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Archive for August, 2010

Here are two films that take a very different look at drug culture, one in Scotland/England, the other in the U.S.A. Despite both films taking a very different approach from one another, they both more or less end up at the same conclusion. Heroin is the fucking the devil. And if you can get out, it’s never an easy thing because heroin turns you into your own worst enemy.

“Trainspotting” is a very early film from Danny Boyle who would go on to make such films as “28 Days Later” and “Slumdog Millionaire”. After watching this film, I can’t really say that he’s ever been any better than he is here. “Trainspotting” explodes with energy, be it through the soundtrack, kinetic camera movements, or interactions of its main cast members, the film never slows down for a second. Even Ewan McGrergor’s detox is turned into a hellish nightmare scenario that is as enthralling to watch as it is terrifying to imagine living through. Sure, for those of us not born in the United Kingdom, the accents can grow hard to follow occasionally, but that’s not something you can fault the filmmakers for. For better or worse, by the end of ‘Trainspotting” you’ll feel like you just spent a hell of a night out with some of your closest friends, but you know that the next morning is going to be harsh. The film doesn’t really leave you with much of a feeling once it’s over, but like Heroin, you can sense that the film creates within you a sort of habit. You’re going to want to watch it over and over again just to experience the rush.

“Requiem for a Dream” was a much easier film to watch than I thought it was going to be. It’s one of those films that practically everyone I know has seen and they all talk about how depressing (though amazing) it is to watch. What surprised me about the film is how energetic it is. Sure, it’s often depressing, and downright tragic by the end, but the entire story (like “Trainspotting”) moves along at a breakneck pace. It’s highly stylized (and sometimes overly so) but incredibly moving. The performances are all also uniformly strong, from Ellen Burstyn, to Jennifer Connelly, to more surprisingly, Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans. Everybody does an awesome job. The end of the film begins to drag and loses itself somewhat in the (no doubt) faithfulness of its adaptation (Electro-shock therapy in the 2000’s, really?) but the denouement makes sense from a character standpoint. And as a sort of side note: the DVD menus to the film are downright awesome.  Plus, how crazy is it that Darren Arfonofsky bought the entire rights to the anime film “Perfect Blue” (which is one of my favourite anime films) just so that he could recreate a moment from that film with Jennifer Connelly in a bathtub?

It’s hard for me to say just which film is the stronger of the two. “Requiem for a Dream” is probably a better film as far as the criterion for dramatics and filmmaking go, but “Trainspotting” was definitely more entertaining to watch. Either way, if you can stomach hardcore drug use, ass to ass sex, and lots of sickness, these two films provide some very enthralling moments.

Trainspotting Trailer:

Requiem for a Dream Trailer:

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The Other Guys

Directed by Adam McKay

There’s this thing in Hollywood that basically everybody knows about, and it’s called typecasting. Basically, certain actors (and more often than not, these actors are comedians) get stuck playing the same role over and over and over again. The basic reasoning behind this is that it makes everybody money. Audience’s like what a certain actor brings to a project and are willing to pay good money to see them work their schtick. But the problem with typecasting is readily apparent. Eventually, it does get old. Take for instance Michael Cera. In “Arrested Development” he’s a comic genius and easily holds his own with the rest of the cast, which is certainly saying something. Flash-froward 7 years later after the cancellation of the show and with nearly a dozen movies under his belt, I can’t stand the thought of going to another movie in which he plays a watered down version of George-Michael. Even a movie that looks more or less promising like “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” I am refraining from seeing simply because I cannot stand the thought of seeing Cera play every scene the exact same way. For all intents and purposes Cera is a very talented and funny young man, but he is unfortunately cursed with the knowledge of what makes him money and his film choices reflect this greatly. I’ve mentioned this little diatribe because Will Ferrell is the exact same as Michael Cera, but he’s been doing it for even longer. The difference is, I’m still not tired to him.

