Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Quick (Hopefully) Hurricane Break

Last year around this time, I was watching John Ford's underappreciated classic The Hurricane while an actual hurricane raged outside.  Back then we were only getting some residual effects from the storm (her name being Irene), but this year (from a storm named Sandy), it looks like we might just get hit a bit harder.  Hard enough that power might be out for a few days.  With that said, I am signing off for those said few days, probably returning with fresh material this coming weekend, after everything blows over, as they say.  Whether the power stays on or goes out is of course still up in the air (we tend to keep power around our parts while surrounding places lose it, so who knows) but no matter what, I will be incummunicado as far as this site goes.  Hopefully I will still be buzzing around Facebook and such (losing power is one thing, losing the internet is a whole other thing) so it is not like I will be totally gone.  In actuality, this is just an excuse to take a short sabbatical, but don't tell anyone.  Now I will leave you with a pic of the aforementioned Mr. Ford filming a scene with the lovely Miss Dorothy Lamour in that also aforementioned underappreciated classic The Hurricane.  See ya in a few...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Film Review: Craig Zobel's Compliance

A willing suspension of disbelief can only go so far.  The premise of a fast food manager locking up, strip searching and sexually humiliating a nineteen year old employee because a man on the phone, claiming to be a police officer, tells her to do so, goes way beyond such aforementioned suspension of disbelief.  The fact that Compliance is based on true events (and, if one were to read and believe the transcripts, a surprisingly accurate portrayal of said events as well) makes the unbelievability of the film even that more disconcerting.  Now whether any even moderately intelligent person would fall for such a prank (and I cannot reasonably believe any would) is made null and void once we realize that the strip searches and the sexual degradation (and it does go further down an even more unbelievable avenue about midway through the film, but we will leave that suspense the opportunity to unfold naturally) did indeed occur in real life.  

The events though, which took place at a McDonald's restaurant back in 2004 (here set at the fictional ChickWich chain), and which were just the apex of a slew of over seventy such incidences over a ten year period, and which would culminate in another slew of events, this time of the lawsuit variety, are so vastly unbelievable, so incredibly unrealistic, so ridiculously unfathomable, that they only serve to make Craig Zobel's film about the events seem just as unbelievable, just as unrealistic and, at times, just as ridiculous.  Which should be a shame really, because the casually intense manner in which the events unfold, and the way they are quite powerfully portrayed by a mostly unknown cast, are overshadowed by the utter ridiculousness of the events as they unfold and unfold and unfold some more into even more and more unbelievable scenarios.  But then, I find myself still thinking about the film, still talking about the film, still reeling the film around inside my head (both the ridiculous and the more realistic aspects) well after watching it, so perhaps this post-intensity (whether it be anger at the film and/or train wreck fascination at these unbelievable events), in turn overshadows the already overshadowing aspects mentioned above.  In other words, that aforementioned suspension of disbelief may not make you believe this unbelievably true story (some conspiracy theorists claim it was all an act to get a lot of money out of McDonald's, but that seems just as unbelievable) but the eerily calm intensity of the whole thing just might let you get beyond that and see the film for the strange provocative creature that it ends up being.

It is really the cadence of the narrative, shown through a naturalistic, dirty snow-like lens (both figuratively and literally), and the way this steely naturalism (played out in an almost cinéma vérité manner) is presented by Zobel and his cast (long time TV and film character actress Ann Dowd is quite superb in the role of the easily manipulated store manager), that makes an otherwise ridiculous story, work as well as it does here.  Though the events supposedly go down in the film pretty much just as they do on the video surveillance that captured the said events at that McDonald's back in 2004, we are shown a much less frantic, much more compliant rendition in Zobel's divisive and controversial film.  From all I have read, the poor innocent nineteen year old fast food employee whose life is turned upside down by the sick and twisted prank call and the unbelievably stupid reactions of her manager and fellow employees, here portrayed by ex-Gossip Girl regular Dreama Walker, as a naive and quite bewildered, but ultimately compliant victim, pleaded, begged, cried and lashed out at the violations that were befalling her.  Zobel attempts at making the film, and the events within the film, all that more - shall we say creepy - and therefore making a ridiculous situation, perhaps not quite believable (I still cannot quite believe something like this could happen), but at least intense enough to make us rethink what may or may not be believable.  What Zobel gives us is the most believable of unbelievable situations - and it works.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #900 Thru #919

Here is a look at the latest twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These twenty films were seen between Aug. 19th and Sept. 25th.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#900 - The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) - (#651 on TSPDT) No, I did not drag Annie Hall to see this - I watched it all by myself.  I am usually not much of a documentary fan and was kind of bored with Ophüls dragging style of filmmaking, but even so, the subject matter is interesting enough to keep one going even if the director cannot. 

#901 - The Red Circle (1970) - (#845 on TSPDT)  A typical French crime film from the modernist master of such things, Jean-Pierre Melville.  In other words, a cool, suave and quite convoluted film that never ceases to intrigue.  Still though, I do not think I would add said intriguing film to my own top 1000, but I bear no grudge over others having it included.

