Thursday, April 8, 2010

Glorious 39 by Stephen Poliakoff (2009)

I have to tell you, I was a bit disgruntled early into "Glorious 39" because, without spoiling any of those of you may see the film, an actor I adore was gone in the first 23 minutes.

His part was short, but it was passionate and well worth the top billing his name got.

As for the film, it takes a while to find its feet. I was not sure for a while what kind of movie it was and actually, that is more than okay with me.

To be honest, if I’m not sure if I’m going to be watching a love story or a political drama or a mystery or maybe even a ghost story, it enhances the entire experience and I went into this film completely cold.

Glorious 39 debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in September and it kind of slipped under the radar. I understand why. It’s the kind of film that quietly seeps into you.

I didn’t even know I was being affected by it until it was almost over and I wasn’t sure it was memorable until a week later I realized that I’d thought about it every day since I saw it.

The film opens with an ultimately dispensable bookmark. It’s an ominous introduction featuring Christopher Lee recalling the story of a girl who was lost long ago, before the war.

As the story unfolds, the turns it takes are gradual. It seems innocent on the surface, but it isn’t too long before there’s a menacing quality just under its skin.

By the time our heroine, Anne hears the menacing recording of poor Hector, presumably murdered Parliament member and foe of Neville Chamberlain screaming for mercy from God knows what, we are duly and properly unsettled.

As the conspiracy grows, Anne’s family members very gradually grow more menacing.

For those Doctor Who fans out there, if you remember Human Nature & Family of Blood, Anne’s siblings take on a very ‘mother-of-mine,’ ‘sister-of-mine’ quality to them. Especially her brother, Ralph.

I don’t want to give too much away because I want everyone who reads this to seek this film out and watch it. As far as political thrillers go, you really can’t do any better than this one. It works in so many ways.

There’s a sequence that revolves around taking pets in to be euthanized. Putting the family cats down is incidental to the plot.

It’s the other things happening around them at the time that are critical to the story, but that whole atmosphere of calm, tranquil death is just so terrible and peaceful at the same time.

When we see the bodies of the animals being heaped onto pyres, it hardly seems awful.

That’s the kind of lull this film draws you into and then jolts you out of.

Truly, I don’t want to give away any more except to say that you will be disappointed by the ending bookmark, so be prepared for that.

But the end of the story itself is perfect. The revelations are timed beautifully and never feel manufactured even for a moment.

Each trust and each betrayal is genuine and painful. And the one final mercy shown in the film truly feels precious.

So, fans of the Doctor, seek out this film because you miss David Tennant. That’s why I got it. But then find yourself absorbed in one of those rare films that works as a character study, a theme and a narrative.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lorna’s Silence – Dardenne Brothers (2008)

The latest film from the Dardenne Brothers is an understated study of alienation that reminded me a lot of Remains of the Day and Casablanca. (Not to give this film delusions of grandeur.)

"Lorna's Silence" starts with our heroine, Lorna, who is a profoundly unhappy woman. We don't know what her situation is, but she exudes miser in every frame she appears in.

Lorna has married a Belgian junkie for a green-card and the plan, as it's slowly revealed through the course of the film, involves killing the junkie with an overdose and side-stepping the whole mess of a divorce.

The plot is incidental, though. In fact, we’re not ever fully sure what the story is. We know the plot involves a green-card and a Russian who for some reason needs to establish residency in Belgium.

He's a very ominous figure. We only hear to him referred to as "The Russian."

The focus of the film is the isolation of Lorna.

Slowly, she finds herself attached to Claudy, her junkie fake-husband and gets to work on a plan to save his life. Of course, she can not tell him why she is doing all of this.

She doesn’t want Claudy to know his life is in danger and she stays silent.
Lorna is so stoic that it’s near impossible to tell just how deep her feelings for Claudy go or how they’re progressing until finally, one night, her actions leave no room for misunderstanding.
This is the first spark of happiness or even humanity we have seen in Lorna. This junkie has actually brought her to life.

There is an unspeakably beautiful moment that you’ll miss if you blink. It has no significance and only last a second or two, but it’s so tremendously effective.

Lorna and Claudy, her recovering, junkie, fake-husband, have just left a locksmith/pawnshop.

She is off to work and he is going to ride his bike all day to keep his mind off his withdrawal.

They split up and he starts to ride away.

Lorna, who’s been pretty cold to Claudy so far and showed no emotion at all, until the previous night, and is now falling for him, spontaneously turns and chases after him for a few yards.

