Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dawn Has Finally Broke: Twilight Is Over

So it's finally over.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson can go back to being kids parading as tortured artists; Taylor Lautner can continue to shit his pants that his claim to fame is a set of smoking abs and a starring debut of a film that upwards of no one saw (hopefully he doesn't have a drug habit that outstretches his annual income); Bill Condon can go back to directing great scripts that don't feature dialogue that reads like a mix of bad porno and high school lunchroom conversation; and we can all forget that for a brief moment in history the world was taken by storm by a novel that, as literature, was maybe one or two steps above a room full of monkeys at typewriters, which produced a five film quadrilogy that had, at 10 merciless hours, not a single thing of dramatic note happen. And yes, I do understand the concept of allegory. And no, this ain't it.

Actually, that last part is a lie. Something does happen in this final installment, albeit only to let us know, that nope, actually nothing is going to happen after all. It's a bigger dramatic cock block than the one that stretched over the first three Twilight films between Bella and Edward. At least it ends with a montage that features images from all four of the previous films. That's nice...right?

But, once again, who can you blame? Bad source material will always beget bad finished products. Condon especially raised the aesthetic stakes quite considerably across the span of Breaking Dawn's two parts, if for no better reason than to show how it's possible to make horrible movies look relatively good (or, in this case, better than they deserve). At least you earned your paycheck Bill.

There's a big lesson in film aesthetics and style in here somewhere, but then again, you didn't come this far because you care about any of that anyway, did you?

PS- Was anyone else weirded out by the use of what I can only hope was a computer generated baby in the first half of this film?

Be sure to check out my reviews for two of the previous Twilight films as well:

New Moon

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Punch-Drunk Love: The Best Movie Charlie Chaplin Never Made

Punch-Drunk Love is the best film Charlie Chaplin never made. Every time I see it it makes me want to just hug it and kiss it and whisper how much I love it into its ear.

It is also one of the darkest romantic comedies in, well, I don't really have a point of reference, so maybe ever?

It's a beautiful, sloppy, colourful, loving embrace of a film. It plays as if it's trapped somewhere between the cinema-as-a-state-of-mind of Scorsese's After Hours with the tender, loving touch of the Little Tramp starring in a classic Astaire and Rogers picture. This film's aesthetic is classic, simple, surreal L.A. through and through

This was to be a minor film for its writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson after his epic emotional train wreck of a masterpiece Magnolia (still my vote for the best film of the 90s for anyone who cares) and that about fit's this film's tone perfectly.

As opposed to the emotional vortex that threatened to destroy everything in its path that was Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love is a quite, more ephemeral love/art collage of a film about a sad/angry child trapped deep inside the exterior frame of a man so reserved in his day-to-day that he has reduced himself to simply getting by with being noticed as little as possible. It's a mini-masterpiece, jaggedly cobbled together from Anderson's love of Adam Sandler comedies, a sleazy mattress man, a beautiful muse and a stranger-than-fiction true story of a marketing mistake that allowed people to collect extra frequent flyer miles by purchasing cups of pudding.

This is Barry Egan, a strange man in a strange fitting blue suit. When we meet him he's opening up shop for the day. He runs a business that sells novelty bathroom plungers for which, I can only imagine, there is next to no current demand.

Barry has seven sisters who are planning a party this evening and keep interrupting his business meetings for phone calls that bark out orders and demean him based on his choice of words in expressing himself.

He smiles on, returns to reality, looks to the ground, buries the pain deep and manages to croak out the fewest syllables possible that, contrary to his belief, don't even go halfway to hiding his pain. This is a sad, unhappy, misunderstood child with no sense of how to escape his mind and grow into the man he should by now be.

But before any of this, Barry opens the shutter doors, looks down the parking lot with his morning thermos in hand and sees a horrific and completely unexplained vehicle accident, abruptly followed by a van, which pulls up, drops a harmonium just as unexpectedly onto the curb and leaves. Barry is horrified; doesn't know what to do; takes cover inside. Such a violent eruption followed by such a beautiful and innocent artifact. The tone for the film has been set.

