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, Rudd has played the same character throughout his entire career.  Which is why, much like Woody Allen, it can be difficult to distinguish the characters he plays, and, more importantly, the movies he stars in. 

The point is: if Rudd is given the right material, he can shine; but if the story is weak, the movie will sink. Our Idiot Brother falls somewhere in the middle; it’s not a clunker, but you’re not likely to toss around amusing quotes after the fact.

For this role, Rudd sports a disheveled beard and a shaggy wig, but that matters little.  He’s Paul Rudd playing Paul Rudd.  Luckily, he’s supported by the talents of Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and the particularly impeccable Emily Mortimer, who all clock in worthy screen time as Rudd’s sisters, but ultimately aren’t given nearly enough to do.

Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and Steve Coogan (who starred in this year’s best comedy, which no one saw), all help out, but it’s Rudd’s show, for better or worse.

I enjoyed my time during Our Idiot Brother.  Its 90 minute length is breezy, and the script generates a decent amount of laughs along with a few welcome surprises (the standout scene of the film is an extended sequence involving charades), but by the time I nestled onto to my couch to watch Lady Gaga in drag, the flick had all but escaped my memory.  B-

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the Directors: David Cronenberg

Alternative realities.  Subjective versus objective narratives.  Psychoanalytic fascination with man’s obsessions.  Sexual masochism.  These are some of the attributes most commonly associated with David Cronenberg, one of cinema’s leading auteurs of the desperate and the depraved. 

While most frequently tied to the science fiction and horror genres that made him famous (and that he, in turn, helped propel), Cronenberg has recently stretched his narrative landscape to more conventional, but no less thrilling, storytelling.  In drafting short reviews of Cronenberg’s entire filmography, I found that I wasn’t all too impressed by some of his earlier work.  But, like all great filmmakers, when he’s on, he’s on.

For me, the sole criterion for labeling an auteur is being able to tell whose film you’re watching after only a few moments of the movie.  And while many of these films share similar themes, several of them differ vastly in content and execution.  Regardless, when you watch a David Cronenberg film, you’re watching a David Cronenberg film.  There’s no mistaking, no denying, you’re in it.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Shivers: They Came From Within (1975)
In a disquieting debut, Shivers tells the frantic story of a scientist who accidently manufactures a parasite that basically makes those exposed to it have sex with anything in sight.  The movie isn’t at all revelatory, but does well in the shock factor, which appears to be its main goal.

Much like Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape, Shivers promises fresh explorations of a tired genre; an announcement showcasing what is to come, only to be drowned out by a slew of less-than-inferior follow up films.  Yes, the production value is utter crap, but for loyal Cronenberg fans, Shivers is vital viewing.  B

Rabid (1977)
Rabid is best known as the zombie flick starring porn star Marilyn Chambers, and honestly, it’s not really much more than that.  After the starling motorcycle accident that opens the film, Rabid quickly turns into nothing more than a dull edition to the then thriving, and now reemerged, zombie genre.  Boring, clichéd, and not at all reminiscent of the sci-fi/horror greatness that would later dominate Cronenberg’s career. D

Fast Company (1979)
I watched Fast Company less than a month ago and from what I can remember, it’s about a… professional dragster racer who is constantly arguing with his… gruff manager?  Fast Company is easily the biggest head scratcher of Cronenberg’s career. I have no idea what his motivations were in directing it, or how he managed to crank out such a seemingly random, uninteresting film.  A complete bore.  D-

The Brood (1979)
A few years ago, I made the mistake of purchasing The Brood, simply because the tagline was something like: “From the early mind of David Cronenberg comes THE BROOD!”

The Brood, more or less, chronicles a psychoanalyst’s investigation as to why people are being killed by a demon-like dwarf, thing. Questions are answered, music shrieks, clichés abound, cheesy dialogue ensues; it’s all very movie-of-the-week.  With that in mind, The Brood is, I suppose, worthy for three reasons.  It highlights techniques that would soon come to identify Cronenberg, its final scene often ends up on Scariest Movie Moments of All Time lists, and it was apparently based heavily on Cronenberg’s first marriage, which is oddly amusing.  D+

Scanners (1981)
If you’ve never seen Scanners, about a hunted group of people who can control others by “scanning” them, you’re probably aware of two scenes that will be forever stapled as essential moments in horror film history.  The exploding head and the final Scanner battle.  But honestly, you can watch those two scenes separately and not lose much of the context offered in the film.  Scanners, like many of the films already mentioned, is dated, dull, and forced beyond repair.  For die hard horror fans, and Cronenberg enthusiasts, Scanners is a must. For everyone else, YouTube the aforementioned scenes, and you’ll be good.  C-

Videodrome (1983)
In Videodrome, James Woods’ cable station owner stumbles across a channel that seems to only broadcast actual violence and torture.  As he investigates the genesis of the channel, he soon becomes immersed, and obsessed, by apparent alternate realities brought on by the newfound network.

