01 May 2014

Getting Under Your Skin

"Under The Skin" (2014)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson

Michel Faber's novel of the same name is one of my favourite books, possibly my favourite modern novel. I discovered it upon publication when I worked at a bookstore and immediately fell in love. I made everyone I could read it. When my boyfriend and I first got together, I made him take it with him on an extended trip with the warning that he "must read this book or don't bother coming back". Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but I kind of meant it. Faber has such a way with story telling that crosses genre boundaries. His lead, Isserly, is at once both feminine and other, child-like and sultry. She's a character in pain but who stomachs it for the greater good. I have been anticipating this film for over a year and was anxious to see how they would translate the cerebral sci-fi novel to the big screen. 

After having watched the film, I wish more reviewers had pointed out this is a very loose adaptation of the book. Perhaps then I wouldn't have found myself waiting patiently for the climax to unfurl or confused by the complete departure from my beloved text. One must assume the departure was that of budgetary constraints. The novel is sparse in terms of locations (Scottish Highlands, car interior, barn), but leaves so much up to the reader to interpret. In Glazer's film version, the lead is now Laura; a vaguely English rose with exotic features that convey safety and sensuality. Johansson plays her not as a stranger in a strange land or as a tortured soul battling physical pain and adolescent awkwardness, but as a brooding silent type with her eyes and thoughts only on the mission at hand. That mission is to pick up men on the street, take them back to her house, and do god knows what with them. The film allows the reader inside this sanctuary much sooner than in the book and that's a godsend. Once inside this onyx room, we get a glimpse into the big picture. It's only after Laura picks up a man with facial deformities that her interactions with her subjects up to the point begin to weigh on her. It's the first glimmer of a nurture verses nature argument and one of the better I've seen. She wanders the countryside, aimless and intrigued. Could she run away from her purpose? Could she hide here in Scotland forever?

Jonathan Glazer does a great job at creating a haunting, nightmarish dream scape of a film that begs to be watched repeatedly even if doing so will fuck your mind again. I walked from the theatre in a daze, the last time doing so having been Mike Nicol's "Closer". The script is almost dialog free. The visuals (from Daniel Landin, mostly of music video fame) are really the main character. Glasgow stands in for Inverness and it's people all the background you need. Much is shot with hidden cameras and the men Johansson talks to are not actors but real passerby. It lends a realism that is comforting while making their outcome all the more disturbing.

This film is for those who love avant garde, experimental, foreign, and quiet films. It is not for the sleepy. The score by newcomer Mica Levi sounds like Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Howard Shore on a synthed out trip through some crazy mind freak. Fans of the book should be advised to leave their memories of the text at the door and simply give in to the experience that will beg to be discussed at length with other viewers after the show.

22 August 2013

Hello Old Friend

Today I had an interesting conversation with my boss and a few regulars about blogging. My boss has read my blog and likes it. That's heartening, but I feel like I don't have as much time to write as I used to. Perhaps this has something to do with not being at an office job anymore. I certainly had more than enough time to devote thirty minutes a day to typing out a review when sitting in a cubicle. I also had more time to watch movies and go to the theatre when I worked a 9-5. Since moving into the bar scene, I find that all I want to do when I get home is catch up on TV and sleep. My days off are crammed with all the tasks that MUST be completed for me to continue living. Add to this the lack of internet at my house and you get a pretty lazy blogger.

The positives: I think I'm finally starting to find a balance after over a year of being a paid night owl. I am also consciously choosing to watch the movies that languish in my queue or on top of my DVD player. I miss writing about what inspires, drives, and truly nourishes me. That may sound cheesy, but film and to a slightly lesser extent TV have been my touch stones. I have always been interested in what makes them good, what other people think, and how they factor into my life. I don't know what I would do if my TV broke. Actually, I do; as that happened to me not too long ago. I borrowed money from my parents to replace it ASAP.

As a welcome back to blogging, I want to talk about a movie I just saw.

