Saturday, February 28, 2009

Grizzly Man

"I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder." Werner Herzog.

I don't watch a lot of documentaries. I've seen a couple, but none well known or very memorable(with the exception being last year's Man on Wire). I have just never been one of those people who really get into documentaries. So to see a movie like this is such a revelation for me, because I thought docs were just people telling a story to the camera, the strength of the doc being what they were saying. This is really a compilation of images, clips, and interviews, all trying to grasp at something.

This movie could have gone a lot of ways with the Timothy Treadwell story. It could have explored Treadwell's fight against the government or people trying to kill the bears in the wilderness. He could explore just what Timothy did in the wilderness. But Herzog is doing something else, something much more interesting. He seems to be grasping for something, looking for the drive that Timothy Treadwell had in him to live among what Herzog thinks is a very destructive landscape. He is circling Timothy's character through Timothy's friends, his parents, people who thought he was nuts, his archival footage, and himself.
Herzog doesn't let this become a talking head doc. He does make himself acknowledged by not placing the camera directly on a close-up of someone or by having it in the same place every time they speak. He also makes himself acknowledged in the conversation once or twice, but doesn't get involved other then the compiling of footage and the voice-over narration.

And Herzog pulls it off really well. He puts great clips of Timothy, each one focusing on him more then the bears(you'll notice there are a lot of foxes, more then you would've thought, I think because Timothy cannot get as intimate with bears as he can with foxes.) and the strange drive that caused him to live in the wilderness on end. We get little tidbits from Timothy's life, each one adding to the next, giving us a picture of him and yet really leaving us with nothing but our own thoughts.

Verdict: The first doc I can really recommend to people. Fantastic.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

PTA/GVS marathon film #1: Punch-Drunk Love.

"Shut up! Shut the f- up! Shut up! Will you..Shut Up! Shut, Shut, Shut, Shut, Shut up! Shut up! Now, are you threatening me?" Dean Trumbell(Phillip Seymour Hoffman)

We open on Adam Sandler. He's not quipping, not making jokes, not even relaxed. he's uptight, straight, uncomfortable. He's talking about some deal, something about frequent flyer miles. Is it important, I don't know. It's too early in the movie too tell. After the call, Barry Egan, Adam Sandler's character goes outside to look at the row of cars that lay in front of him. They start out of focus, then turn into focus. We then get a going around the corner and looking down the street. Silent and tranquil, it could be described as a cutaway. If only PTA had decided not to crash a car down the street. Disturbing the peace of the scene, it comes as a surprise. To us and Barry Egan. We then see another van, in a desperate attempt to get rid of evidence, leaves a piano on the sidewalk. Barry looks at piano. Piano doesn't move.
The phone call is the most important part of that scene.
It's surreal. It jumps and twists in ways physically incapable to a world like this. This isn't earth. this is Punch Drunk Love world.
Wait, this is a PTA film, right? Not Gus Van Sant? You sure?
My god it's surreal. It gets down to these eccentricities on display from Barry Egan. He gets mad, breaks windows, breaks down crying at random moments, and all during his sister's birthday party. He doesn't seem to be able to interact with anybody without being uptight and awkward, without feeling put on the spot. At one point he even says to one of his sisters, when trying to explain why he won't meet a girl whose interested in him "I feel like I would be put on the spot." You're always put on the spot deal with it.
No one seems to understand this world except for maybe Adam Sandler. Well, he doesn't really understand it, he just lives with it. He captures the eccentricities of Barry Egan, of this world, and yet his character doesn't seem to know what they are. You've got character's questioning him on and on about the pudding and the piano and he hates it because he doesn't have an answer to it. He doesn't, unlike every single other character in the movie, question his existence. He just goes with it.
Other then him, no one really knows. The only person who is seemingly is comfortable is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, because not only does he make sure he is detached from the surreality, but he's Phillip Seymour Hoffman, so he really kind of seems to be on top of everything. However, we never know if this is the case or just his personage.
But it's not just the characters, but also PTA who doesn't seem to understand. His camera doesn't understand. His script doesn't understand. his editing, well it kind of understands. No one understands.
This movie is amazing. You just have to go with it instead of fight it. Just say, "I'm going to go for the ride with you", and you will love it.
PTA just lets the movie move at such a fast pace. Two scenes have Barry Egan juggling four or five things at a time. One has him dealing with sisters while working with clients, more a preliminary scene to the main scene with multiple things happening, where he is trying to juggle his sister, her friend, the workplace, and a sex phone line person(what are they called?) who is blackmailing him. Nice.
This was such a huge surprise, as I thought I would love magnolia and Boogie Nights more then this. I still could, but this will be hard to top.

