Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Madeo (Mother) (2009)


Bong Joon-ho is proving himself incapable of making a bad movie, yet again hitting it out of the park with his newest feature Mother, a twisted murder mystery. The unnamed Mother (Kim Hye-ja) has a very close, presumably incestuous relationship with her son Do-joon (Bin Won), a twentysomething with serious memory problems and the demeanor of a boy half his age. When a golf ball with his name on it is found next to the scene of a high school girl's murder, Do-joon is immediately assumed to be the killer.

He doesn't exactly remember what happened that night, but insists he didn't kill her, and of course his mother believes him without question. With the police convinced of his guilt, Mother takes it upon herself to find the real killer, and slowly unwraps the layers of sex, voyeurism, and conspiracy surrounding the dead student. As her investigation goes further, the reserved, gentle Mother finds herself sinking deeper into criminal acts in order to save her son.


Mother is an intense, gripping thriller with a good amount of twists and turns to keep viewers on their toes. It's a bit long, but never dull, and the characters are very well-written and developed. These factors are enough to make it an excellent film, but what really elevates it to greatness is the refreshingly new choice of protagonist. In a genre typically dominated by younger, mainly male, actors, it was so cool to see an older woman as the lead. Mother is resourceful, stubborn, and extremely dedicated, and she artfully uses her status as a "frail old woman"-type to go unhindered about her investigation. Completely anchoring the film, Kim Hye-ja is fascinating in her performance, oscillating between painfully demure to shockingly aggressive in a span of seconds.

Once again utilizing a rainy rural setting for his tale, Bong incorporates a combination of vast empty landscapes and tight interior spaces for a visually diverse and tonally effective aesthetic. He structures the story with several ambiguous or seemingly irrelevant moments at the beginning that come together and are expanded upon brilliantly by the end, which makes for a very smart and surprising narrative. Mother contains all of the elements of an engaging and intelligent murder mystery, but with its considerable attention to character and its unique protagonist, it becomes a masterful fusion of emotional drama and taut thriller.

4.5/5

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Possession (2008)


Thanks for all the well-wishes while I was away, guys! San Francisco was pretty excellent, as expected, but now that I've returned to hum-drum Boston weather and an ever-growing array of homework, I can come back to the most important activity: movies!

After finishing my midterms and some exhausting stop-motion animation set-building, it was time for a nice, possibly really stupid straight-to-DVD remake of a Korean ghost story featuring the best kind of eye candy, Lee Pace: Possession. Hard-working lawyer Jess (Sarah Michelle Gellar) knows she's lucky to be married to the incredibly attentive, doting, and good-natured Ryan (Michael Landes), but finds her time eaten up by her high-pressure job. Ryan's bad-boy, ex-con brother Roman (Lee "Hot Stuff" Pace) has been living with the couple for months but Jess is uneasy with his violent tendencies. Roman leaves in a huff after overhearing them talk about him, but soon enough he and his brother crash into each other's cars horrifically and wind up in comas.

Jess grieves for her husband but refuses to take him off life support, promising to be a "better wife" if he comes back, and when Roman wakes up she grudgingly takes him back into their home. He claims to actually be Ryan, spouting off memories of romantic vacations and whispered nothings. Jess is suspicious due to Roman's criminal past and the seeming impossibility of body-switching, but her deep-seated desire to have her husband back coupled with his good-intentioned persistence begin to push her into believing him.


Happening upon this during a routine Lee Pace imdb investigation (what? someone has to do it!), I had pretty low expectations, but I'm a bit desperate to see him act in anything new, and this seemed far more watchable than When In Rome. And honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by how decent this was. Possession boasts an interesting premise and apt cast that are hindered by muddled genre trappings. It is a really good mystery/romance story, with viewers often unsure if Ryan really is trapped in Roman's body or if it's all some kind of trick, but for some reason the directors chose to film it like a horror movie. There are tons of jump scares and creepy music cues, but it's not actually scary at all, and the overall movie suffers from this confused stylization and distractingly uneven tone.

Still, there's Lee Pace. There he is. He gets to show off his versatility in a dual performance: the snarling Roman is legitimately quite intimidating and scary (and prone to exposing his lovely arms), while when "possessed" by Ryan, he is completely transformed into a believably kind-hearted, compassionate romantic (admittedly, the collared shirts and sweaters helped too). All girly exhultations aside, I think it's an excellent and dynamic performance trapped in a so-so script. I have mixed feelings about Gellar, who's earned a lot of good will for Buffy but squanders it in lame movies. She does a good job here but is limited by the character, who spends too much time worrying about stereotypical wifehood and looking scared. I guess I just wanted her to roundhouse-kick something. Anything.

In the end Possession is an unexpectedly decent film, but nothing spectacular. The two leads are quite good and I dig the premise, but it must be said that without Lee Pace I would have almost no interest. I might check out the original, Jungdok, to see if it is similarly plagued by false notions of horror.

3/5

PS Coincidentally, this takes place in San Francisco, as evidenced by the poorly CGI-ed shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is one of many eerie similarities to the rom-com ghost movie Just Like Heaven, including the appearance of Rosalind Chao as a doctor in both films (though she's not credited for Possession, I'm like 90% sure it was her). Spoooky.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

5-Day Break: San Francisco Vacation!

Image courtesy of Pete Scully through Urban Sketchers.

Hey everybody, it's my spring break this week so I'm off to the land of Dirty Harry, Scottie Ferguson, Harry Caul, and Maltese Falcon-era Philip Marlowe: SAN FRANCISCO. That's right! I'm pretty excited!

Sadly, this means there will be no wordy movie goodness coming from this blog until Sunday or Monday (depending on my need for sleep). I know, I know, it will be tough, but in the mean time you can check out all of the awesome sites in my blogroll, read through my scintillating archives, and listen to the California-themed mix I made for the internet. And when I get back I'll have lots of new reviews, including The Secret of Kells, Bong Joon-ho's Mother, and RoboCop 2!

I hope you all have a great week!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Vertigo (1958)


In honor of our trip to San Francisco, my Hitchcock aficionado housemate and I settled down for a viewing of Vertigo, one of my favorites of the director's considerable oeuvre. After witnessing his partner fall to his death during a rooftop chase, John "Scottie" Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) develops acrophobia and retires from the police force. When his old college buddy Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) calls him up out of the blue asking him to tail his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), Scottie can't resist the case. The striking Madeleine is apparently possessed by the ghost of her suicidal ancestor, and Elster wants to know more of the details of her mental health before committing her to a hospital. Despite warnings from his close friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), Scottie becomes sucked into a mysterious plot surrounding Madeleine, and eventually he'll be forced to face his greatest fear.


