Friday, April 30, 2010

IFF BOSTON: Down Terrace (2009)

This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)


Combining elements of crime thrillers, dysfunctional family dramas, and satirical comedies, Down Terrace is a sharp look at the inner workings of a family engaged in criminal dealings, involving multiple Spaced alumni. When father Bill (Robert Hill) and son Karl (Robin Hill) get out of prison for an unspecified crime, Bill investigates the members of his inner circle for a potential informant, moving through various dangerous former allies.

Meanwhile, Karl soon learns his girlfriend Valda (Kerry Peacock) became pregnant shortly before he was arrested, and they plan to get married as soon as possible. His mother (Julia Deakin) and father have manipulated him into living with them and working for them since he was young, and they see Valda as a threat to their considerable influence on his life. The situation becomes more serious as many of their associates meet with violent deaths.


With a script that's as brutal as it is funny, Down Terrace is a darkly enjoyable film with several stand-out performances. There is little focus on the specifics of the family's business or significant crimes, instead shifting attention almost solely to the dynamics of this twisted family. The conversations are confrontational and often insulting, and generally hilarious. The writing is sharp and clever, but I think the story itself doesn't quite ride the line between comedy and crime drama effectively. The film is pegged as primarily a comedy, but there are some truly serious moments to the plot, and they don't always fit in seamlessly amongst the humor, or sometimes the humor will be out of place.

The cast is top-notch, with real-life father and son Robin and Robert Hill sporting a satisfyingly realistic chemistry through a series of telling arguments and calmer interactions. I was surprised by Julia Deakin, whom I knew only from her role as the slacker alcoholic Marsha in Spaced, as she turned in a performance both touching and terrifying as a caring mother with a sinister edge. Most of the action takes place in a small apartment, and Wheatley uses its claustrophobic interiors to full effect with a lot of close, cropped shots and tight blocking that serve to expose the discomfort of the close-knit family.

Down Terrace is at once hilarious, violent, dramatic, and unexpected, with a great cast and sharp writing. I liked it a lot, but I think the mix of comedy and drama isn't always blended well.

4/5

Further Reading:
Down Terrace official site
Down Terrace Facebook page
Down Terrace wins the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Feature

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

IFF BOSTON: Machotaildrop (2009)

This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)


The Brattle Theatre graciously hosted Friday's Midnight Movie, Machotaildrop: the strangest skateboarding comedy you're likely to ever see. Co-writers and co-directors Corey Adams and Alex Craig weave a tale of jealousy, glory, XTREME sports, anachronistic outfits, circus performers, and gang fights into a highly surreal and funny film. Young wannabe skateboarder Walter Rhum (Anthony Amedori) sees his long-time dream realized when he is accepted as a member of the Machotaildrop team, a prestigious and influential sponsor that runs a restrictive boarding house/training camp for its athletes.

The Baron (James Faulkner), its founder, pushes Walter into stardom as the new face of the company, replacing his idol Blair Stanley (Rick McCrank). Blair's wounded ego soon takes a back seat to a high-concept skate park the Baron envisions, involving an abandoned amusement park and staged fights with local skateboarding gang the Manwolfs, who aren't ready to cede their territory to the corporate bigwigs. Meanwhile, the estate's gymnastic librarian (Vanessa Guide) tries to show Walter the dark truth about Machotaildrop.


Machotaildrop is... very strange, but in an awesome way. On imdb it was compared to The Prisoner, and I definitely see the parallels. It's filled with ambiguities and never apologizes for its own weirdness, thrusting the audience into this surreal world and holding nothing back. A lot of the humor is a product of this unquestioned silliness and unexpected shenanigans, as the setting is inundated with wacky costumes and odd props (fake noses, stuffed horses, tons of plasticine heads, etc). There are some really great locations that add an air of grandeur to the proceedings.

Most of the cast is wonderfully dedicated to the off-kilter atmosphere of the film, with James Faulkner, Rick McCrank, John Mackey, and Lukács Bicskey all turning in hilarious and enthusiastic performances. I loved Mackey especially for his unique and pumped-up line delivery as he gives uplifting, often nonsensical speeches to his Manwolf clan. I think the weakest link here is Anthony Amedori, who really isn't strong enough to carry the movie. He's just not very convincing as an actor, and indeed this is his first (and so far only) starring role in a film, and his strength remains as a skateboarder. He seems unsure of how to play the character of Walter and makes him flat and a little boring. The sheer glee with which so many of his supporting cast members perform is noticeably absent, and it does take away from the film as a whole.

It's got some hilarious characters, an enticing story, and enough weirdness to satisfy people like me, but Machotaildrop falls slightly short of its entertainment value due to a less-than-adept lead actor and a few meandering plot points. Regardless of these factors, with the addition of a good crowd and some Mrs Fields cookies, it made for a really fun midnight movie, so kudos to the IFF organizers!

4/5

It's got a pretty good soundtrack, too!
"Willow Tree"- Chad VanGaalen
"Bye Bye Bye"- Plants and Animals (this is the song from the trailer)

Further Reading:
Machotaildrop official site (which is essentially just the trailer but maybe it'll be updated later)
Machotaildrop Facebook page (more informative)

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

IFF BOSTON: I'm Dangerous With Love (2009)

This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)


Knowing very little about I'm Dangerous With Love before entering the screening may have been a bad idea. The film, directed by Michel Negroponte, deals with the effects of ibogaine, an illegal hallucinogenic which helps drug addicts overcome their addictions. As a rather squeamish person, I had some trouble watching parts of the movie, but I'll do my best to separate my personal experience from my opinion of it as a movie.

Negroponte sets his camera on Dmitri, a former addict who now travels around North America performing personal ibogaine treatments for those in need. The drug causes users to become lost in a trance-like stupor, returning a few days later without their addictions. It is a taxing process, but less harrowing than conventional detox, and generally with long-term results. Negroponte follows Dmitri as he administers several ibogaine treatments, discusses his own experiences with drugs, and eventually travels to Gabon to meet with an indigenous tribe whose people use ibogaine in the religious practices of Bwiti.

The premise is certainly an intriguing one: an underground illegal drug dealer committed to helping others overcome serious addictions? Perfect fodder for a seemingly paradoxical character study. And Dmitri does indeed make for an interesting subject, with a charismatic air and admirable dedication to an unpredictable but humanitarian line of work. The ibogaine treatments are dangerous and Negroponte doesn't hold back from showing us how serious the effects can be. For Dmitri they're all risks worth taking.

I came into I'm Dangerous With Love thinking it would be more of a study about ibogaine itself- its effects, its history, its usage today- but really the film is completely about Dmitri's personal experience with the drug and his extreme belief in it as a revelatory savior. I found this approach a little less interesting. While I liked learning about Dmitri's history and outlook, he eventually became repetitive and exaggerated in his remarks, and I wanted to know more about the drug in other contexts.