#902 - The Great Escape (1963) - (#538 on TSPDT) I have been whistling that damn theme music ever since watching this (well over a month ago, since I am quite late in putting this post together) but I suppose there are worse things to whistle.  As for the film itself, it is great fun.  Now granted, these are some of the worse prison escapees I have ever seen - they keep getting caught and sent back - and perhaps the film should be called The Mildly Successful, but Overall Failure of an Escape, and the historical accuracy (who really cares about that anyway) is put to the test since Steve McQueen insisted there be a motorcycle chase included, but still quite fun - especially McQueen and his motorcycle chase.  On a side note, there is a fun story of how McQueen did all his own motorcycle riding (save for one lone jump) and at the same time did the stunt work for the Nazi cyclists chasing him, so with some editing magic, we get to watch McQueen chase himself on several occasions.  As for its inclusion on this list - sure, why the hell not.

#903 - Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - (#258 on TSPDT)  I cannot say I actually liked this film.  I can say I respect it.  I can say it deserves better than to be tossed aside as mere filth like many contemporary critics did.  I can also say that it is art.  Granted, a demented, warped version of art, but art nonetheless.  Which I suppose means one need not enjoy a film to think it a great work of art.  Perhaps I just can never get past the fecal dinnertime scenes to actually enjoy this beast of a movie, but still, who am I to say it is not good, or even great.  Its inclusion on this list can be explained in the same manner.

#904 - Wild River (1960) - (#939 on TSPDT)  Kazan called this his personal favourite, and even though I would not go quite that far it is a rather intense work.  Of course it is an Elia Kazan film starring Monty Clift, so how could it not be intense as all fuck.  This film would probably end up just missing out on my own top 1000, but it would be close.

#905 - Funny Face (1957) - (#605 on TSPDT) I am still not sure why Fred Astaire and crew need to pretty someone like the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn up - or why Fred calls her funny face (not funny at all Fred old boy), even though he obviously has the hots for her (dirty old man, but then that particular part of Hollywood moviemaking is another story for another day) - but one can just call this the godfather of all those eighties and nineties films where the so-called funny-looking girl, usually only thought as such because of wearing her hair in a ponytail or having paint-splattered bib overalls instead of a dress or mini-skirt, and leave it at that.  Most of the musical numbers are fine, but none, save for the beat cafe dance number perhaps, is all that memorable when compared to most of the great movie musical numbers.  Still though, it is fun.  Maybe not 1000 greatest films fun, but fun.

#906 - Le Corbeau (1943) - (#961 on TSPDT)  We can certainly always count on Henri-Georges Clouzot to give us some of the best thrillers this side of Hitchcock - sometimes perhaps just as good, if not better.  This film, The Raven in English, is one of the director's more light-hearted fare, but still manages to incite dread and suspense from beginning to end.  As for its inclusion here, I have no problem with such, and suspect it might even sneak onto my own top 1000 when I make it after completion of my quest.

#907 - Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) - (#572 on TSPDT)  Directed by Georgian-born, Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, and filled with both the beautiful and the ugly side of local Ukranian customs, this film may not be everyone's cup of tea as they say - a lot of it is watching lengthy social and religious rituals, which incidentally is something this critic loves - but the sheer beauty of it all, as well as the juxtaposing of such horrible moments, makes for a fascinating watch.  After Paranajov made this poetic, sometimes absurdist, film - a break from his social realist past - the director denounced everything he made prior to it.  Of course then the Soviets came in and denounced everything else as well.  Bastards.  The film will not make my own 1000 list, but that by no means is meant as an insult.  I am closing in on 7000 films seen these days, and not everything I like can make the final cut.

#908 - The Fountainhead (1949) - (#792 on TSPDT)  If one can get past Ayn Rand's ugly politics (and yes, I know that is a hard thing to do) this King Vidor-directed melodrama is pretty good.  Well, okay, the crazy libertarian-cum-fascist storyline is quite offensive, but the acting by Cooper and Neal (who incidentally were running around with each other at the time of filming) and the direction of Vidor (some say heavy-handed, but I like that about the guy) make up for all the bullshit that Rand spewed forth all of her crazy-eyed life.  I could go on and on and on some more about the self-centered fascism of Rand and her writings (the bastard godmother of the tea party crowd) but we are only here to talk about the film and not the politics surrounding its creation.  With that said, I enjoyed the film, but then I always like Vidor and his supposed heavy-handedness - something that comes in handy (ha!) for a story such as this.  It will not make my list, but I did enjoy it for what it's worth.

#909 - Abraham's Valley (1993) - (#854 on TSPDT)  He puts a grand visual beauty in front of us, but I have never been able to get all that into the work of centenarian Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira.  I have never disliked one of the director's films (granted, I have only seen a handful, or maybe even less than a handful) but I have never truly loved one either.  Still, they do look good, in that Eastern European (I know, Portugal is not in Eastern Europe, but work with me here folks) kinda way, and this one, for better or for worse, is no different.

#910 - The Traveling Players (1975) - (#181 on TSPDT)  He puts a grand visual beauty in front of us, but I have never been able to get all that into the work of Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos.  I have never disliked one of the director's films (granted, I have only seen a handful, or maybe even less than a handful) but I have never truly loved one either.  Still, they do look good, in that Eastern European (I know, Greece is not technically in Eastern Europe, but work with me here folks) kinda way, and this one, for better or for worse, is no different. 

