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Category Archives: 2009 Movies

Two sentence reviews:

Biutiful (2010) – Javier Bardem plays it grim but great in this Barcelona underworld drama about a guy doing some very rough things to make ends meet for his kids before he dies of cancer.  Really solid but keep the rope and razors locked up while you watch it.

The In-Laws (1979) – A cute comedy curio from that brief age of movies when average looking but exceeding talented actors like Peter Falk and Alan Arkin were allowed to headline major movies.  Falk is priceless and fans of 70’s/early 80’s comedy should enjoy it.

In the Mouth of Madness (1995) – One of John Carpenter’s waning works.  His crisp visuals are intact but he desperately misses Kurt Russell by this point and the screenplay falls far short of the ambitious, Lovecraft influenced story he’s aiming for.

Valhalla Rising (2009) – I fell asleep four times watching this movie but dreamt about it everytime I noded off which resulted in an almost halucinatory experience.  If Terrence Malick made Conan the Barbarian it may have played something like this.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) – Though it beat Rocky Horror to the punch in rock/schlock/horror homage outlandishness by a year, it was quickly surpassed, and rightfully so, by the red lipped cult classic.  Brian DePalma helmed this goofy, glam rock musical which is cheesy/watchable but feels upstaged on most levels by the long reverred and hedonistic antics of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.



Ten Word or Less Review: The Snore That Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Steig Larson and his world phenomenon Millennium Trilogy must feel like the literature equal of smoking crack, because as a series of movies this trilogy is a  serving of bad Leverpostej.  Things got off on a good note back in ’09.  First novel, Dragon Tattoo, was a well executed mystery thriller with just enough style and intrigue to garner some heat on the art house circuit as well as drum up critical support from the likes of people like me.  You figure all the rape would turn people off but that was not the case.  One rape scene?  Hell, make it two!  The audience loves it!  Putting that curious element aside it was a solid and uncompromising starting point to what would hopefully leap into something grand and ominous as further chapters unwound.  The quickly produced sequels though have been nothing but a dull throb of tension free drudgery.  Played with Fire and now Hornet’s Nest have provided little more than a total of 4 hours of rote storytelling punctuated with a mud in your eye conclusion.
To quickly prove this point lead heroine Lisbeth spends the first hour of this movie sitting in a hospital bed texting.  Cue adrenaline rush.  And when Lisbeth isn’t texting with her free time old Norwegian guys are shuffling around conspiring with one another.  Now I know what a rush meth must provide.  Look at that old guy plot against the goth chick who can’t walk.  Wowzers.  I sat with Jess and waddled through the dull muck of this first hour and then accidentally stopped the movie, remote slip up, at which point I asked if she even cared that I had stonewalled it.  She did not.  For the sake of knowing the outcome I skipped ahead to the finale 20 minutes or so and to no surprise I discovered we had missed absolutely nothing by leaping to the end.  We casually watched the story wrap up and though a guy got a lot of nails put in his feet we were unmoved.  The final scene drives home an apt answer to my long gestating question about this whole story.  Why are people so wrapped up in this sour mush of a narrative?  The answer?  I haven’t the faintest idea.  Maybe it’s the mohawk and leather collars.  And the rape.  I got nothing else.

Ten Word or Less Review: Top notch stuff.  Seek it out and see it.

Look on the IMDB page for this film and you’ll see it classified as Drama/Mystery/Romance.  Movies have a hard enough time getting one genre right much less three, but Secret balances these multiple genres with an incredibly skilled touch, accomplishing a gripping story which never feels shallow, predictable or course.  It’s a hard-hitting murder mystery that knows how to turn the screws, as well as a story of unrequited romance that feels well honed and true to heart.

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), is a retired Argentinian detective.  Free of the work a day world Benjamin lingers on a troublesome case from 20 years in his past, the brutal rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, a beautiful newlywed who was killed in her own home after her husband went to work.  As he attempts to write a book about the events he drugges up feelings long buried and explores new thoughts and ideas pretaining to the case.  Secret juxtaposes Benjamin’s quiet life of now, unmarried, no kids, too much time, with his tumultuous existence of then, trying to solve a perplexing murder, dealing with his drunken best friend and co-worker, falling for a superior he feels unworthy of.