The major failings of the film lie in its style and editing. Negroponte himself does the voiceover, and I'm sorry to say he really isn't up to it. His voice just doesn't fit the film at all, to the point of being distracting. There's also an over-usage of slow-motion footage, text fading in and out, and ambiguously trippy imagery. Add the fact that about 75% of the shots are in extreme close-up, and you have a film that can be a little difficult to watch at times.

I'm Dangerous With Love has a great subject, but doesn't explore it in the most interesting way, and its stylization is often overdone and unnecessary. It's definitely informative, though, and I'm glad Negroponte chose to focus on something that so few people know about.

2.5/5

Further Reading:
I'm Dangerous With Love official site


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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Seven Movie Questions

Anna at Life of a Cinephile and Bibliophile tagged me with this and, as I do enjoy talking about myself, I thought I'd accept.

1) What was you first movie-going experience?
I don't actually remember. The earliest theater memory I have is my little brother's first movie, which was Toy Story. I remember being worried that he wouldn't be able to sit through the whole thing and we'd have to leave. I'm sure I saw movies in a theater before then though... guess I'd have to ask my nanny or mom.

2) How many DVDs do you own?
Oh jeez, I haven't counted in a while because my collection is split between my apartment at school and my family home. Between 100 and 150? Maybe? I'm terrible at estimating.

3) What is your guilty pleasure movie?
Haha there are tons! My instinctive answer is Constantine since I'll get made fun of for that one a lot (I own it and everything) but I'm not that guilty about it. There are also several silly romantic comedies like 13 Going on 30 and While You Were Sleeping that I totally get too much enjoyment out of.

4) You have compiled a list of your top 100 movies. Which movies didn't make the cut?
Like what are the worst movies? Or what movies I like but didn't quite make it? I'm going to interpret it the first way: Fantastic Planet, Nothing But Ghosts, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Blades of Glory, Peter Pan (1953), Righteous Kill, etc.

5) Which movie(s) do you compulsively watch over and over again?
Shock Treatment, The Terminator, Stardust, Cannibal! The Musical, Singin' in the Rain, Call Me Madam, Clueless

6) Classic(s) you're embarrassed to admit you haven't seen yet?
There are tons I haven't seen, but the only one I'm really "embarrassed" by is 2001: A Space Odyssey, since I am a bit of a sci-fi nerd and this is a real failing on my part. Others include Godfather II, The Seventh Seal, The Seven Samurai, The Departed, Apocalypse Now, All The President's Men, and other dude-centric movies.

7) What movie posters do you have hanging on your wall?
Oh lots! Sukiyaki Western Django, Singin' in the Rain, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Danger Diabolik... plus tons of lobby cards and magazine clippings of actors and directors. At home I've got Pulp Fiction and The Producers (the play version, though).

Anyway there you have it. Carry it on if you feel obliged!



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IFF BOSTON: Winter's Bone (2010)

This review is part of my coverage of Boston's Independent Film Festival, 2010. (official site)


With a crowd so large the organizers had to move us into a larger theater, Winter's Bone was set to be a huge success at IFF. Director Debra Granik adapts Daniel Woodrell's titular novel into a stunning example of gritty neo-realism, with a story that focuses solely on Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence). She is 17 and completely responsible for her two younger siblings, mentally ill mother, and a collection of pets assembled in their small home in chilly rural Missouri.

Her drug-dealing father is missing with a pending court appearance, and if he doesn't turn up in a few days Ree's already-struggling family will lose their house as part of government payment. She takes it upon herself to dig up a range of vicious and unhelpful relatives, desperately hoping one of them has an idea of her father's whereabouts. Her search sparks brutal confrontations and leads to few answers, but she manages to receive some assistance from her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), whose guilty conscience gets the better of him.


With a sharp eye for detail and fearless approach to storytelling, Granik has forged an interesting depiction of the Ozarks as well as an intelligent character study of an admirably determined girl. The visuals are bleak and intensely realistic, bluntly communicating the cold, sparse lifestyle of the area's residents as well as the quiet power of their woodland surroundings. Most of the characters exhibit enough spark and severity to match this environment, with Ree relying on her remarkably tough skin to protect and provide for her still-innocent young siblings.

The story is gripping, gradually and subtly exposing the incredible darkness residing within the Dolly family. Most of the film consists of interactions between Ree and various family members, with explosive dialogue and several acts of shocking violence. Ree is a fascinating character, and I absolutely loved Jennifer Lawrence in the role. Her strength and resolve shine through effortlessly in a very compelling and very real performance- if you're interested in "strong female lead" look no further than Ree Dolly, who is one of the toughest I've ever seen. The whole cast is quite exemplary, especially John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, but Lawrence pulls everything together.

Winter's Bone is honestly just riveting, for its smart script, gritty locations, and exceptional lead female character. It is at times very intense, but not gratuitous. Once in a while the story drags slightly, and sometimes I didn't pick up on the slang terms being used, but really there are very few drawbacks to it as a film. Go see it!

4.5/5

Further Reading:
Winter's Bone Facebook Page
Wuzzon? recounts Debra Granik's and John Hawkes's Q&A (I caught some of it but had to leave for the next movie)

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Ischeznuvshaya Imperiya (Vanished Empire) (2008)


This is yet another film for my Russian Contemporary Culture class, and while not great, it's certainly better than the last few I've had to watch. The dramatically titled Vanished Empire reflects upon life among college students living in Soviet Russia in the mid-70's. The action centers around Sergei (Aleksandr Lyapin), a charismatic ladies' man whose small acts of rebellion usually only serve to impress women. He chases after new classmate Lyuda (Lidiya Milyuzina), a fairly strait-laced girl who eventually gives into his charms, only to find herself disappointed over and over again by his irresponsible antics. When he's not screwing over his new girlfriend, Sergei hangs around with best friends Stepan (Yegor Baranovsky) and Kostya (Ivan Kupreyenko), getting drunk, listening to banned rock records, going to shows, and selling items from his prestigious historian grandfather's book collection to finance it all.

I'm really interested in life in the Soviet Union, but have always known more about it from the East German perspective. One of my favorite German movies, Sonnenallee, is a sort of rock and roll depiction of teenage life in East Berlin, and Vanished Empire is reminiscent of that outlook. The focus here is not the bleak industrial landscapes and suppression of individuality so often associated with the period, but more on how these fun-loving students managed to experience the highlights of the decade despite extraordinary circumstances. It doesn't sugarcoat the era, but rather draws attention to the day-to-day lifestyles of young people who must make do with what they have. Like Little Vera, the film suggests that the young generations of the 70's and 80's are largely responsible for later shifts in the Soviet government's tactics.