Perfectly fitting for the best of Cronenbergian themes – surrealist obsession, heightened reality, device ownership over its user – Videodrome delivers early on its promise, but soon fades into tiresome obscurity.  The discovery of the channel, and of Woods’ genuine shock, is infinitely more amusing than the film’s ultimate payoff.  Videodrome is 90 minutes long, and could be 20 minutes shorter.  Essential for Cronenberg buffs only. C+

The Dead Zone (1983)
A kind, timid man suffers a traumatic accident and suddenly discovers that, upon touching people, he can see the badness they’ve done and experienced, and the badness they will soon do.  Sounds familiar, right? Watching The Dead Zone, I couldn’t help but think of how shamelessly M. Night Shyamalan ripped it off for his Unbreakable, a film, for the record, I like very much.

Regardless, The Dead Zone is a completely decent, pseudo sci-fi/horror flick, with an as-you-might-expect central Christopher Walken performance.  Walken’s zany, now parodied antics fit perfectly with Stephen King’s material.  And while Walken and the rest of the cast, including Brook Adams, Tom Skerritt, and Martin Sheen, make the film worthy, it never once feels like a Cronenberg film.  It’s controlled and limited in scope, like a superior part of a drive-in double bill.  The Dead Zone is enjoyable and evolves smoothly with each passing act, but it’s holding something back.  B-
The Fly (1986)
As far as I’m concerned, there’s David Cronenberg before The Fly, and David Cronenberg after The Fly.  Here’s a guy who had yet to live up to his potential, and then struck down the naysayers in one fell swoop.

The Fly, one of the very best science fiction films ever made, is a tour de force on many levels.  Its pace is careful and engaging, its script includes nothing but necessities, its score, by Cronenberg collaborator Howard Shore, propels the action, but doesn’t force it, its makeup is game changing, and it has the rarest of all sci-fi attributes: a stellar leading performance.

A career-best Jeff Goldblum embodies everything about Seth Brundle.  His obsession, his carnality, his physicality; it’s a demanding role, both physically and mentally, and Goldblum kills it.  Every facial twitch and insect movement is executed seamlessly.  Most of the time, actors in such roles let the heavy makeup do the acting for them, such is not the case here.  How Goldblum’s performance didn’t merit an Academy Award nomination is beyond me.

The Fly is inarguably the most important film of David Cronenberg’s career.  It elevated him from a wannabe to a master.  It is essential viewing for any fan of cinema.  A

Dead Ringers (1988)
Dead Ringers, more so than any of Cronenberg’s films, rests solely on the performance of its leading actor. The story – about identical twin gynecologists who are bored with their genius and deicide to share just about everything – while engaging, is nothing really new.  The cinematography and score, while cold and appropriate, is far from revelatory.  Basically, all of that would be lost were it not for Jeremy Irons.

As Elliot and Beverly Mantle, Irons delivers what could very well be the best dual role in the history of film.  When both are on screen (which is seamlessly done with exceptional digital effects), it’s difficult to tell who is who. When the two are apart, forget about it.  This is not a flaw, mind you, this is dynamic acting. Irons’ performance(s), while horribly overlooked awards wise, is frankly one of the best I’ve ever seen.  When he finally did win his Oscar (for Barbet Schroeder’s Reversal of Fortune), Irons very selflessly thanked David Cronenberg.  His performance is masterful, and the film is seriously elevated because of it.  A

Naked Lunch (1991)
In adapting William S. Burroughs' “unadaptable” novel, Cronenberg created something of a cult masterpiece.  Which fans of cult cinema rightly know, doesn’t necessarily equate to a movie of full comprehension, but one hell of a ride in the moment.

It’s best not to give away too much, mostly because it’d take me four paragraphs to even describe exactly what this movie is about, but in short, Naked Lunch details the trials and tribulations of a ‘50s bug exterminator who may or may not be using his product for recreational purposes, and as a result, may or may not share beers (among of things) with very large, talking bugs.

If you dive into the Burroughs/Cronenberg world, there’s only one way to do it: head first without looking back.  Naked Lunch only gets weirder as its running time lessens, leading up to a real mindfuck of a finale.  Remember... dive, don’t jump.  B+

M. Butterfly (1993)
Note to avid Cronenberg fans: if you have any interest in seeing M. Butterfly, do yourself a favor and watch it without doing any research.  I was clueless going in, for which I benefitted immensely.  The film tells the sort-of true story of René Gallimard, a French diplomat in 1960s Beijing who was eventually tried for treason. M. Butterfly isn’t a great film, but it is anchored by yet another flawless Jeremy Irons performance, and best viewed uninvestigated. B

Crash (1996)
Please, for the love of God, do not get Cronenberg’s masterful film about a subculture of people who get equal gratification from car crashes and sex, confused with Paul Haggis’ inferior film of the same name.

Cronenberg’s Crash, while not using science fiction or horror as a theme, is essential Cronenberg.  Crash, better than any of the films on this list, details human nature’s obsession with… you name it: sex, death, desire, self longing, betrayal, violence.  This being one of the best sexual thrillers ever made, Crash is a ballsy film filled with fearless performances, namely by Deborah Kara Unger and Elias Koteas.  With its realistic violence and frank sexuality, the NC-17 rated movie continues to polarize audiences and critics today.  You’re either going to completely dig it, or dismiss it as smut trash. 

Me?  I dig it, and then some.  And Cronenberg fans, I suspect, will too.  A-

eXistenZ (1999)
Much like Videodrome, eXistenZ shows how the things we own end up owning us.  Much like Naked Lunch, eXistenZ morphs into parallel realities and lucid hallucinations, with little to no warning.  Frankly, I was a little bored with eXistenZ, which isn’t a fault of leads Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh, or with the look and tone of the film; I suppose I was bored by the overall material.

