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Monthly Archives: April 2013

After doing this for three years it shouldn’t be that hard to force out a few words about an unorthodox movie experience like Upstream Color, but as soon as I type ‘mind controlling maggot’ I pretty much can’t think of anything else to say.  What else can you say?  Yes, there’s more going on here than the mind controlling maggot.  We have subcutaneous worms, lots of emotional distress and in general the film feels more like an experiment in editing, chemistry and sound design than a useful narrative, but I just keep going back to the ‘mind controlling maggot.’  If you’re in Louisville it’s on a t Village 8.  Go experience it and take a crack at figuring it out.  I’m all ears.

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impostorThe Imposter (2012) – If this were a work of fiction no one would buy it for a second.  It’s simply too convoluted and ridiculous to consider plausible.  But this is a documentary, ergo, it’s all true.  In a small Texas town in 1994, 13 year old Nicholas Barclay goes missing as he walks home.  He never turns up.  Roughly 4 years later, the family gets a call from the FBI saying that Nicholas has turned up in Spain.  This is of course not Nicholas.  We know that from the get go because the imposter of the title is telling us this story.  He is Frédéric Bourdin and at the time he was a 23 year old French drifter with a knack for stealing and fabricating identities of younger boys so as to wind up in youth protection homes instead of prison.  On a desperate night he passes himself off as a frightened American to authorities.  Then left alone in an office he starts calling police departments in America trying to find a doppelganger for himself.  He latches onto Nicholas’ case and before he knows it the FBI is declaring him alive, Nicholas’ sister is on a flight to Spain to bring him home, and to really complicate matters, he looks absolutely nothing like Nicholas.  From there, events become even more outlandish and absolutely, positively true.  Worth watching for the WTF factor.

softlyKilling Them Softly (2012) – Grim, cynical and kind of nasty.  Brad Pitt and director Andrew Dominik seem destined to make offbeat genre movies that rankle audiences by refusing to court favor.  You couldn’t drag people to the duos hypnotic anti-western The Assassination of Jesse James and people were similarly repelled by this one.  Softly is essentially an underworld analogy to the 2008 economic meltdown.  A couple of idiots rob a gangland poker game and the carnage, both economic and human, ensues.  Pitt is a hitman sent to determine where guilt lies and mop up the mess.  Everyone involved in the heist, regardless of intent or degree of guilt, will pay a price.  As a whole the endeavor feels slightly minor and half formed to an extent.  At best it works an homage of sorts to Coen Brothers movies.  They could have killed this thing if they were at peak performance.  It’s just involving enough as a crime movie with scummy characters and amoral types populating its borders.  As slight as it may be the film ends with Pitt giving a bonafide speech which, in just a few short sentences, sums up the nature of America in all its repellent glory.  It’s brilliant.  Going through the rest of the movie to get to it, shortcomings and all, is worth it.

wonderTo the Wonder (2013) -Terence Malick directed The Thin Red Line, The New World and The Tree of Life.  All ambitious and wonderful films but they are all instances of critical love and audience scorn.  If a Malick movie starts with 20 people in the audience at least 6 are going to get up and leave, 4 are going to be mad they stayed, 5 will love it and 5 others will pretend to love it so the person next to them that did love it doesn’t look down on them for not getting it or liking it.  When his movies play in theaters they put up signs telling people they can forget about asking for refunds.  This isn’t The Avengers, deal with it.  Wonder doesn’t live up to Malick’s mostly transcendent body of work, but should none the less illicit the same kind of responses from an audiences at least.  It lacks the grand ambitions that have held up his past efforts and it can’t get past the sensation of being a movie in search of something it can’t quite find.  It’s essentially a relationship drama which floats along, following two people (Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko) as they fall in and out of love.  There are virtually no scenes of dialogue, just the observations of the filmmaker and the thoughts of the characters narrating the pretty cinematography and a sensation of repetitiveness is its biggest crime.  Also, a subplot with Javier Bardem as a spiritually lost priest never much connects with the rest of the film.  Of all of Malick’s movies it’s easily the hardest to defend from its detractors, but I still liked it.  The guy makes pretty movies which delve into a spiritual realm that no one else emulates and few appreciate.  Having Bach on the soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/user/PlaceBeyondthePines?v=Tjes7u9Vewc%5D
Ten Word or Less Review – Three below average movies for the price of one.