While I really enjoyed taking in the detailed imagery and culture of Moscow in 1973, I think the actual story is a bit lacking. There isn't much that actually happens, and the dialogue usually isn't interesting enough to keep it afloat. The love story is unbelievable and therefore ineffective, and the narrative structure is all over the place, with certain interesting plot lines given little screen time and others dragged out for no apparent reason. The characters are fun though, and the performances are quite good, especially considering none of the leads had acted on film before. Lyapin is the standout: even though Sergei is a selfish idiot, the actor imbues him with a hard-to-ignore charm and appealing vulnerability.

Vanished Empire attempts to depict a vaguely nostalgic, highly telling view of life in the Soviet Union, and for the most part it succeeds. It is mainly hindered by a mediocre script and uneven storytelling, but is still enjoyable to watch for anyone interested in the time period. Plus it's got a pretty decent soundtrack.

3.5/5

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New Poll: Movie Theater Record


Well it looks like the latest technology hasn't quite caught up with all this week's poll takers, with 12 people still sticking with DVDs and 2 awesome people still (allegedly) using VHS tapes. There were 6 going for Blu-Ray and no one in the middle of switching formats. Personally I don't have a Blu-Ray player/PS3 and am in no rush to get one, but I definitely see the advantages of seeing movies in HD, especially on larger screens.

In the comments: Miles asserted the supreme benefits of watching everything in HD, for both improved visual and sound quality, even of regular DVD's, and Twisted Flicks agrees as he re-experiences old favorites in a new light. Allison doesn't want to switch over until it's cheaper, and Fletch wonders if the jump to Blu-Ray is worth it considering how quickly new technology becomes outdated these days. Good points all around!

Next poll: I forget who but someone on twitter the other day was discussing his/her record number of theater visits for a single movie, and how a friend had seen some movie like 13 times. I thought, Gee whiz! Is that a common occurrence? My record is 4 times for Grindhouse, which I think is fairly impressive mainly because it's two movies in one so it's much more of a commitment. But that's nothing compared to 13!

So my question for you all: What's the most times you've seen a single movie in a theater? And I'd love to know which one it is so leave the title in the comments!

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Square (2008)


I believe it's the mark of a great filmmaker when he or she can make me care deeply about what befalls a group of characters I don't even like. Such is the case with Nash and Joel Edgerton's Australian thriller The Square, which throws together an assortment of unlikable characters embroiled in a money-making scheme that accidentally turns murderous. Ray (David Roberts) is a quiet construction foreman approaching middle age and enjoying a prolonged affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), his hairdresser neighbor.

She lives with mulleted asshole Billy (Joel Edgerton) and longs for Ray to leave his wife so they can get away from their small town. When she finds Billy's huge stash of money, she and Ray come up with a plan to steal it without him realizing and finally ditch their respective significant others. When their daring but supposedly casualty-free scheme results in a surprise death, they find themselves trapped by fear and desperation as the situation escalates into blackmail, assault, and all-out murder.


Damn. This film is put together so well. The script is taut and interesting, developing the story gradually until the viewer is absolutely sucked into the drama and tension experienced by the characters. Most of the figures in The Square are both victims and perpetrators of violence, and their true natures are revealed during moments of extreme desperation. It's a fascinating story not so much because I cared what happened to them, but because I really wanted to know what would befall them next.

I'll admit one or two things confused me a little bit, mostly the dialogue concerning Ray's construction project and his insider deals. It didn't really matter though, since I could glean the basic information about the situation and I was so involved into the rest of the story. All in all The Square is a dark, engaging thriller that builds expertly from deceptively simple tale of adultery to grisly, bloody drama with a few twists. It's just really quite good.

4/5

PS It was preceded by an exceptional short called "Spider", also from Nash Edgerton, that I really enjoyed. It's even referenced cleverly in The Square, so they make for perfect viewing together. Check it out below.



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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Missing Person (2009)


Hey you guys, The Missing Person is finally available! Yahoo! Hmm? You hadn't heard of this smart contemporary noir either? It was only released on a few screens after playing very well at several festivals? Dang. Well now you've heard of it, and there's no excuse not to see it! Writer/director Noah Buschel's third feature pays tribute to noir classics by simultaneously playing up the old tropes and updating the genre.

When John Rosow (Michael Shannon), a schlubby alcoholic and private detective, suddenly gets a call from an unseen lawyer, he finds himself on a case that takes him from Chicago to Mexico following a mysterious man (Frank Wood) traveling with a young boy. While staking out the unknown man, he's plagued by unhelpful FBI agents, a clingy femme fatale (Margaret Colin), and pushy phone calls from Charley (Amy Ryan), the lawyer's assistant. And of course, nothing is what it seems.


I'm definitely a sucker for noir throwbacks: the jaded detectives muttering drunkenly, the kooky characters who pop up to make a tantalizingly vague comment only to then fade into the background, the final twist that brings it all together- it's just good times, really. And The Missing Person certainly does not disappoint on any front. Michael Shannon is perfect as Rosow, a man in over his head but persisting in sarcastic one-liners and stubborn antics. He's one of those assholes that you can't help but support, plus he's got a haunted past. Enticing. The supporting cast is excellent, especially with the all-too-short appearance from Amy Ryan, but it's really Shannon's show and he does a wonderful job carrying the film.

The script is well-developed and approaches the story with good pacing and refreshing subtlety. A good portion of the plot concerns 9/11, an element that is worked in effectively and without blatant sentimentality. It moves fairly quickly but takes enough time to build up the characters and engulf various scenes in the appropriate tension, humor, or pathos, and it favors emotional honesty over high-stakes action. The whole film is shot really beautifully, with an interesting aesthetic that seems to sap color out of the surroundings, resulting in a dulled-down portrait of the usually-sunny Los Angeles. The flashback and dream sequences are gorgeous, involving color filters and intense lighting contrasts.

Go see The Missing Person. It's really good. The end.

4.5/5

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari) (1920)


Here's a movie I've been meaning to see for years, and its availability on netflix instant only encouraged me to put it off with a "oh, I can see it anytime" mentality. Finally a quiet, humdrum Sunday shift at work provoked the extreme appeal of a short, twisted example of German Expressionist cinema. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is constructed as a frame story told by Francis (Friedrich Feher), a regular guy who's just hanging out in a garden talking to a wide-eyed older man.

He recounts the story of the performer Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his mysterious "somnambulist" Cesare (Conrad Veidt). Their arrival coincides with a string of murders that plague the town, and the victims include Francis's best friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), aka "German Crispin Glover". Francis becomes obsessed with exposing Caligari's secrets, especially after his hella creepy somnambulist tries to abduct his fiancee Jane (Lil Dagover), but isn't ready to face the truth when he exposes the doctor's intentions.