#911 - Ben-Hur (1959) - (#369 on TSPDT)  As is the case with many, or should we say most, Best Picture Oscar winners, this film is mediocre at best.  In fact, other than the famous chariot race, and the scenes involving the leper colony, this epic classic is certainly nothing to write home about - and even those things are pretty unspectacular.  Pure spectacle over substance, and even the spectacle is lackluster.

#912 - Carnival in Flanders (1945) - (#673 on TSPDT)  When giving the reasons behind his and his Nouvelle Vague compatriots' disdain for the so-called classics of his nation's cinematic history, François Truffaut spotlighted this film as the prime example of this troubling mediocrity in filmmaking.  Now granted, I did not think that lowly of the film - it had what one would call moments and is certainly better than a lot of films of such mediocre bent - but I can see where Truffaut was coming from.  We should give this film the proper credit it deserves though, for helping to create the radical revolution in cinema that came about thanks to Truffaut, Godard and ses ami's.

#913 - Seventh Heaven (1927) - (#970 on TSPDT)  The moment I finished watching this film, I went to my laptop and added this film to my 100 Favourite Films list.  Gorgeous and tragic.  Beautiful and haunting.  Tender and cruel.  Mesmerizing and stunning indeed.  Easily one of the finest examples of silent cinema to ever exist.  I was already a fan of the adorably urchin-esque Janet Gaynor, and her contemporary classic Sunrise (Miss Gaynor was awarded the very first Best Actress prize at the Academy Awards for a combination of this film, Street Angel, also a Frank Borzage film, and the aforementioned Murnau film, Sunrise), so this just adds to my adoration.  Some would say this is an even better film than Sunrise (I would not, but it is not too far behind) and this film really began getting followers when it was released on the Murnau, Borzage & Fox boxset.  My next step is to watch more Borzage films.  He is a director that I have not explored very much of, and judging from this film (and 1948's Moonrise, as well as the 1929 unfinished film The River, the only other ones of the director's oeuvre that I have seen) he is definitely one I should begin exploring - immediately. 

#914 - War and Peace (1965-67) - (#568 on TSPDT)  Ugh.  I have never been much of a fan of Tolstoy's novel to begin with.  Give me Anna Karenina or anything by Dostoyevsky instead.  But alas, this nearly seven hour Soviet produced version (originally released in four parts between 1965 and 67) is on the list, so watch it I must.  Actually the film isn't all that bad (certainly better than the book) and has a unique feel to it.  It is rather difficult to lay out in writing, but the film had a very, for lack of a better term (I'm tired dammit), magical feel to its cinematography.  Something akin to a Lynchian feel if you will.   It is not going on my list, but hey, why not here?

#915 - I Know Where I'm Going (1945) - (#413 on TSPDT)  Anyone who knows me, surely knows my great love for anything Powell/Pressburger, and this film makes no change whatsoever to that great love.  Lovely and mysterious, this is one of the last P&P films I had yet to see (and the final one from the list) as well as the third in a series of six masterpieces in six years from the men known as The Archers.  If one were so inclined, one could read about such a streak of masterpieces (a term I do not use willy-nilly) at my piece entitled The Archers and Their Masterpiece, I Mean Cinema.  And of course, this film will surely make my own top 1000 when the time for such things finally comes.

#916 - Il Posto (1961) - (#952 on TSPDT)  Take Italian Neorealism and toss in a bit of Kafkaesque storytelling (just a bit) and you have this quietly enthralling work from Ermanno Olmi, the man who would later give us The Tree of Wooden Clogs - a film that is higher on the list than this one, but I still enjoy this one better.  Then again, I have always been a sucker for neorealism.  Will it make my list though?  Perhaps it will, perhaps it will not.  It is going to be a close call on this one.

#917 - The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - (#370 on TSPDT)  I once attempted to watch this film - probably about ten years ago - but ended up falling asleep about forty-five minutes in.  This is not meant as a criticism of the film, because I think I was probably just tired at the time and it was on TCM late night or something like that.  I only got back to the film a few weeks back and, staying awake from beginning to end, my new verdict of the film makes me wonder just how tired I was lo those ten years ago.  Intriguing and quite intense throughout.  Well deserving of inclusion on the list, and it just may make my list as well.

#918 - The Tin Drum (1979) - (#551 on TSPDT)  If I were honest (and why the hell wouldn't I be) I would start out by saying I was not expecting much out of this film.  Mainly this was due to the rather poor record of Oscar winning Foreign Language Films being something better than mediocre.  C'mon, ya know I'm right.  Take a look at the track record.  Anyway, as I said, I was not expecting much here.  Surprisingly I was thrown for quite a loop when I realized how much I enjoyed the damn thing.  It may not make my eventual list (though it might sneak on) but it certainly is a fun, if not a bit on the demented "why are you laughing at this" side, motion picture experience.

#919 - Hotel Terminus (1988) - (#701 on TSPDT) Gotta admit, this film kinda bored me.  Kinda bored me to tears.  I am not really sure why, because the subject matter, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, should be an interesting story, but alas, Marcel Ophüls' long, drawn-out doc was just not all that spectacular.  I am sure it is on the list more because it is something so-called important than for any other reasons.  Needless to say, I am not going to be including this one on my list.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Battle Royale #7: Battle of the New Wave

Welcome to the seventh Battle Royale here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.   It is an ongoing series that will pit two classic cinematic greats against each other - and you can vote for who is the greater by clicking your choice over in the poll at the top of the sidebar.

