Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST : SHORTS

With this being an evening of recovery, I thought I would share the short films I've enjoyed the most at Fantastic Fest thus far. Unfortunately - but understandably - not all of the films are available on You Tube. Where they aren't, I've posted a trailer.

Attack of the Robots from Nebula 5 (Chema Garcia Ibarra)



Next Floor (Denis de Villeneuve)



Danse Macabre (Pedro Pires)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 5

Tired... disoriented... unaware of anything else that's been happening in the world over the past five days...

******

Cropsey (Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman)

An interesting enough piece of low-budget journalism that attempts to get at the truth of five or more missing children that became alleged murder victims around 25-30 years ago in Staten Island. Brancaccio and Zeman truly seem to be hunting for the facts and not out to exploit tragedy for "the sensational documentary"'s sake. Still, there's something wrong when a Geraldo Rivera piece - that is used within Cropsey for some frightening exposition (truly frightening... sickening even) - is more interesting that the doc that's enveloping it.



****** Mandrill (Ernesto Diaz Espinoza)

Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and his crew may be the most exciting new Latin American filmmakers going. In short time, they've - on modest budgets - made three well measured and breezy feel-good action hero flicks. After seeing their martial arts film, Kiltro, I knew it was only a matter of time before the studly Marko Zaror would cross over into Hollywood stardom. Well, that's already on its way as we were host to some early footage of the Mirageman remake (retitled The Defender, for some reason). I admit that Mandrill does go a little limp after a first half that's frontloaded with its brightest ideas, but seeing as how this was the first time they've screened the film for an audience, perhaps this version of Mandrill is still a work in progress. Highly enjoyable, nonetheless.



******
Metropia (Tarik Saleh)

OK. So, through no fault of Metropia, I kind of hit the five day wall at this point and slid down into my chair relying on only the arm rests to keep me from sliding to the ground in glorious full-fetal nap position. Luckily, later in the night, I caught a brief second wind, but Metropia suffered for my red eyes, I won't deny that. With that disclaimer, I still wasn't feeling this animated film. Europe in the near dystopian future where the corporations blah blah blah..., and the media blah blah blah..., and the brainwashing blah blah blah... . Not that those topics are unimportant, but Christ, give it a unique spin, please. The programmers played an old Brazil trailer beforehand as a good-natured and appropriate lead in, but little did they suspect that being reminded of Brazil right before seeing Metropia was only going to shine the light on the latter's flaws.


******
Stingray Sam (Cory McAbee)

Wow. What to say about Stingray Sam? I surely wasn't expecting this to be the funniest movie of Fantastic Fest before walking into it, but man oh man was it ever the most oddball-weirdo-nutball hilarious film I've seen in quite some time. Since the festival brings in people from across the globe, it's often telling to gauge audience responses based on geographic origin. I say that, because my perception is that Stingray Sam possesses a goofball humor to it that is distinctly American. Most of our European and Asian guests didn't seem to connect with it. Director, actor, writer, everyman, Cory McAbee talked about the political aspects of his work, and boy was it refreshing to hear an artist understand the difference between creating propaganda and letting politics influence your fictional art. I think this guy may be too smart for Hollywood to ever understand. A sad shame, because he's immensely talented... and a total freak!


****** REC 2 (Paco Plaza & Jaume Balaguero)

I wasn't too hot on REC, so I wasn't expecting to be too high on its sequel. While, mostly, that is true, I do think that REC 2 is a superior film to its predecessor. For one, the camera work is cleaner and single shots last for a much more extended and fluid period of time. Also, Paco Plaza & Jaume Balagueró's inspired idea to jump to a "helmet cam" periodically gives the film time to breath and gain some much needed punctuation that was lacking in the first. There's also a spiritual/possession element in the sequel that wasn't sound in the first. Because Plaza and Balaguero have matured as filmmakers, and because their original film has now been given space to stretch out its story (I would imagine a REC 3 is in the works...), the REC franchise has instantly become more interesting than I ever thought it could be. Props to Plaza and Balaguero for keeping their film under 90 minutes once again. Though the hands are much more steady this time around, there's only so much hand held one can stomach.

Monday, September 28, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 4

After a slow start, Fantastic Fest 2009 is shaping up to be the best one yet...

