Monthly Archives: May 2015

Leviathan

It won the Golden Globe, was nominated for an Oscar, and was even considered for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. I was bored stiff.

This is one of those movies that make me feel bad about myself because although it’s a film about ‘ordinary’ people, it’s also supposed to be about more than just what’s on the surface. And I get that.

In a very pretty but alsmaxresdefaulto coastal town in Russia, Kolya has a wife who’s just not that into him and a son who’s just not that good at life. The town’s crooked mayor is trying to take his home and property, ostensibly for a telecoms mast, but Kolya suspects more personal reasons and is fighting him in court. In the dullest court scene ever shot, a woman drones on as she reads a summation of the case for several long-ass minutes without a breath at punctuation, if indeed there was any punctuation, which was hard to distinguish.

Most of his friends are only using him for his free mechanic services but he calls on one, an old army friend named Dmitri who’s now a lawyer, to help him with his property fight. Dmitri isn’t afraid to fight dirty in court, or in his personal life apparently, because before long he’s fucking Kolya’s wife.

So there’s hypocrisy. Crazy, crazy hypocrisy. Blind love, pretend friendship, misplaced trust. Badleviathan religion. And the symbolism of the leviathan that’s obligatory but heavy-handed. I can see that it’s well-acted, and the outdoor shots were breathtaking. I don’t usually think of Russia like this and I’m glad I got to see it. But I didn’t connect with this film, at all. It was too harsh, and too dry. I know that critics loved it, and the Academy has called it one of the 5 best foreign movies in the world for 2014. Personally, I preferred both Mommy and Force Majeure (preferred both to Ida, which won, for that matter). But you know what? No one asked me.

 

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McFarland

I pretty much thought we must be out of sports stories by now. How many teams can possibly start out dead-last but thanks to the inspiring speechifying of their devoted but grizzled coach, end up earning first? And of those teams, how many can overcome the prejudice of racism at the same time, convincing white folks who admire achievement that maybe these coloured folk aren’t so bad after all, because they sure are fast? And how many of these can possibly star Kevin Costner?mcfarland

If you answered TOO DAMN MANY, then you, sir, are correct!

This movie doesn’t really do anything wrong other than steal from every sports movie that’s come before it. If it was the first of its kind, you might even call it good, or inspiring. But I’m going to call it neither, because I do not live under a rock. I’ve seen it all before. I’m tired of this formula, which was pretty thin to begin with.

Tomorrowland

I was expecting a lot more from Tomorrowland. Brad Bird has been involved in so many good movies in the past, all of which have had fantastical or futuristic elements. Damon Lindelof gave us an amazing first season of Lost (though it was downhill from there as the layers were peeled away). George Clooney is an A-lister who is super reliable and who usually picks his projects well. All the parts seemed to be here for a great movie, or at the very least an interesting one.

But instead of being something memorable, Tomorrowland is entirely forgettable. I really don’t understand how things went so wrong but for a movie about possibilities, there was a distinct lack of imagination or innovation involved in Tomorrowland. It is totally formulaic and by-the-numbers. Which doesn’t make it a bad movie, and it’s not a bad movie, but it left me feeling that an opportunity was missed here.

Going in, I thought the premise was solid one but the way it was handled left me not only wanting more but wanting something entirely different, something closer to what I thought this movie would be after having seen the trailer many, many times in the last six months. I don’t want to spoil things so I can’t really be more specific than to say that Tomorrowland was not at all what we saw in the trailer. And that would have been okay if handled differently but the end result here is that we only end up spending a very small amount of screen time in Tomorrowland when all is said and done, but the scenes of Tomorrowland in the trailer were what I wanted to see lots and lots of.

That’s why the way it played out was so disappointing.  It left me feeling a lot like Lost did, now that I think about it.

Tomorrowland gets a rating of 6 child-sized jetpacks out of ten.

