March 6, 2014


But, I will say this: Don Wood as Steven Cote makes the film watchable.

The monster?


RoboCop 2014

March 4, 2014

RoboCop Poster - P 2013The new “RoboCop” does not suck. And while I find the film’s color scheme of blue and black to leave much to be desired, it is not bad visually–that is if we are prepared to accept that this Detroit will be a CGI Detroit. But the computer images carry weight here, and at times can be very convincing. When Mr. Cop That’s Not All Human hops on the back of that Sentinel robot deal, he clings on like there is 300 pounds of metal sliding around–like he’s actually there, not some Gumby Blade created in a gravity-free computer lab. This alone is a breath of fresh air.
Which is not to say that the film resonates in the same way as Verhoeven’s 1987 original, or even has the same level of gravity. 87’s “RoboCop” was a dirt and grime film of disappointment and carnage. An orgy of ultraviolence, it beat the humanity out of, and back into, Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy. Visceral and leveled (and in a pre-CGI film-world), that RoboCop seemed real: his plight sank deep in our guts. We felt it. Each hunk of gore, each piece of flesh removed or stretched out and melded with metal was a carefully rendered work of physical makeup. It was there. The actors could touch it. This is something rarely mentioned in discussion of cinema technology: texture. You don’t have to be a SFX connoisseur—your brain receives these items differently and compensates as such (one of the reasons many films riddled with CGI violence and death get the lovely PG-13 stamp now-and-days: it doesn’t affect us).
But it wasn’t just the violence. This was a film sick with and of society. Where a cultural icon could be a sleazy pervert who would “buy that for a dollar.” Where a police department could be sold as a product. Where death could be expensed.
But 2014’s “RoboCop” doesn’t exist in that world…partly because: now we do. The original, conceived during the Cold War, was bitter—as we were—and it meant to be. It had to be. Think of a movie about a robot cop named RoboCop coming out, wearing its heart on its sleeve, being Rated R—and working!
The new “RoboCop” exists in a world that knows drone strikes, WMDs, and world terrorism as daily event. And it is aware of this, but other than supplant some robot cops in the Middle East, it sort of leaves well enough alone with the world the 2014 audience is still trying to understand and co-exist in.
Which brings me to the first question on most people’s minds when a remake of “RoboCop” is mentioned: “Why?”
Indeed: why?
Obviously there is the cynical economic reason that the “Robocop” story and mythology already exist, as does the cultish following that would (albeit largely begrudgingly) see the remake. Add to this the lightning in a bottle quality (it garnered a huge swath of fans then; perhaps the same thing will work for generating new fans who came into being when Robocop was already, well, old.
But surely, nobody thought back in 1987 that “RoboCop” was a NEW idea (the character, not the story). This is not far Post-“Terminator”, and as the game-makers noticed as they did about the Aliens and Predators: they are very similar in concept. More likely than not, the moneybags behind the original blockbuster trusted a young Austrian with this property because he figured the youth went wild over one robot flick, why not another? Such trusting times back then! This allowed Verhoeven and screenwriters to unleash a cadre of satire and bloodshed.
That cop fit its time.
In fact, it fit it so well, that as mentioned above—we now sorta, maybe, kinda live in something like it. And, unfortunately, the new RoboCop fits that time as well. This isn’t science fiction: this is hyperbolic news.
All of this really only proves irksome for one reason. When I first heard news of a new “Robocop,” I tossed the film off as the cry of impoverished studios screaming “What would you do if your son was at home, crying out his lungs ‘cause he’s hungry! And the only thing to do is to make another ‘RoboCop’ for a little bit of money.” But if you recall how I began all this: the new “RoboCop” does not suck. In fact, it is kind of clever in parts. And while it doesn’t really mine societal issues, it does offer insight into humanity, culpability; free will. Who is free? What is sentient? And who has the right to call wrong on us citizens?
While nobody is around this time to “buy that for a dollar,” Samuel L. Jackson plays Novak, a television host and pseudo-narrator who takes the viewer along through the film. When we meet him, he is clearly in favor of machine policing. Through scenes of ever-heightening zaniness, Novak goes from being slightly one-sided, to all Fox news on our asses. “Is the Senate Pro Crime?” he asks at one point. This bit of fun undercuts the serious scarcely prescient implications of police machinery that was less in our everyday lives in 1987.
The writers (including two from the original, I believe) are working with outdated technology. Which is why they should have been allowed to create their own robot: one for the times. One for now. Hell, if the original had never been made until today, it would be called “Terminator Cop,” for fear of originality (which of course equals financial failure). Couldn’t the execs trust that we love our robots? Even “Real Steel” was a moderate success. With the cast and talent on this film, it could have been a new franchise. An ACTUAL new one.
Instead, the writers cannot entirely write themselves out of 1987 logic, and inevitably their script is doomed to blockbuster irrelevance. Which is a shame. Because there was a lot there. And there is a lot different in Detroit today. And in the world as a whole. They should have been allowed to mine the world’s issues and fears and modern day policies.
Instead, they were allowed to turn a grey suit black.