I have no good reasoning for this. Really, after ten years of watching Will Ferrell make the same comedy over and over again, I should be pretty damn tired of it, but I’m not. Perhaps it’s because he’s just so damn sincere. I don’t think there’s a malicious bone anywhere in Will Ferrell’s body, even if most of the characters he plays are arrogant pricks. He’s so good at pretending to be an asshole, because in real life he’s probably the exact opposite. In “The Other Guys”, Will doesn’t play quite as much of an asshole as in his other films, but he’s still a semi-intelligent individual getting by purely on luck. Mark Wahlberg plays more of the asshole role in this picture, and he does so decently enough, though honestly, I’ve never been the biggest mark for Mr. Wahlberg (you see what I did there? No, I’m not very clever, I know.)

“The Other Guys” has a couple of scenes with some really good laughs (Will Ferrell’s explanation to Mark Wahlberg about not knowing the kind of fight he’s getting into if he were a tiger killing a tuna in the middle of an ocean and Steve Coogan’s brief watching of a pirate themed porno springs to mind) and some well choreographed action pieces (which really put Kevin Smith and his recent “Cop Out” to shame) but at the end of the day it is probably still the weakest collaboration between Ferrell and director/friend McKay. It definitely could have benefited from an R-rating and some more outrageous hate-filled humor. But as I mentioned earlier, the sheer novelty of the film, the fact that after over ten years of making us laugh, that Will Ferrell still has it in him and is not making me pull my hair out in frustration, is a miracle in and of itself. Perhaps he might just go the distance and end up in the ranks of comedic legends like Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen. Two men that have proven to be exceptions to the rule.

Trailer:

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The Gold Rush

Here is probably the most moving scene in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush”. It rivals the closing seconds of “City Lights”, but ends much more sadly. It also includes the infamous Dance of the Rolls scene.

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Once Upon a Time in America

Directed by Sergio Leone

“Once Upon a Time in America” is definitely an experience. At nearly four hours long (just ten minutes shy) it would be hard for the film to be anything else. Not only that, but it was the last film from one of the greatest film directors of all time, Sergio Leone. And by the end of the film it’s quite clear that other filmmakers should be so lucky as to go out on as high a note as Leone did.

“Once Upon a Time in America” is a perfect companion piece to “The Godfather”. Like Coppola’s landmark film series, Leone’s “America” concerns itself with nearly the entire life of a mobster. Jewish, not Italian, but most certainly a mobster nonetheless. If ‘The Godfather” is known for its rich atmosphere and dense almost novelistic narrative, than “Once Upon a Time in America” is sort of the opposite. Make no mistake, it has these aspects too (though not as effectively) but if “The Godfather” is a fantastic novel, than “Once Upon a Time in America” is a poetic piece of art. It is a much more stylized and romantic look at what being a gangster is like. For instance, since the film is nearly four hours long, don’t be surprised in having to watch a 12-year-old girl dance for 7 uninterrupted minutes. The film throws the idea of pacing out the window and invents its own sense of progression. It’s also one of the most violent and sexually charged (sometimes uncomfortably so) films I have ever seen. Like the 12-year-old dancer, “America” is constantly floating right in front of our faces, and with sudden bursts of energy, explodes in moments of pure violence and sexual tension, before once again settling down and continuing to gracefully carry on as if the outbursts never happened. And it still somehow manages to never miss a step.

Robert De Niro gives an amazingly thorough performance as the main character of the film. It’s been quite a while since I saw “The Godfather II” but I feel fairly confident in saying that his performance here rivals that one. Even more surprisingly is that James Woods almost steals the show as his partner in crime, Max. After watching this film, it’s kind of sad to see that Woods never reached these same heights again, as he clearly had the talent to do so. If you look closely, you’ll even notice a 12-year-old Jennifer Connelly, and if you look even more closely, you’ll see her sans clothing. (Remember how I mentioned that the sexuality in this film is slightly uncomfortable? That would be the reason… well, actually that’s only one of the reasons.)

