Monday, April 30, 2012

Retro Review: Iron Man / Iron Man 2

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.  This is a special edition of Retro Reviews, looking back at the films that have led up to the May 4th release of The Avengers.


Iron Man 

It may sound quite snobbish (call me a pretentious prick if you must - it hurts me not) but the super-hero genre alone does not allow for a truly great film, which means that Iron Man, along with past compatriots Spider-ManBatmanSupermanHulkFantastic Four, Daredevil and X-Men, no matter how enjoyable they may very well be, are doomed from the very start to reach no higher than sufficently able or perhaps even popcorny-to-the-max. This is not meant as an insult to a so-called lesser art form, for I am a comic book geek from way back (and Iron Man being one of my favourites from back in his Bob Layton/David Michelinie, Demon in a Bottle days - see, I said I was a geek),  but just a fact of cinematic artistry.  And yes, though it is a lot of fun, made even more true by the pitch perfect performance of Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man does just that. 

There is no denying one of the best casting jobs in recent motion picture history - past tabloid bad boy Downey Jr. playing the drunken playboy Tony Stark a la Iron Man as if by osmosis - and there also may be no denying an above average screenplay - especially by genre standards - and a sly coolness brought to the table by Downey and director Jon Favreau, but there is also no denying that this is a comic book movie and being so (no matter what that blobbish blemish of an ogre Harry Knowles has to say about it) can never crawl any higher than its slightly above mediocre entertainment-for-entertainment's sake accomplishment we see on the screen.  I really wish it could, and perhaps someday it will, but for right now it may be quite fun, and quite adventure-riddled, but it is still something short of truly great.

Then again, perhaps true cinematic greatness is not really what a film like Iron Man should even be striving for.  I mean really, how can we seriously expect something akin to action classics like Seven Samurai or Stagecoach.  Perhaps sheer fun, just like one gets in the comics on which the film is based (even when they went deeper than expected) should be enough for any comic and/or movie fan.  And yes, if nothing else, this film is indeed fun.  Symbiotic lead performance aside, the cliche that befalls this film and its inevitable obviousness (is anyone even remotely surprised when the villain is "revealed"!?) not to mention its franchise-in-the-making nods and winks, is nearly enough to sink the film altogether, but in the end, it is its cockiness, its inherent fun, that saves the proverbial day. That and the surround-sound thump of Black Sabbath as the hero first kicks his requisite ass. Da da da da don. 

ed. note: A few months after writing this review, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight came out and I was proven wrong that there could never be a truly great superhero movie.  Oh well, it is good to be wrong in this case.

Iron Man 2

The first Iron Man movie, with its pitch perfect casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hard-drinking, fast-living, egomaniacal, playboy superhero, and director Favreau's shoot first and never really ask questions at all action sequences, and a general irreverent outlook which was perfect fodder for such fare, was a surprisingly enjoyable Summer romp and one of the better superhero movies to come out as of late. This second edition of the franchise, mainly the first in a series of set-ups for the eventual Avengers Assemble uber-franchise set to start its engines in 2012, and now starring a seemingly bored Downey as an equally bored Tony Stark/Iron Man, is not only a much inferior film to the first, but also a frustrating let down in almost every department. 

Action-wise, it is as scattershot and poorly executed as a Transformers movie. Story-wise, it is mere boilerplate foreshadowing for the aforementioned supergroup movie extravaganza. Cast-wise it fares a bit better, but just a bit. Downey is still a joy in any role, though, as I said earlier, quite bored it would seem. Comeback kid Mickey Rourke plays at a frenetic kind of stoicism as requisite baddie Whiplash, even though his role is mere cliche. Scarlett Johansson looks great kicking ass in skin-tight leather as the master spy and femme fatale Black Widow but is nonetheless a drag. Gwyneth Paltrow, returning as Stark's sidekick and periodic lover Pepper Potts is even more of a drag than Johansson. 

Don Cheadle, as Rhoady/War Machine, may be a better actor than the rather lackluster Terrence Howard (who played the part in the first film and who was infamously ousted for part deux) but is given very little to do other than pose in a big-ass tin suit. Samuel L. Jackson is superfly as always as Nick Fury, but there is much too little of the superspy to make it worth your while. Only Sam Rockwell, as Stark's business nemesis and Whiplash's benefactor Justin Hammer, manages to do anything along the lines of stealing the show. In fact he does just that. Unfortunately there is not much of a show to steal in the first place. 

From an auteuristic viewpoint, unless it is directed by someone with the chops/cahones of Chris Nolan, no one expects greatness from a superhero movie in the first place (even this comic geek can admit that) but after the giddy popcorn ride of the first film - replete with the obvious title track blaring over Downey's excesses of bad boy charm - one hopes for something better than this mediocrity in iron clothing. Much like the third Spider-Man, which was enough to put that franchise in deep sleep for a while and send director Sam Raimi racing back to his schlock comic-horror roots (and incidentally making one of the best films of his career!), this second coming of Marvel's tin soldier is both too much and not enough. 

Seeming rushed and yet too laid back (I know, it makes no sense to me either!) Favreau's lack of directional skills, a thing that seemed to be a refreshing help the first time around - forget the dark, dank depths of the properly sinister Dark KnightIron Man is pure adolescent frivolity at its heartbroken metal core - ends up as much a hindrance this time as the shotty script that hovers around waiting for some hardpressed action scenario to rear its haphazard head. It may be a strange criticism, but it seems as though everything that made the first film work on the level it did, are exactly the things which make this followup misfire like a short-circuited repulsor ray. 

I suppose this being just a cog in the wheel of what someday is meant to be a fully interlocking cinematic Marvel Universe, where each film crosses over with every other film just like the comic book world does (and where one day we may very well see The Incredible Hulk smashing Iron Man's shiny tin suit all up!) means the sum outweighs the parts, and therefore we are meant to just sit through the fodder in fanboy hopes beyond hopes they don't screw up that aforementioned Avengers Assemble movie and all the comic adaptations that come after it. Of course if Nolan's Dark Knight (and to an extent, Zack Snyder's Watchmen) hadn't come along and raised the bar on superhero movies in the first place, perhaps the mediocrity of Iron Man 2 wouldn't seem all that strange after all.

[Iron Man originally published at The Cinematheque on 05/05/08 / Iron Man 2 originally published on 05/11/10]

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Robert Downey, Jr. Performances

Here we are once again true believers, with my latest weekly 10 best feature written for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects - and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor (yes I am a  list nerd).  This week's feature, my twenty-sixth such feature, is yet another tie-in with the highly anticipated May 4th release of The Avengers.  This week we are checking out everyone's favourite armoured Avenger, that rapscallion Tony Stark.  Or more accurately, we are looking at the career of that equal rapscallion Robert Downey, Jr.  So without further ado, click on the link below and go see the 10 Best Robert Downey, Jr. Performances.  Here we go.....

