Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

Almodóvar’s Triumph
March 27, 2012

Truth be told, I haven’t seen any cinema lately that has really bowled me over, until last week.  First I watched Black Swan, which I thought was quite good…  and then I finally got around to viewing Pedro Almodóvar’s La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In) 2011.  It was fantastic, to say the least.  I know, I am behind on my viewing, and I am a little rusty on reviewing, so bear with me here.  I read reviews on this film when it originally came out in theaters last year, but for some reason I was under the impression that this was a somewhat straight-ish story about a top o’ the line plastic surgeon who is obsessed with making the perfect woman…  if such a plot can be straigh-ish.  I also somehow interpreted reviews that the woman in question was the surgeon’s lover.  I could not have been more off, and at this point I have no interest in backtracking reviews to even understand my misunderstanding.

The Skin I Live In

Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya in La Piel Que Habito, 2011

Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, and Almodóvar favorite Marisa Paredes, the story is anything but straight-ish.  And for what reason did I expect it to be by such an imaginative filmmaker?  Probably because Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) 2009 and Volver 2006, the last two feature length films by the filmmaker, weren’t as crazy or striking as his storylines have been in the past.  Which apparently gave me the impression that he was mellowing out as he aged, as so many  filmmakers do.

I was wrong.  I was so very wrong.  At this point, La Piel Que Habito is, by a huge lead, my favorite film Almodóvar has made to date.  So much so, that the only thing I am going to say about the plot is that, once I came to the revelation of the who, why and how of the patient/doctor relationship, I was itching to rewatch everything that had happened before that point.  I restrained myself, however, watched the film to the end, and then promptly re-watched the entire 120 minutes.  The story was so powerful it has etched itself in my memory and has been following me around since.  Bravo, Pedro, bravo.  Best film of 2011 and of his career, in my humble opinion.

Partir : Leaving
May 18, 2011

Recently I viewed the French film Partir (Leaving) from 2009.  What first drew me to this film was the presence of Kristin Scott Thomas, the wonderful French actress who won me over in Il y a Longtemps Que Je T’aime (I’ve Loved You So Long 2008). Her performance was astounding in that film, where her character is recently released from prison for killing her own infant child.  However, throughout nearly the entire film, her character stifles her reason and emotion, creating awkward encounters when trying to reintroduce herself socially.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Sergi López in Leaving 2009

In Partir, Thomas plays a wife, mother who falls in love with a contractor hired by her husband to construct a new physiotherapy office at their home so she can start up her practice again.  Sounds sticky, right?  It gets stickier as she tries to give up her lover on orders of her husband, just to go right back to her passionate affair.  As she attempts leaving her husband, he does his best to make life miserable for the two lovers…  and possibly succeeds.  You be the judge of the outcome.  Ultimately, I felt that her character handles the situation like a person who has thrown all logic out the window.  Her husband’s reaction is a form of angry denial, her son is the most understanding/accepting while her daughter wants nothing to do with her.  Oh the web we weave.

The outcome is strikingly reminiscent of one of my favorite classic Truffaut films, La Peau Douce (The Soft Skin 1964).  La Peau Douce has a similar plot of an extramarital affair, however the roles are reversed.  In this film the husband, father falls desperately in love with a young flight attendant, and his wife is unaccepting of the situation.  In both films the wives play the role of the emotionally illogical.  I won’t go into further details on either film, as I truly wish not to spoil either startling outcome.  You will just have to take my word for it that each is worth a serious watch.

Françoise Dorléac and Jean Desailly in La Peau Douce 1964

‘Tis the Season for Movies
December 12, 2010

Here are a few movies in my radar this holiday season, listed on my “to-see” list.  If you want to be my date to one of these, I am 90% ears, though I do believe I am spoken for with Tron:

Top of the list is Tron: Legacy. Do I really need to explain myself here?  Big fan of the original, big fan of Jeff Bridges.  Tagline:  “A virtual-world worker looks to take down the Master Control Program.”  Opening day is December 16th.