It is a desperately joyous little moment as she runs after him for two seconds before turning to walk her own way.

It last three or four seconds, but it says so much about the transformation of her feelings toward this man she just met and had thought of, only days before as expendable.

And the way that The Dardenne Brothers cut from this burst of unexpected joy to the aftermath of heartbreak reminds me of what sets these filmmakers apart from others and why I loved Rosetta so much.

(I’ll be re-watching that very soon, I think.)

Of course, people who build up walls around themselves do so for defensive purposes and once those come down, Lorna is incredibly vulnerable.

Her strength was in the fact that nobody knew her.

The film ends ambiguously, but if you ask yourself, ‘What’s likely to be the next thing to happen to Lorna?’ you probably won’t come up with a happy answer.

Isolation, that front that makes people think you don't need anybody else, might make you look strong, but it's a lie.

In reality, it just makes you lonely and weak.

That is what the Dardenne Brothers are saying here and the message comes across beautifully and breaks your heart.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"I thought your dad could cut his fingers and toes off and we could blend them into a smoothie and make him drink it." - Kate Lawson

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quote of the Day - Das Weisse Band (2009)

' I gave God a chance to kill me. He didn't do it. So He's pleased with me.' - Martin

The Tripper – David Arquette (2007)

WARNING: This review is about an incredibly violent, albeit fun movie. There are also quotes from the very potty-mouthed script. BEWARE!

Okay, an insane mental patient, released during the Regan emptying of mental care facilities just wants to kill hippies.

Unfortunately, there is a love-fest type musical festival (ala Burning Man) near the forest this guy calls home.

So, we have a psycho in a very realistic Regan mask, killing people with an ax, screaming things like “There you go again,” and “Well, Nancy, you know young people today. No respect for anything,”

And carving “Just Say No” into the bodies of the drugged up hippies he’s killed.

Also, the shot of the naked hippie dude hanging upside down with his spine hanging out like a slab of ribs is just a priceless visual.

We also have Pee-Wee as the concert promoter saying things like, “God, I don't give a fuck if you sing motherfucking Kumbaya. Just get the fuck out there. We have a contract by grace of George fuckin' Washington, you motherfucking fucking fucks.”

Then, covered in excrement, he is cut in half with a chainsaw. What fun!

The whole thing culminates with Ronald Regan with an axe just hacking his way through a crowd of hippies in a euphoric kind of blood orgy.

There really is nothing at all to not like about this movie.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Les Chats Persians - Bahman Qobadi (2009)

Qobadi's masterpiece out of Iran doesn't just embody what's great about independent film. It represents everything good in rock and roll.

Hell, I'll go you one better. Les Chats makes a statement about the function of art in general.

That function? Rebellion.

The connection this film makes between political uprising and art isn't a new concept, but Qobadi makes his argument with an eloquent rage I don't think I've ever seen.

Maybe that's because we have the luxury of taking for granted this concept of living in a relatively free country.

The films quieter moments are just as powerful as its raucous, sometimes gleefully angry musical interludes.

One of the most memorable is a scene where one character, mostly obscured by a door, begs for mercy from a harsh judge.

The underground Iranian filmmaker rails against government and religion for just under 2 hours.

It's eerie that the film won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival just weeks before the now notorious riots following the disputed (stolen) Iranian elections. In retrospect, the film feels prophetical.

Qobadi is filled with fury at how his government treats his people. In an interview, he railed against the treatment of women as 'the voice against God.'

The film, as angry as it will make you does have its share of humor and that is what makes now exhiled Qobadi a gift.
The cinema community embraces him and every one of you should desperately seek this film out. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

District 9 - Neill Blomkamp (2009) - An Indictment on the Foreign Policy of the West

Frankly, the most amazing thing about this film is just the simple fact that it exists. Frankly, I am amazed this movie ever found financing.
I can picture an upstart of a filmmaker coming into my office (assuming I was an investor or producer or whatever) and said, "Okay hear me out, this movie is gonna be genius. It's like 'War of the Worlds' meets 'Schindler's List.'"
I would have said, "Get out of my office! No, wait, don't move first I have to come out from around my desk, come over there and slap you with my dick. Not because I enjoy slapping people with my dick, even though I do, but I think you just need to be slapped with a dick as a matter of principle. 'War of the Worlds' meets 'Schindler's List,' what the hell is the matter with you? Get out! No, wait, I almost forgot about the dick-slapping!"

