The desolation and despair of Detroit is the background, as a handful of its residents, many of whom can remember living through it's boom and bustle, tell their stories of woe while still holding out hope for the future of their fading American metropolis. Much like the Oscar winning Searching for Sugarman, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's Detropia features beautiful photography of the Motor City and receives further commendation for telling its story without the benefit of narration. It does, however, barely scrape the surface of the problems besetting this and other once great cities and comes to the foolhardy conclusion (the same one they have arrived at here in Cleveland) that its salvation lie in the hands of the artists.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
In a London flat in 2006, a woman's decomposing body was discovered three years after her death, with the television still on and unwrapped Christmas presents under the tree. The film then alternates between reports on the incident to interviews with friends and coworkers, most of whom have seemingly no idea who this woman was. Dreams of a Life hopes to make a profound statement on loneliness and getting lost in the rush of the big city, but after its bizarrely intriguing news story setup, the documentary goes absolutely nowhere with a dense narrative structure and interviews lacking any insight whatsoever in a pretentious film that thinks it goes way deeper than it actually does.
Friday, June 28, 2013
The film opens with a recreation of the famous meeting of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on the Dartford train as they discuss a mutual interest in American blues. The scene then changes to 1960s suburban New Jersey where we witness the start of another, virtually unknown band as two friends admire a guitar and drum set in a store front window, and we join them on their rickety road to break into the music industry. Not Fade Away is a love letter to rock 'n' roll by David Chase in his debut film as a feature film director following the remarkable run of The Sopranos. Here he he dips into that well again in what is probably a semi-autobiographical story, and frankly cuts too close to the series to keep you in the film. To make matters worse, Chase does so with a young, smarmy, and unlikable cast and concludes with a pretty putrid ending. It does feature a nice role for James Gandolfini, playing close to his famous TV persona, in what amounts to a touching sendoff
Thursday, June 27, 2013
With an imminent stock market collapse and people rioting in the streets, a 28-year-old billionaire journeys on a daylong voyage across Manhattan to get his hair cut. That's about all I could gather was going on or rather all that's worth noting about the latest film from David Cronenberg. From a novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis is murky and impenetrable, keeping the viewer at arm's length, and features a bland, entirely uninvolving performance from Robert Pattinson.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
After safely guiding late night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) through a racous crowd to his limo, amateur stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) procures an audition which will hopefully lead to an appearance on his show and thus worldwide stardom. When it appears that Jerry was humoring him, after more than a few less than subtle hints, Rupert and his unhinged groupie crony (Sandra Bernhard) decide to kidnap the late-night host to at last attain that deeply desired appearance. The King of Comedy is an unusual film for Martin Scorsese, yet it is still one of the funniest and darkest of all his works, even if its message regarding celebrity fandom seems muted in today's culture. De Niro, himself in an atypical role, delivers a wounded and somewhat outrageous performance, one of his finest, and Jerry Lewis is excellent playing a character probably not too far removed from his own persona.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
On a picturesque day in an idealistic suburban setting, a young man (Kyle MacLachlan) returning home from college to visit his hospitalized father discovers a severed ear. After notifying the police and reacquainting himself with the assigned detective's beautiful daughter (Laura Dern) he begins his own investigation which leads him down a nightmarish path to a tormented nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini) who is being held as a sexual prisoner by a gas huffing psychopath (Dennis Hopper) and his band of underworld miscreants. Blue Velvet, the most famous film from the terminally weird David Lynch, may be the one that first put me off to the cultish director, but watching it again I began to understand its appeal, and appreciate what he is getting at, in depicting the seedy depravity that lurks behind the artifice of our day-to-day lives. The mood and photography are perfect, MacLachlan and Dern are just right as the sunny innocents, and Hopper is unforgettable as the frighteningly maniacal Frank Booth.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Room 237 for the kind of following a movie of his could inspire). A Life in Pictures offers an in-depth look at the man and an analysis of his work, as told by family members, friends, and collaborators, and goes so much deeper than many of the recent profiles where celebrities will laud their subject and not delve any further.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Beginning in the spring (which resembles most people's winter) we are shown a year in the life of several residents of the remote village of Bakhta deep in heart of Siberia. Little affected by the advancements of the last 100 years and still using many prehistoric methods for their craft, we watch how a trapper, boat builder, and other locals ply their trade. Happy People began as an extended documentary made by Russian Dmitry Vasyukov for Euro television which caught the eye of Werner Herzog who decided to collaborate with the directed, reediting it and adding his own narration on a much shorter version. The result is compelling, featuring beautiful and some even seemingly impossible footage, and some unforgettable moments also: a trapper telling how the Russian government left him and a friend out in the wilderness, never returning to restock their supplies, with his partner soon giving up the ship also. Another story of a bear mauling his dog is just as harrowing. His daylong trip into town to celebrate New Year's with his pup running beside his sled is extraordinary and even the day to day rigmarole captured is fascinating in its own way.