Pardon my language, but this movie is certainly a shining example of the term "mindfuck". The story takes so many turns it begins to resemble the spiral motif employed so effectively in its visuals, and structurally there's little that I could predict the first time I saw it. The major twist happens half-way through the film, and the plot transforms from a complex mystery to a study of a man driven insane by betrayal. Watching it with knowledge of the twist actually makes it a bit more fun, since I can focus on so many of the little hints and details artfully inserted by Hitchcock. It also allows me to take it a little less seriously, and we had some fun times providing commentary for the period-specific sexism and just generally incorrect ideas about mental health.

I always forget how much of this movie I spend wishing Midge was onscreen. This lady is probably the best female Hitchcock character (a statement I'm making with complete abandon, since it's not like I've seen all of his films and it's not like I'm going through the ones I have seen to find comparisons). She is an independent, slightly older woman with a sharp sense of humor and mad artistic skills. Plus she designs brassieres! I would love to be her friend. Sadly she's not actually in the film all that much. Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart are both very dramatic and big in their performances, which suits the tone of the film, but I appreciate Geddes' easygoing demeanor.

Vertigo is flawed, but that doesn't keep it from easily being called a masterpiece. It is tensely plotted, well-acted, gorgeously shot, and utterly imaginative. While not an overt horror film, it contains some terrifying moments, be it Scottie's trippy dream sequence or the chilling final scene. It also features lovely San Francisco settings (some of which I'll be visiting soon!), a bombastic musical score, and elegant costumes from Edith Head. Seeing it again for the first time in several years, I find myself a bit more critical, but still truly enamored.

4.5/5

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

À bout de souffle (Breathless) (1960)


My housemate just got Netflix and is using it partially to pursue her love of all things French. I'd actually never seen a French New Wave film before so I sat in on the viewing of Godard's Breathless. It was... an interesting time. Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a small-time criminal who suddenly finds himself a murderer on the lam in Paris. Instead of getting out of town, he tries to claim money that's owed him while romancing aspiring journalist Patricia (Jean Seberg), an American. The two spend lazy days together with frank discussions of sex and love; he constantly wants to sleep with her, and she's unsure if he's right for her as she struggles to advance her own career. Meanwhile, some cops are looking for him. I don't think much else happens, until the end.


I understand that this film was revolutionary for its time (wasn't it?), and I appreciate its importance in cinematic history, but without context of the time I'm not especially impressed or moved. The shooting style is really interesting, with a lot of quick jump cuts that lead to staccato conversations and jarring scene changes. Everything looks very cool and modern, as Godard sets his eye on the bustling city and its eclectic denizens- it's all big sunglasses, cute haircuts, shining streets, and sleek cars. The story oscillates between moving very quickly and slowing down drastically, sometimes focusing on Michel's fast-moving, ambiguous criminal dealings and sometimes allowing the two central figures to just talk for a while.

Unfortunately the two main characters that are so definitively centered in Breathless are not especially interesting. Michel is a jerk who tries to be a charmer but usually just berates, except for a few comedic moments. Patricia is captivating for her beauty and generally I liked her, but her wishy-washy, sometimes whiny demeanor didn't make her very sympathetic. Also why would she be involved with a jerk like Michel? I don't know. I didn't really care about their relationship, and while I liked some of their conversations it just didn't seem strong enough to be the focus of so much of the movie. This might be pegged for "Crime" and "Thriller" on imdb, but those elements are really more of a side note to the romantic narrative.

In the end I suppose I was underwhelmed by Breathless. Maybe I'm too young to "get it" but I'm pretty sure it's just not my kind of film. However, it's great for a first feature from Godard and I will definitely look into some of his other works as well as those of his New Wave peers.

3/5

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

About a Boy (2002)


Last Saturday my housemate and I spent the evening in studying for midterms, and watching About a Boy seemed appropriate to have playing the background while we attempted to type up notes, since we'd both seen it several times already. The film, adapted from Nick Hornby's novel, centers on two male characters with wildly different life experiences who come together quite unexpectedly. Will (Hugh Grant) is a spoiled bachelor who's never had a real job in his life, as he is able to live off the royalties of a hit song his father wrote. He dates a lot of different women but inevitably brings all of his relationships to a halt due to his seeming inability to commit.

When he realizes that seeing single mothers who aren't looking for long-term relationships due to their children's demands, he poses as a single father at SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together) meetings to pick up women. Through his acquaintances there he meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a dorky 12-year-old with a hippie mother (Toni Collette) who suffers from depression. The pair form an unlikely bond after Marcus starts escaping to Will's house to avoid school bullies and his unpleasant home life, and eventually they help each other form better relationships amidst a lot of humorous narration.


I was raised to be an admirer of Hugh Grant by my romanticizing, Anglophile mother, and I can't help but enjoy his rakish, smug portrayal of Will. He's a jerk, but not vehemently so, and he has an easy charm and entertaining inner monologue that make him more interesting. Plus, he seems to feel the same way I do about children. I also enjoy Collette's wacky, slightly abrasive characterization of Marcus's mother, as she convincingly swings between opinionated and strong-willed to hopeless and apathetic. Marcus himself is pretty goofy-looking, but cute enough to hold his own in the many Grant-dominated scenes. Also Rachel Weisz was there for a little while, which was nice (although she was given very little to do).

I haven't read the book, and I know some people are unhappy with this film as an adaptation, but I have to say I am indeed a fan. It's engaging and sweet with equal parts humor and drama, with some good performances. There's a good balance between showing Marcus's and Will's radically different daily lives and their experiences together, and the script is quite clever. It's a little heavy-handed sometimes with its more dramatic elements, but it works as an at-times serious comedy portraying a unique relationship between two people who didn't realize they needed each other.

4/5

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Friday, March 19, 2010

$9.99 (2008)


After about two years of waiting I finally got my hands on a copy of $9.99, a stop-motion film based on the stories of Etgar Keret (so basically, two things I like combined into one new thing I will also like). Director Tatia Rosenthal's first feature-length film delves into the stories surrounding an apartment building whose residents are suffering from relationship and financial troubles, as well as loneliness and strange traumas. Focus is given to multiple characters, many of whom have connections to one another, and each of their stories gradually develops throughout the course of the film.

