A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 236 – The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski – October 22nd, 2010

I admit, I kind of don’t want to write this review. I’m tired and my head hurts and there’s a lot of yelling in this movie so that didn’t help the head. So I’m not in the mood to write a review at all, but I’m also not sure I’m up to reviewing this movie. I’m kind of cranky about it, to be honest. Because I don’t find it to be a flawlessly brilliant Coen Brothers masterpiece. I know it has a following. I seem to recall reading about a convention somewhere for people who dress up like characters from the movie and know it all by heart. So I know people love it. Enough people to get together for an annual event. That’s cool and all. But I’m not one of those people. When I want to put in a mystery/action/comedy full of quirky characters and quotable lines I’ll go for Buckaroo Banzai. And when I want a Coen Brothers movie I’ll go for Raising Arizona or O Brother, Where Art Thou? It just doesn’t strike enough of a chord with me to get me past the one thing that makes me cringe for a large portion of the movie: Walter.

I really really don’t like Walter. I’d have to say he makes this movie really unpleasant for me to watch at times. I find it hard to enjoy a lot of his scenes because, well, I’ve met guys like Walter. They are terrifying to be around. So yeah. I love Jeff Bridges. I love a lot of stuff in this movie. But I cannot stand Walter. He makes my fight-or-flight instinct kick in, and no non-horror movie should do that to me. He yells, he rants, he waves a fucking gun around and threatens people for supposed bowling infractions. He gets all riled up and pissed off and having worked retail and had guys get riled up and pissed off for incredibly minor things that are only problems because of something they did? I can’t really see him as a comedic figure. I don’t find him funny in the least. I find him cringe-inducing. When he starts yelling over The Dude, I want to leave the room. That’s no way to watch a movie.

It pisses me off, to be honest. Because Walter kind of sits at the root of most of the situation. The Dude gets mistaken for another guy with the same name (Jeffrey Lebowski) and some thugs piss on his rug and that’s just not cool. That much? Totally not Walter’s fault. Walter did not urinate on The Dude’s rug. He wouldn’t have done that. It really tied the room together and Walter knows that. But it’s Walter who gets The Dude all riled up about it and urges him to go find the other Jeffrey Lebowski. And when the other Lebowski’s trophy wife goes missing and he hires The Dude to drop off the ransom money to her supposed kidnappers, it’s Walter who comes along and fucks up the drop. Sure, he’s right about the kidnapping in the end, but The Dude wouldn’t even have gotten mixed up with the Big Lebowski and his wife, Bunny, or the pornographer and his thugs, or the Nihilists, if Walter wasn’t an angry jackass running his mouth off. He even pisses off the relatively calm Dude eventually. I can see how he’s supposed to be this over the top caricature and his out of control antics are supposed to be amusing in an astonished-at-him sort of way. I just can’t see him as caricature. Sorry. When you’ve encountered people like him in real life – multiple people – it ceases to be caricature and becomes reality.

Anyhow, if I could get past Walter, or if he didn’t show up nearly as much as he does, I think I’d really enjoy this movie. Which is what pisses me off about him. My reaction to him ends up overshadowing my reaction to everything else. Maybe he’s like cilantro. Lots of people love the stuff. But if there’s one leaf of it in something all I can taste is soap. So let’s get rid of the cilantro. Let’s just assume he plays a role in putting things in motion and otherwise roll along with the rest of the movie. And you know what? That’s actually pretty cool! It’s a mystery, really, with a kidnapping and family squabbles and two possible culprits and a dismembered toe in an envelope. It’s noir without the noir. All the plot, none of the ambiance. If you don’t really look at the plot itself you might miss it amongst all the White Russians and rug obsessions and pot smoking. But seriously. Look at the plot.