June 25, 2013

purgeThe Purge (June 24th, Bow Tie Cinemas)
“The Purge “ drops us into the world of 2022, in an America where “our new founding fathers,” have seemingly single-handedly turned America again into a booming, thriving economy with one single action: the Purge…that is, the legalization, for twelve hours, of all crime (excluding restricted government officials—a nice touch).

The idea really only seems so ultimately stupid because the filmmakers set the action in a world that is so like ours, it presumably is our in 9 years (and considering the opening sequence shows Purge footage time-coded 2019, even less). Now sure, I will buy that humans are only one minute evolutionary step above the beasts, and that blood lust and carnage are irrevocably in our DNA and cause us much chagrin—but that is one part of our nature. And in this society, there is Morality and consciousness; whether real in a person, or simply good form programmed into a politico-robot to get votes—and I think we all would agree that it would be a stretch that we basically made everything legal for a night. Hell, we make it illegal for a person to not buckle down in his car or drink too much sugar, so this seems like a pretty big jump.

The film is generally well-made and Ethan Hawke is weird, yet effective. And Lena Hedly as the wife seems so fragile and permeable, warming even the coldest heart towards her, but also perhaps an effective performance of what The Purge really does to a person, even as citizens praise it and put out their blue flowers in support of it.

So it all really comes down to the silly conceit. But then there are numerous other things that don’t ring true. The Purgers/invaders into the family home for instance. They trot around dressed in spooky masks seen only in cinema, with long machetes, giggling and making noise. A female Purger even gets carted around on another’s back.

But wait? These are mostly Ivy League kids, out to take advantage of this black hole of legality during this day, and destroy the weak like the beasts they are. Okay. But they are walking down the hallway of a stranger’s house. A stranger with a gun that has killed a friend of theirs. Theirs isn’t a care-free stroll. They aren’t hunters. They aren’t even weekend warriers. They are the jet set crew that get unsettled when their mocha isn’t made right. How can they laugh when they might turn a corner and get blasted. They aren’t Michael Myers. They are Patrick Bateman brought to life.

Which brings me to another issue. Now, in order for you to follow me, let me dish out some quick synopty (not a word, but should be). So, it is the night of The Purge and the Hawke family is locking down for the evening. Young Hawke doesn’t much dig the Purge. He is an ideal youth. While watching the security cameras, he sees a young man, injured and screaming for help. “They are going to kill me!” he cries. A lot of conflict runs through the boy’s face. Inevitably, he presses a big green button, which unlocks the house, and the man slides in.

Now, who is this man? Well, let us just say for now that he is the subject of prey for a group of rich “very well-educated” Purgers. This group learns that the young man is hiding out in the Hawke home. So they come a-knocking and say let him out or they will blow down the door and kill them all.

Follow that? Ok…so, we have discussed that most, if not all of these folks are advantageous. Now, as the leader says to Hawke, “What is he worth to you? Is his life worth yours and your family?” But, what is it worth to him? Can’t he find another easy target and cut him up? They supply the motive as that this young man “fought back” and took out one of their own. I do not believe that this is a matter of revenge for the friend, but maybe revenge for the wounded ego? The have-not bum young man should not be able, or allowed to hurt him. His is to lose. And the Ivy League Purgers is to win.

Now there are certain people you are fairly certain are not going to die all too quick. I mean, the majority of the Hawke family has to at least survive to the final act, correct? Correct. So after a number of sequences where one of the family is tackled to the ground and just about to be shot/stabbed/eviscerated only to have blood splattered all over them as their attacker has been shot in the back by an ally arriving just in time, your mind starts to wander.

First you wonder if the screenwriter has a mind. I mean, even he must know that by the sixth time somebody bad gets their brains blown out all over somebody they were about to kill, because they first had to give a little speech and allot enough time for somebody to come save the day–that this is getting kind of stale. I mean, sure we don’t want all the good guys dead, but this guy made a bucket of money to write this. Couldn’t he have been a bit cleverer?