Barry peeks out from around the corner. The harmonium is still there. He goes to fetch it. This is maybe the first source of comfort Barry has ever had in his life. The music they make together is sad and yet poignant to the point of beauty.

So Barry, very reluctantly, goes to a party his sisters are throwing where they all remind him of the time they were calling him gay boy and he got so mad he threw a hammer through the window. He claims he doesn't remember, the truth plainly being that he doesn't want to remember and doesn't particularly need to be reminded either.

He loses it, kicks in the sliding glass doors, and then asks his doctor brother-in-law if he can help him. Sometimes he doesn't like himself and cries for no reason. "Barry, I'm a dentist, “is the reply he gets. Barry is so far reserved from reality that even his attempts to get help come off as misinformed and pathetic. He needs help but doesn’t know where to begin in trying to get it.

Then two things happen. In a desperate need to talk to someone, Barry calls a phone sex line and ends up being blackmailed for money he doesn't have by a mattress man played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who's introductory shot is one of those great Hollywood look-who-it-is moments and comes, not as a mild surprise, but as if hurled at the screen with intent. Does anyone but Anderson shoot films like this in Hollywood anymore? Could anyone but Hoffman have made such an impactful entrance without yet a single word of dialogue?

He also, very reluctantly as well, meets Lena (Emily Watson, maybe never lovelier). She's a friend of the one sister who actually seems to want to communicate with Barry and thinks that they should go on a date. Barry doesn't agree but Lena talks him into it.

These are the two single most important events in Barry's life.

The remainder of the film sees Barry completely smitten with Lena, allowing him an outlet for all of the childish love and beautify in his soul that he only shared before with the harmonium to be given to and understood by a real person. He is capable of love and so desperately wants it but has absolutely no idea of how to act it out in physical form. Thankfully, Lena, the beauty in the red dress, isn't afraid to see past his exterior and to help him along, a little bit at a time. Maybe there truly is one perfect person for everyone after all.

In one of the oddest and yet most touching scenes that comes to mind, Barry, lying on top of her, tells Lena that she is so beautiful that he just wants to get a hammer and smash her fucking face in. In the span of no more than a second or two, she reflects, understands and responds that he makes her want to gouge his eyes out. His response to this is, as expected, quiet and awkward, but for him, plays more like rapture. Not only has he found a love in his life, but he's found his Venus de Milo.
No explanation is ever given as to why this angel would love this strange little man-child, and yet, just as when the blind girl laid eyes on the Little Tramp for the first time in City Lights, the moment is so poignant it's hard to hold the tears of joy back. All the while Anderson paints a beautiful visual portrait of light and colour around these two.

I wanted to have one final word on Adam Sandler. When Punch-Drunk Love first came out in 2002 most of the initial reviews felt the film was minor by Anderson standards but was still a point of interest for the deep notes of pain and internal strife that Adam Sandler was able to find.
Say what you will about Sandler and his usual angry-man-child with funny voices shtick, this is a great performance that understands the depth and sadness of Barry Egan and how he confuses not dealing with things as the same as concealing them from the world.  

And so now, for the rest of eternity, Adam Sandler will have his name on one, lone masterpiece in which he perfectly brought a character to life that stands totally on it’s one while also being worth comparing to the Little Tramp. He'll probably never be in anything this good again but that is, at the end of the day, more than most actors will ever achieve.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bad Boys: Whatcha Gonna Do?

Okay so wait!

There's these two black cops. They're partners. One, Mike Lowrey is a young, drop dead beautiful hunk of negro who, in the third person declares "Fuck anyone who don't like Mike Lowery", and isn't afraid to pull his gun and shoot first whenever needed, the law be damned. The other is short, slightly hot headed, has a wife, 4 kids, a lot of expenses and a desperate need to keep his job.

