Archive for July, 2010
3.5 Stars out of 4
“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” — Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Simple Art of Murder’
Mean Streets is a 1973 crime tale that is ridden under more realism than plot. These aren’t about punk gangsters exactly, but about a city burrowed under lofty sin and hidden remorse. Joyous festivities occur on the street daily and people move amuck freely as if this is their warm-welcomed home. This is Scorsese’s picture. A director who, while young, creates a film less about a winding, epical, and dominant story and more about the bitter reality of a netherworld. It’s misleading – it’s not necessarily the streets we need to fear, it’s what lurks within. (continue reading…)
3 Stars out of 4
The golden rule of adaptations is that they do not need to be honest to the original work but to the director. A nexus must be drawn when looking at the mission of a director’s vision and how he will correlate to the overall meaning with the original piece’s. Punkmeister Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, at its most serene, is locomotive. It kind of punches topical literature in the face and alters (or for some, negates) the genre into a frenetic piece of cinema. Avid fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels may castigate this film version for bastardizing the studious temperament of the work. But I appreciated, and most importantly, enjoyed Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie exploits the right style – his, while remembering that there is more to making a movie than a jolty camera.
Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) is straightened up and smug. He whirls his cane pompously and sneers with a snub. His more innocuous, modest, but just as exigent Watson (Jude Law) is a noble sidekick to Holmes, not just a leftover of the Downey plate. We see them banter, quarrel, and jubilate. It’s fun. So is this movie. Alas, Ritchie finds his zone. He’s not too incoherent as a raconteur, less corybantic with his shots.
And when that camera shakes, pulsates, slows to a dawdle, there’s some rhyme and reason. For example: Sherlock is in a fighter’s ring with a robust foe, while inebriated fans cheer recklessly. Time sputters, he thinks. In a prophetic deductive phase, he explains how he will take down the foe – through discombobulation, fracturing the jaw, and haemorrhaging the diaphragm. He calls it. Here, the slo-mo makes sense. It’s how Sherlock thinks – briskly, intuitively, and fastidiously.
The plot: it is said to be reminiscent of Conan Doyle’s Holmes story called The Hound of The Baskervilles, in which a series of gruesome supernatural events occur and set Holmes’ on another intense and ground-breaking mission. Downey has that charm. Enough for us to think he’s a thinker, a fighter, and a womanizer. He’s got his eyes on Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who Conan Doyle liked to call “the woman.” Ritchie provides McAdams with a little bit of space to exercise her energy. Mostly, her portrayal is gimmicky to a plot that is already so. Sherlock Holmes won’t hold you as an intelligent, cryptic puzzle but it holds you for the entertainment and a style Ritchie is best at oscillating.
Mark Strong is the villain, as he always is (Kick Ass, Robin Hood, Oliver Twist). He’s the quintessential Toby Crackit, where he can seduce, manipulate, and stipulate. In Sherlock Holmes, he ‘dies’, awakens, so he can well, ‘fail’ once again. Sherlock Holmes is as directly finessed as it is predictable. But so were the novels (as I am aware). We assume Sherlock will win the case, surmount everything to every end, and even survive the most impossible explosions (which run off on excruciating lengths).
Ritchie is definitely infatuated with the visceral. What looks pretty, flashy, and appealing is his means to pull you in. It somewhat worked in RocknRolla, but not in Revolver or Lock, Stock… But Sherlock Holmes is surprisingly exciting and interesting because it creates a character and a movie not entirely desperate on being credible to its original piece. I appreciated similar adaptations like Dawn of the Dead (which castrated the consumerism angle to George A. Romero) and the all-out comedic tone of The Longest Yard which dissolved the pathos of its predecessor. Sherlock Holmes is delightful and well-acted. Minus the happy-go-lucky cognition of Ritchie, I think Conan Doyle would only roll once in his grave instead of twice. Or thrice.
But my enjoyment fell to quivers when the film concluded. It sets itself up for a sequel that is as welcoming as a kidney pie salad. And sure enough, Sherlock Holmes 2 will release in 2011, similar cast will follow. London the milieu. Ritchie to direct. How simple that is. Or Sherlock would say: Elementary, My Dear Watson.
I SAY: SEE IT.
2.5 Stars out of 4
28 Weeks Later has a dazzling opening. It is murky, grim, claustrophobic, and foreboding. Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack) are hiding in an English farmhouse, near Stanford. A boy comes knocking ferociously, they open the door, he strides in, panicked. Moments later, the zombies, er, infected arrive. How many are there? As the boy says: “loads.”
Only one character escapes – Don. Immediately director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo sets up a nexus: a frantic energy more discombobulated than the infected and a character frenetically stressed over the abandonment of his wife and our chaotic disinclination to now empathize with his cowardice. He left her behind in almost a heartbeat (as heard in 28 Days Later).
I was flabbergasted by this opening. It felt like there were steroids thrown in my popcorn and my searing angst was at a high. We then endure a montage of days passing by: Infected die of hunger, London is a wasteland, American Army moves in for rehabilitation, you know the story. We then meet two young characters – Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots). They are the children of Don’s. He has much explaining to do.