note: the DVD contains two features of interest, one which explains how Herzog became involved with the film and a second which makes an argument for his director's credit by showing a clip from the original series, the shooting of which he had no involvement with whatsoever.
Friday, June 21, 2013
In Monstropolis, creatures of all shapes and sizes dwell in a city powered by screams and the top scream earner/mega-celebrity is James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) always accompanied by his faithful companion, the wisecracking Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). While the screams fuel the city, its inhabitants are deathly afraid of human contact, and when a rambunctious little girl enters their realm, it places Sully and Mike in jeopardy, causing a chain reaction that uncovers a deep rooted conspiracy in the Monster City. Pixar's third feature outing is an amiable, imaginative film which doesn't play as well it's second time through (I'm finding that about a lot of the films I've revisited lately) and is more geared towards kids than adults. The voicework from Goodman and Crystal is excellent and while much of the foreground animation is creative, I noticed that the background elements appeared cheap and rough-hewn.
During its theatrical release, it was accompanied by the Oscar winning short For the Birds, posted below
Thursday, June 20, 2013
In a 2008 New Orleans, still reeling from the effects of the flood and pounded again by the recently toppled economy, a low level gangster (Vince Curatola) and his two bungling associates (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn) knock of a local card game run by another opportunistic lowlife (Ray Liotta). Called in to clean up the mess is Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a cool as ice, slightly melancholic mob assassin. Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly" opens with a pulse pounding robbery before settling down for a measured, talky, and brutal film not unlike his "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", which also featured Pitt and a similarly beautiful palette of saturated colors. Pitt has great presence, delivering another memorable performance, although two key sequences, both involving intimidation speeches set in bars, simply do not work. The second of which is a culmination of the 2008 election sound blurbs heard throughout the film, and delivered in the form of a tired monologue involving Thomas Jefferson's slave ownership and how America is not the great collective as that year's presidential victor purported it to be. On other fronts, it is very welcomed to see James Gandolfini as a one of Pitt's colleagues, who is essentially playing another version of Tony Soprano-depressed, personally engaging, quick tempered,--all and all a hot mess. It is also nice to see Gandolfini's TV costar Curatola in a fine supporting role, and nice work is also given by Richard Jenkins, Liotta, and McNairy. "Killing Them Softly" is based on a 1974 novel by George V. Higgins entitled Cogan's Trade, published in 1974, and the film clearly wants to be set in that era. Instead, Dominik fights that urge to incorporate unnecessary, obvious, and forced comment on present day corporate America which is to the detriment of his otherwise excellent film.