These dueling timelines and story arcs never feel at odds with one another or tonally out of whack.  Each part of its complex story compliments the other in odd and unpredictable ways.  Director/Writer Juan Jose Campanella shows great skill here with complex structure and pacing. Not only emotionally winding and complex it also requires a gutsy storyteller and Campanella doesn’t duck away from the harder parts of his narrative.  When Esposito walks in on Liliana’s battered body, the detective’s ground in cynicism fades away as he’s struck devistated with horror at the heinousness of the crime . It’s the kind of powerful scene too many American flicks shy away from.

The cast of actors mine the intimidating screenplay for everything that it’s worth and in addition are saddled with the trick of playing their characters at two very different ages.  Darin convincingly portrays Esposito as a brash young man and an older, lost soul whose watched opportunities pass him by.  We see him struggle then and now with his relationship to Irene (Soledad Villamil), a work place superior who sets him on his side with unrequited desire.  Past or present, Darin injects such an aching sense of repression towards this woman he’s so in love with that we can’t stand to see him not act.  Romance seems superfilous and ill-timed in most murder oriented mysteries, here it serves as the emotional backbone for the entire story and it has a fantastic payoff.

The Secret in their Eyes leaves a deep impression on the viewer.  In an age of disposable movies where a real emotion is nearly impossible to find, Campanella’s effort achieves near greatness.  For a director who’s spent most of his career confined to television (Law & Order: SVU, House, Strangers With Candy!) he’s turned in a remarkable cinematic effort that would make any master helmer a wee bit jealous.

Micmacs (2010) – Jean Pierre-Jeunet (Amelie) returns from a prolonged directorial absence, 5 years, with this quirky piece of creative fluff.  Bazil (Dany Boon) looses his father in childhood to a landmine.  As an adult he suffers a bullet to the head during a criminal getaway.  It remains lodged in his head and could kill him at any moment.  One day he discovers that the makers of the landmine and the bullet are neighboring arms manufacturers, both run by vile, amoral business scumbags.  He sets out with a group of landfill living crusaders to turn the companies on each other in what is mostly a lighthearted revenge fable.  Jeunet’s innovative camera work and playful sense of fun work overtime here.  Boon has the clever physicality of Chaplin but only uses it in small doses.  It’s a fun lark of a movie but for Jeunet it feels like a minor work, something to get him back in the swing of things until a more ambitious project comes around.  Worth seeing though.

Collapse (2009) – Michael Ruppert stares into the camera and tells us that bad hasn’t even started yet.  Michael believes that the world as it currently functions is doomed.  And it’s not a matter religious fundamentalism or corrupt morality that will destroy us, its simple math, physics and time.  Nearly every single product produced uses oil in some form or fashion in its creation or transportation to market.  Oil is finite.  The moment of peak oil has passed.  It will run out sooner rather than later.  Once that happens, shit hits the fan on a scale that no one wants to imagine.  Hard logic to argue with.  Human ingenuity don’t fail us now.  If Ruppert is wrong we’ll go along on our road bump laden way and look back at him as just another roadside prophet preaching doomsday.  If Rupert is right start watching Mad Max movies for survival tips ASAP.  Ruppert’s best tip?  Buy organic seeds.

Machete (2010) – Here’s the problem making films rooted in the aesthetic of 70’s exploitation trash, they mostly suck and emulating them without the lens of reinterpretation, Tarantino, or parody, Black Dynamite, is a fool’s errand.  For every inspired chuckle or bit of lunacy that works there are miles of celluloid totaling scores of films that just sit there and bore you to death with their listless lack of talent.  Machete wants to be one of those movies and that’s what it is.  It’s a silly bit of garbage that thinks because it’s garbage that everything is fine.  But it’s not, it’s just garbage.  And it’s made by Robert Rodriguez who usually makes garbage anyway, but here he’s trying to make fun garbage but since he’s always trying to do that, and rarely succeeding, why would he succeed here?  Meat faced role player Danny Trejo finally gets his shot at leading a film but it was better as an idea than an actuality.  Trejo imparts very little charm or presence in a flatly written part that requires him to be stoic and stab people.  This opportunity for overcooked slaughtering of racist dirt bags and their immigrant victims gets boring fast.  In Grindhouse it worked great as a 2 minute gag preview, all those bits are here, but as a full blown movie it’s a chore.  It’s one note, overlong, intentionally but unamusingly stupid and it’s first 5 minutes are about all that’s worth watching.  For schlock fans only.