Devil’s Knot

This movie tells the true story of the West Memphis Three. In 1993, a trio of young boys went missing, and were later found on the bottom of a creek, bound with their own shoelaces, savagely beaten, and dead either of their injuries, or of injuries combined with drowning.

The local police force bungles the investigation. When a restaurant manager calls to say a man covered in blood is sitting in their ladies’ restroom, a patrolwoman eventually shows up, at the drive through, and never comes inside. The crime scene is trampled, the coroner isn’t called, the bodies are left out in the sun. Fair to say that when whispers of a satanic cult surface, the cops are all too happy to suckle at the teat of a convenient scapegoat, and within a month, three teenage boys are arrested and charged with the murders, though two maintain their innocence while a third, mentally retarded, has a confession coerced from him after an exhausting 12 hours of interrogation.

Reese Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the victims. She is haunted by little Stevie, devils-knottmourns him viciously, but still can’t shake the many questions that seem to surface during the trial. Colin Firth plays an investigator who donates his services to the defense team because although the accused are young, a sentence of death is still on the line.

Atom Egoyan does a capable job of telling a chilling story. He hits all the right marks, and I can tell you this, and you may know this yourself, from the many compelling documentaries that have been offered over the years. I already know all the right marks. Within the past year, I watched a documentary called West of Memphis produced by one of the convicted murderers himself, a riveting piece that chronicles the events meticulously. Paradise Lost is a trilogy concerning the case. Devil’s Knot, therefore, is late to the party and fails to add to the conversation in a meaningful way.

Last Days in Vietnam

This documentary was nominated for an Oscar this year – it lost to Citizenfour. Even though I hit the categories hard, I only managed to see 3 of the 5 before the Academy Awards were broadcast and  I’m sadly only getting around to this one now.

This film offers a fresh perspective on the end of the war – the kinder, softer side of an action that’s been vilified and condemned, and for good reason, but this movie shows that no matter what the politicians were maneuvering, there were good hearts over there doing their best to help real people.

As American troops are removed from South Vietnam, the North is marching in, and cities are falling. The American embassy is cognizant of what their pull out will mean to the people, especially the Vietnamese who were known allies. Lots of American soldiers and Vietnamese heroes  risked their lives and went against White House orders in order to help evacuate the panicked, innocent residents.

There’s nothing innovative here, it’s just diligent work. Rory Kennedy uses great archival footage, lots of in-depth, exhaustive first-person interviews, and paints a panoramic view of what could only have been a chaotic time, while being sensitive to the moral dilemma at its heart.

Movies Based on Graphic Novels\Comics (No Superheroes, Sean!)

TMPWe’re always glad when another Thursday rolls around because our dear friend Wanderer over at Wondering Through The Shelves has provided us with yet another opportunity to rip each other’s heads off. Agreeing or disagreeing never seems to matter because we do both so vehemently you can hardly tell the difference! This week we’re talking about movies based on graphic novels or comics – but they CAN’T be about superheroes, which is a caveat that is no doubt making Sean break out into cold sweats. “No superheroes?”, he’s probably thinking, “Then what’s the point?”

Jay

Wrinkles (Arrugas) – This is originally a Spanish movie, an animated one actually, but there’s a dubbed English version featuring the voice work of Martin Sheen and Matthew Modine. It’s based on the comic book Arrugas by Paco Roca. I hadn’t heard of this movie until someone from this very blogging community reviewed it on her site and it sent my little radar to wrinkles_2885994bsniffing. Imagine a comic book about old people, if you will, some of them shuffling around with the whiff of Alzheimer’s infusing their comings and goings in a retirement residence where not everyone is pleased to be confined. It’s at times very sad, but never sentimental. It’s very smartly done and the dedication that comes at the end – to all the old people of today, and of tomorrow – is a subtle elbow to the ribs.

Snowpiercer – This one’s based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige by Jacques snowpiercerLob. I came across mention of this movie in a magazine and got Sean all hopped up about this crazy movie that’s about a perpetually-moving train filled with feuding classes of people. Raw, brutal, stabby: just the kind of movie that gives him a chubby. But then the movie never opened. We searched high and low, and the movie just never came because Evil Lord Weinstein decided that suppressing a movie with vision and ambition would be a nifty way to wield his power and remind people that dumb Americans need his help to watch and interpret movies.