******

Buratino, Son of Pinocchio (Rasmus Merivoo)

Filled to the rim with inspiration, the sparkly Buratino, Son of Pinocchio ultimately has too many cross-wired problems to commit to the ambitions that it hints at in its first ten minutes. The intro - a baby hungry woman sings to the stars about wanting to be with child and gets her wish via a splinter that magically flies into her womb and sprouts a baby Buratino - is fun, wicked, and wise, but too quickly Buratino, Son of Pinocchio simply feels like a short film tacked on to a half done feature. Director Rasmus Merivoo discussed the difficulties in logistically pulling off an Estonian/Russian co-production, and, sadly, that is reflected on the screen. But props to Merivoo for standing by his efforts. His humility was refreshing. Merivoo knows he loves making movies, and he knows he didn't make a strong one here, but such is the process.


******
Down Terrace (Ben Wheatley)

If Fantastic Fest generally offers up films dealing in the physically extreme, Down Terrace was an alternative to that from the emotional department. Where, at first, it seems like a dark comedy out to debunk the myth of the sexy gangster lifestyle, Down Terrace turns on a dime and becomes something much more confrontational. A wave of shocking hard violence challenges the audience to question the laughter we were enjoying previously. Is this another winning British class conscious comedy, or the exploration of the sociopath gene being passed on from one generation to the next? Not sure yet, but I know this debut feature by Ben Wheatley engrossed me, and I expect it to be spilling out into some small run theaters very soon. Look for the performance of newcomer Robin Hill. He may be Britain's next big thing.


******
The House of the Devil (Ti West)

Ti West is a smart guy. From The Roost, to Trigger Man, and now with The House of the Devil, this young modern day jack-of-all-trades (he writes, directs, edits, shoots) just keeps getting better. The House of the Devil is so delicately constructed that it almost feels too beautiful to be a horror film. Save for perhaps the very end, and a little bit of its middle, The House of the Devil feels nearly note perfect. People have already been labeling this film as an homage to 1980's horror, but West nailed it in the Q & A when he rightly described The House of the Devil as a period horror film, not a retread. West now has an excellent handling of beats and a visual richness to go alongside his already economical craftiness. I'm so anxious to see what he does next.


******
District B13 : Ultimatum (Patrick Alessandrin)

If there's an on screen prologue to match the sentiments of current political and cultural situation, it is DB13:U's "A new government is in power, but nothing has changed". Looking like it will get a late 2009 release, District B13 : Ultimatum is the best remedy for wiping away the unpleasant memory that was District 9. Where District 9 was nihilistic, District B13 extracts hope from a dystopia (only four years in the future, mind you) that more naturally resembles our world than the limp-dicked allegory of District 9. How can you not swoon over a fight sequence that is based around the security of a rare Van Gogh painting... and where said painting is used as an acrobatic weapon? Or what about Alessandrin and Luc Besson's pacifying of lower-class racial tensions by bringing self-segregated groups for a unified goal? Sure, it all sounds a bit candy coated and idealistic, but in the realm of hero-led action cinema, it feels just right, right now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 3

Day 3 was a good day...




****** Fish Story (Yoshihiro Nakamura)

Until I could check the director's resume afterwards, I thought maybe I was watching another film by the director of Linda Linda Linda. Like that under appreciated film, Fish Story rides the wave of a catchy song for its entirety. It has to be a good song, because the fate of the world is resting on its shoulders. Sounds ludicrous, and it is, but in the way that many Japanese filmmakers are able to stretch the unimaginable and impossible into the heartfelt and triumphant, Fish Story will have you smiling (and maybe crying) as its encore takes into the credits.


******

Morphine (Aleksey Balabanov)

The director of the grim and brutal Cargo 200 returns with a creaky and stylized period film about Russian small village medicine, malpractice, and misappropriation. There is something interesting about the way Balabanov narrowly goes about dissecting the past of his country, but - like Cargo 200 - there is a cracked heaviosity to it that just rubs me raw. The last shot seems to be channeling the ticklish tough times of Sullivan's Travels... before our guy blows his head off. Meh.


******
Breathless (Ik-June Yang)

I initially thought this film was overlong, but then perhaps it needed to be so we could marinate with the character of gangster debt collector Sang-Hoon long enough to see his whole picture. Breathless is reminiscent of Kim Ki-Duk's Bad Guy, but with depth and a wider range of notes. Slow reveals give the audience a wider scope of characters that pretty much walk the same lines throughout. Since family drama is at the core of this emotional film, I suspect Hollywood may scoop this one up for a remake. Try to see this version before that happens.


****** Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn)

I wasn't expecting this. I'd read what Bronson was about, but watched no trailers. What I saw was a artful rendering of chiseled masculinity more in line with Derek Jarman than any kind of Guy Ritchie-ness. I was pretty much blown back. Refn has an intelligent eye and a playful palm for setting up scenery. Tom Hardy must have been a joy to photograph. Puffed-up Greek physique and all, the man delivers a performance from his toes to the skin of his head. I think I saw spit exit his mouth about twelve times during the film.