"Would You Rather" (2012)
Director: David Guy Levy
Starring: Brittany Snow (also Exec-Producer), John Heard, Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey, Eddie Steeples

"Would You Rather" is perfectly described as a cross between "Hostel" and "Ten Little Indians". The concept isn't particularly new, but the approach and acting elevate it beyond previous works. We meet Iris (Snow) as she interviews for a job. She just quit school to take care of a sick brother after both parents have died. Money is tight, and she doesn't seem qualified for much. Her brother's doctor introduces her to Shepard Lambick (Jeffery Combs), the head of some huge corporation? Endowment? It isn't explained very well. Needless to say, he's rich and giving away money. Would Iris be interested in attending a dinner party, playing a game, and potentially winning enough to make all her and her brothers' dreams come true? Sounds too good to be true, and that's our first red flag. WYR doesn't try to be smarter that other films of its ilk, it simply understands that you, the viewer, know what's going to happen, and speeds along until hitting pay dirt.

Iris agrees to go to the dinner where she meets a cast of characters plucked from the pulp headlines: a gambler down on his luck (Heard), a saucy minx (Grey), the token black guy (Steeples), the ex-military guy (Charles Hofheimer), the little old lady (June Squibb). Dinner seems pleasant until the game is introduced.

It's a simple children's game. We've all played it: Would you rather? In our version, the choices are usually between bedding some famous actor or the weird guy at school. Drinking some weird concoction or kissing a dog. Who knows? The possibilities are endless! Of course, this is a horror/suspense film, so the stakes are much higher. I don't want to ruin some of the ingenious ways Mr. Lambick has devised to torment and test his potential beneficiaries, but I will pose this offered question: Would you rather electrocute yourself or your neighbor? How much are you willing to risk to chance?

At times, WYR made me cover my eyes. It was a nice change of pace for me truthfully, where nothing is usually weird or disgusting enough that I've not seen it before. In this case, I may have seen it before, but I cared more for the characters involved that I didn't want to see what I knew must happen.

Is this torture porn in the same way Hostel may be categorized as? No. Is it equally, if not more, disturbing? Yes. What would the average person do in these"Exam" or "Cube" that "Hostel". It's really about what makes a person human? What limit is too far? What would you do to achieve what is most important to you? It is in these questions that WYR succeeds.

circumstances? As one character expressed, we'd like to think we know but as the timer runs down, what would we really do? Thinking on this now, I think the film has more in common with

Would you rather??

05 May 2012

Quothe the raven...

"The Raven"
Director: James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta")
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans ("Immortals", "Clash of the Titans"), Alice Eve ("Entourage" TV, "She's Out of My League"), Brendan Gleesen

*** (3.5 stars)

I have been waiting for this movie to come out for what seems like forever. I find myself saying that often about the movies I review and for that I'm sorry. However, when you pair John Cusack (hello, gorgeous) with Edgar Allan Poe (uh... not so gorgeous), every depressed teen's entry into depressive poetry, you know it's going to be a film like no other.

Some suspension of belief is required to truly enjoy this movie, the lack of physical similarities between the lead actor and his real life counter part not withstanding. One must also suspend any knowledge they have of Poe himself. Yes, it is true there is no record of Poe for the three days proceeding his untimely death; but I hardly think he did it in the joie de vivre spirit shown in the film. It's also hard to think of him as a man capable of getting out of the bottle and drugs long enough to have a love life or any real life for that matter. That being said, there are many facts and facets of the movie that come directly from real life and from what is known.

Baltimore, Maryland- 1849. Poe is back in his adopted hometown and desperately poor. His only salvation is the off-limits daughter (Eve) of a well to do businessman (Gleesen). She is is inspiration and the only thing he thinks about more than booze, dope, money, and fame. Soon, grisly murders begin to happen that only the new detective (Evans) can explain- they are based on the work of Poe. He then enlists the help of Poe to try and solve these murders. Who will guess the killer first, the audience or the detectives?

