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Monthly Archives: February 2013

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Ten Word or Less Review:  How You’re Going To Die: The Movie

Amour can claim the dubious distinction of being the worst possible movie to ever watch with a grandparent or elderly person.  French director Michael Haneke got it in his noggin to make a movie which vividly portrays the infirmities and humiliations which come with post stroke old age.  And if that doesn’t sound like riveting cinematic potential to you don’t worry, it’s not.  I do have respect for Haneke and the brutal honesty he lays out.  It’s fine and admirable to get away from the Hollywood concept of old age.  In the past old age in movies has involved such charming scenarios as Jessica Tandy telling Morgan Freeman to drive slow, Jack Lemmon fighting with Walter Mattheau or going into space with Wilford Brimley.  But regardless, Amour isn’t much more than spending two hours watching an old french lady die.  Slowly.  Very, very slowly.

Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play the loving old couple on which Haneke focuses his long takes and slow pacing.  Haneke doesn’t believe in camera movement.  Michael Bay would explode from anxiety watching this.  We endure Riva’s character fade away into a series of humiliating conditions and erratic behaviors as her husband watches and cares for the love of his life become catatonic and hopeless.  It’s unflinching cinema to be sure but it also feels thoroughly unnecessary, drawn out and relentlessly bleak.  It’s like some kind of snuff movie for the art house crowd.  You can appreciate the stellar performances at work from two senior statesmen of the French cinema but regardless of quality you’ll never want to watch a frame of this movie ever again when it’s over.

If you want to experience the sensation of being old and slipping away to disease, Amour is all that and a bag of chips.  It’s got strokes, bed wetting, adult diapers, night terrors, concerned but powerless kids, mean eldercare workers, enough glumness for a dozen other movies and one very important pillow.  In short, of all the movies nominated for best picture, it’s the one least likely to be seen by anyone.  But don’t worry, if you decide to skip Amour, like I know you will, chances are you or someone you know will get to live it.  Don’t we all have something to look forward to?  Remember to bring a pillow.  Cheers.

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Ten Word or Less Review: A good day to fuck off.

Fuck Bruce Willis.  Fuck this lousy ass Die Hard movie.  Fuck the last one too.  Fuck everyone who ignored their conscience and held their nose for the bloated fucking paycheck they got for making this rancid nugget of fuckery.  Again, fuck Bruce Willis.  Fuck the guy who scored it.  Fuck the asshole who wrote it.  Fuck the computer he wrote it on and fuck the software he used to write it.  Fuck the Gruber’s for having no more brothers.  Fuck the guy who did the sound.  Fuck the guy who edited it.  Again, fuck Bruce Willis.  Fuck the guy who held the camera and fuck all the people who held it for him when he was busy fucking around.  Fuck the catering people who fed the fuckers who made this awful fucking ball of shit.  Double fuck the guy who ‘directed’ it because next to Willis he’s the biggest, worthless fuck of all.  Fuck 20th Century Fox for getting everyone in the room with piles of fucking money.  Fuck them again for not calling John ‘I know how to make a fucking Die Hard movie’ McTiernan.  Again, fuck Bruce Willis.  But most of all fuck me for watching it.  I could have gone the fuck home and hit my head against the fucking wall for 90 minutes but I’m not always the brightest fucker in the bunch.

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Ten Words or Less Review: Being young sucks, but it makes for a good movie.

Teenage coming of age stories may be a dime a dozen but ones which don’t feel like insufferable bullshit are few and far between.  Long before movies reduced adolescence to sexual hijinks involving pies and flutes it had mostly been a breeding ground for dick jokes.  Even semi-decent exercises in teen shenanigans like Easy A or 10 Things I Hate About You seem pretty vacuous in the end.  Outside the occasional indie flick the last mainstream filmmaker who seemed to have a genuine investment in putting some kind of accurate teenage portray to film was John Hughes and even he didn’t get it right all the time.  Sorry kids but Pretty in Pink is pretty silly.  All that brings us to The Perks of Being A Wallflower, a well honed and insightful exercise in angsty teen drama.  It’s kind of like Donnie Darko, minus the terrifying bunny and vibes of impending apocalypse.

Charlie is facing one of the worst crucibles of teen life, where does a kid with no real friends sit in the lunch room?  With no visible options presenting themselves, Charlie is forced to go solo, manning a table all by his lonesome.  Few fates in life are worse than this.  Perhaps leprosy but considering the ramifications of such an act one might as well have the limb eroding disease.  Charlie’s life goes on this way for a while until he’s accepted by Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two misfit sibling seniors who shun mass acceptance to form their own informed clique with the other kids who are too clever to mesh with the pack.  Charlie has issues, some troubling mental ones which linger at the edges of his psyche, looking for reasons to crawl into his life and pull the rug out from under him.  With the encouragement of his new friends and a less despondent demeanor around him, and with a little help from mild drug use, Charlie slowly grows into a unique and interesting person, conflicted a lot by love and confused by the actions of his friends when they don’t add up emotionally.  And when they don’t add up, Charlie starts to lapse into the dark corners in his mind where pain and anguish reside.