****** The Human Centipede (Tom Six)

After a solid day that consisted of three strong films, I made the mistake of choosing to see this piece of garbage. By far, The Human Centipede is the worst film I've seen all year. I have no idea why the programmers of Fantastic Fest decided to program this outside of the fact that it "pushes the envelope". Well, if you want your envelope pushed, you can always debase yourself at the easy click of a mouse. When I'm in the theater, I want to see a film. (Actually, I don't even want to say that this film pushed any envelopes... because that could be interpreted as a compliment, something that The Human Centipede should never receive by any fair-minded person). The worst student film ever conceived of is more watchable than this! Come back Macabre, all is forgiven. You are a masterpiece next to The Human Centipede, 2009's biggest piece of shit.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 2

Apologies for the late "Day 2" update. I don't have an iPhone, I don't take my laptop with me, and I fell asleep as soon as I walked in the last night.

SIDE NOTE(S): a.) There are two really cool Japanese rocker chicks walking around this festival with their filmmaking Japanese boyfriends. b.) The Men Who Stare at Goats played as a secret screening last night (I didn't see it), and word is that it's absolutely dreadful.


******
Hard Revenge Milly & Hard Revenge Milly : Bloody Battle (Takanori Tsujimoto)

It's hard to say negative things about sweet Japanese men. The director of this double-feature was so cuddly and sweet, that ripping into his movie would make me feel like a pretty bad dude. It surely wouldn't make Mr. Tsujimoto feel bad because he'll never read this, but, still, the guy was kind enough to barbecue some beef for us onstage with a flamethrower, and you gotta like that. As for HRM & HRM:BB? The clever special effects (by Yoshi Nishimura, director of the gobsmack-splatter Tokyo Gore Police) just simply weren't enough to carry these poorly orchestrated films.


******
Antichirst (Lars Von Trier)

I admire this film,... but I might hate it even more. If that sounds contradictory, forgive me, because I haven't had time to seriously think on this yet ("festival brain" doesn't allow for much reflection). The usual Von Trier adjectives may be used to describe Antichrist : man-hating, woman-hating, misanthropic, pretentious, desperate. The thing is - as with many of LVT's movies - some people take those terms in the positive. You'll have to decide for yourself. I recommend everybody see it for the simple fact that it will make for fascinating blogger chatter on par with the post-Inglourious Basterds harvesting. Maybe by that time I will have a concrete opinion myself. Until then, prepare yourself by thinking about a scrapbook entitled "Gynocide", ejaculating something that's not semen, and a CGI fawn fetus.

******
Trick 'r Treat (Michael Dougherty)

This was fun. An anthology movie based upon what happens when people don't respect the spirit and festivities of Halloween. While Trick r Treat loses steam about halfway through, I'm glad I was able to watch it with a packed theater of reactors instead of on DVD. Plus, the director got in a jab at Rob Zombie in the post-screening Q & A. "I don't really need know that Michael Myers was beaten by his mom and wore Megadeth t-shirts as a child". Right on, my man.

******
Smash Cut (Lee Demarbe)
Apparently everyone hated this film except me. David Hess plays a hack director who decides that the only way to make his slasher films better is to use real body parts and blood. Not a very clever concept, but Demarbe makes it work ("Don't take this film seriously for one second", he said before the screening). Yes, the acting is rough, but it's because the movie calls for stilted cameos, not masterful performances. Full of movie references, politically incorrect jokes, smart sight gags (a blown bubble-gum bubble full of blood), and a radiant color design, Smash Cut is the most underrated film at Fantastic Fest, this far. I actually felt embarrassed for our town when then audience shrugged in front of Demarbe and David Hess in the post-screening Q & A..

Friday, September 25, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 1

I knew I would bring my camera and then not use it at all. That happens when you come of out of theaters, run to pee, say hi to friends, check your phone, then go back into a theater and forget what time of day (and/or what day) it is. I will use it tomorrow... I think.

******

Van Dieman's Land (Jonathan Auf Der Heide)

This slow-riding Australian import was a polite (if cannibalism can be "polite") way to ease into a week that often gets erratic. Bad boys from the UK are sent to a prisoner's work camp somewhere on the edge of the end of the world. Open water vistas bring to mind the endings of Apocalypse Now! and The Mosquito Coast. While Van Dieman's Land isn't great, the ambitions of it's creators are admirable. A Q&A afterwards revealed that the film was made "with zero money". Now, while that may just mean zero "private" funding, the footage and performances captured by this ragtag group of art school friends impresses.