While dubbed a horror film, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari isn't particularly scary; rather it works as a vaguely paranormal mystery with a cool twist but sub-par writing. This is a silent film (the first I've reviewed on this blog actually- took me long enough, I know), which often leads to some over-acting and under-developed characters. Or maybe Debbie Reynolds's impassioned monologue about acting in Singin' in the Rain just pollutes my opinion. The flatness and general lameness of the protagonists made me less interested in the story itself, and the pacing, which dragged out certain parts while unnecessarily speeding up others, also took me out of the narrative. It's a cool story, just not told exceptionally well.

Then again, who the hell cares what's going on with these one-dimensional characters when you have such absolutely intoxicating visuals? I can say without exaggeration that this is one of the most stunning and inventive movies I've ever seen. The black and white medium is cast aside in favor of colorful filters, often highlighting the garish make-up of every character. I loved the mix of blue, red, and yellow hues for different scenes, each color used to affect the overall mood.

The sets are twisted and dreamlike, incorporating off-kilter shapes and forced perspective for highly dramatic shots. They are decorated in great detail with shadows and abstract designs, evoking an imaginative and painterly atmosphere reminiscent of a Surrealist landscape. There is inspired use of light and dark, with a lot of dynamic close-ups to increase tension. This is really just a movie I want to walk around in, it is so eye-catching and innovative. Even the title cards are done in a bright green color scheme with a wacky typeface.

Sometimes the storytelling is a little off, but regardless The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is definitely a unique and memorable experience. Its beauty is both haunting and inviting, and I can clearly see its influence on future directors' aesthetics. I was a little disappointed that the title cards were in English and I couldn't practice my German, but I guess that's normal for a foreign silent film? It's been a while since I've seen Nosferatu or Metropolis and I can't remember if it was done with subtitles or total replacement of the text. It's very short and completely worth seeing at least once, and it's available for free on the internet (don't watch the youtube one- it's completely black and white). Great job, German Expressionists. You guys are the best.

4/5

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Werckmeister Harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies) (2000)


I knew almost nothing about this film going into it, except that it's Hungarian (my first) and appears on numerous icheckmovies lists. That seemed reason enough to check it out. Also, I like the name Werckmeister. Filmed in crisp black and white and filled with lingering pauses and drawn-out shots, Werckmeister Harmonies centers on János (Lars Rudolph), a newspaper deliverer who observes the dissipation of his small town's social and moral structures after the arrival of a mysterious traveling novelty act that includes a giant stuffed whale and the mysterious "Prince".

He lives with his music theorist uncle György, who continues to work tirelessly despite his failing health and is a highly respected figure in the town. György's ex-wife Tünde (Hanna Schygulla) is convinced that the town, which has recently seen a rise in looting and violence coupled with a coal shortage, needs a strong unifying coalition to fix itself, and persuades György to take part. She assigns János to keep an eye on the townspeople perpetually gathered around waiting for the prince to give his presentation, as his reputation for spreading fear and destruction seems to have taken hold.


It's difficult for me to fully explain exactly what happens in this film. It is rife with ambiguity and mystery, and there is little resolution. The story itself is quite sparse, with little dialogue and even less action. Much of the screen time is devoted to extended shots of characters walking, running, or standing around, but everything is filmed in such a beautiful, entrancing way that I couldn't help but be drawn into Tarr's deceptively quiet world. Here is a director (along with his wife/editor/co-director Ágnes Hranitzky) clearly captivated by precisely framed images and dramatic lighting effects, but I think he is sometimes too wrapped up in his own visual fervor and as a result the film's story loses some of its impact.

Werckmeister Harmonies is clearly a rumination on small-town mob mentalities and ignorance, and I understand the gradual progression from unseen ills supposedly plaguing the townspeople to all-out riot scene. I was reminded strongly of Haneke's recent release The White Ribbon, which deals with the same issues (as well incorporating a similar aesthetic), but I found that film much more impactful. Its ambiguity opened up a wealth of meaning and significant questions, while Werckmeister Harmonies left me feeling like I'd missed something. I think I understand what's attempting to be said with the film, but it isn't executed to its fullest extent, and the after-effect is underwhelming. It's hard for me to express myself adequately in regards to this movie, and I'm sorry if I'm not being clear enough in the point I'm trying to make.

I think this film has traces of brilliance: I was legitimately taken aback by its exquisite visuals, there are several lovely lyrical moments in the script, and the final few scenes pack an unexpected visceral punch. It's certainly an intriguing work, one that left me with a lot of questions and need for conversation (sadly none of my friends have seen it). However, I believe I was meant to be affected by it differently, and therefore the film missed its mark slightly due to its slow-burning, often meandering plot. Of course there's a possibility that I'm just not perceptive enough to fully "get it".

4/5


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Little Odessa (1994)

I have a sort of a weird reason for seeing this. I have to write a paper for my Russian Contemporary Culture class that involves some text that meets the following criteria: it's made by a Western country after the fall of the Soviet Union, takes place after the fall of the Soviet Union, and somehow concerns Russia or Russians. This is surprisingly difficult to find. But luckily my uncle remembered Little Odessa, which I think will fit the topic. James Gray's first feature follows Joshua (Tim Roth), a hitman for the Russian mob, who is forced to return to his old neighborhood for a job.

He reconnects with his younger brother Reuben (Edward Furlong), who's been left to suffer their abusive father (Maximilian Schell) and care for their dying mother (Vanessa Redgrave), both of whom are Russian immigrants. Joshua does his best to spend time with his family, but is met with anger and awkwardness due to his violent tendencies and prolonged absence. He also rekindles an old flame (god I hate that phrase) with his old girlfriend Alla (Moira Kelly). Of course his murderous career finds its way into his personal connections, which complicates his attempts to make things right with his old life.

This is a fairly standard "estranged son comes home and causes upheaval" story, but it's done well enough thanks to some great performances and interesting characters. I really like Tim Roth, and he's intriguing here as the conflicted hitman with the thick Brooklyn accent, trying to rationalize his violent job with his duties to his family. I'm also kind of a big fan of Edward Furlong, which feels weird, but he's just so good! He has the advantage of playing the most sympathetic character, and he succeeds at conveying a lot about Reuben's history and general outlook without a lot of blunt dialogue.

The whole script is sort of oblique, with references to certain events or people but little expository conversation. I liked the subtle approach, but sometimes it's so vague it just confuses the situation of the characters. For example, what's the deal with Alla? Who the hell knows. She is a lady who seemed to be mad at Joshua, but then is almost immediately sleeping with him, and doesn't seem to have much of a personality. Her entire character seemed pretty pointless, but we do see her boobs, so it's not a total loss I suppose.

