Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Such Thing (2002)

Interesting, but sprawling fable about a young journalist who, while looking for her murdered fiancee in Iceland, discovers a surly, yet inexplicably American-accented monster, and, of course, befriends him. Sarah Polley plays the lead character, an ambitious young reporter who works for power-hungry, cold-hearted cliche Helen Mirren. She convinces Mirren to let her search for her fellow reporter husband by claiming it to be a viable human interest story. She is led to a small Icelandic village where all the bumbling locals are terrified of the nearby monster. They knock her out and send her to his lair in an abandoned missle silo. And their magical, illuminating friendship begins, leading them both on a path of self-discovery that will change their lives forever.

While my tone may imply that this film is a rudimentary, cliched turd of a film, I actually liked it. The director, Hal Hartley, has a way of portraying even the most rudimentary and arbitrary of scenes in such a way that it actually feels original; that Wes Anderson way of playing familiar elements so on the nose, that they come out the other side and magically become fresh again. Things that shouldn't work, do work, such as Helen Mirren's been-there-done-that bloodthirsty media magnate, the coo-coo mad scientist with a history with the monster, and, especially, the monster, himself. Played by vet character actor Robert John Burke under pounds of excellent, inventive makeup, he is a tortured, cynical, bitterly alcoholic pile of misery, in constant pity for himself for being forced to live alongside humans for eternity; Frankenstein by way of Bukowski. If his familiar American sense of humor did not exceed Hellboy proportions, this film could've been a disaster. As is, he keeps the film imminently watchable and entertaining, even if the end result doesn't amount to very much. Hartley is too content portraying things for what they are, disregarding truckloads of potential subtext, and neglects to do anything particularly deep or subversive with the material.

Slightly Recommended for fans of Hal Hartley or the cast, which also includes Julie Christie as a sympathetic doctor. This lacks the immersive, meticulous perfection of Hartley's Henry Fool, but it contains more original and inventive touches than that films sequel, Fay Grim.

Monday, November 29, 2010

13 Tzameti (2005)

Stark, straightforward French drama about a house-painter who gets fired, and becomes complicit in his former client's illegal activities. The plot, and watching it develop, is the principal joy here; the writing feels real and terse, without giving away anything the audience cannot infer on their own. The black and white cinematography contributes to the neo-realist vibe, allowing for expressionistic and stylized compositions without sacrificing the direct honesty of the piece. The acting is very strong, and, as is common in French productions aware; everyone knows what their part and function is, and deliver their performances in simple, subtle strokes. The central figure of the house-painter is particularly well-cast, exhibiting both amorality and vulnerability in varying degrees, as many of us do regularly in day-to-day life. The worst thing the film has going against it is the impending American remake, starring Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke and Ray Winstone. The slow, deliberate plotting is decidedly un-Hollywood, and I sense that the pleasure of slowly figuring out what the hell is going on will be even more lost once the advertising, beyond the blatantly revealing logline, conveys all the key beats in the first half. Nonetheless, this original currently stands as a terrific example of contemporary French neo-realism, and a very strong, very real crime film.

Highly Recommended for terse, realistic French crime films a la Man Bites Dog. Anyone with any interest in the upcoming remake should check it out first, as, I am sure, the focus there will not be what is key here, namely the deliberate development of the plot.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Silverado (1985) - Fun, lightweight western about two outlaws struggling to amend their pasts and become goodhearted cowboy-folk. Recommended for fans of more wholesome, less Leone-esque Westerns, or for the prolific cast.

Old Dogs
(2009) - Campy, thoroughly-corporate family comedy about two heterosexual roommates/best friends who attempt to raise one of the pair's illegitimate children. Slightly Recommended for fans of epic fail star-studded disasters.

The Last Days of Frankie the Fly
(1997) - Comical indie revolving around a mafia flunky who attempts to write a legitimate movie under the guise of a mobbed up porno ring. Recommended for fans of mid- to late-90's indie gangster films or the excellent cast.