Director Stephen Chbosky channels the Hughesian vibe of films like The Breakfast Club into his adaptation of his own acclaimed novel.  By adapting and directing his own book he’s avoided the pratfalls which descend upon those poor bastards who give their works to Hollywood and hope for the best but end up with the worst.  I’m sure there’s no small level of autobiography in his story which explains why the material resonates so well.  He understands the pangs of emotional growth, the hopeless feelings of unreciprocated crushes and the fortitude it takes to be your own person.  This isn’t to say Chbosky is a perfect filmmaker.  Early in the story Charlie mentions a friend who commits suicide only to never hear the friend mentioned again.  And the crux of Charlie’s anguish, his relationship to a deceased aunt, takes a dark turn in the finale but the last revelation isn’t made very clear.  I had to ask a friend who had read the book if I had interpreted it right.  And I really have a hard time swallowing that a bunch of hip kids who love great music would not know a David Bowie classic.  But the movie is set in the pre-interent world of the late 80’s/early 90’s, making mix tape age so I’ll let that go.

Perks contains performances the young cast should look back on fondly years from now.  Logan Lerman is 20 but he can pass himself off as the barely adolescent cousin of Tobey Maguire.  His is a quiet and unassuming part made whole through glances and small gestures.  When Charlie turns desperate and lost, he’s earned our sympathy and keeps the anguish and despondency believable.  Ezra Miller’s Patrick is the most slippery slope role of the bunch.  Playing the flaming gay guy can always blow up in the audiences face but Chbosky’s screenplay has more respect for the role than to turn it into a screaming joke.  Emma Watson shines best and brightest of all.  Grown up and with the Potterverse in her past, those who proclaimed her most likely to have a career as an actress post Potter are given a lot of ammunition for their argument.  She’s a glowing and gorgeous screen presence, capable of anything.  May Hollywood treat her well and bestow her with great roles for decades to come.

I’m going to have to shuffle around my Top 10 of 2012, again.  Of course I like the films on the list a great deal but there’s an absence of heart in most of the movies.  I commented at the time of the posting that there was too much action populating things but Perks rectifies that issue a great deal.  It has a warmth and emotional insight into things that most movies, regardless of being about teens or not, are afraid or unable to nail down.  And since it made jack while at the theater I know most of you haven’t seen it so hop to it.  There’s very little better you’re going to find.

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Ten Word or Less Review : Adaptation, with guns.

Martin McDonagh may be destined to be one of those filmmakers too clever by half for the typically ‘make it shallow and obvious’ Hollywood marketing machine.  Seven Psychopaths marks the second effort by McDonagh, In Bruges the first, where the English director has crafted a well beyond the norm comedy piece that the distributing studio had almost no idea how to sell.  In both cases the studio in question tried to sell the effort as an aggressively quirky and violent comedy lark where you rolled over with laughter as people got blown away.  In both cases that sells the finale product very short and people didn’t buy it regardless.  Time to try something else marketing department.

Not as solemn as In Bruges but no less skillfully executed, Psychopaths features an well honed cast of performers for this story of dog-napping, murder and meta-fiction.  Colin Farrell is Marty, a struggling screenwriter trying to get a grasp on his new screenplay, Seven Psychopaths.  Marty’s best friend is Billy (Sam Rockwell), who along with Hans (Christopher Walken), operates a dognapping business.  They take dog, reward its posted, they return dog, grateful owner pays reward.  One afternoon Billy and Hans take a Shih Tzu belonging to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a mobster with some severe affection for his furry friend.  So much so that he has no qualms about killing the dumbasses who dared to snatch his adorable pooch.  From this silly setup McDonagh unravels a piece of self awareness fiction that would make Adaptation author Charlie Kauffman proud.  To shake it down to the basics, as Marty takes part in the film we’re watching, he begins to construct the film he will write, which is basically the film we’re watching.  Except there’s a Vietnamese guy with dynamite and a hooker involved.