You also think of missed opportunities. As people are getting thrown around and heads are getting bashed into pinball machines and pool tables are being blown to bits, you wonder how Insurance works in this new America. You know Big Business Insurance would cover their asses in this society. Would you have to apply for separate Purge Insurance? Would a question on an application inquire: “Have you or do you plan to participate in the Annual Purge?”

I don’t know where your mind will go after that. But mine went to the concept of this movie. Why this dude wrote it at all. And I was reminded by something the Uber-bad Leader guy said to Ethan Hawke, “Don’t keep him away from us! This is his purpose!” or something like that, basically something up that the have-nots are there for the haves to, in this case, destroy and dismember. And they are not expected to fight back.

There are scenes where Ethan Hawke and his wife are working to cater towards the Ivy League miscreant, all blonde hair and crazy eyes, asking for his toy back. They capture the young man in their house, tie him up, and are about to deliver him when their children look at them. What are you doing, they ask. “Nothing will ever be alright again.” These children are the idealists. Ethan Hawke would say that they just don’t get it. This is how it is. This is how it works.

Except how it works is you tie up a perfectly innocent wounded young man, decked even in dog tags so you can allude he is one of the many used up by our country overseas and then tossed aside, and you feed him to the lions…or the Wall Street Bull at least.

That’s pretty disgusting, right? That is pretty clearly wrong.

Except…how far away is that from what we are doing? The rich take from the poor. The haves ensure the have-nots will never have enough to even attempt to have. Laws are made and enforced in order to segregate and disassociate. The rich, inevitably feed off the poor. Stomp on them. Ignore them. Seek them out only as a tool for their lifestyles.

Because they do need them.

But show a guy in a suit and a tie send a message on his blackberry (no! I’m sorry, Iphone is what’s cool now right?) And that is not clearly wrong. That man is doing his job, what he has to do.

When a businessman does not sign a document, he is doing his job. After all, he didn’t get to where he is in life without making tough calls.

And here is Ethan Hawke, with a crazy psycho outside his door, promising to kill his ENTIRE family if he doesn’t deliver the young man so that they will CERTAINLY kill him. That seems like a tough call, too.

But, we all seem sort of disgusted if he leads that young man to the slaughter, don’t we?

The more I think about it, the more clearly it is saying something like this. The Ivy League suit, the comments about “education” and “allocation of wealth;” the discussions of the Purge really being a financial cleanser rather than a curbing measure to a carnal populous. This certainly gives one a lot to think about. It can certainly lead one to a decent discussion about what they are allowing to happen versus what they would have done with that young man all tied up. Would they have let him be murdered? If not, why are we behaving complicit in this societal structure? What, in the endgame, is the difference?

But it mucks it all up. With talk of, “This is our right as Americans,” it goes so far as to be hokey, and by grounding it in a world we know, the conceit is so out of left field, it is less likely we can get the allegorical nature even though I do believe it’s tie-in with this world is to help us get said message.

Then again, there were also those in the audience that groaned when Mrs. Hawke said, “Look at us! What have we become?” She doesn’t get it. He’s just doing what he has to do. Maybe we’re already too lost. Maybe the movie has come too late. Maybe, 2022 really is too far off.

MAN OF STEEL (Blueback, June 18th)

June 19, 2013

manofsteelWhen the main word-of-mouth exchange of information regarding a movie consists of something akin to:

Zack Snyder: (raspy voice) Hey guys! Have you seen my new movie, “Man of Steel?!” He’s not wearing any underpants? Where are his underpants? Oh dear. I just felt that this story needed to be told.