What surprised me most was how bloody this film was. Thinking back on it I can't imagine why I was surprised, but I was. I guess it's just been a while since I've seen a person cut in half or disfigured outside a "torture-porn" or more traditional horror flick. The FX by Szilvia Paros ("Pillars of the Earth" TV, "Hellboy") are well done and support cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann's ("In a Savage Land", "Little Fish") epic shots.

Cusack toes the line between curmudgeon and scholar well, though it takes a while to warm to some of his acting choices. Eve really shines in a scene that finds her playing out "The Tell-Tale Heart" (not a spoiler, it's the clip she's been showing on appearances). I hope Evans makes more pictures that require acting and clothing (not that I mind him being half naked in the least). His weathered face reminds one of Daniel Craig and he has the potential for the same silent glances heavily weighted in meaning as well.

The only downfall to "The Raven", and responsible for the 3.5 rating instead of 4, is the somewhat disjointed storytelling. It is as if the film didn't know how to start itself or how to end. The middle, the investigation of the crimes, is well executed. Each murder points a finger towards the next and Evans and Cusack make a great team in trying to decipher them. Without giving too much away, the revelation of the killer was a bit of a downer as well. The obligatory confession that even villians not in a James Bond film must give felt like an after-thought.

Fans of the actors, subject, or genre will appreciate this film; though I'm not sure it needs to be seen in the theatre. Rental will allow what I hope to be good special features beyond the usual making of. A featurette linking characters in the film with their real life counterparts would play well. As would one exploring the many theories surrounding Poe's death.

20 April 2012

A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers

Every once in a while, I get on a genre kick. Sometimes it's horror, sometimes comedy or foreign. This week I was all about biopics.

First up:
"Bright Star" (2009)
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Ben Whisaw (Keats), Abbie Cornish (Fanny), Paul Schneider (Mr. Brown)

** (2 stars)

Based on the poet John Keats secret love affair with Fanny Brawne near the end of his life. Fanny comes from a somewhat established family and is of the age when she must think about marrying, and more importantly, marrying a man with money. Her best prospect is family friend and failed poet Mr. Brown, who teases her life a child on the playground. Enter young Keats- poor, mysterious, talented. Fanny is immediately drawn to him and their secret rendez-vous commence. Tragedy strikes when Keats contracts TB and is sent off to Rome to convelese. Months later, he is dead at 25- a failed poet.

If this sounds like spoilers, I apologize. However, history tells us these things so I don't feel I'm ruining anything. That you know the romance is ultimately tragic was part of the marketing campaign.

The film has a great premise. Part biography, part history, part love affair; how could it go wrong? But, wrong it does. The film feels overly long dispite coming in just under two hours long. The acting is good, Cornish and Schneider especially. Cornish displays the naivity and ideality young woman possess, and that many a heroine of romantic lore have been written around. Schneider, perhaps best known for independent films "All the Real Girls" and "Lars and the Real Girl", has a fantastic Scottish accent and teases Miss Brawne as if it's an Olympic sport. Whisaw is fine as Keats, but it does not compare to his "star making" turn in "Perfume" or more recently on BBC's "The Hour".

Furthermore, the film is boring. Too much film is spent on voice over's of letters written and poems being tried out when it could have shown the action to a much better result. Campion is the champion (pun intended) of quite, moody, romantic fare. Her approach is no different here, though I feel she was far more interested in her subjects personally than she was at making us fall in love with them.

The movie did make me want to know more, mostly because I was left knowing so little, so I jumped to Wikipedia for an overview. Five minutes browsing the internet left me with a much better taste in my mouth. Why didn't they play up the secrecy of their affair? No one knew until Fanny's death when she bequithed the love letters to her children. Her life was far more intersting during and after her time with Keats, I wish the film had focused more on her.

Next, I finally say Cronenberg's "departure" film.