A serious middle-aged man is distraught after witnessing a homeless man's bloody suicide, and further worried by his younger son's seeming inability to find a job and move out. His older son works as a repo man, and begins dating a successful model who encourages him to shave off all his hair so her sensitive skin isn't irritated. He's friends with a lonely elderly man who takes in a bluntly rude winged man claiming to be an angel. Next door, his immature neighbor plunges into drunken shenanigans with a collection of thumb-sized frat boys after his fiancee leaves him. It is a pretty surreal time, in case that wasn't made apparent.


Keret's writing (well, what I've read, anyway) tends to blend realistic characters and relationships with unquestioned elements of the absurd. Strange and unexplained things take place, but it doesn't feel out of the ordinary because his protagonists don't seem too bothered or surprised. Generally I like the effortless implementation of the fantastic, but some of the stories in $9.99 were a little too nonsensical for me. Mainly, I was not a fan of the tale involving the repo man and his supermodel girlfriend who whips him into becoming a hairless blob. It has a really creepy, unsettling ending, and I didn't particularly care about either character. The appearance of miniature frat boys was sort of off-putting as well, but eventually I just ran with it.

Otherwise, there's a lot to like about $9.99. The animation is flawless, with exquisite set detail and fluid motion (I'm currently taking a stop-motion animation class and my appreciation and awe for the medium has been considerably heightened). There's some good voice work from Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush, and most of the stories are well-written and entertaining with a small dose of surreal humor. A lot of questions about relationships, happiness, and life in general are raised, but nothing is really answered, taking a decidedly realistic view of things amidst oddball antics. All in all, I'd say it's an interesting drama whose impressive visuals aid the uneven, and sometimes slow-moving, plot.

4/5

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Hours (2002)


Virginia Woolf has a way of cutting into the permeating sadness of everyday life with simultaneous bluntness and subtlety, casting aside the illusions we erect to protect ourselves. Her stream-of-consciousness prose is haunting and beautiful, made all the more tragic by her bouts with depression and eventual suicide at the age of 59. Based on the book of the same name, The Hours seeks to encapsulate the emotional stresses suffered by middle-class women across three generations, all summed up in a single day. Nicole Kidman portrays Woolf on the day she begins writing Mrs Dalloway, during which she also receives a visit from her socialite sister (Miranda Richardson). Woolf has been living in isolation with her husband (Stephen Dillane) in a small town under orders from her doctor, who believes being away from the city will release her from depression.

In 1951, pregnant housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) attempts to shake herself out of her internal desperation and malaise by baking a cake with her young son for her husband's (John C Reilly) birthday. This deceptively simple task just causes her more frustration and self-loathing, and she looks for an escape. In 2001, Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) acts as a real-life Mrs Dalloway, planning a party for her poet friend Richard (Ed Harris) who's dying of AIDS and generally filling a void in herself by worrying about everyone around her. She alienates her partner Sally (Allison Janney) and finds some solace in her college-age daughter (Claire Danes), but her strained relationship with Richard plagues her mind the entire day because she doesn't know how to help him. All of the stories are connected loosely by Woolf's novel and its themes, while some characters also cross over.


I had avoided this movie for a while mainly because I'm not a big fan of either Nicole Kidman or Julianne Moore. Both truly impressed me. Kidman is sharp and unflinching in her too-short turn as Virginia Woolf, hinting quietly at the storm brewing within her troubled mind. Moore seems to fit the angst-ridden housewife role too easily (as seen in the haunting Safe), and she does a lot with Laura's character with considerably little dialogue. She is pinned as the least sympathetic of the three women, but I completely felt for her. Of course Streep is wonderful and entrancing, surrounded by a wealth of great supporters like Janney, Danes, and even Jeff Daniels. As the main male of the movie, Ed Harris holds his own, playing the tragic Richard with gravity and wistfulness.


I don't feel comfortable telling you just how deeply this movie affected me, but like Virginia Woolf's writing it really shook me and gave me this utter sense of desolation. Though each story is short and covers less than a 24-hour period, the characters and their relationships are developed so fully that it felt like three movies in one. The writing is tight but realistic, and the narrative is paced perfectly as it flits back and forth between these three women, emphasizing the connections in experience and personality. It's a little melodramatic at times, but I was so involved in the story that the poetic flourish here and there only served to draw me further in and heighten my ever-frailer emotional state. The Hours is one depressing film, almost to the point of hopelessness. It's also incredibly touching and relevant to the issues so many people go through, and its poignancy causes it to stick in my memory.

4.5/5

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Safe Men (1998)

We watched this on sort of a whim the other night, and it came as a pleasant surprise. The first feature film from John Hamburg (who just did I Love You, Man), Safe Men brings us a double bromance, before that word was even a big thing. Sam (Sam Rockwell) and Eddie (Steve Zahn) are struggling singers who are mistaken for master safe breakers by Veal Chop (Paul Giamatti), right hand man to Big Fat Bernie Gayle (Michael Lerner), a Jewish gangster. The bickering bandmates are forced to break into several safes under threat of death, but of course prove quite incompetent at the criminal game. Their friendship is tested as they struggle to get out of their deal with Gayle, especially when Sam begins romancing Hannah (Christina Kirk), the daughter of another crime lord (Harvey Fierstein). Meanwhile, the real safe breakers are experiencing friction as Mitchell (Josh Pais) is fed up with Frank (Mark Ruffalo) constantly pining over his ex-girlfriend.

While Safe Men is definitely character-heavy, the script alternates and ultimately combines all of their different plot lines so well that it doesn't clog the film's narrative. Plus, the cast is so spectacular, and there are always awesome people just popping up unexpectedly. Like Michael Showalter, for example! Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn look like babies in this movie (I literally thought Zahn could have been in high school) despite being in their early 30's, and both are extremely enjoyable and appropriately hapless. Ruffalo stands out with his impressive mustache (ever-present in his 90's movies) and adorably goofy line delivery. Giamatti shows he is just without shame in his distractingly gaudy wardrobe, but of course puts in a very funny, slightly sleazy performance.

This is a silly, ridiculous movie but it's totally aware of itself. The jokes are often unforeseen and absurd, and there are a lot of little sight gags or throwaway lines that kept me involved in the dialogue. The characters consistently ride the line between stupid, weird, and clever and it's that constant shifting that makes the script work well. Everyone looks like they're having so much fun, and I can't help but be pulled in by that! Pure entertainment, really, and a lot funnier than I might have anticipated. It even ends the way everything should end: with a dance party.

