i watched this last night. i’d wanted to see it on the big screen when it first came out but fear of seeing a major part of my childhood destroyed kept me away. i’d read that the film mashes up the plots of a few books and rewrites characters etc. and all of this seemed like more desecration than i could take. and, of course, i feared the spielbergization of the whole thing: tintin as a young man trying to gain the love of his father (captain haddock probably) and so on.
Continue reading tintin
Small Town Murder Songs is that rare film that feels condensed without being rushed. It defines a community, a deep bench of idiosyncratic yet wholly believable characters any one of whom could be a narrative focus–as if opening a fantastic television series. Continue reading Stormare . . . .whoa whoa whoa whoa
James Gunn’s version of the superheroes-are-really-pathetic-losers film didn’t, on paper, seem to cry out for my attention. People said it was a lot more Travis Bickle than Kick-Ass, which was less deconstructive than delirious about the silliness of certain genre set-ups. And while most of its cast made my eyebrows go up (Andre Royo! Michael Rooker! Nathan Fillion! Kevin Bacon as the baddie? Ellen Page as a lunatic sidekick?) I was a little nervous about star Rainn Wilson. It is hard to displace Dwight Schrute’s high cheekbones and fake hard smile. But Super, while hitting a lot of familiar notes, also hits them with a wrench, repeatedly and confidently bashing expectations, shifting tones.
It manages a level of emotional engagement and complexity that is impressive, largely because of Wilson and Page, who are each excellent at turning from outsized insanity and mayhem to a pervasive sadness; their actions almost seem a continual surprise to themselves, and at heart the film isn’t troping the creaky superhero trope about good and evil (and the thin line, ye innocents!, between the twain); Super (like Taxi Driver) is about alienation and loneliness.
Which makes it sound grim, when it is often quite funny; bloody in a manner that teases a Troma-like eccentricity but also critiques the comic-book indifference to consequence; cautiously hopeful despite its dark worldview. I thought it was really pretty darn good.
I did see the latest Baypalooza, notable only for being somewhat more visually coherent than the last two robots-bashing-robots films. Alas, that’s still only about 3 or 4% overall coherence. It was reasonably entertaining; the 7-year-old with me was itchy for much of the first half and then rapt for the last. This 43-year-old went away wishing he’d cared more.
But tonight I watched Seung-wan Ryoo’s 2010 pitch-black noir The Unjust, a film that’ll eventually show up on Netflix, but probably won’t make it to any theaters near any of us, except maybe Mauer. It’s scripted by Hoon-jung Park, who wrote I Saw the Devil, and if I say this latest film is a wee bit less nihilistic, that’s like saying Steve Jobs has less money then Bill Gates. One of the dark pleasures of this latest is the almost gleeful skipping down a steep slope of people behaving unethically. It starts with a montage of people in public settings watching various newscasters recount the great social anxiety around a series of rape-killings of young children, and then cuts into surveillance footage of a footchase between two police and a suspect. Ryoo zooms in and the film kicks into high gear.
But the serial killer’s a mcguffin, and much of the action is psychological — two protagonists (well….)–a lead detective (the stoic, ever-more-tightly-wound Jeong-min Hwang) and a public prosecutor (the frequently unwound Seung-beom Ryu) are charged with resolving the kid case, while also tussling over dueling dirty developers. The film plays out like Sidney Lumet via Takashi Miike, with a lot of high-wire editing which keeps your pulse high. But what really sold me were the performances — always two or three steps over the top, but carefully modulated; it’s a wicked, entertaining thriller, as good as I’ve seen this year.
Joe Wright’s trippy little “action film” seems to have begun as a straightforward high-concept no-brainer — teen girl, raised by father just inside the Arctic circle, is a survivalist wunderkind with a backstory just waiting to be booted up. And, sure enough, a few minutes in dad (Eric Bana, with a German accent) digs up a transponder, asks his daughter if she’s really ready, and she flips the switch to transmit.
Cue their rapid departure, the arrival of secret super-spy teams led by twisty clearly-evil Marissa (Cate Blanchett, with an American-Southern accent), and set things running. There’s an awful lot of running, which even the Chemical Brothers can’t fully justify. Hanna (Saiorse Ronan, playing in a bunch of languages) is Candide via Jason Bourne. There are some great action set-pieces–many pastiches of various of Wright’s influences, but all filmed with joy and wit and aforementioned thumping techno soundtrack, even if it’s a bit long, not terribly tight.
Wright gave the genetic blueprint for this story–all too familiar–some great goosing from Grimms’ fairy tales, and it’s filmed with all kinds of digressive style, too. I loved Ronan, loved the energy of the film, enjoyed its willingness to play by the rules and its equally firm commitment to perverse dislocations. It’s a bit too quilted–there’s a Kubrick fetish I kind of dig, but you can see a lot of the stitching, and the film could probably have used another script revision, or even better a willingness to go a lot more strange. (There’s an aggravating subtext about the evils of the childless witchy Marissa that could go away. Let her be the wolf; Blanchett doesn’t need to be saddled with the tired trope of the barren feminine.) But mostly the film is a sign of filmmakers in love with all kinds of genre films, and it’s definitely worth a look.
Gore Verbinski’s Rango riffs on the West and the Western, never quite escaping the gravity well of genre conventions; it also nimbly dances through the minefields of cheap reductive parody or punch(line)drunken gag-sap-gag-moral-gag-triumph which crowd the children’s animated film market, yet has the stray belch or manic action sequence or bow-wrapped final-reel redemption which keeps things familiar.
Who gives a shit? Look at that picture. Continue reading Varmints
Gaspar Noe’s film is shot almost entirely in p.o.v., the protagonist a young guy doing and dealing drugs in a seedy, emphatically-neon Tokyo. Early voiceovers–where he tells himself things that no sapient creature would ever need to say, or even think, as the camera watches from his vantage, hands fumbling forward into frame to unlock a door, to grab his stash, to burn a pipe.
And yet–even early on, with some of this stilted narration, and the artifice of the p.o.v. ploy, there are cluttered rushes of image:
Continue reading Enter the Void
I am constitutionally primed to enjoy a film which yuks it up around subjects that terrify or infuriate, and when I heard about Chris Morris’ slapsticky take on radicalized English Muslims, intent on joining the jihad through suicide bombing… well, damn. How fantastically inappropriate–perhaps it would be a more vigorous bit of tomfoolery than Albert Brooks’ Looking for Comedy in the Moslem World. It was. And it was even better yet: Morris uses familiar conventions (the hapless schmoes, on a foolish quest) which amplify our identification, and the film’s final moments had a surprising emotional edge.
Continue reading Four Lions
opening scene. raquel, a youngish-looking maid in a wealthy chilean household, is thrown an after-dinner birthday party by the family she has been serving for 20 years. turns out it’s her 40th birthday. you do the math. twenty years? 40 years old? dang. half a lifetime spent living with these folks. as if to flesh out your perplexity, shock even, at this extraordinary but all-too-common fact of human existence — people indenturing themselves to others — the director, sebastiÃ¡n silva, segues with a merciless look at the routine of raquel’s life, which consists of focused, meticulously practiced, down to a T, not-a-second-of-rest work. Continue reading omg The Maid (chile)
I’d recommend three recently-watched films, each of which plays with the structure and function of crime narratives in ways that intriguingly reframe the romanticization common to the genre. All are good, but I’ll start with the least successful and work my way up to one I thought was kind of fantastic.
Continue reading Crime stories, sort of