…you know you might not be in for the most thrilling or unique of experiences. But it’s not actually half bad…and if you are going to a movie about a man who is very Super…you know what you are getting in for, so it’s kind of a shame on you situation if you feel disappointed and need to bash it too much afterwards. It’s about an alien, who looks just like us and comes to Earth and puts on a cape and falls in love with a human while flying around and casually leaving the Earth’s atmosphere when needs be. You know? So come on.
Visually, the film looks like a million bucks…maybe even two-hundred million. Seeing it in 3D, there is awesome depth and clarity, which makes for some stunning imagery, but aside from the battle sequences of Supe flying through cityscapes, which we all saw last year—also magnificently shot—in whatever the last first “Spiderman” movie was.
You can see the money and the effects on the screen. Which might explain why the script feels like it was written by a teenage fan boy in the margins of a Superman comic book. The script was written by David Goyer, whom, after his attempt at directing “Blade Trilogy,” people said, “Hey, you are a pretty good writer,” to soften the blow. And when he isn’t left to his own devices (and works alongside a co-writer) he can make pretty good blueprint.
In this origin story, however, as every fifteenth incarnation of a property older than our grandfathers must be, he seems to be having his assistant go through the motions, cribbing not only from the old comic books, but also from a little book called The Bible, something Superman has always done ( a little boy with God-like powers comes down to a childless farmer family and realizes he is man but also much more, and must guide them), and the Christ-like figure is beefed up mucho in this incarnation. But much like how not much is known about Jesus before his 33rd birthday, here too we have an origin story where one wonders why they bothered? They could have gotten to the action straight away, and saved the film to a civilized running time.
Superman, as Clark Kent has to learn to deal with his powers, with humans, with differences, and decide what “kind of man” he is to be. It is a growing pains tale on a grand scale, and a set-up for a moral tale. Here is a man who can lift up your semi and chuck it on a telephone pole, but must rise above conflict and turn the other cheek.
We are given Kevin Costner (alongside his real father, Russell Crowe, Superman is blessed in the paternal department) and Diane Lane as parents, whose every breath is actor-ly brilliance. And Snyder seems to know it, because every time I thought that Clark Kent was learning a lesson, I realized I was just remember something Costner did in “Field of Dreams,” and “JFK.” Here he just keeps saying, “We talked about this,” or “what kind of man do you want to be.” Or “You will change the world.”
So instead of pivotal scenes in the psyche of a truly unique adolescent which could contain amazing insight, instead we have flashbacks of: “Remember that time when we all nearly died, but luckily you are an alien of superhuman strength, but also compassion so you saved us? Oh wait..hey, remember this other time when we all nearly died, but luckily you are an alien of superhuman strength, but also compassion, so you saved us?”
There is one really cool conceit of the film, though…dealing with how Kryptonians deal with all the information they are able to receive on Earth. While, sure it is a gun mentioned in the first act in order to go off in the third; it still is the one worthy youth sequence when we realize the cost of such power here.
And the film thusly goes on, and I begin to become bored at the extended actions sequences, even nodding off a bit. It is been here done that, although done well. I imagine all but the most energetically youthful will find the sequences of folks throwing each other around a bit trying.
Still, you already know if you want to see it. And it you don’t go in expecting “Batman Begins,” but just a good action flick, you will enjoy it. Snyder, action overkill aside, knows how to handle his actions, and even seems to enjoy people, which is something a lot of his comrades do not. So buy your popcorn and your ticket and see it already.
Just don’t go and write a critical review of all the things that are wrong with the film while also sort of recommending it and then put it up on your wordpress blog. You should know better.

A Lazy Classic Sunday

June 11, 2013

lavender hillSo it all started when I happened to notice that “The Lavender Hill Mob,” was on Turner Classic Movies at 8 PM. It was a little after 7:30PM, so it was perfect timing really. It is sort of hard not to love Alec Guinness, so now we seemed to know what we would be doing for the next ninety minutes or so.
We scurried down to the kitchen to quickly prepare some cherry pie alongside some Irish Tea, and it was soon clear that we would not be ready to fly by 8pm (Bill Maher sort of has to take a handful of blame—his rants on HBO kept us from keeping on schedule with our Pie Planning for “The Lavender Hill Mob.”
Luckily, we live in a crazy ransack DVR world so at 8pm on the nose, as that strange fellow from SNL was introducing it, I press the PAUSE button on the remote control. We could now make tea and pie in peace.
We took the extra minutes to set up a fortress in the bed, and to condition the air so that we would be in the utmost of comfort. Once settle under sheets with pie and cup in hand, I pressed PAUSE, which, this stroke around, began the flick.
Old films may have slow beginnings to those unused to the pace, but both my sidekick and I were soon enthralled in British Ealing Comedy.

“What’s that?”
“I heard that in one of the American films on one of the few times I went to the chinemas.”
“I think you mean ‘Roger That.’”
“Ah, yes!”