4/5

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saibogujiman Kwenchana (I'm a Cyborg But That's OK) (2006)


I've been interested in Park Chan-wook's whimsical mental hospital love story for ages, but it hasn't been available in the US. Luckily my school's media center is awesome and just got a copy of it. The exquisitely-titled I'm a Cyborg But That's OK centers on Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong), a peculiar young woman convinced that she is actually a cyborg, whose mother (Lee Yong-nyeo) commits her to a mental hospital after an apparent suicide attempt. She stealthily avoids eating human food, attempting to re-charge by licking batteries, and chats incessantly with nearby lights and vending machines.

She believes she must lose her sympathy so that she can mercilessly kill the hospital employees and escape to her beloved schizophrenic grandmother. Il-sun (Rain), a patient who habitually steals both objects and personality traits from those around him, takes a liking to her eccentricities and becomes invested in her health. He is the only one who sees the cyborg self she imagines, and he tries to devise a way for her to feed herself that won't shatter her careful and seemingly defensive hallucination. The characters of the other patients are also explored in minor subplots along with some investigation of Young-goon's past experiences with her family.


Reportedly made so that Park Chan-wook's daughter could watch one of his movies, this is a nuanced, romantic, despondent, and sometimes violent film that reeled me in instantly with its appealing visuals. The characters are charming and quirky but all maintain a certain sadness, and the story gains a greater depth and roundness from their appearances and histories. Though the premise is unique, the main plot itself is fairly straightforward, and develops gradually as Young-goon's and Il-sun's experiences and outlooks are revealed. While sometimes overly ambiguous and unevenly paced, the script manages to be funny, sweet, and tragic all at once.

As I would expect from Park, I'm a Cyborg... is quite the visual treat. There is an array of lovingly saturated colors and eclectic hair styles, with several settings reminiscent of an art installation. The fantasy sequences are placed right within the stark realness of the hospital, segueing effortlessly into wild bursts of imagination. Stars Lim Su-jeong and Rain both give likable, offbeat, and slightly naive performances that fit well with these surroundings, making characters I didn't quite understand still seem real and sympathetic. It's a strange and somewhat confusing film, but I found myself enjoying it immensely, and by the end I was wholly attached to the story and its protagonists.

4.5/5

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Osobennosti Natsionalnoy Okhoty (Peculiarities of the National Hunt) (1995)


My general good luck with my professor's film selections for my Contemporary Russian Culture class wore out with the latest viewing: Peculiarities of the National Hunt. A bunch of Russian dudes head out to an isolated cabin for some hunting and a dangerous amount of alcohol consumption. One of the campers, Raivo, is Finnish and, despite speaking no Russian, hopes to research the traditional Russian hunt, with frequent visions of a late 19th-century aristocratic affair with horses and dogs and fancy attire. He haltingly speaks English with a few of the men, but often the language barrier causes him much confusion and misunderstandings. The driving force of this movie seems to be that because this guy is Finnish (aka Western), he's overly-analytical and questioning, while as Russians, all of the other dudes are laid back and accepting of the process of things, as opposed to the result.

I believe this is some attempt at slapstick comedy, but contains very little to interest me. Some dudes go on a hunting trip but they never actually hunt. That's the joke, and I get it, I really do, but it's just not funny. They are all hopelessly drunk, spend a lot of time naked, and engage in wacky male bonding antics that make little sense to me. There are certain funny moments that I appreciated (like posing for photos with a drunkenly sleepy bear cub), but in general all of the jokes fall flat. The meandering, seemingly pointless story just causes the entire film to drag slowly across various scenes of drunken shenanigan to drunken shenanigan. I feel most of the humor is aimed at a certain demographic, and since I am not a 13 year old boy, I wasn't in the target audience.

According to my professor, this film is a comedic rumination on the differences between Western and Russian approaches to life. Raivo keeps seeing strange, impossible things and whenever he tries to ask one of his Russian friends about it, they just shrug it off and chide him for being so logical all the time. I didn't understand what these surreal events represented as I was watching, and didn't find them very funny or interesting, just odd (then again, perhaps it's because I too am "Western"). Now that I have a better understanding of the meaning behind them, I still don't care that much, to be honest. To me this movie just takes a lot of cliche conventions of male-oriented comedy and adds a Russian flair, producing a film with very little to offer me personally in the way of entertainment. It's not awful, just boring and a little alienating.

2/5

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Top Five: Movies Released in 1988

This is the first image that pops up after searching for 1988
Inspired by Dear Jesus' recent marathon of films released in the years they were born, I thought I'd do a top 5 of my favorites from my birth year. 1988, a leap year, was a time of restructuring in the Soviet Union, big hair in the US, Super Mario Brothers 3 in Japan, the births of Michael Cera and Rumer Willis, and the deaths of Louise Nevelson and Hal Ashby (thanks Wikipedia).

Of course, it was also a time of movies! Some of them are quite strange, some fascinated me as a child, some are laughably awful, but others live up to the marvelous year that was worthy enough to see the birth of such a fantastic person (me). It was also the dawn of one of the greatest television programs ever, so, a pretty good year if I do say so myself. Keep in mind: a number of the more acclaimed movies I haven't actually seen yet, like Rain Man, Cinema Paradiso, and Maniac Cop. Plus I haven't previously written about most of these, so some repeat viewings might be in order for more in-depth reviews. My favorite films of 1988 are after the jump.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Well, if Terry Gilliam made a movie in any given year, it will probably make its way to my top list. This isn't my favorite of his, but maintains a special place in my heart for its enduring appreciation of the fantastic and nonsensical. There's a great cast (including a young Uma Thurman) and some marvelous visuals, though a bit hindered by the lack of appropriate technology. Plot-wise, it's a bit convoluted and ambiguous, but everyone's having such fun I don't mind a bit.

Akira
You may recall I just saw this recently, finally, after years of blatant lying when I called myself an anime fan. It's a weird, grandiose, and insanely imaginative work of science-fiction, and completely unexpected. I loved the animation, the music, the characters, the setting- everything just comes together to create a unique and incredibly engaging film. It shows its age a little bit in the art design, but it's so well done that I didn't mind the big leather jackets and mix of dull and garish colors.