The A-Team (2010) – Misplaced nostalgia strikes again.  Bombastic and tiresome action rehash of semi-iconic 80’s TV show works hard but achieves little.  It’s almost a shame because the cast was game and there was something resembling chemistry between these guys.  Neeson, Cooper, Copley and the Ultimate Fighter guy all seem invested in this goofy shit.  A smartly written, less transparent film would’ve helped too.  A giggle sneaks through here and there but this ADD addled film is in a constant state of roid rage.  It’s a sense of impatience with itself and silly eagerness to blow shit up that keeps A-Team from being fun.


The Killer Inside Me (2010) – Michael Winterbottom gets an awesome performance out of Casey Affleck, here playing a small town sheriff with a propensity for cold-hearted killing when things don’t go his way.  After falling into a sexual fling with a prostitute on the edge of town, Jessica Alba, situations involving blackmail and revenge start to curl around him and threaten his being.  His solution to problems is always to kill, a twisted grin slowly creeping over his face as he does in his victims.  For him, ending someone’s life is as troublesome as taking out a bag of garbage.  Based on an old Jim Thompson novel of the same name, the rest of the movie’s plot and characters are just a shade sketchy.  Winterbottom glosses over his plot a little too haphazardly and a feeling of unimportance hangs some things.  But Affleck is always commanding of the screen as this unflappable psycho.  The rest of the cast, even in fleeting parts, put their best foot forward.  I can say I’ve seen Kate Hudson in a movie which didn’t look like eye rape from 50 miles away.


The Keep (1983) – The dubious directorial debut from now highly respected director Michael Mann (Heat).  A bunch of Nazi’s roll into a small Hungarian village to take possession of an ancient religious temple being guarded by the locals.  Locals tell them not to touch the fancy crosses all over the walls.  Nazi’s touch the crosses.  Evil unleashed.  Unleashed evil starts killing Nazis.  So why should we root against this evil, Nazi killing demon?  The script is terrible and the film feels nonsensical via bad writing and editing that feels like it was done with a machete.  If there was ever a coherent movie here it was chopped away with vigorous abandon.  Scott Glenn is our hero who barely gets a name and it doesn’t help that his role is retarded.  It’s his purpose in life to stop the evil demon, who looks like a naked Skeletor, and even has the only weapon which can stop it, yet he lives in another country hundreds of miles away.  Fucking moron.  Mann manages to give the movie a decent look, some of it could pass for a stylized 80’s music video, but there’s no hope for this mess.  Tangerine Dream contributes the one worth while effort of the show, a neato synth score that should’ve haunted a different movie.  Mann fans can find this goofy mishmash of crap via Netflix on demand.


Antichrist (2009) – Lars Von Trier’s latest attempt to piss off film critics and movie goers.  And boy did he succeeded at ticking off a lot with Antichrist.  A married couple has a wild fuck and as they’re lost in sexual bliss, their infant son crawls out of his crib and out the window of their apartment.  After his death the mother, Charlotte Gainsborough, becomes consumed with grief.  The husband, Willem Dafoe, tries to use therapy and logic to bring her around.  They get nowhere.  The two then head off for a cabin in a place simply dubbed Eden.  Here things go from bad to worse to totally fucked.  Aggressive sex is performed, stomach clinching violence ensues, a fox makes an ominous statement.  While Von Trier may be attempting to say something about the differing natures of grief within men and women, his shock tactics work against him.  His movie becomes a deranged experience very likely to send people running from the room.  It’s all beautifully shot and it’s as compelling and unique an experience you’re likely to have with a movie, but it will probably make the squeamish and sensitive folk freak out and vomit.  Had Von Trier been a little less adamant about disgusting his audience, he may have made a more thoughtful impression on people.  It’s equal parts fascinating and repulsive.





