Archive for February, 2011
Posted by abby on February 27, 2011
Runtime: 94 minutes
Plot: Three teenagers confined to their parents’ isolated country estate and kept under strict rule and regimen – an inscrutable scenario that suggests a warped experiment in social conditioning and control.
“Dogtooth” (one of the nominees for this year’s Academy Award for best foreign film) is a weird little piece of world cinema, the likes of which appear only once in a very great while. It’s a beautifully shot, violent, shocking and absurd movie that owes fealty in equal measures to Michael Haneke and Luis Bunuel and Marcel Duchamp, with a touch of Jan Svankmajer thrown in for good measure. I know all those highfalutin comparisons make it sound like a heavy, dull movie, but it’s not. It’s just…unique.
The film lets us into the lives of a Greek family comprised of a father, mother, son and two daughters, who live in an isolated compound somewhere in the countryside. The father is the only one who leaves the house, driving to and from his work in the city. The only outsider who comes in is Christina, a security guard at the father’s office who’s brought in a couple of times a week to attend to the son’s sexual needs. The three unnamed children, all on the verge of adulthood, are raised with the strangest home schooling curriculum known to man. They listen to vocabulary tapes that spout misinformation (a “sea,” for example, is defined as a large leather chair), memorize anatomy books, and have daily workouts and games postured as contests to win “prizes” (stickers) that allow them special privileges.
Even stranger are the descriptions the father gives them about the outside world. The kids can never go out into the garden by themselves, or leave the walls of the compound, because cats might attack them—cats are evil. A child is ready to leave the home when their dogtooth (canine) falls out. They are ready to learn to drive when that tooth grows back.
It takes a while to get past the initial bizarre setup and figure out what writer and director Giorgos Lanthimos is up to here. But once the realization kicks in, “Dogtooth” becomes a smart, blackly funny satirical allegory about totalitarian rule. Think Franco’s Spain, China during the Cultural Revolution, or present-day North Korea. The father trains his family to bark like dogs, only allows them to watch family home movies for entertainment, and plays Frank Sinatra records at dinner, translating the lyrics out loud into messages that sound like they were copied directly from the Little Red Book.
There are plenty of places to get hung up on in this movie—it contains uncomfortable depictions of sex and incest, as well as bluntly graphic violence. But it’s all done with an interesting purpose in mind. Lanthimos sets out to depict an extreme example of totalitarianism, and the reactions that kind of strict leadership elicits from people, and he not only succeeds, but does so on an artistic scale that only a select few directors have achieved. I think Lanthimos probably needs to develop his artistic voice a little more (there are a great many parts of “Dogtooth” that feel pretty obvious and juvenile), but I have a feeling he’s going to be an interesting person to watch. This is his third film, and the only one that’s gotten any kind of international recognition. After the buzz from “Dogtooth,” I’m certain we’ll be hearing more from him.
Posted by christopher on February 21, 2011
Runtime: 91 minutes
Plot: Boy meets girl. Girl has an adult son. Son hates boy.
Cyrus, flat out, was an incredible movie. A movie that makes you want to buy it, which sadly in this day and age is quite a compliment–for me at least.
Cyrus follows John, played by John C. Reilly coincidentally, his love interest Molly, played by Marisa Tomei or MT as I often call her, and Cyrus, or Jonah Hill / Jo. Hill for the layman. I jest of course, hopefully awkwardly, which is the embodiment of this film: awkward dramatic comedy. John is depressed having been divorced for now seven years; the epitome of a bachelor with an unkempt house, pizza everywhere, masturbating in bed with half an ass hanging out while listening to rave music. I’ve been there if you can’t tell. I digress. John meets Molly. Molly gives John purpose and happiness. Unfortunately, Molly has an adult son who is not too fond of John, lashing out in a rather devious, demented manner. And cue the laughter.
Cyrus was a miserable joy to watch. And by that I mean that it was truly entertaining, genuinely funny, but incredibly awkward, causing me to many times cringe at the situation unfolding. I’m generally reserved and try to avoid uncomfortable, confrontational situations. Cyrus does the exact opposite pursuing those difficult moments fully while maintaining its comedic sense.