Beetle Juice
Remember when Tim Burton wasn't a name infused with dread and eye-rolling? I sort of do, but I was a bit too young to actually know what it was like when he was making his name as this wacky, dark, and funny auteur with films like Beetle Juice. I have a bit of a thing for Winona Ryder, and she's great as this confused and frustrated teenager surrounded by nerdy ghosts, oblivious parents, and the powerful, manipulative title character. It's a strange and funny tale with an innovative visual style that first exposed us to Burton's signature aesthetic.

Heathers
Did I mention my love for Winona Ryder? Well she was having a good year in 1988, starring in one of the best teen black comedies of all time, Heathers. It's a razor-sharp satire that holds nothing back, managing to be hilarious in the process. It's also a testament to awesome 80's fashion and fake teen slang, with big scrunchies, bellyshirts, and "What is your damage?" happening all over the place. It even works in a bit of a message towards the end, something about just being yourself and avoiding explosions.

Hotaru No Haka (Grave of the Fireflies)
This is one of the most depressing films I've ever seen, but also one of the most beautiful. It's a poignant historical tale done in a medium not known for its realness, elevating the anime form to a new standard. Its story focuses on the deep bond between siblings trying to survive on their own during the chaos of WWII Japan, approaching the matter with heart and subtlety without falling into over-sentimentality.


Honorable Mentions
Die Hard
Hairspray
Neco z Alenky (Alice)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Working Girl

What about you?

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Frygtelig Lykkelig (Terribly Happy) (2008)


Squeezing our way through an alarmingly dense crowd of moviegoers attracted by Polanski's newest, we somehow made it to the unsurprisingly under-attended Danish darkly comic murder tale, Terribly Happy. After a mysterious nervous breakdown, city cop Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) is re-assigned to a claustrophobically small, rural town as its only marshall. He quickly becomes aware of the town's frightful dynamic, with its inhabitants all aware of resident asshole Jørgen's (Kim Bodnia) adulterous and abusive antics, but no one taking a stand against him.

The old marshall spent most of his time drinking and allowed a lot of "accidents" and petty crimes to go by undocumented. After Jørgen's desperate wife Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christiansen) comes to Robert with evidence of her husband's physical abuse, he is determined to convict him. But the more he pushes for change, the more the town's internal politics and penchant for keeping secrets rise up against him. He also finds his own good intentions battling with a darker personality within himself.


As my comrade commented, this movie feels like it's made by someone whose main cinematic influences are Blood Simple and Fargo, and this isn't a bad thing. Most of Terribly Happy does indeed feel like the Coen Brothers appropriated the premise of Hot Fuzz with Danish actors and more dramatic intent. A lot of the story could play as a very black comedy, but as the film progresses, the development and uncovering of Robert's character becomes more focused, and it twists itself into a somewhat bleak but gripping drama.

The performances are excellent throughout, with a lot of the supporting cast turning in slightly creepy appearances. Jakob Cedergren really carries the film quite well, with an understated performance as Robert, a seemingly low-key, stand-up guy whose darker side is tested as he meets with constant disappointments and obstacles. I liked Lene Maria Christiansen as the frightened and sexually frustrated Ingerlise and Lars Brygmann as the mysterious local doctor as well.

Terribly Happy is filled with a number of comedic moments placed up against truly unsettling ones. The director utilizes the expansive boggy fields surrounding the town to create a slightly desolate atmosphere, and there are some really visually interesting scenes. The script, while well-written, is a little uneven and doesn't do anything especially new, but the strengths of the cast and twisted tone make this film a cool experience.

4/5

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shutter Island (2010)


I'll be honest, I'm not very up on the Scorsese experience. I've only seen After Hours and Taxi Driver, and while I enjoyed both, I really don't have a sense of his trademarks or exactly what makes him such a Big Deal. Shutter Island looked pretty cool though, so why not just see that? Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a Federal Marshall assigned to investigate a missing person case at Ashecliff, a hospital for the criminally insane located on a rocky island. Teddy is accompanied by his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), and together the two explore the hospital's facilities and interview the director Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his staff, all of whom are clearly hiding something (or things). While finding the missing patient Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) is outwardly Teddy's mission, he also seeks to uncover Ashecliff's conspiracies and illegal medical practices, as well as search for a criminal from his past. During his investigations, he is plagued by memories of his dead wife (Michelle Williams), which seem to ride the line between dream and hallucination.


I have to admit I have never understood what makes Leonardo DiCaprio special as a leading man. I find him uninteresting and bland, to be honest, and just not strong enough to carry an emotionally taut film like Shutter Island. He isn't bad at all, just not very dynamic. The fact that he's surrounded by better actors like Ruffalo and Kingsley just makes it worse, as I continued to wish they'd be onscreen more often. He is playing a layered and well-developed character, but I just didn't buy into his performance, and I think I would have been more engaged by the film had the role been taken by a more compelling actor.

The pacing and atmosphere in Shutter Island lend it an effective eeriness and gradually-developing anxiety. As the story progresses, the viewers are forced to question more and more what is placed before them, giving them a growing paranoia that echoes Teddy's own. The dark and muted color palette and aggressive score grasp hold of the audience and refuse to let go, while the over-saturated and psychedelic dream imagery serves as stark and confusing contrast to the real-life events. The line between dream and reality becomes more blurred as we are called to re-think what we know about the characters, especially Teddy as a presumably reliable narrator-type protagonist.

Of course, the ending is what makes this film, and it is a pretty cool twist (though not especially mind-blowing). At first I found it to be purposefully quite ambiguous, but the more I thought back to events of the film the more I appreciated the decision to end it in that way as different elements fit together. It's a decent story with a good twist, but Scorsese's handling of the visuals and movement of the plot elevate it to an intense thriller and noir homage, while I still found DiCaprio's performance detrimentally lackluster.

4/5

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Strange Days (1995)


For some reason, whenever anyone mentioned this movie I confused it with that movie about The Doors and wasn't particularly interested. Luckily after reading up on ACADEMY AWARD WINNER! Kathryn Bigelow for this month's LAMBs in the Director's Chair, I realized Strange Days is actually an excellent, if overlooked, futuristic thriller with a script by James Cameron and the unfortunately-named Jay Cocks. At the dawn of the new millennium, Los Angeles is a dangerous, unstable city prone to riots, shootings, race-based rallies, and hedonistic enterprise. Ralph Fiennes stars as Lenny Nero, an ex-cop now dealing in the illegal drug of the new century: personal recorded experiences that users hook up into their brains, enabling them to see, hear, and feel the memories of someone else, from sexual encounters to high-stakes robberies.

When he's not hanging out in seedy bars selling dreams, Lenny's pining for his ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis), a singer who left him for seedy record producer Philo Gant (Michael Wincott). When Iris, a mutual friend, comes to Lenny out of fear for her life claiming Faith is in danger, and is later found dead, he enlists the aid of Max (Tom Sizemore), a wise-cracking PI, and Mace (Angela Bassett), a limo driver who doesn't take shit from anyone. As they dig deeper into the mystery surrounding Iris's murder, they unearth a conspiracy affecting the entire city, and Lenny finds his misguided love for Faith may be his undoing.


Wow, this movie just really goes to so many different, unexpected places. It features a range of inter-connected stories woven together to produce a complex and detail-driven narrative. The premise is a bit fantastical but hey, I'm not asking for a researched, theoretically realistic science-fiction here. It's a thoughtful and imaginative depiction of a near-future situation (though technically the near-past for us sittin' pretty here in 2010), and it doesn't rely on overblown metaphors or political messages. Bigelow's visuals are a combination of flashy and gritty aesthetics with a cyberpunk edge, and there are some cool first-person POV shots for the memory recording playbacks. Everything feels strange enough to be in an unknown era, but real enough to be foreseeable as quite soon, lending an atmosphere of eeriness to the proceedings.

What makes Strange Days truly enjoyable are its multi-layered characters, with every actor putting in an excellent performance. As Lenny, Fiennes is a smarmy but lovable sweet-talker whose charm is off-putting and palpable. Bassett infuses Mace with an admirable ferocity and strength that's amplified by her truly impressive guns and offset by a relatable vulnerability. Her character's awesomeness sneaked up on me, making me appreciate her personality even more. I generally love Juliette Lewis no matter what, and while she's pretty great as the confused singer Faith, her character's seeming inability to stand up for herself was quite frustrating (though I think that was the point). She rocked the musical numbers though, and I was thrilled to see her singing PJ Harvey tunes, which gave me the best idea ever: a PJ/Juliette Badass Lady-Rocker Movie team up! Oh shit!

Strange Days is not without its flaws, of course. It's quite long, and it takes a while for the story to really get going, as so many apparently disparate characters and events need to be set up in the beginning. But because these parts all come together into an interesting and complex whole, I can forgive that lag in narrative. There are also a few too many melodramatic moments, but thanks to the actors' considerable talents, they feel emotionally genuine. Strange Days is at once a violent thriller, futuristic action movie, and dystopian drama welded together with an absorbing gritty aesthetic, complex characters, and decidedly cool soundtrack. Ms Bigelow, you've done it again!

4.5/5

"Rid of Me"- Juliette Lewis (PJ Harvey cover)

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Death Race 2000 (1975)


I've got one word to describe Death Race 2000: Satisfying. Everything I wanted to happen in this movie, totally happened. Set in a crumbling futuristic America, the film details the gruesome cross-country race invented and exploited by the current president to take bloodthirsty citizens' minds off of the failing economy. Racers Frankenstein (David Carradine), Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone), Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins), and Nero the Hero (Martin Kove) compete in a race that focuses not only on speed, but on the amount of human kills each driver can accumulate. An anti-race rebel resistance movement sends Annie (Simone Griffeth) to infiltrate it by becoming Frankenstein's navigator (meaning she'll also double as his sex partner during pit stops). As the race progresses, she learns that Frankenstein isn't in fact the president's puppet (as the resistance had assumed), but a man of some morals (though skewed) who governs his own destiny.


Death Race 2000 is certainly an amped-up, violent, exploitative flick: there are a number of gruesome deaths, explosions, boobs, goofy costumes, more boobs, and of course high speed antics. All of these elements are handled deftly and in good measure, resulting in a well-paced and extremely fun film with a bit of sex thrown in. The characters are fantastic, with the actors relishing their crazy themes and vicious mean streaks. It was great to see Mary Woronov again (after recently catching her in the under-appreciated Night of the Comet), and her smack-talking, Wild West-inspired Calamity Jane was my favorite character. I dug the snarling, authoritative David Carradine as well, who imbued the character with an appealing and gruff mysteriousness. And naturally Stallone is comfortable as the yelling, abusive, and trigger-happy Machine Gun Joe.

The futuristic setting isn't fully elaborated, but the hints of America as a ruined amoral wasteland are cleverly inserted through various scenes with reporters and members of the resistance. I was legitimately surprised by how smart and just well done this film is. It's not this deep rumination on a possible future and it isn't exactly subtle, but the way the story develops is thoughtful and wildly entertaining, and its effects and visual design are pretty decent. It never drags and it left me slightly agape at how awesome it becomes. It's just a Really Good Movie.

4.5/5

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

From St Petersburg to Chicago Double Feature: Brat (Brother) (1997) and Brat 2 (Brother 2) (2000)


Here are another two films viewed for my Russian Contemporary Culture class, and the ones that have sparked my interest the most. The wildly popular Brother tells the tale of Danila Bagrov (Sergei Bodrov Jr), a mysterious young war veteran who leaves his rural hometown at the urging of his mother to join his "successful" brother Victor (Victor Sukhorukov) in St Petersburg. He's a hitman for a local crimelord who's bent on reclaiming control of regional markets, which have been taken over by foreign mobs. The greedy Viktor enlists Danila to do a few murders for him while taking a large portion of the money for himself. Dan walks around the city, charming almost everyone he meets and beginning an affair with tram operator Sveta (Svetlana Pismichenko), who's endeavoring to keep away from her abusive husband. He also befriends a German street vendor named Hoffman, who worries that Dan is being sucked up by the city's immoral "monster" as he performs these violent acts for his brother.

Brother is a really cool, slick movie that can be read on different levels depending on how much you want to think about it. On the one hand, Dan is a really badass and mysterious character, who is essentially a one-man A-Team (seriously, he can do disguises, make weapons out of common household objects, charm all the ladies, and fight everything). He's generally a well-meaning guy wearing a comfy sweater whose violence stems from this vigilante impulse or loyalty to Viktor. However, several characters bring out this streak of racism and anti-Western sentiments that speaks to the general attitude of many Russians of the time. It's a well-made crime/action movie that doubles as an interesting character study, and serves as a revealing examination of Russian values in the 1990's.