Wealthy Jeffrey Lebowski’s trophy wife, Bunny, has apparently been kidnapped. He hires our hero to drop off the money to the kidnappers and secure her safe return. The drop goes awry and soon our hero finds himself in trouble with Lebowski, the kidnappers, folks the wife owed money to, and then he meets Lebowski’s daughter. She’s sultry and mysterious and doesn’t get along with her father or the trophy wife. She wants the money back. But the money is missing. The kidnappers want the money. But the money is missing. The folks the wife owed money to? Want the money. But? The money? It is missing. And so The Dude, our hero, has to find out what happened to the money. And he never asked to get involved in all of this. It’s all because of a case of mistaken identity. That right there is a great little mystery setup. And then the hero is this aging hippie who’s happiest when he’s stoned, drinking a White Russian, or bowling. He peppers his speech with lots of filler, dudes and mans and fucks. He sprawls when he sits down. He’s not a private eye – in fact he has an encounter with one who thinks he is and disabuses him of that notion right quick – he just wanted his rug replaced.

The whole movie is this bizarre melding of genres, which the Coen Brothers seem to do rather well. Taking something classic and plunking it down in a time and place it never belonged before works rather well for them. They certainly seem to have had fun making this movie, as did Jeff Daniels, who does a fantastic job with The Dude. He’s utterly incomprehensible much of the time, and yet you always know what he means. I really like him, and I like a lot of the rest of the cast, and I like the mystery and I like the concept. I like the bowling and the bizarre dream sequences. I just don’t like Walter. It’s not that John Goodman does a bad job playing him. It’s that he does too dedicated a job. To the point where I fully believe him. I would just rather believe him a little less so I could enjoy the rest of the movie more.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 231 – Dark City

Dark City – October 17th, 2010

I remember when I first saw this movie, sitting in Andy’s first apartment in Pennsylvania. I remember thinking it was pretty damn cool, but it was late when I’d watched it and I’d missed a few bits and so it felt a little like a puzzle missing a piece or two. It added to its mystery and ambiance at the time. After all, it is a mystery, and it’s a mystery that involves stories being built and people’s whole personalities and lives being pieced together from scratch. It’s about a man who’s missing parts of himself. A city that’s missing more than it knows. So it’s understandable to me that I might leave it, at least at first, feeling like there was something that I overlooked.

As it turns out, I think I must just not have been paying close enough attention. The movie is really rather well put together, but it does something I really love: It makes use of the medium of film to communicate. You can’t follow the plot just by listening to the dialogue. You need to look at the images and the people to know what’s going on. I’d be curious to hear how the movie would be done in DVS, since there’s so much that’s communicated visually. And I’m not just talking about atmosphere, though the atmosphere is very important to the movie and is also very reliant on visuals. I’m talking about the memories. The plot revolves around constructed memories, introduced to people in a flood all at once. Watching those memories flash by tells someone seeing them a whole lot, but the purpose is to show little bits of information quickly, faster than they’d be communicated by someone speaking. Eliding them into “visions of a childhood spent at the beach” wouldn’t tell someone nearly enough. So I’m curious. It’s a movie that takes the audio and the video and uses both to great effect.

Something else I love about this movie is that it’s a science fiction mystery. It’s scifi noir, and I do love the melding of genres. When it starts it seems as if it’s simply a noirish murder mystery, with a man waking up in a hotel bath tub, no memory of who he is or how he got there or why there’s a dead woman in the room, spirals cut into her skin. Why is he there? Who killed the woman? What’s going on and who is he? But as soon as you meet the Strangers, it’s apparent that this is not just a mystery. Something inhuman is at work here. And soon enough we know some of what it is, but it takes the rest of the movie for it all to come out. Suffice it to say that the city is an experiment, and the people in it unwitting subjects. The Strangers are a dying race of aliens, studying the human soul in hopes of curing what ails them. And so they take people, remove their memories, replace them with others, build them new lives and make them new people and see what happens. But it’s unnatural. And so sometimes the people wake and it hasn’t worked and their minds break. Humans weren’t meant to live like this. John Murdoch has rejected the life he was being given and the Strangers want to know how. He can use the powers they use to reshape the city. They want to find him before he ruins everything.