Their biggest bust at this point is like a kajllion pounds of heroin. In order to keep the toxic drug fumes out of the the evidence room and encourage air flow a ventilation fan is conveniently installed and acts as a way for a European criminal nutbag to break in and steal the entire bust. This dude is a strong case for tightening immigration laws in America. He's mean and killin' the holy fuck out of anyone who crosses him, one of  whom, in this case, just so happens to be, at the time, with a who also just so happens to know one Mike Lowery.

But oh wait. It thickens. Along for the job with the whr...escort is a friend, played by Tia Leoni, who witnesses both her friend and the client get taken out by that crazy Turkish fucker. Luckily, just moments prior to the blood bath she excuses herself to go to the washroom.

Unfortunately she's spotted and narrowly escapes a lot of bullets. In a panic she calls the one person who she feels she can trust: the dead escort's most recent contact, Mike Lowery. Only problem is when she makes the call to the station, Mike Lowery ain't nowhere to be found. Who is? Marcus, his partner.

Chief, played by the can-never-be-blamed-for-bad-material Joey Pants, has a brilliant idea. Have Marcus pretend to be Lowery. Marcus ain't doin' it. Does Marcus like having a job? Yeah. Then Marcus is doing it!

Marcus takes the phone and flubs the hello. The chief holds him up. Marcus says "hole on" and puts his hand to the receiver long enough for an extended conversation where the chief tells him that he must sound more like this man that this girl has never spoken to in her life.

Okay, back on track. Marcus gets Leoni's address and heads over there. On the way from the car to the entrance he talks himself up. He's gotta act and sound, once again, like this man she has never met. He knocks. Who is it. It's Mike Lowery. How does she know it's him. He says "Mike Lowery" again and then again, expecting, I guess, that she'll find the answer to her hard question in Lowery's name.

The door opens. She comes at him with a baseball bat. Yada yada. He has had enough. Listen lady. I'm here to help so you so stop coming at me with a damn baseball bat or you're on your own. The small talk is cut short when bullets start rippin' through shit.

They're on the run. Marcus has to take her to a safe place. He's got it! Mike Lowery's place. Ah, I see, Marcus has easy access to Mike's apartment through playing tough guy with the gets-a-boner-every-time-he-thinks-of-what-it-would-be-like-to-be-a-cop front desk clerk whose presence will only lead to a useless-as-tits-on-a-bull scene in which said desk man gets to tell Marcus how much he wants to be a help with his case.

Marcus takes Leoni up to Mike's apartment, where he doesn't know where the light switch is. He donno where anything is. He always redecoratin' 'n shit, he helpfully explains. He walks backwards and falls. He donno why he fallin' 'n shit in a place he live.

Mike gets filled in on the whole situation the next day by chief in a tough assed monologue which ends with him telling both of them that they are going to keep up this little act so they don't lose their only witness. What!? Hell naw. Mike don't want no one messing up his expensive stuff and Marcus has a wife who is never going to allow this. Of course he does. Without her there would be no scene in which he packs his bags as shecan't handle much more of this, which manages to somehow also name drop Coke not once but thrice.

Back at Mike's, Leoni looks at the wall of pictures and wonders who the man in them are. It is, of course, the real Mike Lowery. Oh shit, sometimes I don't look at my shelf, I forget all the pittures I got here. That's my partner Marcus. He kindly explains to her that it's a cop thing. At Marcus' house is all pittures of him. Oh, I see, because when she first saw it she thought maybe it was pictures of his lover. Ah nah. He ain't gay. She buys it. Sheez, sometimes cop work can be hard.

Fuck me dead, I feel stupid! And we're only about half way through!

No wonder people blame Michael Bay for how shitty his movies are even though his team is what keeps production value high and action/melodrama pumping steadily across the running time. Take away the hunks, babes, special effects and speed and just, honestly and sincerely, look at his movies as fast paced photography. Dude knows how to turn an abysmal script into a great looking movie. Just prepare to get stupider for having seen them.

