Tag Archives: Movies

Film Review: Seven Psychopaths

Dir. Martin McDonagh
Score: 4.5

When the plot of a film entitled Seven Psychopaths involves one guy asking another to help him write a redemptive movie about seven psychopaths, the meta hits the fan real quick.

Martin McDonagh, an Irish playwright and relative newcomer to film, writes and directs with his characteristic flair for comic violence, a la Lieutenant of Inishmore and In Bruges. McDonagh adds a second comic turn here, using a film-within-a-film to comment on the construct of film itself. But that irony ultimately asks too much of McDonagh’s little dark comedy.

In the first layer of the film, Marty (Colin Farrell), bearing a shortened version of McDonagh’s own name, works as a Hollywood screenwriter. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) works in the dognapping business to help Hans (Christopher Walken) collect ransom money for his wife’s cancer treatment.

Desperate to get involved in the movie-making business, Billy pitches the climactic shoot-out scene for the seven psychopaths’ movie-within-the-movie. He explains, “You can’t kill the animals in the movies, only the women.”

While Rockwell performs the line ironically and McDonagh wrote the movie with parody in mind, the flick does nothing but conform to Billy’s pronouncement. The dog — in this case a Shih Tzu owned by a trigger-happy dude named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), whose only warm-fuzzy exists for that dog — does in fact survive the movie. The only woman with significant character development, Hans’ wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay), gets shot in the back of the head.

The death of Myra marks the point at which parody becomes indulgence. McDonagh points out the shallow aspects of cinematic shoot-‘em-up joyrides, but offers no alternative. Billy only delivers some grandiose moralizing to compensate for his fantasies of taking all the “psychos” down.

When Billy offers the idea to meet Charlie in the desert for the dramatic exchange of the Shih Tzu, Marty does inject a moment of sanity, asking “What do you think we should do in real life?”

McDonagh took evident pains with the writing, down to the very bones of sentence construction, but there simply isn’t enough of a coherent plot to back up his thought-provoking language. An all-star acting ensemble delivers McDonagh’s clever dialogue for some really lovely moments that would carry more weight as individual vignettes.

Walken’s character Hans perhaps gives the most succinct summary. Speaking to Marty when every psychopath’s dirty little secret has started to come out, Hans says, “You’re the one thought psychopaths were so interesting. They get pretty tiresome, don’t they?”

Yes, yes they do.

 

DVD Splurge: October 2012

The Artist is Present
The Skinny: A documentary that covers the life and methods of celebrated performance artist Marina Abramovic, whose body of work often consists of her actual own body. Fresh of a much lauded retrospective at MOMA in 2010, the film finds the artist very much still relevant and resonating more than four decades into her career.
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Linkage: The Artist is Present

Crazy Eyes
The Skinny: A good vehicle for actor Lukas Haas, who is often criminally underutilized, he plays a rich, successful Hollywood actor who suddenly confronts his own limitations and mortality when he meets the woman of his crazed fever dreams.
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Linkage: Crazy Eyes

Dial M For Murder

The Skinny: Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller loses absolutely none of its considerable power nearly six decades after its release. The story of a wealthy man (Ray Millard), who plots the murder of his cheating wife (Grace Kelly) was actually shot in primitive 3D, so the restoration of the original format remastered for this release, is actually what the great director might have intended.
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Linkage: Dial M For Murder: Blu-ray 3D Edition

End of the Road

The Skinny: Originally released in 1970, this counter-culture time capsule stars Harris Yulin, Stacey Keach and a young James Earl Jones. Keach plays a man with a bit of an imbalanced streak who gets put into an insane asylum and emerges even more self-destructive than before.
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Linkage: End of the Road

Fear and Desire

The Skinny: Stanley Kubrick’s feature debut, originally shot in 1953 (and suppressed by the fastidious filmmaker up until his death in 1999), is something of a cross between a standard war picture and a more singular and peculiar vision. It stars future filmmaker Paul Mazursky as a soldier trapped with a few other men behind enemy lines in an unnamed war, and their experience of trying to get back to safety. Available for the first time in home release.
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Linkage: Fear and Desire: Blu-ray Edition