Verdict: This movie is so strange, and so wierd, but if you go with it, it is an amazing experience. The word is surreal.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


"You probably think this world is a dream come true, but you're wrong!" Cat, Keith David.

Coraline is the seventh film by The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick. About half the people reading this just did a spit take. The Nightmare before Christmas director Henry Selick. Not The Nightmare Before Christmas director Tim Burton. So why then, is it called Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas? See, Tim Burton has spent his life trying to create his masterpiece. And while he has made some solid films(Ed Wood and Batman come to mind) he still hasn't made his masterpiece yet. Henry Selick did it in one film. Burton was so jealous that he used his producer status to put his name on the film. Here, with Coraline, Henry Selick has moved apart from Tim Burton but is using the same sort of material.
So is Coraline better then The Nightmare Before Christmas? To be honest I've never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas (I called it a masterpiece based on popular opinion) But when I do, it has a lot to live up to. Coraline is a beautifully made, but dark and twisted tale. It was so refreshing to see a children's movie that wouldn't brighten up for its audience. Wall-e did it last year by portraying the future as a desolate, over-consumerised wasteland(literally) and now in Coraline, whenever we are not in the dream other world, the colors Selick uses are Dark. He doesn't shy away from portraying creatures you see in, say, the final "game" Coraline plays with the other mother.
Plus there's the little things that Selick does. For example, one scene has Coraline, in her boredom, stepping on bumps on a carpet, trying to flatten them out. Later we see her jumping down the stairs and finally flattens the bumps, but Coraline doesn't notice this nor does Selick focus on it, which is his genius. It is also apparent in on line of the This is Giants song that appears in the middle of the film a bit of foreshadowing. "She's a BUTTON in the EYE'S of everyone who ever laid their EYE'S on Coraline" Is it just me, or is Selick playing with our minds?
Of course, I could also talk about how Selick could be commenting on family dynamics(The mother is the controlling force in the other world) or dictatorships(People's emotions are twisted to keep the facade of the joyful world) but why should I? Reviews for movies like this are useless. Like Rachel Getting Married, this is a movie that should be experienced, not dissected.

One point I do want to make is that, like many people, I saw this film in 3D. I think this is the future of 3D, or at least should be. Instead of being one of those "look ma, I'm in 3D" movies where things jump out at you (I assume My Bloody Valentine is like this, but I didn't care to see it.) this film uses 3D to create depth in the frame, heightening the beauty of the stop-motion animation. Cameron, take a page out of Henry Selick's book. It will make Avatar so much better.

Verdict:A beautiful stop-motion animation film that solidifies Henry Selick's position of being better than Tim Burton.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Usual Suspects

"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, was convincing the world he didn't exist." Verbil Kint, Kevin Spacey.

Who is Keyser soze?
This is the question that resides over the film The Usual Suspects, and one that resides over pretty much every review of this movie ever written. This question is The Usual Suspects.
I feel I'm in a unique position to critique this film. A year ago, I was reading the special cops and robbers edition of empire when I flip to the results of the reader poll for the top 20 cops and criminals in movie history. And there it is, staring me in the face, At number three, the character in the movie who is Keyser Soze/Keyser Soze. There was no attempt to hide it. It wasn't in the fine print. Any random person flipping through pages would have suddenly known the one of the greatest twists in film history. So I came into The Usual Suspects completely immune to the twists and turns it was portraying and saw it more as a work of art, as it's own self contained piece. Not leaving the theatre in love with it just because it duped me(which it probably would have).