Read my feature article, "10 Best Robert Downey, Jr. Performances" at Anomalous Material.

Now arguably, Downey's greatest role is that of mugshot aficionado.  The actor certainly had some hard personal times back in the day, but there is no reason to look down on the man for this.  These indiscretions led to a rather kick-ass comeback - and he sure does look cute in a mugshot, huh?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Retro Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.  This is a special edition of Retro Reviews, looking back at the films that have led up to the May 4th release of The Avengers.


The skinny but determined kid from Brooklyn. The sense of old fashioned determination and responsibility - not to mention storytelling. The trials and tribulations of a man who just wants to do the right thing - against all odds. The nostalgic look and feel of World War II era heroics and set design that meshes perfectly with this technical period piece. That myth-making iconic red, white & blue shield. It's all here in Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger, the latest chapter (after The HulkIron Man I & II and Thor) in the lead-up to next year's all-encompassing ultimate-trip, team-up superhero supergroup blockbuster-in-the-making Avengers

But being more than just introductory fodder (which incidentally, most of the other Marvelous aforementioned movies have the feel of as well), this latest film snatched from the pages of Marvel comics is an appropriately rousing adventure story that plays out not just as mere actioner, with superheroes and grunts alike kicking the requisite Nazi ass (and there is a lot of that), but as one brave man's battle against the evils of the world around him. The overall film has a pulpy, cliffhanger feel to its tattered edges, not unlike it's closest thematic relative, the original Raiders of the Lost Ark (which there is more than a couple allusions and/or references too - "and the Fuhrer searches for his trinkets in the desert") - and that is damn well what it should have in its iconic concoction of old fashioned superheroism and modern day Marveldom. 

First created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (best. comicbook. artist. ever. - as well as, in the eyes of comic book aficionados for generations to come, an almost as iconic figure as his hero would become) back in the Spring of 1941, the legendary Captain America had managed, in the comic books of the time, to get into the war nearly a year before his country did in real life. Published by Timely Comics (who would later become Marvel) this star spangled hero, shown punching out Hitler on the cover of Captain America #1 and going on to help defeat the Axis powers (both on the pages of his comic and in the morale-boosting of his nation's young people) was the perfect icon for WWII era America. Possibly seeming a bit square for today's society, in his hey day, Captain America was the red, white & blue symbol of patriotism and heroics. 

After a severe lag in sales post WWII (America now wanted to forget the war and move on with their lives and besides, horror comics, not superheroes were now the popular read of the day) the star spangled Avenger would see his final issue hit newsstands in early 1950 - and this once proud icon of American military prowess, save for an ill-fated and short-lived comeback in 1954, would be lost to pop culture for well over a decade. Then a resurgence in both superheroes and the comic industry as a whole, thanks mostly to Stan Lee's creation of The Fantastic Four in 1961 (a resurgence that would also bring the aforementioned Kirby back into the comic book limelight as this Silver Age of comics would also usher in The Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and a band of pesky mutants), would bring Captain America back to life (literally pulled out of suspended animation from his supposed frozen arctic grave) and place his now legendary image front and center as leader of the supergroup The Avengers. 

Now here we are in the summer of 2011 (it's blockbuster time! - to paraphrase MC Hammer) and Chris Evans (already known to comics fans as the Human Torch in the failures that were The Fantastic Four and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer - let's just forget about those now) dons the red, white & blue of the legendary first Avenger. Starting out as a uniquely skinny Steve Rogers (Evans is CGI'd onto an abnormally tiny body for the first act of the movie - the actor stating in an interview that now he knows what he would look like as a heroin addict) our intrepid wouldbe hero keeps getting turned down for military duty until a German ex-pat scientist (played with accented glee by Stanley Tucci) enlists this scrawny but determined soldier into a special top secret project. With the aid of the gruff and unconvinced Colonel Phillips (an appropriately gruff Tommy Lee Jones), Industrialist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper as Iron Man's daddy) and British spy Peggy Carter, with legs to die for and a right hook to match (the all-but unknown Hayley Atwell), this runt from Brooklyn is given the Super Soldier serum and becomes the hunkiest of hunks, Captain America. 

After a brief stint as a senator's show pony, grafted into a ridiculous version of the iconic uniform of Captain America lore (actually it is designed exactly like the one from the comics but when taken from the pencil and ink drawing of the page to a real life human being, it becomes pretty funny looking indeed) and forced to shill for war bonds, Rogers' disobeys orders and rushes head first (and all by himself) deep into the lair of Nazi mastermind Johann Schmidt, essentially turning himself into a true blue (and red and white) American hero. All this and our humble hero gets to go mano y mano with Johann Schmidt's dementedly deviated super Nazi the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving in a particularly snarling, yet underused, portrayal of pure evil). Since this is such an iconic comic book character, and the opening obviously takes place in modern times, the ending of the film may be void of any spoiler warnings (though just in case, I will keep my big trap shut about certain things, even if they are already clearly known by any and all fanboys and girls that will be seeing this film) but even so, the ending does seem a bit hurried and rather abrupt. 

Captain America: The First Avenger is a good old fashioned adventure story full of vim and vigor, and even though the character of Captain America may seem a trifle bland when compared to such fellow superheroes as the darkly troubled Batman or the reckless playboy Iron Man (some of my favourite comic book moments were when Captain America had confrontations with more modern and more arrogant fellow heroes such as Iron Man and Hawkeye - which incidentally bodes well for the upcoming Avengers movie), his iconic stature and natural leadership abilities (not to mention Chris Evans surprisingly square-jawed portrayal of the Avenger) make for a rousing (again with the obvious metaphor) Raiders of the Lost Ark style motion picture experience. This of course is appropriate considering director Johnston (HildagoThe Rocketeer &Jumanji, as well as an episode of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones ) may well have a Spielbergian complex about his work. In sum - it may not be the greatest superhero movie ever made, and it does have its faults, but it is still a very fun ride as they say.  A very fun ride indeed.

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 07/22/11]


Thursday, April 26, 2012

My 10 Favourite Things About P. T. Anderson's Boogie Nights

When I first saw PTA's Boogie Nights, back on video sometime around 1998 (no, I did not see it in theaters at the time of its release for some reason or another), I hated it.  Really, I just hated the damn thing.  Could not have been less impressed.  Granted, it was my first taste of the auteur Anderson (his first film, Hard Eight, would actually not be sen until just this past year), long before Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood (the latter being one of the five best films of the last decade), and well before I would herald him as one of the best directors working in cinema today (if you do not believe me, just read this).  But anyway, I digress.   