It doesn’t sound that complicated there, I know. But the way the movie tells it all is through snippets and visions and bits and pieces of memory. John doesn’t have the memories he should have, but he has the trappings of the life he was supposed to have. He hunts down this man he was supposed to be and slowly figures out what’s going on. He has help, of course, but three of the people helping him are working with limited knowledge, since they’re of the city too, and their memories and lives are as constructed as his was supposed to be. There’s the woman who was supposed to be his wife, Emma. There’s Inspector Bumstead, who’s inherited John’s case from another inspector who, as it turns out, also woke up. And has since snapped. Detective Walenski, the other inspector, helps John a bit too. As much as he can before he’s gone. And then there’s Dr. Schreber, a somewhat tragic figure. He’s human, but not really a part of the city. He works for the Strangers, but not willingly, and he is a key to John figuring out what’s happening and finding a way to fix everything. The performances of these characters, as well as the most important strangers, are fantastic. It’s this movie that made me desperately want to see Rufus Sewell as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies. He does determined desperation so well. William Hurt and Jennifer Connolly are both excellent, in quiet ways, as Bumstead and Emma, respectively. And then there’s Kiefer Sutherland as Schreber. He’s halting and awkward and hurt, but also triumphant at the end. And of course there’s Richard O’Brien as Mr. Hand, a Stranger who takes a very sinister path, following John through the city. I absolutely adore O’Brien in this.

As the movie progresses, we see the city shift and grow and shrink and change. People disappear from their jobs and reappear in others as if they’d been there the whole time. John searches the city for a way to a beach he thinks he should remember, but the beach is forever unreachable. Like the memories he should have. It can be a little heavy handed, yes, but I don’t really care. After all, the Strangers aren’t the most careful or delicate of creatures. They keep Schreber around because he’s able to deftly meld memory essence into a life, something the Strangers can’t do themselves. So the darkness and heavy handedness is fitting, taken as things the Strangers have constructed. The city itself really gives the movie its fantastic atmosphere. It’s a place where you expect murders to happen. It feels seedy and crumbling and I can’t help but wonder just how much the Strangers could learn from such an unnatural and rotten place. I’ve always thought that any data they got from the human subjects would be twisted by the environment they have the subjects in. But perhaps that was intentional. They’re somewhat twisted creatures themselves anyhow.

Having now seen this movie countless times, I no longer feel lost at the end of it. Yes, there are pieces that aren’t put neatly in place, and the ending is triumphant but not perfect, but that feels right. It doesn’t feel like it’s missing pieces. It feels like there are holes in the puzzle itself. Parts that were never there and so it’s up to us to fill them in. And I rather like that. I like that the movie places the creation of the world squarely in the hands of the inhabitants. That there’s a message that we can create ourselves. That we’re not defined by what other people say we are, but by what we find within. It’s a very stylized movie, and it definitely depends on its visuals to place the audience in this timeless city where it’s always night and things can change in a matter of minutes. But it also has a few fantastic messages that don’t necessarily depend on the visuals. But put it all together and you get something special, and I think I will always love it.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark City

October 17, 2010

Dark City

Way back at the start of this movie project when we reviewed Knowing I talked about how I had purchased it based only on the fact that it had the name of Alex Proyas attached to it. For me that name has a special magic, and this movie is the reason why. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this film. At one point after this came out on DVD I watched this movie almost every day. It’s such a wonderfully put together story, such a strange and mysterious world and filled with such strange and broken characters.

I could over-simplify and say that this is a noir sci-fi mystery, which is mostly true. At its core it excels at presenting that dark, moody look of the old noir mysteries of the past, and mixing in a ton of cool special effects with a sci-fi story behind it all. Mix this with an astonishing cast of brilliant actors, a wonderful script, and magical production design. Even with all that there’s something other and beyond that which brings the whole movie together. It’s all those things, but it’s also more than the sum of its parts.

The movie is called Dark City, and the city is very much one of the stars of the film. Before we meet any of the characters we get a long series of establishing shots that go through the grimy, damp, dark and smoggy streets of the bustling metropolis where this whole film takes place. It’s all narrow streets and looming buildings, elevated train rails and traffic on busy thoroughfares. In design the city is vague about its time period, but it has a sort of art deco 1930s feel, which is in keeping with the noir feel. The bustling crowds that inhabit its streets are all caught in their anonymous lives.