And that I think is the problem with The Usual Suspects. The whole movie relies on how shocked you are by the twist ending. Otherwise it is a normal crime caper. It really is just this film where layers are put on for layers sake and when you take away those layers you find out that there really is nothing there. But it's the peeling of these layers that does provide a satisfaction that lasts throughout the movie. And when these layers reach its climax and we learn the truth, it is a great moment.
The difference between this and another huge twist ending movie of the same decade, Fight Club, is that Fight Club could still be a great movie without the twist, but with it the movie enters the cultural lexicon. Plus there's the fact that Fight Club can sustain the twist but doesn't feel burdened by it. Take away Keyser Soze, and you lose the point of The Usual Suspects. Learn who Soze is before seeing the movie, and you will not be blown away by it. The Usual Suspects IS Keyser Soze.
One thing that did impress me, but did not blow me away, was Bryan Singer's visual style. He conjures up some great imagery and some really nice shots, but never lets any of this invade the storyline, which in a film like this you can't do.
But for the real stars, well I have four of them. The first is, of course, Keyser soze, which I have talked ad nauseum about. The second is Gabriel Byrne, who I personally think is much better in Miller's Crossing and is put in the position here as well to be the core of the film (because we all know Spacey wouldn't do that) and he does that well. While not breathtaking, his performance was very good and stood out to me.

The third is my man Benicio Del Toro, who I think is one of the greatest actors working today. He makes a bold choice to make it so that the audience can't understand a thing he is saying, in a film where you are required to dissect every piece of dialogue no less. He is incredibly fun to watch and though not as subtle as he is in some of his later works, he is fantastic.
The last is probably going to come as a bit of a shock, as no one agrees with me on this one, but I think this man is the most overlooked actor working today, and that is Pete Postlethwaite. He plays the lawyer Kobayashi, basically Soze's right hand man. I just love watching him say this dialogue. He just has sucha sense of pathos that you feel that every word that leaves his mouth is important. Please look for him more often as he is a fantastic actor.
Everyone else here is good, and while Spacey stumbles at times, when given great dialogue (Like the line I put at the top of this review) He doesn't miss. And I think that anyone who doesn't know the ending of this movie should check it out, especially while you're naive and innocent. but if you do know, there really isn't any point in seeing this movie.

So can someone please tell me, Who is Keyser Soze?

Verdict: A simple crime drama that has only entered the cultural lexicon because of who Keyser Soze really is.


Sunday, February 8, 2009


Because of money issues, the 70's marathon is going to be put on hold. Instead, I'm going to be doing a Van Sant/PTA Marathon, and will be watching these movies.

Boogie Nights(Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
Magnolia(Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
Punch Drunk Love(Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
Drugstore Cowboy(Gus Van Sant, 1989)
Finding Forrester(Gus Van Sant, 2000)
Elephant(Gus Van Sant, 2003)
Last Days(Gus Van Sant, 2005)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Once Upon a Time in the West

"You don't understand, Jill. People like that have something inside... something to do with death." Cheyenne, Jason Robards.

Sergio Leone, I think it's fair to say, is one of my favorite filmmakers. Having seen A Fistful of dollars and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I absolutely love his sense of pace, his badass characters(well, character, that being the man with no name), the anarchic worlds he creates, and his beautiful, absolutely magnificent landscapes. and all this without seeing what is widely considered his masterpiece, which is, of course, Once Upon a Time in the West, pretty much considered the greatest western of all time. So, I love Leone, and this is considered his best, so my anticipations coming in were at an all time high. The question is, Was the master of westerns able to live up to the enormous hype I had coming into this?

Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This movie is a masterpiece. It is epic, yet intimate, slow, yet packed full with story. It is magnificent filmmaking. The plot is twisted but lets see if I can explain it. We start with the murder of a family. We follow cold hearted child killer Frank(Henry Fonda), who is the murderer of this family, as he tries to own their plot of land, Jill Mcbain(Claudia Cardinale) the wife of the family who was killed on the farm, Harmonica(Charles Bronson) Who has some unfinished business with Frank but it is not explained what, and Cheyenne(Jason Robards), who starts out as the fall guy for the killings of the Mcbain family and then gets caught up in the epic struggle between Harmonica and Frank.

I love the encounters that Leone portrays. Unlike most other directors, he understands pace, letting characters breathe for ten minutes on end(as an example) before building to a very short climax(something Tarantino understood when making Kill Bill Vol.1) Allowing us to take in the detail of the cinematography.
And then there's the beauty of the storytelling. Unlike a film I just saw tonight, The Usual Suspects, where characters and plotlines had to be convoluted for the plots sake, Leone's characters have a very defined motivation even if their motivation isn't told outright to you and the character is portrayed as distant and unemotional. Plus there's the fact that in a film such as The good, the bad, and the ugly, Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, and Sergio Leone are all overshadowed by Eli Wallach as Tuco, a very fun, over the top performance.

But here, every one is bringing their A-game and none of them is letting their performance get in the way of anyone else's. While I don't know if I would take Charles Bronson over Clint Eastwood(I mean, who would?) He is definitely on par with Clint. Lee Van Cleef, however, is easily bettered by Henry Fonda. While Lee van cleef to me was just a regular villain, Henry Fonda is iconic. The blue eyes sparkling with his malicious, murderous intent, we get an easy impression of him when he murders the Mcbains, including killing a child without batting an eyelid. Of course, later on, we realise that he was told only to scare the Mcbains and not to massacre them, with which he gives the curt reply "People scare better we they're dying" He has such a calm tone, the same one he adopts when fighting for a boys life in 12 angry men. He seems to be such at ease with Frank, what his Frank is saying and doing that disturbs me to no end. And of course, Jason Robards is having as much fun as Eli Wallach but in service of the script, not to it's detriment. Claudia Cardinale is good as well as the head strong wife of Mr Mcbain, but she really didn't stand out for me as much as the other three actors did.
So can I just say it's an undisputed masterpiece already? Do you need me to go on about the stunning visuals, the impeccable storytelling, the fantastic acting, the perfect pacing? Or can I just stop? Because I think you get the point.

Verdict: The greatest western ever made. Maybe even the greatest movie ever made.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rachel Getting Married

"We are one, all of us. And this is how it is in heaven. Just like this."-Sydney's mom(Carol Jean Lewis)

I swear I got a little teary eyed watching that scene again in the trailer.

I don't know how to start this review. I don't know if I can go through the points of acting, cinematography, directing all one by one. I just know that I need to convey the way I felt during and after I saw this movie and if I can get one person to go to see this movie and have the same experience that I had, then my life may be complete.
Because this movie is a magnificent experience. Demme told a story about shooting this where he gave his actors this direction "OK you've just come back from rehearsal dinner, do whatever you would do when returning home." During the next shot, he realised that Anisa George was missing. A moment later, she appeared, and Demme asked her where she had been. She said "Oh I just went to the bathroom"

It's this kind of spontaneity that is the pleasure of Rachel Getting Married. Demme bring you into this family with his handhold camera and you are riding on every choice each one of the family members are making. Demme's handheld camera and editing style bring to mind an elaborate home movie, made by someone who has the camera on all the time and with superior editing skills, but a home movie nonetheless.