The scene with Pitt and Gandolfini begins at 00:50
Two adjutants return home from a decisive battle, with one aiming to woo their commanding officer's daughter and the other his niece. Both see their attempts at love thwarted, the former from external treachery and the latter from his own stubbornness. If ever a filmmaker was needed to craft a modernized Shakespeare comedy, that man would certainly be Joss Wheedon, director of The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods and creator of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. It's hard to view Wheedon's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (or was that the alternate title for Avengers) with anything other than cynicism or attempt to add more legitimacy to his career (not that it even needs legitimizing in the first place). The film is an ultra low budget treatment, shot in black and white mostly at one location, with a cast reciting Shakespeare's original dialogue that seems they have no experience in doing so. The film is dull for much of the way through, but does pick up towards the end, which has entirely to do with the source material and little to do with the cast and crew. With Much Ado, one gets the sense of a director riding high after his recent film successes and inviting his friends over to celebrate by making a movie
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Sometimes you write off a movie without even seeing it, or even with knowing very little about the production. That's what happened with me when I heard Baz Luhrmann would be reteaming with Leonardo DiCaprio to film F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I book I hold dearly, and when I saw the high octane trailers with Jay-Z and Kanye West on the soundtrack my resolve against the film was reinforced. But today I finally caved in and went to see the film and found myself pleasantly surprised. Yes the film is bloated, glitzy, and overlong, and the hip hop soundtrack truly is an abomination, but I never expected Luhrmann, in all his ostentation, to show a reverence to the source material. There are some changes to the structure: many have griped about Nick Carraway telling the story while recovering in a sanitarium, but I think it solves the fundamental problem regarding the narration. The film language used to convey Fitzgerald's ideas are also handled quite well and often I was brought back to those vivid images and scenes: the green light, the all-seeing eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, the valley of the ashes, Gatsby churlishly waited for Daisy to arrive for their tea date, and so on. DiCaprio is quite good in the title role, but the biggest surprise for me was Tobey Maguire, who I thought was wrong for the part of Nick but actually suits the role quite nicely. Carey Mulligan was also the right choice for Daisy and I though Joel Edgerton, though correctly cast, was too much in playing the brutish Tom Buchanan, sporting an unnatural American accent. Again the film is overlong and many scenes play out longer than they should and I found myself appreciating the quieter moments. All and all, it's an entertaining film that despite its flourishes and a few misgivings, does the novel well.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is a nightmarish fever dream that details one man's descent into madness in a chaotic, irrational environment and in many ways so was the making of the film. In Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr, in collaboration with Coppola's wife Eleanor (who provides narration from her on-set diary and secretly recorded video footage) document the tumultuous shoot on location in Philippines. From its massive delays and overages (which its director covered out of pocket), constant on-set headaches, a problematic cast (with issues ranging from rampant drug use to uncooperative stars--the outtakes with Marlon Brando are hilarious--the firing of Harvey Keitel after a few weeks, and a couple heart attacks for his replacement Martin Sheen) and coupled by the fact that Coppola seems to be apparently losing his mind. What makes this intimate, fascinating documentary all the more intriguing is that amid all this chaos, Coppola was able to fashion only one of the greatest war films of all time.
