Archive for April, 2011

April 21, 2011

“Antichrist” – You can’t prepare yourself.

I’m not sure if I’m upset or relieved that I knew a few things about this movie going into it. I feel I was robbed a bit of the element of surprise. However, this lack of surprise is probably the only way I actually made it through. It is a fucked up movie, but I’ll say it – in all the best ways possible.

This movie has a lot of people drinking the hater-ade. It’s an easy movie to hate. In something that I would not consider a spoiler, there is a chapter to the movie titled “Gynocide”. The film maker is also a fairly detestable human being. He is the self proclaimed “best film maker to have ever lived”. That might not be true, but his lack of humility is not keeping me from enjoying a movie. Should that be a conversation people have? That’s another question for another time.

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April 19, 2011

13 Assassins hunts for an audience

It says "13 Assassins". Trust Me.

“13 Assassins” – 53742

This is supposedly director Takashi Miike’s most accessible and light-hearted film, but as I have yet to watch Audition, I would venture to say that 13 Assassins still is not for the faint of heart.

To the best approximation of the relatively simple plot I can give, Naritsugu is the evil shogun in control. He exemplifies his unbridled cruelty early on in the film. After his sadistic mind and master mindset has been displayed to the audience, an other samurai decides now is the time to form a rebellion.

Shinzaemon, the rebel leader, gathers a troop of the 11 most skilled samurai he can find. They soon create a plan to ambush Naritsugu while he is travelling. The 12 samurai pick up a straggler along the way, the peasant named Koyata who’s a wise cracking, unorthodox, non-samurai, but knows the lay of the land. That makes 13.

That is all of the plot that makes the first half of the movie. The second half?

1 Battle scene.

The 13 assassins turn a small farming town into a death trap with lots of booby traps and dead ends to corner Naritsugu and his men. This scene is impressive in the creativity of the 13 assassins (and probably therefore Miike) and also in its immense length. It is one of the stand out features of the movie… if you’re into nonstop bloodbaths… which I am! It’s especially effective because you can actually follow what’s going on. Miike directs it so well that there is never any confusion. Or at least no more confusion than my racist self has distinguishing the different Japanese samurai.

The film on the whole is well-shot, if not always visually interesting. There is clearly an eastern sensibility that I can not access, since this feels similar to other Japanese samurai movies that I also feel to be less than 100% effective. They always get tangled in a politic that I brazenly choose not to follow – probably based on ignorance. Oh well.

The best character by a long shot in the movie though is indeed the nefarious Naritsugu, by the surprisingly good Gorô Inagaki. He has been coddled on the life of the rich and is always seeking the next thrill. To him, it involves torturing and raping his servants – and everyone his a servant. However, he has clearly spent time thinking and trying to understand what life is. I would actually venture to say that by a classical definition – he is the protagonist of the film as he undergoes the largest change. He learns and adapts his ideas to his experiences, all the while maintaining a harsh malice. He is one of my favorite villains I’ve seen in a while.

There were many things I liked about this film, but ultimately it felt about 30 minutes too long.

Closest Actual Zip Code: Madison, WI. This city actually looks down right charming. This movie might be a little too intense for them. Fun fact: Glenn Beck apparently calls Madison "The Newman of America" in a reference to Seinfeld.

Expectations: 5

Recommendable: 3

Hipster-ness: 7

Tearjerker Quotient: 4

Outstanding Fields of Cinema: 2

April 18, 2011

“The Arrangement” – The overdirection of Elia Kazan

I hate the tag line here. Yes the beginning of the movie is really great, but the first five minutes are no reason to see a film. Unless it's Scream.

“The Arrangement” (1969) – 31621

I really just stumbled upon this movie. All I knew about it before I went in was that it was directed by the great Elia Kazan. Worth a look? Sure.

Never before would I have been able to point out the flaws of  over directing. This film taught me it was possible. Every moment is carefully planned. Characters face certain directions, if only for an interesting camera angle. Quiet melodrama fills the scenes. Sometimes Faye Dunaway’s character is a ghost. Other times she is juxtaposed nearly frame by frame with Deborah Kerr. Out of nowhere, a graphic-novel-esque POW! pops up on screen. Back to quiet melodrama.

In the movie, Kirk Douglas’ character Eddie is unhappy with his living situation – he is in a sexless marriage and has been cheating on his wife Florence (Kerr) with the office slut bag Gwen (Dunaway). Almost inexplicably, Florence encourages the affair. Literally. That is the eponymous “arrangement”. Her motives are that her husband deserves to be satisfied in ways she obviously can’t provide him. His solution is to kill himself, but he fails because he’s a pussy. Eddie is then confronted with a difficult balance as both Florence and Gwen start to think they deserve more – empowerment now!