Ultimately, we expect for mayhem to ensue again. Just when? The next thirty-forty minutes are a tease. Characters do incomprehensible things, like escaping the ‘green zone.’ And even an unexpected survivor is discovered.
28 Weeks Later has the sincerity to explore the biological, psychosis, and mannerisms of the infected. We get to see a man regress completely into an infected in a gruellingly effective 20 seconds or so (the proverbial length till the disease takes its course). This is great stuff. But after the hour mark, 28 Weeks Later is less about the tragic, yet almost uncanny whim of the whole outbreak of rage. 28 Weeks Later is more about grimly exploiting its cynicism than balancing the fears, realizations, and jarringly optimistic moments that occur in this rather despondent and frightening event. I think what it comes down is we miss director Danny Boyle.
Boyle’s 28 Days Later struck you like gentle piano keys. At one moment, we were alone, afraid, bogged down in our self-existential uncertainties. At another we were joyous, united, and safe (like in that whimsical shopping centre scene). 28 Days Later was as beautiful as it was terrifying. 28 Weeks Later is definitely terrifying but rarely transcendent. It has more of a pulse than a heart. It’s more for the action fiends, who will enjoy this, but not as first-hand experience, which is really what completes this franchise. The vicarious fear of our pathological downfall. That is the real scare.
I did have some fun with this, but I wanted to be pulled around, to an extent that I really began to question the frailty of life. Because when days pass by and we reach number 28, we better hope for a leap year. Jeremy Renner wields guns here, but he’s more three-dimensional in The Hurt Locker. Rose Byrne is not transparent here though; her guns rely directly in her scientific motivations. She’s the straight role, which adds some food for thought to this.
But ultimately 28 Weeks Later is more of a set up for a sequel. A story that succumbs to counter-military clichés (as seen in Land of the Dead and Resident Evil). Boyle has said he will direct 28 Months Later (preliminary title I am sure) and it is said to be placed in Russia. My hopes are high. Hopefully 28 Months, or what not, will not be about feeling cynical about itself, but about actually playing us unflinchingly again. He better do it. In a heartbeat.
2 Stars out of 4
Will Shakespeare hit the nail on the head in Macbeth: Confusion now hath made his masterpiece. With the exception that Revolver is not a masterpiece from its incomprehensibility but a rout of confounding proportions. After seeing Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock…, RocknRolla, and now Revolver, it appears that this director was made more for car commercials. Him camera is ecstatic, frenetic, as if eschewing from any sort of logic. It wouldn’t matter though – we’d be looking at the cars. (continue reading…)
2 Stars out of 4
The title mostly says it all. This one-liner of a title is something that either would be heard at the beginning of a concert to kickstart the energy or be a didactic vantage into the truth of a false band. I’m pretty sure the film tries to do both. But 82 minutes is almost too much for this film to handle and really find where it wants to go. This Is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary (or better yet, a rockumentary) that tries to pursue the band that redefined the term rock and roll (as promises pseudo-director Martin DeBirgi). There are few other references to other guitarists like Hendrix or famous bands, such as The Rolling Stones (maybe in a few scenes). Basically, Spinal Tap is the core of rock and roll. But if they never existed, then what is rock and roll? Spinal Tap is a figment of our judgment on classic rock.
I did laugh in sporadic moments. Can I provide the essentials? Like a greatest hits album? 1) when bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) is forced from the sensitivity of a metal detector to remove a tinfoil-wrapped cucumber from his crotch and 2) when Derek is trapped in a glass cage to open a concert while he nervously plays the bass and his co-members Nigel (Christopher Guest) and David (Michael McKean) look on in disarray. But at what exactly? Is it the impromptu, spontaneous, and ultimately convoluted manner of rock and roll? How rock and roll is essentially about carrying a hard piece of wood (literally, a guitar)? Perhaps. But let’s investigate Martin DiBergi’s ad lib thesis during the opening: “I want to capture the… the sights, the sounds… the smells of a hard-working rock band, on the road.” I’m not sure he exactly does.
What’s difficult about concentrating one band as the demeanour of rock is that that requires attenuated levels of explanation. What we must ask ourselves in This Is Spinal Tap is what is rock and roll and what does it look like? It’s up to director Rob Reiner (who plays DiBergi, the amateur filmmaker). I think ultimately, This Is Spinal needs to be shaped off the edifices of certain bands and their zany quirks and encounters. If anything, This Is Spinal Tap strives for docu-realism instead of playing with the facts. The script is surely taut, clever. But there’s more scribble, less quibble.
Where are those idiosyncratic drummers, catastrophic concerts, and tragic vices? Reiner tries to give Spinal Tap its own brand name, its own problems, and its own heart. I admire the attempt, but the execution is uneven. How can we satisfy our satirical hankering for rock if the film coincides more with conversing with a fictitious representation of it? I know: I’m asking way too many questions. But my thoughts tremble and befuddle with curiosity. Not that the film provokes curiosity but the fact that it kind of avoids it.
There are some great moments in the film. Take when the band members become enraged when their manager decorates their contentious new album Smell The Glove with a leathery black. He affirms: The White Album is the top selling album and it was just a blank colour. Now that is funny. Because it takes what we know and satirizes a band that ultimately ridicules what we know, knowledgeably.