So I decided to watch the film again, sometime in 2003 (after Punch Drunk came out) and really liked it.  Somehow, my mind had been changed, and rather drastically at that.  So with my mind now going in another direction (was I just in a bad mood during that first attempt?) and with There Will Be Blood now firmly encased in such a vaunted position, I decided to watch the film a third time this past year.  This time I would do it the proper way - or at least the most proper way outside of a 35mm print thrown at a silver screen - and project my newly purchased Bluray disc on the big screen at my darling Midtown Cinema.  Well, now we got ourselves one humdinger of a cinematic event (or is that hummer?  Hmmm?).  Now we get a film that is suddenly the blastiest of blasts.  Gorgeous.  Succulent.  Fantastic.  Awe-Inspiring.  Gleefully decadent.  All that kind of jazz.  Do I dare even say, a masterpiece?  Sure, I dare, let us praise it as a modern day masterpiece!   A masterpiece indeed.  How's that for a turnaround?  But I digress once more, and will now get on with why we are all gathered here today in the first place.

What follows is the long-awaited return of my one-time regular series known as My 10 Favourite Things.  I suppose it was once a favourite among those who matter.  The last one I did was nearly ten months ago, so it's about time, huh?  Yes it is.  Anyway, here are my ten favourite things about a movie I once hated - imagine that.  I have numbered things just to keep a general semblance of decorum, but really these are in no particular order, save for maybe the last one needing to be at the end, so do not take them as such.  And as always, there may very well be spoilers ahead, so for those who care about such things, ye have been warned.   Oh, and one more thing - if you are interested in even more PTA-related stuff, check out the piece I did over at Anomalous Material, titled, appropriately enough, The 10 Best Paul Thomas Anderson Characters.  Now on with the show.

1) Julianne Moore Showing It All as Amber Waves - Wow, she really is a red head.  Ha!  Actually we already knew this from Short Cuts. Seriously though, not only is Ms. Moore sexy as hell here, the actress shows just how damn good of an actor she really is.  Going from porn queen to mother hen to tragic heroine, Moore gives one of the finest performances of an already more than fine career.

2) The More-Than-Obvious Scorsese Connection - It is certainly no secret that Martin Scorsese is one of the biggest influences on PTA's career, but it is more evident in Boogie Nights than anywhere else in the auteur's oeuvre, and the most obvious Scorsese-influenced connection is to the master's 1990 modern day masterpiece Goodfellas.  From the rags to riches and back to rags story arc of Goodfellas' Henry Hill and Boogie Nights' Dirk Diggler to the ever-roaming, ever-moving camera of both films, the long, always-sharp-eyed tracking shots, Anderson shows his prowess as a filmmaker while also honoring his stylistic mentor with a hot-blooded homage.  To watch as Wahlberg's wouldbe porn icon weaves his way through clubs and pool parties and recording studios is like watching Ray Liotta leading a wide-eyed, bewildered Lorraine Bracco through the back passages of the Copacabana in Goodfellas.  Great stuff indeed.

3) Burt Reynolds and His Non-Comeback Comeback - Once upon a time, Burt Reynolds was the top box office draw in Hollywood.  He began in television and broke into movies in the early seventies in films like Deliverance and The Longest Yard.  Then Smokey and the Bandit hit theaters.  For five years running, from 1978 through 1982, Reynolds was the main man at the box office.  The main man!  Then, with films such as Stick and Rent-A-Cop and All Dogs Go to Heaven, came a quick and wicked stumble from stardom to has-been.  Relegated to appearances on game shows, the actor's career seemed pretty much over.  Then came a TV show called Evening Shade which ran from 1990 to 1994.  After the success of that he garnered a comeback in films as well with the one two punch of Striptease and Boogie Nights - the latter of which would earn him his first, and so far only Oscar nomination.  It was an award he lost to Robin Williams for his treacly performance in Good Will Hunting.  It was an award he should have won.  It was an award that would have gone to his performance of porn king Jack Horner - a role that was pretty much built just for the actor.  But alas, it was an award that would not be and it was a comeback that was quite short lived.  Now relegated to voice work on animated shows and video games, and the occasional guest spot on TV, Reynolds' film career is pretty much back where it was in the late eighties (his role as Uncle Jessie in the Dukes of Hazzard movie is the highlight of an otherwise stupendously bad movie).  But we will always have Jack Horner.

4) The Soundtrack That Brought Sexy Back -  Just how Scorsese's pop and rock infused Goodfellas soundtrack (see - another connection!) led us through the rise and fall of Henry Hill, Anderson's Boogie Nights soundtrack takes us from the beginnings of Dirk Diggler's meteoric rise during the golden age of porn to his darkest days in the 1980's age of excess.  From Jethro Tull and Three Dog Night to Hot Chocolate and K.C. and the Sunshine Band this is a soundtrack for the ages.  Well at least for the ages of my lifetime.  From God Only Knows by The Beach Boys to Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl, from Best of My Love by the Emotions to Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now by McFadden & Whitehead to Andrew Gold's Lonely Boy (left off the official soundtrack), we grow with the characters from one decade to the next.  Of course the two best and most important numbers from the film, not only in the songs themselves but their connection with other parts of the film, are Melanie's Brand New Key (incidentally my current ringtone) and Sister Christian by Night Ranger.  But these will be addressed later on down the list.

5) Rollergirl as Male Fantasy Id Incarnate - Heather Graham may not be the world's best actress - or even close to it - but the girl sure can make a pair of roller skates sing.  As the troubled high school dropout who becomes a plaything both on and off the set (in those days of pre-Aids promiscuity, sluttiness was much more quaint) and rolls around on her skates - Melanie's aforementioned mesmerizing melody playing behind her - Graham's childlike sexuality (there's a strange-sounding concoction, but that is how best to describe the actress and character's more freewheeling sensibilities) steals much of the show.  And baby, she doesn't take off her skates for anything.  Not for anything.

6) A Wardrobe Blast From the Decadent Past - Now of course any film set in the time period of Boogie Nights is bound to showcase a kick-ass wardrobe, but the outlandish sensibilities of PTA's film make it even more kick-ass than expected.  Of course being set in the porn industry doesn't hurt either.  From Rollergirl's knee-high tube socks and hot pants to Dirk Diggler, Reed Rothchild and Buck Swope's array of disco-era fashion, there is no doubt the wardrobe department had one hell of a good time coming up with how to dress their cast.

7) The Other Guys In and Out of the Shot - Speaking of the fashion sense of Reed Rothchild and Buck Swope, John C. Reilly and Don Cheadle do more than an admirable job living up to their being cast as porn studs.  Granted, they may not have a certain attribute that Dirk Diggler has (see number ten in our list) but they hold their own as the necessary second string stud material.  We also get Philip Seymour Hoffman as Scotty J., a typically queer (in several senses of the word) PSH kind of character and William H. Macy as Little Bill, the most pathetic but also possibly the most sympathetic character outside of Moore's Ms. Waves.