Lots of pointless and boring subplots involving abusive fathers and illegitimate children crowd the space. The only interesting dynamic is that Gwen too has a plutonic lover, her love triangle mirroring Eddie’s but to different emotional success.

The acting is actually quite good. I was a huge fan of Deborah Kerr in this, but when isn’t she wonderful. Her character always plays her cards just a little too far away from her chest to wild results. Kirk Douglas, looking like a young Michael Douglas (that’s right. backwards) is excellent at being tortured. And the oft maligned Dunaway needs to do only two things to pull this role off: be sexy and go into histrionics. She excels at both making the three actors one of the best parts of this melodrama.

I don’t want to spoil this out there for the Kazan completists, but it should be far down on that list. There is lots of really fun film and sound editing. Unknown editor Stefan Arnsten some really exciting and interesting rhythms that directly mirror and contrast the sonic design, sometimes threatening to build the tension so great on its own, that the tension will never reach the pay off. Unfortunately, this threat comes too true and some wonderful moments are ruined by the lack of direction in this auteur film.

April 18, 2011

Rango – Is it just me?

I think I am the only person on the planet who didn’t like Rango.

It started out promisingly enough… it was actually delightful. In a bit of existential absurdism, Rango (as voiced by Johnny Depp – although you would have had to have horse blinders to miss it in the advertising) acts out the adventure of his rather dull interesting life to wild extremes. If it felt familiar, it’s probably because it’s very similar in tone to the beginning of Toy Story movies, but we’ll call that coincidence.

As Rango ends up in the town of Dirt, he meets a sad sack cast of characters that all seem to was together. Sure there was Beans the girl lizard who there’s never any real great romantic tension with. She is indistinguishably voiced by Isla Fisher. I can’t tell if I think it’s really good voice acting or really bad voice acting if I can’t pinpoint who the voice actor is. In her case… ? The other characters include a bunch of other turtles and reptiles that have various Western-y name with a lot of quasi famous voice actors who all use the same gruff ness.

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April 18, 2011

The Killing: A Soundless Echo

He'll never quite make it to Mad Men.

SPOILER ALERT

So we knew the English teacher was going to be more involved. I don’t think he’s the killer. Sure I’m a little surprised to get the cliffhanger that the murdered Rosie Larsen might have been dating Bennet. But he was a little too omnipresent, a little too comforting in “The Cage” to be a bit player. Plus he was a sketch ball supreme with the favorite book nonsense to Rosie’s mom, Mitch (And he was slated for a jillion episodes on IMDb so I knew he wasn’t going to fizzle out). I also really liked how Linden and Holder came to the same conclusion in different ways. If you were paying close attention though, Holder’s way is actually Linden’s plan B. But that didn’t make the storytelling less effective. If they do try and set up a “who’s the better detective” situation though… Holder will fail.

This episode also proved the ubiquity of Alan Dale in the TV world. He is everywhere. He was first on “The OC”, then “Ugly Betty”, he popped up for a while on “Lost” and now he’s here! The man can choose a TV show. I don’t know if unique yours-truly approved projects seek him out or what, but he’s a welcome face on any show. He always brings the perfect amount of upper class charm. And he’s not only the local senator, but also Gwen’s father! It’s not really a twist at all, but it’s something I’m sure will be exploited soon.

My money is still on Jasper. There’s something off about him.

April 15, 2011

Movie Review: “Le Concert”

“Le Concert” (***)

In a love letter to Tchaikovsky, director Radu Mihaileanu creates an effective comedy that uses simplicity as its strongest asset. Andrey Filipov (Aleksey Guskov), a former orchestra conductor with a horrible end to his career, decides to get back into the conducting business through less than conventional manners. He steals a n invitation fax from the Bolshoi orchestra company and decides to form his own orchestra to play in Paris. While assembling a ragtag team of local musicians he once knew, he also tries to commit legendary violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent) as the violin soloist. She agrees only knowing of his previous fame and his attachment to the jewish heritage.

Here’s where things start to lose me. There are two currents running through the story of Filipov’s past: an emotional one and a political one. The emotional strain is easy and extremely rewarding. The political? There’s a lot of jokes about Russians and communists and Jews. I think Filipov stood up for Jewish rights but is everyone Jewish? Unclear. Fortunately, it’s not really important.