Jeff Bridges in TRON: Legacy

Next up, the Black Swan. Looks creepy, looks good.  Tagline:  “Nina is a featured dancer in the New York City Ballet who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company.”  Directed by Darren Aronofsky (director of Pi and The Wrestler) and starring Natalie Portman.  Playing now.

Natalie Portman in the Black Swan

True Grit. Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.  This is a remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic.  Tagline: “A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father’s murderer.”  Starts playing December 22nd.

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in the Coen Brothers' True Grit

Biutiful. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (director of 21 Grams and Babel) and starring Javier Bardem.  Plot summary: “This is a story of a man in free fall. On the road to redemption, darkness lights his way. Connected with the afterlife, Uxbal is a tragic hero and father of two who’s sensing the danger of death. He struggles with a tainted reality and a fate that works against him in order to forgive, for love, and forever.”  Javier always brings it.  Always.  In theaters December 29th.

Javier Bardem in Biutiful

The Fighter. Directed by David O. Russell (director of I Heart Huckabees) and starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams.  Plot:  “A look at the early years of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.”  I usually can’t stand films about actual people/events, but the trailer looks hopeful…  plus, how can you go wrong with a cast like this?  It’s all about the performance.  In theaters now.

Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter

Blue Valentine. Hoping this fits into my simple plot, great acting/execution category, but could go horribly sentimental, vomit-like wrong.  My fingers are crossed for the former.  Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, directed by Derek Cianfrance.  Story:  “The film centers on a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods.”  Starts playing December 31st.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine

Welcome to the Riley’s
December 10, 2010

A couple of weeks ago the theaters were playing crap.  My sister was in town and we went to see 127 Hours.  If you are thinking about seeing this film, I’d put it off until you can rent it.  The plot is overextended in trying to keep the audience’s attention, utilizing terrible “artsy” editing and flashbacks to drag it all out.  Ugh.  Based on a real event and real person Aron Ralston:  how does one make a film about a guy whose arm is stuck “between a rock and a hard place,” who didn’t tell anyone where he was going, and whose water, food and time has run out, forcing him to amputate his own arm?  You don’t.  You read the book if anything.  127 Hours stars James Franco and was written/directed by Danny Boyle.

I was quickly losing hope in finding something of interest out there in the theaters, I searched for a glimmer of good stuff… and there it was, hidden, but staring me in the face.  Welcome to the Riley’s (2010).  What a great little film, I’m not even sure it’s out in theaters anymore, but if you can find it, you should see it.  Some of my favorite films to watch have a simple plot with masterful execution, this fits that category.  From what I can determine, this is the first big film by director Jake Scott, the writing is by Ken Hixon (writer of Inventing the Abbotts and City by the Sea).

James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart in Welcome to the Riley’s (2010) 

Welcome to the Riley’s stars James Gandolfini as Doug, whose wife has been housebound since the death of their teenage daughter years ago.  His only happiness seems to come from the time spent with his mistress, a waitress at the local waffle house. It is a happiness that comes to an abrupt and unfortunate halt.  Though mourning, Doug soon finds himself in New Orleans on a business trip, and in an attempt to avoid his business associates, he finds himself thrown in the presence of a young stripper/prostitute — too young — a teenager posing as an adult.  Understandably, he feels the need to take care of and protect her, as she conjures memories of his deceased child.  Unhappy back at home and finally feeling purposeful in New Orleans, he decides to stay, a move that has an unexpected effect on his housebound wife.  This film has the potential to be cheesy, but absolutely avoids the cheese factor due to it’s great writing and execution.  There’s also a small cameo of Ally Sheedy, who plays Doug’s sister-in-law.  Nice.