The Game
The Skinny: David Fincher’s stylish follow-up to Se7en features Michael Douglas as a rich Bay Area businessman who gets caught up with his no-good brother’s quasi-birthday gift: Entrance into a bizarre, hugely complex escapade that involves attempts on his life and constantly running from a shadowy organization that may or may not be trying to eliminate him.
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Linkage: The Game: Criterion Blu-ray Edition

Last Ride

The Skinny: After watching the insanely versatile Hugo Weaving work wonders in the otherwise hit-and-miss upcoming Cloud Atlas, I’m convinced the Aussie can do no wrong. This 2009 film features Weaving as a fugitive father who takes his son across Australia while on the lam from the authorities.
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Linkage: Last Ride>

The Slut

The Skinny: This Israeli film from writer/director Hagar Ben-Asher may be about sexual mores and society’s collective ills, but it never loses sight of the significance of its main protagonist — a beautiful, thirtysomething mother of two who hasn’t lost her sexual identity despite the bombardment of condemnation all around her.
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Linkage: The Slut

Strangers on a Train
The Skinny: One of Hitchcock’s all-time classics, it concerns the titular protagonists who plot a dual murder caper, each taking out the other’s target, as a way of committing yet another installment of the perfect crime. Naturally, things don’t go quite as planned.
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Linkage: Strangers on a Train: Blu-ray Edition

Umberto D.
The Skinny: Vittorio De Sica is recognized as one of Italy’s greatest cinematic storytellers, and with very good reason. This heart-rendering film about a sweet elderly man who attempts to help out one of his neighbors and ends up homeless and utterly bereft as a result, might be amongst the master’s finest works.
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Linkage: Umberto D.: Criterion Blu-ray Edition

Les Visiteurs du Soir
The Skinny: Two supposed minstrels — in actuality envoys of Satan — are dispatched to the castle of a Baron in 15th century France, whose young daughter becomes entranced by one of the fetching men, who may, in fact, be seriously falling for her. As you might guess, such behavior is not condoned by the prince of darkness in Marcel Carné’s classic from 1942.
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Linkage: Les Visiteurs du Soil: Criterion Blu-ray Edition

Film Review: End of Watch


Dir.
David Ayer
Score: 6.4

The found-footage phenomenon has its roots in breaking a central tenet of modern filmmaking: the distance between the protagonists and the audience. By removing the ‘artifice’ of a director’s camera, and putting it solely in the characters’ own hands, the theory holds, the impact of the action will be more raw and authentic-seeming without the cushion of a film crew and production artists and craftspeople to keep everyone at a safe distance. Hence, it’s popularity in the horror genre, perhaps most famously realized in the wildly successful <i>Paranormal Activity</i> series.

In David Ayers’ arresting film about young cops on the rough L.A. beat, he outright cheats the convention, including stylized ‘professional’ footage amongst the shots taken from squad car cameras, hand-held mini-cams, and tiny lavalier-style micro cameras stuck into shirt collars, each of which is operated by a young officer as part of a vague “film project” he’s shooting for a class.

The cop, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), is one half of a significant squad car bromance, along with his Mexican-American partner, Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), having met at the academy and stuck fast ever since. They patrol the mean streets of south L.A. with a hearty bonhomie, telling each other a stream of bawdy stories (Mike is married with children; as the film opens, Brian is happily single), unrestrained fist-bumping and, most of all, ripping on each other at every opportunity (both do a wicked impression of the other, one of the comic highlights in their never-ending repartee).

Naturally, they also get the job done. Do they ever. In the course of the few months in which the film takes place, the make huge drug busts, save a family from a burning building, rescue their fellow officers several times, and free a bunch of migrant workers held in a hellacious house of human trafficking.

It is this last bit of daring-do that runs them seriously afoul of a major Mexican cartel (the lazy-man’s catch all for ‘unequivocally evil’ villains, a kind of modernist fill-in for the Nazis), which leads to a significant price placed on their heads.

The action, as you can imagine, is plentiful and not-unpleasingly over-the-top, with bullets whizzing by our two protagonists seemingly every time they leave the man-cave of their squad car and venture out onto the sunny tarmac, but the strength of the film, fittingly, is watching the two buddies rip on each other even as they fiercely protect each other from the various outside threats that promise to do them harm, be they on the outside, with the cartel assassins in full chase, or internally, as they grate against the nerves of a fellow officer (David Harbour) and attempt to skate past the mandatory therapy sessions they earn for being so gun-happy.