4.5/5


The success of Brother of course led to a sequel, Brother 2, in which Dan sets forth on a revenge mission after Konstantin (Aleksandr Dyachenko), one of his old army friends, is killed. He's told the culprit is the opportunistic Chicago businessman Richard Mennis (Gary Houston), who's been extorting Konstantin's hockey player twin Dmitri, as well as dealing in drugs, snuff films, and a range of other gross practices. Despite speaking almost no English, Dan and Viktor head to America and become entangled in road trips, pimp fights, cops, gunfights, and other Problems that cause them to get sidetracked. By the second half of the story, it is more a series of vignettes detailing these characters' experiences in America, and the over-arching narrative becomes looser and looser. Pop star Irina Saltykova appears as herself and Danila's new girlfriend.

This film deals with much flatter, less nuanced characters and places them in a more comedic, action-driven premise. It's more exciting than its predecessor, with some thrilling car chases and gunfights and a general sense of fun. The violence is much more black and white, since we know this Mennis is a Bad Guy and it is acceptable to kill anyone connected to him. Unfortunately we lose the interest in characters, with Danila's mysterious past explained in the first ten minutes and his double-edged personality much less apparent while Viktor is the really annoying, unlikable comic relief. I liked the addition of Dasha (Dariya Lesnikova), a street-wise Russian prostitute whom Danila befriends, but she doesn't get much screen time. It's a fun movie, but has less substance than Brother and its Russian pride elements are a bit more blatant. It's got a really great soundtrack though, and Sergei Bodrov Jr is just so likable.

3.5/5

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Red Riding: 1983 (2009)


After Red Riding: 1980 upped the ante, I was really looking forward to seeing the final entry to the BBC trilogy, Red Riding: 1983. It pulls together all of the unexplained mysteries and events of the past two films, focusing on a few familiar characters as well as a few new ones. Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), a mild-mannered police officer who's made small appearances in the previous films, becomes the story's new focus. He is a part of the group of corrupt cops who partnered with John Dawson (Sean Bean) in the 70's, but he's become sick of the greed, lies, and superfluous violence that surrounds him. Unfortunately he's too cowardly to really do anything about it except whine and sleep with some psychic lady.

Luckily John Piggot (Mark Addy), a washed up lawyer who's recently lost his mother, is around to pick up some of the righteous investigating slack. He's hired to represent Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), the developmentally disabled man who was imprisoned for the murders of several little girls in the 70's. Suspecting police brutality and coercion, Piggot begins digging around for anyone with more information about the murder victims. Meanwhile, the downtrodden prostitute BJ (Robert Sheehan), who played a small but important role in the earlier films, sets off on a personal revenge mission relating to the hushed-up horrors of the past decade.


Of course, this movie will be of little use to anyone who hasn't seen the first two in the Red Riding series, so I'm trying not to give too much away. Rest assured, it is a fitting end to the trilogy, wrapping up a lot of loose ends left over from the first film. I didn't like it as much as Red Riding: 1980 mainly due to the lack of a really likable, interesting lead character as well as some overdramatic script choices. I understand that Jobson is meant to be a spineless figure who will eventually redeem himself, but honestly he's just so useless for most of the movie that it was frustrating to watch. I kept trying to send out telepathic words of motivation, just so he'd stop whining and do something. Addy is enjoyable as the sloppy but well-meaning Piggot, but it took a while for him to really claim significance in the over-arching story, and he spends a lot of time just hanging out.

Fortunately these characters take a back seat to the juicy plot, as much of the film spends its time flashing back to as-yet-unseen events of the first film and revealing the perpetrators of certain crimes, bringing together the numerous murders into this huge conspiracy organized by these powerful police officers. By uncovering the importance of several seemingly minor characters this late in the story, the third film suddenly presents viewers with a new perspective on all of the affairs of the first two, giving the entire trilogy a remarkable intelligence and complexity. While the script is a bit cheesy at times (especially during BJ's narration), it's really well put together as it dives into the many layers of this mystery. I think as a stand-alone film, Red Riding: 1983 doesn't work as well, but as a cap to the Red Riding series, it suits rather well.

4/5

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pootie Tang (2001)


Well, we were supposed to finally see The Abyss but someone got the DVD's mixed up, so instead I got to see the hilariously weird, oft-forgotten Pootie Tang. The eponymous hero (Lance Crouther) is a famous singer/actor/personality with an apparent inability to wear shirts properly and an inventive lingo all his own. He uses his fighting skills and popularity to take down drug dealers and set a good example for kids in the city. When the evil business magnate Dick Lecter (Robert Vaughn, appearing in basically the exact same role he had in Baseketball) discovers his liquor and fast food chains are losing sales due to Pootie's healthy-living influence, he sets his aggressive girlfriend Ireenie (Jennifer Coolidge) on Pootie's gang (which includes Chris Rock and JB Smoove) so she can divulge how to defeat him. Even if she weakens him, we can rest assured Pootie will find a way to regain his confidence and take back his rightful place as a guy who's famous for no particular reason. He'll probably need the assistance of the lovable Biggie Shorty (Wanda Sykes), who spends most of her time dancing adorably on street corners and wearing a range of outrageous wigs.

Seriously, Wanda Sykes is so awesome in this movie- she's got sass and eclectic fashion sense and is probably the smartest person onscreen. Everybody else was pretty good too, of course. I dug Smoove's enthusiastic narration and Crouther's low-key wackiness. Coolidge is always great, but I felt she was underused here (as usual, I suppose). Chris Rock finds a way to work potential stand up routines into his dialogue, and it's funny, but he overstays his welcome a bit by playing three different characters who like to yell. There are a lot of surprising cameos, including Andy Richter, Todd Barry, David Cross, JD Williams (Bodie on The Wire), and even a young Kristen Bell during the credits. Plus, Bob Costas, who was totally also in Baseketball, shows up as himself to interview Pootie (the whole thing is kind of a movie within a movie).

Obviously, the script is quite silly, especially considering most of Pootie's lines are in a fake nonsensical language. And there are a lot of different elements fighting a bit with one another to fit into this one movie, causing it to feel overloaded and uneven at times. Nevertheless Pootie Tang is really enjoyable for its unapologetic weirdness, self-referential humor, overly-stylized shooting style, and solid cast. It's definitely... unexpected. And very funny (but not in the TBS way).