Ten Word or Less Review:  Good, engrossing thriller.  Not quite a classic.

I find it difficult to write about phenomenon.  I never wrote about “Inception.”  They usually don’t live up to the hype, “Inception” did, and it’s hard to add anything to the hyperbole that comes with them.  Such is almost the case with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  An unlikely literary success story, deceased author Steig Larsson has crafted, well I don’t know what he’s crafted because I haven’t read it.  But the Swedish movie based on his excessively popular novel is a pretty decent thing.  It’s a solid mystery and it has a grizzly edge to it in places which distinguishes it from other stories of the type.  But as solid as it is, I’m lost as to why entire nations have been swept up into this craze.  It’s a good, not quite great, thing.

“Tattoo” follows the dual stories of Mikael and Lisbeth.  Mikael is a disgraced magazine publisher facing jail time for falsifying evidence against some corporate evil doers.  Lisbeth wears leather and spikes to work as a researcher who exceeds at her skills in hunting down information but is very unstable emotionally.  Before serving jail time, Mikael is solicited by a wealthy business man to investigate the 40 year old disappearance of his niece.  Though no new leads have emerged in years Mikael is compelled to take a stab at finding out what happened to the disappeared girl.  Unbeknownst to him Lisbeth has been spying on him through his computer and gradually becomes interested in his attempt to unravel a generation old mystery.  They eventually form an unlikely partnership and their investigation takes them to dangerous places.

As a work of mystery “Tattoo” is sturdy, well thought out and crafted with care.  Its twists aren’t readily apparent from any great distance but nor are they really mind blowing once revealed.  What pushes “Tattoo” in a more provocative direction is the character of the title, Lisbeth.  We know from the get go that Lisbeth is troubled, and though her past is part of her problem Larsson throws on a vile, rapist parole officer to give the audience someone to really hate with a passion.  “Tattoo” contains not one, but two vivid sequences in which Lisbeth is raped.  Director Niels Oplev doesn’t pull many punches with these scenes and those with weaker dispositions and easily turned off by rough depictions of violence would be wise to watch something else.  It’s hard to imagine an American remake following through quite as thoroughly as the work here does.  These grim beats don’t have a lot of direct payoff within the story at hand but it’s apparent that the emotional consequences of past and present will play a part in the next two installments.

People love a good mystery, and a little sadism as well, and “Tattoo” has just enough to make someone stand up and pay attention.  I can’t quite put together what about the material has drawn so many legions of fans, but I digress.  Maybe I should just read the book.  As far as film mysteries go “Tattoo” is a little short of being a real classic of the genre, but worth a look by curious film goers and devoted fans of the source material.

Ten Word or Less Review – Swedes, photography, oppressive poverty.  It’s a winner!

This is an excellent drama set during the early part of the 19th century about a Swedish family dealing with their impoverished existence.  Told from the point of view of the oldest daughter, “Everlasting Moments” traces the family trials that rip and tear at the family fabric, largely being held together by an unbreakable mother.  Though father can always hold down a job because of his abundant strength, he routinely falls off the wagon and becomes an unbearable and abusive lout.  It’s sort of a Swedish version of “Angela’s Ashes.”

The saintly, put upon mother is able to find a form of emotional escape and spiritual uplift through photography, a rare hobby and highly skilled trade in 1907.  The camera itself is the reason the mother and father married to begin with, or at least it’s jokingly inferred.  She’s blessed with a natural eye for the craft but her artistic ability, and the admiration from others that it brings, infuriates her husband and inflames his ignorant and brutish impulses.  His abusiveness grows with time but the mother’s old world sense of marital obligation prevents her from abandoning him, despite all instincts to do so.