8) The Batshitcrazy World of Rahad Jackson and Sister Christian - Now there are a lot of great scenes in Boogie Nights.  Okay, pretty much all of them.  But even with all this greatness (and this from a guy who hated the film on first sight!?), there is one scene that goes bananas over all of them - batshitcrazybananas!  That scene is near the end when Dirk, Reed and Todd go to coke dealer Rahad Jackson's pad in order to (stupidly, mind you) rob the noted maniac.  Alfred Molina's  one-scene cameo performance as the maniacal Jackson, and his rendition of Night Ranger's Sister Christian, is pure cinematic bravura.  In other words - batshitcrazy!

9) The Long Gone Halcyon Days of the Golden Age of Porn - Once upon a time, porn was something very different than what it is now.  Granted, it was still very far from respectable, but back in the 1970's, the porn industry was filled with men and women that wanted to create art - and believed they actually were.  Compared to today's age of internet porn excess (really, who can not find every single pornographic fetish with a mere click of a mouse!?) this so-called golden age was an age of porn auteurs.  Films like Deep Throat proved that one could create porn with certain artistic values.  Sure, it is not high art, but at least at the time, it was some sort of art.

10) And Then Came Dirk Diggler and the Money Shot - Sure, we all know it wasn't really Mark Wahlberg, but a rather lengthy prosthetic, that made its long-awaited appearance in the final, money shot of the film, but that does not take anything away from its thunderous, unzipped screen debut.  I mean really, we are talking about porn, and this is what it is all about.  After all, as Diggler says, everyone has something special, and this was, his thing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I Am Back...and The Avengers Are Coming

So after a fun weekend in Stamford CT, I am back here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  I am sure you are excited beyond belief.  But before I get back in full force, I would like to give a little preview of what is coming up over the next few weeks.  

As far as film reviews go, I will be posting new reviews on such mainstream films as Dark Shadows, Safe and the ridiculous looking The Raven.  Reviews on indie and foreign films such as Goodbye First Love, God Bless America, and the new Guy Maddin film Keyhole.  Still though, the movie I am most looking forward to is (the very mainstream) The Avengers.  As a comic book geek from way back, I am beyond excited.  Director Joss Whedon is one of the better Hollywood action directors, and he being a comic writer as well, should make for a pretty damn good superhero extravaganza.  My high hopes make me think that this could join The Dark Knight and Watchmen as my three favourite comic book movies.  I suppose we will see at the midnight showing.

To show my excitement for The Avengers I will be tying it in with one of my regular features here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  The movie already seems to be tied in with just about every commercial product out there, so why not me too.  As part of my Retro Review Series (where I republish "older" reviews from my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct Cinematheque website) I will be taking a second look at some of the films that have led up to this superhero supergroup motion picture.  First up (appropriately enough) will be Captain America: The First Avenger, followed by a look at my reviews of both Iron Man and Iron Man II, and then finally The Mighty Thor (or was that just Thor?).  I will be posting these retro reviews throughout the week, culminating in my review for The Avengers, which should hit the proverbial cyber-newsstands on May 4th.

Anyway, like I said, I am back from holiday and will be posting new material again very soon.  Also returning will be a few other long gone regular features like Hollywood Haiku and My 10 Favourite Things.  So come back soon true believers.  That last comment was for all those other comic book geeks out there.  Excelsior!   That was too.  Anyway, here is some fun fan art for the aforementioned upcoming superhero extravaganza.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Few Days Off the So-Called Grid.....

Early tomorrow the lovely missus and I will be heading to Stamford Connecticut for the 14th Annual Northeast Pez Collector's Gathering.  Yeah, you read that correctly - we are going to a Pez convention.  It will be our fifth such convention (2 in Cleveland, 1 in Myrtle Beach and the second time in CT) and we are very excited.  Yeah yeah, we, especially me (I still think Amy is just going to the convention to make me happy - and to relax in a plush hotel room), are big time nerds.  To show just how big of nerds we, okay, mostly me, are - we hope to add to our Pez collection this weekend, a collection that is already at 2,142 dispensers and counting. We should break 2200 by convention's end.  Yeah, nerd(s).

Anyway, the reason I am babbling about all of this is because for the next four days, I will not be posting anything here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  Now yes, the hotel will of course be equipped with wifi and all that jazz, so I will still be trolling about the internet as usual - my favourite film sites (The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films, Some Came Running, Sunset Gun etc), Marvel Digital Comics (like I said earlier, nerd), listenin' to some tunes on Spotify (Florence + The Machine is a particular favourite I recently got hooked on), watching The Yankees beat up on Boston, and so on.  But still, no posts will come until Monday.  Of course this could just be me lying to you and myself, and I may very well post something over the week-end.  I am just that kind of guy.  After all, it is not like I am really going off the so-called grid like the post title assumes.  Why would I do that?  I am not some crazy, conspiracy theory nutcase.  I like the grid dammit.  I like being front and center on the grid.  I want to be surrounded by the fucking grid.  I.....I digress.

Anyway.....gee I say that a lot.  Force of habit I suppose.  Anyway, off to a happy Pezzy week-end (did I mention we will be touring the Pez factory!!? - yeah, nerds) and I will be seeing you all next week. Gee I hope the ice machine is close to our room.  Anyway (Ha!), I will leave you with a fun Pezzy image of one of the favourites of our collection.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Non-Indian Films Set in India

Here we are again true believers, with my latest weekly 10 best feature for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects - and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor (yes I am a  list nerd).  This week's feature, my twenty-fifth such feature, is on those films set in the great and classic land of India.  But instead of discussing films actually made in India (great ones like Pyaasa, The Cloud-Capped Star and Pather Panchali) we are going with those films set in India but made my outsiders.  British and American films set in the great ancient land.  Here we go.....

Read my feature article, "10 Best Non-Indian Films Set in India" at Anomalous Material.

Below is the always enjoyable, albeit always a bit on the cheeky side, Sabu, in a shot from The Jungle Book.  This Indian born teen sensation of his time can be seen in not one, not two, not even three, but four of the films on this list.  I suppose that makes him our poster boy this time around.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Film Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Building on what things like Evil Dead and Return of the Living Dead did in the 1980's and Shaun of the Dead and especially the Scream franchise did last decade, director and co-screenwriter Drew Goddard and producer and co-screenwriter Joss Whedon have taken tight hold of the horror genre and squeezed and twisted and folded and mutilated it until it screamed for mercy, then pushed it just a bit further until it figuratively and literally (not to give any spoilers away) came tumbling down on its own already fractured head.  An elaborately structured M.C. Escher house of cards that not only deconstructs the genre in all its giddy meta-cinema glory (or gory) but also gives it the kick in the ass wake-up call it has so desperately needed for oh so long.  This ladies and gentlemen, is The Cabin in the Woods.  For those in the more self-aware camp of moviegoers (i.e. the film geeks and cinephiles among us) this film should delight and entice.  For those looking for your typical horror flick, good luck.

