Friday, December 31, 2010

Animal Kingdom - David Michôd (2010) A Video Review

Here's my video review of David Michôd's "Animal Kingdom."

It's an unbelievably brilliant crime drama that deservedly won the International Grand Jury at Sundance this Spring.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

David Lynch Music Video Contest!

Wow! This is the coolest thing I've seen in my life!

One of my honest to God heroes is holding a contest to write/direct/produce his music videos!

I didn't even know he was making a record!

I just peed my pants!

You can find the details on the contest here!

Now I have to come up with an idea!

You can tell I'm excited because I've ended every single sentence with an exclamation point!!!

Black Swan Trailer - I Hate Darren Aronofsky

I got very excited when I saw the trailer for "Black Swan." Then I saw that it was a film by Darren Aronofsky.

I hated "Requiem for a Dream" with a the wildest kind of vengeance.

I liked "Pi" the first time I saw it, but it does not stand up to repeated viewings.

The rest of his films have just bored me.

In a nutshell, Darren Aronofsky, in this snob's humble opinion, is a flashy, show-off who loves editing montages but can't tell a story or develop a character to save his life.

Just my opinion.

But "Black Swan" looks good. Dare I hope?

Dare I?

I really want to like this movie. I hope it's the exception to the Aronofsky rule.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nowhere Boy - Sam Taylor-Wood (2009)

John Lennon wasn’t just one of the most influential musicians of the last 50 years. He wrote words that became synonymous with peace.

His childhood was lonely, so how could a film about his life be so excruciatingly tedious to sit through?

Boring sad childhood.
Boring young lust.

Aaron Johnson, who plays Lennon, sleepwalks through the entire film and he looks like he’s just about as bored as all of us are.

Boring, boring, contrived conflicted repeated in somewhat different settings.

“We’re horrible authority figures.”

“Well, I’m a young, rebellious whippersnapper, so watch it.”

Kirsten Scott Thomas plays John Lennon’s aunt, who raised the lad. His mother doesn’t live far, and John goes over to visit a lot.

Of course, there’s a whole lot of angst going on. Mostly about "Why, oh why did mummy give me up?"

SPOILER: It’s because Lennon’s aunt convinced Social Services that she should have custody because she was a single mother and loose women make bad mothers.

Lennon’s step-common-law-father is played by David Morrissey. I wondered to myself why they bothered casting someone like David Morrissey in such a throwaway, routine, stock role.

Then, I wondered why they were making this movie in the first place.

“Nowhere Boy” drags on for 45 minutes or so with no mercy killing in sight until finally John’s aunt buys him a guitar.

Never mind that it’s completely out of character for her.

Just thank God for the sake of the movie that she did so we can listen to the Quarrymen, Lennon’s pre-Beatles band, for a bit.

Along the way, on the music front, John meets a very young Paul McCartney, played by Thomas Sangster, best known for his stellar performance as the voice of “Ferb” from Disney’s animated series “Phineas and Ferb.”

Sadly, the music doesn’t last long and we’re back to the sad but monotonous life of the lad who would one day be John Lennon but for now, is just some kid living an angst-ridden life.

The rest of the movie follows the pattern of the first act.

More boring angst, followed by boring tragedy and then, young John is off to start a new band the screenwriters don’t mention the name of.

I assume they thought they were being clever.

If you're really bent on watching something about John Lennon or his music or anything related to the Beatles, watch "Hard Day's Night," "Yellow Submarine" or even Iain Softley's "Backbeat."

Better yet, just go and listen to "Imagine" or "Double Fantasy."

Or watch an episode of "Phineas and Ferb." It doesn't have anything to do with John Lennon, but it's not nearly the waste of your time "Nowhere Boy" is.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Grace – Paul Solet (2009)

Dear God, thank you for treating us to movies every once in a while that are just wrong in every way.“Grace” is Paul Solet’s feature film debut. Solet, isn’t someone you’ve heard of iunless you’re just the most obsessive horror movie fan in the universe, or maybe one of his friends or something.
He won “Fangoria Magazine’s” Best Short Horror Film of the Year Award in 2005 for his film, “Means to an End.”

It was amusing, but nothing earth-shattering. There was nothing in the film that would indicate he would go on to make such a wonderfully obscene and original first feature.

In a nutshell, “Grace” is about a cannibal baby.That’s right, this movie is about a baby that drinks blood. And of course, animal blood just won’t do. That would just turn into a short, boring movie really fast.

But “Grace” is wonderful and it is revolting. You have not seen breast feeding like this before.

But that’s not even the best part. Neither the blood-sucking baby nor the mother who supplies the infant with God’s yummy, red innards-nectar is the creepiest character in the movie.