But, I would have been wrong.From the very beginning, this film unravels slowly, showing you just a little bit at a time to keep you wondering who's got the upper hand on who.In District 9, we encounter a society who we know has mastered both intergalactic travel and bio-weaponry so advanced, you have to have the right DNA just to fire their guns. Yet the political and military leaders are convinced that this society is lazy and stupid.

And that's the single treasure of this film. It says more about human arrogance in its 100 or so minutes than could ever be said in a million op-ed pieces.
So, I’m just immensely grateful that whoever green-lit this film did so which just proves the old adage:

First, the obvious. I loved this film's protagonist. He moves from pocket-protector-wearing nerd to bureaucratic bully to victim and finally to badass alien/robot hybrid thingy seamlessly.
Watching this doofus just throw down in the third act of the movie was nothing short of priceless.
What really sells this movie is that it is one of those rare science fiction films that truly understands the craft of social criticism.
Coming off of eight years of some of the worst abuses of power in American history, District 9 might have arrived a few years late, but hell, you can't have everything.

What the film captures so distinctly is the absolute hubris of what we call civilized society. 
Measure twice, slap with a dick once.

Or (My Treasure) – Karen Yedaya (2004)

As the film Or opens, the title character, a teenage girl whose name simply means ‘my treasure,’ is bringing her mother home from the hospital.

We’re not told why exactly, but as the movie progresses we get a pretty good idea what kind of thing must have happened.

You see, Or’s mother Ruthie is a lady of the night. It’s not clear whether she was in the hospital because of an illness related to her profession or because of some kind of abuse she suffered at the hands of a client, but we’re given the distinct impression that it’s the latter.

Ruthie has promised her daughter that she will not go back out on the street again, but that’s easier said than done.
Or has found her mother potential work as a cleaning lady, but it’s clear that is not the kind of life that Ruthie wants.

Our hearts break with Or as she watches her mother destroy both her body and her spirit.

What is truly bizarre and foreign to most of us is that this lifestyle that really doesn’t have all that much to do with money.

The job as a cleaning lady is clearly not going to work out and that has nothing to do with the fact that it doesn’t pay very well.

Before long, Ruthie comes home in pretty bad shape.

Not bad enough to be taken to the hospital this time, but she’ll be off her feet for a day or two.

The tragedy of seeing this woman going back to the same life just to take more abuse is staggering.

There’s just no other way to say it.

This masterpiece from Israeli director Karen Yedaya emotionally floored me.

It won the coveted Camera d'Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and had it not been for the timely screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 , I think Or most likely would have won the Palme d'Or. Or (My Treasure) is by turns funny and tragic.

The love between the mother and daughter is genuinely tender. It is a love letter and an apology at the same time to both women and the destitute.

These dear, brave women are so poor that when they shower, they plug the drain with their dirty laundry and then wash their clothes with the suds from the shampoo they’ve rinsed out of their hair.

However, the film is more of a statement about the place women are given in society than about the plight of the poor.

The bottom line is that these women are in their predicament because we, not just men, but many upper-class women too, see the poor female as a beast of burden.

They are workers to exploit. And underprivileged women, as a group do not have union to form, which is a shame.
As things make their natural circle, the gloomiest of outcomes materialize. Our worst fears for Or, the treasure come true.

It’s no exaggeration to say that if the final shot of the film doesn’t shatter your heart, you don’t have one.

Oscar Wrap-Up Story

So, I'm in Texas, trying to occupy my time with anything at all and it occurs to me that hell, I can write an Oscar wrap-up.

It beats pretending to read the "Left behind' books.
For those of you who read my blog and have become accustomed to a certain style, you'll forgive the occasional cheesy line.

The 82nd Academy Awards started with big laughs and ended with history being made.

"The Hurt Locker,"Kathryn Bigelow’s tense drama about a bomb disposal unit in Iraq took home Oscar’s top prize Sunday night. The film led the Oscar count with six wins including a historic first.

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to earn an Academy Award for Best Director. The honor of first female ever to win a Best Director statue should have been Jane Campion or Kimberly Pierce for their fierce efforts in the '90's, but that's neither here nor there.

"Avatar" did not leave empty-handed, though. James wasn't king of the world, but he was king of the post-house as his eye-candy "epic" snatched up trophies for Art Direction, Cinematography and Visual Effects.

The acting categories turned out the way most film critics (including this one) foretold. (Because critics are like prophets.) Mo’Nique won an Oscar for playing the creepiest mother ever in "Precious."