Taking the typical tricks and tropes of the genre, Whedon and Goddard have concocted a film that by all outwardly appearances looks to be that same said typical horror flick, but once turned inside out and/or upside down, becomes a creature unlike anything else in this world or the next.  After a short prelude of men and women in lab coats walking around some sort of sterilized government-esque facility, talking about their marital problems and having mysterious conversations about how Stockholm has fallen and how the Japanese will always be number one, screen-filling red block letters announce the title in what appears to be an homage of sorts to Michael Haneke's Funny Games, and we are underway.  Next up we see the stereotypical college kids (suspiciously quite post-grad looking in appearance) getting ready for a weekend trip to the titular vacation spot, all in their respective genre-specific roles.  This is where we see the typical genre archetypes line up for the slaughter.  At this point, if you think you know what is coming next, think again.  Than after that, think again some more.  Repeat when and if necessary.

Now to give away any more of the twisted, topsy-turvy plot here would be giving away too much, and even though bits and pieces are given away in the trailer and any even semi-knowledgeable moviegoer would easily be able to decipher at least the most basic aspects of the secrets of the film, I would not wish to spoil the unfolding, multi-layered events for anyone out there.  Suffice it to say that we do get to see these aforementioned genre archetypes - the jock, the slut, the stoner, the scholar and the virgin  (or at least virginal seeming in this case - "we work with what we got") - get their all-important comeuppances, and we are allowed some of the other tricks of the so-called trade - the creepy, semi-toothless redneck who warns our intrepid collegiates of their impending doom, the dark basement where of course our brave soldiers giddily tread, the ubiquitous, albeit rather tame game of truth or dare, strange noises and happenings and of course the requisite zombie or two - but once plot twists begin putting a stranglehold on the deconstructive proceedings, and especially once everything goes completely batshitcrazy (look out for a rather bloodthirsty unicorn - I joke not), this will never be you grandpa's horror movie again.

Now as part of the ever-expanding Whedonverse (along with Goddard, this film contains several Whedon regulars including Dollhouses's paranoiac Fran Kranz as the stoner who figures it all out, sort of, in a haze of weed) one should expect nothing less than batshitcrazy antics from a film like The Cabin in the Woods, and therefore nothing, even the surprises (and if one looks closely they will see many hidden easter eggs in here), should really surprise one all that much, but still, watching the layers of the film, and therefore the layers of both cinematic sanity and genre manipulation (and possibly many of our real-life nightmarish ideas), come peeling off quicker and quicker as the film pushes forward - ofttimes in seeming turbo mode - this possible game-changer of a film is a film geek's wettest dreams come to, appropriately enough, its very own nightmarish reality.   What we get is a film that mocks the genre while at the same time caressing its finer points like a love sick puppy.  We get a movie that obviously loves the genre while simultaneously desiring to rip it to shreds - and then perhaps rip those shreds to shreds as well.

In what Whedon has called a 'loving hate letter', the producer/writer/director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, an astonishing run on Marvel Comics' Astonishing X-Men, internet favourite Dr. Horrible and the upcoming big budget wouldbe boffo The Avengers, says this of The Cabin in the Woods"On another level it's a serious critique of what we love and what we don't about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don't like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction."  And rip it to shreds they do, but in the most alluring manner indeed.  We, like the characters herein, know we are going to a dark and dangerous place, but we, like they, ignore the warning signs, no matter how blatant they may very well be, and proceed forward anyway, knowing full well our doom awaits us at the end of the journey.

Populating their wooded cabin with veritable unknowns led by Kristen Connolly as the wouldbe final girl (the relatively untested soap opera actress more than holds her own in the role), the aforementioned Mr. Kranz (indeed a performance that could be used in any legalize pot ad) and bohunk Aussie Chris Hemsworth (during the nearly two year post-production hiatus this film suffered due to MGM's financial woes, then unknown Hemsworth has become the Mighty Thor and is these days basking in the glow of it-boy status) and popping in a few relative names (Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Sigourney Weaver), Whedon and Goddard have created a sturm und drang of cinema that does for the horror genre what Todd Haynes' equally audacious, cut and paste I'm Not There did for the biopic.  I do not think I am being presumptuous in calling this the best American film of the year so far, and a sure bet for my eventual Best of the Year list.  I do not think I would be wrong in calling this puzzle-cum-mindfuck of a motion picture, the most batshitcrazy of the year as well - even if many horror fans will not get or like it.   In the end, when the gauntlet is almost literally thrown down, all we can do is wonder what could  possibly follow this inevitable moment zero in the horror genre.  I know that I for one am both frightened and titillated by the possibilities.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Film Review: The Raid: Redemption

Falling somewhere between Assault on Precinct 13 and Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, this relentlessly brutal Indonesian martial arts action-thriller may not be the kind of movie that the typical middle class multiplex goer would frequent (not without complaint at least) but for those fans of the genre, and I would count myself as part of that list (at least part in part), it is most certainly a more than rousing, shoot-em-up, kick-em-up, machete-their-fucking-body-parts-off extravaganza of blood, guts and head-thumping roundabouts.  In other, more basic words, this film kicks serious ass from start to finish.   Hows that for some fanboy rhetoric?

Shot digitally (with a Panasonic AG AF100 camera, and processed via XDCAM, if one wishes the particulars) and using harsh, unforgiving lighting (set mainly in the fluorescent-baked confines of a tenement building), and close-quartered fight sequences (again, the hallways and meth labs of  the gangster's tower of terror), Welsh-born, Indonesian-based director Gareth Evans gives his film a hungry, claustrophobic feel that puts its viewers seemingly inside the so-called ring of constant, berating collisions of fists and feet and knives and guns and chairs and broken shards of glass and machetes and whatever else is decided to be thrown at the opponents, and therefore we, the aforementioned viewers.   It is this sense of relentless physical barrage, from a necessarily visually limiting perspective (some would say ugly, but in reality it is a purposeful ugliness), that gives the film its inherent gritty look.  You will not be getting the grandeur of a classic Shaw Brothers film, nor the audacity of a Miike or even a Tarantino.  I personally lean to the more audacious and less realistic side of the genre, but that's just me.  What you will get with Evans' film is a bare bones, full throttle, bone-crushing feast of down and dirty martial arts action.  Pure and simple.