The baby has a grandma who’s almost demonically insane. I mean, she is just a treat to watch. When she finds out she’s going to be a grandmother, she does some research and discovers that women can lactate past menopause if their nipples get sufficient stimulation.

Of course, the crazy grandma gets excited about this and starts letting grandpa into her sweater full of goodies for the first time in God knows how long, just in the hopes of being able to breastfeed her grand-baby. Which of course, is more unsettling than the baby who drinks blood.

Now that’s a level of insanity you have to work at. God doesn’t just give that kind of crazy away.

So what we have here is Solet weaving together a tapestry of people behaving in just the most unimaginable ways.

First, we have the baby who has to have breast blood instead of breast milk.

Then there’s the mother.

Let’s just say if you really like a sick thrill, like I do, it’s better for you go ahead and watch “Grace” then to have me explain how it all works here.

If you are the kind of person who’s just dying to have me describe how the mother gets Grace her blood, you’re probably the kind of person who's out there killing small animals, not the kind sitting at a computer, reading movie reviews.

Then you have the just unbelievably insane grandmother who’s determined to make herself start lactating again so she can feed her grand-baby, but oh my God, she has no idea what she’s getting into.

Add it all up and Solet serves up a recipe for a truly delightful 84-minute ick-fest.

If you like gross and you like “what is wrong with you lady” filmmaking, you really aren’t going to do a whole lot better than “Grace.”

Solet doesn’t come near the level of Cronenberg when it comes to examining just what our relationships to these bizarre things we call bodies are. But that is a high watermark.

Cronenberg will always be the master of this kind of film, but “Grace” is more than worth a look, nevertheless.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

David Yates Talks About "Deathly Hallows:" the Second Interview

Okay, in the first interview, we heard Yates talk about Rupert Grint's performance, Hermione's character coming into her own and the animated sequence that told the story of the three brothers and the Deathly Hallows.

Yates also talked about the dance scene between Harry & Hermione. This scene is small, but it's important and wonderful.

It gets so much across. There's so much relief and camaraderie as the two friends forget their troubles and dance together.

But Yates doesn't cut out like most directors would. We see the end of the scene as it would happen in real life.

The dance fades and the moment is slowly lost and the two are pulled slowly back into reality and into their struggle.

It is a perfect scene and if I might say so, Yates chose a perfect song with Nick Cave & the Bad Seed's "O Children."
When Cave talks of singing and rejoicing, there is a bitterness and a cynicism that goes along with his sorrowful hope.
It's the perfect match for what these characters are going through.

David Yates Discusses Animated Sequence in "Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures
Here's an interview with David Yates about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1." In it, he talks about the animated sequence where the story of the three brothers and the origination of the Deathly Hallows is told.

That bit is toward the end, but the whole interview is worth a listen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – David Yates (2010)


When I learned after “Goblet of Fire,” that some unknown television director named David Yates was going to take the helm of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” I wasn’t just apprehensive. I was disappointed. Annoyed even.

After seeing it, I was relieved. “Order” was the best Potter movie yet. Still, I wasn’t thrilled that Yates would be directing “Half-Blood Prince.” But Yates proved himself up to the task. When I walked out of the advance press screening for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” I was convinced that David Yates might be one of the finest filmmakers of this generation.

Part of me will be sorry to see the series go, but I’m truly excited to see what kind of career Yates has beyond the Harry Potter franchise. I’m dying to see what kind of movies he ends up making.

I went to the advance press screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” this week and I can tell you I haven’t seen a film in a very long time that uses animation and special effects so brilliantly, yet sparingly. The animation is so unbelievably vivid, yet so subtle it’s barely noticeable at the same time. The reason for that is that the effects in “The Deathly Hallows” truly serve the story, characters and emotional impact of the film.

Almost every other movie a major studio cranks out takes the opposite approach where the story is there as a flimsy justification for showcasing whatever cool effects the audience wants to be wowed by. In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the story, character development and emotional impact of the film are already a solid foundation for everything else to dance on. Even without any effects or even magic, we’d be left with an exceptionally compelling drama with absorbing and conflicted characters. The animation and effects come in and serve the story instead of being the superfluous eye-candy audiences have become used to. It might sound like a contradiction to rejoice in how masterfully the animation was used in a film by saying that it wasn’t essential, but that’s just how carefully the effects are woven into this story.

When Harry, Ron and Hermione interact, they do so on human terms. They are away from the visual opulence of Hogwarts and cinematographer Eduardo Serra keeps the look of the film as non-magical as possible, using the rugged look to remind us just how much these young wizards are out of their element.

This is Serra’s first Harry Potter film and it’s clear he was picked precisely because he’s not an effects-driven cinematographer. Serra is known for creating stunning pictures with very little backdrop, working with filmmakers like Claude Chabrol, Patrice Leconte, and Ian Softley. And that’s why, when the animation is brought in, it has so much power. When we see an effect, it’s for a reason, in “Deathly Hallows,” often to express the rage or despair of one of the characters.

