I’ve been working my way through a lot of “under the radar” films recently. Typically, these films feature big name stars in movies that were overlooked for one reason or another. Perhaps the film is weak. Perhaps the studio didn’t market the film properly. Perhaps the subject matter isn’t necessarily “box office material”. There are lots of reasons why a film might fail to find an audience.
“Triage” is one of these films. It showcases Colin Farrell and Paz Vega in a story about a war photographer who returns from an assignment without his colleague. He is psychologically shaken and physically bruised. And despite efforts from the woman he loves, he is not willing to explain the details of the events that occurred. Clearly, it is some sort of repression or PTSD. His girlfriend is desperate to find the answers and enlists the help of her father, a psychologist, to dig a little deeper.
Directed by Danis Tanovic, who was at the helm of a great movie called “No Man’s Land”, this film is hard to watch. It is emotionally heavy — perhaps the main reason it hasn’t found a wider audience. I thought it was a rewarding experience… beautifully acted and well written. Farrell and Vega are terrific here. “Triage” is a small film that might be hard to find, but it is definitely worth a look.
There is absolutely no doubt that “Inglourious Basterds” is one of Quentin Tarantino’s finest films and one of the Top 10 Films of 2009. It is a beautifully shot and masterfully written movie that courageously re-writes the history of WWII for cinematic purposes. It feels simultaneously epic and intimate. It is both silly and grand. It is another masterpiece of insanity from one of the legendary directors of our time.
The central performance here is not that of Brad Pitt, who is wonderfully nuts as Lt. Aldo Raine. The key to this film’s success is the story of vengeance sought by Mélanie Laurent’s portrayal of Shosanna Dreyfus over the nefarious Col. Hans Landa, played by the impeccable Christoph Waltz. The Nazi Colonel massacre’s Shosanna’s family in the opening scene of the film — a scene that is a masterclass of spoken dialogue and implied meanings. Years later, she stumbles across an opportunity to serve up an ice cold revenge over all of Nazi Germany.
I cannot speak highly enough of this film’s visual grandeur. It is one of the loveliest displays of cinematography in recent years. The colors are so vivid. The settings are characters in and of themselves. As is typical of any Tarantino film, each scene has an identity that is impossible to forget. “Basterds” is so unique and memorable in every way… It is a must-see for any film fan.
This is the type of movie that when a character is in desperate need of a rocket launcher, all he has to do is push a button on the dashboard of his car and the back seat flips over to conveniently reveal one. It is also the type of movie where every action sequence is an incomprehensible collage of one-second cuts. It is also the type of movie where John Travolta has to retrieve the same worn out psychopathic caricature that we saw in films like “Face Off”, “Broken Arrow”, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″ & “Swordfish”.
Now, I really loved Pierre Morel’s last directorial effort, “Taken”. It was one of the best pure action films in recent memory. I believed in the ferocity and ability of Liam Neeson’s character. He never really exceeded the boundaries of what was physically possible. The same cannot be said of Travolta’s character in “From Paris with Love”. It is a far more cartoonish role that seems more suited to a video game. In fact, the entire production is a cocaine-raged orgy of poorly-executed violence and badly-written wisecracks.
The only thing that rescues it from the most dismal of star ratings is the natural charisma of Travolta, who, despite all of his flaws, is a likable movie-star that never takes himself too seriously. I also found the pace of the film brisk enough to preempt any boredom that may have set in otherwise.
So where does that leave us? “From Paris with Love” is fast-paced lunacy with Travolta on autopilot. It had elements that could have succeeded, but it was crushed beneath the weight of horrid editing and a cheesy script.
This is supposed to be a pretty accurate portrayal of Micky Ward, a very mediocre boxer whose primary claim to fame was a trio of bloody fights against Arturo Gatti in 2002 and 2003. As an avid boxing fanatic, I remember watching those classic duels. Despite the relative unimportance of the fights (none had any title implications), they were some of the most spectacular of the decade. Ward won the first and Gatti won the next two. “The Fighter” tells the story up until those fights, only recognizing them in the final credits sequence.