After the Wedding
December 9, 2010

This post is dedicated a good friend of mine (she knows who she is) in hopes she will reconsider her ban on all films containing “wedding” in the title…  or at least to make this one exception.  I, too, can’t stand the “wedding” genre, but what elevates this film from the rest is the complete absence of terrible romantic comedic attempts, in fact, I don’t remember laughing once.  After the Wedding (2006), directed by Susanne Bier, is a serious film with a doozy of a plot, so prepare yourself for an intense two hours.  The film begins and ends in India, with Jacob, a Danish ex-patriot.  Jacob is the founder of an Indian orphanage that is fiscally in trouble and on the brink of failure.  An opportunity arises for the orphange to receive a generous donation from a wealthy Danish donor.  The catch — Jacob is required to fly to Denmark to just “shake hands” with the donor in order to receive the funds.  Despite his overwhelming distaste for the wealthy, he has no choice but to go, leaving the children, including one he raised from a baby, behind.

Actor Mads Mikkelsen in After the Wedding

When Jacob meets the potential donor, Jorgen, his understanding of the situation has changed as Jorgen strings him along for an indefinite stay in Denmark, dangling the money just out of Jacob’s reach.  Jorgen invites Jacob to his daughter’s wedding, where a revelation sets everything in motion for the floodgates of Jacob’s past to abruptly open.  Each of the main protagonists endures emotionally painful ups and downs and a series of unexpected revelations that upends all.  The acting is supremely executed and this film is absolutely the opposite of every “wedding” film in existence.  The wedding is such a small piece of the film, however, it is a profoundly significant turning point of Jacob’s life path.  This film has it’s place in my top 5 viewed this year, a must see.

All Things Harrelson
August 15, 2010

Last month I was too busy to write what I needed, and what I needed to announce was the genius I have found in Woody Harrelson as actor.  [Triple take] What!?  Exactly.  Genius.  I, quite by accident, watched four Harrelson films in a row and in this order:  The Messenger (2009).  Defendor (2009).  Transsiberian (2008).  The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005).  My fondness for him had already been recently awakened by Zombieland (2009), and of course he was fantastic in No Country for Old Men (2007)…  but I couldn’t help but feel like he has been in hiding for a while.  My curiosity got the better of me and I looked up his repertoire on IMDB.   Lo and behold he really has steadily worked this whole time, just in films I haven’t seen or for whatever reason never showed up on my personal radar.  And now you are probably wondering why I think he is genius.  Well, in all aforementioned film roles his characters are so different from each other and he pulls of each with finesse.

The Messenger: Directed by Oren Moverman.  I had heard so much praise about this film on NPR that I wasworried I was going to hate it upon watching it.  Holy crap, I loved it.

Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, The Messenger, 2009

Harrelson is the supporting cast here, but such a huge presence.  He works alongside new actor Ben Foster, who I have only really seen in Six Feet Under.  Harrelson is Foster’s superior officer, their task is to deliver the news of fallen soldiers to the next of kin.  Both characters are complex, each is working out their own burdens.  My one complaint is the presence of Jena Malone, I really can’t stand this actress.  She plays the same character every film, and that character is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me.  Lucky for me/us her role is small.  All in all it’s a great film, tough subject matter.

Defendor: Wow.  I mean, WOW.  I heart this film so much.  I really only discovered it because there was a trailer

Woody Harrelson, Defendor, 2009

for it on my Zombieland DVD.  Did I miss out on this trailer when it was in theater because I don’t subscribe to TV/cable?  I haven’t heard any of my peers talk about it, so I feel like the answer to that question is no.  No you did not miss it that way, Wendy.  I digress.  First time director Peter Stebbings also wrote this little gem.  Harrelson plays a slow-witted Arthur Poppington, who decides he needs to do his part in keeping the riff raff of of the streets by donning his superhero alias, the Defendor.  He can’t fly, but he can throw a jar of angry wasps at your feet.  I believe this was marketed as a comedy, and while it has funny moments, I find it a more serious drama than comedy, a wonderful character study of a guy trying to make it on the streets, fulfilling his superhero potential, who meets a girl (Kat Dennings) trying to make it on the streets.  A must see.