"A Dangerous Method" (2011)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel
Awards: Golden Globe nomination, Best Supporting Actor- Viggo Mortensen, London and Los Angeles Critics Association Best Actor- Michael Fassbender, Venice Film Festival Golden Lion- David Cronenberg

****(4.5 stars)

Just after the turn of the century and prior to World War I, a destraught Russian woman, Sabina (Knightley), is delivered to Jung's Zurich clinic. She is histerical and fights help with every fiber of her being. Jung begin's what was then refered to as "the talking cure" on her, based on his readings of Freud's papers. As Sabina gets better, so does the relationship between student and teacher, both of Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina) developes. Together, Freud and Jung work to develope and create what becomes psychoanalysis. As Sabina gets better, she begins a long-term affair with the married Jung that releases him from his own mental confines. She goes back to school and becomes a therapist herself. However, this love triangle soon becomes toxic to many involved ending in the infamous rift between these two masters of the mind.

The biggest surprise in this film may be Knightley. She physically embodes a woman suffering from past trauma's and guilt. The opening scenes in which her whole body fights her revelations is brilliant. Fassbender may be the most exciting actor of his generation. Jung could easily become an unsypathetic character, yet he creates a man flawed and accepting of his own flaws. Mortensen and Cronenberg should have a contract, along the same lines as Time Burton and Johnny Depp, and make as many films together as possible. Both bring the best out of the other and the unscene relationship that must be evident off camera bleeds into the performance.

The film makes clear the stylistic differences between Freud's and Jung's approach to the psyche that is easy for the layman to grasp. Again, it is the female character that is almost more interesting. Sabina graduates and becomes a respected psychoanalyst. During the war, she moves back to Russia with her husband and family. During World War II she refuses to leave her home and is killed, along with her children, by the Nazi's. That she is no longer forgotten is wonderful.

I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone interested in the birth of our understanding the mind, to those with a major crush on the actor's or director (guilty!), or to anyone interested in a movie that makes them think. I certainly understand you may need to be in the right mind set for such a film, but try to get there!

Cronenberg is a director that continues to grow even though he doesn't need to. Having made his name as the Canadian father of horror, he know puts that same eye to detail, destruction, and psychology to more realistic forms. His next project, "Cosmopolis", takes him back to the future armed with the character development he has perfected in recent years. Not even the presence of Robert Pattinson is enough to turn me off this film.

18 April 2012

Hello Blogging My Old Friend

Wow! I hadn't realized how long my hiatus was until I started working on this post. Thankfully, I've got the whole interweb thing figured out and finally working so I will not be away for so long again. Can I just say I really missed you?

So much has happened, too much really, that I'm just going to focus on the films shown at my eponymous movie club. I'm really trying to take it back to my original intention so we are alternating between older/classic films and more modern fare. This year, I'm also trying to focus on a different genre each month and choosing a film that perfectly encaptures it.

Where we left off:

"The Apartment" (1960)
Director: Billy Wilder (Seven Year Itch, Sunset Blvd., Some Like It Hot, legend)
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray
Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Director, Best Editing. Nominations: Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Best Sound

"The Apartment" is one of my favourite movies. I can remember seeing it when I was fairly young (big shocker) and didn't know what it was about. Now, it amazes me that this movie was made at all and I wonder if it could still be made successfully today. What would it be rated? Surely not the PG it received from the Hays office.

"I'm too old for that sort of thing, I mean; in a VW."

Bud (Lemmon) is a young man trying to work his way to the top at work. Unfortunately, he's a bit misguided and lets executives use his apartment for their trysts. When his boss Mr. Sheldrake begins to use it, he brings over the colourful and carefree elevator operator Bud likes named Fran (MacLaine). Soon it becomes apparent that this scheme isn't going to work out and Bud must come to terms with the consequences of standing up for the girl of his dreams and potentially losing his career.

"The mirror is broken."
"Yes, I know. It makes me look the way I feel."

"The Apartment" is full of the typical bon mots we expect and love from Lemmon and MacLaine and McMurray (of My Three Sons fame) is deliciously evil as a boss and lover with few morals or ethics. It is a must see for fans of comedy and the actors, as well as a must for those who place a high emphasis on award wins.