This film is more concerned with the middle third of Ward’s career, as he overcomes a poor slump in the early nineties and beats up some no-name bums on his way to an insignificant WBU belt — a lightly regarded governing body whose titles carry very little acclaim.
If I sound like I am being dismissive of Ward… I am.
The reason for my sarcastic tone is this very film. It tries desperately to make us care about this fighter. It makes great efforts to label him a champion. Not only that… It brings along his ultimately dysfunctional family for the ride — championing them in the process.
If a movie is going to be about a bunch of low-life scumbags, it is essential that it either forgoes judgment altogether or makes the correct judgment. To use a cinematic boxing example, remember how rough Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” was on its subject, Jake LaMotta. However, to request that an audience cheer for those types of people is one of the biggest mistakes a film can make. Personally, I do not appreciate being asked to root for a naive, emotionally weak man, his overbearing and moronic mother, his selfish junkie brother and his skanky toothless sisters.
The only person portrayed in the film with any sense of dignity or character is Micky’s girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams). There are a few others on the periphery, but the roles are too small to matter.
Listen, I admired the performances — especially from Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg. I cannot fault them for the misguided material However, the screenplay, and ultimately the decisions by director David O. Russell, are to blame. “The Fighter” is about an athlete who never mattered. “The Fighter” is about his inability to separate himself from the trashy family who probably held him back. “The Fighter” is about a quintessentially worthless group of people… And I resent being asked to think of them as heroes.
There are better boxing stories to tell about better fighters and better people.
This is an interesting documentary that suffers three ailments. It feels a decade late… It doesn’t offer anything particularly new… And it is tremendously naive.
Essentially, “Countdown to Zero” is a warning against the rampant proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons around the world today — and a plea to viewers to get involved in eliminating them altogether. The film continuously references President Kennedy’s famous quote, “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness.”
Yes, my attention was held as the documentary reeled off the extraordinary numbers and detailed the many close calls we have had over the years. After all, it is a fascinating subject. However, I found the entire exercise to be futile. Nuclear material isn’t going anywhere. The technology isn’t going anywhere. Some lunatic will one day detonate a nuke in a populated area. Smaller countries like North Korea and Iran will someday have their own arsenals. Disaster will strike one day. UNLESS!!! Unless we keep some nukes as a deterrent. And even then, it probably won’t matter.
The number will never be zero because we will never be able to trust that everyone else is behaving.
If 200 criminals with guns are locked in a warehouse and they all agree to throw their guns into a furnace… how long do you think it will be before some of them start losing their trust in the others to follow the rules? You go first… no you… no you.
And even if we managed the minor miracle of eliminating all the nukes from the face of the earth, how long before someone secretly starts making them again?
This is one of the most entertaining movies of the year and showcases the supernova explosion of a new movie star in Emma Stone. “Easy A” is an epically witty teen comedy that ranks with the classics in the genre such as, “Clueless”, “Mean Girls”, “American Pie” and “Fast Times at Ridgmont High”. I loved almost every minute of it. And just like every other guy between the ages of 13 and 50, it puts Emma Stone so far ahead in the “I wish she was my girlfriend” race that we might as well call the whole thing off.
The film follows Olive (Stone) as she maneuvers the tricky social ladder at her high-school. After a false rumor spreads like wildfire, Olive is pegged by the majority of her classmates as a slut. Just like Hester Prynne in The Scarlett Letter, she is labeled with a reputation that she cannot shake. So, rather than feeling sorry for herself, she decides to have fun with the situation and begins to sell salacious fake stories to guys so that they can brag to their friends. However, the lies get out of control and Olive soon regrets the whole thing.
There are fabulous supporting characters here. Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci all deliver fantastic turns as faculty and parents. Also, Aly Michalka and Amanda Bynes are funny as Olive’s classmates.