It really brings to mind a movie that was released last year( no wait it's 2009, so that makes it two years ago. Dammit. I keep doing that.) is Once. Another movie that captures the beauty of relationships in a very home-movie style, I'm surprised I haven't heard this comparison made before (I may have just missed something). Because, truthfully, both of these movies have been labeled as the heart-warming movies for the years they were created in. and though Rachel getting Married doesn't have the musical power of Once (Then again, who does?) It creates compelling narrative, one that has so many fascinating characters that are worthy of their own movie, intricately weaving them together and yet still making the film feel spontaneous. One of the biggest draws, however, is the cast. While in a movie like Milk, the movie is a draw because of the big names(like Penn, Brolin, Franco) This cast is a much smaller but more tightly packed group of actors/actresses. You completely understand that these people would know each other and be part of a community like these people are. Each and every one of the actors are working in a whole, which is something not common in modern cinema. Of course the biggest buzz is going to Anne Hathaway(as the star Kym.) and Rosemarie Dewitt(as the titular Rachel) and they are amazing, but you can read just about any other review, so I wanted to talk about some of the people who I liked who aren't getting enough attention. first of all, Bill Irwin as the father. He plays the dad who is trying to keep everything in order by keeping an eye on Kym at all times. He plays him as well-meaning, but ultimately misguided, but the real scene to watch him in is the dishwasher scene. He is so ferocious in this need to outdo his son-in-law, we watch him nearly embarrass himself by trying to one-up Sydney in a match off, then see him react to what happens at the end(I'll let you discover what that is yourself) not only does he act in the way I would expect any person to act, but he does it with such conviction, that I defy you to not cry. This ties in nicely to the 2nd Grattan Aikins Rachel Getting Married memorial awards(patent pending) which is the son-in-law Sidney, Tunde Adebimpe. This really is a personal choice. I just love him. He's a lovable guy. And the last one is Anisa George as Rachel's best friend, Emma. She's the one who is the realistic version of Monica from friends, the one who needs to have everything to be perfect, and can't have fun in the process. Her speech is the 2nd most embarrassing thing in the movie(the first being Kym's speech) where she tries to tell this story(I can't remember what it was) and fails miserably. She just gets me so annoyed with the character and I just wanted her to stop talking, and that is testament to any good performance.

I want everyone to go see this. It is not groundbreaking in storytelling but i defy you to find a film that makes you feel better when you leave the cinema.

Verdict: A heart-warming, sweet little movie that will leave a smile on your face for days.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

70's marathon

Here is my final lineup for the 70's marathon. If you have any suggestions please tell me, and play along if you wish.

Bonnie and Clyde(Arthur Penn,1967)
The Graduate(Mike Nichols,1967)
Rosemary's Baby(Roman Polanski,1968)
Easy Rider(Dennis Hopper,1969)
Midnight Cowboy(John Schlesinger,1969)
Five Easy Pieces(Bob Rafelson,1970)
Mccabe and Mrs Miller(Robert Altman,1971)
Harold and Maude(Hal Ashby,1971)
The Last Picture Show(Peter Bogdanovich,1971)
The French Connection(William Friedkin,1971)
A Clockwork Orange(Stanley Kubrick,1971)
Straw Dogs(Sam Peckinpah, 1971)
Cabaret(Bob Fosse,1972)
Deliverance(John Boorman,1972)
The Last Detail(Hal Ashby,1973)
The Exorcist(William Friedkin,1973)
American Graffiti(George Lucas,1973)
Badlands(Terrence Malick,1973)
The Godfather Part 2(Francis Ford Coppola,1974)
The Converation(Francis Ford Coppola,1974)
A Woman Under the Influence(John Cassavetes,1974)
Nashville(Robert Altman,1975)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest(Milos Forman,1975)
Network(Sidney Lumet,1976)
All the President's Men(Alan J. Pakula,1976)
Taxi Driver(Martin Scorsese,1976)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind(Steven Spielberg,1977)
Annie Hall(Woody Allen,1977)
The Deer Hunter(Michael Cimino,1978)
All That Jazz(Bob Fosse,1979)
Alien(Ridley Scott,1979)
Being There(Hal Ashby,1979)
Raging Bull(Martin Scorsese,1980)
Heaven's Gate(Michael Cimino,1980)
Reds(Warren Beatty,1981)