Friday, April 30, 2010

Remembering the best horror movie quotes

Okay, I've gone national a couple of times now. So I officially rule.

You don't have to bow down before me, but I will be kinder to you if you do.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fish Tank – Andrea Arnold (2009)

In the first few minutes of this film, all you can think is that you’ve just met the least likeable protagonist ever.

Mia is a teenage girl who runs around verbally abusing, sometimes physically assaulting people for no apparent reason.

At one point, she head-butts some girl on the street for not dancing well enough. I found that pretty amusing.

We have no idea whether or not she knows these people. Some of them could be total strangers.

We’re just thrown right into the thick of a typical afternoon sunny stroll of an unbelievably nasty girl. (I mean nasty as in mean to people, not the good kind of nasty.)

For a brief scene about five or six minutes into the film, I think the sequence might last 20 seconds if that, we see that she’s capable of empathy.

And then, just as quick, we’re back. If you looked down to answer a text, you missed it.

Granted, the pity she’s feeling is for a horse and not a fellow human being, but as horrible as she has been (and keep in mind this is after spending four or five minutes, tops with this girl) at least it’s a hint that she might have a soul.

Then, as the story moves forward, we see that her surroundings are as harsh as she is and that her cruelty is most likely a survival mechanism.

There is a scene that’s as suspenseful as in any thriller I’ve seen where her mom’s new boyfriend (two-night stand, really) picks her up and gently carries her to bed.

As he undresses her, I found myself thinking, ‘Oh god, am I watching another one of these movies? I just had to sit through Precious.’

But no, this guy seems to be a decent fellow just trying to get the kid comfortable. After folding her pants and putting her shoes away, he covers her with a blanket, tip-toes out the door and closes it.

After that, there’s a pitiful scene where this new father figure takes the family, out for a drive to see nature. They go out to a creek to catch fish and Mia gashes her foot badly.

The guy dresses her wound and as he carries her on his back, she rests her head on his neck and she has a peaceful and stunned look on her face.

It’s the first time we’ve seen Mia free of hostility.

And we realize with a pang that this is probably the first time in her short life that anybody has taken care of her.

Then, toward the end of the second act, the film takes an upsetting but hardly surprising turn south.

I had been hoping up until this point, despite the foreshadowing that it wouldn’t turn out the way it did.

Sadly, I was let down by the behavior of the characters in the film which I guess is a testament to how invested I had become in them.

I’m not going to spoil anything by getting into details, but in the third act, a bunch of things just suddenly make sense.

It happens quickly, like a snap.

The third act involves a couple of tense incidents where we’re on the precipice of some tragedy happening.

I caught myself holding my breath a couple of times.

Suddenly, the character study becomes a thriller of sorts, and I’m hesitant to use the word ‘thriller’ because it’s bound to give you the wrong idea.

Suffice it to say a couple of sequences have a sickening level of tension to them.

I’ve been asking myself one question: would I recommend other people see this film?

And my friends, you are about to witness a rare moment when my answer to that question is I really don’t know.

I am glad I saw this film and came to care about Mia, but I’m not sure if I would tell you that you should seek it out.

I suppose at the end, you’re happy for Mia because she seems to have at least gained some dignity.

And it’s pretty clear that she is in fact going to end up being a better person than her mother ever was, as evidenced by their goodbye.

The film seems to hold to the idea that one’s growth takes place exclusively during childhood and adolescence. Once you’re an adult, if you’re not a good person, it’s too late to change.

The scene where she says goodbye to her mother and the two of them just dance for a few seconds before Mia finally just leaves is oddly touching, considering Mia is leaving the home of a mother who actually hates her.

I kept thinking of The Breakfast Club where Ally Sheedy said, “It’s inevitable. When you grow up, your heart dies.”

The moving embrace Mia shares with her sister before hopping in a car to leave forever backs this notion up and serves as the emotional climax of the entire film.