Monday, June 17, 2013
While beginning to come apart at the seems in his hotel room in Saigon, an Army Captain (Martin Sheen) receives specific and top secret orders: travel up the Nung River into Cambodia and assassinate a respected Colonel (Marlon Brando) who has gone off the reservation and established himself as an idol of the local people. Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola's nightmarish vision of the Vietnam War, is a vivid and brooding look at a descent into madness. Working from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Coppola along with screenwriter John Milius concoct a haunting episodic film featuring unprecedented photography from Vittorio Storaro, indelible performances from Sheen, Brando, and Robert Duvall (plus an outrageous one from Dennis Hopper as a drugged out photojournalist), and that is perhaps as grabbing and particular as any other ever made. On a side note, I watched the Redux version released in 2001 which features mostly unnecessary footage, including an interlude on a downed helicopter with several Playboy models and an extended scene at a French plantation. These additions make the film drag and I think you'd be better off viewing the film in its initial format.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
As an unstable Krypton crumbles and is under attacked by the rebel commander General Zod (Michael Shannon), Jor-El and Lara (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) have just performed the first natural birth in eons. After encoding their son with their people's DNA, the hope for their race's survival, they set him on a course for Earth. There the boy is taken in by a genial smalltown Kansas couple (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner), saves some people, struggles with his unique ability, goes on a walkabout journey to discover his origins, meets a plucky, ambitious reporter (Amy Adams), etc. etc., before Zod's impending return. Zach Snyder's Man of Steel is a wooden film, made in the director's usual glossy and uninspired format, that seems like it is headed in the right direction and than goes way, way, way over the top in its second half. The story comes from Christopher Nolan (who also oversaw the project) and David S. Goyer, and they too share much of the blame for a clunky screenplay which features what feels like throwaway material or retreads from their Batman movies. Star Henry Cavill does seem right for the lead but they choose to totally sidestep the comic aspects of his character (I hated the Daily Planet angle here) and although Amy Adams is one of the best working actresses right now and Hollywood, and her performance is good here, I couldn't help but think that she is wrong for the part. Another misstep is concerning Michael Shannon, an actor of ferocious intensity, who again seems rightly cast but is severely underused. The paternal roles are well cast in the movie, Crowe is very good but perhaps figures in the film for too long and Costner is excellent as Jonathan Kent. I never thought I'd say this, but this movie made me somewhat appreciate Bryan Singer's lackluster 2006 misfire. At least that movie had a reverence for the early Christopher Reeves films. Here, Snyder doesn't know whether he wants to do a Chris Nolan movie, a Star Wars sequel (this is probably an audition) or his own ostentatious take, but Richard Donner and Richard Lester seem the furthest inspiration from his mind. I don't think the point is to remake those classic films but when your vision is so long, loud, bland, and even boring, than maybe it should be.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
The saga of the Corleone crime family and their struggle to hold on from power and their fall from grace, as the sins of the father are passed on to his favorite son and the latter loses his soul. What more can be said about The Godfather films that hasn't already been said? Francis Ford Coppola's first two installments, made in collaboration with the source author Mario Puzo, are some of the finest examples of modern storytelling and moviemaking that we have. From the plot subtleties to the iconic performances (Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro) to Gordon Willis' breathtaking photography and Nino Rota's unforgettable score and even the somewhat unsung supporting performances (John Cazale, Richard Castellano, John Marley, Michael Gazzo, Lee Strasberg). Then there is the dreadful Part III, a film I was ready to defend, until realizing how poorly realized it is upon a recent viewing. Here Coppola does every he seemed to be trying to avoid doing in the earlier films, and presents a horrible screenplay with godawful acting, which is abetted somewhat by good direction, yet is still a black eye on an otherwise exceptional and unsurpassable series.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Carl Sandburg was born on a farm to Swedish parents in a small town in Illinois and worked a series of jobs as a laborer throughout the midwest, honing his craft as a writer while engaging with the many common folks he met, before becoming a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Soon he would become a voice for the Second City and the working man, and he would become internationally known for his poetry, an expansive anthology on Abraham Lincoln, and his folk singing. The Day Carl Sandburg Died is an excellent biography and nonfiction presentation which both informatively tells his life story, with affectionate commentary from Pete Seeger and Studs Terkel among others, and weaves much of his expressive and often haunting poetry.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Two brothers, separated by divorce, receive a beacon of hope that their parents will reunite when they learn that newly constructed bullet train will connect their two villages. I Wish is a well made film that tells a sweet story, and although I was admittedly distracted when I watched, I simply could not connect with it. For such an unstructured, low plot, family film, there is no need to drag it out to a running length of almost two hours and ten minutes, and this movie continually tried my patience and will certainly have younger viewers pulling their hair out.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
It is the last day of the 20th Century and a crime ridden Los Angeles is about to erupt with news that the police department is implicit in the death of a megastar musician/activist. Into this mix is thrown Lenny (Ralph Fiennes), a washed up ex-cop turned hustler who pushes the latest cyber technology: a sensory device that allows the user to voyeuristically experience other people's deepest and darkest sensations. Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days is an overly ambitious film with a protracted denouement, a foreseeable major plot twist, and awful dialogue from her former husband James Cameron and Jay Cocks. It features some incredible action sequence, Fiennes is great as usual, and he receives great support from Angela Bassett. In the end however, the film tries to do much and becomes muddled and mind numbing.