That is, until the film’s final ten minutes.

I dare not give it away here, but the final scene of this film is one that will have you amusingly puzzled long after the credits have rolled.  “What does it all mean,” you may think.  I’m not sure, but somehow, I’m now more impressed with the experience. B-

Spider (2002)
Better than more popular, Hollywood-glam like A Beautiful Mind and The Soloist, Spider allows its viewer to experience what I assume actual schizophrenia is like.  The film drifts in and out of consciousness, seamlessly shifting narratives and time periods.  Actors play multiple characters, scenes are repeated once, twice, three times; yet, by the end, it all makes jaw-dropping sense.

Like some of his best work, Cronenberg’s Spider depends on a terrific lead performance, which Ralph Fiennes dutifully delivers.  As the titular schizophrenic, Fiennes rarely speaks above a whisper, constantly mumbling, seemingly confused yet oddly in touch.  While Spider never found the audience it deserved, it’s bound to be appreciated by fans of our auteur in question.  B+

A History of Violence (2005)
In one way or another, all of the films mentioned thus far deal with at least one form of obsession.  Whether imposed by the characters themselves or by outside factors, Croneberg is a man amused with the obsession of human nature.  Which is why I find it most interesting that A History of Violence, while having nothing whatsoever to do with obsession, is David Cronenberg’s best film.

A History of Violence tells the story of Tom Stall (played expertly by Viggo Mortensen), who, after defending himself and others from a wicked spat of violence, soon becomes the victim of mistaken identity, incidentally putting himself and his family at serious risk.

This is a simple film about a simple man living a simple life. And when I first saw it in 2005, I wasn’t quite sure why (or how) it succeeded so fabulously.  You can credit all the actors involved, chiefly Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris and particularly William Hurt, who gives a brief but humorously haunting performance that, all things considered, probably should’ve resulted in him winning the Oscar he was nominated for.

Like the performers, most everyone involved in the film put egos aside and delivered natural, unflashy work.  From Josh Olson’s country-charm script, to Howard Shore’s subtle score, to Peter Suschitzky’s cool photography, to Ronald Sanders’ smooth editing; everything simply works.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just genuinely masterful storytelling.  I called A History of Violence one of the top 20 films of the 2000s, a rank I happily stand by today.  A+

Eastern Promises (2007)
Much like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises is similar in conventional tone vesus superior execution. Riding high off his newfound acclaim, Cronenberg helmed another simple story about otherwise simple people stuck in extraordinary circumstances.  After a midwife (Naomi Watts) discovers the journal of a dead 14-year-old girl, she quickly finds herself immersed in London’s sect of the Russian Mafia.  This mob faction, led by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his crazed son (a convincing Vincent Cassel), are a forced to be reckoned with, especially at the hands of entry-level enforcer Nikolai (Mortensen, again achieving greatness).

Most notable for people who’ve seen the film is its graphic violence, which is never stylized, and wholly realistic.  Many prefer Eastern Promises to A History of Violence, and who can blame them?  Regardless, both films would make one hell of a double feature.  A

A Dangerous Method (2011)
After back-to-back works of art, I’ve been seriously missing David Cronenberg, which makes me all the more excited for his Carl Jung/Sigmund Freud character study.  Make no mistake, I am predicting that 2011 will slightly beat 2010 in terms of cinematic ingenuity (which isn’t saying too much).  But here’s to hoping Cronenberg, with the help of Mortensen, Cassel, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightly, can resurrect a seemingly written off year.

In summation:
The Fly
Dead Ringers
A History of Violence

Eastern Promises

The Dead Zone
Naked Lunch
M. Butterfly

The Brood

Just Plain Bad
Fast Company
Listen to my podcast on David Cronenberg!

One Day

One Day is based on David Nicholls’ insanely popular, step-up-from-chick-lit novel which follows two young Brits through 20 plus years of their lives, revisiting them every July 15.

That’s about as much plot exposition as you’re going to get, quite frankly.  Describing what the book is about, and how well it succeeds, is a waste of my time. Describing what the movie is about, and how well it fails, is a waste of our time.  But I suppose a slight bit of ranting is in order.

Thirty minutes into the film, the script has covered four years and Anne Hathaway has tested just as many accents, steadily fumbling her way through one, if not the, worst performance of her career.  As Emma, Hathaway’s accent starts proper British, then casually dips into shades of Irish, Scottish, and what appears to be Southern Belle American. (I’m no expert in British dialects, but I can only imagine how many of those are thrown around as well.)

Bad accents don’t necessarily kill a performance (Malkovich’s absurd Russian inflection doesn’t make Rounders any less enjoyable), which is a nice way of saying that Hathaway’s performance isn’t all to blame for One Day’s many faults.  There’s the phoned in script (shockingly by Nicholls himself) that is horribly convenient and manages to dodge what would be the most interesting, and most difficult, sequences to write.  There’s the clunky, film school editing that doesn’t even bother to keep a little thing called continuity in mind.  There’s the overall lazy direction by Lone Scherfig, who has sadly taken a serious misstep after her wondrous An Education.