A smart comedy with deft play on words, schemes, and turns-of event, “The Lavender Hill Mob” shows you how funny a film can be whilst not giving up brain power. The direction is more than capable, and the story is more than engaging—allowing the caper to really have full force. What I mean to say, is the story works well enough that the jokes can be turned down for a few so that we can really be enthralled at the caper.
The film fills us with wonder and joy. It even manages to fill us with suspense—and suspense is a rarity in screwball comedies. One of the clever bits of the film is that, at one point in the film, the Police Station becomes something of a revolving door for each member of the Lavender Hill Mob, and each character seems to believe that the other is caught.
Touching too, this film is! Notice Alec Guinness’s facial expression when the two gruffest mugs own up to trusting him and stay behind in London whilst he flocks off to Paris to score the big cash! Now that is something! A film that understands humanity’s need for love and trust in each other. Alec Guinness is a man who has been alone his entire life—a man who lives in books and schemes. If he had somebody to care for him, he probably never would have dared this scheme.
All these things run through us and energize us rather than tire us out! So now it is ten PM and the strange cat from SNL is telling us about other films from Ealing and then the marquee announces that NEXT ON TCM:slight case of murder

Now this film I have never even heard of…but I have heard of Edgar G. Robinson, the star of the film…and he can do no wrong. I look to my partner-in-crime and she is now revved up on the lifeblood of cinema. What was it that propelled us forward? Why weren’t we tired and numb? We felt alive! All from our conditioned little area behind covers and hiding from anything living outside of these walls.
We re-up for the feature and then we get a tale—another comedy. Goodie! But wait, what is this? Why does there seem to be thought here? Here it is—a throwaway comedy…but, let us look closer. It was made in the 30’s…not long after the Prohibition Amendment is repealed…and it follows Marco, as played by Edgar, get it?
EDGAR THAT…, I mean Roger!
And Marco is the kingpin beer distributor during Prohibition. Business was good! But now, as his chums say, the law had to go and get in the way. Will people still drink Marco’s beer? The public says no, “We want real beer!” But Marco doesn’t know his beer is swill because he doesn’t drink the stuff and his friends care too much about him to tell him he is making crap.
This flick is light-hearted and funny but it deals matter-of-factly in the world of bootleggers and beer as business. While Edgar G is a very nice Marco…referring to himself in the third person and seemingly unable to do any wrong other than distribute illegal spirits (one cannot imagine him holding a gun or committing a mean crime, see?,) the filmmakers do not shy away from the fact that, in his world, it is not all that uncommon to wind up with a closet full of corpses. Which he does…thus the slight case of murder the title discusses.
OK…now it is very late, and we really should rest up for Monday’s work. Only…we don’t want to. We want some more classic cinema. It is pumping something new into us. We have smiles on our faces and our spirits are high. What is it about this stuff? Did the code of early cinema actually do the films some good? Does the forced naiveté and sanitation implemented by the Hayes Code actually make for an uplifting experience? Something to think about where the body count is high in even the most family oriented of action-adventures.
Oh no! Some junk with Mickey Rooney is coming up on TCM. They have it linked thematically because it is titled: “A SLIGHT CASE OF LARCENY.”slight case of larceny
But the thing is…I could never really get into the point of Andy Hardy, even when he wasn’t Andy Hardy…and I wish he would just leave me alone.
My sidekick is sad. She wants more of a fix.

But wait! In this zany futuristic DVR world, I had recorded a bunch of TCM programs that I wasn’t around to watch. We click through them, and for some reason I have a bizarre romancer recorded by the name of “The Coast Guard,” featuring Randolph Scott, from 1939.
The film was OK…kind of like an old school version of last years “This Means War,” yet again…it just seemed more enjoyable than that.
Now I know it probably isn’t any better…right?
So what is it, sitting here on this lazy Sunday watching the silver screen tick away the actions of people long since gone, that makes these movies move? Move us so much more than if we were at the chineplex right now watching the latest romantic fodder where two good guys seem to love the same gal?
Could it really be nostalgia and age? No…there is something here. The scripts are stronger, the dialogue better. A lot of these films were made in an assembly line fashion, sure…but there was pride. Look at the opening shipwreck scenes in “The Coast Guard.” coast guardThey are exciting and fascinating!

I don’t know, I don’t know. I am too revved. I want to watch more, but really, we must now sleep. I don’t care enough to examine just what made tonight such a great night of cinema. And I am not going to deny that it is not able to be had with modern films. But the spirit of these films is their power. And they don’t all have it. Just ask old Mickey Rooney. He doesn’t got it. Never did. At least not for me. And that has nothing to do with when he was making films. That’s just between him and me. So it’s not nostalgia….it is not simply the case of the old movies surviving and representing a time and being GOOD OLD MOVIES as opposed to GOOD MOVIES. Thanks Mickey Rooney…I guess you did have some use for tonight.
These films are older than me; they are older than my parents. Therefore, most of my peers will not have seen them and won’t care to. They are:
                                                                                                                                                                NOT IN COLOR
Well, sometimes people dream in color. And sometimes people dream in black and white. If the dream is good enough, you wouldn’t even know which it was. And tonight, from my bed I had the most magnificent times and the most magnificent visions. I’d be willing to share them with you. If only you would open your mind…