Transsiberian: Directed and co-written by Brad Anderson, who also directed that great haunting film The Machinist.  This is an action film, which is why I first hesitated to view it.  I just don’t watch much action, it doesn’t really get me going.  But hey, Harrelson was in it, Ben Kingsley (whom I adore) and the lovely Emily Mortimer.  Simple plot, really, American husband and wife are traveling on the Transsiberian railway and are unwittingly

Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian, 2008

befriended by smugglers…  Kingsley is a cop.  Action ensues.  What I love about Harrelson in this film was how straight laced, naive and nerdy he was, in that normal kind of way.  Mortimer is a reformed wild one, which is pretty contradictory to most, maybe even all, roles she plays.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio:  Ahh, this has been on my to-watch list for so long, and the whole time it was there I had no idea Julianne Moore and Harrelson were in it.  I just knew the plot and held off on viewing it because it seemed like it would be a hit or a miss.  It’s a hit.  And surprisingly based on life, which I usually cannot

Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, 2005

stand viewing such things as the plots are usually too cropped to really create decent viewing experience.  Moore is a housewife in the 50’s, married to an alcoholic Harrelson, and they produce a whole lot of children.  So many that she takes up the art of prize winning to help support the costs of raising the family, contests were seemingly a dime a dozen back in those days.  The characters are beautifully played by all, a nice little treat of a film. Directed and co-written by Jane Anderson.

So, reader, I do believe I have left you with an ample amount of homework, wouldn’t you say?  Enjoy.

Piranha 3D Poster… look familiar?
August 14, 2010

So I keep seeing the poster for Piranha 3D, the remake of the classic cult 1978 film Piranha.  My first response is always to the visual – Jaws?  It takes me a minute to scroll down to the title, at which point I think to myself, “Really, they are now remaking this classic?  [Loud sigh]”

Piranha 3D (2010), Jaws (1975), Piranha (1978)

I have fond memories of the 1978 original Piranha.  I mean, it may have come out the year I was born, but I still viewed many times in my youth.  I just don’t understand the need to remake it, such as the remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead…  why touch a classic?  So I decided to watch the trailer, which transformed my thoughts this order:  JawsPiranhaJaws, Piranha and Tremors?

So the question remains for myself:  To see or not to see…  I feel obligated to see it, despite how campy it looks, I mean, it looks lame campy as opposed to fun campy.  My fingers are crossed for a reaction of pleasantly surprised, not horridly disappointed.  My fingers are crossed for your same reaction, I wish you luck.  I feel like viewers will need it.

Unfaithful, Tati?
May 10, 2010

After a recent discussion about Richard Gere and snow globes, I was urged to watch the film Unfaithful from 2002.  Honestly, I cannot remember what actually triggered this conversation.  It really isn’t the kind of film I would pursue on my own, a mainstream drama about an unfaithful wife, and I normally wouldn’t write about it either…  however there was a scene that I have been pondering, giving the film more thought than it truly deserves.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Gere and Diane Lane, but this mainstream drama just wasn’t up to par for their acting abilities nor my attention span.  But hey, the studios have to make money and so do the actors.

The scene that is the cause of my writing is when Lane’s character enters a theater with her young French lover,  playing on-screen is Jacques Tati’s Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot, also known as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, 1953.  This is one of my favorite films and directors of all time, and I don’t understand its presence in Unfaithful, as it is the prelude to her young lover’s act of cunnilingus. My only guess to its presence is an attempt to create depth to Lane’s character, or to culturally tie in the character of the young French stud, played by actor Olivier Martinez….  your guess is as good as mine, but if the intentions were as I assume, my opinion is the intentions do not succeed.