With our seventh edition of Battle Royale, I have decided to bring this usually classic Hollywood based contest into the modern day.  Well, by modern day, I am talking the 1960's - at least mainly.  This time around you are being asked to decide between those two rabble-rousing, young buck, revolutionary critics-turned-filmmakers (though I should probably say critics-turned-auteurs) who began it all with the Nouvelle Vague, or the French New Wave if you will, way back in 1959.  Now yes, there were a whole gang of cinematic thugs (and I use that term quite lovingly indeed) that helped create what would become known as the aforementioned Nouvelle Vague - Claude Chabrol arguably was the first to release a New Wave film, and Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais, Jacques Demy and others were among the creative forces in the movement, but let's face it, it's all about Godard and Truffaut, and we know it.

François Truffaut, the man who, while writing for Cahiers du Cinema, gave us the auteur theory (later expanded and espoused by NY film critic Andrew Sarris) was the heart of the movement while fellow compatriot Jean Luc Godard was its brains - or perhaps the guts.  Your mission, if you accept it, is to pick the one you think is the greater filmmaker - the greater auteur.  Is it the romantic who gave us the acerbic sentimentalism of The 400 Blows or is it the man who broke it all open with Breathless a year later?  The man who brought us Jules et Jim and the Antoine Doinel series or the one who gave us Contempt, Band of Outsiders and Week-end?  The man who said "Film lovers are sick people" or the man who said "Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world" (sounds familiar, eh)?  It is a battle between all the Truffaut lovers and all the Godard heads out there.  The decision is yours o faithful readers and true believers.  All you need do is go on over to the poll (found conveniently near the top of the sidebar) and vote your collective little hearts out.

And please remember that one must go over to the poll to have one's vote counted.  You can babble away in the comments section all you want (and that is certainly something I encourage, as we never get enough feedback around these parts) but to have your vote count, you must click on your choice in the poll.  And also, please go and tell all your friends to vote as well.  Our biggest voter turnout since starting the Battle Royale series has been just 66 votes.  I know we can get that number to a cool one hundred before it is all said and done and the proverbial smoke does its proverbial clearing.  The voting period will last two weeks, so get out there and vote people, because all you sick film lovers out there who love the beautiful fraud that is cinema, will definitely need to be in on this one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Film Review: Martin McDonaugh's Seven Psychopaths

How can a film titled Seven Psychopaths, directed by Martin McDonagh, the man who brought us the tragic hilarity of In Bruges, and stars such pseudo-psychopaths as Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits and the king of 'em all, Mr. Christopher Walken, not be downright killer?  Well, guess what?  It is killer - at least in part.  Granted, sometimes this genre-spanking meta-film tends to fall a bit flat with where it is trying to go, but when it hits, it hits with a satiric, impish glee - and at the center of that glee is the wink-winking, nod-nodding, out of left field antics of a film that knows not to take itself too seriously, but also a film that can, on occasion, dig into its own wounds to create a tragic pathos that counteracts the aforementioned wink/nod attitude of the rest of the film.  In other words, McDonagh's has its cake, eats its cake and then surprises us with a brand new cake.

Ostensibly, the film is about Marty, a hard-drinking Hollywood screenwriter, played rather ironically by ex-bad boy Farrell, and his oft-thwarted attempt at writing a screenplay, appropriately titled Seven Psychopaths.  Coming in to cause problems - sometimes purposefully, sometimes just serendipitously - are Marty's best friend Billy, played with the funnest of aplomb by Rockwell (a guy who incidentally manages to upstage everyone, even Walken), the recently aforementioned Mr. Walken as Hans, Billy's dog-kidnapping partner-in-crime, and Harrelson as the mob boss who has his beloved shih tzu, rather unfortunately kidnapped by our intrepid dog ring.  Blending reality with fantasy, we are often questioning what is real or what is something Marty is creating for his script.  A few times these two twains actually meet and the story-within-the-story suddenly becomes the reality of the film.  Granted, this attempt at meta-fiction never reaches the level of something like Adaptation or Mulholland Dr., but for what it's worth, it keeps the fun going throughout.

And to lay one more criticism on the table, Seven Psychopaths, always at the gentle edge of boiling over, never quite reaches the explosive heights of something from the oeuvres of Tarantino and/or one of his Asian counterparts like Miike and Kitano, and though this may be on purpose considering the rather zen-like outlook McDonagh's onscreen doppelganger Farrell takes toward his escalating situations, I believe the film needs, not more violence mind you, but more threat thereof.  Of course these are just minor criticisms, as the film hits a lot more often than it misses - the self-referential plot-twists and self-aware cocksuredness go a long way in making this happen - and when we finally come to the inevitable climactic conclusion (wild-eyed Billy even predicts such a venue earlier on) we should be left, though aching for certain character's fates, with a sense of gleeful satisfaction.  At least I know I was.  Of course a rabbit snuggling Tom Waits, though his role is small, can never hurt.