The story's structure is strange and escalates from quiet movie about failed relationships to over-dramatic showdown. The bloodier aspects of Joshua's life are not the focus, and when they do come to the forefront it's partially disconnected from the main storyline. There are a lot of side characters he deals with that are barely introduced and I never really understood any of the mob stuff. For the most part that was fine, since it's supposed to be more about Joshua's personal issues, but his other life suddenly becomes extremely important at the end, and it's not blended well. Also, I guess anyone in Brighton Beach can just shoot people in broad daylight in public areas? Is this a thing? I don't think I've ever been there.

Little Odessa has a decent script and some good characters, but is too uneven and by-the-book to be very memorable. Nothing is a surprise, really. But, I did like the performances very much. Hopefully I can make a paper out of it.

3.5/5

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Zaymemsya Lyubovyu (Let's Make Love) (2002)

My Russian culture professor decided to mix things up a little by showing us the Russian answer to the American teen sex comedy genre: Let's Make Love. Unfortunately. To be honest, I don't really remember anyone's name (and to make matters more confusing the subtitles changed everyone's names anyway) but since I don't even think this movie is available in America, I'm going to assume this won't really bother most of you. Tyulen (aka "Seal") (Kirill Malov) is a whimpering college student desperate to lose his virginity. His easygoing roommate is a bit of a cassanova, but his attempts to help Tyulen out generally just make matters worse. Tyulen becomes involved in various wacky hijinks while trying to seduce random women, while his roommate secretly pines for his ex-girlfriend, who's rushing into marriage with a tycoon. Blegh.

This movie is just really stupid and unfunny, with extremely few redeeming qualities. The central character is whiny and unlikable, and his friends are flat and lifeless. There is no shortage of sex jokes, clumsy slapstick, and weird puns, yet somehow the entire film is completely humorless. Despite its fairly short running time of 86 minutes, I was looking forward to the end after ten minutes had passed. When it's not flat-out boring, it's just pointless and uneven. For the most part it follows the formula of American teen sex comedies, but then it throws in a needless death in its third act that is sad for like five minutes and then mostly forgotten.

Its one saving grace is the small character of Marina (Ulyana Lukina), a medical student Tyulen meets accidentally. They have a short conversation near the beginning of the movie, she disappears, then suddenly she becomes his dream girl in the last scenes of the movie. The actress is adorable and the character is refreshingly not a complete idiot, plus she has the ability to talk about a subject that isn't boys or sex. Good for her. But since she really only has a few minutes of screen time, it's not at all enough to save the film.

Admittedly I'm not usually one for the teen sex comedy genre, but I think I can recognize when a movie is funny. Let's Make Love is not one of those movies. Lame.

1.5/5

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New Poll: DVD vs Blu-Ray


Well we've got a few film festival goers hanging out around this blog, judging from the last poll. There were:

5 for IFF Boston (I suspect mostly these are my friends) and 5 for Other
4 for SXSW (also some of my friends)
3 for Sundance (of whom I'm quite jealous)
2 for TIFF
1 for Tribeca
0 for Cannes, Venice, and Telluride

Sadly 7 have never been to a film festival at all! I hope that is remedied at some point.

Personally I'll be heading to IFF Boston this week, which is exciting! But most exciting is all: I've got a press pass! It's the first time I've had a major perk for this blog and it makes me feel pretty good.

Anyway, new poll: The new exhibit at the gallery where I work involves a lot of Blu-Ray players and super high-tech televisions, and it's actually the first time I've been using them (other people I know who do Blu-Ray have PS3's). This got me to thinking, how many of you guys have made the switch over to Blu-Ray? Personally I still use my VCR sometimes so I continue to be a bit behind the times.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Runaways (2010)


Oh my god this took FOREVER to come to Boston and I know it's old news by now, but I promise some of the things I have to say will be different from other reviews (at least, the ones I've read). The Runaways tracks the development of the titular influential all-girl rock band, spearheaded by young guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and the sleazy but skilled record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) in the mid-70's. They pick up adorable hippie guitarist Sandy West (Stella Maeve), guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), and bassist Robin Robins (Alia Shawkat) (well that's not her real name but the real bassist Jackie Fox declined to give her image rights), all in their late teens.

These three other members are forgotten fairly quickly, and the real story focuses on lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), who joins the band at 15 and is immediately pegged as a jailbait sex symbol and Fowley's ticket to catapulting this novelty band to stardom. She and Joan become fast friends, but the incredible pressures surrounding the constant touring and press speculation lead to more and more drug use as well as struggles among the bandmembers.


So. Here's this movie, that's a rock biopic, that has all the trappings of a typical rock biopic, and is generally hailed for its performances and music but panned for its unoriginality. I understand the criticisms- it is indeed a familiar story and is told in a fairly standard way. However, I think a lot of people are failing to see what makes The Runaways so special: this isn't your typical rock biopic, because those don't typically spotlight successful teenage female musicians. The fact that a 15-year-old girl is going through the usual rock star paces is what sets this film apart from the ones where it's all twentysomething white dudes. I loved seeing a female-dominated film about rock music, because that truly is a pretty rare thing.

Now that that's off my chest, let's get to the film itself. It's gorgeously shot, with a lot of soft lighting, glitter, and saturation. I can see director Floria Sigismondi's music video experiences coming forward, and for the most part it works. There are several scenes that are just the band singing, and while that might not advance the story, I didn't care because I love the music and I loved seeing their live act recreated in such an exciting way. Because, obviously, all of the music is so freaking rad. Besides the girls' kickass tunes, you've got David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and my current new obsession Suzi Quatro, who, as one of the first female rock musicians to play her own instrument, was heavily influential on Joan Jett.

Aside from the captivating glam assaulting our eyes and ears, there are several top-notch performances thrown in. Fanning proves she can definitely handle a more grown-up role, as Cherie moves from wannabe rock star to all-out drug addict. She's a little shaky at some parts, but generally I really liked her. Michael Shannon is creepy as hell and has way too much fun shouting obscenities at teenage girls, but it really works, and he steals several scenes.

It's really Kristen Stewart who surprised me though. I'd heard she was good in several reviews, but refused to believe it until I saw it for myself. And my goodness, she can actually act! She has, like, emotions! And range! And she completely captures the badass toughness of Joan Jett, and reminded me what makes Joan so completely great. I was really impressed. She sort of made the movie for me. And it takes a lot for me to say good things about Kristen Stewart, so that means something.

So what if this movie's narrative is generally your "typical rock biopic"? It's got a great cast, high-glam visuals, amazing costumes, and killer music. Of course, a lot of the story is left out, especially concerning the other bandmembers, but since the script draws from Currie's autobiography that's no surprise. Besides tracking the evolution of an important and interesting rock band, the film is also an exploration of how a young girl was seriously exploited but eventually took control of her own sexuality.