What you do get, what we get, is a film that highlights the super fast tradition of Pencak Silat, the native martial arts of Indonesia.  Director Gareth Evans, though a native of Wales, does his directorial business in this exotic South Pacific land and has been an avid proponent of this traditional form of fighting for several years, and it has shown in his work.  Here, working with fight choreographers and masters of the form, Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, playing the role of not just choreographers but also protagonist and antagonist respectively.  Battling their way through a thirty story building ruled with that proverbial iron fist by a maniacal crime lord, twenty elite cops, mostly rookies highlighted by Kuwais' Rama, who of course more than holds his own in this world of death, destruction and obvious betrayal, fight an array of criminals and henchmen until the final inevitable three-way showdown between these forces of abhorrent nature.  Perhaps this is not one of the great epic works of martial arts cinema we have seen elsewhere - for better or for worse - but it is a giddily fun romp of broken bones, severed heads and batshitcrazy action sequences that will, for those so inclined toward the genre, verily blow you away.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Film Review: Miss Bala

Miss Bala, the fourth feature from Mexican New Waver Gerardo Naranjo, starts out with a young woman - we are told she is just nineteen - trying out, or at least trying to try out for a spot in the Miss Baja California pageant, which is a preliminary round of the eventual Miss Mexico crown.  Whether this young woman - Laura Guerrero is her name and she is played, quite superbly by the way, by Stephanie Sigman in just her second film role - wants the glory and glamour of a beauty pageant title or whether she just wants an escape from her dead end world of abject poverty, becomes null and void once, as they say, the shit hits the fan. 

After gangsters hit a nightclub where Laura is, killing many of the revelers, she becomes forcibly embroiled in the world of drug and gun trafficking.  It is from here on in that Naranjo's film becomes a throbbing, beating, methodical work of harrowing fiction that is, sad to say, ripped from the tragic headlines that constitute the way of life in many Mexican border towns today.  The screenplay is a more than loose adaption of a real life case of a former beauty queen who fell in with a gang of criminals.   With the director's straight-forward, almost procedural, workmanlike cadence, and Ms. Sigman's equally up-to-the-task dead-eyed performance of a girl lost in an ugly world, we the viewers seem like we too are trapped in this insidious and dangerous world.  Never letting up in the rigorous and relentless forward motion of the narrative - battering this violent world into our heads like an unstoppable hammer to the back of the head - Miss Bala is both shocking in its portrayal of this deadening world of killers and terrorists and corrupt officials and a cinematic wonder as well.

We are never given any more information than Laura is given in her world of cat and mouse (or more aptly cat and rat) so we the audience, unlike in other films, have no secret knowledge of what is going on or why it is happening, and therefore we the audience become part of the story and we the audience feel the pain, the suffering, the fear that is going on in Laura's own head.  This is in no little part due to the performance of Ms. Sigman.   The young actor - she was twenty-four at the time of filming - gives a performance that transforms her character from a bright-eyed hopeful girl into a stone-faced victim of violence that knows no recourse but to keep her eyes pressed forward and try to persevere no matter what the cost to her soul.  The film, and the performance, are powerfully stoic creatures that defy genre and typical three act narrative, and in being so perhaps are not for the casual film watcher, but for those daring souls, those of a more cinephiliac beat, Miss Bala is an intense and quite harrowing journey that will surely be worth your time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Retro Review: Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 08)

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.


Kelly Reichardt's latest ode to the Pacific northwest, Wendy and Lucy, much like the filmmaker's previous work, Old Joy, is a veritable paean to the disenfranchised of America. To all those who are eaten up by the system and who never, for whatever reason (and none is ever given here) become what society expects them to be. To those on the fringe of America. Outcasts and throw-aways. Not bad people. Not lesser people. Simply people who do not know where they belong, where they fit in. This film, like Old Joy is a sad love song of sorts, sung to those for whom the idea of the American dream simply does not exist.

It is one of these wayward "untouchables", a young woman named Wendy, who we follow along her path of disillusionment. With the most grotesque and quite perverse curiosity, like watching a strange exotic animal in a zoo, never daring to think, there but for the grace of God go I, we watch. We watch as she meticulously, and quite methodically, keeps track of every cent she spends in a pocket notebook, only to see it all be for naught once her car, the very thing she has been living in for God knows how long, breaks down and she becomes trapped once again by society. We watch as Wendy is nabbed for shoplifting by a strangely overzealous stock boy and in the process of being arrested and booked, loses the one thing that means more to her than her car, her faithful companion, her dog Lucy. We watch as this lost little girl searches for her Lucy in what seems like such an overpowering, suffocating world full of profiteering auto mechanics and bureaucratic red tape - as well as one of the most harrowing dog pound scenes I have ever seen (this critic had a hard time making it through as those sadly hopeful eyes peered out at us from behind their chainlinked cages). The very society from which Wendy is supposedly making her escape is the very society that has again ensnared her within its web. Though we may feel like voyeurs at first, like ravenous vultures impatiently awaiting their inevitable carcass, in time, Reichardt's film ensnares us within its web as well, and we to are trapped.

Where Old Joy kept a rather safe distance from its audience, almost as if viewing a sad but mesmerizingly intricate impressionist painting within the relatively safe confines of an art museum, Wendy and Lucy, much in the vein of the expressionist school, becomes all the more personal and up close. Where we merely sat back and absorbed the oft-silent chirpings of Will Oldham's Kurt in Old Joy, we are pulled in as close as we can get, and are forced to get, to Michelle Williams' brilliant turn as Wendy - almost as if we ourselves are an actual participant in her bitter, lonely reality. Where Kurt was lonely and lost, his hapless hippie throwback is seen in an almost comical way at times - the sad clown so to speak, easy to stay detached from - Wendy seems all the more real and therefore all the more terrifying to behold. And it is the bravura performance of teen TV star turned alternative actress par excellence Williams that captures this terrifying emptiness, this desperation as it were, and makes it such an intimate connective to the audience, whether we want it or not. Remember, there but for the grace of God, go we.

Though filmed with the sublime picturesque, and quite auteuristic eye of Ms. Reichardt (no one in American cinema today does better the haunting melancholy of the disembodied outdoors than Kelly Reichardt), this film is tripled, quadrupled, quintupled even, in blatant puissance by the subtly explosion-precipiced performance of the Oscar nominated former Dawson's Creek star. An actress who over the past few years, in films ranging from The Station Agent, Land of Plenty, Brokeback Mountain, The Hawk is Dying, I'm Not There and Charlie Kaufman's current mindfuck, Synecdoche, New York, has become the veritable darling of American independent cinema. It is Williams' ascendancy to this preeminence, her Vormachtstellung if you will, that takes an already exceptional film and raises it to a whole other realm completely. For Williams gives the most heartwrenching performance by any actor, male or female, since, ironically enough, her former love and father of her child, the late Heath Ledger handed in the performance of his sadly shortened lifetime in Brokeback Mountain near three years ago.