Ayers’ script also includes a nice burning build — despite (or perhaps because of) the frequent danger Taylor and Zavala find themselves in, it’s hard not to take their gritty survival into question until the film reaches its action apex near the end. It doesn’t exactly make for passable realism — it’s like four episodes of an explosive cop show all bound together — but despite its found-footage conceits and concentration on the boys’ respective home lives (all of which are a good deal more realistic than their job) — we are to understand this to be the sort of cop movie, standard to the genre, in which hookers hook, shooters let fly, and drug lords stop at nothing to get their way.

None of which takes away from the performances of our two leads. Reportedly, Gyllenhaal and Peña spent some months in the presence of real L.A. cops, getting a feel for the rhythms and pace of the cops comradery, and their attention to detail shows. It’s just odd to have a movie with two such believable characters in a world that seems taken right out of a pulpy cop show from the ’70s.

 

Film Review: Cosmopolis

Dir. David Cronenberg

Score: 6.3

There are those that would view the pairing of the coldly intellectual filmmaker David Cronenberg with the coldly intellectual novelist Don Delilio as a blend of both strychnine and arsenic — death by emotional remove — but instead of a lifeless, didactic polemic, Cronenberg’s adaptation of Delilo’s 2003 novel is peculiarly arresting, despite its many narrative peculiarities.

Essentially, we have a day in the life of a Manhattan financial overlord. Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is, when we meet him, about to head out in one of his specially modified limos to travel crosstown for a haircut. With a perfect suit and sneering visage behind a pair of dark glasses, he’s nothing less than the embodiment of the one percenter’s complete disassociation from the rest of humanity. Sitting in a techno-throne of black leather with touch-sensitive computer screens built into the armrests, he resembles the coldly ambitious commander of a Starfleet spacecraft. Meeting with various underlings and mistresses — and, occasionally, hopping out for meals with his newlywed bride (Sarah Gadon) — he conducts all business through his relentless ego.

The effect of the film, with all of these characters spinning in and out of Eric’s orbit as he very slowly makes his way across town, is a bit like Richard Linklater meeting Samuel Beckett. Every conversation has a strident philosophical tone, and underlying thread of Eric’s philosophical musings on the nature of commerce, capital and the human condition.

Needless to say, this is not a film ever intended to be realistic, per se. It’s a film of Big Ideas, almost a fairy tale, albeit one that includes sex, violence, and one of the more uncomfortable proctology exams ever committed to celluloid, digital or otherwise. Eric, who begins the film so stuffed with himself he employs the royal plural without a hint of irony or regret and by the end is covered with blood, sweat and the remnants of a cream pie in a squatter’s flophouse, stands to represent all the conscienceless callousness with which big business empires are forged.

He likes to speak in existentially pedantic musings (“A haircut is what? Associations.” and, later, “The logical extension of business is murder”) and indulge his hypochondria with daily full medicals, in-between bouts of rancorous sex with a bevy of women whom are not his wife, including the wife (Patricia McKenzie) of his head of security (Kevin Durand), who dutifully strides next to the slow-moving limo, only tapping on the window glass to warn Eric of further dangers. Eric is obsessed with “cybercapital,” notably the single most ethereal form of wealth.

His gradual undoing as the film unfolds — in the course of this day, he loses all his money on a bad bet on the Yuan, his wife leaves him, he commits murder and is stalked by a would-be assassin he can’t identify — strips bare the coddling protective cover of commerce, leaving only a scrawny, battered little man in a dirty shirt, awaiting his fate at the hands of a former employee (Paul Giamatti) who wants to put him out of his existential misery.

As is his want, Cronenberg is fully content to let his piteous characters thrash around blindly in the cold, harsh world of ideas they’ve created for themselves. The surprising thing is how effective he is in playing to Pattinson’s strengths. Despite the pretty boy preening to which his global fame can be attributed in his turn as the despotic Edward in the execrable <i>Twlight</i> series, the young actor shows some considerable chops here, in about as balloon-pricking of a performance as I can remember. It is, after all, not so difficult to play superior as an actor with the kind of fame as he possesses, a much different thing to take that fame and turn it on its ear. It might not have been the kind of role his agent would have been enthusiastic about, but from this vantage point, it’s a serious step in the right direction.