L’Homme qui aimait les femmes (1977)

May 30, 2013

220px-The_Man_Who_Loved_Women_(1977_film)_HommequiaimaitlesfemmesThere’s a strange sense one gets in “The Man Who Loves Woman,” if the viewer knows anything about Francois Truffaut and his obsession with the fairer sex and fear of the sex less fair. Claude Brialy, in his biography speaks of Truffaut as a man who loved woman so intensely that he could barely stand to shake hands with a man. In his Truffaut’s film, a man is plagued with his obsession with women; it even brings about his demise.
Whether he loved woman or not, Truffaut’s character takes it to new extremes of stalking and detective work. It is funny and sad, at the same time, and I was stricken at times by its sincerity. The film casually throws out diagnoses for our hero: “you must hate woman;” “this is a story of a man’s ego;” “this is a story of a man—an ordinary man, and therefore full of contradictions.” Each might be as true as the next and a scene late in the game fails to settle out issues the way one might hope, and therefore becomes an odd, clunky number which doesn’t seem to add much to the film.
Still, this late in the game, one wonders if Truffaut was finally examining his lifelong passion outside the cinema. And what determinations he had made when he decided he had a go picture.
As for the film itself, it is a lesser Truffaut. There are much better to be had, although this one is both the same and totally unique. Kind of like a woman.

Dans la Maison (Bow Tie, May 8th, 2013)

May 9, 2013

dans la maisonI have a friend who has only just now entered the Bukowski phase of his writing career. That is to say, having finally discovered some literature that speaks to him, and beginning to enjoy wielding the strange power the arrangement of words can yield, he has set out to become a writer, exploring the one topic he finds the most fascinating: namely himself.
I believe a large number of writers begin by first scribing a public diary, and truly believe there life to be such an interesting case—or at least their observation of the events within it—that it will truly be sometime others would benefit to read. Some writers mature, find topics, themes of passion and continue on from there. Some writers, very few indeed, actually manage to subsist off of such public scribbling of the private either by the sheer enjoyment of the construction of their sentences, or by the base depravity of their deeds. Some writers just become diarists, writing to a nonexistent reader in moleskin kept in a private bureau drawer; some even less than that. And some, if they find they can’t quite write, teach.
Francois Ozon’s new puzzle Dans La Maison introduces us to two phases of the same whole. We first meet Germain (brilliantly and bitingly portrayed by Fabrice Luchini), a middle-aged literature teacher to Sophomores; he once wrote a novel, but soon realized that talent failed him. However, as his wife notes, lucidity is one of Germain’s rare qualities. When a student describes him as being bitter about not being equipped with the talent to be a great writer, rather than become angered, Germain muses, “Well, he’s not wrong.” Germain’s wife, by the way, runs an art gallery whose only criteria for art is that people must like it so she won’t get fired (and she tries everything, including verbal painting, where an artist on compact disc walks you through the steps of completing a painting while the viewer looks on at a blank canvas).
Germain encounters a student who seems to have a knack for the written word. Claude, played with Ernst Umhauer in a way that constantly refuses the audience ease while in his presence, a sixteen year old math whiz trying his hand with letters, pens a piece that intrigues Germain. Certainly, there are reasons not quite disclosed, but the main and full frontal reason: this is good writing. Claude has talent, and Germain feels he can take him under his wing and make him good enough…to be a Writer.
Claude’s problem is, he can only write what he sees, more or less. His story, involving integrating himself into the lives of his friend’s family, can only be written if he actually proceeds to do it. Unlike most people’s diary phase, however, there is a third player—the Mentor.
Germain, the Mentor, sees Claude as what a son? No, more likely a younger version of himself—so close but never able to harness the ability to pull off Literature with a capitol “L.” Innocently enough, Germain tries to influence the writing, and winds up influencing the lives of not only the family in the story, but himself and Claude. The story so closely monitors life, that when there is a fictional element entered, it is a shock to Germain. When Germain meets the parents of Claude’s friend, he is shocked as their appearance is different than expect, although, Germain can’t help but see, that Claude DOES have a knack at characterization. When Mrs. Germain mentions she thought Germain would be happy to meet these parents, Germain laughs, “Honey…these are fictional characters!”
Francois Ozon’s tale is steeped in story and elements of such. I suspect that this film will work best with those who have drifted into the murky waters of prose and weren’t quite sure what they were offering or how to sail straight (which could, adroitly put, be cut short to “this film will work best with writers,” because, my friend if you have written, and not suffered these pitfalls, I don’t know what the hell you have written, but you have not yet written anything I need read).
But the film is far more universal than that, and if not quite a mystery, it sure does hold the viewer in suspense. Reality and fiction and layers of fact and fiction become layered and misconstrued in a more menacing and powerful way than any element of “Inception,” and, as in all things Ozon, “Dans la Maison,” is full of humor, quirky compositions, sterile compositions, and such a sure hand that the viewer cannot help but fall in and be led along.
Over time, and once familiar with the material, this piece may work better as an examination of writers and the written word. What is fiction? What is story? Does the author owe any obligation of anonymity to the subjects that inspired the creation? Can one step in and document a life, without consequence? And what happens when the Author becomes the Subject of Importance—entering the story?
Well, for Jack Kerouac, who couldn’t help but fall into the trap of celebrity that success laid out for him, he died at 47 with a rotten liver and dreams long since broken, even as anything he put to a page could get published. In the end however, Ozon seems to suggest that as long as there exists people, whose lives vampirific bards can inject as substance into their words—if Germain can get his health up, Claude and he might be alright just a little longer. The rest of us….we might want to worry.