4/5

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Black Dynamite (2009)


Black Dynamite was one of the missed-movies-of-2009 I was most excited to see, especially riding off of my recent love for Baadasssss!'s ode to making a blaxploitation flick. Besides co-writing the screenplay, Michael Jai White stars as the titular character, a kung-fu master, ladies' man, Vietnam veteran, and ex-CIA agent who commits himself to avenging his brother's recent death by taking down the corrupt politicians and drug dealers in his neighborhood. He enlists the aid of well-dressed local thug Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), old friend Bullhorn (Byron Minns, who also helped pen the script), sexy political activist Gloria (Salli Richardson), and some chatty Black Panthers. The group goes through several levels of bad guys and changes of location to expose The Man's dastardly plot to keep the inner-city community down, and of course many explosions and kung-fu treacheries are involved.


This movie is fairly ridiculous, and completely aware of that fact. There are moments that break the fourth wall plus deliberate production goofs, while the cast over-acts its way into our hearts. It got great visuals, too, with an edgy 70's filmic look and colorful fashions accompanied by a funky musical score and impressive action scenes. A lot of the dialogue is goofy in this unexpectedly clever way, so that it would take me a moment to really realize just how funny a particular line was. Michael Jai White is endearingly earnest in his performance, purposefully taking the character way too seriously while enjoying the hell out of the role.

Maybe I walked into Black Dynamite with my expectations set too high, but though I really enjoyed it, it's not something I'd rave endlessly about. I think it's well-written and well-acted, and presents a fresh perspective on the b-movie homage/parody, but something about its narrative structure threw me off. The story is all over the place, with no real trajectory and frequent changes in villain and setting. While this definitely adds humor to the plot, it also made me less engaged. If I'm not really following any kind of actual story, I often find films a little less intriguing. That being said, it's still an excellent and very funny movie- kind of like a smarter, more visually interesting Undercover Brother, but with less Neil Patrick Harris and hot lady-shower-fights.

4/5

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cry-Baby (1990)


I've seen this movie so many times, and never tire of it. It gets better and better with each viewing, but I'm not sure why. When I saw it was on hulu for free I had to take advantage! (Unfortunately it's no longer available though.) John Waters' Cry-Baby spins a tale rife with the teenage hormones and stringent class divisions that ran rampant in the 1950's. Cry-Baby Walker (Johnny Depp) and his lower-class gang The Drapes spend most of their time wearing leather jackets and playing rock and roll music, while the reserved Allison (Amy Locane) likes to sing appropriately-demure songs and learn good manners.

In a refreshing moment of recklessness, Allison ditches her self-proclaimed Square boyfriend and joins Cry-Baby for a night of singing, dancing, and a lot of making out. They fall in love after a few hours, but when the Squares run through the Drapes' territory a huge fight breaks out and Cry-Baby is imprisoned. After the desperate-for-attention Lenora (Kim Webb) claims she's carrying Cry-Baby's child, Allison is unsure what to believe. She struggles to know where to place her loyalties: with her lame Square friends or the wild but lovable Drapes.

This movie boasts an incredible cast, soundtrack, and wonderfully silly script, making it a very enjoyable send-up of the time period. It is probably my favorite John Waters film, but then again I am by no means a Waters connoisseur, having only seen his milder films like Pecker, Serial Mom, Hairspray, and Cecil B Demented. This one gets me for its excellent music and incredibly over-the-top everything. Depp is perfect in his gruff and eager delivery and Locane has the wide-eyed doe look mastered. I love how every word out of Traci Lords' mouth just oozes with disdain, and Ricki Lake is extremely plucky and likable (as always). Iggy Pop is there, Willem Dafoe is there; hell, Patty Hearst even shows up! It's character-heavy, but everyone is turning in such enjoyable, off-the-wall performances that I never tired of the ever-expanding cast.

The music is solid rock and roll fun, though the songs are all rather short. Locane and Depp do some nice lip-syncing and there's a decent effort at choreography, despite not really needing it. The story is quite silly as everything moves incredibly fast, but that's part of the joke. I do think Cry-Baby could have been longer, but I feel that way about a lot of movies I like. As it stands, this is a lovingly ridiculous satire to a bygone era, with some excellent performances and music I'm constantly humming after a viewing. It's got great detail in the costumes and locations, as well as some clever dialogue. Of course, there's a little bit of grossness in there too, as this is a John Waters movie, but I can take it.

4.5/5

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Monday, March 1, 2010

The Wicker Man (2006)


Well after seeing its best scenes, how could I not want to see the whole movie? I've never seen the original (though I plan to eventually) so all I anticipated from the new version of The Wicker Man was some misplaced lady punching and a lot of BEES. That's basically what I got. After witnessing (and sort of causing) the explosion of a car carrying a mother and young daughter (neither of whom were found after the fires were put out), the traumatized officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) receives a letter from his ex-fiancée Willow (Kate Beahan), who left him seemingly without reason several years ago.

After her daughter went missing, she implores him to go to the isolated Somersisle, a private island housing a honey-making, female-led commune. The island's mistrustful and mysterious leaders (mainly old white women) begrudgingly allow him to stay but its inhabitants offer little assistance in his search for the little girl. The more Edward investigates, the more questions are raised about this cultish community and their closely-guarded secrets, and he is unsure whom to trust, if anyone. His frequent trauma-induced hallucinations aren't helping much, either.


Oh dear, oh dear... this movie. This. Movie. Well, The Wicker Man is just really a mess of a film. The story is convoluted and doesn't actually make much sense, worsened by the lackluster script and unhinged pacing. It's laden with unnecessary ambiguities and weird assumptions about Celtic rituals and sisterhood (it's like if ladies aren't victims they must be twisted murderous overlords, amirite). Also a lot of incest, presumably. While I didn't really care what happened to any of these people, I did constantly find myself pulled back into the story with a lot of "Wait, what?!" moments, because for some reason I refused to just sit back and stop worrying about the plot, which is apparently how the filmmakers must have intended us to view their creation.

The performances are really what makes this movie what it is. I mean my god, did every single actor in this film just forget how it works? I know it isn't exactly an A-list cast but come on, did no one step back during shooting and say "hey, no one here knows how to say these lines in a way that isn't comically effective." I'm pretty sure this was supposed to be a horror thriller. Right? Its entertainment value is much higher as a laughable parody, with Cage screaming inappropriately and staring intensely at everything that comes within view and Beahan never changing her vaguely worried expression.

As pure entertainment, I'd give this 3.5 stars, but as an actual movie, it's not so forgivable. Also, we never learned the answer to the most important question of all: HOW'D IT GET BURNED?! Seriously, how?

2/5

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