In short, there’s not too much going on here, and most all of it is wrong.  Whiffs of redemption?  Jim Sturgess does a decent job as Dexter, but Mickey Mouse could be awards worthy next to Hathaway.  Patricia Clarkson, as Dexter’s mother, is reliably good without being given anything to do.  And 10-year-old twins, Kayla and Eden Mengelgrein, deliver the film’s best performance, despite being on screen for roughly 14 seconds.

One Day is a mess, a hellacious waste of time and incredible let down for any fan of the book.  There’s a big dramatic scene near the end of the film that generated serious laughs from the audience I sat with.  Me?  No, I couldn’t laugh. I was too busy staring at the ground, holding my head as it shook back and forth.  Most of the crowd cleared before the credits even started, we sought strong drink, or an Eternal Sunshine brainwash. D-

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

8 Great Disaster Movie Scenes

An hour ago, Virginia experienced a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, equal to the largest earthquake in the state’s history.  Reports are still streaming in, with apparent tremors felt in Baltimore, Boston, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois and more.

Inspired by these events, and the fact that it has taken three beers to make my legs stop shaking, I’ve assembled a list of the best scenes in disaster movie history.  A lot of the scenes I’d like to feature aren’t readily available online, but the clips below are worthy nonetheless.

These are nature-driven disasters only, folks.  No aliens, no terrorists, no zombies, no monkeys. Enjoy.

Alive (1993)
Cast Away, Alive and Fearless contain the most terrifying, in-real-time plane crashes in film history (not counting United 93, of course), but because this one is true, it takes the cake. (Crash begins at 6:30)

Twister (1996)
I personally prefer the scene where Cary Elwes eats shit, but this is arguably the most iconic moment from Jan de Bont’s disaster flick.

Titanic (1997)
The “ice berg, right ahead!” scene is a personal standout, but there’s nothing more terrifying than every light on the ship blowing out simultaneously. 

Deep Impact (1998)
I’ll never forget seeing this movie in the theater.  This scene was ballsy in its scope, utterly awesome in its executive.

Armageddon (1998)
I'm no fan of seeing the World Trade Center towers pierced with holes, but as far as disaster flicks go, this scene remains forever epic.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
New York, Roland Emmerich, hellacious rain storms.  What do you expect to happen?

Posedion (2006)
Not as good as Deep Impact, but it’s still pretty badass to watch that wave come in.

2012 (2009)
While I absolutely hate this movie (and many others on this list), I had to include at least one earthquake scene.  Plus, if anyone knows how to completely wreak havoc on America, it’s Roland Emmerich.

And for good measure....

The Towering Inferno (1974)
No disaster movie list can be complete without mention of The Towering Inferno.  Here's the scene that starts it all:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fright Night

I see no need to mince words here.  Let’s be honest, Tom Holland’s original Fright Night isn’t scary, it isn’t very funny, it isn’t shocking, or sexy or whatever; it’s just a slight ‘80s horror flick that doesn’t take itself very seriously.  With that criteria, Craig Gillespie’s remake is perfectly acceptable.

That’s as back end of a compliment as I can give, but this is Fright Night, not Nosferatu.  If, for whatever reason, you’re expecting something good (which clearly many weren’t, given the film’s dismal box office take), then you’re better suited elsewhere.

This re-vamp (see what I did there?) follows generic teenager, Charlie around as he not-so-stealthily spies on his new neighbor, Jerry, in an effort to determine if Jerry is a vampire. 

Night falls, people go missing, teens get drained, fires break out, explosions erupt, crosses are wielded, etc etc.

If Fright Night is worth seeing, it’s solely because of Colin Farrell, who plays Jerry as a confident, smooth talking bro, just as willing to share a beer as he is to suck you dry.  Everything Farrell says and does is done with a slight hint of sarcasm. It’s as if Jerry, the character, is as cognizant as Farrell, the actor, of how lame he always sounds.

But when Farrell isn’t on screen, which is much of the time, the film isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s just plain bad. The script is filled with cheesy, was-this-written-by-a-sixth-grader bits like “I’m gonna end him or he’s gonna end me, that’s how it’s gonna be, so you’re gonna come with me.” The acting is dull across the board (save a few spirited scenes with James Franco’s younger brother, Dave), and the plot is full of more holes than the necks of Jerry’s victims.

Let me put it another way.  Toward the end of Fright Night, there’s a big climatic scene that involves busted gas lines, an exploding house, a thrown motorcycle, a few car accidents and an amusing cameo.  I was excited during the scene, knowing all well that the movie would soon be over and I could go back to not wasting my time so foolishly. When the scene finished, I looked at my phone.  The movie had only been running for an hour. I sank down in my chair, let out an audible sigh and did what I hope none of you have to do: stayed until the end.  D

Note: This 3D conversion technology is slowly proving itself to be utterly useless.  If you’ve worn them, you know the 3D glasses make the picture much darker, not a very good thing for a movie that takes place mostly at night.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Art of Talking Trash: Directors vs. Directors

A few days ago, I came across Flavorwire’s list of  “The 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults In History” and after I composed myself from a spout of bellowing laughter, my first thought was, okay… how many of these are taken out of context?  But to even get to that point, we must first accept that all of these quotes are accurate, a difficult feat considering the exclusion of citations.  So, for our purposes, let’s assume the following directors indeed said what they are quoted as saying here. 