It is one of those little lives upon which the movie concentrates. At the start of the film whole city falls asleep at the stroke of midnight – slumped on their stools in the delis of the city or over the wheels of their cars. Everything grinds to a halt, but alone in a hotel bathroom a single man wakes up. He has no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he got there – and there are strange forces at work in his life. As he sets out to figure out his life he finds that he is named John Murdock and that he is the prime suspect in a series of murders. His beautiful wife has been having an affair. There’s a mysterious limping, stuttering doctor who knows something about his past. Most disturbing of all are the mysterious pale Strangers in long black coats who seem to be following him. It’s all a mystery, like I said, but a sci-fi mystery. Which means that in order to solve the mystery – in order to figure out who he is and what’s going on – John has to understand the nature of the world he’s living in.

Another aspect of what makes this movie so astonishing is the cast. How on earth did Proyas get this collection of well known and talented actors for such an offbeat and peculiar project? In the role of John there’s Rufus Sewell, who was unknown to me at the time which works for a sort of sympathetic mystery man character. Then there’s Jennifer Connelly as his wife Emma. She’s perfect as a sort of smouldering noir heroine. Her every heavy-lidded glare speaks volumes and she also has a sort of innocence about her which is perfect for the role she’s playing as Emma is used by the mysterious doctor, the police and the strangers in attempts to get to John. As the driven police detective determined to get to the bottom of the mystery no matter what the price is William Hurt, who has been one of my favorite character actors for years. He has a knack for playing these soft-spoken people with a core of steel upon whom entire worlds can turn. Check him out in Fearless or Kiss of the Spider Woman. So it’s a delight to see him here. He brings a great sense of gravitas to the film and helps the audience to unravel the mystery as his own character gets caught up in it. As the doctor there’s Keefer Sutherland. He jokes on the commentary track that when his agent gave him the script he thought they had gotten the wrong Sutherland and had meant to pitch the role to Donald. I love the way he’s chosen to portray Dr. Schreber. He’s so clearly and literally broken. he has trouble walking, trouble speaking. He seems completely weak and beaten throughout the entire film, but has secret schemes of his own which he plans to enact. And there are the Strangers. All of them are creepy and cool in their leather outfits with their pale bald heads, but chief among them in my regard is of course Richard O’Brien of Rocky Horror fame as Mr. Hand. His performance is so sinister, so creepy and so utterly alien that he brings a great deal of tension and power to the movie all on his own.

Further kudos have to go to the special effects teams and designers who worked on this film. The city itself, and the creepy clockwork bowls beneath it, are brought to life through a number of claustrophobic sets, a whole lot of intricate and beautiful work with scale models, and a liberal sprinkling of computer effects and morphing. Everything blends to form a sort of dream world. It’s a city of no particular time with no particular geography or landmarks. Just endless buildings, girders and streets where the Strangers go about their peculiar experiments.

I love, love, love, love, LOVE this movie. As I’ve said it combines a great script, a great cast and great design to make a very cool experience, but for me it has more impact than that. I think it comes down to the payoff at the end of the film. Deep down I have the unshakable belief that this movie holds a truth about our own world. I know in my heart that here in the world we inhabit outside of the movies and the internet the same can be said of our lives as of John’s. If you truly understand the world you live in then you gain the power to change it for the better.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 131 – Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet – July 9th, 2010

I am on a mission. As I mentioned last night, and at the outset of this project, I really would like to watch all the stuff I’ve got that I’ve never seen. Sure, there are titles I’m not looking forward to, but mostly there are just a lot of DVDs I’ve never put in. If I look at our little spreadsheet and calculate the percentage of movies I’ve seen out of what we own, it’s at around 62%. That’s up a good bit from when we started, but it’s not high enough! So I’m aiming to up my new view count. And this bit of David Lynch weirdness is tonight’s effort.