Monday, June 10, 2013
After the birth of his first child, a New Yorker (Ben Stiller) undergoes an identity crisis and feels the need to go on a search for his birth parents, much to the dismay of his adoptive guardians (George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore) and his patient wife (Patricia Arquette). After an inquest with many false leads and additions to their growing caravan, which also includes a sexy social worker (Tea Leoni) and two gay federal agents (Richard Jenkins and Josh Brolin), he finally arrives at the home of his birth parents (Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin), two drug dealing hippies living out in the Arizona desert. Flirting with Disaster was David O. Russell's second feature, a farcical comedy with mixed results. It feels ways over-the-top at times and is funny in spurts (Glenn Fitzgerald is a hoot as Stiller's new found brother) and I appreciated the film most for the comic sensibilities of its veteran cast members.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
It is a normal day for the Wetherly family, as the father (William Devane) is off at work, their daughter is at school, and the mother (Jane Alexander) is at home watching their youngest, who is happily watching Sesame Street when the signal is lost and a blinding white light encompasses their entire field of vision, the result of a nuclear bomb having touchdowned in the nearby metropolis. Now with the father completely off the grid, the mother must face the increasingly dire effects of nuclear fallout and shelter her family while guiding them to what will certainly be a doomed fate. Testament is a realistic drama, miles away from the mind numbing disaster films viewers of today have grown accustomed to. While offering a likely, horrific scenario, the film lays in on awfully thick thick with a pretentious screenplay and a severely misguided performance from Alexander, who did receive an Academy Award nomination for her work.
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Inventing David Geffen tells the story of a poor kid from Brooklyn who moved to L.A., got a job in the mail room at a prominent talent agency, and feigned his way as an agent. Soon he was on his way to being a multimedia tycoon and political filmmaker, fostering the likes of Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, producing films and Broadway shows, cofounding Dreamworks entertainment, and being a major backer for Barack Obama's presidential election. This American Masters entry is a fascinating success story and profile of an incredibly ambitious man, whom most of his friends describe as either assured, difficult, generous, or completely focused. It is very well made and features excellent footage, and in addition to the many celebrities who appear, Geffen himself is interviewed throughout and provides an above board commentary on his life.
Friday, June 7, 2013
In this remake of John Frankenheimer's exemplary 1962 original, not much has changed: Denzel takes over for Sinatra, the commies are now terrorists funded by a shadowy global economic group, and Raymond Shaw still has mommie issues in the worst way. Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate calls to mind an obvious question and one he should have answered the first time he did a disservice to a class with The Truth About Charlie which is why remake a classic, especially one like Franenheimer's which may have been as perfect as any movie has been? Watching this film (which is well made to its credit) I couldn't help measuring it up to the original: Liev Shreiber is no Laurence Harvey, Kimblerly Elise is a horrid replacement for Janet Leigh, and even Meryl Streep can't match Angela Lansbury's icy malevolence. I did find Denzel's work to be solid. I am not sure if Demme drew from the original screenplay, from Richard Condon's novel, or went off on his own tangent, but more is explained but even less is gained. Demme is a an excellent filmmaker who has made some great works in several genres (Silence of the Lambs, Stop Making Sense, Rachel Getting Married) when he has not spent his time trying to fix pristine classics.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
After meeting at a convention, a magazine journalist (Geena Davis) goes home with a scientist (Jeff Goldblum) to get the scoop on his top secret invention which carriers Earth shattering potentials: a teleportation machine that can disassemble living particles from one place before reassembling them in another. After demonstrating his creation on a live baboon, he becomes amorous with his new reporter friend. Soon, convinced of his triumph and carried away by his own zeal, he sends himself through the transporter, not realizing he is being accompanied on his journey by a housefly. The Fly is gruesome yet intelligent and involving science fiction from David Cronenberg, which features great special effects, an uncompromising ending, fine work from Davis, and a typically obnoxious, but serviceable performance from Goldblum. I also really liked John Getz (Blood Simple) who plays Davis' editor/on again, off again boyfriend.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
"IT'S JUST TWO GUYS HAVING DINNER!!!"
