Friday, September 26, 2008

What a shitty week... let's watch some movies!

Ugh. That's the operative word (or is it a sound?) for my existence this week. It's been a rough and difficult emotional roller coaster and I've been ornery and temperamental as my poor Sherry can attest. Not that I've taken anything out on her directly, but I've not exactly been a box of sunshine to be around. How does this differ from normal Muggy behavior you ask? Well, let's just say I destroyed a piece of furniture by kicking it to death in the living room. It was an ottoman. The cats were not pleased.

But all this leads me to one conclusion: please let's escape these depressing doldrums by watching some movies! I have several, nay, dozens to watch at home both in standard def and that superior bluray format. But as I was lying in bed this morning looking out at the grey and ashen sky pouring out its sad, cold rain, I remembered a movie from the early '80s that I never got around to seeing called Parasite (which was originally released in 3-D). It stars a very young and hot Demi Moore but honestly I was more interested in it for the creepy creature effects. Anyway, it seems like a good day for some hot Parasite action, but it's an even better day for me to crank out some capsule reviews. So get out your pen and paper and get ready for some quality suggestions for you all to add (or delete) in your Netflix queue (or hell, maybe visit that mom & pop rental store down the street - they could use the business).

Having lived in New York on 9/11, I was curious to see how Oliver Stone was going to treat the subject in his film World Trade Center. And while there were some powerful scenes and painful moments of watching the two characters suffer as they try to survive being pinned beneath the rubble of the towers, the end result of the film was surprisingly maudlin and sentimental. I suppose it's hard not to be sentimental given the miraculous story of the two characters, but even so it felt a little overbaked. But on the subject of mass destruction of NYC, the JJ Abrahms Godzilla re-hash Cloverfield was a nice try at re-inventing the large-scale monster movie, but it ultimately fell short in its "Blair Witch" cinema-verite technique and the thinly conceived characters. It's possible the actors are to blame as well as they couldn't really inhabit the roles and pull them off convincingly. Some critics seemed to think there was some clever social satire buried in there but ultimately it was just more young, hot actors getting picked off in a genre film. I will give it points however for having some intense action scenes and a nice dark ending.

Speaking of darker material, I just re-watched Pennies From Heaven with Steve Martin from 1981. I've seen this movie several times over the years and know it inside and out, and there's a reason for that - it remains one of the most criminally neglected masterpieces of modern times. The manner in which the director Herbert Ross and writer Dennis Potter weave in these musical numbers (all of which are lip-synched to tunes from the thirties) to underscore the character's psychology was a brilliant and daring ploy that was ahead of its time (Chicago, eat your heart out). And the tap-dancing by Steve Martin is sublime, awesome stuff. Can you name another film that features Christopher Walken as a pimp tap-dancing on a pool table? What a unique and unusual film in the pantheon of Hollywood's history. If you haven't seen it yet, there is a gap in your life that needs filling. Fill it. Now.

We know that Joseph Gordon Leavitt is a good actor as evidenced by his work in the teen noir flick Brick, and he continues this trend of solid performances in the smartly written film The Lookout, where he plays a young man who is mentally handicapped after he gets into a fatal car accident and finds himself a pawn in a bank heist. Good performances all around and a well constructed story make this a highly recommended taut thriller. With similar praise I recommend last year's Foreign Language Best Picture The Lives Of Others though tonally, it's very different from The Lookout. The heart of the film is in the work of lead actor Ulrich Mühe, who becomes obsessed with the writer and his lover whom he is spying on. Some of the film felt just a little contrived to me, but Mühe's performance is heartbreaking and it really stuck with me in the weeks after watching the movie. It's a shame it turned out to be his final curtain call, as he was an incredibly gifted actor.

Some other great acting nods were well-deserved by Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt in The Assination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford. I was familiar with the Jesse James story from the Walter Hill's The Long Riders and the lesser-seen made-for-TV film The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James starring Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash as the elder James' brother (some inspired casting if there ever was). But this film takes the Jesse James myth and really turns it on its ear. I love me a good western, but what I really love now is a good revisionist western wherein the myths and legends of the west are given a more realistic and ambiguous treatment. I've always subscribed to that famous lyric in that song about "that dirty little coward who shot down Mr. Howard" but imagine my shock and surprise when I began to sob uncontrollably at the end of the film out of sympathy for the Bob Ford character. It's nothing shy of great Shakespearean drama. Highly fucking recommended.

The western do-over 3:10 to Yuma was pretty good, too, though I wouldn't call it "revisionist." It is well acted and smartly directed by James Mangold and is a good action movie, but it's fairly faithful to the genre from which it descends. At its core, it is a very good and fairly simple story. The Proposition, on the other hand, is what I'd call "revisionist western" written by Nick Cave (yes, the one with the bad seeds) and starring Guy Pearce (Memento), Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) and Danny Huston (son of John), it's a story that really dives into the murky territory of not-so-good guys vs. not-such-bad guys, twists your emotions and doesn't give you a clear-cut hero in the traditional sense of the word. My type of movie! Life is never so simple so why should our fables be any different? Similar to "Assassination" I finished the movie and then cried like a baby. I love it when a movie can be cooly understated and subtle and then hit you over the head when you least expect it. Danny Huston is also one of my favorite character actors out there now, so keep an eye out for anything he's in - that's a good sign the movie isn't going to be bad.