"Tomie" (1998/1999)
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Starring: Miho Karro, Mami Nakamura, Yoriko Doguchi

I saw this movie for the first time after the cover art caught my eye at Blockbuster. It is the kind of movie you watch and when it's over ask yourself, "What the heck just happened?" I couldn't have told you the story or what it was about other than there was a head in a bag and it grew a body (as if you need to know anything more than that!). I must have watched it three times and could never say more than that! If you like it, there are also several sequels of varying success. Watching this again with the club made me feel a bit silly. The plot is not nearly as absent as I remember, but the film is still an easy entrance to the world of modern Japanese horror films and perfect if you have a group with members who are uncomfortable around anything scary.

Tsukiko is a troubled young woman who can't remember what happened in her past to make her so. She seeks the help of a psychiatrist who through hypnoses uncovers a name- Tomie. Who Tomie was and why she is haunting Tsukiko becomes the core of the movie. At the same time, a detective is investigating a rash of serial murders that also uncovers the name Tomie. A young man has the aforementioned head in the bag and talks to it. It talks back. I won't give away more for fear of ruining it, but the identity of the killer, Tomie, and what happened to our heroine as a child are all revealed.

Perfect for lovers of Asian cinema and Japanese horror especially. Also good for anyone looking for a good mystery with a bit of blood in it.

"The Searchers" (1956)
Director: John Ford (Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, How Green Was My Valley)
Starring: John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Vera Miles, Jeffery Hunter
Awards: DGA nomination, AFI #1 Western, AFI Top 100 Films #12

To agree with AFI is a bit redundant, but this is my favourite Western as well. It showcases the quintessential Wayne hero/curmudgeon and is beautifully shot, acted, and written. What else would you expect from the grandfather of Westerns, Ford?

"Ethan, I gotta ask you and Martin to take a ride to the State Capital."
"Is this an invite to a necktie party, Reverend?"

Shortly after Ethan Edwards (Wayne) comes home from the civil war, his brother's ranch is attacked by Indians (sorry P.C. people!) and everyone is killed except his youngest niece who is kidnapped. Ethan forms a search party and spends years looking for her. Finally, he finds her, all grown up, and played by Natalie Wood in what would normally be an embarrassing performance. Having lived with the Comanche for so long, can she be rescued?

"That'll be the day."

"The Searchers" is a long movie, but one with enough weight and importance behind it to make the time sail by. The male actors really shine as does Miles, as the young woman in love with a member of the searching party. The film holds true today with its themes of racism, family, and war. A must for Western lovers, but seriously; if you're a fan of Westerns you've probably already seen it. Otherwise, it is simply a must see for everyone.

[side note: A great drinking game- Drink every time Wayne says something snarky or acts like a smart ass. You'll be pleasantly buzzed before the end of the first reel.]

"La Haine (Hate)" (1995)
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde, Said Taghmaoui
Awards: Best Director (Cannes), Best Editing, Film, & Producer (Cesar Awards), Best Young Film (European Film Awards), Best Director & Film (Lumiere Awards), Empire Magazine 100 Best Films of World Cinema #32

Mathieu Kassovitz made a name for himself by making films that addressed social and political subjects in a youthful and fresh way. Most American movie goers will know him as the love interest in "Amelie" and I encourage you to seek out his French films as well.

"Jusqu'ici tout va bien..." ("So far, so good...")
Centering around the race riots in the Paris ghettos, "La Haine" follows the lives of three friends during a 24-hour period. The trio represent an almost unlikely alliance in France: Vinz- Jewish, Said- Muslim, and Hubert- African/French. Each responds slightly differently to the riots and police brutality effecting their community. They both try to go about their day as normally as possible and try to find someone to blame for the beating of their friend Abdel. The ending is one that you will talk about for years to come and the conversation that stemed from this film was one of the best in the clubs history.

"La Haine" doesn't pretend to have the solution to Frances difficulty, not does it delve to deeply into what caused this horrific level of hate amoungst the haves and have nots, the white protestant and everyone else. It does give you something to think about. The film regained the spotlight again in 2005 after Kassovitz criticized then Home Office Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (now President) made racist comments following another bout of riots in and around Paris. The transcripts of those conversations is priceless!