The children are the ones who are capable of feeling loss or love or anything at all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Severe Clear - Kristian Fraga (2009)

I don't think I've looked forward to a documentary like this since Paradise Lost 2.

Severe Clear, comprised of clips from a video journal shot by Lt. Mike Scotti has made the festival circuit and is about to see a limited U.S. theatrical release.

Whether it will come to Kansas City remains to be seen.

From the clips I've seen, Scotti and the film's director, Kristian Fraga showed a great deal of courage in releasing footage that shows every aspect of what I can only imagine what it must be like to be over there.

I saw desperation, grief, terror, courage, determination, horror, more grief, more terror and above all, desperation again.

My heart sank as Lt. Scotti told about how he and his squad fired on a car they thought was hostile, but turned out to be a man with his daughter.

He talks about killing and burying a little girl with her pink shoes. I felt anger, grief, hatred, pity and revulsion all within the span of about ten seconds. The rate, range and intensity of emotions was staggering.

And this was in a couple minutes worth of clips that I managed to see.

That's my review of the couple of minutes. Severe Clear has made the festival circuit and from what I've heard, it's amazing.

I'm going to watch it as soon as possible and let you all know how it is.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Glorious 39 – Stephen Poliakoff (2009)

I have to tell you, I was a bit disgruntled early into the film because, without spoiling anything for those of who will see this film, an actor I adore was gone in the first 23 minutes.

His part was short, but it was passionate and well worth the top billing his name got. As for the film, it takes a while to find its feet. I was not sure for a while what kind of movie it was and actually, that is more than okay with me.

To be honest, if I’m not sure if I’m going to be watching a love story or a political drama or a mystery or maybe even a ghost story, it enhances the entire experience and I went into this film completely cold.

Glorious 39 debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in September and it kind of slipped under the radar. I understand why. It’s the kind of film that quietly seeps into you.

I didn’t even know I was being affected by it until it was almost over and I wasn’t sure it was memorable until a week later I realized that I’d thought about it every day since I saw it.

The film opens with an ultimately dispensable bookmark. It’s an ominous introduction featuring Christopher Lee recalling the story of a girl who was lost long ago, before the war.

As the story unfolds, the turns it takes are gradual. It seems innocent on the surface, but it isn’t too long before there’s a menacing quality just under its skin.

By the time our heroine, Anne hears the menacing recording of poor Hector, presumably murdered Parliament member and foe of Neville Chamberlain screaming for mercy from God knows what, we are duly and properly unsettled.

As the conspiracy grows, Anne’s family members very gradually grow more menacing.

For those Doctor Who fans out there, if you remember Human Nature & Family of Blood, Anne’s siblings take on a very ‘mother-of-mine,’ ‘sister-of-mine’ quality to them. Especially her brother, Ralph.

I don’t want to give too much away because I want everyone who reads this to seek this film out and watch it. As far as political thrillers go, you really can’t do any better than this one. It works in so many ways.

There’s a sequence that revolves around taking pets in to be euthanized. Putting the family cats down is incidental to the plot.

It’s the other things happening around them at the time that are critical to the story, but that whole atmosphere of calm, tranquil death is just so terrible and peaceful at the same time. When we see the bodies of the animals being heaped onto pyres, it hardly seems awful.

That’s the kind of lull this film draws you into and then jolts you out of.

Truly, I don’t want to give away any more except to say that you will be disappointed by the ending bookmark, so be prepared for that.

But the end of the story itself is perfect. The revelations are timed beautifully and never feel manufactured even for a moment.

Each trust and each betrayal is genuine and painful. And the one final mercy shown in the film truly feels precious.

So, fans of the Doctor, seek out this film because you miss David Tennant. That’s why I got it. But then find yourself absorbed in one of those rare films that works as a character study, a theme and a narrative.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Doctor Who - The Eleventh Hour

Okay, I must admit Matt Smith wasn't the horrible douche I thought he was going to be.

The story was brilliant and I already like Amy Pond better than Margaret or Donna.