After seeing Blue Valentine I had no doubt that Derek Cianfrance was going to go to be a director of considerable talent and ambition.  That poised, destructive relationship drama hit the kind of cords that few films about marriage dare glance at or utter under their voice.  But that confidence and ability have to be questioned after experiencing The Place Beyond the Pines.  On the surface it looks and feels like the kind of ambitious, layered drama Clint Eastwood could make and win Oscars for the effort.  But in Cianfrance’s hands the story becomes unwieldy, unending and every single character is, to be blunt, a tactless dummy that fails to think five minutes beyond their actions.

The story of Pines is indeed a sprawling one.  To make it concise as possible, which is not possible, we meet Luke (Gosling), a carnie motorcycle stunt man who finds out he’s got a newborn son via Eva Mendes.  He decides he wants to stick around and be a dad but Mendes has hooked up with a new fellow who is taking care of her and the kid.  He’s a very nice, giving fellow who doesn’t deserve the shafting around he gets.  To support them, as riding a motorcycle in a ball doesn’t pay the bills outside the circus, Gosling starts robbing banks.  This doesn’t go well.  The story then jumps over to Bradley Cooper’s rookie police officer.  He’s shot while pursing Gosling’s bank robber.  He becomes riddled with guilt and worry about Gosling’s son and begins to distance himself from his own.  He also discovers that many of his fellow officers are crooked assholes who are up to no end of foulness.  Cooper decides to rat them out.  This doesn’t go well.  Next we jump to 15 years later.  The sons of Cooper and Gosling are now in high school together.  Gosling’s son (Dane DeHaan) has become a shaggy stoner while Cooper’s boy (Emory Cohen) has warped into J-Woww from Jersey Shore.  They form an unlikely friendship, mostly because DeHaan can score drugs, and DeHaan gradually unravels the dark past about their fathers.  This doesn’t go well.

All of this sprawl equates to three movies worth of narrative with gradually diminishing results for each one.  Gosling’s segment is concise and skilled and even though you’re with characters whose motivations and actions seem poorly thought out, Cianfrance builds and directs his story with conviction and suspense.  There’s even a Suicide song on the soundtrack!  But this sensation of the poorly thought out character never goes away and gradually eats away at the foundation.  Each lengthy part of the story keeps getting caught up in the thoughtless, implausible and stupid actions of it’s inhabitants.  Mendes has a nice, responsible fellow who takes care of her, loves her son who and doesn’t care that he isn’t his.  She repays him by looking Gosling up, essentially trying back door him and ruin their lives.  Gosling knows that he’s not welcome in this guys house.  So he goes in and starts building a baby crib while they’re out.  I give you one guess as to what happens when they come home and find him in the house.  Bradley Cooper decides to turn in his fellow cops for being crooked and then has the audacity to be shocked when his superiors don’t want to know about it.  Hasn’t this asshole ever watched a cop drama?  Dane DeHaan’s character has clearly grown up in a loving home with good parents, so it makes little dramatic sense for him to get hung up on the fate of a father he never knew and who was nothing more than a motorcycle riding bank robber.  Every story element has some kind of senseless character element embedded in it which becomes more and more of a struggle to deal with.  By the time you’ve reached it’s merciful end, you’re ready to wash you hands of these people and be done with the whole thing.

Those of you in the crowd expecting to see another searing performance by smoldering hunk of the moment Ryan Gosling will in fact get that, for 45 minutes.  I like Gosling and he’s fine here but he’s sticking to his wheelhouse.  The quiet, dangerous pretty boy that women swoon over, Hey Girl, is what he’s best at and that’s what he’s doing.  We do learn an unfortunate fact about Gosling though.  The man can’t scream for his life.  Cooper is fine in his part but he’s one of the biggest victims of the screenplay’s inability to instill any sense of reasoning in any of it’s characters.  Eva Mendes is here so that the male characters can thrust money at her in shallow attempts to alleviate themselves of guilt.  Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen play a stoner and a grease ball a little too well.  You don’t want to spend any time with either of them and by the time the movie reaches their story, you’re already worn down to the nub.