I know that a lot of people are going to have a hard time sitting through this film. If the length of the piece doesn’t deter them, than certainly the strong levels of violence and sex might. And if they manage to make it through all of those things, they’ll come face to face with a final thirty minutes that doesn’t quite make any type of sense. (Though the very final image of the film sort of makes up for the lack of understanding.) But like I mentioned earlier, “Once Upon a Time in America” isn’t a portrait of the American Gangster, it’s a piece of epic poetry. And beneath all the ugliness of the subject matter is a truly beautiful film with a very heartfelt centre. But as far as my opinion goes, it doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as “The Godfather”. Because it deserves better.

Trailer:

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There’s a reason why rabbits procreate so often.

Craig Ferguson… I mean Paul McCartney… dammit, I mean Angela Lansburry, (I’m so confused) provides the answer for “The Case of the Missing Man.”

He also has some comments about “The Expendables” or as he so aptly re-names it, “Balls”.

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The Philadelphia Story

Directed by George Cukor

There’s a line towards the end of “The Philadelphia Story” that rang particularly true to me and my viewing of the film. In fact, it’s the very last line, “I feel as though I’ve lived through all this before in another life.” The reason this line made me shake my head and laugh to myself is simple, I did live through this movie before, and it certainly feels like it was another life time ago.

Ten minutes into “The Philadelphia Story” a terrible thought hit me. “I’ve seen this movie before… but I don’t remember doing so.” I seemed to recollect more and more of my past experience with the film with every plot twist and new character that showed up. But I kept telling myself, “I have never seen a movie with both Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant before. I’d remember if I had.” After all, it was only last week upon my realization that these two men did a film together that I decided I should watch it. Of course, I’d known that they did this film, I’m pretty sure I’d even had conversations about it with someone in “another life”. And I slowly (and by slowly I mean not until after I had finished the film and looked it up on imdb) realized that the film I was thinking of was the musical remake starring Frank Sinatra called “High Society”. And then it all came crashing back. Take that for what you will.

Anyway, watching “The Philadelphia Story” was an experience for me. I’m not going to say it was a particularly nice one (through no real fault of the film’s) but it’ll at least stick out in my memory now. It’s rather unlikely that I’ll forget it again. As far as the merits of the film go, it’s a completely charming and serviceable distraction for two hours. Though to be completely honest, with a cast that included the two aforementioned stars, as well as Katherine Hepburn, I expected a tad bit more, (especially from Grant) but the end of the film still made me smile. If you like “classic Hollywood” you’d do well by checking it out.

Trailer:

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9

Directed by Shane Acker

Had I watched this film when it first came out last fall, there’s a pretty good chance that it would have made my list of top 10 films. And that’s probably the biggest praise I can give it.

I really expected nothing from “9”. The trailer made it look like your typical animated aventure film with a slight artistic flourish, due largely in part to the names attached to the creation of it. Nothing in particular stood out. But from the very opening minutes of the film I was hooked. (The first 10 – mostly silent minutes – are truly awesome.) For one thing, the art design is simply fantastic. I’ve always had a soft spot for postapocalyptic films, but Shane Acker and Tim Burton really outdid themselves with the design of this one. At first glance it seems like a very blank and non-specific canvas that the characters are moving around on, but if you look closely and think about what you’re seeing, you might recognize not only a couple real life locations, but also figure out the clever sub-text at work throughout the film.

The characters (or, the 9) will probably either make or break this film for the viewer depending upon particular taste. To some, the dialogue and acting might feel stunted, unnatural and completely robotic. Others will probably realize that that is exactly the point. This film isn’t about what these characters say to each other, but how they take action and deal with the situation of the world that they’ve found themselves living in. “9” is a rare example of a film where both the characters and the world they inhabit compliment each other perfectly, each one feeding the other.

I really can’t say enough good things about this film. The action is fierce and the pace is relentless. You should just check it out if you haven’t done so already. It’s most definitely the hidden gem of 2009.

Trailer:

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