In another scene, Harry finds the graves of his parents and knees in front of their headstones. Hermione takes a place beside her friend, pulls her wand out and creates a beautiful wreath that’s now lying at their grave. It’s the perfect example of animation, and imagination being used to convey the most sincere emotion. It parallels the way in the wizarding world the way magic can be used to express the most profound sorrow, joy or comfort.

In another effects-driven, Harry and Ron destroy a Horcrux. (If you’re not a Potter fan and don’t know what that is, I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining it to you. It’s an enchanted locket. There.) What comes out of the cursed object is Ron Weasley’s worst fears and deepest insecurities expressed through a wonderfully dismal and frightening animated sequence.

The real treat for aficionados of animation comes when it’s time for some good, old-fashioned back story. We hear the story of the three brothers who met Death and were given the “Deathly Hallows.” Hermione reads Harry and Ron the story from a children’s book while we’re treated to an animated short within the film that might be one of the most morbid, darkest little cartoons I’ve ever seen. It’s so wonderful and a perfect way to fill the audience in on the background of the story behind the legend of the very real magic they’re fighting against.

This cartoon alone is worth the price of admission, but really, the entire movie is simply wonderful. There is sadness and a joy in every look, touch and tone of voice when these three lifelong friends have any sort of exchange. The characters and the films have so many layers now, the storytelling is so rich that, visual effects aside, “Deathly Hallows” is just an incredible film.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Daniel Alfredson (2010)

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" does lack the bite of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," but it's a more than fitting end to the Millennium Trilogy.

Here's my video review.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story - Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (2010)

Here’s the the movie review where I finally come out as a mentally ill American.

Yep, I'm on four different eveners and I'm still just as loony as can be.

And that’s why “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” just meant the world to me.

I have no idea if all the “norms” out there will find it just as wonderful as I did, but this film simply got it perfectly.And that was no easy task. If it had strayed just a hair to one side, it would have ventured into the side of melodrama.

Had it gone of the path in the other direction, the characters would have been characters and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” would have been just another wacky comedy about a bunch of loonies.

But this porridge is just right.

And here’s why. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck understand, like very few filmmakers I’ve come across before, that people who are completely effed up beyond belief can have as great a capacity for strength, empathy and compassion as anyone else.

In fact, their dysfunctions usually make them better people for others to lean on.
That was Boden and Fleck’s theme in “Half-Nelson” and “Sugar,” two dramas that explored this notion darkly, and it’s what they’re trying to tell us here. Only this time, these filmmakers are showing us they can be warm as well as dark.

I’m not going to waste a whole lot of time going through the plot. You’ve seen the trailers by now.

For that matter, a lot of you have probably seen the film.

So, I’ll do just a quick rundown, because that’s how you do things in a proper review.

Craig is 16 and suicidal. He bypasses the bridge he was thinking of jumping from and instead goes to the hospital to get help.

He is admitted and put into the adult psychiatric ward because the teen ward is under renovations.He befriends Bobby, a guy who is hesitant to open up and tell Craig what his problems are, and is instantly attracted to Noël, another teen stuck in the adult wing.

And the rest of the movie is how they all relate and heal, and if I talked about the plot more, it would just sound mundane and it’s anything but so I’ll stop.
The plot really isn’t the point.

The film’s greatest strength is the way it refuses to condescend to its characters, even the ones on the peripheral who are the most troubled.

In the hands of someone else, these characters would have been thrown under the bus in the name of comedy. I shudder to think what Christopher Guest would have made out of this script.

The patients are used for laughs here, but never cheap laughs.

One of my favorite moments in this film is very muted and understated.

It doesn’t have a huge punch line or great catchphrase, so naturally it isn’t featured in any of the trailers and if you’re not mentally ill or have never been suicidal, it probably won’t stand out to you when you see “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”

It happens when Craig is talking to Noël, she asks him about how he wants to kill himself, but didn’t actually end up trying.
He manages to stammer out a couple of sentences and explains himself terribly. Then he looks up at her and says, “Does that make any sense?”
And she says, “Yeah.”

That tiny moment, that short back and forth captures how those of us who are fundamentally just broken human beings understand each other so well and need each other so desperately.

Noël is a fascinating character precisely because we’re not told much about her.

We don’t know why she’s there will all the people who “need help.”

She has scars on her face and wrist and casually mentions cutting herself at one point, but apart from the fact that she loves music and seems to be exceptionally kind, she’s a mystery.

And Emma Roberts plays Noël flawlessly.