I still miss David Tennant, though.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Robocop - Paul Verhoeven (1987) The Most Effective Form of Subversive Social Criticism

Okay, yesterday I watched and had my mind a little blown by Robocop.

First, I love this movie and always have. The first time I saw it, I was 13 or 14 and it remains one of the most violent and funny action films ever.

Also, Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker might just be my favorite movie villain ever.

But what really stuck with me when I watched it yesterday was just how accurate the prophecies of this film turned out to be.

Slyly Marxist both in tone and philosophy, this film is essentially about greed and the privatization of the government.

It’s a world where police forces and the military are run, not by the government, but by corporations.

And there is a sharp warning in here about what happens when those running public services as enterprises find themselves on top with one motivation: making money.

I kept thinking about the last eight years and how much of Verhoeven’s twisted premonition has actually come true.

It might sound odd, but Robocop is kind of a continuation of Eisenhower’s cautionary farewell address.

It’s cheering when you find some of the smartest social criticism in the least expected places, like an ultra violent action film like Robocop or in the political commentary disguised as lowest-common-denominator potty humor of South Park.

Seriously, go watch Robocop and think about Blackwater & Halliburton and get back to me.

I promise you’ll be just a little freaked out.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lorna’s Silence – Dardenne Brothers (2008)

The latest film from the Dardenne Brothers is an understated study of alienation that reminded me a lot of Remains of the Day and Casablanca. (Not to give this film delusions of grandeur.)

"Lorna's Silence" starts with our heroine, Lorna, who is a profoundly unhappy woman. We don't know what her situation is, but she exudes
miser in every frame she appears in.

Lorna has married a Belgian junkie for a green-card and the plan, as it's slowly revealed through the course of the film, involves killing the junkie with an
overdose and side-stepping the whole mess of a divorce.

The plot is incidental, though. In fact, we’re not ever fully sure what the story is. We know the plot involves a green-card and a Russian who for some reason needs to establish residency in Belgium.

He's a very ominous figure. We only hear to him referred to as "The Russian."

The focus of the film is the isolation of Lorna.

Slowly, she finds herself attached to Claudy, her junkie fake-husband and gets to work on a plan to save his life. Of course, she can not tell him why she is doing all of this.

She doesn’t want Claudy to know his life is in danger and she stays silent.
Lorna is so stoic that it’s near impossible to tell just how deep her feelings for Claudy go or how they’re progressing until finally, one night, her actions leave no room for misunderstanding.

This is the first spark of happiness or even humanity we have seen in Lorna. This junkie has actually brought her to life.

There is an unspeakably beautiful moment that you’ll miss if you blink. It has no significance and only last a second or two, but it’s so tremendously effective.

Lorna and Claudy, her recovering, junkie, fake-husband, have just left a locksmith/pawnshop.

She is off to work and he is going to ride his bike all day to keep his mind off his withdrawal.

They split up and he starts to ride away.

Lorna, who’s been pretty cold to Claudy so far and showed no emotion at all, until the previous night, and is now falling for him, spontaneously turns and chases after him for a few yards.

It is a desperately joyous little moment as she runs after him for two seconds before turning to walk her own way.

It last three or four seconds, but it says so much about the transformation of her feelings toward this man she just met and had thought of, only days before as expendable.

And the way that The Dardenne Brothers cut from this burst of unexpected joy to the aftermath of heartbreak reminds me of what sets these filmmakers apart from others and why I loved Rosetta so much.

(I’ll be re-watching that very soon, I think.)

Of course, people who build up walls around themselves do so for defensive purposes and once those come down, Lorna is incredibly vulnerable.

Her strength was in the fact that nobody knew her.

The film ends ambiguously, but if you ask yourself, ‘What’s likely to be the next thing to happen to Lorna?’ you probably won’t come up with a happy answer.

Isolation, that front that makes people think you don't need anybody else, might make you look strong, but it's a lie.

In reality, it just makes you lonely and weak.

That is what the Dardenne Brothers are saying here and the message comes across beautifully and breaks your heart.