Film Review: The Imposter

Dir. Bart Layton
Score: 5.9

As devastating as it is, extreme grief also offers us a glimpse of just how cold and callous the world around us can be, ripping the proverbial rose-tinted glasses from our field of view and allowing us, finally, to see things as they really are, in all their cold, stark reality. Our reaction to this experience could seem to go one of two ways: You permanently remove the comforting shackles of denial and continue to approach your life with that kind of uncompromising honesty, or you venture down the other direction and bury your head so deep in the sand you can no longer tell the time of day. The tricky question becomes positively identifying which direction you’ve gone.

And here lies the crux of Bart Layton’s gripping documentary about a family’s loss, subsequent hope, and even greater loss. The film concerns the Gibson family of San Antonio, who, back in 1994, suffered the devastation of having one of the youngest children suddenly vanish one night. Searching for him desperately, they had all but completely lost hope after four years, which is when they received extraordinary news: Their son, Nicholas, had reportedly been found — in Spain, of all places — and was waiting at a child services facility for them.

Nearly hysterical with happiness, the older sister of Nicholas, Carey, immediately made plans to pick the boy up and booked her first international flight. Unbeknownst to them at the time, however, the miracle would turn out to be anything but. The “boy” claiming to be Nicholas, was, in fact, Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old French vagabond trying to pass himself off as the lost boy in hopes to take on a new identity from which he could feel validated. Skillfully, he had gamed the system into taking him in to a shelter, and taken the time to search out the files of missing American kids, in order to give himself a chance to get stateside.

The problem was, his “sister” was coming to Spain to pick him up and with his dark eyes, brown hair and sizable French accent, he looked and sounded absolutely nothing like the blonde, blue-eyed waifish boy who had gone missing in Texas so many years ago. Certain that the jig was up, “Nicholas” nevertheless dyed his hair and added some elementary tattoos to match the description he’d read about in the boy’s case file. Certain to fail, he met his pretend sister the morning she arrived and prepared for the inevitable recrimination and jail time that would await him for perpetrating such an elaborate ruse. To his shock, however, his sister welcomed him with open arms, and never looked back, bringing him triumphantly home to the rest of his new family without hesitation.

As improbable as the story is, things get even more peculiar stateside, where “Nicholas” meets his family, enrolls in high school, and, seemingly, has everyone fooled, including a befuddled FBI agent, who believes his story of being apprehended by a foreign paramilitary outfit and subjected to rape, torture and facial reconstruction, hook, line and sinker.

Not everyone falls quite so easily in the film. Questions are raised about “Nicholas” almost everywhere but within his own adopted family, who continue to cling to the hope that their boy has been magically returned to them. So much do the family hold onto this obvious fabrication, there grow a rising tide of suspicion that some of the members know more about the real Nicholas’ sudden departure than they have ever lead on.

Layton’s film, with its stream of found footage, slick reenactments and bevy of manipulative camera tricks, walks the razor-line between journalistic documentary and sensationalistic Hollywood melodrama in very thin shoes.

Wherever the film may stray from the sober, journalistic path of the straight doc, Layton utilizes well his significant ace-in-the-hole, Frederic. Endlessly smiling and chuckling at his own bravado, he comes across as a true sociopath, not once worrying about the shattering pain and false hope he was bringing to his new family (and, in fact, once incarcerated, he continued to reach out to parents of missing children, pretending to have valuable info for them about their beloved kids). He makes no bones about the insane manipulations he used to get to America and seems terrifyingly bemused by the whole affair, as if it were some sophomoric prank from his junior year in high school.

By the end, there are a good deal more questions than answers — despite the gnawing suspicions by certain law-enforcement personnel, no one in the family is ever charged with a crime — which is peculiarly fitting. Left to the chaotic self-absorption of its main protagonist, no story would ever have a satisfying closure.