Old Boy – I’m watching the Spike Lee 2013 version starring Josh Brolin because I’d seen the Korean one a million years ago but never this one (I was still recovering) – in any case, they’re both obviously based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Nobuaki Minegishi and oldboyGaron Tsuchiya. So this guy gets kidnapped and imprisoned for twenty years in some hotel room. He has no idea why, or who, but one day he’s suddenly released and given 82 hours to figure out who’s been behind the whole thing. It’s a bloody movie. Like, if you think Drive is a little much, well, it’s actually a sunny stroll in the park compared to this. It’s fucking twisted. The American remake is a little soulless, comparatively, but it gets the job done and will make you want to seek out the source material, in which case, well – good luck with that.

Sean

Blade – sometimes vampires are also supervilllains, or very rarely, superheroes.  But in the interest of including this movie in my picks this week, let’s just agree that Blade is pretty much a regular guy with no superpowers except being the near-invincible Daywalker hybrid.  Kind of like how Superman is just a regular guy on Krypton so when you get right down to it, he has no special powers, he’s just not human.  Which obviously doesn’t help out my argument at all.  Anyway, Blade is a very good movie that more or less inspired Marvel to make lots and lots of superhero movies.  Which again does not help out my argument but it’s still a great movie.

Men in Black – sometimes regular people get put in situations that call for a superhero.  And either they get eaten by a giant bug or they get creative.  Or both.  Men in Black is a ton of fun and so tongue-in-cheek it hurts (in a good way).  This is your chance to see Will Smith, in his prime, in his best role (with sincere apologies to Mike Lowry), and the pairing of Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones is as good as it gets.  The two of them make it up as they go along and somehow make it work, saving the world along the way.  The best part is K’s attitude about it all: the world is always in danger, so keep doing your job but make sure to keep it down so we can go about our business.  Thanks, Men in Black, for keeping Earth safe.

Ghost World – sometimes I enjoy movies that don’t have a hint of superhero and have no explosions or car chases.  It’s rare but it happens, and Ghost World is one such movie.  It’s a strange movie, no doubt about it, but it’s strange in the right ways.  It reminds me a little of Mad Max: Fury Road in that regard. Both take us to worlds that are different than ours that have their own logic, and that we come to understand as we meander through them with our leads.  Both draw us in right from the start, make us want to keep watching and see this through to the end, and while the endings serve up good payoffs, in both movies the journey is its own reward.

Jay: Sean, wow. Just fucking wow. Mad Max? Really? You’re either really brilliant, or…you know, you’re really brilliant. Well done sir.

Matt

I love comics. It may have started with Batman for me but, as much as I love badass costumes and bone-crunching violence, I’;m always so proud of them when they aim higher. This week we pay tribute to graphic novel adaptations that helped show the world what the medium can really accomplish without relying on comic book logic.

Regardless of its subject, the key to any good comic book is to create a world of its own that is both distinctive and relatable. I thought of this in the shower this mroning and was surprised to Ghost Worldread that Sean had a similar thought about Ghost World (2001), a movie that I’ve been dying to mention for months now. There’s nothing remotely supernatural about Ghost World but it seems to exist in its own universe. Strange, given how many characters I can recognize from my own life. Both a little surreal and painfully real, this movie is filled with uncomfortable moments that my friend and I used to cringe over and then immediately rewind and watch again.