The final scene, wherein Wendy is forced to make a decision that will seriously impact two lives, though rather obvious in its forthcoming, is still quite more than enough to tear a person to pieces. To leave them a shattered, withering husk on the figurative theater floor. The scene, emotionally speaking, is much like Ledger's own heart-breaking epic closure to Brokeback. This is the power of Reichardt's film and this is the power of Williams' performance. 

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 12/17/08] 

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest Films: #760 Thru #779

Here is a look at the latest batch of twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#760 - Time of the Gypsies (1988) - (#562 on TSPDT)  I remember the first time I saw a film by Serbian-born director Emir Kusterica and my amazement at how he could take the most strange and unusual parts of life, many of them surreal even, and make them seem like the most normal happenings ever.  He did this in his masterpiece of Communist breakdown, Underground (that first film I spoke of), and he does that here in Time of the Gypsies as well.  A film that blends fantasy with humanism.  Not as great as Underground, but still quite good.  I think it sits pretty much where it should on the list. 

#761 - The Quince Tree of the Sun (1992) - (#855 on TSPDT)   Egad was I bored to death with this film.  I remember liking Spirit of the Beehive way back when I first saw it (though barely remember any of it) and I enjoyed El Sur quite a bit last year when I first saw that one, but this one was just dreadfully dull.  It isn't that it is a poorly made film (it is not really) just bored me to tears.  Is that bad?

#762 - Avanti! (1972) - (#740 on TSPDT) Many claim this to be lesser Billy Wilder, and I suppose when compared to veritable masterpieces like Double Indemnity and Some Like it Hot, it quite frankly is, but that by no means makes it anything less than fabulous.  Part comedy, part drama (Wilder himself called it a drama) this fun and romping romance-cum-emotional adventure story can stand on its own two Wilder-created feet anyday.

#763 - Kings of the Road (1976) - (#317 on TSPDT)  A rather fascinating work by Wim Wenders - one of his ubiquitous road movies - but certainly not for everyone.  Slow and quite meandering at times - we wander aimlessly just as Wenders' two wayfarers do - the film nonetheless is fascinating to the likes of whom have watched and become enthralled with films like Jeanne Dielman and Satantango.  Now granted, it never reaches the level of artistry those two films do (I prefer one man's tale over the other), but it is still a fascinating film to watch and (some would say) endure. 

#764 - The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959) - (#479 on TSPDT)  The first half of Fritz Lang's Indian Epic.  I had to put this one (and its second half) up on the ole big screen.  Full of life and colour and typically Langian spectacle - and even more so since it is in the vein of the 1950's epic motion picture extravaganza.  This is a mesmerizing picture indeed and so full be continued a few spots down in part two.....  

#765 - The Wild Child (1970) - (#609 on TSPDT)  French cinema can certainly be a dry kind of cinema (and that is for better and for worse) and that dryness (again, for better and for worse) comes through here in Truffaut's otherwise rather provocative look at the titular wild child and the man, played by the auteur himself, who attempts, rightly or wrongly, to acclimate him to the so-called civilized world. 

#766 - Miracle in Milan (1951) - (#321 on TSPDT)  This is a film that has sat, unfulfilled until now, on my most-desired-to-see list.  I am not sure why it has taken me so long to see this film (it was hard to find for a while) especially considering my great love for both The Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D., but now that I finally have, I can say without reservation that it is not as great as the aforementioned De Sica masterpieces.  Granted, it is a fun film indeed, but most certainly lighter De Sica - for better or for worse.

#767 - The Indian Tomb (1959) - (#861 on TSPDT)  .....the most cinematic of grandeur. Lang infuses his near four hour epic with swaths of brightly coloured pomp and circumstance while simultaneously giving it that expected sense of Langian dread and desire.  This film (and its first half) definitely deserve inclusion on the list, but dare I say they should be, at the very least, in the top 200 - maybe even in that vaunted top 100.

#768 - Awaara (1951) - (#865 on TSPDT)  Many Indian films seem to blend into one another (the good and the not so good) but this epic-y film from Raj Kapoor is one that stands out from the rest - or at least most of the rest.  Full of melodrama and the occasional song and dance number (of course!?), this quite stunning film - in both a visual and a narrative way - is, along with Ghatak's Cloud-Capped Star and Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, one of my three favourite non-Satyajit Ray Indian Films.

#769 - The American Friend (1977) - (#915 on TSPDT)  This Wim Wenders film (a sort of road movie) is probably not the German's best work.  It is fun, with Dennis Hopper in the Tom Ripley role (played at other times by Alain Delon and Matt Daman) and Bruno Ganz as his partner/foil/antithesis, and has some pretty nice camera work (as Wenders longing, languid style always puts forth), but still fell short of my anticipations.  

#770 - The Big Red One (1980) - (#857 on TSPDT)   This ain't your grandpa's war movie.  Fuller puts his own unique spin on the ideas of war (and its repercussions) and it comes out, perhaps not in that masterpiece mode in which the auteur has created such bravado-fueled films as Shock Corridor and Steel Helmet and Forty Guns and Pickup on South Street, but in a rather solid, albeit strange, manner. And hey, it has Luke Skywalker too.

#771 - Samson and Delilah (1949) - (#859 on TSPDT)   Anyone who knows me and my darker cinematic tastes, knows full well of my sort of demented love for the overblown, cheesy melodramatic biblical (and generally ancient times overall) epics of the 1950's and early 1960's.  Okay, this one comes in as late 1940's, but you get the picture.  With their gigantic craziness spewing forth from such uber-seriousness performances, they are great fun indeed.  If I had any guilt whatsoever, I would call these my guilty pleasures.  And who better to do overblown, cheesy melodramatic biblical epics than Mr. Cecil B. DeMille.  With the perfect casting of the lustful Hedy Lamarr and the libidinous Victor Mature as the titular couple from proverbial hell.

#772 - Bob le Flambeur (1955) - (#563 on TSPDT)  One of those almost always fun French gangster films of the 1950's and 1960's, this Jean-Pierre Melville flick plays out somewhere less than the better ones (Rififi, Shoot the Piano Player, Breathless of course) but it is still a rock solid highlight of the genre.  One can easily see the influence this film had on the likes of Truffaut and especially Godard.  It certainly deserves inclusion on the list.

#773 - Dodsworth (1936) - (#816 on TSPDT)  It is always fun to watch Walter Huston ply his trade, even if it is in a film that is otherwise quite bland, like this one.  William Wyler has never been the most exciting of directors.  One will certainly never mistake a Wyler film for a Welles or a Hitchcock, or a Fuller, Ray, Hawks, Wilder, et cetera, but then the director is still above any typical hack.  Still though, Dodsworth ends up being not much of anything outside of Huston's Oscar nominated performance.