******

Terribly Happy (Henrik Ruben Genz)

The more I sit with this movie, the more I like it. Terribly Happy pivots on the great faces of its actors. As much as the setting sweats small town Denmark, there is also an Americana eccentricity to it. Many of the characters are drawn like incidental reference points from famous international indie films, but that's more likely attributed to the fact that Genz wears his influences on his sleeves. While not a film that hits on all cylanders, Terribly Happy still darkly charms on its way to off-the-beaten-path redemption.

******


Macabre (The Mo Brothers)

YIKES! This was the first official clunker of the festival - through these eyes, at least. Total trash, this Indonesian splatter film aims to pay homage to sadist-horror - from gouge-happy 80's-90's American to the current wave of French brutality - but can't even pull of that easy trick because it's too caught up in it's web of tired tropes and genre cliches. Unlike 2007's Fantastic find Hell's Ground (a Pakistani splatter film), Macabre ignores the essence of its own culture while drawing out the horror. Oh, and a new born baby is not a good device for a horror film (nor do baby skulls make for good props).


******


Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli)

OK, OK. Yeah, yeah. This is the biggest, scariest film since ever... or something. I know. Or, so I'm told. Look, I don't think this film is terrible, and it does have some cold & creepy moments, but I just don't get it. "It" being why movie fans get so excited about stuff like this. Paranormal Activity is another found footage film that doesn't look good, but, as I argued with my buddy Bill the other day about The Blair Witch Project, I guess that's the point. It's also to the benefit of the filmmakers. Since Paranormal Activity is nothing but set ups for some greenlight frights, it's hard for me to see this film as nothing more than another well-marketed stunt of a film that I couldn't really ever care to look at again.


NOTE: This film could just as easily be called The Most Annoying Boyfriend Ever. If my boyfriend followed me around like that with a camera all the time, I would have welcomed demon possession myself.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST STARTS TODAY

I hope to bring as many updates, short reviews, and pictures (I'm packing my camera this year) as possible. And even though there is a film playing at the festival about an upskirt photographer, please don't expect me to deliver any type of material like that. You dirtbags.

Now, if you want some upshirt photos of some crusty, fat, nerd boys... then I may be able to give that to you.

I'm excited. More soon...

Monday, September 21, 2009

JENNIFER'S BODY

I liked Jennifer's Body without hesitation, but it's been the greater cries of dissatisfaction - and, in some instances, anger - over the film that's compelled me to defend it.

Out of the gate, let me say that I don't think Diablo Cody is a great talent, nor did I think Juno was a great movie with a great screenplay hanging off its belt. So, perhaps it was that already present low regard for Cody - going into her first film post-Academy Award - that aided me in appreciating Jennifer's Body more than somebody who considered its writer to be a mix of J.D. Salinger and Kurt Cobain.

But that's unfair. To say Diablo Cody isn't a "great talent" doesn't mean that she's talentless. She ain't. Cody has an ear for the quirky-cutesy ("I can see your front butt" is both fun and cadence friendly), and while it's true that that can produce lines which are two years past their too clever expiration date (Jennifer telling a friend to "MoveOn.org already!" and a stale truth-in-Wikipedia reference), it's also the perfect type of verbiage to elevate a trashy horror flick. A crap film like Sorority Row might have been half-decent crap with lines like "Where's it at, Monistat?" or "I just bought Aquamarine on DVD. It's a about a girl who's half sushi. She must get f*cked in her blow hole".

You see, Diablo Cody isn't a good screenwriter, she's an adept scribbler of quips. Movie culture's lowered bar for what passes as good screenwriting, directing, acting, etc. has devolved to a point where many people don't know what good is anymore. If something feels "fresh", feels "new", or feels "cool", then it may very possibly pass quality tests on those superficial merits alone. Take The Blair Witch Project, for instance. Yep, it was fun, but ten years down the road it only makes sense to talk about it as an interesting stunt, not a film that invites studied, respectable second viewings. If you say "yes it does", then explain to me why its makers haven't produced anything substantial since?

Granted, some of my applause for Jennifer's Body ("cool, trashy fun") can come off as surface praise in itself, but I would argue that my appreciation is more concrete. Yes, Jennifer's Body, at its core, is an empty piece of work, but what Cody, director Karyn Kusama, and actors Amanda Seyfried, Megan Fox, and Adam Brody have done, is taken a regularly rusty sub-genre and greased it up a bit. Where Ellen Page's portrayal of a Cody-youth ached to be so genuine that it screamed "phony!", Megan Fox embraces the idea of high school caricature. If Page and Fox represent opposite ends of the young actress spectrum, then Cody needs to keep her pen flowing from the mouth of Fox. That snarky dialogue is nastier fun when it comes from the lips of a vamp, not the pout of a scamp.

