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.

Never Let Me Go - Mark Romanek (2010)

When life hands you a delightful surprise, sometimes you just say, "Thank you," and move on.

Like Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis," Katsuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" might be an un-filmable novel, but hell if Romanek's adaptation isn't ambitious.

I'll just say it flat out. I adored this movie.

And my hopes were not high.

I worship this novel and I have to say, "One Hour Photo" was just an awful film.

I mean just terrible. It was a caricature of a psychological thriller.

I really thought Romanek was just a moron. Seriously.And "Never Let Me Go" is easily one of the greatest novels of the past decade.

So I braced myself for disappointment.

But oh my God, what a wonderful film.

It is so elegant.

I know that sounds pretentious, but I can't think of a better word.

Now if we could just get David Cronenberg to go ahead make his version of "The Metamorphosis," the universe will be whole.

Here's my video review.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Machete – Robert Rodriguez (2010)

First, to be polite, there are spoilers.

Second, also to be polite, this is the ultimate exploitation movie, so if you're going to keep reading this review, you're going to hear about violence. Lots of great, fun violence.

Unrealistic and cartoonish violen
ce and fun are the point here. But it’s a point of etiquette, so fair warning. Spoilers.

I don’t think I was even two minutes into this movie before I had a blood-lusting, impossibly wide grin across my face.

Danny Trejo’s bad ass was out of that car, hacking away at bad guys, bodyguards, bystanders, doesn’t matter, with his gigantic knife in no time flat.

Then he picks up a severed hand with a gun still in it and starts blasting.

I know I’m going to enjoy myself.

And sure enough, in the next ninety seconds, we’re treated to four beheadings in one swoop and some unbelievably unnecessary nudity.

Of course, he finds an unbelievably hot girl in a room laying naked on a bed.

I guess he just figures he’ll rescue her, so he takes her along.

Then, she gets all seductive and before you know it, she has his knife.

She stabs him and he falls to the ground and she stands over him, unnecessarily naked.

Then, she pulls a cell phone out of her twat.

Yep, you heard me right. A cell phone out of her twat.

It's not that seeing a girl pull a cell phone out of her twat is such a treat as it's the principle that the movie is just that wonderfully and giddily ridiculous.

Hell, I loved “Planet Terror,” as much as anyone else, but this is exploitation done good and proper.

The hero and the villain are set up before the credits roll.

Steven Seagal is a relentless drug lord who kills poor Machete’s wife and daughter, torches a building and leaves our wounded, helpless hero to die in the flames.

But, like all dumb movie villains, he doesn’t stick around to make sure his nemesis is dead, so…roll the opening credits and yippee! We’re off!

We take a trip to the U.S. Mexico border where Robert De Niro in a cowboy hat is riding in the back of a pickup truck, shooting Mexicans crossing the border. And he’s a Texas Senator!

Holy Christ, now we’re going into unnecessary lefty overblown, not believable, political preachy-land! I’m in heaven!

The plot is more or less incidental. Machete finds himself the fall guy of a plot to frame a nameless illegal for the attempted assassination of the good Senator to garner sympathy votes.

But when you double-cross Machete, you pay the price. And the mayhem continues.

Rodriguez knows how to use foreshadowing, too. He’ll set you up and let you know a treat is coming.

At one point, Machete’s in the hospital and the bad guys are coming for him.

He picks something up and the doctor just looks at him and says, “Be careful with that. It’s a skull
scraper. We use it to scoop the bones clean. Uh, and those cut through flesh just like butter.”
Then Machete tears the ribbon off a nurse’s gown and gets ready.

Are you kidding me? Machete is just grabbing things to do as much damage as possible to people and ripping girls' clothes off for no apparent reason.

Robert, you're not even trying to find an excuse to give us blood and tits, are you?

I love you, man!

Rodriguez just knows how to set up his audience for a good time.

He set us up for something big and he delivered.

And do you think Rodriguez would have the doctor casually talking about how long a person’s intestines were if he didn’t intend to have Machete gut a bad guy and swing out the window from his innards?

No, but he did it because it's just good, clean fun.

The rest of the movie introduces us to side characters, mostly hot Latino chicks.

We know how the rest of the movie is gonna go and we don’t care what the plot is

formulaic. It’s all about the blood, man.

And “Machete” has it in buckets.

And just because I’m lazy, here’s just a random list of things that we are treated to in no particular order.

Tom Savini nailing Cheech to a cross.

Cheesy political statements from Jessica Alba like, “We didn’t cross the border! The border crossed us!”

Machete banging the bad guy’s wife and daughter, (played by Lindsay shut-up-judge-I’ll- snort-whatever-I-want Lohan herself.)

Steven Seagal committing seppuku. (Well, kind of. I don’t want to spoil it. Like I said, story, outcome all that, does not matter.)

Danny Trejo has been relegated to the world of colorful Mexican supporting character for so long that I kind of wondered if he could carry a leading role.

HE CAN. Trejo is rock and roll personified in this movie.

Forget every action hero ever.

From Lee Marvin, all the way up through Clive Owen.

I have never wanted to be anybody like I want to be this fifty-something Mexican.

I hereby declare Danny Trejo to be the baddest mofo on this, or either side, of the border.

Go see this movie.