Film Review: John Frankenheimer's Killer Joe

Killer Joe, the latest film from Oscar winning director William Friedkin, is a sadistic, bloody and depraved film - and it may just be the best damn genre movie of the last few years, as well as a film that will most assuredly be included in the eventual best of the year list I will be compiling when such times come around. I suppose what I am trying to say here is that Killer Joe is a killer movie - and one sure to shock and/or piss off a whole lot of unsuspecting Matthew McConaughey rom-com fans, who go into this looking for another Failure to Launch or How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days, or even those hoping for another A Time to Kill or even another Sahara.  Of course one look at the trailer and one should certainly know better.  In fact one look at the trailer and one will surely see a reborn McConaughey.  An actor who has put most of his past mistakes away, and has gone back to the promise we all saw in things like Lone Star and The Newton Boys and Dazed and Confused.  Once one goes beyond the trailer and sees the film itself, one will have no doubt that Matthew McConaughey is indeed, for lack of a better term, back.

This comeback of sorts began last year with the sadly overlooked The Lincoln Lawyer, and continued this year with scene-stealing supporting roles in both Richard Linklater's Bernie and Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike - the latter of which seeming to have a bit of early Oscar buzz fluttering about.  With juicy looking roles in upcoming films such as Lee Daniels The Paperboy and Jeff Nichols' Mud, this resurgence of quality material does not appear to be coming to an end anytime soon.  But it is here, as the titular rogue cop-cum-hired killer, that McConaughey gets his juiciest, his meatiest, his what-the-fuckiest role - and it is here, in a movie taglined as "A totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story," that McConaughey runs away with one of the most batshitcraziest performances in one of the most batshitcraziest films of the year.  Though I do not see what all the fuss is about - neither my mind nor my stomach are turned by such brutality on film - I do see why this film received the dreaded NC-17 rating - especially for those last twenty minutes or so - and much of this has to do with coolly maniacal performance and sudden explosive outbursts of one Mr. Matthew McConaughey.

But, yes Virginia, there is more to this movie than just the aforementioned batshitcraziness of good ole boy McConaughey.  The story, in all its fucked-up glory, adapted incidentally from the hit stage play by Terry Letts, is about a father and son who hire our intrepid anti-hero to whack their mother/ex-wife for the insurance money that will befall little sis.  The only problem our wouldbe killer hirers have is coming up with the money.  Simple solution Joe thinks - just give him baby sis as collateral.  And to add to the fucked-upness of the film, they do just that.  Both Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church are fun as hell as the rather inept father and son duo, and Juno Temple is quite riveting as the virginal seventeenish piece of collateral-cum-ass, but when it comes to that final twenty minutes everyone is up in arms about, it is Gina Gerson, as the step-mom from hell, who gets the brunt of what can only be described as the best and the worst damn fried chicken scene ever put onto film.  'nuff said.  Just see the film and you will know of what I speak - and will you ever.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Film Review: Rian Johnson's Looper

Once one gets past the gaping holes in logic - which fairly speaking, tends to be part and parcel for any time travel movie - and the somewhat unnerving make-up and prosthetics used to make the younger Joseph Gordon-Levitt more resemble his older counterpart Bruce Willis, one can enjoy a film that, according to director Rian Johnson, is less about time travel and more about personal interrelation.  Of course one must also get past a rather lackluster script as well.  So once one gets past the gaping holes in logic, the unnerving Willis-esque chin, mouth and nose prosthetics and the rather lackluster script, then one can surely enjoy Rian Johnson's Looper.  But I suppose one must also get past, save for one possible balls-out telekinetic exception, the quite uninspired action sequences as well.  But before this opening paragraph falls too deeply into a Monty Python skit, let's just say one needs to get past quite a lot to enjoy this film, and leave it at that.

Now really, Looper, the director's third film, after his knock-out debut Brick and his somewhat lesser follow-up The Brothers Bloom, isn't as bad as all that.  This sci-fi tale, set mainly in the year 2044, is about a group of assassins called Loopers, who kill people sent back from thirty years in the future by the mob of the future.  Apparently this is due to the unexplained inability to dispose of bodies in the future, but I suppose this is a pretty good way of doing things.  Of course at one point Gordon-Levitt's young buck looper is confronted by his old head self from the future, and Willis must avenge or save or whatever at any and all costs.  The film isn't really all that convoluted - at least as time travel films tend to go - and I believe that is what causes it to drag the way it does.  More intricate installments in the genre, such as Gilliam's 12 Monkeys and Shane Carruth's terrific Primer, or even a more elusive work like this year's Safety Not Guaranteed, tend to have more going for them as the twists and turns get deeper and sometimes actually more surprising.  Here though, we are left wanting.  Wanting for a much better movie.  Wanting for the movie we were all hoping for.  As I said, Looper isn't a bad film per se - definitely not as bad as my opening remarks would have you believe - but it is far from the gem one would have hoped for.