Calling the movie Bergmanesque is an easy comparison but none the less a correct one.  It’s very reminiscent of Bergman’s later life works, though maybe several steps removed from his sense of spiritual dourness.  It feels especially close in essence to Bergman’s epic masterpiece “Fanny & Alexander.”  Though it’s downbeat and often reflects the ugly reality of the lives its capturing, it’s never oppressive or a chore to sit through.  There’s a sensitivity to it which maintains an even emotional flow, never pouring too much misery on the viewer at once, and often remembering to deal with hard human suffering with a delicate and sensitive approach.  It never feels exploitative or abusive.

“Everlasting Moments” reminds us of the old fashioned merits of two art forms drastically changed by the 21st century.  Not only is it a shining example of a simpler, more resonant form of film storytelling, it reminds the audience that photography used to be something more than just a phone app.  It was something rare and special and those who used it captured fleeting moments of life now long passed.  “Moments” may not seem like a movie for all audiences, but I’m willing to bet most people, if they can get over it being in Swedish, will find themselves engrossed by it.

Precious – All the awards and recognition didn’t sway people from going after “Precious”. It was the target of copious amounts of criticism from film critics and social bloggers.  Many detractors claimed that the filmmakers had assembled a movie that was subtlety racist in old fashioned ways.  Precious the character is full of self-loathing and daydreams about having a light skinned boyfriend.  Even going so far to have Precious imagine herself as a pretty white girl.  An uncomfortable sentiment for some but considering the character and her hellish circumstances, such an idea isn’t far fetched. Other antagonistic views said that the film was an African-American pity party.  An exploitation horror show meant to make white people feel better about not being black.  Such sentiment, that white people will watch “Precious” and apply it’s story to all black people and thus feel superior, is just as racist in its own way.  That view implies that all white people are stupid and easily led on.  While these criticisms certainly make interesting points and liven the debate, they completely missed the larger reason for the movie’s success with audiences and critics.  It’s a well made drama in the long standing underdog genre with compelling performances and enough style to draw attention to the skill on display but not overshadow the story as a whole.  In short, we root for Precious to succeed, to overcome her truly awful circumstances and become a better person.  When she does the audience achieves a sense of uplift.  Such sentiment transcends race and it’s a shame so many choose to ignore that point.

Book of Eli – For all the acclaim that has been bestowed on Denzel Washington during his career, few people like to acknowledge that he more often than not appears in movies that could easily be classified as standard issue.  Some of his stuff rises above the norm and he rarely makes anything terrible, but memorable work also eludes him.  “The Book of Eli” falls into exactly this pattern.  No great or terrible things can be said about it.  It’s another post-apocalyptic action flick, Washington channeling Eastwood’s man with no name character to a tee.  It has a good twist in the end but the journey there isn’t much fun.  Director’s Albert and Allen Hughes give the movie that persistently, over styled flashiness that all big budget action movies get.  They also pour on the standard issue grungy atmosphere.  It is the apocalypse so things have to be dusty and strewn with garbage.  Nothing about “Eli” feels unique or necessary.  The once promising directing duo of Albert and Allen now seem content to make action trash like this.  It’s all a small shame because there’s a promising idea driving the story, but there’s nothing pushing it along or making it feel important.  If you’re an easy lay for action flicks, or Washington, then “Eli” will probably do enough for you.  If neither prospect seems appealing then there’s nothing here.  Rent something else.

Cop Out – This movie is like hearing the same crappy joke repeated by a drunk guy in a bar over and over for 90 minutes.  In an annoying, high pitched voice, while being stabbed in the eye with a stapler.  Fuck you Kevin Smith.  I’m done with your fat, lazy ass.