Farrell fits right into this material.  McDonagh is one of the keen directors who get Farrell and know what he’s capable of as a performer.  He can do pathos and panic and sell a viewer on both equally.  It stands in stark contrast to the empty vessel performance he had to deliver for Total Recall.  Sam Rockwell was put on this Earth to play cracked, scummy and strange.  He’s one of those actors who under no circumstances can play ‘normal’ and nor would you want him too.  He shells out too much energy playing nuts.  Christopher Walken is also top tier, embodied and emboldened by his sheer Walkenness.  With so much age and life on his eyes he can make a simple stare into something mesmerizing and destructive and never seem the least bit affected by what he’s doing.  Woody Harrelson makes a funny, chilling mobster and Tom Waits blesses us with his presence too.  Anytime Tom Waits shows up, affectionately wielding a white rabbit no less, one should afford some respect.

This is the kind of movie which could have easily lapsed into gimmickry for its own sake.  An endless parade of nudges and winks at the audience, impressed with itself for being clever.  But being clever isn’t enough.  McDonagh knows this and knows to populate his film with characters we can empathize with and enjoy watching, even when they’re psychotic.  This is a comedy to respect on several different levels.  Here’s hoping that one day Hollywood figures out how to sell McDonagh to the world.  Until then those of us who do know will keep telling the rest of you how good his movies are.

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Ten Word or Less Review: If Pixar made a zombie movie.

The zombie genre is grim.  Always grim all the time.  Even when it’s trying to be optimistic it’s grim.  Death, hopelessness and gore pretty much hold the whole house of rotten flesh up.  So what a refreshing change of pace to see the usual attitudes of despondency and mutilation mostly absent from Warm Bodies.  This movie about dead people is so free of cynicism and nastiness it’s shocking.  It’s a cute little romance to warm the cockles of your heart.  You just have get past the part where our hero character falls in love with a girl as he’s eating her boyfriends’ brains.

R (Nicholas Houte) is a zombie with a skill for interior monologue.  He spends his days shuffling around an airport, wondering how he got there, wondering what his name was.  He thinks it started with R.  R still remembers pieces of life before being dead and he wants to live again, he just can’t quite remember how.  Nor can he overcome his desire for human flesh.  One day as he and his fellow flesh eaters descend upon a pack of unwise scavengers, he gazes past the carnage and sees Julie (Teresa Palmer), a shotgun wielding survivor whose boyfriends’ brains R is currently scarfing down, albeit with remorse.  And just like that, R is smitten.  To her great uncertainty and terror he hides her from his pack of fellow undead, taking Julie to the airplane he’s turned into a pickers heaven.  Imagine Wall-E’s digs recast as a zombie bungalow.   There the two hold up and listen to records as R tries to woo Julie with his undead charms.  Of course when you’re a zombie who can only utter a few words at a time, and you have more of those boyfriend brains hiding in your pocket, that’s really hard.

Warm Bodies unfolds as many romantic comedies do but uses the zombie apocalypse background to freshen up the tired romantic/comedy genre.  Most people like me wouldn’t mind seeing the romcom movie itself shot through the head forever but Bodies gives it hope.  For those expecting some kind of raucous companion piece to Zombieland or a satirical lark like Shaun of the Dead you’re not going to find either.  Bodies is very sincere in its earnestness and deserves praise because of that.  It’s never cynically glib or overtly quirky.  Writer/director Jonathan Levine (50/50) has crafted a forthright piece of teen romance and concentrates on building a credible relationship that draws more on Shakespeare and less on Romero.  R and Julie?  Get it?

Up and comers Houte and Palmer make a cute duo as the dead/living lovers.  Levine’s screenplay doesn’t put them through a lot of trite motions, and if it does it usually acknowledges it with a wink or a joke.  Houte puts a lot of small nuances in his dead body performance, careful not to ham it up or overplay things.  Palmer, a dead ringer for Kristen Stewart minus the attitude of bitchy aloofness, has to play a more convoluted part, but makes it work.  Rob Corrdry (Hot Tub Time Machine) gets an amusing supporting role as one of R’s fellow zombies slowly reawakening his humanity.  John Malkovich is here playing the humorless heavy.  He’s the one drag of the piece, getting in on none of the sweetness floating around in the air.

Bodies is slight to be sure but it’s so riddled with warmth and uplift that it doesn’t really matter.  After decades of religious adherence to grime and punishment through the devouring of human flesh, I find it an excellent turn of events that someone has infused a sense of genuine uplift into a genre addicted to its own despondency and horror.  I’m not sure the world is ready for a total zombie make over but I hope this signals to zombie nuts that it’s okay to turn a corner and try something else.  Michael Jackson made the undead dance once, maybe it’s time for that again.  Religiously sticking to eating people while the world falls apart is getting pretty damn old.  Warm implies that things can be better and brighter and I have no qualms with that.  Even though he ate her boyfriends’ brains.

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