The Runaways is certainly flawed in many ways- the chronology is confusing, it's uneven in its storytelling- but it left me feeling so good at the end. I walked out wanting to instantly start my own all-girl rock band so I could be just like Joan Jett, but then I couldn't think of a punchy stage name. Then again, I also instantly wanted to live in the 70's, which is something I very rarely feel, so this movie plays some tricks on the mind. Anyway: female empowerment, rock music, etc!

4/5

"Cherry Bomb"- The Runaways (original version, not covers in the film)
"I Love Playin' With Fire"- The Runaways (also the original version)
"The Wild One"- Suzi Quatro (so. awesome.)

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

10 Movie Facts


Hey dudes, so Whitney from the rad-tastic blog dear jesus tagged me with this and it seemed fun. Time to list 10 movie-related facts about myself, because it's just what you're all dying to know!

1 There are a lot of "must-see" movies that I haven't seen, which I think I'm supposed to be ashamed of, but honestly the more someone tells me that I HAVE to watch something, the more I'm going to put it off. I have several very specific lists of films I need to see, and I will get to each one in my own time, thank you.

2 Every time I move (which has been several times in the past few years due to college living), my biggest concern is how to deal with my movie collection- will it fit in my dorm/apartment? How can I reorganize it for optimum appeal? Do I really need these 6 VHS tapes and accompanying VCR? (The answer to the last question is always yes.) I also get a huge amount of joy re-alphabetizing it all every time. Ah, simple pleasures.

3 I don't really like The Godfather. Oh dear.

4 I will be more interested in a film that I know nothing about if I find out it was written and/or directed by a lady. I can't help it, it just makes me perk up because it's not as common. Doesn't mean I'll like the film more, or even definitely see it, just that I have more initial interest.

5 I'm kind of a sucker for cheesy Keanu Reeves movies (which basically means all of them). But it's not something I'd apologize for.

6 I really hope to complete this list of the "best" sci-fi movies before the year is out. Only 42 to go! It means I'll have to suck up my squeamishness and finish The Fly though. Yeesh.

7 Oh jeez am I really this boring, sorry.

8 My boyfriend is teaching me about Clint Eastwood, The Wire, and Al Pacino. Finally?

9 I've seen almost every iteration of every Jane Austen movie/TV adaptation, ever (I think). My mom is a bit of an Austen obsessive and she owns basically every related book and DVD, and some of our main mother-daughter bonding times are spent watching an Austen movie and sipping tea. Classy, right?

10 I think I miss Adrienne Shelley and Donald O'Connor a little too much, considering I never knew them or anything.

Anyway, carry on. I think a lot of bloggers I like have already been tagged. I'd love to see Univarn, M Carter, Sasha, and Mad Hatter tackle this but it's up to them. And if YOU are up for it, go right ahead!

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Dnevnoy Dozor (Day Watch) (2006)


As I completely adored Night Watch, the first entry to this Russian urban fantasy series, I was pretty darned pumped for the sequel, symmetrically titled Day Watch. It's a bit more, um... complicated than its predecessor, but doggonit it's still so awesome! However the plot is really hard to describe. Set in the world of Dark versus Light "Others", the film picks up a few months or so after the first, with Anton (Konstantin Khabenskiy) training powerful psychic/magic lady Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina) after she almost accidentally destroyed the world.

His equally-gifted son Yegor Dmitriy Martynov) has totally gone over to the dark side with head Dark guy Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitskiy), who is preparing him for a prophesied battle. When a Dark Other is mysteriously murdered, Anton is blamed and the shaky truce between the two sides is once again on the verge of breaking. Meanwhile, there's a magic piece of chalk that can change reality to whatever is written with it, and several characters- both Dark and Light- are searching for it.


There are a lot of things going on in this movie, from tempestuous new romances to inner struggles with the dark side to archaeological snooping to body swapping to cars that drive up the sides of buildings. Several plot points don't make much sense, or aren't elaborated on enough, and there is quite a bit of ambiguity. These drawbacks really didn't bother me though; I liked being able to draw my own conclusions from some of the vaguer subtleties and I was certainly entertained enough by various goings-on.

Day Watch is a complex, often confusing tale but its strength lies in its awesome characters, special effects, and imagination; Timur Bekmambetov basically knows what I want to see in a movie. There's an entertaining crop of characters that were introduced briefly in Night Watch and are given more exposition and action here, from the badass devil-haired Alisa (Zhanna Friske) to the equally badass, no-nonsense Olga (Galina Tyunina). While it is quite character-heavy, I really like everyone in it so it's not a detriment to the overall film. Plus, the focus does remain on Anton and Svetlana.


The action is absolutely excellent, with a frenetic shooting style and innovative visuals and effects. Its gradual escalation to a truly jaw-dropping climax makes for one exciting cinematic experience, and I'm really glad I could see this on Blu-ray on a huge screen. There's a lot packed into one film, but I think Bekmambetov handles the inundation of characters and concepts well, and I really hope the third one is still happening (it's not listed on imdb so I'm not holding my breath), though the ending of Day Watch does make me wonder how it can proceed. In the meantime, I'll definitely be reading the books after the semester ends!

4.5/5

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bright Star (2009)


I actually had hoped to watch this for the Jane Campion/Kathryn Bigelow Blogathon, but just didn't get to it in time. Oh well. Bright Star tracks the passionate romance between poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his neighbor, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), which was cut short by his early death of tuberculosis (this is not a spoiler; anyone who's taken any basic high school English class would know this, also it's in the imdb description). Keats lives in poverty attempting to make money off of his poems while living with bachelor John Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider), who helps pay his bills.

He is instantly attracted to Fanny, a quick-witted and innovative seamstress from a good family, who soon returns his affections. The two are quickly caught up in an intense romance, made more dramatic by Keats' months-long trip to Scotland, Brown's constant warnings against the relationship, and Keats' inability to support himself- making him ineligible to propose. Most of the story is seen through Fanny's eyes as she maintains their connection through letters and stays by him when he succumbs to illness.


I think I can appropriately say that this is basically a Jane Austen movie with less cleverness and more making out. Just so you're all aware. Bright Star has the verbose dialogue, lofty ruminations on love, and weird medical opinions so central to any romantic tale of the early 1800's. I love these elements, probably because they're so removed from my own experiences, but it can be a little tedious at times. I didn't always believe in this incredibly intense passion between Fanny and Keats, because they are forced to be closed off for much of their conversations. When Fanny was reacting so dramatically to their separation, I thought it was a little too much. However, they do have some really sweet moments together and I could see the attraction. I think my partial disbelief stems from my dislike of Keats as a poet, and the fact that they kept speaking to each other in poems. Sort of cheesy.