Jennifer's Body's hidden advantage is that each of its main members know how to step up when another is slumping. Adam Brody's scene-stealing serves as suitable filler in moments that ordinarily would be dull. Karyn Kusama's ambitious bag of visual gags can confuse, but they also provide a rock n' roll rhythm. Amanda Seyfriend - with eyes that reveal an experience wiser than her age - gives more than the subject matters deserves and grounds the film with her professionalism. And yes, in the end, I give Diablo Cody the blue ribbon. No, I'm far from sold on her stature (which isn't her fault, mind you), but I think it could be interesting if she wrote Saw VII.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ON DVD: SUGAR

You don't have to be from the Dominican Republic in order to detect a cloud of phoniness lingering over Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Welcome to America" fable Sugar, you just have to have lived outside of your bubble for a learned period of time. In viewing their contrived films, I suspect that both Boden and Fleck have yet to open themselves up to such an enriching experience.

The title character in the duo's follow-up to Half Nelson is a MLB minor-leaguer who originated from the Dominican developmental baseball leagues. What Boden and Fleck end up doing with Sugar (aka Miguel Santos), and his big league ballpark aspirations, is use him as a pawn in their cynical plan to squash the "American dream" ideal of the wide-eyed immigrant. However, what Sugar's patronizing let-me-tell-your-story-for-you approach ultimately ends up arguing in favor of is a segregated America. This isn't deliberate, mind you. Boden and Fleck aren't bigots. It's simply the end result of soft-headed white guilt filmmaking, a point-of-view that allegorizes Single-A baseball life with modern day slave labor and subtly portrays fly-over America as an unwelcoming region (yawn).

Sugar opens on the sunrise glow of a baseball field in the Dominican Republic. Moving to scenes within the home that Sugar shares with his mother, brother, and sister (who argue over watching American Idol vs. baseball... two multi-racial institutions that portray a post-racial America greater than Boden and Fleck would ever feign to), interiors and faces are lit with a rich and hopeful glow. Colors bounce off cement walls in the night streets like a well-photographed and hip Levi's commercial. That gets contrasted with the stale, old farm house of an elderly Iowan couple who temporarily house Sugar during his stint at the Bridgetown affiliate. In the Iowa climate, Sugar's hopeful aesthetic sheen is now gone. Check the way Boden and Fleck shoot Sugar at the dinner table with the couple and their extended family. The distance between Sugar and his hosts - sitting stiff in straight-back wooden chairs - is palpable and uncomfortable. When the old man addresses Sugar, it comes out in loud, drawn-out syllables as if he's communicating with a child. Oh yes, behind that camera, the condescension is dripping.

It is only when Sugar makes his way to New York, and houses up with a Puerto Rican couple, that he appears refreshed and once again "at home": lively, spirited, smiley. Here at the dinner table, Sugar and hosts are shot from tight angles and in close quarters, their body language giving off feelings of warmth and acceptance. The rich aroma from Sugar's Dominican home life has returned.

Had Boden and Fleck portrayed Sugar's new American experience as a mix of cultural clashes and awakenings from Iowa on into New York, then Sugar might have been relevant. Instead, the filmmakers erect convenient, prejudicial walls where they see fit. Sugar gets turned away or rejected at almost every corner in Iowa... often by corn-fed white males, of course. He catches angry looks in a night club, racial slurs from a batter, trepidation from some teens, grief from a coach, discipline from the elderly couple, mixed messages from a girl who rejects his kiss (she only wanted to get close to him so she could recruit him for Jesus). The only true companionship offered to Sugar, while in Bridgetown, comes from fellow ballplayer Brad Johnson, who is black. In Sugar's most cringe-worthy moment, Brad leans over to Sugar on the team bus and asks him if he's into hipster rock heroes TV On The Radio. Yeesh.

Right now, our world is ripe for thoughtful films about the immigrant experience. But Boden and Fleck come at this topic like a pair who have solely used ZNet commentary to equip their artistic affronts, not two open hearts with a genuine perspective to match Sugar's tone of realism. Pop that bubble, guys.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LORNA'S SILENCE

I've often owned up to a feeling of open-mouthed confoundedness after watching a film by the Dardenne Bros. Not over whether I liked/disliked a particular film of theirs, or what to make of my emotional reaction to their many masterpieces (out of only five films), but over how in the hell they do what they do! Yes, this will be a gushing post.