One not so great (but not terrible) movie with Danny Huston is 30 Days of Night - that vampire movie where a cult of vampires takes over a small Alaskan town during the dead of winter and feast on the inhabitants. One thing to note is that this all happens on Sarah Palin's watch... and people want her to be our next VP? The movie has some disappointing horror movie conventions, some forced character development and drama, but it's a somewhat watchable slice of horror, buouyed no doubt by my man Danny Huston's diabolical vampire leader.

I'm a very big fan of Darren Aronofsky and am excited to see his new film The Wrestler which was all the buzz at this year's Toronto Film Festival, but I have to say that his third film, the epic The Fountain was quite a letdown on the second viewing. I saw it in the theaters when it came out and found its structure and visual style very compelling. I contemplated the film for days afterwards, piecing the fractured narrative together in my mind. It was one of those films that I told myself would be much better the second time around, but it turned out to be the opposite. The structure felt forced, the pace slow and the romance flat. Oh, and Hugh Jackman's protagonist was a jerk so it was hard to really care about his obsession to cure his wife's cancer. Really, the thrust of the film seemed to be much more about Darren Aronofsky's obsession with making this film in the first place, so it ultimately feels more about healing the director's ego.

On the topic of filmmaker pretension and hubris, M. Night Shyamalan's Lady In The Water was something I checked out purely out of curiosity to see "just how bad it is." And while I'd love to give the film an visceral shredding, not everything in the film is horrible - he's a filmmaker with undeniably sharp chops. That is not to say the film is good - it's plenty bad, but there were some well staged scenes and nice camerawork. Obviously this does not a good film make, but as people are quick to jump on the bandwagon of how horrible a film it is, I did want to point out that there's some redemption in the film, albeit through technical mastery (and I'm not talking about the fake looking CGI grass dogs). But really the most ludicrous and laughable aspect to the film has to be M. Night's casting of himself as a writer who will, according to the title character, "write a story that a boy will read who will grow up to change the world." It's just painful to watch, especially with all the talented actors signed on doing their best to inhabit these roles seriously. Clearly, the director's ego needs to be put in check here. I mean, I never thought I'd be one to side with Disney, but I think they were spot on when they turned his script down and complained "too much M. Night" in this one. No shit.

But sometimes director (or in this case director/actor) hubris is not such a bad thing. Who knew that RAMBO, Sly Stallone's fourth outing with the John Rambo character was going to be such a romp? Who knew!? I mean, this movie pulls no punches in the graphic violence department, easily outdoing any of the films preceding it in the series. I hate to sound like a teen boy with a love for giant machine guns and exploding body parts, but this movie tapped right into that vein and kept the juices pumping. You have a great formula for a good action movie here: a) sexist, misogynistic, brutal villains b) lots of big guns and explosions and c) a very pissed off, stoic Rambo. It's a bit campy for sure but I can't deny I had a great time watching the body parts fly when Sly mans that humongous Gatling gun towards the end of the film. Even Sherry, who was opposed to watching Rambo from the get-go, seemed to enjoy the visceral thrills that come with watching despicable characters get their bodies torn apart by machine gun fire. Hilarious, blood-pumping, testosterone-soaked fun. Definitely the best sequel of the bunch!

Oh, how could I write a lengthy entry doing capsule reviews of recent movies without mentioning the way overhyped Dark Knight? I was underwhelmed and a bit disappointed. To be fair, Heath Ledger gives a very good (tho shy of great) performance as The Joker. But this movie suffers from a very common issue in these comic-book movie adaptations: too-much-itis. The third act really falls apart with the unlikely development of (SPOILER ALERT) Harvey Dent's villainous turn. Really, I just got anxious for the whole thing to end and stop making all that noise. Now that summer's over it seems like it finally has.

Couple other quickies to wrap this up: The Bank Job with Jason Statham far exceeded my expectations and was a fun, dark thriller. David Mamet's Redbelt was exactly the kind of boring, talky action film that I would have mistakenly seen as a kid thinking it was going to be a cool martial arts fight film. Well, as an adult viewer, it was still really boring. I finally got around to seeing Donnie Brasco after all these years - mainly because I wanted to see some of my neighborhood, Greenpoint, featured in a mobster film. The movie's not too bad in the end, though some scenes reeked of Hollywoodism. Persepolis was beautifully animated and drawn (by hand! old school!) and was a great story to boot - that is a must-see for sure and it's a shame that it's a footnote in my entry here but I think I've done enough writing for today.

Stay tuned for the next installment in which I'll review that 1980's gem Parasite at long last. Until then, happy viewing...

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

I'm Different

This was a re-edit of Ben's first video in his series of "One week/one song/one video" in which he takes on the touchy topic of public masturbation (this was "sex" week). Originally, the video was a re-hash of outtakes from the Broken Girl video, but as this was Ben's baby I helped him out when I could and let him do as he wished. I wasn't thrilled with the original result but, having liked the song and some of the moments from the original video, I told him I'd have a go at re-editing the piece, excising the "broken girl" outtakes and integrating more of the PSA film "The Child Molester." The result is dark, as is our wont, and somewhat jumbled and intentionally sloppy. I'm happy with it, even tho it is somewhat unsettling to watch. It definitely preys on the notion that what you don't see is more terrifying than what is actually revealed.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

RNC Protest Teargassing footage

Don't know the circumstances leading up to the police's decision to teargas the protesters, but it seems excessive from this clip. There was a lot of RNC protest arrests going on that the media paid no attention to whatsoever (surprise surprise), so here's the real deal. Incidentally, this was forwarded to me by Scott Greene, so thanks for keeping an eye out, buddy.

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