Except The Rock. That movie is (Rock) solid.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Enter the Void At Own Risk

I'd love to write Gasper Noe's Enter the Void off as pretentious bullshit and go about my life. But I can't. It just isn't right.

The movie will probably most appeal to the 30-something university professors from around the world who dropped acid on their journey through academia and found that all of a sudden all the pretentiousness in the world suddenly made sense and they thus had to explain it to everyone else under their own pretension that we should give a shit. It's okay, I had him in third year too. And it's okay, he only gave me a B too. Yep, it's that kind of movie.

It will also appeal, maybe be a point of fascination would be a better way of putting it, to those who are too young or too inexperienced or too undrugged to not be able to tell the difference between colourful, strobing, psychedelic Eurotrash  and art. Maybe in some cases there isn't much difference?

But, alas, the movie is, I think, to my objective mind, a masterpiece. That doesn't mean you have to like it. I doesn't even mean I like it. Regardless, let's admit: here is a film with style, technical expertise, shots so impossible it's unfathomable for the mind to conceive how they must have been done and a vision that is, for better or worse, uniquely it's own. That is, no matter you're personal feelings or preference, always worth something.

I'm sure, somewhere out there, someone could explain every little minute detail of this film's big mess of a plot and how they all connect together to form some sort of beautiful, deep, profound artistic statement. All the power to them. Noe himself has gone on record to say that the film's central theme is that of "the sentimentality of mammals and the shimmering vacuity of the human experience." Helpful.

He's also said the film was inspired by his downing a lot of drugs in his adolescence and looking at the world through different eyes. That makes more sense.

There are also musings within about the Tibetan Book of the Dead and how the film is about the hero hovering over his life after being killed by Tokyo police and traveling back to the moment of his birth, cumshot towards the camera inside the vagina and all. Yep, it's that kind of movie.

But outside of the technical brilliance of the film (and it is technically brilliant), what it all really boils down to is an equally grating and fascinating three hour long look at what it must be like to hover over a story completely zonked out of your mind. Most of the film's experience can be likened to watching a film while yourself on shrooms about a person looking down on a city, while, you guessed it, on shrooms. Double potency.

For some, maybe most who actively seek it out, that will be enough to justify at least one complete sit through.

For me though, it's not the kind of masterpiece that invites you in and asks you sit and ponder for a while and then keep coming back any time. It's also not one that bowls you over with imagines of the kind of serene beauty you've been searching the world over but have never been able to find. And it's certainly not one that, at the end of which, you sit back and feel as though your outlook on life may be a little different tomorrow.

If anything, Enter the Void is a masterpiece on the level of it's own making. It doesn't matter what it's about. What matters is that we've not only never seen this kind of narrative before, we also haven't seen anything made quite like this before. Double potency again.

If there is any personal effect I found this movie to have, it is in the film's graphic honesty. Noe, who apparently likes to write scenarios and worry about finding his characters and dialogue on set, goes a long way to making you feel every seedy, graphic detail of this story, these characters, this city, etc.

That also ties directly into the film's aesthetic. There's nowhere the camera, as much a character as any of the actors are playing, can't and won't go, nothing that is too much for our eyes to see and no imagine that can't be twisted and changed under the influence of  unfiltered film style. I don't know about the "sentimentality of mammals" but Enter the Void is never boring to say the least.

So go ahead, go see it. Maybe hate it. But maybe also study it. Find things in it that no one else has ever seen and educate the rest of us to them. Write essays about art and life and culture. Of just pop some shrooms and buckle up for the next three hours.

I suspect though, if you're going to do that, being outside and rolling in the grass or going to the zoo may be just as, if not more, fun, adventurous, life affirming, what-have-you than sitting down with this arty-farty bloated trash heap of a masterpiece. Just maybe.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Surest Thing about The Sure Thing

The Surest Thing about the 1985's Rob Reinber/John Cusack romcom The Sure Thing is it's plot.