Husbands (1970) - Stark, improv-heavy drama about a very close group of three friends mourning the loss of a fourth, while dealing with their own fear of old-age, mediocrity, and death. Highly Recommended for fans of loose, 1970's style filmmaking, or the three male leads.

Star 80 (1983) - Raw, intense biopic of Playmate Dorothy Stratten, whose marriage to a skeevy showman/pimp ended up claiming her life. Highly Recommended to strong-winded fans of Hollywood biopics or Eric Roberts, at his career best as the psycho husband.

Wonder Boys (2000) - Meandering, but well-meaning drama about a Lit professor with mid-life crisis problems; pic is only slightly less telegraphed than the premise (there is, indeed, a peculiar, troubled youth in dire need of mentoring, but he ends up seduced by the prof's gay publisher). Slightly Recommended to fans of this stuff, and by this stuff I mean obvious, winter-set stories about mid-life suburban angst.

The Hill (1965) - Stark prison drama about a WWII military prison where the terrible living conditions inspire a minor rebellion that, inevitably, snowballs into revolt. Highly Recommended for fans of Sidney Lumet, Sean Connery, or Ossie Davis.

Raising Cain (1992) - Creepy, bizarre Hitchcock-esque tale of a disturbed man who kidnaps children for his psychoanalyst father to study. Recommended to fans of Brian De Palma's more outlandish work, a la Phantom of the Paradise or Body Double.

The Fountainhead (1949) - Awkward, inappropriately declarative drama about an individualist architect and his psychotically self-abusive on-again-off-again lover. Skip it, save for diehard fans of the source material, which, I am told, is butchered.

Spellbound (1945) - Unlikely, but involving Hitchcock romance that depicts a psychiatrist who falls in love with a man impersonating a doctor who he may, or may not have, murdered. Recommended for fans of Hitchcock's more star-driven, romantic pictures, or Salvador Dali, whose designs for the dream sequences are prominent enough to warrant mention.

Fall Time (1995) - Goofy, fleetingly fun heist film about three teens who attempt to fake a bank robbery, only to be foiled by real, murderous bank robbers. Slightly recommended to fans of mid-90's B-movies, or Mickey Rourke, who slithers like a snake as the villain.

Kiss Me, Deadly (1955) - Hard-boiled, surprising noir about a man who picks up a hitchhiker that involves him in a murderous conspiracy. Highly Recommended to fans of uncompromising, terse noir.

The Thin Man (1934) - Lightweight, well-written detective film about a pair of socialites/private investigators who are pulled out of retirement for one last mystery. Highly Recommended for couples and fans of witty, quick-paced old Hollywood banter.

Wolf (1994) - Initially interesting, but finally faltering pseudo-monster film about a publisher who, after being bitten by a werewolf, becomes reinvigorated regarding his career and personal life. Skip it, save for diehard fans of the cast or the attempted 1990's Universal Monster renaissance.

My First Mister (2001) - Well-meaning, but shallow film about a May-December pair of misfits who find friendship, before the December side ruins the second half of the film by falling victim not to his own insecurities, but leukemia. Skip It, save for diehard fans of the cast.


Catfish (2010) - Involving, provocative documentary about an unlikely connection between a young dance choreographer and his pre-teen pen-pal. Recommended to fans of low-key human dramas.

The Social Network (2010) - Wonderfully written and acted biopic of Facebook founders Mark Zuckerburg and Eduardo Saverin, whose friendship drove and nearly sank their legendary creation. Highly Recommended.

Due Date (2010) - Profane, edgy road comedy about an angry expectant father and the deluded man-baby he is forced to hitch a ride with. Highly Recommended for fans of Robert Downey, Jr., Zack Galifinakis, or Todd Philips, who has achieved a career-best here.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) - The finest of the series (thus far) involves Harry, Ron, and Hermione hiding in the wilderness and hunting down the key to vanquishing arch-nemesis Voldemort. Highly Recommended to anyone who has watched any of these films with any sense of enjoyment.