The real person to point the finger at for this mess is Cianfrance.  It’s his screenplay that fails the movie.  He knows how to shoot a movie to be sure.  Pines looks fantastic, giving a beauty and integrity to Schenectady, New York that a lesser filmmaker may not have found.  But with every turn of his story he losses the audience a little bit more.  A judicious story editor would have hopefully talked him into scaling things back.  The whole ’15 years later’ sequence feels needless and anti-climactic.  Way too late in the game to introduce a whole new story arch with unlikable characters.  And a helpful soul should have told him that Cooper’s segment peddles way too many cop drama cliches.  If Cooper’s character hasn’t seen any then Cianfrance surely has.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a big disappointment from a talented individual.  It shows ambition and a willingness to put a lot in front of an audience and trust in their abilities to deal with it.  But since it’s so hamfisted in places and feels like a run on sentence by the time its done, one has to ignore those virtues and deal with the fact that this movie is ass numbing by the time its over.

 

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2YMu52MfqA%5D

Ten Word or Less Review: If knowing is half the battle know this, Retaliation sucks.

Going back and looking at my original G.I. Joe review, the first review I ever wrote for this site, I really blasted the shit out of that movie.  I clearly hated it and made no bones about it.  In the nearly 4 years that have skated by since, I’ve had a mild re-thinking of things.  G.I. Joe is terrible.  There is no way around that.  But it is really into how terrible it is.  It’s a Herculean effort of idiocy.  I don’t think I appreciated that at the time.  And now after watching the sequel, I appreciate the crass lunacy of the first movie even more.

Now to make this clear, I’m perfectly aware that a G.I. Joe movie is going to be stupid.  Mama didn’t raise no fool and I know Joe is all about selling those little plastic men to eager little boys.  But how stupid was the first movie?  It had a jet that only fired its weapons when you spoke to it in Celtic.  Joseph Gordon-Leavitt was doing Snidely Whiplash as a burn victim.  It had ice that sunk.  All wrapped around a story torn straight out of a Days of Our Lives episode.  It rarely didn’t astonish and boggle the mind with its fierce dumbness.  First movie director Stephen Sommers doesn’t set out to make just bad movies.  He tries to make the worst possible thing an audience has ever experienced.  The Mummy Returns?  Van Helsing?  He’s a sadist of a director out to test the boundaries of what a paying audience will accept.  With G.I. Joe, he tapped into the mind of an 8-year old boy suffering from an extreme case of ADHD.   He then doused that mind with cans of Coke, packages of Pop Rocks and boxes of Sugar Daddies.  Then at the height of this sugar rush induced mental delirium a line of blow got tossed onto the pile of chemical stimulation.  He then gave the blitzed out tyke a box of action figures and channeled the ensuing mayhem onto the screen.  It was atrocious but so amazing in places.  A Celtic jet!  The new Joe movie is like watching that same kid playing with some of those same toys, except this time he’s hung over, tapped out and bored with his playthings.  And his Mom took the best ones away from him for being a brat.

Instead of setting his Snake Eyes action figure on fire and jumping off the couch while screaming like a banshee escaping from Hell our little kid is repetitiously ramming Snake into the carpet head first while slightly drooling into his bowl of untouched Lucky Charms.  Last time he turned his whole room into a fortress of Joe on Cobra carnage.  Planes hung from the ceiling while booby trapped with cherry bombs.  Tanks got smashed by metal boots, laser lights flashed, heads got viciously popped off toys and dynamite eventually blew the roof off the house.  This time he sticks three Joe’s in a shoe box, pretends it’s a tank then falls asleep while making vroom, vroom noises.  That huge Return of the Jedi inspired ending from the first movie with the submarines and underwater bases and soap opera and sinking ice?  Nothing like that in these parts.  This movie ends with Rock driving around in a weird looking ATV shooting at tanks while rods fall from the sky.  Yes.  Rods.