Mainly, one supposes, the saving grace of the film, once one gets past the aforementioned problems of uninspired action sequences, lackluster screenwriting, unnerving prosthetics and gaping holes in logic, is the acting.  Both leads, Gordon-Levitt as Young Joe and Willis as Old Joe, do a fine job counteracting each other.  An especially fun scene is a diner scene between the two that is a bit reminiscent of what Mann did with De Niro and Pacino in Heat.  As for the rest of the cast, Jeff Daniels as a mob boss sent back from the future, Paul Dano as a whiny cocksucker of a looper, Emily Blunt as a shotgun wielding farm girl protecting her wouldbe despot-of-the-future little boy, and Noah Sagen as Kid Blue, the most inept gun man of Daniels' killer crew, we get some pretty fun stuff indeed.  Too bad it is in such an otherwise mediocre film.  One was probably hoping for something smarter and perhaps more akin to 2005's Brick, that other Johnson/Gordon-Levitt collaboration which played out like a slickly wry teenage neo-noir, than what ends up being, even with Primer's writer/director Carruth being involved with the time travel sequences, merely just another time travel movie.  And who needs just that?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Battle Royale #6: Battle of the Bitter Sisters (The Results)

Another Battle Royale and another tight race from beginning to end.  This time we pitted a pair of long-estranged Hollywood sisters against each other in an all-out death cage match.  Okay, at 96 and 94 respectively, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine may be a bit past the cage match age (because, as I am sure you are well aware of, these two were once very adroit cage match fighters), but here they are anyway.  In fact this is the first of our Battle Royales where we have living opponents.  But I digress.  The question here is not who is battling, but who came out the victor once all the proverbial smoke did all its equally proverbial clearing.  Was it Olivia, the woman who shared the screen multiple times with Errol Flynn and who put Clark Gable in his place, or was it Joan, the woman who would woo Charles Boyer and Orson Welles with her feminine wiles, and who gave Hitchcock his first great leading lady?  Well, oh curious readers, with 28 votes cast, our winner, by a score of 15 to 13, or 51% to 49% for the statistical-minded among you, is baby sis Joan Fontaine.  Even though she won my vote as well (but only by a narrow margin), it did kind of surprise me to see Fontaine take down her sister.  De Havilland may have won two Oscars to Fontaine's one, but here, in what is obviously the ultimate battle, the poor little girl who was forced to change her last name (by their mother's request/demand), brings it all home.  There it is folks.  So be it.

And speaking of voting, I would like to thank everyone who came out to vote in our latest Battle Royale (voting is good, you should try it in other walks of life too - like maybe this November my American friends) but the numbers could definitely be better kids.   Lets look at the numbers.   Our first five Battle Royale's had voter turnouts of 50, 66, 40, 41 & 38 respectively, most of them tight races throughout (four won by just two votes, one a tie, and one with a final spread of five votes), so it does not take a genius to figure out that this most recent battle was the low turnout on the ole totem pole - though still a tight race (again by just two).  I guess what I am trying to say here is that we need to get the word out and up these numbers.  Let's not even bother with the baby steps here, let's make a goal of 100+ votes cast with the next Battle Royale.  And speaking of that next Battle Royale, the combatants will be announced sometime this week-end - and this one is going to be slightly updated from the classic era where the past battles came from.  A newer wave of opponents if you will.  Congrats again to the lovely Miss Fontaine, and see ya in a few.  I have included a couple of my fave pics of our Battle Royale champ.  They are not the typical Hollywoody glamour shots, but I just love her look in these.  I know, I am weird - get over it. See you in a few days with Battle Royale #7.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Ten Favourite Things About Breathless (No, Not That One, the Other One, the Kinda Sleazy One from the 1980's)

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, or À Bout de Souffle if you will (damn dirty translators), is one of the finest achievements of cinema in the whole damn history of cinema - and yes, the film, and its director, along with his Nouvelle Vague compatriots and their earliest films, pretty much changed the way cinema is made and seen lo these past fifty years or so.  Real important stuff indeed.  I personally rank the groundbreaking 1960 film in my twenty favourite films of all time, and place it as one of the greatest French films second only to Renoir's Rules of the Game.  So yes, Godard's Breathless is both an important film and great film, and a personal favourite of mine.  But alas, this particular subject has been kind of talked to death by now (including from yours truly) so why add to the muddle.  No siree!  Not gonna do it.

We are here today to talk about that other Breathless.  You know, the oft-maligned (and sometimes quite viciously) American remake version of 1983.  Yeah, that one.  Well guess what?  I like the damn thing.  I went many years refusing to see the movie - mainly due to my love of Godard's original masterpiece - but then, after hearing so much praise from one of my favourite current filmmakers (see number one below), I finally gave in and watched the thing up on the big screen at my cinema.  Now I am not about to say it is anywhere near as good as Godard's film, nor would I ever place it in my own top 100, let alone top twenty (though if I were to stretch my favourites list to 200, who knows what strange and unusual things might occur) but damn if it isn't entertaining as hell.  With that exclamation made, let us move on to exactly why I find it so damn entertaining - in seven and a half reasons or less.

1) Quentin Tarantino and His (Questionable) Taste in Film - Usually included in the same breath (yeah, that was a purposeful pun) as films like Taxi Driver, Rio Bravo and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, QT has been pretty consistent in his adoration for Jim McBride's quite unnecessary but quite fun remake.  A die-hard cinephile, who puts every once of his vast film knowledge into every moment of cinematic homage he puts on screen, how could I say no to his (imagined?) pleading for me to watch the damn film already.  Now granted, Tarantino does have a penchant for such low brow fare as women in prison movies and 1970's kung-fu films, so perhaps one should take a recommendation from the auteur with a proverbial grain of salt.  Then again, the other three aforementioned favourite films are all favourites of mine, so what the hell, I said to myself, I am going to watch this damn thing.  And watch it I did - projected up on the big screen at my cinema.  The rest, as they say (whomever they may be) is history.