Rebelle (War Witch) Cinestudio-May 7th 2013

May 7, 2013

warwitchpicRebelle (War Witch)
She isn’t remarkably insightful, that is one thing I noticed. Then again, we meet her when she is merely twelve, and leave her again when she is only fourteen. We witness her exposure to and participation in some unspeakable acts, the likes of which I hope most of us never have to experience in our entire lifetime; but she is still, you see, just a child.
Perhaps that is the most (while not the only) remarkable thing about Komono, the lead character in Kim Nguyen’s “Rebelle.” The cinema has exposed us to some fascinating children since its inception, but it rarely does, at least this truthfully, is allow us to see a child in harrowing circumstances.
When we meet fascinating youths in pictures, they tend to be the smartest and the wisest. Some are children to a certain degree, but they have it all together. They see clearly the full picture more clearly the parental figure ever will. I cannot seem to recall a child in the cinema put through so much, but still remains inherently a child; with a child’s wisdom, just perhaps with a bit more experience; a bit less naiveté. But it seems to me pretty clear; the best thing she can do is to go back to her uncle, The Butcher. With one sad look of his face, it is clear to all he is infinitely wiser, and knows full better than she what may be best for her. And he hardly knows her.
We come to know her a bit better, but maybe not much more. We meet her as she is taken from her village, one of a number of children that will join the rebels. Here they will learn that their gun is their father and their child. They will learn to kill. They will begin to learn to lose themselves. Here Komona meets Magician, who stands out mostly due to a tender thoughtfulness about him, but also because he is Albino. When Magician sees that Komona has been chosen as their leader, The Great Tiger’s War Witch, due to her “ability” to see the enemies in the bushes, Magician knows it is time to go and encourages her to escape with him. There have, after all, been three other war witches before her, he notes.
Magician asks to marry her. In order to deflect this query, she uses some wisdom her father instilled upon her: she tells him he would first have to find for her a white rooster, a very rare thing. But Magician is a very rare breed himself, and he turns all corners and inevitably does discover a white rooster, which he claims for her. Look at the look on her face; it had never occurred to her to think beyond her father’s words, the protection his wisdom gave. She handles the white rooster (and yes, Magician is an albino and we know the deal with roosters—crude symbolism?) and enters adulthood at thirteen, as a woman who has outlived the advice of her parents.
Life does not become sunshine and happiness for them. She is eventually tracked down, Magician’s throat is slashed, and Komona is impregnated by her captor because he needs somebody to sleep with because the last person he slept with has died.
There is some tremendously awful imagery here, not least of which is Komona turning herself into a “poisoned rose,” but there is tremendous conviction for life. This is life, how do I live it? Komona worries about her feelings for her unborn child, as the child is certainly not making life any easier on her. “I hope I don’t grow to hate you and dump you in the river as soon as you are out of me,” she thinks to her unborn child. But it is the constant tenacity for life that gives Komona her strength, as well as the films. She never gives up, never settles. It is a powerful message that life is worth fighting for, regardless of what it might actually entail.
Cinematically, the film follows the modern-day stylistic trope of zany hand-held camera work never quite catching the action. While I am not a fan of these purposely un-composed compositions, perhaps I can agree to simply sit a few rows back in the theatre next time, because this isn’t simply Paul Greengrass drunkenness for the sake of…well, I dunno…but rather purposely serves the trajectory of our character, or perhaps of my involvement in the piece. Because either as she gets used to her new world and its fly-by-night mortality rate, and Nguyen begins to slow the camera’s shakiness as Komona becomes accustomed to it; or else Nguyen didn’t and I simply grew accustomed to the earthquake existence of our lead character. And whether the truth is the former or the latter is there really any difference? We adapt. We have to.