The Tati scene that appears in Unfaithful is probably the funniest and most brilliant scene of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, a visual gag that includes Mr. Hulot taking a boat out on the water, the boat breaks in half, essentially swallowing him.  As Mr. Hulot tries to escape, the boat appears to onlookers to be a sea monster.  The full scene can be viewed here:

Apologies for the Spanish subtitles, know that dialogue is not the main focus in Tati’s films.  The background you should know about this brilliant man:  He was a perfectionist and perfected the visual and long gag.  His films have very little dialogue, what little dialogue exists is secondary to the actions taking place and are just shy of mumbling in most cases.  Mr. Hulot is always played by Tati himself, an alter ego of sorts, and is the main character in his films.  My favorite of all of his films is Mon Oncle, 1958, his first color film.  If you have never had a taste of Tati, now is the time.

The String Comes Full Circle…
May 3, 2010

In the last week and a half I have watched a string of films that serendipitously linked to one another.  I so did not plan this but enjoyed the outcome.  Prepare yourself for my lengthy wandering in words:

I am going to start off with Zombieland.

Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland, 2009

It is by far no secret that I heart zombie films, and this one is no exception.  I can see where people may mistake the film for a comedy, but really it’s a character development film that is humorous, as a raging apocalyptic disease destroys mankind.  Zombie connoisseur or not, I think anyone can get into this film as the characters are delightful to get to know.  How can you not fall in love with the four leads?  That’s right, they are all leads as every member of this all-star cast shines brightly:  Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.  Has there ever been a zombie film with so many known actors and of such high caliber?  No.

So when you are viewing, take special note of the first encounter of Eisenberg’s character with Harrelson’s:  They meet each other on a highway where there is evidence of recent past chaos, each holding their guns at one another in a stand-off before accepting the idea that the other is trustworthy.  The soundtrack that starts the scene is a western theme, with violins and a faint music box chime hidden underneath; a musical chime originating from Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More.  In fact, I believe all of the sounds for this encounter are from this Leone film.  I consider this a moment of filmic brilliance, which happens every so often, as the chimes connecting this moment to Leone’s film are conceptually executed and subtle enough that I didn’t even notice them when I first saw the film in theater.  It’s almost undetected, but truly heightens the tension of a western standoff.  Bravo, first time director Ruben Fleischer.

Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonté in a stand off. When the music stops, firing begins. For A Few Dollars More, 1965

I had just watched Sergio Leone’s film For a Few Dollars More prior to Zombieland.  So now you know my first link in the string of films I watched last week, and when I noticed it, I was taken aback.  Sometimes all it takes is noticing subtle things, and I was in accordance to Zombieland rule #32, Enjoy the Little Things.  I did, I reveled in my little connection.    The music box chime plays a significant role with every stand-off in For a Few Dollars More.  Should I dare assume you have already seen it?  I hadn’t seen it until last year, I know, how could I have lived just over 30 years and never seen one Sergio Leone film?  Easy, I grew up with a John Wayne loving father and grandfather and thought all westerns were the same.  Not so.  Leone’s suite of films are/were groundbreaking films, taking the western genre into a whole new category.  The Good the Bad and the Ugly is probably the most popular, easily understandable as the visual techniques and editing in that film are much more prolific than the others.  Needless to say, if you haven’t already seen these films, it’s about high time you do…

Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass in Kick-Ass, 2010

Next in line is Kick-Ass, which I saw just this Saturday night in theater.  If you aren’t privy to this film yet, you should be.  If you are thinking to yourself ugh, not another superhero movie, or erm, I can’t stand Nicholas Cage, think again.  Kick-Ass is about a teenager, armed with a wetsuit and good intentions, who figures a person doesn’t need to hold super powers or have revenge at heart to be a superhero… you just need the optimism to do good and the ability to kick the other person’s ass.  This is very much a comedy, and very very very funny.  Yes, that’s a triple very on that funny rating, despite Cage’s presence.  I can’t stand the guy, but every once in a while he plays a role that suits his over-acting abilities.  This is one of them.  I could list the others, but that would be off this quite beaten path.  Instead, let me direct you to how Kick-Ass relates to all of this – towards the end there is a scene when Hit-Girl, the 11-year -old superhero sidekick of Big Daddy who kicks some serious ass, enters the drug lord’s building.  You can’t miss a very obvious use of the music from Leone’s The Good the Bad and the Ugly as she takes on four bad guys.  It’s a very obvious reference, but it’s a superhero comedy, obvious works just fine, and in most cases it’s welcomed by the audience.