The acting and writing were wonderful. Reilly embodies the everyman, the ‘you’ if you’re a male. He has a wonderful ability to deliver scenes and dialogue slightly off, but fitting given the context. Many times in Cyrus, and other films as well, he spaces the words just so that they’re not fluent but they’re fitting; he does so at times where the character is caught off guard and as you’d imagine is scrambling for the appropriate words. Tomei is emotionally true to her character. She clearly begins with a hardened wall of emotion based on some painful past relationship, but ultimately gives in as you would expect, opening to the kindness and sexiness–joke–of J.C.R. I invariably fell in love with her. Jo Hill is demented and dastardly and the true carrier of the comedy in the film. His uber serious, straight faced moments without question keep the film engaging and funny. Even the minor characters add comedic depth to the film. Specifically I’ll note Matt Walsh, who plays the husband-to-be of John’s ex-wife. His character is reminiscent of the character he played in Old School and at the same time the character played by Craig Kilborn: the dick new husband who you hate but always stands out because of it.
The filmography stood out to me as well. It has a slight touch of the live, candid camera fell but it’s subtle enough to not disgust, unlike some tv shows I know of. The zooming and refocusing of the camera within the frame and scene specifically called out to me in this point. I’m fond of this because it embraced me as a viewer, increasing the believability of the scene as if I were witnessing it play out truly.
Without a doubt, Cyrus should not be overlooked. It’s tight, has incredibly comedic range, and maintains a touching degree of emotion.
Posted by will on February 17, 2011
Runtime: 93 minutes
Plot: A gang called The Warriors are framed for killing a gang leader trying to unite all the gangs in the area. With other gangs gunning for them they must get back to the home turf of Coney Island… Alive.
“The Warriors” opens with Cyrus (Roger Hill), the leader of the largest and most notorious gang in the city, the Gramercy Riffs, calling a conclave for nine unarmed representatives of all area gangs to convene in his home turf. When the good-for-nothing leader of a bunch of toughs aptly called the Rogues assassinates Cyrus, the Warriors are framed for the cold-blooded murder. Now, with every NYC gang hot on their trail and their leader, Cleon (Dorsey Wright), missing, the Warriors must navigate their way from the Bronx back to their home in Coney Island … alive.
For the most part, once you get over the initial premise and lead-up, the movie melts into a cat-and-mouse chase taking place in dreary NYC locales along the subway route home. The story is simple but it doesn’t need to be complicated, this movie has enough problems.
Boy howdy. Let’s start with our badass heros.
The acting was decent but I wanted a greater sense of urgency from the Warriors. The characters seemed way too flippant to be running for their lives for a crime they didn’t commit. Where was the the fear? The anger? The outrage? Perhaps they were too busy running for their lives to show a smidgen of reaction to their situation. And, I suspect, character development was not really the selling point of this movie.
That being said, it would have made the plodding story more interesting — we don’t exactly need anything deep, just something progressive. This was especially disappointing in the character Swan (Michael Beck), the second-in-command of the Warriors. This guy had potential to grow as the movie progressed but really never showed a spine and was completely wooden in how he dealt with various scenarios the Warriors faced. We’ll just chalk this up as an opportunity lost.
I would be remiss if I didn’t label this movie in the action genre yet compared to today’s level of bloodshed, all of the sequences are child’s play. The combat during the rumbles and clashes was definitely of the Friday-night-at-the-local-VFW-for-the-local-wrasslin’-promotion ilk. So, it struck me odd that a movie so seemingly tame could have been hailed, at the time, as something so controversial. I think it is a good benchmark to see, either for better or for worse, how far we have come, as a society, at portraying violence. Yet, there is something to applaud when it comes to predominately bloodless violence that doesn’t require the watcher to see, explicitly, the brutal process and aftermath.
The highlight of the movie were the wardrobes of each individual gang. The costuming direction was definitely kitschy but highly appropriate and pretty memorable. Our heroes were decked out in what appeared to be the offspring of Native American influences with motorcyclist sensibilities. Other featured players that made up the quilt of posse uniforms include the grease monkey Orphans, overall-over-rugby shirt Punks, kimono-ed Riffs, Marcel Marceau aficionado Hi-Hats, and probably the most infamous of all, the clown-faced, pinstripe pushing Baseball Furies. If you ask me, they could have seriously pushed the limits with some of these identities but it was fun to see all of the unique factions with their distinct looks.
Overall, there was a lot to like and appreciate in a movie with a simple story and few plot devices. The movie, in the end, really relied heavily on the visuals and action and if you can appreciate that, then you can appreciate this film. There is really not much doubt that the Warriors are going to make it home while in the process, clearing their names. Their long ride through the night is made a bit more appetizing when there are a lot of interesting things to look at along the way.