Despite this, I did really like the film. The costumes are breathtaking, and the cinematography is lush and colorful. The script is a little overlong (perhaps the poetic readings could have been lost? Eh?), but generally quite well done, with a surprising number of funny bits- often at the expense of Romantic poets. The performances are top-notch, with Whishaw making Keats pretty cute but a little whiny (as expected) and Schneider really impressing me with his thick accent and dynamic portrayal. Seriously, that guy has such a range and he's always popping up unexpectedly, but I can't seem to get his average joe comedic persona out of my head.

Really, Bright Star is all about Fanny Brawne, who is refreshingly outspoken and open-minded, who devotes herself wholly to a man without losing her own sense of self. While she is sometimes overdramatic, that adds more realness to the character as it reminds us of her young age and emotional vulnerability. Abbie Cornish is fiery and automatically likable in the role, and completely grounds the film. She's also got some really great comebacks. I loved watching her and think she did a fantastic job, but because I wasn't completely behind the central romance I found the film slightly lacking, but still quite enjoyable.

4/5

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)


Yeah, yeah, I still saw it despite various less-than-laudatory reviews. I had to know for myself! And whaddya know, Hot Tub Time Machine, while not exactly living up to its invigorating title, is generally pretty funny. The story concerns former best friends Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Lou (Rob Corddry), who have drifted apart as they've reached the humdrum of middle age, and Adam's shut-in slacker nephew Jacob (Clark Duke).

After the alcoholic Lou appears to attempt suicide, they all come together at a dilapidated ski lodge, once a happenin' teen hangout in the 80's, where the older friends had their best times as teens. When they settle into their room's adjacent hot tub, they find themselves magically transported back to 1986, to a pivotal night for each of the four men. With the older dudes back in their 80's bodies, they go about the business of reliving better, sexier times, while Jacob tries to keep them from messing up the space-time continuum and preventing him from being conceived.

Hmm. There are some mixed feelings happening here. I think I'll break it down into a "Things I Liked" and "Things I Didn't Like" assortment.


Things I liked:
The cast is of course, swell, and there are some good performances here. Rob Corddry always devotes himself 100% to any role, which I applaud, and I liked his portrayal of the raucous, rough-edged Lou, even though at times it was a little too much. Craig Robinson is fun, putting in a sort of spacey, easily-rattled persona, and I loved the idea of him being a former rock star. Clark Duke is awesome, and I loved seeing him with a decent-sized role. He has a wonderful low-key, likable humor about him and he's probably my favorite part of the film, along with Lizzy Caplan's ever-adorable appearance. Crispin Glover is hilarious in this movie, and I really dug the running gag about violent arm dismemberment (morbid as that sounds).

Ok so to be honest I laughed quite a bit at this movie. The script has some pretty good one-liners and goofy jokes. There are a lot of digs at the 80's that I enjoyed, and there are one or two cool references to comedies of the period. I liked the stereotypical, anti-Communist frat boy villains and the bad hair and antiquated technology. These things are funny because they're true (but of course in an exaggerated fashion). The premise is ridiculous, obviously, but I do enjoy things about time travel in general, so I was cool with it.

Things I didn't like:
Even though John Cusack isn't as awful as I'd been led to believe, he does indeed appear to just be going through the paces. I love the man and he's definitely done his share of mediocre films, but it's always sad to see him falter when I know he can do well with almost any kind of material. His popularity arose from goofy 80's comedies, so his casting should have been perfect, but he seems to have lost the necessary skills. Then again, he is playing a sort of boring, jaded character so I guess his performance is apt. In other casting news, there's not enough Lizzy Caplan here. She is so great, people, why is she not in everything? Gee whiz.

While I do enjoy the premise, the story is all over the place. There's all this talk about how they lost their friendship and how their lives have become screwed up ever since, but it's not really elaborated and most of the film focuses on their individual problems instead of their issues as a group. Together, these guys are quite fun to watch, but separately I didn't especially care about them. The script would have done much better to keep the story centered on their relationship to one another and how they deal with their situation as a team.

Also, there are too many weird jokes about homosexuality, and the ending is strange. It sort of made me sad because (SPOILER ALERT), it just means that these guys have had 20 years' worth of great experiences that they can't remember.

So Hot Tub Time Machine basically breaks even, because while it is certainly flawed and often uninspired, I can't deny that I laughed out loud multiple times and I really like the cast and wacky premise. While I don't regret seeing it, I'd much rather watch goofy comedies that are actually from the 80's. Oh wait has it been a few days since I've seen Better Off Dead? Well that needs to be rectified!

3/5

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) (1966)


This has been on my to-watch list for years, but it took the possibility of seeing the referential The Good, The Bad, and The Weird at IFF Boston next week to finally push me into seeing it. It is my first spaghetti western, so bear with me as I sort through some of the things that I guess are conventions but still new to me. Set against the backdrop of the Civil War, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly concerns three central characters whose mutual lust for a hidden treasure inextricably links their fates.

A loner known only as Blondie (Clint Eastwood) partners with infamous scoundrel Tuco (Eli Wallach) as con artists, but when a dying soldier tells them the location of a pile of gold, they cautiously search for it together, constantly fearing each other's betrayal. Meanwhile, the assassin Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) leaves a trail of bodies in his wake as he hunts down the soldier, and eventually, sets his sights on Blondie and Tuco.


As you probably are aware, this is one long movie, and sometimes the dubbing is distracting, but for the most part it works. The three central characters are entertaining enough to keep me interested for the nearly 3-hour running time (well, we also paused halfway through for some quesadillas), and there's a good amount of action, adventure, and intrigue to the story. Van Cleef and Eastwood seem to be fighting for ultra-cool dominance, and Eastwood sneaks by with a win mainly for rocking that poncho at the end. Their performances just ooze with smooth one-liners and charisma, truly living up to their now-iconic status. Wallach, on the other hand, is all sneers and suspicion, throwing jokes right and left and just generally living up to his "Ugly" title. His character is despicable, but Wallach is lucky that he's enjoyable to watch as an actor. Not so sure about his (presumably?) Mexican accent though.

Visually, the film is gorgeous, filled with soaring desert landscapes and decidedly dusty sets, with a high-contrast edge and intricate costumes. Leone incorporates a range of shooting techniques for a dynamic look, but sometimes I think he gets too wrapped up in his own stylization (a few too many dramatic close-ups, for example). Though I'd say the opening titles alone are enough of a visual treat to please me for the rest of the movie. Of course the music is great, and while it's a bit repetitive, it's really used perfectly to fit the mood of every scene, and often serves to either create or relieve tension.

I think my main complaint with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly rests with its story. Here's a western taking place during the Civil War, which, while time-wise it's appropriate, is thematically something I usually wouldn't identify with the genre. I'm a little shaky on my Civil War history, and so admittedly I spent some time trying to figure out exactly where this was all taking place, and what the hell Confederate soldiers were doing in the desert (afterward I found out about the New Mexico Campaign). While that was frustrating, I know it's not the movie's fault that I wasn't knowledgeable about its historical context.