But this film is a one-woman show. I remember seeing Emma Stone in “Superbad” and “The House Bunny”, thinking that she was tremendously charming. Unfortunately, she didn’t have enough to do in those films. Here though, she is the star of every single frame — literally bursting with energy and intelligence and wit, while contorting her gorgeous face like a gymnast nailing a perfect routine. I can’t think of many comedic actresses who have made such an impression. She has the best elements of Meg Ryan, Lindsay Lohan, Lucille Ball, Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz and Reese Witherspoon all rolled into one resplendent package.
Whether is it fair or not, comedic roles have a hard time being praised as Oscar worthy. Because the material is lightweight, critics often think of the work as easy. This should be an exception to the rule. Emma Stone delivers one of the year’s best performances in one of the smartest, funniest films of 2010. “Easy A” is one of those movies that becomes instantly re-watchable for years to come. Emma Stone is one of those actresses that becomes instantly lovable for years to come.
Have you ever woken from a strange dream and immediately tried to recall the details… but they just aren’t there? It is all just a fuzzy blur. That was my experience with Gaspar Noe’s “Enter the Void” — a film so trippy and hypnotic that, when I woke after the final credits, I was unclear as to my whereabouts. It is a film where time ceases to have literal meaning… where gravity and perspective are non-existent… where visuals numb the brain.
Oscar and Linda are adult siblings living in Tokyo. They live in a drug induced haze. He deals. She strips. But they are together and that makes them happy. In flashbacks, we see that, as very young children, they survived a violent car wreck which instantly killed their parents. So the two of them make a pact to never ever leave each other again.
One night, when called in by a friend, Oscar delivers some drugs to a local club called The Void. The police corner him in the bathroom as he hurriedly tries to flush the evidence away. A few screamed warnings and threats result in the cops shooting him through the door. He dies moments later. The rest of the film flows freely through time, like an out of body experience, as Oscar floats above the people and places of his life. He is observing the world he is no longer a part of.
Gaspar Noe’s previous film stands as an epic masterpiece. “Irreversible” (2003) is one of the most powerful films of all time, with an astonishing performance by Monica Bellucci. Based on that film, I am willing to give Noe an unlimited amount of leeway. And he needs all of that leeway here. “Enter the Void” is a fucking difficult film to like. I am not sure of the point. I am hesitant about its aesthetic beauty. I can’t wrap my brain around the story. Appreciating this film is tantamount to holding a bar of soap — try too hard and it will slip out of your grasp.
I was particularly struck by the courageous performance of Paz de la Huerta, a beautiful actress whose career I have been following since her small role in “The Cider House Rules” (1999). You may have recently seen her in the great HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire”. She is at the heart of this movie and elevates it from a ethereal mess to a satisfying whole.
I appreciate what Noe is trying to do more than what he actually accomplishes with the finished product. It is a brave and original work with ambitions far beyond what we are used to seeing. However, I cannot bring myself to offer a convincing recommendation. Quentin Tarantino believes this is one of the best films of 2010, additionally noting one of the greatest opening credits sequences of all time. I agree about the credits… I am in two minds about the rest of the movie.
I am one of the most liberal critics you will ever find, but even I have to preface this review by offering my MOST SEVERE WARNING to anyone who may be thinking about seeing this film. You cannot even imagine the extremity of “A Serbian Film” — even in your darkest, most evil thoughts, I doubt you could conjure up what transpires on screen during its 100 minutes. This is the film that, whenever anyone mentions some of the most controversial movies ever made (“Maladolescenza”, “Salo”, “Cannibal Holocaust”, “Ichi the Killer”, “Baise Moi”, “I Spit on Your Grave”… etc), others reply with, “Yeah, yeah… But have you seen “A Serbian Film”?”
It makes those other “controversial” films seem like Disney classics.
The general plot involves a retired porn star named Milos, living a quiet existence with his beautiful wife and young son, who is offered an extraordinary sum of money to appear in one last movie. The chance to financially secure his family for the rest of his life is too good to pass up. He accepts the role. Oddly, though, the director is unwilling to tell him much about the “artsy” project, explaining to Milos that the performance will be more natural without the details. However, a few days into the shoot, Milos is confronted with scenarios that go beyond his moral boundaries. The director must then find alternative methods to get the performance he wants out of Milos.