2) Richard Gere's Final Shot - Now normally, considering it is the, shot of the film, I would place this as the last "thing" to like about a film, but since this one is so ridiculously great - ie, silly as all fuck - it needed to be talked about before we get to the end ourselves.  Breaking the fourth wall in a way (just like little Jean Seberg does at the end of the 1960 original, though to a less devastatingly tragic, more unbelievably comi-tragic way here) Gere looks right into the camera like some deranged, hipster clad Mr. Roper (those in the know get that reference) and yells Breathless.  Gotta admit, pretty fun stuff indeed.  Fun stuff that only a guy like Gere, at a time like 1983 (having just given such over-the-top performances as he had in American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentlemen the prior couple of years) could have pulled off as well as he did.  He did pull it off, right?  Anyway, I digress.

3) How the Film Resembles an Homage Made by a Shiny Guy Named Vince Who Hangs Out at Strip Clubs at Two O'clock on a Tuesday Afternoon - Now I am not saying director Jim McBride is actually a shiny guy named Vince who hangs out at strip clubs at two in the afternoon (though he may be, who knows), but let's face it, this film does look like it was made by such a guy.  That creepy guy drinking scotch and sodas, pinky ring extended so all can see, while getting a lap dance from somewhat bruised, drugged-out woman who goes by the name of Brandi but whose real name is Tina, and who says she is just doing "this" so she can feed her two year old son Tyler, who stays with his chain-smoking grandma while Tina/Brandi is, I mean stripping, but who in reality is actually doing "this" so she can feed her meth habit and pay for all the beers consumed by her boyfriend Gill, who beats her on a regular basis, but whom she cannot leave because she "loves" him....okay, perhaps this is dragging on too long, and maybe this really has nothing whatsoever to do with the film, and in essence is merely just a space filler because I could not come up with enough things I liked about Breathless to make up a respectably long enough post.  But yeah, this is the kind of guy one would expect to have made this ridiculous but quite entertaining little film.

4) How Film Snobs Look Down Upon the Whole Thing - You know what grinds my gears?  All those so-called film snobs, those who look down on any film that is not a pseudo-serious art film by Antonioni or Bergman (two directors I personally love, so this is not meant as a dig on them so much as on the aforementioned film snobs).  All those snooty bastards genuflect to anything and everything from someone like Tarkovsky or Fellini (again, two filmmakers I like) but toss aside most of the oeuvre of a Nick Ray or Sam Fuller (two more filmmakers I quite like) because they may not take themselves seriously enough.  All those narrow-minded cinephiles who cannot get past Citizen Kane being the greatest film of all-time (and once again, this is a film that I truly love and adore, but a film that I can see past to see other, somewhat non-canonical works to fill a best of list with).  Yeah, I hate 'em.  Now me on the other hand, I tend to lean toward the so-called film geek side of things.  That group that includes people like Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich and Quentin "There is That Name Again" Tarantino.  Ones that can appreciate the finer things in cinema (the Bergman's, the Fellini's, the Antonioni's) while also taking great pleasure in the, for lack of a better term, seedier side of cinema (that would be your Polanski's, your Powell, Pressburger's, your, and here is the zinger, your Jean-Luc Godard's).  These aforementioned film snobs are the ones who will not even mention this film when talking about cinema other than to degrade it for their own wicked, self-serving purposes.  This was me for a while, but then, thanks to that Tarantino fella, I have now seen the goddamn light.  Hallelujah!

5) Sometimes It is All About the Music Baby - Now one would think, with me being born in 1967 and ostensibly growing up in what was the mid seventies and into the early eighties, my musical tastes would run somewhere in either the glam rock, disco, punk or new wave realms - and yes, to varying degrees, I do like most of those genres and their ilk - but thanks to my Elvis fanatic mom, my tastes go back a bit further than that.  My early introduction to the likes of Del Shannon and Frankie Lyman and Sam Cooke, and such long lost groups as the Diamonds and The Fleetwoods and The Crests, as well as Presley and Jerry-Lee and Bill Haley and the Comets, kinda makes me quite predisposed to the soundtrack that McBride puts together for this film.  Now granted, there is more modern music in here - Brian Eno, Phillip Glass, X, even a Dexy's Midnight Runners song can be heard at one point - but Gere's bad boy Jesse and his obvious love for the music of Jerry Lee Lewis (not to mention his wardrobe, which we will get to in a bit) send the feel of this film right back to those days that are so often called the days of old time rock and roll.

6) Gere Perfectly Cast as a Last Days of Disco era Belmondo - Perhaps Gere's coolness as an actor is not the same kind of coolness shown by Belmondo in his younger days (think Richard Widmark cool versus Humphrey Bogart cool) but there is no denying, as I more than alluded to way back at number two, that Gere in this time and this place - the Looking For Mr. Goodbar/American Gigolo Gere, not the Pretty Woman era Gere, though when you really look at it, he was pretty sleazy there as well - is perfectly cast to play cad cop killer Jesse Lujack.  And those eyes are so dreamy too.