April 5, 2013

imagesCAG2RKQ1GI JOE: RETALIATION (4/2/13-Odyssey)
GI JOE! All-American Hero!
See stuff blown up!
BAM! Who are they fighting? BAM. Don’t know. But BAM! LOOK OUT, THE ROCK!
See Channing Tatum try and nearly miss this disaster!
BOOM! The President isn’t the President! Duh! Didn’t you see “GI JOE: Rise of Cobra?”
Obviously America would start an elite squad called the Joes. And obviously its female member would be named Jane.
Bruce Willis! Over-the-hill Ex-River cop hero!
Saddest of all, Bruce isn’t even bad ass! He’s just old and stuff.
On a side note, I saw this on film…on a huge giant Odyssey screen. So, I actually kind of enjoyed the big dumb experience. I mean, not much is expected when you are going to a movie based on a Hasbro toy. But I slouched in my seat, with my over-priced popcorn, and saw the several huge production labels roll across the screen…and I knew I would at least be entertained.
Maybe the huge studios who insist on removing brains from their movies should have thought twice about removing film from them as well. Seeing it on big bad celluloid sort of brought a smile to my face and I wasn’t too upset leaving the theatres. Which is a lot to ask, given how crap it all was. I really can’t even tell you who the bad guy was other than that he was the guy that gets into the helicopter in the end so that he can be ready for “GI Joe 3.”
Silly movie studios? And, if you read this while watching the flick on some digital format and you think I’m an idiot for not completely trashing the movie, you would probably be right.


April 5, 2013

Stoker-1993581-headerStoker (March 26, 2013, Bow Tie Cinema City)

Stoker is an all-around great picture, with undeniable talent both in front of and behind the camera. So, I am trying to figure out why its last shot left me recalling Hanna and wondering what the point of it all was.
Park Chan Wook’s (Oldboy) English language debut is another of his twisted tales of family ties—this time concerning a bizarre girl, India, whose father dies on her eighteenth birthday. Uncle Charlie arrives at his funeral—her dad’s brother, who India did not know existed. And it seems he has taken a special liking to his niece. They have a special bond.
In fact, they do. Through flashbacks, we witness a young Charlie exhibiting the behavior we have seen from India. Why is it they are so similar? Through the course of the picture, it is revealed that, like her Uncle, she has been born with a certain carnal desire, and a skill for killing. Unlike Hanna’s father, Eric Bana, who turns her into basically a weapon, India’s father takes her on long hunting trips; trying to curb the arising desire for carnage he sees in her and had seen in his brother, hoping that if you do one bad thing, it may stop you from doing another.
Now anybody who recalls Shadow of a Doubt when they hear the name Uncle Charlie can predict the thru-line of Wentworth Miller’s script—down to his whistling even!—but it is Park’s fascination with the macabre and morbid sexuality that drives this tale apart and turns up the creeps. The picture moves fluidly back and forth through time, and Park crafts a world so antiseptic and bizarre, it is clearly not reality. So you’ll forgive the inhabits for being a little off (or a bit too much like stock characters—this is a movie where if your surname is Stoker, you’re a fully fleshed out psychologically complex character…and if it is not, you have the depth of a reject supporting character from a god awful monster movie where you refuse to believe the person telling you that a creature in a rubber suit will get you!). But, in a film where a Connecticut town looks a lot like Tennessee, it can all be said to be part of the dreamscape.
So why the feeling at the end? Perhaps after Old Boy and Thirst, my expectations for Park are unreasonably high. Perhaps, because it took me to such dark places and gave me such hope for a revelatory resolution that the “BANG BANG!” slo-motion visuals to pop music felt like an unfair payoff.
But underneath all that style, in the dark crevices is an interesting examination of humanity: why people may behave as they do—actions, consequences, and these things called morality and guilt: right and wrong.
Amidst its FLASH-BANG—“I’m a director!” pyrotechnics, it quietly lets Dermot Mulroney’s little girl all grown up out on the road. And what will she do, and how will she behave? Park leaves that to us. He has shown us a few days. It is up to us to determine how we feel about people such as The Stokers—and their ability to function in this world. In Park’s world of bad stock characters, there may be a lot of expendables around to help India find a way to get to good.