The rest of the film follows suit, with the greatest moments being the smallest ones.
Sure the funny moments you saw in the previews are entertaining, but the greatness of the film is revealed slowly in the quiet friendships that develop between these broken people.

And that’s another thing Boden and Fleck understand.

People who don’t suffer from mental illness mean well and they can help.

But this film is just achingly beautiful because it illustrates that those of us who are broken are drawn to each other.And that’s because we understand and we need the sympathy that can only come from someone who feels that illogical crazy things we do.
That’s the essence of our healing. Knowing we’re not alone.

Saying something that shouldn’t make sense to anybody at all and having someone who is just as lost as you are look at you and say, “I understand.”

And the ending of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is perfect.

Craig rides away on his bike. And forget about one day at a time. Boden & Fleck know that there are a lot of us that have to take it one breath at a time.

Craig takes those deep breaths, the kind we have to take to stave off panic attacks and the movie ends.

And watching this movie, all us crazies, all of us broken people understood that other people know how this feels.

And would you look at that, some of them are making movies.

I have not cried in 26 years, but if I were emotionally capable of tears, I would have wept right there in my seat.

If you have issues, go see this movie.

If you love someone with issues, go see this movie.

It’s wonderful.

And here’s my video review.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hereafter – Clint Eastwood (2010)

Wen I was heading into the advance screening of “Hereafter,” I overheard several people who had already screened it say the film was depressing.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I have to say anyone who found it gloomy probably just didn’t get it.

Clint Eastwood isn’t a filmmaker who shies away from death and “Hereafter” opens with a sequence that kicks you right in the face.

What’s disquieting about the scene isn’t its realism.

It’s how we follow Maria, a French journalist, played by “High Tension’s” Cecile de France, from the moment she realizes she’s in d
anger right up to her death.

As audiences, we’re used to seeing the carnage from a survivor’s point of view.

We watch other people go down, sometimes in horrific ways, with casual indifference.

As someone who unabashedly loves screen violence, I was surprised at how disturbed I was seeing this woman die.

We’re not used to seeing death from the victim’s point of view and this scene starts “Hereafter” on just the right note for Eastwood to ask his viewers to think very seriously about death.

When we experience death through the eyes of this woman, we know this isn’t going to be a thriller.

This film is going to be a meditation on the very nature of mortality and Eastwood takes the theme on just as seriously as he did with “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven.”

In the hands of a less capable storyteller, “Hereafter” might have been a contrived film. When I heard about the plot, it didn’t sound like something that would normally draw me in.

But after “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven,” Clint Eastwood is a filmmaker who has earned my trust. I am more than willing to put myself in his hands and just let him tell his story.

“Hereafter” centers around three people, all dealing with their brushes with death or grief in different ways.

First, there’s the story of Marie, the French journalist who died in the Tsunami and then came back to life, after seeing what lies after death.

She’s burning to tell the world what she’s seen and explore, as a writer, the scientific community’s studies on the subject of life after death.

Of course, this doesn’t do wonders for her career.

Then, there’s Marcus, a little boy in London. He’s the child of a junkie who’s lost his twin brother in an accident and is desperate to reconnect with him.

He runs into all sorts of charlatans in a sadly funny sequence. We want to laugh at how ridiculous these people are, but then we see the disappointment on this kid’s face when they turn out to be frauds.

There’s one scene where Marcus goes into a group reading where a woman is on stage doing the John Edwards tricks. She goes across the crowd saying things like, “I’m feeling that someone here has lost someone,” and “I’m sensing a name that starts with ‘J.’”

This is a perfect juxtaposition to George, a rare psychic played by Matt Damon who actually is the real deal. We see this at the beginning of the film when he gives a reading to one of his brother’s clients as a favor.

George doesn’t mess around with any of this, “I’m sensing some vague who-the-hell-can-guess-what.” He knows exactly who he’s talking to and he hears them clearly.

Unfortunately, this ability is a burden. When George meets Melanie, a lovely young woman at a cooking class, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, there is instant chemistry between them.

Then, she finds out he has this gift and she asks him to do a reading. He all but begs her to let him off the hook, assuring her that once that happens, the chances their relationship will go anywhere will go down significantly.

Of course, she doesn’t listen and he gives in.

And we’re not surprised to see that she doesn’t show up the next week for cooking class.

Clint Eastwood takes his time telling each story and treats each character with the care they deserve. When the paths of these three finally intersect, it doesn’t feel forced or artificial.

“Hereafter” has been marketed as a thriller, but it’s not.

It is an extremely gentle, if sometimes unsettling drama and it stands u
p with “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven” as Eastwood once again asks his audience to look death right in the face.

Because it’s being marketed as a genre picture, “Hereafter” will probably join “Gran Torino” as one of his recent films totally shut out as far as Oscar nods go and that’s a shame.

Just go see it.