7) Valérie Kaprisky, From Porn to Breathless, and then Into Obscurity - Let's face it, French actress Valérie Kaprisky, having starred in a few soft-core films in the early eighties (think French Skinemax), was not hired here for her great thespianic endowments.  Even Gere said he told McBride to cast her because she looked like someone who could make love to - a thing that was reputedly going on during the time of filming, and a thing the actress said was the most thrilling thing about filming her scenes ("It was half real" she said) though Kaprsiky has since denied such stories.  No siree, even though she would garbner a César nomination the year after Breathless (for La femme publique), Ms. Kaprisky was definitely hired for a different set of endowments than acting.

8) To Paraphrase a Famous Saying by Alfred Hitchcock and Twist it Around so it Sounds Like it Was Coming from Edith Head, Wardrobe Wardrobe Wardrobe - I told you I would get around to talking about the clothes in this film.  Gere's bad boy, like Belmondo's own bad boy, is dressed like someone on the edge of society.  In Belmondo's case it is a lot less noticeable due to men still having a rather sophisticated style in 1960, but in 1983 L.A., after the advent of the hippies and hipsters and punk and glam rockers, Gere's wardrobe shows how his character is not someone that you would trust to walk your dog...or your girl.  In fact he resembles what one would imagine Charlie Sheen to look like when he goes out on one of his strip club nights.  Hey, lookie there, we came back around to the stripper motif once again.

9) On Meeting Kit Carson, the Guy Who Wrote the Damn Thing - I suppose talking about meeting screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson is not really a "thing to like" about the movie -and let's be honest, his actual screenplay really is not either - but it was fun to have the man who gave Gere his howl, as a guest of our cinema.  For those of you who are unaware (and really, why aren't you paying better attention to my life dammit), my lovely wife and I run a three screen arthouse cinema in Harrisburg Pa.  Last year, during our capital city's film festival, we hosted a screening of Jim McBride's 1967 film David Holzman's Diary.  The film starred the aforementioned Kit Carson, so somehow (he is such a big star after all) we managed to get him to come and do a Q&A after the film.  He seemed like a pretty fun guy while he was here - and he even signed the leg cast of one of our cinema employees.  Carson would later go on to write the screenplay for the modern classic Paris, Texas, as well as for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  His screenplay for Breathless?  Certainly not great, but once again, a damn entertaining film.

10) Behold the Sentinel of the Spaceways, Norrin Radd, the Spectacular Silver Surfer - Being a comic book nerd from long ago, it should not surprise me that one of my favourite things about this particular film is Gere's character's obsession with that classic Sentinel of the Spaceways, the former herald of the Mighty World Devourer Galactus, and friend and ally to The Fantastic Four and belated founding member of the non-group super hero team The Defenders.  Yeah, I'm a nerd.  What's it to ya?  But I digress once again.  One of my favourite things about this version of Breathless, is how Gere's bad boy identifies with the loner Marvel super hero Silver Surfer.  This also brings us all the way back around to Quentin Tarantino, as we see Jesse's obsession with the Surfer copied in Reservoir Dogs, with a strategically placed Surfer poster in Freddy's (Tim Roth's Mr. Orange) apartment.  See, everything goes back to QT (and he likes strip clubs too), which is why you should listen to the man and watch this damn film.  So there.  Breathless!!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Janet Gaynor, It Was Nice To Know Ya

Born Laura Augusta Gainor on this day, in the year that saw the city by the bay destroyed by madness, across the land in the city of brotherly love (before moving, oddly enough, to San Fran just a few years later), our intrepid little firecracker, after rising never any further than to the pixie-ish height of five foot nothing (same height as my lovely wife), and slapdashing her way through bit parts and uncredited doo-dads of several silent features and shorts, and reaching pre-stardom in The Johnstown Flood, not to mention being called out as one of the WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers for those who need to go past the acronym) baby Stars of that same year - an honour that also went to Mary Astor, Joan Crawford, Fay Wray and the two Dolores's, Costello and Del Rio that very same year - became the darlin' of the first Academy Awards, as she took home the first ever award for being the best darn actress in a motion picture, winning thricely, as she was credited for Sunrise, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel all in the same breath (pretty good breakthrough year the tiny starlet of just twenty-one did have), and shot to the top of the pops in the US, working with everyone from Borzage to Murnau to Borzage again and again and then some more (and let us not forget screen lover Charles Farrell, who she made a dozen films with, and were the cutest couple this side of the Pecos), before becoming a star once again in the first of three (soon to be four - yikes) versions of A Star is Born (directed by Wild Bill Wellman to make it official), a film that incidentally would garner her a second of those Oscar nomination thingees, and eventually leaving show biz for the love of a man - even if that man was famed designer Adrian, and was most likely a quite lavender marriage, at least on his part, though one hears rather substantiated rumours of the lovely little Miss Gaynor's sexual preferences as well (and one may even dream of them at night), but I must digress, in order to get on with the sad ending of our beautiful kewpie doll leading lady, from complications from a car wreck (a drunk driver nonetheless) that she was involved in two years prior to her 77th birthday (with "long time friend" Mary Martin), and finally say that this fan of the sexy, charming and cute as goddamn hell Miss Gaynor (drop dead gorgeous is another term one could just as easily use), had wished she had done more movies to be watched by me, but at least we have what we have - an angel (street or otherwise) with the eyes to conquer worlds and the alabaster cheeks to launch a thousand, no a million, no a billion ships a day.