There is a special scene in the Dardenne's Le Fils (The Son) where the father (played by Olivier Gourmet) spends a quiet moment in his son's empty room. Without dialogue or musical influence, a wave of story and character washes over you. It's like magic.

How does this happen? Well, the films of the Dardenne's are so meticulously crafted that each moment is essential to the next and then back on the moments that preceded it. A chain link of images lead to a point that, without fanfare, opens up a box of resolve. "Um, isn't that simply what storytelling through montage and editing is in general?". Yes, but this is more. The Dardenne's aren't just driving a string of events, they are - in small steps - working on our pre-judgments of the protagonist and our personal perceptions of the world around us to unveil universal human truths. Sounds major, right? Well, it is.

The journey that is taken in the Dardenne's latest film is alongside Lorna, an Albanian illegal immigrant working to settle-down in Belgium. Through an arranged marriage, then divorce, then second arranged marriage, Lorna aims to gain residency, citizenship, and a chunk of start-up money for a snack shop she dreams of opening with her boyfriend. Unlike in Rosetta or Le Fils where the camera is seemingly attached at the ankles and necks of the leads, the Dardenne's give Lorna (Arta Dobroshi, looking like a European Ellen Page) a wider frame to work within. The camera still lingers with our protagonist 24/7, but from more an "in the room" perspective than an over-the-shoulder spy cam.

Like an elegantly pitched baseball game or a carefully crafted pop song, great and beautiful things must end well, and Lorna's Silence's quick close was simply one of my favorite moments at the theater this year. With just a splash of music (the only one in the film) and a simple action, the Dardenne's emit a moment that's as spiritual as the ending to Bresson's A Man Escaped. It was all a means to an end. Everything that came before this moment was for this moment. Without this moment, I would not love Lorna's Silence.

So, I don't think I made much headwind in figuring out how the Dardenne's do what they do, or how they did what they did (again) in Lorna's Silence, but when you're in a whirlwind of awe, it's kind of hard to even see straight, y' know?

Monday, September 14, 2009

TOERIFC # 9: if... (1968)

It's Piper's turn...

Yes, TOERIFC episode #9 is here. A discussion of Lindsay Anderson's open-ended if... is sure to rile up a feisty discussion (or twenty) over at Lazy Eye Theater.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A FEW THINGS...

... about this poster:



1. After clicking on the above poster to make it appear larger on your screen, look at the heads of Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, and T.I. and witness the worst photoshop America has ever seen.

2. Putting Chris Brown in your promo poster at all, right now, seems pretty questionable, but to have him make a "trigger finger" hand gesture at the same time just takes it to an ickier level.

3. I hope this movie is about a high-dollar gay prostitution house of predominant bottoms where Idris Elba is the pimp and the rest of the dudes are the hookers (ie "Takers"). [NOTE: House of Bottoms would make an interesting title for something.]

FUN FACT: The original title of this movie was Bone Deep.

4. Notice that Matt Dillon's name is the first listed, but that he isn't on the poster. He must've known that this is going straight-to-video.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

EXTRACT

More than just straight comedy, Mike Judge's Extract is a loving farce on the risk/reward system that drives the successful small business. Ultimately, independent extract factory owner Joel (Jason Bateman) gets through the tornado of trial lawyers, sexy con women, hairnet hysteria, and marital strain with a still thriving company on his hands. Okay, so perhaps that's not the typical week of your average shop around the corner, but a condensed lifetime - or even year or two - of those hair-greying travails is what Judge is offering up here. It's all anchored by the light unassuming goofiness of Jason Bateman, turning in a performance that's a little more human than his perpetually frustrated Michael Bloom in Arrested Development (surely Judge saw a fit when eyeing Bateman in that role).

Extract is also an appreciation of the communal bedrock foundation that a small business can provide, a characteristic that often goes unrepresented in the big dealings of Hollywood. Joel's drive to invent (as a kid, he wanted his grandma's cookies to taste better... so he damn well went out and did it!) and his passion to bring that to the marketplace, folds out into a benefit for many. Joel is not only a provider of product, he's a provider of stability for the employees who work for him. Yes, there may be a big cloud of "sigh" hanging over his head each time he peers out from that executive window onto the work floor and sees bickering and his bottom line backing-up, but it's a familial kind of irritation, one that comes with unconditional appreciation.