Posted by abby on February 13, 2011
Runtime: 116 minutes
Plot: In 1941, playwright Barton Fink comes to Hollywood to write a wrestling picture. While in L.A., Barton develops severe writer’s block. His neighbor, a jovial insurance salesman, tries to help, but Barton continues to struggle as a bizarre sequence of events distracts him even further from his task.
“Barton Fink” is a Coen Brothers movie that doesn’t feel like a Coen Brothers movie. It’s got the trademark dark humor and odd characters, and uses most of their regular cast members (Steve Buscemi, John Goodman and John Turturro, among a smattering of other noticeable Coen favorites) but in most other ways, it feels like someone else’s work. I kept thinking of David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch,” perhaps because of the similar aesthetic (but probably more so because both movies feature Judy Davis).
Barton Fink (Turturro) is an idealistic Arthur Miller-esque writer who wants to write theater for “the common man” in 1940s New York. At the beginning of the movie, his first play has opened to rave reviews. He’s the toast of the theater world. He receives an offer to write a screenplay for a Hollywood “boxing movie” for a nice fat sum, money that Barton’s agent assures him will allow him to keep writing all that “theater for the unwashed masses” stuff. So, Barton heads to L.A. where he’s put up in a past-its-prime hotel with a friendly neighbor (John Goodman), and is left to stew over his screenplay.
Perhaps the weirdest bit about “Barton Fink” is how unfocused it seems. At times, it feels like a commentary on the creative process and the mind of creative types. At others, it’s a satire of slick Hollywood businessmen and the sellout writers they hire to write their scripts. Barton is entrusted to write a script for a movie he knows nothing about, other than it’s a “boxing picture”, and encouraged by the studio head to write something with a “Barton Fink feeling,” although the head himself hasn’t read anything Barton’s written. There’s also a hard-drinking, depressive southern writer, W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), an obvious parody of Tennessee Williams, who hates himself for working in such a low-culture industry.
And every now and again, there are little touches of Cronenbergian surrealism—gooey peeling wallpaper that leaves trails of paste on the wall, a mosquito that keeps biting Barton, despite the studio bosses’ claims that there are no mosquitoes in L.A., sexual encounters ending in frightening ways. And then there’s Goodman, the talkative “common man” neighbor who Barton would rather talk at than listen to—a habit that leads to some nasty consequences in the film’s frown-inducingly bizarre conclusion. It’s all fairly interesting, but none of it seems to cohere. What’s the message? What does it all represent?
“Barton Fink” is an ambitious movie that tries to tackle a lot of concepts, and perhaps that’s why it falls short. It’s about highfalutin writers who claim a desire to write in a realistic voice, but who won’t even listen to the people they claim to represent. It’s about Hollywood head honchos who bring in creative talents to work on movies, but only do so because they see dollar signs. And it’s about writer’s block. These feel like they should be compatible ideas, but when you try to jam them together with a compelling plot, they come out looking a little like jumbled patchwork than a full picture. “Barton Fink” isn’t an awful movie, but it’s far from brilliant.
Posted by benjamin on February 7, 2011
Runtime: 110 minutes
Plot: High school student Brendan Frye prefers to stay an outsider, until the day that his ex-girlfriend, Emily, reaches out to him unexpectedly and then vanishes. — Yahoo! Movies
Brick is a film noir for our present day. The concept sounded interesting enough. Classic detective story set in a modern day high school. This could have easily crashed and burned, but the writing took it to a new level. I was quickly immersed in a world of modern images but I could see the subtle throwbacks that were being presented to me. One of my favorite lines was when Brendan, the lead detective, was trying to find out who Emily was hanging around. Instead of making it that simple, Brendan posed the question “Who’s she eating with?”, a reference to the high school culture of lunch defining every clique. The dialog isn’t where the old school references stop. There’s even a standard light jacket any high schooler might wear representing our detective’s trench coat as well as a mysterious lady in a red dress.
With great writing and direction, we also need the acting chops to pull this off. JGL is an interesting choice, but he pulls the role off well. He mixes the high school looks with the ability to morph into a modern day detective. Think edgier Encyclopedia Brown. I was just as impressed with Nora Zehetner as our mysterious lady in red and Matt O’Leary as The Brain, or the more intelligent minor hero behind our protagonist.
Now it might have taken me two attempts to finish this film, but I found myself quickly questioning why I never returned to finish this film sooner. The only complaint here is that the ending could have given me more. It wasn’t bad. It was just lacking something, though I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was.