Summer Hours – A well-intentioned, highly acclaimed French drama from 2008.  Three adult children cope with the loss of their mother, but more importantly, they have to determine what to do with the extensive art collection she’s left behind.  The movie has small moments that work and it gradually touches on themes and emotional gestures that viewers can take something from; valuing the things which decendents leave you, don’t discard the past quickly, etc.  But at its core it’s a movie that never boils, or even tries to.  “Summer” is content to make our protagonists all nice, pleaseant, amiable family members.  No one does anything terrible or selfish to one another and all parties avoid high drama or grand theatrics.  In short, it is dull.  It’s the kind of emotionally understated, high minded, art house, psuedo drama critics love to worship, while slightly less hoity types begin to navel gaze after a while.  Gaze into my navel I did.  It isn’t bad and it isn’t a painful sit, but after the third or fourth conversation about the importance of desks, vases and artwork, it starts to feel static.  I don’t need lurid theatrics, but at least some not so civil disagreements would’ve livened things up a bit.
Hunger – Some movies are made with the mindset that those viewing it already know something, or even a lot, about the subject matter.  “Hunger” is about IRA prisoner Bobby Sands and his hunger strike in a British prison in 1981 and a great deal of the film plays out before this becomes apparent.  “Hunger” begins by following the strange and forboding morning routine of an English prison guard.  It then moves onto the lives of two incarcerated  IRA prisoners and their hellish existence in Maze prison which consist of routine beatings and humilations at the hands of British guards.  Then roughly halfway through, these characters are dropeed and the film shifts its focus over to Sands and his hunger strike.  Sands organizes a the strike in which he becomes the first of dozens of prisoners to protest for political rights through self-inflicted starvation.  He then proceeds to starve to death.  That’s the movie in a nutshell.  Fans of unapologetic realism in cinema will likely champion “Hunger.”  It’s a film that’s always easy to respect but equally hard to watch.  The movie has no interest in cheap sentiment or overblown politics.  Though it’s tale is a worthy one, this viewer felt as if great gaps of story were missing.  The only thing I know about Sands is that he was a politcal prisoner, he was poorly treated in prison and that he starved himself to death.  Adding to this sensation of sparsity is a near total lack of dialogue. With the exception of an impressive 17 minute, unedited scene in the middle of the film, there’s virtually no conversation between anyone.  Director and co-screenwriter Steve McQueen has been sparse to a fault.

Brothers (2009) – Jake Gyllenhal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman all turn in strong work for this low key work.  It’s the kind of small scale human drama that Hollywood is becoming increasingly hesitant to make.  Gyllenhal is the black sheep brother who steps up to take on family responsibility after Maguire’s character, a marine, is reported killed in Afghanistan.  In actuality he’s captured by Taliban forces and tortured.  He returns home months later, a broken man on the verge of madness.  “Brothers” doesn’t aim for Oscar level histrionics and that makes for a nice change.  It’s not a film out to change to world, just tell a compelling story and tell it well.  Director Jim Sheridan’s steady hand and restrained style let’s it succeed on both counts.  The screen play feels a little too sparse but the performances of the primaries fill it out in the places it needs attention with believable chemistry and skill.

Tetro (2009) – Francis Ford Coppola has decided to spend his senior years making small scale, independent efforts which appeal to his senses and adhere to visions as a director.  That all sounds respectable and admirable but someone needs to tell Francis that he needs to remember a few things about structure, pacing and character.  “Tetro” tells the story of a young American reuniting with his long lost brother who ran off a decade before.  The older brother has become a reclusive, mope, obsessed with his demons and keeping everyone away.  Though filmed with a lovingly immaculate black and white palate, Coppola sends his story teetering this way and that, never in focus enough to make it feel consequential or even mildly interesting.  It’s a shame.  Coppola still has a wonderful eye for photography, he simply lacks the discipline required to make his narrative work.

Fires on the Plain (1959) – In 1956 Kon Ichikawa directed the humanistic masterpiece “The Burmese Harp”.  That was film filled with empathy towards the human experience in war time and stands as an unarguable classic.  Three years later Ichikawa returned to the subject of Japanese soldiers during World War II in “Fires on the Plain.”  As far removed from the theme of human compassion as possible, “Fires” follows a ragged soldier as he’s dismissed from his unit so he can go back to the hospital, if they don’t take him he’s ordered to blow himself up.  The soldier spends the duration wondering the island attempting to eek out an existence as food is sparse, fellow soldiers are resorting to cannibalism and American’s are slowly appearing everywhere.  The movie is a difficult sit.  It feels one note, the misery never lets up, and our soldier never develops a personality we can feel for.  It’s an experience that leaves one feeling emotionally depleted and stomped on.  Fans of classic Japanese cinema, war movies or downer cinema in general will find a lot to like, but it’s not something to jump into lightly.