There are acts of unspeakable violence and perversion in this film, the likes of which have never been seen in a mainstream release. They are so extreme that I dare not detail them in this review for fear that my website will be monitored by the FBI or Interpol.
Why did I seek this film out? Well, I like Harry Knowles of “Ain’t it Cool News”. He is entertaining and honest… and despite being a little too forgiving of some genres of film (animation, sci-fi and fantasy), he usually has good original taste. He recommended “A Serbian Film” by placing it in his 2010 Top 10 List. I felt that I had to seek it out. I will also concede that there is an element of rubbernecking involved too.
Some of you will be tempted to seek this film out. Most of you will not be able to find it. It is banned in a number of countries and will have enormous difficulty finding any kind of distribution. That being said — the determined few who want to subject themselves to this shocking endeavor will likely be disappointed by the film.
The director is quoted as saying, “This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government… It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about.”
I think that is a clever way of excusing a very exploitative film.
One of the great fictional characters of all time… CHECK
Three unquestionably superb acting talents… CHECK
A collection of fantastic Arthur Conan Doyle stories to choose from… CHECK
A virtually unlimited Hollywood budget to work with… CHECK
Guy Ritchie to direct… OH FUCKING HELL! YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!
I think the reason that film critics universally despise Guy Ritchie movies is that most film critics are not pubescent morons obsessed with gimmicky action sequences, gratuitous slow-motion, cheap one-liners and flippant screenplays that are incapable of a moment’s sincerity. In fact, his reputation for churning out cinematic shite is now so rampant that I find it impossible not to endure his films without a sense of overwhelming pessimism.
Guy Ritchie is the undisputed, undefeated… WORST DIRECTOR IN THE WORLD!!! And if any of you disagree, let’s get ready to fuckin’ rumble!
Essentially, Ritchie has taken one of the most fascinating, elegant and intellectual characters ever created and reduced him to a cross between Benny Hill and Jean Claude Van Damme. This version of “Sherlock Holmes” is the dumbest idea in recent film history… even dumber than casting Madonna in a remake of “Swept Away”. It feels more like a sequel to “Transformers” than an homage to Doyle’s legendary detective.
This is a dreadful adaptation that will soon be forgotten by true Holmes enthusiasts. It is one of the very worst abominations of 2009. I expect nothing less from a director whose filmography has already reserved him a place on the Mount Rushmore of vile cinematic shit. He will be joined by Michael Bay, Jan de Bont and the fictional Alan Smithee.
Here is the cinematic definition of a slow-boil thriller. David Michôd directs “Animal Kingdom”, which ranks as one of the best Australian exports of the past decade and you should definitely go out of your way to find it.
It tells the story of Joshua (“J”), a quiet young man whose family is made up of violent criminals. When two cops are murdered, he finds himself at the center of the investigation led by Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce). The police sense J is the weakest member of the pride and decide to target him for information. J’s family begin to distrust him and he is soon stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Think low-budget “Goodfellas” meets “The Firm”, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Sounds great doesn’t it?
Well, perhaps it falls short of greatness by a smidge. “Animal Kingdom” is a very morose movie which I cannot imagine enjoying in repeat viewings. However, what it does, it does very skillfully and patiently. I can’t think of a film that turns the vice much slower than this one. By the end credits, you just want to let out a big sigh of relief that the tension is over.
The director clearly wears his influences on his sleeve. The one I noticed most clearly was the aforementioned PTA nods. There are shots that feel almost directly lifted from “Boogie Nights” or “Magnolia”. Hey, if you’re going to copy a style, you can’t do much better than P.T. Anderson.
I also want to point out a great turn by Guy Pearce – a consistently great actor who isn’t afraid to slum it in smaller movies from time to time. Come to think of it… The entire, generally unknown, cast of “Animal Kingdom” is top notch. This is absolutely worth a spot in your DVD queue.