What’s so amusing about this list is that a.) a lot of what these directors say is true, and b.) the slams certain directors dish out are so completely off base that they actually make the slammer look goddamn ridiculous.

My blue thoughts follow the quotes.  The original Flavorwire article is linked at the end of this post.

Francois Truffaut on Michelangelo Antonioni:
“Antonioni is the only important director I have nothing good to say about. He bores me; he’s so solemn and humorless.”

Ingmar Bergman on Michelangelo Antonioni:
“Fellini, Kurosawa, and Bunuel move in the same field as Tarkovsky. Antonioni was on his way, but expired, suffocated by his own tediousness.”

At least Bergman was (sort of) kind about this thoughts on Antonioni. Truffaut... I mean, damn.

Ingmar Berman on Orson Welles:
“For me he’s just a hoax. It’s empty. It’s not interesting. It’s dead. Citizen Kane, which I have a copy of — is all the critics’ darling, always at the top of every poll taken, but I think it’s a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie’s got is absolutely unbelievable.”

Harsh.  While I don’t agree with Bergman (who, for the record, is my favorite filmmaker), I must admit that out of all of Welles’ films, I’ve only thorough loved two: Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil. But still, were talking pure gold here.

Ingmar Bergman on Jean-Luc Godard:
“I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual, and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin, Féminin, was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.”

Orson Welles on Jean-Luc Godard:
“His gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker — and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin.”

Werner Herzog on Jean-Luc Godard:
“Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung-fu film.”

I got seriously into Godard last year, and post-Week End, I suppose I can see where Bergman, Welles and Herzog are coming from.  1960-1967, however, is untouchable.

Jean-Luc Godard on Quentin Tarantino:
“Tarantino named his production company after one of my films. He’d have done better to give me some money.”

Or maybe you should just say “Thanks”...?  Tarantino’s films did, after all, turn a whole new generation onto Godard’s films.

Harmony Korine on Quentin Tarantino:
“Quentin Tarantino seems to be too concerned with other films. I mean, about appropriating other movies, like in a blender. I think it’s, like, really funny at the time I’m seeing it, but then, I don’t know, there’s a void there. Some of the references are flat, just pop culture.”

I’m curious to hear what people think about this one. Korine’s thoughts are definitely fair, but I still think QT does wonders with his cinematic theft. You?

Nick Broomfield on Quentin Tarantino:
“It’s like watching a schoolboy’s fantasy of violence and sex, which normally Quentin Tarantino would be wanking alone to in his bedroom while this mother is making his baked beans downstairs. Only this time he’s got Harvey Weinstein behind him and it’s on at a million screens.”

Okay so that baked beans line is pretty hilarious.

Spike Lee on Quentin Tarantino (and the “n-word” in his scripts):
“I’m not against the word, and I use it, but not excessively. And some people speak that way. But, Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made — an honorary black man?”

Lee’s claims here continue to be hotly debated. Me personally, I hate the word. But I don’t think QT is infatuated with the word, but rather the culture from where the word is freely tossed around. Im not justifying anything, I’m just attempting to examine the warped mind of Quentin Tarantino. 

Spike Lee on Tyler Perry:
“We got a black president, and we going back to Mantan Moreland and Sleep ‘n’ Eat?”

Yeah, I’m with Lee on this.

Tyler Perry on Spike Lee
“Spike can go straight to hell! You can print that… Spike needs to shut the hell up!”

You need to wake up, my friend.

Clint Eastwood on Spike Lee:
“A guy like him should shut his face.”

Totally out of context.  Eastwood only offered this up after Spike Lee publicly bashed the Flags of our Fathers director for not using more black actors in his Iwo Jima epic.

Jacques Rivette on Stanley Kubrick:
“Kubrick is a machine, a mutant, a Martian. He has no human feeling whatsoever. But it’s great when the machine films other machines, as in 2001.”

 Jacques Rivette on James Cameron (and Steven Spielberg):
“Cameron isn’t evil, he’s not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can’t direct his way out of a paper bag. “

I have yet to see one Jacques Rivette film, so I can't comment too much except to say that I... have yet to see one Jacques Rivette film.

Jean-Luc Godard on Steven Spielberg:
“I don’t know him personally. I don’t think his films are very good.”

If you read my Director’s Profile on Spielberg, you know that I don’t feel as though everything Spielberg touches automatically turns to gold.

Tim Burton on Kevin Smith (after Smith jokingly accused Burton of stealing the ending of Planet of the Apes from a Smith comic book):
“Anyone who knows me knows I would never read a comic book. And I would especially never read anything created by Kevin Smith.”

Kevin Smith on Tim Burton (in response to “I would never read a comic book”):
“Which, to me, explains fucking Batman.”

Boys, boys, boys, stop fighting and each of you go make a good film. Its been a tad too long.

Kevin Smith on Paul Thomas Anderson (specifically, Magnolia):
“I’ll never watch it again, but I will keep it. I’ll keep it right on my desk, as a constant reminder that a bloated sense of self-importance is the most unattractive quality in a person or their work.”

By far the most egregious offense on this list.  Two hit wonder Kevin Smith, bashing the most talented director of their generation?  Really? Which mini marathon would you rather have: Jersey Girl, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Cop Out or Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood?

David Gordon Green on Kevin Smith:
“He kind of created a Special Olympics for film. They just kind of lowered the standard. I’m sure their parents are proud; it’s just nothing I care to buy a ticket for.”


Vincent Gallo on Spike Jonze:
“He’s the biggest fraud out there. If you bring him to a party he’s the least interesting person at the party, he’s the person who doesn’t know anything. He’s the person who doesn’t say anything funny, interesting, intelligent… He’s a pig piece of shit.”

Vincent Gallo on Martin Scorsese:
“I wouldn’t work for Martin Scorsese for $10 million. He hasn’t made a good film in 25 years. I would never work with an egomaniac has-been.”

Vincent Gallo on Sofia (and Francis Ford) Coppola:
“Sofia Coppola likes any guy who has what she wants. If she wants to be a photographer she’ll fuck a photographer. If she wants to be a filmmaker, she’ll fuck a filmmaker. She’s a parasite just like her fat, pig father was.”

Vincent Gallo on Abel Ferrara:
“Abel Ferrara was on so much crack when I did The Funeral, he was never on set. He was in my room trying to pick-pocket me.”

So can we all agree that Vincent Gallo is just a tab bit insane?  Although his Ferrara comment may or may not explain quite a lot.

Werner Herzog on Abel Ferrara:
“I have no idea who Abel Ferrara is. But let him fight the windmills… I’ve never seen a film by him. I have no idea who he is. Is he Italian? Is he French? Who is he?”

Again, completely out of context.  Herzog, who probably, legitimately had no idea who Abel Ferrara was, only made this comment after Ferrara bashed Herzog’s “reimagining” of Bad Lieutenant, saying he wished the German director woulddie in Hell.” 

David Cronenberg on M. Night Shymalan:
“I HATE that guy! Next question.”

Yes, next, please.

Uwe Boll on Michael Bay:
“I’m not a fucking retard like Michael Bay.”

Well, I mean, you kind of are.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Final Destination 5

Last night I quite literally sat through one of the very best movie theater experiences of my life.  As myself and roughly 20 others watched mostly white, fresh-faced twentysomethings get stabbed and shocked and decapitated in various ways, we did what every audience watching mostly white, fresh-faced twentysomethings getting stabbed and shocked and decapitated in various ways should do: laughed our asses off.

After 15 pointless opening minutes (more than have of which was dedicated to an absurdly drawn out credit sequence), the “vision” that begins each film in the franchise was well on its way.  As a bridge under construction slowly began to crumble and give way, us audiences members sat, shielded by 3D glasses, waiting for that first kill; the initial death that sets the rest of the film in motion.  As a poor red head fell hundreds of feet, only to be impaled by a giant pole, a large man seated in front of me bellowed out in uproarious laughter while giving his teenage son a high five, thereby setting the tone for what would be a genuinely hilarious experience.

The Final Destination franchise, unlike other torture porn films, has done a very smart thing with each passing movie: they have acknowledged how ridiculous they are and stopped at nothing to make fun of themselves.  The makers of these films want you to laugh, not only at the methods they think up to kill their characters, but at the God-awful, softcore porn-worthy dialogue. 

Normally, I’d be the first to urge you not see this movie in the theater, especially at $14 per 3D ticket.  The Final Destination films are much better suited in a living room with a few buddies, two pies of pizza and plenty of beers to accommodate whatever drinking game you come up with.  But if you’re lucky enough, you may be privy to a crowd like the one I had last night.

If you do find yourself paying all that money only to be sitting in a dark room with a bunch of stiffs, my advice is to break the ice and laugh first.  Everyone else will follow suit.  Believe me.

I see no real point in grading this movie.  Really, what are you expecting?

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Guard

Much like his older brother Martin’s In Bruges, John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard aims to drop jaws with hilariously un-PC antics, while allowing itself to have a genuine backbone.  The salty and the sweet, laced with a touch of acid.

The Guard tells the story of Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a carefree, rule-bending Irish policeman who unexpectedly becomes partnered with Wendell, a by-the-book FBI agent investigating a massive drug smuggling ring that may or may not be passing through Gerry’s small Irish town.

But plot, as casually observed in In Bruges, isn’t the McDonaghs' primary interest.  They thrive on situational dialogue and graphic violence that is often made humorous.  Witnessing the blasé reaction of a character’s death in The Guard (“Nice shot,” he murmurs as he falls dead) is nearly as funny as John Travolta’s reaction upon shooting Marvin in the face.

In short, The Guard is a damn funny film, ranking with Bridesmaids and The Trip as the most hilarious film of the year.  From The Guard’s opening scene, which includes loud rap music, bottles of Jameson, acid tablets and bloodied bodies, you know you’re in for a witty, demented treat.

Brendan Gleeson is perfectly cast as Gerry.  Whether he’s fondling a very fresh victim of homicide, or playfully ripping the blouse off an eager prostitute, Gleeson plays Gerry as an aloof man of loose morals, but one of tireless compassion.  As Wendell puts it, “I can’t tell if you’re really motherfucking dumb, or really motherfucking smart.”

Gleeson has successfully managed to tap two markets, the Hollywood blockbuster (he’s had memorable roles in Braveheart, Gangs of New York, Troy, and a few Harry Potter films), and the credible indie scene (28 Days Later, Dark Blue, Harrison’s Flowers).  And while I thought his acting reached a welcomed new high with In Bruges, it’s hard to top his performance in The Guard.  Expect to hear (and hopefully see) some awards consideration.

Now, while The Guard is littered with amusing interludes of witty dialogue, the movie is not without its faults.  For one, Don Cheadle’s Tennessee accent tends to noticeably dip in and out during long monologues (in fact, his Southern heritage lends nothing significant to the character; Cheadle could’ve easily kept his own voice).  Secondly, the film has a slight tendency to linger and drag, which at 96 minutes long, isn’t really a good thing.

But these are nitpicky qualms.  If you want to laugh, The Guard will most amicably suit your needs, if you want to think, well, see something else (The Tree of Life and Incendies are still lurking around out there).  You’ll undoubtedly have to scout out The Guard at an indie theater; so bottom line: it’s worth it, and then some. B

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Help

The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s wildly popular novel about a young white female writer who exposes the harsh realities of the black help in Jackson, Mississippi circa 1960. I certainly hope that Stockett’s novel, unread by me, moves along faster than director Tate Taylor’s new film.  If the book is even remotely as laborious as the movie, I can’t imagine anyone would finish it.

Skeeter (Emma Stone) is a fresh college graduate who, unlike most of her contemporaries, treats everyone equally and with respect.  Struggling for a new idea, she soon asks a local maid, Aibileen (Viola Davis), to detail the trials and tribulations of being a paid servant. 

For the first hour and half of its nearly two and half hour running time, The Help spends equal time with Skeeter, Aibileen, Aibileen’s feisty best friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer), the town bitch, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), and the town outcast, Celia (Jessica Chastain).  We weave in and out of the women’s lives, until the film’s final act, when virtually every conversation revolves around the contents of a single pie.

As mentioned, The Help is long.  Its scenes drag on with no real structured narrative.  The movie, for instance, is occasionally narrated by Aibileen, meaning her voice conveniently drops in for a few moments, then fades away for a half hour or so.  It’s a lazy narrative device, one that feels it was done in post production to try and save face.

The Help is really nothing more than an extended Hallmark movie, far better suited as a movie-of-the-week on cable.  The characters are broadly defined to the point of annoyance, each given a very specific one-note arc to achieve.  And the unrealistic, kid-friendly content (the N-word is only spoken when people are REALLY mad; cigarettes are often seen lit, but rarely smoked; domestic abuse is spoken of, but never seen) doesn’t help much either.

But aside from its extremely weak script, aimless direction, and impractically warm photography, The Help is suited with something that could get its named mentioned come awards time: stellar acting performances.

Emma Stone, capping off a great year, does very well anchoring the film from the white perspective, while Viola Davis delivers yet another flawless performance as the main actor of the black cast.  Davis’ brief single scenes in Antwone Fisher, World Trade Center, and Doubt are not only devastating, but arguably the highlight of each film.  Her work in The Help (almost) makes the film worthy.

Likewise Spencer and Howard, who bring specific levels of furiousness to their respective roles.  But for me, the real highlight was Jessica Chastain.  Brilliant as the mother in The Tree of Life, Chastain does wonders with her Celia Foote.  She’s rambunctious, nervous, hilarious and can make the simple act of planting a flower utterly devastating.  Get ready to start seeing Chastain's name a lot more.
Chastain and Spencer
Casting great actors is one thing, giving them proper material is something completely different.  The biggest issue with The Help is the complete lack of character evolution.   All the main characters in the film end exactly as they began, with their initial motivations still intact.  Don’t get me wrong, change isn’t a necessary component for a good film. Daniel Plainview doesn’t have to waltz into the sunset singing a show tune to convince me that the performance is great. 

But The Help is about change (the tagline for the movie confirms this).  And while change is apparently the entire point of the film, we never see any.  The bitch is still the bitch, the do-gooder is still the do-gooder, the strong willed are still the strong willed, and so on.  The film’s lack of change is irritating to the point that after 137 minutes, I was left thinking “that’s all?”

Yes, that is all.  Two and half hours of boredom sprinkled with spirited moments from an ever-so-talented cast.  Shame shame shame.  C-

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, without question, the oddest movie going experience I’ve had so far this year.  About 40 minutes into the film, right around the time the audience is privy to a masterful extended CGI shot of a small chimp effortlessly maneuvering his way around the cervices of a home, I was hit with something profound.  “Holy shit,” I may have say aloud, “Am I actually… enjoying this?”

Once I came to the realization that I most definitely was enjoying the film, I sunk in my chair and let a wave of calming acceptance take over.

As dramatic as this sounds, it couldn’t be closer to the truth.  Me liking this film is, as you may have guessed, against all odds.  It doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot going for it.  A summer blockbuster prequel to a cult classic that uses an absurd amount of computer graphics to achieve its vision.  Hell, even the film’s star bashed the movie in Playboy a few weeks ago.  What’s to like?  I’m not entirely sure, but like it I did.

You can start with the fact that Rise of the Planet of the Apes never tries (or wants) to be more than it is.  It’s an Apes Gone Mad flick, plain and simple.  It also helps that the special effects are damn near flawless, and the chimp movements, done by motion capture expert Andy Serkis (he played Gollum and King Kong for Peter Jackson) equate to the best performance Serkis has ever given.

It also helps that James Franco dishes out the perfect blend of melodramatic ham that he can often rely too heavily on.  And it doesn’t hurt that his love interest (played by Freida Pinto) is merely that, an interest, not a deciding plot factor.

The film, about a young scientist who raises a chimp with a genius IQ, the result of medical experiments, glides on through its entirety.  Even when it spends extended periods of time with only chimps, such as when they plan to escape captivity, it moves briskly and with little effort.  The final chimp attack on the Golden Gate Bridge is a thrilling sequence, one that I prayed would keep going.

This is what makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes such an odd experience.  You go in with your critical guns drawn, ready to bash it down with sarcastic maliciousness. But somewhere along the way, you realize you’re watching a movie that, while far from perfect, ain’t half bad.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but as far as seemingly throwaway summer action blockbusters go, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best time I’ve had in a mainstream movie this season. B

Monday, August 8, 2011

When Birthday Parties Go Bad

The joy of the birthday party.  In life, birthday parties bring friends and family together to celebrate the birth of a loved one.  In film, they usually do the same, which often translates to rather boring, plot exposition-laced cinema.  In honor of my birthday, I’ve put a fresh spin on things and listed a few parties I wouldn’t like to attend anytime soon.  Enjoy!

The Birds
When I was seven, I may or may not have been attacked by seagulls on a beach while carrying a ziplock bag full of powdered donuts.  Which is why this scene may or may not depict the worst birthday in the history of film.

The Omen
You gotta love that after a few screams and an extended moment of silence, Damien’s birthday party pretty much carries on as normal after the nanny offs herself.  Ahh, the eccentricities of the rich.

The Game
Showing the birthday party scene from this movie would ruin the entirety of David Fincher’s mad ass crazy lucid dream of a film.  So instead, here’s in early scene that puts the titular game in motion.  If you’ve never seen this movie, I must ask: what are you waiting for?

Ok let’s be honest, it’d be pretty damn cool to not only spot a legit alien at your birthday party, but it get it on video and sell it to every major television network in the world, too.  This scene seems silly now, but it garnered some serious screams in the cinema.

Honorable Mention:
Not technically a party, but the scene in Good Will Hunting in which Matt Damon’s pals give Will the “ugliest fuckin’ car” he’s ever scene is a complete riot.  In a film filled with Oscar-winning dialogue, Cole Hauser’s “You’re legally allowed to drink now, so we figured the best thing for you was a car,” line remains one of the film’s best.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Devil’s Double

Dual roles must be as thrilling as they are haunting for an actor.  It’s never an easy task, one that teeters a delicate balance between brilliance (Eddie Murphy, Coming to America; The Nutty Professor), and ridiculousness (Eddie Murphy, everything else). Basically, if the actor can pull it off, the dual role does wonders, but if they push too far, the entire film is ruined.

The best that comes to mind recently is Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation.  But, let’s be honest, Peter Sellers more than owns the dual role crown for his (several) flawless performances in Dr. Strangelove

Feel free to add Dominic Cooper’s performance in The Devil’s Double among the best dual roles there have been.  The movie, sadly, belongs on a completely separate list.

The Devil’s Double tells the true story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who was recruited (more like forced) by Saddam Hussein’s batshit crazy son, Uday, to act as his body double.  Latif is plucked from his regular life, tortured into the job, given corrective facial surgery, a new set of clothes, whores; the works.  Latif – cool, calm and calculated – isn’t at all enthusiastic about the job, but he doesn’t have a choice.

While on duty, Latif not only stands in for Uday, giving speeches or greeting war-pressed Iraqis, he witnesses countless acts of brutality at the hands of a trigger happy psycho.

Now, here is that delicate balance I mentioned early.  Latif and Uday couldn’t be more different.  Everything Uday does is done with flourished exaggeration.  The way he speaks, the way he shoots, the way he smokes cigars, the way he smashes bottles, the way he gets his women; it’s all hyperbolic in execution, but utterly convincing.  Equally compelling is Cooper’s depiction of Latif, who, even while sitting idly in the back of a room, always looks as if he’s two steps ahead.

The Devil’s Double can be summed up rather easily: without Dominic Cooper, the movie would not only be a failure, it’d be a complete waste of time.  With its drowned-out lighting, tone-dependent photography, weak script and aimless direction, The Devil’s Double is a limp film anchored by a flawless lead performance.

As the film progresses, we are privy to a few of the horrendous acts Uday deems necessary for pleasure.  There’s the (mostly unseen) rape of a 14-year-old; the (completely seen) finger slashing, intestine spilling death of a close friend; the (mostly unseen) rape of a bride still in her wedding gown; the Tony Montana sized cocaine consumption; it’s all just too much, at least for the film’s 108 minutes.

It isn’t until the end that director Lee Tamahori (The Edge, Die Another Day) trusts the audience enough to know that we get it.  We don’t need to see everything single act of gruesome physical and/or sexual violence committed by Uday.  Cooper’s performance is convincing enough, and it deserves to be ranked among Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life) and Demián Bichir (A Better Life) as the best male performance so far this year.

Too bad Cooper didn’t yet have more clout as an actor, enough to advise Tamahori to tone it down a little.  No matter, after this performance, clout will be coming Cooper’s way involuntarily. Dominic Cooper: A+, the film: C-