David Gordon Green's George Washington, 2000

So needless to say my being taken aback jumped to concern that I was going a little insane when I watched yet another film connected to Leone.  And then, as I am playing these connections in my head, I realized that Kick-Ass related to the first film I watched in this entire string, a little gem titled George Washington.  I watched it because I get in these grooves where I like one film by a director and want to see more.   So I do.  Or there is an up and coming actor that is really shining through and I feel the need to watch more of his work.  In this case it was actor Paul Schneider, I wanted to see more of his work as I am in belief that he is the up and comer that is going to give us a real run for our money.  Schneider has great ease to his acting style and really gets into his characters, hard to not like him.

George Washington is a sweet little slow-paced story that follows four kids around their depressed little town somewhere in the south.  The kids share a tragic experience that they cover up and lie about.  The title character, George, deals with the guilt in a way that not many would:  he walks around as a superhero and tries to help however he can.  He even directs traffic…  in this case our everyday superhero is just fine doing everyday things.  His costume?  Wrestling tights, I believe a cape was involved, and he either wore a helmet or a fur hat made out of dog fur.  Can’t remember which.  The compositions and visual quality of this film are absolutely lovely, I liked it so much that I watched two other David Gordon Green films, Snow Angels and and All the Real Girls, and I do recommend both.  In fact, I am befuddled that I can continue this string even further….  but I won’t.  Just note that All the Real Girls also has Paul Schneider in it and Snow Angels has Sam Rockwell, in which I could link to Tom DiCillo’s Box of Moonlight, but like I said, I won’t go there.

Woody Harrelson as and in Defendor, 2009

Instead know this:  My Zombieland DVD has a trailer on it for a 2009 film starring Woody Harrelson, titled Defendor.  Harrelson’s character is another everyday person who has transformed himself into a superhero.  So next on my viewing list is Defendor, tying my string back to the first film in this epic post.  It also quenches my desire to see Harrelson as a superhero (though seems like his Defendor character isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed) as I was thinking how his character in Zombieland is nearly a hero being.  I guess it’s the new craze, everyday superheroes.  Hopefully the fad won’t get out of control as in Monty Python’s Bicycle Repairman, so many superheroes who can no longer save the day, but wait, is that who I think it is?  Yes it’s, it’s…  Bicycle Repairman!

Michael Palin, John Cleese, some guy and Graham Chapman in Monty Python's Flying Circus' Bicycle Repairman, 1969-74

Snow Cake!
April 27, 2010

A little gem of a film written by Angela Pell, directed by Marc Evans, starring Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver.  Carrie-Anne Moss also appears.  Rickman plays Alex, an ex-con newly released from prison, who starts the film out driving north with a young female hitchhiker.  After a tragic car accident he seeks the young hitchhiker’s mother, Linda, a high functioning autistic woman played by Weaver.   Linda is not easy to get along with but has a way of keeping Alex around to fulfill miscellaneous chores around the house.  A friendship ensues between the seemingly odd pair.

Sigourney Weaver in Snow Cake, 2006

Snow Cake was released in 2006 and is one of my new favorite films.  Firstly, Sigourney Weaver can do no wrong in my opinion as she always brings her all in portraying her characters.  Paired up with Rickman, one of the best character actors on-screen, a pleasantly awkward chemistry occurs as the tension between their two characters ebbs and flows.  Highly recommended by yours truly.