So here’s another thing: I’ve never watched more than maybe ten minutes of Twin Peaks. I was too young for it when it was originally on. I caught a few minutes of some dude changing into some other dude when my parents were watching it with friends once. That’s about it. So when Andy told me this had some similarities, well, I’m going to have to take that on faith.

I started out trying to keep a little description of the plot going, but even describing the plot doesn’t touch the weirdness in this movie. I mean, it would give a good view of the events that happen, but it’s how they happen, and the impact they have on the characters that’s important. It’s semi-neo-noir, but sunnier than noir has any right to be. It’s a mystery, but it’s also an exploration of morality and sexuality and duality.

When we arrive in the town of Lumberton, with its puntastic radio station and cheerfully immaculate neighborhoods, we meet Jeffrey (Kyle MacLaughlan), who’s home from college to visit his father, who was injured in a freak lawn care accident. While he’s home, Jeffrey finds a dismembered ear in a field and ends up mixed up in things his previously mundane Lumberton life never prepared him for. With the help of Sandy (Laura Dern), a detective’s daughter, Jeffrey ends up spying on a woman who sings at a local club (Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy), discovering that she’s being abused and sexually coerced by a psycho named Frank (Dennis Hopper) while he has her husband and son locked away somewhere. Through Frank, Jeffrey learns that Lumberton is hiding a whole seamy underbelly, with drug deals and murders and brothels. Eventually everything comes to a head and there’s a confrontation between Frank and Jeffrey in Dorothy’s apartment. There’s a corrupt cop involved, but it’s never made very clear what he’s up to other than being a corrupt cop. But beyond that it would seem to be sort of straightforward, right?

Except it’s not. Mainly because there’s this whole thing between Jeffrey and Dorothy, but also between Jeffrey and Sandy. And Frank’s obviously got some mommy issues in addition to all the other issues he’s got (like his amyl nitrate habit and his overuse of the word “fuck”). I could spend a lot of time dissecting the themes and symbolism in this movie, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Plenty of people already have, I’m sure, and I don’t want to be writing this all night. Basically there’s a conflict within Jeffrey. Does he want the good girl, with the pastel dresses and sweet disposition? Or does he want the bad girl, the one who wears blue velvet and asks him to hit her? Can he want both? Can he want the bad girl but not the bad life? He’s pretty obviously out of place when Frank and his gang drag him along to the brothel. But he’s drawn to the whole mystery and to Dorothy herself anyhow.

There’s a lot more to it, of course. The movie has plenty to pick apart and put under a microscope. And it’s got plenty in it that sort of makes you wonder if it’s supposed to mean something or if it’s just there to set the scene. I feel like I should mention Brad Dourif as Raymond, one of Frank’s gang, but he’s clearly just creepy set dressing (he does do a good creepy guy). Dean Stockwell as Ben, on the other hand, who runs the brothel and seems blissed out on something and about to keel over until he sweeps into a lip-sync of In Dreams, which then ends abruptly and he’s out of the movie? Does his part mean anything? Or is he just a means to the end of getting In Dreams on cassette so it can play later while Frank beats up Jeffrey and one of the women from the brothel dances on the roof of the car? Who knows!

And then there’s the whole aesthetic of the movie. Lumberton seems to exist in a weird time limbo. The clothes and hair say 1980s, but a lot of the stylistic choices, like the cars, say 1950s. Dorothy’s apartment has a decidedly art deco look to it, but nothing else does. It’s almost as if someone tried to recreate the 20s and the 50s using only 80s stuff. But then both of the iconic songs used in the film (the titular Blue Velvet and Roy Orbison’s In Dreams) came out in 1963. It’s sort of like, take Pleasantville, infuse it with some fashion from Sixteen Candles and set Hitchcock loose in town.

I guess the only thing that throws me out of the movie is how blatant Jeffrey is in his naivete. I mean, it’s supposed to be obvious, but when he comes out with lines like “It’s a strange world.” and “Why are people like Frank in the world?” It just seems like a little too much telling. It’s not MacLaughlan’s issue. It’s the script. But that seems like another style choice. Like the whole bald-faced display of innocence is supposed to be over the top so that the flip side of it all is that much starker. I don’t know, maybe it’s a Lynch thing, but it’s not a me thing. I get it, but I’m not overly fond of it.