There is wit, like I said. There are some glamourously arousing concert sequences when we can really breathe in Spinal Tap’s vitality and in-your-face temperament. Reiner keeps the camera in the on-stage cage of the rockstars. Like Scorsese did with De Niro’s La Motta in Raging Bull. Interestingly enough: rock acts like a bull fighter’s cage here. Which it is. As Kim Fowley called it: rock and roll is a bloodsport.
Reiner does give us the sense of what Spinal Tap emits. They have some Poison in them, a little Rush, and perhaps a tonic steam of Van Halen. But we get that seriously quick. The script was written by Reiner and the three band members and they do have the tongue-in-cheek for making us giggle under our breath. And I’m sure these four know more about rock than me (though it’s my favourite musical genre). I won’t deny the film’s intelligent quips but nothing seems to be drawn out enough. At least not enough to fulfill a film. 82 minutes seems to be like yelling MacBeth in spinning circles. I’ve seen various films of that longevity that really explain to us, the hard way, why they were meant to be short. There is a premise here, some fearless satire, and some terrific double entendres. But we need definition, a director who transcends his knowledge through a style other than conceited satire that does not necessarily say, or yet, transcend anything.
This Is Spinal Tap never found its cult crowd till its release on video. It was first found castigated for its control – “too shaky. Get new cameraman.” I relished in its hand-held approach, as a way for us to patrol the ground floor, shake hands with the characters and gaze up at them as they strummed. But I never felt I really knew the sight and sounds of rock and roll as a result, though I did feel I watched a flashy concert video. Intent on its own vigorousness. Key word: intent.
Most love this film. If so, pick up the four-and-a-half hour bootleg, which would be like doing an encore before the concert even started. As for ‘rockumentaries’, I stick to the traditionalized deconstructions of documentary. Where I can put in the disk, learn about a band, and get the gist just the same: they really define rock and roll. While also thinking something else – something This Is Spinal Tap never discharged: “Hey that was a bloody-rockin’ good time!”
3 Stars out of 4
I was asked for a high school project, before reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, what I thought love was. I, originally, apathetically dismissed the inquiry by using a Robert Frost line. Now, after seeing The Age of Innocence, the film compels a very Victorian, tragic notion on the definition of love. I would say love is a fortress that is conquered by the most superficial assailants. (continue reading…)
3.5 Stars out of 4
I want to call Welcome To The Dollhouse a tragedy, but that would be slightly inaccurate. I’ll have to put it in a paradox: it’s a joyous tragedy. Or tragecomic. But anyways, I’ll stop mincing away these words. The film is messy, inconsistent, unpredictable, and vague – but as harsh as that sounds, those are contributive features. (continue reading…)
2.5 Stars out of 4
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me has a lot of fire, but never really peaks. Okay, my pun is almost insurmountably vague, but I examined Twin Peaks: FWWM on the basis of how it tries to homage its show. The actual show Twin Peaks was one of my favourite film series’ of all time. Time declared it in the top 100 of best television programs and many magazines laud it for its cult appeal. Here, director David Lynch takes a familiar work that used his creativity and wit so well and turns it in to something that exposes Lynch’s immediate craft for quirky suspense. But Lynch, wrongly, also inspires hate. If anything, Twin Peaks never encouraged that. (continue reading…)
3.5 Stars out of 4
It took director Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, Memento) a lengthy ten years to write his prodigious new mind-blender Inception. En route to its creation, Leonardo DiCaprio would help edit elements that needed tweaking and emotions that needed gratifying. As a finished project, Inception is an astutely constructed game of chess, which controls its ideas fastidiously and corners the audience into a check mate. The 148 minutes is a spiraling labyrinth, where Nolan’s concepts seem to rectify at the rate of his drama. Inception is a film you want to see at least twice. Not because it can be consumed on pure exhilarating levels, but because it acts like a dream that you never really quite understand the first time. When the film ends, it’s like you have woken up and it’s not until you endure a second view that the film will only seem just strange. (continue reading…)
4 Stars out of 4
Some have called Caché an exercise in pain – and others, well, one of the best films of the decade. I’m clearly with the latter.
I have no credence towards the ones who dismiss this as insipid art. Caché brilliantly pursues the cold lens of distantation, while also creating an acerbic suspense through what is unavailable to our eyes. Haneke is the quintessential pundit of austere filmmakers, such as Robert Bresson and Abbas Kiarostami. Viewing Caché is a clearcut experience, understanding it is on a more inconspicuous apex. The easiest thing to jot in your head is the sense of fear we develop in our downcast-taciturn lives. The privy question is: who is or what is watching us?
The opening shot could very well be a) a security camera b) a camera of someone trying to take a meticulous picture of a house c) a POV of a quiet urban street. We would never expect it to be a foreboding, hidden video camera capturing footage of an innocent enough family’s house for the purpose of tormenting them. That’s just what it is. The house contains Georges Laurent, a host of a literary television show (Daniel Auteuil), Anne Laurent, a writer (Juliette Binoche), and their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), a pubescent student. (continue reading…)