Comics can address politics in the real world too. In Persepolis (2007) , a young girl grows up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran anPersepolisd, like Enid in Ghost World, finds solace in punk music as everything around her seems to be changing. Apart from the black and white animation and the fact that I was completely blown away by it, that’s about all I cacn remember. I so wanted to rewatch it this week but wasn’t able to track it down in time for Thursday.

blue is the warmest colorBlue is the Warmest Color (2013), on the other hand, is fresh in my mind and will likely remain so for some time. I finally got around to watching it last night and was delighted- and surprised- to learn that it was based on a graphic novel so that I would have an excuse to check it out. I can’t picture this story as a comic at all and honestly have no idea what the source material could have looked like. I will probably have to check it out. All I know is that the story is simple, even if the feelings aren’t. What I found most impressive about this film was that, even though it is prepared to address homophoibia and how scary it can be to come out, this is really a story about how exciting it is to find love and how painful it is to watch it fade away and eventually burn out. The fact that they’re gay is almost incidental.

Just off the Top of O-Ren Ishii’s Head: 10 Death Scenes I Will Never Forget

I’m not really a Final Destination kind of guy but with stock dwindling at my favourite video store just two weeks before it closes, I settled on a movie that my friend had been trying to get me to watch for months. Final Destination 2- so far left on the shelves by eager shoppers looking to take advantage of the store’s Everything Must Go policy- has a death scene that apparently I just had to watch.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t be sure which scene she meant. There were a lot. Could it be the lottery winner who slipped on some spaghetti and got his head smashed in by a falling fire escape? Or the grieving mother who was decaptiated when she got her head caught in an elevator door? Turns out I should have been watching for the teenager who was crushed to death by something- what exactly I can’t be sure, things happen fast in this movie- while chasing away some pigeons. Apparently, if you watch closely, he explodes long before anything falls on him. How does she know? She’s watched it in slow motion. Several times.

final destination

While I may not have even been temptedc to check the tape on that one, it got me thinking of my favourite on-screen passings. After all, we just saw some real beauts in Mad Max: Fury Road on Friday. Here’s my attempt at a Top Ten. I left out a lot out, I know. How about you? What are some of your favourite scenes that I might have missed?

10. Count Laszlo de Almásy  The English Patient (1996)

English Patient

One of the movies that I am most likely to meditate on the finality of death after watching. Once we’re gone, everything we’ve felt, everything we’ve feared, everything we’ve loved die with us. It’s painful to watch Ralph Fiennes suffer from his burns throughout the movie and when Juliette Binoche’s Hana agrees to help him end his agony once and for all, I could almost feel his last breath. Even though, technically, the scene ends before Laszlo does. Before this act of mercy, Hana reads him this.

“We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers, fears we’ve hidden in like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. We’re the real counttries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps, the names of powerful men”.

9. Phil Groundhog Day (1993)

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Condemned to live a bad day over and over until he gets it right, Phil (Bill Murray) uses this opportunity to try new things without having to wake up with any consequences. He makes a move on the girl he likes and punches the guy he doesn’t. He runs around town playing hero. He even gives dying a try. His suicidal phase is one of the funniest and darkest parts of the movie. (I haven’t seen the movie in awhile so I can’t remember if it’s made clear to us whether Phil is counting on waking up the next morning or hoping not to).

Before my favourite of said suicide “attempts”, Phil calmly walks into the lobby ignoring the pleasantries of the hotel staff and steals their toaster. Phil calmly prepares himself a nice hot bath and takes the toaster in with him. This scene would also make my list of Top Ten Reasons I Love Bill Murray.

8. Captain Frye The Rock (1996)

the rock

Ed Harris’ General Hummell is a madman but he really does think he’s doing the right thing. It’s the mercenaries he brings with him to sieze Alcatraz Island that make me nervous, especially Captain Frye. Played with his usual sneer by character actor Gregory Sporleder, there’s just something not quite right about this guy. He always seems to be wishing he was pushing an old lady down a flight of stairs.

A lot of these guys die for their cause in spectacular fashion but director Michael Bay saves the best for last when chemistry geek/action hero Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) shoves a vial of sarin gas in his mouth and smashes it with his fist. Neither Bay or Cage have gotten much right since but they did good here. This guy had it coming.