Alongside Extract's acknowledgment of a private enterprises' workplace responsibility and wider economic impact is Judge's recurring philosophy of individualism. As usual, this is offered up in comic form, be it Kristen Wiig's work-from-home coupon designer, Ben Affleck's bar owner, Mila Kunis' hustler, Javier Gutierrez's illegal immigrant, or - most oddly affecting - in Dustin Milligan's cuddly gigolo character who goes through Joel's ringer of being employed, fired, paid-off, called a whore, and then employed again. Of course, it will be near impossible for Judge to ever top that celebration of individualism on display in the "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta" montage from Office Space, but it's exactly that freedom loving walk-the-Earth euphoria that always makes his characters so appealing.

So, if Extract has been met with a shrug and a "eh" by both critics and audiences alike, it's because Mike Judge's individual and outsider status still shows all over his work like the face of a nice, easy going fella who still can't believe people care so much about what he does. Perhaps it's a matter of the Extract trailer not being representative of what the film actually is. It's not as broad as to concern itself with the character archs of Kristen Wiig or Mila Kunis. This is a one character movie. It could just as easily have been called Joel, as I suppose Office Space and Idiocracy could have equally been tagged Peter and Joe (or, Not Sure). However, there does continually seem to be an issue with the way Judge ends his films, as if he had so much fun getting to a place that he then doesn't know quite how to get out. It can feel unsatisfying.

But I tell ya what, in this era of bail outs, clunkers, and economic columnist warfare where back-and-forth bickering seems to have replaced any discussion of exit theory, Extract is a refreshing and accessible little movie about recovery in spite of troubled assets.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

GAMER

In the way that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's Crank : High Voltage came out at the near end of April to prematurely nab the crown of kinetic action cinema from those dull Blockbuster Dogs of May (X-Men Origins : Wolverine, Star Trek, T4), so now too does their sci-fi film, Gamer, act as a sort of post-August sponge, soaking up all of the slobber left behind from the perplexing praise that was heaped upon its dreadful genre cousin District 9. The totality of Gamer doesn't hang out on the same plain of artistic anarchy where Crank : High Voltage lives (but, really, what does?), yet it still provides a serviceable mainstream platform for these two modern auteurs to tinker with their deliciously absurdist set pieces, compositions, and popping juxtapositions.

The degraded dystopian territory that Gamer's thin plot resides in isn't a novel one. In a "near future", technological advancement and convenience has locked much of functioning society indoors, minimizing human interaction and maximizing hedonistic impromptus. Global pop-culture's # 1 TV program is a survival realty show called Slayers, where death row inmates vie for second-chances at freedom in a kill-or-be-killed battlefield. The twist is that each inmate is handled by a behind-the-scenes real life gamer, playing the ultimate in first person shooter video games. Kable (Gerard Butler), the sub-genre's requisite good "bad guy" who's only in the predicament he's in because of BIG [fill in the blank], is three victories from release... and exposing the evil intentions of the man behind the curtain.

Even though Gamer's plot is shaky, its individual pieces provide some terrific stand-alone signatures. Michael C. Hall as the Stalin-meets-Bill Gates wunderkind tycoon Ken Castle, and Kyra Sedgwick as a TV talk show opportunist with just a smidgen of conscience, both clearly enjoy living within the costumed personas they've been handed. Hall, especially, chews up the scenery at any given chance, but it's for benefit of the film, filling in the space where broadness of story is lacking. Also fun is the freedom fighting group, Humanz, an activist bunch that envisions a future where gaming is rolled back to the days of joystick arcade standies and air hockey. Of course, their greater goal is to unplug society from Castle's wicked web, but the haunt that Neveldine & Taylor hole them up in is a hoot.

But just as with Crank and Crank : High Voltage, the unique pleasure of Neveldine & Taylor's films pour from their unchecked sense of vision. The idea (and pulling off of said idea!) to stage the final squaring-off between Kable and Castle on a seemingly free floating basketball court is post-modern cinematic nirvana. Also nutso bonkers - but in the most complementary meaning of those terms - is a fight sequence prior, where Castle's thugs line up in finger-snapping formation to attack Kable under the orders of Castle's acapella performance of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin". Shot in darkness and shadow, the sequence initially eludes you by catching you off guard and off your wits. However, the image of Kable descending a staircase to enter a den of dancing henchmen is what continues to ride with me the most, and it's what makes me want to revisit Gamer sooner than later.