However, the Civil War aspect still felt really out of place within the over-arching plot. There are a few run-ins with soldiers, and towards the end Tuco and Blondie are caught up in a massive battle, but every time something war-related popped up, it felt irrelevant to the actual story and just took up more time than it needed. The gold-hunting narrative seemed to be the dominant one, and the war stuff was awkwardly worked in around it. If the two had been integrated more fully, or the Civil War subplot was lost altogether, I think the script would have been much more successful.

Anyway, it's still a really awesome film with excellent performances and cinematography, and I'm looking forward to seeing the other entries to the "Dollars" trilogy (especially since A Fistful of Dollars is a remake of that epitome of cool, Yojimbo).

4/5

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

New Poll: Film Festivals

So my first poll was basically successful (I think?) in that it got some responses. When asked what gender my readers identify as, the answers were almost even, with 9 votes for male, 7 for female, and 0 for transgender/non-specified. It didn't turn into some epic Hepburn/Tracey-esque Battle of the Sexes like I'd secretly hoped, but that's ok. Now I have a new poll!

I'll be attending some screenings at IFF Boston next week, and I'm curious about other film festivals since this is the only one I've ever been to (and never as an all-access pass holder). Some friends of mine recently went to SXSW and it was interesting to hear about their experiences. So, my people, I ask you: Have you ever been to a film festival? If so, what was it like? Or which festivals do you dream of attending? I'd love to hear about it in the comments if you'd like to share! And don't forget to vote, obviously. The choices are limited to the ones that I hear the most about, but of course I know there are thousands of film festivals around the world so don't be shy to talk about any others you know of!

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Desert Island DVDs


The concept was launched by Fandango Groovers Movie Blog: Just choose the 8 DVD's you'd want with you if you were stranded on a desert island. Andy got together a wealth of awesome bloggers to contribute and compiled their lists together. It all seemed simple enough...

So, this was a lot harder than I thought.

I tried to encapsulate the many genres I enjoy so that I'd have a movie for different moods, which is what made the 8-DVD limit quite challenging. At first I toyed with the notion of only choosing crappy B-movies that I can endlessly make fun of (it is maybe my dream to be on MST3K) but ultimately decided against it, since I'm not funny enough. I avoided movies that I love but make me sad (like Harold and Maude or The Royal Tenenbaums) because I would probably be sad enough stranded alone on an island.

A few of these I consider among my all-time favorite films, while others are movies I've found myself watching over and over without really understanding why. Three are musicals, I guess because they're always fun to watch and offer a little something extra in the way of entertainment, and I'll tire of them less quickly. So here they are, my 8 desert island films, in alphabetical order, and with a few honorable mentions (couldn't resist). Each title links to my full review.

Amélie (2001)
Here's the only foreign film on the list, surprisingly, but I guess it is my favorite. As one of the sweetest films I've ever seen, Amélie will likely provide much-needed levity and optimism to my situation. I'll continue to drink in Jeunet's over-saturated, anachronistic world with gusto, and I expect its appealing visuals and quirky humor will always inspire me. Also I can use it to teach myself French, and therefore finally feel like a real art historian.

Brazil (1985)
Well Gilliam had to be on here somewhere, and this is easily my favorite of his films (and usually cited as my second-favorite movie in general). The overblown dream sequences, the lovable performances from Jonathan Pryce, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond, and Robert De Niro, the script that transitions from biting dystopian satire to adventure epic... I love pretty much everything about Brazil. And I'm a little obsessed with the theme song, so it'd be nice to have that to listen to all the time.

Cannibal! The Musical (1996)
Trey Parker's student film gets better every time I watch it, and I hope it will continue to do so. It's a strange, highly referential comedy with catchy tunes and an adorably young cast, and it's filled with cute in-jokes that make for a loaded viewing experience. Plus, with the equally-hilarious drunken commentary included on the DVD, it's really like two movies in one! Hopefully it won't give me any flesh-eating ideas, though, if I'm stranded with other people...

Clueless (1995)
I felt I needed to include something very girly and woman-driven, because I sometimes tire of the many dude-oriented movies I watch, and this is the perfect choice. Clueless is hilarious and clever, with an easy atmosphere that makes it effortlessly enjoyable to watch. If I'm on that island for decades, it is likely I'll be yearning for that glorious decade of my youth, the 1990's, so that I can revel in the kooky slang, ridiculous outfits, and laughably large cell phones.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
(2005)
Well, it is one of the funniest movies ever, and surely I will need a lot of laughter to take my mind off things. Shane Black's twisty murder mystery is packed tightly with rapid-fire dialogue that makes multiple viewings a necessity to catch all of the great lines you missed while you were laughing. It's got a mumbly Robert Downey, Jr, a dignified Val Kilmer, and a stand-out Michelle Monaghan, which is enough to keep me happy for quite some time.

Planet Terror (2007)
I knew I'd want something actiony and badass, preferably with a cool lady somewhere. It came very close to being Terminator 2, but I think I get caught up more in the world of Rodriguez's Planet Terror. It's got great characters, a gritty, retro aesthetic, oozing "zombies", and a rockin' soundtrack- it's really just a fun time all around. Plus, as I will never tire of reiterating, there's a lady with a machine gun for a leg.

Shock Treatment (1981)
Here's a film I will basically become addicted to at intermittent periods, and I've never been able to pinpoint why. I think its predecessor Rocky Horror is better, yet I'll watch Shock Treatment much more frequently. It's something to do with the crazy good music, dazzlingly saturated visuals, and comically nonsensical script. It might also be the sense of wild abandon and manic glee that penetrates the performances. Plus there's an evil twin- that will never get old!

Singin' in the Rain (1952)
This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. Singin' in the Rain is my absolute favorite film, and I will never tire of watching it. It's funny and light but quite smart, and packed with excellent performances and jaw-dropping musical numbers. I have always found it quite comforting, and I expect it will continue to help me through the rough and lonely times. I think my marooned self would eventually become crazy enough to start writing Cosmo Brown fan fiction as my crush on Donald O'Connor would probably just increase exponentially, but that's ok.

Honorable Mentions
Dark City, because despite Jennifer Connelly, it's just so cool.
MST3K: Space Mutiny, because the many names of David Ryder will never fail to launch me into hysterical laughter. Technically it's a tv episode, I know.
The Philadelphia Story, because Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart are rather yar.
Shimotsuma Monogatari (Kamikaze Girls), in case I want a girly movie with Japanese flair.
Stardust, for some romantic escapism.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, because Sarah Connor is my heroine.
Trust, because Adrienne Shelley will always melt my heart. Although I don't think this one is even on DVD. Will there be a VCR on this island, too?

Anyway, there you have it. We'll see how I feel about it tomorrow. What's your list?

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