7. Sydney Barringer Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia

P. T. Anderson gets our attention right from the start and manages to hold it for Magnolia’s entire three-hour running time. Seventeen year-old Sydney Barringer jumps from the roof of his nine-story apartment building only to have his suicide attempt interrupted both by a safety net installed by some window washers and by a shotgun blast from a sixth floor window that killed him instantly. His unsuccessful suicide became a successful homicide when his own mother accidentally fired a shot while threatening his father during a heated argument.

Anderson didn’t come up with this story on his own. It’s an adaptation of a sort of urban legend that had been circulating for years but it sets up the strange events that follow perfectly.

6. Guy in elevator Drive (2011)

Drive

Ryan Gosling is a charmer. He swept Rachel McAdams off her feet both on and off screen and even taught Steve Carrell how to be a smooth talker. Just don’t get on his bad side. This guy’s not fucking around. He understands the golden rule of action movies. When someone’s giving you trouble, sometimes you’ve just got to stomp on their face until they’re dead. He doesn’t carry a gun much in Drive but why would he? He’s got his boot.

5. Edward Bloom Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish

The deathbed scene in The English Patient inspires me to meditate on death. Big Fish inspires me to reflect on life. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) finally understands the value of myth and the key to good storytelling while seeing his father (Albert Finney) through his final moments. For most of his adult life, Will stubbornly told stories with “all of the facts, none of the flavour” but, when his father asks him to tell him “how he goes”, Will ad-libs a fantastical story fit for Ed’s remarkable life- one that undoubtedly touched so many others, even if the details are a little embellished. I still get chills when I watch it.

4. Cecilia Shepard Zodiac (2007)

zodiac

I feel crass talking about an on-screen depiction of something that actually happened in the same post as the twisted thrills of Drive but there aren’t many scenes in 21st century American film that are more effective. All the recreations of the Zodiac killings in this movie are almost impossible to watch without some temptation to look away but this one at the beach is the most chilling. I felt a wave of anxiety every time I found myself anywhere secluded for weeks after watching this movie. The Zodiac killer was never caught or named but this faceless killer- now probably long gone- still haunts me.

3. Elle Driver Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

kill bill

I only allowed myself one Quentin Tarantino entry on this post and I could have easily done one just on the Top Ten Tarantino Death Scenes. He’s the guy that knows how to do it, whose mind seems to take him to to places most of us wouldn’t dare. Daryl Hannah’s Elle puts up quite a fight against the Bride but the fight’s pretty much over when Uma Thurman’s antihero plucks out her only good eye. Adding insult to injury beyond anything I can imagine, poor Elle hears a sound that can only be Uma crushing it beneath her feet. Good and pissed but with nothing much she can do about it, Elle thrashes about unitl a poisonous Black Mamba finishes her off.

Elle Driver was an assassin and a bit of a sadist but I can’t help but feel just a little bad. What a way to go.

2. Spider Goodfellas (1990)

spider

Everyone has a favourite scene here and I could have probably done a Top Ten just on this one movie but Spider (Michael Imperioli) really gets a raw deal. After finally being able to get back to work after being shot in the foot by Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), the poor waiter finally stands up for himself and tells Tommy to fuck off. Tommy’s gangster buddy love it and tease Tommy until he loses it and empties his clip into the poor guy, shocking his buddies. “What the fuck, Tommy?goodfellas We were just kidding around”.

Tommy’s a funny guy (yes, sort of like a clown) and I sure did miss him after he gets whacked. But he really was a mad dog. It’s probably for the best that he never got made.

1. Lester Burnham American Beauty (1999)

american beauty

This also made my list of Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away. Lester makes it very clear from the start that he won’t survive the movie and the final moments are filled with tension as we wait for something to happen. Writer Alan Ball presents us with three suspects and we’re not sure until after the killing shot is fired who murdered Lester Burnham.

The murder is beside the point anyway. The tragedy is that Lester dies in pretty much the instant that he finds inner peace. His life flashes before his eyes as he reflects on all the beauty  in the world. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry. You will someday”.