The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: David Fincher is one of my favourite directors. I will see every movie he makes. I was very curious when I saw the trailers for this movie because it kind of looked "cutesy"...something I don't associate with Fincher's edgy, fast and stylistic movies. The adverts for Benjamin Button suggest a strange charming love story. What? Now Fincher is sexy and has some awesome love stories and sex scenes in his movies but "sweet"? No. David Fincher makes film noir. Period. Doesn't he? Paul Schrader points out that “film noir's techniques emphasize loss, nostalgia, lack of clear priorities, insecurity; then submerge these self doubts in mannerism and style. In such a world style becomes paramount; it is all that separates one from meaninglessness.” (Notes On Film Noir, 1972) About half way though the very long movie it begins to hit me, this isn't a love story at all. It truly is film noir: it's kind of Forrest Gump meets John Irving in hell. I really liked this movie, Brad Pitt is very good and it's important that he is so good because the entire movie is setting one up for the emotional delivery of images in the last ten-15 minutes of the movie. I really liked this movie, it's beautiful and is a lot about how everyone is a cool lonely story. Existential. I don't recommend it for everyone. I had a couple of problems with some of the conflict in the plot but they were minor distractions. 10 tissues. Score: 8/10.
The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is just dam good. Perhaps it will be a little artsy and slow for action fans, but really cool for art house fans. Everyone's performance is super. 10/10.
Bullet: as "Benjamin Button" is oversold as a great love story (it is a good love story...don't get me wrong...it's genre-bending because it is about finding love despite our solitary journey) Bullet is just plain undersold. Especially undersold considering it is a really good movie, is Tupac's last movie and it was written by Mickey Rourke and stars Rourke as an ex-con Jewish junkie. Although the movie overall may only be a 6/10...maybe a 7/10...Mickey Rourke is beyond charismatic and compelling. He has written one ofthe most beguilling families I've ever seen in a movie. The entire time watching Rourke on screen he provokes what we all hope an actor might summon: the audience asking WHY? Why is this guy like this? Why is his family completely broken? There are half a dozen portrayals in this movie worth your time. Tupac is pretty good. You can see he is coming into his own, he's comfortable on screen but I had the sense he wasn't fully working it yet. Tupac was fantastic to look at and believable enough, he adds to the atmosphere considerably. But Adrien Brody, Ted Levine, John Enos III, Jerry Grayson, and Suzanne Sheppard are very good. (Of note, Michael K. Williams Omar from The Wire and Donnie Walberg have small roles) The tv Guide gave this movie 1 star, and that is a huge crime. I still can't believe I had never seen or heard of this movie before...but it came out when my grandfather was very sick and I was helping my grandmother...so I must have missed any press about it. More oddly, Stagg had never heard of this movie! It felt impossible to look away from Mickey Rourke or see anyone else on screen when he was on...he was stunning, his body was incredible, gorgeous, only outshined by the role he played. Rourke gets 10/10. I'll be thinking about this family for a long time. Directed by Julien Temple. Score: 7/10.
Great chick flick, Australia: 5 tissues. I enjoyed this movie for a number of reasons. I loved the stars and they looked like they not only belonged in the setting but were having a lot of fun. Big story, big sets, big land. Perfect cinematography, costumes, atmosphere. There is something for everyone in this love story. Hugh Jackman is really cool. I was very happy to see David Gulpilil who was in an old favourite of mine, the classic Walkabout play the grandfather to scene stealer Brandon Walters. I loved the attention in the story to some of the tragic history of Australian Aboriginals. Loved the romance and the action. The kid is fantastic! Score: 9/10 because I had a lot of fun watching this movie.