That's the obvious and understandable reaction upon seeing the film, or hearing about it, and it's true. My Dinner with Andre tells the story of two old friend catching up for an extended meal at a ritzy restaurant. On a cold, New York night, a cynical, depressed playwright (Wallace Shawn) meets with his director friend (Andre Gregory), where he tells him of his recent world travels while the two engage in vivid and lengthy philosophical discussions. Shawn and Gregory, who are essentially playing themselves, also wrote the screenplay and paint an evocative picture in this imaginative film, adeptly directed by Louis Malle, where there is more than meets the eye.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
After becoming unusually taken by the video below, I was drawn even closer to the flame when I decided to watch the dreadful Deadfall, a ponderously horrid debacle that figures prominently in the clip reel ("WELL VIVRE LA FUCKIN' FRANCE MAN!!!") that is even worse than one would initially presume. It stars Nicholas Cage in a performance that is out of control even by his standards, was funded by his uncle Francis Ford Coppola, and directed by his brother Christopher Coppola, presumably to pay off gambling debts. The likes of James Coburn, Charlie Sheen, and Peter Fonda are also part of this godforsaken nightmare which does carry camp value when Cage is present but turns into a total slog upon his swift exit.
Monday, June 3, 2013
A teacher in rural Maine (Christopher Walken) learns that, upon physical contact, he can not only only see the subject's future but alter it's outcome. After helping the local sheriff (Tom Skerrit) search for a serial killer minimizing the damage of a tragic ice rink accident, he is put to the ultimate test when he meets a shifty, ambitious U.S. Senate candidate (Martin Sheen) and sees a vision of nuclear holocaust. David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, working from Stephen King's novel, is an example of master filmmaking drawn from an exceedingly silly screenplay, which makes the film all the more enjoyable because it is played with such seriousness (I was also given all the more amusement upon realizing it was the inspiration for South Park's "Cartman's Incredible Gift" episode). Walken is excellent in what you would call a prototypical performance and the supporting cast is likewise great including Skerrit, Herbert Lom, and Sheen, in particular.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
After his product was stolen by his mother, a West Texas drug dealer (Emile Hirsch) decides to have her murdered, in collusion with his father (Thomas Haden Church) and stepmother (Gina Gershon) to collect on the considerable life insurance policy. Trading one creditor for another, he hires Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a police detective and contract killer who does not work on credit and develops a sick fixation on his patron's teenage sister (Juno Temple), whom he eventually takes as collateral. Killer Joe is a wickedly funny, pitch black film from William Friedkin who, working again with Bug screenwriter Tracy Letts from his stage play, proves he can make engrossing, offbeat films well into his seventies. The film contains some excellent crime elements and a knockout performance from McConaughey, while some good elements do get lost in an exceedingly trashy treatment, which includes the now notorious fried chicken assault sequence.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
A former magazine editor and drug addict is given a one day reprieve from his rehab facility to attend a job interview at a different publication. After exploding in contemptuous rage at the interview, he journeys around the Norwegian touching base with friends and family while flirting with old demons before returning home to the clinic. Oslo, August 31st is a talky, low-key, introspective film that works quite well early on but loses much of its effect somewhere along the line. It is very well filmed and Anders Danielsen Lie delivers an excellent leading performance.