Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Town (2010)

The Town (or as I like to call it, Good Will Hunting 2: The Chuckie Story) is getting far better reviews than it deserves. FAR better. It's okay - Jeremy Renner is electric and the three (slightly long) heist scenes are fast and fun. And the film definitely sparkles most when it's being funny. But the plot takes some stupid and unrealistic turns and chunks of the dialogue are insanely bad. Take, for example, the Good Will Hunting ripoff scene where Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall (the pretty British lady slummin' with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks) are sitting outside at a cafe. She looks around at the lovely sunny day and out of nowhere says "My brother died on a day like this."

There's also the little problem of Rebecca Hall's character being the dumbest chick on the planet. Their first date together, Ben Affleck drills her about what she knows and what she told the FBI about their robbery. She doesn't, for a second, question where this random bad-ass rough-edge guy game from? She's dense and I hate her.

Also, there are probably fifteen scenes where characters are talking about what happened to poor Ben Affleck before the movie began (including poor Ben Affleck). It is exposition city up in there and it's heavy handed and eye roll inducing.

Blake Lively was fine, Jon Hamm's accent was in and out. The nun costume might be my pick for Halloween this year.

The thing is - it's not a bad movie. But it's not the brilliant cops and robbers drama RottenTomatoes would have you believe (94% REALLY?). And the ending is a weird amalgamation of Nicholas Sparks and The Shawshank Redemption. If you like action movies - go see it. If you're expecting something loftier that may rise to your indie drama tastes, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dead Man (1995)

At the risk of damaging my film school cred, I'm going to be honest about this one. It took a few weeks of Dead Man sitting on my t.v. stand before I finally popped it into the DVD player. Jim Jarmusch is known for his independent, art house ways and as much as I like to play at film snob, these movies aren't exactly fun to watch. They take concentration, thought, attention, and you can't be anywhere near the realm of tired. I just haven't been in the mood.

I'll admit, Johnny Depp helps. But only a little. It was a smart, lyrical film with plenty to think about and plenty of vagueness. It swiftly moved to the shelf of my brain labeled "Glad I saw it. Won't watch it again." Johnny Depp's performance is fantastic. The black and white cinematography looked amazing. Lots of funny (not as in haha but as in odd) cameos were speckled throughout - Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Gabriel Byrne (who I think was the only character it was easy to emotionally connect with) and Crispin Glover (who just can't seem to get away from creepy these days).

I'm sure there were themes and motifs that went woosh over my head (because I was a little too close to the realm of tired - I'll admit) but I'm pleased I can now stick it in my outgoing mail pile and send it flying back to Netflix.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Star Trek (2009)

For my money, Star Trek was the best film of 2009. I wasn't a huge fan of The Hurt Locker and Avatar had some serious acting issues. Of the actual nominees, District 9 would have been my choice, but Star Trek was sorely overlooked.

Just so we're clear, I am not a Trekkie. I think I've seen the original Star Trek once and Star Trek Next Generation maybe five times. I could not have named a character beyond Spock and Kirk. Yet, I love love loved this movie. I have a special place in my heart for movies that have to be movies. Stuff that should be seen on a big screen, the stuff that people are talking about when they use the phrase movie magic. They remind me of why we all love movies to begin with. It's what separates movies from plays and television. Avatar had movie magic in spades but Sam Worthington - oof! Star Trek balanced it all beautifully. Engaging story, good acting, fun characters, and the sparkle of cinema.

I truly loved Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine in this movie. They were fun and funny and loveable with a few tinges of angst (I always love my angst). The supporting cast was also fantastic. Each character got a moment to shine. How adorable was Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov? And my Lord of the Rings love dictates that I always give major props to Karl Urban (who I met once! I had to resist the urge to bend down on one knee and call him majesty).

J.J. Abrams knows story and I appreciate that above everything. My biggest Star Trek related hope is that the sequel doesn't suck. I adore these characters. I guess I see where the Trekkies are coming from.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cache (2005)

Award winning director and Christopher Lee lookalike Michael Haneke (pronounced like the Hanukkah) came to my grad school while I was a student there. In preparation for his visit, we watched the original version of his film Funny Games (unfortunately for the world, there is a shot-for-shot English language remake done by Haneke himself). 108 minutes later, my entire MFA class wanted to run screaming through a plate glass window. Funny Games is intentionally mean spirited and manipulative. It's a commentary saying "Hey! You're a dumb member of the public!" It's terrible. So, since then, despite the glowing reputation Haneke has in the rest of the world and despite his film The White Ribbon being nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this past year, I've avoided his stuff like Swine Flu.

However, Cache had been sitting in my Netflix queue for ages. Due to my forgetfulness, Cache made it to the top of the queue and ended up in my mailbox. Thus, it had to be watched.

Happily, Cache was nothing like Funny Games. It had its foreign art house tendencies - super long shots, some naturalistic disengaged dialogue, vague insinuations about what's really going on, and no true conclusion. But the plot was engaging and I felt like I was seeing a part of the world I don't know. I know next to nothing about French/Algerian relations. This movie got me interested. And Juliette Binoche is one of the best actresses on the planet. I always enjoy seeing her.