Retaliation is an agonizing thing to sit through and rarely enthusiastic about how dumb it is.  Director Jon Chu seemed like the right kind of visual numskull to make this thing.  He’s got Step Up movies on his resume so dealing with flashy, brain dead stories is certainly in his wheelhouse.  Here the actions scenes are perfunctory and the characters have been stripped of their cartoon like idiocy.  The movie is largely made up of padded out character scenes containing numb dialogue which quickly leads to a sensation of endlessness.  It’s a fucking G.I. Joe movie.  If something isn’t thrashing around the screen that Hasbro can’t turn into a toy why the Hell is it happening to begin with?

And who knew it was possible to miss Marlon Wayans?  I’d have been positively giddy if he had parachuted in for a scene or two.  The Rock walks around being The Rock while a couple of other nobodies diligently stand behind him trying to stay in frame.  I know these two spoke but I don’t recall a single thing they said.  Bruce Willis inexplicably shows up to turn in his now standard issue lazy Bruce performance.  I.E. he stands in front of the camera, holds a gun and talks quietly in between shooting things.  So it’s like watching A Good Day to Die Hard again in that respect.  Let’s give Bruce one more fuck you for that one.  Fuck you, Bruce.  Original Joe star Channing Tatum has to the shock of many moved past crap like this and wisely has his character killed off after ten minutes.  No part three for him.  He may look like a droopy eyed, date rapist but it seems he’s got some sense knocking around in that jar head of his.

Stupidity is expected here and there’s plenty of that to go around.  A road that goes to Ft. Sumter?  But dull?  That’s an unforgivable crime with a movie like this.  Movies like G.I. Joe this need to be imbued with the spirit of a kid whose hair is not only on fire, but doesn’t care he’s being burned alive and ask for more gasoline as his skull is aflame.  The first movie went for that and damned if it didn’t succeed on those terms.  G.I. Joe: Retaliation doesn’t really go for anything.  It just goes through the motions and expects you to appreciate it.  Yo Joe.  You suck.

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZE9nptJykQ%5D

Interiors (1978) – Lumping this one in with the rest of the forgotten, second tier Woody Allen movies goes against the critical grain.  It is an emotionally draining, purposefully sterile looking drama that was given a lot of kudos at the time of it’s release, with critics invoking names like Eugene O’Neill and Ingmar Bergman as sources of influence.  Allen’s first dramatic feature, and first of his films not to star himself, was nominated for six Academy Awards including one for direction.  Though the craft of Allen’s work behind the camera is still noteworthy, age hasn’t been kind to the characterizations or attitudes his characters exhibit.  And as cinematic time as marched on and carried the likes of Annie Hall and Manhattan with it, Interiors feels like a sullen cousin left out of the family photograph.  Everyone knows he’s there out of the frame, but most don’t seem to pay him much attention.  He’s a pain.

The variety of characters in Interiors are people either inflated with intellectual pretensions, emotionally selfish in the extreme, thoroughly unhappy for any number of different reasons or simply all of the above.  Some performances still work.  Diane Keaton, E.G. Marshall and Maureen Stapleton still stand out and it’s an honest attempt on Allen’s part to create an unflinching, uncompromising character piece.  Regardless of these strengths, don’t be surprised if you find yourself hating on it before it’s run its course.  When the uptight, judgmental daughter insults her new mother-in-law by calling her a vulgarian, the age of the effort, the detestable arrogance of its characters and the prickish attitudes they inhabit smack you right in the face.  It does help right itself by being affixed to a strong, thematically powerful ending.  Something Allen doesn’t always have the wear with all or know how to accomplish.

On a curious note, Allen would re-purpose a lot of this plot 25 years later for his terrible comedy You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.