Burn After Reading: Pitt totally deserves his Oscar nomination for "Benjamin Buttons" and after Keanu Reeves and Jeff Bridges he is probably the next most under-rated actor. People tend to think of him cast only for his looks. Wrong. He is an amazing actor. (Kalifornia, 12 Monkeys, The Mexican, a cameo in True Romance show his subtle range). The delivery of the finale in "Benjamin Buttons" depends on his acting. Here he and his partners in absurdity create some fine silly moments in comedy. How often do we see a comedy rolled out starring middle aged actors? The Coen Brothers seem to sadistically want to make fools out of their wife, George Clooney and anyone else they manage to convince to be in their screwball comedies. Frances McDormand said she forgot all her lines when she was in a scene with Pitt. I can imagine, he brings something different here and his hair is massively distracting, the Coens don't do any pretty lighting on Pitt. He is playing a scary fitness obsessed middle aged man in spandex. Ambulance. He also takes a great punch in the face. How much do I love John Malkovitz? As much as I love Mickey Rourke! This is just plain old fun. Get over yourself and watch something silly. Score: 7/10.
The Trials of Ted Haggard : you can't make this stuff up. HBO doc follows Haggard as he lives in exile for a year after being caught in bi-sexual relationships and chrystal meth habits. Irresitible. Score: 6/10.
There's something really interesting about how we don't see Rourke's face for the first 5:40 minutes of The Wrestler. I've watched it a couple of times because I just couldn't believe we we're looking at the back of his head or face in shadows until 6 minutes into the film. The device helps us notice other details about his character. The Wrestler has yellow hair, wrinkles on his hands, duct tape holding is coat together, his posture is exhaustion. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in a movie is when all the kids attack him as he gets out of the van and he beats them up. The movie is worth it just for that early moment. When I first heard about this movie I had mixed feelings. I've been working on a script with a wrestler in the plot and at first I thought "shit". I've been studying and researching, often happily following small league wrestling leagues or WWE for 5 years. Some of you might recall we went to Lucha Libre (click on yellow text to see my posts regarding the Mexican Wrestling League) and I filmed some matches. I was also really excited to see Mickey Rourke in a starring role. It turned out this movie has been really inspiring and I just loved it. I probably really extra loved it because of my research and investment in the wrestlig world. I also spet a fair amount of time in Jersey and like this refreshing view of the people and place. I'd like to recommend this film as a great date movie but so many women have a pickle up their ass about strippers and violence in movies and they might not have an open mind about a unique love story and miss this movie. Too bad. Marisa Tomei is beyond generous in her acting and bringing soul to her character. The director doesn't overkill the comparison between sex workers and performers. Mickey Rourke is an angel. I love him so much! Scars, tats, needles, make up, theatrics, loss, rebirth, love, Jersey. Score: 10/10.
Regis Philbin was promoting Slumdog Millionaire quite ahead of the word of mouth. He had been to a special premiere and couldn't stop raving about the movie. I had figured he'd be a good judge since he was the original host of the reality program Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. If you've ever wondered why reality tv is so popular, Slumdog Millionaire gives a good demonstration. I suppose it is obviuos why I like this film so much. I don't give much respect to cookie-cutter education or school and I enjoy the study of diversity in learning styles. I set a tone of exploration on the topic of learning here at my blog almost from the first post. I don't want to abolish schools or anything I'm just not romantic about school or conventional education. I think the education matrix is a kind of bullshit system. School is a way to prove people can jump through hoops. Trying to look at the industrial society anthropologically we see that formal education is taking up more and more of peoples time. We are keeping young people in school longer in order to keep them out of the work force and competing with older people for jobs. We've almost lost the notion of university as "universe city". Apprenticeship and practice have lost status to high-cost privately paid tuitions. University is a status symbol and packaged by marketers for consumers. University originally meant "a community of teachers and scholars". We have so little regard for learning now that we make teachers beg for their money.
So along comes a movie that directly addresses the illusion of the value of learning within strict formats like school. Slumdog Millionaire is also brilliant by contrasting our contemporary ethical concerns with torture to the popular reality tv show Millionaire with its own interrogation methods lit in fetishistic blues. Contrasted with the yellow lit scenes: condemning those institutions as cowardly that enforce schooling and how we measure intelligence? (I like this contrast much more than the same pattern used in Traffic). An all round great movie and I think it will, and should, get the "best film Oscar" this month. I love this movie because it reminds us how limited mainstream industrial society defines intelligence and learning. I love this movie because it's a fantastic story with wonderful characters. Experience is the best school....but this movie is the best argument for why school should be available and subsidized for everyone. Score: 10/10.