All that being said, I’m glad I’ve now seen the movie. It’s iconic. It’s a bizarre cultural touchstone. And while I might not be entirely taken with the style, I can certainly appreciate that Lynch has a style and that he’s picked some difficult subject matter to tackle. The performances, especially Rossellini and Hopper, are fantastic, and maybe the style will grow on me. It’s certainly interesting.

July 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 103 – Sin City

Sin City – June 11th, 2010

A few notes to start with: Tonight is our next Six Degrees connection, moving from yesterday with Jessica Alba. Also, we were faced with a tricky decision tonight in terms of which version to watch. There’s the theatrical version, and then there’s the “recut, extended and unrated” version, which has the movie cut up into its four separate stories and presented with additonal footage. Now, according to the rules, we’re supposed to watch the long version, but it’s not really the movie anymore in this case, is it. So we’re going with the theatrical version and maybe some time when the project is over we’ll do an Extras Extravaganza or something. Do the extended recut of this and the weird chronological version of Pulp Fiction or something.

Now, on to the movie. We saw this in the theater when it came out and I distinctly recall my first comment upon leaving: “That movie was rife with genital mutilation!” And it really really is. I mean, there’s a gun shot to the groin not fifteen minutes in and that’s just the first instance (it’s so not worth keeping track). At least it’s highly stylized genital mutilation. It’s a highly stylized movie. It’s a movie made to be a moving, live action vision of the comic books it’s based on, and it succeeds admirably. Beautiful, even, if you can accept the black and white (and sometimes red and sometimes yellow) gore as beautiful. And I can, because I have nothing but admiration for the feat this movie accomplishes. I’ll get to the story(s) and my issues with it/them, but this movie isn’t so much the story/stories as it is the mood and the visuals, and the mood and the visuals are stunning. It’s neo-noir done as stark and gritty as noir can be. It’s black and white and grey with little pops of color. Sometimes it’s blood, but sometimes the blood is incidental to the scene and so it’s not. Sometimes it’s hair or a pair of sneakers. And sometimes the bright white is the focus, in the lenses of the glasses of a psycho, or the bandages on someone’s face. It’s the comic book. Brought to life.

Based, as this is, on comic books, it’s really a series of vignettes, but the way the movie works, they’re connected to each other. Aside from the capper with Josh Hartnett the movie starts with a story with a soon-to-retire cop, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), going after a sicko who kidnaps and tortures young girls. He’s got a girl named Nancy Callahan now, and Hartigan’s determined not to let him kill her. He manages to rescue her (and inflict some genital mutilation on her kidnapper) before being double-crossed.

Then in the second story, where a tough guy named Marv goes after the creepiest character in the movie, a cannibal named Kevin, played by Elijah Wood, who killed a woman he slept with, he knows a grown-up Nancy, whom he’s a sort of big brother to. Now she dances in a bar where there’s a waitress named Shellie, who’s in the next story. Also, Marv meets a bunch of prostitutes. They show up again too. But I’ll get back to them. I’ve got issues.

Anyhow, on to the next story, once Marv gets his revenge, and we meet back up with Shellie, whose new boyfriend, Dwight, goes after her old boyfriend, Jack, and ends up mucking up a truce between the prostitutes and the cops. And then he has a little driving scene where Jack’s dead body talks to him. It’s a complicated one with mob bosses and tar pits and it all ends with the prostitutes gunning down a bunch of guys.

And then Hartigan wakes up in the hospital and we’re back in time and he’s being framed for Nancy’s kidnapping. We pick up his story where we left it and he spends eight years in jail before getting out and unwittingly leading Nancy’s kidnapper (now a bright yellow freak thanks to the medical treatments necessary to keep him alive) back to a now nineteen year old Nancy. Who has a total thing for him. And so they hide out before dealing with him and we get some more genital mutilation. And then there’s the capper, again with Josh Hartnett.