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Next up – Stardust Memories

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDkbdH8zwDE%5D

Shadows and Fog – Back before he fixated on making contemporary set relationship dramas and comedies, Woody Allen would occasionally have ambitions for getting something more than the light weight material he now specializes in off the ground.  Peppered around his more well known successes are his experiments in Russian (Love & Death) and Swedish (Interiors) cinema traditions.  Among the efforts in this realm Allen took a stab at the grand traditions of classic German movie making.  With $14 million and his clout on the line, he launched into one of his largest productions ever, Shadows and Fog.

Fog was meant as an echoing of the German expressionism movement from the grand silent era of the 1920’s.  It was also to be a Kafka influenced story of paranoia and persecution.  As delightful as that all sounds, it largely played to empty theaters and disappointed critics.  I can hear your shock from here.  Siskel & Ebert, men who made a living worshiping Allen, labeled it one of the worst pictures of the year.  And this was the same year that saw Toys and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot come out.  It’s without question an odd creature of a movie, solitary in its nature and unlike much else, but also greatly misconceived and missing elements it sorely needs to be more than an indulgent lark.  Such as something more than the vague story it occasionally tells, streams of supporting characters which serve little purpose other than to espouse Allen’s thoughts on love and sex and an ending.  It would have benefited to no end if it had had a genuine ending.

Allen plays a character whose name is unimportant because he’s Woody Allen.  I don’t care to take the time to look up what it actually is.  He’s a lowly citizen in a dank, unnamed city shrouded in the inky black of a never ending night with an impenetrable mist hanging over everything.  He’s woken from sleep by a group of vigilantes to help scour the city for a serial killer who strangles his victims.  This group keeps telling Woody he has a part in the plan to catch the killer, but what that plan is and what his part in it are never known.  No one will tell him.  Many in the various vigilante factions seem to hate Allen’s character for no reason we can discern.  Besides of course his patented cowardice.  He eventually meets up with a character whose name is also unimportant because she’s played by Mia Farrow.  As much as Woody Allen is always Woody Allen Mia Farrow can only ever be Mia Farrow.  She is a circus performer who has abandoned her big top home after catching her lover (John Malkovich) with a gypsy girl (Madonna).  The two have a few scrapes and adventures, bump into teach other, then wonder the city trying to avoid the increasingly malicious vigilantes, the cops, the serial killer and his rope, Allen’s belittling boss and anything else that may lurk in the dark.

Fog is an odd and disjointed work and much of that feeling comes from Allen choosing to miscast himself in the lead.  He brings his well known brand of neurotic shtick into this black, humorless world in which it has no place.  This melding of Kafka flavored paranoia, grim atmosphere and Allen’s trademarked neurotic nature makes for a strange marriage that doesn’t work.  Does Allen mean to mock the genre with his glib ribbing?  Is this meant as parody?  If so, why is no one else in on the joke?  With the exception of a group of jovial prostitutes, much of the cast is grim and serious through and through, but in the center is Allen, cracking his vaudevillian jokes among the oppressive visions of nightmares and death.

The film still has it’s moments and it’s not completely without merit.  The huge supporting cast, everyone from John Cusack to Jodie Foster to Kenneth Mars, turn in interesting performances that feel accomplished but in service of what we know not.  Sharp eyes will spot then unknowns William H. Macy and John C. Reilly lurking in all those shadows.  That lack of a solid conclusion or a strong story lead to film which feels like vignettes of varying quality all hanging around one another but not always in service of the same thing.  Also, a film drenched in this much black and white photography should at least be something to superficially admire for its looks.  In that regard Allen has poured on the soup of atmosphere too thick.  At the time this was Allen’s most expensive movie ever and it may still be.  The set he built was purported to be vast and enormous but one wonders why he went to such lengths.  You can rarely see any of it through the smog and haze which smother each and every frame.

Shadows and Fog is another vehicle for Allen enthusiast and not many others.  It is weird and expressive in a fashion that doesn’t lead to dramatic involvement in ways most people appreciate.  Once again Allen’s hurried work pace lead to him subverting a more potentially interesting project.  There are ideas and scenes peppered through the whole that hint at a better movie, but as a cumulative effort it feels unfulfilled and unnecessary.

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Next up – Interiors