As Neveldine & Taylor started to exhibit in Crank : High Voltage, there is a Godard-ian color scheme injected into their most pop-tastic compositions. The splashy diagrams of Pierrot Le Fou channeled through the lensing and lighting of a slick Luc Besson action film would be my best way of describing Gamer's most luminous moments. Crank : High Voltage was grimier and, truthfully, played off of Godard's use of pop-imagery more than his late 60s richness of color, but the "Society" scenes in Gamer offers up Neveldine & Taylor a brand new landscape to open their Crayola palette of colors in. Bubblegum hyper-mimickry and raw exploitation will surely be charges leveled against the brightest moments of this film, but to do so would be to misjudge the hard-candy humor and almost surreal quality that's quickly becoming a trademark of the Neveldine/Taylor brand. Unfortunately, delayed respect can sometimes be a consequence of inventiveness.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

GHANA IS THE NEW POLAND


Maybe y'all have heard of these international movie art nuggets already, but I'm just seeing them for the very first time tonight courtesy of Worstpreviews.

The link will give you more info., but basically these are handpainted movie posters for "mobile theaters" that make their way around Ghana playing movies on VCRs in the backs of trucks. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Here are my two favorites:


I don't know if any of that stuff in the poster actually happens in Children of the Corn 3, but I know I am renting it now so I can find out!!!



I just like the design of this entire poster, but most of all I LOVE that the "O" in Terminator 2 is a HEART.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

PAPER HEART

Beyond being adorable, Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi's Paper Heart is more appropriately an innocent expose on the fallacy of "truth discovery" in the age of the modern documentary. The questions that Yi (Paper Heart's guide and narrator) asks - Does love exist?, What is love?, Is the 'glow' of love physiological or mystical? - serve as the perfect opened-canned/nobody-could-ever-know ponderings for Jasenovec to craft his playful musings on non-fiction film around. But let's be clear, this isn't a cynical movie. From Paper Heart's wistful title to the care in which Yi gives her cardboard, cotton ball, and construction paper reenactments, we can gather that she is a young woman of knowing sensitivity.

Or, at least the character of "Charlene Yi" is. Paper Heart welcomes us to question everything. Who's to say that Michael Cera isn't simply channeling the college years of Paulie Bleeker instead of revealing the nakedness of his inner Canadian? And why should we trust Charlene when she says she's IMing Michael from her hotel room? But, most importantly, how can we possibly take the few handpicked & charming accounts of the couples Charlene interviews (from NYC to Oklahoma City to Amarillo and back to LA) as any kind of resolution to her larger philosophical questions of the heart? We can't. The real truth is that a hovering camera persuades more than it records, just as an editing bay cheats more that it condenses. What's so refreshing about Paper Heart, is that it's a "documentary" that finally acknowledges this.

In a scene where Charlene and Jasenovec are shooting BBs (which appear to be there in "sound" only) at some mounted beer cans in between couple interviews, Charlene expresses concern that the constant filming may be negatively affecting her relationship with Michael. It is here where the invasive 24/7 two-man camera crew that follows Charlene (and eventually Michael) around is revealed to be Paper Heart's central character. The concept of the camera's seductive power is much more subtle here than it is in, say, Diary of the Dead or Peeping Tom, but Jasenovec is still clearly overwhelmed enough that he fails to hear Charlene's pleas to lock picture. Even when Charlene warns him that she's gonna be sick, Jasenovec's desire to capture something true trumps his friend's direct warnings.

Fittingly, and appropriately, it is Jasenovec's eventual self-awareness that stands as the powerful climax in Paper Heart. His decision to pull-back the camera, and then to cut sound completely, is not only an acknowledgement that questions of love (and politics and culture) are better debated and addressed in intimate settings rather than under a light stand (the documentary's "heat lamp"), but a comment on our voyeuristic desires to intrude in on even the most personal of moments. Jasenovec's revelation is felt by all when, upon his decision to not force the camera into Michael's home, we catch a brief spot of emotional comforting between the couple from the mic still hanging on Charlene's sweater. Without the camera around, the change in tone and vulnerability in both Michael and Charlene's voices are recognizable, and it is here when the crew cuts sound.

Paper Heart's end of summer trickling-out release is the perfect anecdote to the now widely accepted failure and fraud of Sacha Baron Cohen's ambush freak-journalism. Notice especially how Yi treats her interviewees from coast-to-coast America. Whether it be via New York City or Lubbock, Yi emits a genuine respect and wide-eyed fascination with the eclectic cross-section of people. There is no red state/blue state bullshit pandering here... Bill Maher be damned. Paper Heart also remedies the romantic contrivances of Marc Webb's perplexedly popular (500) Days of Summer. After taking in Paper Heart's "Christmas Tree" song montage and its hand-holding supermarket hunting sequence, it should be clear which film is more in tune with the concept of the indie-pop romcom (see also the underrated Gigantic).

Now go order yourself a "BLT (minus the B, add P and C)" and spend some time with your own thoughts on love.