Now, to my issues. The women in this movie. Every woman is a prostitute, an exotic dancer, and if she’s not, she gets the shit kicked out of her. Shellie and Lucille (Marv’s parole officer) being the specific examples that come to mind. Granted, Shellie has a new boyfriend (and he’s out of his mind, as he himself says) and her new boyfriend takes care of the abusive asshole who liked to smack her around, but she apologizes for going out with the abusive asshole. Basically, all the women in the movie exist for the men. The only really empowered women are the prostitutes, since they’ve brokered a deal with the cops and have their own turf free of pimps and mobsters, but they’re still only powerful in the story because of their sex and because of the fragile deal with the male cops they give free rides to. And then Dwight refers to them as “dizzy dames”. And one of them’s a double-crossing bitch after all. It’s a movie all about manly men saving the poor defenseless women, even the silly ones who think they can defend themselves. Silly hookers. All that being said, Dwight’s my favorite character (aside from creepy Kevin) for his calm, almost deadpan delivery in both his lines out loud and his narration.

Still, I can’t help but feel kind of icky for liking this movie. And I do like it! It’s a beautifully done movie, and the stories are well told. There’s fantastic action and some great acting (the cast is full of great names, which is what made this such a perfect connection for Six Degrees). I’ve just got some problems with the gender dynamics on display. Sure, there are more crooked and twisted and dirty men in the movie than crooked and twisted and dirty women. But that’s because only the prostitutes have enough power to be crooked, and one of them is! Otherwise the men have all the power, so they’re the ones who can abuse it. It’s frustrating. But the style and the crafting of the movie redeem it enough for me to still enjoy it. That and all the genital mutilation.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Sin City

June 11, 2010

Sin City

I saw this first in the theaters, and loved it. When I got it on DVD I sat down and watched the movie with Frank Miller’s books in my lap and followed along with the action. It’s astonishing just how perfectly the movie matches itself to the books. I attribute it to the co-directing credit that Robert Rodriguez gave to Frank Miller. Frank was on the set during the filming. You might recall that way back when we reviewed Pirates of the Caribbean I attributed some of the success of the first movie to the fact that the writers were on set, and I think part of the pure vision of this movie comes from the same source. When we reviewed 300 I noted that Zack Snyder had done such an amazing job channelling Miller’s vision to adapt the book to the screen. This movie is something other than that. It’s not an adaptation of the original work. It IS the original work. The comic books are pretty much the animatics for the movie.

The other amazing thing about the movie is just how much of it is the work of Robert Rodruigez. Sure every frame and every word is directly from the books, but the movie belongs to Rodruigez as well. He filmed it, edited it, scored it, even did the special effects. Without Rodruigez this movie couldn’t exist, because he very much made it, almost with his bare hands. I kind of picture the filming of this movie as being like one of Marv’s one-manned killing sprees. Single-handedly, and with one hundredth the budget of a big summer blockbuster he crafted this. Raw and cool and impossible.

Sin City is actually three books out of the seven that Frank Miller wrote. The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard and The Big Fat Kill. All three are over-the-top noir tales of gruesome life and death in Sin City. They’re cleverly edited together to show they’re all taking place in the same sad city and with the same crew. Dwight from The Big Fat Kill briefly appears in Marv’s episode. The evil Roark family is prominently featured in both That Yellow Bastard and The Hard Goodbye. But beyond that it’s three stories of indomitable lugs who pay for doing the right thing in a city where everything is run by the mob and by a corrupt family of killers.

The movie is bookended by Bruce Willis as Hartigan, the lone good cop in the whole Sin City police force (or so it seems.) He’s on the trail of a killer who rapes and murders little girls. A killer who is the son of a corrupt Senator. Sure he saves the girl, but things don’t go well for him. Then there’s an absolutely brilliant career-reviving performance by Micky Rourke as Marv – the impossibly burly and unstoppable killing machine who gets framed for the murder of a pretty girl, and goes on to hunt down the killer. And then there’s Dwight – who tries to do a good thing for his new girlfriend, protecting her from and ex who has beaten her in the past, and gets mixed up in a battle between the mob and the police and the whores of Old Town.