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April 15, 2011

Movie Review: “Drugstore Cowboy”

“Drugstore Cowboy” (**)

In another drug-fueled swing back to the ’70s, Gus Van Sant tries to make his version of a western road movie. There’s your wild protagonist cowboy, Bob (Matt Dillon), who robs and steals with his gang of bandits. He’s got a dashing beauty wife, a hapless sidekick with his ingenue girlfriend, and then he’s got the man of the law perpetually chasing them. They travel across the West, continuing to commit their crimes when he gets jinxed and wants out of the game and finds it more difficult than he expects.

That could be a really fun shoot ’em up Western, but this is no classic Western. In fact, they creatively rob pharmacies, are being chased by a narc, and the jinx is mostly likely aroused by a drug-induced superstition. The redemptive qualities to this story would stand out either way, but Bob’s struggle with his addiction is fun to watch. But not as much fun as the robberies. The best scene is in the beginning when we see them perfecting their craft on a run-of-the-mill heist. Their plan runs like clockwork – for the moment. After a close call, they decide to travel and constantly avoid the law. 

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April 14, 2011

Movie Review: “Gnomeo and Juliet” – They can’t both die, right?

The tagline makes me want to kick a lawn flamingo.

“Gnomeo and Juliet” (**1/2 )

Well I can’t spoil the ending, but probably the most fun part of this movie was watching them take Romeo & Juliet and adapt it to garden gnomes. The marketing tells us it’s the Red gnomes (on Mr. Capulet’s lawn) vs. the Blue gnomes (on Ms. Montague’s lawn) and they have been warring for as long as anyone can remember. When Gnomeo meets Juliet (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, respectively of course) in an abandoned garden, they instantly fall in love. Pretty standard so far.

Things start to stray more from Shakespeare when lawn mower races replace sword fights, the friar is a lawn flamingo, and the nurse is a frog who has a relationship with Paris. So maybe if you’re a die hard Shakespeare fan, I’d avoid this movie. But if I had kids, I think I would be just fine if this were the introduction to great tragedies. 

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April 14, 2011

Movie Review: “Scream” – Nothing beats the original.

"I thought you didn't have a boyfriend?" "I lied. I do have a boyfriend... And he's big and plays football and will beat the shit of you."

“Scream” (****)

This is one of my all time favorite movies. And I don’t say that lightly. Scream was groundbreaking, the first to do a meta movie, then spawning a Scary Movie, and in turn a genre. It also is so unclassifiable in terms of its own genre. Is it a horror? Yeah. A Comedy? Certainly! What? It succeeds so admirably on both accounts I don’t know where to begin.

So the beginning is legendary. If you don’t know what happens in the first 10 minutes of this film, crawl out from under your rock and find this movie. One of the best scenes… period. I remember when I first watched that scene when I was pretty young… too young for this movie, I kept pausing every 10 seconds so I could tell myself it was just a movie. While nothing in the rest of the movie is as harrowing, all of the action and horror is expertly done by the master of terror himself (at the time), Wes Craven.

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April 13, 2011

Movie Review: “Scream 4” – Warning: This movie will make you laugh.

It took me a solid month to realize it's also a knife!

“Scream 4” (***)

15 years ago, there was a movie landscape that didn’t include “Scary Movie”, “Shaun of the Dead”, “Date/Epic/Whatever Movie” or really much of anything that mocked other movies. Sure there were parodies, but they were genre parodies – never directly naming films and never direct mimicking. This all changed when the first “Scream” was released. It was the birth of a new age in cinema. In one swift move, it mocked the horror genre, even then stale with sequels, debasing all of the silly rules that everyone knew but were never mentioned. It even created new horror themes, like the idea of “playing a game” with the victim. At the same time, it was scathingly funny. Creating memorable movie nerds, TV reporters, and a new villain. Soon after, the sequel made fun of sequels, the third movie commented on trilogies, and this fourth reboot?

It does so much more than make of fun reboots. It’s ten years after Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was involved in the Woodsboro Murders and she is releasing her new memoir of her harrowing tale. She returns to Woodsboro where she reunites with former rival Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox) and her sheriff husband Dewey (David Arquette), the only survivors from the original trilogy. As soon as she arrives to home sweet home, new murders set the town on fire again. This time, they not only concern the three survivors, but a new set of teens led by Sidney’s niece Jill (Emma Roberts) and her best friend Kirby (Hayden Pannetiere). 

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