31 October 2009

My Brother's Keeper

Done in the style of an Errol Morris documentary…
This acclaimed documentary explores the odd world of the four elderly Ward brothers -- illiterate farmers who have lived their entire lives in a dilapidated two-room shack. When William Ward dies in the bed he shared with his brother Delbert, the police become suspicious. Citing motives ranging from sex crime to euthanasia, they arrest Delbert for murder, penetrating the isolated world that left "the boys" forgotten eccentrics for many years.
Not the quality of Errol Morris, to be sure, but a gripping story. Highly recommended.

I can't say much more without giving away the plot. The documentary is over 10 years old, so bear that in mind.

26 October 2009

Surveillance

When you think of the kind of movie David Lynch's daughter might make about a pair of serial killers who terrorize a small town, you might envision something like Surveillance. What you don't expect is that Jennifer Chambers Lynch might just be better at this than her father.

And that's saying something.

Surveillance cannot be defined in simple jargon. It is not a movie for the masses. It is not a film for anyone with sensibilities, ego, children, or perhaps… even a soul. This movie is that depraved, awkward, distressing, and majestic all at the same time. If Old Boy is one of the greatest vengeance films of all time, then certainly someone should examine which genre Surveillance is the greatest film (in).

The movie preys upon many factors: perspective, power, and tone. The perspective of each character comes into question (most strikingly by the film styles revealing their accounts of the murder). The power of those who have it and those who do not. The murders are not merely acts of violence but demonstrations of helplessness. The cops themselves abuse their power, to vile ends, showing that no one is this film is worthy of redemption.

Finally, there's the tone of the film, which keeps the viewer constantly on edge and distressed by what is going on. This tone is exacerbated by two factors. One, the cops are reprehensible figures who deserve nothing more than death at their abuses. Two, the actors, all playing at different tones and values throughout the film, each almost working in their own one-man show. The casting is perfect for this in fact. No greater example of this exist then the first time Julia Ormand, Bill Pullman, and Michael Ironside all stand in a hallway together, awkwardly redacting lines and blocking to create a melange of disjointedness — making the audience feel fitful about the events taking place (which again brings us back to perspective).

On the surface it would appear that Lynch is just trying to freak us out with gore, and the "making of on the DVD" certainly adds to this pallor. But this is just a bait and switch technique to distract us from the true themes of the film.

I haven't been this impressed in a long time. Movies like this just don't exist.

Disclaimer: Seriously. If you think Ice Cube/Eddie Murphy/Chevy Chase is funny or you enjoy romantic stories from the makers of the McConaughey-Bullock-Lopez-Aniston nonsense machine, do not see this film.

Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs)

The punny title of the American release makes my skin crawl with stupidity, but I had to watch the movie Departed was based on. And while not as good as Scorsese's version, it holds its own.

And it's obvious Scorsese watched this version. Many tropes are used wholesale and other ideas are just dropped or improved.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai (from Hard Boiled) once again plays a deep undercover agent, only this time the focus is a little less action-oriented and more on the drama of being removed from polite society for ten years.

If you've seen Departed, I recommend this, just to see how high production values and a strong script can improve on an already good idea.

As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me

Clemens Forell, a German soldier during WW II, is sentenced to a labour camp in far east Siberia by the victorious Russian army. After four years working in the mines he escapes from the camp (in 1949) travelling 14,000 kilometers, to reach his family.

And yes, it's as good as it sounds.

Vanguard pictures is known for low-budget, off the beaten track films. And this one is really good, despite the poor-lighting, awful action scenes, and sometimes poor acting. It does have Irina Pantaeva however, so I can't complain... I have a new crush.

Some plot threads are just dropped and the Russian commander who chases him just gets silly after a while. Luckily, they know how to focus the attention to the film. What the movie lacked, however, was a better explanation of the geography he was in. Even though it's a German movie, set in the old USSR, I'm not sure I could place exactly what land they were in at times.

25 October 2009

Whatever Works

Sigh.

It's been a long ride of bad "comedies" as Woody Allen cranks out another Woody Allen movie. While not as painful of some of his previous work, it once again involves an old man with a young woman, infidelity, and mindless banter. This one adds a threesome, gay marriage, and a "genius" of quantum mechanics (David) that you can see the actor even getting tired of playing.

Patricia Clarkson (god bless her) even tries to make sense of the film's meandering and pedantic script, but she can't. Ed Begley Jr. also appears in the most contrived of roles. What was he thinking?

Gladiator (1992)

I know this movie is simple and narrow in scope, but I love it anyway. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's the perfect scene in the ring where Tommy and Abraham stare one another down and Tommy says, "Come get your money." Maybe it's Robert Loggia playing such an even-handed role as the muscle who is your friend when he needs to be. Or maybe it's Brian Dennehy as the perfect bad-ass.

I don't really care. The movie is nearly 20 years old now, but I think it holds up well to my expectations and shows the last touches of the 80s movie-making, perhaps a few years behind the times, but still a part of that era of movies.

It remains among my favorite movies.

Year One

Saw this one on the plane for free, so I can't complain about it.

But it will receive no accolades either.

Harold Ramis writes/directs. Judd Apatow produces/destroys. Jack Black acts/flounders. Michael Cera acts/phones it in. McLovin acts/cameos. David Cross acts/redeems. Oliver Platt acts/appears courtesy of a bad agent. Hank Azaria acts/entertains. Vinnie Jones acts/tries to expand resume.

Does anyone remember when the last time most of these guys were funny? How did Ghostbusters get made anyway?

And how much of a pain in the ass will Michael Cera be in the Arrested Development remake?

Coraline

Dreadful. Dreadful. I'm not a fan of Tim Burton and his protege is nothing to speak of either. A simple childrens' story becomes a maze of stupider and stupider tropes in an attempt for the director to:

a. fill 90 minutes
b. seem more intelligent
c. ruin a good time

I don't know what this was supposed to be, but I fell asleep before it ended and woke with no interest in watching the rest, either.

Redbox sucks.

The Proposal

As bad as you think it is. Redbox does not have the options one would expect and being on vacation in Puerto Rico it was this or Paul Blart.

I think I chose poorly.

The last 20 minutes may be the worst Act III in the history of bad Romantic Comedy Act IIIs.

Dear god. It hurts.

The interviews during the ending credits were funny.

Denis O'Hare and Malin Akerman were underused in this film and Betty White was given some great and horrible dialog at the same time.

Did I mention how bad it was?

Big Stan

Stupid comedy from Rob Schneider. Not great. Some funny bits. Still better than most of Adam Sandler's last eight movies or whatever.

It was funny to see him as a bad ass in prisoner. Schneider is somewhat funny.