The movie has a mystery type plot. A somewhat bored suburban family starts receiving tapes indicating that they're under surveillance. Eventually, drawings (like the one above) are included that pique the families suspicions about who is behind it all. It's hard to know who is in the right, whose side we should be on, and who, if anyone, is to blame for everything that transpires. It's interesting. It's defiantly worth seeing. I only wish Cache was the film they chose to show us before Mr. Haneke's visit. I wouldn't have had to waste my time shooting daggers at the man who had ruined 108 minutes of my life. See Cache. Run far far away from Funny Games.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Whatever You Say (2002)

Whatever You Say is French. The subtitlers can't seem to decide if it should be Whatever You Say or Anything You Say. I'm letting you know it exists out there as both so that you can avoid it.

I rented this because Guillaume Canet is the star (and writer and director - oof) and I enjoy looking at him. He's dreamy. I dig his vibe. But I do not dig his writing. This movie isn't anything. It's not really bad bad like Swingers bad. But it's not emotionally engaging in any way. Protagonist Bastien (Guillaume) is a dick. And he doesn't change. The plot shifts tones three times from dramaish to comedy to dark creepy weridness. There's some animation randomly thrown in for good measure. And an ending that settles nothing and means less.

In that picture, he's like "Wha? You didn't like my film? I'm French." I wouldn't waste your time with this one, kids. If you want to gaze lovingly at Guillaume and feel jealous of Marion Cotillard, go watch Love Me if You Dare. It's charming.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shutter Island (2010)

I LOVE Shutter Island. If you disagree - you are wrong. It's better than Inception. If you disagree with that - again - you are wrong. This movie is the best movie I've seen in a long long time. I saw it in the theatre when it came out and I was enamored. I've recently purchased the DVD and let me tell you, it's even better the second time around. If you haven't seen it - stop reading. I'm about to go all spoiler on your ass.

The final thirty seconds of Shutter Island elevates it to brilliance. In case you didn't get it - Leonardo DiCaprio's character is sane in the end. He's pretending to be crazy because he'd prefer to be lobotomized than go on living knowing what he did. I'm sorry if I sound patronizing, but I do think it's missable. I know some folk who missed it. It's genius. It's the ending of Inception without douchebaggery. There's a final knife twist in your gut but it doesn't send people to the message boards screaming, "THE TOP WOBBLED!" It's a fantastic ending related to character and I appreciate that.

For my money, it's the best Scorsese film. If you disagree with that, I won't say you're wrong. I think film school can kill movies and it killed Taxi Driver and Mean Streets for me. And people emotionally connect to Goodfellas in a way that I never have. I find The Aviator overrated. And I flat out do not like Gangs of New York, Casino, or The Departed. But that's a topic for another post. Shutter Island benefits from an extremely tight story. Scorsese is allowed to do what he does best - create a mood, create tension, and direct actors. In other films, his plot is often so sprawling I'm rolling my eyes by the end no matter how impressed I was with the direction. Shutter Island does not have that problem.

I'd also like to address a problem a lot of people seem to have with Shutter Island according to the banal IMDb boards. Lots of people say they saw the ending coming. Here's the thing. From the beginning, there are really only two ways it's all going to go. Leo is crazy. Leo is not. Thinking, "Leo is crazy!" at some point during the movie does not mean you saw the ending coming. It means you're watching Shutter Island. The ending is a reveal no matter how you slice it. There is nothing in there that would allow us to determine Leo killed his wife who killed his kids and Mark Ruffalo is really a doctor and everyone is playing along and his name is an anagram and on and on and on. We're meant to question Leo's sanity. Oh you IMDb posters who think you outthought the movie - you're wrong. You were right where they wanted you.

And...because I can't help myself...those of you who think there is a case to be made for Leo actually being sane all along, i.e. Gandhi convinced a sane man he was crazy at the end, You Are Wrong. It is NOT open to interpretation. You Are Wrong and you're pathetic for thinking you're smarter than the film. You Are Wrong.

My rant is over. I'm sorry if it bored you. But I adore Shutter Island and I think it's painfully underrated - especially in the wake of the other Leo's-having-issues-because-his-wife-was-crazy movie. Shutter Island is the only Martin Scorsese movie I'll intentionally watch again and again and if you haven't seen it, fix that. Please. For your own sake.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

My Own Private Idaho is a really great movie. I've mentioned before that River Phoenix is one of those tragic figures who I, along with legions of others who are too young to remember him being alive, are drawn to. Thirteen year old me was into the tragedy and the oh-so-dreamy face. Twenty-five year old me has a bit more perspective and knows he was just a really good actor who died too soon. Thirteen year old me did not understand or enjoy My Own Private Idaho. Twenty-five year old me thought it was crazy good.

It's one of those rare movies that walks the line of pretentious art-house and linear plot with relatable characters well. It's definitely not Good Will Hunting but it isn't Last Days either. I like the balance. Obviously, a great deal of the credit goes to River Phoenix. Perhaps less obviously, a great deal of the credit also goes to Keanu Reeves. I acknowledge that Keanu is not The thespian of our times, but a few roles he hits right on the money. He was born to be Scott Favor just as he was born to be Neo in The Matrix and Jack in Speed. The dynamic between Keanu and River is pitch perfect, perhaps a byproduct of their real life relationship.

I'd like to see this again. There was so much going on, I feel like I probably only absorbed 50% of it. Some of the weird Shakespearian language especially I'd like to reexamine. Finally, I've gone this whole post without mentioning Gus Van Sant which is practically criminal. He's great. All of his films, whether I like them or not, I'm glad I saw. I always know going in that he's got something to say. He's earned my trust. If his name is on it, I'll give it a whirl. If you haven't seen My Own Private Idaho - go see it. Unless you're 13. In which case, wait about ten years.