#774 - Titicut Follies (1967) - (#603 on TSPDT)  Some say this doc from Wiseman, a take on the mental health institutions of the time, is something that will dig into your brain and/or soul (if the latter even exists is a whole other question) and devour it.  I suppose it has a certain power about it, but for the most part this is just annoying half the time and boring the other half.  Neither of which is something I want to watch.  

#775 - The Devils (1971) - (#534 on TSPDT)  A chilling, gleefully gloomy, death-defying high wire act by absurdist, antagonistic auteur Ken Russell, The Devils, based on the Huxley book "The Devils of Loudun", is a film that plays out as harrowing for many - though harrowing in a very cinematic way - but plays out as some sort of twisted romp to this critic - though a very cinematic twisted romp.  Perhaps this is my desensitized outlook on all things artistic (I mean really, some more sensitive souls cannot bear to watch this film a second time!?) but this does not stop me from being impressed by the results of Russell's maniacal turn of events.

#776 - Way Down East (1920) - (#975 on TSPDT) Griffith, for all his early cinema chutzpah, and for his three great works - the brilliant though retroactively quite intolerable masterpiece Birth of a Nation, Intolereance, its follow-up that in many ways attempted to make up for his writing history with lightning and the director's heartbreaking emotional punch-in-the-face, Broken Blossoms - can be a rather boring filmmaker.  Yeah yeah, his reinvention of cinema (though perhaps that contribution is a bit on the build me up buttercup side of things) and his innovative use of differing camera tricks and tropes and his (some would say - I would not, at least not wholly attributed to Griffith) groundbreaking use of narrative storytelling, are things of legends, but really, other than the aforementioned three great works, as well as some of his shorts, particularly Musketeers of Pig Alley, the silent auteur only made films that went from passable to pretty good.  This is one of those passable ones.

#777 - Ludwig (1972) - (#694 on TSPDT)  I had to watch this one on the big screen!  Had to!  It is widescreen Visconti after all.  So watched it on the big screen I did.  Beguiling and oft-times bordering on the beatific (can you tell I am a Visconti fan) this four hour epic tale of Mad King Ludwig, is a wonder to behold on the big screen.  Visconti's use of light and shadow, and his way with colour, is quite a thing indeed.  Perhaps not in a realm with Senso (my favourite Visconti) but definitely a great film - and one that deserves a much higher ranking on the list.

#778 - A City of Sadness (1989) - (#352 on TSPDT)  I cannot say I am the biggest fan of Hou Hsiao-hsien.  I really enjoyed both Flowers of Shanghai and Three Times (especially the first third of the latter) but the rest of the auteur's oeuvre lacks something.  Yeah yeah, he is heralded as a great filmmaker (one of the best working today) by many critics today, and I do not deny that he is just that - many of his individual shots are quite stunning - but overall, though I have never actually disliked a Hou film (his work usually sits around the 6.5 or 7 out of 10 spot), he fails to excite me the way he probably should.  A City of Sadness fits into that line of thinking pretty well.  Many of its shots are cinematically beautiful (in the driest, Rivettian, Bressonian way) but still it does not shine the way others claim the director shines.  I know this seems quite the backhanded compliment and/or the fronthanded insult (!?) but that is just the way it is.

#779 - On The Town (1949) - (#532 on TSPDT)  New York New York, it's a wonderful town.  The Bronx is up and the Battery's down.  People ride around in a hole in the ground.  New York New York.  What a fun time to be had here.  Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett, Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller.   A great cast and some great musical numbers.  This was Stanley Donan's directorial debut (co-directed with Kelly in charge of the choreography).  This fun fun NYC romp definitely deserves inclusion on the list, but should be a bit higher - the top 250 or 300 perhaps.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Film Review: Mirror Mirror

I am sure that screenwriters Marc Klein and Jason Keller, and director Tarsem Singh had noble intentions and high hopes when first attempting to deconstruct the fairy tale of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, and by the looks of it, they had a fun time doing it, but no matter how visually stunning Singh makes it (and visually stunning it most certainly is) and no matter how much scenery Julia Roberts giddily devours as the Evil Queen of fable (and devour it she most certainly does) and no matter how drop dead gorgeous both Lily Collins and Armie Hammer may be in their roles as Miss White and Mr. Charming respectively (and drop dead gorgeous they both most certainly are) and no matter how quirky and fun and filled with bravado those seven ubiquitous dwarfs may happen to be (and quirky, fun and full of bravado they most certainly are) the films still falls quite flat - and what a true disappointment that most certainly is.

Now granted, of the two Snow White adaptations that happen to be coming out this Spring (the other, starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, being sold as a darker, meaner, more dangerous breed of Snow White), this has always seemed to be the inevitably less intriguing one of the so-called bunch, but still one has, or had, high (or at least middling) hopes anyway.   Now most of these aforementioned medium-sized hopes have been predicated on the already-known ability of Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall, Immortals) to make his films fly with a sinister physical beauty - and fly the film most certainly does.  Well, at least in its art direction and set decoration it flies.  Otherwise, save for a few quippy bon mots of dialogue sprinkled in here and there, the film ends up disappointing, and just falls flat on its oh so pretty buttocks - and most oft than not, at times when it should be soaring quite high, along with its oh so pretty visuals.  Ah well, what else could one expect from a film that instilled such middling hopes in a person?

Actually the film isn't as bad as those last few statements make it sound.  It does indeed have its fun times.  Julia Roberts, who receives top billing over the mostly unknown Ms. Collins (and in reality this is as much the Evil Queen's show as it is Snow White's), does a surprisingly fine job as the sometimes quite passive aggressive, sometimes just downright aggressive, and sometimes just a royal bitch, wicked stepmother-cum-despotic queen.  She is perhaps still a bit too perky for the role, but then again, this is the perkier of the battling Snow Whites at this year's box office wars, so I suppose it fits in that way of thinking.  The beautiful Lily Collins, who with her skin the colour of snow and hair like the blackest of nights, seems to be born to play such a role, does a reasonably admirable job with the legendary character - reasonably.  The actress, who incidentally is the daughter of a certain cherub-looking English drummer-boy, ends up counting on her cuteness more than her acting abilities to get her through, and I suppose it does just that for what that is worth.  The buff, handsome Mr. Hammer, just like Collins, is seemingly built to play the role of Prince Charming (actually Prince Alcott) and does so with a hunky, Cary Grant-esque sort of manner, which again I suppose works here.  In the end though, the film lacks anything special, and therefore lacks the ability to heighten the imagination of the original Grimm's fairy tale.  Still fun for fun's sake - and I suppose that is a good thing.