Sometimes things are made difficult for the movie by the way it so tightly cleaves to the books. The whole movie is told through this hard-boiled monotone reading of the internal monologue of the characters. For the most part it works really well. I mean, these characters are all hard as nails and completely unstoppable. So it’s alright that their dialog, which reads well on the page, is a little stilted coming out of the mouths of actors. (Michael Madsen in particular seems to have trouble wrapping his lips around the hammy dialog of his character, Hartigan’s corrupt partner.)

Even so, I love this movie because it is such a bold and different thing. Sure, Frank’s characters are brutish and unlikable much of the time. Sure the violence and blood is far above and beyond practically anything else we own, and sure the dialog reads like something from a comic book. But that’s the appeal of it. It’s pure unadulterated male machismo. All guys protecting dames in distress and beating the living crap out of each other. Full of unnecessary nudity and, as my wife and I often say of this movie, rife with genital mutilation. There’s nothing nice or politically correct or refined about this film. But it’s a major accomplishment.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Strange Days

March 9, 2010

Strange Days

A conversation I had with my wife when I heard that Kathryn Bigelow had directed the Oscar nominated Hurt Locker:

Me: Kathryn Bigelow – why does that name sound familiar?

Amanda: You know her.  She directed Strange Days.

Me: I thought that was her!  That movie rocks!

So when Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar two days ago we decided to watch Strange Days as a celebration of sorts.  But, really, I don’t need an excuse to watch this movie.  It’s one of the best noir sci-fi films ever made… and yet I haven’t watched it in ages.  Not sure why.  Maybe it’s some of the intense violence that is portrayed.  You do really get sucked into this movie – and it’s hard to let yourself care for the characters in the film when they’re in for such a rough ride.

The premise of Strange Days is really gripping.  It takes place in the not-too-distant future (which in this case is new year’s eve 1999.)  The world is pretty much just like our world, only in the verge of martial law because eveybody’s crazy with millennium fever.  Oh, and there’s this magic tech called “tapping” that lets you record your complete sensory input and re-live it.  Or re-live the input of anybody else who has tapped.  Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny, a down on his luck ex-cop who makes a living (almost) selling black market wire recordings.  An acquaintance of his and friend of his ex girlfriend Faith is brutally murdered.  She was mixed up in something – something that involves the cops and a murdered singer.  From there it’s a Raymond Chandleresque noir thriller, which means most of the time Lenny is on the run, getting beat up, and doesn’t know who to trust.

Like his friend Max tells him “The issue is not whether you’re paranoid.  The issue is whether you’re paranoid enough.”

What’s impressive is how Bigelow builds the tension, introduces you to the world and manages to make the characters so human.  You can’t help caring about Lenny and his sad devotion to his lost love (played by a slinky all-growed-up Juliette Lewis.)  Then there’s his one true friend – the only person who hasn’t given up on him and who repeatedly pulls his bacon out of the fire as he gets deeper and deeper in over his head – played with fire and passion by Angela Bassett in the performance of a lifetime.  The story takes the lead here, the characters are more important than the setting or the special effects.  Indeed the whole wire-head thing is treated only as a great plot device that lets you literally get inside the heads of the characters.  It involves some great camera tricks as well, and you know that a lot of effort went into it, but it works so seamlessly that most of the time you don’t even notice.

The first ten minutes of the movie are a single continuous first-person take – and there’s  commentary track that’s a half-hour symposium that Kathryn Bigelow gave on how they accomplished that.  But after you’ve been through those ten minutes you totally believe the world this whole film takes place in, the technology of the wireheads just exists.

This movie is part of the reason I love this whole movie-a-day project.  I love watching truly great movies, and this really is one.  Believe me.  And let me just re-iterate: Angela Bassett – performance of a lifetime!  Best thing in this movie, and that’s saying something.

My one small quibble would be I suppose that the movie becomes a little bit more action-movieish in the very end, probably the work of producer/writer James Cameron.  But, I suppose that’s okay too: it’s not the same mood as the rest of the film, but it leaves you with a great adrenal rush and a satisfied feeling at the end of it all.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments