Category Archives: Capsule reviews

“I can’t go out there.” – September 25th, 2012

So, okay. Yeah, stuff happened. Shit went down in the pound, and shit. My life is one of constant flux, and order out of chaos. But, here I am, again. Like the gnat in your ear that lays eggs in the canal, reminding you that armchair film-critics with long-winded opinions about movies won’t go away. We can never really die, because we are immortal, and part of the neo-spiritual ephemera created by cyberspace.

So, alright. To start off, here’s a list of films that will be receiving some type of review in the very near future, as I stretch my finger-bones again and get back into the mood of things. These are some of my favorite films, for one reason or another, that I’ve seen in the long span of time that I’ve been gone – the reasons for which are many, but they primarily involve women, money and some variation on those two themes. More on that later, if there’s interest.

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn) – Such a visceral piece of cinema. It really is the only film I can think of in recent memory where the term “hallucinogenic” can actually be applied without not meaning anything. A punch to the gut, a throwback to those economically paced car chase films of the seventies, a minimalist representation of the Man-With-No-Name archetype (or, one who tries his best to be that archetype, despite all appeals to sanity and the contrary that the film makes along the road), a dream on film that slowly, almost imperceptibly shifts into a nightmare. Violence bursting in at the edges, and then crashing through, unannounced and unwanted, but unavoidable – and for the main character, inevitable.  Enough has been said about this already, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m saving all of my creative genius-juice up for it, however. I have an extra testicle that I keep it in, that this film made me drop.

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) – It’s a film that’s entirely reliant on its gimmick, but it’s also a joy to watch. Yes, it’s story is as old as cinema, but that’s kind of the point – it’s a framework for experimentation and a tribute to, not just silent cinema, but cinema in general. It’s simplistically plotted, almost to a fault, but the emotions ring true. Also, very few have made note of the implicit element of parody in the film, and I want to write something about that.

Tree of Life (Terrance Malick) – Probably Malick’s most divisive movie, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a three hour tone poem about man’s place in the scheme of the universe, about the relationship between the micro and the macro – hefty things to attempt in any medium, but if there was any filmmaker who could take those bold, and yet vague, ambitions and turn them into something beautiful, it’s Malick.

 The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan) – I’m probably going to come out on the opposite side of history on this one, when all is said and done. After the second film, it is kind of a let-down. There are too many unnecessary elements to what could’ve been one of the most bold proclamations of cinematic spectacle, and Batman, put on screen in the last decade – why the nuclear bomb subplot when the revolutionary narrative angle was more than enough, and was more thematically interesting? Why the last minute reveal about JGL’s character? – but, for all that, there are moments of real brilliance interspersed throughout that make it a worthy successor to its predecessor. It is bold and ambitious, and I applaud and feel more forgiving of a film like this that  genuinely shoots for the stars and misses by this much than one that aims true for the cement.

The Avengers (Joss Whedon) – There’s not really much to write about this other than, “Dude, Captain America! Iron Man! Hulk! Together! On Screen! So awesome! And they’re fighting! So awesome! Sooooo awesome!” Which, to be fair, is essentially the reaction it was trying to garner, and it succeeds with aplomb, although Whedon’s style and personality could do to shine through a little more. Very fun stuff.

 Captain America (Joe Johnson) – A study in how not to structure an origin story, and also how to make superheroes really, really boring.  I’m not even one of those guys who has a problem with Captain America from a political standpoint – in fact, I think he was used perfectly in The Avengers – but, good god. This was maddening.

Thor (Kenneth Branagh) – Grand, Shakespearean opulence was never done so well as when Kenneth Branagh made it his own. Falls into narrative narcolepsy once Thor hits Earth, but every bit on Asgard is inspired, over the top, and sometimes appreciatively goofy. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is inspired casting. More on this later.

 The Master (P.T. Anderson) – I’ve yet to see it – a problem which will be remedied shortly.

 Cabin In The Woods (Drew Goddard) – Probably one of the more interesting films to come out of the “post-modern” school of thought since Scream. It also seemed like, near the end, that the film took a lot of inspiration from the SCP creepypasta series that have made the rounds of the internet since their inception some years back. It also has probably one of the moments I’ve laughed the hardest at in a movie, this year – it involves a motorcycle and a holographic wall. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) – Worst movie I’ve seen this year. That sounds hyperbolic, but it really isn’t. This was just terrible. It’s like a parody of the kind of movie that a nihilistic philosophy major in college would write – or, of a David Cronenberg movie, really. It’s just so monotonous, and with such a long-winded tonal drawl that it feels almost like it was intentional (and maybe it was). The only moment the film really came alive for me was a brief, three second shot near the end when Pattinson’s character swaggers down a dark alley, half-crazed with a gun in his hand. That moment had the kind of by-the-cajones feel that I expected the entire movie to have – not to make a judgment on the film based on prior expectation or anything, but it probably would’ve been for the best.

Killer Joe (William Friedkin) – Just a lot of fun. Especially for a Dallas local, like myself. So much unfortunate familiarity, so much sight-spotting. I don’t want to encapsulate this film too much as I am going to write up something larger on it pretty soon, but I really loved how Friedkin and Letts were able to use the charming, clean-cut “Matthew McConaughey” persona that he’s built up for himself over the years and stretch it just a little bit to the left into something genuinely terrifying. Inspired casting choice.

 Chronicle (Josh Trank) – It’s AKIRA: The Movie. There, I said it. That being said, however, it was also really enjoyable and intriguingly done, although the handheld camera framework is kind of unnecessary at the start of it and only becomes moreso as the film progresses. As AKIRA movies go, this looks like the only one we’re going to get, and it’s a perfectly fine rendition thereof.

 Detention (Joseph Kahn) – I loved this movie. Tons of fun. More to come on this one. Too much for a few sentences worth.

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) – My brother and I have always said that one of the reasons that Wes Anderson’s recent films have failed to have any effect on us is that they’re essentially children’s films with adult characters, and while that’s something you can do with some very real and interesting success, it’s not something he can pull off quite so well anymore. Here, he makes a genuine children’s film, a fable about young love and individuality filtered through the pastels of adolescence, with ideas about burgeoning sexual identity and finding one’s place, and with his candy-colored visual aesthetic it just fits so well that it’s really, probably, one of my favorite films of this last year. Very affecting, and moving, and the end is one of the few to have me clapping at the end of it – the other being one that’s two spots down.

Prometheus (Ridley Scott) – I fell asleep during this, initially. After his first two films, Ridley Scott has developed for himself a really droney style that kind of acts as a go-to narcotic for me. There’s a lot of pseudo-philosophical ideas about Creation, and the concept of god, and how our place in the grand scheme might not be what we at all expect, and that’s all fine and potentially interesting, but they’re grafting it onto the framework of a series that has never been that before – and you say, Henry, it’s not an Alien film, it’s just in the same universe! And, you’d be right. But now it’s a piece of the mythology. It’s part of Ridley Scott’s personal canon for his original film, and it’s unecessary. The Alien films are slasher movies, or haunted house movies more like, in space. I mean, that’s it. And, as it stands, there’s not really a lot of room left for innovation. Interesting ideas struggle to breathe in this, suffocated by Lindelof’s need to please the fans. Set-pieces are anti-climactic and dumb. The whole film looks fakey and grey in that boring sepia color-correction scheme that seems to be the industry standard, now.

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow) – And, this is the second one. This is just a beautiful movie, near the top of my list for the year, and not at all the piece of hipsterism promised by both its ad campaign or the presence of Aubrey Plaza. This had both myself and the girl I went with in tears of joy and excitement by the end of it, and that’s saying quite a lot. More to come on this, later on. I don’t want to blow my wad on it too much.

Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev) – Another film I haven’t yet seen, but intend to. It looks brilliantly moody, from the trailer.

John Carter (Andrew Stanton) – It’s very pretty to look at, and occasionally exciting, but there’s a reason this movie failed, and his name is Taylor Kitsch. He is wood. More on that later.

 The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb) – I liked this a lot initially, but the more I thought about it, the worse my opinion of it became. There’s a lack of necessity that’s felt throughout the whole film, and it just reverberates so loudly in the changes they decided to make, just for the sake of it, without any regard to emotional or narrative consistency. I’m not a huge stickler for films sticking so close to their source material that they can’t breathe as works on their own, but guys – there’s a reason the Uncle Ben arc works so well. It kind of needs to be there, and in a much larger way than how it was presented. It has barely any impact at all. That said, I did enjoy the character arc they gave Peter Parker, in this – his gradual move away from vigilantism into genuine heroism, and his understanding of his place within the makeup of the city, and his relationship with Gwen – and  the action sequences, which are far more “Spider-Manny” than anything Raimi ever accomplished. But really, to get Spider-Man better than Raimi did, and thus grant this film any reason to exist at all, this film needed a really dark, kinky streak of Jay-Z or Mos Def, or any of those New York rap luminaries, in its hairline. Alas, Marc Webb, your name held so much hope.

The Intouchables (Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano) – This year’s “inspiring foreign film” is, surprisingly, genuinely inspiring, and a lot less trite than I thought it would be. Directed with no great thought toward mis-en-scene, the real gem of the movie is the relationship at the core of it, which is portrayed beautifully. I don’t understand why they made the caretaker black, though. I mean, if it were a fictional film, I could understand it, but. . .he was a real guy. And, he was white. He is very good in the role, though. Don’t misunderstand. I’m just curious.

Project X (Nima Nourizadeh) – Really quite fun, and harkens back to a time when teenagers still had house parties like this (yes, they did exist, though not to this extent). Not a lot to it once you get past the surface, but it’s shot surprisingly well for something that looks like was conceived over two fortnights. Also genuinely surprised at the scope of the party. It becomes a really visceral action film at the drop of a hat, and in that change, it wins my heart.

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (Morgan Spurlock) – It’s a Morgan Spurlock documentary about Comic Con. It’s what you expect. And yet, it’s also very enjoyable, and heartwarming, and oh look, there’s Kevin Smith. I wonder how long it will take until he starts telling everyone about how he worked on the Superman Lives script that one time.

Battleship (Peter Berg) – Two big-budget bombs under his belt only months apart. It’s well deserved. Everything about this film is just so. . .dumb. It has no understanding or even a cursory knowledge of the science its film is concerned with. Every character is a cliche that acts like a wind-up toy set on a predetermined course, and things just start happening for no real reason at all. And seriously Taylor Kitsch, you’re just the worst.

Will Canon’s “Brotherhood” @ The Macguffin Podcast

Okay, guys. I’m not dead, and I’m not in jail (yet – thanks, Dallas Police Department, you bunch of malicious, overfed schmucks) – truthfully, I’ve been working pretty steadily these last few months, with a full  circuit coverage of the Dallas International Film Festival and a few other things over at In Review Online – although, we’ll see if any of that’s ever actually posted. Finger’s crossed, I guess. Otherwise, I’ve also begun my stint in full at The Macguffin Podcast –  with two reviews a week and a column, but I’ll keep that under wraps until it’s out on the front page.  I’m particularly proud of it, and I think those of you who are, like me, from the implicit Campbellian/Jungian school of thought on storytelling and filmmaking in particular will get a kick out of it.

For now, however – my first review’s up, of Will Canon’s recently released and relatively interesting, grungy little restructuralization of Film Noir, Brotherhood. Which is a film I feel not a little sentimental about, as it was filmed entirely around my hometown of Arlington, Texas. And, watching it soon became a game of, “hey, that’s my old convenience store, and I used to live right by there!,” and so on. In any case, you can find it here.

In a little while, and purely for the blog, I was also thinking of doing some kind of retrospective on the Harry Potter films as they came to an end – I’m a lot younger than I might seem, and that usually surprises a lot of people. I’m only just recently twenty, and for about the past ten years, these films have played a large part in my generation’s shared pop-cultural experience, and mine in particular. Harry Potter’s our thing, and – for better or worse, as the films do have many of the same flaws that mar the books, nee’ Rowling’s small and implicit structural flaws and reliences as a writer – they’ve doubtless left the same kind of mark that Lewis’ Narnia series or whatever you’d like left so many years ago, and in a more immediate fashion. So, I want to take a look at that. Also, I like Harry Potter, and Emma Watson is like so effin’ hawt you guys seriously.

So, that’ll be up soon enough. Anyhow, enjoy!

True Grit and some other things – March 27th, 2011

True Grit seems like the first time the iconic Brothers Coen have delved into real, tried-and-true family filmmaking – and, for a while, it seems like they’ve settled themselves nicely into the old-Hollywood Western genre,  adapting their aesthetic and style of implicit, formal irony and careful attention to the cultural idiosyncrasies that define a place and time to a style of Western that seems like it was a bit less cynical, and just the tiniest bit more heroic. And, even the film’s score fills this out – broad,  evenly triumphant horns play in the background as Mattie Ross and her  horse make their way across the rushing river, and when Jeff Bridges brilliantly-portrayed Rooster Cogburn rushes full-stop at the line of marauders ahead of him, yelling out in a voice like drunken thunder “Fill your hands, you sonovabitch!” But, every so often, a bit of stark, sudden violence will break through – during the shack sequence, severed fingers are cut loose on the wooden table-top, and a head-shot the leaves a trail of blood down to the floor. It’s a tight-rope balance the Coens are trying to achieve, and for the most part, it comes off wonderfully. Simple and plain, it’s a rousing old bit of blood and thunder, really.


I went through a pretty bad break-up recently – it’s been two and a half months, and it only lasted about just as long, but it did hit me astonishingly and surprisingly hard. Before anything else, she was a friend – one of my closest –  and, now she isn’t even that, it seems like. There’s a hole in my wall as a testament to this, where I put my fist through, that I  haven’t fixed up yet. In any case, all through this, it seemed like my experiences with this girl were capped off by two movies in particular that, at any given moment considering how high or low I was feeling, seemed to just encapsulate perfectly what the two of us were going through. The first I’d only seen when the two of us really started to get into each other – feeling each other out, trading stories about our exes, and that was Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. In a future post, I’m going to delve more into this movie’s bounding, leaping formalist aesthetics, which really knocked me off my feet, but more than any other film I’ve seen in a long while, this is a movie that captures so perfectly the almost cartoony exaggerated exuberance that someone feels when they’ve met a significant other that they just can’t believe exists, and the eventual triumph over both of their faults and personal fallacies. And, there are aspects of it that are downright brave – the movie makes no bones about either of the central characters at the center of the film, or how just-plain-terrible they come off at the beginning. While it’s certainly more defined in the comic, which is stretched out over a period of like a year and which ends up placing more emphasis on the smaller moments than the set-pieces, the essential triumph of these characters is their resolution to accept themselves, and move forward instead of wallowing in and being defined by the abyss of their past relationships. It’s a very exagerrated, cartoony movie, without a doubt. But – and this runs through every single character, even Wallace Wells – at the same time, it’s something identifiable, and real. On the basest level, it has weight – it has “grit,” so to speak – because the essential emotional conflicts at the core of the film are things that are so honest, and yet represented in such a bombastic, colorful way that they’re reduced to a state of purity. And really, I can’t help but remember the end of this film without thinking of how we ended up watching it together one night, but not really watching it at all.


But, that was the one end of things – that was May in December, like Def would put it; we ended up breaking off and away from each other around the end of January, and by the time the beginning of February rolled around, I didn’t ever want to see Scott Pilgrim again. Ever. It was too optimistic. A new film had gained that special kind of relevancy – the one I’d rewatch, end over end, when I didn’t want to get up. And, at certain points it felt so emotionally familiar that it was actually kind of scary, at certain points. I had had these conversations with her – I had done these things with and for her, and I had had these exact, naive hopes, both of reconciliation and of what seemed like eventual, unending malaise in bed. I still have that last one just a little bit, actually – and this film, if you can’t tell by now, is Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer.  And yeah, while the initial build up to their relationship and Tom’s boyishly naive excitement in the first half an hour or so feels about as truthful as the rest of the film, it didn’t really have as much potency for me as the real meat of it, and the decline. I mean, who hasn’t felt that same kind of giddy joy after that first night together, when you feel like grabbing everyone you know and even the ones you don’t on the street and pulling them into a wide, brimming dance?  Maybe it’s because this is something identifiable among most guys – but, scene after scene, I had to bite my tongue, even though I was alone and watching this in my bed-room. The scene on the Ikea bed – we’d had that very same conversation, and just like Tom I went and rushed bull-headed into the rest of it without any kind of thought of the later consequences.  And, later on in the movie, after they’ve come home when Tom’s face is pulped from a brush-up at the bar, and the conversation culminates with Tom screaming, “well – you’re not the only one who gets a say in this! And, I say we’re a couple, goddammit!” Yeah, that happened too, to the T. And, just like the movie, we didn’t last much longer after that, although our break-off was a fair bit messier, compounded by the immediate inclusion of another guy. But enough about that – Webb’s made a great, bouncing first film, avoiding by leaps and bounds most of the plagues of first-time directors, and emerging unscathed and spotless as one of my newer favorite filmatists. And, even though the soundtrack is purely folk and older alternative stuff, this is a movie of pure, visual shoe-gaze music. Emotion, constant emotion – conveyed through the faces of the two leads, neither powdered nor pulled, embracing with real abandon or standing still apart, looking each other in the eye and trying to hold back tears, on a park bench. Webb seems to know better than most how to convey that essential confusion one feels when someone who, well – was a person you’d grown to care for so strongly, and who had cared for you just as much it seemed like – turns around and reveals to you that the latter wasn’t really at all the case, and then tries to salvage some kind of friendship out of it. But, it doesn’t work that way.  It’s not just a thing that happens – worlds seem to shake, and you can’t think of much anything else, for a long while.

We haven’t  had our park bench scene yet, though. I don’t really think we will.

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Michael Gondry’s “The Green Hornet!” @ In Review Online


For what is hopefully the first of many articles under the In Review letter-head, I take a look at Michael Gondry’s just-plain-perplexing recent attempt at a superhero movie, The Green Hornet – which is a movie marked all through with sudden bursts of grim, out of place violence, racial undertones, and Seth Rogen; it’s pretty much a disaster when you think about it.

In any case, you can read my extended rant about it here.

To be up in a couple of days is a piece I’m actually quite excited about – looking at Will Canon’s Brotherhood, which is a film of particular interest to me, being as its the first film that I know of to feature my neighborhood and hometown – that  harsh, red Aggtown – on the silver screen, to the fullest. Ooh – gives me the shivers.


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“Tired Feet Syndrome” – August 21, 2010

Well, the last few things I’d mentioned and a couple of other potentials are currently being tossed around the management behind Slant’s The House Next Door – although, they’ve already got more than their fair share of writ about Nolan’s Inception from every possible angle, so that’ll either go up here or on Blogcritics, along with a look at Michael Winterbottom’s uneven, though nonetheless unnerving for it,  piece of psychodrama The Killer Inside Me.  Those’ll be around in a few days – but, at current I want to talk about something else.

Mike Stoklasa’s name is making the rounds everywhere on the internet recently, it seems – predominantly for his Red Letter Media series of reviews under the guise of 119 year old grandfather-cum-monster Harry S. Plinkett. And, to be sure, they’re all great stuff – any one of them, but especially his reasonably epic hour and a half long examinations of the first two Star Wars prequel films, are prime examples of the New School of internet filmmaking, as concisely edited and tightly put together as any theatrical documentary.  But, let’s not forget he’s done a bunch of other stuff too, this guy. And, one of those things that I’ve been obsessing over a little bit these last couple of days is his micro-sitcom The Grabowskis, which is  something very much like a Married With Children as conceived by David Lynch. And, it’s quite possibly one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a good while.

It’s a strange, potent mix of non-sequiter, dead-baby humor and sudden, whiplash turn on a dime subversion – all so obviously cartoony and over-the-top that there’s no risk of any real disquieting pause at any of the implications held therein; the couple’s baby is an obviously plastic doll that looks like it was pulled from out of some toy-store dumpster somewhere, giving off  occasional coos and cries so shrill and exaggerated that it’s almost nightmare-fuel, coming from its dead, plastic eyes and unmoving mouth. Everyone indulges in a violent, bloody slapstick to be redeemed like Looney Tunes characters episode after episode –

– which is, I think,  one reason that certain episodes, like the Chad Vader and Hardware Store ones from the final season, are so effective. We become used to these zany, weird and obviously comedic characters acting in ways that don’t at all seem self-serious that when, for example, the wife receives news that “her entire family was killed,” the couple responds by breaking down and weeping in a fashion so  remarkably prolonged and  down to earth that it kind of takes us by surprise. It’s a weird splash of cold reality to the face – and, just for a minute, we start to reconsider everything else we’d seen before. The husband, Cliff’s actions and disregard toward the baby and his wife (who’s really only known as Honey – first it seems like a term of endearment, but no really, that’s her name), and so on, which were up to that point something that was treated as purely and blackly comedic starts to look a little sociopathic. And, this continues in the Hardware Store episode – where, what begins as  an initially outright comedic kind of thing with some general sitcom-esque dialogue suddenly becomes on the turn of a phrase a mind-bending, Lynchian nonsequential nightmarish chase sequence, which further casts the husband as some kind of psychopathic monster, now shambling and bow-legged, not unlike what the Plinkett character would become later on – who seemed to be, at that point, mostly an occasional bit character played by Rich Evans without the mushmouth tobacco-chew tang provided by Stoklasa.

There also seems to be some occasionally touched-on themes of real neglect, never fully in the dialogue and never so seriously that it takes you out of the moment – but, a large point is made that, even though the couple at the center of the series depends largely on welfare and state services and live in a pitted-out ghetto neighborhood, they somehow seem to have enough money for Bluetooths and IPhones, which they constantly disregard as if they were reusable plastic toys, as well as all manner of booze and drugs which, speaking from experience, can usually run you a fair bit of money, or horse cock, especially in the ghetto. This is something that kind of comes full circle in the last episode of the series –  all throughout the running time, we’re reminded that the baby’s on the counter just behind them, something they seem to be only vaguely aware of . The final shot sees the husband run back into the apartment, right past his baby in full view, and grabs the toaster off the top of the fridge, after which he promptly runs back out.

And, then the baby promptly catches on fire. See this show. Do it here.

The Hardware Store

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Greens and Reds and Golds – June 12th, 2010

Alright, alright. I’m not dead – it’s been a bunch of trouble over nothing, this last week, I’ll say. All of it due in no small part to the local branch of AT&T – and, this is the third time something like this has happened, but never for as long as an entire week. So – I’m gonna throw my hat in. I’m going to boycott these rancid, poncing fuckers even as I piggyback off their service. It’s a broken down system that they’re perpetuating, and it must needs be either fixed or torn away completely. But, enough of this – let’s get down to the bid’ness.

Jon Favreau’s sequel to his exuberant, unabashed popcorn movie adaptation of Marvel’s Iron Man character is a fair bit less internally focused than it’s predecessor – in fact, in certain places it comes off as something of a real narrative mess. But, it’s the old-Hollywood rapport between Downey’s Tony Stark and the rest of the supporting cast that shines through and yet still manages to tie it all together, as the end comes rolling around. Favreau’s decided to built his sequel off the ground built by the various implications left by the first film’s ending – Stark finds himself at the behest of Congress and the internal back and forth mongering between himself and competing private arms dealers, even as he becomes an even larger public icon as Iron Man, bringer of world peace. Like the previous film, Favreau eschews paying any real attention to the political undertones that are kind of inherent in the character and the context of the story he presents, sweeping them all in varying degrees of obviousness under the rug, deciding instead to go full steam with the bombast – and in this, the film one-ups the previous film with considerable aplomb. Though the climax of the film might feel a bit too familiar for some – see, this time it’s not just one big robot, it’s like a lot of them, right – there are enough visceral moments between that push the film forward. Favreau’s direction can sometimes be surprisingly wooden when he isn’t confronting a situation where something blows up, however – he’s happy enough to rely on his actors to keep the scene going, which is fine I s’pose. But, it’s astonishing the contrast that’s created between a rather staid scene between Tony Stark and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and the sudden, harsh handheld attitude presented when Mickey Rourke’s silent antagonist Ivan Vilch breaks out of jail, the camera tracking him through the prison hall as plumes of smoke and flame frame him in sudden silhouette. Or, the finale – as Iron Man and Don Cheadle’s War Machine find themselves racing around Stark Expo. The camera never once settles, and yet never falls into unnecessary frenzy. Favreau seems like a director who’s made for this kind of thing – if he could bring the same feeling of excitement to his direction of more implicit, personal scenes, then there’d be a stronger narrative and emotional balance to the film. Oh, and Don Cheadle doesn’t take to the Rhodey character nearly as well as Terence Howard did – and Mickey Rourke makes the film with his idiosyncratic peculiarity of a villain, a man of short words and shorter tempers. He acts like a stone rock, unmoving in a film constantly on the move.

There’s probably never going to be a stronger implication of how the general attitude towards superhero films has changed in the last six years than in the reception toward Ang Lee’s Hulk film. It’s easily one of the most overlooked films in this newest up-and-coming genre – and, like most films that have been felled by similar fates, it was a combination of circumstances that did this one in during its first run, not the least of which could be said to be that old enemy of the director, studio-mandated misadvertising. But, it also seems to go a bit farther than that. Released in 2003 on the cusp of Bryan Singer’s more viscerally driven X-Men 2, and in the middle of the hype for Sam Raimi’s second over-the-top, cartoony installment of his Spider-Man saga, the film presented itself as an idiosyncrasy – half dedicated to the Jungian father-child relationship between Bruce Banner and his father at the core of the film, and at other times to the Hulk as persecuted giant-child, bounding from quiet desert cliff to cliff. When he responds to an attack, there’s not a lot of strong Jekyll-Hyde anger there – instead, the impression created is more like an angry toddler, almost. Screaming and shouting at his attackers, pounding his fists and feet on the ground. Ang Lee places a strong emphasis on emotional lyricism, shifting and moving through rather than from scene to scene, from the internal emotion of Nick Nolte’s face as he reveals his monstrous secret to Liz Tyler’s Betty Ross – on his eyes, and the twitches of his face, here and there – and to the external, as the Hulk escapes from the underground Army facility. Indeed, Lee integrates the internal and external psychosis of the character through his strong set-pieces in such a way that he’s created what can be called a true psychological action film – representing the harsh emotional reactions of Bruce’s character in a constantly moving kaleidescope of fragmented imagery, and this pours over into Lee’s stylistic approach to the film as well, the often-maligned comic book panel look, not at all dissimilar to that used in Photos by Barry Perlus, albeit in a more self-conscious four-color light. At times, this can get to be a little much – there’s sometimes too much in one frame to pay attention to at once, and a frenzy occurs. But, it’s quickly cooled – and, Lee finds a way to milk the device for as much emotional resonance as he can, contrasting faces against each other within the same frame, one on top of another; as in the climax of the film, which begins with Bruce against his father, set against the almost stage-like backdrop that comes down mainly to two stage lights and a couple of chairs. Nick Nolte’s David Banner is one of the most under-appreciated performances of – well, a long while, at least. Through tone of voice and twitch of eye, we’re constantly informed of the intellectual machinations of this man, a true monster that is, at the same time, made just the tiniest bit sympathetic through the quakes and breaks in Nolte’s voice. Perhaps it’s intentional, another trick of his. Or, it might even be a true example of his sanity breaking through. He’s given some of the longer monologues of the film, and Lee films these most often in long, unbroken shots, allowing Nolte’s old, soulful faces to fill the screen, now course and hairy, almost a pastiche on the common image of the Mad Scientist. He’s countered not without measure by Eric Bana’s turn as Bruce Banner, a man so constantly emotionally repressed since early childhood that, when something does break through, it comes like a thundershock – a loud scream, breaking the intentional monotony that had marked the character before, leaving the character half-fainted, exhausted in his chair afterward. In this light, certain critics claims that Bana is wooden in the film seem disingenuous, since it’s clearly something the film textually acknowledges, and utilizes. Liz Tyler tells David Banner that all he’s given his son is a great fear, “fear of life,” something that only really vanishes when he goes green. Lee sees the relationship between the two of them as something resembling a Greek tragedy, and this is made explicit during the final moments of the film, where Bruce as Hulk and his Father take to the skies, embodied within the clouds and the lightening itself, in a series of astonishingly painterly tableaux. And, then underwater – where the scale shifts, and the Hulk is no longer the largest body in the frame, now a tiny speck battling the waters themselves. If this film were released, like, now – I have no doubt that there’d be no end to the praise rained on it; as it stands, it’s right in the middle of one of those great critical reappraisals that happens every so often to certain films, years after their release. More than deserved.

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Derrick Borte’s The Joneses @ EInsiders

– which you can read here.

All around, this was just an unpleasant screening, even apart from the movie itself. I ended up having to mace this one obnoxious fucker sitting beside me because he kept laughing – into my face. It hadn’t happened yet, but I think this may be the beginning of my crude contempt for the bourgeoisie.

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Mark Landsman’s Thunder Soul @ EInsiders

You can read my review of Mark Landsman’s outrageously good documentary here, at EInsiders.


Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

Just one review – at least, for tonight. Yes, it’s something I’m going to feel dirty all over for for the next week or so, but I do have others coming in the next couple of days for the three or four of you – I’ve been hard at work on something else y’see, posted just above. If it should please you, say so. As for GCP, I’m unsure of what’s going on, at the moment – which is one of the reasons for the lack of writing over the past week. Several of the things I’ll be posting sooner or later were things I’d written in preparation for the site, but it doesn’t seem like anything’s really going on over that-a-way, so I guess I’ll throw them up here, instead. Also, there should be a piece by our resident writer Grouchy87 on the Coen Brother’s A Serious Man up later this week, so that’s certainly something to keep an eye out for. In any case –

Shutter Island is one of those rare moments in filmdom when Scorsese steps away from the gangster genre and reminds us that his status as one of contemporary cinema’s mainstream masters isn’t at all tied to the machinations of foul men in tuxedos – here, he seems to return to the kind of material that marked his earlier work with Roger Corman; but, instead of the brash, headlong style of those earlier films, he brings instead the eye of patient maturity developed over a period of forty years, and in doing so has created a breathless synergy of stirring character examination and pure genre filmmaking. In this case, that genre is classic Film Noir – and, Scorsese mines the iconography of the genre for bursts of unexpectedly genuine emotion, finding connections hidden here and there, gradually boiling U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniel’s down to his core. All is formally rigorous Noir and Expressionist aesthetics – stark angles and harsh lighting, music that glances and strikes at the audience in an almost self-aware attempt at melodrama that plays perhaps into the ending, in some way – compounded with the essential elemental nature of the island, with its strong tides and craggy cliffs, and the lighthouse watching ominously over all.

I’ll admit, the trailer did throw me off – what with Leo’s egregiously over-the-top Boston accent, the general Cape Fear aspect of the whole thing, and so on. But, the former seems to be explained within the story, especially given Scorsese’s ambiguous-but-not ending. The latter is something the film seems to acknowledge, but it’s certainly a far better film than Cape Fear. Scorsese finds a strong connection within Daniel’s past to the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, of the essential inhuman horrors found there, and the simultaneous visions of his dead wife and child – and yet, even beyond these things, there’s something even more primal at work, here. Something hinted at during the scene where Daniel’s is being driven back to the hospital by the Warden (portrayed by Silence of The Lambs Ted Levine), who gives him a lecture on Darwinism and the essential violence that turns the knobs of man that would set anyone’s warning signs straight off. “I could lean over and bite your eye out, right now if it weren’t for society,” he says. “And, you wouldn’t be able to stop me.”

Slowly, gradually – Scorsese peels off the layers of his Noir; the trope of the ‘uncertain protagonist with a shady past’ is given new weight by the end of the film, when all is laid bare. And, while there is still a sense of ambiguity about the outcomes of the film, there isn’t really. We want to say that it’s possible that “Teddy” was right all along, because – well, we’ve come all this way with him, and we’ve seen what he’s seen. But we know that isn’t true, in our heart of hearts. Speaking of, I will say one of the things that needled at me was near the end, when Teddy resolves himself to his fate,  there’s a shot of one of the orderlies coming straight up to him with a giant ice-pick in his hand, the significance of which we’re well informed of by this point – it’s kind of an image that appears ludicrous, and interrupts the feeling of confusion inherent to the scene. It something that quickly passes, however.  And then, Scorsese shows us the lighthouse once more – and, our curiosity strikes itself up again.

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The Filmist’s Obligatory Oscar Nomination Pool

In place of my usual slot of three reviews, I thought I’d finally set down finger to keyboard on the Oscar nominations, for the internet record. Aand you can call me on these, folks. In fact, I more than invite such a thing; I welcome a challenge to my authoritah, and I’d love to get some real discussion going on about this up and coming awards ceremony, as opposed to any of those – other film blogs, with their shiny banners and whatnot.

Best Picture

I’ll never be as big a fan of Pixar as everyone else seems to be – individual films, like WALL-E and Ratatouille, I certainly have a healthy fondness for, but as a whole, their output of work for the last decade hasn’t really pulled me in the same way that it has so many others. I love that they’re trying to keep what they call ‘traditional animation’ alive, but I think that too many of their films seem to fall just short of a concrete realization, either because too much of the writing comes off as overly sentimental, or the humorous elements often seem a little too pat, or any number of other things. Up! falls in with this crowd – like everyone else has said, the first ten minutes alone could easily win the Best Animated Short, but the film keeps going, and falls to the same problems that have faulted a lot of Pixar’s other movies, that I mentioned above. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds I  wasn’t all that crazy about, either – I picked his Kill Bill films for the “rest of the best of the decade” epilogue for the project some weeks back, but it’s this film more than any other that kind of defines all of the problems I have with his filmmaking style, something that I could probably write an entirely other post about. Of the giant crop to pick from, there are two that my heart really stands behind – those being Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker; though, if I had to bet money, it’d be the latter. The guiding hand of the former is obviously a new one to film, and in a few places, this does become a little overly obvious. The Hurt Locker, on the other (other) hand, comes with a sure and strong hand by a director already experienced with the form, and it more than shows. So, it ultimately gets my support – and, I have to say, I love the fact that three tried-and-true visceral action films have gotten nominated for the top prize. This kind of thing hasn’t happened in a long time.  And, I swear to Christ if AVATAR even comes close to winning I’m going to go crazy and do an Indian fire-dance, so help me.

Best Director

Similarly, with my preference for Best Picture being The Hurt Locker, I have to go with Kathryn Bigelow for this one, although this does pose an intriguing opportunity to present Tarantino with the award that he seems to be aiming for. I can’t say that I enjoyed Precious as much as so many others did – it seemed very much like a more contemporary version of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, or something like that. And, while that film was enjoyable, I probably wouldn’t present it with any sort of award, myself. There’s so much here that is almost laughably over-the-top and presented with such a glamorously greasy sheen that it just kind of makes you feel bloated and dirty after watching it. Why is James Cameron even here?

Best Actor

Here, I’ll deviate from my crush on The Hurt Locker for a minute – this one can only go to Jeff Bridges portrayal of Bad Blake from Crazy Heart, rightfully. I’ll be that guy and say I wouldn’t mind if this film replaced AVATAR in running for Best Picture – but, it’s Jeff Bridges understatedly humanistic performance that the entire film hinges on, one that gets so rightfully to the heart of its character that you feel like you’ve known this guy for a long, long time. His accent feels so well-worn, rough around the edges, that at times the film seems like it would almost need subtitles for anyone not accustomed to that kind of quick, Texan drawl he does so well at replicating. Indeed,  this character reminded me so much of my own father, in mannerisms and dress as well as the trace of his life through the picture, that it’s almost eerie. Go, Bridges. Go.

Best Actress

Yeah, we could all say, “does Meryl Streep really need another one of these?” And, the answer is – well, she deserves it, I think. Yes, it’s imitation, and the Academy seems to have a real thing for succinct imitation, obviously. But,  I think there comes a point where a performance can move past being just imitation and into being a character and performance all its own – and, Streep’s turn as cook Julia Child goes well past this barrier, seeming to capture that intangible familiarity behind the laugh of her character, something that would only emerge as hollow from any other, I’m certain. Also, it must be said that I can’t say that I found any of the other nominated performances that astounding, outside of maybe Gabourey Sidibe’s Claireece Jones, despite the rest of the film.

Best Supporting Actor

Unfortunately, the same could also be said for this category as well. But, despite the overall unfulfilling nature of the film it was a part of, Christopher Waltz’ Hans Linda from Inglourious Basterds is the one idiosyncrasy – it’s a shame there weren’t more, but what a twitchy, unpleasantly staid man Waltz has created, here. With a smile a bit too wide, and teeth within just a bit too white. Nervousness incarnate.

Best Supporting Actress

I would love to see Mo’nique win, just for the sheer novelty of such a thing – that’s not a crack against her, you readers must understand. But, I used to watch The Parkers on UPN all the time, back in the day, and while it might be to my own detriment, I can’t help but see her still as “loud, man-crazy Mrs. Parker,” and all of that kind of thing. Maybe this is coloring my opinion of her work in Precious as well, but that’s kind of a given, isn’t it? I think my heart really lies with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s young mother, from Crazy Heart. There’s a particularly strong sense of honesty, here – and, I don’t know why this was relegated to the Supporting Actress position, as she occupies almost as much time in the film as Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake.

Best Original Screenplay

Up shouldn’t be here, I don’t think – really, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, this is only a contest between A Serious Man and The Hurt Locker, and again, I think this belongs firmly with the latter – I’ve written extensively about it elsewhere on the site, but if I were to try and summarize it’s worthiness for this particular award, this might be the only film that seems to fully represent the breadth of something as trying and as harsh as being an American soldier in these hazardous times. It’s something sparse, and elemental, and it is nothing less than, one of the best films of this past decade, saying nothing on its status among the films released this year.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The fact that Neil Blomkamp was able to take the spine of a six minute short film built around a single implicitly obvious political allegory and expand it into an entire film can do nothing less than cause a double-take. While, again, at times it is very much obvious that this is the trembling but sure hand of a new and beginning director of film being given the opportunity to work on a larger scale than he’d been prepared for, for his first picture, for the most part, this is a fully formed work, one of blackly humorous satire, Cronenberg-esque body horror, and some truly visceral actioneering.

Best Animated Film

While there’s nothing in the guidelines to prevent its nomination here, there’s no reason UP should’ve been nominated for both this and Best Picture – for all of the things it implies about the quality of itself and of the other films in this roster. For my part, I think my vote lies with The Secret of Kells, which I’d only just seen recently. It seems to stretch and take the animation techniques perfected in so many of the contemporary network animated series and move them toward their most ultimately personal form. Coraline is something to see, as well – while I’d always envisioned something a bit more MirrorMask-esque and closer to Dave McKean’s artwork for Gaiman’s children’s novel, but Selick’s hyper-cartoonish claymation approach acknowledges itself and knows exactly how to work within its own visual framework to create something entirely creepy, and other.  And, I love it whenever I hear Tim Burton’s name get mentioned in relation to it. It makes me chuckle. The Princess and The Frog – well, I like that Disney’s started a slow move back toward line-drawn animation, but this doesn’t bode well, outside of some startlingly idiosyncratic touches, like a certain character’s death, and the character of the antagonist in general. So, Kells. AVATAR belongs here, I think.

Best Foreign Film

Well, I’ve only seen A Prophet and The White Ribbon, and between the two of them, I think I’d probably like to see Jacques Audiard’s film receive the award just a little bit more – it’s a visually dynamic sole-character piece, charting the main character’s trajectory through a six-year prison term, framing the character’s mental deterioration in a familiar-yet-healthily-exercised framework of everyday prison ebb-tides, the exoticism of which is enhanced by the Frenchiness of the film.

And, then there’s the rest – those mostly technical categories, and stuff like that. Usually, you don’t write but a line about these, and so I’ll try and keep to that unspoken tradition.

Best Documentary Feature

The Cove – Louis Psihoyos

Best Documentary Short

The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant

Best Live Action Short

Kavi – Gregg Helvey

Best Animated Short

La Dama y la Muerte – Javier Recio Gracia

Best Original Score

A short note, here. My pick is, again, for Marco Beltrami and co.’s, score for The Hurt Locker. But, look at the other scores here, and remember how – outside of that for The Fantastic Mr. Fox – amazingly uninspired they all are, coming from their respective names. James Horner’s flat, unevocative score for Avatar, half-assedly utilizing old Disney-esque Pocahantas tropes. Sherlock Holmes score from Hans Zimmer, which feels – for him, anyway – like a strangely by-the-numbers affair. And, so on.

Best Original Song

Ah, but here’s a good one. Crazy Heart‘s “The Weary Kind,” by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett.

Best Sound Mixing/Sound Editing

Star Trek – Mark Stoekinger, Anna Behlmer and co.

Best Art Direction

Sherlock Holmes – Katie Greenwood. What a wonderfully smokey steampunk-but-not, exaggerated England they’ve created, here. I want to see more of this.

Best Cinematography

The Hurt Locker – Barry Ackroyd

Best Makeup

Star Trek – Barney Burman and co.

Best Costume Design

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – Monique Prudhomme

Best Film Editing

The Hurt Locker – Chris Innis, Bob Murawski

Best Visual Effects

District 9 – Dan Kaufman and co.

It’s strange – there are a lot of films missing that seemed like they would’ve been essential to the running, and there are films present that  probably shouldn’t have come within a million, million light years of being nominated – like Transformers 2 or Nine, which should both be allowed to go into that deep, inevitable abyss alone and unloved like the ugly little monsters they are. Still, the presence of ten nominations for the Best Picture has done it some good, I think – it’s been a long time in coming since an action film, any action film, has been nommed’ for the top prize, and here, there’s not just one, but four. And, while I’m opposed morally and spiritually to The Big One, the other three are more than welcome examples of the form. I hope we see more of this, in the future. We’d damned well better.

Now, let’s see just how right I am. I’ll throw twenty in the pool – any takers?

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