Film Review: Mansome

Dir. Morgan Spurlock

Score: 5.7

The argument that men are somehow only now becoming self-obsessed narcissists has never held much water — what has the previous 10,000 years of human existence proven if not that the unchecked male ego is the most dangerous force on the planet? — but if you want to go ahead and make the case that the last twenty years have seen a rise of a particular kind of meticulous grooming obsession for the north American male, be my guest. Morgan Spurlock’s fluffy new documentary, which focuses on such significant subject matter as eyebrow shaping and professional beard competitions, attempts to cast a light on the new ways in which men are defining their physical beauty, but doesn’t really end up saying very much at all.

One might call it a kind of pathetic fallacy — a film about the vapidity of the male self-gaze ends up every bit as surface and superfluous as the subjects themselves — but it’s clear that Spurlock, one of our generation’s best-known documentarians (he directed Super Size MeThe Greatest Movie Ever Sold, and served as a host and producer for the 30 Days series), is tackling this subject with tongue inserted firmly in mustachioed cheek. To set the stage, the doc, which is broken up into subjects (“The Mustache,” “The Face,” and so on) uses Jason Bateman and Will Arnett going through a day of spa treatment and bantering back and forth about what it means to be a man as a kind of bridge to the individual segments, not unlike the kind of set-up you would find on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Through the course of the film, we meet professional beardsmen; an entrepreneur who has created a grooming product called “Fresh Balls”; a young clothing buyer in New York who apparently spends every waking moment considering how he looks and concocting ways to improve himself, and various celebrities, including Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd and Anthrax’ Scott Ian, among others, doing the VH-1-staple talking head bit, commenting more or less nonsensically about what it means to be a well-kept man in the 21st Century. You might call this experience amusing, but it’s much more something you might discover late at night absently clicking through channels than appointment viewing.

Screen Grabs: July 8, 2011

This week, we look at three new summer comedies: one funny, one moronic, and one German.

Herewith, a brief round-up of this weekend’s opening flicks, and the conventional wisdom surrounding them. In descending order of rottentomatoes.com awesomeness.

Horrible Bosses

The Story: Three men with nightmarish work situations hatch a plan to eliminate each other’s bosses.
The Skinny: On paper, at least, you have three seriously funny leads in Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, and a director in Seth Gordon (King of Kong, “Community,” “Parks & Recreation”) who would seem to be a solid choice for a dark comedy. So, how’s it hold up? About average, from what Scott Ross at Popcorn Biz reports: “it’s a second-tier effort that’ll leave you amused, but won’t change your life.”
Full Review: Horrible Bosses
Now Playing: The Pearl
Complete the Experience: While we don’t recommend killing any of your bosses, you can certainly complain bitterly about them over a fine martini at The Ranstead Room.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Vincent Wants to Sea
The Story: A man with Taurette’s Syndrome escapes from a clinic with an OCD patient and an anorexic to spread his mother’s ashes in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Skinny: Ralf Huettner’s comedy sounds suspiciously like a lot of other movies that have come before it. In fact, whenever we hear the words “road trip” associated with a film, it almost always bums us out. The City Paper’s Sam Adams would seem to agree with this assessment, writing ” There’s hugging and learning, but little insight or memorable detail.” And while we understand the title’s in translation from the German, still, yikes!
Full Review: Vincent Wants to Sea
Now Playing: Ritz at the Bourse
Complete the Experience: If a beach you want to explore, might we suggest the fine piece of coastline at LBI? Though we don’t recommend scattering ashes indiscriminately.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%

Zookeeper
The Story: A zookeeper in desperate need of romantic advice receives help from many of the animals he has been caretaking.
The Skinny: A broad, idiotic comedy from Kevin James (with help from Adam Sandler) is nothing new, but the mirthlessness is almost total and complete in this lazy film. It doesn’t help matters if reports are true that one of the animal wrangler companies involved with the film were, in fact, abusing the animals under their care. Our best advice would be to wait until your next cross country trip and catch it on the flight. Just don’t pay for the headphones.
Full Review: Zookeeper
Now Playing: UA Riverview
Complete the Experience: You can, of course, take in the beauty and grandeur of Philly’s own Zoo, just don’t expect to get a running commentary from the bears.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%

Screen Grabs: The films you should drop everything to see, and the ones you should avoid like the plague.