Whittled down to it's most bare essentials the film builds itself upon one of the most basic concepts of theatrical arts: If you put two completely different people in a room together and have them talk for an hour and a half, they will exit changed by one another. If not, it's tragedy.

This is at the centre of all human drama. First they begin by hating and/or misunderstanding one another out of possibly fear, selfishness or naivety but soon, once they are forced into a situation that requires them to communicate, they grow to learn from one another and fill in the blanks that are missing from their own lives.

12 Angry Men put 12 different men in a room; The Man on the Train had two people come to the philosophical realization that they may have been happier had they led the other's life instead and It Happened One Night found comedy in making the two of opposing sex and putting them on the road together. The list of examples goes on forever. It's hard to screw this kind of thing up.

If anything then, The Sure Thing is It Happened One Night remade for 80s teenagers. It features young, fresh faces, a hip soundtrack and an undiscovered bikini clad blond at the other end of the road.

The film was one of the first to star John Cusack who had graduated into a leading role after haunting the background of John Hughes' Sixteen Candles. Maybe he was always destined to be the leading man Hughes let get away? His presence, over a consistent and long career, in any film always seems to guarantee it at least some degree of enjoyment and Say Anything... still remains the best teen romcom that Hughes failed to make himself.

The Sure Thing -funny, light, enjoyable- in retrospect, is maybe best appreciated as a grounds for Cusack to work out all the kinks in what would later become his most iconic character of the 80s: Loyd Dobler from the aforementioned Say Anything...which came four years later.

Here his Gib is everything we'd come to appreciate about Lloyd: an open, adventurous, likable, charming and funny youth who thinks he's got it all figured out, until nothing ends up happening in his favor, from which he actually does end up getting it all figured out.

In this case he's flunking university English on the East Coast where he has a secret crush on the class prude (Daphne Zuniga) who's in the opposite boat as him. Her mechanics are perfect but writing lifeless. She needs to live a little.

Then, not on the best terms to begin with, they get stuck together riding West to L.A. for the Christmas break (with a funny showtune singing cameo from Tim Robbins). She's visiting her lawyer-to-be boyfriend who's idea of a good time is giving her the lead in a game of gin, and he's going to visit his high school bestie who's promised to hook him up with a sure fire West Coast lay (Nicollette Sheridan in her first film role).

You can fill in the blanks from there.

And yes, they do change, become better people, learn their lessons and so on down the line. That's why, as the age old cliche continues to go, opposites do attract. Most movie characters just need a cross country road trip to realize it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Weird Science of John Hughes

Many a moon ago I posted some ramblings on John Hughes, whether or not he deserved his own special memorial at the Oscars, a documentary about trying to secure an interview with him and just how realistic his films were, leading to a debate on what film realism truly is.

Not bad for a dude who's entire career could just about be summed up with one word: Bueller.

Maybe auteurism does exist in American film after all?

Why that word, though?

Well aren't all of his best films (save for Planes, Trains and Automobiles; the proof that he actually was a humanist and not just a teen sympathizer) about young men and women going against the societal norms laid out for them? Aren't they also about teens not only learning to dance to the beat of their own tune, but finding out just which instrument they are best suited to play? The Breakfast Club (Hughes' "masterpiece"?) bringing the whole band together in one place?

Last night I watched Weird Science, which, although I haven't seen She's Having a Baby or Curly Sue, I think it's safe to say is Hughes' most rambunctious film. For better or worse that is. But I don't know, I kind of admired that quality about it. No other Hughes teen comedy went quite so far, after all, as to have computer generated women, metal-faced leather clad biker dudes or a big brother turned into a life sized frog man.

Even big brother gaining access to the hero's bedroom via shotgun blast is a little out of this world. Although, a movie that features all the contents of a room being sucked up and shot out the chimney including the young girl playing the piano who is, god bless her, strong enough to hold on longer than her bra, can't be all that bad, can it?