"My company sells a product that's better than the competition at a price that's lower than the competition". Frank Lucas. American Gangster: There are two moments I could watch over and over...and sometimes I have paused the dvd player to look at them. One is when Denzel Washington's gangster hugs his wife after she gives him a fateful gift. His face is outstanding. Washington is a master. The other scene I especially love, and what the movie leads us to...is the interogation room scene with two actors at the peak of their abilities. Stagg and I LOVE this movie. We've watched it a few times and we bought the 3 dvd set. We've watched it entirely with directors commentary too. The movie was promoted as an action film and not released according to the directors preferences. I believe this harmed it's reception with many viewers. The director's cut is incredible and once you realize this isn't an action film, but a character study, you can see how marketers sometimes really screw up a movie. Unfortunately character studies aren't sexy to the mainstream and action sells. It's not that this crime drama isn't exciting, it does have some cool moves. I love when Crowe is entering the projects to bust everyone, there is a lot of tension and confidence in his body work. I could watch this double study of these two men again and again...little did we know it was a buddy film. Director Ridley Scott riffs on classic gangster movies, the more gangster films you've seen, the more you appreciate how he did this and also genre-bent it to create a buddy film in the last five minutes. Who cares what fucking bridges are in the background shots, this is a beautifully constructed story. Or at least the directors cut is. Too bad corporate suits don't trust artists. Score: buyer beware. Unrated extended version, 10/10.
From the booklet in dvd set In the early '70s, police corruption was rampant in New York city. The Vietnam War was taking a devastating toll overseas and at home. Soldiers were brought back to the US either in body bags or addicted to an opiate called heroin-which they shared with curious experimenters who became instantly hooked. With the assistance of law enforcement, the Mafia operated with relative impunity in this noncompetitive market, selling thousands of kilos of smack to addicts hungry for their product. A priveledged and untouchable class of white men paid hundreds of millions to New York judges, lawyers and cops to keep quiet about this mutually beneficial relationship. La Cosa Nostra and their underlings were unbeatable.
Until a black entrepreneur named Frank Lucas took over the game.
Nothing is like a William Burroughs movie. Nothing is like a David Cronenberg movie. Together heaven. Naked Lunch: Often forgotten, the cinematography and set design in Cronenberg's movies are awesome. We got the Critereon Collection dvd set of this and watched it last week. How can something be so gross, so far-fetched, so absurd and yet magical and bring one to tears? I don't know, but Cronenberg's adaptation of Burrough's literary world manages such. Having seen this in the theatre when it was first released and it's been a few years since I've seen it again...I wondered, how will this resonate?The saddest music in the world plays "transformation and art demands loss and death but love is also a rebirth". Dvd extras are excellent. Score: not for pussies. 10/10.
Zodiac: might be David Fincher's masterpiece and you all know how much I love Se7en, The Game (genius!) and Fight Club (don't ask me how many times I've seen this). The opening few minutes are so pretty and so violent we feel the tricks of film noir working on us. Right away Fincher pulls from film history as Scorcese uses Donovan in a similar sick satiric manner in Goodfellas. What are we in for with this movie? We really begin to feel the obsession the characters have for finding a serial killer. We relate because most of us share the same curiosity, what makes a person a serial killer, who are they? Instead we study the people on the hunt for the killer and it is a beautiful investigation. There are many layers going on with the mise en scene, from phallic lamps and VW cars to the Zodiac killer being a movie buff, and the main characters often have movie posters in their personal spaces. Nice touch. The cinematography is stunning and of note...the cinematographer Harris Savides is also the director of photography for American Gangster (and The Game, Elephant, and Coldplay, Madonna videos). The cast is an incredible ensemble and it's good to see Anthony Edwards in a movie again. I will see anything Mark Ruffalo is in, he is so good. Ted Levine is in a small role too and he is a fascinating actor even though he is not leading man (he was serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, the Vietnam Vet older brother in Rourke's Bullet, small roles in American Gangster, Assasination of Jesse James, Heat). Brian Cox is really good as Melvin Belli. Score: 10/10.