Christoph Waltz won his well-deserved uber-Bingo Oscar for playing Inglourious Basterds’ cheerfully sadistic Jew Hunter.

As predicted, Sandra Bullock and Jeff Bridges won Best Actress and Best Actor Oscars for The Blind Side and Crazy Heart, respectively.

I'm not begrudging Bridges his tiny golden dude, even though, out of the five nominees at least, Colin Firth should have taken it home. Bridges has done so much overlooked work that he deserves a lifetime achievement award. Most notably for "The Fisher King" and "The Big Lebowski."

There were a couple of surprises. Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon was considered by many a lock to win an Oscar for Foreign Language Film. It looked like his haunting tale of ritualistic punishment and a series of mysterious tragedies in a small town in pre-WWI Germany would not take the home the gold.

That honor, however, went to Juan José Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes from Argentina. Another surprise was seeing Quentin Tarantino going home empty-handed. Most were expecting him to take home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. One disappointment was that Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, absolutely scalding condemnation of the way entities ‘help’ refugees, went home with dick.It’s one of the best films that was political criticism disguised as sci-fi since Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day the Earth Stood Still. But since it’s not your typical Oscar film, the fact that it was nominated at all is something to be grateful for.

Also going home without a single prize was Lone Scherfig’s simple and elegant "An Education." And that was a shame because "An Education," simple as it was, was one of the most honest and moving films of the year.
My heart
was broken a how this young girl was taken in by this sleazy Casanova, but Sarsgaard is so damn charming, we can see why young Jenny fell for him.

For my money, Mulligan should have taken the statue home and Sarsgaard should have at least been nominated, but I rarely get what I wish for when it comes to Award season.
The broadcast had other highlights other than the awards themselves. In a moving tribute to ‘80s iconic filmmaker John Hughes, actors from his film came up on state to share stories about how he helped shape their careers and lives. It was a surprisingly sad and funny eulogy to one of the many stars lost last year. Now, it’s time to move onward. For most, this means looking forward to the long line of blockbusters Hollywood is getting ready to parade out for us.

But for this film snob, since flying out to Southern France and spending eleven days in cinematic heaven isn’t really practical, I’m going to be spending the next few months reading about international and independent films making their premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May. There is so much coming soon to theatres near us. Let’s get going! Allons-y!

Eden Lake – James Watkins (2008)

Ladies and Germs, this is not your typical horror film.

You might be at WalMart, looking through their bargain bin or browsing through Blockbuster's previously viewed 5-for-$20 selection when you come across this title and think this is just another straight-to-video genre pic.

My God, you could not be more wrong.

Eden Lake has a very familiar plot but it manages to distinguish itself from the likes of Wolf Creek and other generic ‘lost-in-the-woods-please-somebody-save-us-from-these-sadists’ pics.
First, Kelly Reilly’s performance as the damsel in distress who shifts from victim waiting to be picked off to bad-ass ready to destroy these vicious bastards up is believable.
James Watkins knows how to build characters and tension in equal measure and that is a rare commodity these days.
Second, each member in the gang of punk kids has their own separate personality, which most screenwriters don’t bother with.
And the leader of the gang is unusually cruel, even for movies like this.
If you've seen Fernando Meirelles' City of God, you'll remember the sequence where one child forces his friend to kill his playmate. After eight years, that scene still unsettles me.

This is the kind of cruelty I'm talking about. It's that kind of sadism present in Eden Lake.
And lastly, the film is actually saying something about the complicity of inaction.
The two most disturbing sequences in the film come when the leader of the gang makes everyone take the knife to one of the victims, though it’s clear most of them don’t want to.
It’s equally clear that those who want out could easily overpower those who want to keep going, but they don’t.
The second very chilling sequencing is the last when our heroine stumbles onto the parents of these kids.
Having said all of this and giving this film a great deal of credit, I’m not sure if I actually liked it or not. I am pretty sure I did not enjoy it.
However, it certainly stuck with me and giving me the satisfaction I wanted by seeing the bad guys get their comeuppance by meeting a grizzly and bloody certainly would have been gratifying, but it would have undermined the whole point of the film.
I do recommend it, though, but only for fans of either horror movies, art films or, ideally both.
There are elements of both Lord of the Flies and Wrong Turn (how’s that for a combo?) here.

Expect to be haunted for a few days after watching it.

Maybe have something like "Superbad" on deck to watch if you need to get the taste of this one out of your brain.
Because for the record, the end of this film is almost as devastating as the end of George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead.
And, just in case you care, I'm listening to