So yep, the movie is fun. But what holds it all together and propels it up the ranks into note worthy-ness, as always, is John Hughes the humanist. Sure, Hughes the teen anarchist is what we love, but it doesn't work unless you can relate to the teens at the centre of the drama. 

So, just as important in the mix is the John Hughes that relates to the teens that don't fit. The two best buds who can't get a girl to even look at them, let alone get laid. The dudes who get picked on by the popular morons with the hot girlfriends.

If that's you, forget about the mechanics of plot or the depth of the reality. John Hughes was on your side.

And that's what I finally think has kept Hughes alive and relevant all these years. He played on both the emotions and imaginations of teenagers who don't understand that everyone goes through the same things and provided solace in knowing that maybe your older brother is a flaming douchebag as well,  but at least he's not blowing down doors one round of buckshot at a time, even if, sometimes, that's what it feels like.

I'm Now A Twit!

So I did it.

I'm on Twitter.

Tell your friends.

I figured why not, I'll give it a shot?

I will use it, not simply to promote this space (which I will do, obviously) but also as a place to simply collect my stray thoughts that don't belong on here or are not worthy of more than 100 characters.

And I promise I'll do my best to only post interesting stuff. Okay?

Should be interesting. We'll see how it goes.

So be sure to come follow me @Ml_Movies. If you click follow and also tell one friend to do the same you'll be forever in my debt.

Now that's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a masterpiece. Let's get that out of the way. How much of a masterpiece it is, I don't know, and whether it's a masterpiece on the level of 2001 or Dr. Strangelove is doubtful, but it is a masterpiece none the less.

And the single reason why it is a masterpiece is that it never gives any indication of how a viewer should feel about it.

Is it a story about a recovering alcoholic writer and abusive father who's former demons spark up when he relocates his family to live in an isolated mountain top hotel for the off season?

Or does he actually sell his soul to the devil for a drink in that scene at the bar, forever doomed to repeat this horrible experience for the rest of eternity?

Maybe it's a film about a mother who is desperately trying to save her son from a deranged and abusive husband who tries to murder them after falling off the deep end into insanity?

Or maybe it's about an emotionally abused child who buries his pain so deep inside that he creates an alternate personality and horror fantasy in his mind in which the abusive drunken father who terrifies him is driven into a murderous rage? Is the entire hotel a stand in for the kid's imagination?

How about it's an object of study because of it's mysterious auteur who rarely ever gave interviews and even more rarely ever spoke about his work? As if the artist has left his art in order for paranoid intellectuals to sift through in hopes of unlocking something about Kubrick's inherent inner genius?

But then the film is more yet. It's a brilliant psychological experience in which we encounter first hand the madness going on inside the head of each and every character. It's also an exercise in perfect film form and style.

Every note on the score is calibrated to coincide with what is happening on screen; every performance plunging deep into the madness and torment of these characters as it escalates. Every perfectly composed frame indicating a certain unease that must be lurking just below the surface.

It's also a European art film dragged through the dung heap of American popular culture.

And an adaptation of a great American horror novel.

It's also a perfect example of how to build tone and mood up until a breaking point in which all holy hell breaks lose, in this case, in an extended sequence of terror that is so frightening in how engaging it is that you don't care how it ends, just for the love of god let it end already.

And with that, it's also a hell of a genre flick.

At the end of the day, there is no relief from this film. That's why we keep coming back to it. That's why there is soon going to a feature length documentary trying to shed some light on it and explain all of it's mysteries.

So, The Shining is a masterpiece then not only because Kubrick gives us no easy in or out or indication of what all of this means, but because, no matter which angle you look at it from, it's nearly flawless from all of them.

Whether wanting to sift through the mysteries of the plot, look at pretty pictures for two and a half hours or just have the holy fucking bejesus scared out of you, you'll walk away feeling sure you've seen a masterpiece every time.

That's what truly makes it special: It's a masterpiece in it's details which all come together to create an even bigger masterpiece.